Winn wakes with a groan, rubbing the back of his head as he sits up. There's a familiar figure a few feet away, bent over a small rock formation and poking at it.
Brainy turns. "Ah, Winslow. You're awake."
"What's going on?" Winn asks, wobbling a little as he stands. "How did we get here?"
"Unknown," Brainy replies. "I've been attempting to determine that since I awoke."
Winn slowly turns in a circle, taking in his surroundings. It looks almost like it could be a desert on Earth, except for the fact there are two suns above them, hovering in an indigo sky.
"Um, where is here?"
"I'm still collating," Brainy says. "This planet does not match any that I have visited. However, unless we have been displaced in time as well as space, we are still in your era instead of mine, so planets may be different now than they will be in a millennium."
"Huh," Winn says. He considers that for a moment, then he bends down, scoops up a handful of dirt, and puts it in his pocket.
Brainy stares at him, confusion clear on his face. "What are you doing?"
Winn shrugs. "Hey, alien dirt from an unknown planet is still alien dirt."
"Ah, yes," Brainy says, a scornful edge to his voice. "Your… dirt collection."
"Don't knock it 'til you've tried it."
Brainy stares at him again, then shakes his head and goes back to examining the rock.
"Is that thing gonna help us get out of here?" Winn asks, only half teasing.
"It may help us determine where we are," Brainy replies. "As for leaving this planet, that may prove more difficult. There seems to be some sort of disturbance in the atmosphere that affects technology. I have been unable to communicate with anyone with my flight ring or activate any of its other features. I may be able to figure out a way to work around the atmospheric disturbances if I can find more supplies."
"No tech works here?" Winn asks. He pulls out his phone and tries to turn it on, but it stubbornly remains off. Brainy's weird little handheld computer thing - he calls it an omnicom, Winn thinks - is in its pocket, and honestly, Winn should have known that something was wrong when he saw that Brainy wasn't holding it as he examined the rock. The three lights on Brainy's belt aren't glowing.
"Unfortunately, no," Brainy replies. "But as I said, I may be able to circumvent that problem."
"Wait, but aren't you half robot?" Winn demands. Are the weird implants in Brainy's forehead glowing as much as they normally do? Winn can't tell.
Brainy scowls. "I am Coluan," he retorts. "My people are half computer, half organic."
"Yeah, yeah, same difference," Winn dismisses. "Point is, if no tech works, does that mean you're gonna shut down on me?"
An expression that almost looks like surprise flits across Brainy's face. Did he think Winn wouldn't be able to put the pieces together? It's not that hard, even for someone who's not the twelfth-level intellect that Brainy always brags about being.
"My technological half is very sophisticated," Brainy says after a moment. "It is still somewhat functional, although it is not performing at optimal levels. And my organic half is able to compensate. I am… impaired by the atmospheric disturbances, but I will not, as you put it, shut down."
"Oh." Being "impaired" doesn't sound great, and "somewhat functional" isn't a particularly glowing description, but it does sound like Brainy is okay overall. "Good."
Brainy finally leaves the rock alone, straightening. "It would be a good idea for us to find shelter. And we will require water and sustenance."
"Any idea which way to go for all that?" Winn asks.
"No direction seems superior to the others for any reason that I can discern."
Winn nods, then he closes his eyes and spins around. When he stops, he opens his eyes and points. "Let's go this way."
Brainy is staring at him like Winn started speaking in tongues. "You're determining our direction by… spinning?"
"You said no direction seemed better than any others," Winn replies. "Do you have a better way to pick one?"
Brainy makes a face, but he doesn't reply. If he did have a better way, Winn knows he'd be bragging about it right now, so it seems he doesn't. Winn grins smugly. "Thought so. Come on. This way."
He starts walking. Behind him, he hears Brainy sigh, and then he hears footsteps begin to trudge after him. Winn's grin widens.
He's trapped on an unknown, tech-nullifying planet with a guy who's half robot and always seems like Winn is annoying him just by existing. What could go wrong?
In Querl's time, there are people who call Coluans cyborgs. It's considered by many to be an offensive term. Personally, Querl's main issue with it has never been that people use it to hurt him - he's a Dox, people say things to hurt him all the time and he's gotten used to it - but instead that it's completely inaccurate. A cyborg is a creature that is born organic and later given mechanical and technological augmentations. There hasn't been a fully-organic baby born on Colu in centuries.
In the past, Coluans were considered experts when it came to genetic manipulation. It's a genetic mutation, carefully curated through the years, that has given the Dox family their twelfth-level intelligence. It's also genetic manipulation that allows Coluans to have a lifespan of approximately half a millennium. But after a while, they reached a point where they had perfected Coluan genetics as much as was possible. Any other species would have given up there, but the Coluans didn't. The Coluans introduced technology.
The organic-technical interface that a Coluan body has is much more sophisticated than that of a cyborg. That's part of the reason why Coluans find it so insulting to be called cyborgs, when cyborgs are so decidedly inferior to their own design. A Coluan is born with their technology already embedded in their body, and it will stay that way for the rest of their life.
This raises a bit of problem for Querl at the moment.
Because of the interface between his organic and technological halves, Querl is still mostly functioning. His organic half is able to keep his technological half running, if not at its optimum levels. However, Querl knows it won't be able to keep working forever. Sooner or later, his technological half is going to begin to fail. The less important functions will go first, and then, if they don't get off this planet, his more integral systems will fail. If enough of those go…
Querl told Winn he wouldn't shut down on him, as Winn put it, but if they stay on this planet for too long, that might prove itself to be a lie.
"So," Winn says. Querl looks over at him. They've been walking silently so far, but apparently no longer. "The whole half computer thing. How does that work?"
"Instead of being solely organic like humans are, Coluan bodies have technological aspects to them," Querl says.
"When do you get them?" Winn asks. "Like, is this something that happens when you're a kid, or…"
"You misunderstand. Coluans are born like this."
"You're born like that?" Winn demands. "So you're born with technology already inside you? How does that work?"
"Centuries of genetic manipulation and quite a few prenatal procedures."
"Okay," Winn says, looking like he's warming up to the topic now, "but we fought this other Coluan a few years ago, Indigo. She was, like, way more robotic than you. How does that work?"
"Coluans can have additional technological implants added to their bodies after their birth," Querl says. After a moment of hesitation, he gestures at the implants in his forehead. "I gave myself these implants when I was a child."
"You gave yourself-" Winn gapes at him. Querl waits for him to actually say something of substance. "How did you give yourself technological implants as a kid?"
"It was not a simple procedure," Querl replies. "But if you are picturing Coluan children like human children, you are mistaken. Coluan children mature intellectually much more quickly. And as a twelfth-level intellect-"
"Let me guess, you were even faster," Winn finishes. He peers at Querl's forehead and frowns a little. "You know, Indigo had lights in her forehead too. Three of them in a triangle, kinda like yours, except they were red. Her implants looked more like your belt, actually."
"I'm not surprised," Querl replies. "This is the symbol of the Brainiac clan."
Winn stares at him. "Wait, you're saying that you and Indigo are related?"
Winn stares at him for a while longer. It's strangely familiar and unfamiliar at the same time. Querl is used to being judged based on his more evil family members, but most people already know who he is when they meet. He's not used to people finding out partway into an acquaintance.
"So Indigo chose to be more robotic, then?" Winn asks.
Querl blinks. Perhaps his predictive matrix has already begun to fail, because that wasn't what he was expecting Winn to say. "You aren't uncomfortable about my relationship to Indigo?"
"Dude, my dad was a terrorist super villain," Winn replies with a shrug. "I'm not gonna judge you because your distant relative was a terrorist super villain too."
Of course, Winn doesn't know about the rest of Querl's family. If he knew about the first Brainiac, he might feel differently. If he knew the full, bloody truth of the Brainiac lineage…
Then again, Winn has been very good at surprising Querl so far, so maybe he'd surprise him here too.
"Is that a cave?"
Brainy looks up, following Winn's gaze. "It appears to be one, yes."
"Awesome," Winn cheers. "About time we found some sort of shelter."
Brainy frowns a little. "It is not unlikely that this cave is already being used as a shelter by some other creature."
Winn makes a face. "Can you do a life form scan or something?"
"Not without a functioning omnicom."
Winn groans. "So we're just going to have to sneak up to the cave and hope we don't get eaten?"
Brainy shoots him a somewhat derisive look. "There are quite a few ways that we can check for inhabitants without getting close enough to worry about being eaten. We can check for animal prints, or check for remains of food, or check for water in the area, or-"
"Okay, I get it," Winn interrupts. "Can we just go do that so we can get some rest? I'm exhausted. Deserts are the worst." He glares up at the sky. "Especially with two suns. Isn't one sun enough?"
Brainy looks up at the sky as well. "With two yellow suns, it is possible that a Kryptonian like Supergirl or Superman would be more powerful than they are on Earth."
"Cool, but that doesn't help us," Winn retorts.
Brainy shoots Winn a dirty look, then looks down at the ground. "I don't see any animal prints."
"Neither do I," Winn replies. "And I don't see water anywhere near here. An animal wouldn't make a shelter where there wasn't water nearby, would they?"
"Assuming the creature required water to survive, no," Brainy replies. "But not all species do."
"Do you need water?" Winn asks curiously. He doesn't know much about Coluans, but what he does know is pretty interesting.
"Yes, but not as much as humans," Brainy replies. "Although I may require more while we're here. Normally, my technological half is able to compensate for some of the needs of my organic half, but that's impossible with the atmospheric disturbances here."
"Your tech half is still working though, right?" Winn asks. He really doesn't want Brainy to shut down on him.
"It is still functioning adequately," Brainy replies. "I believe some abilities will begin to shut down soon, but the least important ones will be the first to go."
"Cool," Winn replies. He's too tired to think about that too much. "Can we go in the cave now, or do you want to keep checking?"
"I've seen no signs of animal life here," Brainy says. "It seems to me that the next step is to check the cave itself."
"Finally," Winn sighs, going to the mouth of the cave and stepping in. It's small, barely big enough for two people to lie down without touching, but it's unoccupied and sheltered from the suns.
"No one in here!" Winn calls.
"Good," Brainy says, stepping inside. He looks around. "It's not very big."
"It's got enough space for the two of us," Winn replies. "I mean, it's not ideal, but I think we can manage sleeping close to each other for one night."
Brainy makes a face. Winn has the feeling that he's not fond of sharing his space. "Very well," he says, although he doesn't sound happy about it. "Do you wish to sleep now, then?"
"Sounds good to me," Winn replies, shrugging off his jacket to use as a pillow. "Do you want to sleep closer to the entrance or farther away?"
"Whichever you do not prefer," Brainy replies.
"Cool," Winn says, balling up his jacket and curling up as close to the back wall as he can get. "Night, Brainy."
Brainy lies down on his back and rests his hands on his stomach. He looks incredibly stiff, but his eyes are closed and he does actually seem to be asleep. Winn has no idea how he managed to fall asleep so fast. It must be a half-robot thing.
Even though Winn is exhausted, he's not half-robot, so it takes him much longer to actually fall asleep. He just keeps thinking, wondering about how exactly he and Brainy ended up on this random desert planet, and why they're the only two people who popped up here. Who could do this? Why? Is something happening back on Earth with the DEO, something they need his help with? How long until the others find him and come to get him?
Winn huffs and wiggles a little on the ground, trying to get into the most comfortable position he can manage. No positions are that comfortable, but some are less uncomfortable than others. When he finally wiggles his way into the best one, he closes his eyes, tells his brain to shut up, and actually manages to fall asleep.
When Querl wakes Winn, the first words out of Winn's mouth are, "Your forehead lights aren't glowing."
Querl is very aware of this. He knew his implants would be the first things to fail, as they're the least essential. That doesn't make it any less annoying that they're not working. They help him to keep his twelve thought tracks under control, and without them, his thoughts keep spiraling and getting lost amongst themselves.
"Brainy?" Winn asks, sounding a little concerned, and Querl realizes he hasn't replied to him.
"It's alright," he says. "I can survive without the implants."
"Their failure is irritating, but not serious. I'll be fine."
Querl has clearly grown too dependent on the implants if their loss is impairing him this much. He can hardly think, except that isn't the real problem, the real problem is that he's thinking too much. If anyone else accused him of thinking too much, he'd say there was no such thing, but with his mind whirring at top speed and snatching at any flitting thoughts that drift through his mind, he thinks he might be mistaken. There is such a thing as thinking too much, and it's this.
"Brainy?" Winn says, sounding alarmed now. Querl has the feeling this isn't the first time Winn has said his name. "Are you sure you're okay?"
Querl wrestles his thoughts back into line the best he can. "The loss of the implants makes it difficult for me to think straight. But their loss will cause me no physical harm."
"Are you going to be able to figure out the work-around that you talked about yesterday?" Winn asks. "The thing with the Legion ring?"
It's most likely that the atmosphere here is emitting some sort of frequency that is interfering with their technology, so if he can figure out that frequency, he can work around it. The ring may require a power boost, depending on how far away-
"Brainy?" Winn demands, grabbing Querl's arms.
Querl twists out of the grip. "I can figure out how to get the ring working again," he says. "We should get moving."
One of his thought tracks has dedicated itself to figuring out how long he has until more essential functions begin to fail. It's not particularly uplifting, especially if he's unable to get access to food or water. If his organic half begins to suffer from the lack of sustenance, its ability to keep his technological half afloat will suffer as well.
"Ugh, I'm so thirsty," Winn whines as he ties his jacket around his waist. "We need to find water."
"If we find a settlement, they're likely to have water or know where to find it," Querl replies. Although, given what they've seen of the planet so far, it wouldn't be inconceivable to think that the dominant species here might not rely on water to survive as much as either humans or Coluans. In that case, it's possible that finding civilization won't help them find water. And if that happens-
"Should we get moving?" Winn asks.
"Yes," Querl says, standing and starting out of the cave. "Shall we continue in the same direction that we were walking in yesterday?"
"Unless you think going another way is better," Winn says, shading his eyes with one hand. "I mean, everything looks the same to me, but…"
Querl scans their surroundings and tries to compare the different possible routes, but immediately his brain crowds itself with far too many thoughts for even him to keep straight. "None of the routes seem superior to the others," he tells Winn, doing his best to shut down the wild thought processes that just erupted in his brain. His mind feels like an exploding star. He's grown far too reliant on the implants. It's been years since he's had to think without them, and now his very mind is crippled by their loss.
"Okay," Winn says, eyeing Querl nervously. "Then let's go."
Winn starts walking, and Querl trudges after him. He hopes Winn doesn't feel the need to add conversation to their trek. He's struggling to remember to keep walking and not just stop and think. There's no way he'll be able to keep up with a conversation.
Winn seems to understand that, because he keeps his mouth shut, although he keeps looking over at Querl with concern on his face. Querl ignores him the best he can, which means he shoves any Winn-related observations into a corner of his mind so only one of his thought tracks fixates on them. It's not perfect, but nothing about this situation could be classified as "perfect."
It's manageable. Querl has been through worse. He can manage this.
"Is that water?" Winn asks, pointing.
Brainy blinks. It seems to take him a few moments to realize that Winn spoke, and then another few moments to understand what the words meant. It's almost scarily slow for Brainy, who normally seems to think so much faster than anyone else. Then again, Winn's not sure that he's not still thinking fast. Brainy said that not having the implants makes it hard for him to think straight, and he's seemed distracted since they woke up this morning. Winn's heard him muttering to himself a few times, and when he's caught snatches of it, it's science that, Winn has to admit, goes way over his head. He doesn't think Brainy's not thinking. Instead, it's almost like he's thinking too much to focus on anything outside his own head.
"Perhaps," Brainy finally says. "Although it could be a mirage."
"It's on our way," Winn says. "Should we check it out?"
"It won't do any harm."
Winn starts heading towards the water, glancing behind him to make sure that Brainy's following. Brainy's paused a few times in their walking and required a bit of coaxing to get moving again. Winn's trying to be hopeful that it won't happen again, but he's not going to let his guard down.
"It really looks like water," Winn says, daring to hope a little. "I mean, it could still be a mirage, but…"
"Hmm," Brainy hums noncommittally. Winn's not sure how much he's listening.
When they finally reach the water, Winn kneels in front of the little pond and dips his hand in. The water is lukewarm, but it feels like regular water, and he's thirsty enough that he's willing to give it a try. "This is real water, right?" he asks Brainy first, just in case. "It's not going to kill us if we drink it?"
Brainy is on his knees, staring at the water blankly. Finally, he looks over at Winn. "I believe it is normal water, but I don't have any way of performing a thorough check at the moment."
"Then I guess I'll just drink it and hope," Winn says, cupping his hands together and filling them with water. He brings his cupped hands to his lips and takes a sip.
The water tastes normal, and nothing happens to Winn after he drinks it. That doesn't mean that nothing will happen, of course, but he's hopeful.
"It seems okay," he tells Brainy, sipping again. The water is warm and he thinks there's a bit of sand in it, but given that he hasn't had anything to drink for a day, it's more than good enough.
Brainy lowers his hands to the water and cups them together. He brings them up to his lips, but he seems to be struggling a bit.
"Whoa, your hands are shaking a lot," Winn says worriedly.
Brainy blinks and looks down at his hands as if he didn't even notice. "Coluans have neurological and muscular implants that aid in keeping our hands steady and perfecting our fine motor skills. Mine seem to have failed."
Will you still be able to do the work-around with the Legion ring? Winn thinks, but he doesn't say it aloud. Brainy is already staring down at his hands with what looks like fear in his eyes. Winn's not going to freak him out even more.
"You should drink," Winn says instead. "Coluans still need water, right?"
"Yes," Brainy says, slowly lowering his hands back into the water. He looks like he's concentrating very hard, and as Winn watches, the tremors in his hands die down a bit. His hands aren't still, but Brainy can drink the water much more easily.
Winn drinks as much water as he can hold, ignoring the hunger pains that start up again with a vengeance as he drinks, then he sits crosslegged on the ground with a frown. "We don't have any way to carry water."
Brainy winces a little and raises one hand to his temple. Before Winn can ask if he's alright, he says, "Do you see any evidence of civilization nearby? If water is uncommon here, as it appears to be, it would make sense that civilizations would arise near water sources."
Winn stands, shades his eyes with one hand, and looks around. If he squints, he thinks he might be able to see something off in one direction, but it's too far away to be sure.
"Maybe," he says. "Come here and look at this."
Brainy slowly gets to his feet and steps up next to Winn. "That way," Winn says, pointing. "Does that look like a town?"
Brainy's eyes narrow. "Perhaps."
"I guess we should probably head that way, then," Winn says. "We don't have anywhere better to go."
"I agree," Brainy replies. "Shall we, then?"
"Let's go," Winn says, starting to walk. Brainy follows.
Winn really, really hopes this is actually a town. He's not sure how much longer either of them can last here on their own.
Querl blinks, tries to clear his mind enough to concentrate on a conversation, and looks over at Winn. "Yes?"
"Why did you join the Legion?"
Querl frowns. "Why do you ask?"
Winn shrugs. "I don't know that much about you. I'm curious. And just walking here is really boring."
Having a conversation will be difficult, Querl knows. His focus is split in too many directions. Having a personal conversation while he's impaired like this might be a bad idea. Still, there's a chance that doing something will allow him to focus better, so Querl might as well try.
"I wanted to help people," he says. "To make up for what my ancestor did."
Querl laughs hollowly. "No, a different ancestor. The first Brainiac was known as the Collector of Worlds. He was one of the worst menaces the galaxy ever faced."
Winn stares at him. "Wait, you mean Brainiac, like, the guy Superman fights sometimes?"
"The very same."
Winn's eyes are very wide. Foolish, Querl berates himself. Why did he do that? Winn didn't know about Querl's family. He didn't judge Querl based on his relatives. Querl always wished for that in the thirty-first century, and now that he has it, he's promptly sabotaging himself. Typical.
"Okay," Winn finally says, "but even if your ancestor was a super evil bad guy, that doesn't mean that you're evil. You don't have to make up for it. It wasn't your fault."
Querl blinks. "There are many people who would not agree with that assessment."
"Screw them," Winn promptly replies. "You're not your family. You're not bad just because they're bad. You're your own person, and that means that you get to decide who you're going to be."
"This sounds like a practiced speech."
Winn looks a little embarrassed. "It might be something that Kara told me when I was worrying about turning out like my dad. And I might have told it to Lena when she was worrying about turning out like her family. Trust me, we all know what it's like to come from a bad situation, but that doesn't mean you need to stay there."
It's not what most people would say, but even just hearing one person say it is something. "Thank you," Querl says quietly.
"No problem," Winn replies. "You're kind of a pain in the ass, and you can be a bit of a jerk, but you're not a bad guy, Brainy."
"My real name is Querl Dox," Querl offers. "My fellow Legionnaires all call me Brainy, and I don't mind it, but…"
"Which do you prefer?" Winn asks.
"Either is fine," Querl replies. Hardly anyone calls him Querl, except Mr. Brande, and Luornu sometimes. Sometimes he thinks he's more used to being called Brainy than his own name. And in a way, hearing the title of Brainiac changed into something so casual and nonthreatening is a relief, a way of separating himself from his ancestor. But at the same time…
"I can try to call you Querl," Winn offers. "I mean, I'll probably forget and call you Brainy a lot, but it's the thought that counts, right?"
"Either is fine," Querl repeats, but he has to admit, he does sort of like the idea of someone calling him by his real name.
"Cool," Winn says. "I'll try to remember to call you Querl, then."
Querl offers Winn a tight smile, then stumbles over nothing. "Whoa!" Winn says, grabbing him before he can fall. "Are you okay?"
"My coordination is improved by implants. It would seem they've failed."
"Jeez," Winn says, tentatively letting go of Querl and letting him walk again. "Is there any part of your body that doesn't have implants?"
"Not really," Querl replies. "Normally, they allow me to perform at a level superior to most humans, but in this situation, I believe they're more of a hindrance than they're worth."
Winn snorts. "Yeah, I'd say so." He looks up at the skyline. "Look, we can probably take a break for the night soon. It's getting late, and we've been walking all day."
"We should look for shelter," Querl says, looking around. A corner of his mind starts to calculate the likelihood that they'll reach the settlement they saw before his body fails too much to keep going, but for once, Querl doesn't want to know the odds.
"Looks like there might be something over here," Winn says, heading towards an outcropping of rocks. Querl follows him, looking around for animal prints. They still haven't come across any signs of life. If they hadn't seen the settlement in the distance, Querl would wonder if there was life on this planet at all.
"Here we go," Winn says triumphantly. "One cave, just big enough for two."
The ceiling is too low for either of them to stand up straight, but the cave is large enough for two people. "Do you want to sleep closer to the wall again?" Querl asks.
"Sure," Winn replies. "Unless you want to?"
"I have no preference," Querl replies. He just wants to sleep. Hopefully, he'll be able to escape his own racing thoughts.
"Cool," Winn says, lying down. "Uh, goodnight, then."
"Goodnight," Querl says, lying down on his back and folding his hands over his stomach. He closes his eyes and wills his mind to slow. Normally, he's fairly good at falling asleep on command, and he's hoping that lasts now.
It does, and within a few moments, he's out. Hopefully, tomorrow will be a better day.