Introducing - The Super-Companions!?

[Formerly Tree-Man, Liquidman, Stormboy, Shadowman and Telepathy Man, now known as Wildwood, Deluge, Tempest, Dusk and Cogito, the Super-Companions protect the outer systems that represent their five home-worlds, which lie beyond the jurisdiction of the United Planets!]

The colony-moon of Garrison was in its fifth year of terraforming, and savage storms still swept much of the continental mass now freed from its once-icy prison. Tempest had spent weeks here, riding high on winds that could pull ships out of the sky, directing the storms mindless fury to help speed up the terraforming process, so that weather systems that would have taken decades to abate on their own would take months, with his guiding hand. No other living thing could survive on the world in flux, and he entertained himself with imaginings of how his companions would undertake such a procedure, especially his personal hero, Superboy, who no doubt could have reshaped the land with his bare hands, using a combination of strength and speed, and sped up the melting of the previous glaciers with his heat vision. His own costume was designed to honor Superboy's and he placed his hand on the symbol of the interlac character 'T', formed of stylized golden lightning and surrounded by a grey storm cloud. Where Superboy's costume had blue elements, his own had pale grey, and where Superboy's boots, cloak, gloves and trunks were red, his were blue, with an identical gold belt. About the only physical difference was that his cloak was shorter, as he found it distracting in the sort of weather he frequented (or, caused), and had shortened it to end in a V and come down no farther than his waist.

And so the comm-signal from Deluge came as an unwelcome distraction, as the telepathic earplug fed information directly into his daydreaming mind. "We've got a situation on Karra-Two-Nine, and if the holofeed is accurate, it looks like the Legion of Super-Villains has come to our space…" Their interim leaders telepathic voice sounded grim, but Tempest immediately replied with enthusiasm, "That means the Legion of Super-Heroes can't be far behind! Superboy will…"

Dusk's mocking voice cut him off, "Shut up about Superboy! He's not coming back to join us. He's never coming back!"

Tempest angrily began to protest, but the earplug blocked his response, and the infuriatingly calm voice of Cogito spoke into his mind, "The Legion of Super-Heroes are currently engaged with the threat of the Darkstar Pax Galactica, which is no doubt why the villains have chosen this moment to seize power in these systems they regard as beyond the reach and protection of the United Planets, or the Legion of Super-Heroes. We will have to deal with this situation on our own."

Tempest wasn't sure how he could tell, but the channel 'felt' open again, but he swallowed his angry reply towards Dusk and his gloomy attitude regarding their absentee leader, and focused on adding something positive to the conversation. "I'm on Garrison, can you send a ship for me?"

Deluge's no-nonsense voice distractedly said, "We don't have time for that, Dusk will be there in a few minutes to get you. He'll be homing in on your comm.-signal, so leave the channel open."

Tempest was glad that telepathic ear-pieces didn't transmit facial expressions, because he hated travelling via Dusk's special power at the best of times, and was especially annoyed with the man at the moment.

Noticing that the storms had grown into unmanageable things around him, he spent the next few minutes attempting to untangle them and set them on a more orderly path, before a figure appeared suspended in mid-air, illuminated by distant lightning. He didn't bother with a greeting, and simply held out a hand to the shadowy figure, which appeared to be composed of spinning particles of brown dust, and felt his own body disperse into a similar state, and flow along behind his teammate, as if pulled into the wake of a falling starship.

The sensation of reforming after one of Dusk's trips always caused him to feel like he'd been slammed violently into the ground, and made him both dizzy and nauseous, but this trip across planetary distances was particularly harsh, and he felt the world go sideways as he toppled. Moments later, everything swam into focus, and he was reclining on a medical bed, which seemed incongruously out of place in Deluge's 'command center' (located in his basement laboratory). Dusk, fully corporeal and yet still indistinct in his one-piece dark brown costume, that covered his entire face and a lean, rangy body that never stopped moving, as if filled with nervous energy, stood conversing with Cogito, dressed today in red and gold robes intricately decorated with mathematical symbols, and with a billowing high-colored cloak of what appeared to be crimson silk. Always dressed for whatever passed for royal court, on his world, it seems. Small glowing objects orbited his bald head, which at first made Tempest think that he was about to pass out again, but as his vision cleared, he remembered being some sort of Tulpan item of jewelry that Cogito had worn before.

A strong hand helped him up, and he smiled at the always-pleasant Wildwood, as the hero from the plant-dominated world of Arborea pulled him to his feet with effortless strength. His form was a darker shade of brown than the last time he'd seen him, and the leaves that decorated his head, shoulders, lower arms and legs were in a riot of autumnal colors, with brilliant reds, oranges and yellows predominating. Thorn-like growths also occurred at his joints, although he was careful not to allow Tempest to brush against any of them. His easy strength, and the hard texture of his woody flesh once again brought Tempest's mind to Superboy, but he pushed that aside, pausing only to glance at the holo-poster of their crowned leader that he'd placed on the wall of their meeting place.

"Good, you're up." Deluge says, sitting up from his 'monitor station,' a chair surrounded by newsfeeds. He looked more the mad scientist than usual, with a dozen cable-feeds flowing into the back of the chair, and feeding him information directly. More than just information, Tempest noted with disapproval, as he saw a nutrient-band resting around the man's bicep, feeding nutrition directly into his bloodstream, as well as electro-stim exercise bands on his legs and arms, typically used to stimulate the muscles of those undergoing some sort of physical therapy. "Given up on eating entirely, have you? When was the last time you got out of that chair?" he said peevishly, unintentionally sounding like his own mother.

Deluge's eyes focused suddenly, and Tempest realized that the scientist hadn't even been looking at him, watching newsfeeds instead that his retinal lenses projected in his visual field, but no one else could see, instead. "You're one to talk." he said sharply, pointing at a similar band that Tempest was just now noticing on his own arm. "You wouldn't have passed out if you'd eaten anything over the last two weeks…"

"The storms sustain me, and it's not like I needed to fly around up there with a weeks' worth of rations strapped to my back!" Tempest protested, suddenly all-too-aware of his own neglected body, as his stomach felt sour and his limbs shaky.

"Yes, you won't starve to death, little one, but that doesn't mean that the process is good for you." Wildwood said gently, gesturing slowly as he spoke, as if attempting to communicate to one of his own people by some combination of speech and posture. "Respect the winds of your breath and the currents of your blood, as you do the winds and currents of the outer world."

Tempest couldn't be angry at Wildwood, and just smiled ruefully. "Okay, okay, I'll eat something. And I'll plan better when I head back to Garrison. Let's get back to this something about super-villains?"

"Indeed," Cogito says with an air of impatience, gesturing at the out-of-place medical bed, which dissolves into shimmering light, dancing through the air back into his dome-like skull, the thought- become-reality, becoming only thought again.

Deluge took this opportunity to rise from his chair, and Tempest noted with satisfaction that he was also a bit unsteady, as if he had not been out of that position for many hours, or perhaps even days. "They landed on Karra-Two-Nine about three hours ago, and seem to have set up a perimeter at the space port, co-opting security systems to defend their position. And now they seem to be waiting, but I can't figure out what for, as the planet's primary exportable valuables are located in the synth-labs of southern continent, or the mines of the northern ice-cap. It seems like they are establishing a beach-head, so that some later force can land without incident, but all we've got right now is a lot of theorizing and chatter on the holofeeds."

As he talked, he walked around his laboratory tables, picking up and discarding various small items and ampoules, which he would then fasten to his belt, or to similar bands on his upper arm or thigh. Except for these dark blue bands, now replacing the discarded nutrient and exercise bands, his costume was solid white, and as he finished up, he pulled the white head-covering over his unkempt hair and placed a dark blue one-piece visor over his eyes.

"We've seen the Braalian, Magno Lad, as well as Sun Emperor and Tyr, all highly visible, as well as footage of some other humanoid figures that remain unidentified because of smoke and damage to the recording devices. They arrived in the company of a Gil'Dishpan, presumably Zymyr, the teleporter, but he hasn't been seen since, and may have departed."

"With numbers unknown, we should count on the element of surprise, yes?" Cogito queries, and Deluge agrees. "We can have Dusk atomize us and bring us to the fight, while the LSV is distracted by what appears to be a security frigate coming in to the spaceport." "I can arrange that," Cogito replies, agreeably.

Deluge turns to Dusk, "You're on hostage rescue and getting civilians to safety." "Done," the shadowy figure replies curtly. Addressing Wildwood and Tempest, "You two will be our visible heavy hitters, move in, make a lot of flash and noise, get the villains distracted while Dusk gets civilians clear, and try not to get yourselves killed. Just because they don't have the name 'Assassins' or the word 'Fatal' in their team-name doesn't mean that these villains are messing around."

"Are we ready?" Dusk says, eager to get into action, now that his part of the plan is established. After a chorus of assents, the Super-Companions link arms, and feel themselves dissolve into a diffuse mist, reality itself seeming to slip out from under them and hurtling by like a river on all sides, with a deafening roar.

The re-integration is much smoother this time, it seems to Tempest, or perhaps the nutrient pack really is helping, as he is only disoriented for a few moments. He can hear the blaring of a security alert, and sees that the villains have already noted their arrival, as a ponytailed man he recognized as Magno Lad dramatically lifts both hands, and dozens of heavy metal luggage containers jerk into the air like puppets on strings. He makes a pushing gesture forwards, and as the Super-Companions scatter in all directions, Tempest stands his ground and pushes back, winds howling into existence in the confined space and sending the luggage containers spinning back. For a long moment, the two men stand, apparently at an impasse, luggage containers spinning and deforming from the forces being exerted upon them, when a voice from Tempest's earpiece speaks into his mind, "Don't get flashy, just finish him." He smiles and lightning flies from his hands, intending to end the stalemate by zapping the villain, but Magno Lad leaps to the side with such force that he slams into the wall, staggered. Recognizing that the Braalian has used his own magnetic abilities to hurl himself out of the path of the lightning, Tempest continues targeting him, wafting along a meter above the ground on a localized high pressure front, fog creeping along beneath him as he rains lightning down on the retreating villain. 'They wanted showy, I'll give them showy!' Tempest thinks with a grin.

Wildwood is displeased to see that Tyr stands over a group of people, threatening them with his ridiculous gun arm. 'A champion of the verdant folk, and my task is to deal with a man with a gun?' he thinks, uncharitably, as the Tyrazzian turns to him. "What the hell is that?" Tyr says out loud, punctuating his own question with a spray of energy. Wildwood doesn't bother to dodge, and the blasterfire splits his trunk in two, to a delighted look from Tyr. The two halves immediately begin growing at lightning speed, and thorny limbs as thick as a man's torso fly across the distance separating him from the mercenary, grappling at the cursing figure, who is slashing and blasting and leaping in a wild frenzy to avoid a flurry of wildly animated thrashing vines, whipping about in a blur of motion. Calling upon the seeds of his descendents within him, Wildwood expands his growth in all directions, forming a protective hedge around the huddled prisoners, while his central body rises up four meters in height, stomping enormous wooden fists down at the startled villain, who shoots at him again and again, attempting to blast away this new growth before Wildwood can engulf him completely.

Deluge and Cogito have remained on standby, to intercede if things get out of hand, and when Sun Emperor floats into view behind Wildwood's battle with Tyr, muttering something about starting a 'forest fire,' Deluge says to Cogito, "I've got this one." and leaps towards the flaming villain, transforming in mid-leap into a rushing wave of water. The heat of the villains' fiery aura is enough that Deluge's liquid form boils away to steam even as it reaches him, but he activates one of his prepared ampoules, and releases a flood of liquid nitrogen, that freezes his liquid form back into a slushy form. Normally, it would have turned him into solid ice, but this will have to do, he thinks, as the villains flames are momentarily doused by the sudden rush of cold water. He can feel the villain heating up again, such a massive surge of solar-intensity heat that he knows he'll be unable to smother it, and he activates a second nitrogen canister, transforming his slushy body, saturating Sun Emperor's own, into solid ice, and stunning the villain into momentary unconsciousness, as his temperature drops from thousands of degrees to the negatives in seconds. 'Only one more ice-ampoule, that better hold…' he frets.

Wildwood can see behind him that the temporary barricade he created to protect the prisoners is no longer needed, as Dusk has already come and gone, and so he falls back to this growth, leaving the massive body that Tyr is fighting to topple over, inanimate. Tyr is forced to leap clear as tons of woody vegetation slam to the ground, and begin rapidly decomposing, as Wildwood attempts to sneak around to surprise the villain from behind. The attempt is for naught, and Wildwood curses his clumsy wooden body, ill-suited for such stealthy maneuvers, as a dozen arms split forth from his torso and reach across the many yards distance to the gun-armed thug. Their desperate game of 'keep-away' continues, as the agile villain blasts or hacks away at limbs as fast as the Arborean can generate new ones, until a fleeing civilian gets between them and Wildwood is forced to pull back his thorny appendages suddenly, saving one limb to grab the civilian and push him behind him, away from the Tyrazzian. "Thanks," the 'civilian' says, and Wildwood feels a sharp sensation splitting through him. Looking down, he sees a humanoid hand forming from the paper-thin blade that has pierced him, and it suddenly retracts, as he turns to see that the 'civilian' is the sometimes-villain Ron-Karr, whose body is now wavering like a funhouse mirror, weaving side to side. His hands have reduced to such thin edges that with a casual wave, he slices off one of Wildwoods limbs, and he smiles a thin smile, "Let's see how much firewood I can chop off of you…" Wildwood forms a second face, the better to keep an eye on the Tyrazzian behind him and the Neptunian in front of him, and pulls in each direction, creating a single body to fight each opponent, causing them both to step back in surprise. "You waste your energies, I am without end," Wildwood says with quiet confidence, stepping his bodies forward to engage both opponents.

Tempest had the Braalian on the run, and, truth be told, had gotten a bit cocky. When the tiny Imskian came out of nowhere and slammed into his temple, he was unprepared, and lost focus, dropping to the ground unceremoniously, while the tiny man shot up to full size and kicked him in the midsection. "Not such a big man now, are you?" Micro Lad taunted. "You people always look down on us, totally dependent on us to do your micro-scale work, and then treat us like little doll-people, or pets!" he rants, red-faced and furious as he kicks and kicks again at the fallen hero. Behind him, he could see Magno Lad approaching at a casual pace, obviously unwilling to interrupt his screaming team-mate, but shaking his head at the display. Tempest realized far too late that he'd been lured out of sight of the others, into a prepared ambush, and that Micro Lad must have been waiting for Magno Lad to lure him down this corridor. Every time he tried to call upon the winds, or the lightning, that insufferable Imskian kicked him again, and he was feeling woozy from the blow to his temple, as if he was about to pass out. Swallowing his pride, he activated his earpiece and called for help.

Suddenly the impacts ceased, and Micro Lad's arms were encased in a full-set of manacles, and as he toppled over from the unexpected weight, the manacles grew to engulf his legs as well. He heard the steady voice of Cogito behind him, both through his earplug and through the air. "That will be enough of that." The outraged Imskian thrashed around and vanished, shrinking out of the manacles so quickly that Tempest didn't even see him move, but Cogito was expecting that move, and the manacles vanished, replaced by a dome of transparisteel. Tempest couldn't tell if the dome had appeared fast enough to capture the fast-moving Imskian, until he saw a tiny impact on its surface, as the dome had appeared in front of the fleeing villain, who had slammed into it and now fallen back, expanding to less than one meter in height, and banging futiley on the transparency, for the moment, trapped and helpless.

Magno Lad looked unimpressed. "You can only create one thing at a time, thought-maker. If you want to affect me, you'll have to free him." he added, gesturing at his angry teammate, whose mouth was working furiously, but they were thankfully unable to hear. Tempest was equally angry, to have been dismissed as a threat, and a bolt of lightning took the smirk off of the Braalian's face, as he flew back into the wall, and slowly slumped to the ground, moaning. "That's why he's part of a team, dimwit."

A slow clapping sound from behind him caused Tempest to look behind Cogito, as he slowly raised to his feet. A woman stood there, Esper Lass, from her haircut, although she had changed her costume from the swimwear she used to wear to something more utilitarian. In front of her stood a member of station security, eyes blank, and gun pointed directly at Cogito. Esper Lass stopped clapping her hands finally, "Bravo. You defeated my teammates. But you can't beat me, because if you even try, an innocent men pays the price." To punctuate her words, she gestures and the security guard trains his weapon on his own temple. For a moment, his eyes flicker, and he begs, "Please, don't make me…" but just as suddenly they go blank again, and he calmly sets his weapon to maximum charge, finger resting on the trigger.

"You cannot win this thing, even if you take that poor man's life," Cogito reasons, but Esper Lass brushes off his statement. "You don't even know what 'this thing' is, Tulpan. We're not here for a spaceport. We're not here to conquer or pillage your pathetic unaligned worlds. We're here for *you.*" Her hand flies forward in a grasping motion towards Cogito's face, and he recoils. "Get out of my mind, witch! You are not welcome here." Tempest moves forward, and thunder crackles ominously in the distance as everyone's ears pop from a change in pressure, but Esper Lass nods a silent 'no,' and he can see the guard step in front of her, blocking her body with his own, with his gun still pressed to his own temple, arm trembling with exertion as he tries to resist her compulsion. "You have a strong will, but nothing compared to mine, old man." Esper Lass says gloatingly, as Cogito sinks to one knee, losing his ability to focus on such minutiae as standing upright, with so much of his mental resources devoted to fighting off her telepathic intrusion.

"Success!" the villainess crows. "Zymyr, we have the coordinates, transport immediately," she shouts to the air, before turning to her coerced prisoner. "Chief, finish it." The 'security guard' seems to melt like wax, his face transforming into that of the Durlan, Chameleon Chief, and before Tempest can react, his arm shudders into a blade of bone and chitin and sinks into Cogito's chest. He hears screaming, and doesn't recognize it as his own, as reddish energies surround the villains and warp them away, leaving him with Cogito's body. He turns to see the transparent dome gone, and presumably Micro Lad with it, although Magno Lad is still slumped against the wall. As he turns back, his teammates rush down the corridor, "The villains are teleporting out!" Deluge shouts, "Can we track them?"

Wildwood steps over Cogito's body, and points to Magno Lad, still present, "Tyr and Ron-Karr vanished one at a time…" but before he can finish a red glow surrounds Magno Lad, and Deluge says to Dusk, "Should we just let them go?" as Tempest looks down at to where Cogito fell, the 'corpse' already dissolving into shimmering golden motes of light. "They wanted something from Cogito, coordinates. They want the *real* Cogito, not one of his thought-creations. We have to go through!"

"I have no idea if this will work," Dusk says glumly as Magno Lad is pulled into the reddish light and falls from view, but the Companions join hands and as one are dissolved and pulled into the Gil'Dishpan wormhole as it collapses upon itself.

The transition is, if anything, more jarring than usual, and Tempest is relieved that he hasn't had anything to eat, as his stomach rebels and rebels again, leaving him shaking and sweating, on hands and knees, unable to vomit. Deluge is similarly afflicted, and Wildwood and Dusk, as usual, appear to have felt no discomfort at all, curse their alien physiologies…

"Dusk jump us here, Dusk jump us there," the shadowy hero grouses to Wildwood, "What am I, cheap transport?"

Staggering to his feet, and somewhat perversely pleased that he has recovered faster than Deluge, Tempest quips, "That's what I've heard around the gym, but you know how guys talk."

Dusk is speechless, but even his face-concealing mask doesn't hide the slack in his jaw. "I do not understand this comment." Wildwood says with his trademark innocence, "is there some significance to it?"

"No," Deluge says firmly, "Gentlemen, we appear to have arrived on Tulpa, and if Cogito's statements are any indication, no alien has ever set foot on this world before this day…"

Finally confident that the world has stopped spinning enough to look up, Tempest can see that they are in a city of crystal towers and gentle arches, all in soft colors of rose, gold and violet. Delicate traceries glow in neon shades, spelling out characters in an unfamiliar language, lighting up and fading slightly faster than he could read them, if he even understood the language. He closes his eyes against this sensory overload, and just attempts to feel the world. It is an old world, tired, and it's weather systems are steady and tame, it's mountains long worn down and it's moons moving in stately progression, making for what feels like an extremely complicated, and yet surprisingly simple system of tidal motion. He quickly realizes that the world feels not old, or tired, but *tamed,* and that the positions of the moons, and the order of the tides, and the positioning of the few mountainous barriers, is all-too convenient, as if perfectly planned, to regulate weather and climate just so. In its own way, it's an elegant work of genius, if not exactly art, an entire world, constructed on a grand scale, and yet it feels unnatural to him, constrained and directed and beaten into submission, somehow.

"Tempest, are you with us?" Deluge repeats, and his eyes fly open. "Sorry, just getting in touch with the climate, seeing what I have to work with."

"Alright, we have to find these villains quickly, before they find Cogito and get whatever they want from him." Deluge says. "Like the power to create anything they want, just by thinking about it?" says Dusk, glumly. "Yeah, just like that." Deluge replies, as the magnitude of the threat sinks home.

Kilometers away, Zymyr floats along through the soothing mathematical abstractions all around him, blocking out the irrelevant chatter of his so-called 'teammates.' 'What a wonderful planet. The others fail to admire, or even recognize, its perfect symmetry, but I think I would like to have it when we finish taking over the galaxy.'

The others are puzzled by the lack of people walking the streets, but Esper Lass is leading them confidently onwards, towards a palatial structure that seems to rise into the sky, claiming that she can sense minds within, including that of their quarry, the elusive Cogito himself. Zymyr immediately recognizes the fractal configurations of the building, and suspects that each chamber is constructed as a three-dimensional representation of a different mathematical formula. His blodgar twitches and hums with anticipation, responding to his mood.

Tyr is less than taken with the surroundings. "Nothing here is defensible! All open airy spaces, the buildings don't even have doors! What is wrong with these people?"

"Nobody has ever found this world before," Ron-Karr says unnecessarily. "They've never needed to defend themselves against invaders."

"Surely they warred with each other, at some point," Tyr says snappishly. "They couldn't have evolved as a race without being strengthened and ennobled by conflict!"

Sun Emperor and Magno Lad both step further away, as Micro Lad also begins adding his own brand of political insight, at volume. Chameleon Chief walks blithely in the midst of the spirited debate, apparently capable of blocking out the back and forth between Micro Lad's dogmatic militant screed, Tyr's 'aggression is the root of all progress' position and Ron-Karr's unrealistic Neptunian pseudo-philosophy.

Esper Lass wishes a gruesome death upon all of them, but the time is pretty well nigh as the final chamber is before them, large enough to hold a village under its enormous dome, stand huddled thousands of Tulpans, all elegantly dressed, some holding hands and regarding these alien intruders to their world.

Cogito steps forward, looking much the same as the form that appeared before her only an hour ago, and his people fall silent behind him. "Do you really think that your alien thugs can help you to steal our power for yourself, Titanian? The power to craft objects from mental energies, to bring dreams to life, grant wishes and tear one's darkest nightmares screaming into the waking world?"

"Wait, what?" Micro Lad says, getting for the first time a clue that the 'unlimited power' that was mentioned was not intended for them to share…

"Enough, 'Telepathy Man,'" Esper Lass says, mocking using the name Cogito had used when he first made his presence known to the universe, "You will share your secrets, and give *us* unlimited power, or we'll start destroying your people, one by one." She points with a finger at a young woman in an elegant pale yellow gown clutching her child behind her, "starting with them!" At her word, Sun Emperor sends a bolt of fiery plasma streaking at the pair, only to have it explode prematurely against a wall of transparisteel that has appeared at Cogito's mental command.

"You can't protect them all, old fool. We can spread out and begin butchering your people by the thousands!" Esper Lass exults, "Just give us what we want!"

"There is no reason to leave this room, Titanian. We are all here," Cogito says, gesturing at the crowd behind him.

"That's it? Your entire world, all those cities, and there's not even a thousand of you left?"

"Most of my people left this world centuries ago." Cogito says wearily. "Indeed, they left corporeal existence altogether, and but we few remain."

"Then if we bring this palace crashing down, your race will end," Sun Emperor threatens. "Give us the secret to your powers of creation, or face our powers of destruction!" Flames roar up around him, until he is speaking from the center of a bonfire, and his teammates move away from the intense heat billowing off of him and rising high into the air. Tyr's gun-hand charges up ominously, and Ron-Karr's hands shudder and twist, becoming as thin and deadly as a beam of laser-light.

"Enough threats, and enough childish posturing." Cogito snaps, "I am not impressed, nor am I distracted." He adds, turning to a member of his own people that has been moving through the crowd behind his position. A tentacle of crystal erupts from the floor and grabs the seeming Tulpan, who twists and transforms into a large armored beast and attempts to break free, only to be effortlessly hurled back towards the villains, transforming into Chameleon Chief as he skids across the floor. "You fooled me with that trick once, Durlan, not again."

Turning to Micro Lad, Cogito says, "You are, of course, aware, that only a telepath would have any chance of learning our techniques, Imskian? That this young woman has been manipulating you all along…"

"He's just trying to turn us against each other," Esper Lass snaps back, but Micro Lad, Ron-Karr and Tyr all begin speaking angrily at the same time in accusing tones, while Sun Emperor and Magno Lad take her side. Chameleon Chief, again, completely ignores the bickering of his teammates, and focuses his attention on Cogito, his unblinking black eyes promising violent retribution for his rough treatment a moment before. A small smile crosses his face, as his arm shudders into the same bone and chitin blade that ended the 'life' of Cogito's psychic construct, and the threat is clear that he eagerly awaits a chance to do the same to the real man of flesh and blood.

Cogito nods to Chameleon Chief, as if accepting his promise, and a slight wrinkling at the corner of his eyes is the only sign that he has seen his Companion teammates finally entering the great hall behind the bickering villains.

Tempest can't believe the size of this room, he could fit a small thunderstorm in here, if he wanted to, but he's more interested in the amount of room he has to move. A localized updraft hurls him into the air, and he announces the team's arrival with a barrage of lightning strikes, hurling Micro Lad, Tyr and Magno Lad, who were practically at blows, in opposite directions. Magno Lad reacts quickly, erecting a bubble of magnetic forces that harmlessly deflects the lightning.

Deluge has transformed into water, and used one of his flash ampoules to superheat his form into a vast cloud of steam, rolling forward to blind and scorch the villains, who cry out and scatter in all directions, except for Sun Emperor, who simply turns up the flames and begins to disperse the vapor in his presence. His efforts are of no comfort to his allies, who cannot enter the area he has cleared of steam because of the brutal heat he is generating to do so. Magno Lad is too close to the wave of heat, which weakens his magnetic shield sufficiently that Tempest's next strike slams into him and brings him crashing to the floor, muttering 'not again…'

Dusk moves as a cloud of particles to Cogito's side, "I can't move all these people…" he begins, but Cogito just waves him to silence, "You don't have to. They are in no danger. Please keep that horrible woman away from me." He says, pointing at Esper Lass, who has thrown herself free of the expanding cloud of steam, thankful to her new costume for saving her from some nasty burns, and is now running towards them. Dusk nods silently and his form atomizes again, moving towards the approaching Titanian in a blur and passing through her, striking with enough force to slam her to the ground. "Stop!" she commands, hand upraised in an imploring gesture, and he hesitates while she gets to her feet, "Now attack your so-called Companions!" she orders, and he grins beneath his mask. "I was just waiting for you to get up, lady. I wouldn't hit someone while they're down. You can't touch me in this state." He moves forward again, a blur of hyperactive particles with no more solidity than a strong wind, and passes through her body and straight up, hurling her a dozen feet into the air, and then again from above, slamming her back down into the ground, before alighting to stand before her, still blurry, his particles out of spin with conventional reality. "But I can touch you."

Ron-Karr and Chameleon Chief are tangling with Wildwood, on the one side, an enormous beast of claws and armored keratin wrestling with a massive growth of hardwood and thorny vines, while a dozen limbs sprout out of the creatures hindquarters to harry the Neptunian, who is furiously slicing away at the limbs reaching his way, his stance becoming unsteady as the floor beneath him is littered with fallen branches. Wildwood can feel the seeds within him sprouting into new life, new mass, which he directs into the formation of branches, limbs and vines, as needed, each a potential child that he will never plant in the warm earth, as he has greater need for their potential now, to save lives already realized.

Cogito can see that Sun Emperor has boiled away enough of Deluge's temporary steam cloud that their erstwhile leader is running dangerously thin, and disrupts Sun Emperors focus by creating a multi-ton block of transparisteel around the villain, forcing him to expend his energy to melt his way free, while Deluge gathers himself and assumes solid form temporarily. Micro Lad has been waiting for this opening, and with a tiny flare of his jump-pack, slams into the side of Deluge's head, shattering the side of his blue visor and leaving one surprised eye visible.

Esper Lass has regained enough focus that she turns her eyes upwards, and before Tempest realizes what is happening, lightning is flashing from his hands towards Dusk, whose immaterial form is temporarily disrupted as he sinks to his knees from the surge of energy. In that moment of solidity, Esper Lass springs into action, psychically, at least, her body remaining motionless, and seizes control of Dusk's mind as well, unable to force both himself and Tempest to do her bidding, but quite capable of keeping both of them paralyzed, their bodies and powers blocked from receiving any signals from their own minds. Sun Emperor takes advantage of his new freedom to launch a massive torrent of fire towards Wildwood, causing the wooden warrior to erupt in a chorus of screams from a thousand mouths that open up all over his vast body as it bursts into flames. Ron-Karr turns to the side, so that the fire passes him harmlessly on both sides, and slowly sidles away, to avoid injury, while Chameleon Chief transforms into a winged reptilian form and hurls himself into the air, possibly assisted by the sudden thermal updraft.

Tempest wants to unleash the rain, to help his burning teammate, but cannot override Esper Lass's mental domination. Chameleon Chief lands in front of Cogito, and resumes his normal form, but with one arm transformed into that blade of bone and chitin that Tempest remembers so vividly. Cogito just shakes his head, and steps back a pace, and the previously timid room full of Tulpans goes wild, charging en masse and knocking Chameleon Chief off-balance, to fall in the crowd and be trampled.

Tyr opens fire on the crowd, and Chameleon Chief surges up in the form of some bony-plated spiked abomination from prehistory, scattering broken bodies in all directions as he swings his massive tail around. Sun Emperor crows "At last!" and begins throwing waves of fire into the crowd, and Tempest's eyes blur from tears and the bitter stench of burning flesh. And then he notices the shimmering mists swirling throughout the crowd, as broken and burnt bodies dissolve away, and swirl through the air towards Cogito. Each Tulpan that falls disperses into mist, and Cogito, eyes filled with tears, screams out, "You've ruined everything!"

Esper Lass gasps, "They are *all* constructs? You can create life, itself?", and for a moment, he feels her mind's grasp weaken on himself and Dusk. With a shimmer, Dusk returns to his atomized state, and flies into Tyr, recognizing that he can't approach Sun Emperor, or even budge Chameleon Chief in his massive state, but he can at least stop the laughing Tyrazzian from throwing any more energy grenades into the crowd of, whatever they are. Tempest is frozen for a moment, unable to decide where best to use his energies, to extinguish his friend Wildwood, to try and drown out the flames sweeping through the crowds, or to use lightning to deal with the imminent threats of Esper Lass, Sun Emperor or Chameleon Chief… As if in answer to his prayers, a blue and red blur rockets into the room, and sends Sun Emperor flying back into the wall, and then equally swiftly advances towards Chameleon Chief.

"Superboy!" Tempest says, allowing hope to enter his heart, and emboldened by the sudden turn in events. He quickly calls down rain, upon the entire room, a battering torrent that has been building for long minutes, perhaps even centuries, waiting to be unleashed and its repressed fury given voice, drowning out the flames engulfing his Arborean companion, and quenching the firestorm given life by Sun Emperors madness. The Boy of Steel is a blur of motion, and flies into Chameleon Chief with enough force that Tempest can feel a shockwave, even suspended as he is, a dozen meters above the fray, and the Durlan sinks into a puddle of protoplasm, having lost consciousness so abruptly that he has lost the ability to retain his solidity.

He can see Esper Lass rushing for the door, shouting something that he can't hear over his own winds, and sends a gust of wind to stagger her back. She turns to glare at him, but Superboy appears in front of her, and as she recoils from his sudden appearance, reaches forward and taps her forehead with his fingers. He's pretty sure that he can hear a quip over the winds, "I don't like what you're thinking."

Deluge has been revitalized by the surge of water, and resumed a fluid form, much to the frustration of Ron-Karr, who is slashing away at him to no effect. Finally, a third and last freezing ampoule is triggered, and Ron-Karr is frozen solid in a prison of ice, trapped in a ridiculous two-dimensional pose, wearing a look of incredulity. Moments later, the ice breaks apart and reverts to water, which reforms into Deluge, looking down at the now-unconscious Neptunian.

Seeing that the villains appear to be incapacitated, or absent, Tempest settles to the ground near the steamy smoldering matter scattered around Wildwood's last position, and is surprised and speechless when Superboy lands next to him, reaching into the mass and pulling out a single large seed, the size of a man's head, that has survived the firestorm unburnt. He hands it wordlessly to Tempest, who takes it in a numb hand, unable to think of something to say to his hero. The Boy of Steel grins at him, and opens his mouth as if to say something, and then turns his head suddenly, as if hearing something distant. And in a rush of displaced air, he's gone again, off to deal with whatever faraway menace his senses detected, leaving Tempest stammering, "Superboy!"

"We… uh, thanks? Come back anytime…" he says to the air, crestfallen that Superboy had gone before he could even tell him what an inspiration he'd been.

In the distance, Cogito has an absent look on his face, and where dozens of Tulpans had apparently perished, they began walking into the room again, with no visible signs of injury or distress. Dusk fully materialized at his side, "Superboy? Really? Did you have to go there? Now he'll *never* shut up about it."

Cogito's gaze refocuses, and Dusk can see the subtle differences between the tired and weary real man, and the grandiose figure that he had always thought of as his teammate. "We all have our dreams, dear boy. Let us not begrudge him this." His gaze turns to fall upon his fellow Tulpans, who begin filing out of the chamber, as if nothing dramatic had occurred.

Deluge has finished securing the unconscious villains with synaptic blockers, to keep them unconscious, from the pouches on his belt, and turns to Cogito. "So, are there any other Tulpans? At all?"

"Of course." Cogito says, "But I could not tell you where they are. They left this world, this corporeal existence, centuries ago. Only I remained behind, to tend to the world that birthed us, to keep the memories of who we once were alive." Cogito wraps his arms around himself, and the Companions realize that the other 'Tulpans' have all left the room, leaving them alone in a palace large enough to contain multitudes.

Tempest produces Wildwood's heartseed, "Will this be enough?" he says, concerned for his friend. "Yes," Cogito assures, "It contains his memories, his soul, if you want to call it that. He's all in there, if asleep, at the present. We just have to give him some time to grow a new body, and to generate new seeds within himself."

"Then we win?" Dusk says, a rare admission of hope and uncertainty. Tempest looks around at the world, a cold memorial to a vanished race, echoing in its silence, and the small heavy seed in his hand that represents the promise of rebirth to a fallen comrade, "Yay, I guess."


In a spatial fold, Zymyr watches, intrigued by the Tulpan existence, and having finally finished translating the inscribed language upon the buildings, while his 'teammates' fought their pointless battle. He had received Esper Lass's call to evacuate the team when the improbable Kryptonian appeared, but as the wormhole formed, he saw her fall, and cinched the aperture shut so quickly that but a pinhole remained, allowing him to peer into this place, without actually completing the transition. A tiny voice disrupted his thoughts. "Well, are we going to wait for them to be on a transport before we bust them out?"

The Imskian, of course, who else could have squeezed through the micro-rift? Zymyr had lost patience with the situation, and didn't bother to mince words with the diminutive villain. "No. I have matters to discuss with the Tulpan, their mathematics intrigue me."

"What? We can't just fart around and have a lively math debate with the imaginary people…"

"*We* shall do nothing of the sort. *I* will remain here. My understanding of 12th dimensional physics is sufficient to move planets between dimensions, and will only be enhanced by your absence, as you perverse Imskians are in violation of natural law. The universe would work much more consistently if your kind did not exist, which will make a worthy project for another day. Additionally, you, personally, are annoying. You will leave, now." Zymyr conclude, flexing the wormhole to cast forth the diminutive irritant somewhere else, like a vast digestive organ expelling waste. 'A good metaphor,' Zymyr thinks, sparing a moment to ponder at what random point in space his former teammate will appear and if the alien will survive the conditions there. He rapidly loses interest in this train of thought and returns to his anticipation of the stimulating conversation to come...