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Issue #18

"Time to Breathe?"

by David Marshall

Legion Headquarters, Private Quarters of Jenni Ognats

“I’m not certain,” Veilmist argued, holding up a mini-dress Jenni Ognats loaned her from her closet. “These clothes are as revealing as my former slave garments. Why would one choose to wear such revealing attire on purpose?”

A coy grin spread across Jenni Ognats’ face. “Our fashion choices can empower when worn of one’s own accord!”

Veilmist adjusted the tight mini-dress for the umpteenth time. It didn’t seem to fit so well in some very important places. “I feel like I’m falling out everywhere. The immature males will laugh at me!”

“Trust me,” Jenni giggled. “If anything falls out, laughing will be the last thing on their minds!”

“Can you explain this Weber’s World to me again?” Veilmist asked while checking the holo-mirror once more.

Jenni explained it multiple times already but the former Khundian slave girl couldn’t grasp the concept of a diplomatic world dedicated to peace and diplomacy. “It’s an artificial world designed to host the governing body of the United Planets. It represents unity and the spirit of cooperation throughout the galaxy.”

“It sounds lovely,” Veilmist replied.

Jenni still wasn’t sure Veilmist understood but let it go at that.

Veilmist peeked at herself again. “What about Salu and Tinya?”

“Salu said they would join us later,” Jenni answered. “She said she needed to talk to Tinya.”

“Computer, close mirror program,” Veilmist ordered, tugging again at her clothes.

“Compliance,” the computer chirped. The floor-length holographic display faded to a pinpoint of shimmering light and vanished.

Jenni watched her friend attempt to pull her dress up and down at the same time. “Would you feel more comfortable in something less revealing?”

Veilmist lit up. “Yes, please! I cannot enjoy myself dressed like this.”

Jenni found a flattering one-piece body suit in her closet. She hoped the shiny green and white garment’s adjustable neckline would appeal to her teammate’s modesty. “How is this? Still very pretty but not quite as showy.”

“I won’t look unfashionable?” Veilmist asked. “The one called Dirk says the less a girl wears the better she looks.”

Jenni shook her head and tossed the bodysuit onto her bed. “Forget anything that nass-head tells you. Garbage in, garbage out.”

Veilmist slipped out of the mini-dress and into the body suit. “How do I look?”

“You’re beautiful,” Jenni answered. “Come on, glamour girl! Let’s knock them dead!”

She grabbed her friend by the hand and bolted out the door and into the hallway.

Unfortunately for Veilmist, bolting for Jenni meant a burst of superspeed. “Slow down please! This sensation is most unsettling.”

Jenni slowed to a crawl, for her anyway. Most people would still consider it running, but for one who could cross the continent between the blinks of eyelashes she may as well have been standing still. She turned to apologize to Veilmist and crashed into someone.

Jenni, Veilmist, and Imra Ardeen hit the floor.

”Ohmygods! Imra! Are you ok?” Jenni shrieked.

Imra stood and brushed herself off. “I’m fine, no thanks to the two of you and please slow down when you speak! I can’t understand that superspeed gibberish! If you weren’t projecting your thoughts so loudly I’d have no idea what you were saying!”

“I’m sorry,” Jenni stammered. “We were... uh....”

“Would you like to go to Nine Planets with us to watch the dedication ceremony?” Veilmist asked.

“I most certainly would not!” Imra huffed. “Some of us have responsibilities!”

“We meant no offense,” said Veilmist. “We’ll be going. Sorry if we…”

Imra walked off during Veilmist’s apology.

“How rude,” Jenni huffed. “I’m glad I didn’t vote for her for leader.”

“That girl frightens me,” Veilmist admitted. “Her heart is colder than a Khundian warlord’s.”

Jenni took Veilmist by the arm. “Let’s get out of here before Iron Butt Imra returns with something for us to do!”

Legion Headquarters, Outside The New Medical Wing

Garth Ranzz had a stop to make before seeing R.J.Brande and a group of hand-picked Legionnaires off to Weber’s World. He scanned his flight ring over the access panel by the door and it slid open with a silky, metallic whoosh of compressed air. Once inside, he cast a glance at the empty grav-bed where his sister Ayla once laid. He could finally take time to breathe.

“Looks great seeing it empty, huh?” asked a voice from behind that belonged to Nura Nal.

Garth nodded and turned to her “It does indeed. Quite resourceful of Dox to drain Ayla’s excess energy into power cells even if it didn’t go off without a hitch, huh?”

“Even if he had little to do with it?” Nura asked.

Garth looked confused. “What do you mean?”

“I set it up,” Nura replied. “I foresaw a problem with Dox’s Bgtzl experiment that would have killed Ayla so I suggested we install the power cells in case of an emergency. Dox argued he doesn’t make mistakes but…”

“Long story short, you saved Ayla’s life and Dox gets the credit and is too egotistical to admit the truth.”

Nura shrugged. “It’s not the first time.”

Garth picked up a piece of equipment from a table and looked it over. “Why do you let them do it?”

“Because it’s what people expect from me,” Nura answered. “Would you have trusted Ayla to my care alone? Truthfully?”

Garth wanted to say yes but opted to say nothing.

“Exactly,” said Nura. “It’s okay. I know my role.”

“But it’s not fair,” Garth argued. “You’re a very capable scientist yourself.”

Nura brushed her fingers through her platinum locks and smiled. “With amazing hair!”

There was so much Garth wanted to say to Nura but there wasn’t time. He had to see Brande off. So rather than talk, he hugged the woman who saved his sister’s life. “Little lady, I could kiss you! Thanks for saving Ayla.”

“Now don’t get a girl excited by making promises like that!” Nura replied, returning the hug. “I don’t have to read minds to see how you look at a certain telepath from Titan or how she looks at you.”

Garth pulled away from the hug. “Really? You think she likes me?”

Nura pushed him toward the door. “Of course she does silly. Now go! Brande doesn’t like to be kept waiting!”

Legion Headquarters, Dirk Morgna’s Private Quarters

“Did you see the Bgtzlian?” Dirk Morgna asked from his shower. “Or the Naltorian? I’d give my sprockin’ left hand for one night with either of them!”

“I notice you didn’t offer your right,” Gim Allon shot back. “That’s as close as you’ll get to either girl!”

The two were in Dirk’s quarters preparing to join their new teammates for an outing at Nine Planets to celebrate the dedication of Weber’s World. Unpacked boxes lined the walls.

“Waiting for Mordru to put these away for you?” Gim asked.

“You know me,” Dirk replied, stepping from the shower au naturale. He disappeared into his closet to search for clothes in the boxes piled up there. “I’ll get around to it. How much unpacking have you done?”

“I finished days ago,” Gim replied, turning away from his friend’s nakedness. “You’ve got to do better, man. Such behavior makes you look like an irresponsible nass-head.”

“I am an irresponsible nass-head!” Dirk shot back. “It’s my charm!”

“Still clinging to that delusion, huh?” Gim asked.

A mostly-dressed Dirk stepped from his closet. “I didn’t hear you complaining about the old Morgna charm last month at that casino on Aarok when I brought those two bar maids back to the hotel. You’re welcome, by the way!”

Gim rolled his eyes. How he and Dirk remained friends so long was a mystery to most people, himself included.

“Twenty credits,” said Dirk.

“Twenty credits what?” Gim asked.

“I can nail the Imskian tonight,” Dirk answered.

“I’ll have no part in such a bet,” Gim replied.

Dirk laughed. “Oh, the irony! The giant shrinks from a bet on an Imskian! It’s for the best, I suppose. You’d lose your credits anyway.”

“Ok, Morgna,” said Gim. “I’ll take your money, but only if you make it fifty credits. I don’t play for small change.”

Dirk smiled “Now there’s the Gim we all know and love!”

Legion Headquarters, Private Quarters of Salu Digby

Salu Digby paced around her room. She was scared to death, maybe more so than when the Legion fought Mordru. “I guess you’re wondering why I asked you here.”

Tinya Wazzo reclined on Salu’s bed with the latest edition of “Sentients” holomag open on Salu’s Omnicom. “You made it sound so urgent on the ‘com. I hope nothing’s wrong. Hey, did you know Larel Vegan is getting divorced again?”

Salu bit her bottom lip. “Nothing’s wrong, not wrong for Imskians anyway.”

Tinya looked up, her face wrinkled in confusion. “Salu?”

Salu took a deep breath and hoped her friend wouldn’t hate her for what she was about to say. “I like you.”

Tinya was oblivious to the implication. “I like you too, silly. What’s this all about? The others are probably off to Nine Planets already.”

Salu brushed her fingers through Tinya’s raven hair. “No, I mean I like you, like you. As in “boy and girl” like you but two girls instead, you and me.”

“Oh,” Tinya replied as the weight of Salu’s words hit her. “Oh! I don’t know what to say!”

Salu fought the urge to shrink from sight and dared not look her crush in the eye. All she could do was stare at a scuff mark on the toe of her own shoe. “I’m sorry. I guess you think I’m some kind of freak-show now.”

Tinya rolled off the bed and hugged her friend. “You’re not a freak. You’re the most awesome person I know! I’ve just never considered a relationship with another girl before. I don’t know that I could...”

“You don’t have to say anything,” said Salu. “Forget I mentioned it, please? I’m sorry I’ve made you uncomfortable and probably ruined our friendship.”

Tinya broke their hug and forced a manufactured grin. “You’ve not ruined anything! And I’m not uncomfortable. Well, maybe just a little but only because I’m not sure what to say.”

“You must hate me now.” Salu whispered.

“Hate you?” Tinya replied. “For liking me? Not at all! I’m flattered someone as sweet and pretty as you feels that way about me. I just don’t think I share those feelings toward girls. The last thing I want to do is to hurt you, but I couldn’t live with myself if I lead you on.”

Silence hung in the air for what seemed like an eternity before Tinya spoke again. “We can still be friends, best friends if you like.”

It was Salu’s turn to force a smile. The news wasn’t what she wanted to hear but it was better than Tinya hating her. “I feel like such a sprock-brain.”

Tinya hugged Salu again. This time it was warm and natural. “Please don’t feel that way. If I was going to date a girl you would be my first choice. I promise.”

Warmth shot through Salu’s body. Whether it was the hug pressing their bodies close or Tinya’s comment she wasn’t sure but she liked it.

“I’ll keep my feelings to myself,” said Salu as she broke the hug. “I won’t embarrass you.”

“Your affection can’t embarrass me,” Tinya replied. “You ok?”

Salu shrugged. “I’d rather the conversation ended with a hot, sweaty make-out session but the hug was nice.”

Tinya smiled and nodded. “Yes, it was.”

“But it’s your loss,” Salu teased. “I’ve been told I’m a great kisser!”

“Don’t tempt me,” Tinya laughed. “It’s been too long since I’ve had a good kiss! Come on! Let’s head over to Nine Planets! I’d hate to miss the dedication!”

Legion Headquarters, Thom Kallor’s Private Quarters

Thom Kallor retrieved his Omnicom from his desk and settled onto his bed. He set the device to a secure channel and began dictation.

< Viceroy Tangeret,

Support for the United Planets is at a fevered pitch here on Earth. An alliance with the fledgling galactic government could provide Xanthu many advantages; Peace, prosperity, and prestige chief among them.

I’ve allied myself with the Legion, a paramilitary organization backed by industrialist and leading unification advocate, R.J. Brande. The group is comprised of super-powered young people like me from different worlds. Given the variety of evolutionary talents the Legionnaires possess, the galactic media has dubbed them the “Legion of Super-Heroes”, in reference to an antiquated Earth idiom describing Earth’s metahuman champions of the past, primarily those of the late twentieth and early twenty-first century eras.

While accepting United Planets offer may prove a prudent political maneuver for our world, we should not quickly discount the offer from... >

BREEP! The door alarm interrupted Thom’s letter.

“Computer, identify guest,” Thom ordered.

“Guest is Legionnaire Luornu Durgo,” the computer replied. “Her powers include…”

“Allow guest to enter,” Thom answered. “And spare me the bio each time someone comes to my door.”

“Compliance,” the computer chirped. The door’s four quadrants rolled into the recesses of the walls and Luornu entered.

“Holed up in your room on a gorgeous day like today?” Lu asked.

Thom saved his work and powered off his Omnicom. He placed it on the stand by his bed. “Writing a letter home. What’s up?”

“Some of us are heading over to Nine Planets later to watch the dedication of Weber’s World,” said Lu. “Care to join us?”

Despite his duty to Viceroy Tangeret, Thom couldn’t turn down the invitation to spend time with the pretty, chestnut-haired Carggite. “Sure,” he replied. “I’d love to.”

Levitz Avenue, Metroplis

Tinya Wazzo and Salu Digby walked along the busy main artery of downtown Metropolis. Earlier, Salu admitted a crush on Tinya and Tinya couldn’t get it out of her mind. Had she done anything to encourage her friend’s romantic feelings?

“Metropolis is so large,” said Salu in wide-eyed wonder. “It’s even bigger than Imsk City! It would be so easy to get lost.”

“Believe it or not, Bgtzl has a few cities even larger,” Tinya replied. “Politics drives our world so huge cities evolve around our political capitals.”

“I can’t imagine what that would be like,” said Salu.

“Large cities?” Tinya asked. “You get used to it.”

“No,” Salu answered. “I mean living on a world purposefully divided by politics. Imsk was a world united until the Khunds broke it up into regions and assigned governors to each. Hopefully my people will be free again one day.”

“They will be,” said Tinya. “There wasn’t a Legion before… or a United Planets.”

The girls passed a vendor selling ice cream in the Old District. “Frozen confections, ladies?”

“No thank you, sir,” said Salu.

“We’re meeting friends at Nine Planets,” Tinya added.

“Nine Planets? What does that dive have that I don’t?” the man asked.

“Besides a roof over our heads, Old Metropolis ambience, and our friends?” Tinya asked. She didn’t mean to be rude but she didn’t like the man’s attitude.

The man sighed. “Well if you’re not going to imbibe on my treats then perhaps I can direct you to the nearest route?”

“That would be lovely,” said Salu. “We’re running a little late as is.”

The man pointed to a street intersecting Levitz two blocks north. “Hang a right and then a left on Olsen Way. You’ll hit the slidewalk in half the time.”

“How helpful of you,” said Salu.

Tinya thanked the man and hurried Salu away. Once they were out of earshot Tinya couldn’t contain herself any longer. “What a creep.”

“I thought he was nice,” said Salu. “A little weird but he saved us a lot of time.”

The girls took a right where the vendor told them and found themselves in the Old District. At one time it was known as home to the legendary Superman. The old Daily Planet building was there but the model of the Earth on its roof had been replaced by a holographic version after the original was damaged in an earthquake in the twenty-sixth century.

“You’re so trusting,” said Tinya. “He probably has an associate somewhere on this street to hit us up for something else. It’s an old swindler’s trick.”

“Oh,” Salu answered.

Like most of the streets in the Old District, Olsen Way was a maze of twists and turns built around ancient landmarks. It was built long before terraforming and for every person who loved the quaint charm of the Old District, there was another who demanded it be leveled and the streets straightened. Thus far the preservationists won out.

The girls passed an art colony where an enthusiastic young man with a long beard offered them credits to pose nude for him. The girls politely declined and kept walking. Along the way they passed into a much rougher area of town called the Red Light Colony where they were offered everything from “rare” space jewels the vendor claimed was of Alephian origin to drug dealers hawking illegal hallucinogens. A pimp tried to pick them up but backed off when Salu blurted out they were fully deputized.

Tinya wished Salu had kept that information to herself The Red Light Cluster could be rough for a couple of girls out walking and they didn’t need trouble. She looked carefully at every street sign hoping to see a familiar landmark that would lead them out of the Cluster, but hated to admit they were lost.

“We’re lost,” Salu sighed.

“No we’re not,” Tinya argued. “We just... don’t know exactly where we are.”

“Ergo, lost,” Salu laughed.

Tinya echoed the laugh. “Ok, lost. Only question is how do we get back to Levitz Avenue from here?”

“You ladies need some help?” asked a tough-looking punk dressed in black pants and a white shirt. A single black circle decorated the chest of his shirt. A small gang dressed in identical garb stood behind him.

Tinya was glad she was a city girl or she may have panicked. The group was a street gang of some sort and the man’s offer to help was more about helping himself to their bodies than a genuine offer of assistance.

“We’re lost,” said Salu. “Can you direct us back to Levitz?”

“Well, well,” the man answered, his bald head gleaming under the now bright street lights. “Looks like we’ve got ourselves a couple of damsels in distress. Should we help them boys?”

“Salu, don’t encourage them,” Tinya ordered.

The man grabbed Salu’s arm and stroked it. “Don’t listen to your pretty little friend, baby. I won’t hurt you… much!”

“Leave her alone,” Tinya ordered. She had little patience for such boorish behavior.

The man shoved Salu’s arm away and towered over Tinya. “Or what, girlie? You two deputies going to arrest me and take me downtown? Oh, that’s right! You can’t find downtown can you?”

The men behind him erupted in laughter and circled the girls.

“Or maybe you’re gonna arrest all of us?” the man taunted with a shove.

“We just want to meet our friends. Let us go, please,” said Salu.

The man grabbed her arm again. Salu wasn’t so nice about it the second time. She shrunk away the man’s grip and disappeared.

“She vanished!” one of the thugs yelled.

Tinya took advantage of the confusion and became intangible. The rush of intangibility never got old. It was like free-falling through space without a tether for those first few glorious seconds.

“They’re Legion!” one of the men yelled and the free for all was on.

Tinya rushed toward one of their attackers but Salu beat her to the punch - literally. The Imskian grew from microscopic size and clocked the man to the plastiphalt turf.

Tinya turned her attention to two other men who surrounded her. They leaped for her but passed through her phantom form and slammed into one another.

“What the sprock?” one of the men swore as they crumpled to the ground.

Tinya smiled. “That look of utter confusion goes well with that whole dumb gangster bit you’ve got going on, fellas!”

Another man wielded a laser knife and squared off against Salu. “You think you’re bad because you can shrink, little girl? Tell me, if I slice you into little pieces who will find them?”

Salu’s attacker lunged at her with the glowing shaft of laser light but she dodged the blow and grabbed his wrist as it shot by her. An elbow to his ribs softened him up before she threw him to the ground. He recovered surprisingly fast and slipped in behind her. The knife was at her throat but Salu didn’t seem worried at all. She shrunk from his grip.

Tinya turned her attention to a lumbering behemoth that removed a thick set of chains from around his thick neck and twirled them menacingly above his head. He lashed out with the chains but they passed through her.

“It must stink that you can’t hit me and I can hit you all I want, huh?” Tinya taunted. The fight went well until Salu’s knife-wielding opponent shrunk from sight as well. He too must have been Imskian. “Oh gods! Salu, no!” For a brief instant she dropped her intangibility.

The momentary lapse in concentration presented the chain-wielding thug an opportunity. He slipped a blow through to Tinya’s midsection. She went intangible the moment she felt pain and his fist passed through her immaterial form, but the glancing tap was enough to double her over and crack a couple of ribs. She dropped to the ground and gasped for breath. Her foe made a club with his fists and raised them high into the air. The ensuing blow passed harmlessly through her and shattered the sidewalk.

While the brute cursed her powers and home world, Tinya stood and swung at his jaw. At the last moment she willed her fist to become solid. It connected with his square jaw and…

Tinya’s entire arm shattered from her knuckles all the way to her elbow. She cried out in pain as the mangled mess of broken bones dangled like a jellyfish from her shoulder.

“Never fought a Daxamite before? Eh, girlie?”

As Tinya fought the creeping specter of unconsciousness she saw an already-bloodied Salu shoot up from microscopic height and jump on the Daxamite’s back. One though filled her mind. “No Salu! He’s…”

Legion Headquarters, Hangar Bay One

The Legion’s three founding members strolled along the hangar with the team’s benefactor, RJ Brande. They were followed by Jan Arrah, Drura Sepht and Brin Londo. A chauffer at the end of the docking station held open the rear passenger door of a World Skimmer personal escort.

“Are you sure you can’t stay longer, sir?” Imra asked. “We love your company!”

The old man shook his head and laughed. “I’d much rather be here with you kids than dedicating that damned hunk of plasticrete and metal built with my money but duty calls!”

“I’d feel better if we could all come with you,” said Rokk. “The threat on your life…”

Brande brushed aside the suggestion. “If I holed up every time some lunatic threatened my life I’d never leave my private asteroid!”

“According to Science Police intelligence, it’s a credible threat,” Imra added.

“Don’t worry about me lass,” Brande replied, throwing his arms around Drura’s and Jan’s shoulders. “I have a Legion escort for this unnecessary excursion!”

“Some would argue that point, sir,” Rokk replied. “Other worlds worry the government is already too Earth-centric. Perception matters, so perhaps it’s an essential excursion.”

“Balderdash and they know it!” Brande trumpeted. “But I suppose if an office complex the size of the moon is the price I have to pay to bring this galaxy together then it will be money well-spent!”

The Legion contingent approached the World Skimmer.

“Shall we?” Brande asked as he extended a hand toward the World Skimmer.

“I’ll go first,” Brin volunteered, casting a suspicious glance toward the unnerved the driver. “It’s too easy to plant a bomb in a Skimmer!”

Brande turned to the Legion’s founding members. “See? I’m in good hands! What could possibly go wrong?”

“You shouldn’t tempt fate with such questions, sir,” Rokk advised.

“I’ve made a sizable fortune tempting fate, son. No reason to stop now!” Brande replied.

Garth herded Brande toward the Skimmer. “One slip is all it takes sir.”

Brande’s bushy, white mustache spread across his face like someone throwing open drapes on the first day of spring. “And on that day, I’ll say to my assassin, “Well played sir! Well played!”

“Telepathic scan clear, sir,” said Imra.

“There are no known pathogens or contagions aboard the vessel,” Drura added.

Brande smiled. “Then let’s be off! Adventure waits!”

He slid into the tiny craft, followed by Jan and Drura. Soon it was in the air and disappeared in the clouds.

“Love that crazy old man!” Garth chuckled.

Imra pursed her lips and shook her head. “Have you no respect? After all Mr. Brande has done for us?”

Garth finally had enough of Imra’s self-righteous attitude. Perhaps she wasn’t worth wasting his feelings on. “Would it hurt you just once to remove the half-credit token from between your…”

“Say it and you’ll struggle to remember your name for the rest of your life,” Imra warned.

The threat caught the words in Garth’s throat. Why was Imra so damned mean all the time? “I just wish you’d lighten up a little and enjoy the ride, Sweetheart. That’s all!”

Imra looked more furious than ever. She shoved an index finger beneath Garth’s nose and wagged it. “First of all, I am not your “sweetheart” and furthermore, as leader you may issue orders and I’ll comply, but my personal conduct is my business! Are we clear on that, Ranzz? ”

Garth grinned from ear to ear.

“What’s that sprockin’ goofy grin for?” Imra demanded.

“So you’ll follow orders, huh?” Garth asked.

Imra nodded. “Unlike you, I respect the chain of command. Some of us take our position in this organization seriously!”

“Then I order you to lighten up!” Garth replied.

“You can’t do that!” Imra shouted. She turned to Rokk. “He can’t do that! Can he?”

Rokk threw his hands up as if repelling the argument with super-magnetism. “I want no part of this one!”

A holo-screen flickered to life and Lyle’s image appeared on the monitor. “Garth! We have a situation! Tinya and Salu were attacked! Salu’s injuries are life-threatening. Tinya’s in bad shape too but will live.”

“We’re on our way!” Garth replied. He knew the time to breathe had ended and couldn’t shake the feeling the Legion was in for the fight of its life.

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