By SAMUEL HAWKINS
Chapter 7: Something Stronger
"He beat me."
As Superboy uttered this phrase, one could almost hear the already abysmal spirits of the Legionnaires shatter. The small shred of hope left them by the survival instinct was suddenly gone. It was just a matter of time until Mordru caught and … finished them.
Saturn Girl patted Superboy’s shoulder again, then mentally shushed him. "Superboy, I know you’re scared," she projected to his mind, "but you have got to keep it together. We’re down enough as it is. If you fall apart …" she didn’t finish the thought.
The look on the young hero’s face told her that she didn’t have to.
He looked up at her in a near panic, suddenly painfully aware of the true weight of his legend. He seemed about to cry, but instead whispered, "Sorry." He started to say something else, then just repeated, "I’m sorry."
Cosmic Boy walked over, looked down at the battered teen, and forced himself to not wince. He was already healing, of course, but the evidence of Mordru’s beating was plain to see. "Just rest Superboy," the Legion’s leader said. "Just rest now."
Cosmic Boy stepped away and whispered to Brainiac 5, "We should have known." With a shake of his head, he added, "Magic."
Certain he’d done all he could for Superboy, the Coluan moved closer and nodded. "Apparently all those 28th century historians who so thoroughly discredited the theory of Kryptonian vulnerability to magic were completely wrong."
With no small measure of frustration, Cosmic Boy replied, "They sure were. But we should have thought to ask him."
Brainiac 5 looked at Superboy, and was suddenly aware of how young and new to the heroic role he was. "At this point in his career, I doubt he even knew."
Cosmic Boy almost said something about having asked Supergirl instead, but caught himself. Superboy might overhear the comment, and they had to make certain that Saturn Girl’s post-hypnotic command worked before they could let Superboy know that the younger cousin of whom he was unaware was also a Legionnaire.
Instead, Cosmic Boy turned to address his team. He suddenly stopped, as he tried to decide what he could possibly say that would be of any benefit. He wasn’t too surprised to find that the others were wondering exactly the same thing.
"Cos, what are we going to do?" Triplicate Girl asked. The question was immediately echoed by some of the others. Then the young Carggite gave voice to the feelings they were all trying to hide. "I’m so afraid."
Cosmic Boy took a deep breath. This, he suddenly understood, was the hard part of being leader. Facing down an enemy wasn’t especially difficult. You just had to look brave and do what needed to be done. The others would follow. But this … the part where you had to act like you had a plan, even when you didn’t have a glimmer of one … that was next to impossible.
"Hang in there everybody. We’re just getting started," he said reassuringly, then tried to buy himself some time to think. He stepped back closer to the infirmary and said to Saturn Girl, "Mordru didn’t follow. Was that your doing?"
She nodded. "I think so. The whole time we were there I was trying to telepathically decrease his levels of aggression. I don’t know that it helped much. He’s very accomplished mentally. As we were running away, I suggested to his subconscious that he delay in pursuing us. It seems to have worked, but I have no idea how long it will hold. Not long, probably."
Cosmic Boy nodded. "Well, it saved us. Great work. You learn anything from him we can use?"
"Not really," she said. "His mental defenses are formidable. I couldn’t ever quite get past them, and I don’t think he was even consciously trying to defend against me. He’s so powerful mentally that I’m not sure he even realized I was probing him. I think I was just a gnat to him." She paused, her face changing as she replayed the encounter in her mind. "I did sense … something. I don’t know what. Something he doesn’t want us to know. Something he doesn’t want anyone to know. Something … terrible for him. Whatever it is, his fear of it is so great that it overwhelms all rationality. Unfortunately, that helps to shield it from me as well. Whatever it is, it’s buried deeply."
"Keep working at it," Cosmic Boy urged. "It might be important." He stood there a moment more, then realized that he couldn’t delay any longer. It was past time to come up with a plan. But first he had something to do.
Walking back to the middle of the Cruiser, he announced, "Everyone, listen up." Most, though not all, of the Legionnaires looked at him. He took a deep breath and began.
"I screwed up guys. I let us go in there without being organized. I almost got us killed." Now even those Legionnaires who were busy or scared witless looked at their leader. "If … uh … if you want someone else to take over, I understand."
No one spoke. Spurred by the hopelessness of the moment, a few eyes were cast furtively at those Legionnaires who might be able to step into the role of leader. Brainiac 5. Saturn Girl. Lightning Lad, perhaps. But within seconds, all eyes returned to the only leader the group had ever known. Maybe he’d been unprepared, was the general thinking, but who could prepare against Mordru? At least he’d gotten them to safety, if only for the moment.
Saturn Girl left Superboy’s side and stepped in from the infirmary. "I think I speak for everyone, Rokk. We’re not changing in midstream. You’re our leader."
Rokk Krinn waited for anyone to point out that Saturn Girl, in fact, did not speak for them. No one did. "Thanks," Cosmic Boy finally said in reply to the silence. "I promise," he stopped, and looked at every Legionnaire before continuing, "we’ll never go into battle unprepared again."
Quietly exhaling the breath he’d been holding, Cosmic Boy turned his attention to their survival. The immediate problem with keeping his promise of preparedness, he realized, was that he still didn’t have the first idea about what to do next. In the absence of a plan, and needing to do something, he began to think aloud.
"Okay, we can’t just stand there and slug it out with Mordru. He’s too powerful. No way are we going to just put him down. So what we have to do is to remember the main reason we’re here. And that’s to make sure he doesn’t have the Nullifier."
Talking as if he had a plan, Cosmic Boy discovered, was beginning to snare the tatters of one in his mind. "We’re not approaching this right. Only a few of us can engage Mordru, even for a few moments. But we’ve all got to be in on this." He began to pace, then stopped as an approach crept into his awareness. "It will take all our powers to pull this off. And a lot of our powers are stealthy in nature. We’ve got to use that to our advantage. While our powerhouses distract Mordru, the rest of us will get into Mordru’s ship and find out whether the Nullifier is there."
He turned to Chameleon Boy. "Cham, this is right up your alley. You, Invisible Kid, Phantom Girl, Shrinking Violet, and, uh, Triplicate Girl, are the only ones that can do this. I’ll take the main group to distract Mordru. While we do, Cham will lead the … uh, Espionage Squad around behind Mordru and into his ship. Just confirm whether the Nullifier is there, then get out. Saturn Girl will liaise between the teams. Whether Mordru has the Nullifier or not, we’re going to need help to tackle him. This is just a reconnaissance. We find out, then we get out. We’ll get help, then take care of Mordru another day. Everyone agree?"
Almost everyone nodded. But as computer minds with 12th-level intelligence are notably good at detecting imperfections in patterns, Brainiac 5 felt prompted to speak up. "That’s a good plan, provided we can distract Mordru. How are we going to do that?"
A hint of frustration crossed Cosmic Boy’s face. Most plans, he knew, have some flaw to them. This one was probably fatal. It was easy to talk about distracting Mordru. It was another thing all together to actually do it. He looked back to Brainiac 5, and was about to honestly admit that he didn’t know what could fill the tall order of occupying the dread Mordru, when a voice spoke from behind them.
|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.|