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Flying in the Face of Fear by Bonita del Rio

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The funeral banners of 1,005 worlds still hung at half-mast. They hung limply like wilted petals in colors ranging from pastels to colors beyond the human visual spectrum--like Talok VIII with its 15 different shades of black. However signs of commerce were blooming. Zaryan the Conqueror no longer terrorized the space lanes. Now people can get the exotic fruits from this dimension as well as the next for merely exorbitant prices.

I knew how much he loved Imra. I knew the same way that Imra intercepted the High Seer's warning that a Legionnaire would die facing Zaryan. Before I started my Legion career in earnest, I was an inter-dimensional voyeur from the Phantom Zone. I told Garth about Imra knowing the prophecy and her plans against Zaryan, so he flew after her.

And died.

I hadn't meant for that to happen. I thought I could get him to free me from the Zone and I would destroy Zaryan before my anti-lead serum failed. Imra created the antidote and gave me a few brief hours of freedom. The antidote failed to save me, but the Legion made me a part of them and gave me a purpose after a millennium of nothingness. So I repaid Saturn Girl by killing the boy she didn't realize she loved.

She blamed herself. I blamed myself. Ayla blamed the Legion and the universe...sometimes in that order. I was mistaken, though. I though death would be powerful enough to stop someone like Imra Ardeen.

She came to me while I was experimenting with sleep. I don't actually need much sleep, just some rest every night--chance to unwind and dream. But then Dirk gave me these satin sheets when I picked an apartment dorm, swearing that they were worth every time the pillow slipped to the floor. He was right. Thank the gods of the universe that there's another hedonist in the Legion.

Especially since the Legion leader isn't. When she came to see me, her uniform was as immaculately cleaned and pressed as ever. Her high-necked iridescent white collar and cuffs looked like shackles, and her creased tights followed the seam of her pointed boots perfectly. Everything always seemed ordered when it came to Saturn Girl. Her face though, seemed rumpled. There's no other word to describe her expression.

"Mon-El, did you see Superman die?"

"Oh, yeah. A couple of times," I answered nonchalantly. "I missed the last time, though."

"So for him, death wasn't always permanent. My great-grandfather died twice. The second time, we had to regrow some brain cells. He's told us not to revive him again." She became quiet, introspective.

"Where's this heading?"

"Garth's dead to our science, and our magic. But what if there's a way to revive him beyond our tech and prayers? Your own Daxamite science, for instance. Your people's biotechnologies are legendary."

Cold crawled into my stomach. I concentrated on it, to feel and understand it. I decide I don't like it. Then I realized that the cold was a physical reaction to fear. "Imra, what are you thinking?"

"Ayla and Dirk are asking Brainy about time travel...and Dirk knows enough about physics to ask the right questions and to do something incredibly stupid. I'm going to authorize a quest to find a way to bring Garth back." The ice in my gut crystallized. "Will you go to Daxam and do the research there?"

Better me than Brainiac 5. He'd probably give everyone the anti-lead serum without considering the chaos that would ensue. So I flew to Daxam to research both my brother's family and the definition of life.

The family was great. They had a feast for me. In several faces, I saw traces of my father. In the eyes of the children listening to my adventures with the two Legions, I saw traces of myself. Even though my father is long dead, he has a measure of immortality. Not only in this family, but in the world he saved. I find pride also has a physical sensation as I tried to breathe around the lump in my throat and blink back stinging tears. (I know I don't need to breathe, but I like the feel of my chest expanding and the tickle of oxygen in my lungs.) The research I came to do was equally impressive, and a lot more distressing. Bioengineering has changed over the centuries and even with my super-powered intellect, it took weeks for me to learn the new basics and speed through the new understandings. I was so caught up in what I was learning that I even sometimes forgot to breathe.

Then I found my answer. I consulted with many scientists to make sure I was right. I was right. The Daxamite answer will cost a life to save one that is already lost. Even Kal, Kara or myself would be at risk. I flew away from my homeworld, my family, and a disappointed dream. I can't let my liberators and friends risk their own deaths. I needed to find a different method.

***

I heard that the people of Talok VIII talk to their dead. I thought about this and wondered: If there was a way to talk to the dead, shouldn't there be a way to bring them back? Equal and opposite reactions. Of course, If I thought in terms of physics, there's the second law of thermodynamics. Energy cannot be destroyed, just converted into an unusable form.

Despite the harshness of the desert and the twin suns, Talok VIII has a beauty both in the nature of the world and the nature of the world wrought. As I got closer to the world, I saw the windows of quartz shaved so thin that they rival windows of glass. The whole city is built from the desert and its appearance changes with every gust of wind and sand.

Then I couldn't see it. I couldnt' see anything. I couldn't feel the air around me. I could barely hear. I did feel panic--panic that I was in the Zone again even though I know that darkness is not part of the transition.

My pulse was racing and I had no sense of direction. I could barely hear the sky sled that flew towards me until I heard the distorted voice. It gave me something to hang onto. "Identify yourself and your purpose," the voice demanded.

"I'm Mon-El of the Legion of Super-Heroes. I want to consult with the learned of your world. It concerns..." What? Internal Legion business? That could be espionage. The well-being of the Legion? That makes the group sound undependable. Then I remembered the Talokite memorial to Garth. "Lightning Lad's legacy."

"Please land on the capital's docking port," the voice commanded. Then the black nothingness dissipated.

As I landed, I was greeted by a small contingent of guards surrounding a young girl in swirling black robes. She was trying terribly hard to make herself seem older than her 14 years.

"I am Tasmia Mallor," she said in a low-pitched voice. "The Shadow Champion. You are a child of the red sun, Legionnaire?"

I looked at her, then the guards. There are five of them, with spears and shields. I almost laugh until I feel and hear the low hum of the power generators in the weapons, and revise my estimate of the technology.

The champion appraised me. "Mon-El?"

"Yes?"

"Talok VIII is not part of the United Planets...yet. I am sorry I startled you, but you were invading our sovereign space. Please come with me to my official quarters."

"Champion--"

"He is honorable," she countered and leads me into a shaded conference room. "The darkness reminded you of your dead time, didn't it?" she asked as she removed her robe. She was wearing a black body suit, which didn't hide how very young she was. But, oh, was she perceptive. "So why exactly did you choose to visit us at this time?"

The time between her question and my answer was awkward. My shoulders actually tensed and my breath caught in my chest. "I understand that the Shadow Champions speak to the dead. Have you ever...brought them back?"

"That's blasphemy! We are not the false priests of the false god Maakas!"

Ooooo-kay. Wrong question! "Can you speak to the people who died?"

"To my own bloodlines. I don't know if it's a manifestation of my birthright--or the God's truth. Oh, I see. You want to talk to your friend who died, and get him to return to this life. Has it occurred to you that he may prefer death?"

"No, it hasn't! He's barely 16 and has so much to live for! He's got family he needs him, friends who love them--" I was surprised at my own vehemence towards her and her question. I considered just leaving this child champion and her childish world.

"Wait!" she called. She stood away from me, as if she was suddenly aware of how powerful I am. "On my world we learn that life is hard and the dying is often painful. The boy of lightning chose his death and most of his reasons were right. Why deny his courage and his sacrifice?"

I thanked her--more curtly than I ought to have, I supposed--then flew spaceward as I considered her words. Is it really Garth, Imra, Kal and the others I'm trying to save, or myself, from the guilt I recognized as my own? I told Garth how to find his death and why he should.

Still...he was just a boy, who hasn't seen even one-fiftieth of what I have seen. Whether it's my guilt or his life, I'm going to continue the quest.

I thought about what the healers of Daxam told me, about the machine to wake the dead. All it requires is a single sacrifice--one person to give up the ghost--literally. People like me wouldn't be dead, but comatose. Imra would give her life for any of the Legionnaires and tried to do so. Ayla would give her life for her brother. Dirk was already considering a temporal paradox as a possible risk. Kal and Kara are just that way. If my success was found out, the wrong person could die for all the right reasons. I shuddered in space, and it wasn't from the cold and silence. I had been a spirit without a body for over 1000 years. I loved the smelling, tasting and touching and everything I could do with a body. But I had seen a lot--a hundred lifetimes' worth. If I dropped in a coma, I'll be a body without a soul. It'd be a bad exchange for me, but Imra and Querl gave me freedom again, even for a few short weeks. Besides Daxamite medical sciences were working towards curing that coma every day. I could be revived in a week or so. And I figured I really wouldn't care during the time I was out, would I?

Every one of the Legionnaires are worth that sacrifice. They'd proven they'd do that same sacrifice for me.

How could I not do any less for them?