by Dan Swanson, based on a concept by Tynnechris
“Cathy, one of the things that bothers me most about this Mekanique/Savage/Rotwang wiping out the Justice Society thingy is the timing,” said Canary. “We know that the Justice Society of America retired in 1953 when Amgov created the Legion of Justice. So why do Mekanique and Vandal Savage want to destroy them some thirty-five to fifty years after they retired?”
“Wow! What a great question!” Kid Terrific was stunned. “I’ve been so involved in the scientific process that I haven’t given any thought to history. Hold on a second.” She typed a few keystrokes on her wrist keyboard, and a dime-sized memory module popped out of her belt. She slipped it under her hair on the back of her head and closed her eyes for a couple of seconds.
“As you know, history is something of a specialty of mine.” Both girls smiled. Cathy Beamish had thousands of specialties. She thought for a few seconds, and her eyes widened. “Curiouser and curiouser, cried Alice,” she said. “History tells us that by the year 2000, many of the Justice Society had either left Earth — including Superman, Power Girl, the Spectre, and Doctor Fate — or passed away like Batman, Hourman, Green Lantern, and the Flash. And most of the others would have been too old to be much of a challenge to Mekanique. So why would they bother with the Justice Society? Why not focus on the Legion of Justice of that time instead?”
She searched her memories. “Hmm… let’s see. In 1988, the Legion of Justice included Arrowette, Batwing, Mass Lass, Coral, Insect Queen, Faust, Kite Boy, Liandly, Miss Terrific, Yellow Peri, and Cat Girl.”
“Here’s a thought, Cathy,” Gina Lance interrupted. “You said history tells us… Wouldn’t it be more accurate to say General Urbane tells us?” Gina asked slowly.
“Chaos! He’s had almost three-hundred years to rewrite history, hasn’t he?!” Kid Terrific looked at her friend, a determined expression on her face. “So maybe history isn’t a specialty of mine. But it is sure going to be soon!”
“I’m glad you said that. I’m assigning you to learn more about the real history of that time. When Rex and Theresa figure out how to get us back there, I want some idea of what we might run into!”
An hour later, Canary and Greenfire were working out in the training room. It was punishment for Greenfire, who was taking a beating from Canary, and stress relief for the Legion’s leader, who could go all out against an opponent she couldn’t really damage. Maybe it would teach him a little humility.
Still, she needed a break occasionally. During a rest period, Drake spoke up a little whiningly, “Gina, haven’t you had enough? I’m a little tired of getting the energy beat out of me. I’m sorry, already! What more do you want? If I was real, I’d be in a hospital or dead by now.”
“That’s what you always say, Drake. ‘I’m sorry, I’m sorry, I won’t do it again,’ and then you always do. I’m trying a new leadership tactic — leadership through fear and intimidation — since nothing else works with you.” She sneered at him. “You know, I shouldn’t be able to touch you in a fight. You should be far and away our most powerful member. Instead, you can’t even defend yourself from a girl, and I’m not even using my sonic powers!”
Without warning, she kicked him viciously in the faceplate. The kick would have shattered the plate on his old containment suit, but they had built a new one using the advanced technology and materials they found at Knight Base — one that didn’t record everything that happened around him. His head snapped backward, and he fell to the ground.
“Damn it, you just broke my neck!” he swore at her.
“You don’t even have a neck,” she mocked him, kicking him again.
“Well, maybe you can’t break me, but it still hurts like hell! And I have had enough!” There was a blinding flash of green energy, like a green nuke had just gone off in the room. Almost everything within was instantly vaporized, and only the ultra-strong armor walls protected the base from major damage.
Canary picked herself off the floor, shaken but triumphant. Her sonic shield had barely protected her, but she’d finally got some positive results. She helped him up and offered him a high five.
“Now that’s what I’m talkin’ about!” she yelled.
Burroughs was stunned. For a second, he’d been sure he’d killed his teammate. His relief at seeing her alive was mingled with dread at his upcoming punishment. He certainly never expected her to be pleased.
“Drake, I need you and Hawk Lad to go to Feithera. They’ve been sealed off from Utopia for centuries, and they hate and fear outsiders, but I need to know if their highly advanced science and technology includes any knowledge about time travel.”
“Well, you are a scientist, though the way you act, it’s often hard for the rest of us to remember that. Mostly, though, because they probably won’t be able to kill you. You and Horus leave in an hour.”
Later, Canary was having dinner with Rexford Tyler in the private dining room in his suite. “Rex, why does Earth science know so little about temporal physics?”
“That’s really a fascinating question.” He thought for a second, then spoke musingly. “Well, we know now that Amgov has been suppressing advances in science and technology for years. They must be especially careful with anything related to time.”
“It’s probably the most dangerous weapon possible. If your enemy can prevent your existence, what chance do you have of winning a battle, much less a war, with that enemy?”
“OK. That explains the big picture. Why haven’t you and your brother investigated your powers?”
“You do ask the painful questions, don’t you, leader lady? When I first got to the academy, I used to ask our science teachers about time travel all the time, and they always punished me. Finally, I realized it was a taboo subject and stopped asking. But I never stopped wondering. Eventually, after I learned how to build my own lab gear, I started investigating on my own. About the same time, though, my limbs started to atrophy. Since then, I’ve been mainly interested in prosthetics.”
“And Rand?” she prodded, gently.
“Well, Rand isn’t the kind to ask a lot of questions about anything, is he?” Rex answered a question with a question, a bitter question. “He’s so into the babe of the week, love ’em and leave ’em thing and his ordinance; there isn’t much time left for him to worry about physics.”
“But he wasn’t always like that.” She had met Randall Tyler when he first went into the Legion Academy a couple of years after Rex. He had been quiet and studious at the time. “What happened?”
“When my limbs started to atrophy, he got scared and started becoming a gym freak, which is why he has muscles on top of muscles. He hoped it would keep the same thing from happening to him. But he was still a serious student. Until Clothes-Fall-Off Girl glommed onto him. You remember her?”
“You mean Coquette the shape-shifter?” she said, using the heroic name of one of the women in his age group at the Legion Academy. He nodded. “I never heard her called that before!” she laughed. “The cadets in my class used to call her Princess Seductra.”
“Equally accurate!” he said viciously. “She was in my class, and as soon as our first year started, she was always making it with the older guys in the first class. Laughed at every other guy. But by the time we reached first class, all the guys in our class hated her, so she had to find her fun somewhere else. For some reason, she chose Rand. I always wondered if she did it to punish me, but who knows?”
He trailed off, shook his head, then continued. “Anyway, she really wrecked him as a student — wild parties, late nights. And whenever he did want to study, she climbed all over him shamelessly. That’s where she got the nickname. It’s no wonder he couldn’t study; nobody around them could study, either. That–” He bit off his next words, and Gina silently waited for him to continue.
“He almost flunked out of the academy, almost threw away everything he’d worked for all his life. Me and his friends tried to point out how bad she was for him, but he wouldn’t listen, you know?” She nodded; they never did.
“Finally, she did something that made him suspicious, and he spied on her for a while. His powers make him a superb spy, y’know? Found out she was sleeping with a couple of the instructors to get grades. He never regained his interest in academics afterwards, unfortunately. Unless you count his fascination with ordinance, which started right after he broke off with her.”
Gina must have looked alarmed, because he hurried to continue. “It’s OK, he’s safe by now!” His voice conveyed less conviction than his words. “But he still tries to punish her with every new babe of the week. At least, though, he stays away from Legionnaires.”
If Rex meant to reassure her about his brother, he failed. Just what she needed — one more personnel issue to worry about. And something else about this conversation still bothered her.
“Why did you think she might be punishing you by going out with Rand?”
“Why, I’m the one underclassman that turned her down. I was too interested in my studies at the time.” Theresa jerked, startled. Rex noticed and was incensed. “Damn you, Gina!” he screamed in outrage. “You may not find me very interesting now, but before I got stuck in this chair–!”
She quickly interrupted before he could say something he’d regret later. “Rex, stop! I’m your friend!” She might have put a little sonic persuasion in that protest, because he did stop. “Listen! I’m just a suspicious witch, but… just how long after you turned her down did you start losing control of your limbs?”
His anger quickly turned to horror. “How could anyone be that barbaric?! I don’t believe it! Get out of here and leave me alone!”
She could tell that he still didn’t get it all. But he would. She didn’t even try to argue. “I’m sorry, Rex.” she said gently. “I’m truly sorry. I’m going.” When she reached the door, she turned back. “If you want to talk about it later, please call me.”
“Get the freep out! Now!” he screamed. She did. She was glad the door was soundproof; she didn’t want to hear him crying. Being the leader was sometimes really tough. But being Rex, she was coming to realize, was probably ten times worse. And at least she had good days and bad days. What could be a good day for Rex?
And her day still wasn’t over.
Theresa Knight was easy. Gina ran into her in a corridor and brought up a question that had been bothering her.
“We’ve realized, finally, that Amgov has been suppressing advances in science and technology for a long time. But in spite of Amgov, science and technology have consistently advanced in virtually every area except one — temporal physics. How could they be so successful at stopping investigation in that one area?”
Theresa thought for a long time. “They have to know exactly what lines of research and development to stomp on, even before it’s clear where those lines might lead.” She continued, her voice rising — this was exciting. “They must know a lot about time to know that.”
“That’s what I thought, too.” Gina had a very satisfied smile on her face. “It’s nice to know one of our science geniuses agrees with me.” Now she could go to bed. She had a lot more things to do tomorrow.
The next day, Gina placed a call to Rex’s suite. She wasn’t too surprised when he actually answered; they’d been teammates for several years and worked together at the Legion Academy before that, and she knew his strength of character. He couldn’t have fought back against his paralysis so successfully if he had not been strong.
She noticed right away that he had the video turned off, but that was OK. “Rex, I’m really sorry where our talk yesterday led. I had no intention of–”
He cut her off. “I know,” he said flatly and with no emotion. “You knew yesterday when I threw you out that Coquette didn’t poison me.” Another flat statement of fact.
“We don’t know anything for sure, Rex, but no, I don’t think it was her. I think you were poisoned on General Urbane’s orders, but I doubt if she actually did it. She’d already failed once with you. He probably got somebody else. And then gave her another chance with Randall.”
“I guess it’s a good thing she didn’t fail with him, too.” He didn’t really sound like he thought so. “It’s probably better to be a boy-toy than a… lump. At least, I know what I’d choose if I could do it over again.”
“So, are you ready for a mission? I need a team to head to Earth and steal something from Amgov.”
“Sounds like just what I need. Count me in!” For the first time today, she heard emotion in his voice — deadly anger and something like glee. The combination sounded very sinister, and she worried she was sending the team back into action too soon. But who knew how long they had before their world evaporated?
“Report to the ready room in ten minutes. Canary out.”
Ten minutes later, she faced Timepiece, Hourboy, Chemique, and Teleteen. “Guys, we need to send a team to Earth to recover as much information about time travel as possible. We don’t have the strength to fight our way in and out, so we need an espionage team. And that’s you — the brand new Legion Stealth Squad.”
They looked at each other in wonder, and then back at Canary, who dropped another bombshell. “Miqui, you’re the leader. Any comments?” Usually the oldest member in an Action Team was the leader.
Chemique spoke first. “Gina, I’m not ready to lead a team. Anyway, I’m not the oldest.”
Rex interrupted her. “But you are the best choice to lead this team, Miqui.” He spoke quietly but firmly. Nobody else said anything. If Rex was willing to let her lead, they were willing to go along.
“OK, I want you guys to sit down together and work out a preliminary mission proposal; reviews with me in four and eight hours, then sleep, and then you gear up and go.”
“Gina, we can’t possibly come up with a plan for a mission like this. The best we can do is try to figure out all the problems we might encounter and figure out what we can do in advance to prepare for all of those problems. And then do our best to get prepared for all the unknowns we are going to encounter.”
“Very good, Mique! That’s why you’re team leader. If you’d come back to me with a plan, no matter how good it looked, then I picked the wrong leader. I’ll talk to you guys again in four hours.”
In the monitor room, WildCat answered a call from Kid Terrific, who was doing historical research on the university planet Sentinel Gate. She had found some references to a failed human colony on the planet Iskander (Centauri IV) that she wanted to investigate more thoroughly and wanted Gernsback to boom tube her there.
Gernsback had started the process and had almost as quickly shut it down, but it was too late. Something went wrong. The boom tube generator pulled almost a thousand percent more power than normal, and there was a massive explosion in the transporter room as the overloaded circuits gave up. Alarms were blaring, and automatic fire extinguishers flooded the room with foam, and emergency airtight bulkhead doors slid shut throughout Knight Base. Fortunately, there were no Legionnaires in the transporter room at the time.
A short time later, when Canary felt the situation was under control, she called back the worried Kid Terrific, who had no idea what might have happened to cut off her subspace call.
“Trouble, Cathy,” Gina said, giving her teammate the bad news. “Rex has no idea how long it will take to repair. Meanwhile, we’ve no way to retrieve you in a hurry. I’ll send Cat in a speeder to pick you up. It’ll take two days each way.”
Cathy interrupted. “Two days in a jumper with Mr. Octopus? C’mon, Gina, anyone but him!”
Canary considered for a second. “Right. Sandy’s on his way. Will you be OK for two days?”
“Sure. If I get bored doing research, I’ll just hang out with the Puman delegation. Kinda like WildCat, only there’s more of ’em.” She sighed; the prospect of hanging out with twenty amorous cat-men wasn’t all that thrilling.
“OK, Sandy’s on his way. I’d send someone else with him, but we’re going to be way shorthanded real soon.”
“Well, I’ll work on my research some more, then back to slapping wandering cat-paws. Tell Sandy to hurry!”
Gina sighed. It was going to be tough for the Legion to get from place to place in a hurry without the boom tube. Then Rex joined her.
“Good news, boss! Utilizing the maintenance bots, it will take us about four days to get the boom tuber back online.”
She sighed again. “I thought you said it was good news?”
Rex looked puzzled. “But, boss, it is good news.”
She winced. “Of course it is…”
“Hey, it took me over a year to build it,” he said defensively. “We’re lucky we have everything we need — at least I hope we do!”
She let that one go, and he ran down. She looked at him patiently for several seconds, then erupted impatiently, “So? How could something like this happen?”
“It caught us totally by surprise, boss. Nothing in the theory predicted something like this. It looks like we used the boom tubes so much we dangerously strained the fabric of local space-time.”
“So we can’t use the boom tube again?” That was the key question.
“Gernsback says space-time will return to normal in about thirty-six hours. And if we limit the use of the tube to, say, once a day in the future, we should be safe.”
“I knew it was too good to be true — living over seven light-years from Earth but going back for visits as casually as strolling around the block. The universe is never that easy!” Gina sighed. She didn’t seem surprised or angry, just resigned. “For now, you’re off the hook, but when you get back from Earth, I want to know why this happened, and what we can do to avoid it in the future!”
She clicked on her communicator. “Miqui, change of plans. Your team leaves for Earth in a cruiser in an hour. Work out the mission details on the way, and plan to pick up Horus and Drake while you’re on Earth.”
She tapped another channel. “Theresa, you’re going to have to work with Gernsback and the maintenance bots to rebuild the boom tube. Rex is on his way to Earth for a mission, so that leaves you.”
Another channel was opened. “Cat, you and I are going to have to split monitor duty for a while. Six on, six off, starting now. I’m up first.”
Yesterday, they were on top of the world. Today, they were on top of the junk heap. So it went.