"A New Day"
Metropolis, Earth. Metropolis Convention Center, Early Evening
"Ladies and gentlemen, R.J. Brande!"
A diverse crowd of sentients cheered as Brande approached the podium. A few short weeks prior, he was attacked at such a gathering by Khundish sympathizers while promoting his idea of a United Planets. The quick, decisive action of three teenagers with incredible powers saved his life and he intended to make his second chance count for something besides earning more credits. He was not only the universe's richest man, but also its boldest dreamer. How could so many planets unite in a common goal? Didn't he know many of these planets were still locked in centuries-long disputes and wars? Even his toughest critics admitted it was a fine dream, albeit a foolish waste of his resources. What they questioned was the feasibility.
However, Brande didn't earn his vast fortune by giving up when things looked impossible. Though many obstacles still stood in the way of the unification of free worlds, he was armed with tangible evidence that his vision was more than a rich fool's folly. His Legion's routing of a Khundian Battlewagon and the discovery and liberation of the planet Trom were heralded throughout the free worlds. Even worlds behind enemy lines like Rimbor and Zuun were abuzz with the news. The Khunds lost in battle and Brande's Legion was the red-hot property that routed them.
"We gather today to celebrate a resounding victory for freedom. While I would never diminish that victory, nor would I curb the optimism and hope the victory has brought to the galaxy, today is about much more," Brande began. "We celebrate the unity that made such a victory possible. Earth, Colu, Winath, Titan, Braal, Imsk, Cargg, and Trom. They seem like eight worlds with very little in common. Some enjoy personal freedoms envied throughout the galaxy, while others suffer the unforgiving grip of Khundian occupation and suppression. The eight youngsters representing these worlds demonstrated the strength of diversity. To our leaders I say this, let us take a cue from the Legion and do the same. We can unite the planets now and stand strong against the Khundian scourge or we can wait and let our children and grandchildren die liberating our worlds from subjugation. The choice is ours. It was the great twenty-sixth century philosopher Stragol who said..."
"Stop Visi-recording now!" said Mujai Desai, President of Earth. "Mr. Brande, your oratory skills are not in question. Do you honestly believe you can sway the delegation by playing on our emotions? We're politicians remember? We're not supposed to have hearts."
Brande stood confidently and gazed at his holographic image frozen on the holovid. "With all due respect Mister President, it was never my intention to scare the council into ratifying the proposed UP Constitution. I speak for the common being."
"The common being?" laughed the Viceroy of Kathoon. "Since when does the galaxy's richest man presume to speak for the common being?"
"I understand the irony of my words, Viceroy Paslix. Ordinarily, I can't speak for anyone but those with enough credits to shame a small world's economy. However, my vast fortune has allowed me to travel the galaxy and everywhere I go the common sentient beings clamor for unification of the remaining free planets."
"My world is not like Earth," said King Vartox of Orando. He was one of the galaxy's few remaining monarchs. Orando was a feudal society with very limited technology, a world of spiritual retreat located in the so-called "Old System", a solar system comprised of worlds very similar to Orando. "Our society is simple, but we are happy."
Brande smiled. "No one asks Orando to be like Earth. The galaxy is richer for having both. The United Planets will be stronger because each is unique."
The Chancellor of Avalon stood. "And who will rule this United Planets, Mr. Brande? You? Earth? Whether Khundia or the United Planets, our people will not set aside our laws and traditions without a fight. On our world, government is a conscience not merely a ruling body."
" Unification would still recognize the sovereignty of each government, but we would work together as one body to make the universe a safer place," Brande answered. "The galaxy needs this."
"We'll decide that by vote, Mr. Brande," answered President Desai.
"What of the financial considerations?" asked a member of the Winathian Delegation. "Creating such a body would require massive credits. Some worlds may be rich like Earth and Thanagar, but we're an agricultural society."
"I appreciate your position, representative" Brande replied. "I've made two fortunes in my years. The first by creating miniature suns for commercial use and the second by developing Brande Industries' StarWays technology. I would be happy to assist worlds lacking proper resources."
"There would be many opportunities for trade and tourism in such a climate," added the Venturan Ambassador to his Winathian counterpart. "Think of the profits Winath could make trading your grains in the intergalactic marketplace!"
The debate raged on within the chambers. Representatives from world after world discussed the pros and cons of such an arrangement. Brande listened intently. Some worlds obviously favored ratifying the proposal immediately while others soundly rejected it. Most however weighed the situation and waited on Earth to make a move.
"I will take my leave of the assembly if there are no further questions for me," said Brande. The gathered dignitaries excused him and he exited the Council chambers. The decision was still up in the air, but at least worlds were finally talking and that was further than anyone had ever gotten them before.
Outside the chambers, Brande was met immediately by a throng of reporters.
"Mr. Brande, do you expect the resolution to pass?"
"Mr. Brande, how do you respond to accusations of child endangerment by allowing children to fight Khunds?"
"Is it true that Brande Industries is going belly up and this Legion and the United Planets are elaborate smoke screens designed to increase investor interest?"
"Do you think it wise to invite Durla to join the United Planets given the universal distrust of the shape-changing race? And what of the telepaths of Titan?"
On and on the questions continued as Brande pressed his way across the plaza. Some questions were excellent while others bordered on the absurd. Brande answered none of them. Protocol was precarious at this point. An innocent comment taken out of context could insult the wrong delegation and send the proceedings into a tailspin.
The reporters followed Brande through the Metropolis Convention Center and outside to his waiting hover limo. The questions didn't cease, but the scene on the plaza gave him reason for guarded optimism. Thousands packed themselves into Swan Park to lend their support to the cause. Of course there were a few small groups of protesters but the crowd was generally in favor of the United Planets movement. Brande waved to the crowd who cheered wildly as he boarded his hovercraft.
Legion of Super Heroes Headquarters, Guest Quarters of Jan Arrah
"My hosts are making me comfortable, Your Eminence."
Jan Arrah spoke with his father on Trom as if he sat in the room with him. It took some getting used to talking to a hologram but Jan was adjusting. His Eminence was seated on his throne and it looked as if Jan could touch him. It was hard to believe he was a galaxy away. To Jan, such a thing wasn't possible scant weeks before. In protecting their own interests, the Khunds made sure Trom remained a backward world. Technology was a rarity on the small planet. But that was before Jan and the group of teens called the Legion drove the Khunds from his home world. For years the Khunds lied about what they were doing with the rare, unstable elements Trom provided for them. Now that the galaxy knew of Trom's existence, the small, backward planet felt compelled to ally itself with the Free Worlds. If nothing else they hoped for continued protection against Khundian retaliation.
"I'm pleased to hear it, son," Jan's father answered. "Any news of the ratification of the United Planets accord?"
Jan shook his head. "Mr. Brande hasn't arrived yet. He's been in chambers all day speaking with dignitaries from across the galaxy. Why aren't we represented Your Eminence?"
"The Free Worlds must give us something concrete before we can ally ourselves with them, son. Trom can ill afford a misstep now. We are too close to the Khundian frontier to cast our lot with anything intangible."
"But the Legion..."
"Can't always be here, Jan. But I didn't call to talk politics. How are you, son?"
"I'm doing well. I miss home."
His Eminence's smile was warm. "And we miss you, son. There is much excitement about the prophecy! It is on everyone's tongue."
Jan sighed. "I wish their wagging tongues would lie still."
His Eminence laughed heartily. "You should be honored that your people place so much hope in you. The prophecy proclaims you are destined to be the greatest of our line. The people are excited about what that means for you and for Trom. I truly feel change is in the air for our world son and you will have an important role to play in that change. The Way has chosen you."
An explosion interrupted the transmission.
"I will do my best to meet my destiny, Your Eminence," Jan replied. "I'm sorry I must go. There is a stirring outside. I will talk to you tomorrow."
Legion Headquarters, Laboratory One
The green-skinned young man intimidated Tinya Wazzo. Of course it wasn't the color of his skin that bothered her. It was his detached demeanor and lack of emotion that made her uncomfortable. Her business with him was based mainly on emotional appeal and she only hoped the Coluan had a spark of a heart somewhere within his chest.
"Mr. Dox? May I speak with you?" she asked.
Dox looked up from his work long enough to acknowledge her presence and continued what he was doing. "Sure," he answered.
His reply surprised her. It wasn't warm or inviting but hardly as cold as she imagined. "Lyle suggested I speak with you about my home world Bgtzl. It is missing."
Dox never looked up from his work. "Impossible. Worlds do not go missing. I am sure Bgtzl is there if we look in the right place."
"Then you know where to look?" she asked.
Dox shook his head. "No, but I have not taken the time to look. If your world is there I can find it."
"Do you really think so?" Tinya asked excitedly. It was the first hope she'd felt in months.
Dox continued working. "I know so, Ms. Wazzo. With your help I should be able to attune a Starway to the proper frequency of your phased planet."
"Did you hear that?" Tinya asked.
"What?" Dox asked.
"That noise. Listen! There it is again!" Tinya exclaimed.
"I heard it that time," Dox replied as he put his work aside. "I suppose it merits closer inspection."
"Not quite how I'd put it, but I agree," said Tinya.
Legion Headquarters, Meeting Room
"We need to settle this right now, Garth! We'll get someone killed if we don't!" Rokk Krinn yelled.
"And you think that playing it calm and cool makes you some great leader? An old Winathian proverb says 'Men are led by fire!'" Garth Ranzz shouted back.
Rokk paced around the room. "What was I thinking back at the Spaceport? I guess my father was wrong after all. Firm handshake or not, I don't want my life in your hands."
"Your hesitation will get us killed. Swift actions are needed in battle," Garth shouted.
"And what would you do? Herd the team into danger like stampeding Metal Beasts?" Rokk asked.
Garth sighed. "I didn't want to say this, Rokk but you've forced my hand. It just doesn't make sense for you to lead the team. We can't take that chance until our charter is stamped by Earthgov. How can they trust us with a Braalian leading the team?"
"And what the sheol does that supposed to mean? You a xenophobe too?" Rokk asked.
"Your world is a recognized Khundian possession. People don't trust Khunds," Garth replied.
"A Khund am I? If you weren't a teammate I'd...."
Garth interrupted with a finger poking in his chest. "Don't let that stop you, big man! Maybe eating a few thousand kilowatts of electricity would jolt some sense into your head!"
"That's enough you two!" Imra Ardeen shouted. She slammed her fist into the meeting room table.
She was tired of the bickering and the tension over leadership. The issue needed to be settled. The three founding members agreed to meet in private to discuss the matter but it wasn't helping. If anything the situation grew worse the longer it was shoved to the back-burner. "Would you two please shut up for a minute?"
The two boys stopped arguing and turned their attention to their teammate.
"Why should the three of us decide who leads the team? Our situation is not as it was a few weeks ago. Everyone on the team should have a say in the decision."
"I would agree to that. It sounds fair," Rokk replied.
"Garth?" Imra asked.
Garth said nothing.
"Now look who hesitates," Rokk smirked.
"A popularity contest between the pretty boy and me? That's supposed to be fair?" Garth asked.
Imra stood. "You are the most thick-headed sentient being I've ever met! You want to be a leader and yet you have no more faith in those you seek to lead than to think they'd base such an important decision on someone's looks? Vote Ranzz - the people's choice to lead a shallow team. A good campaign slogan, no?"
Garth searched Imra's face and then Rokk's. She almost felt sorry for him. He wanted to be leader so bad but was afraid he'd lose if the decision were put to a vote.
"Alright. I'm in," Garth relented. "May the best man win."
"Or woman," Imra added.
"What?" the two boys asked incredulously.
Imra smiled. "Who do you think was giving orders while you two were busy posturing up there in space?"
"So everyone wasn't ignoring my orders?" Garth asked.
"Or mine?" Rokk added.
"Not at all. I wasn't about to transmit your conflicting orders to the team. Their lives were on the line and they deserved better than dueling testosterone," Imra answered. "I received your thoughts and kept you tuned in to mine but didn't transmit them to the others."
"I protest the ethics of your actions," said Rokk.
"But it was the right call," Garth added. "Well Rokk, looks like yours won't be the only pretty face I'm up against."
Imra smiled but quickly steeled herself. "Oh, stop it Garth. You know you're handsome too."
Garth's face lit up with a roguish grin. "So you admit I'm not half-bad?"
"Why you..." Why did Garth Ranzz make Imra so angry? All she meant to do was to make him feel better about himself and he turned it around to seem she was attracted to him. That was crazy. She could never see herself with someone like Garth. Truthfully she couldn't see herself with anyone. She enjoyed her independence and wasn't about to give it up for a scoundrel like Garth. She definitely didn't wish to encourage him. Perhaps in future dealings it was best to distance herself from him?
An explosion cut short Imra's thoughts.
"What was that?" Rokk asked.
"I'm not sure," Garth answered. "But I hope no one will think I'm being impulsive when I say we should check it out."
"Of course not," Rokk answered.
Imra was already ahead of the boys. "Great! The meeting's over and now you kiss and make up."
Legion Headquarters, Anti-Grav Gardens
"I'm afraid of dying," Luornu Durgo confessed to her other two selves as they watched the moon creep across the sky. Whenever Lu triplicated, each of her selves took on a distinctly different personality trait. Each "girl" was then a piece of the puzzle that completed her psychological makeup. Usually there was a more timid personality that housed all her fears, concerns and worries. She was also the more romantic and friendly of the personalities. A second part of her was very aggressive and angry. She showed little concern for her other selves or anyone else for that matter. Her selfish ways often led her into trouble. Of course she had a good side too. She was brave and fiercely loyal. She was the one who led the others to leave Cargg. Both were lucky to be balanced by a third more neutral personality. She was the calm one, their true center.
"Of course you're afraid. You're always afraid," the Aggressive One retorted.
"Unlike you, I want to live to see our children," answered the Timid One. She was shy and meek but hardly a pushover. For some reason, she was also the most skilled of the three in the art of trijitsu.
"Live to see our children? That's a laugh! It's because of you that we still have our virginity!" yelled the Aggressive One.
A snapping twig silenced their argument.
"Oh, I'm sorry I didn't realize the gardens were occupied!" Salu Digby, the Imskian waif who smuggled the stolen Khundian blueprints off-world, also wandered the gardens. "I didn't mean to interrupt. I can come back later."
Lu was a little embarrassed that she blurted something so personal before a stranger. The Timid One knew the overheard comment made Salu uncomfortable too. "Oh, no. It's ok. We were just having a talk with myself."
"Are you sure? I'd be happy to give you some privacy," Salu answered.
The Timid One felt a kinship with the girl. "Don't be silly sweetheart. We'd love your company."
Salu joined Lu's selves and soon the four girls were engrossed in conversation about the past several days. Lu embarrassed herself again by confessing a crush on every one of the boys, even the Coluan.
"Of course you'd go for the one who'd rather think than act," said the Aggressive One.
"Sister be nice," the Neutral One reminded herself. Then she turned to Salu. "What about you Salu? Are you crushing on anyone?"
Salu's face grew to a bright red. "Maybe," she whispered. "Well, I wouldn't call it a crush really. I just think she's very attractive."
"She?" asked the Aggressive One.
Salu shrank noticeably. "I'm sorry. I shouldn't have said anything."
"No, it's ok honey. My sister didn't mean anything by it. Your answer just surprised us. Who is it?" asked the Neutral One.
"I've said too much already. Now you think I'm a freak. Please don't tell anyone," Salu begged.
"The last thing we'd want to do is to make you feel like a freak," the Aggressive One answered.
Lu surprised herselves but the girls understood. Her distinct personalities subjected her to all manner of abuse on Cargg. She'd experienced everything from playground teasing as a child to painful electro therapy due to her condition. Freak was a word she understood all too well.
"My sister is right," Lu answered. "But we'll honor your request. If you're not comfortable with everyone knowing your sexual preference we won't tell."
"I'm not sure about my preferences," Salu answered. "I like guys too. I'm just usually more attracted to girls. It's an Imskian thing."
A loud explosion rocked the Legion's citadel.
"Oh my! What was that?" Lu's Neutral self asked.
"Look!" the Timid One exclaimed. She pointed to the sky where a brilliant display announced to the galaxy that the United Planets was no longer a fantasy. "It's beautiful!"
Vivid colors lit up the Metropolis skyline accompanied by thunderous explosions.
"What are they?" Salu asked.
"Fireworks." Lyle joined the girls on the rooftop. "An old Earth custom. We use them to celebrate great events. I'd say the UP treaty has been ratified."
Before long the three Legionnaires were joined by Jan Arrah and their teammates. They watched the awesome display, impressive even by thirtieth century standards.
Lu merged her bodies and watched the others quietly. Rokk and Salu talked of hope for their home worlds. Maybe they had a fighting chance to break the grip of Khundian rule. Garth led the charge of whooping and celebrating. Several larger Winathian estates had long been an outspoken proponent of unification. Everyone seemed genuinely happy except for Jan Arrah. She approached him. "Jan? You look worried."
"Not really worried," he answered. "I just wonder what such a move will mean for Trom. We haven't been invited to join yet and there's still a threat of Khundian retaliation for what we did to them."
"I understand," Lu answered. "But at least your world has reason to hope."
Jan watched as another streaming pyrotechnic burst light up the night sky with a spectacular, thunderous discharge. "And tomorrow I will speak with my father concerning an alliance with this new coalition and our world will begin a new transformation. Don't mind me. I'm just brooding the end of an era."
Lu couldn't put her finger on it, but for some reason Jan's words sent chills down her spine. She brushed aside the feeling and turned her attention back to the blossoming sky lit up with vivid hues. The galaxy was a big place and full of reasons to fear, but for one moment there was hope and sometimes that was enough. It had to be.