Something lanced through Tasmia Mallor's closed eyes and into her brain.
She grunted painfully and tried opening one eye.
The light was blinding.
Swiftly, one arm came up from other the covers and cut through the air, cloaking the room in darkness.
Tasmia, newly named Shadow Lass, sat up in bed and sighed.
It was only dawn right now, and already the sun was too bright. Why did Earth's sun have to be so intense?
Well, there was no help for it. She was well and truly awake now, with the beginnings of a headache and pangs in her stomach.
Time for food. Water would probably help the headache some, at least.
Marla Latham snorted and rose back to consciousness in a series of mental fits and starts.
What woke him up?
There was an insistent beeping from his bedside table. Marla reached over blindly and groped for his handheld computer.
He grabbed it and brought it close to his face, squinting. He had to tilt it a few different ways until he could get the glare off the screen and read the words underneath.
Finally, he managed it.
"All right, I'm getting up," he grumbled to himself. "Hold on."
Tasmia tried to pull her hood up farther and stepped into the kitchen.
Nura was sitting there, two plates out.
Tasmia stopped and stared, then flipped her hood down. The windows had been blacked out and the artificial lighting was on softly.
Dream Girl looked up at her new teammate and smiled, gesturing at the empty chair.
The new Legionnaire took a seat cautiously.
"I know, it's a bit weird," Nura told her, smiling reassuringly. "But I wanted to talk to you."
"Really?" Tasmia asked, looking over her breakfast suspiciously. It looked mostly familiar…
"I was surprised to see you yesterday. I didn't think I'd meet the Shadow Champion until I was officially High Seer."
Tasmia shrugged, her mouth full of eggs.
"I mean, you're their Head of State. Their… High Priestess. Their Queen."
"We've been in our own system too long," she told Dream Girl. "There was a time when we had the best strike-and-run fleet in the galaxy. A time when we were sought out by other planets for trade and politics. Now everyone ignores us and talks about how barbaric-"
Nura noticed the face she made and fixed the need to mention this sensitivity to the others soon.
"-and backwater we are. I'm the Shadow Champion. I have a responsibility to do the best by my people, and to do that I need to get them out into the rest of the galaxy. But I can't do that if I have no idea what anyone else is doing. That answer it?"
Nura sat back in her chair and watched Tasmia finish her food.
"And the Legion is a good way to do that?"
Shadow Lass put her plate aside and wiped her mouth.
"Of course. Where else do you get to travel the galaxy, meet new people, and beat up criminals at the same time?"
Dirk was up early out of habit. It was too early to go down to breakfast at this hour –he liked eating in company- and it would be dreary to just sit around. He might as well do something.
It was in that frame of mind that he was going down to the cruiser. Maybe Dawnstar was right and it wasn't quite as hopeless a case as he had thought.
The door was already open. Who else could possibly be up right now?
He walked in and looked around. The lights were on and someone had clearly been busy, but there wasn't anyone aroun-
"Did you want something?"
Dirk spun around and screamed a bit.
There was a head there- no body. Just a head.
Brainiac 5 glared at him.
As he watched, the rest of his young teammate's body walked itself out from around a jutting section of the cruiser.
Dirk tried to steady himself as the younger boy's neck retracted, until he appeared more normal.
"Uh…" he said, trying not to let his shaken state show in his expression and failing. "You're up pretty early."
"I am not made of biological compounds," Brainiac 5 told him flatly. "I have no need to sleep."
"Well, I was going to try and work some on the cruiser-"
"I am vastly more intelligent than you. I am handling the situation, which you were presumably unable to do, consummately. You would hold up progress and be in the way if I were to let you- 'assist'."
Shadow Lass looked up as the door to the kitchen opened quietly.
"You look nervous this morning," Dream Girl remarked.
Cosmic Boy's eyes darted around the room.
"She's not in here, is she?"
"'She'?" Tasmia asked, confused.
Nura rolled her eyes.
"Shrinking Violet's not up yet, Cos. And you can't spend all your time sneaking around. You're going to have to talk to her sooner or later."
"But she's Imskian!" he said, pulling up another chair.
"And my planet's been at war with her planet on and off for centuries!" he exclaimed, uncharacteristically agitated. He was making wide gestures in such a haphazard manner that Tasmia doubted he'd even noticed he was doing them. "Nearly every adult on both of our planets has personally fought someone from the other! Imskians train their children to fight! Personally!"
"Imsk is a warrior planet?" Tasmia asked, interested.
"Mercenaries, bodyguards, and bounty hunters, mostly," Nura told her. "The best fighters stay on-planet as a permanent part of the army, or government security."
"I should look her family up," Cos said into his hands. "I bet she holds a personal grudge or something. A parent killed in battle, or an older sibling, or something."
"You're being pessimistic, Rokk," Nura said. "Lighten up. That sort of thing happens in movies way more than in real life."
"We're superheroes," he reminded her. "How is our 'real life' any different than a movie?"
Lyle wandered the hallways of his new home, enjoying his morning of discovery. He'd seen a bit of the building during his earlier visit, but not nearly enough to find his way around easily.
He was in the middle of fixing this when he ran into Colossal Boy in the hallway.
The other Legionnaire smiled at him, a bit nervously, and Lyle switched direction to walk with him.
"You tell your dad about this yet?" Gim asked.
Lyle shook his head.
"Nah. Figured I'd save it a few more hours. I left a note saying I might be at a friends' house overnight when I left yesterday. So I've got a little more time before I call home and say what really happened."
"That's a lot more than anyone down at the station would do. But I guess you are his son."
"What? You think I'm going to call my father and say 'Hey, Dad, guess what? I went and joined that team you hate, so I won't be coming home. Can you send my stuff over?'. Mom's going to be the only one home soon. She can tell him."
Gim looked down at him.
"He yells at home, too?"
"Not really," Lyle admitted. "But I've spent so much time invisibly hanging out in HQ that I keep thinking he will. But I know he's not going to be happy when he hears about this."
Colossal Boy smiled tentatively at him.
"No sending your stuff over, huh?"
"No," he said seriously, shaking his head. "I packed everything important in a bag before I snuck out and stashed it before tryouts. Dad'll probably rent a storage locker and clean out my room. Or throw it all away."
Gim's steps faltered for a moment before he found his stride again.
"He'd really do that?"
Marla Latham looked up from his desk and put his call on hold temporarily.
The walls were shaking.
Laurel Gand punched the wall again in frustration, the building materials crumbling under her fist, leaving a small crater.
She pulled her fist back again and felt it connect solidly with the wall. Hitting things on this planet was- much more satisfying than doing it on Daxam, where things didn't fall apart.
And she hated herself for thinking that.
Daxam is superior in all things, she chanted to herself mentally. All else is beneath notice. All else is dust which scatters in our wake, all else is ignorance and tainted. Daxam is enlightened. Daxam is pure.
Laurel hated being here. She hated being off her planet, out in the company of mongrel trash, where strange things happened in her body, where the very atmosphere could kill her if she took her protective transuit off, and suddenly everything was too fragile. She'd broken the bed on accident getting into it last night, and had to sleep on the floor.
Why am I doing this? she thought, infuriated, tears starting to leak out of her eyes. Why did I let them send me away like this? Why did I leave home?
Clarence, a saner part of her whispered. You're doing this for Clarence. Remember what happened to Uncle Roger? Aunt Aurelia? You want that to happen to Clarence?
Laurel sobbed once, remembering, and stopped punching the wall. She reached up to wipe the tears away, but only managed to spread the uncomfortable wetness around her face under the transuit.
And I can't even feel anything through this thing! she thought savagely. It keeps the lead away, and protects me from getting contaminated by everyone else, but I can't even tell if the air is moving!
Still angry, she stalked over to the lockpad and stuck her hand on it.
It didn't react.
She took her hand off and pushed it against the pad harder. It still didn't do anything- not even light up to say that the reading was wrong.
And the thing keeps my body heat in, too!
Laurel ripped the lockpad out of the wall, the trailing wires sparking slightly as they fell out of the hole. She grabbed the door with both hands and pulled.
The screech of distorting metal dragged across the ground and forced into position echoed across the building.
Lyle saw an opportunity.
He sped up slightly, leaving Gim behind in the hallway, and hooked his arm around Shrinking Violet. He felt her jump violent in surprise before the world tilted suddenly.
He looked up from his new position on the floor at his teammate's focused expression. "I guess that was kind of a bad idea."
It looked as though something connected in Violet's head, because she promptly let go of the arm she'd used to throw him and started to back off, only to hit Colossal Boy.
"Hey, it's okay," Lyle assured her brightly, standing up. "I should've known better than to sneak up on an Imskian."
"I thought that was impossible," Gim said, smiling slightly.
"Hey, you learn something new every day."
He caught Violet around the shoulders as she tried to inch around them.
"C'mon," he said. "Let's go find the other new guy. There's science to be done!"
Violet said something. Lyle cocked his head.
"Sorry, what was that?"
"How do you know I'm interested in coming?" she asked again, only a little louder.
"I looked you up," he said, dragging her along. "Salu Digsby, flew through school in record time on Imsk. Studied heavily in physics. You're a science person at heart."
She didn't say anything and he looked over at her.
"C'mon, aren't you at least even a little excited? There's a Coluan in the building! We can go talk to him! We're going to be working with him! How awesome is that?"
They had just entered the short hallway that lead to the doors of the cruiser hangar. Suddenly they slid open and Sun Boy stalked out.
"You're going in there? Good- you can deal with the brainiac in there."
Saturn Girl stepped softly into the hallway that Laurel's room opened into. The door was mangled and the doorframe and threshold had bright metallic scores on them from where her new teammate had forced her door open.
"Andromeda?" she asked.
The girl whirled around.
Imra came closer.
Laurel took a step back and glared at her.
"The only thing wrong here is this door," she growled. "I knew aliens were despicable, but I had thought that even Earthlings would know how to make a building properly."
Imra frowned slightly. "That's an offensive word to use, Andromeda."
"I knew that, psychcreep."
Imra's head jerked up.
"There was absolutely no call for that," she said quietly.
Andromeda glared down her nose at the senior Legionnaire.
"You exist, don't you?"
Saturn Girl straightened up some.
"I know you're Daxamite, Laurel Gand, but you're on Earth now. You have no right to insult people simply because you think you're entitled to."
"I do have the right," Andromeda said fiercely. "How dare you say otherwise!"
Imra was about to say something in reply when she picked up a thought.
"You don't need to prove anything to the people on Daxam," she said. "You're your own person. You don't have to do something just because they told you so."
Laurel's head jerked back as if she'd been slapped.
"Whatever they've told you, Laurel, they're wrong," she continued as the other girl's thoughts practically shoved themselves at her. "You don't need to be perfect. You don't have to act like this."
Andromeda's mouth worked for a few seconds as she searched for words. Ultimately, though, language failed her.
In blind anger, she took a swing at Saturn Girl.
It was sheer luck that Imra had caught the stirrings of the impulse before Laurel had act on it. She'd moved quickly to the side, and Andromeda's fist just skimmed her cheek before burying itself in the wall.
She stared at her teammate in solemn silence for a moment.
Andromeda herself was staring wide-eyed at the crater she'd made.
"You could have killed me, Laurel."
The new Legionnaire's expression immediately fell back into smoldering anger. Andromeda turned on her heel and stalked off.
Querl watched Sun Boy leave the hangar briefly, then turned back to the cruiser, refusing to be baffled.
The boy was obviously inadequate for the work that needed to be done. Simply having the fact pointed out shouldn't have caused that reaction.
At least he was alone again, now.
As usual, a part of him he had long since ceased to be conscious of locked up his gut reaction to that thought.
"Hey. How's it going?"
Brainiac 5 looked up into the smiling face of one of his new teammates.
"Fine," he said tersely, and looked back down at his work.
He heard a sigh.
"It's nice if you give more detail than that, you know," Lyle told him.
"You asked how my progress was. It is fine considering the interruptions I have had to endure. Further detail is not necessary."
"You could try to sound friendly, too."
"That would imply that I am actually interested in the other person's company."
"You're really not into the whole socializing thing, are you?"
"There is work to be done."
Lyle scooted into his line of sight.
"Great! That's why I'm here! What still needs doing?"
There were a few long seconds of silence as they stared at each other.
"I'm doing it," Querl said eventually, trying to figure out in his head why this other boy was so interested in sticking around. "Help is unnecessary and entirely unwanted."
"You're not even trying, are you?" the other boy asked, tone changing slightly.
Trying what? Querl thought. He didn't let it show.
"I mean, I've told you what you're doing wrong-"
"I'm not doing anything wrong."
"Yes, you are. You just did."
"No I didn't," Querl said, looking over at the ship, thoroughly confused now. "The panels-"
"I'm not talking about the ship!"
Salu sat against the wall, knees drawn up to her chest, trying to fade into the background and just watch.
This situation was so… odd. She hadn't really expected to get in. She wasn't even sure why she'd thought showing up would be a good idea. In afterthought, it seemed like impulse.
That was not normal. Salu was certain her mother would have stopped her if she'd known and hadn't been so distracted. Uncle Boza-
She looked up for a moment at Colossal Boy, who was smiling down at her a bit anxiously.
"So… I heard Lyle- you study physics?"
Salu looked away and hid her face against her knees.
"Um… you're awfully shy, aren't you?"
Just leave me alone. I don't want to talk to anyone right now.
He tried some humor.
"I guess Shrinking Violet is a pretty good name for you, huh?"
Salu bit the inside of her cheek to keep from saying something rude.
That's Mama's special name for me. Piss off.
"It works pretty good with your powers too, though." It sounded as if he was chattering aimlessly out of nervousness. "It's pretty descriptive- I mean I guess everybody's names are pretty descriptive- but then you've got Cosmic Boy, which is actually pretty vague- but- oh…"
Thank Valor he shut up. Maybe he'll go away now.
There was silence for a few minutes, and eventually she chanced a glance upward and saw him looking off towards the ship, one hand in his hair, expression forlorn.
He caught sight of her looking at him and smiled nervously.
"You know, y-you're pretty-"
The door screeched open.
Andromeda stormed blindly into the room, mind reeling; unable to reconcile the two parts of her.
She's right, I could have killed her-
No, that doesn't matter, it's an alien-
You're a good Daxamite-
It would be murder-
Remember Uncle Roger-
Mother used to say-
She knows better now-
Clarence would hate-
He won't be at all if you don't-
"Did you want something?" an annoyed voice asked.
Laurel's thoughts screeched to a halt as she looked up.
Here was something both sides of her could agree on hating.
"No one would ever want anything from you," she spat, and got a little bit of satisfaction out of the slight flinch she noticed with her newly-enhanced vision.
"If you have no constructive business here, leave," Brainiac 5 continued. He looked around the room. "And that goes for the rest of you, too."
"Who are you to order me around?" Andromeda demanded, stalking towards him. The boy she remembered from yesterday faded out of view, and she was peripherally aware of movement elsewhere as well.
The Coluan stared up at her impassively.
"I am the one attempting to do something constructive with my time- whereas you seem to be concerned only with causing trouble."
Laurel snorted and sneered at him.
"I'd be more worried about you, Brainiac."
This time the flinch was much more pronounced.
"What, you didn't think anyone was going to notice?"
Someone will notice you-
She squeezed her eyes shut tightly for half a second, trying to will the voice away. But it persisted.
You're no better than he is-
"Have fun with your little deception while it lasts," Andromeda growled.
She turned and strode out.
Please Valor, make this stop...
Triplicate Girl walked into the room and stood in the doorway, hands on her hips.
"I talked to Sun Boy," she said.
The other occupant of the room ignored her.
She waited a few moments, and then sighed in exasperation.
"Querl, c'mon. I've told you that if someone says something to you, you say something back."
"That would incite a conversation and I have no interest in social interaction. It is a distraction from useful endeavors."
"Those 'useful endeavors' wouldn't be possible if people didn't talk to each other, Querl," she said, walking over. "You have to talk to share ideas."
"That is an acceptable use of time."
Luornu stood next to him and watched him work, thinking.
"Is this really all you want to do with your life? Work? All the time?"
He looked at her, expression slightly annoyed.
"There's nothing better to do."
Querl went back to work.
"You're never going to make any friends if you don't talk to people," she said, and found herself wondering again why he always got just a little bit colder whenever she mentioned the word. "And I don't care if you are Coluan- you need people."
"These 'people' you speak of are by and large blithering morons who find it impossible to comprehend the majority of what I say and have no interest whatsoever in taking the time to actually think."
"You should give that Lyle kid a chance. He seems pretty smart-"
"He has already taken up too much of my time today with distractions. As you are now doing."
Luornu gave up on being polite and glared.
"Why aren't you even bothering to put some effort into this?" she demanded.
He looked at her impassively.
"Lyle said much the same thing. It made little sense then, as well."
"Into being nice, Querl!" she exclaimed. "You can sit at a table for hours and focus on a project, but if someone walks in the room you act like they don't exist or aren't worth your time. There are some people in this galaxy who'd like to be friendly, but you make it really hard!"
Luornu waited for a response, but got none.
"Why? Why aren't you even trying a little bit? Do you like getting yelled at all the time?"
Querl's head jerked towards her and he glared at her silently.
Triplicate Girl stood with her arms crossed, trying to pin down the emotion she could just see behind his eyes.
Whatever it was, Brainiac 5 forced it back again. He blinked, expression going perfectly blank; and went back to work.
Salu had fled as soon as Andromeda has forced her way into the room, losing Colossal Boy in the process.
She had enough to deal with without listening to a xenophobic Daxamite screaming at people, or a guy she'd barely just met trying to strike up a conversation.
Her stomach growled at her. It had been a long time since she ate the rest of the snacks she'd bought on coming into the city yesterday.
Where was the food in this building, anyway?
She started wandering and eventually came to a hallway that looked somewhat familiar, though there wasn't really much to distinguish them around here.
She picked the largest set of doors and reached for the keypad.
It swooshed open before she touched it, and suddenly she found herself at eye-level with the familiar Braalian disk-pattern.
Shrinking Violet looked up into the shocked face of Cosmic Boy.
There was a moment of surprised silence, and then she opened her mouth.
Immediately, Cosmic Boy spun around and took off, leaving her staring at a an empty common room.
"Excuse me?" she said softly to herself.
Phantom Girl had finally figured out what had been bugging her all day. She hadn't seen Marla Latham at all yet. Usually he was down at breakfast, and stayed at the table for as long as he could so he'd have the chance to say 'good morning' to everyone.
She phased through the building, checking all the rooms quickly. Eventually she found him up near the top floor, collapsed into his heavily-cushioned chair.
Tinya phased back in and walked over.
"Where've you been all day, Mr. Marla?"
He stood up, a little stiffly.
"I had a call, Tinya."
She thought of the time and raised an eyebrow.
"What, was it your mother?"
Marla smiled at her tiredly.
"No- it was yours."