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Issue #21


by David Marshall

Talok VIII, A Cliff Overlooking Talok City

Jenni Ognats sat on a precipice overlooking the still-smoldering capital city on the horizon. It was a good day’s hike for most of the Legionnaires if they didn’t use their flight rings but even though the speedster could cover the distance between the bats of her eyelashes, she was in no hurry to arrive. The Fatal Five were down there somewhere, hiding in the dawn’s crowning glory. They were the galaxy’s most-wanted and notorious criminals. They raped and destroyed entire worlds without remorse. She first encountered the frightening killers when the Legion rescued her from a Khundian Stalag. So why was she on a backwater desert world chasing after them instead of running the other direction? She didn’t like to admit she was scared and couldn’t help but wonder if she was in over her head. All she could do was run fast. But would it be fast enough?

“Mind if I join you?” Tasmia Mallor asked.

Jenni turned toward Tasmia’s voice and patted the ground beside her. “It’s a nice view if you don’t mind your legs dangling a few hundred feet in the air.”

“Heights do not bother me,” Tasmia replied.

Jenni held up her flight ring. “Me neither, at least not when I’m wearing this!”

Tasmia’s forehead wrinkled in confusion. “A ring?”

“It’s a Legion flight ring,” Jenni explained. “It took some getting used to but I enjoy the flying sensation now.”

Tasmia grabbed Jenni’s hand and studied the golden ring emblazoned with the Legion’s symbol on its face. “And it allows you to fly like a bird?”

“Well I don’t exactly flap my arms but yeah… that’s the general idea,” Jenni answered.

The girls sat quietly for a few minutes. Jenni studied Tasmia’s worried features as the girl’s melancholy gaze was transfixed upon the city she called home.

“I cannot believe off-world invaders have captured the Jewel of the Desert,” said Tasmia. “I have failed my people.”

“You’ve done no such thing,” Jenni shot back. She surprised herself with her sudden boldness with the intimidating young stranger.

“How can you speak of that which you do not know?” Tasmia asked. “I have but one duty to my people and it is to protect them. I was on spiritual retreat when the invaders came.”

“Likely by design,” said Jenni. “Their leader Tharok is a master strategist. The timing was surely deliberate.”

“But if I had been there…” Tasmia’s voice trailed off.

Jenni wasn’t sure whether to bolster Tasmia’s confidence or tell her the truth. Had she been on the scene and stood against the Five alone, she would have likely died in the attack like so many others. “But you weren’t and you are here with us now planning a counter-offensive to liberate your people. That’s all anyone can expect of a champion.”

The tiny smile at the corners of Tasmia’s dark blue lips was a welcome sight. “Perhaps you are right but I can’t help but shake the feeling I could have repelled the invaders.”

“The Five isn’t t exactly a regular army,” said Jenni Ognats. “They are bad news!”

Tasmia nodded. “Perhaps, but so am I!”

“What is it you do exactly?” Jenni asked. She hoped she didn’t sound rude.

The question caught Tasmia off-guard. “What do you mean?”

“Your power,” Jenni answered. “Our dossier said you are the planet’s Shadow Champion, but I’m not sure I know what that even means.”

Tasmia looked dejected. “And why should you? The Talokian system is a dunga’s hindquarters compared to the advanced civilizations within your United Planets! It is obvious from Garth’s face he would rather be elsewhere in my world’s hour of greatest need.”

Jenni felt a pang of guilt. Garth and Rokk weren’t the only ones dismissive of the young warrior’s society. “Two of our friends were attacked moments before we were summoned to Talok’s defense. Our hearts are heavy with worry.”

“You are most diplomatic,” Tasmia replied.

“Not usually,” Jenni admitted. “Your people place great faith in you. It isn’t our place to assess you.”

“Your Legion has never stood at my side in battle,” Tasmia countered. “But you would do well to heed my knowledge of my world. As champion it is my duty to know everything about her history, religions, people, cultures, geography, and warfare.”

“That’s a huge responsibility for someone so young,” Jenni replied.

“No younger than you,” Tasmia volleyed.

Jenni nodded. “True, but you’re a bad ass!”

Tasmia reached for her posterior. “There’s something wrong with my buttocks?”

Jenni laughed. “Not according to Dirk! It’s an expression and means I believe in you, Tasmia. You’ve got this!”

“You’re nice,” said Tasmia. She took Jenni’s hand and gave it a gentle squeeze. “And your faith in me is much appreciated. It reminds me my own people have faith in me too.”

The tenderness was unexpected. Perhaps there was more to Tasmia Mallor than a wild warrior’s heart after all. “So you were going to tell me about your powers…” said Jenni.

Tasmia released Jenni’s hand and a swell of pitch black erupted from her hand like a squid’s ink. It swelled from a tiny ebony dot to an anomaly large enough to swallow a person whole. She manipulated the dark energy skillfully, playing with it as a child would shape sand at the beach. “I wield the darkness itself. I can blind an opponent with impenetrable darkness that evokes terror and extreme disorientation within the event horizon. Not even sound can escape the dark well.”

“So it’s kind of like a black hole?” Jenni asked.

Tasmia nodded. “But gravity is not involved. I can also shape the darkness into constructs with but a thought and employ them as weapons, use it for crude teleportation through the Land of Nightshades, and wield dark energy bolts. I rarely exploit my most potent attack, which is forcing a foe to face the darkness within his soul. Most never recover.”

“Cool power,” Jenni replied. “Super speed is my power. I could circle Talok three times before you finish your next sentence.”

Tasmia smiled. “I don’t know about that. Ask the one you call Dirk. I can be direct and to the point.”

Jenni laughed. “You sure shut him up! But don’t let him fool you. He’s a hell of an asset in a fight. He radiates solar flares.”

“It figures we’d be at odds right away,” Tasmia replied. “Darkness and light.”

Jenni nodded. “I hadn’t thought of it that way. Give him a chance though. I think there’s a good guy lurking somewhere underneath all that bravado.”

Tasmia smiled slyly. “If we make it through this alive, I’ll give him a chance alright. I’m… most attracted to the light.”

“What do you….” Jenni asked. “Oh!”

“The spoils of war to the Shadow Champion,” Tasmia laughed. “It’s my people’s way.”

Garth Ranzz wandered to the cliff’s edge and tapped Jenni’s shoulder. “We’re moving out.”

Jenni and Tasmia scooted away from the cliff’s edge and stood. Jenni felt like she made a new friend and, while she found many faults with herself, one thing she excelled at was not letting her friends down.

Legion Headquarters, The Common Area

Emergency lighting flooded the headquarters with a soft blue glow. Moments later a single illuminated cerulean panel flashed and crept across the ceiling one lighted section at a time. From the ceiling, the light made its way down the wall and across the floor before climbing the opposite wall and starting its monotonous trek once more. The dizzying, strobe-like effect made it appear the interior was in motion like a tank’s tread.

“They’re here,” Salu Digby whispered. “Just as Nura foresaw.”

Moments before Nura Nal, the Legion’s precognitive team physician warned them of impending death if they fought the Earthgov troops outside. This came hours after Salu and Tinya Wazzo were attacked in Metropolis’s Old City by Dark Circle sympathizers. Both took a beating but Salu’s injuries were especially grave. Nura successfully administered cell regeneration therapy but Salu needed rest not a fight.

“Salu, you could shrink from sight,” Lyle Norg suggested. “Standard issue Earthgov life scanners would never find you if you go subatomic.”

Salu shook her head. “I’m Legion. I stand with my friends.”

Lyle Norg admired his teammate’s loyalty and conviction. He just hoped she was up for what was sure to come. Given her injuries, could she be the Legionnaire that Nura saw die in her vision? Lyle pushed the horrid thought aside. It was too grim to consider.

An explosion ripped a hole in the outer wall and Earthgov Shock Troops filed into the Common Area in full combat gear.

“A Khund!” shouted one of the heavily-armed troops. Several soldiers under her command trained their weapons on Veilmist.

Lyle stepped in front of his teammate. “Don’t shoot! She’s a Legionnaire you idiots!”

“She’s Khundian! We have our orders!” the soldier in front argued. “Now move Legionnaire, or I’ll rip a hole through the both of you!”

“They would slay me though I offer no resistance and pose no threat to them?” Veilmist asked.

Lyle nodded and was careful to shield his teammate. Would her innocence of Earth customs flag her for death? “They’re trained to shoot Khunds on sight if they’re caught on Earth. It’s standard procedure.”

“That is most unfortunate,” said Veilmist with no hint of sarcasm or humor.

“I demand an audience with your commanding officer!” said Lyle.

The Earthgov troops were in no mood to bargain. “Raise your hands where we can see them!” demanded the trooper in charge. Her troops kept their weapons trained on the Legionnaires.

“Lyle?” Tinya asked.

“Don’t make any sudden movements or give them reason to open fire,” Lyle warned his teammates. He raised his hands into the air. “There’s no reason to hurt them. They’re doing what they see as their duty.”

His teammates followed his lead.

Several tense moments passed as the Earthgov troops moved forward and placed power-dampeners on each’s Legionnaire’s wrists. They were custom-designed to negate their unique powers. Tenzil was the last to be restrained before the squad snapped to attention at the sound of a single pair of armored boots approaching the scene. A lieutenant made his way into the Common Area and stood before Lyle.

“Nice dog and pony show,” Lyle hissed. “You have them well-trained.”

The lieutenant backhanded Lyle across the mouth and drew blood. “Mind your mouth Legionnaire!”

An Earthgov soldier pushed Veilmist to the front and threw her at the Lieutenant’s feet. “Sir, we found this among the Legionnaires!”

The lieutenant removed his battle helmet and gazed upon the sprawled Legionnaire. “Sacre Bleu! A Khund, Norg? C’est terrible! Is this the company you keep these days?”

“She’s a Legionnaire, Foccart!” Lyle shot back. “If you were leading your squad as protocol requires rather than setting up your dramatic entrance, you would have heard my earlier explanation! And speak English, please! My French is rusty.”

Lieutenant Jacques Foccart was one of Lyle’s oldest friends. They were roommates at the Academy and worked many cases together before Lyle bolted for the Legion. He shoved Lyle to the ground and pulled the Legionnaire’s hands behind him. “And you, Norg! To think you were once my superior! I would have never taken you for a traitor to Earthgov!”

“We’re still on the same side, Jacques,” Lyle replied. “We’re not enemies!”

Foccart checked the power dampeners on Lyle’s hands. “My orders say differently, mon ami! Will you surrender quietly or shall I authorize my men to use deadly force?”

“No need for that,” Lu replied. “I’m sure we can straighten out this mess as soon as we can speak to Chief Zendak.”

“The Science Police no longer have jurisdiction on Earth, young lady” Foccart replied. “Earthgov is in charge and I’m not sure the General will view your terrorist organization as favorably as the former Chief of Science Police.”

“Sir, there’s a significant power source in the southwestern wing of the building,” reported a soldier whose face was covered by a combat helmet.

“Shut it down!” Foccart ordered.

Luornu Durgo giggled.

In his combat gear, Foccart towered over Lu, his angry nostrils flaring. “Care to share the joke with the rest of us, Legionnaire?”

Lu’s face turned ashen in the face of Foccart’s barking but she didn’t back down. “That’s Querl Dox and his personal force field in there, mon ami! You could detonate an Inertron Bomb and not put a dent in it! It looks like that’s one part of Legion headquarters that will stay off-limits to illegal search and seizure!”

Foccart nodded and two agents seized Lu’s arms. Another one rammed the butt of his laser rifle into her stomach. The blow doubled her over.

“Lu!” Lyle cried. “Leave her alone Foccart! If you hurt her…”

Foccart ignored Lyle’s feeble threat and grabbed Lu by the chin. He forced her to look up at him. “Do not antagonize me again, little girl! Do I make myself clear?”

Lu struggled for breath and couldn’t reply.

Foccart released her face from his grip and slapped her across the left cheek. “I asked whether or not I was clear?”

Lu’s head fell and she spit on Foccart’s shoe. “Sprock you, Earthgov!”

“Come on, Lu,” said Tinya. “Take it down a notch, sweetheart, before they really hurt you.”

Foccart seemed pleased that his bully tactics got to at least one of the Legionnaires. He grabbed Lu by the hair and looked into her eyes. “Your friend’s a sensible girl. I’d listen to her if I were you.”

Lu opened her mouth to reply.

“Don’t,” Lyle warned. “Just don’t Lu. It’s not worth it.”

“To the Dungeon with them!” Foccart ordered.

“Oh man! That does NOT sound good,” said Tenzil.

An agent shoved Lyle in the back and herded him toward the makeshift entrance Earthgov ripped open in the side of the building.

“It’s a holding cell for Earthgov prisoners and sits underground beneath the Earthgov complex,” Lyle explained over his shoulder as he ducked into the hole and emerged on the Plaza outside. “Just a name, no better or worse than any other hole they could take us.”

Foccart laughed. “Let’s just say we made a few upgrades since you betrayed Earth, Norg. Now move it!”

Weber’s World, The Generator Room

Drura Sepht hated tight spaces and the generator room was overcrowded with Legionnaires, the station’s security force, reporters, and a host of Earthgov and Science Police investigators. Crews crawled all over the massive three-story generator which was sabotaged earlier. The Legion caught the Dark Circle saboteur – a clone of Brin Londo. The situation devolved quickly after that in all the confusion.

“We need everyone who isn’t essential to the investigation to clear the area,” a Science Police officer announced through a hard-light bullhorn that appeared before his mouth at the touch of a button on his uniform.

Officers herded most of the gawkers from the premises. The officer who made the announcement tapped his uniform again and the bullhorn faded. He approached the small contingent of Legionnaires and Brande. “That includes Legion!”

“We may be able to assist with the investigation,” Jan countered.

The officer shook his head firmly. “Sorry son, but I’m just following orders. We’ve taken your statements now please let us do our jobs.”

R.J. Brande forced his way to the front and poked a chubby finger into the officer’s chest. “Who gave those asinine orders?”

“Please do not touch me again sir,” the officer replied. “I am an officer of the law and will not warn you twice!”

Brande turned away. A lock of his thinning, white hair blew away from his face when he huffed. “It was my money that built this damned floating target in space and now I’m herded around like common cattle?”

“Be that as it may Mr. Brande, my orders are to clear the room of any unnecessary personnel,” the officer replied. “That includes you and the Legionnaires. It’s for your safety!”

“Mr Brande!” called a voice from above. “Up here sir!”

Brande looked up and smiled.

Drura craned her neck and followed Brande’s line of sight to a young man in a blue shirt and black pants standing on a makeshift scaffold near the top of the compromised generator.

“Chuck my boy!” Brande called with a wave. He turned to the Legionnaires. “Have you met Chuck Taine?”

“I haven’t,” said Jan. “Isn’t he the one Dox recommended for Legion membership?”

Brande nodded. “It is and he turned us down! Can you believe it? Who turns down the Legion of Super-Heroes?”

Taine stepped off the scaffolding and onto an antigrav-lift. The lift descended and a moment later he joined the Legionnaires and their excitable benefactor. He shook Brande’s hand. “Great to see you again sir!”

Brande returned the handshake. “You too son! Are you sure you haven’t changed your mind about the Legion? Dox said you were terrific during the mishap at Legion headquarters a few days ago!”

“I’m not much of a joiner,” Chuck replied. “If you guys ever need an extra for a basketball game against the Khunds or the Fatal Five let me know. I’ll be the ball.”

Brande released his grip on Chuck’s hand and slapped him on the back. “Love that sense of humor, but seriously son, you belong with the Legion. You’d be a welcome addition to the roster.”

Chuck nodded. “I didn’t say I wasn’t going to stick around. When I declined Garth’s offer he asked if I was interested in being Facilities Engineer for Legion Headquarters and I accepted. I just had a few things to finish here on Weber’s World for TylerCo.”

Brande bellowed. “Now why didn’t I know that?”

“Or me?” Jan added. He extended his hand toward Chuck. “Jan Arrah, Deputy Leader, or so I thought.”

“Of course you are,” Brande replied. “Garth isn’t the most conscientious when it comes to filing reports and to be fair, he’s preoccupied with emergencies all over the galaxy right now.”

“Very true, sir. But either way, we’re glad to have you on board, Chuck” said Jan.

Chuck released Jan’s hand. “Thank you, Jan. I look forward to serving the Legion in any capacity I can.”

“Any word from Earthgov?” Brande asked.

Chuck shook his head. “They’re still jamming all signals.”

“What in the blazes are they thinking?” Brande asked. “The peace is fragile enough even with Earth’s leadership but without it? The whole damned United Planets is at risk!”

“Any word on the generator?” Jan asked.

Chuck shrugged. “It was a small explosion, minor damage at worst. We should have it up and running within the hour. My people are giving it a good going over as a precaution before bringing it back online.”

“I asked you people to leave,” said the now-fuming Science Police officer. “You can finish your conversation elsewhere if you wish! This area is for authorized personnel only.”

“They’re with me,” said Chuck, flashing a security badge that listed him as the station’s Chief Engineer. The officer nodded. “Yes sir.” As the officer walked off, Chuck smiled and shook his head. “Sorry but everyone’s a little uptight right now.” “Understandable,” said Drura. “I’m a little on edge myself.” An ebony-skinned young man ran up to Chuck. “Chuck! We found another explosive device in a casing inside the generator’s cooling system - an antimatter device!” Drura shot a glance at Jan. “So much for small, targeted attacks. They set off the first explosion just to alert us to the second.” Jan nodded. He predicted earlier that the Dark Circle would continue with a pattern of petty sabotage rather than a well-orchestrated strategy. Such move, he explained, would provoke fear but avoid a galactic manhunt. How wrong he was. “Terror for terror’s sake.” “Good Lord in Heaven!” Brande exclaimed. “We must shut it down!” Chuck nodded. “And do so without causing a panic. Gear, where is the bomb?” The young man called Gear pointed to the generator’s second level. “It’s on the back side near the generator’s cap. But that’s not the worst of our troubles.” “This could get worse how?” Drura asked.

Gear averted his piercing black eyes away from everyone. “An engineering student from Metropolis University set up a containment field and is attempting to defuse the device.”

“He’s what?” Chuck screamed. “How in the frag did…”

“He was one of the first responders on the scene and you asked for any trained eyes…” Gear stammered. “Once he discovered the device, he went to work. That’s not something you just turn over in midstream to someone else.”

“Well he’s going to turn it over to the bomb squad whether he likes it or not!” Chuck sighed. He held a wrist communicator to his mouth and barked orders into it. “This is Engineering Chief, Chuck Taine! Code Alpha Delta Gamma Red! I need a bomb squad to generator room Zeta three-six eight pronto! This is an emergency!”

“Yes sir,” chirped a voice on the other end.

The blue glow from the containment field suddenly encased the entire generator.

“Looks like he doesn’t want company,” said Drura, pointing to the field’s luminosity.

Chuck pointed to the area as well. “Gear, check it out!”

Gear nodded. “Yes sir.” The young man’s head lifted from his shoulders and exposed a mechanized skeleton beneath. His spine extended his head toward the backside of the generator and he disappeared behind it at the second level.

“Oh my!” said Drura at the sight of Gear’s motorized skeleton emerging from his body.

“Sorry, I should have warned you! Gear is a Lisnarian, a race of semi-organic machines who disguise themselves as various humanoid species,” Chuck explained. “Not only can he do the stretching bit but can also transform various parts of his body into tools and is a living interface with most types of machinery or computers.”

“Seems like a handy asset for an engineer to have around,” quipped Brande.

Chuck nodded. “He’s coming with me to Legion Headquarters.”

Brande smiled. “Excellent.”

A bomb squad filed into the room. Its captain rushed to Chuck’s side. “Your orders sir?”

Chuck pointed to the generator. “An antimatter device in the cooling system.”

The bomb squad rushed to the generator.

Gear reeled his neck back into his body until his head was once securely locked in place between his shoulders.

“Well?” Jan asked.

“From bad to worse,” Gear answered. “He’s manipulating the environmental controls manually within the containment field to keep the antimatter from leaking into the environmental systems. He says if he drops containment the entire station could become contaminated with even if it doesn’t blow.”

Chuck shook his head. “Sprock it all!”

Brande’s eyes grew wide as saucers. “Could he be correct?”

Chuck fingered a scanning device in his hands and sighed. “Unfortunately, he is sir. Trace amounts of antimatter leaked into the station’s environmental network before he plugged the leak, so to speak. The bomb squad could deploy nanobots to do the job but would have to drop the containment field to allow them to take over. He’s a brave man but the poor sap doesn’t stand a chance. The containment field should hold but he’s signed his death warrant.”

“A sobering reminder that not every hero wears a flight ring,” said Brande. “May God have mercy on his soul.”

Chuck rushed to the officer who tried to evict the Legionnaires earlier. “Evacuate the entire east wing immediately of everyone but myself and my crew! The situation is much more serious than we first believed!”

“Sir?” the officer asked.

Chuck placed his right hand on the officer’s back and herded him toward the door. “No time to explain! Just do it!”

“Yes sir!” the officer shouted over the fray. “I need everyone to evacuate the east wing pronto! The only personnel authorized to stay are Taine’s crew, the bomb squad, and the Legionnaires! Let’s go!”

The evacuation went into place quickly. The halls buzzed with station personnel scurrying dignitaries and their entourages to safety.

“I could encase the bomb in inertron,” said Jan.

Chuck shook his head. “Not with the containment field in place you can’t! Besides, that would do nothing to solve the antimatter leaking into the environmental controls. We have no idea what weird energies we’re dealing with or how they would react with the inertron.”

“But what about the poor lad up there?” Brande asked. “What can we do to save him?”

Chuck took a deep breath. “Nothing.”

“Excuse me?” Drura asked. “Did I hear you correctly? You said nothing?”

Chuck nodded. “I did.”

“Unacceptable,” Jan replied. “We’re Legion! We always find a way! Order him to drop the containmnet and…”

A rumble from deep within the generator shook Weber’s World and drowned Jan out. Chuck Taine herded everyone toward the door and into the hallway. Once everyone cleared the generator room he expanded his body and filled the doorway like a balloon.

“Chuck? What are you doing?” Jan shouted.

“My body is nigh invulnerable! It should absorb at least some of the blast if the containment field fails! Get as far away from here as possible! Now!”

“But son…” R.J. Brande pleaded.

“Now, Mr. Brande!” Chuck shouted.

Drura grabbed Brande by the arm. “We have to get Mr. Brande to safety!”

It was a sensible plan but came too late. A deafening explosion blew the generator room’s two-foot thick steel walls outward and the rivets ejected from its armored plates became deadly projectiles that shot through what was left of the walls and flooded the corridor with imminent death. If not for a hastily-constructed inertron slab Jan erected at the last moment from oxygen in the air, everyone would have been shredded by the shrapnel. The blast shot Chuck from the doorway and flung him head-first into the intertron shield. His unconscious form sunk to the floor and reverted to its normal humanoid state.

Gear rushed to his fallen friend. “Chuck! Are you okay? Speak to me friend!”

Chuck didn’t respond. A stethoscope emerged from Gear’s ears and rested against Chuck’s chest. “He’s breathing but I’m not sure what kind of internal damage he may have. His physiology is… difficult to interpret. We need to evacuate him to the medical wing immediately!”

Drura kneeled beside Gear and started chest compressions. “Gear could you…”

An oxygen tank rose from Gear’s back, complete with a facemask and covered Chuck’s nose and mouth.

“I was going to ask you to perform mouth-to-mouth but that works too,” said Drura.

After several tense moments, Chuck opened his eyes but looked groggy. “What the sprock?” he asked in a voice muffled by the oxygen mask. He clawed the mask from his face. “I’m fine, just a little shaken up.”

“Are you certain?” Drura asked.

Chuck nodded. “Don’t worry about me. Check on that poor joker inside.”

Jan raced toward the doorway and peered inside. He turned away and shook his head. “The containment field is all that’s left. The kid from MU is a goner. There isn’t as much as an atom left of him.”

“Gear find out who he was and contact his family,” said Chuck. “Let them know he died a hero and saved thousands of lives if not the United Planets itself.”

“You get some rest, Chuck,” said Jan.

“And what will you guys do?” Chuck asked.

Jan shrugged. “Find the Dark Circle’s hideout here on the station and try to keep the galaxy from falling apart…”

Legion Headquarters, The Medical Wing

Rond Vidar slammed his fist on the table in front of him. “Sprock it all! This code is going to be the death of my sanity!”

Ordinarily Nura Nal enjoyed seeing her ex-lover frustrated but not when the fate of the galaxy hung in the balance. “You’ll get it, Rond! I have faith in you.”

“We scientists Nura,” Rond replied. “We’ve no room for faith or fairytales.”

Nura’s fingers danced over the controls to the Rimborian’s anti-grav bed. “Speak for yourself. I adore both. My faith drives me to better science.”

“Your faith in what?” Rond asked. “One of the universe’s many so-called gods? Your visions?”

“All of the above and myself,” Nura replied. Discussions about religion always irritated her former lover. Under ordinary circumstances she enjoyed getting under his skin but the dire circumstances dictated the Legion’s brain trust operate distraction-free. It was time to change the conversation. “But let’s beat that dead horse another time, shall we? You have a code to crack!”

Rond shook his head. “This Earthgov jamming signal is the most impossible code I’ve ever encountered. The frequency shifts occur so often it is impossible to isolate even a section of code before it changes again! And the sequences I’ve lifted are entirely random! Earthgov must have employed a team of a thousand programmers and instructed each to randomize their additions to the code!”

“Has Dox been any help at all?” Nura asked.

Rond shot the Coluan a nasty look. “He’s still engrossed in his Omnicom!”

“Let me try again!” Nura replied. Dox hated to hear Nura’s boots clicking against the floor so she made a point to approach him as loudly as possible. His brow furrowed with each footfall but he remained resolute to his work. Nura crossed to the other side of the table and leaned across it. She cleared her throat. “Busy?’

“Extremely,” said Dox tersely.

“You know the strain of powering the Medical Wing is wearing on your force field,” said Nura. “The Rimborian requires around-the-clock care and Rond requires additional power to crack the jamming signal code.”

Dox checked the force field device on his belt and shook his head. “The strain on the field is minimal. At this rate it will hold for another three point eight million years. This project is…”

Nura rolled her eyes but the gesture was lost on Dox. “We know! Much too delicate! Important! Vital! Imperative! Pick a word! We heard you the first million times you blew us off!”

Dox sighed and placed his Omnicom on the table. He looked up at Nura. “You’re insufferable.” He stood and joined Rond at his table. “This code cannot possibly be as complex as you make it seem. Every code has a pattern. Detect the pattern and you crack the code.”

Rond threw his hands in the air and turned the task over to the Coluan. “Here’s hoping that twelfth-level intelligence is good for something besides surfing the Great Data Sea.”

“Glibness doesn’t suit a being of your intelligence,” Dox replied. His yellow eyes flitted over the code and for once Nura was truly as hopeful as the front she put up for the others. Dox could often spot such complex patterns in seconds. If they could just unjam the communications signal…

“This is impossible!” Dox gasped. “I sense no pattern, no rhyme or reason. It is as if the code were untouched by human logic even in its base programming!”

“What are you saying, Dox?” Nura asked. It wasn’t often she saw the Coluan stumped. “Surely you don’t mean…”

Rond slumped into a chair and buried his face in his hands. “He’s saying you’d better fire off a message via the Legion’s deep space buoys! Dox’s private communication system may be the only way to get a message to our off-world teammates and the rest of the galaxy.”

Nura sighed and turned to the private communication console. It was a good thing Dox implemented it as a precaution. “Right away. I’ll broadcast a message warning passing ships to avoid Earth and hopefully one of those ships will soon belong to our fellow Legionnaires returning from Talok with good news.”

“How can you be so hopeful?” Rond asked.

Nura smiled. “A little thing called faith, Hotshot. You should try it sometime.”

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