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Issue #5
"Just Rewards"
David Marshall


Querl Dox eased the tiny garbage freighter into position near the Imskian polymer shield. How did he ever get mixed up in such a mess? Lyle Norg was the freedom fighter. Querl was a scientist, the most brilliant mind in the known universe, an aberration even among his own gifted people. He was thankful the young resistance fighter rescued him from the Khundian Stalag, but he hoped to avoid the Earthman's fight.

"Careful Dox. Don't stray to close to that polymer shield or we're fried." Was Norg always such a prophet of the obvious? Of course, he was right. The small bucket of bolts would be vaporized if it came into contact with the shield. Dox steadied his hand. Even in these troubled times, most planets still depended on garbage freighters to haul their refuse to barren, lifeless worlds or asteroids. He was learning to respect the men and women who tended to such mundane chores. Of course, most worlds wouldn't leave a field of debris so close to their polymer shield either. Still, he didn't like taking orders from Norg. "If you wanted a pilot, you should have rescued one. Are the Khunds still buying our act?"

Lyle nodded. "They seem to be. I just hope we can find our little friend before the blockade gets suspicious." Pushing the heap's sensors to the maximum, he ran a quick sweep of the immediate area. "No life signs."

The comm panel chirped to life.

"Sanitation Vessel, E-476. You are not authorized to perform a level one scan of this restricted area. Cease all such actions, or your vessel will be destroyed. You will receive no further warnings."

Lyle closed the comm channel, then slammed his fist into the console. "Damn! Where is she?"

Dox raised an eyebrow. "I didn't realize our passenger-in-waiting was a female."

Lyle tapped his fingers on the console and sighed. "Does it matter? She was the only one on the whole stinking planet capable of shrinking to sub-atomic levels. But how can we find her without running a scan?"

Dox smiled. "Is that all it will take to make you happy? Take over the helm and allow me to make a few modifications to the tractor beam."

Lyle punched in a sequence on the interface at his station.

Dox's stomach seemed to "float" for the few seconds it took for helm control to transfer to Lyle's station. He activated the tractor beam and immediately began inputting data into the tractor's interface.

"What are you doing?" Lyle asked.

"You wouldn't understand if I told you," Dox answered.

Lyle's face turned red. "I don't have to take nass like that from you or anyone else, Dox! I created my invisibility serum before my twelfth birthday!"

Querl Dox nodded as he continued to work. "Mmm Hmm....Elementary manipulation of light particles. I would hypothesize you isolated certain genetic mutations and adapted them to your unique body chemistry, allowing you to absorb light rather than reflect it. Nice biochemical parlor trick, but this requires some concentration. Please allow me a moment to think."

Dox enjoyed Lyle's stunned silence. Still, he deserved credit. It was an interesting deviation on Levitz's Laws of Reflection and Refraction, especially for a non-Coluan. A few tense moments passed as Dox manipulated the tractor beam's complex programming sequence. "There! That should do it."

"Do what? " Lyle asked.

"I've masked a modified version of the sensors array on the tractor beam. I also set it up to scan at the sub-atomic level. We may get a lot of noise in the return signal, but we can filter the data from here."

Lyle looked unconvinced until his interface beeped, affirming that it had found their Imskian passenger. "Dox, I don't know how you did it, but you're a genius! She's there in the propulsion system of that old communications satellite! I've got a lock on it." The tractor beam tugged at the burned-out propulsion unit. It drifted toward the garbage freighter.

Once again, the comm system bleeped to life. "Sanitation Vessel E-476! Your tractor beam has been altered. Explain your actions!"

Lyle returned the Khundian Battlewagon's hail. " had to divert power from our shields to compensate for the stress to our ship's engines. She's quite old, you know." As he spoke, he motioned for Dox to make the necessary changes to the ship's systems to make it appear as if he were telling the truth. Dox complied.

The tractor beam towed the massive engine and various other pieces of discarded junk into its cargo bay. The next few minutes passed slowly as the orbital trash filled the oversized cargo hull. At last, the tiny vessel reached its capacity.

Lyle opened a hailing frequency to the lead Battlewagon. "We have reached our maximum load. Request permission to depart for the Wasteland Asteroid Archipelago in the Winathian sector."

The Battlewagon's commander served the next volley. "Permission denied. You will alter course and travel with escort to the location we are sending you via commlink."

Lyle's finger hesitated to push the hail button. "Dox, check on our passenger please."

Dox stood and walked across the vessel's small bridge. As he exited, Lyle was attempting to reason with the Khundian Commander. "I assure you Commander that such steps are unnecessary. I'd be glad to transmit my log to you as soon as my partner locks down the cargo hold."

Dox exited the bridge and walked past the crew quarters. He didn't like this espionage stuff. He preferred to do his bit for freedom from the comfort of a lab. He reached the cargo bay and punched in the proper unlocking sequence on the pad to the right of the large doors. Next, he re-established the bay's artificial atmosphere, and finally opened the inertron-clad door that sealed the bay off from the rest of the ship. Slowly, he entered the hold. The place reeked of an odd odor reminiscent of engine lubricants and sheet metal. He looked around carefully, not knowing whether their guest was under his feet or not. Of course, Dox wasn't worried about stepping on her. At the subatomic level it would be child's play for her to navigate the cavernous openings between the atoms that composed the soles of his boots.

"I suppose you're looking for me?"

The voice both startled Dox and brought him a measure of relief at the same time. He turned on his heels to find a girl standing before him. "Yes, I was. Do you have the disk?"

The girl was attractive, but refused to meet his gaze. Her large, dark eyes were framed by shoulder-length hair, dark as a Khundian's heart. Her cheekbones were rounded, but not blunt, lending a soft femininity to her face. Even at what Querl assumed was her full height, she stood only five feet. "Yes I do."

Dox nodded, and turned to leave. "Come with me please." Dox exited the cargo bay and initiated the lock-down sequence.

The girl hesitated for a moment, but soon joined him on the outside of the cargo hull. "Excuse me? Is this a..."

"...garbage freighter?" Dox nodded as the inertron doors slid back into place. "Yes, it is. I was hoping for better as well."

"B-B-But I assumed the Freedom Movement would send a warship of some kind," the girl stammered.

Dox stopped and turned to meet the young lady's gaze. "Look, Ms..."

"Digby. Salu Digby."

"Look, Ms. Digby. I am no happier with the current situation than you, but there is nothing we can do to change it. I suggest you...."

With no warning, the freighter accelerated rapidly.. The sudden thrust forced Dox and Salu to the floor. They slid to the far end of the corridor before finally coming to rest. Mercifully, the ship's artificial gravity overload system kicked in rendering the sudden change in G-force manageable.

Dox scrambled to his feet. He offered Salu a hand.

"Thank you," she said, as she took the Coluan's hand and pulled herself up.

"Don't mention it. Let's get to the bridge and find out what's going on," Dox replied.

The trip to the bridge was a short one. Lyle sat at the helm. His hands raced over the sleek controls. Dox took position at the systems operations station. "Norg? What's happening?"

"They want to board us for inspection!" Lyle shouted.

Salu dropped her head. "It's all my fault!"

Dox turned to the young woman. "Yes, it would seem so."

An explosion rocked the ship. Lyle fought the helm. "Dox, take the engineering console. And you, Ms...."

"Digby. Salu Digby." The Imskian girl's voice was almost a whisper.

Lyle pointed to another console. "Ms. Digby, keep me updated on the status of our shields!"

Salu almost made it to her station before a second blast shook the vessel. She fell to the floor, but quickly rose once more. She took Dox's place at systems op. Her eyes grew wide. "Our shields are failing!"

"Integrity?" Lyle asked.

"Shields are at thirty-eight percent!" Salu responded.

No one spoke for several minutes as Lyle maneuvered the ship through an asteroid belt. A Demon-Fighter followed close on his tail, mimicking his every move.

"I can't shake him!" Lyle yelled. "Dox, can you give me more power to the engines?"

Querl turned to the engineering console and punched the brightly lit keypad. "We're at 113% of maximum yield right now. But I can....."

The ship shuttered from the force of a third Khundian blast.

Salu screamed over the whine of the engines. "That was a direct hit! We can't take another one!"

Lyle nodded and pitched the clunker hard starboard. "Dox, can get you get me more firepower?"

Dox nodded. "That shouldn't be a problem. Of course, I'll have to drain it from either the shields or life-support!"

The little ship rocked again with the force of an ion blast that narrowly missed. Salu awkwardly fingered the tiny craft's Shields panel. "If we don't get these shields stabilized we won't need life support!"

Dox manipulated the controls at his console. "You've got it Lyle. Return fire!"

Lyle squeezed the twin triggers built into the steering mechanism of the freighter. A bolt of light pierced the black void of space. The pesky Demon Fighter exploded into a spectacular fireball.

The freighter rocked once more. The warning alarm blared to life.

"We've been hit, Lyle! We've been hit!" Dox screamed.

Lyle didn't respond. Instead, he wrestled the helm controls and yelled over the blaring alarm. "Salu! Release the emergency beacon in the asteroid field! Now!"

Sweat dripped from Salu's brow as she fingered the control panel before her. "Beacon is away!"

Lyle continued to steer the bulky freighter with little but his own tenacity. At last they cleared the asteroid belt. A small planet filled the external monitor screen. "What the?..." Lyle asked. "There's not supposed to be a planet here!"

Dox ran their position through the navigation system. "I'm not sure where 'here' is anymore! Either our bearings have changed drastically or someone moved an entire planet!"

Several Demon-Fighters buzzed past the freighter and assembled in attack formation. Lyle rolled the freighter planet-ward, but the ship took another hit. "We're going down!" The ship entered the unknown planet's gravitational field. With no engines to maintain their orbit, they plunged into the planet's volatile atmosphere. Dox wasn't sure whether the explosions that rocked the ship now were from Khundian fire, or their freighter breaking apart. Searing heat made it hard to think, but he had to do something or they would all die.

Metropolis, Earth

"Legionnaires, I have something I would like you to see."

Luornu Durgo was tired from the hard day of team drills. What more did R.J. want from them? Not that she wouldn't give it. She enjoyed being a part of something that mattered. Sure, the Legion had yet to make its first official appearance, but she could sense they were on the verge of something big.

Rokk and Garth made quick work of the remaining training robots. Rokk wiped his sweaty brow. "Sure thing, Mr. Brande!"

Brande chortled. "By damn, boy! Call me R.J. This Mr. Brande stuff could swell an old man's head!"

The Legionnaires gathered around their benefactor and mentor. As was his style, Brande made sure he had everyone's undivided attention, and then began his familiar pacing back and forth as he spoke. "Your progress as a team is exemplary. I think it is only fair to reward your efforts." As he spoke, a long, convertible hover-limo arrived. A Seeron driver stepped out, walked around the vehicle, and opened the passenger door. Brande nodded to the Legionnaires. "This way please."

Luornu fell in behind the other Legionnaires as they followed Brande to the limo. She found a seat by Tinya Wazzo, the Bgtzlian girl. The two of them had grown rather close the past few days. Once they were all seated, the driver walked back around the vehicle, and took his place at the steering controls. The craft rose silently into the air.

Brande continued his speech. "As I was saying....Your efforts will be heartily rewarded...."

"What more could you do for us" Imra asked.

The driver turned the car and hovered, allowing the Legionnaires to peek down into the heart of Metropolis' Executive Plaza. A patchwork of impressive-looking buildings lay beneath them. Lu recognized a few of them from holo-vids. The flat, wide building was the Metropolis Museum of Natural History. The Kal-El Memorial Obelisk stood just across the street, reaching up into the very sky the Man of Steel flew over so many years ago.

"Isn't that the Earthgov Center?" Tinya asked. The Earthgov Center's gardens and striking architecture were well-known to citizens from across the galaxy. The main building was framed between two grand arches of white stone. Mother-of-Pearl and gold trimmed its massive cornices.

Brande smiled. "That it is, my dear. But what is that building there? The new one?"

Lu craned her neck to get a better view. She wasn't sure what the new building was called, or what purpose it served. It was certainly impressive, dwarfing even the more prominent structures in the area. It sat just off Earthgov Center at the intersection of Weisenger Plaza.

"I'm not sure. I haven't seen it before," Garth answered. "It's certainly big enough. I bet it could hold an army!"

Brande smiled. "Or a Legion."

Lu looked at the building again. "You mean...?"

Brande nodded. "I give you...Legion of Super-Heroes Headquarters."

"Wah-hoo!" Garth shouted. He and Rokk slapped high-fives.

"It is only partially complete now, but the west wing is ready for you to move in. This state-of-the-art facility can accommodate up to thirty active Legionnaires. It has three labs, a medical facility I hope we never have to use, a cafeteria, a training complex, leisure rooms, virtual environment suites, a central swimming pool, and comes with a qualified operations staff. You also have three Blackhawk-class cruisers at your disposal."

Imra cleared her throat. "I don't mean to be a spoilsport, but isn't it a little....much?"

Brande shook his head. "By damn, girl! We can't defend a galaxy with toys! I'll not send you into a fight unless you have a chance to win it! One day this place will be too small for you. I know there's just the five of you now, but think big! They will come! You will be a true Legion then."

They will come. Brande didn't lack in confidence, but Lu believed him. She just hoped "they" proved to be others like herself, attracted by Brande's vision, and not a Khunidan Invasion force.

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