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Issue #3
"What If..."
David Marshall


Imra Ardeen walked the long hallway to R.J. Brande's office. She was supposed to have met Garth and Rokk an hour ago. Her registration at the Telepathy Commission caused her to be late. She hoped the others had not left yet. The others. She hated herself, but that Ranzz guy really got to her. He was so...roughish and uncouth. He was everything her parents ever warned her about in a man. He was perfect, but needed humbling.

Imra finally reached the smooth sliding door at the end of the long corridor. A computer's voice announced her arrival. "Imra Ardeen has arrived." The door opened with a smooth hiss.

The entrance formed a dog-leg to the room proper. To Imra's left a wall with recessed bookshelves held real books, not trophies or trinkets, but real books. She had seen only a few in her short lifetime. Omnicoms and holo-vids were the common means of communicating literary ideas.

"By damn! Don't be a stranger dwelling on the outside of the camp! Come join us young lady!"

Imra peeked around the wall. Brande sat at a large desk made from the most stunning polished wood she had ever seen. He was dressed in a rather archaic fashion, reminding her of period-holos from the 28th century. Imra guessed he wore such loose fitting clothing partly to hide his middle-aged spread, and partly for comfort. Still the long sleeves and lacy collars were quite humorous, and cloaked Brande with an air of eccentricity. The room itself was lavish and decorated with the finest furniture credits could buy.

"I believe I can forgo the introductions Ms. Ardeen?" Brande asked.

Imra nodded. What was this all about? She could easily find out by tapping Brande's thoughts, but such actions only give credence to the fears most sentients reserved toward her people. No, she would listen. She approached Brande's desk.

Brande stood and cracked his knuckles as he stretched his arms before him. "First let me thank the three of you. I owe you my life, and in a very real way, I intend to give it."

The three youths looked shocked. Rokk spoke first. "Sir, with all due respect...that isn't necessary."

"You owe us nothing," said Garth.

Brande smiled and smoothed his long, white moustache with his pudgy fingers. "I am a businessman. I have made a life of investing in various ventures and schemes. Some have worked out wonderfully, others....hell, they were so lame-brained I deserved to lose my shirt in them." Brande chuckled.

Imra tried to be gracious. "I really don't see..."

Like a man used to getting his way, Brande held up one hand, demanding silence. "Let me finish, my dear. As I was saying, I have invested in many enterprises in my day. None, however, intrigue me like the one I'm considering now. To begin though, I need your help."

Imra didn't have to read Rokk's or Garth's thoughts to know what they were thinking. "Our help? Mr. Brande, Sir, what could you possibly need from us?"

Brande seemed pleased at the youngster's reactions as he made his way out from behind his desk and began pacing the oversized room. "Your youth! I need your youth! I need your ability to dream of a better galaxy! I need your innocence to believe such a task is not impossible! I need your courage to stand up for what is right in this universe!"

"But sir, my family..." Rokk protested.

"Will be taken care of much more efficiently than if you labored as a watchmaker's apprentice," Brande argued.

"My brother..." said Garth.

"Is being tracked by the best trackers in the galaxy, even as we speak, courtesy of Brande Industries."

Brande turned to Imra. "I know. You have secured my release from Tel-Net," she answered.

"You are good," said Brande.

"That was intuition, sir, not telepathy," Imra replied.

Brande smiled. "Yes, I know."

"Just what are you offering?" asked Rokk.

The lights grew dim in the room as a holo-projector flicked to life, projecting three-dimensional images into the center of the room. The images were of a being in a blue and red costume. On his chest in a yellow pentagon was an old Earth symbol, colored red. Imra recognized the symbol as the Roman alphabet letter 'S'. Even 30th century citizens recognized the figure with the red cape as the legendary Kal-El, Last Son of Krypton. "Behold, Superman! A true hero who protected the universe for centuries. His untimely disappearance several centuries ago only enhanced his status as the greatest hero of them all. A true super hero. I envision the three of you as such."

"What?" they three youths cried in unison.

"Sir, anyone could have done what we done. All the beings on Rokk's and Imra's homeworlds can do what they did. Even my own power isn't unique. My brother, Mekt, controls the lightning as well."

Brande nodded. "You saw that room. Nearly every being in there possessed some kind of ability native to their homeworlds, but they cowered in the face of danger. You rose above your own fears and acted like heroes!. In the twentieth century Superman had a contemporary who fought evil with no super-powers. This man of the night, though only a footnote in history, terrorized those who preyed on innocents. Many would rather have faced Superman himself than to face the wrath of the Bat."

Brande stood erect now. The talk of such legends obviously struck a chord within him. He grew ever more confident, his chest swelled with pride, borrowing mass from his belly, or so it seemed. In hushed tones reserved for the sacred he added, "Join with me. Whether you join me or not, I will see that you are rewarded. But what if, just what if, this is your destiny? What if you were born for such days as these, and whatever higher powers there may be in the universe has ordained the three of you to lead others to rise above the mundane, to stand in the face of those like the Khunds, and to make magic even the Sorcerer's World will envy?"

No one spoke for several minutes. Brande turned his back on the three youngsters to allow them to contemplate their fates.

"I am with you Mr. Brande." Imra couldn't believe it. The voice belonged to Ranzz. Maybe he was more noble than she first believed.

Rokk stepped forward. "I was looking for work anyway. What better employer could a young man ask for than Brande Industries?"

Imra already knew her answer. "Can't let the boys have all the fun, now can we?"

Brande turned to face them once more. "Wonderful! I have arranged a press conference for tomorrow to announce the birth of our venture. Don't be late, Ms. Ardeen." With that, he left the plush office through a side door, leaving the three new teammates alone.

Lightning danced on Garth's fingertips. "Why that..."

"....dear sweet conniving man! He already knew...." said Imra.

Rokk sat in the large sofa at the window and looked up at Imra. "Apparently you're not the only one who can read minds."

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