Do We Not Bleed
by Marla F. Fair
He could still see her eyes, cobalt blue, fathomless as the ocean, clear and cold as water from a mountain stream. They had both frightened and fascinated him. Ice and fire. Savage strength and wide-eyed wonder wrapped up in one neat intolerant package that allowed her to make use of his vast intellect, but disallowed gratitude or acknowledgment of his gifts. Her life had been in his hands and still she had stuck him and pulled away as though he had been diseased. Why did she haunt him so? They had never exchanged a civil word. She thought him inferior, subordinate a second class citizen. He detested her and everything she stood for. Why was it then, when he closed his eyes, he could see nothing but her pale face and the masses of blond hair that surrounded it, gently framing eyes boundless as the heavens above?
The young man stood and stretched, running thin green hands through the primrose locks that brushed the dark fabric of his uniform. He had to concentrate. Dwelling on the past would serve no purpose other than to frustrate him. His own position was precarious. Action paramount. A solution would present itself if he could manage to focus only on what was essential, but he found he couldn't . At the center of his being was a single image, burned into crystal clarity by a twelfth-level intelligence that left no room for error: The image of an alluring creature caught in the eye of a thermo-nuclear hurricane. Her beauty and grace obliterated in less time than it would take to blink an eye.
A shudder ran the length of his thin frame. Unnerved, he turned toward the narrow window that slashed the dreary grey wall of the holding cell. Outside the stars scintillated. His keen Coluan intellect recognized this as an outward manifestation of the radiant energy produced by nuclear fission deep with their cores, but his heart waxed poetic and his thoughts turned to liberation. He was certain the misunderstanding about his Time Platform would be sorted out. He would soon be free to walk beneath the stars. She would not. Death knew no mercy and brooked no debate.
Searching the Heavens, he located the constellation Andromeda, whose name she bore. It blazed brilliantly as had the misguided intellect behind those beguiling eyes. "Laurel," he whispered, "if only I could have~" He fell silent a moment, choking back tears as regret overwhelmed him, but then he continued, his voice quavering. "No, I am a Coluan, and beyond such puerile fantasies. I will not lose control." Thin fingers balled into fists as a tremor shook him.
Curious. He had not realized the line he walked was so fine.
Unexpectedly, his musings were interrupted by a holo-projection that appeared unannounced behind him. He turned and listened impassively as the charges against him were read. Among other things, he stood accused of tampering with time, creating an illegal Time Platform, and the destruction of the multi-lab at Legion Headquarters. The projection then politely informed him a hearing had been set for the next morning at which time he would be allowed to speak in his own defense.
Apple-green lips snarled and he managed a derisive snort. "Cretins." Who were they to question him?
The hologram vanished with an official flourish leaving the young alien alone to ponder the wisdom of having accepted the United Planets invitation to join the ranks of the newly formed Legion of Superheroes. Not that he had had much choice. He had been drafted. Still, if he had refused to come, he wouldn't have been in this predicament, and he most certainly would never have met
With an uncharacteristically wistful smile, he turned his attention once again to the constellation Andromeda and watched it glisten. If he had been less of a scientist and more of a dreamer, he might have read its clarity as an omen. But he knew better. Omens were for ignorant peasants and fools. He was neither.
She was dead and dead she would stay.
As he lowered his eyes and prepared to return to the thin mat the Science Police had supplied him, he became aware of an anomaly. The room was silent. Normally the security force-field which blanketed the open doorway produced a constant and irritating hum. Someone had entered the cell. Pivoting swiftly, he found himself face to face with a strange man. A blaster was leveled at his chest.
Outraged, he demanded, "Who are you?" This was not his jailer, nor did the man bear even a passing resemblance to anyone he had met before. "What do you want?"
Without warning a pencil-thin ray of light sliced the blackness of the cell targeting his Legionnaire's uniform. Querl Dox raised his hand in protest, recognizing its intent. Seconds later, green eyes widened as a projectile struck his flesh and a rush of barbiturates cascaded through his system, shutting it down.
He fell, and as he did, he heard his captor's monosyllabic reply.
"Cos! Whatever is wrong with you? First you throw out Garth, then you agree to keep Zoe even though it's dangerous for her now that she has no powers," the young blond girl drew a deep breath and then finished with a flourish of her finely tapered hands, "and now Brainy! Have you lost your mind?"
Rok Krinn, the dark-haired fourteen year old leader of the Legion of Superheroes tried to focus his attention on the emotional girl who paced in front of him. He was so tired, he just wished she'd hold still. "Imra ," he began.
But she wasn't through.
"How could you let the SP's just cart him away like that! You okayed using the Time Platform to go after Superboy. You could have said no." She slammed her hand down on top of his desk, making him jump. "They're treating him like a criminal!"
"According to the SP's he is a criminal. Imra, calm down. I'm just doing what the president ordered."
"And since when has that been so important?" The young woman known as Saturn Girl studied her friend, a frown creasing her creamy white forehead. "If it didn't go against my make, Rok Krin, I'd read that closed mind of yours so fast it would make it swim. Whatever are you up to?"
The boy met her eyes and shuddered. Imra was a telepath and a formidable one. Only her code of ethics prevented her entering his mind without an invitation. Still, it might have been better for him if he had let her in. She would have seen then that he wasn't 'up to' anything, least of all running this grand experiment known as the LSH. There had already been so many tragedies Kid Quantum's death, Apparition's . Andromeda's.
"You know Brainy was just upset over Andromeda," Saturn Girl insisted, "Lyle thinks he only built the Time Platform to go back and save her. Isn't that sweet?"
Cosmic Boy glanced up at his friend. Her eyes had gone all dreamy the way a girl's do when they're thinking about romantic stuff. His black eyebrows rose despite his best efforts to keep them under control. "Brainiac Five in love?"
Saturn Girl glared, her blue eyes all-knowing. "It's been known to happen to the best of us."
Rok cleared his throat and shifted his attention to the stack of data chips. He could feel the blood rising in his cheeks. If she hadn't been in love with his best friend .
"That still doesn't excuse~"
The attractive blond threw her hands up in the air. "You're hopeless, Rok Krin. I give up." She walked to the door taking the scent of her skin and the vision of her loveliness with her. "And you know what else you are going to be, if you don't come out of this soon and recognize who your real friends are?"
He looked up but she was gone, leaving only the sting of her words to echo through his mind where she had projected them.
Lyle Norg waited outside of Cosmic Boy's office, promising himself he would not employ his own super-power, namely invisibility, to find out what their current leader and Saturn Girl were arguing about. He had come to see Rok because Brainy was a friend of his and he was worried about him. Dabbling in time was a serious offense, and he knew the awesome intellect Brainiac possessed was matched only by his lack of social skills. The Coluan might get himself hanged without even realizing his own hands had formed the noose. At his side, Salu Digby, an Imskian otherwise known as Shrinking Violet, also awaited a confrontation with their leader. She was all too aware that the death of their Daxamite colleague, Andromeda, had upset the delicate balance that was Brainiac Five, and she felt responsible. It was she who had exposed the young woman's connections to the infamous White Triangle, a group of racists keen on galactic domination. Now Andromeda was dead, killed in the ensuing war, and her conscience had made an advocate of her. She felt it her duty to give Cosmic Boy a piece of her mind.
Unexpectedly the door to the office opened with a whoosh, and a steaming Saturn Girl stormed past them without acknowledging their presence. Realizing their cause had already been championed, the naturally shy Violet took the opportunity to tug on her companion's arm, and whisper, "Lyle, let's go. I don't think Cos is going to be in any mood to see us."
Lyle Norg, a handsome brown-haired human of fourteen or fifteen, able to bend the rays of light around his body and clothing so that he appeared invisible, reluctantly agreed. "You're probably right. She has a way of getting under his skin ."
"What's with them anyway?" the petite dark-haired beauty asked. "They fight like some old married couple."
Invisible Kid stared at her, suddenly aware she didn't share his suspicions about Cosmic Boy's feelings for Saturn Girl. "Oh, I don't know. I guess being in charge makes you old sort of fast."
Shrinking Violet put her fists on her slender hips and sighed. "So now what?"
Lyle shook his head slowly, and then a smile lit his boyish face. "I know. Let's go see Brainy. Maybe we can cheer him up."
Vi's nose wrinkled. "You really think so?"
He looked at the office door, magnetically sealed, and then thought of Saturn Girl fuming in her quarters. "No, but can you think of anything else better to try?"
" sure is the one?"
"How many Coluans Earth?"
Consciousness returned slowly to Brainiac Five, accompanied by waves of nausea and the notion that his head had been split in two and then poorly cemented together. Never before had it hurt even to think. He bit his lip, drew a deep breath and opened his eyes, unaware that as he did so, he cried out. Long dark lashes parted in pain to reveal the steeply tilted floor of the cargo bay of a star cruiser. He was a prisoner, and only as a dark figure spun in the command seat and began to move towards him, did he realize that his hands and feet were bound and a pressure sensitive bandage covered his mouth, precluding speech. He had been rendered helpless, and what was worse, for the first time in his brief life, he found he was unable to call upon the remarkable intellect which was his birthright. Unbelievably, a thick curtain had descended, shutting off access to his twelfth-level mind, locking all knowledge away as surely as if it had been bound in chains and dropped into the bottomless chasm of Trevel, back home on Colu.
He felt ashamed. Surely, he deserved whatever fate lay in store for him, if he had let it come to this.
As the pilot approached, he struggled to rise into a seated position. His unintentional outburst had alerted them to his conscious state ~the least he could do was attempt to preserve a scrap of his former dignity. Unfortunately, as he shifted, a pain so profound it took his breath away shot through his head, causing his flesh to go cold. Seconds later, he hit the metal floor with a thud, splitting his lip and deeply bruising his right cheek. With consciousness fleeting, he barely noticed the man who had come to tower over him, and cared even less when a strong hand reached down to savagely haul his head back. "Look at him," the shadow sneered, "thousands of years of genetic engineering to produce this? I could snap his neck with a breath ."
His companion shifted in he co-pilot's seat. "What will you do with him? Will he survive long enough to~'
"Oh, he'll live as long as I desire. Long enough to give us what we want." He let the young Coluan's head strike the deck with a sickening thud before he finished, "Then I shall have the very personal pleasure of wiping him and his kind from the face of the galaxy." The pilot returned to his companion's side to take note of a small dot on the monitor screen that seemed to be slowly gaining on them. "They are coming after us. "Yes?"
He considered that information a moment and then asked, "Will we reach sanctuary before they lock onto us?"
"Not only their genes, but their technology is inferior," the co-pilot scoffed, "long before they detect our presence, we will have made landfall."
The commander nodded and then glanced back at their forlorn captive where he lay in a steadily growing pool of dark green blood. "Are the others ready?"
"They have signaled that they are, though Tavara wishes to speak to you upon our arrival."
Taking his seat , the older of the two men grimaced and wiped a spot of emerald green blood from his boot. A shudder ran the length of his sinewy form, but he quickly suppressed it as a sign of weakness. "Did she say about what?"
The other man shook his dark head. "No, but she sounded pleased. The room is prepared."
A fierce smile cut across the angular planes of the pilot's darkly handsome face. "Good," he said, weaving strong fingers in a web behind his brown hair.
"So am I."
Sometime later Brainiac Five became aware of motion and voices in the dark. Through ebon swells that threatened to engulf him, he attempted to rise, but his efforts proved futile. Soon he was swept under like a child cast adrift, lost in the vast ocean of dreams.
It was the last peace he would know.
"Wake up, Coluan! Your hour has come!"
Ice cold water splashed over him, soaking his burgundy and black uniform, chilling him to the bone. He was exhausted and in pain, stiff from a long journey bound hand and foot, and his head ached as though someone had driven a spike through it. In the subdued light he could just make out his captor and several other shadowy figures. Their faces were turned from him and they stood near one of the grey, featureless walls that marked the room as a workspace. His experienced eye told him it was a lab of some sort, though when he tried to concentrate, he found it was almost impossible to focus on any particular thought. His head swam with the effort. Undeterred, he attempted to rise, only to discover that he was strapped to a diagnostic table, metal cuffs restraining his hands and feet.
Why were they doing this to him? Who were they? And why couldn't he reason it out? This was inexcusable. He was Coluan. A member of the most intelligent and intellectually superior race in the United Federation of Planets. The intent of these simple men should have read as an open book to him, but their motivations remained ciphers,
cryptic designs from a realm of night terrors and fever dreams. He licked his lips and tasted blood and fear.
He was going to die.
"What do you mean we can't see him?" Lyle Norg slammed his fist down in front of the officer's nose and felt pain shoot through his arm. He pretended not to notice. "You mean you won't let us see him, don't you? I'm afraid that isn't good enough. We demand to see him!"
Shrinking Violet shrunk a little at his side and hugged his arm. "Kid ." she warned, noticing the guard's rising color.
"What?" he demanded, glaring at her, "what?"
"I don't think threats are going to get you~"
"I'll tell you what they are going to get you, young lady," the day-sergeant said in a stern voice, rising to level his regulation blaster at the pair of them. "They'll get you tossed into a holding cell along with your friend." Violet noticed his hand was shaking. He was obviously aware that the two of them were not your ordinary run-of-the-mill gate-crashers. They could take what they wanted. "Listen, this isn't my idea. I have my orders, and my orders are that no one sees the Coluan until after the hearing tomorrow. And that means both of you!"
Lyle opened his mouth to protest, but Violet pulled him away, shaking her dark head and whispering fiercely as she propelled him along the corridor. "Kid, no. You won't help Brainy any if you get arrested. We can always try la~"
Invisible Kid stopped so abruptly he forced her to do the same. The diminutive girl winced as a sly smile lit his face. "Kid, what are you thinking?"
He spread his hands wide and began to fade, becoming ghostlike at first and then totally immaterial. "I was just thinking that being a Legionnaire comes in handy some times like now!"
She knew he was, but she had to ask. "Kid? Lyle? You still here?"
"Sure, Vi. What is it?"
The voice came out of nowhere, so she continued to address the spot on the wall where she had seen him last. "Do you want me to come along?"
He hesitated, tempted, but then said, "No. One of us is enough to risk. We don't know what extra security measures they have in place in his cell. You keep the duty officer distracted while I slip by, even invisible my presence may be enough to make his board light up when I move through the force-field." She felt a rush of wind and then a quick peck on her cheek. "But thanks for asking. See you in a few."
Violet's eyes were wide with fear. At times like this, she felt her power, the ability to shrink to the size of an atom and back again, was practically useless. What she really needed was some good old-fashioned fortitude and a heavy dash of feminine wiles. Smoothing out the wrinkles in her dark green uniform, she took a deep breath and moved with a very deliberate wiggle toward the harried officer.
Through clenched teeth she whispered, "I'll get you for this some day, Kid."
The pain was unbearable. It coursed through his veins like liquid fire, setting his hair on end and making his bones ache from within. In the midst of this torment, he had finally recognized it as the end result of a modified form of electro-shock therapy ~ a method of torture from the late twentieth century so heinous it had been outlawed throughout the U.P. At first, the pain had seemed to come from without, but now as it built shock after shock, wave upon wave toward a vast tsunami of agony, he found he had become one with it, and he knew its passing would leave him either dead or wasted. And then, suddenly, it was no more. Spent, he collapsed against the cold table, the memory of it boiling his dark green blood and rattling through his young bones. Without warning, a dark visage appeared above him. He found he couldn't focus on it, though he forced his tear-streaked eyes to try. Cruelly, the man laughed at this efforts.
"If you've energy enough to be defiant, Coluan, then we still have much to do. I would ask, do you know where you are?"
Brainiac Five closed his eyes and then opened them slowly, forcing shattered nerve pathways to activate his speech center. "Y-yes."
His tormentor laughed again. A harsh, derisive sound. "And where is that?"
"T-the Prison Planet." The words were labored. His breath spent.
Dark eyebrows shot upwards in surprise. The man turned to ask the shadowy woman if she was certain the treatment was working, and when she answered in the affirmative, his estimation of their captive rose a notch or two.
"How do you feel?" he asked unexpectedly.
Querl Dox frowned, tears spilling uncontrollably down his cheeks. "Why would you care?"
"Oh, I care. I care very much. You have something I need, and before you die, Legionnaire, I will have it." He raised his hand slowly so the prisoner could follow the movement and then signaled the woman. "Now, Tavara. Again."
White-hot agony shot through him and as if from a distance he heard a voice ~ his voice ~ screaming for mercy.
They hadn't even asked him a question.
On the opposite side of the planet in a darkened cell, a young girl sat with her hands clasped about her knees, her dark blue eyes staring without seeing at the four gray walls which had become her world. The irony was, she had the power to escape any time she wanted, but the world beyond these walls had become too confusing, too uncertain for her to chance it. Her exile was as much of her own choosing as of the President's or the United Planet's. She had found that despite her super-strength, despite the ability to cross vast amounts of space at near light speed, despite the invulnerability that had kept her alive at the heart of a supernova she simply couldn't cope with life anymore. Everything she had been taught, everything that had made her what she was, had been wrenched from her in a single stroke by the keen intelligence behind a certain pair of dark green eyes. Oh, her final choice might have been made later, in anger, battling Roxxas and feeling she had been used, but the crack in the foundation of her xenophobic beliefs had come earlier when a certain Coluan had saved her life and forced her to admit that he was neither superior nor inferior to her. That they were, in fact, equals.
Such a thought had never occurred to her before.
And now he thought she was dead. They all did, all of the Legionnaires she had treated so horridly. Her prejudices had cost her their friendship and their trust. The prison of their condemnation was what kept her here. That and her own cowardice.
Andromeda, Laurel Gand of the planet Daxam, stood and stretching to her full six feet plus height, began to run through the series of exercises she practiced each day to keep her shape and her sanity. There was no one else on the planet. There was nothing to do here but think and that was really part of what she had come here to escape. As her long blonde hair brushed the steel gray floor, she hesitated and sighed. There was no denying it. She had fallen in love with an alien.
With a whimper she slid to the floor, placing her head in her hands, trembling. Every inch of her had been indoctrinated to believe Daxamites superior, to believe other races weak and deficient, to abhor even the slightest touch or trace of contact, and now she found herself thinking even longing for the touch of his hand.
What had happened to her?
Tears streamed down her flawless cheeks and she tasted salt as they rolled across her rounded rose-petal lips. Tossing her head back, she looked at the stars as they shown through the slit window of her cell.
Perhaps she had simply grown up.
Sometime later, after the automated servers had delivered her evening meal and cleaned up the remnants, chiding her for not eating enough, she lay on her thin pallet half-asleep, dreaming and dozing, her subconscious mind taking her back to Earth and happier times. Several feet away from her, the automatic sensor that controlled the cell door chirruped, jarring her awake. In a flash she was on her feet, the scarfed edge of the gossamer gown she was wearing flying in the wind like the tail feathers of a dove.
"Who's there?" she demanded. Who knew she was here? The President, her planet; all had demanded secrecy. Had the Legion found out? Had they come to confront her about her connections to the White Triangle? Did they think her a traitor?
Would he be with them?
Or perhaps it wasn't the Legionnaires at all, but the Triangle themselves. Either way, she was in trouble.
The inertron door finished its slow descent into the floor, revealing a tall man who stood framed in the subdued light that penetrated the dark haven of her self-imposed exile. He wore a simple gray suit emblazoned with a white emblem in the shape of a pyramid. She tensed, all of the super-strength granted her by this systems yellow sun at the ready. She had no way of knowing whether this was one of the Daxamites who, like her, had been given the serum designed by Querl Dox which negated their vulnerability to simple lead or not. If so, he was probably insane as well as unimaginably strong ~ perhaps stronger than she.
If not ~ then he was incredibly stupid.
The tall man stepped into her room an expression of bewilderment spreading across his brutally handsome face. Obviously, he had not expected to find her here.
"Laurel? Laurel Gand?" His eyes lit with a joy that left her uneasy. "What? Why are you here?"
Thoughts raced through her mind. He didn't have a transuit on which meant he was super-powered. He must have escaped at the end when the renegade Daxamites were forced through the Stargate created by the Legion and its founder R. J. Brande. He was most likely insane. Querl Dox's serum had been specifically engineered to her genetic make-up and when ingested by others, it had slowly stripped them of their sanity. After this much time, this one should have been a raving lunatic. The question was, did he or did he not know about her part in the downfall of the Daxamite's mad dreams of galaxy-wide conquest? Did he see her as just another foot soldier in the war or as the betrayer of her race?
She answered his question with a question. "Why are you?"
"I am here on Triangle business, but we had been told you were dead, destroyed in the explosion that took Roxxas."
He stepped into the cell and she could see now that he easily outweighed her by about fifty of sixty pounds and was about fifteen years older. Still, he was speaking to her conversationally, so he must not think her a traitor ~ otherwise, his hands would have been around her throat. If he was here on some business of the Triangle's, perhaps she could pretend to join them and put a stop to whatever it was they were planning. If she could prove herself to the U.P. then maybe she could leave this dismal place . But did she really want to leave? She looked at the man and knew, whatever her own motivations, she couldn't just stand by and let him carry on with his racist agenda. She'd just have to worry about the outcome of her actions later.
"I survived the blast ~ just barely ~ and then was sent here for my own part in the war," she said, speaking the truth. "You knew I supplied Roxxas with the formula for the serum the Coluan created." She remembered to mentally spit on the word.
"Yes. I received the serum," he said as a frown creased his forehead. "There were certain limitations."
She nodded and meeting his tormented eyes, knew it had taken its toll on him. "The formula was specific ~"
He nodded. "And even that was lost in the battle. It died with Roxxas though we are working on obtaining a new one at this very moment ."
So that was what he was up to. Another version of the serum. They must have found someone capable of comprehending Brainiac Five's work. "Excellent," she said, taking a step toward the man but maintaining a safe distance, "so soon our brothers and sisters will be unstoppable. The Triangle will triumph at last!"
"Yes." His gray eyes gleamed with fanatical devotion. "Come and see. You are liberated. Will you not join us?" He closed the gap between them and took her roughly by the shoulders. Somehow, she found his touch even more disturbing than that of an alien. "In fact, there is a job uniquely suited to you."
She forced a smile and nodded. "I live to serve Daxam."
It wasn't a lie.
They soared through the air above the abandoned prison planet together and Laurel considered her chances if it came to a battle. She was a sixteen year old girl, he a man of thirty or thirty-five. Would natural strength prevail? Only her anger had made her a match for Roxxas. Perhaps this was not the wisest course.
As they neared the entrance to the medical section of this portion of the prison, her finely-tuned hearing caught the out-riding waves of the sound of a creature in agony. She winced as her companion smiled and commented casually, "I hear we are making progress. Your presence may be the very key to unlocking this particular 'puzzle'. It seems we were destined to find one another."
Why would be think she would be such an asset? Unless . Her heart raced and her stomach plummeted, threatening to take her with it. She swallowed hard and then asked quietly, "Is it a Legionnaire?"
His smile only broadened as they touched down, taking on an affectionate edge. He nodded curtly to the transuit-attired Daxamite who guarded the entrance and waved aside a second that waited before the door of what appeared to be a small medical lab."
"See for yourself."
If she lived to be one hundred Laurel would never forget the scene that confronted her when the lab door was opened. The room was brilliantly lit, the intensity of the lights making it unbearably hot as though the room itself tossed in a fevered dream. All of its normal furnishings had been removed leaving only one medical table center stage, and upon that metal slab the sweat-soaked and bleeding body of Querl Dox of the planet Colu lay, still as death. Emerald green blood trailed from lips bitten through and tears streaked his filthy cheeks. Dank blond hair hung in sweat-soaked hanks about his pale face and slack shoulders.
They were killing him.
She told herself to stay cool, to play her part and wait for an opportunity to free him, but just then, without warning, a jolt of electricity arced through his slender form, bending his back until she feared it would break, and any composure she had managed to maintain evaporated like so much space dust. Before she knew it, she had swung on the super-powered Daxamite next to her and pinned him to the wall.
And she thought she had been angry at Roxxas!
"Animal!" she screamed, every muscle and sinew in her shapely form tensed and awaiting release. "How dare you! Let him go!"
The older man fixed her with a stare, his face free of fear but unreadable. His steel gray eyes speared her as he spoke quietly into the storm of her anger. "Daughter of Daxam, what does it matter to you what we do with this creature ? Was he not created to serve our needs?"
Laurel hesitated. Brainy had fallen silent, but she dared not turn around to ascertain whether or not he lived. They needed the formula. For the moment his continued existence was necessary. There was some question, though, of how long they would wait. She drew a deep breath and released the Daxamite leader. Perhaps she could still save them both.
"Forgive me " she began haltingly, "he was one of my companions. We had We became friends." Her own words condemned her. She could see it in his eyes. "This is just . You have to understand. I couldn't stand to see a Daxam-hound hurt like this, let alone a living thinking being."
Unexpectedly a metal band clamped on her wrist and she felt an overwhelming weakness seize her. Powerless, she fell to her knees as her body went numb and a black veil descended over her sapphire blue eyes. Still enough consciousness remained to let her hear her captor's words.
"I presumed you innocent, Laurel Gand, until you convicted yourself. By your words I know the rumors are true. If I didn't need you for the greater cause I would simply snap your neck now as your treachery deserves, but ~ " He took his foot and shoved her to the floor. "As it is, I will give you one more chance to redeem yourself. First, you will obtain the formula from your obstinate friend , and then you will destroy him. If you do not, you destroy yourself."
"The choice is yours.
Her eyes closed to the sound of Brainiac Five screaming once again, a pitiful sound that rocked her to the very foundations of her soul and laid bare the convictions of her heart.
No choice at all.
Lyle Norg stumbled into Violet, knocking her into the wall before he could remember to materialize, and when he did, he was visibly shaken. His slender form trembled in its jet-black suit, and his usually ruddy cheeks were the color of day old paste. Violet had reflexively shrunk out of sight when Lyle struck her, but now that she saw the state he was in, she responded by resuming her normal size and taking hold of his quaking shoulders.
"Kid, whatever is wrong?" Her dark eyes flashed in a white face framed by black hair. "Did someone see you? I kept the sergeant busy like you said. Are they coming?" She peeked around his narrow shoulders, but could see no one following. The current S.P. at the desk was paying no more attention to them than to any other visitor.
The chestnut-haired youth drew a breath to steady himself and then met her eyes, a pained expression in his brown ones. Brainy was his friend. He just couldn't believe this had happened, and under the S.P.'s very noses!
"Brainy's been kidnapped!"
"What?" Her rosy mouth was a round 'O'. "How?"
He pulled her to the side and placed his index finger against her warm lips. "Several guards were killed. They've hushed it up. The rumor is, it was a Daxamite. A super-powered Daxamite."
Violet's hands went to her mouth. "Oh no, but I thought ."
"They were all gone? So we had hoped. Obviously in vain. And if they've taken Brainy, you know what it's for ~ "
Violet nodded her head. "The serum. They want more of it, made for each of them, so they won't go mad. Oh, Lyle ." A tremor of fear shook her small frame.
"I know. That means the one who took him is mad. We have to tell Cos."
"Do you know where they went?" Violet followed Lyle Norg as he sped down the corridor, bent on reaching their headquarters and Cosmic Boy's office in record time.
"The Prison Planet. The Science Police cruisers should be reaching there about now. But even if one of the Daxamites is as strong as Andromeda ~ "
"They don't stand a chance."
"No chance at all."
The bells were ringing in the temple, loud and low. She could head them clearly and they brought to mind family and friends, fidelity and passionate nationalism. Beliefs she now recognized as legitimate but misguided. Laurel Gand opened her eyes but remained still, remembering where she was and realizing that the bells were inside her head, not without. She was not where she had collapsed, but had been moved closer to the diagnostic bed which held her friend. Her hands were bound and raised above her, chained to a section of one of its metal legs. Gingerly, she pulled against them, testing their strength and her own. In response the Daxamite who had attacked her immediately reached out to take her by the chin, brutally thrusting her head back so she was forced to look into his eyes.
"I could snap your bones in a second, little one. Remember that. Each bracelet contains a red sun emitter. You are as vulnerable as your alien colleague. I give you one hour, one, to convince him surrender the formula to me and to assist in preparing it. If you succeed, I will return you to your kin on Daxam and let them correct your erring ways. If not," he pinched tighter and she felt the skin bruise, "you will join him in death."
"What will you do with him, if he helps?" she dared to ask.
He hesitated, glancing at the form on the bed that was hidden from her. "We will honor him as the one who freed his betters from an unfortunate affliction wrought by the hostile environment of an alien world. And then we will make him a martyr."
"You mean, you'll kill him."
The man bent closer so she could feel his warm breath on her cheek. "With pleasure," he breathed and then effortlessly thrust her head sideways so it struck the table, disorienting her as he walked away. "One hour. I will be ~ "
"Mahlon!" Another member of the White Triangle came running into the room, breathless. "Science Police! There must be a dozen cruisers! I don't know who this green-skin is, but he must be terribly important if they ~ "
"Calm yourself, Rojan! You remember the drill. Man your station and send Tavara to me. She will guard the door." He looked at Laurel and warned her, "She has order to kill him if you try to escape. And she is quite capable. When he talks," he nodded towards the still figure of Brainiac 5, "you will call me, but only then. I have other business now. By the end of this day, the Science Police will be short a few dozen officers!"
Laurel watched him leave and then steeled herself to look up towards the figure that occupied the bed. A single pale green hand hung over the edge, crusted with blood from where his struggles had forced the metal cuffs into his smooth flesh. He had to be alive. Mahlon couldn't expect her to obtain information from a dead man. Could he? Holding her breath, she stood up and running her eyes along his thin frame, saw with relief that the burgundy and black fabric of his Legion uniform was rising and falling evenly. His eyes were closed and blood stained the corner of his lips. She inched her fingers toward his hand, but found her shackles kept her bare inches away. The irony was not lost on her. Now when she would have touched him, she couldn't. Would that she had cared to before.
"Brainy?" she whispered fervently, "Brainiac? Can you hear me?"
When he failed to respond, frustration welled up within her. How was she supposed to make him talk if she couldn't touch him or do something to rouse him? Then she remembered with shame: The Daxamites would never have dreamed she would be willing to touch the alien flesh or allow it to touch her. Her cheek burned and tears stung her eyes: How could she have been so blind?
She struggled against the chains and felt the radiation from the manacles sapping her strength. Still, if they thought her helpless, they were fools. Righteous anger gave her strength, and with a monumental effort, she wrenched a one of the leg supports free, releasing the chains if not her hands themselves.
Outside a narrow pinched face appeared in the window of the cell door. "What are you up to?" the female Daxamite demanded.
Laurel adopted a look of innocence. "He moved toward me," she gasped. "I was startled. I'm afraid I knocked over one of the instruments."
Blinded by her own delusions, Tavara accepted this explanation. "I told Mahlon you hadn't the stomach for this. Prove me wrong. Do your job and we will all get out of here sooner. Otherwise, keep quiet or I might just mistakenly believe you are trying to escape." She brandished her blaster in the window as a threat and then turned away.
Laurel released the breath she hadn't realized she had drawn and then laid her hand, gently and with deliberation on Brainy's cheek. It was so hot she reflexively pulled back. He moaned at her touch, but failed to open his eyes. Still not quite believing he was here or that she was in fact voluntarily touching him, she ran her fingers into his sweat-darkened hair only to make contact with something metallic. Spreading the hair apart with her fingers, she found a small device embedded in his skull.
Her stomach felt sick. What had Mahlon done to him? Smoothing his brow, she leaned close to his ear and called his name, his real name, not the one the Legionnaire's had chosen to call him or the title his planet had bestowed. In using it, she finally totally acknowledged him as a person, and one who mattered to her. "Querl? Can you hear me? Querl, you have to wake up!" She glanced at the door which separated them from the Daxamite guard and whispered, "We have to get out of here."
He moaned pitifully and from somewhere deep within the deathlike embrace of fatigue and pain, rose to answer her. "I have no hands or feet," he replied nonsensically, "I can't go anywhere." His eyelids fluttered and he started to sink again. "Go away. Leave me to die. I won't tell you anything."
She swallowed hard and laid her hand on his. Like his face, the flesh was burning hot. She had to get him out of this place, no matter how much he fought her. "Querl, it's me, Andromeda."
That made him open his eyes. They were unfocused and tortured, glazed with fever, but still keen beyond the norm. They fastened on her, full of hope, but then turned away in despair. "Andromeda is dead. Go away." He licked his lips slowly and finished, "Save your deceptions for someone who willing to buy into them."
"But Querl, it is me! Really." Tears flowed from her dark blue eyes, striking his feverish flesh.
A sudden fire lit his eyes and he turned his face towards her, his mouth a knife's edge. "I don't know who you are, Daxamite, but you are not Andromeda. She would never had called me Querl, and you have made an even greater mistake ." He barely inclined his head towards her hand, which rested on his green skin, "She doesn't touch aliens." Having exerted too much energy, he fell back, panting, onto the bed. "Just kill me and be done with it!" he whispered, exhausted. "I will never tell you what you want."
"Querl . Brainy, what can I ?" She stopped abruptly. A sudden explosion which rocked the complex turned her attention skyward. Without thinking, she employed her super-vision to penetrate the roof and gaze into the firmament above the prison. She found the power diminished but serviceable. With it, she was able to see that the single Daxamite, Mahlon, was holding off a fleet of S.P. cruisers, two of which had been destroyed and were even now tumbling towards the planet's surface. It must have been their attack that shook the building. Suddenly inspired, she turned her power on the door and saw the guard, Tavara, buried in rubble. Apparently the red sun bracelets were not as effective as her captors believed. Perhaps ~ if she concentrated hard enough ~ she could free herself and then her injured colleague. Stepping back from the table, she took a deep breath and bent her will to the task. Like most super-powered beings, she often held back, utilizing only a small portion of the vast strength available to her. Now she called upon it all, willing it to overcome the weakness she felt, and moments later, the chain between the bracelets snapped in two. Unfortunately, no matter how hard she tried, the bracelets themselves remained. Resigned, she turned her attention instead to the cuffs that bound Brainiac 5 and seconds later, they were so much mangled metal. Then she realized the unannounced maneuver had startled the young man awake and to her horror, she found he was feebly trying to move away from her, his eyes wide with terror.
"Querl, you have to listen to me .please!" She stepped towards him, holding her arms open. "Would I have been shackled if I was working with Mahlon? I can't believe you are unable to reason this out. What is the matter with you?"
He stumbled off the table and clung to the side of it opposite her, one hand to his bowed head. "I have ," he muttered haltingly, " my head hurts, all the time. I can't . I can't think. My mind " His head came up and his deep green eyes were wild with real fear. "My mind! My God, something is wrong with my mind! What have you done?"
She stared at him, dumbfounded. The device in his skull. It had to be some sort of neural neutralizer. Mahlon was insane. Why bring him here for his mind and then dare to tamper with it?
"Querl ." She began, "Brainy, stay calm. We can remove it. There has to be a way ~ " as she spoke the battered and bruised Coluan's will to live seemed to fade before her eyes. He covered his face with his hands and shuddered. Then he collapsed.
His pulse was weak but steady. His skin clammy from shock and loss of blood. She glanced with genuine hatred toward the men of her world where they battled the heroic S.P's, and then turned aside from her need for revenge. She had to get him out of here before Mahlon returned. He was the only true threat. The others she could handle. Even with a tenth of her strength, she was more than a match for any ordinary Daxamite. Besides, if she could wake her companion and make him see reason, he might be able to help her crack the code on the bracelets, which would allow her full super-strength to return. Still, looking at the tortured figure curled at her feet, she doubted very much her would have the strength to even try.
Taking a deep breath, she trained her weakened vision of the sky once again and saw one of the cruisers giving Mahlon a run for his money. He must be tiring. They would have to escape now, before he returned, infuriated and more determined that ever. Walking the length of the cell she used her penetrating vision on the walls, seeking a hidden exit, one that might lead to an air duct or access into the service tunnels below. Finally she found one, near the western wall, covered with an inertron plate. In despair she fell to her knees, defeated. At her full strength, perhaps .
Exhausted, she sat with her back to the plate, her long legs thrust out before her, and stared at the young boy lying on the floor. His life was in her hands. Possible or not, she would have to get them out.
Laurel rose and clasped her hands together, making a battering ram of her fists. With a prayer to the gods of Daxam and Colu, she concentrated and ignoring the pale scarlet glow from the manacles that encircled her slender wrists, swung with all her might, barely denting the metal plate and nearly splitting her knuckles.
A smile lit her handsome face.
It was a beginning.
Cosmic Boy stared at the two legionnaires before him: Shrinking Violet, pale and frightened. Invisible Kid, flushed and furious. What could he say? Brainiac's safety was their concern. He was a member of their team, irresponsible actions or not. But the Prison Planet? Little did these two know the Legion's deepest darkest secret was buried there at her own request. Laurel Gand, reformed racist, traitor to her enemies and allies alike, sat in a cell, exiled and alone. If he allowed them to go, would they find her? Or worse yet, what if the men who had taken Brainy already had? Whose side was she on? Did anyone ~ even Laurel ~ truly know?
"Lyle, there's more to this than you know."
The brown-haired youth angrily pounded his fist on Cos's desk, making the holo of his parents and his kid brother shake. "What more can there be? Brainy is missing! The Daxamites have him and you know he would rather die than turn over the formula for the serum and start another war. We have to save him!"
Rokk Krin ran hands through his black hair and tugged hard. He was going to have to tell them. He'd deal with the president's displeasure later. There really was no choice. Brainiac 5 was innocent ~ in this at least.
Her knuckles were a bloody mass but she was satisfied. Andromeda sucked at the torn flesh and smiled. The plate, which must have been an inertron alloy, had buckled, revealing a dark corridor behind. It was large enough for the two of them, though she would have to drag Brainiac 5 if she couldn't rouse him.
She crossed to the semi-conscious Coluan and stared at him a moment before shaking him gently. He groaned and then his eyes flew open, delirious with fever. His bloodied hands clawed at her, ripping the fine white fabric of her prison gown. She caught his wrists and held them tightly. "Brainiac 5 Querl, stop! It's me. Everything's going to be all right."
Sweat broke across his brow as she looked into his eyes. They were wide with fear. The gods knew what demons prowled there. The small device beneath his hair pulsed randomly, washing his pale face with a ghoulish light that hollowed out his cheeks and made him look like a madman. Inarticulate sounds escaped his lips and she found herself moved by pity. As gently as she could, she struck his face, rendering him unconscious. Practical or not, she would have to carry him.
The Legion cruiser screamed through the skies toward the Prison Planet. Lyle had been vaguely aware of a transmission from the president's office, requesting confirmation of their mission and coming just short of denying them permission to leave Earth's orbit, but now he was focused on other voices, fragments of reports logged by half a dozen cruiser pilots panic-stricken resigned to the loss of tens, possibly hundreds of lives. Apparently, no matter how diplomatically inconvenient, this was a job for the Legion. He engaged the auto-pilot and then walked back to Cosmic Boy's side. Saturn Girl acknowledged his intention, even if she didn't agree, but Violet ~ the other member of the hastily gathered team ~ scowled. She felt betrayed. They all did, and with reason. And yet, when she looked at the dark circles beneath Cos's eyes and realized what the deception had cost him, she couldn't help but feel a grudging respect for their beleaguered leader.
The raven-haired youth looked up, his face a mask of barely concealed pain. "Yes?"
"I'm sorry. You did the best you could." Lyle cleared his throat. "It couldn't have been easy, knowing all along ."
"And watching Brainiac 5 fall apart among other things? No. I feel I am responsible for the Time Platform fiasco as much as he is." Rokk Krin sighed and leaned back, his fingers laced behind his head. "If I had told him ."
"But you couldn't . The president even Andromeda wanted it kept secret. You're the leader. You have to make the hard decisions. Who are we to second guess?"
Cosmic Boy stared at the slight youth, his tousled brown hair held back by a black band. "My friends . I hope ."
Lyle held out his hand and grasped Cos's as he reached for it. "You bet. Now let's go bring Brainy and Laurel back home."
Rokk looked startled for a second and then he smiled. "Yeah, Laurel too."
As Lyle returned to the pilot's chair, Cosmic Boy ran a hand through his dark hair and sighed. If either off them had the good fortune to survive.
Laurel paused lost in thought. They were deep in the bowels of the prison, in some sort of service crawl-space. She had wended her way there, taking every screwy turn and twisted path she could find. Still, she didn't know if they stood a chance. Mahlon had penetrating vision as well and would be able to pierce the multiple layers of pipes and service boards to find them. Still, there was some hope. It seemed some of the walls were lead-lined and his vision might be impaired. Hers certainly was, though she knew that might have been the result of the cumulative hours of wearing the red sun emitters and not an indication of the presence of lead.
Querl lay nearby, his still form propped against one of the thousands of service panels which allowed access to the complex above. His pulse was stronger, but the fever still raged. The device on his upper forehead was black beneath the yellow bangs, but she knew it waited like a wolf in the dark. The moment he tried to think, it would spring forth to devour its prey.
Momentarily he stirred and she readied herself to restrain him if the madness was still upon him. "Querl?"
His green eyes opened and he fixed her with a steady, appraising gaze. His dry and cracked lips parted, and after licking them, he asked quietly, "What did I ask you to do before I would give you the anti-lead serum?"
She smiled ruefully and replied without hesitation, "You wanted me to admit that you were superior."
"And did you?" he asked, his keen eyes seeming to dance in the flickering light of a million electrical connections.
"No," she admitted. "But I couldn't tell you that you were inferior either. You didn't know it, but you taught me something about myself that day." She hung her head, blonde waves obscuring her face. "I tried to apologize, but you were already gone."
"I came again," he replied evenly, "and you threw a vase at me."
Her head came up. "I had had time to get angry. People don't always like what the mirror shows them." She shifted so that she sat across from him, the red light of the emergency systems shining on her beautiful face. "What I saw was ugly, but I didn't know how to be anything else."
"And so you went to Roxxas."
"He threatened me," she protested, though her heart wasn't in it. "I had nowhere else to go ~ "
"You could have come to me ~ " He paused to lick his lips again. "To us ~ we were your friends."
She shook her head. "I don't I didn't believe that."
He shifted his body and groaned. As she watched sweat broke out on his face and the implant pulsed ever so slightly.
"Don't," she said suddenly.
"What?" His eyes were wide. His finely sculpted features alert. Valor, she thought, but he was handsome!
"The device. Whenever you become agitated, it starts to glow. You remember earlier when you said you couldn't think? When you are quiet, it seems to be too." She looked at him and bit her lower lip. "Are you in a lot of pain?"
His temper flared briefly at the stupidity of her question, but then he recognized it as an attempt to express concern. He could lie. It might ease her conscience, but it would hardly prove advantageous to their current situation. He knew he had, at most, two or three hours before the fever reached its height. The odds were, if the device implanted in his head didn't destroy his mind, the raging fire lingering just at the edge of his consciousness would. "Laurel, you should make your way out of here and get help." Then he did lie. "I will be fine."
Blonde eyebrows shot up behind thick bangs. Just how simple-minded did he think she was? Fortunately, she had a logical reason to reject his suggestion. "Can't. I have my own devices, courtesy of our captors." She held her hands up and showed him the steadily pulsing bracelets. "Red sun generated. I still have more than the strength of a well-trained athlete, but not much more. I'm not going anywhere." She held his eyes and let him know she meant business. "Besides, I wouldn't go anywhere without you."
"That's commendable, if somewhat short-sighted." He shifted again, trying to force some feeling into his legs. "I have two, perhaps three hours before this fever incapacitates me. I cannot travel nor can I manufacture a plan which will allow both of us to live." He hesitated and then boldly concluded, "Laurel, I don't want you to die again. I couldn't I couldn't stand it." He frowned and turned his fevered eyes away. "Leave me and go. Save yourself."
Her chin dropped. She sat a moment chewing her lower lip and staring at the glowing metal that encircled her wrists. She wasn't going to leave him. No way. Suddenly she realized the bracelets were computer-coded. There was a little control panel on the side of each one. She lifted her head and shoved her arms towards him abruptly, asking, "Do you think you could get these off?"
Something akin to fire kindled in the depths of his green eyes, but he winced instantly as the device started to glow.
"No. Forget it," she whispered, horrified. "It's starting to ~ "
"Damn what it's starting to do!" he snarled, his jaw set. "I can do this!" And with that he reached out and began to press the pads on the tiny control panel so rapidly she could barely follow the motion of his sensitive fingers. With each calculation the light in the device deepened in intensity, so that by the time the first bracelet fell to the floor, he was breathing heavily and bathed in sweat. Exhausted the flaxen-haired Coluan fell back against the wall, his chest rising and falling as though he had run a long hard race under a blistering sun.
Andromeda leaned forward, placing a hand on his fevered cheek, tears streaming down her own. "Querl, you have to stop. I feel stronger. Maybe one hand is enough ."
"No," he whispered, gasping for each breath, his hand holding his head where the device pulsed and hummed, "I can do this. I will do it, even if it kills me."
She took his face in both her hands and held it, forcing him to look into her deep blue eyes, "Querl ."
Her hands were blessedly cool. He laughed wearily. Fire and ice. "Yes, Laurel?"
"I don't want you to die. I . I care about you." There she'd said it. Now she would have to live with the consequences. "I . I don't know exactly what I feel, but ."
They sat in silence. Words had suddenly lost all meaning. He held out his hand. She took it and then swiftly, but tentatively, leaned forward, brushing her rose-colored lips across his warm green ones.
"Well, isn't this a pretty sight?"
Two young heads pivoted sharply, astonished to find they were no longer alone. The Daxamite, Mahlon, crouched nearby them, his face contorted with disgust. "It won't do," he reached out to take Laurel by the wrist that was free of the restraint and twisted it until it snapped and she screamed.
"It just won't do at all."
They had flown past the wreckage of several S.P. cruisers, stopping to take aboard a few survivors. Lyle had placed them in stasis for the duration of the journey, but it was doubtful they would live. The Daxamites were, if anything, thorough. The Prison Planet lay beneath them, but Cos had decided to take the time to land before disembarking. Any overt attack might place the prisoner's lives in jeopardy, if they were still alive. And if alive and injured, then they would need to ship to take them home. Invisible Kid was confident they would find them alive, but then he was Brainy's friend, and he couldn't allow himself to think anything else. Saturn Girl was watching him, and with her telepathic powers, she could sense how frightened he was. They all were. They were very young and the fear of death should have been a stranger to them. Instead, it seemed to arrive with the consistency of a constant but uninvited guest.
She stood and went to Rokk, placing her hand on his shoulder. "It isn't your fault, you know? You couldn't have prevented this."
He shook his head. "If I hadn't hidden the truth about Andromeda, Brainy most likely would never have started that hair-brained scheme of his, and without the Time Platform, he wouldn't have been at S.P. headquarters all alone. They wouldn't have taken him if ~ "
"Oh, Rokk, don't be a fool."
He glanced up at her startled by her harsh words.
"Brainy is brilliant. The Time Platform would have been developed sooner or later anyway, and as for the Daxamites seeking him out ~ that became inevitable the moment he cured Laurel. This isn't your fault. It's the result of using the gifts we have. They make targets of us. Nothing you could have done would have prevented any of this. Believe me," she said, giving him her best all-knowing look, "I know."
He laughed for the first time she could remember in quite some time and took her hand. "If it wasn't for Garth, I'd sweep you away, Imra Ardeen."
She cuffed him on the head and pulled away. "Sure you would."
At that moment, Lyle stuck his head into the passenger compartment to inform them, "I'm ready to disembark."
Cosmic Boy nodded. "Don't do anything on your own. Just check it our and get back to us. We'll be waiting."
Invisible Kid nodded and then vanished, his anxious grin hanging in the air like a Chesire cat's.
Saturn Girl's hand closed on Rokk's shoulder. "The gods grant they be all right."
Even with half her strength restored, Laurel was no match for Mahlon's zealous rage. He cuffed her with the back of his hand and knocked her senseless. Then he turned on Brainiac 5. "And you, green-skin, how dare you touch a Daxamite woman! What you have done carries the penalty of death! If I didn't need you ~ "
Querl's jaw tightened as his heart raced. Ignoring the pain that pounded through his skull he spat, "Cretin, you may as well kill me now. You know I will never give you the formula. I am not the one who is insane." He winced and waited for the fatal blow, knowing it would free Laurel to act, but it never came. Instead, when he looked up he saw that Mahlon had twisted his fingers through Laurel's blonde locks and hauled her off the floor. Her booted feet dangled above the metallic surface so she looked like so much meat strung on a line.
The Daxamite's eyebrows rose. "Not even to save her?"
Invisible Kid drew near the entrance to the prison, passing dead and dying Daxamites along the way. Some of the debris from the space flight had slammed into the planet's surface, crushing and maiming them. He had to steel himself to ignore their pain. When ~ and if ~ the others were rescued, he would come back and tend to them. For now, he had to stay focused on his friends.
Several feet in front of the ravaged medical building he halted, noticing the imprint of fingers in twisted metal. Whoever had passed this way had been in a terrific hurry. And terrifically strong. He hesitated, considering Cosmic Boy's directive. He really should turn around and go back. He was no match for a super-powered Daxamite. Still, his friends were in there.
Seconds later, a powerful scream ended the debate, and alone he passed through the remnants of the solid inertron door.
Laurel screamed in agony. Mahlon had her injured wrist trapped between super-powered fingers and was pressing the crushed bones so that they grated one against the other. She had almost blacked out. In order to keep from begging for mercy, she bit her plump lip and tasted blood.
Querl Dox watched her in silence, his face seemingly impassive. The Daxamite was a random factor. Madness did not compute. If he was to spare Laurel, he would have to comply. There was no other choice, and he would have to do it in such a way that he could see she was in the clear before he died. While he watched, Mahlon placed his free hand on Andromeda's milk-white throat and began to tighten his grip.
"Decide now, Dox," he growled. With his penetrating vision Mahlon had seen the Legion cruiser arrive. That alone concerned him little. He knew he was more than a match for a shipload of children. But he was tired and his strength was ebbing, and if they had come, others more would soon follow. Teammates. The Science Police with even more reinforcements. Sooner or later he would fall. He needed the modified formula and an avenue of escape, and he needed them now. And this one who had poisoned him in the first place, would provide it before he perished.
Tears filled Laurel's eyes and spilled over onto her cheeks. Desperately she clawed at Mahlon's hand, trying to free herself. She was all too afraid she knew what Brainiac 5 would do.
Finally, the Coluan spoke, his words carefully weighed and chosen. "Very well. Release her. I will give you the formula."
"Querl, no!" she protested, her voice thin and weak. "You can't! He'll kill you."
Imperturbable, the slight Coluan replied, "He means to do that anyway. This way you will survive."
"Well reasoned, Coluan," the Daxamite agreed, his fingers still clutching the young girl's throat.
"Now, tell me the formula!"
"It is more complicated than that. There is no single formula." The young man shifted and seemed to stumble, finally balancing himself against a tray of instruments attached to the diagnostic bed where he had lain. "It will have to be calibrated to the biochemistry of each individual Daxamite. You will have to take me with you."
Brainiac 5 paused. He met her eyes and held them briefly before continuing, "I will only go if you release her and let her leave this place. Otherwise," he raised a shaking hand that held the medical dispenser he had palmed in his supposed weakness, "I will kill myself here and now and the formulas ~ all of them ~ will die with me."
"Clever as a trapped animal, alien." Mahlon seemed to sag a bit, "I don't know why I didn't think to bind you."
"Because you are ignorant. You think strength is a commodity you can buy and sell, something manufactured in test tubes and shared with renegades in the dark. It is not. Strength comes from within." He looked at Laurel again and sighed, growing fatigued. He knew the mechanical device on his forehead was pulsing steadily but he ignored the pain. "Until one day we are put to the test, none of us know how much strength we truly have." His jaw was set. His green eyes blazed, as much with righteous indignation as with the fever he knew would claim him long before he could fulfill his promise. "I mean it," he added as the Daxamite continued to stare at him, still holding Laurel. He lifted the hypo-gun and placed it against his hot skin, cocking a trembling finger on the trigger. "I watch her walk out of here ~ free ~ or I kill myself. Your choice."
Mahlon regarded him with grudging respect. He smiled grimly and then without warning slapped Laurel's face, rendering her unconscious. The Daxamite then flexed his hand and placed it on a small circular device on the side of his thick belt. "This will trigger the neural implant in your brain, Coluan. I press it and you spend the rest of your life as a vegetable."
Brainiac 5 shuddered. He could not conceive of a greater horror unless it be to watch her die a second time.
"Then I will be useless to you," he said defiantly, "and I still win."
The Daxamite's dark eyebrows rose and he made a small mocking bow. "Conceded. Come, then. We will go home to Daxam. All of my men here are dead or dying."
Querl Dox closed his eyes and sighed. His strength was failing. It would be all he could do to keep himself upright and to follow Mahlon out onto the Prison Planet's surface. Thankfully Laurel was still unconscious. She would not wake before they were gone. If she could be saved, his death would have some meaning. He paused to gaze at her still form as he drew abreast the Daxamite. Laurel, not dead after all, but lost to him just the same.
Glancing up, he was startled to find his friend Lyle Norg materializing inside the room, his own red sun projector in his hand. Tragically, Brainiac 5's surprise must have registered in his face, for Mahlon pivoted just in time to see the tousled-haired youth reach for the switch that would activate the device which would flood his system with inordinate amounts of red sun energy, thereby weakening or even rendering him harmless. The Daxamite screamed. Down the corridor the other Legionnaire's were flying, and behind him, Laurel Gand was rising as if from the dead, to exact her revenge. Vulnerable, Mahlon knew he would be no match for her, even in her weakened state. The madman had enough time left to perform two tasks. First he bit down on a capsule contained a virulent poison, fatal to all humanoid species, and second, he depressed the button on his belt, activating the implant buried deep in the Coluan's cerebral cortex. Then he died.
Brainiac 5 screamed in agony as pain seared through his brain. Unable to withstand the assault, he retreated, erecting mental barriers in a vain attempt to slow the inexorable progress of the destruction wrought by the alien device. His hands went to his head and then, pale as death, he twitched one last time and plummeted to the cold floor like a stone.
Lyle Norg hung, stunned, the projector useless in his hand. Andromeda shrieked and fell to her knees beside Brainy's lifeless form. The other Legionnaire's stood in silence about the room, trying to comprehend the curious tableau before them: Mahlon lay dead, his face twisted in a final grimace of triumph and hate, and beside him Laurel Gand, self-proclaimed racist and xenophobe, clutching the still form of their comrade to her breast, overcome with grief.
Only days before she could not have abided touching him. But she had changed. Her hands probed his form now for some sign of life. She caressed his cheek. Ran her hands across his chest. But there was nothing. She held him tight and would not let him go.
But Brainiac 5 was beyond her touch and her concern.
She closed her eyes against the sight. Dark green eyes, devoid of life, blank as a terminal screen wiped clean. She tried to reach beyond them, to make contact with the keen intelligence they opened into, but met with a wall of resistance so firmly constructed it revealed no chink, no crevice or fissure into which she could insert her will. Once again, Imra Ardeen concentrated, pushing herself to the edge of exhaustion in a seemingly vain attempt to reach her friend, and once again , she failed.
She was beginning to believe there was nothing there to reach.
Opening her pale blue eyes, she glanced at Andromeda where she slept, her blonde head propped against the laboratory wall. She had refused to move from Brainy's side had in fact forced the president to come to her. Due to her actions in this latest crisis, her former 'indiscretions' had been forgiven ~ if not forgotten. She was a Legionnaire again, but time alone would tell if the U.P. and its representatives would ever trust her again. Still, it was a start.
Would that the price had not been so high.
Saturn Girl leaned forward brushing back Brainy's blond hair and then reached down to take his hand. The fever had left him and his body had begun to mend. The implant had been extracted, but there was little they could do about the havoc it had wrecked. Querl's mind was so complex, they weren't even certain what damage it had done. Anyone else would have been permanently disabled, but Lyle held out a slim hope that the Coluan had been able to protect himself. Invisible Kid lay sound asleep in an adjoining room, as though his presence could prevent the inevitable.
She squeezed the warm hand and projected, "Brainy . Querl . If you are there, give me some sign. Anything. Can you even hear me?" She waited, watching intently, but there was nothing ~ not even the merest flicker of an eyelash. Unbidden her eyes flew to the neural monitor above his head. The readings hovered near the bottom. He was alive. But that was about all. She meant to try one more thing, but it that failed ~ they might as well pull the plug. Her hand went to his forehead and she traced the shadow of the scar that lingered there. With a sigh, she said aloud, "You wouldn't want to live like this."
An unexpected sound made her jump, and she looked up to find Laurel staring at her, her dark eyes wide and ringed with shadows of remorse and pain.
"Laurel, I didn't know you were awake."
The girl rose slowly, stretched, and then crossed to the medical bed. She towered over it, her shadow falling across the comatose Coluan. She avoided looking at him, but placed her hand possessively on his. In a still quiet voice she said, "You think it's hopeless."
Imra hesitated, honesty ~ while the best policy ~ was sometimes brutal. "I think it unlikely that he will recover, but there is always hope. We know so little about the Coluan mind. About his mind." She crossed her arms and leaned back, frowning. "If I could just reach him ."
"Perhaps you can, with my help."
Saturn Girl turned toward the door and felt the first ray of hope she had known since they had carried the Legionnaire's limp body aboard their ship and headed home. It was Aven, her teacher. When she had been forced to penetrate the mind of a shape-shifting Durlan and retreated from its horror so far no one could reach her, he had made contact and started her on the road to recovery. She had called him, hoping against hope he could do the same for Brainiac 5.
As Laurel watched the white-haired healer laid his hands atop Querl's chest. Instinctively, she knew it wasn't going to be enough. Watching the thin line of his sanity scroll across the monitor above his head, she knew she was the only one who could save him.
Unfortunately, she didn't know how. This was not a matter of strength or speed. Her powers were useless. She took a deep breath and said aloud, "If I could. I would die for him."
Aven frowned and lifted his hands. His discerning eyes opened and he looked at Saturn Girl, and then to the young woman who stood close by, her arms wrapped tightly about her chest. A strange expression crossed his face, like shadows over the moon. His narrow lips parted, but then he hesitated, as though uncertain. Imra sensed his reluctance and thought she understood. Andromeda was a volatile mass of conflicting emotions, torn between grief and despair. Her self-reproach and remorse were probably blocking him, but he hesitated to ask her to leave. Saturn Girl took her firmly by the arm and whispered quietly, "Come on, Laurel, it would be best if we left Aven to his work ~ "
She stopped. The telepath spoke to her mentally. Surprised, she waited, her hand on Andromeda's sleeve.
"She must not leave. He needs her."
Imra glanced at Brainy and then to her teacher. "But I thought ."
"This one," he answered aloud, indicating the unconscious Coluan, "is pure intellect. He cannot reason his way out of this. He walks in the realm of nightmare and fear, delusion and death. He is lost."
Andromeda seemed to come to life. She shook her head violently. "No! You can't give up on him ."
"It is he who has given up. He cannot see his way free. Someone must show him the path." Aven raised his head and fixed her with his penetrating eyes. "I believe it is you."
The tall blonde took a step backward. "Me?" Fear flushed her face. "W-what do you mean?"
"I want you to come with me ~ and Imra. We must enter his mind and show him the way home. He will not listen to me or my student. He might to you."
Laurel shuddered despite herself. Saturn Girl knew without telepathic intrusion what the problem was. Andromeda was a product of Daxam, conditioned from birth to abhor contact with other races. The prospect of entering an alien mind ~ with two other aliens ~ must have been beyond her.
"Laurel, I know what you are thinking ~ "
Blonde hair fell across deep blue eyes, masking her pain. "No, you don't."
"You don't need to feel ashamed. You were raised to fear and hate ~ "
"You're wrong, Imra. It isn't that. I'd do anything to save him, but ." The young Daxamite shivered and turned away. "Give me a moment."
Saturn Girl watched as she moved into the shadows, leaning her hands and then her forehead against the cold impersonal lab wall. She turned and met her teacher's appraising stare. "What?" she asked, exasperated. "What is it? I obviously don't have a clue."
He laid his hand on her wrist. "You are too close. Friendship blinds you." His eyes sought the statuesque girl, "She feels helpless, and she is afraid her will reject her and in rejecting her, die."
Brainiac 5 stood on the surface of Colu, his booted feet touching the edge of a precipice that overlooked a chasm thousands of miles deep and hundreds wide. At the bottom a raging river ran, its mighty voice roaring, echoing from the sheer rock walls to call him forward. He hearkened to the sound, ever-changing, never ceasing, eternally constant. In its voice he sensed clarity and peace. The brilliant blue sky of his home-world ranged above him, mirroring that promise, challenging him to become one with it. He closed his eyes and tipped his blond head back, spreading his arms out wide to catch the rush of air that pledged to lift his battered spirit and bear it away, past all terror, past all pain and confusion. Surrendering, he lifted his foot and shifted his weight forward, ready to fly.
"Querl?" A tentative voice spoke his name, calling him back. "Querl, it's me."
He hesitated, puzzled. He had thought he was alone. Eyes still closed, within a breath of eternity, he asked, "Who are you?"
"Please, move away . Querl?" She began to plead, but then hesitated, as though listening to someone else. "No, I didn't mean that. Stay where you are, but please, turn and look at me."
The young man remained poised on the brink, his arms wide, for so long she thought he would surely jump. Then, slowly, unwillingly, his arms fell to his sides and he shifted so he was able to meet her eyes. Deep blue eyes, crisp and clear as the Coluan sky. A frown creased his perfect forehead and he whispered, "You're dead."
She shook her head and dared to take a step towards him, but only one, for she saw him pull back and knew the abyss beckoned. "No, I'm alive. It is you who are in danger. Don't you remember? We were together on the Prison Planet?"
At the mention of that terrible place the ground beneath his feet began to crumble. His footing faltered, but as she watched, he caught himself. He was forced to take a step towards her to remain on solid ground. Pale green lips mouthed the word, "No," but with no sound. His eyes grew glazed and unfocused, as though he were slipping into a dream.
She hesitated, listening to the words of Imra and her mentor. In the lab they formed a circle. Imra held her hand and Aven's, while she and the older man were connected to the wounded Coluan. This psychic link was their final hope. The telepaths told her to inch forward slowly, so she would not startle or frighten him. The precipice represented his sanity, and it was crumbling.
"Querl, try to remember. We talked down in the tunnels. I told you I had turned myself in. They were afraid the Legion maybe the Alliance wouldn't survive what I had done. The President made Comic Boy lie about me." Her smile was hopeful and she drew closer. "I am alive."
He turned to face her. He looked fragile and forlorn. She was within two or three yards of him. A few more feet and she would be able to reach out and take his hand. He blinked, tears filling his emerald eyes. " Laurel?" he whispered, haltingly, "Is it is it really you?"
Relief flooded through her. It was going to be all right. "Yes, Querl, it's me. Now if you will just take my hand, we can get ~ " She stopped as her eyes fixed on his and she read in them an emotion she had not expected. Fear. "Querl?"
His chest began to rise and fall rapid as palsied hands came up before his stricken face. "No!" he shrieked, made with terror, "get away from me! You'll hurt me! I don't want you to ~ " Panic-stricken he turned and before she could stop him, plunged into the abyss. She started after him, but heard the combined warning of the telepaths she was linked to: The road she was choosing was a dangerous one. She shot back in anger, "What ma I supposed to do? Let him die?"
In the blink of an eye, she was gone; her super-speed propelling her into the darkness after the plummeting figure of the man she had come to love.
Saturn Girl felt her hand pull free and looked up to see Aven holding Laurel's unconscious form. Gently he laid it on the floor beside the medical bed, freeing her mouth and eyes of the waves of thick blonde hair.
Imra questioned him with her eyes and he answered, "It is to the death or the life for both of them now.
"Our part is done."
The abyss had vanished and in its place a nightmare landscape of fever-frenzied thoughts and ideas warped and twisted Laurel's perception of reality. She saw her own death and wept shared tears for the possibilities lost. She walked the knife's edge of sanity that was Brainiac 5's daily life and realized how little it would take to upset the fragile balance that was his genius. She sensed how alone he was, how frightened. Terrified, in fact, of rejection so much so that he had chosen to build a wall of indifference to shield his fragile soul from too much pain. It had fooled the others, but not her. That was why she was here, and yet, looking into that abyss, the darkness stared back into her, terrifying her, perverting her intentions so that she wanted to reach out and shut it off, close down the mind that dared to dream and to be such things. Falling to her knees, she pressed her hands to her head, trying to close out the sound and vision of madness. Somewhere in there a young boy struggled to break free. Somewhere he waited in the darkness for salvation. She had to be strong. She had to trust her heart and believe that it would lead the way. Rising, she set out once again, determined to save him even if he turned her away.
Through tangible equations and calculations that flew lightning-fast she struggled, calling his name and praying to the mother-god that he would answer. Like the pealing of a bell over distant water, her words echoed back to her, hollow and without use. Nothing made sense. She might as well have been blind and deaf. Only her heart Only her heart counted. That was why Aven had sent her here. Intellect alone could not bridge the chasm the implant had created. Sheer will-power would not heal the wound. Only love and hope could do that.
Resolute, she halted her progress and closed her eyes to the dizzying spectacle, focusing on her innermost feelings, on the thought of love that was forbidden ~ had been unthinkable until this very moment. From her heart or hearts she called him, building the bridge inch by inch from the very substance of her soul.
Almost at once she saw him, a small huddled mass quivering in the darkness, his arms thrust over his head, his body curled in a fetal position. This was it, the choice was his alone now, to live or to die.
She knelt beside him and lay her hand on his shoulder. He was trembling. "Querl," she whispered, "you have to trust me. You have to forget all of this. Put aside your fears and reach out toward life. I know its frightening. I know. I tried to run away too, but you can't. Please, Querl, come back to me. I know you can."
For a dozen heartbeats he remained as he was, balled-up like a threatened child, but then as she watched, he slowly uncurled and rose wearily to a sitting position. Ghostly pale, from there he found his feet and turned to walk away from her.
"Querl, you saved my life. Let me do the same for you. Even if you return nothing of what I feel ." Tears rained down her pale cheeks. "Even if you despise me . PLEASE come and take my hand!"
He hesitated, his back to her; his shoulders burdened and bent beneath a load he could not bear. Unwittingly, he repeated the words she had once spoken, when she was dying of lead poisoning and unsure of a cure. "I'm afraid." Then he turned and raised his hand, open-palmed towards her.
A gentle smile kissed her lips and she moved forward to embrace him. He turned and beheld her beauty, one that was lit by an inner fire which refused to die. "Thank you," she whispered, stroking his hair. "I have strength enough for two."
Hours had passed and with them any slim hope Imra had held for either Brainy or Andromeda. Both forms were so still that upon waking, Lyle Norg had thought them dead. She had assured him they weren't ~ yet. Aven had departed saying there was nothing more he could do, and so she had been left to keep silent vigil, praying for a miracle, but expecting the worst.
Lyle yawned and rubbed his face. "Cos was here a while back, when you were working with Aven. He looked terrible."
"He feels responsible," she sighed, rubbing her eyes, "and who knows, maybe in a way, he is."
"Imra! What good are re ~ "
"Recriminations?" She laughed wearily. "No good at all. Don't worry, I ~ " Saturn Girl stopped abruptly, forgetting to breathe. The readings on the panel above Brainy's still form had plunged to zero, but before she had sufficient time to panic, they rose again, stabilizing somewhere near the Coluan norm. Her heart was in her throat. It took her several seconds to find her voice. "What was that?" she whispered, "Lyle, did you ~ "
"Imra, look!" He was pointing at Laurel who was stirring beside the table. She shifted painfully so she sat upright, her head resting on her long white fingers.
"Laurel, are you ~ "
The blonde girl ignored her and rose to look at the monitor above the young man on the table. When she saw his vital signs had stabilized she acknowledged Saturn Girl, a slight smile lighting her handsome face. "He's going to be all right."
Lyle Norg frowned and glanced at the seemingly lifeless Coluan. Sure the readings were different, but nothing else had changed. Or had it?
"How can you be so sure?"
Laurel laughed gently and bent to kiss her sleeping prince's forehead.
"He told me so."
Ten days later Brainiac 5 sat lost in thought, having completed a self-diagnostic to determine the effects of the neural implant the Daxamites had used on him. He was alone, having thrown everyone else out of the lab in a fit of pique. He found he had even less than the normal patience with their ever-present need to reassure themselves that he was all right.
Unexpectedly a voice rang out startling him. A thin white hand pointed to the 'no admittance' sign above the laboratory door and asked, "Does this include me?"
He turned to find Laurel Gand attired once more in her star-tossed uniform of fiery gold and black, leaning against the sealed lab door. With her super-strength, it had been child's play for her to pry the door open and close it again without a sound. His cheeks blushed a deep shade of green and he managed to choke out the words, "Of course not. You are always welcome here."
She strode over to him, her powerful muscles glistening in the subdued lab light. Upon reaching him, she took the electronic note-pad from his hand and placed it on the diagnostic couch before hauling him to his feet. "Well," she asked, one eyebrow cocked, "shall we pick up where we left off?"
He looked startled at first, but then a shy smile played about the corners of his thin lips. "Then you . You mean your experiences were the same ?"
"Come here, green boy, I always finish what I start."
The other Legionnaires shook their heads and muttered to themselves about their crazy companion when they saw the electronic sign declaring Brainy's lab off limits.
Everything was back to normal.
And a wish fulfilled .
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This piece is © 2001 by Marla F. Fair
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