The Apokolips Agenda
All in all, Hal Jordan thought it just wasn't fair.
He and Carol Ferris had said "I do" in unison with Ollie Queen and Dinah Lance only days before this latest can of worms opened up. And that was only a short time after wrapping that big case with the JLA, the Outsiders, and the Titans against Kobra, and helping to save Selina Kyle's life to boot.
At the very least, the universe owed him time off for a honeymoon.
No such luck. There were more Green Lanterns on his Earth than ever before--himself, John Stewart, Katma Tui, Salakk, Ch'p, and Kilowog. Plus Alan Scott, when he was on-planet with the visiting JSA contingent. With all that, he was still needed to stand point against an army of super-villains.
It could have been worse. He could have still been a civilian, his own ring relinquished to John Stewart. Instead, he was a Green Lantern again, thanks to the sacrifice of Tomar-Re. And as Green Lantern, he and the other heroes of the five closest-bound Earths had been called upon to fight off a seemingly endless array of bad guys on Earth-X. That he could have handled, especially with the mobilized mass of super-heroes at his side. In fact, they had been doing quite well against the enemy.
That was before the hole in the sky opened up and the black wave poured out.
The shadow-soldiers of the Anti-Monitor had laid their icy touch on hero after hero. The ones they touched fell, paralyzed, possibly close to death. Hal and his allies had fought back, and those with energy-wielding capacities had done well. Many of the shadows had been dissipated.
But the shadows rode beside the Weaponers of Quard, those helmeted and wizened little men who drew lightning-shaped weapons from quivers on their back and blitzed the heroic armada with them. A large percentage of the villains hadn't been immobilized yet, either, and were rejoining the fray with their otherworldly allies.
On top of that, there was Mantis, one of Darkseid's most powerful soldiers. Hal had faced him before, and hadn't come out too well in the encounter.
A great way to spend an afternoon, to be sure.
Green Lantern blasted away at a shadowy form trying to reach Changeling, who was in the form of a water buffalo, knocking Coldsnap, Heatstroke, and Cluemaster off their feet. He activated the function in his ring he'd willed to track Carol. It alerted him to her direction, and he turned in mid-air to see where she was.
As Star Sapphire, Carol was on a building roof not far away, struggling against the other Star Sapphire who had been an alumnus of the Secret Society of Super-Villains. Both women had more-or-less equal powers and had given up an airborne fight in favor of a gruelling grapple and energy duel on a solid surface. Their opal forehead-gems blazed with energy and shot beams at each other, taxing each other's strength and endurance. All the while, Carol and Remoni-Notra were slugging, kneeing, and wrestling all over the roof.
He didn't know Carol had it in her, until his brain called up memories of her fighting rivals in her Star Sapphire persona--an identity she didn't know she possessed until recently. Yep, she was a scrapper. But she was also his wife.
"John," he called out to his fellow Lantern. "Cover me."
"I'll try," Stewart replied, and fended off a Weaponer's bolt with a green shield as Hal flew quickly towards the fighting Sapphires.
He wanted to call her name. But any distraction from the battle might be dangerous for her, he knew. But as he grew closer, he saw Remoni-Notra grasping Carol under the chin with one hand, and pointing at him with the other. He could tell the women apart, and he could also see that Carol was getting the worst of it.
As the green beam lanced out from his power ring, Hal reminded himself that it probably wasn't a death fight between them. As vicious as Zamaron fighting could be, the warrior women only fought to establish supremacy over one another. But this time, they'd have to put it on hold.
A purple transparent dome formed over the women and Green Lantern's blast glanced off it. Remoni had done it, in the second's interval between triggering and impact. Carol bunched her knees against Remoni's chest and thrust with her legs, shoving her opponent against the wall of the force-field. She turned momentarily to Hal, and shouted, "No!"
"What?" he asked, stunned despite himself.
The enemy Sapphire was blasting Carol again with her withering power. "She wants you to stay out of it, Lantern," snarled the girl who could have been Carol's twin. "This fight is between us!"
"Like hell," said Hal, and began to form a gigantic hammer and chisel to crack the dome.
That was when the image of a little blue, white-haired man in a red robe with a green lantern symbol on the chest appeared to him.
"Green Lantern of Sector 2814," said the Guardian. "Your services, and those of your fellow Corps members, are needed."
"Just a minute!" A great green hand, issuing from his beam, grasped the gigantic hammer he had formed and banged the chisel with it. The tip of the emerald chisel cracked the purple dome, not penetrating yet.
"The situation is critical," the Oan informed him. "Sinestro has liberated the prisoners on our detention world from their Sciencells. Our intelligence indicates he has united them with what remains of the Black Lanterns of Qward and of his once-active Counter-Lantern Corps. Korugar is under attack."
"Send others," Green Lantern snapped, bashing the chisel again. The crack grew wider, but Carol and Remoni were still fighting it out. "Honored sir, I don't have time to talk! Five Earths are under attack!"
"We are aware of this," said the Guardian. "But there are heroes aplenty on this world, even though it is being attacked by--"
"And all those heroes are being cut down like wheat! What am I supposed to do, let them die?"
"If you choose against us, Hal Jordan of Earth, the privelages you have so recently hard-won may be revoked." The Guardian wasn't kidding. Hal could tell.
He sighed, smashing the chisel again. "Leave half the Corps members we have here on Earth where they are. They're needed, blast it."
"Agreed," said the Guardian. "But you must choose, and now."
One more smash, and Hal activated another track of his ring's power. "Arisia, Kat, John, Kilowog, Salaak, Ch'p, listen up," he broadcast. "Half of us are bound for Korugar. Sinestro and company are on the loose. Half of you have to stay here and fight the enemy. John, Kat, Ari, you're coming with me. The rest of you...hold the line. If you can."
"There's a lotta these Qward poozers, but we'll hold ‘em," Kilowog sent. "Go to it, Hal."
"My homeworld under attack?" came Katma Tui's sending. "Shastra! After the devastation it has already suffered! By whom? Sinestro?"
"And a cast of thousands, probably," said Hal. "Join with me. We're space-warp bound, and I don't like it any more than you do."
"We'll manage, Hal Jordan," piped up Ch'p, the squirrel Green Lantern. "We can twist these guys' tails as well as you can."
"I hope so, Ch'p," Hal replied. "I really, really hope so."
With a final stroke, Green Lantern's great chisel smashed open the purple dome. He separated the women with a green wall, and snatched up Carol with a huge pair of tongs around her middle. She yelped. "Wait! I...we haven't finished yet!"
"This battle is on hold," Hal said evenly, dragging her and himself into the sky, "until we get back." A Weaponer threw a crimson bolt at them. He sent out a beam that deflected it into a shadow-warrior.
Remoni-Notra sent a purple ray towards them, but it burst short of its target. She telepathed furiously to them via her opal gem: <We will finish this when you return, Carol Ferris. Just you and myself.>
<Count on it, darling,> retorted Carol.
Green Lantern broadcast a short telepathic message to those heroes still standing, telling them why he and several others had to break away. An instant later, he phased them both into the Earth-One universe. Reassuringly, the globe was still there beneath them, though it was impossible to tell from this height what conditions were on its surface. He wasn't sure he wanted to know.
Not far below them, John Stewart, Katma Tui, and Arisia phased into existence on the Earth-One plane and followed their fellow Lantern and his wife.
Hal and Carol didn't stop their progress towards a space-warp leading closer to Korugar.
But they telepathed conversation to each other along the way.
<Did you ever think you'd actually...> Carol began.
Hal looked at her. <Finish it,> he stated.
<...enjoy seeing me in this outfit, with these powers, again?> she sent.
<If you'd asked me that question when your bad side had won over, and you joined forces with Hector Hammond and Guy Gardner, no,> Hal replied. <Wasn't that long ago, either.>
<But we had that battle since then,> said Carol. <Most important...I had that battle with myself. I had to keep harboring my Predator-self, and deny my...everything I was that was good, that was...> She fumbled, even telepathically. <You know what I'm saying.>
He put an arm about her, as they neared the edge of the warp. <Yeah. But you did expel him. And you told the Zamarons you were coming with me, and they should give the throne to Remoni instead.>
<But she insists on fighting for it,> thought Carol. <That's the Zamaron way.>
<And we insist on fighting for what we must protect,> sent Hal. <'Cause that's the Green Lantern way.>
<Even after a quarter of you have died? Even after Guy Gardner, and what he did?>
<Because of those things, and because of the Guardians who died... more than ever,> thought Hal. <But not more than this.>
As they entered the warp, Hal Jordan and Carol Ferris kissed.
Seeing it, Katma Tui and John Stewart merged fields and did the same.
Arisia just sighed, and followed the rest of them into sub-space.
"The Life Equation?" Supergirl repeated.
Highfather nodded to her, fingering his staff. "Yes. It is not spoken of outside of our highest circles. But Darkseid knows of it, and so do I. So do the rest of you, now."
Superman said, "Izaya, if this is too great a burden of knowledge, I can use super-hypnotism to wipe it from our minds. Even from my own."
Dev said, "El, before you do anything like that, let's at least find out what it is. I want to know what we're supposed to be forgetting."
Lightray looked discomfited. "Highfather, great milord, even I have never heard of this concept before. Should I--"
"Because you had no need to know it, Sollis," said Izaya, cutting him off in a louder voice. "Now, do not interrupt. Let this old man tell you all what you need to know. And you, Superman, speak no more of erasing memories. These words I give you all in trust. So? More interruptions?"
Kara looked at the three males and was glad to know that all had decided to shut up.
"In this universe there operates a principle of duality," Izaya continued. "Matter / anti-matter. Good / evil, heat / cold, left / right...much a creation of extremes. No force without an opposing force. Action, and equal and opposite reaction. Yet neither remains in stasis, and each is necessary. For without evil to oppose it, good itself would become unbound, perverted, and evil...power unto itself. And without good to oppose it, evil would conquer all, become lethargic...perhaps the very paradise Darkseid unknowingly craves. No? But I digress.
"Most recently, in the war you have concluded, or thought to have concluded, you learned of two great opponents whose energies spanned many realities. Monitor and Anti-Monitor, thesis and antithesis. Over 1,000 universes, by our reckoning, perished. And that only in the positive realm. I have no way of knowing how many anti-matter realms perished. But Qward, the one which the Anti-Monitor ruled, yet remains."
Supergirl took a deep breath to calm herself. She could never hear of that world without remembering that she had almost died there, and that the Superman of Earth-Two had perished, seemingly in her place.
"Now: how the Anti-Life Equation was conceived, what beings or being discovered it, we have no knowledge. Only legends. Some say that it came into being as a result of Krona's great sin, billions of years ago, in which he sought to learn the origin of the Universe. Others, that it fell from a great emerald that in turn fell from an evil being's brow. Nothing definite. It exists, in parts. A handful of beings throughout the universe, perhaps throughout the multiverse, have pieces of it. They exercised control, in their time, over few or many beings. Few suspected the true source of their sway, not even those who possessed it. And only a few, a very, very few, knew of this power, and more: that, when pieced together, spoken in an incantation of sorts, conceived as an equation...the speaker, if powerful enough, would gain all-power over sentient will."
Kal said, "We've known most of this for years, Izaya. If you could--"
"The Life Equation, yes," said Izaya. "Do you not see, Superman? The Life Equation has been in existence since Life itself...and you never suspected it. Without it, you would have no free will. It is said to have been spoken at the creation of reasoning life, perhaps making the evolution to reasoning life possible. But that, too, is a legend. This we know: the Life Equation exists."
Dev sighed, leaned on one knee and rubbed his brow. "Right. So this is the thing that lets us decide whether or not we want to run a stop signal. Your point?"
Highfather turned blazing eyes upon him. Lightray quickly said, "Your apology, outworlder. Quickly. Please."
"Dev," said Kara, hurriedly, getting between the rising Highfather and Dev. Superman stepped forward himself in concern. For his own part, Dev-Em shook his head. "I'm not meaning much disrespect, guv, but really. This cosmic-level crap has been getting topheavy of late. We've just gotten back from saving the universe...well, Kara did, I had to help save Rokyn..."
Superman snapped his head towards Dev. "You saved Rokyn? How?"
"Oh, Dev, you idiot," said Kara, grabbing her hair with both hands. "With a mouth like yours, how did you ever get to be a spy?"
"Because we're all friends here, Kara, aren't we?"
Highfather's hand was glowing with power. "If we were not of one cause here, outworlder, you would see why the Alpha Bullets are no less feared than the Omega Effect. For the moment, I shall overlook your--insolence."
Dev moved towards Izaya, hand outstretched. "Look, minister, I'm sorry for having put you off your top. Wasn't intentional. We've just been taking a bit of a bashing lately, and, well, sitting and listening when we really ought to be up and abo--"
He grasped Highfather's glowing hand.
A second later, he shot right across the room and found himself buried halfway through the stone wall.
Supergirl hurtled over to help extract him, as did Superman, a nanosecond later. Dev looked like a man who had briefly touched an unshielded electrical socket. "Oh, dear," he mumbled.
"Are you all right?" said Kara, feeling his pulse to make sure.
"Forgive me, sir," said Highfather, coming towards Dev, who was brushing stone dust off his shoulders and head. "I should have warned you not to touch my hand before my power level was sufficiently reduced."
"You're telling me," said Dev-Em. "Still, no harm done. Everything square?"
Highfather looked blank. Lightray said, "I believe he means, ‘Are things well between us?', sire."
The ruler of New Genesis smiled. Laying a hand on Dev's shoulder, he said, "I forgive your outburst, young sir, if you forgive mine."
Superman smiled. "Carry on, Highfather. I think we'll all be more attentive now."
Izaya leaned with both hands on his staff. "The ruler of New Genesis has always learned of the Life Equation. The rulers of both New Genesis and Apokolips have learned of the Anti-Life Equation, though Darkseid knows my secret as well thanks to his damnable talent of monitoring. When we ascended to our present status, both Darkseid and I were taught these things. The Apokoliptics had been searching for Anti-Life for generations. Darkseid's methods are better than his predecessors, however. He is...ever-closer to it than before. Previously, he only encountered those among whom a particle of the Equation was scattered. Now..." He waved one hand. "We are working against time, and with waning hope."
"We've done that many times before," Supergirl reminded him. "And we've always won."
"And may you triumph again, O Supergirl," said Izaya. "But have you ever battled Darkseid?"
"Once," she said. "It was a terrible experience."
Lightray nodded, in understanding.
"But I'm getting used to terrible experiences," she continued. "I've almost died twice over, recently. Let's hope three times is not the charm."
"Kara," Kal reminded her. "Highfather isn't finished yet."
"No," said the Celestial. "Despite Darkseid's best efforts, I am not yet finished. Whereas the Anti-Life Equation has been scattered mostly among a multitude of beings, the Life Equation has been the property of only one being, who knows not the possession of it. I am not that being. Metron has tested me for it, and I have not its knowledge. But I have come to know who it is who does possess it."
"Who?" asked Supergirl.
"The Life Equation, moreover, will be of no use unless the Anti-Life Equation is spoken beforehand," continued Highfather. "Speaking a formula of Free Will into a cosmos that already has been given free will would be trying to make water more wet. The being who possesses the Formula of Freedom must be found and guarded. For if she is not recovered, before Darkseid can find her, and perhaps destroy her...when Anti-Life is spoken, there will be no alternative to his will."
"But, if this Life Equation is eternal," protested Superman, "then surely killing one person wouldn't destroy it. Like energy, it couldn't be destroyed."
"Yes, Superman, but we would not know the possessor of that knowledge," said Izaya. "She must be made aware that she possesses it, to employ it." His face grew more sober. "Indeed, she might not survive the unleashing of it."
"‘She.' ‘She.' ‘She,'" snapped Kara. "Forgive me, Highfather, but you've ignored my question and implied several times over now that you know who has the Life Equation. Well, who is it?"
Highfather looked her deeply in the eye before answering.
"It is Dreema," he said. "The one known on your world, for whatever reason, as ‘Beautiful Dreamer.'"
Superman's jaw dropped. When he could speak again, he said, "Holy sun and Mother Moon. Then that's why Darkseid had kidnapped her, when I first met Big Bear and his friends. He thought she had the Anti-Life Equation."
"Wasn't off by much, I guess," contributed Dev.
"When she and Mark Moonrider's band were lost to this universe, beyond mine or Darkseid's tracing, the threat to her was effectively nulled," continued Izaya. "I knew she had the Equation. He did not. He only knew she had not what he was seeking at the time, and because he sought the wrong thing, he bypassed the chance at more power, unknowingly."
Supergirl said what all three of the Kryptonians now had figured out. "So now, you want us to find the Forever People. So that we can get Dreema, and keep her out of Darkseid's hands."
"If you can," said Highfather. "In this undertaking, you will be asked to do something even Metron has been unable to do."
Superman said, "We'll do it. But one question. What about Orion?"
Highfather paused. "He is the other pole of the axis. Though you are unable to recover him...I am not idle on his behalf. Enough has been said. Can you help us? Can you help...me?"
The Man of Steel said, "Tell us exactly when the battle between the Forever People and Devilance occurred. We have to know."
"Why?" asked Lightray.
Supergirl turned to him. "Because, if I'm reading Kal right...we're going to go back there."
Tigra sprawled on the stones of the cell into which Darkseid had shoved her. They were alone. Mongul and the Kryptonite Man were separated from them by a wall.
"Take a look," ordered Darkseid. "Do you remember him?"
She lifted her head to look upon the unconscious Celestial in the red and gray costume, trapped by a beam on the metal table. "Of course. Of course I remember him. How could I not remember my son?"
"Our son, Tigra. Ours. Never forget that point." He grasped her head in one great hand and exerted unpleasant pressure. "Never forget that."
Tigra, her hands and legs fastened by shackles and chains, reached up her hand to touch her offspring. Darkseid struck her hand down before it could make contact. She cried out in pain, and wept, holding her hand. "Why? Why are you doing this to me?"
Darkseid put his hand in her hair, almost gently, and answered her.
"Because he has something I want," he said. "And I think you might help me get it from him."