Love, Marriage, and...Oh, Yes...the Menace of Pulsar Stargrave
(With apologies to Steve Gerber for title inspiration)
Shvaughn Erin was giving Element Lad a backrub. Sure, it could have been done by a tactile stimulation device. But when you got down to it, nothing really ever replaced the touch of a woman's hands upon your back.
"You've got blackheads," she said. "Right here on your shoulderblade and down here on your spine."
"You need to spend less time in your meeting room and more in the shower." She kneaded the muscles several inches below the bottom of his shoulder blades. He was in yellow sticktite shorts and she was in her casual jumpers.
"Simple enough. Just make sure you're there every time, and I'll shower every day."
She slapped him right over the spine. "Mind your manners, Jan. And while I'm at it, will you marry me?"
"Sure. But not just yet."
Shvaughn, a Science Police officer and El Lad's girl for some time now, stopped massaging him and lay beside him, resting her head on her folded arms. "So. Why not?"
He looked at her. "Because I'm still Legion Leader for the rest of the fiscal year, and I don't want to do something like that till my term's over."
"Octophent droppings," she said, softly. "You just don't want to commit."
Jan Arrah draped his arm over her shoulders. "Give me time, Shvaughn, and I'll commit plenty. But not till after my term. Please, baby?"
She hid her eyes from him.
Shvaughn sighed. "You know I'll be waiting for you. As long as we're not idle when we wait."
"Is there another reason why?"
He sat up on the edge of the bed and did not face her.
Shvaughn raised her head up. "Tell me about it, Jan. It, or him, or her."
"There are," he said, "a lot of hims and hers, and maybe a few its, too. I'm not just another guy, Shvaughn."
"I know you aren't," she said. "You're Element Lad, I know that. You're a Legionnaire. You're the leader of--"
"You don't know what I am!" He snapped the words out like a dog snarling at a rival. He whirled to face her, and his face was as feral as an attacking dog's, as well. Almost like Timber Wolf's. For a second, Shvaughn was startled, despite her police training and cop-shop experience. Jan said, with only a second's pause, "I'm the only one left, Shvaughn. I'm the only Trommian. The only one."
For his last three words, he looked not like a predator, but like a wandered child.
She took his shoulders in her hands, but he did not respond. At least, he didn't shrink away.
"Roxxas and his pirates came to my world. They slaughtered the entire population. Everybody. My friends, my hometown, my family, my grabulated father and mother and..."
"Jan. I'm here. Let it out," she said, putting the side of her head against his back.
His shoulders were shaking. She didn't have to see his face to know that tears were coursing down it.
"And I'm the only one left! Look at me. I'm not a great artist, or a writer, or a...a ruler's son, or a genius, or a...or a priest, or a historian, or... Great Caelis, Shvaughn! I don't know, know enough, of Trom's history to...ah, God!"
She was there for him, holding him, listening to his sobs.
After a while, she said, "Jan. Listen to me.
"All right. You're not a great historian, or a ruler, or an artist, or any of those things. But you're still a good man. You know why? Because only a man who was very, very good would be able to let Roxxas live, instead of killing him when you had the chance. Only a man who was decent and honest enough for folks to look up to, for heroes to look up to, would have been chosen to lead the Legion. And you're also a very strong man, Jan. Because only a very strong man would be able to hold all this within, and still perform as well as you have. After what you've gone through, with Mordru and all the rest, just recently, do you think you could have done it if you weren't strong?"
He wasn't sobbing anymore, but he was breathing, heavily.
"I believe in God, Jan. Do you?"
"Yes," he said. "But don't tell me that God did--"
"Listen to me, Jan,"said Shvaughn. "Policemen see a lot of things every time they go on duty. The worst level of humanity. The takers, the abusers, the faithless, the rotten scumbags who prey on kids and women and men, and sometimes, the ones they prey on. Now, going through all that, like policemen have, ever since cops were created...there isn't a one of us that hasn't asked himself, ‘If there is a God, then why does He let these things happen?'
"For some of us, the question is too much. They stop believing in God. But for the rest of us, and I think we're still in the majority, we give ourselves the only answer we can: ‘I don't know. But maybe I will, someday.' Even if that someday is after we die, maybe. We're faced with the choice of believing that there is no God, in this mad world and this crazy universe, or believing that, despite all that, there is a God, and He's out there for us. That maybe, despite all the crud that happens to us down here, there's something worth reaching out for, out there, that makes it worth it, after all. I know I'm not saying it well, but that's why I believe. Why I still believe. Am I coming through, Jan?"
"Yeah, so far," said Jan, still not looking at her.
"I don't know why He lets a lot of the good ones die, and the bad ones live for awhile longer," she said. "But I do know that every time we save a life, or something along that line--when something goes that right--I have to thank Him. Maybe I won't feel like it after another one goes bad, but for right then, it's what makes all the rest of it worth going through.
"And I can't make any sense of it. I can't tell you, metaphysically, why I'm here and doing what I do. I only know that I am here, and I am doing it. And maybe I was intended to, because I am doing it. Existential enough for you?"
He sighed, a long one. "So. Is this building up to you telling me that God must have some reason for me being the last one of Trom still alive, even if I don't know why?"
"Do you think so?"
"I know that's what you're saying. I know I still believe. But why...why did all those others have to die?"
"You tell me, Jan. Tell me why the Kryptonians had to die, a thousand years ago, or the Jews in that ancient World War. Or the people in that spaceliner Satan Girl destroyed. Or my uncle Edwin, three years ago. Or the Legionnaires who died. Tell me if you can, because I can't. But I'll tell you one other thing.
"I remember, as a little girl in Sabbath school, being taught about the birth of Jesus. And the Bible, our Bible, the New Testament that is, tells us God fathered Him. So I've got to believe God was really concerned about what was happening around Jesus, when He was being born. Yet, the same Bible told me that, while Jesus was getting born, a bunch of Roman soldiers were out there killing babies, innocent children, because Herod, the ruler at the time, wanted to make sure none of them would grow up to be the Messiah.
"God let that happen. Why? I don't know. But maybe the babies found out, on the other side. Maybe there was no other way, in the Grand Plan, for things to happen. Maybe some things...just have to be."
"I don't accept that," he said. "I don't believe in that Terran concept of ‘predestination'. I can't. All men make their own choices."
"I believe that, too," said Shvaughn. "But I also believe that, no matter what, if you're the last Trommite, there's a reason for it. Even if that reason is just being a super-hero and transmuting elements with your hands and leading the Legion." She poked him in the side with a finger. "Not such a bad life, is it?"
"No," he said. "I have to admit, it isn't. Especially not with you." He turned and smiled at her.
"Well," he said, "I guess you'd better help me get ready. We've got a wedding to go to, after all."
"That's my boy." Shvaughn grinned at him.
It was still the middle of the week after the Legion had experienced the adventure that saw Mordru and Satan Girl die, Titan's president get rescued from the Fatal Five, the worlds of Rokyn and Daxam be saved from destruction, Wildfire return from seeming death, and Supergirl and Dev-Em begin a love affair. Ultra Boy and Phantom Girl had made a pledge to each other to get married if they lived through the thing. They did, and they opted to get married within the week, so Supergirl could attend. They debated asking Superboy, but decided at the last minute not to. On his timeline, he had graduated school and was about to attend Metropolis University. If he had any Legion involvement until he was in his Superman years, they didn't know about it.
Dev was just as glad they didn't, because he could just imagine how the teenaged Kal-El would react to the news that he and Kara were keeping company. But he kept his thoughts to himself. Supergirl, learning that her cousin's younger self wouldn't make it, felt sad. She related to Superboy better than to Superman; he hadn't developed that bossy and perfectionist aura yet, as an 18-year-old.
She supposed another bridge to the past had burned down.
The news of what was necessary strained even the resources of R. J. Brande, the Legion's financier. But the grumbling old man went ahead and footed the bill for a nonplussed Mr. and Mrs. Nah to come from Rimbor, along with an entourage of relatives and friends, plus a dimensional warp opening that extruded the family of Tinya Wazzo from Bgztl. It was pronounced "Bigzittle" and nobody on Earth could say that with a straight face.
The newsers went as nuts as they always did during a Legion wedding, running retrospectives on the youth who had gained one-at-a-time superpowers after being swallowed whole, spacecruiser and all, by a radioactive space-beast, and the immaterial girl who hailed from a duplicate of Earth in another vibratory sphere. All the Legion weddings were recapped, including the tragic one of Princess Projectra and Karate Kid. The dignitaries were flown or teleported in, the people who had known Jo and Tinya in their younger days were interviewed, and as many Legionnaires, Subs, and hangers-on who could be found were dragged in, told what was going on and where it would be, and got their uniforms primped up for the big day.
Brande was most concerned, however, for his son, Chameleon Boy, who had been wounded on Zerox by Satan Girl's heat vision. The first place he went after making landfall on Terra was the Legion headquarters, and, after a few brief greetings of other Legionnaires, he made his way to the sickbay where Reep Daggle was housed.
The first sight that came to his eyes was Dr. Gym'll standing over his son, who was lying in bed with his shirt open to show the white bandages against orange flesh. Reep looked up. "Hi, Dad."
Brande controlled himself, or hoped he did. "Hello, son."
"Greetings to you, R. J. Brande," said Gym'll, formally. "Your son is healthward bound. Should be able to attend the wedding, even in his present condition."
Brande found a chair and pulled it over to the bedside. "So. Tell me how it happened."
Cham related, briefly, his part in the Mordru affair and how he got burned helping Supergirl fight a villainess cloned from her body. She had forced the Zeroxians to give Reep medical treatment and then send him to Earth on a starship. By the time he had gotten back, the main action was over.
R. J. sat silently for awhile, and Cham could guess that the older man was remembering the time they had spent together when the Legionnaire had temporarily lost his changing powers. Quality time.
"You still want to do this thing?" said Brande.
"Of course I do," said Reep. "I'm not going into the family business yet, Dad."
"Just hope you're around to do it once you think you are," Brande said, gruffly. Then he said, "I'm proud of you, boy."
"Thanks, Dad," Reep said.
"It's one thing for me to be a Durlan, looking like a Terran. It's another thing for one of them to be married to a Legionnaire. But it's quite another thing for one to be a Legionnaire, up front, in the face of all those bigots who don't like orange-skinned folks with antennae. You're doing quite a job, Reep."
"It's quite a job to do, Dad."
"I'd like to stay here, at the headquarters dorm, while I'm on planet. Closer to you that way."
"You paid for it, you're entitled. And, Dad?"
"I'm proud of you, too."
The marriage was vidcast live to every world that the commercial holocasts could reach. The vows had to be repeated twice, as they were taken before a Bgztl priest and a Rimborian civil official. (Weddings, on Rimbor, were not a religious matter, more of a contract.) Jo and Tinya kissed before the priest finished giving them permission. Then Ultra Boy crunched a small glass underfoot that Colossal Boy had given him, "just for luck". They turned and proceeded down the aisle of the Legion's reception hall, and, once outside it, paused to get the congratulations of all the heroic attendees. The married ones got first crack at them. Later, they passed on to the singles and the unmarried couples, starting with the newly-returned Wildfire and Dawnstar. They were glad to see Drake back, and collected handshakes from both him and Dawny. But they were surprised to see a look of mournfulness in Dawnstar's eyes, even though neither of them mentioned it.
Afterward, the new couple made certain to seek out Kara and Dev. They were smiling so wide Kara almost blushed.
"Congratulations, you two," said Kara, shaking their hands. "I'm just glad you finally went ahead and did it."
"Likewise," said Dev, making sure he bussed Tinya on the cheek. "And here's hoping no space-groatie swallows your honeymoon craft, hear?"
"Aw, cut it, Dev," smiled Phantom Girl, resplendent in her wedding gown. "But I wanted to let you know, I'm very glad you've made Kara a happy woman."
"Uh, Tinya!" It was hard to tell what was redder: Supergirl's cape, or her face.
"Oh, don't be embarrassed," said Ultra Boy. "It's just love. I'm glad you managed to find it, Kara. For a long time there...well...never mind that."
"You're saying, ‘For a long time there, I thought you were going to be an old maid,' right?" said Kara. "Don't you know about me in my future? I mean, whether I get married or not, have kids or not, et cetera?"
Ultra Boy looked subdued. Tinya said, "We don't pry into everything, Kara. And sometimes, history is debatable."
Jo added, "With people from the past...we don't talk about their future."
Supergirl was silent.
"Right, then," said Dev, one hand on Kara's shoulder. "Good policy. The both of you take care. Don't show up without a new superhero in the making."
"We'll see you," said Ultra Boy, and the two of them walked over to some of the other guests.
Supergirl said, quietly, "Does that mean they don't know if we, uh..."
"It means that they don't know," said Dev. "Which, given our transtemporal arrangement, means nothing. Right, Kara?"
"I hope you're right, Dev," she said, taking his hand in hers. "And I'm going to act as if you were."
Saturn Girl was near Sensor Girl when the masked heroine shook hands with the newlyweds and gave them a formal blessing. When the others were out of earshot, Imra said to Sensor Girl, "It isn't good for you to keep on being alone, you know."
"I don't know what you're saying," responded the girl in the mask. "You haven't been reading my mind, have you? You promised not to."
"Never," said Saturn Girl. "But it didn't take too much deduction. Kara heard you crying when we were talking about dead Legionnaires, and told me. You mentioned having a history of mysticism when we did the seance. I know who you are, Jeckie. I don't know if anyone else does, but I'm not going to tell them."
Sensor Girl hung her head a bit. "I suppose I shouldn't have given myself away like that. But I was needed."
"You were. And you did the right thing." A pause. Saturn Girl touched Sensor Girl's arm. "He's dead, Jeckie. Nothing can change that. But that doesn't mean you have to be alone forever."
"I'm not alone, Imra. I have a family of over 20 people. The Legion. They're all I need."
"You know what I mean," said Imra.
"It takes guts to be a survivor. To come back from an event like that, and find somebody new. I could help, Jeckie. There are lots of decent men out there to whom I could introduce you."
Sensor Girl turned away. "If I am ever ready for that, I will keep you in mind. But I am not. And please...call me by my Legion name."
"All right," sighed Imra, "Sensor Girl."
Quislet streaked by in his flying pod, not far distant. She looked at it, and hoped he hadn't overheard.
Brainiac 5 and Laurel Kent were the last two Legionnaires Ultra Boy and Phantom Girl shook hands with. That was intentional. The Colu Kid and the Rokynian girl hadn't been dating a week now, but Jo and Tinya were hoping it took, for Brainy's sake. Seeing Supergirl in Dev's arms had hit him hard.
"Congratulations on making membership, Laurel," grinned Jo Nah. "We've been so darn busy, we were lucky just to be able to log in our ‘yes' votes two days ago."
"Thanks," said Laurel, smiling happily. "It's like a bunch of dreams come true. First, Brainy gets me full Kryptonian powers for six hours a day. Then we go out on a date. Then I get Legionized. I've had to scrap three messages to Mom already. I'm hoping things slow down so that I can send her something that'll make sense."
"If you wanted something to make sense, you shouldn't have joined the Legion," deadpanned Qwerl.
"See? She's having a good effect on you already, Brainy," said Phantom Girl. "You're learning how to make a joke. So have you chosen a code name, yet?"
"Oh, you mean a superhero name?" said Laurel. "Gosh, no. I just can't call myself Super-something. Brainy and the bunch floated some trial names...'Krypton Girl', ‘Kryptonia', ‘Rokyn Lass', and all that. Not my style. So I'm just gonna be Legionnaire Laurel Kent for the time being. If we think of something good, we'll let you know."
"Fine by me," said Jo. "You take good care of Brainy. And Brainy...you don't let her get away."
"She's the one with the super-speed, now," said Querl. "I'd be the one who'd have trouble getting away. But...we'll see how it works." He glanced at Laurel. "And I think we're both hoping it does."
Laurel looked down, smiled, and hid her hands behind her back, but said nothing.
"Well, so much for that," said Tinya, saving the moment. "We've got a liner to catch for the Wedding World. Both of you, be good." She kissed Brainy on the cheek and hugged Laurel. Then both of them were gone.
After they were, Laurel said, "Everybody wants us to be together. Everybody wants us to be Supergirl and Brainy, Version Two."
Brainy said, "We're not going to be anybody but us, Laurel. No matter what their perception is."
She turned to him. "I'm glad you feel that way. I don't know if I'm in love with you."
"I wouldn't expect you to, at this point," said Brainy, carefully watching the retreating Jo and Tinya.
"But I don't know that I'm not, either."
"Thank you, Laurel. Well. Where do we go tonight?"
"We go by the apartment I have here in town. I fix you dinner the way my mama taught me. And for a night, we forget about the Legion."
Brainiac took her hands in his. "Promise?"
"Even if the Infinite Man shows up in town square."
"Then let's go."
Over the next week, Dev-Em was granted permission at last to see his surviving parent, and he and Kara went to meet his mother. Then, five days after coming back, both of them left for the 20th Century, which took major persuasion on Kara's part.
A week after that, Dawnstar received permission to go to Homeworld, where she resumed a love affair with the priest Jhodan. This put both their lives in danger, and they had to be saved by a task force consisting of Brainiac 5, Laurel, and Wildfire. Afterward, Dawny was reconciled with Drake, though she faced six months of separation from him and mandatory retraining at the Legion Academy.
It had been a week after the Homeworld episode. Brainy and Laurel were still seeing each other, still familiar but cautious, and still, if either dared admit it, a little bit frustrated.
Laurel wondered if Querl was too much computer to ever truly be passionate.
Querl wondered when Laurel would stop sitting on the fence, or if she had ever been sitting on it.
But both of them enjoyed each other's company, and Laurel saw him almost every night. Which, in a way, was fortunate.
She was keying in the entry code for Brainy's door at the Legion HQ when only the two of them and Sun Boy, doing monitor duty several floors below, were on hand. The room wasn't as soundproof as it could have been.
Laurel heard Brainy cry out. It might have been in surprise. It might have been in fear. But she knew him long enough to know that when he sounded like that, it was something important.
To Sheol with the keying, she thought, and shouted, "Powers on!"
She rammed a fist through the metal door and knocked it out of its housing. What she saw beyond made her stop dead-still for a nanosecond.
Brainiac 5 was standing in the middle of his room, surrounded by an aura of white light. And he seemed to be fading from sight.
Laurel went into a sprint. She could command the speed of a Kryptonian, now. She was never more glad of it than at that moment. She entered the nimbus of light just .0003 of a second before its fading.
There was no sense of the billions of miles across which both of them were teleported.
All both of them knew was that they were standing upon a metal floor, inside what appeared to be a large, decently-lit room. Before them were several armed guards on either side, appearing to be robots. Directly before them was a man seated on a throne. His clothes were white, he wore a metallic headband, and his skin was as green as Brainy's.
Laurel surged forward and hit an invisible force-screen. She banged her hands against it several times with all the power she could muster. It held.
"You," said Brainy, looking at their host.
She turned. "You know this guy?"
"Of course he knows me," said the man, in a voice that was both well-modulated and not entirely human-sounding. "We're family. My name is Pulsar Stargrave, woman. I have a job for him." He paused. "I'm sure I can determine something to do with you, as well."