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Tomorrow's Lesson, by Samuel Hawkins

Chapter 4:  Unpleasant Introductions

The Legion Cruiser had never been this crowded.  But then, the Legion had never tackled anyone or anything like Mordru.  Confronting the nigh-omnipotent wizard was the most dangerous mission any Legionnaire could imagine, and everyone was needed.  Except for the still-recuperating and tragically depowered Star Boy, the 20th Century-dwelling and still hidden-from-her-cousin Supergirl, and the clubhouse-guarding and questionably effective Bouncing Boy, the entire membership of the Legion was here.  Already clad in their spacesuits, they were gathered around Cosmic Boy as he stood in the middle of the Cruiser’s small bridge.

“All right, let’s listen up,” the Brallian said, trying to sound like a particularly grizzled magnoball coach he’d once had.  “Here’s what we know.  Mordru is the ruler of Zerox, the Sorcerer’s Planet.  The first historical references to him date to slightly after Superboy’s time.  Like many of the other archetypal evil figures of that era, such as Darkseid, the Planet-Eater, and the Gates, modern scholars largely regarded him as a myth.  That is, until twenty-three years ago, when the new ruler of Zerox claimed to be the legendary Mordru, and began demonstrating powers that tended to support his claim.  He’s been a sporadic conqueror, gobbling up series of planets in very quick succession, then seemingly doing nothing for a while.  He’s been in one of his quiet phases for the past few years, but the United Planets is understandably worried that we’re next on his list.”

“Two days ago, U.P. intelligence picked up a report that Mordru was on the planet Rann.  They don’t know exactly why he was there, but think it has something to do with this.”  As Brainiac 5 activated the viewer, Cosmic Boy pointed to the screen at the rear of the bridge.  It displayed a hand drawn sketch of obvious antiquity. The drawing showed a large crystal, circular and flat, embedded in a metallic frame that was heavily encrusted with jewels and ornate patterns. 

“This is one of the few records of what is known as the Nullifier,” Cosmic Boy explained.  “It’s ancient, though most historians date it as being a bit more recent than either Mordru or Superboy.  No one knows exactly what the Nullifier is, but it has long been believed by some to be a source of immense mystic power.  It has a colorful history, but disappeared from its place of safekeeping on Naltor late in the 26th century.  Rann has long been rumored to be one possible resting place.”

Cosmic Boy’s voice lowered to an even more serious tone.  “Like I said, no one knows exactly what the Nullifier can do.  Maybe nothing.  Maybe … a lot.  According to the legends, it can instantaneously disintegrate people and objects.  Destroy them completely, without a trace.  If that’s true, and if this object has fallen into Mordru’s hands … well, with its power added to his … well, it wouldn’t be good.”

Cosmic Boy paused to allow some murmurs to ripple through the group, then continued.  “Rann is a border planet, and one of the few U.P. worlds that still has a Green Lantern.  Alanna Strange is her name, and if that sounds familiar, it’s because she’s also Rann’s hereditary champion.  She detected Mordru’s presence, and confronted him.”  Cosmic Boy nodded to Brainiac 5 again, who displayed the next holo-image.  “This was the result.” 

There was an audible gasp from several of the Legionnaires at the sight of the three-dimensional carnage. 

“She’s expected to live,” Cosmic Boy said after a pause, “but she won’t be doing anything with that ring for quite a while.”    

Cosmic Boy motioned for Brainiac 5 to switch off the viewer.  “I don’t need to tell anyone what we’re going up against here.  We’ve faced some tough customers in the past year and a half, but none of them compare with Mordru.  I won’t lie to you.  What we’re doing is incredibly dangerous.  It’s going to be tough going.  But we have to find out if Mordru found the Nullifier while he was on Rann.  As powerful as he already is, there’s no telling what it could enable him or his armies to do.  If he did find it, we can only hope that it will take him some time to master it.  We can’t give him that time.  We have to strike at him while we can.  This may be our only chance.”

“What’s our plan, Cos?” Colossal Boy asked.

Cosmic Boy paused, and rubbed his hand across his chin.  Besides how to give a pep talk, one of the other things he’d learned from his old magnoball coach was that while a good leader can occasionally be less than completely honest with his troops, you should never do so when it would be completely transparent.  “Gim, I could stand up here for hours and diagram fifty different ways to attack him.  But we all know that they’d all involve pretty much the same thing.” He stopped and pointed towards the newest Legionnaire.  “We sic Superboy on him.  The rest of us have to be ready to distract Mordru when we can, but it all comes down to getting Superboy a clean shot.” He paused, then added, “Unless anyone else has a better idea.”

No one did.

“Okay then.  Let’s be ready to move.  We could find him at any time.”

“Like now,” Brainiac 5 said from the scanners.  “Over there, passing that small moon.  I think Mordru is cloaking his ship.  I’m detecting a trail of chaos energy emissions.  They’re too strong to be naturally occurring.  I’d bet that’s Mordru, all right.”

Cosmic Boy took a deep breath, then walked to the command seat.  “Open a channel,” he said to Triplicate Girl as she sat at the communications station.  She nodded and quickly moved her hands to do so.

“Ship of Zerox,” Cosmic Boy said evenly, “this is a representative of the United Planets, in whose territory you are presently positioned.  We request that you give response and explanation.”

Silence was the only reply.  Cosmic Boy looked at Triplicate Girl, who shrugged her shoulders and mouthed, “It’s open.”

Cosmic Boy nodded and turned toward Superboy.  “Can you see the ship? Can you tell if the Nullifier is on board?” he asked softly.

Superboy’s gaze narrowed for a moment.  “No,” he answered in a puzzled voice.  “I can tell that something is there because of the negative pattern it’s leaving, but there’s some type of … veil there.  I can’t see through it.”  He looked again, then added, “It’s weird.”

“It’s magic,” Cosmic Boy said, then slowly turned back towards the view screen with an uncomfortable feeling.  Something was nagging at his memory, but he couldn’t place it.  Probably just nerves, he decided.  “Lord Mordru,” he said loudly, “we believe you to be a passenger on this ship.  We request an audience to discuss your presence in U.P. space.”

Again there was no response.  Cosmic Boy waited for seventeen nerve-racking seconds, then bit his lip and tried again.  “Mordru, this is Cosmic Boy of the Legion of Super-Heroes.  Respond to our hails or prepare to be boarded!”

Nothing happened for a full five seconds.  Then the screen snapped to life as a visual communications link was opened.  Almost all the Legionnaires took at least a half  step backwards at the sight of the master sorcerer.  His appearance - all flowing white hair and beard - was undeniably intimidating.

His silent gaze seemed to penetrate them.  “So,” he said at last in a deep and pondering tone, “they’ve sent the children for me.”  He shook his head.  “Your leaders are more foolish than I’d imagined.  I should do the peoples of the U.P. a favor and relieve them of such … incompetent rule.”

Cosmic Boy ignored the taunt.  “Why are you in U.P. space, Lord Mordru?”

Anger being so natural to Mordru, it was difficult to tell when he was amused, but this seemed to be the case now.  “Does the god explain his actions to the ant?  No.  So shall it be with us.  Begone boy.  Turn around and go back to your little clubhouse.  This is no game.”

Cosmic Boy’s gaze rested steadily on the feared mystic.  “Mordru, I’ll not waste your time or mine.  We know why you were on Rann, and what you did there.  What we don’t know is whether you found the Nullifier.”  Cosmic Boy lowered his head but kept his eyes locked with Mordru’s.  “Did you?”

Mordru’s eyes twinkled with mild surprise.  “My, my, but you are the direct one,” he remarked.  “Such fire in one so young.” A hint of a smile appeared, but it fell stillborn as Mordru’s brow wrinkled and his gaze narrowed menacingly.  “Still, do your parents know where you are, and that you are severely trying the patience of one as dangerous as I?  I repeat once more, begone.”

Cosmic Boy did not hesitate.  “As I said, Lord Mordru, we must know if you have the Nullifier.  We will board your ship and search its contents.  You understand, that is the only way that we can be sure.”

Mordru’s gaze seemed to acquire new weight at the Brallian’s statement.  Then he broke into a laugh. “Oh, not even then, little boy.  Not even then.  Do you think that I cannot make you see what I wish you to see?”  He laughed again.  “Be glad that you have amused me this day.  Your service in that cause has purchased your life.  I will let –“

Mordru suddenly paused, as the positions of the Legionnaires changed slightly and he got a look behind Cosmic Boy.  “Is that –“ he paused and squinted intently, “is that the Kryptonian with you?”  His mouth gaped open.  “It is,” he said with wonder.  He began to absently stroke his long beard.  “And such a young version.”  He paused and lowered his head in thought.

Cosmic Boy looked at Superboy.  He seemed just as perplexed.  Cosmic Boy began to speak again.  “Mordru –“

“Shh!” Mordru said with a dismissive wave of his hand.  “I must think.  I did not realize that the Fates had chosen this course.  Whatever lackey failed to inform me of this development shall soon plead for death.”  He was quiet for a moment, then said, “Very well.  I am called Mordru the Merciless, but this once, I will not credit the name.”  He looked up, and when he did, his eyes were aglow with an unmistakable seriousness.    “Young … Legionnaires … turn around.  Go back.  Go home.  Go back to your home worlds.  Forsake this foolish game of hero.  It will bring only your ruin.”

“You, Kryptonian, go back where you belong.  Go back to yesterday.  You play with forces beyond your ken”.

“All of you, do not challenge me again.  To do so, will be your doom!”

There was a long moment of stillness as the Dark Lord’s words sunk in.  Then Cosmic Boy said, “We appreciate your offer, and your counsel, Lord Mordru.”  In his first display of nervousness, the young man paused to clear his throat.  But then he tightly clenched his fists, and chose the future course for the group he had helped to found. “Nevertheless … we have to know whether you have the Nullifier.”

Mordru’s response was not immediate.  He first spent a long time staring at Cosmic Boy.  Then the old sorcerer shook his head in resignation.  “The Earthers used to say that there was no fool like an old fool.  Well, they never met you.”  He paused to lick his lips.  “Very well, you young fool.  I guess I shall have to teach you a lesson.”

Then the screen went black.

And suddenly, school was in session.

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TOMORROW'S LESSON Copyright 2000 Samuel Hawkins.  All rights reserved.  This story is neither authorized nor endorsed by DC Comics.   Superboy, Clark Kent, Martha Kent, Jonathan Kent, the Legion of Super-Heroes, Cosmic Boy, Lightning Lad, Saturn Girl, Chameleon Boy, Triplicate Girl, Brainiac 5, Sun Boy, Phantom Girl, Colossal Boy, Shrinking Violet, Bouncing Boy, Invisible Kid, Mordru the Merciless, Smallville, Metropolis, & Krypton are TM DC Comics & © DC Comics, Joanne Siegel, and Laura Siegel Larson.

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