The Last Sun Boy Story
Dirk stepped out of the shower, an ‘old-fashioned’ water shower that he’d had installed after moving into Legion HQ full-time, as the feel of water on his skin, and not the more typical sonic shower used by his peers, was probably the only thing he and his old man had ever agreed upon.
He stood in front of the mirror, pinching his belly and wondering if he was perhaps putting on a few extra kilos. Most of his teammates made use of a biochip that monitored their metabolism, keeping track of how many calories went into and out of their bodies, but, after the accident, those years ago, when his body began putting out tens of thousands of calories with a wave of his hand, the hapless chip had glitched and called for emergency medical intervention, having no protocol for a body that was generating so many calories of heat energy that it would have required a weeks’ worth of binge eating to fuel even a few seconds of his output. Rather than fuss with a modified implant, able to compensate for his unique situation, Dirk just waved it off, and took to keeping track of what he ate the old-fashioned way, by having an external device, in this case, his Flight Ring, keep a tally of that boring stuff.
The door chimed, and he shook his head. Now what Brek? Grabbing a towel, he headed for the door. Brek had left not ten minutes before, escorting the ladies out of the HQ in that chivalrous way he had, but he always seemed to have a reason to come back. Passing through his bedroom, he noted that the robo-service had already made up the bed and cleaned and folded his uniform, which sat on his dresser. And there, on the edge of his bed, was Brek’s uniform top, folded and left there by the cleaning robot, who recognized that it didn’t belong in Sun Boy’s room, and had left it there for him to deal with as he saw fit.
He snatched it up in his free hand and crossed to the door, muttering ‘door’ to cycle it open. Brek stood with his arms crossed, shirtless and probably still chilly from the cool Metropolis night air, and as his mouth opened, “I just…” Dirk pushed the shirt into his chest and said, “Good night, Brek.” before repeating ‘door’ and leaving the door to cycle shut in his friends face.
He shook his head and turned, dismissing his friends’ absent-mindedness, or whatever it was, and looked at the towel in his other hand, chuckling at the incongruity of someone with his abilities using a towel to dry himself. He spread his arms out and called upon the fire that always lay smoldering in his belly, the air rippling around him and the water steaming off of his body as it slowly lit with a cool plasma flame, barely hot enough to combust paper, burning away the hydrogen and oxygen in the water vapor rising from his skin and hair.
He was a bit surprised to hear Computo’s voice; “Alert! Fire detected!”
Normally such a relatively cool plasma burn wasn’t enough to trigger the fire alarm sensors, and Dirk belatedly realized that the towel in his hand had caught fire, and he laughed.
“Cancel alarm, Computo.” he said as he concentrated on the scrap of towel remaining, causing it to burn to rapidly cooling ash before it could fall to the carpet and start another fire. The room went dark again, dimly lit for sleep, and he stood for a moment in the shadows before saying softly, as if someone was present, “There’s no fire here.”
The criminals had coordinated a series of attacks, in different locations, all at the same time, perhaps thinking to catch the Legion off-guard. Apparently none of them had thought to look up the word ‘Legion’ in the dictionary, as Mon-El had simply divided the heroes into four teams of five, and sent them to deal with each of the attacks simultaneously, and still having a few Legionnaires to spare…
His squad was dealing with an attack on an S.P. black-tech repository, where technology deemed too dangerous to be used unrestricted, was stored for study and analysis. Himself, Timber Wolf, Lightning Lass, Shrinking Violet and Invisible Kid were handing the uncoordinated crooks their heads. He could see Timber Wolf dancing rings around Caress, whose failure in the short lived second iteration of the Fatal Five had apparently not taught her any lessons, and the sound of thunder in the distance behind him, followed by a cry of surprise and pain, indicated that Ayla was giving somebody a hard time of it.
Here in the air, another Fatal Five wannabe, Flare, was attempting to match her fiery powers with his own, but he was almost effortlessly negating her attacks, shunting the heat away with his own powers, and stymying her somewhat clever attempt to touch off some secondary fires to endanger bystanders and get him off her back.
The stoic woman was an agile flier, he had to give her that, and he came around the corner of a building to see her hovering in place, unleashing her full power directly into his face, hoping to overload his ability to manipulate heat and flame. He felt a rush of adrenaline as her full power challenged his own, but all-too-quickly, she had unleashed her power, and she wavered in the air, face resigned as she saw him still hovering, untouched by her display of power.
“My turn.” he said with a smile, sending an increasing wave of fiery plasma her way, as she attempted to duplicate his feat, only to be pushed to the ground by the waves of superheated air. He recognized she was approaching her limits, and began to draw down his output, not wanting to risk injuring her, but the fiery display of his own power obscured his vision and a sudden explosion threw him from his feet. She had produced a cryo-grenade, and frozen him in a block of quick-freezing ice-foam, meant for fire suppression or tactical battlefield use, an act that might have killed a normal man, dropping him into hypothermia in a matter of seconds and causing massive tissue damage through freezer-burn. Against someone able to call up the heat of the sun, and make even frozen fire-retardent foam burn like rocket fuel, the grenade was nothing but a distraction, but it was exactly the distraction Flare needed to make her escape…
He flew into the air and looked for some sign of her fiery contrail, but saw no sign of her, only his teammates finishing up their own opponents. Violet had knocked Ron-Karr unconscious, and had rolled up his still-flattened body like a rug, which she was carrying over her shoulder. Spider-Girl had a black eye, and was looking suitably chagrined, as Invisible Kid handed her over to armed SP officers, which Dirk found somewhat surprising, as his money would have been on Sussa, in a fight against Jacques. That girl makes some terrible choices, but she doesn’t belong in Takron-Galtos. Caress was sitting on the ground, head between her knees and looking unsteady, having apparently been knocked for a loop by something Brin had done, and the SPs were very carefully cuffing her hands with a series of corrosion resistant manacles, while Ayla came flying down with an unconscious Radiation Roy in tow, hanging from her arms. She looked a little stiff, herself, and Dirk was somewhat amused to note that she didn’t land, just hovered there, trying to hide the fact that Roy must have tagged her at some point with the edge of one of his paralyzing blasts, leaving her uncertain as to whether or not she could walk yet. Thank Sol for Flight Rings!
Still, how embarrassing. Everyone else got their villain, and here he was, empty-handed. It almost seemed that Flare was the only one with the presence of mind to prepare an escape option…
The power cell on the black market camouflage suit burned out after ninety seconds, but that was enough for Flare to run out of visual range and strip off her wig and outer jacket, drastically changing her appearance.
She joined with a group of bystanders jogging away from the sounds of thunder and destruction, shaking her head at the bystanders running *towards* the fracas for a better view, and entered the nearest transit tube, using a fake identity to take a series of tubes around Metropolis, using different IDs and changing her appearance one more time (including her dusky skin tone, using a fast acting cosmetic cream) en route, to reduce the chances that she could be tracked.
She resisted the urge to check for the canister she had kept the cryo-grenade stored in, which now held a very different and more important cargo.
Finally, she received a signal from a comm secured in one of her earrings, the ‘all-clear’ signal that indicated the Legion teams had returned to their Headquarters. She idly wondered if any of the teams had succeeded at this wild goose chase, and secured whatever goods they had been hired to acquire. It didn’t really matter, since they were just the diversion, something that at least half of them would probably be angry enough to kill over, if they ever found out…
Flare was a hundred meters below the surface of modern day Metropolis, in subways that had long since been decommissioned, before she reached the rendezvous point. A security layer had run a sizzling current along her skin an hour ago, burning away any nano-trackers that might have been sprayed on her by an S.P. aerial drone during the fracas, not that she expected any to have survived her plasma corona. The S.P. had trackers capable of ‘tagging’ fire-users like herself, but they were hardly standard issue, and she had been in and out before such specialized ordinance could have arrived on-scene.
Six months ago, she wouldn’t have even known about such things, but her eyes had been opened to a lot in six months, and some of her new friends were a bit more experienced at this whole ‘super-villain’ thing.
As she entered the ‘lair,’ she smirked at the smell of fluted jasper-rose, one of her teammates quirky attempts at brightening up the corroded metal walls of this centuries abandoned transit station. Their newest recruit, a touchy streetwise Earther who had taken on the code-name ‘Inferno,’ sat reading through a holo-scrip of the latest news, her long blonde hair coiled around her neck and shoulder to lie on her chest, as if she was afraid that it might hang down and touch the grunge-covered floor. Fussing with her flowers, her ‘mentor’ in the group, the poised Beauty Blaze, turned at Flare’s entrance and gifted her with one of her dazzling smiles.
“Do you have a present for me?” Blaze said, not bothering to ask the obvious, ‘Are you sure you weren’t followed?’ which would surely have been the first words out of his mouth.
Flare produced the small canister that had contained the cryo-grenade, now glowing with its new occupant. “I get it done.” She feels the warmth of the trapped solar plasma within, captured from the vast quantities that Sun Boy had launched at her during their all-too brief encounter. “And it is indeed the stuff.”
“I presume he didn’t recognize you?” Beauty asked, gently taking the canister from Flare’s hand.
“Oh, he recognized me as ‘Flare,’ but not from our first meeting…” Flare said with a grin, watching as Inferno gave up pretending to read the news, and rose to also inspect the canister.
“Why would he,” the young recruit added with a touch of bitterness, “I mean, who are any of us to him? Conquest number six hundred and eight?”
Beauty Blaze had closed her eyes, allowing the sensation of the solar plasma to resonate in her grasp, but frowned slightly at Inferno’s tone. “Don’t be petty dear. In different circumstances, I certainly wouldn’t remember him either…”
Her eyes opened as she handed the canister to Inferno. “And yes, this is indeed, ‘the stuff.’”
“Not that there was really any doubt,” Inferno grumbled, but she too closed her eyes as her left hand closed around the canister of plasma. Her right hand rose, palm facing upwards, and an identical swirl of golden-amber-rose plasma danced on her palm, before receding back into her hand like a snake slithering under a rock.
The sound of a rusty door opening heralded the arrival of their fourth member, as Dr. Zaxton Regulus entered the room, half dressed in his familiar golden armor. “Is that it? Why didn’t you tell me that Flare had returned? Are you certain that you were not followed?” he asked in rapid-fire succession, eyes flicking from the canister of plasma, to Beauty Blaze, and then to Flare herself. Flare just grinned, ‘Okay, it was the *third* thing he asked…’
Beauty Blaze deftly snatched the canister away from Inferno’s grasp and tossed it to Regulus, causing him to comically overreach in an attempt to prevent it from falling to the ground, as if a duraplast container would shatter like millennia-old bone china if it fell three feet to the ground. As he bumbled about attempting to get a firm grasp on the canister, she replied matter of factly. “Yes. She just arrived. She wasn’t.”
Flare was hardly surprised that Regulus didn’t seem to understand what Beauty Blaze was saying, since he’d probably already forgotten his original questions, in his fascination with the canister of plasma she’d captured from Sun Boy.
His eyes reflected a dull orange glow as he peered closely at the plasma sample. “At last!” he said aloud, not really speaking to his teammates, “With this, I can tune the machine and finally, Sun Boy’s stolen power will be all…” he paused for a moment, suddenly becoming aware of his audience, “ours!”
Regulus then headed back into the area he marked off as his ‘lab,’ the rusting metal door clanging shut behind him.
Beauty Blaze and Flare shared a look and shook their heads. Inferno was the one to speak up, “Could he be any less obviously planning to double-cross us? What a schmuck!”
The call from his father was certainly unexpected. Dirk and the senior Morgna rarely got along so well as when they went months without speaking to each other. Indeed, Dirk had grown almost nostalgic about the work obsessed egomaniac, which he wasn’t sure should be attributed to ‘absence making the heart grow fonder’ or some sort of early-onset senility on his part.
Still, he had to give his father credit. Dirk’s position as a Legionnaire, a celebrity here on Earth, particularly as one of the few Earth-born Legionnaires, would be a PR coup for any savvy business man to exploit in promoting and marketing his own company. And yet Derek Morgna had never once asked his famous son to come to company events, such as plant openings, or to lend his famous name to marketing campaigns. No matter what sort of absentee father he’d been, Dirk respected his father’s choice not to exploit his son’s status or accomplishments, and while he’d never told him so, Dirk was grateful to his father for that.
Morgna Industries Fusion Powersphere One became visible ahead of him, a squat globe, lying like a blister amid the taller buildings of Metropolis that surrounded it on all sides. The first of its kind, the longest-serving, and the site of the ‘accident’ that had given the Morgna heir the power to generate light, and later heat, and finally to generate solar plasma, allowing him to project powerful gouts of plasma ‘flame’ even in the cold vacuum of space.
So few Legionnaires could truly point to one place and say, ‘This is it. Right here. The place I gained my powers.’ Jo’s space creature had long ago moved on. Gim’s fallen meteor was shattered into a million bits. Thom’s comet had been destroyed after some kids died trying to replicate the encounter that gave him his original powers. Korbal was under tight quarantine, and there would be no more ‘Lightning Dudes’ or ‘Lightning Ladies’ or whatever. But Powersphere One looked pretty much the same it had that fateful day.
He tried signaling his father that he’d arrived on site, noting that the plant was currently in a ‘cooldown cycle,’ a safety protocol that his father had pioneered, giving each of the Morgna Powerspheres an eight hour ‘rest period’ once a week to allow the plasma to be flushed of energetic anomalies and the chambers to be deradiated. By making sure that there was always enough plants functioning that at any given time, one could be ‘resting’ while the others carried the slack. There was no reply, but that was hardly abnormal. His father rarely answered the comm, being a busy man, with a sense of priorities that rarely left time for trivialities like keeping his promises or maintaining contact with friends or family…
The security personnel didn’t even bother to check his identification, just waving Dirk through the checkpoint with a big smile, more thrilled to see a Legionnaire than concerned with plant security. Besides, how many visitors flew in wearing a bright yellow and red outfit and leaving a trail of fire behind them?
So it came as something of a shock when Dirk reached the control chamber, where his father’s message had told him to meet him, to discover that he was the fifth person to arrive today in a bright red and gold outfit, trailing fire…
Dirk felt an uneasy sensation, seeing his father sprawled on the floor on the other side of the room, with the gold-armored figure of his old foe, Dr. Regulus, standing over him, wreathed in flame. His father had always been a larger than life presence, but seeing him crumpled on the floor, lifeless and still, he seemed frail and broken. He felt the breath trapped in his lungs, which were aching with the need to exhale, but he didn’t want to break the moment, didn’t want to allow time to move forward to the moment when he would have to know whether or not his father was still alive.
Regulus broke the spell by kicking the senior Morgna, who uttered a short moan, and the breath left Dirks body as he felt a cold calm pervade his being, tuned now to a singular purpose, to make Zaxton Regulus pay.
A thought triggered his Flight Ring’s communications functions, and a frustrated chirp indicated that the signal was being blocked. Even in the grip of whatever cold fury had seized him, he knew that Regulus had the power to absorb his own solar energies, and that he would need backup, but Regulus seemed to have prepared for this, and ensured that Dirk could not call for reinforcements. A stir in the air behind him was the only warning he received as hands seized his wrists, already wreathed with coruscating power, the only visible sign of the firestorm waiting to be unleashed.
“Long time, lover,” came the melodic voice of Beauty Blaze, who had seized his left arm, appearing suddenly from the concealment of some sort of camouflage field.
On his right side, Flare had seized his right wrist, and was pulling in the opposite direction, as if she and Beauty Blaze meant to pull him apart like a wishbone.
He started to resist as a third pair of arms circled around his neck, as a smaller body pressed against his back and a blonde face that looked vaguely familiar whispered in his ear, “You probably don’t remember me, but I go by Inferno now.”
Recognition dawned as he turned to really look at Flare again, not as the costumed villainess she had become, but as the woman she was. Her posture, confrontational and strong, defined her more than her colorful outfit ever could. He turned to Beauty Blaze, who he’d always thought looked familiar, and remembered a night, like so many others, but years before, when he’d met someone with this cool poise and effortless sense of style, like some old world aristocrat, born to privilege. Behind him, the younger woman wore her anger like armor, and remembered too her energy and her defiance, quick to take offense and burning to throw herself at the world, following no rules but her own. Faces changed as easily as clothing, especially in this century, and he’d never really had a great memory for faces, but he remembered the way these women carried themselves, something that was much harder to change.
Improbably, his sometimes unreliable memory coughed up a name and he replied softly, “Oh, I remember you, Sandy. I remember *all* of you.” He felt the arms loosen slightly as he surprised her, and Dirk released a malformed sphere of fiery plasma in all directions, but confined, so that the radiated heat would not reach across the room to risk further harm to his father.
Inferno’s grip slackened as the wave of heat and plasma knocked her free of his back, but Flare and Beauty Blaze retained their grip, and he felt a strange emptiness within himself, as he watched the energy flow from him directly into the hands of his captors, who now shone with the solar energy they were somehow draining directly from him. He wrestled with the women holding his arms, but they were ready for him, and held him tighter as Inferno regained her footing and also began to leech energy from him, leaving him feeling cold and empty inside. Regulus had moved across the room as he struggled, and his gold-gauntleted hands were also now aglow, drawing energy in streams of amber plasma from Dirks chest. He couldn’t cease the flow of power, literally the first thing he had learned, all those years ago, as if whatever floodgates he had built within himself to contain the nuclear reactions had been burst open, and all of the seething power he had contained for so long was now pouring forth, beyond his ability to control.
He collapsed, his legs cramping with a sensation of cold, as if the very warmth from his own body was being drawn forth along with the solar energies, until he hung from the arms of his captors, unable to stand under his own power. Something in the tenor of the energy transfer seemed to change, and more of the energy seemed to be drawn towards Regulus, and away from his partners-in-crime, and he could see energy now streaming from Beauty Blaze, Flare and Inferno, who staggered back as the gold-armored megalomaniac attempted to draw all of their powers into himself.
Slumped on the ground, on hands and knees, Dirk could see a comical look of exaggerated shock and alarm on Beauty Blaze’s face, and she made a somewhat overly dramatic show of attempting to pull her power back into herself as Regulus’ laughter filled the room, his moment of triumph at hand.
And then the scene shifted somehow, and as Regulus gasped in outrage, Blaze, Flare and Inferno all drew their power back into themselves, and began to absorb not only Dirk’s stolen power, but also pull energy directly from Regulus and his golden armor!
“This, then, would be the *triple-cross,* Zaxxy, baby.” Inferno said with a smirk as she moved to stand over Dirk, hands upraised to receive a constant stream of solar plasma from the stricken Regulus.
“You were going to use us. Now we are using you.” Flare adds in a grim monotone, moving to stand beside her colleague, as Beauty Blaze also moves to join her partners, adding in an amused tone. “It has a certain symmetry, don’t you think, darling?”
Dirk pondered how long it would be before even this turn of events reversed itself, and the partners in betrayal turned on each other. It was hard to concentrate, as the draining of his power had left him at first feeling cold and empty, like his insides had been pulled out and there was just a hollow space left at his core. But it had quickly change, and now he felt a strange lightness, as if some part of himself had expanded to fill the gap, some part of himself that had been pushed aside for so many years, was now slowly expanding.
Dirk was wondering if he was hallucinating, as the solar plasma swirling between the four villains began to coalesce into a massive swirling display of gold and amber and rose, and he felt a strange pressure behind his eyes, that reminded him ever so slightly of Tellus’ telepathic communications, but oddly mechanical and precise.
“You can’t win this Regulus,” Flare growled, “Whatever this trick is, you’re done!”
Regulus had dropped to one knee, and was attempting to reconfigure one of the panels on his armor, vainly attempting to stem the flow of energy from his own reserves to those of his former allies of convenience. “You’ll all pay…” was his half-hearted retort, as he seemed distracted by whatever gambit he was attempting.
The solar plasma had resolved into a serpentine form, and was now drawing energy from the villainesses as well, growing in size and intensity, until it shimmered above them like some planetary aurora, made of equal parts fire and rage.
##You will indeed all pay.## came a hate-filled voice from Dirk's Flight Ring, pulsing in time with the energy pulsing from the energy field growing above them, ##I am free at last…##
Regulus screamed his outrage into the vast plasmic entity that hung suspended above them on torrents of energy streaming from himself, Flare, Inferno and Beauty Blaze. Dirk, his powers already drained from him, was ignored in the face of this new threat, and used his Flight Ring to jet across the floor towards his father. There was no escaping the chamber, which was growing stifling with excess heat, as the three villainesses blocked the only exit, so he moved his father’s body as far from the fray as he could, and began pulling one of the protective suits in the room onto Derek Morgna’s body, meant to protect the powersphere workers, in case of an incident.
He finished sealing the suit only to feel a wash of heat so intense that it rolled him sideways into the wall like the backdraft of a blast furnace. Dirk was afraid to draw breath, worried that the hot air would scar his lungs, and curled into a ball, to try and protect his face and hands from heat so intense as to feel like a wall pressing against him.
##I see the flames of your being, betrayer.## the Ring-broadcast voice boomed, and Dirk sensed that the bulk of the vast creature’s rage was directed towards his father. ##Your entire race will suffer for your crimes against my kind. I will burn this insignificant speck of matter you call a world to ash!##
Regulus crowed in triumph as he completed whatever adjustments he was making to his suit. “You will not cheat me of this victory, creature! That power is mine!” Streams of energy began to flow from the vortex of solar plasma down to Regulus, to be absorbed into his armor,
Flare, Inferno and Beauty Blaze collapsed as the last of the solar energy was drawn from them, and the creature turned its full attention back to Regulus, and it was over in a matter of moments, as it seemed that Regulus had drawn the entire energy vortex into himself, only for his armor to begin smoldering. A short cry of outrage and agony, and it was over. The mad scientist’s body slumped to his knees, armor glowing with power. Smoke rose from the seams and joints of the golden armor, as his helmet fell away from his breastplate, revealing that his body had been burnt to ash in seconds.
The energy being rose again from the smoldering armor of its would-be captor, a serpentine torrent of energy coiling upon itself, like a river without beginning or end, ##Such is the way of all matter. You are but fuel, and you will all burn.##
The creature turned towards the containment chamber for the fusion powersphere, and began to direct a stream of raw plasma towards the walls.
Dirk seized upon this momentary distraction to fly his father out past the fallen villainesses, still recovering from the creature’s assault. Depositing his stricken father just outside the building, he turned to see alarms flashing across the plant, as the powersphere buckled under the energy creatures attack. He flew back in and saw Flare getting to her feet and turning to run.
“Get the girl,” he shouted to the villainess, as he grabbed Beauty Blaze’s arm and began pulling her clear. Flare growled and turned back to pull Inferno to her feet and half-carried her out of the chamber.
Beauty Blaze coughed as she regained consciousness, giving Sun Boy a brief look that conveyed gratitude, despite their differences. Behind them, the powersphere alarms blared, and an explosion sent a wave of heat and debris into the air as they shielded their eyes from the blast.
Dirk spoke into his Flight Ring, hoping that whatever had been blocking his communications earlier was destroyed, “Need Legion assistance at my location. Now.”
Brainiac Five’s calm voice responded, “Your ring was off-line. I already sent someone to verify your status. Threat assessment?”
Dirk remembered the threats of the energy creature and replied, “Possibly world-ending…”
Crackling pillars of anti-energy trailed behind Wildfire like blood from an open wound, staining the sky with his passage. Drake could see plumes of smoke rising from the Morgna powersphere, and decelerated to hover above Sun Boy and some other figures, the thunderous sound of his own arrival only catching up to him a few seconds after he stopped moving.
Before he could ask the situation, the dome collapsed and a coruscating display of energy rose forth, a swirling top-like figure made of spiraling bands of gold, amber and rose. The waves of heat pouring off of the creature posed no threat to his containment suit, but he could see Sun Boy and the others pulling away, clearly stricken, and he then recognized among the other figures a trio of flame-manipulating villainesses, who, like Sun Boy, should have been immune to the creatures fiery aura..
The cloud-like energy creatures voice thundered from Drake’s Flight Ring, somehow overriding the normal volume controls, ##You will never imprison us again. Behold!##
A second energy display burst forth from the ruptured powersphere’s containment dome, this one less of an oblate spiral and more of a column of energy, spun so tightly that it seemed like a fountain of energy pouring up into the sky from the destroyed facility. It blazed with a white heat, spitting off sparks like molten metal, and moved forward like a tornado of fire, leaving a trail of molten slag in its wake, headed straight for Dirk and the others.
Drake had already arrived to the conclusion that these energy beings had somehow drawn power from Sun Boy and the other fire-users present, or else they would be immune to its radiant heat, and probably flying to safety. Still, he had to risk that anti-energy, by its nature incompatible with pretty much everything, would not make the creature even more powerful… A single blast into the advancing white pillar of flame caused it to flicker, like a candle, and red streaks shot through its height as a wail of anguish resonated through his Flight Ring’s broadcast, an echo of the pain he had inflicted.
Dirk looked up helplessly as a second energy being joined the first, this one clearly having just been released somehow from the Morgna powersphere. His father’s face was partially obscured by the protective suit he wore, but he could see that the elder Morgna was awake now. Knowing the answer already, he asked the question anyway, “So your super-secret proprietary fusion powersphere technology is entirely based off of kidnapping aliens and using them as a power source?”
Derek Morgna coughed, still groggy from whatever Zaxton Regulus had done to him, before replying, “Not originally. The process was working, but something went wrong and we couldn’t bring the first reactors online in time for the launch, and I was desperate to find a temporary solution. When we realized the aliens living in the sun could be lured into magnetic bottles and smuggled to earth to kickstart the fusion process…” he trailed off, before continuing. “It was just supposed to be temporary, but then the press and authorities were everywhere, and we never got the opportunity to smuggle them back off-planet.”
“How many, dad?” Dirk asked. “Every powersphere has one of these things?”
“No, no. They just bought me time to work the kinks out. All of the phase two and later plants are totally our tech. It’s just the first five plants…”
“Five of them, then.” Dirk said before a great squeal of static from his Flight Ring drowned out speech.
The energy creature could not believe its senses. Whatever this new being was, clothed in matter, but streaming an energy-frequency it had never seen before, one that the memories it had shared with the meat-vessel, dirkmorgnaofearth knew as ‘Wildfire,’ a creature of ‘anti-energy,’ it had caused great harm to the one that had just been freed. And yet its companion threw itself mindlessly at the source of its pain, as if seeking its own destruction. It responded to no wavelength of communication, and so the creature moved to interpose itself, to shield its fellow entity from destroying itself in its attack on this Destroyer called ‘Wildfire.’
What use freeing its people from captivity if they were so maddened from their confinement as to seek out destruction?
Dirk could barely make out words amid the static from his Ring, squelching and stuttering with staccato pops of sound that sounded more mathematical progressions, communicated through the sounds of gunfire. ##Stop! We must flee! The Destroyer will unmake you!##
Above him, the energy creatures swirled in the air, having completely engulfed Wildfire, and the sound of energy and anti-energy annihilating each other explosively could be heard like distant muffled thunder, ominous in its relative quiet, compared to the brightness of the display.
It was difficult to see, but the larger energy creature he thought of as goldenamberrose seemed to be attempting to interpose itself between the newer one, burningwhiteiron? and Wildfire, which meant that it was suffering attacks from both the newly released energy creature and from Wildfire himself.
“Drake!” he called out through the Ring, only to hear his teammates immediate reply, pre-empting what he was about to say.
“Leading them away from the city. Got it.” Acting on his words, Drake accelerated into the upper atmosphere, with burningwhiteiron in hot pursuit, and goldenamberrose scrambling to catch up.
Dirk turned to see the villainesses, all having regained consciousness, and the energy-absorbing equipment that they had been using to boost their ability to steal his powers. He turned and flew back into the powersphere…
The room was thick with smoke, and Dirk gagged at the realization that some of that smoke was all that was left of Zaxton Regulus. He crossed the room to the figure, slumped on its knees, its hands in its lap in a position of defeat. The golden armor was spotless and gleaming, a mockery of the condition of its wearer, his flesh black clumps of ash clinging to heat-weakened bone.
Supressing the urge to vomit, Dirk tugged at the golden bracers, triggering their release catches, and pulling them away from the charred flesh beneath them.
As Dirk left the building, clad in Regulus’ armor, all of the fires went out at the same time, and his transuit began recycling his breath. He looked up to see Element Lad floating over the scene, having probably just turned all the oxygen into nitrogen or something, and smothering all of the fires in the facility. Beauty Blaze, Flare and Inferno appear to have begun sneaking off, but Invisible Kid, Shrinking Violet and Colossal Boy stood around them, having cut off their attempt at retreat.
High above the city, flashes of colorful energy blazed across the sky, and Wildfire’s voice could be heard over his Ring-frequency. “I’m trying to miss this thing, but warning shots mean nothing to it. I don’t want to kill it, but it’s giving me little chance. Somebody better think of something fast...”
Spotting Cosmic Boy, Dirk used his Ring to ascend and speak to the Legion leader face to face.
Cosmic Boy raised a hand and Dirk felt the slightest sensation of magnetic pressure against the metal of his armor, before Rokk recognized his teammate in the golden armor. “That’s a new look for you…” he said, the question lingering.
“Regulus drained my power and it’s all now in that alien sun creature.” Dirk summarized. “Beauty Blaze, Flare and Inferno also lost their powers. And Regulus is dead. The armor and the equipment on those three,” he pointed to the captured villainesses by way of clarification, “should be able to absorb and contain one or both of these aliens.”
“I’m not sure I trust a trio of career criminals to help us contain these creatures…” Cosmic Boy says. “Let’s leave them out of it.”
“I’ve already seen that Regulus’ armor alone can’t contain even one of them. He died figuring that out…” Dirk said, ascending alongside his teammate as he did.
“Hopefully Wildfire has weakened one of them enough that the outcome will be different,” Rokk said gamely.
The action was confined to a section of the sky three kilometers above Metropolis, and a whirlwind of hurricane proportions contained the energies being released. Mon-El and Dawnstar flew in circles fast enough to be invisible to the human eye, containing the fury and keeping the energies being unleashed by the enraged aliens, and the anti-energy Legionnaire, from spilling out to threaten those outside of this area.
Dirk could dimly hear communications flying back and forth, and randomly selected one to tune into, between Jan and Querl, “… based on hydrogen plasma. Converting a percentage of the hydrogen to helium should significantly reduce the creatures’ available energy.” “I don’t know anything about their energy-based metabolism, Brainy. It could go into some sort of shock, or even die…”
The creatures came into view, and Dirk adjusted his stolen armor, bringing the energy-absorbing mechanisms online. “Here goes everything.”
Whatever force was emitted was invisible to the human eye, but energy and plasma began streaming from the more aggressive of the aliens, and Dirk could feel the armor’s powered systems coming on line.
A stream of reddish-gold plasma came from the second alien, only to be intercepted by a magnetic field so powerful as to be visible to his human eyes as Cosmic Boy blocked the attack by the first alien, whose voice now broadcast once more across the Flight Ring frequencies of the Legionnaires present, ##You will not contain us again, spawn of the Imprisoner! I do not seek self-destruction, but will choose that over being imprisoned again!##
The intensity of the fiery barrage redoubled and Cosmic Boy grunted with exertion. “Can’t keep this up…” he said through gritted teeth, as sweat broke out on his brow.
Dirk took a chance. “Fine. You want to live. You want the other one to live. You have to trust me. You know I never had any part in your imprisonment. But we *have* to contain burningwhiteiron before it destroys itself, or anyone else.” He reversed the flow on his gauntlets and began to expel the energy it had drained from the more aggressive alien.
“What are you doing?! Who’s burningwhiteiron?” Rokk said, alarmed, but the attack from the first alien ceased as it replied, ##Do what you must.##
“Cos, the powersphere containment system is magnetic, as is the alien’s structure, a magnetic field surrounding hydrogen plasma. Don’t fight it. Make it *stronger*, so that the alien’s own magnetic ‘skin’ is too powerful for it to move. It can’t spit hot plasma at us if you don’t let it open its mouth…”
Cosmic Boy did as he was asked and the column of blazing white energy spun even tighter and brighter, becoming like a single burning white strand, instead of a fiery tornado. He could feel it struggle, but it was surprisingly easy to just strengthen the creature’s own magnetic fields, instead of attempting to fight them. Not acknowledging that Dirk had been right, he grinned ruefully and said, “That’s a terrible metaphor.”
“Now that the world is out of immediate danger of being burned to ash, what’s the situation?” the Legion Leader asked, matter-of-factly.
“There’s four more of these things that have been kidnapped and imprisoned in Morgna powerspheres here on Earth, being used to maintain the plasma reactions. My father broke the Earth/Sun treaty of 2675, and the Solarians might declare war on us when they find out.” Dirk said, attempting to sum up the events of the day. “Oh, and I’ve been infecting people I sleep with so that they host solar energy entities that give them fire powers.”
“Good grief, there could be hundreds of them.” Cosmic Boy replied, his face straight.
"Really? Really??," Dirk said indignantly. "That's
what you chose to take away from that?"
The surface of the sun burned hot enough to cause carbon, the naturally occurring element with the highest melting point, to dissolve. Still, the containment suits borrowed from Wildfire proved sufficient to provide protection from even this nuclear furnace, which was fitting, as they had been constructed to contain energies more destructive yet. Between the containment suit and the transsuit beneath it, Dirk didn’t even feel warm, and the modified visor filtered out enough of the blinding light to allow him to dimly see a fluttering something ahead of him that he assumed was Mon-El’s cape. Beside him, he assumed that Brek, Imra and Tasmia were similarly all-but blind, and relying on their Daxamite teammate to steer them to the arranged meeting place.
His Flight Ring relayed a communication to his earplug, and Tinya’s voice whispered in his ear, “You okay in there Dirk? Don’t panic, I’m coming in.”
In the center of his visor, a nose appeared first, and then the rest of Phantom Girl’s face, hair dangling half in and half out of the visor. Tinya smiled impishly as his head tried to move back in the helmet to make room for her, but there was simply no room to give, and their noses ended up intersecting, with only the ghost of a sensation that he might have been imagining to indicate that their noses currently were occupying the same physical space. He grinned slightly as he pondered what other parts of their bodies were currently interpenetrating. “We can’t tell Jo that we keep meeting like this,” he said softly.
“You’re so bad.” Tinya replied with a distracted smile, her eyes concealed behind dark protective lenses, shielding the only part of her that was in any danger from the hellish environment that burned and seethed around them.
He flinched as he felt a soft touch at his throat. “And your vitals feel fine. No overheating. No more of a rapid pulse than one would expect, given the circumstances.” The touch was gone, and she began to pull away, “Time to check on the others.”
“I’d pay real money to see you checking Shady’s vitals,” he quipped before she cut the channel, not bothering to dignify his comment with a reply.
Long minutes passed before he felt the slight pressure that presaged Saturn Girl’s mental contact. She didn’t have to give her teammates a warning before connecting them telepathically, but had always chosen to do so. Dirk thought of it as a sort of doorbell, politely letting everyone know that she was coming in, although the metaphor wasn’t perfect, since it was less asking permission and more a warning that she was coming in, ready or not…
<<We’ve reached the meeting point. Goldenamberrose says that no ‘matter race’ has ever agreed to meet with the inhabitants of Sol on their own turf before, and that this might impress them as to the sincerity of our mission.>>
Dirk had been only dimly aware that they had been moving, with no visual referent, and had not felt them stop moving either, his Flight Ring slaved to Mon-El’s, as were the other suited Legionnaires, so that they all moved as a unit.
A booming voice broke into their Flight Ring communications band, #Burning vessels of hydrogen plasma wait to swarm your matter worlds and structures, and at my signal, a gravitational lens will send a thousand kilometer wide beam of gamma radiation towards the world you call Earth, scourging the infestation that you call life from that ball of matter. Show me what strength you bring in return, tiny creatures.#
Mon-El’s calm tone resonated along Saturn Girl’s telepathic network. <<The Earthgov ambassador wasn’t kidding about these Solarians. They respect only threats.>>
At his signal, the light levels dimmed in a vast globe around them, so much that Dirk could now see Shadow Lass at his left, her arms raised in a theatrical display as she drew upon her powers. He couldn’t feel the effects of Polar Boy’s powers, but in the dimming light he could easily see their effects as plumes of hydrogen gas begin to form into visible clouds and streamers, instead of the indistinguishable inchoate mass that roiled at the edges of Shady’s darkfield. The Solarian ambassador hovered before them, a vast field of energy that seemed composed of dozens of small stars, connected by trails of light. As he watched, individual ‘stars’ continually winked out and were replaced by newly blooming stars, which as quickly were joined to the network by strands of light, before fading out and being replaced in turn, like some sort of ever-changing quantum constellation.
#Is this all?# the voice boomed from the Ambassador, radiating contempt in waves that Dirk could feel crawl across his skin like a physical thing.
Brek’s voice came across the Ring’s frequency, “We are holding back. The darkness can become complete, which would destroy all energy-based life forms within it, and the cold can intensify until the hydrogen becomes a solid, and plasma ceases to exist. I am but one of tens of thousands with the ability to destroy heat, and she is not the only Shadow Champion.”
#And there is the Destroyer,# came another voice, which Dirk recognized as that of goldenamberrose.
A faintly visible cloud of sparkling energy moved into view, from its position near the four force-shielded powersphere containment units that Mon-El had dragged into the photosphere with his teammates. Unable to access a Flight Ring, in his uncontained state, Wildfire instead used Imra’s telepathic network to transmit his reply to the Solarian ambassador. <<I am Drake Burroughs, of Earth. My body is energy, and capable of destroying any force you send against it.>>
Stars appeared and disappeared with great speed across the expanse of the Ambassador, and a small globe of electromagnetic energy, containing burning hydrogen plasma, flew towards the discorporate Wildfire, and was annihilated in a rush of hard radiation as it contacted the anti-energy of Wildfire’s ‘body.’
Two more spheres appeared and moved towards Shadow Lass and Polar Boy. The one arcing towards Shady was engulfed in darkness, and the electromagnetic field simply ceased to exist, allowing the plasma to wash free and wash over her like the equivalent of a warm breeze, at least as compared to the current extreme environment. Polar Boy floated slightly to the left as the globe approaching him extinguished and transformed into a sphere of solid hydrogen, sailing harmlessly past him as its magnetic field was conducted away into the surrounding medium. A hundred yards past his position, the globe of frozen hydrogen drifted into the warmer reaches of the photosphere and exploded back into gas with great force, leaving a roiling turbulence in its wake.
Saturn Girl’s emotionless telepathic voice washed over them once again. <<Now that you have verified the truth of our claims, shall we begin negotiating?>>
The Ambassador’s lights slowed in their ever-changing sequence before it replied.
#The one the Vessel calls goldenamberrose has informed us of the truth of your threat, I wished only to confirm that its mind had not been deranged or subject to deception through the long enforced communion with the Vessels host-body.*
#Through this communion, we know now that war would be pointless and threaten our existence. Your access to Durlan stellar fusion technology, the psionic energies of your Titanian telepathy and the so-called Miracle Machine all represent existential threats against which we have no counter at this time.#
#And yet, one of your shambling meat-creatures imprisoned five of our kind, using them like machines, for the convenience of other meat-species, and all but goldenamberrose are so deranged by this imprisonment that they will have to be destroyed and their energies re-absorbed. This cannot go unpunished. I await your proposal.#
Saturn Girl’s telepathic voice resonated within the Legionnaires heads. <<That went better than expected. Any ideas?>>
Wildfire was the first to reply, <<He’s going to reject our first proposal out of hand, with a side of abuse and contempt. That’s just how they think.>>
Shadow Lass offered no reply, but her amusement could be felt through the link, as she found the Ambassadors brusque tone refreshing.
Polar Boy offered, <<I don’t like this ‘must be destroyed and re-absorbed’ thing. Could we offer some sort of cure for the other energy creatures? Is that even possible?>>
<<Normally I would say ‘yes’ and propose telepathic counseling, but the minds of these creatures are as alien as anything I’ve ever encountered, and psionic energies seem to be unfamiliar to them.>> Saturn Girl replied.
<<What about Derek Morgna.>> Phantom Girl asked, <<Obviously we can’t just hand him over to these sun-aliens to be burned up.>> She turned to look at Sun Boy as she spoke, but Dirk just raised a hand, unwilling to address his father’s fate at this time.
<<I’m not sure we are the best ones to be making decisions that could affect the future of the entire planet…>> Brek said, uncertainty tinging his telepathic ‘voice.’
Mon-El’s firm tone broke in, <<We are here, and it’s on us. It’s certainly not the first time the fate of the Earth has been in our hands, and Saturn Girl, Phantom Girl and Shadow Lass all have some level of diplomatic experience, albeit from very different styles…>>
Shadow Lass spoke up, <<The Ambassador has very plainly said that he does not wish war, and yet has clearly prepared for such. He seeks an excuse. We simply must find him one that allows him to appear to have outbargained us, so that he may save face with those he represents. If we appear to be slinking home, suitably rebuked, he can appear the victor over the ‘inferior flesh-creatures,’ and everybody wins. As Drake has pointed out, he will utterly reject our first proposal, to demonstrate his strength, and so we ask for the unreasonable, so that he can demand concessions that will prove acceptable to both sides.>>
Dirk finally spoke up, <<I have an idea…>>
The booming voice of the Solarian Ambassador, whom Dirk had begun to think of as quantumconstellation concluded the negotiations, #The agreement is acceptable. If the Vessel survives the re-fusion, the Lost shall return to your matter-world, to be repaired. Perhaps he has been in some way purified by his long communion with one of us…#
Dirk released a breath he had been holding, as the Ambassador had deliberated for long minutes before agreeing to his plan. He signaled his Flight Ring to slowly move him to the powerspheres containing the plasma creatures that had gone insane from their long captivity, choosing the one he’d already seen, and named burningwhiteiron.
Another Solarion voice communicated through his Flight Ring, effortlessly hacking into its frequency to project its own speech, #Our joining may have been unique, Vessel…# Goldenamberrose hesitated before continuing, #I have long despised you and longed to burn you to carbon ash with my furious vengeance. But it would bring me no pleasure to see you burn now.#
“Aw. You say the sweeting things,” Dirk replied with a lop-sided grin, before spinning open the hatch and releasing the mindless fury of burningwhiteiron.
The maddened energetic discharges of the creature elicited a squeal of distortion from his Flight Ring, as it sought to ‘translate’ the multi-spectral ‘signal’ it was receiving, but that was buried beneath the burning sensation as burningwhiteiron moved to annihilate this soft matter that stood between it and the freedom of its solar home.
The heat blossomed into burning pain, a transcendental experience that went so far past mere agony as to leave him gasping in shock, and yet he smiled, as he recognized this pain. Every nerve felt like it had been touched with a blowtorch, and he welcomed the sensation, because he had felt it before, years ago, when he first was locked in the powersphere, and was engulfed by a plasma reaction he had never known was a living creature. Pain was good. Pain meant that he hadn’t been instantly incinerated…
He opened his eyes, aware of voices, some from his Flight Ring, some ringing telepathically in his head, distant and nagging. <<“I’m fine guys,”>> he replied to both. Mon-El hovered directly ahead of him, and reached out as if to steady him, and Dirk looked down to see that Mon-El was actually applying a sealant patch to his breached containment suit.
“You may be immune to the heat and flame once again, but you’ll still need life support functions, and your transsuit is done for,” said the Daxamite.
#It is done.# goldenamberrose said, as much for the benefit of its own Ambassador, as for the assembled Legionnaires. #burningwhiteiron has been preserved.#
Quantumconstellation spun into view, #Then it is agreed. The Imprisoner, whom you call derekmorgnaofearth is to be confined for a length of time equal to the time our people spent imprisoned, within a containment sphere located here within our jurisdiction. When your sickening matter-being life-style, that celebration of un-evolved consumption, digestion, excretion and revolting meat-slapping matter-form mating rituals has so disgusted and provoked burningwhiteiron to sentience once again, in its desperate attempt to escape union with your primitive form, you shall return them here and proceed to ‘rehabilitate’ our next citizen.#
Dirk sat on the edge of his bed, reflecting on the events of the day and how everything he thought that he had known had been turned upside down. He raised his hand so that his cupped hand faced the ceiling and allowed the energies of the entity he had named burningwhiteiron to issue forth in a tightly controlled stream, allowing them to form their own signature pattern, that of a column of blazing white plasma, throwing off ruddy sparks.
A mechanical sound from the door announced a visitor, interrupting his moment of introspection, and as quickly as it appeared, the column of fiery plasma withdrew into his hand, like a tortoise pulling back into its shell.
The door opened, and Brek hesitated a moment before Dirk beckoned him inside.
“So,” Brek began, obviously unsure as to what to say, “Today was kind of eye-opening. I’m sorry about the situation with your dad…”
Dirk shook his head and sprang to his feet, moving so quickly as to startle Brek into taking a step backwards. “Yeah. Good talk. Let’s go.”
“Go?” Brek exclaimed, wide-eyed as Dirk grabbed his shoulder and hustled him out the door. “Where are we going?”
“Out. Clubbing. Dancing. Making friends and influencing people.” Dirk said with a smile, as he half-pushed his friend down the corridor towards the nearest exit.
“But… I thought… with the…” Brek stammered, his confusion scrambling whatever he was trying to say.
“That everything was going to change? That my life, as it was, is over, and I’m a new person, free of the influence of goldenamberrose?” Dirk said, with a grin at his friend’s expense. “Please. I lived my life to the fullest long before goldenamberrose, and I’m not going to enter a convent just because my dad was even more of a creep than I thought. Brainy’s even whipped up a treatment that will prevent me from ‘infecting’ anyone else with fire powers.”
“Besides, quantumconstellation made one thing perfectly clear, that
it was my ‘disgusting life-style, a celebration of excess and revolting meat-slapping
matter-form mating rituals’ that focused his anger so much that goldenamberrose
clawed his way out of madness and was able to break free from our mutual bondage.
Sounds like I owe it to burningwhiteiron and the others to carry on
and so thoroughly disgust and revolt them that they do the same,” he added
as they left the roof access port and soared into the Metropolis night sky.
“Consumption, digestion, excretion and disgusting mating rituals await. Let's
go scandalize us some aliens!”