The Apokolips Agenda
NOTE: Characters in this and succeeding chapters are property of DC Comics. No money is being made from this story, no infringement is intended.
There came a time when the old gods died. The brave died with the cunning. The noble perished, locked in battle with unleashed evil. It was the last day for them. An ancient era was passing in fiery holocaust.
The final moment came with the fatal release of indescribable power which tore the home of the old gods asunder--split it in great halves--and filled the universe with the blinding death-flash of its destruction.
In the end, there were two giant molten bodies, spinning slow and barren, clean of all that had gone before, adrift in the fading sounds of cosmic thunder.
Silence closed upon what had happened...a long, deep silence, wrapped in massive darkness. It was this way for an age.
Then there was new light.
--Jack Kirby, THE NEW GODS #1, 1971.
Part 1: Homecoming
Aboard a grotesque spaceship that bore the features of its maker, the two greatest foes of Superman had made a gathering. Brainiac had to perform a slight tesseract to get all of them in. Even so, both he and Luthor knew that many still remained on the five Earths they had taken them from. There was only so much capacity.
The living computer spoke.
"Our foe, the Anti-Monitor, has fled or has died. Not even I can detect his presence, either in our universe, or in his. My calculations must be true. The Crisis he created is over. But great unsettlement remains. We all crave power, for various reasons. Now is the time to strike. Not even the heroes of the five remaining Earths can withstand our combined power."
Not all of those who listened to Brainiac nodded, but most knew the truth of that. Super-villains outnumbered super-heroes by a factor no one had yet calculated. If they all struck at once, in coordinated effort, little could be beyond their grasp. Better yet, within their grasp might be the lives of those heroes who had opposed them, defeated them, imprisoned them.
"Listen now to Luthor of Earth-One," said Brainiac, whose face resembled nothing less than a metallic death's-head. "He shall be our field commander. We have the worlds within our grasp. It is our time, now."
"Wait one bloody second!", said one attendee, an older man with red hair. "Who appointed that second-rate lab-rat our spokesman?"
Lex Luthor of Earth-One turned, his warsuit primed for action. He recognized the voice. It was his Earth-Two counterpart, the older Luthor who had fought that Earth's Superman. His Man of Steel was dead now, killed in the Crisis. He had never lost his hair. He had never lost a wife or son. On top of that, he had even worked with the Earth-One Luthor, in a joint effort against the two Supermen.
The man was a damned ingrate, and Lex was fully in favor of wiping him out with an energy bolt.
Brainiac's metallic hand was already raised. "The decision for leader is mine," said the robotic being. "But you are correct. We do not need two--"
That was as far as Brainiac got.
A blinding bolt of light shot through his chair and body, melting a great hole in his midsection. The lights in his eye-pieces sputtered and died. His upper section toppled over, banging onto his feet and rolling to a stop. His lower torso and feet remained seated.
Both Luthors gaped. So did most of the people in the room.
A newcomer had arrived. Many of them recognized him.
"He was incorrect," said the new arrival. "We did not need him. Now you have me."
Luthor of Earth-One swallowed. He couldn't force a smile, but he did try to be casual as he said, "Pleasure to have you back."
The new leader began to address his troops.
Supergirl was already in costume by the time Dev-Em woke up. He saw her through the opened door of the next room, brushing her hair before the mirror.
"Kara?", he mumbled, using heat-vision to get the sleep out of his eyes and hoping he didn't burn the furniture.
She turned and smiled at him. Her smile, he thought, had power enough to illuminate the darkness between Earth and Aldebaran. "‘Lo, Dev. I'm glad you're up. I was going to have to wake you."
He was only wearing white shorts and was half-covered by the sheet of the bed in her room at Legion Headquarters. "You're really going back today?"
Kara Zor-El walked back into the bedchamber. Hairbrush still in one hand, she bent and hugged him. "I have to, Devian. I still live in the 20th Century. Got to get to work. I was on my way there when the Legion summoned me." She felt the firmness of his naked chest against her and was very glad she had become his lover. Her empty hand stroked the contours of his back. His arms were holding her as well, and she bit her lip to keep passion from overruling judgment.
She could stay with him for a year here, easily. Two years. Longer. But she had a life, otherwhen, and she had to get back to it.
"Then I guess we'll try to make it on the weekend," said Dev.
She put the brush down, pulled her head from his shoulder, and took his face between her hands. "I want us to make it through the week, Dev."
He looked at her tiredly. "Kara. I have a job to get back to, also."
"I know, Dev. But what if you came back with me? To the 20th? Just for a week?"
His eyes widened, then he looked away, disgustedly. "No, no, no. Emphatically. Love you. Hate your century. Earth people in the 20th have barely left the caves. I was born in that century, but on Krypton. In this era, Earth's caught up."
She sighed. "Look, Dev. I'm not asking you to live there. I just want to, well, be with you for another week. Want to show you around."
"Show me around."
Kara nodded. "Uh huh. I'd like you to meet Mom and Dad."
"Oh, capital. ‘Good evening, Mr. and Mrs. Zor-El, I'm the man who's boffing your daughter.' ‘Good of you, Mr. Em. It's about time somebody did.'"
She grinned and put her hands around his throat. "I ought to, you know. I really ought to."
"Actually, you need to improve your grip. I could show you, wouldn't take a minute. The way you're holding me now would be okay against your garden-variety human, but put it on a Krypt or a Daxamite, and before you could squeeze twice he'd be handing you your pretty little blonde head."
Kara said, "Dev, you idiot. I was talking about my Earth Mom and Dad. Edna and Fred Danvers. I'm too busy to go to Rokyn this week. But I'd like you to meet my real parents, too, when we get a chance. It's just that--" She ran a finger down his nose. "--That before I came up here, Mom and Dad, that is, Fred and Edna, both of them were onto me about meeting a guy. And getting married."
"Don't say ‘Oh.' I haven't dragged you to the sun-altar yet, have I?"
"Not yet. Marriage cuts down on good sex."
"How would you know? You've never been married, either."
"No, I haven't. But...carry on, Kara."
Supergirl pushed him down gently on the bed and poked a finger in his chest. "So I want to show them the nice young man who picked me up in the 30th Century. Just be as charming as you are to me, and you'll do just fine." She looked at him with sincerity. "I mean it, Dev. I want you to come home with me. Just for the week."
He sat up and swung both legs over the side of the bed. "Kara, darling. Listen. Do you think your parents are going to be really enthused about us sharing what I'm about to get out of? Marriage, yes. Parents are overjoyed to hear that their daughters are getting married. But living together? That means you're despoiling their little darling. They come after you with Kryptonite and chains from Daxam."
"Hey, I despoiled you, too, remember? I wanted to be despoiled."
"Yeah, and you despoiled very well."
"You're sweet, Dev."
"One tries, dear." He put his hand against her cheek to feel the warmth of her. She closed her eyes at his touch.
"If you keep doing this I'm going to have to delay my takeoff by at least thirty minutes. Maybe an hour."
"Well, we wouldn't want that, would we?"
"Yes, we would."
Afterward, lying beside him, she stroked his hair and said, "You're coming back with me."
"Bet you I can convince you."
"I shudder to ask how, Kara. So...how, Kara?"
She leaned closer and whispered in his ear, "The showers in these rooms are marvelous, Dev. Really, they are." She kissed his ear.
By the time they used the heattowels to get the last of the water off, she looked at him and said, "Well?"
He sighed. "All right, Kara. One week."
It had been a month since the Crisis on Infinite Earths.
The greatest mystery on several Earths was: where were the super-villains disappearing to?
The Justice League, Justice Society, Justice Force, Marvel Family, and Freedom Fighters had discovered numerous enemies of theirs simply vanishing from the planet. It did not happen all at once. Some were taken early, others later, and a few were not taken at all. But the maximum security prisons which dealt with hypernormal felons were missing many inmates, and could not say where they had gone. Even videotaped spy-camera feeds showed only that the prisoners were there one second, gone the next.
It was ominous. The governments and heroes of each Earth were notified, and searches were made. But no one could learn, just yet, where the villains had gone.
The heroes were on alert, but figured that they would learn all too late.
The trip between times was always bracing, but Kara and Dev both knew how to do it well. They did it holding hands.
She had oriented them spatially in such a way that, when they finally stilled their time-piercing motion, both materialized within the living room of Linda's apartment in Chicago. They halted their residual motion. Kara still wore her Supergirl outfit, but Dev was dressed in a friction-proofed brown men's suit of a fashion worn in the late 20th Century in America. They'd had Computo work it up on the Legion's clothes synthesizer for him.
He looked at the room, appraisingly. "This is where you live?"
"Of course," she said. "How do you like it?"
He shrugged. "Twentieth Century," was all he said.
Kara didn't press him. "Look, I've got to go to work. If you want to leave, use super-speed so that nobody will see you. Meet me on the corner by the brown house around noon and we'll do lunch. We'll work out details on how to show you to my neighbors then."
He adjusted his glasses and swept a bit of hair back in place. "I'll leave, all right," he said. "Only flying could make this backward era bearable. So. I'm Dev Emerson while I'm here, eh?"
"You got it," she said, smiling. "You're American born, but your dad was a Brit. That's where you picked up the accent, but being from here saves you from answering any embarrasing questions about contemporary Britain."
He picked up a paperback book from Linda Danvers's coffee table. "Cat's Cradle, by Kurt Vonnegut," he said aloud. "This is a reading book?"
"Of course," she said, heading for the bedroom. "You open it. There are pages with words on them. You read them. That's what a book is."
"Oh, for Rao's sake," said Dev, paging through it. "I know what a book is, Kara. It's just that I usually read from a comp or a cube or something. Are you--"
He looked up and stopped.
Kara was dressed as Linda Danvers, with brown hair neatly combed and held in place by a red headband. She had on green pants and a blazer over a white shirt, and wore a silver necklace. Her shoes were black and stylish, but sensible.
He had never seen her like this before. "Hullo," he said. "Is this your secret identity?"
"Yup," said Kara, adjusting the shoulder strap of her white purse. "Call me Linda Danvers. Gotta go. Bye." She kissed him on the mouth, and was glad she rarely wore lipstick these days. A fire burst up in her being, but she tamped it down. Work was calling.
At the door, she hesitated. "Dev," she said.
"Nobody's sending us a signal, like the Legion does, are they?"
"No," he said, straining his super-hearing. "Nothing more than a woman, presumably your landlady, operating some sort of noisy contrivance. Seems to be a whirring and snuffling noise."
"She's vacuuming," said Kara. "No hypersonic signal, huh?"
"None at all."
"For a moment there, I don't know. I felt like I did when the Legion was calling me to help out with Satan Girl." She looked thoughtful. "Anyway, we're going to have a wonderful time here, Dev, count on it."
He smiled. "Some of it may even be out of bed."
Kara didn't dignify that with a reply. She just went out, closed the door, and greeted the morning as Linda Danvers. She used her telescopic vision to locate the nearest cab heading her way, and waited for him.
She shivered, a bit. She hadn't told Dev all she had felt, back there.
She didn't know you could feel darkness.
Despite her feeling of premonition, Linda Danvers got to work at the University of Chicago, did lunch with Dev, finished out her workday, and came back to introduce Dev Emerson, her new boyfriend, to her landlady Mrs. Berkowitz, and to Joan Raymond, Cheryl Delarye, and John Ostrander, her friends who lived in the same apartment building.
Dev managed to get through it all okay, thankfully. He smiled a lot, charmed them with his faux-Brit accent, and told them he was a "security consultant." When John asked him more about his business, he replied that a lot of it was confidential, but that he'd had to protect a lot of folks carrying important information. That much was true, even though those beings wouldn't exist for another ten centuries. John was suspicious, but willing to give him the benefit of the doubt.
It was tough for Linda to keep from showing too much physical affection in front of the others. She restricted herself to some hand-holding, a peck on the cheek, and a hug every now and then. But her buildingmates could read the story in her eyes. She could read the story in theirs, too: Joan and Cheryl were glad for her. And so was John, with some reservations.
Before dinner was over, Mrs. Berkowitz asked Linda into the kitchen to help with the dishes. She went, knowing that soapsuds was probably the last thing on Ida Berkowitz's mind.
She was right. As Ida went about washing plates and silverware in one sink tub and rinsing them in the other, Linda reached out to help. The old woman held up her hand. "Shah, no."
Waiting, Linda folded her arms across her chest.
Still looking at the dishes, Mrs. Berkowitz said, "This man, Mr. Emerson. You are in love with him, no?"
"I believe I am," said Linda, leaning against the wall.
"You believe? I see the both of you acting as if you've just been married and want to get in your car with the cans tied on the back and find a hotel, God help us. But you're not married."
"No," allowed Linda. "We're not, Mrs. Berkowitz."
"Not such a good thing, Linda." She wiped off a flower-patterned plate and stuck it in a rack. She glanced at Linda. "I can tell this is your first. You've never been in trouble."
Linda looked indignant. "Mrs. Berkowitz! I..."
"Nu, you're going to tell me you're protected now, aren't you?" Ida put another dish in the rack. "There's lots of girls that were protected that somehow forget their protection, or maybe it doesn't work right, and boom! Next thing you know, they're in the maternity ward. They find out what birthing a baby is all about. It ain't pleasant, let me tell you." She pointed a spoon lightly at Linda. "They also find out that maybe the loves of their lives don't wanna be in love no more, when the number is three, instead of two. You understand?"
"Dev is not like that," bristled Linda. "I am not pregnant. And I resent this line of conversation, Mrs. Berkowitz."
Ida turned to Linda, drying her hands on her apron. "Linda. I been there. I been a married woman, and, God help me, I've never forgotten what it was like with my Hymie. Nor with my...my daughter."
Linda felt a rush of sympathy for her landlady. Hymie Berkowitz had died in the Holocaust. Her daughter, Rachel, had turned into a super-villainess, Blackstarr. Supergirl had fought her twice, and had no idea where she was at present. The old woman had survived. But sometimes survival wasn't pleasant.
"I see a nice woman like you. 29 and you ain't never been with a man. Am I right?"
"That's right," nodded Linda. "Not...before Dev, that is."
"So you know this man? How?"
Linda drew a breath. "I know this man very well, Mrs. B. A lot more than you'd believe?"
"Oh? You do? How, Linda?" She held up her hands again to stop Linda's reply. "Listen to me. Yesterday you go to Mr. Clark Kent's wedding, the nice man whom you met in Metropolis when you was in the orphanage. You were excited, sure, but not like you are today. I even think you were a little sad. Now, today, you're up in the air, your feet don't touch the ground unless they're anchored. You say you met him after the wedding."
"That's correct," Linda said.
"In other words, this gentleman sweeps you off your feet just after you see two people get married, and you're maybe thinking that you're never going to go to your own wedding in your lifetime. Also correct?"
Linda opened her mouth. No words came out.
Ida Berkowitz looked at Linda with some pity.
"Listen," she said. "God forbid I should stand in the way of love. If it really is love. If this was thirty years ago, even twenty, I might kick you out of the house. But it ain't like that no more, and I like you too much to do such a thing, Linda. But something there is about that guy, I got to tell you, I don't like."
Ida paused. "Seems to be hiding something. ‘Security consultant'? So all right. Maybe he is. Maybe he's got to be Mr. Secret to do his job. You sure this is really what he does?"
Linda nodded. "Sure as I can be."
"Like how? You been to his place of business? Could you take me?"
"No!" burst out Linda. "I mean, yes, I've been there, and no, I couldn't take you. He made an exception for me."
"And I bet I know why he made that exception, don't I?" Silence for a moment. "Don't I, Linda?"
Linda was determined not to cry. But she didn't look at Mrs. Berkowitz and one of her hands was clenched in a trembling fist.
"I can't tell you everything about him, Mrs. Berkowitz," she said in a shaky voice. "But I can tell you this one thing: you're wrong about him. He's a good man. I know. And I know I love him."
Ida went to Linda and hugged her, putting her younger friend's head against her shoulder. "Linda, Linda. I'm sorry, believe it, for having to put you through this. But, God knows, Linda, the way I talk to you ain't gonna be nothing compared to the way your mother will talk. You understand? To me, you're a friend I wouldn't see hurt. To her, you're her baby."
"Thank you, Mrs. B," said Linda, fighting for control. "You're such a good friend. I know, to you, Dev's...maybe mysterious. But I know, oh, a lot more than you do about him. And I know we're in love. Can you maybe trust me on that point?"
"I can hope for you," said Mrs. Berkowitz, breaking the hug enough to look Linda in the eye. "And I can pray for you. Will that do?"
"Only if you pray for Dev, too."
"That's gonna take some doing."
After a second, Linda burst out laughing. Mrs. B smiled, as well.
"Now you wanna go back again? Okay. But put your hands in the dishwater first. I don't know it's gonna fool anybody, but it's worth a try."
Linda smiled and obeyed.
There was a rap on the kitchen door. "Linda?" Dev called. "Everything all right?"
"Be out in a minute, Dev," said Linda. She dried her hands on a towel and looked at Mrs. Berkowitz one last time. The older lady didn't say anything, but gave her a look of compassion--and caution. Linda turned and opened the door.
Dev stood there, in his tinted glasses and his three-piece suit. She was almost beginning to get used to him, like that. "You haven't been eavesdropping, have you?" she asked.
"Me?" He faked a look of astonishment. "Most assuredly not! I only listen in on private conversations when I get paid for it. By the way, that'll be five dollars."
She grabbed him by the lapels and gave him a mock-exasperated look. "Come on, you." To her landlady, she said, "Don't wait up for us, Mrs. B."
Mrs. Berkowitz rolled her eyes skyward, briefly. "I don't think I could."
Linda and Dev walked outside and down the sidewalk, taking in the evening coolness. He put his arm about her waist. She fished in her purse for a disk and handed it to him.
"What's this?", he asked.
"An IFF disc," she responded. "Identification Friend or Foe. Us flying types have to wear them in our belts. That way it lets national defense systems know that we're not incoming missles and they don't have to fire at us. Put it in your belt buckle before you do any flying."
He stuck it in his pants pocket. "Firing on us'd be a waste of a perfectly good missle, anyway. Well, Linda? A sightseeing tour first, or..."
She put her arm about him and leaned her head against his shoulder. "Or. Definitely or. The sights will be there to see later."
"Woman after my own heart. Should we go to my hotel? I can't stand the place, personally, but at least it's not under your roof where your landlady would disapprove."
"Um." She said. "Your hotel room isn't all that soundproof."
He reflected. "Got a point there. I suppose we might be a bit loud, at times."
"I know a great place up north," she said, still walking with him, but guiding him towards an alley in the next block.
"Like where, Lindaish?"
"Don't use a Krypt suffix with my name when we're like this," she said. "But. I'm thinking. The Fortress."
He stopped and did a double-take. "You mean...your, ah, your cousin's place? The one we just saw destroyed?"
She snuggled against him and put both arms around him. "It's still in shape now, and I know Kal isn't there right now. He's still on honeymoon with Lois. I can get us in there okay, Dev."
"You think we won't be interrupted?"
"I'll hang a ‘Do Not Disturb' sign outside the door."
He sighed. "Okay. Just remember, love, it was your idea."
The two of them entered the alleyway. To see the way they left, one would have had to be looking skyward and have the vision powers of the Flash.
In a Holiday Inn near Omaha, Scott Free awoke.
He sat up in bed, wide-eyed. His wife, Barda, roused herself. "Scott," she said. "What's wrong?"
"Uh?" He looked at her in the semidarkness. After a second, he began to breathe normally. "Barda."
"Yes, me," she said. "What's wrong, Scott? Nightmares again?"
"Not the usual kind," he said. "Not about Granny's orphanage."
"What about, then? You're not nervous about the show tomorrow, are you?"
"No," said Scott. "Barda. You know that we managed to keep out of that big Crisis thing, right?"
She looked at him quizzically, but placed a powerful hand on his bare arm to try and reassure him. "Sure. It didn't touch us directly. Glad it didn't. What's up?"
"I'm not sure," he said, hesitantly. "I got a feeling that maybe, it's not over. And you know the one we hoped would keep out of the whole thing?"
Barda nodded, silently.
"I've got a feeling he's watching us," said Scott.