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Issue #22

"Lights Out"

by David Marshall

Jenni Ognats sped through Talok City so quickly she was beyond a blur to the citizens going about their lives in the besieged desert stronghold. The Fatal Five conquered the world’s capital city and ruled it with an iron fist. Its surviving inhabitants dared not look up as she whooshed by them for fear they would fall under the gaze of the Five. Parents reminded their children in whispers to keep their heads down.

At last Jenni finally crossed every square inch of the city. She knew the location of each of the Five with the exception of Validus. The grotesquerie was nowhere to be found. She wasn’t sure how the Five managed to hide a fifty-foot monster with a see-through head.

Satisfied she had enough data to sate Garth’s reconnoiter request she raced toward the Great South Gate and into the arid desert. She was happy to leave the city behind. She disliked going into action alone. As long as her teammates were near she felt somewhat safe but solitude was breeding ground for her many doubts. Sure she had the pedigree. After all, she was the granddaughter of Barry Allen, one of the twenty-first century’s greatest heroes who fought crime as the legendary Flash. His exploits survived into the thirtieth-century. He was one of the ancient heroes who had a museum dedicated solely to his courageous exploits on behalf of mankind. He even lived in her century for a short time. After all, most Earthly grandparents didn’t live for centuries. Time travel made it all possible but she couldn’t help but wonder if he would be ashamed of her cowardice. The Legion gave her a place to fit in but battle was alien to her.

She was happy to see her teammates as she left them seconds before. They were still packing up their campsite and ready to move out.

“…should be back any second now from Talok City,” said Garth. She left as he uttered her name, the first word of his sentence.She returned from the trek in time to hear him wrap up. The trip into the city was a mere five miles but she covered in excess of nearly a thousand miles crossing the city again and again to complete a holographic image of every square inch via her flight ring’s data storage capabilities. Flight rings were certainly handy devices.

“Back,” said Jenni as she put on the brakes and came to a stop between Garth and Rokk. “I hope I got enough intel for you, Garth.”

“You covered every inch of the city?” Garth asked.

Jenni nodded. “I even raced through some catacombs beneath the city streets looking for Validus,” Jenni replied. “Nothing down there but giant rats.”

Imra smirked. “No giant reptiles?”

Jenni shook her head. “None that I saw. Are there supposed to giant reptiles down there?”

“It’s an urban legend on just about every known world,” Rokk replied. “Giant reptiles living in the sewer systems.”

“What about my people?” Tasmia asked. “Their welfare is of upmost importance.”

“They’re coping but broken,” Jenni replied. “You can see it on their faces when they dare glance up.”

Tasmia’s face twisted in rage. “I will make this Fatal Five pay!”

Garth whirled and met Tasmia’s bravado. “I will say this just once more, Tasmia. We are here to provide assistance to your world and to make it appear as if you are the big hero but do not get in our way! Follow orders and the Legion will do our best to keep you alive!”

“Talok’s champions have done well without off-world assistance for centuries,” Tasmia shot back. “You try to stay out of my way.”

“Girl’s going to get herself killed,” Dirk Morgna whispered to his friend and former Science Police partner, Gim Allon. Unfortunately, whispering wasn’t Dirk’s strong suit.

“Everyone change into their disguises and let’s move out,” Garth ordered.

Jenni donned her disguise but it seemed to take her teammates an eternity to cover their standard issue Legion black uniform with the simple, dusty robes of the Yakka-Mahor.

“Are you sure these disguises will work?” Imra asked, pulling her hood over her head. “Surely our transuits would provide better cover with a holographic projection!”

Garth shrugged and shook his head. “We can’t be sure of anything but these disguises are simple and should work.”

“No one will accost us,” said Tasmia. “The Yakka are our sworn enemy but they aren’t all backward savages. Some venture into the city to conduct commerce in the marketplace.”

Rokk looked to Jenni. “Assuming commerce and trade still occur.”

Jenni nodded. “As far as I can tell people are going about their lives but they appear to be going through the motions.”

“Did you get the lay of the land?” Dirk Morgna asked.

Jenni nodded and flicked her flight ring. A holographic projection of the city appeared. “The good news is that the Five have separated with each taking a part of the city. The Emerald Empress has taken up residence here and sits on an ivory throne.” She pointed to a lavish building in the city’s center.

Tasmia gasped. “That’s the Shadow Temple.”

Jenni then pointed to the marketplace. “Mano and the Persuader are both in the marketplace but aren’t making like buddies or anything. Mano was intrigued by the vendor wares but Persuader delights in bullying them.”

“Any word on Tharok or Validus?” Imra asked.

“Tharok is holed up in a mansion on the top of a hill in the western part of the city,” Jenni answered. “A man was impaled on the front lawn and hangs from a stake.”

“The Lord Mayor’s residence,” Tasmia added.

“And Validus?” Garth asked. “He must be accounted for. He’s the most dangerous of them all.”

Jenni shook her head. “No sign of him.”

“That has to be good news, right?” Dirk asked.

Garth shook his head. “Don’t bet on it.”

“How do you hide a 50 foot monster?” Imra asked. “I could scan for his thought patterns.”

“Absolutely not,” said Garth. “We don’t know the extent of Tharok’s mental control over him. If Tharok feels you touch the beast’s mind we’ll lose the element of surprise. I’m sure he’ll appear soon enough once we engage the others.”

“Well there’s that to look forward to,” said Dirk.

“Stop clowning, Morgna,” Gim Allon warned.

“Let’s move out,” said Tasmia. “Every second we waste standing around talking is one second more my people must endure the Five’s presence.”

Several hours later the Legionnaires and their new ally trekked through the Great South Gate.

“Where to now leader man?” Dirk asked.

“The marketplace would be a good place to start,” Garth replied.

Tasmia took the lead toward the city’s north. “I agree. The marketplace is only a few blocks from here.”

The Legionnaires followed their ally to the busy marketplace. It was much as Jenni left it. Only the faces had changed except two in particular.

Less than thirty feet away, Mano removed a gourd from a vendor’s table. The clear helmet of his containment suit nodded slowly as he inspected the twisted, misshapen fruit. “Very interesting gourds,” he said to the vendor.

The vendor nodded nervously and smiled. He seemed taken aback by the villain’s casual attempt at conversation. “Yes, they grow wild in the Munavi Desert to the south of the city about half a day’s ride by dromedian. The soil is quite arid and the wild gourds suck the nutrients from the ground to survive. It leaves them shriveled like you see here.”

“And what does one cost?” Mano asked.

The vendor reached it to Mano. “For you, it’s free my lord.”

“No thank you,” Mano replied. “I insist on paying you for your wares but your hospitality will be remembered.”

The man bowed slightly. “Thank you, my lord.”

Mano paid for the fruit and seemed pleased with his purchase.

“That’s certainly unexpected behavior from one of the galaxy’s most notorious killers,” Rokk whispered.

“He isn’t projecting hostile thoughts nor does he harbor an ulterior motive,” Imra added. “He seems genuinely interested in that strange…”

“Gourd,” Tasmia added. “It’s a Munavi Gourd.”

A large group of people ran from the intersection where the gourd vendor’s table sat and headed westward.

Mano sighed and shook his head. “What has that insufferable fool done now?”

Moments later his cohort, the Persuader, appeared wielding his atomic axe and swinging it wildly. The axe sliced through one of the poles supporting the gourd vendor’s tent. The tent caved, sending the heavy tarp down upon the vendor and his wife.

The Persuader laughed heartily at the couple trying desperately to escape the weight of the thick animal hide that trapped them. He lifted his axe high into the air. “Allow me to assist you cretins!”

Mano quickly moved in front of his ally and extended his right hand. “These vendors are under my protection, Persuader. Swing that axe and we’ll see which weapon is indeed the most formidable, your axe or the disintegration power of my right hand!”

The Persuader stayed his axe. “You don’t get to order me around, Mano! Move or you’ll feel the superiority of my Atomic Axe!”

Mano held his ground.

Jenni couldn’t believe the events unfolding before her eyes. Were the Fatal Five turning on one another? “I thought they were friends.”

“Their kind keeps no friends,” Garth replied. “They value only their selfish motives.”

Until she saw Mano with the gourd vendor, Jenni was sure the Five were purely evil but perhaps their roles were less black and white than she previously believed.

“What now?” Imra asked.

“We use the element of surprise,” Garth instructed. “I’ll take Mano. Rokk, you disarm the Persuader. Imra, take him out as soon the axe leaves his hands.”

“What about me?” Tasmia asked.

Dirk placed a hand on the blue-skinned girl’s bare shoulder. “Try not to get in their way, princess.”

Tasmia knocked his hand away. “Now is the time for battle. Your advances aren’t welcome at this time.”

Dirk turned to his buddy Gim and gave him the thumbs up.

“She said your advances weren’t welcome, Hotshot,” said Gim.

“At this time,” Dirk emphasized. “She clearly said, “at this time”.

“Now!” said Garth. He bent low and hurled twin bolts of lightning at Mano. The unsuspecting villain never had a chance. The bolt struck him in the chest and sent him flying into a water trough. He cried in agony when he hit the water. For a brief moment he rose up to look around and find the culprit but the electricity arcing up and down his body was more than he could stand. He tried to catch himself before he passed out and grabbed for the sides of the trough. As soon as he touched it with his right hand it disintegrated from beneath him, depositing him on the baked sand street.

The remaining crowd cheered loudly to see one of their conquerors vanquished so handily.

Persuader clenched his axe to his chest and cocked it into an attack position. Forewarned, he would be such easy prey but the Legionnaires had to prevent him from warning his teammates. He whirled back and forth waiting for an attack. The Legionnaires didn’t make him wait long. Rokk reached for the metallic shaft and latched onto it with his magnetism.

“It’s like the axe is a part of him,” Rokk said through gritted teeth. “I can pull meteors from space but there’s no separating the axe from that thug’s hands!”

“Wanna bet?” Dirk asked. “It doesn’t matter how sharp that blade is if he has no shaft to swing it with!”

A ball of fire erupted from Dirk’s hands and bathed the axe’s shaft with the heat of a small sun. “Incredible! I can’t melt it! What’s that thing made of?”

The shaft glowed bright red from Dirk’s onslaught.

“Legion!” cried the Persuader. Despite the scorching heat burning through his gloves, he refused to release his weapon. “You will pay for this outrage with your lives! This is our world now! Leave us in peace!”

A cloud of ink-black darkness shot from Tasmia’s hands and covered the Persauder’s executioner-style helmet. “Correction! This is MY world! You will leave both it and my people in peace!”

“What the hell?” asked a confused Persuader.

Rokk tugged for naught at the metal in the villain’s axe while Tasmia kept him in the dark and Dirk poured on the heat to the weapon’s glowing shaft.

A bright green bolt of light shot from the sky toward Dirk.

Jenni raced toward her teammate and barely rescued him from danger.

“Looks like we have company, Tharok,” cackled the Emerald Empress from above.

Jenni had to admit the Empress was as beautiful and regal as she was imposing. Her long verdant cape flapped behind her in the wind as she floated upright on the very air itself. The ever-present Emerald Eye of Ekron hung frightfully over her right shoulder.

“Damn you fool of a girl!” Empress cursed. She hurled bolt after bolt of emerald energy at the super-speedester but Jenni was much too quick for the Eye.

Tharok soared into battle upon on some sort of mechanical throne. Laser turrets mounted beneath the chair reined indiscriminate destruction upon the marketplace. One of the deadly bolts stuck Thom Kallo’s right shoulder. He cried out in agony as he fell to the street.

“Thom!” said Jenni. She dashed to her fallen teammate and moved him to temporary safety beneath an earthen barrier. “You’ll be safe here!”

“Behind you, Jenni!” Thom cried. “Move!”

Jenni saw the verdant beam of light headed for her as if it were in slow motion but if she moved out of the way it would strike her teammate in the chest and kill him instead. She grabbed Thom by the collar of his Legion uniform and fell on top of him at super-speed, rolling to her right to keep her weight off Thom’s arm as she did so. The beam narrowly missed them.

A flare of solar energy consumed the Emerald Eye. The Empress cried out in pain. “You’re hurting Eye!” she screamed as she fell to the ground and writhed uncontrollably along with her Eye.

“Yeah, well you’re trying to hurt “We,” Dirk shot back.

Thom raised up from the ground and extended his good hand toward the Eye. “I’ll increase its gravity until it can’t stay afloat, Dirk! You keep pouring on the heat! I think it’s confused!”

The Eye dropped to the ground slowly as Thom commanded while Dirk enclosed it within a ring of fire. The Empress cried in agony as the forces of both heat and gravity tore at her weapon.

“We’ve got them on the ropes guys!” said Garth. “Keep it up!”

Tharok buzzed overhead. “You took the element of surprise kid, but you’re forgetting our number is Five! Validus! Come right away!”

Like a bad thunderstorm the giant appeared from the western gates of the city and rushed toward the Legionnaires in blind rage, crushing city blocks underfoot as he stampeded to his master’s side. His enormous stride put him in the fray quickly. He crushed a vendor tent beneath his left foot as he roared onto the scene.

“Gim, you’re up big guy!” Garth shouted over the fray. “Make it count!”

Gim grew as he rushed to meet the towering Validus. “Will do, Garth!”

Validus looked on with childlike curiosity as Gim matched the beast’s height. The monster’s confused hesitation allowed Gim to unload a haymaker beneath his chin. The thundering blow staggered the savage giant but failed to knock him off his feet.

“My hand!” Gim cried as he tucked his right arm beneath his left. The thunder was the sound of his arm breaking. It hung like loose spaghetti halfway to his elbow.

Validus roared so loud it reminded Jenni of a Khundian Battlewagon firing its engines for lift-off. Even the monster’s teammates covered their ears lest the rumbling bellow deafen them.

At long last Validus’ lungs gave out and the wail growled to a merciful halt.

Tharok flashed a menacing, evil grin at Garth. “I think your giant made ours mad. Want to wager on who wins?”

Validus charged at Gim and slugged him with a manacled right hand. The blow whipped Gim’s head around and dropped him to the ground. He fell into the cobblestone street and hit his head against the second-floor balcony of a nearby building. It didn’t matter. He was out before his head struck the railing. The Fatal Five’s monster roared once more and stomped toward his fallen prey. He raised a foot into the air and stomped Gim’s midsection. Again, the snapping of bone cracked like thunder.

“My god!” said Rokk. “That thing’s going to kill him!”

Garth turned his attention away from Tharok and hurled a lightning bolt at the rampaging Validus. “Not on my watch. Eat lightning, Validus!”

The electrical storm struck the beast but had little effect. He turned toward Garth and hurled a torrent of electricity back at him from the brain beneath the clear membrane that crowned his head. The bolt shot Garth through a rock wall.

Thom was the next to tackle the beast. His gravity powers buckled the beast’s knees and slowed him but he wouldn’t fall. “I don’t understand it,” said Thom. “I’ve increased his mass to the maximum without altering the planet’s axis and yet he stands.”

“Imra, see if you can break Tharok’s control over Validus!” Rokk yelled.

Validus turned his attention once more to Gim. Again and again he stomped the Legionnaire’s midsection, snapping bones with each blow.

Imra closed her eyes and tried to touch Validus’ mind like Jenni had seen her do to other beings. She appeared to be in agony.

“Feel that little girl?” Tharok gloated. “That’s the mind of a savage beast under control of the greatest intellect in the….”

A fireball exploded in Tharok’s face. He screamed in agony as the cyborg half of his body began to melt away.

“Call off your monster and I let you live!” Dirk warned.

Dirk’s attack left the Fatal Five’s leader in agony. The cyborg side of him was quickly fusing to slag. He tried to speak but was unable to control the human side of his mouth.

“You did it, Dirk!” said an excited Imra. “I broke through! Validus has little will of his own with Tharok out of the picture! I’ve never seen anything like this before! He lacks emotional centers for empathy, compassion, or even understanding. His mind is pure rage! Tharok must have had some sort of control mechanism built into his cybernetics! I’m losing him! There’s nothing to latch onto. He’s....”

Cackling laughter filled the air. “You will all die!” the Emerald Empress mocked. “We all will!”

For a moment it appeared Validus calmed down but the respite was short-lived. The Emerald Empress found the willpower to hurl an emerald bolt of energy from the weakened Eye that struck Imra and Rokk. They both fell to the ground.

The battle was going poorly since Validus joined his teammates. Garth, Gim, Rokk, and Imra were out of commission. Thom was hurt and Dirk was beyond following orders. Tasmia was still with them but Jenni wasn’t sure what good turning out the lights would do.

The Empress rose to her feet, showing more willpower than Jenni thought possible. Or perhaps it was just her crazy rearing its ugly head but whichever it was, it drove the green-haired woman to defy the beating she received and she stood. “And now to finish you off telepath!”

The Eye rose into air slowly and limped to her side like a whipped dog. Or was it the other way around?

“Don’t you touch her!” Jenni yelled. Sure Imra scared the hell out of her and she wasn’t a very nice person but she was a teammate and no one was going to kill a Legionnaire if Jenni could help it, assuming of course Gim wasn’t already dead. She knew the Eye would never let her get close to the Empress, even in its weakened state so she enacted a new plan. She shot toward one of the most-feared weapons in the known universe and hoped Dirk’s and Thom’s combined attacks left it weak enough for a full-on frontal attack. If not even she couldn’t hope to evade its deadly emerald death. She cocked both fists and hoped her speed would increase her mass enough to make a difference. She unloaded on the Eye with all her might. Gim wouldn’t be the only Legionnaire nursing a broken bone, assuming either of them would make it back to Earth alive, but she felt the Eye give beneath the hammering blow she delivered. It seemed to come apart in slow motion but the explosion was instantaneous to onlookers. Not knowing what kin

d of alien energies it possessed she grabbed the Eye behind her in the wake of her momentum and raced into the desert with it like a comet gathering gasses. She poured on the speed and raced halfway around the small world to an isolated mountain range. She stopped suddenly and watched as the Eye hurled toward her. She moved out of the way at the last moment and let the Eye’s momentum carry it into the side of the mountain.

She didn’t turn to view the blinding flash or the conical mushroom cloud that brought down the mountain but the shockwave sped toward her with unbelievable devastation in its wake, leveling trees and anything else in its path. Outrunning the shockwave wasn’t her primary concern. She was more worried about fighting the blast wind which could suck her back into the shockwave. She wasn’t sure how far she’d have to run before the wave dissipated but she finally felt the tailwinds subside five kilometers from the blast site.

Jenni raced back to Talok City. She had been gone for a little over twelve seconds. She feared what Validus might do in that short time. She rushed into the marketplace expecting the worst but instead found Validus enshrouded in Tasmia’s black clouds. The beast roared and occasionally an arm would flail from the darkness but he was hopelessly trapped and no longer concerned himself with the colossal, fallen Legionnaire at his feet.

While Tasmia held off Validus, Thom and Dirk checked on Gim. They huddled protectively over their fallen comrade in-arms. All that stood between the Legionnaire and their new ally were her shadows.

The Empress was a twisted heap of humanity without her Eye. She was on her knees pawing at her own eyes with her long, green nails. Her cheeks were already a bloody mess. “An eye for my love!” she said as she clawed at her bloody sockets.

Jenni wasn’t sure if it was compassion or anger that came over her but she shot toward the Empress and unloaded on her with her fists like twin jackhammers. The blows snapped the villainess’s neck around and sprawled her to the street. She hoped she hadn’t killed the Empress but wouldn’t lose sleep over it if she did.

Tasmia released Validus and joined the others near Gim.

“What are you doing?” Jenni cried as she sped to them. “You had him contained!”

Tasmia shook her head. “I showed him the darkness within and it terrified him like a frightened child. This ends now! He will come to me and I will destroy him!”

As soon as the darkness dissipated, Validus attacked once more. With his bearings restored he raced toward the Legionnaires and Tasmia and towered over them. Jenni hoped Tasmia knew what she was doing.

Validus locked his manacled hands together and raised them high into the air like a club.

“Bad idea!” Dirk spat. “We’re all going to die now! I hope you’re happy!”

“Trust me!” said Tasmia. “No one dies on my watch today!”

Dirk shot flames into the beast’s face but it only angered him more. “What’re you going to do now? Tell him boogeyman stories? In case you haven’t noticed sister, he IS the boogeyman!”

Validus slammed his fists earthward in what seemed like slow motion to Jenni. She resisted the urge to flee. She would stand or fall with her teammates. If Validus was to be the sole survivor of their war then she would die a hero like her ancestor the Flash. She closed her eyes and waited for Validus’s fists to crush the life from her body.

Instead of certain death, a thunderous sound boomed overhead. She opened her eyes and saw that she and her friends were safe beneath a canopy of shadows. Tasmia stood at the epicenter of the protective barrier with arms straining overhead. Dark energy flowed from her hands and weaved the seemingly impenetrable barrier above them. The shield angered Validus and once more he swung at his foes but again Tasmia’s dark energy held.

“That’s amazing!” said Jenni. “I didn’t know you could do that!”

Tasmia nodded. “Sure you did. I told you I can form constructs from shadows.”

“But I had no idea…”

Tasmia strained to maintain the shield. “They were this powerful? My ancestors empowered me to do more than cast shadows to frighten children! Can we move the one you call Gim?”

Thom stood as Validus pounded away overhead. “I usually increase an object’s mass but I can decrease it as well, make him super-light but someone would have to guide him to safety.”

“And the moment we’re out from under here Validus will be upon us,” said Dirk.

“Leave Validus to me,” said Tasmia. “Get him to safety. The monster is mine!”

Jenni stood in awe of Tasmia’s power. “What… can I do?”

“Get everyone away from here,” Tasmia ordered. “I don’t want anyone crushed when the great tree falls.”

While Jenni rushed to get both her teammates and the Fatal Five from harm’s way she wondered what Tasmia had up her sleeve.

The Talokian didn’t disappoint. Her protective shield dissipated as soon as everyone was safely away. Validus roared once more while Tasmia waved her arms over head. Dark swirling mists formed above her and took the form of a giant shadow-dragon. The beast stood on its hind quarters with a wingspan of at least seventy feet and bathed Validus in dark fire.

For once Validus roared for a different reason. He cried in pain.

“You think you’re frightening, monster?” Tasmia asked. “Try a shadow beast from the Land of the Nightshades, the stuff of true nightmares from my personal menagerie!”

Again and again, Tasmia’s dragon attacked Validus. It attacked with teeth and claws and blasted the Five’s towering beast with fiery shadow energy. Each time Validus howled in pain. He backed out of the square and retreated toward the west. The dragon followed and was relentless with its attack. At last the mighty monster fell to one knee. The dragon overtook him and changed form. In its place stood a massive, shadowy cyclopean creature wielding an equally dark and heavy battle club. He raised the club above his head and brought it down on the plumb-colored beast’s massive skull. At last the mighty Validus fell in defeat.

Jenni wasn’t sure if it was blood or some other fluid that seeped from the gaping wound in his clear dome of a head. If the universe was lucky the beast was dead. She turned to Tasmia. “Oh my gods! That was amazing! You’re amazing!”

Tasmia bowed her head. “I am a warrior, nothing more.”

Dirk leaned against his friend’s massive fallen body. “Come on, buddy! Hang in there! Everything will be fine if we can get you home and have Brainy, Vidar, and Nura take care of you! Don’t you die on me, you hear?” Tears ran down his cheeks. “Don’t you dare die on me!”

He was injured defending my world,” said Tasmia. “I am forever in his debt, to all of you. It is my honor to aid such a warrior.” Dark, billowing clouds rolled from her hands and solidified into a medical gurney. Other vaporous wisps formed into splints and supports for his neck and back. “That should stabilize him enough to move him. The constructs will resize themselves to fit.”

Dirk bowed his head. “Thank you.”

A human heart beat within Dirk Morgna’s chest after all.

Later That Evening

Jenni never expected to co-pilot the Blackhawk Cruiser on the return trip to Earth. Garth and Rokk usually took those honors but with them among the injured in the ship’s small infirmary and Thom’s shoulder injured, the task fell to her and Dirk. He sat in the seat next to her and fingered the controls.

“It’s a good thing you had that drug that reverts Gim to normal size,” said Jenni.

Dirk nodded. “He developed it himself along with some scientists in the forensics division of the Science Police, if you can believe that! He always said it may come in handy if he went on a rampage or something.”

“And he was right at least about the coming in handy part,” said Jenni. “He’ll be fine, Dirk.”

Dirk’s chin fell to his chest. “I hope so. He’s like the brother I never had.”

Jenni reached across the console and laid her hand on Dirk’s on the controls.

For once Dirk spewed no sexual innuendo. He let Jenni’s hand rest there comforting him as they flew through space.

The door to the bridge slid open and Tasmia and Thom entered. “This is an impressive vessel,” said a wide-eyed Tasmia. “Talok is centuries away from such technology.”

Jenni turned to their new ally. “I’m glad you decided to return to Earth with us to testify against the Fatal Five.”

“And to represent Talok’s petition to join your United Planets,” Tasmia added. “Such a confederation could prove beneficial to our world in the future. We’ve learned there are threats in this galaxy that even a Shadow Champion can’t overcome alone.”

Thom put his good arm around their new friend’s shoulder and gave it a playful squeeze. “I don’t know. I bet Talok VIII’s Shadow Champion can hold her own against just about anything this universe throws at her!”

“Here! Here!” Jenni and Dirk echoed in unison.

Dirk fingered the communications console.

“What are you doing?” Jenni asked.

“We’ve been incommunicado for days,” Dirk replied. “We’d better let Lyle know we’re headed back.”

The console speaker blared to life.

“…. is Nura Nal. This message is for Legion Blackhawk cruiser, designation LSH202-A. Avoid Earth at all costs! President Trulo was assassinated on Weber’s World and Earth seceded from the United Planets in response. The new President has revoked the Legion’s charter and branded us outlaws. Avoid Earth at all costs! Repeat, do not return to Earth. Proceed to Weber’s World and meet up with Brande, Jan, Brin, and Drura there. I’m not sure when this message will be updated. We will…. I have to go. Take care and long live the Legion!”

Dirk turned to his teammates in bewilderment. “What the sprock?”

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