By SAMUEL HAWKINS
Chapter 3: A Reputation Preceding
"Itís not a trap," Saturn Girl blurted out from where she still sat.
Superboyís head instantly shot around to look at her.
"What did you say?" he asked.
Saturn Girlís hand reflexively moved to cover her mouth. She seemed to shrink with embarrassment, then said, "I said itís not a trap. Superboy, I am so sorry. I didnít mean to read your thought. I would never intentionally invade your privacy like that. I must Ö I was in there a long time. There must be some residual connection. Iím sorry. It wonít happen again."
Superboy eyed the girl carefully. Every physiological cue detectable by his enhanced senses indicated that she wasnít lying. Perhaps more importantly, his instinct told him that her regret was genuine.
"Itís okay," he said after a while. "Donít worry about it. Just Ö a residual connection. Iím sure these things happen."
She shook her head forcefully. "It shouldnít. I shouldnít let it happen. Itís very important that I stay out of othersí minds."
He smiled to reassure her. "Itís okay. Youíre just really tired."
Reluctantly, she nodded, and said, "I suppose so."
They were quiet for a moment, then Superboy asked, "You pick up anything else while you were in there?"
She frowned. What to tell people about what you knew about them and they didnít was one of the most difficult ethical dilemmas any telepath faced. "Nothing Ö nothing important," she said initially. But after a pause and a rapid consideration, she added, "Iím sorry that you donít like it here."
Too quickly, he said, "No, itís fine. I like it fine." He was about to protest further until he recognized the look on her face. It was very similar to one heíd seen his mother wear when he was trying to hide some hurt from her. He knew that, telepath or not, he wasnít fooling Saturn Girl on this one. "Youíre right," he admitted. "I donít like it here."
She nodded. "I didnít pick up the why," she said.
He sighed. "I Ö I guess I just donít feel comfortable here."
"Really?" she said. "Weíve certainly tried to make you feel comfortable."
"And I appreciate it," he explained "but youíve tried too hard. Like last night at dinner. After every statement, Lightning Lad would stop and say, ĎIf you think thatís okay, Superboy.í Or how Triplicate Girl kept offering to get up and get me more food. Or how Cosmic Boy kept offering to have my quarters redecorated if I didnít like them. I donít know that I can explain it exactly. Itís Ö itís kind of like Ö like Iím visiting royalty. No, itís worse than that. Itís like Iím a relic thatís been dug out of the ground, and if Iím handled too roughly Iíll crumble."
"But donít you understand why we would act that way? Superman is a legend that weíve all heard about ever since we were children."
"But Iím not Superman," he protested. "At least not yet. Iíve only been Superboy for a little over half a year. All Iíve done is catch a few bank robbers and stop a couple of monsters. I donít deserve all this Ö attention."
Imra Ardeen paused, not knowing quite what to say. Knowing all about the brain wasnít quite the same as knowing all about human emotions. She was about to suggest that the hero worship he disliked would dissipate as everyone became accustomed to his presence, when he added, "Then, on the other hand, sometimes you all treat me like Iím a dumb hayseed."
His statement shocked her. "What Ö what do you mean?"
He began to pace about the room. "I mean like yesterday at the member tryouts after the meeting. Now, I understand that neither Smellie Nellie nor the Clean Queen would probably have made good Legionnaires. That doesnít mean they needed to be ridiculed like that."
Saturn Girl winced at his statement. "Youíre right. Some of us were rough on them. Itís not the first time itís happened either. Iíll speak to Cosmic Boy about putting a stop to it. But why did that bother you so much?"
"Because when I mentioned to Sun Boy and Colossal Boy that mocking them like that really wasnít necessary, they went into this big phony act about how it had been discovered in the 28th century that people really did like to be ridiculed. They went at it for a while, and got a big laugh when I just walked off."
"Those Ö boys," Saturn Girl said sharply. She was about to speak further, when Superboy continued.
"Or how Bouncing Boy and Invisible Kid were laughing last night at dinner, when I had trouble working the desert machine and made 10 pounds of some kind of chocolate mousse called A Dark Night Returns.
Saturn Girl clenched her fists silently.
"Or how everyone was doubled over laughing when I lost five games of Spaceopoly in a row to Proty."
Saturn Girl just shook her head.
"Or how everyone seems to think that itís funny to drop references to what Iím pretty sure is my future, then just say, ĎOh, nothing,í when I ask them what they meant."
Saturn Girl grimaced. Sheíd been guilty of that one herself. "Sorry about the mermaid comment," she said contritely.
Superboy turned to look at her. "That was meant for me? I thought you were talking to someone else."
She couldnít help but groan. Could she handle this any more poorly?
"What did it mean?" he asked.
She groaned again. "I can tell you this only because of what we just did with your memory. It means that Ö when you grow up Ö youíll Ö fall in love with Ö a mermaid."
Making no attempt to hide his incredulity, he looked at her closely for what seemed to her a very long time. Finally, he said, "You're kidding."
With a stab of self-consciousness, she looked away. "No," she answered reluctantly. "I'm not. That's what happens."
He continued to stare at her for a moment, then slowly shook his head. "Well, I'll be," he said flatly. He looked up, either at the ceiling or at Mars. With him, it was impossible to tell. After a while, he said, "See thatís the problem. To you all, Iím not a real person. Iím a story that you learned a long time ago. And everyone but me knows how it ends."
"But that will all change," she said forcefully. "A few more visits, a few missions, and everyone will get used to you. And youíll learn how to do things like program the dessert machine and play Spaceopoly. Before you know it, youíll be just another one of the guys."
He looked at her, and slowly shook his head. "I Ö I donít know. Maybe Ö people are just meant to stay in their own time."
Saturn Girl bit her lip with concern. The look in his eyes told her just how serious was his discomfort. She had to talk him out of this, she realized. She just had to. He was too important to the future of the Legion.
And besides, he was a really nice guy to have around.
Whatever further arguments she might have produced were suddenly lost forever, erased by the wail of an alarm. Immediately, Superboy looked at her for explanation. "Thatís the Priority One Alarm," Saturn Girl said with obvious concern. "Something bad is happening. Weíve got to get to the Mission Monitor room! Fast!"
She sprinted out the door, and was surprised to find herself aloft. No one had picked her up like that since she was a child. She learned what it was like to move like a bullet, and in seconds, she and Superboy touched down in the Mission Monitor room.
Waiting there were Cosmic Boy and Brainiac 5. Both wore remarkably grim expressions. "Whatís wrong?" Saturn Girl barked.
Cosmic Boy began to speak, then found that his mouth was too dry to do so. He paused, and swallowed hard.
Then, almost whispering, he said, "Mordru. We Ö we have to go after Mordru."
|TOMORROW'S LESSON Copyright 2000 Samuel Hawkins.  All rights reserved. This story is neither authorized nor endorsed by DC Comics. Superboy, Clark Kent, Martha Kent, Jonathan Kent, the Legion of Super-Heroes, Cosmic Boy, Lightning Lad, Saturn Girl, Chameleon Boy, Triplicate Girl, Brainiac 5, Sun Boy, Phantom Girl, Colossal Boy, Shrinking Violet, Bouncing Boy, Invisible Kid, Mordru the Merciless, Smallville, Metropolis, & Krypton are TM DC Comics & © DC Comics, Joanne Siegel, and Laura Siegel Larson.