[A re-imagining of Legion of Super-Heroes #50, which attempts to include all of the stuff promised in the DC solicit.]
Smoke & Mirrors
The final battle has come to Earth, and the Life Eradicators move in seemingly endless numbers through the evacuated streets, marching with deliberate and deadly purpose for the Legion Headquarters. The Science Police have pulled back and are evacuating all of the nearby buildings, as their single-minded focus on the Legion HQ has become obvious, and the Legion fights a seemingly futile delaying action, attempting to destroy as many of them as possible, only to be faced with yet another fresh wave of the invaders…
Over the din, a dozen Life Eradicators suddenly hurtle into the sky, and Ayla keeps her focus on severing their ties to Earth’s gravity well, until she sees them burst into flames as they ‘fall’ faster and faster out of the atmosphere, in a bizarre reversal of ‘burning up on re-entry.’
She can see her Xanthu’an counterpart, Star Boy, smashing yet another contingent into the ground, causing their weapon-bearing limbs to become so heavy that they tear free from the creature’s torsos, before they dissipate away into nothingness.
Chameleon is in the thick of it, in the form of some multi-tentacled monstrosity that looks like what she had for dinner last night, only a thousand times bigger. Blaster fire converges on his location and she flinches involuntarily, but Cham has avoided the barrage by shrinking down into the form of an earth bird. He flies nimbly through the creatures, avoiding their attacks, before she loses sight of him in the smoke from all of the secondary fires that have been touched off, to say nothing of the deliberate fires.
Sun Boy has created massive walls of fire, to help channel the Life Eradicators towards the headquarters, although they seem to require little prompting, and as the creatures have adapted to his fire, he has resorted to burning the ground beneath them, ensnaring them in molten metals and composites.
From her vantage point, she can see Brainy, ensconced within his force field, looking for all the worlds like a statue in a museum, lost in thought. She can’t imagine that even his big brain can find a way out of this. They just keep coming…
Brainiac 5 is trying to watch the entire battle at once, while running predictive analysis to avoid any sudden disaster. He can’t even see Ultra Boy moving, as he’s tearing through the ranks of the Life Eradicators at Ultra Speed, sending the Life Eradicators tumbling in all directions with the massive sonic boom trailing his form. ‘There is a 72% possibility…’ a sub-routine informs him and he speaks suddenly into his Flight Ring. “Invulnerable!” Less than a second later, he sees Ultra Boy slam into an invisible barrier that a Life Eradicator had formed to stop his supersonic barrage. Ultra Boy staggers and rockets back into the air, the impact of a dozen blasters ricocheting harmlessly off of him. Querl is aware of Jo saying, “Thanks Brainy,” through his ring, but he files it away as irrelevant, already attempting to process new data.
Lightning Lad and Element Lad are fighting back to back, blistering barrages
of lightning being interrupted by volleys of return fire that reflect off
of a transparent crystalline barrier of pure diamond two meters thick that
appear in front of them, and is blasted away by the Life Eradicators seconds
later. While the Life Eradicators blasters cycle, Garth unleashes another
barrage, this time at the feet of the now-resistant monsters closing in on
them, as Jan pulls transforms the air between them into another barrier, this
time of lead, as the Life Eradicators have already re-configured their blasters
to generate crystal-shattering sonic pulses…
Imra has spent the first half of the battle coordinating the SPs and civilian evacuation, and the only people left in the area are SPs who are covering retreats. Legion HQ has now been evacuated as well, with M’Rissey personally overseeing the transport of Tinya’s medical pod to safety. She triggers her blasters and begins harrying the Life Eradicators currently targeting Gazelle, who is dancing in the middle of them like a crazy person, seemingly oblivious to the danger. But it’s not just the new girl, Shadow Lass is also in the thick of it, occasionally illuminated by a flash of light, golden gore-slicked cutlass in one hand and a fallen SP blaster rifle in the other, looking like some savage barbarian princess from an old holo-vid in those brief seconds that she is visible within her cloud of darkness. Foes fly in all directions from the darkness to impact on surrounding buildings with explosive force, and Imra is relieved to sense that Night Girl is there beside her, covering her comrades reckless assault.
Imra starts suddenly as an entire section of plaza uproots and flips over, crushing the dozen Life Eradicators that had been so recently standing there. Colossal Boy is briefly visible towering amidst the rubble, explaining the source of the property destruction, but as a dozen Life Eradicators turn and fire at him, he quickly shrinks out of sight and is lost again in the wild melee.
She turns in midair to see that Garth’s position is being overrun, but the ground all around him suddenly turns to water and the incoming swarm of Life Eradicators plunge into the newly formed water, which instantly turns back into ferrocrete composite, trapping anything that wasn’t wearing a Flight Ring. She is reassured to see that Jan has his back.
Sizzle has flown down into one of Sun Boy’s fire walls, and is absorbing the energy and throwing it forth as microwave bursts, which fry several Life Eradicators, and switching energy types as fast as she can, from lasers to sonic pulses to concentrated gamma-ray bursts. Turtle hangs near her, intercepting any Life Eradicator that comes near with surprising efficiency.
The United Planets Young Heroes have joined the fray, and she fears for their
lives as they move into combat. Spy appears to be in command, and he moves
very precisely, avoiding attacks and striking with surgical effectiveness.
Voice has turned a pair of Life Eradicators against their kin, and is hiding
behind them, but each one she commands falls to the blasts of its companions
almost as fast as she takes control of them, resulting in a deadly game of
keep-away. Sludge attempts to foil the advance with a slick spray over the
forward line, but while the first few tumble and Imra quickly uses her blaster
to dispatch them before they recover, the next line sprouts anchoring claws
from their feet that drive into the ground as they advance, allowing them
to ignore the slick terrain. Sludge attempts to directly strike several Life
Eradicators with his secretion, which seems to gum up their workings somehow
and leave them entangled, but the return fire on his position quickly drops
him as his companions dive out of the way. The large aquatic woman, Sonar,
turns out to have some sort of superhuman strength and resilience, which Imra
belatedly realizes makes sense, if her species dwell hundreds of meters below
sea level, and she effectively tosses a few around, and even tears one apart
with her claw-like fingers. But she too is overwhelmed, and Imra starts blasting
at those overrunning her, only to see them fly away in all directions as Ayla
scatters them with a gravitational pulse. Virus’ power seems to have no effect
on them at all, and she turns to drag her fallen comrades out of danger. Even
the seemingly hapless Fruit Boy produces some small plum-like fruit that he
is hurling at the oncoming creatures, and shouting something about cyanide.
Whatever it is works on the first few, but the next wave adapt and become
immune, causing him to hurl a large melon at them that explodes like a grenade,
sending sharp seeds in all directions. Unfortunately, he’s too close, and
his own exploding fruit also renders him unconscious…
Brainy has observed enough of the battle to notice that there seems to be an unlikely concentration of fire on the sphere of darkness in which Shadow Lass and Night Girl are fighting, but has yet to determine exactly why the Life Eradicators would consider either of those combatants to be primary targets, as *he* would have targeted Sizzle first, due to the danger of her adaptive energy-projection abilities to counter their adaptive defensive reactions.
The answer arises as he sees a Life Eradicator make it through Element Lads latest barrier, some sort of ceramic, it looks like, to suffer a direct transmutation attack from the Tromnian. “It’s not working!” he can hear Jan shout to Garth, who turns and blasts the creature. “They’re not reacting like they are made of *matter.*” Jan adds, and Brainiac Five feels a cool rush of triumph as he solves the puzzle.
Launching himself into the battle, he flies headlong into sphere of darkness at the center of the melee, “Night Girl, restrain one immediately!” Brainiac shouts authoritatively, and the surprised Reservist does so, even as she shouts, “Why?” He lands next to Shady and Lydda, both of whom he knows can see perfectly in this darkness, even if he has to calculate their positions from sound and scent. “Shadow Lass, the creatures are not made of matter. They are made of *light.* Use your power on them *directly,* to nullify their photonic matrix.”
“You are insane, Coluan,” Shadow Lass replies, but turns to the Life Eradicator futilely struggling in her team-mates grasp. Both Shady and Lydda can see the darkness somehow *infect* the creature and it dissipates into nothingness, as if the creatures self-destruct mechanism had been engaged. She can see Brainy, moving surprisingly confidently for someone who can’t see, reaching out for her blaster rifle. “You won’t need the gun anymore,” he says. “And they won’t be able to adapt to this.” he adds, pre-empting her next response in that infuriatingly calm manner of his.
Tasmia Mallor, heir to the power of Talok VIII, allows the darkness to well up within her, like a fierce cry of exultation that tears itself out of her throat. A pulse of darkness expands outwards like a bomb-blast, and in it’s wake, every Life Eradicator within sight is torn and shredded into nothingness within a second, leaving behind only fallen heroes and battered Legionnaires, amid the smoldering rubble.
The sphere of darkness fades with the last of her shadow-borne strength, and Tasmia blinks at the sudden light on her dark eyes.
Suddenly her head rocks back and she hears a nearly inhuman cry of rage. “NO! My vengeance will not be denied!” She picks herself up from the ground to see that Projectra has appeared in front of her, and in her moment of surprise struck Night Girl unconscious with a single blow to the head of the now powerless Reservist. Brainiac Five’s next thought is interrupted by the information that Takron-Galtos suffered a Life Eradicator attack four minutes ago, and as he seeks data on who they targeted, his question is answered by the appearance of new Life Eradicators, cast in the form of Terror Firma! Most of them are easily recognized, but Elysion’s entire arm has been replaced with an enormous energy weapon of some sort, and the recovering Legionnaires are scattered by sudden blasts of wind, water, fire and stone from the new menace.
Her dark power temporarily exhausted, Shady swings the flat of her blade at Projectra’s head, hoping to catch her off-guard, but only strikes a grazing blow. The Princess makes a sudden gesture and is holding a gleaming Orandan dueling saber. “Every Orandan heir must master the blade before she can call herself of royal blood. My skill is more than a match for your primitive savagery!” Projectra hisses, as she lunges at Tasmia like a wild animal, apparently unaware of the contrast between her words and actions. Slowed by exhaustion, Shady feels the blade tug first at her ribs, then at her cloak, with a wet, ripping sound. Her hand comes away from her side wet with blood, and Projectra smiles cruelly, gesturing with her ‘illusory’ blade. “It’s as real as a Life Eradicator. Real enough to KILL YOU!” as she lunges again, only to catch Shady’s cloak, which she has flung off of herself and used to distract Projectra.
Terror Firma, or the unliving simulacra thereof, have unleashed primal devastation. Tornadoes of fire sweep through the streets and water mains burst, sending geysers of steam and sewage into the sky. The earth shakes violently, and Elysion can be seen, arms extended, ranting madly about destroying all who oppose him, while stones the size of meteors rocket towards Legion Headquarters, only to be batted aside by Ultra Boy or Colossal Boy, or otherwise deflected by Lightning Lad or Light Lass.
The Headquarters are shaking, and Garth recognizes that the resonance is as likely to tear it apart as any impacts, but is distracted by a flash of light behind him. Spinning to deal with the new threat, he’s stunned to see Cosmic Boy. “Sorry, I’m late. Traffic was a mess. Where do you need me?” Recovering quickly, he points to the building, “Good to have you back. Keep our house in one piece, please.” Rokk grins and turns to the headquarters, stretching his magnetic powers to their limit in an attempt to counter the seismic vibrations that threaten to destroy it.
“Ayla!” Garth shouts into his Flight Ring, “Deal with Elysion!” Element Lad’s eyebrow shoots up, but Ayla proves equal to the task as Elysion shoots into the air like a runaway rocket. What seems like a meteor shower worth of stones hurl themselves at Ayla, but she gestures and they fly upwards instead, and, together with their master, continue accelerating towards the stratosphere.
Cham avoids an attack by a lumbering member of Terror Firma that was once made of stone, but is now some strange composite of stone and machine, only to sense a familiar presence behind him. “Hey,” he says, unaware of the danger as a shadowy figure seizes him with a feral growl and hurls him into the ground hard enough to temporarily stun him.
Imra can see that Gazelle has fallen, a victim of her own metabolism, and spares a moment’s thought to wake Fruit Boy up and send him over to give her whatever sources of fructose he’s got on his person, but is distracted by a hand on her arm. She whirls, ready to fire, but it is Brainiac Five. “Projectra may be the key. You and I together have to enter her mind. Terror Firma are just illusions.” Looking around at the damage they are doing to the city, Imra is ready to protest, but Brainy cuts her off. “Yes, very destructive, but still just constructs of light and force.”
Imra takes a breath and plunges their minds into Projectra’s, only to recoil from the chaos within. A million faces and voices scream in confusion, fear, pain and rage, and she is forced from the Princess’s mind with such force that she blacks out. Brainiac Five catches the brunt of the thought-burst, but his mind is used to handling a million computations a second, and he recovers quickly, catching Imra and lowering her to the ground. Garth is already at her side, screaming at him, but Querl puts his hand over his mouth and shouts into his Flight Ring. “Backup team, converge on Projectra! Take her out.”
Shadow Lass barely parries another sword-thrust, limping to the side, bleeding now from wounds to one leg and her shoulder, when Projectra suddenly reels back, having been punched in the face by an invisible fist. A voice taunts out, “Can’t hit what you can’t *see,*” but Projectra lashes out with her sword-hand and clocks Lyle in the temple, causing him to stagger to one knee, momentarily visible. “Buffoon,” she says, raising her sword only to stagger forward as two blaster shots strike her in the back. She rises unsteadily to her feet to see Shrinking Violet hovering behind her, adjusting for another shot. Hurling her smoldering cloak away from herself, she steps forward. “You cannot stop us! We will be avenged!” A loud ‘clunk’ ends her rant, as Shadow Lass hits her hard on the head with the hilt of her own sword, and Lyle catches the Princess as she falls unconscious into his arms.
“Princess! Get your hands off of her!” comes Brin’s outraged cry as he turns away from Chameleon Boy, backhanding the shapeshifter so hard that his head visibly deforms and his neck stretches unnaturally. He crosses the distance to Lyle in a second, tearing him aside with such force that he fingers dig deep into Lyle’s flesh, and he spins to the ground, bleeding fiercely. He catches the Princess in one arm, and swats Shady’s sword aside so hard that the blade snaps clean off. She falls back and Shrinking Violet blasts his shoulder, causing him to drop Projectra.
Seeing that Terror Firma have vanished, Garth looks up from where he is cradling
Imra and shocks Timber Wolf into unconsciousness, then looks again as he sees
Chameleon stumbling around the rubble with his head on backwards…
Two days later, on Orando.
Colossal Boy and Ultra Boy are maneuvering enormous blocks of stone into place. Turtle and Night Girl are transporting another load of stones in, aided by Light Lass, who has made them almost weightless. Sun Boy and Sizzle can be seen in the distance, quarrying new stones. “Are we gonna rebuild the whole planet?” Ultra Boy grumbles, and Colossal Boy grins. “Nah, just the palace. Might as well leave them something to do when they wake up…”
Deep inside this stone structure, a great metal sphere rests, resembling an ancient armillary sphere, more than anything else. Within the metal rings crackle brilliantly colored energies that whirl and dance around each other. Tiny figures flit about it, welding joints and finishing pieces, but the bulk of the great machine seems complete. At its base, hundreds of medical beds lie partially assembled, and teams of white-coated technicians are hard at work, under the direction of Element Lad, Invisible Kid, Brainiac Five and a ‘miraculously-recovered’ Phantom Girl, whose injuries turned out to be as much illusion as real. A single bed lies directly connected to the vast machine, and on that bed, a silver-haired woman lies sleeping. Kneeling at her side, Timber Wolf holds Projectra’s hand as she sleeps, and Imra turns away from a bald woman who is wearing a very similar outfit. “That’s the last of them Brin. The minds of all of the Orandan dead have been purged from her mind and now stored here,” she says, gesturing to the great sphere above them. “It was their last line of defense. If anything happened to Orando, the bulk of their knowledge would be transferred to any surviving member of the royal family, storing the psychic essence of their people for safekeeping.” She looks down at the sleeping Princess, whom Brin hasn’t yet looked away from. “The combined fear and shock and outrage of seven million dead souls tore her mind apart.” Imra adds softly, “And yours as well, because of your connection to her. The rage and confusion must have been overwhelming. It’s a miracle that she held out against the chaos as long as she did. She was incredibly strong, Brin, but it was an impossible burden...” She says, resting her hand on his shoulder.
Brainiac Five walks up to address Imra, uncharacteristically waiting until she acknowledges him before speaking. “The data is complete. We can begin growing bodies from the DNA records immediately, although, even with our resources, it will take *years* to download all of these Orandans into cloned bodies.” Brainy turns as Lyle, still sporting a large white bandage over his back and midsection, hands him a new datapad and walks away.
Brin has looked up at Lyles approach, but Lyle avoids eye contact and moves away quickly. His face drops and he looks back to his sleeping Princess. “Imra, I’m… I…” The words freeze in his throat, and he knows they’d never be enough.
“I know.” She says softly. “Just stay with her.”
“Always.” he responds.
Brainy stares blankly at the datapad in his hand, and the scene blurs to an image of a room full of whirling gears and mechanical contraptions. In the center of the room is a clear area, free of machines, and a sumptuous bed, on which Dream Girl reclines. “It occurs to me,” she says out loud to the mechanical room, “that the Orandoss would not be the only ones who could benefit from this contraption you’ve built.”
A man of gears and machinery assembles from the wall, resolving into Brainiac Five, bit by bit. “Indeed. The first virtuality that will be restored to a corporeal existence will not be an Orandan, my love.”