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Issue #4
"From Out of the Woodwork"
by
David Marshall

 

Brande Industries, Metropolis, Earth 2976 AD


"There is much work to be done Legionnaires!" RJ Brande's voice filled his spacious office suite. "We can hardly free the conquered worlds with three youths!"

Imra settled into a high-back leather chair. "But sir, we can't possibly recruit openly without retribution from Khundia."

Rokk looked worried as well. "With all due respect sir, Braal is my home. I don't want the Khunds to tighten the noose around her neck because of me."

RJ Brande stood and began his now-familiar habit of pacing around his spacious office. "We have spent much time together the last two weeks, my young friends. Hopefully, you understand that my vision is bigger than the three of you! We didn't hammer out a constitution for the sake of three, but for a Legion! Many!"

Garth Ranzz shook his head. "But sir, how?"

Brande smiled at Garth's question. "Credits talk in this galaxy son, and I can talk with the best of 'em. Even now, I have an operative in Earthgov ferreting out others like yourselves. He will bring them to Earth. One by one they will come."


Deep Space, A Khundian Stalag

White-hot laser bolts soared over Agent Norg's head. The Khunds that filled the Main Hanger of the Stalag transport were armed to the teeth and eager to prove their mettle to their Demon-Mother. The Stalag itself was a testament to the ingenuity of the Khundian war machine. Though not in the Battlewagon class, its guns were formidable. If this mission was a measuring stick of what lay ahead, Lyle would see little peace in the months to come.

Only the element of surprise, aided by classic Khundian overconfidence, brought his team this far. Now it was up to him to make the rescue. Though outgunned and in the heart of a Khundian stronghold, Lyle did hold one advantage; He was cloaked in invisibility. One foot inched cautiously over the other as he crept unseen down the corridor. Despite himself, he couldn't help but grin at the absurd irony of his situation. Light years from home, he was invading a Khundian Stalag on the whims of a crazy old man. He admired Brande's persistence and vision though. If anyone could stop Khundia from trampling the galaxy underfoot, it was a dreamer like Brande.

As the element of surprise waned, Lyle's troops fell helplessly before the onslaught of the better-trained Khundian warriors. They would have to fight better or this mission would fail before it began. The Khunds pressed the Earthgov troops back into the docking bay. Still, Lyle had a trick up his sleeve. As the battle raged on, he inched closer toward the manual hangar controls. His squad was wearing protective transuits. They could survive the vacuum of space. He was willing to bet the unprotected Khunds could not. Once in space, they could surrender or die. He didn't care which option they chose.

Lyle finally reached the controls. Though only vaguely familiar with the technology, he was able to locate the manual override for the thick docking bay doors. He punched in a stolen Khundian access code and the massive doors hissed open slowly. With another quick dance of his nimble fingers, he sealed off the docking bay with a force field trapping everyone inside.

Surprise reigned on the faces of those in the hanger bay, both Earthgov and Khundian, as the invading rush of de-compressurization filled the cavernous room. There was an uneasy moment in which everyone looked around helplessly. Then, like a hungry predator, the airless void of deep space clawed indiscriminately at everything in the sealed off area. Animate and inanimate. Human and Khund. If it wasn't anchored to the ship, it was sucked into the black vacuum. The remaining Earthgov agents realized in a moment that the advantage was theirs and quickly seized control of the situation.

Lyle entered a large corridor and inched through a long hallway. Coming to a dead-end, he made a sharp left into the Stalag's Dungeon Unit. Here, prisoners were kept while in transit to Khundia. There, most of them would serve out their remaining days as fodder in the Courts of Challenge. Lyle continued cautiously until he found his way blocked by a thick set of Inertron doors. Undeterred, he withdrew a small device from one of the many compartments on his belt. He placed the device on the doors. They hissed open and Lyle stepped inside. The Dungeon Unit wasn't what he expected it to be. The facilities were surprisingly high-tech, looking more like a hospital than a prison. The room was arranged in a large semi-circle with anti-matter cells dotting the perimeter. Two lone guards watched over the room from a desk which sat at the room's center on a raised platform. Lyle retrieved a pellet from his belt and threw it to the floor. A pink gas quickly filled the high-tech jail. The Khunds struggled momentarily to reach the comm unit to call for reinforcements, but quickly succumbed to the spreading fumes.

Lyle grinned. Grunt gas. Extremely toxic to the Khundian anatomy, but harmless to nearly every other race in the galaxy.

Standing at the guard desk, Lyle surveyed the room. All the cells appeared empty but one. He walked toward it. The lone occupant of the Khundian Stalag sat behind a shimmering wall of anti-matter on a small cot, his knees hugged into his chest. He looked to be in deep thought.

Lyle approached the cell, cleared his throat and spoke. "Querl Dox?"

The green-skinned young man whipped his head around to see who was speaking. He sat up. "Am I going mad? I..I.. hear voices in my head!" He stood and approached the anti-matter shield. He looked confused as he peered out toward the guard station.

Lyle repressed the urge to laugh. "No, I am Lyle Norg. I was sent by Brande to pluck you from the lap of Khundian luxury. I'm invisible. That's what I do. There'll be time for introductions later. Can you give me a hand with this anti-matter shield?"

"What is that in your hand?" Dox asked.

Lyle rolled his eyes. What was this? Twenty questions or a rescue mission? "A standard issue Science Police Omnicom."

Dox nodded. "Good enough."

It took only a few moments for Dox to talk Lyle through converting the Omnicom into a anti-matter dampener. The device was hardly recognizable after Lyle made the necessary changes to it, but Dox assured him the maze of quantum packs and naked wires would safely dispel the cell's anti-matter shield.

"Are you sure this will work?" Lyle asked.

Dox blinked. "Of course it will. I'm Coluan."

Ordinarily, Lyle wouldn't have placed much faith in such a smug reply. Earthgov didn't make him the youngest Swan Medal recipient in the agency's history for nothing. However, he didn't have the luxury of time on his side to rebuff the Coluan. He removed the face-panel from the cell control and wired the device into its circuitry. After entering a line of programming language which Dox fed him, the anti-matter shield dissipated.

Dox exited his cell. "Good job for an earthman, no offense. Where's your ship?"

Lyle materialized. "Ship? Surely a twelfth-level intellect can think bigger than that? No offense, of course." He pressed a button on the clasp of his white belt. A transparent bundle fell free from a compressed compartment. "Here, put on this transuit."

Dox looked stunned. "Transuit? You expect us to wait in space until a friendly ship just happens to pass through Khundian transport lanes? Excellent plan!"

Lyle watched as Dox donned the transuit. "The ship will be here in about twenty minutes Earth Standard Time. Of course, there is the alternative..."

Querl Dox sighed as he pulled on the snug-fitting clear spacesuit. "Which is?"

"Stay aboard the Stalag until it blows!"

Dox sealed his transuit then rubbed his forehead. "Why me? Okay Earthgov, lead the way."

Lyle left the Dungeon Unit and stepped into the corridor once more. "What was the tip-off?"

Dox followed closely. "That you were Earthgov? Who else would be foolish enough to undertake such a foolhardy mission with so little chance of success?"

Lyle took Dox by the arm and concentrated. Both young men vanished from view. "Of course, this wasn't exactly cleared by Earthgov, Doxie-boy."

The two invisible youths made a hasty retreat to the hanger bay. It was filled with Khundian engineering crews working frantically outside the sealed-off hangar bay to repair the damage from the earlier battle. Lyle dropped the force field which sealed the hangar bay. There were a few screams from the unsuspecting Khunds as they realized they too, would be claimed by the cold darkness of space. Though it took intense concentration to keep Dox within his cloak of invisibility, it was relative child's play compared to what came next. The two young men forced themselves to relax and be claimed by the black void.



Imsk

Someone has to make it off-planet. That's where I come in. The Imskian authorities are betting on me to get through the sealed-off polymer shield. Six months ago, I was just an ordinary teenage girl, at least until they discovered I could go sub-atomic. Then came the tests. Day and night, I was forced to run a gauntlet of grueling exercises while some white-coated old men smoking stinky cigars typed data into omnicoms. Once in a while they would look up and say, "Again." Mostly though, they just grunted and said things like... "Hmmm..."

When the Khundians arrived, one of the scientists was smart enough to realize I may be able to help and listed me as "Deceased" in the Population Database. Now, I'm persona non grata.

Which brings me to my current situation. Parliament convinced the Khunds that a study of Imsk's upper atmosphere was vital, something about the breakdown of the polymer shield. The polymer shield insures the intense radiation of our sun doesn't fry our little planet. The Khunds understood. Their dependence on our micro-circuitry was at stake.

All the techno-babble makes little sense to me. Science isn't my thing. Being small, that's my thing. So here I sit in a Rivnor Industries micro-rocket ready to be launched into the atmosphere. Once there, I'm supposed to shrink small enough to fit in between the energized atoms of the polymer shield and make my way into space. The transuit is supposed to keep me safe until the rendezvous with a Freedom Movement vessel, where I'm to hand over the schematics of our latest processors to Movement scientists.

I wish someone else was blessed with this "gift" instead of me. I wish....I wish the Khunds would just go home and let us be. I wish I was getting ready for the prom, even if I did have to go alone. I wish...I wish somebody else could do something.


Brande Industries, Metropolis Earth, Early Morning


"Omnicom on!" Garth Ranzz's voice filled his private quarters. He sat at a small desk along the far side of the wall. The omnicom beeped to life.

"Open Garth Ranzz.... Private Log- Ayla."

Once more the omnicom beeped in compliance with Garth's orders. He leaned back in his chair. It had been a few days since his last entry. With a deep sigh, he began. "I've found a group of friends who have promised to help me find you, Ayla. They're good people. You'd like them. Maybe you'll meet them some day. I... had the nightmare again last night. You know the one. You, me, and Mekt stranded on Korbal. Only this time, there were no lightning beasts. Instead, Mekt already had the power...the lightning... and he kept blasting us. I tried to save you...but...he...he.... I know you're still alive out there, somewhere Aylie. Just give me one clue and I'll find you. One... Anything. I miss you...Garth."

Garth sat for a few moments in silence. He stared at the omnicom and began to weep. It had been several months since he had seen his sister, his twin. The emptiness was killing him. He never realized their bond was so strong until she was gone. She had always been a tattle-tale when they were kids. She was smarter and let him know it. Her room was always clean, her bed made. Her homework was always done. She always did the right thing. She had a bedroom full of trophies, plaques, and certificates. Everyone loved Ayla. Their parents. Their teachers. Garth's friends. On top of it all, they fought like cats and dogs growing up. Still, life without her was unbearable. A piece of him was missing and the void made him sick. He would find her. "Omnicom off!"

Garth walked into the small bathroom adjoining his room and removed his clothes. He needed a shower. If only it were so easy to cleanse one's mind of worry. Garth fingered a pad beside the shower, opened the door and stepped inside. "Water on!" Just as he raised his face into the welcome stream of water, the Legion alarm sounded. Brande was calling.

"Damn! Water off!" The shower stopped. Garth leaned forward, resting his weight on his muscular arms. He let the water drip to the floor of the shower stall. He took a deep breath, opened the door, and exited. He quickly dried himself off and picked up his robe, but let it fall to the floor. It would never do. When Brande called, he expected his team to be in uniform. He walked into his messy room. Looking around, he found the sleek, black uniform Brande Industries had designed for the Legion and slipped it on. Garth was never one to take a long time with getting ready. Within five minutes, he was out the door.

Garth arrived at Brande's office at the same time as Rokk and Imra. The three Legionnaires entered the spacious suite. Brande sat at his desk. Two young girls stood on either side of him. One was a cute, chestnut-haired girl with an infectious smile. She seemed more comfortable in Brande's presence than anyone else in the room, resting her hands on his right shoulder. The other girl was one of the most beautiful people Garth had ever seen. Long, wavy raven hair fell past her shoulders, framing her striking features against the backdrop of her creamy white skin. She was also a little taller than the girl at Brande's right. Garth couldn't help but let his adolescent imagination run wild. He turned to see if Rokk was enjoying her beauty as well, but his lustful smile quickly disappeared when it met Imra's steely gaze instead.

"Legionnaires! Allow me to introduce two applicants I propose for membership in your little club!" R.J. Brande bellowed.

Imra was quick to speak up. "With all due respect sir, your word alone is good enough for..."

Brande shook his head. "Oh no, Ms. Ardeen. This is your Legion! I'm just the Quixote foolish enough to finance it. I'll not force members on you, but I believe you'll find these two young ladies possess most unique talents that will easily qualify them for membership."

The girls offered nervous smiles to the Legionnaires.

Brande motioned to the girl who rested her hands on his shoulders. "This young lady's name is Luornu Durgo. Ms. Durgo is a Carggite, able to triplicate herself into three identical beings. However, unlike most Carggites each of her bodies maintains distinct personalities. She is also my Godchild."

Garth nodded to Luornu.

"And this young lady has quite a remarkable tale herself. She was on Earth checking out Metropolis University when Khundia invaded her homeworld, Bgtzl. Her parents were part of a group of Bgtzlian scientists who had developed an experimental defensive device that could shift their world out of phase with our dimension. Since deploying the device, all contact with Bgtzl has been lost."

The girl to Brande's left dropped her head, but did manage to look up and smile weakly.. "I'm Tinya Wazzo. Nice to meet you."

A Khundian War refugee? Garth felt sorry for her. He nodded to her politely. "Garth Ranzz."

Imra nudged her way to Tinya, shooting Garth a cold glance in the process. Her face softened as she turned to Tinya. "We'll help you find your home. I promise."

Rokk extended his hand to Luornu who shook it. "Welcome to the Legion, Luornu."

Luornu smiled. "Call me Lu."

The five Legionnaires spent the next few minutes getting to know one another. The girls demonstrated their powers. Everyone got a kick out of Lu's ability to triplicate herself, but Garth felt kind of creepy after Tinya phased through him. Brande stepped into the midst of the Legionnaires. He turned to his three founders. "Why don't you show the girls their quarters?"
"Certainly," Imra said, as the Legionnaires exited into the long hallway outside Mr. Brande's office.

Garth walked behind the others and watched as they interacted. They were growing. Maybe they could help with the Khunds. Maybe not, but they would give it their best. Still, he hoped Mr. Brande wouldn't forget his promise to help him find Ayla.

Garth slowed his pace, allowing the others to forge on ahead. He purposefully lagged further behind until they disappeared around a corner and into one of the many corridors of Brande Industries. He turned back to Brande's office. Finding the door open still, he didn't bother to knock. Inside, Brande stood at the large window behind his desk and peered out over the Metropolis skyline. He didn't seem to notice Garth. Instead, he seemed to be talking to himself, or whatever Gods would listen to him. "They say war is a hell and I suppose that's true. I know you don't owe this old man one damned thing, but please...keep my kids safe."

Garth quietly backed out the door.

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