The Apokolips Agenda
Orion had just finished telling his father to go to hell. Darkseid answered, "My son. Do you not know that, in this setting, such a request is redundant?" Then he seared him with a mild burst of Omega Effect. Orion thought he could withstand the pain without screaming. He was wrong.
Stronger than his screaming, though, was that which came from his mother, Tigra. "Stop it! Stop it! Is it not enough you have him? Is it not enough, even for you?"
The monarch of Apokolips turned, almost gracefully. "No," he said. "When a universe is to be won...when, indeed, the Multiverse is to be won...it is not enough."
Tigra fell to her knees and wept. Then she got as near to her son as could be allowed without suffering another blow from her onetime husband. "My son," she said. "If you...if you have what he wants...if you have the Equation..."
Darkseid waited, his arms folded.
"...never give it to him," she finished.
He dealt her a blow that stretched her upon the floor. Then he loomed as close as he could to Orion, without getting in the path of the stasis beam.
"You will give me the Anti-Life Equation," he said. "If I have to tear it from the last dying cell of your dissected brain."
Chicago, without a Supergirl, made do with what super-villains were native to the area, plus some who'd come in from out-of-state. The Gang, that four-person excuse for a super-villain group in similar uniforms, had first dibs on raising hell. They smashed up the plaza that the First National Bank of Tokyo was in, but stopped short, patriotically, of demolishing the big iron Picasso statue. Bulldozer felt some need to stay true to form, and just uprooted it and tipped it on its side.
Psi, a half-dressed villainess with mind-over-matter powers, strafed the University of Chicago just to keep her hand in and split the roofs of nine of its buildings as straightly as if the knife she were using was of metal, not psychic force. Cops shot at her but she deflected the bullets with her mind.
Their ranks were increased by a new bunch of arrivals. One of them was a robotic human-appearing woman who stood fifteen feet in height. Her master, a bald man in blue and red like herself, perched on her shoulder and gave orders. Another robot, less humanoid and smaller but more fearsome, rampaged through the street, crushing automobiles and storefronts. A fourth appeared to be a red-hot, molten mass of lava, humanoid and held together by some unfathomable force, melting asphalt and stone where he tread. Respectively, they were Multi-Woman, Multi-Man, Kra, and Volcano Man, and were known as the League of Challenger-Haters.
Before them, the cops drew back, and civilians fled. Multi-Man was disappointed. "We've come all this way," he complained from his shoulder perch, "and not a single foe worth our fighting. You'd expect more courtesy than that."
A familiar voice, amplified mechanically, answered him, "And you'll get it, Dome-Head! We just had to figure out where you were."
The voice had come from Robotman, Cliff Steele, sliding down a metal cable whose grappling hook was perched on the cornice of a small building. Above and behind him, other figures were issuing from a strange bird-shaped black warp. A glowing silhouette, bearing a bandaged woman and another woman, who appeared to be a native of India, plus a flying, energy-pulsing black man. The New Doom Patrol was only the beginning. The Challenger-Haters next glimpsed, with satisfaction, the forms of seven Challengers in uniform: the original four, Rocky, Ace, Prof, and Red, together with June Robbins, Corinna Stark, and Gaylord Clayburn.
"Well, well, well," commented Kra the robot, cracking his metallic knuckles. "It's been too long, chumps. Even if I do see a few new faces."
Volcano Man hissed, and prepared to throw lava.
But the parade of heroes was hardly done. Another squad of newcomers bounced out of the Raven-warp onto the building roof. Animal-Man gave himself the power of a bird, soared towards the Chall-Haters, and snatched Multi-Man off Multi-Woman's shoulder before the female robot could react. In response, Multi-Man utilized his morphing powers, changing into a spiked and tentacled monstrosity, and started dragging Animal-Man face-first towards a number of points as hard as rhinoceros horn.
"Guys," said A-Man, "a little help would be appreciated...oh, boy."
The Atomic Knight, thrust forward by a jet-pack, took aim with his gun and blasted Multi-Man with powerful rays. The villain released Animal-Man and changed back towards a more recognizable form, and was caught by Multi-Woman in her left hand. With her right, she smashed at the Knight and almost knocked him out of the sky.
The other Forgotten Heroes sized up the situation. "Pretty tough opposition," said Congo Bill. "And me without even a golden gorilla. Or powers."
"The rest of us have gotten along fine without them, Bill," stated Dane Dorrance of the Sea Devils. "And we've all taken out bad guys with super-powers before."
Rocky Davis was already on a run. "You guys can have sloppy seconds if ya want," he said, "but these guys are strictly Challenger meat!"
"Uh...maybe not, Rock," said Ace, pointing upward.
Above them, another warp had formed. Another small band of villains, including a huge robot and a beautiful but cruel-appearing woman, was visible in its maw. Corinna Stark sensed she was a sister of the Craft, but also knew that the woman was many times more powerful than herself.
"So this is where you ended up," remarked the Enchantress. "Forgotten Villains, attack!"
By the time Ultivac had stepped through the warp, the battle was in full tilt.
The Forever People weren't that hard to find, thankfully. The people of Five Bridges looked up, gasped, and pointed at the three flying figures of Superman, Supergirl, and Dev-Em. Kara was sure she picked up one saying, "Look, up in the sky!" Yep...it's the same everywhere, she thought.
The houses of Mark Moonrider and his crew were fairly close together and, though hardly super-tech in nature, owed a lot to the sweeping design of New Genesis architecture. The threesome landed near the walk of Moonrider's house, upsetting a delivery man. Kara helped him to his feet as Dev picked up his groceries and set them back in the sack for him.
"By the Seven Spirits," said the man, when he got his voice back. "Are you...more of them?"
"Not quite," said Supergirl, smiling. "But we're friends. Have a good day."
"I...I still have to collect payment."
Superman said, "In that case, we'll go along with you to make sure of it." He rapped on the front door. Within a few seconds, a very large and hairy man was standing in the open doorframe. The blue eyes under his great red mane opened wider when he looked out at the visitors, and his mouth split in a large grin. Big Bear's massive arms opened and crushed Superman to him in a hug. "Brother Superman!", he exclaimed. "It's been too long! How have you been, blue brother? Where have you been, for that matter?"
"Umph," said the delivery man, who was being squashed between the two giants.
"Oh. Sorry," said Big Bear, who stepped back and took the man's sack in one arm.
Superman smiled back at him. "I was always hoping I'd meet you and the rest of the clan again someday, Big Bear. This is my cousin Kara, whom we call Supergirl, and her man Dev-Em. We're all of the same world."
"How do you do, Big Bear?" said Kara, stepping gingerly onto the front porch.
"Hey, nice," said Big Bear, losing her hand in his large paw in a handshake. "Pleased to meet you, Sister Supergirl. And if you have any other sisters..."
Dev said, laconically, "While we're brothering and sistering around here, Brother Bear, we're in a pack of trouble back where we came from. Highfather sent us here. Think you can help?"
"Highfather?" Big Bear started. "Then the war...it's started again?"
"Did it ever really end, Big Bear?" said Superman, grimly.
The New Genesite sighed. "Probably not. But I'd hoped it wouldn't reach us here again. Ever. Come on inside, no need to stir the locals up."
"I'll only stay long enough to get my fee," said the delivery man.
"Sure, you come, too," said Big Bear, and turned, leading them into the house.
Kara checked the interior of the house with her X-ray vision as she and Dev stepped inside. The only ones there were Mark Moonrider and Big Bear. "Dreamer isn't here," she said.
"You want to go find her?" said Dev. "I'll make an excuse for you."
She turned her head in both directions, scanning. "She's over in another house. I guess it's hers. Let Kal and Bear know where I've gone, okay?"
Dev hesitated. "You're sure you want to go alone? I haven't seen anything here that looks like it could threaten a fieldmouse, but if you-know-who's managed to track us somehow..."
"A better reason for me keeping her safe," said Supergirl, and trotted back out the door. With a push-off from the front steps, she gained the air again, making a short hop to Beautiful Dreamer's place and giving the Adonians another thrill.
Dreamer's home was as large as any of the others, but a bit more sylvan. A rock wall about three feet high surrounded her property and the house was set well back from the front of it, with a large lawn, trees, and a few specimens of local fauna romping in the yard. The back yard was fenced off by wooden planks. Supergirl had scanned beforehand and seen her back there, tending to purple and red flowers on a sort of trellis.
The female Forever Person was beautiful--that was a given, since she'd done some modelling on their short stay on Earth--and brunette, wearing an extremely short orange garment that left her legs and arms bare. She was wearing gloves and kneepads for the gardening, though, and kept her hair tied back. Supergirl alit beside her. "Hello, Dreema," she said, in a friendly tone.
Dreamer whirled with a start. Before she could make a sound, the flowered vines reached out from the trellis and wound themselves around Supergirl like boa constrictors. "Ferna! NO!"
Kara grabbed two of the vines in her hands and pulled them away from her, firmly but gently. "Can you call this thing off, or do I have to burn it?"
"Ferna, release her," said Dreamer. "I've seen that costume before, on a man who was my friend. Who are you?"
The vine-thing unwound itself from Kara's body. She brushed a bit of lint from her person. "My name is Kara Zor-El, or Supergirl. I'm Superman's...uh, Brother Superman's cousin. We've been sent here as guardians. Of you, that is."
"Of me?" Dreamer looked concerned. "What do I need to be guarded from?" She paused. "You don't mean that...that we've been found by..."
"Not yet," said Supergirl. "But that's what we're trying to avoid. Let me take you back to the boys and we'll tell you all about it." She held out her hand. Tentatively, Dreamer took it. Then, over Kara's shoulder, she saw something that gave her a start again.
Supergirl quickly turned her head and saw a sphere of purplish color forming on the lawn, which firmed up and then faded away within seconds. Human forms were in its place. Two men, one carrying a sword, and four women. Kara stepped between them and Dreamer before she saw that one of them was Harbinger. Another of the women had lifted a hand, and a greenish light formed in her palm.
"Don't even think about it," warned Supergirl. "Harbinger?"
The Monitor's ward grasped Jennifer Morgan's. "Hold. She is an ally and friend."
The red-haired man in the red-and-yellow vest was starting to morph into some monstrous form. Kara tensed. "Harby, if somebody's turned you..."
The sword-wielding man put his blade in front of the morpher. "Stop it, Shade. I've seen pics of this one before. She's Supergirl."
"So?" asked Rac Shade, his illusion-self beginning to retract.
"Shade, you are too quick to offense," said Mellu. "If Harbinger testifies for her, then I believe she is a friend."
The young girl in the purple dress said, "I've met her cousin before. And are you Beautiful Dreamer, ma'am?"
"I am called that," said Dreamer. "But who are you?"
"My name is Amethyst. But you can call me Amy."
"Time for introductions later," said Harbinger. "For now, Supergirl, Beautiful Dreamer must come with us. You may accompany us, if you wish."
"We've gotten instructions from Highfather himself to bring her back to New Genesis," said Kara. "And until I hear different, Harbinger, that's what I'm going to do."
"Supergirl, please," said Dreamer. "Right now, I'm not certain that I should go with either of you."
Supergirl prepared herself. If Harbinger couldn't hold these fools back, it'd probably come down to a brawl. From the twinge she'd gotten when the tall broad had made her hand glow, it looked like she was packing magic. She might not be the only one, either.
Then six other figures alit to the side of them, and both women looked relieved. Superman and Dev were there, carrying Mark Moonrider, Vykin, Big Bear, and the cowboy-hatted Serifan with them. Big Bear was riding on Superman's shoulders and seeming to enjoy it immensely. Superman crouched and let him down.
"Everyone, halt," said Moonrider, in the tone he used when he really wanted to dress down his group about something. "For once, let's get things straightened out with words, instead of fists."
Harbinger said to her unit, "At ease. These are the other Forever People, and that is Superman and his friend Dev-Em."
Nightmaster looked agog. "Superman? I mean, for cryin' out loud...I'm standing not twenty feet away from Superman? The real Superman?"
Shade looked at him. "Is he important?"
Superman smiled. "Glad to know some of you know me, at least. Let's go inside and compare notes. Then we can get matters straightened out."
"We don't have that sort of time," protested Harbinger.
Dev looked at her, evenly. "We're gonna make time, darling."
Darkseid sat on an iron chair near his son, Orion. Kalibak was there, with Mister Miracle in hand, the latter imprisoned by bonds even Darkseid himself could not break. The New Genesis hero had been stripped of all his escape gear by Desaad's own hand. Whether he was unconscious or not was unknown, but he was gagged with a metal band, so it made no difference. Tigra was also there, not daring to approach her son too closely.
"The family is gathered," said Darkseid. "Good."
"Father," rumbled Kalibak. "If you will not let me kill Orion before he gives up the Equation, will you let me kill this one now? I need to kill someone, father, I really do." He looked pitiful.
Darkseid rested his elbows on his knees and kept staring at Orion. "I wonder how well you know me, boy," he said. "I wonder if you know me at all."
"Do not torment him, Darkseid," begged Tigra. "Anything you wish to do to him, do it to me instead."
"I said SILENCE!" The lord of Apokolips whipped his head around like a striking snake. Tigra, who had once been wife to him, who had delivered Orion from her very loins, recoiled and abutted Mr. Miracle's body. Darkseid held her gaze for a long moment. Then he turned back to Orion.
"Marriage and birth are such bleak affairs on our world," said Darkseid, softly. "Yet, what on our world is not bleak? It is fitting. Efficient. Affection serves no purpose and stands as a bar against true loyalty. Fear, now that's the key. Not much of an original observation, I'm sure, son, but with such things I tend to favor the tried and true.
"You never knew my mother. Her name was Heggra and she was queen of Apokolips. She birthed me with the help of a sorceror. I don't even know his name. She had him executed later, to ensure that I would only have one parent, her, to be loyal to. Efficient thinking. But...I wish I knew who my father was.
"I remember being a boy, as much of a boy as I ever was, being sent to Granny Goodness's academy. I was the one they couldn't break, but Heggra planned it that way. I ended up taking charge there. I broke Granny to my will. That was exquisite. She assumed her old ways afterwards, with the other students, but never bothered me again.
"My mother taught me about power. She taught me about sorcery, such of it that I use, and saw to it that others taught me science. She made sure I knew about the primal purpose of Apokolips: that all effort on this world is devoted to industry, and that all industry is devoted to war, and that all war is devoted to the destruction of New Genesis. I cannot say that her tutelage was wrong. In my case, it gave me a purpose, taught me what to do with my life, but...really...she should have known better. I saw what power could do, and I wanted to amass it for myself, not for my mother, not for the world. For me.
"Because I could wield it best."
Darkseid sat silently for awhile. Tigra's breathing was heavy. Kalibak fidgeted, but he knew better than to disturb his father. After awhile, the lord of Apokolips began again.
"The problem has always been that life is too random. If you give a man free will, what does he do with it? If you believe the Earth legends, he goes and bites a fruit he was told not to eat on pain of death. You can kill him, and you probably do. But does that stop other men from biting the fruit? No. So...the choices are...you can take away the fruit. You can kill him. Or you can do the intelligent thing, which is: take away his free will.
"Now, you must understand this: I have come to understand that it is the only way in which Life can continue, without destroying itself. The war was going on, hot and cold, when I was a child. I saw that. I don't fear it. I could not make it, if I feared it. But...it is tremendously inefficient. It wastes the lives of people you could control. It expends your resources. Leaves less for yourself. I saw all of this, my son. I saw, and knew, that Free Will...was a terrible, horrible, wretched mistake.
"That is, for everyone save me.
"This was...this was some time before I learned of the Equation. The Equation of Anti-Life. Even before I learned of such a thing, I knew that such a thing must be. And that is how I know I am destined to possess it. Do you see, my son? It is because I am strong enough to be the only one to direct the Multiverse, that I am fated to direct it. Free Will is nothing. Controlled Will is everything...if the hand at the controller is strong enough. And mine is.
"Some call me vicious, and I am, in their sight. Some call me tyrannic, and from their point of view, perhaps I am. I see myself as efficient. A master of efficiency. And since terror is a part of efficiency...ask any man of business on any world, or any official...I became a master of that, as well. No...that is not totally correct. I was always a master of that. It was inherent.
"The war had gone cold, in my and Izaya's early manhood. I fixed that, by having Uncle Steppenwolf make a strike on New Genesis. Just a big enough one for him to kill Izaya's wife, and for me to render him senseless. That started things up again, to be sure. And in the battle, both Uncle Steppenwolf and my mother Heggra were killed. As I had planned.
"Upon Heggra's death, I ascended to the throne. They told me about Anti-Life, then. But I already knew of it. I'd wrested the truth from one of them, and wiped his mind clean afterward. I knew it had to be, and it was. And I knew that I would have to get it.
"But...Izaya was a warrior of some worth, in his own right. At least, he used to be. The war threatened to destroy both our worlds. Perhaps even both of us. So he went and found the Source, had a life-change, became a weakling, and sued for peace. I saw how that could be directed towards my ends, so I accepted. That was when you, my son, were traded for Izaya's son, who became my other son...the one Granny Goodness called Scott Free. More than twenty years passed. It took that long to rebuild our worlds, to heal our wounds. To consolidate our powers.
"By that time I had mated with another, a sorceress who bore me Kalibak. As for Izaya, if he mated again, he kept it to himself. Then Scott broke free, free as his name, scrambling through a Boom Tube to another world. I kept searching for my Answer, my final Equation. World after world, but none of them gave me what I wanted. Finally, it was detected. On the Earth within our plane. The Earth to which Scott had escaped.
"Many of the Earthers had part of the Equation, none of them had it all. I got to all of them that my instruments could detect. The first batch of them I brought over here as a test, though it violated the terms of our treaty with Izaya. That was intentional. I needed to keep Izaya busy if I was to search for the Equation. Still, still..."
"...it eluded me. You opposed me. You, with the Astro-Force that could have killed me. But you never used it. Do you know why, my son? Because you are my son. And, though you have been taught to despise everything I am...you can never fulfill the prophecy. You can never kill your father.
"Instead, you almost killed Kalibak, after he almost killed you. I snatched him from the very hand of the Black Racer by a Boom Tube, took what remained of his mind and fit it into a cloned body. Earth, and that great mass of heroes there, was aware of me now. The efficient thing was to suspend operations. So, after that sortie which almost claimed the life of Izaya's son on the day of his wedding to Barda, I did. But only on the surface, below Izaya's perception.
"I had learned of the existence of powerful evil men on Earth, as powerful as the forces which opposed me. If they could be organized into a group of efficiency, my Secret Society of Super-Villains, they might have proven the hammer by which I could have beaten down my foes, without risk to my Apokolips forces. But, I confess, I did not handle it well. It was a first attempt, and they broke away from me. Not, however, before I killed that one called Manhunter, as if that made any difference.
"At that point, I reopened conflict with New Genesis, while searching for the Equation in the person of the Infinity Man. That almost worked, as you well know. Well, in fact, it did work. I was able to reach the Source, to fathom its secrets...but you prevented me from shielding myself from its curse, and I became a Promethean Giant, whom Desaad, in his great ‘wisdom', destroyed with one of our cannon.
"But my spirit was a bit too strong to be lost. I had the cloning technology that had built a new body for Kalibak, and for Desaad, when I had earlier destroyed him--all but his mind, which I retained, to teach him a lesson--and I forced three Earthers, one from my lost Society, to utilize it to build a new body for me. Which, of course, I inhabited. At that point, you recall, I implemented a plan to destroy two Earths and use their power in my behalf. But you and your allies, together with some ‘heroes' from those Earths, thwarted me again...and again, you thought me destroyed.
"You should have known better. I had another clone waiting, and another after that. I merely put myself back in a waiting body. Still, there is a limit to how many I can make, and how efficient they will be. My powers are strong in this form. They may not be in another. Or I may find...an end...to my ability to switch bodies.
"Which means that, this time, I had best be right. For I have detected in you, the gift I always desired...the Equation, buried so low, so utterly, that even I never found it in your mind until recently. As I have learned of its light counterpart, which the woman, Dreema, possesses. Soon, she, too, will be in my hands, that I may destroy her. But not before I take Izaya, that I may destroy her before his eyes.
"And of course, there are those...Kryptonians, as they call themselves. Superman, and this Supergirl, and, I now know, one beside them. But I have prepared for them, as I have prepared for all. Once this is done, the chaos can cease. Once the Equation is given up, and wielded, we can get back to the business of Life...through Anti-Life.
"So you must understand, my son. I do this, not for evil, but for the greater good. A greater good than any of these fools can understand. And it is for this reason that I must do...what I must do. I think this may be love. And if so, Orion...you must understand that I love you."
After another long moment, Darkseid got up. He pushed past Kalibak, and opened the door. A shrouded figure came in, tentatively, yet with eagerness on his face.
Tigra cried out in fear.
"I want the Equation," said Darkseid to Desaad. "Do with him what you will."