"And One Shall Lead Them"
Legion Headquarters, The Old Boston Sector, Metropolis, Earth
Querl Dox examined the young man on the medi-table before him. The table's sensors confirmed Dox's worst fears about his patient. He absorbed a tremendous level of radiation while trapped within the belly of the great Energy Beast and his cellular structure was rejecting the lethal overdose.
The radiation's properties intrigued Dox greatly. Instead of its atoms giving off a decaying atomic signature, they seemed to strengthen and they were already at phenomenal levels. According to Dox's sensors, the radiation bathing the young man's body could power the Metropolis powersphere for decades.
"How is he?" Tinya Wazzo ventured into Dox's lab. She rescued the young man from the ravages of space during the victory with the Battlewagon.
"His cells are overloaded," Dox answered. "I've introduced two species of nanobots into his body. The first group is doing its job well by repairing the damage he's suffered at the molecular level. His internal organs were losing cellular integrity."
"That's bad, right?" Tinya asked.
"Very bad," Dox replied.
Tinya brushed her hand through the young man's hair. "And the second group of nanobots?"
"I'm trying to use them to siphon the excess energy, but they are overloading. Please don't touch my patient." Dox demanded.
"Sorry," Tinya replied. "Why aren't the dampeners working?"
"I don't know," Dox replied. "They're the same nanites terraforming crews use to cleanse toxic planets. Who knows what type of energy that stupid beast consumed throughout its lifetime? Some ultra-energy apparently."
"Ultra energy?" Tinya asked. "That's a vague term for a twelfth-level intellect."
"Did you come here to insult my intelligence or was there a legitimate reason for your visit?" Dox asked.
"I wanted to see if you've made any progress finding Bgtzl," Tinya replied.
"I haven't," Dox replied. "I've been busy."
Tinya looked disappointed. "I know. I was just... hoping."
Dox felt for the girl. Despite the aloof reputation of his people, he tried his best to understand that most sentients were still ruled by emotion. "I'll find it."
Tinya forced a smile. "Thanks, Dox. I need to get to the meeting. You coming?"
Dox shook his head and got back to work. He wished he was half as confident as he sounded. Marla Latham excused him from the meeting and had already received his votes on the topic of discussion. Perhaps it was just as well. Such a reaction from him only reinforced his aloof image.
Marla Latham reviewed the results on the master Omnicom station before him. "Well boys and girls, it looks like we have ourselves five new Legionnaires."
"That is if they want to join," said Luornu Durgo, the chestnut-haired Carggite.
"Who wouldn't want to join us?" asked Garth Ranzz.
"Dawnstar, for one," replied Imra Ardeen.
Garth smiled. "She'll come around."
Tinya pushed her anti-grav chair away from the table and stood. "Shouldn't someone tell them the good news? We can't just leave them out there waiting."
"Absolutely," said Garth.
Tinya walked to the door and willed herself intangible and partially phased through the door.
"That's what the majority decided," said Imra, crossing her arms and wearing a noticeable scowl.
"You've made it clear that you don't approve of expansion at this point, Imra," said Rokk. "But please drop the Ice Queen bit. The drama is getting old."
Imra shot to her feet. "You know what? I'm sprocking tired of being called Ice Queen! I've heard that behind my back all week!"
Tinya reversed phase through the door. "Uh oh."
"Heard it?" Garth asked. "You been getting in our heads?"
"I've not had to! You've practically broadcasted it! I am a telepath, you know!" Imra answered.
"Okay, that's enough!" Marla Latham slammed his fist down onto the table and shook his finger at Imra. "Sit down, young lady! You're out of line and so are you Krinn! RJ asked me to serve as an advisor to your organization until you elect a leader, but I'll be damned if I'll play babysitter! How the hell you could take down a Battlewagon is beyond me! This group has to grow up in a hurry! We have five new Legionnaires in the Green Room and when they come in here, I want us all, Ms. Ardeen included, to treat them with respect and to show them a modicum of acceptance. Is that clear?"
The silence was as still as deep space.
"I asked if that was clear?" Marla shouted.
"Yes, sir," came replies from around the table.
"Ms. Ardeen?" Marla asked.
Imra settled into her antigrav chair and crossed her arms. "I'll not alienate them."
"Good," Marla replied. "Until they accept our invitation, they are not Legionnaires. If they do accept they will not be made privy to the details of this discussion. Is that understood by all?"
Again the room answered in the affirmative.
"Ms. Wazzo, please bring our guests from the Green Room and for grife's sake use the sprocking door this time! You'll scare somebody half to death phasing through solid matter like that!"
Tinya blushed, but placed her hand upon the sensor device to the left of the circular door. The four quadrants rotated into the recesses of the wall and the door whooshed open. A few minutes later, she returned with the Legionnaires-elect.
As the group filed into the room, Marla Latham stood and pointed toward five conspicuously empty anti-grav chairs hovering along one side of the table. "Reep Daggle, Brin Londo, Drura Sepht, Jennie Ognats, Thom Kallor. Welcome to the Legion!"
"Really?" Jenni asked as she rushed to fill an open chair. "I've read about you guys all week. What you did was great. I had no idea you'd ask us to join!"
"Really," Garth answered. "We'd be honored to have you. All of you."
"Even me?" Reep asked.
Garth's brow furrowed in confusion. "Of course, Reep. You were great back there on the Khundian Stalag."
"My people's abilities cause considerable discomfort to many species."
"Join the club," said Imra with a surprisingly warm smile on her lips.
Marla was impressed with the young woman from Titan. She vehemently expressed her dissatisfaction seconds before, but there was no evidence of discord in her voice or actions. He was glad she was running for leader. He didn't mean to be so hard on her, on all of them, but he'd learned over the last week just how difficult a group of teens could be even if most of them were inching close to their early twenties. Lyle and Dox had the most experience, but Dox possessed the personality of a Probe, the blue-skinned droids used to fill most menial tasks galaxy-wide. It was disappointing that Lyle withdrew his name for consideration for the vacant leader position. He was Marla's first choice despite Brande's favoritism toward the three founding members.
Among the founders, Marla couldn't help but wonder whether any of them possessed adequate enough leadership skills to inspire the others. Imra and Rokk Krinn showed flashes of leadership, but Rokk was still every bit a young man who could dazzle you with brilliance one moment and argue Magno Ball the next. Jan Arrah, the lone surviving Trommite was also an interesting possibility but he had a lot on his young shoulders since his world's destruction. And Ranzz... Marla shuddered at the thought. "Now that all of you are here, with the exception of Brainy, let's talk about the leadership election. Shall we?"
"Brainy?" Garth asked.
Marla smiled. "My nickname for Dox."
"I like it," Garth shot back.
"He doesn't," Marla replied.
Garth's lips twisted into a roguish smile. "Good. I'll have to remember that."
Marla returned Garth's smile. "Now back to the election. We have three candidates- Imra Ardeen, Rokk Krinn, and Garth Ranzz. Some of you are more familiar with them than others, but recent events have demonstrated a need for a voice of authority while on missions and in the day-to-day affairs of the team. Of course the leader would also serve as the Legion's face to the public and the U.P. Are there any questions for me or the candidates?"
Jan Arrah raised his hand. "This concept is... peculiar. We choose someone to lead us? It makes no sense to me."
"I suspected you may have difficulty with it. You and our resident chameleon," Marla answered.
"Chameleon?" Jan asked.
"Reep," Marla replied. "A chameleon is an Earth..."
"Can be explained later," Lyle interjected. "I'll break out the Encyclopedia Galactica myself if I have to."
Marla didn't appreciate Lyle's arrogance. It would take more than an invisibility serum and some former Earthgov credentials to impress a seasoned businessman such as himself. "Thank you, Mr. Norg for your thoughtful interruption. Jan and Reep, the two of you hail from worlds where leaders are born to society. Most worlds exercise a system in which common citizens elect representatives from among themselves to act on their behalf. It's called democracy."
Jan looked intrigued, as if mulling over the concept. "Couldn't such a concept lead to corruption?
Lyle and Imra eyed one another nervously before Lyle finally answered. "Absolutely."
"And corruption is good?" Reep asked. "I have difficulty understanding."
"No, corruption is bad. That's why there are checks and balances to hold leaders accountable," Marla explained.
"And the people," Garth volunteered.
Marla nodded. "Yes, and the people."
"Common beings with power over those they elect is troubling," Jan replied. "Surely it takes someone of royal blood to execute the duties required to lead a government?"
"Responsibilities can be a harsh teacher, son," Marla replied. "The common being is more adept than many in authority give them credit for. They can rise to the highest of heights or sink to the lowest of lows. Many a great leader arose from the masses and is revered for demonstrating uncanny wisdom and leadership. But the concept goes both ways. A bad leader may rule for decades, or his house for centuries even, and his name forgotten when his dynasty falls. In a democracy such power cannot run amok because the people will choose a new leader."
"I can see the wisdom in such a process. So we each have a voice in who leads us?" Reep asked.
"Yes," Marla replied.
"I pick Imra," said Jan.
The three candidates eyed one another nervously. Marla wasn't sure whether Imra was more embarrassed for Jan, herself, or for Ranzz and Krinn. The Legionnaires picked up on the uneasy tension and avoided eye contact with either of the candidates.
"Looks like you have a lead already," Garth joked and patted Imra on the back. He leaned back in his grav-chair and planted his boots on the table.
"Feet off the table, Ranzz," Marla huffed. He was thankful Ranzz broke the tension and deflected attention away from the uncomfortable situation. The ploy would have been a stroke of genius if not for the fact that Ranzz was oblivious to what he did.
"No, Jan. We vote by secret ballot," Marla explained. "Furthermore, I have arranged a series of non-battle missions in conjunction with the United Planets that will allow us to assess the leadership skills of each candidate. I think it's only fair that each candidate showcases his or her leadership skills in situations where they are clearly in charge. To do otherwise would be as foolish as leaving the decision to a Planetary Chance Machine."
Everyone laughed at Marla's joke but Reep and Jan.
"The Planetary Chance Machine is a trinket sold in most bazaars on Ventura, the gambling world. It's a toy, but the Venturans insist it can accurately predict the winners of their dromedary races. There are several variations on the gag, but essentially a symbol representing the homeworlds of the jockeys are pooled together in whatever device the vendor is selling and the device chooses a world at random. Whichever jockey's homeworld appears is supposed to be the winner," Lyle explained.
"Interesting, Mr. Norg," said Marla.
"Sir?" Lyle asked.
"What happened to the Encyclopedia Galactica?" Marla asked.
It was Lyle's turn to fume.
Marla gave no time for a rebuttal. "Now as I was saying, over the next three days we will follow the candidates into missions in which they are clearly designated as leader so we can assess their leadership skills. That will allow us to vote with confidence. In the case of a tie between two or more candidates, I will hold the tie-breaking vote. Questions? Comments?"
Garth Ranzz raised his hand slowly. "The next three days?"
"Yes, Garth. You have been slated to lead tomorrow's opening mission," Marla answered.
Garth dropped his head. "I can't."
"What do you mean? Why not?" Marla asked. "I thought you were the one so fired up to lead this motley band?"
"Mr. Brande has found my sister. She needs me. My brother hurt her badly. As much as I love the Legion, I have to do what's best for her," Garth answered.
"There is no way to reschedule the events, son. I could re-arrange your day as leader for the last day if that would help," said Marla.
Garth shook his head. "Mr. Brande has arranged for my shuttle to leave this afternoon for Medicus One."
"Medicus One? They receive one passenger shuttle per week. You'll miss the exercise entirely," said Marla.
"I know," Garth replied. "I withdraw my name from the race. I've worked with Garth and Imra from the beginning. I'm confident I can vote without taking part in the drills. I trust my teammates to vote wisely and will adhere to their wishes. "
Marla was impressed. He knew how badly Garth wanted to lead the Legion. Maybe there was more to Garth Ranzz than the eye could see. "I understand, son. Go see your sister. There will be other elections for you, I'm sure. We'll beam the logs of the missions to you. You can vote from Medicus One."
Garth nodded. "Yes, sir."
"Before I adjourn the meeting, I want to stress one thing to all of you," Marla added. "These missions are important, as are the battles you have faced together already, in assessing leadership skills. But remember that the same leader who leads you into battle will also lead you in peace. So... tomorrow morning. 07:00 hours sharp. Rokk will be the designated leader. Everyone be there, except Garth who is excused."
Everything was going well for Rokk. The repairs to the Science Freighter were ahead of schedule and his team seemed to be in great spirits and eager to help. His team. Rokk hoped he would be able to say that after the election as well. He knew Imra was capable, but she was too heavy-handed to be a leader. Rokk hoped his cool head would prevail over her strong personality.
"That's it, Brin. Push that plastisteel beam into place," said Rokk. "Tinya how are we looking down there?"
"Looking good, boss man. Brin has almost made the connection. There, it's in place," Tinya answered. She was positioned within the hull like a crocodile peering out of the water. Only her forehead and eyes were visible while her body floated in the guts of the ship.
"Affirmative, go ahead with the laser-weld," Rokk answered.
Marla Latham approached Rokk on the freighter's bridge along with the ship's captain. "Things are shaping up fine, my boy. Excellent job so far."
"I agree," the captain echoed. "You've already cut our repair operation by days."
Rokk smiled. "According to Dox, you should be fully operational in two hours, Earth time."
"Excellent," said the captain. He turned to Marla. "These young people are exceptional. Tell Brande I recommend them highly."
"I'll pass it on," Marla replied.
While Rokk modestly deflected the praise, Imra's voice popped into his head. "Rokk, we have trouble!"
"What kind of trouble?" Rokk asked.
"Sklarian Raiders at three o'clock," Lyle replied over his telepathic plug. "Techno-thieves allied with the Khundian Empire. They rob worlds of their technology and other resources as a forerunner to a Khundian invasion."
"I know all too well what they are," Rokk replied. He still remembered the banshee cries of the warrior race of women. Tens of thousands of Braalians were butchered by them before the Khunds finished off his world. He would not see Earth fall as well. Rokk turned to Marla and the ship's captain. "Sklarian Raiders approaching at three o'clock."
The captain's face paled. "Please god, no! Not now."
"The Legion can handle them, sir," Rokk promised.
"There's more to it than that, son," Marla replied. "The ship's cargo is a fusion powersphere. It's highly unstable. If it blows the devastation would be catastrophic."
"Legion, did you get that?" Rokk asked.
"Affirmative," Lyle replied.
"Hit 'em hard," Rokk ordered.
Dox appeared on deck. "I heard. I may be able to provide the powersphere more stability. I'll need Jan though."
"He's one of our heaviest hitters, Dox," Rokk replied.
"If that powersphere blows we'll have no heavy hitters, no Earth, and hundreds of planets will be without their top leaders," Dox answered.
Rokk nodded. "Understood. Jan, you're needed on the bridge."
"But Rokk, Jan's inertron shield..." argued Lyle.
"You're Legionnaires for a reason, Lyle. Improvise," Rokk ordered. "Dox needs Jan more than you do. Imra take charge of the combat situation."
Jan arrived quickly and for the next half hour he and Dox worked hard to stabilize the powersphere while the battle raged outside. The ship occasionally rocked with the impact of the melee going on outside.
"Imra! Report!" Rokk ordred.
"There are just so many of them, Rokk!" Imra replied. "They're well-trained and are using hover skids so they're more mobile than we are with our jet packs."
"How are we doing?" Rokk asked.
"Good, so far. The new recruits are as impressive as they were aboard the Stalag. Tinya received a severe burn on her right arm. She's out, but I think it's from pain more than anything else. Brin is attracting the most attention. They view his skills as a challenge. Thank the rings he's on our side."
"Keep me posted," said Rokk.
"Will do, I... AAAIIIEEEE!"
"Imra? Imra? You there? Anyone?" Rokk asked.
"We're here," Lyle replied. "A plasma burst from their mother ship just took out half the team. We have Legionnaires down. These women are ruthless, Rokk. They shot their own because they were between us and the mother ship, knowing the concussion would affect us as well."
"Who's left?" Rokk asked.
"Me, Lu, Reep, Veilmist, and Jenni," Lyle replied.
"I'm coming out," said Rokk. "Veilmist, I need transport now."
Veilmist appeared a moment later with a puff of acrid magenta smoke. "Yes, sir."
Rokk took Veilmist's hand. "You don't have to call me sir. Rokk is fine."
"Ok... Rokk. Are you ready?" Veilmist asked.
Rokk nodded and heard a small explosion. At first he assumed it was the sounds of the battle outside the ship, but then realized he wasn't yet outside the ship. He was.... he wasn't sure where he was. Somewhere between his own universe and... he wasn't sure. The sound he heard was the sound of his dimension sealing itself as he and Veilmist slipped out of reality. There were thousands of portals around him, over him, beneath him. As far as the eye could see was a maze of gateways. He was glad Veilmist knew the way. He heard a rushing sound as she carried him toward a tunnel. Then another pop and the two Legionnaires were in space with the others.
"Glad you're here," said Lyle. "You okay?"
"A little disoriented, but I'm fine," Rokk replied. "You should have warned me, Veilmist."
"I'm sorry... Rokk," Veilmist answered.
"It's fine," Rokk replied. "You guys give me some cover. I'm going to seal their pipeline of fresh warriors."
Reep took the lead. He assumed the form of a hideous monstrosity Rokk didn't recognize. The change was so sudden and so startling it unnerved him even though he knew about the Durlan's powers. With his change of size and mass, Reep was formidable and attracted a lot of attention. Several Sklarians circled him and fired at once. In an instant he disappeared. The plasma bursts missed their intended target and the Sklarians wiped one another out.
Lu kept several of the women busy with her tri-jitsu. "I've got to develop some moves for space combat."
Rokk also thought Jenni would be at a tremendous disadvantage since she had no surface on which to run. Instead, she whisked along by her jet pack and fought the Sklarians in hand-to-hand combat. Her battles were over as quickly as she locked up with someone. Rokk never even noticed her moving. Faster than the eye could see, she dispersed with her opponent and moved on.
As usual, Lyle did what he did best. He used his invisibility in conjunction with the many gadgets from his utility belt. The surprise on the Sklarian's faces when a stun grenade suddenly appeared out of nowhere was priceless. Who was that old Earth detective Rokk's dad enjoyed reading about so much? Sherlock Holmes? No... James Bond. That was it! Lyle was a regular James Bond.
All this was great, but if Rokk couldn't stop new warriors from joining the currently out-manned group of Sklarians it would be for naught and would have to be done again and again, until other Legionnaires failed. The mothership was dangerously close to the freighter now. Its tractor beam was glowing white.
"No!" Rokk cried. "You will not get the powersphere!"
He lashed out at the mothership with his magnetism and made contact. Not only did he seal the docking bay doors, but he strained himself and slowly, but surely, distance appeared between the two vessels. Rokk pushed himself harder than ever before.
The Sklarian mothership's engines strained against the young Braalian's magnetism. But they were no match. Even away from the planet's magnetic field Rokk's powers proved too much. The ship's engines gave out. Within moments the Science Police Terrorism Force arrived and took control of the situation.
Earth, Legion Headquarters
Back at Legion Headquarters afterwards, Marla Latham assembled everyone into the Meeting Room for two surprise announcements.
"I have great news, gang," said Marla. "As a result of our actions today, we have been officially deputized by the Science Police and the United Planets."
The Legionnaires broke into applause.
"Secondly, Lyle has developed a ring that will replace our awkward jet packs. It will allow you to fly and can also serve as a communications and tracking device."
Again the Legionnaires clapped politely.
Rokk felt good about his chances as Legion leader. At first he was afraid the Sklarians would ruin things for him, but the turn of events proved just the opposite. Everyone was talking about what a fine job he did. It didn't hurt that Imra was out of action and that he was the only one other than Jan who was capable of disabling the Sklarian vessel.
Rokk Krinn, Legion Leader. It had a ring to it.
Earth, New Dehli District, The Next Day
Imra tried to lighten up on everyone. Things looked bad for her. Not only was she knocked out of commission in the fight against the Sklarian Raiders, but Rokk was handed a perfect script to showcase his skills.
Granted, Lyle was on her side and was using his charisma to influence others without politicking for her outright, but she was afraid she could very well still lose.
On top of everything else, she was given a mundane humanitarian mission. The Dehli District was rocked hard by an earthquake, something that hadn't occurred in over a century, since the installation of the Transtube System. Special nanobots called geomites were implemented to offset the moving of Earth's tectonic plates. Somehow that one-hundred and thirty year-old system failed and triggered a massive quake. Now the Legion was dispersed to take aid into the heart of the city and to search for survivors. On top of everything else, she wasn't afforded the luxury of a full team. She had Drura, Dox, Jan, and Salu with her. "Report, Dox."
"Inconclusive, Imra. Jan is still assisting with the drilling so we can get some more geomites into the earth's layers," Dox answered.
"Imra, out," said Imra. She was discouraged. Jan was the only one whose powers really allowed him to do anything. Sure the other Legionnaires were assisting with the tedious chores associated with the clean-up and handing out food, water, and supplies, but surely there was more that could be done.
Terrabot crews supplied most of the heavy lifting with Salu searching the piles of rubble ahead of them. Once she cleared a pile, the terrabots collected the usable for recycling, and vaporized the unusable. It was slow work and hardly as exciting as protecting a powersphere from Sklarians. Had she been aboard the Science Freighter, she would have employed the same strategy as Rokk. But she wasn't. And now her "leadership" would be assessed by virtue of a mop-up operation and half the team wasn't even around to see it.
"How's it going Drura?" asked Imra.
"Very slowly," Drura replied. "It's only been two days since the quake and disease has already spread rapidly. I've detected bacteria and parasites usually associated with natural disasters, but not in any greater amount than normal. I'm absorbing them as fast as I can. The hardest part is convincing the survivors that the dead bodies carry no pathogens. They're wanting to bury the bodies in mass graves. I've assessed the risks and they're minimal."
"What are you seeing with the survivors?" Imra asked.
"Trace amounts of Mycobacterium tuberculosis, type A streptococcal infections, meningitis, hepatitis B and C, as well as some enteric pathogens nothing out of the ordinary for Earth humans to carry. The biggest risk is from possible blood-borne illness from both survivors and cadavers Nothing I can't handle."
"Just alleviate as much suffering as you can," Imra replied.
"Will do. Drura out."
Things weren't going as well as planned. Could four people really make that much difference in the face of such widespread devastation? Was it possible that....
The ground beneath Imra's feet shook. Her knees buckled and sprawled her to the ground. Structures all around crumpled as already damaged plastisteel and plasticrete gave way. At last the Earth stopped heaving. "What the sprock was that? Dox?"
"Aftershock," Dox replied. "There may be more damage."
"What can we do?" Imra asked.
"Jan is transmuting the bedrock to inertron but it won't be enough if the geomites don't reach their destination and seal the tectonic plates," Dox answered.
Imra looked around the earthquake-ravished city. More buildings had fallen as a result of the aftershock. She searched them one by one for brain wave activity. Thankfully, most of the survivors were evacuated to the Nepal District.
Each pile of new rubble was searched carefully until only one remained.
"Imra, how are you doing?" asked Salu.
"I'm alright. The aftershock brought down a few more structures. I'm checking them for... By the rings! Salu, I need you immediately!"
Imra was soon joined by the most diminutive Legionnaire. "How can I help?"
Imra pointed to a pile of rubble that had once been an office complex. "There's someone in there. They're frightened and alone. A child. Get in there and give me a complete report."
Salu nodded and ran toward the rubble, her stature decreasing as she did so. By the time she reached the rubble she was too small to be seen. If anyone could get to the child it was her.
But then what? There was no Legionnaire among them who possessed the strength to remove the girders and the terrabots would have to wait for a path to be cleared before they could move in. "Jan, I need you to drop what you're doing and join me now."
"I can't do that," Jan replied. "I'm working with some unstable transmutations. If I stop now, we're in bigger trouble than ever."
"How long?" Imra asked.
"Ten minutes," Dox replied.
"I asked Jan," said Imra.
"Dox was correct," Jan replied. "Ten minutes."
"You have seven," said Imra. "Imra out. Salu?"
"At my size it could take me hours," Salu answered.
"We don't have hours," Imra replied. "The child is losing consciousness. Let me guide you."
Imra made contact with the child's mind. "I'm not going to hurt you. Open your mind to me and let me see where you are. I have someone looking for you."
The child's answer was slow, but she finally replied. Imra saw the location clearly as if she were with the little girl. She was wedged beneath a fallen beam. Her left leg was pinned and crushed. Imra could feel her pain. She relayed the information to Salu.
"Are you a god?" asked the little girl.
"No," Imra replied. Whatever gods there were in the universe wouldn't have the odds stacked against them in an election against Rokk Krinn. "I'm a telepath from Titan. I can read minds and allow you to hear me."
"Cool," the girl answered. "I'm scared."
"I know you are, but help is on the way," Imra promised. "Now tell me about something nice. Where is the nicest place you've ever been?"
"Last year my parents took me to Punjab to celebrate Baisakhi," the girl answered. "My mother and I dressed up in traditional mekhalas and danced and sang while father helped the men with the music."
"That sounds wonderful, dear. You're a lucky little girl to have such wonderful parents," said Imra.
"Do you know where my parents are?" asked the little girl.
Imra sighed. "No, I don't. Were they with you?"
"Yes," replied the girl.
Imra didn't have the heart to tell her they were dead. "I'm sure wherever they are they want you to be brave until my friend can reach you. Okay?"
"I will," the girl answered.
Given a clear path through the devastation, Salu was able to alter her size as necessary and pick her way through the rubble to the child in less than six minutes. "I have her Imra!"
"Jan, you're up!" said Imra.
"We can't spare him right now!" Dox yelled over the link.
"You'll have to deal with it, Brainy! I have confidence you can handle it," said Imra.
She heard Dox curse her in his mind for calling him Brainy, but she didn't care. The little girl was terrified and could die at any moment if she was losing blood from her leg. Jan quickly joined her.
"What do you want me to do?" Jan asked.
"Transmute the rubble to inert gasses," Imra replied. "Be careful. Salu's under there somewhere with an injured child."
Jan nodded and concentrated on his task. At first, the rubble appeared to smoke, but it was actually the matter being released as gas. Soon, Salu and the child were visible. Jan was then able to focus his power on the beam trapping the girl. Once she was free, Salu used her flight ring to lift the child to a triage.
"Imra! I'm going to need Jan, stat!" Dox practically screamed over the link. "Even with my twelfth-level mind, I can't...."
"He's coming, Dox," said Imra.
Jan flew away and Imra looked around. They made a difference after all. It wasn't protecting millions this time, it was rescuing one frightened child. But it still felt good.
"Ayla? It's me, Garth."
Ayla Ranzz didn't respond. A host of machines and computers were attached to her body. Garth wasn't sure what they were all for, but he knew things were bad because there were so many of them.
Garth turned and acknowledged the voice behind him. It belonged to Dr. Gym'll.
"Thank you for letting me see her, doctor," said Garth.
"I hoped it would help," Dr. Gym'll replied.
"Is she gonna be ok?" Garth asked.
"Let me introduce you to a specialist I brought in on this case," said Dr. Gym'll. A man and a woman filed into the room wearing medical garb. "Garth Ranzz, this is Dr. Rond Vidar and his research assistant, Nura Nal."
Garth shook Vidar's hand. He was a strikingly handsome young man who reminded Garth a lot of Rokk, but not as muscular or as athletic. His long, dark hair was a little curlier than Rokk's too. Hopefully, he was as competent as Garth's Legion buddy/adversary. "Dr. Vidar."
Rond's grip was surprisingly strong. "Rond, call me Rond and you can drop the whole doctor bit. I'm not a medical doctor. My field is chronological bio-archaeology - the study of time, as it relates to the extra-human powers associated with the colony worlds."
"Don't let him fool you. He's still a doctor," replied Nura.
Garth had seen many women in his short life, but without a doubt Nura Nal was the most physically beautiful one he'd ever met. Her hair was beyond blonde - platinum white even, indicative of those from the ruling castes of the Old Worlds. As if she weren't striking enough, she had a little mole on her right cheek in the shape of a star. Not a perfect one, but a star nonetheless.
"Pleased to meet you, Nura. I'm sure Dr.... Rond is excellent at his profession, but I don't understand. How can the two of you help my sister?"
"Rond will help her. I'm only here as an observer," said Nura.
"How can Rond..."
"Doctor Vidar possesses one of the keenest minds in the universe. Your sister's condition goes far beyond basic medicine, boy. He has some interesting theories that may save your sister's life," explained Dr. Gym'll.
"Theories? You're going to treat my sister with theories? With all due respect I want more options," said Garth.
"Unfortunately, there are none," said Rond. "We've never seen anything like this before."
"And besides, your parents have given permission," said Gym'll.
"She'll be fine," said Nura. "I promise."
"You promise? And how do you plan on backing up that promise?" Garth asked.
"I don't know," said Nura. "But I've seen this before and your sister will leave here with you."
"Seen this before?" Garth asked. "What the sprock? I thought no one had ever seen anything like this before!"
"Nura is a seer, Garth. The most powerful on Naltor," Rond answered. "If you believe that kind of thing."
"Was a seer," Nura corrected. "I'm also very much a scientist as well. But the seer in me knows Ayla will come through just fine."
Garth glanced at Dr. Gym'll. "I'm glad one of us is confident. Excuse me, I have a vote to cast."
Legion Headquarters, Earth
"Any word on the vote total yet, Marla?" asked RJ Brande. He was the universe's richest man with vast holdings to shame most world economies and the most important thing on his mind was who would win an election among a group of teenagers he bankrolled.
Marla Latham's face appeared on the comm unit on RJ's desk. "All votes are in from the original eight members, RJ. None of the newbies have voted yet."
"Sounds like the core group's a bit hasty," Brande replied.
Marla nodded. "Their minds were already made up even before the leadership missions."
Marla sighed. "We're tied four to four. Lyle, Dox, Salu, and Imra all voted for Imra. Rokk, Garth, Tinya, and Lu went for Krinn."
"Well there is some good news there," added Brande. "With five new members you won't have to cast a deciding vote. Let me know when the voting's over."
"Will do, R.J. Latham out."
Two Hours Later
Marla Latham's face appeared on Brande's comm station. "RJ? I have the final results. The vote totals have been downloaded to your omnicom."
"Thanks, Marla. Who won?" asked Brande.
Marla smiled. "Oh no, mister. I won't spoil the surprise for you. Latham out."
Marla's face distorted into a blurred mess before he disappeared on the holocom unit. "Dammit, Marla. An old man doesn't need surprises."
Brande retrieved his omnicom and found the proper file. He couldn't help but smile. "I'll be damned!"
The communit blared to life again. "Incoming message from Medicus One. Garth Ranzz."
"On screen," said Brande.
Garth's face appeared on the holocom.
"Good to see you, my boy. Any word on your sister?"
Garth shook his head. "To be honest, I'm a little worried."
"Gym'll has brought in a chronal archaeologist and a seer from Naltor. I thought Medicus One was the premiere medical care center in the galaxy," Garth answered. "Instead Ayla gets a couple of quacks."
"Trust Gym'll, son. He's the best. Do you need anything? Just say the word..."
Garth smiled. "I didn't realize how late it was there. I called Brande Industries information desk and it said you were still in the building. Sir, you should really take down that personal tracking system. It's dangerous for you now."
"I know. It's on my list," said Brande.
"I was calling to find out about the election," said Garth.
Brande could barely contain himself. "You haven't heard? I can't believe no one called you with the news!"
"No they didn't. I still have no idea who won," Garth answered.
Brande smiled. "You did, son! You won!"
The look on Garth's face was priceless. Brande made a mental note to record it from the holocom's memory banks for posterity.
"How?" Garth asked. "I didn't lead a team. I thought Rokk and Imra both did great. I don't understand."
"The original eight of you had your mind's made up, but the new recruits were more impressed by the way you bowed out of the race. Thom told me you were the kind of unselfish leader he would follow without question. Of course, Marla is still throwing a fit about it. You know how he is about protocol and you weren't on the ballot. I reminded him that old Earth elections always allowed for write-in candidates. But you know how grumpy Marla is. He would have found something to complain about no matter who won."
"I... can't believe it," said Garth.
"Believe it, Mr. Leader. The question on everyone else's lips is who you'll name as your Deputy. According to the Legion Constitution, you're entitled to name your own," said Brande.
"That's easy," Garth replied. "Jan. I know some of the others will think I'm crazy, but what he did up there on that Stalag, not killing the Khunds.... I don't think I could have restrained myself."
"Jan is a wise choice, son. It also alleviates the burden of picking either Rokk or Imra and leaving one of them out in the cold," Brande answered.
"Tell Jan he's in charge until I return. I should be a few more days," said Garth.
Brande smiled. "I'll let him know. Brande out."
RJ Brande put away his omnicom and powered off his holocom. He pushed back his chair, retrieved his coat from the antique sofa next to his desk. "Lights," he said.
The lights slowly faded, allowing him time to walk to the door. "About time you called too, boy. I thought I'd have to stay here all night to give you the news."