By SAMUEL HAWKINS
Chapter 12: Phantom from the Past
No one spoke. No one needed to. Any reflections on this situation were too obvious to require voicing. Cosmic Boyís earlier question was sufficient, and it seemed to echo still.
"What have we done?"
Each Legionnaire knew sickeningly well what they had done. They had won. A stalemate, to be sure, but given the odds, you had to call it a victory.
But the price had been too great.
They had dared too much. They had tampered foolishly. They had brought the greatest hero of all time out of the past. But they had done so too soon, and had delivered him into the hands of a power and malevolence for which he was not yet prepared.
They had killed Superboy. THE Superboy, and consequently, all into which he would have grown. What would this mean? Had they destroyed their timeline? Had they destroyed the universe? Had they doomed the countless souls he should have gone on to save?
Or had they simply killed a young boy before he could achieve his greatness?
No one knew. They knew only that the universe would never forgive them.
Finally, the stillness shattered. Several of the Legionnaires began to mutter curses of despair or anger. Some began to softly cry. One sobbing Triplicate Girl dropped the Nullifier, and as it floated gently towards the rocky soil, her other selves rushed over to merge their bodies and their grief.
Cosmic Boy walked to the Nullifier and gently lifted it into his hands. "For this," he said softly. Then, barely loud enough for his team to hear, he said, "I guess we should go."
One by one, they began to shuffle like ancient ghosts towards the Cruiser. One by one, they stopped and looked at the spot where it had happened. One by one, they wished fervently that it had been them instead.
With Cosmic Boy and Lightning Lad supporting the still dazed Saturn Girl, the original Legionnaires were the last to begin the long journey away from the place where the Legion would leave behind its innocence and its best. In the face of this loss, their successes of the past year seemed all for naught. Moving stiffly, they headed for the Cruiser and the sad trip home.
"Stop!" Saturn Girl suddenly cried.
Every Legionnaire turned at the violent disruption of their mourning. "What?" her fellow founders asked with a concern that increased when they could see that she had closed her eyes after the surprise command. When she didnít answer, Lightning Lad said with greater urgency, "Imra, are you Ė"
"Shh!" she snapped, then returned to her curious meditation.
"Rokk!" she yelled as her eyes sprang open. "The Nullifier. Hurry! The other button. Find the other button!"
Cosmic Boy looked at her questioningly for just a second, then did as sheíd instructed. Hands that once deftly shuffled magnoballs seemed ponderous and clumsy as he vainly probed the mystical relic. "I donít Ö thereís just the one. I donít see another button."
"Itís there!" Saturn Girl screamed as she sagged against Lightning Lad. "Hurry! Weíve got to find it!"
"Brainy!" Cosmic Boy yelled as he continued to search frantically. Swiftly, Brainiac 5 hurried to his leaderís side.
"Thereís another button," Saturn Girl explained rapidly as Brainiac 5 took the object from Cosmic Boy and began to examine it. "Or at least there used to be. Itís a reverse."
The Coluan was silent for a moment. "I donít Ö I donít see anything!" he eventually said. "If it was there, itís gone."
"It was there," the telepath protested. "Youíve got to find it!"
Brainiac 5 looked harder at the artifact, but in vain. With rising frustration, he said, "I Ö I just donít see anything!"
Saturn Girl clenched her fists and forced herself to stand erect. There had to be a way. Finding one, she said, "Brainy, itís not magic! Itís technology!"
There was a pause of perhaps two seconds as the 12th level intelligence loaded a different mental model. As the boy genius found a more familiar perspective, mysteries begin to crumble. "Oh," he said with sudden comprehension. He traced a path across the surface, then held the object out to Cosmic Boy. "Right here," he pointed and said. "Pull back this layer. I suspect it will be quite difficult."
"Put it down," Cosmic Boy instructed. Kneeling beside it, the Legion leader huddled around the object and used his power to shield his teammates from the magnetic field he was beginning to generate. The metal was stubborn, he quickly discovered, and as he increased the force of his field, sweat began to pop out on his brow. He was amazed. The metal shell didnít look this hard, but it was defying him as no material this old should have been able. He narrowed his concentration and his field, and finally found a seam. Metal forged centuries before and light years away slowly peeled back to reveal the critical junction pointed out by Brainiac 5.
As Cosmic Boy slumped out of the way, Brainiac 5 knelt and pointed again. "Now, Lightning Lad. Twelve hundred volts DC. Right here."
Lightning Lad moved in and did as he was instructed. For a moment, nothing happened. Then Brainiac 5 said, "Well then, try AC." Lightning Ladís brow furrowed in concentration and he applied the requested charge. A small glow emerged from the relicís crystal. It was progress, but not what they sought.
"Hurry, Brainy. Weíre losing him," Saturn Girl said forcefully. "Mordruís chaos energy has disrupted everything around here. He canít stay close much longer."
"We need an anchor of some sort," Brainiac 5 observed.
For a moment, Saturn Girl frowned in thought. Then she said, "Phantom Girl."
"Of course," Brainiac 5 replied as Saturn Girl fired off a burst of telepathic instructions. Shrinking Violet almost jumped as Phantom Girl, standing beside her, suddenly went immaterial.
As Brainiac 5 and Lightning Lad repeated their efforts, an exhausted Cosmic Boy climbed to his feet and looked at Saturn Girl. "I think Iím starting to understand. The Phantom Zone?"
Saturn Girl nodded. "The Nullifier isnít magic. Itís Kryptonian. Itís a Phantom Zone projector. Itís been heavily modified over the centuries, so much so that it mistakenly became identified as magical. Superboy recognized it, though. Thatís why he told Triplicate Girl to use it on Mordru. He knew it wouldnít kill him."
"So thatís why Mordru went partially intangible."
She nodded. "Yes. He didnít know what had hit him. Thatís why he had such a hard time getting out of the Zone. He really believed it was a powerful mystic artifact."
"And you picked up Superboyís thoughts from the Zone?"
"Yes, but theyíre very faint. Mordruís blast hurt him badly. He was barely conscious when he went in." Cosmic Boy started to say more, but stopped. The growing strain of attempting to telepathically track the drifting Phantom Girl and Superboy amidst the residual chaos created by Mordruís mystical field was readily apparent on Saturn Girlís face.
"Iím losing him," she reported after a few more seconds of concentration. "Tinya too."
Quietly, the Legion settled into a pattern. As the seconds stretched into minutes, no one spoke. The only sounds were the hum of Lightning Lad intermittently charging the ancient device, Brainiac 5ís occasional whispered curses, and the other Legionnaires shuffling to stay out of the way as the two pivoted to fire the projector at every surrounding area.
After close to five minutes, Brainiac 5 said, "I donít think the Nullifier Ö uh, the projector, will hold up much longer."
"Could you build another one?" Cosmic Boy asked.
"Probably," the Coluan replied. "But could we find him again?"
Cosmic Boyís only reply was to look around and take in the vastness of space, and feel his mind and stomach reel at the immensity. No. They probably couldnít.
"Brainy!" Saturn Girl said sharply. "Sheís got him! Theyíre above us! Almost directly overhead!"
Immediately, he lifted the device upwards. Lightning Lad applied one last burst of electricity, and Brainiac 5 pushed the button.
A hole opened in space.
And through it tumbled a limp and gravely damaged Superboy.
Phantom Girl fell through behind him, but the low gravity allowed her plenty of time to activate the flight belt around her spacesuit and float safely downward. Before she could attempt to aid the unconscious Kryptonian, one Legionnaire yelled, "Iíve got him!" As he shot up to the stature bequeathed him by the fumes of a mysterious meteor, Colossal Boy stretched out his arms and caught the Boy of Steel. Cradling him gently, Gim Allon carefully placed the unconscious hero near Brainiac 5, then shrank back down.
As the Legion gathered around, Brainiac 5 dropped to his knees and began to examine Superboy. The Legionnaires resisted the urge to interrupt Brainiac 5ís ministrations for a few seconds, but finally Triplicate Girl could resist no longer. "Is he alive!" she yelled frantically.
From the side of the Boy of Steel, Brainiac 5ís tone was one of concern. "I Ö Iím not sure. Iím Ö Iím not feeling a pulse."
The silence of space was deafening as the Coluan urgently probed the Last Son of Krypton. No one spoke until Brainiac 5 began to shake his head. "Itís no use. Iím Ö Iím not getting anything."
"Do something!" Triplicate Girl shouted at him. As Saturn Girl moved to her side to mentally calm her should the need arise, she screamed, "We canít lose him! Not Ö not after all this!"
Brainiac 5 pursed his lips, then stood up and turned to Lightning Lad. "Shock him," he said. Lightning Lad replied with a look of incredulity. Sternly, Brainiac 5 said, "Itís how ancient humans used to restart hearts. It might work." His eyes rolled heavenward as he whispered formulae dealing with the conductivity of "invulnerable" flesh. "Iíd estimate Ö 50,000 volts."
Dumbfounded but willing to try anything, Garth Ranzz dropped beside the Boy of Steel. "Everyone back!" he barked, then loosened his power through the micro state switching filters in the spacesuitís fingertips. Amidst the flashing sparks, Superboy absorbed the charge without movement.
"Again!" Brainiac 5 said. "Double it."
Again, Lightning Lad let loose. This time, Superboy shuddered, but there was no further motion.
"One more time," Brainiac 5 ordered.
Taking a deep breath, Lightning Lad made contact and let slip the opposite charges contained in his body. When Superboyís body had finished jerking, Brainiac 5 knelt beside him. He examined the boy, then began to shake his head. "I Ö I think Ė"
"Wait a minute," Invisible Kid said suddenly. "Heís Ö is he moving?"
With a weak groan, Superboy slowly stirred. All eyes were on him as his chest began to rise and fall. "His pulse," Brainiac 5 said as he reached for the heroís hand, "itís weak Ö but itís getting stronger." He paused for a few seconds. "Much stronger." He paused again, and a slow smile that needed no explanation broke across his face. "Remarkable."
The Boy of Steelís eyes fought to open, and first eleven, then thirteen smiling faces greeted him. "Superboy!" the Triplicate Girls - who had been so excited theyíd had to split to contain themselves - shrieked in unison. "Are you okay?"
His eyes closed for a moment, then opened again. "I Ö think so," he said. Superboy slowly looked around, then took a deep breath. He closed his eyes long enough to frighten his teammates, but finally reopened them.
And said, "You know Ö for a second there, with all the mist, and what with being a phantom and everything, I thought he might have actually killed me."
A smile broke out on every Legionnaire at the words of their newest member. They began to cheer when he added, "But then I remembered Ö I Ö I donít think you can kill a Legionnaire."
And the celebration lasted all the way back to Earth.
|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.|