The Super Wizard From Space #36

"The House Of Eternal Ice" by

The Super Wizard From Space towed his wounded prisoner to a dying system in a lonely constellation. It was a place that had been full and vibrant when the universe was young, a very long time ago. Now, it's small, dense white star bled away its diminishing heat and weak light into empty space.

The wizard came as close as he cared to the dwarf star. It had an unwelcoming feel, of electron gas and burning metals and the memories of rocky orbits long wiped away. Even this close, it looked dull and numbed, kept on a meager life support by habit. And its inhabitant.

Orbiting until he was underneath, he gathered clumps of the dwarf's gravity in one hand. It took effort to pull together any sizeable amount, and what he did find felt muddy and slippery, falling apart in his grip. When he got ahold of as much as he could, he splashed it against the star's axis; a rumbling shake that could be felt through the star's dense shell. He waited, but there was no reply. He knocked again, another splash of gravity, but it was equally unanswered.

There was a time he would leave it at that. He was under no obligation to do more than try. Instead, he let some yellow-orange fusion drop between his fingers in long strands, rolling them up as loose string in the other hand. After gathering a length, he let his orange string drift out along, swimming in the dwarf's pale light. It wasn't a long message, but then, he wasn't even sure what to say.

A slow gurgle noise came out of his prisoner. The sasquonaut was suffering from traumatic pneumothorax due to injury int the chest wall. A wash of xrays had shown an ivory horn penetrating pleura and damaging lung tissue. A cocoon of static purple rays protected him from the rigours of space travel, but the laceration would eventually become fatal.

The super wizard propelled himself and his wounded prisoner into the dwarf's sparse stellar system. He could still feel the history of it in the particles of metal and gas. Orbiting planets swallowed and consumed by the shouting stretching fury of a red giant. That fury had expended itself, like all hot anger does, collapsing into itself and retreating into the cold small sun now in its place. The only thing that had survived the outburst were the distant connections barely within the white dwarf's gravitational influence.

Out at the very edge of the system was a disc of scattered cube-shaped asteroids, composed of frozen methanes, ammonias, and waters. They once circled their sun in a precisely maintained pattern, each equidistance from their neighbors, but years of neglect had given them eccentrically wide orbits. The super wizard approached one of the massive plutoid cubes, entering it through a dark square cut in the centre of one side.

Inside was a lattice of featureless halls that crisscrossed throughout, giving access to thousands of vaults. Each vault was a prison cell, each filled with ablock of dense ice that held frozen strange and still creatures. Some of them were gigantic, some of them were small. Some were monstrous, some of them of them were unnervingly plain. But no matter the size or shape, they all had their eyes open, their last expression still and unmoving.

"This won't be pleasant, but you'll survive," the wizard said to the sasquonaut as they arrived at an empty vault. "This chamber will induce a form of hypothermia. It'll slow down you bodily systems before cryopreserving you in nitrogen. You'll be in a perfect state of suspended animation."

A motion with both hands and he bent the purple rays, leading the prisoner's cocoon into the vault. He placed him in the middle of the large chamber, facing outwards. The sasquonaut couldn't speak; it only dribbled out blood and venomous murmurs, staring at the wizard with burning green eyes. The wizard looked back. A brief hesitation, he then left the vault and released the cocoon.

The vault instantly filled with an opaque white cloud. There was a hard crack, and the cloud solidified into glassy ice.

The sasquonaut was motionless. Its sounds had stopped. Its eyes were still open. Looking out.

"This is a mercy," the wizard murmured in assurance.

He wasn't certain how long he stood in silence, watching the frozen figure watch him. It might have been days if it wasn't for a ruby glow that slid toward him. He looked down the hall and greeted the approaching source, "Hello, Dragutin."

"A long time since you've reported in," said the arrival. He had black hair, cropped short and haphazardly kept. His skin was the boring pale of a shut-in, and he had the thin look of a man once healthier. He wore the night blue uniform of a Super Wizard From Space, except that the majestic gold elements were a deep ruby colour; it was a military style rarely seen these days. As rare as the red fusion wrapped around him like a pea coat.

"Sir. I tried to present myself, but you weren't in. I left a message..."

"I was in," interrupted Dragutin. "Heard you banging at my door. I was ignoring you." He stood at ease, feet wide and hands behind his back. "I was satisfied to let you come and go, 'til I saw you dragging your detainee here to the brig. Figured him to be one of your challengers. Seeing him now, though..." he glanced at the trapped sasquonaut, "...he looks more like a patient than a prisoner."

The super wizard felt uncomfortable. "You know about the tournament?"

"Course I do!" Dragutin barked. "Just because I'm out of favour with the rest of our mighty race doesn't mean I'm out of touch." He nodded curtly at the cosmic crown floating above the super wizard's head. "I see you're still armed. How far along are you, then?"

"I have five of the seven now, sir, counting my own."

"Which are left?"

"Emperor M's pschent and Queen Buzz's cavalier." It was comfortable to fall into habit. They had the safe familiarity of a blanket. But there was something about the questions that bothered him. "Who told you about all this?"

Dragutin ignored the topic change. "Not unexpected. Your next objective should certainly be the machine. Its been fond of the queen bee for ages, and she'll exploit that to shield herself. If M realizes she's using him, you'll be able to..."

"Who told you all this?" the wizard demanded. He didn't added the 'sir' to the end. He purposely held his tongue.

The red fusion seethed around Dragutin as a frown deepened. "No one told me. I was there, in the white marble hall when the challenge was first made. I was amongst the Super Wizards From Space that agreed to it." { Super Wizard From Space #2 }

The super wizard didn't know what to say. He didn't know what he felt. A heavy lump sat in his chest.

Dragutin sighed. "I know why you did it, soldier. Space greed; that world was lousy with it. If it had spread, we'd never be able to contain it. You had to make a decision, and personally, I think you made the right one. But the others... well, they're scientists and doctors. They don't have the stomach for hard choices."

"But they were okay with condemning me?" he demanded.

"Bravery's easier to find when it's not your own life you're laying down."

"And you? You gave me up as well?"

"You cracked a planet in half. Caused the extinction of two entire races. We weren't let with viable alternatives. It was a tournament or it was total war."

"But you agreed with me! You just said. I did what I had to."

"And I did what I had to!" Dragutin shouted back, furious. The red fire had become a fiery orange magma, flowing from him like liquid anger. "You think the others enjoyed swallowing their prides to invite me to that gathering? You think I was proud to be there, the exile and embarrassment, brought out so I could be the one to throw one of our own to the wolves?

"Don't start believing you were given that cosmic crown because you're the best of us. You were given it because, of all of us, you'd do what was needed despite the consequences. You were given it because you're a soldier."

The Super Wizard From Space stared at Dragutin and saw his own eyes stare back at him. An inevitability, unwelcome but understood. The cold lump felt a hundred times bigger, threatening to choke him. The room seemed too big and too small at the same time. The red wizard and his red fire seemed to loom and seemed far away.

"And what am I going to do now?"

Dragutin tapped his head. "You won't be given much of a choice, I imagine. Go after the mummy machine, then the queen bee. The last two. Finish this."

Already, he felt the crown tug at him. The weight of it in his thoughts, tilting them toward the last two. Its power dragged all reasoning to the tournament, circling all deliberation back to the remaining challengers. He found a comfort in the lack of options. His path was laid out for him. "And after I've completed this ridiculous tournament?"

Dragutin's burning light dimmed. His fusion faded to a weak red glow, and he resembled a pale recluse again. He turned his back to the super wizard and looked at the frozen prisoner's anger-filled eyes. "I suppose you'll do what you need to do."

Author's Notes

The idea of a prison in space only appeared once in the Stardust comics. Considering the peretrator of the story almost succeeded in killing everyone on Earth, it was pretty generous of Stardust not to turn him into a donut or transform his fingers into snakes or whatever nonese is his normal cue.

The structure itself looked a bit more like a levitating brownstone than any sort of cosmic penitentiary, but I suppose building codes are a little lax in outer space?

Coming next issue... "We are Genovefa Buzz, Queen Bee, Monster Swarm."