The Apokolips Agenda
For Rac Shade and Mellu Loron, the troubles seemed to be over. For the moment.
The two of them, both law-enforcement agents from the dimensional world of Meta, had become involved in a harrowing series of adventures that began with Shade's imprisonment on a false accusation of treason and attempted murder. The victims had been Mellu's parents, and she had stalked him to the Earth-Zone when he escaped, trying to neutralize him. But she had finally learned the truth about the criminal conspiracy that had framed Shade, and, with a small group of Metans, managed to clear his name and win him a pardon. They had also brought down the crime lords, whose leader, the Supreme Decider, had been Mellu's own mother. In between all that, they had come to the Earth-Zone, rescued their friend Wizor, and defeated Dr. Z. Z., who had held him hostage.
Now they were back on Meta, looking out at the capital city from the veranda of Mellu's home. For once, Shade didn't have to worry about being recognized by floating police patrols. And Mellu didn't have to worry about Shade's life being in jeopardy.
"Know what I'm thinking?" murmured Shade, pulling Mellu a bit closer.
"Oh, I have a good guess," she said, snuggling up a bit more.
"Not that. I'm thinking about giving up the field-agent bit, Mellu, and becoming a full-time trainer at the Academy."
"Do it. It's what you did with me, way back then. It's also a lot safer than chasing Crime Lords through the Area of Madness."
"I'm never going back there," he said. "Never."
She shuddered a bit. "I'm thinking of when I had to go through there. And what you did to bring my sanity back."
"Hey. I'd do it again, if I had to. But only if I had to."
Mellu sighed. "And on top of it all...my mother was Sude."
"I'm sorry, Mellu."
"I am, too. She's still in a coma, but in a prison hospital ward. Dad...I don't see how he's still together."
"He just takes it a day at a time, like we do."
"We have to see him once a day, Rac. I won't have him thinking we're not there for him when he needs us."
"We're getting married, Mellu. Can't take him on the honeymoon with us."
"Then we'll have to wait on the honeymoon till later!"
"Why don't we ask him what he wants? Maybe we can find him someone to..."
"Rac! The man has just found out his wife was head of the Crime Combine! Don't you have any empathy for what he went through?"
"Oh, I do, Mellu. I've also got empathy for what I went through, and for what you and Wizor and all the rest went through. But we need time for ourselves. To bond together. Man and wife. Don't you agree?"
"I do," she said. She touched his fingers, stroking them. "But I just don't want him to think he's off in the No-Zone because we and Mom aren't around."
Shade sighed. "Your Mom is still around, Mellu. One of these days she'll come out of that coma."
"The doctors say she's aware of what's happening around her. That she can hear and feel. But she can't react to it."
"I know what they say."
"I hate to say it. But...I'm not looking forward to her coming out of it."
"Go get the M-Vest. I think somebody's phasing in."
The red-haired man snapped his head in the direction Mellu was looking. It was true. Four indistinct figures were warping in from somewhere...Zero-Zone, Earth-Zone, it couldn't be determined. They had to be Crime Lords. He grabbed Mellu's hand and pulled her along with him as he bolted inside.
Once in the house proper, Shade touched a control stud and metallic walls schussed into place, blocking off the veranda. He and Mellu ran full-tilt through their home and into a grav-lift, which lowered them quickly two levels down into the sub-basement. They sprang out. Shade went to the east wall, spoke a code word, and watched two sections of the wall separate.
In a chamber within was hung a red plastic-and-metal vest with gold symbols. The M-Vest, the source of Shade's power. He stripped off his pants and shirt and donned it, all within the space of ten seconds. Mellu went to another part of the basement and selected a formidable-looking blaster. She had been well-trained in its use. Sometimes, with living targets.
They heard a voice from the direction of the lift. "Mr. Shade? Uh, if you can hear me, please acknowledge. We don't mean any harm. Can we come down?"
"No!" said Shade and Mellu, in unison.
"All right," said the voice, which was male. "Can we talk from here?"
"You have ten seconds to identify yourself," said Shade. "Then we take you in." He nudged Mellu towards a panel in the wall. She activated an alarm. The Metan security force would be there within a minute or two.
"This has gone on long enough," said a woman. A pair of legs began to descend in the lift. Shade had already activated the M-Vest.
"Stun, not kill," said Shade, sotto voce, to Mellu. He hoped she would heed him. These interlopers probably were Crime Lords, out for revenge. But there was the merest chance that they weren't. And Shade knew all about misunderstandings.
The woman who descended in the lift was a white-haired beauty in a dark-green robe-suit that left her legs bare. She wore boots of green and gold and a metallic tiara. She didn't look particularly afraid of them. "Hi. I'm Jennifer Morgan. I'm from Skartaris, on Earth."
"Stay where you are," said Shade.
"I can't," she answered. "Amethyst is right behind me. Just let me move out of the way."
Mellu hefted her blaster. "You phase into our home without warning. You apparently know who we are. You really expect us to believe you're not Crime Lords?"
"I really expect you to listen," said Jennifer, "because we've come a long way and we need your help."
Another person was descending in the lift. It was a teenaged girl, by the looks of her; a blonde, dressed in a short purple garment and boots. On her forearms were golden bands, on her forehead was a purple tiara, and she had a golden-hilted sword buckled by her side. An offensive weapon, noted Shade, but hardly of much use against Metan weapons.
"I'm Amethyst," she said. "I'm also from Earth, but I live in another world, as well. Are you Rac Shade?"
"I have been," he acknowledged.
"We need your help, sir," she said, politely.
Mellu was wary, but dumbfounded. Why would the Crime Lords use a girl who looked about fifteen years of age as one of their pawns? If she was a pawn, that is.
While the conversation was going on, the man who had first spoken to Shade came down the lift. He had a sword in hand, and it hummed with unMetan energy. Shade noted that, of all the three newcomers, he looked like he wanted to be here the least.
"Hi," said the man. "Look, we're not here to fight. And we're also not the bad guys. My name is Jim Rook, but you can call me Nightmaster. I'm from Earth, too. But I've spent some time in Myrra. That's an extradimensional world, kind of like, uh, this one. Only it isn't."
"What have you come here for?" asked Shade. "Why should I believe you?"
Nightmaster started to answer. Then, as he kept looking at Shade, something happened to take the words away from his brain and mouth. Perhaps his nerves had something to do with it. After all, he had been taken from his warm bed in the middle of the night, turned into Nightmaster again by three freaky witches, convinced he had to join in a gig with all of Earth's heroes against somebody called Dark Side, and dragged along through a dimension warp to this place.
And now this guy called Shade was changing...
His body seemed to enlarge, distort, and become like unto that of a nightmare demon. Part of him was still of normal proportion. But his left arm and right leg became incredibly large, rubbery, brightly-colored, clawed, forbidding. Shade's normal head seemed superimposed over a much greater, uglier, horrifically-grinning caricature of himself. As if he had a demon within him.
Jim Rook wasn't sure what he was up against, but he had fought wizards before.
The singing sword held before him, Nightmaster got in front of the women (which irked Jennifer considerably, and Amethyst somewhat, since both of them had magical powers to dwarf his own). "Don't come any closer," warned Rook. "Especially with your big parts."
Shade advanced, seeming to grow more terrible with each step. Even the sorceresses seemed to see his distorted-self now. Amy's hands glowed with power, and Jennifer raised her own hands, beginning to mutter a spell. Mellu's finger tightened on the activator of her weapon.
A new voice stopped all five of them. Another woman, one in blue and red. She hadn't come down in the lift, but she was there in the sub-basement, beside the other newcomers.
She had a no-nonsense attitude that made even Mellu ease up on her trigger finger.
"We have need of you, Rac Shade," said Harbinger. "Doctor Fate and Doctor Mist have directed us here. Apokolips threatens the Earths, and, through its link, Meta. We will explain along the way."
Shade turned down the power of his M-Vest, and the monstrous illusions disappeared back into his normal self. "You'll explain right now," he said.
"Come with us," said Harbinger.
"Rac," said Mellu. "We can't trust them."
The Metan hesitated. "Mellu," he said. "We must hear them out."
"This has gone on long enough," said Jennifer, and spoke a short spell. On impulse, Mellu grabbed Shade's arm.
That, and only that, allowed her to accompany him as the two of them were yanked through dimensional space to a strange satellite. It wasn't Metan, and looked beyond Earth's technology.
"Where are we?" said Mellu. "Why are we here?"
"We are in the Monitor's satellite," said Harbinger. "And we are awaiting word from Dr. Fate to tell us how we may save the Multiverse."
Shade said, "That does not explain much."
With a wry look, Nightmaster sheathed his sword. "Buddy, if you understand it, you're way ahead of me."
Lightray hated...simply hated...the fact that his allies had beat him to Apokolips. But he had been holding back out of caution. The Kryptonians had been impulsive, trusting more to their power. After all, had they not taken out over a thousand para-demons among the three of them? And now, look at them...
That was just what he was doing as he whisked out of the fading Boom Tube. Looking at the three of them, Superman, Supergirl, and the one called Dev-Lem or something else. Plus the huge, yellow-skinned bruiser, fallen on the floor not far from them. Plus Orion, who was pent in a cell underneath one of Darkseid's immobility rays.
Plus the strange, red-costumed, green-skinned man who was radiating an unholy green aura. He looked surprised to see Lightray.
But he was still killing the Kryptonians.
First things first, Lightray decided. Remove the source of trouble. He activated his hyperspeed and, trailing light-bursts, slammed full-throttle into the Kryptonite Man's midsection. The sound of the villain's "Urmph!" hadn't time to issue from his lips before he was slammed into a stone wall, and almost through it.
K-Man looked stunned. At least, thought Lightray, he looked like he'd stay where he was. Perhaps he was far enough away from the Krypts for them to recover. He'd need their invulnerability to extricate Orion from his cell. If Lightray tried it himself, he'd be as paralyzed as his friend.
He turned, and felt the new presence before he saw him.
"We're simply going to have to step up security around here," said a voice like granite on slate.
Before him, having phased in as silently as air, blocking him from the bodies of Kal, Kara, and Dev, looking like a barricade if barricades had eyes glowing with Omega Effect power, was Darkseid.
The power was about to be unleashed.
There would be time for fear to catch up to Lightray in a few moments. Right now, he had to outspeed that fear and everything else.
The New God's power thrust against the back wall and shot him forward with a velocity only the Flash could have bettered. He angled up, then down, in a desperate fake-out dodge, and sensed the blaze of the Omega Effect eye-beams going over him and between his spread ankles even as he rocketed into Darkseid's massive legs.
Like a toppling cliff, the master of Apokolips fell on his face.
Lightray did not slacken his speed. He could not afford to. The decision of who to save was already made. He cursed himself for it.
He grabbed Dev-Em by the shirtfront in one hand and Superman and Supergirl by their capes in his other. Mentally, he activated his Mother Box to open a Boom Tube before him. It took a second, a damnable, interminable second.
The air crackled with the presence of another Omega Effect blast.
Lightray had to outrun the thing.
He blasted through the mouth of the energy-tunnel, dragging the threesome behind him, feeling the surge of deadly power loosed at him. It would strike his charges first if it made contact, but it would take him, as well.
He would either be transported to another dimension, time, or place, or he would be disintegrated.
Come on, he told himself. Come on...
Measuring the physical distance traversed in a Boom Tube is almost an impossibility. A tubular warp created by the living computer that is a Mother Box, it can seem to take seconds or minutes to pass through. Those seconds or minutes can be the longest time in a traveller's life.
The Omega blast was catching up...
The towers of New Genesis were visible through the far end of the Tube. But, Source take it, they didn't seem to be close enough.
Then Lightray felt an unexpected boost. An arm around his shoulder, forcing him forward like a booster rocket. He sent another surge of power through his legs, the light-power giving him another thrust through the tube of salvation.
All four of them shot through the end of the Boom Tube like a cylinder through a compressed-air tube. Lightray angled them down. The Omega Effect reached its limit about a mile beyond them and some distance above them and exploded, with nothing to destroy. The Boom Tube faded.
Lightray finally looked at the face of the person who had boosted him, and saw it was Supergirl.
"Thanks for saving us," she said, smiling wanly. The Kryptonite had hurt her, he could tell.
"Thank you for saving me," he replied. "Darkseid's Omega Effect almost destroyed us."
They began to descend towards the streets of the city, with Celestials pointing up towards them, flying patrolmen buzzing nearer, and their tension beginning to ease a bit. Kara took Dev from Lightray's hand and supported his bulk with her arms under his armpits. Lightray switched to holding Superman the same way.
"We were careless," said Kara. "Didn't check to see who Darkseid would have waiting for us. Thought we could get Orion out of there with just our speed. In short...we were stupid."
Lightray looked grim. "I had to leave him," he said. "He who is a brother to me. I had to leave him there."
Supergirl touched ground on the plaza before Highfather's palace, setting Dev down lightly. "I know, Lightray. But we didn't have a choice."
"The green man," said the Celestial, touching down with Superman. "He is one of your old foes?"
"One of Kal's," said Kara, slapping Dev lightly. "Wake up, honey. The guy used to be known as the Kryptonite Kid. He went through a green Kryptonite cloud in space and absorbed its power. He can kill me, Kal, Dev, and anyone else from Krypton. Dev? Come on. Speak to me."
Superman was stirring. He snapped his eyes open. "Lightray," he said. Then: "We must have failed."
Lightray nodded. "For the moment," he said. "But with Darkseid, all we seem to hope for is a working stalemate."
"Oh, Sheol," groaned Dev, finally rousing himself. "What a headache. El, tell me. Was that another one of your unending parade of people who want you dead?"
"As a matter of fact, it was, Dev," snapped Superman. "I can lend you a few, if you'd like to take them home with you."
Kara sighed, and sat down on the grass beside Dev. Some of the passers-by were taking note of them, but Lightray's mien seemed to warn them away. "Sorry it had to be like this, Devian."
He grasped her booted ankle and rubbed it gently. "Not like you planned it this way, Karaish."
She hesitated. "I want there to be a time when there's nothing for us to fight, Dev. When there's just the two of us together again, doing...what we do together."
Dev smiled at her. "Haven't we been doing a lot of that already?"
"Yes, Dev. Yes, we have. But I'm...oh, Sheol, I'm so tired of all this stuff. Fight after fight after fight. We save the universe, we kill Mordru, we kill Satan Girl, we come back, and here somebody throws Darkseid in our face again. Can't there ever be an end to it?"
He took her hand in his, and looked into her eyes. "Maybe. If you come back to the 30th with me."
She caught Superman looking at her, out of the corner of her eye. He had heard Dev's words, too. He looked tense.
But, despite that, she answered Dev. "I might. Just for awhile, just for a getaway."
"Kara," said Kal. "If you remember, the Legion isn't exactly lacking for enemies, either."
She stared at him. "But we don't have to go out there with our dukes up, spoiling for a fight. De we, Kal?"
"No," he replied. "Most of the time, it comes to us."
"Well, it's gonna have to start coming somewhere else before long," she said. "I'm tired of this. I wasn't born to be a, a super-heroine. I just wanted to be a normal girl from Argo, and, and get a good job and a good man and settle down..."
"Except," said Kal gently, "there aren't very many people from Argo left anymore. Are there, Kara?"
"Oh," she said. It was a strange and lonely thing to say.
"El," said Dev, raising up on one knee. "You have got the most peculiar set of proprieties I've ever seen. Why don't you just shove a Daxamite knife through her heart? Or would that be too kind?"
"What I'm trying to remind her of," Superman said, "is that our powers place us in a certain position. And it's one of obligation. No one on Earth can do what we can, and very often, to protect it and other planets, we are required to do everything we're capable of."
Lightray broke in. "We have no time for this now, I'm afraid. We must report to Highfather. I must tell him that his son is still a prisoner of Darkseid." He paused. "Are you still with us? As warriors?"
"Speaking for myself, absolutely," said Superman, standing up. "Let's go."
"What of you?" asked Lightray of Dev.
Dev pushed up from the grass. "I've found myself in this situation, so I guess I'll just have to help work through it," he said. "But once I get home, I'm putting in for a week of sick leave."
The white-clad Celestial turned to Kara. "And--"
"I'm in," she said. "I'm in. It's not like I had a choice in the matter. Is it?"
There was silence.
"Didn't think so," she grumbled, and followed the others in the direction of Highfather's palace.
Earth-S looked like easy pickings for the Injustice Society of the World. True, they'd never been there before, except for Shade. But they had a native to show the others around, namely Ibac. He was bare-chested and Mohawked and wore black toreador pants and looked like an idiotic wrestler. But he was at least as strong as Solomon Grundy, so most of the crew kept their opinions to themselves.
Their numbers had dwindled in recent years with the deaths of some members. But they still had a decent quorum, as it was. The Fiddler, the Huntress (not the blasted Batman's daughter, but Wildcat's old enemy), the Sportsmaster, the Icicle, the Shade, the Thinker, and Vandal Savage. Their kids, who called themselves Injustice Unlimited, had been left back on Earth-Two to mind the store.
Darkseid had told the Wizard to conquer that world, with the help of others who would soon arrive, and hold it until further notice. So, as soon as they materialized, they got down to business, seizing a nuclear sub with the help of another magic-warp and threatening to start World War III unless somebody took them seriously. They hadn't killed any of the captive crew yet, since the Wiz thought that would be nasty. But if they didn't get any notice from the world's governments, particularly America, within an hour or so, well, killing a few swabbies was certainly tidier than throwing a hunk of thermonuclear hell at somebody.
And if the first didn't convince them, perhaps the second would.
So the eight super-villains sat in the sub's control room and waited for word to get back. With no Captain Marvel, Captain Marvel, Jr., or Mary Marvel on hand, they didn't think they had much to worry about. Who was left? Spy Smasher?
They felt a strange tilting sensation.
The Wizard looked at Savage. "Is this crate in motion? Did you start the engines?"
"Fool!" snapped the other black-bearded man. "I have learned more than you could dare contemplate in my millions of years, but even I never learned how to drive one of these!"
The Thinker put on his mind-over-matter Thinking Cap and adjusted it. "I can feel mental presences from outside this thing," he pronounced. "Ibac. If that's what your name is. I thought you said the Marvels were gone!"
"Well, they are," said Ibac, who approached Captain Marvel himself in power. "I mean, that's what Darkseid said. You really wanna take the matter up with him?"
They felt a great thud, and were shaken to their hands and knees, as if somebody had just set the sub down on solid ground. Wherever that was. The Icicle, lying on his side, unholstered his freeze-gun. "Give me a clear shot," he warned.
A hole ripped open in the side of the sub. Two hands were visible, ripping it.
Then the sides of it widened enough for the Injustice Society to see a bit of blue sky beyond, and a very tall man in a Captain Marvel suit. He stepped through, accompanied by a fat man and a country boy in the same sort of uniform.
Ibac's eyes widened. "Oh, gee," he exclaimed. "It's been so long, I forgot all about them!"
"Them?" hissed the Huntress. "Who are they?"
"We're the Three Lieutenant Marvels, ma'am," said the tall one, in a Texan accent. "At your service."
Battle was joined.
Kara noticed how stoically Izaya took the news of his son's imprisonment. But she knew that the information hit him hard. Alongside him were Metron, Mr. Miracle, and Big Barda. None of them looked like they were enjoying the news, either.
Beside her were Kal, Dev, and Lightray, who had just finished his report. They awaited Highfather's reply.
Finally, the ruler of New Genesis spoke. "Orion must be recovered. We will implement a plan for doing so, but covertly. A frontal assault would either lead to Darkseid transporting him away, or destroying him, if he saves his knowledge beforehand."
"His knowledge?" echoed Supergirl.
Highfather continued without pause. "But the present danger requires another task, first. You must contact the woman called Harbinger for me. Then, there is an undertaking you must perform."
Superman asked, "Which is, Highfather?"
The Celestial answered, "Which is to find some of our young ones you have already met, Superman, for in one of them lies the possible key to victory. Or defeat. You must find and bring back from whatever plane they now occupy, the family unit of Mark Moonrider.
"You must recover the Forever People."