by Dan Swanson, based on a concept by Tynnechris
The year 2285 in the twenty-third century:
“Kid Terrific: monitor duty. Hourboy, Hawk Lad, WildCat: Ready Team. Star Lass: Officer of the Day. Golden Boy and Timepiece, you have the day off. You seven dismissed to your assignments.” General Urbane, Supreme Arbiter of Federal Justice and Supreme Commander of the Legion of Justice, never used two words when one would do.
The seven youthful heroes quickly shuffled out of the briefing room deep in the Citadel of Justice. The four remaining paid close attention to their Supreme Commander. Today’s mission was their baby.
Damn! thought Canary as she waited for details. I really could use a day off — or even a day as part of the Ready Team. And why am I teamed with that foulup Greenfire again? What good is being senior member if I don’t get any perks?
“Canary, Greenfire, Teleteen, Chemique!” General Urbane called their names, even though they were the only members left in the Briefing Room. “Easy one today. There’s a subversive group holed up in the Idaho mountains, and you’re going to arrest them.”
Canary was tired and cranky today. She took a risk. “General, I don’t understand it. Why would anyone ever become a subversive?”
If the general was tired and cranky, too, she’d end up doing some scut jobs tonight after the mission. But she got lucky. General Urbane smiled.
He had been Supreme Commander of the Legion for at least fifty years, and he still looked in his mid-twenties. All the most important officials of Amgov — the Government of the Utopian States of America — had access to life-extension technologies, but there were rumors that Urbane was much older. Sometimes he punished a Legionnaire who asked questions at the morning assignments meeting. Other times he answered the questions. Today seemed to be one of those other times.
“That’s a good question, young lady! I’m as puzzled as you are, Canary. Citizens of the Utopian States of America have the highest standard of living on the planet. It’s hard to understand how anyone could become so ungrateful. We give them everything!” His anger at these social malcontents was clear.
“Sir, what are they charged with?” Greenfire asked. Canary winced. She was the oldest, which made her in charge, and it reflected badly on the team leader when a team member asked questions. The reason behind a mission was usually Need to Know, and usually the Legion of Justice didn’t need to know in order to do their jobs. But Urbane answered seriously. There must be some lesson he was trying to teach.
“Atavism, son, for one thing. They have reverted to the outlawed practice of preparing their own meals, rather than eating Easy, Healthy and Free.” This was the name of Amgov’s mandatory food program.
Next to Greenfire, Teleteen shuddered. “Wow! Don’t they know the dangers of cooking their own meals? Obesity, trans-fats, clogged arteries, cancer…” his voice trailed off. Everyone knew how dangerous unsupervised cooking could be.
General Urbane shook his head. “Anyway, atavism in meals would be enough to bring them in, but it gets worse. They are also doing unsponsored research!”
“How can doing research be wrong, General?” Greenfire asked. Canary winced. This one was going to get him blasted. And as team leader, she was going to take crap for it, too. She wanted to kick him, but if Urbane caught her doing that, it would be even worse.
But Urbane surprised her again, answering calmly, “Research is dangerous, Greenfire. You, if anyone, ought to know that!”
Drake Burroughs had almost been killed by an explosion while working as a research assistant on a government project. They had been attempting to find out more about the Starheart meteor. Burroughs had just placed the glowing stone into an analysis chamber when there was an explosion. A rescue team had rushed into the chamber, but when they passed through the inner door of the radiation lock, they were stunned to discover that the chamber was now filled with a gigantic, pulsing green flame, the heat of which threatened to incinerate them. They dropped all their rescue gear, including an emergency radiation suit, and scurried back through the airlock.
Somehow or other, Burroughs had managed to meld his mind with the green energy, and the suit was a perfect containment vessel. Thereafter he had immediately been recruited into the Legion of Justice.
Urbane was still talking. Canary thought she detected some impatience in his voice now. She hoped Burroughs would pick up on it, too, but she doubted it.
“More than half the funding for that project went into safety measures — and yet your team still managed to destroy the greatest potential energy source of all time — and almost get you killed as well. What kind of disaster might be unleashed by amateur researchers performing dangerous experiments with no regard for safety precautions or possible consequences?”
Canary could tell from Burroughs’ body language that he was about to retort in anger — and then they would both regret it. She knew how much he hated it to be constantly reminded that the current energy crisis in the U.S. was due to his carelessness. She took another risk — she didn’t know if Urbane could tell when she used her sonic powers or not, but she took her role as team leader seriously, and the leader was responsible for the safety of the team members.
She projected her voice into the hearing pods on Drake’s helmet and whispered urgently, “Drake, shut up! If you say any more, we’ll both be punished. And I’ll make sure you regret it for a long time afterwards!”
Drake jerked slightly in surprise — he hadn’t known that she could use her sonic powers this way, but he did shut up. He was probably more worried about her threat than the official punishment — and he had better be. Still, she knew she’d hear about it from him later. But it was better for all of them if he vented to her in private.
“Now, if I may continue?” The team knew Urbane wasn’t actually asking for their attention this time, but warning them to shut up and listen. “Worst of all, they’ve somehow obtained a supply of Lifextend and distributed it freely to all the members of the commune!”
There were several gasps from the team of Legionnaires. The life expectancy for the general public was one-hundred and ten years old and holding steady, and it was more difficult every year to keep the population fed. Uncontrolled access to Lifextend would inevitably lead to end of civilization in the deadliest and most destructive wars in human history, as the potentially immortal humans battled over dwindling resources.
So Lifextend was rationed; only high Amgov officials who had proven their commitment to the Utopian States of America though their public service had access. The Legionnaire knew that one of the rewards for their heroism would be access to Lifextend when they completed their terms. When they had earned it, not stolen it like these parasite subversives.
Urbane gave them the important details and briefed them on the mission plan, and then they were away. Riding a suborbital ballistic transport, they were in Idaho in less than an hour.
On the flight, they had studied orbital surveillance photos of the subversive village. It lay in a large valley ringed by miles of mountains, and it was a few dozen small houses surrounded by tended fields. The only visible sign of subversion was the lack of a monorail spur, which meant it would be almost impossible to reach this village except by helicopter. It seemed almost unthinkable that anyone would want to live cut off from civilization — even if it wasn’t a shocking violation of Constitutional Rights to deny easy access to public transportation to any citizen.
They landed miles away and commandeered a monorail car to carry them as close as possible. From there they flew in, low and slow. Teleteen created a telekinetic force field bubble to enclose himself, Chemique, and Canary, and then Greenfire pulled the bubble behind him. Canary thought he should have been able to use the Starfire energy to create a bubble and spare the strain on Teleteen, but Burroughs was very close to incompetent in the use of his powers.
He should have spent years in the Legion Academy in training — as she had, from age eight until age fourteen, the minimum age for a Legionnaire — but he hadn’t gained his powers until he was already sixteen, so she was stuck with a bumbling idiot for a teammate. At least, flying below treetop level, he was able to avoid most obstacles, and Teleteen’s bubble protected them when Burroughs didn’t swerve fast enough. As far as she could tell, they were undetected when they reached the edge of the fields surrounding the village.
The surveillance photos had shown no guards and no fortifications. Canary was suspicious; surely they knew that sooner or later they would be discovered, so how did they plan to protect themselves? She wished Invisio were with them, but his term of service had ended last month on his twentieth birthday, and he’d moved on to the interstellar colonization program. And none her current Action Team members had the power of invisibility. Burroughs should, blast him. She was going to work him to exhaustion when they got back. He should be their most powerful member, not a constant liability.
Well, then, if they couldn’t hide themselves, speed was the next best option. Teleteen could support their weight for a short distance, and she could use her sonic power to generate thrust. With her pushing and Burroughs pulling a weightless team, they should be able to cover the two miles from forest’s edge to the village in less than a minute.
“OK, team, on my mark — three… two… one… mark!”
She was facing away from the village, and she opened her mouth and sang her loudest in the ultrasound range, well above the range of human hearing. Burroughs started forward. This was all part of the mission plan, but it fell apart in a second.
Before they could pick up any speed, the air in front of Greenfire turned flat black, and he smashed into a gently sloping black wall. The shock broke Teleteen’s concentration, and the three non-fliers slid down the side of the wall to the ground.
The bewildered Legionnaires quickly realized that a giant flat black bubble now covered the village, and that bubble wouldn’t let them pass. The bubble was eerie — it absorbed all light that fell on it, and they couldn’t really see it at all; it was like looking directly into space, except there were no stars. Chemique shuddered; this intense gigantic nothingness scared her.
“No wonder they don’t have sentries or a wall!” Canary said ruefully. “A giant force-field! There goes our surprise!” She realized that they probably wouldn’t find anything when they finally reached the village. This shield was only good for one use. The villagers had to know it couldn’t be sustained forever, with the forces Amgov could bring to bear, so they must have some kind of escape plan set up.
And then she realized something else. “We are so screwed! Especially me.” Urbane wouldn’t accept any excuses. As the leader of the assault team on the ground, it was her responsibility to make sure the team didn’t set off any warning devices or traps. The debriefing and punishment following this mission were going to be unpleasant — unless they could salvage the mission somehow. They had to reach the village before the evacuation was completed.
“Everyone, we need a way through this field, fast! Find out more about it — hurry!”
“Canary?” Burroughs spoke up tentatively.
“Quiet, Drake! You go aloft and keep watch!” Everyone else in the group could use their powers for analysis, but all Drake was good for was brute force. He didn’t have the control over his powers he needed to help them now.
Canary bombarded the field with different sound frequencies, checking for any distortions that could indicate weak points. Chemique tried to analyze the chemical composition, and Teleteen strained to find out if there was telekinesis involved.
“Gina!” Greenfire was more urgent now. The use of Gina Lance’s first name, since Canary was team leader, was a breach of protocol while on a mission.
“Why aren’t you keeping lookout? I told you, Drake, let us work!” She let her anger show in her tone.
Burroughs pointed at a nearby boulder. Green energy pulsed from his hand, and the boulder exploded. His green aura kept shards from lacerating his teammates, but the nearby plants and trees were totally shredded by the rock shrapnel. Canary turned toward him, furious. Before she could say anything, he pointed to another boulder, and it also exploded.
“Damn it, I have something to say, and you are going to listen!” Burroughs pointed at a rock that was near Canary’s feet. With great effort, she restrained herself from speaking.
“We used a force-field that was smaller, but otherwise visually identical to this one in my research facility. The right combination of sonics can cause a temporary local softening of the field, and then mighty-mind boy, here, should be able to force an opening for us.”
“You could have just said so!” Canary yelled at him. The rock at her feet vanished in a puff of green flame, and she yelped as she jumped away from the intense heat.
“You could have just listened in the first place,” Burroughs responded coldly. Behind her back, Chemique and Teleteen smiled at each other. Canary sometimes got on their nerves, too.
She was listening now. Burroughs gave her the exact harmonics she needed to sing. She hoped she could produce; she had never practiced singing chords in the ultrasonic range. She would remedy that in the future, working herself as hard as she planned to work Burroughs, but she needed to do it at least for a few seconds right now without practice. She began to sing. They watched the force-field closely.
“It will change color, becoming gray as you get close to the right frequencies. When it becomes really light gray, Tommy, pull it open, and we can all jump through. But be ready, it’s going to be dark inside!” His teammates often forgot, but Burroughs had been a competent scientist before his accident.
Canary used her voice like a battering ram. She knew how to do this; she practiced it all the time, only in the human-audible range. She started at low power — no use in wasting energy until she knew it was going to work. Her teammates watched the field intensely for any sign of color.
“There!” Chemique pointed excitedly at a gray patch.
Canary put more power into her inaudible song, and the gray spread. She sang louder than ever, and it became the size of a manhole cover. She waved her arms imploringly, begging her teammates to act, as she knew she wouldn’t be able to keep this up for long.
Teleteen, alias Tommy Tamare, pushed a small cylindrical force-field probe through the center of the gray spot. As soon as he was sure it had reached the inside, he expanded the diameter until there was a hatch-like opening through the field. He scrambled through, then turned to help Chemique. Drake flashed through and then turned, straining to use his power to help Teleteen. Canary couldn’t hold the pure notes she needed to while crawling through the opening, and the pressure on Teleteen and Greenfire’s minds was suddenly tremendous as the force-field tried to solidify. They focused all their willpower until Canary was through, then relaxed, and the opening snapped shut — leaving them in total darkness.
Chemique caused a chemical reaction in the ground near them, and it started emitting a pale red light. They could barely see each other, just black outlines against the very pale red.
“Geez, Miqui, couldn’t you brighten it up a little? I can barely see my own body,” Teleteen complained.
“C’mon, Tommy! What does your training say?” Canary snapped at him.
“Oh, yeah — use dim red light in total darkness; it helps your eyes stay dark-adapted! Say!” he said brightly, anxious to redeem his mistake. “Can’t Chemique speed up the dark adaptation process in our eyes? It is a chemical reaction!”
“Good thinking, Teleteen!” Canary was approving, now. “Miqui, can you do that?”
“Easy as pi!” the regent of reactions giggled. She concentrated, and the heroes — except Drake — found that the light seemed to be growing stronger, at least near them. But they couldn’t see far. She spoke again, hesitatingly, “I’m pretty sure I could totally alter the chemical reactions in the cones of our eyes so they respond to IR instead of visible light; that should let us see much better.”
“You’re pretty sure? Have you ever done that before?” Teleteen asked in alarm.
“Nope. But it wouldn’t be hard!”
“Well, practice on somebody other than me!” he said emphatically.
“Yeah, we don’t need you to try that just yet, Mick!” Canary agreed. “Get someone on the training staff to investigate it, and when you’ve practiced it, we’ll have another tool to use on future missions. Great thinking!” She looked around. “Say, where’s Greenfire?” In the dark, she hadn’t noticed he was missing.
“There!” Teleteen pointed, and they turned toward the town. Much nearer to town, high up, they could see the green glow that always surrounded Greenfire when he used his powers. Even without their dark-adjusted eyes, in total darkness that dim green glow would have stood out like a bonfire.
“The idiot! I didn’t tell him to scout ahead!” She switched her command headset to Greenfire’s frequency. “Burroughs, you fool! Your green aura stands out like a beacon in this darkness! Land and power down now!”
It was too late. Brilliant streaks of lightning flashed up from the town and speared Greenfire. The green aura vanished. And the other three Legionnaires were left temporarily blinded.
“Great! Just freepin’ great!” Canary shouted in frustration.