"Wanted Dead or Alive"
The team left behind on Earth to investigate the Dark Circle was preoccupied with the shocking events unfolding on Weber’s World. Earthgov President Naveen Trulo was assassinated moments before and a threat against the Legion’s benefactor, R.J. Brande was but a decoy to perpetrate the assassination.
Tinya Wazzo turned away from the holo-monitor. “So much for peace and brotherhood.”
Lyle Norg wished her sentiment was wrong. “Such principles come at a high price.”
“I just hope the price doesn’t fracture the United Planets,” Reep Daggle replied. “Many sacrifices were made so unification could become a reality.”
The dedication of Weber’s World was supposed to be a joyous occasion marked by pomp and festivity. The artificial world was the new seat of government for the United Planets and dignitaries from all over the UP gathered to celebrate. Instead, the festivities devolved into chaos with rumors of an assassination attempt on their benefactor R.J. Brande being but a ruse to direct security resources away from Earth’s president, the real target.
“I wish I was there with them,” Lyle mumbled.
Reep Daggle shook his head. “I’m not sure what you could have done.”
“Very little to save the President, I’m afraid,” Lyle replied. “But my background with Earthgov as an investigator would prove valuable under the circumstances.”
“There are no detectives on Weber’s World?” Reep asked.
Lyle nodded. “I’m sure there are but some things you just want to do for yourself to make sure they’re done right.”
“That I understand,” Reep replied. “I am a sleuth as well.”
Lyle turned to his friend, stunned by the revelation. “Oh really?”
Reep nodded. “There is much about me the Legion has yet to learn.”
“I suppose that’s true of all of us, my friend,” Lyle replied. “But I believe in the Legion.”
“Shush you two,” Tinya admonished. “They’re breaking in with another special report!”
<<>“….go live to Metropolis for a press conference with newly sworn-in Earthgov President, Vanton Savig.
“It is with great remorse I announce the passing of President Trulo,” said a solemn Savig. “Our friendship was forged during the recent election. I owe a great debt to him and his family. He selected a political unknown as a running mate, an academic from the field of political science and that is a debt I can never repay, yet I will try my best to honor his faith in me and the ideals upon which we were elected.”<>>
“I feel for that guy,” said Luornu Durgo. “What a terrible position to find one’s self in.”
“I’m not sure I understand,” said Veilmist. “Is this not how leaders are chosen?”
The Legion’s lone Khundian representative’s query underscored Lyle’s earlier comment about the team barely knowing one another.
“Our society isn’t as brutal as Khundia,” Lyle explained. “Most of the United Planets worlds are either ruled by a monarchy with an established line of succession or an elected leader. We find it more civilized than lofting the severed heads of our rivals in victory.”
“But with a much longer campaign season,” Lu added.
<<> … After conferring with the remainder of the Earth’s elected body, it is with great sadness I also announce the planet’s immediate withdrawal from the United Planets for the foreseeable future,” said President Savig. “And it is with an even heavier heart I announce the declaration of martial law and the closing of all spaceports until we can get to the bottom of this attack on my predecessor. As part of this ban, both incoming and outgoing off-planet communications will be jammed. All such communications must be made through Earthgov.” <>>
“What?” Lyle shouted. “He can’t be serious! Withdraw from the United Planets? Now? In the midst of this crisis? It’s the worst thing they can possibly do!”
“The United Planets will fall apart without Earthgov’s leadership!” Lu added. “And why jam communications?” Reep asked. “You would think the chatter would be beneficial under such circumstances!”
“Something isn’t right here,” said Lyle.
Salu Digby shuffled into the room accompanied by the Legion’s chef, Tenzil Kim. She suffered a more serious beating at the hands of the Dark Circle than Tinya and was up for the first time. A long, jagged scar was still prominent upon her left cheek but healing. Tenzil helped her to the couch. “What did I miss?”
“You wouldn’t believe us if we told you!” Tinya replied.
“The Earthgov President was assassinated on Weber’s World and his replacement announced Earth’s withdrawal from United Planets and declared martial law,” Lyle answered.
“What?” Salu asked taking a seat between Tinya and Veilmist. “You can’t be serious?”
Lyle nodded. “Unfortunately, I am.”
A tear rolled down Salu’s cheek. “This can’t be happening! Without the United Planets, Imsk will fall to the Khundian Empire again and the UP needs Earth!”
Tinya put her arm around Salu and hugged her. “It’ll be okay. I promise.”
“Earthgov will conduct a thorough investigation into the cowardly assassination of President Trulo. The United Planets has offered to assist but until we know who we can trust, Earth must reluctantly decline. Furthermore, all United Planets deputy charters are hereby revoked and legal authority shall be the sole responsibility of Earthgov”
Tenzil scratched his head. “Since when did Earth become so insular?”
Reep furrowed his brow. “The planet’s political change of heart isn’t our only concern at the moment.”
Lyle wondered if the Durlan shared his thought. “Reep?”
“Savig revoked all UP deputy charters.” Reep replied. “That would include the Legion’s as well.”
“What does that mean for us?” Salu asked.
“It means the Legion has no legal authority as deputized officers of the law,” Lyle replied. “If we act against the President’s order we risk prosecution.”
President Savig peered into the throng of camera drones as if looking right at the stunned Legionnaires gathered in their headquarters.
<<>”Children will no longer protect Earth’s interests!” <>>
Lu clasped her hand over her mouth. “No!”
Talok VIII’s twin moons peeked over the summit of Champion Mountain and cast long shadows upon the expansive canyon. The sounds of nocturnal animals echoed from the sienna cliff walls and Rokk Krinn couldn’t help but wonder if the team sent to repel the Fatal Five’s invasion wasn’t already in danger from far less intimidating forces.
Gim Allon shot up to fifty feet and retrieved firewood from a cliff wall high overhead and returned it to camp. Dirk Morgna used his solar powers to ignite a campfire. The fire made Rokk feel a little better. At least it would keep predators away.
Jenni Ognats, the Legion’s superspeedster took a seat by Thom Kallor. “Funny how we need to build a fire in a desert, huh?”
“Deserts can be notoriously cold at night,” Thom replied. “Did you know Earth’s Antarctica is considered a desert?”
“I didn’t know that,” Jenni replied. “Who’d figure with all that ice, huh?”
The idle small talk was nearly as comforting as the fire. Rokk shared a hollowed-out log with his friend Garth Ranzz who also served as the team’s leader.
“We’re to meet her here?” Rokk asked. The “her” in question was Tasmia Mallor the planetary champion of Talok VIII, the latest in line of multi-generational Shadow Champions sworn to protect the planet and endowed with shadow powers of unknown origin. At least that was the information recited in the dossier provided by the United Planets before the Legion embarked to Talok VIII to repel the Fatal Five’s invasion.
Garth Ranzz nodded. “This is the place. It reminds me of Korbal but with a couple more moons and a lot fewer lightning beasts.”
“I don’t like this one bit,” Rokk replied. “We should take the fight to the Fatal Five now while the element of surprise is on our side, not wait around in the dark to play nursemaid to some backwoods local.”
Garth nodded. “Your input is noted but we have our orders. We drive Talok away from the UP if its people feel we seek to supplant their culture and heritage.”
“It’s politics Garth,” Rokk added. “Surely there is something we can do.”
“There is,” Garth answered. “We learn to play.”
Rokk patted his friend on the back. The responsibility of leadership had taught him much. “I thought you were supposed to be the hot-head and I the level-headed one.”
“Trust me, I’m seething inside,” Garth replied. “Particularly being off the grid like this. I wish I knew how Lyle’s investigation into the Dark Circle was going.”
Imra Ardeen joined her fellow founders. “I agree with Rokk. If we leave now we can avoid the sun and arrive earlier tomorrow to take the Fatal Five by surprise.”
“An unwise course of action,” said a dark, unfamiliar voice.
Both Rokk and Garth sprung to their feet and joined Imra in searching the blackness beyond the wispy tongues of their campfire.
“Please tell me you’re the girl we’re supposed to meet here,” said Rokk to the black void.
A lovely blue-skinned girl with shoulder length raven hair stepped from the shadows like a wraith. She was dressed in a black bikini-style uniform with matching thigh-high boots and arm-length gloves. The top and bottom of the bikini came together at the torso and were joined by a golden ring in the center. The long, black cape flapped regally behind her in the soft, steady breeze.
“There are nocturnal beasts that would be upon you with little warning,” Tasmia advised. “Even for a high-level telepath.”
“You know I’m a telepath?” Imra asked with more than a hint of surprise in her voice.
Tasmia moved past Imra with a cold shoulder as well-rehearsed as Imra’s own. “You aren’t the only ones capable of digesting a dossier. Preparation is my duty as Shadow Champion. If we are to be allies I should know your capabilities.”
“Why did I not hear your thoughts?” Imra asked.
“Because I did not wish you to do so,” Tasmia replied. “So I shrouded them in darkness.”
Imra looked stunned. “But that’s impossible! How could you…”
“Why can’t our girls wear outfits like that?” Dirk exclaimed. “I love this planet!”
Tasmia shot straight for Dirk. “Should you wish to bed this Talokian female you must first defeat me in combat! If I lose, my heart is yours.”
Dirk raised his sandy eyebrows and smiled like a wolf licking its chops. “I like those odds little lady!”
“However, be warned that custom also dictates that should the male lose, you surrender your life to me. Beheading is the most common method to settle the life debt,” Tasmia explained.
A stunned Dirk backed away slowly and bumped into Gim’s boot.
“Always a struggle with commitment. Eh, Morgna?” Gim taunted as he shrunk to normal size with more wood for the fire.
Rokk wasn’t sure whether or not Tasmia was serious but it was fun to watch the insufferable Dirk Morgna put in his place.
“This Five who has invaded my world, you are familiar with them?” Tasmia asked.
Garth nodded. “They were aboard a Khundian Stalag we emancipated.”
“And you did not execute them for their crimes?” Tasmia asked.
“That’s not how we do things,” Rokk explained. “We shared a common enemy and went our separate ways afterward. There’s no love lost between our teams but they served their time for crimes committed against the galaxy.”
“A most curious criminal justice system,” Tasmia replied.
“Innocent until proven guilty,” Imra added.
“So what’s the plan?” Jenni asked. “Do we charge into your capital city tomorrow like an evolutionary-powered cavalry?’
“Sounds good to me,” Tasmia replied. “Unless someone has a better idea.”
Garth shook his head. “No, first we assess the Five’s positions and diminish the potential for needless casualties.”
“It’s best to attack them separately if we can,” Rokk added. “Validus may be particularly vulnerable apart from Tharok’s influence. In fact it may be the giant’s only weakness.”
“Even then he’s still incredibly deadly,” Imra warned. “Perhaps I can wrest control of him away from Tharok but I’m not sure if the cyborg controls the beast telepathically or if another method is used.”
Rokk yawned. “Whatever tomorrow holds it is best attacked with a good night’s rest. We’ll move toward the city at dawn’s light.”
Garth nodded. “Agreed. Let’s get some shuteye.”
Legion Headquarters, The Common Area
“Do we comply with the disband order?” Tinya asked.
Lyle shook his head stubbornly. “Absolutely not! I can’t shake the feeling there is something much more sinister than mere politics at play here.”
“But President Savig said…” Salu interjected.
“It really doesn’t matter what he said,” Lyle fired back. “Right now we’re the galaxy’s best shot! We have to get to the bottom of this.”
“But what can we do?” Salu asked. “We’re not exactly the team’s heavy hitters! Garth needed them to tackle the Fatal Five.”
“Perhaps we’re better suited for this play than the so-called heavy hitters,” Reep replied.
The Durlan had everyone’s attention.
“Reep?” Lyle asked.
Reep had that look in his eye of a man whose brain was moving faster than his mouth could speak. “What good is a giant or lightning against political machinations? Those of us left behind are uniquely equipped with abilities for subterfuge our absent teammates lack.”
“Kind of like an Espionage Squad?” Lyle asked with a thoughtful smile. “I like it.”
Reep nodded. “We’re the perfect team to infiltrate Earthgov!”
The irony wasn’t lost on Lyle. Earthgov trained him to be an elite agent and the galaxy’s best hope was for him to use his talents and skills against his former employer.
“And where does that leave me?” Tenzil Kim asked. Despite helping the team defeat Mordru, the power to digest any form of matter was hardly helpful inside or outside his kitchen. It wasn’t unusual to receive tree bark as a side dish or rocks as desert in the commissary.
“What can you do besides eat?” Salu asked.
Tenzil feigned stabbing a knife through his heart. “The indignity!”
“I’m sorry,” Salu pleaded. “I didn’t mean…”
Tenzil waved off her apology. “Relax chickadee! I know my limitations. I just meant what were you going to do with me while you strike off on this clandestine game of spy vs. spy? The big brains don’t like me hanging around the Medical Wing. What should I tell Earthgov should they come calling for you in the middle of the night?”
Tenzil was right. He would likely be arrested for questioning if they left him behind.
“Did I mention I’m a master of disguise?” Tenzil asked.
That was certainly helpful news. “Really?” Tinya asked.
Tenzil nodded. “Little do you realize I’m not actually a wealthy, strikingly-handsome Bismollian chef with a sparkling personality but a two-hundred year-old female Gil’dishpan poetess.”
Reep rolled his eyes. “Enough with the jokes, Tenzil! Your life is in grave danger if we leave you behind but I’m not sure what to do with you.”
A coy smile formed on Lyle’s face. “Maybe we let Earthgov capture him!”
“Bad plan! Terrible plan! Did I mention how horribly your plan blows?” Tenzil argued. “I was kidding about the Gil’dishpan! Can’t Legionnaires take a joke?”
“We need to infiltrate Earthgov somehow,” said Lyle. “What better way than for you to invite them in the front door and arrest us all?”
Reep nodded. “I get it! I’m feeling you!”
“I’m not!” Tenzil protested. “What if they lock us up?”
Reep patted Tenzil on the back. “Oh they most certainly will! We’re counting on it!”
Tenzil crossed his arms. “Again… bad plan! Terrible plan! Did I mention…”
“You did,” Lyle nodded. “Okay everyone listen. Here’s the plan…”
The sudden, deafening silence jerked Brin Londo awake. His room was less than a hundred feet from one of the world’s many generator rooms. The big engines produced a dull, sub-bass hum and though unnatural to his ears. the droning was great for sleep. Until it suddenly stopped.
Brin bolted from his bed in his briefs and darted into the hallway. He spotted a hooded figure running from the generator room and gave pursuit. Station security filed into the hallway and the sound of boots on the ground brought curious onlookers from their rooms as well. He managed to avoid them with his agile reflexes but Drura moved into the main corridor and blocked him.
“Brin? What’s happening?” she asked.
There was no time to stop and chat with his half-dressed teammate. He leaped over her and continued after the saboteur. The scent of the Legion’s deputy leader Jan Arrah wafted into his nostrils but he couldn’t look back or wait for orders.
“Brin is in pursuit,” said Jan corralling Drura. “Let’s head to the generator room and see if we can be of some use there.”
Jan had a good head on his shoulders as a result of years of training to ascend to Trom’s throne. Brin was glad to have him as a teammate. Confident the situation behind him was in order, he doubled down on his pursuit. There was something familiar about his prey’s scent but he couldn’t put his finger on it. His prey moved incredibly fast and proved nimble on his feet.
The Dark Circle saboteur hit a dead end and turned to fight. He and Brin leaped into the air and locked arms in battle. His prey was far stronger than most humans, maybe as strong as Brin himself. The saboteur fell onto his back and flipped Brin over him but Brin’s agility allowed him to land on his feet.
His foe landed a reverse kick to Brin’s right kidney that slammed the Legionnaire into a wall. Brin fell hard but there was no time to lick his wounds. His adversary attempted to escape the dead end corridor.
Brin dived at his attacker’s legs and tackled him to the ground. His foe hit the ground hard but was hardly finished. He slipped one leg free and kicked Brin in the jaw. Brin heard the bone crack but clung to the one leg he still held in his hands. A quick scramble somehow landed Brin on top of his seemingly rabid opponent. Brin grabbed him in a headlock and tried to choke him out.
Several swift fists to the same kidney should have forced Brin to release his hold but instead fueled his intensity. He clamped down even harder, gritting his teeth despite the earlier kick loosening a few teeth. He fed on the pain and adrenaline. With all the strength he could muster he slipped the headlock over the assailant’s neck and squeezed until the body went limp and then he held on a little longer.
At last Brin felt confident his prey was unconscious. Their scuffle attracted a crowd. His teammates were among their number as well as station security.
“It looks like Brin got his man,” said Drura.
Brin nodded. “Not an easy task. This scum is well-trained! How did it go with you two?”
“Tall, dark, and political here planted a bomb to take out the generator,” Drura replied. “A big one too. We left the bomb squad to deal with it.”
“But why?” Brin asked. “To what end? Surely the blast would kill him too.”
“Fear, the terrorist calling card,” Jan replied. “Destroying the station would demoralize the United Planets and make everyone wonder where they will strike next.”
“And we’ll be ready for them,” Brin spat. He loosened his grip on the saboteur but still held on in case he came to.
Drura shrugged her shoulders. “Will we, Brin? I want to believe that but how can we be sure?”
“Let’s find out who your sparring partner is,” said Jan.
Brin released the man in his arms and let him fall to the floor. He pulled back the man’s hood. The terrorist was…. Brin himself!
Brin recoiled from his fallen prey.
“Another clone,” said Jan. “They want us to mistrust everyone… even ourselves.”
Brin covered his ears. “No! It wasn’t me! I would never…”
A station security commanding officer stepped to the fore of the scene. “We do have some questions for you, young man. Let’s begin with proof of your identity. How do we know you’re not the saboteur and the man you defeated is the Legionnaire?”
“I…” Brin dropped his head. “I’m me. That’s all I can tell you.”
The officer shook his head. “That’s not good enough. Come along with us.”
Brin was surprised when Jan stepped between him and the office and embraced Brin’s shoulders with his right arm. “All the proof I need is this man is still standing and the other lies unconscious at our feet!”
Drura pointed to the burnt flesh on Brin’s injured shoulder. He received it saving Brande’s life but had forgotten about it in the chaos, confusion, and his own adrenaline. “Does the clone have a scar from taking laser fire intended for Mr. Brande?”
The commanding officer’s face steeled. “I was there and saw him take the fire with my own eyes.” He turned to his team. “Someone check the clone!” Officers moved in and examined the clone for a similar wound. A bearded man ripped open the clone’s dark robe and found no blaster fire injury on his shoulder. “He’s clean!”
The commanding officer motioned for his men to take away the clone then poked a finger into Jan’s chest. “You’d better be right about this Legionnaire!”
Jan brushed the officer’s finger away and spoke through gritted teeth. “I am!”
Drura embraced Brin. “It’s going to be okay. We’re Legion and we stick together…”
Her words were soft and reassuring and her embrace tender but Brin held firm and didn’t return the gesture. It wasn’t the sight of security dragging away the dark mirror that disturbed him but the clone’s scent. It was Brin’s own. His father’s android took his face once but not his scent. For Brin scent was much more personal.
He pushed Drura away. “I’m sorry. I need to be alone.”
The Common Area, Legion Headquarters, Metropolis
“And everyone understands the plan?” Lyle asked.
His teammates nodded in reply.
Nura Nal burst into the Common Area. “Your plan is doomed to fail!”
“Finally someone agrees with me!” Tenzil shouted over the disturbance.
“You don’t know that!” Tinya shot back.
“Unfortunately, I do,” Nura replied. “I came here to warn you that within minutes Earthgov shock troops will sever the power to Legion Headquarters and force their way inside to arrest you! You must leave now and head for the hills of Old Metropolis. My vision showed me an old Subway tunnel there. I sensed an ally…”
Tenzil Kim shook his head furiously. “No way lady! Another bad plan! Another terrible plan! Did I mention how badly your plan blows too? The last time I was in an old, abandoned subway tunnel, I was nearly eaten alive and that’s a humiliating end for a Bismollian!”
“Pipe down, Tenz!” Lyle ordered. “Look Nura, I’m sure you mean well but we have a good plan. It will work!”
Tenzil interjected himself into their conversation. “For the record also a bad plan, a terrible…”
Both Lyle and Nura turned to the Legion’s resident chef. “Shut! Up!”
Tenzil walked away. “You don’t have to be rude about it!”
“Please Lyle,” Nura pleaded. “I saw death in a vision days ago and it was tied to events set in motion in this room at this moment in time.”
“Days ago?” Salu Digby asked. “Then why didn’t you say something to stop the assassination?”
“That isn’t how my powers work,” Nura replied. “I see glimpses of the future but I don’t possess a filter to select whatever I want to view. And even if I had one, I wouldn’t know what to look for in the future anyway. But what I do see it never wrong! Please heed my warning!”
“We can’t Nura,” Lyle replied. “We may be the galaxy’s only hope.”
Nura eyed the hallway leading to the Medical Wing. “Your plan shall bring death.”
“Then may it be my own,” Lyle replied.
Nura cast a second glance over her shoulder to the Medical Wing. “Regroup in the hills. Dox’s force field will envelope the Medical Wing in two minutes. My place is with the Rimborian.”
Tinya crossed her arms and wrinkled her nose. “I bet it is.”
“Fine!” Nura shouted. “Do it your own way! I just hope I’m wrong!” She hastily exited toward the Medical Wing and disappeared.
“What if she’s right?” Veilmist asked. “Could the best course of action be to abandon headquarters and regroup elsewhere?”
“We can’t afford to second-guess ourselves,” Reep replied. “We have a good plan and besides Tenzil’s already made the call to turn us over. Let’s stick to…”
And then the lights went out.