by Dan Swanson, based on a concept by Tynnechris
Though she was trapped inside a dense column of super-cooled ice harder than diamond, Star Lass wasn’t worried. Even her many-times-great-grandpa Ted’s prototype gravity rod could shoot a heat beam, and her own cosmic rod, surgically grafted into her nervous system, was many times more powerful than its primitive ancestor. She literally added a twist to the heat beam, using a force-field to shape it and spin it like a drill bit, and quickly bored through the icy covering. She then flexed the force-field, and the column shattered. Bluefire had flamed off and was helping AbsolutZero to her feet.
Time for a new trick! Theresa thought to herself. She used her own natural powers to vastly increase Bluefire’s weight, pinning the blazing banshee to the ground. Before AbsolutZero could react, she was rising helplessly into the air, as Star Lass had reduced her weight to zero.
“Zero suits you so well,” the star-clad heroine laughed at the floating frigid felon. “Zero degrees, zero weight, zero chance!”
“You should know better than to mock your opponents before the battle ends!” came a voice from above her, a voice she’d never heard before.
Before she could look up, Star Lass was struck savagely from behind, a blow that flashed through her force-field as if it didn’t exist, and knocked her out of the sky. Her cosmic rod was suddenly not working. She tried her natural power, which still worked, and quickly reduced her own weight, which saved her from serious injury when she hit the ground. Her opponent was zooming down after her, a gleaming silvery globe the size of a beach ball, totally unknown to her until this moment.
She aimed a cosmic blast at it, and still nothing happened. She switched to increasing its weight, and it bobbled in its flight, until suddenly a sparkling golden force-field blocked her power. Hey, that was her force-field! She barely ducked as the ball flashed through the space where her head had just been. Going that fast it would have injured her seriously.
Momentarily increasing her weight, she squatted, then dropped it to almost nothing and jumped with all the power in her legs right into the path of the new flying foe. Just she hit it, she massed up again. The impact was like a car crash, and the ball was severely dented. As it spun away through the sky, Theresa realized her cosmic power was back.
She created a cylinder of force and swung it like a cosmic baseball bat. The damaged sphere crumpled further and spun out over the river. There were some sparks when it splashed down and some steam. It might have floated had she let it, but a little extra weight and it was gone.
Turning to help her teammates, Star Lass was appalled at what she saw. While she’d been dancing with the power-stealing sphere, her opponents had joined their teammates, and what had been a precarious stalemate had quickly turned into a near-rout.
Bluefire had melted Golden Boy into a golden puddle. That wouldn’t kill him, but he wouldn’t be able to control his malleable body until it solidified. If parts of his body were splashed too far away, he would need help getting it back together before he could control it. With Kid Terrific and WildCat fighting against Sonix and Smashin, AbsolutZero had been able to sneak up on them and freeze them into blocks of ice. Their costumes would protect them, but they were out of the fight for a while, at least. She and Hawk Lad were the only two active Legionnaires left.
At least only one of their opponents could fly. But Sonix, AbsolutZero, and Boomer all had long-distance weapons. As she and Hawk Lad weaved through the sky, dodging heat-beams, ice missiles, sonic blasts, and explosive concussions, she wondered if this was what fighter pilots in the ancient wars felt like when they’d engaged in dogfights while dodging antiaircraft fire. And Hawk Lad had it much worse than she did; he had to depend on his natural agility to escape all the blasts, while she at least had a force-shield.
She heard a sonic boom, and everyone looked up for a second. Another Legion transport, this one much larger than the Dart, appeared over the horizon. It would arrive in seconds.
Timepiece spoke over her radio on the encrypted Legion secure channel, “The cavalry has arrived, Star Lass! I’ve got the rest of the Legion, and the Legion Reserves, and the cadet senior class from the Legion Academy, and General Urbane has called in the Special Forces teams from the nearby Naval and Air Force bases. We’ll be there in seconds!”
Apparently the channel wasn’t as secure as they thought it was. The smash squad gathered together, and Boomer touched a control on his belt, and they vanished.
That had been Rexford Tyler’s plan all along, Theresa discovered shortly. Rexford was flying the transport by himself. He and Gernsback had come up with this plan on their own. There would be hell to pay later, as Urbane was sure to discipline him for leaving his station, but for now the battle was over.
The repercussions were not, however. That night, the whole battle was replayed on the most popular 3V program Cast Your Ballot. Every night, the voting public had a chance to enact new laws, and tonight the issue was increased funding for the Guardians and the Legion of Justice. The battle was replayed endlessly, though the replays were all edited to show the Legion of Doom easily trashing the Forces of Justice, the umbrella organization overseeing the Guardians and the Legion. The talking head of a host, the neutral voice of rationality, stressed repeatedly how close this had come to being a major disaster that could have led to the deaths of millions of citizens.
Finally it was time to vote. The voters could choose among three options — raise taxes and use the new tax revenue to strengthen the Forces of Justice; transfer funding from Public 3V to Justice; or do nothing and wait for the next disaster, which would be even worse than this one.
To vote, a citizen needed to touch the correct option displayed on the screen. To prevent voter fraud, each 3V set could be used to register only one vote. So if multiple members of a family wanted to vote, that family had to have multiple 3V sets.
Voting and 3V access were Constitutional rights. Since members of the entitled class had no income, in order to protect their rights, Amgov supplied each entitled family with a new 3V set whenever they needed one. Since the producer families had income, they could purchase their own sets — or forfeit their rights. There were no free rides in the Utopian States of America.
The audience for Cast Your Ballot was mostly members of the entitled class. They outnumbered the producer class by about four to one and always voted as a block, so producers never even bothered to vote anymore. Public 3V was the major source of entertainment for the entitled, and they didn’t pay taxes.
Still, the outcome of the vote was totally unexpected, as it was each time taxes went up. Who would ever expect the voting public to voluntarily raise taxes? The host lavishly praised the patriotism and selfless public spirit of his viewing audience — the reason the Utopian States of America was the greatest nation in the history of the world. The public had once again made the world safer.
In his secret office, General Urbane smiled. He wasn’t the acknowledged ruler of the world, but he pulled all the strings. For the moment, it was satisfactory.
The debriefing session that night was brutal. As expected, Canary as leader of Action Team A took the brunt of General Urbane’s criticism, but there was enough to go around. Secretly, Urbane was quite pleased with the results of both missions, though the Legion would never know it. There was no way Amgov could put upward of thirty prisoners who had taken Lifextend and believed in the freedom to do research without government direction into the general prison population, but making sure that those thirty-plus all died in custody without raising suspicions would strain even his resources. And he would put the increased funding for the Justice Enforcement Division to good use.
The next day, a lot of interesting things happened.
Canary, Hourboy, and Kid Terrific were off-duty. The girls decided to do some shopping, and they asked their teammate Randall Tyler to come along. He wasn’t too keen on shopping, but he definitely enjoyed hanging out with two beautiful girls a few years older than he — a dream for a lot of teenage boys, super or not.
They caught a monorail into the city and then shopped for almost an hour, stopping in lots of shops and buying new clothes and girl stuff, and Randall even bought a couple of eBook chips and some new sunglasses. They seemed to be moving at random, but they often went in one door of a shop and out another, and Randall noticed that Cathy always managed to indicate their new direction, even when he or Gina were leading the way. They eventually went into a small coffee shop that was absolutely jammed and got a table.
Gina bent her head to talk to him, whispering so no one could overhear. “Rand, can you make sure we weren’t followed and then surface here so nobody knows you were gone?”
He’d figured out, finally, that they were trying to lose any tails, though he had no idea who might be following them. But he could easily do what she asked. He dived back in time an hour.
When he reached an hour ago, he reappeared in the time stream. Since an earlier version of himself already existed, he was a time phantom able to see and hear everything around him, but none could see or otherwise detect him. He would have to be back in his chair in exactly one hour, but that would be easy. He passed through the wall of the shop and flew back to the monorail station at top speed. The girls had timed this perfectly, and he arrived just as the trio of their earlier selves got off the train.
He followed the group patiently, hanging back and watching everyone on the street behind them. He was suspicious of an adult couple who had been on the same train and who just happened to be on the street a couple of times when the earlier trio of heroes emerged from some of the boutiques they had been checking out. If they were following the Legionnaires, they eventually got fooled, and they stood sheltered in a doorway. Randall hurriedly flew to where he could hear them.
“Do you think they made us?” he was asking her.
“Hard to say. They didn’t act like they knew they were being tailed. Doesn’t matter, though. As long as they’re carrying the bugs, we’ll pick ’em up again easy!” She looked at her wrist monitor, and Randall watched with her as she typed a command, and the wrist device became a tracer. He was absolutely stunned when it pointed right at him. Nothing could detect him in his phantom form. And he was right; they walked right through him and headed directly toward his teammates.
His hour was almost up. He flashed back to the coffee shop and right up to their table and sat down in the chair also occupied by his future self. It was an eerie feeling, sliding inside his own body — and then he did his best to slump into the identical posture of his solid self. His felt the internal bump that indicated that he’d returned to the present. He’d been in the past for an hour, but he’d returned to the same instant he’d left. Nobody but him would ever know he’d been back in the past. Gina was still leaning forward toward him.
He whispered, “We’re tagged,” and nothing more.
Gina nodded and smiled gaily. “OK, enough rest; let’s go spend some more money!” There was no trace of her disappointment or dismay. Cathy lead them back out to the street, and they kept shopping. Randall wasn’t surprised when the adult couple caught up with them again, but he didn’t even bother to point them out to his teammates. The three of them had a grand time enjoying the shopping in Capitalia, then headed back to Legion of Justice Headquarters at the end of the day.
Neither of the girls reported the tails to General Urbane, so Randall kept quiet, too. Randall had no idea what was going on. It was frustrating to know that his teammates had been just about to let him in on a secret. He hoped they’d get a better chance soon.
Because of similarities of their powers — mental control of energy — Star Lass, Greenfire, and Teleteen often worked out together. Star Lass was trying to help Greenfire learn to do more with his powers than simply blast and fly.
“Here’s what inPsite told me. You have to be able to visualize the object you want to create, and then sort of impose that vision on your power.”
inPsite (pronounced insight) was a former Legionnaire and a former instructor at the Legion Academy who had joined the Interstellar Colonization Corps when she had finally recovered from injuries suffered in her heroic career. She had often joked that she had, “So many mechanical replacement parts, they ought to call me Psiborg!”
“That’s why my force-field sparkles; the visual feedback helps me when I want to make something complex. For example…” She concentrated, and an egg-shaped, pale gold figure appeared in front of them.
“It doesn’t look like much. But because I can see it…” she trailed off, and the egg started to stretch and change, and only a few seconds later it started to look like a car, then a sporty car, and then a very specific model of sports car, an ancient 1965 Ford Mustang. “I can make it into anything I want. And after lots of practice, you can skip the see it and shape it step and go right to the final result.” And the Mustang vanished, to be replaced instantly by a 2007 Chrysler Crossfire Coupe.
“What are those things, Theresa?” Teleteen wanted to know. “They look kinda like personal fliers with wheels!”
“Those are antique speedboats!” Greenfire said with disdain. “Anyone should be able to see that! The wheels provide stability and steering, while the thrust comes from those pipes sticking out the back.” He stopped as Theresa laughed at them.
“Haven’t you guys ever seen a car before?” The Crossfire vanished. “There’s a great ancient transportation display in the Museum of History. Anyway, it doesn’t matter what it is, the point is, it takes concentration and a lot of practice. Drake, you try it!”
Greenfire concentrated, and a mass of glowing green energy formed in front of them. It was shapeless, and for the next half a minute it reminded Star Lass of a giant amoebae dying in agony as it writhed and twisted, but it never assumed any recognizable form. Finally, the mass disappeared.
“I’m never going to get it!” Drake Burroughs screamed in frustration.
Star Lass tried to calm him. “That’s as good as you’ve done so far! Tell you what, why don’t you practice with something smaller when you’re alone and don’t have to worry about an audience.” She smiled. “Next exercise is your favorite!”
“Tommy and I are going to set up a force-bubble; you see if you can break it down. You’ve got two minutes!” Teleteen and Star Lass disappeared in a glittering sphere, which Teleteen reinforced from inside. Drake started battering it with blasts of green energy.
Totally cut off from the outside world, the two heroes used their powers to check for bugs. Finding none, Star Lass gave her teammate some good news.
“Those subversives that got blown up yesterday? They weren’t in the rocket.” Teleteen was too stunned to respond, so she continued.
“Gina got the news this morning. They escaped via a tunnel, then used explosives and the rocket blast to collapse the tunnel. Nobody is even suspicious.”
Teleteen wasn’t any more emotional on the outside at the good news than he had been yesterday when the rocket was destroyed. But that was just protective coloration, something all members of the Legion learned early on. Those that reacted wrong to bad news never lasted long. Occasionally, duty required the Legion had to do things that the individual members found abhorrent, though it was always for the greater good. But they didn’t always like it.
General Urbane was practicing unarmed combat against Basher, one of the members of the Legion of Doom, when his opponent simply stopped. He finished his last attack anyway, a spinning leg-kick to the head, which partially decapitated the motionless telepresence droid, and sent it flying into the far wall. Before the droid stopped moving, he was at the controls to his secure televideo set placing a call to the ultra-secret Legion of Doom control center.
The screen showed chaos. He could see that the control center was filled with smoke and flames, all the control stations within sight were destroyed, and some of his remote operators were lying on the floor, unconscious or worse. The communications officer who answered his call was virtually incoherent with panic.
“She came out of nowhere! Bullets and beams — didn’t hurt her. From nowhere! A monster from nowhere!”
There was blood spitting from his mouth, and he was missing an ear. Urbane would get little useful information from this one, but it was clear that someone had invaded the remote, ultra-top secret, strongly fortified, and defended Legion of Doom headquarters. Well, he had planned even for this contingency. He typed a three-digit unlocking code into the keyboard, a hidden panel slid aside, and he pressed the red button that was exposed.
Under a mountain on the west coast of South America, a hydrogen bomb was detonated. Urbane hoped the unknown invaders would be caught in the explosion, but somehow he doubted it. He returned to his office to review security videos of the invasion.