by Dan Swanson, based on a concept by Tynnechris
First Lieutenant Michael Gold was on duty at the Citadel of Justice, watching the video security monitors. It was one of the more dangerous jobs in the Utopian States of America. His duty was to report anything unusual directly to General Urbane. There were two major hazards — reporting something that Urbane considered insignificant, and taking too long to report something significant for fear of punishment if it wasn’t significant. After thorough study of the records of his predecessors, Michael had decided to err on the side of caution. Those who interrupted the General unnecessarily frequently lived through the punishment.
He had no doubt the events he was observing this morning were both unusual and significant — highly so. It was only a few seconds before four A.M., and two Legionnaires had just forced their way into the personal quarters of two other Legionnaires — Star Lass into Greenfire’s room and Teleteen into Chemique’s room. He didn’t think the opposite genders of the intruders was significant. After all, Greenfire was just a glob of energy, and Chemique was a robot, but in any case, nocturnal visits were a clear violation of Legion rules. He hit the button that would contact Urbane. And cursed only seconds later as he hit the panic button. That few-second delay would probably be fatal to him.
The two invading Legionnaires both returned to the Legion common room, accompanied by their teammates. Star Lass was towing a force-field bubble filled with flashing green energy. First Lieutenant Gold could somehow feel the anger crackling inside that bubble. Chemique was floating prone behind Teleteen, struggling and twisting as if she were wrapped in invisible restraints.
Alarms were blaring, and blast doors were closing throughout the vast Citadel. Force-fields snapped into place, and the building was totally locked down. Every room was sealed; nobody could go in or out. The four Legionnaires were trapped in their common room, if the building was proof against their powers.
Damn, thought Gold as he now saw that all the other Legionnaires had also gathered in the common room while he had been concentrating on Star Lass and Teleteen. He slapped another switch and flooded the room with gas. Damn, they all have e-suits on! And then there was a boom like thunder, and there was something weird in the room, and then it was empty — all less than twenty seconds after he had decided something funny was going on.
Though he still breathed, Michael Gold knew he was as good as dead. No security monitor had ever lost the entire Legion before. Well, there was nothing like sure death looming in the near future to energize a man.
He slapped his hand on a palm-scanner, opening a closet-sized locker and revealing a battle-suit. He suited up, then used the suit’s blaster to slag the security control room. Yet more alarms joined the cacophony as fire-retardant foam began spraying from nozzles in the walls and ceiling, all the doors and windows were electrified, and all the lights shut off, quickly replaced by dim red emergency lamps. He couldn’t have planned such satisfying chaos. He blasted through two doors and a corridor wall and ran out into the keep, which was quickly filling up with people and equipment summoned by the alarms.
With all the local emergency units arriving, along with Urbane’s Department of Supreme Justice security forces, the Guardians, the military, and the Legion Reserves, one more suit of battle armor went unnoticed. As soon as he had a chance, Michael Gold slipped into a sewer and began making his way toward the edge of the city. He knew better than to fly; sooner or later, the satellite lasers would find him.
He’d be on the run for the rest of his life, but he had a chance. Actually, with a working suit of battle armor, a pretty good chance.
Greenfire never noticed the transition through the boom tube. His own energy blasts were reflected from the inside surface of the bubble, filling it with green energy so he couldn’t see anything outside, and his shouting in the enclosed space drowned out the boom. Greenfire’s language was interesting; he was using curses Canary had never heard before. She hoped she could remember them all. On the other hand, Chemique stopped struggling as soon as she saw Knight Base and figured out what was going on.
Star Lass was using the old gravity rod to reinforce her own power, but even so, she knew she couldn’t hold Greenfire for long. The Legion got ready to battle their most powerful member.
Golden Boy hardened his skin and slapped the bubble hard, rocking it violently. “Shut the freep up, Greenie!” he yelled savagely. “We just risked our lives for you, whether you know it or not!”
“Everyone but Star Lass go with Rex. Rex, take everybody up a fempto and head for the control room. Terry and I will deal with Drake!” Canary snapped orders. A few of the heroes looked stubborn. “Orders!” she barked.
Reluctantly, the others vanished. “Drake, I’m going to order Terry to let you go. She only trapped you on my orders, so if you’ve got a problem, take it up with me!”
“Freepin’ straight, little bird. You’ve ordered me around long enough, but this is the last straw! But you aren’t off the hook for this crap, Knight! When I’m done cookin’ the bird, you’re next.”
Canary reached into her pack and pulled out two wooden disks, each about the size of a dinner plate. “You’ve been mouthy ever since Urbane stuck us with you, Burroughs. You’ve earned every bit of this. Let him go, Terry — but stick around to put him back together when I’m done with him.” Each disk had a strap on one side. She held one disk in each hand by the straps, like small twin shields.
Greenfire’s green energy flared again inside the bubble. Star Lass didn’t want to release him, but she had her orders. The bubble vanished.
Greenfire pointed both arms at Canary, and two green energy beams blasted out. Almost casually she twisted aside from one and blocked the other with one of the wooden shields. She unleashed an ultrasonic blast that knocked Greenfire backward a few inches. He lifted into the air and flew toward her. She fell backward, and when her back hit the floor, she kicked upward and struck the stomach area of his containment suite. The suit folded a little bit around her feet and dragged them along with him for a foot or so; she used the momentum to complete a backward roll and landed on her feet, turning to face him before he could attack again.
This time he put both arms together and increased the force of his blast. She ducked and used both shields to deflect his beam. Another ultrasonic scream cracked the faceplate of his containment suit. He blasted the floor under her feet, but she had already jumped aside, and she threw one of the wooden shields at his mask. Greenfire blasted it with no effect.
The flying shield was stopped barely an inch from the cracked faceplate, held in place by a glittering field.
“OK, you two! This has gone far enough.” Star Lass was pissed at both of them.
“Drake, we couldn’t leave you there; Urbane would have tried to torture you because you didn’t tell him about our escape plans. He would never have believed you didn’t know anything.” She didn’t know if Drake actually could be tortured, but Urbane would find a way if it was possible. “So we kidnapped you. You can go back if you want and tell Urbane you escaped. He’ll probably make you the leader of the replacement Legion.”
Star Lass turned to Canary. “And you, Ms. Tough — just have to prove over and over how tough you are, don’t you? You know Drake’s energy would have blasted uncontrollably out of the suit if you broke the faceplate, and it would take him hours to pull himself together again, and he’d be in pain the whole time. But you just have to prove you can take him — and everybody, don’t you?”
Theresa used her power to disintegrate the shield she had caught. “I’m going to join the rest of the team and celebrate our freedom. If you guys want to fight, go ahead. Drake, we’ve got pre-calculated settings that we can use to open a boom tube back to Earth in exactly one hour. Make up your mind before then, or you’re stuck here for at least another day.”
She turned her back on them and flew off down the hall toward the control room, where she expected to find the rest of her teammates.
The silence she left behind was very uncomfortable. Finally, Canary spoke. She was the leader, and it was her job.
“The Legion has retired from Amgov, Drake. I’m sorry we didn’t give you a choice. We couldn’t let you know in advance — your containment suit is bugged, and Urbane would have found out. But we really couldn’t just leave you there — you’d be in a wooden room right now, and he’d be sticking you with wooden needles and spears.”
“My suit is bugged?! Prove it!” he exploded.
Canary relaxed. He was talking rather than fighting. “You know there’s a magnetic field around you, right?”
“Just like around any living thing,” he agreed. “So what?”
“Nope, not. The suit blocks any field you and the Starheart produce. Instead, this field is entirely generated by your containment suit. There are at least three-hundred microsensors woven into the fabric of the suit, watching everything that occurs around you and recording everything in the fabric of your suit! The entire suit is like a giant magnetic access card, and there are sensors connected to a card writer woven into the material of the suit. Every time you pass a card reader in the Citadel of Justice, the sensor readings stored by your suit are read, and the suit is reset.”
“I don’t believe it. It would require thousands of terabytes of memory!” he said flatly.
“Well, science isn’t my strong point — but Rex and Theresa tell me your suit is built of paramagnetic materials, and potentially every atom in the suit is a binary bit. Would that be enough memory?”
Burroughs was silent for a minute. “It’s a fancy theory, but I still don’t believe it. You haven’t proved anything yet!” he insisted again.
“I thought you’d say that. I’m going to get something out of my pack — don’t blast me!” She cautiously reached over her shoulder and pulled out a palmtop computer and a hand scanner. “Theresa built the scanner; Rex wrote the display program.”
Moving even more slowly, she brought the scanner near him and swept it from his head to his feet, then turned the monitor so he could see it.
“OK, check it out!”
It was stunning, a full visual recording of every instant of his life since last night. Canary moved a joystick, and the point of view moved. She could show what was behind him, to the sides, even under his feet. There was no way this could be faked — the entire surface of his suit was recording everything in his vicinity.
Greenfire was silent for almost a minute as he tried to think this through. “I’ve been trapped inside this suit from the day of my accident. It’s supposed to be a standard Amgov-issued radiation-proof suit for use in dangerously radioactive environments. It’s hard to believe that every standard rad suit has this kind of surveillance gear built in.”
“We actually checked that out, and you’re right — this suit is one of a kind.”
“That means,” he continued, his voice rising with anger, “my accident wasn’t an accident!” He started to float into the air, and a dark green aura was forming around him, quickly growing larger.
“Well, duh!” she said, sarcastically and emphatically.
“You knew?” He loomed over her menacingly. “Why didn’t you tell me?” His aura was crackling with barely restrained power, and her hair stood out from her body as from static electricity.
“Anyone who doesn’t have his head stuffed up the waste elimination chute on his rad suit knows that there aren’t any accidents when General Urbane is involved.” She was letting her anger show as well. “As to why I didn’t discuss it with you…” She simply pointed at the monitor, now showing Star Lass breaking into his room and surrounding him with a bubble of cosmic energy. “What do you think Urbane would have done to the two of us when he went to the video?”
She turned her back on him and started off to the control room. “Enough. If you can act like a Legionnaire, you can join us. Otherwise, just wait here, and Rex will activate a boom tube back to the Citadel of Justice. You can tell Urbane you escaped.” She looked at the scanner and computer, and put them back in her pack. “He probably wouldn’t believe that, would he? Well, you tell him whatever you want.”
“Hey, wait!” he cried. She stopped and turned. “Wouldn’t you be mad at Urbane?” said Greenfire. She recognized his tacit surrender and made it easy on him — he really had been screwed over by both Urbane and Amgov.
“We’re all mad at Urbane. That’s part of the reason we’re here. C’mon, let’s join the others.”
By now, Mekanique had made all her preparations. Things here in the future were going pretty much according to her plan. Of course! she thought smugly to herself. It was just a matter of time now, and she had plenty of time. Now she could turn her attention to other things. She activated her time-jump harness and was gone.