by Dan Swanson, based on a concept by Tynnechris
At Coquette’s workstation, Drake Logan opened his eyes and stared in horror at Rexford and Randall Tyler, who glared back with all-too-evident hostility. The brothers could see that he was straining, trying to accomplish something.
“Don’t bother trying to change, eagmuface!” Rex commanded, snarling. “That sleeping gas temporarily blocked your powers. Time to face the truth!”
The horror on Logan’s face turned quickly to panic and then to pain. He screamed and then tried to talk. “You don’t understand… aaarrggghh! Urbane… drug…” He began to choke, then screamed again. “Die if I can’t change…” His body jerked violently, as if every muscle in his body was spasming at the same time, and the brothers could hear the sickening sound of bones breaking. The pain in his scream tore at their hearts. Any thought of anger vaporized. Here was a being that needed help.
He screamed again. Rex commanded his chair to run a scan on the writhing being. “Drugged, all right!” He clicked on his communicator and screamed, “Chemique, we need you here desperately, stat!”
“I’m sorta busy…” she replied.
Rand disappeared. From the communicator, Rex heard a muffled explosion and the sound of something shattering; Randall had obviously taken care of her opponent in his own unique way. “Damn! I’m on my way!”
“I thought you couldn’t use your flash bombs against agents in security armor!” Chemique said to Rand as she guided her flying disk at high speed through the compound.
Rand was glad to get his mind off of the horrifying picture of Drake Logan, even if only for a second. “When I’m in my phantom form, and I place a bomb, it stays exactly where I put it until I return to the present. I can easily reach through the armor’s force-field to place an EMP bomb, but when the agent moves to someplace else, the bomb doesn’t. I don’t usually find a suit trapped inside a giant ice cube. How’d you do that, anyway? I didn’t know you had cold powers!”
“I don’t,” said Chemique. “I modified one of your flash bombs — exploded it in an empty room, and it filled the room with a cloud of potassium chloride and water vapor. Then I lured him into the room and exponentially enhanced the reaction between the water and the potassium chloride. It’s endothermic.”
“So the reaction absorbed heat from the environment and froze the excess water vapor! Cryoboy himself couldn’t have done better,” said Hourboy, referring to an up-and-coming cadet at the Legion Academy.
“So, you guys went ahead and stuck Coquette in her natural form, and now there’s trouble? Damn, I should have known better. Canary is going to blast me!”
“How’d you know that?” Rand was stunned.
“C’mon, Rand, how dumb can you be? You and Rex brew a complex chemical compound in the next cabin and you think I wouldn’t notice? And figure out what you are going to use it for? What are my powers, anyway?”
Before he could reply, they arrived at Coquette’s security work station. There was an unknown, large teenage boy writhing in agony in a pool of blood on the floor of the room. Miqui was sickened to see broken bones protruding through his skin in several places. Rex was horrified — there was nothing he could do to help, even with the resources in his chair.
“He said something about Urbane drugging him…” Rex’s voice was squeaky, and she could hear the panic in it.
“Get ready to help, Rex!” she ordered him, putting everything she knew of command into her tone. She might need him, and if he was curled up in a panic funk, he would be useless. Maybe if he knew someone else was in charge, he would be able to operate. He had damn well better.
Chemique instantly enhanced the efficiency of the cerebrospinal fluid in Logan’s body, then enhanced the effects of the serotonin already in his system, and he instantly fell unconscious. His writhing and screaming stopped as she had hoped. She and her teammates would operate better without those horrid distractions — and Logan was saved from the awful pain. She prayed that he would awaken again — and that they would find some way to fix his pain.
She concentrated deeply on the crumpled, bloody body, and was able to discern several different drugs in the boy’s system — including the knockout and power-paralyzing drugs Rex and Rand had used in the flash bomb in this room — and one other. It was very complex, and as her power unraveled the mysterious purpose of this drug, she was stunned, once again, at the evil that was General Urbane.
Chemique could tell that this was no natural organic. It was so complex that you could consider it to be alive — and it had been specially designed with a diabolic purpose to its life. It was actually more like a disease — a disease created for a single victim — than it was a drug.
While Logan was asleep it did nothing, held quiescent by the presence of serotonin. What an awesome stroke of luck that she had activated the serotonin in the boy’s system to make him unconscious, thereby blunting the action of this hideous living drug, at least for a time. When he was awake, the living drug reacted violently with testosterone, producing a reaction much like a super-epileptic seizure — the seizure she and her teammates had just witnessed — forcing the shape-changer to always wear a female form just to remain alive.
But even female bodies produced low levels of testosterone. Coquette must have been in pain all her life because of this drug.
And it required that she feed it constantly. If she didn’t take a certain compound on a regular basis, this living drug would die, and when it died, it would decompose into poisonous waste products. And Miqui was certain that the only source of this compound would be General Urbane.
How diabolical could one man be? Once he had infected Logan with the living drug, Logan was forced to live his life in a female form — and do whatever Urbane demanded, or Urbane would withhold the compound. What an insidious trap Urbane had fashioned for this poor being.
“Tommy! To us, now!” she commanded over the communicator. They were going to have to get Logan into an autodoc — and only Tommy Tamare’s telekinetic powers could help keep them from injuring him further when they moved him.
“On my way!” he confirmed. “Two minutes!”
“You two, configure our flying disks as a stretcher!” she commanded the brothers. “And leave me alone until I tell you different!”
Chemique closed her eyes and let her powers flow out of her and over the body of the unconscious being in front of her. In a sense, she scanned him from head to foot, and she focused on detecting the chemical reaction called blood-clotting. In places where there was already massive clotting going on, she made the clotting reaction more efficient, which made it faster — which slowed and then stopped the bleeding.
She then concentrated on understanding Urbane’s living drug. The normal processes of Logan’s cells would break it down in time, but the waste products were deadly poisonous and would kill him. In her mind, she could see the complex structure of the living drug, like a three-dimensional hologram. She rotated it and concentrated her power on finding weak points.
If a normal oxidation process were enhanced, an oxygen atom would bond here and a portion of the molecular structure would actually break off, leaving two smaller molecules in place of the larger one. One of those would be excreted by normal processes. The other was relatively inert — at least, as far as she could see, it wouldn’t cause any harmful reactions to the body, and as an added benefit, she could see that it would block the cell from absorbing any more of the original drug in the future.
She concentrated, and throughout Logan’s body, the chemical reactions in every cell were altered — slightly but significantly. They would continue to operate in the altered fashion as long as she concentrated on them. She thought it might take twenty minutes or so before the existing volume of the living drug was converted. For a few seconds, she could put her concentration on autopilot and give orders to her team.
“Tommy, you have to lift him without jarring him in any way, so Rex and Rand can slide the stretcher underneath. Then we have to very gently float to the infirmary.” She climbed onto Tommy’s flyer. “Tommy, you walk and make sure he doesn’t get jolted in any way. Rand, you go wake up the doctor and warn him what’s coming. Don’t screw this up! Rex, you are going to have to guide my flyer; my concentration needs to be elsewhere.” They jumped to their tasks, and she turned her attention back to her patient.
Sometime later, she was making a final scan and was pleased to discover that all of that horrible living drug had been neutralized, and Logan was now effectively immunized against future infections — if he lived, that is. There was nothing more she dared to do to help him. She could control specific reactions, but the many varied and interacting reactions in a healing body were well beyond her.
She returned her attention to the normal world. They were in the infirmary; Logan was attached to the autodoc, lights were flashing, the medical computer was doing its thing, and the doctor was looking concerned. So Rand had managed at least his simple mission without foulups. But she wasn’t too pleased with Rand right now. This was an Amgov facility, and the medical equipment here was the best available in the world. If Logan could be saved, he would be.
Miqui was almost exhausted, but the mission wasn’t yet complete. “Rex, mission status?”
“I’ve got the temporal physics data that we need. We can leave at any time. And Operation Confusion is set up and ready.”
“OK. Initiate Operation Confusion, and let’s head for the tube.”
So Rex and Rand weren’t going to get their confrontation with Coquette after all. Damn, she’d been an idiot for not stopping their stupid plan the night before. She was going to see poor Drake Logan writhing in agony on the bloody floor in her nightmares for the rest of her life, she thought, and it was her fault. And what was Canary going to say?
Operation Confusion was easy in concept, assuming you could get control of the mainframe that controlled traffic on the secret transportation system. This Rex had already accomplished; he simply programmed every transit car on the system to begin a round trip from where it was currently to the end of the line, then reverse itself to go to the other end of the line, and then reverse again and go back to where it had started. Oh, and to stop at every other station along the way. And he hacked the telemetry so that the audio and video from within the cars were cut off, but all other sensors would report that there were people in each car. And he disabled all the emergency overrides — no one would be able to stop Operation Confusion until they regained control of the mainframe.
Then they headed for the tube system. But Rand was worried about Drake Logan.
“We can’t leave Coquette, you know,” he pleaded with Chemique. He wasn’t sure what pronoun to use, then decided on he for the moment. “He failed Urbane once before, with Rex — and now he failed to stop our invasion of the secret technology center. And he’s going to be helpless in the infirmary for at least two weeks. No way Urbane will let him live!”
And of course he was right. Leaving Logan/Coquette was the same as killing him — or worse. What would Urbane do when he discovered the changeling had failed him again, and was now immune to his further control?
“Your actions have made Coquette into our problem!” she snarled at him. “You’re correct — but you better have something in mind. We don’t have a lot of time, you know.”
“We can float the ‘doc on two of the flying disks. Me and Tommy can use the third disk, and you can sit on the arm of Rex’s chair.”
“Bring him with us? That could endanger the whole mission!” She was incredulous. “What about what he did to you?”
“Doesn’t deserve the death penalty, boss! I think he’s been through enough because of my stupid quest for revenge.”
“Do it!” She was pleased; she and the Tyler brothers were going to be in hot water for their decisions this trip, but if Canary realized that they had all learned some valuable lessons, she might go easier on them.
Rex used his chair’s computer to lock the three flying disks in formation with his chair. They had to remain close enough together for his power to move them all uptime. Until he moved them uptime, they were a bigger, better target than they would have been if they could have moved separately; Tommy kept his telekinetic shields at maximum during their whole flight.
They reached the loading dock. Rex moved them uptime as far as he could, about a half a second, and they slid into the tube, heading south.
They were totally blinded to events in the present — the probability that a photon from their present could stray this far into the future was vanishingly small. So they had to depend on an inertial navigation system to track their progress. They had no way to know when a tube car was approaching them.
This was good, in a way — if they couldn’t see it coming, they wouldn’t obsess over it hitting them. On the other hand, it was eerie to know that every few seconds, a tube car traveling at hundreds of miles an hour was passing through the same space they were. Rex’s power would not allow them to pass through walls, because those walls were still there in the future. But they could pass through moving objects, or objects moving faster than they were could pass through them, as long as they didn’t occupy the same space for more than a half a second.
So they sped down the tube south toward Springville as fast as they could fly. Every few seconds, undetectable by the heroes, a tube car would fly through them. And their imaginations were running wild, visualizing what would happen if Rex’s power failed them. Either they would materialize in the tunnel and be smashed by the next speeding tube car, or they would materialize at least partially in the same space as solid matter — and the explosion would instantly vaporize them. Well, in either case, they would never know what hit them.
Their direction of motion changed. “We’re here!” Rex yelled, his voice louder and more shrill than he had intended. “At least, I hope so! If we are in the right place, we will move to the right for another five seconds. If the computer calculations are wrong, we’ll bump the wall now… good!” The computer’s navigation had been correct; they were now in the offramp for Springfield. Rex relaxed his power, and they returned to the present. From here on out, it should be a cakewalk.
They cycled through the airlock and crowded into the freight elevator to the surface. Now all they had to do was reach the Hot Rod. It couldn’t be this easy.
“You guys should’a stayed dead!” As soon as they exited the secret tube station, they heard a harsh voice in front of them. “Nothing I hate worse than a rogue Legionnaire. Gives the bunch of us a bad name, don’cha know?”
Standing in front of them were five figures wearing what looked like modified Legion of Justice dress uniforms. Urbane had long made noise about having the Legion wear uniforms instead of costumes. He had finally got his way, it looked like.