The Apokolips Agenda
The outlook wasn't very sunny for the Forgotten Heroes, the Challengers of the Unknown, the Doom Patrol, and any of the civilians within eyeshot. The Forgotten Villains, the Gang, and the Challenger-Haters had them backed into the town square of Chicago, clustered around the great steel Picasso sculpture. Multi-Man decided that, whenever they got finished murdering the heroes, he'd have Volcano Man melt the blasted thing down for scrap.
"We ain't dead yet, Prof," said Rocky, not taking his eyes off the horde circling them. "I'm ready to take at least two of these punks out with me when I go."
"Sounds like a great idea to me, Rocky," said Prof Haley. "If our borrowed time runs out today...well, I couldn't think of a finer crew to die with."
"Not quite like the last time we teamed up, is it, Prof?" said Robotman in his metallic tones. "Well, I guess Cliff, Rita, and the Chief ‘ve been waitin' too long. I'll bust a few of these guys up before I join ‘em."
"Wish I could think of a few good lines from a corny war movie for ya," stated Animal-Man, facing the foe. "How's about, ‘Come on, you guys! You wanna live forever?'"
"If that's an option, I'll take it," said the Atomic Knight, his blaster at the ready. "If not, let's hit ‘em. We knew the odds coming in...and going out."
"So say we all, Grayle," said Dane Dorrance. "So say we all."
Multi-Man looked at his troops, both the ones he directly commanded in the Challenger-Haters, and the ones who had allied themselves with him, from the Enchantress's mighty troop to the four similarly-costumed Gang members. "We've wasted enough time enjoying the moment, my friends," he said, in a voice that carried to them all. "Now, if you will, it's time to--"
That was as far as Multi-Man ever got. He paused a moment, as he saw the Enchantress's eyes looking startledly at something over his shoulder.
He paused forever when the point of a sword, and the steel blade behind it, emerged from his throat. He tried to send a message to his body to convert it to a monstrous form that could crush his attacker in his death throes. But despite what one sees in the movies or reads in a comic book, death comes much too quickly for something like that.
The blade was withdrawn from the villain's throat and he tumbled from Multi-Woman's shoulder seconds before she turned her head. The giant robot woman beheld a white-bearded man, half-naked but silver-helmeted, standing upon her shoulder. He leaped at her, and before she could turn away, rammed his great incarnadined sword into her eye. It caused sparks to fly, and the camera vision went out on that side of her head. She swung her face, and her attacker and his sword went flying. The crackling, black, yellow-haloed form of Negative Woman caught him.
Kra, the alien robot, opened his metallic jaws wide. "Who in seven successive hells is that?"
Negative Woman deposited her charge on the pavement near the other heroes. He wasn't looking at them. His gaze of hatred was directed at the enemy. His sword, still dripping blood, was held high.
"Who in hell are you?" said Celsius, beside him.
"I'm Travis Morgan," said the man. "They also call me Warlord. I didn't want to be here, but here I am. If you're ready to die, tough luck. But if you're ready to fight, I'm here for you."
Prof Haley, Cliff Steele, and Congo Bill exchanged glances. The remainder of the enemy was powerful indeed. The magically-powered Enchantress and Krakow, the robotic Ultivac, Kra, and Multi-Woman, the mighty Bulldozer, Volcano Man, Faceless Creature, and the rest. The odds were still against them, but they were ready to fight. True, some of them were off-put by Morgan's willingness to kill. But the enemy was shaken by the death of one of their leaders, and that counted.
"We're ready to fight," said Prof. "Let's take ‘em, heroes!"
Below the waves, on Earth-One, a city-state was besieged. Great were its attackers, but just as great were the fighting forces arrayed against it, and the battle dragged on.
For the first time, the Aquaman native to this Earth had met his Earth-Two counterpart. The older Aquaman was not a king of Atlantis, which was either a deserted city on his world or the domed kingdom of Queen Clea, Wonder Woman's foe. He brought with him a grandson, Aquaman III, who looked and dressed like an older Aqualad, a woman named Natalia Perkins, who looked part-Asian, and Neptune Perkins, almost as old as the older Aquaman, a younger version of whom Arthur Curry had met in the Monitor's satellite.
Upon meeting each other, both Aquamen had looked upon each other with wonder and curiosity. Outside of his age, the Earth-Two Aquaman could be distinguished by his gloves, which were yellow; Earth-One's Sea King wore green gloves. After a moment, Old Aquaman had said, "Sonny, if there's any way I can look like you again, I certainly want to."
Aqualad and Tula, floating nearby with Mera and Lori Lemaris, were awed. "Arthur, if this is what you're gonna look like--"
"Be polite, minnow," said Aquaman, irritatingly enough. "Well, um. I'm Arthur Curry. I'm king of this realm. Pleased to meet you." He stuck out a green gloved hand. The yellow gloved hand of Old Aquaman clasped it.
"Likewise, I'm sure," said the old man. "These ‘uns behind me are my grandson, Aquaman III, Natalia Perkins, and her granddad Neptune. Say hi to ‘em, young ‘uns."
"Hi," said Nat, a tad shyly.
"Hello," offered Neptune, still powerful-looking but white-haired and old-faced.
Mera put on her charmer's smile. "We're happy to meet you after all these years. I am Mera, wife of Aquaman. This is his partner Garth, or Aqualad, as he's better known, and Aqua-Girl, also called Tula. And this is Lori Lemaris of Poseidonis. We handle things around our Atlantis."
"This is marvelous, grandpa," offered Aquaman III, gazing at the domed city. "People with fishtails, regular mer-people, all in a living Atlantis. Once this is over, I'd like to spend some more time here. If it's all right, of course."
"We'll deal with that later," said young Aquaman. "Right now, we have a bit of a problem." He gestured towards the submarine ships that were trading shots with Atlantean forces not far from them. Some of them bore the mark of Black Manta, others of the Ocean Master. Still others were unidentified. But all of them were united in a deadly front, and Aquaman's forces were barely keeping them back.
There was combat between Atlantean soldiers and scuba-suited hirelings, as well, and Arthur Curry well knew that too many lives had been lost already. It was time to act.
He was about to order his crew into action when he caught sight of three newcomers circling past a nearby tower and coming towards them. Aquaman III saw them too, and was about to leap into action. Aquaman of Earth-One grabbed his arm. "Hold on," he said. "I recognize two of them."
One of them sent a telepathic message: <Aquaman, it's me. The two with me are friendlies.>
<I could guess, Jerro,> replied Aquaman. <Hurry up, we're about to leave.>
Within seconds, the threesome halted before them. Two were Tritonians, with the fishtailed lower bodies common to their race. The other was human in appearance, but had pale green skin, dark hair, and pointed ears. He was the one new to Aquaman.
"Friends, allow me to introduce Jerro," said Aquaman. "He's a Tritonian, like Lori here, and one of our intelligence agents. This bare-chested one beside him is Merro, who likes to call himself the Merman, also Tritonian. They used to be associates of our Earth's Supergirl and Wonder Woman, respectively. As for the other one, well, you've got me at a loss. Your name, sir?"
The green man offered a tight smile. “I am Man-Fish, formerly the Marquis Juan Villambrosa. I count the Sea Devils among my friends, and Dane Dorrance asked me to join you today. I offer my services as well.”
Manno broke in. "We've seen some sharkers that we can identify. Ocean Master, Fisherman, Black Manta, Scavenger, Marine Marauder. Plus some others I've never seen in our files."
Jerro telepathed some images to Aquaman, who identified them. "The fire-haired woman is Karla. Haven't heard from her in years. I can identify most of the others...Typhoon, Magneto, Claw, Torpedo-Man, Captain Demo, the Human Flying Fish, and the Huntress...not the one from your world, sir. Looks like they've gathered anyone who could breathe down here or use an air tank. Plus one more. Oceanus. Remember him, Mera?"
"Oceanus," Mera breathed. She remembered him well. He was a renegade from her dimensional world who had once set her against Aquaman, when she believed he had betrayed her, and briefly aquired the throne of Atlantis, before things were set to rights. At the end of that adventure, she and Arthur had become man and wife. She had not seen Oceanus since then, but he had the water-hardening-and-shaping powers common to her race.
"Let's get started," said Aquaman. "And if you happen to get punched by somebody you can't see...that's the Un-Thing. With Karla around, I think he'll be here, too. Follow me."
The merman warriors let the orange-and-green clad hero and his Earth-Two self take the point, the rest of them fanning out behind them like the wings of a manta ray. All of them left the streets of Atlantis and swam into the outskirts of battle, where ray-blasts and depth-charges sent off impacts that rocked them in their paths.
Then Arthur Curry saw them.
An opposing force of costumed figures, most of whom were his old enemies. And the one taking point for them was clad in a familiar purple outfit and helmet, and riding a large sled-craft that could easily have seated ten men. His own brother, Orm. The Ocean Master.
Neither of them had wanted to kill each other before, but Orm never gave up his quest to rule the seas. This time, there might be no way to avoid what they had skirted around beforehand.
Behind the foe was a towering, undefined figure much too large to be human, vaguely greenish, seeming to gurgle, walking as if every step cost it a great effort, and looking very, very threatening. Aquaman had no idea who that foe was, but it, too, would have to be dealt with.
A special speaker in Ocean Master's helmet sent his voice across the gulf between us. "Greetings, brother. I hope you don't think that ‘what you see is what you get'...we've brought in some new friends."
A hatch opened below the prow of Orm's sled, and six hulking, horrible, green figures emerged, armed with weaponry the likes of which Aquaman had never seen before.
"I'd like to present some friends from Apokolips," smirked Ocean Master. "Let's hear a big, warm Atlantean welcome for...the Deep Six."
The young boy known as Tim Hunter had met most of the people in the hospital room with him during an adventure in which he had been shown the origin of the universe, the existence of magicians on several Earths, another world populated by the denizens of fairy-stories, and an unending series of futures which ended finally with a blind man trying to kill him. It was quite an accellerated education. At the end, he thought for a time he didn't want to be a magician, and thought that he had refused them. But, shortly after that, he figured that he might try on the top-hat stuff for size, and learned that he still had the option. The four main guys, he figured, were about as slick as Marine Corps recruiters.
Now, if he became a good magician, Earth might have a great future ahead of it. If he became corrupted, it might suffer a catastrophic Magic War in ten to twenty years. Or it might get the war anyway, but he'd be on the right side. Just another one of those Possible Futures the Four Guys liked to talk about sometimes. Except now there were Three. The fourth was the one who had tried to strangle him.
So they'd pulled him away from a Stallone movie and taken him through the Relativity Highway to this hospital bed in which Jim Corrigan was sucking air through a chest wound, and Madame Xanadu, that beautiful but spooky Tarot-card lady, had sat him down cross-legged on the floor. "We want you to contact Corrigan's inner consciousness, Tim, and see if we can help him survive. The Spectre is needed in this great conflict."
"Conflict?" There had been CNN reports about the great battles between heroes and villains around the world, but none of it had impinged his neighborhood. "I don't know, Miss Xanadu. I mean, I don't know much about this stuff, I'm just a kind of a kid. Why couldn't you do it yourselves?"
"You're smaller," snapped Constantine. "You'll fit better. Now shurrup and do as you're told."
Dr. Occult said, "Jim's mind has raised defenses even against us, Tim. But your aura has a specific quality--one, I might describe, of innocence--that may allow you to pass through unharmed."
Tim swallowed. "And if it doesn't?"
"We'll be there for you, boy," said the Stranger.
From the Stranger, that seemed reassuring. Tim held up his hands, palms first, to Madame Xanadu. "Like this?" he said.
"Yes," she said. She placed her palms against his, interlinking their fingers. "Now. Trance state, Tim. Come on the Amazing Journey. Let's talk to Jim Corrigan."
He closed his eyes. As he did so, he heard Occult say, "Handle this better than you did with Mento."
"Think happy thoughts, mate," replied Constantine.
He also seemed to hear the Stranger say, "I shall return."
That was when Tim realized he was seeing something more than the inside of his eyelids.
Most of the lights were off in Mrs. Berkowitz's apartment building, or seemed to be. It didn't seem a good idea to leave on a light that might attract the attention of warring idiots in the skies or on the ground.
As they sat in the semidarkness of Ida Berkowitz's front room to watch CNN, John Ostrander wondered if the latest havoc reminded his landlady of the terror days of World War II. But he decided not to ask her. Beforehand, the escapades of Supergirl against various villains in Chicago had seemed almost an entertainment. Against the power of the Girl of Steel, how could any regular super-baddie prevail?
Now it was a war, and both sides seemed equal. And Supergirl was apparently out of town.
Joan Raymond and Cheryl Delarye sat on the sofa flanking Mrs. Berkowitz, all of them staring at Bernard Shaw on the box. He was giving the latest details of the metahuman war, then cutting to the female correspondent who did a voice-over. The cameraman was at ground level, trying to catch a sight of the conflict high overhead, and mostly failing.
"Thank you, Bernard. Luckily, the conflict here in Tokyo hasn't cost too many lives by official count. But property damage has been considerable. Japan hasn't seen the sort of super-conflict that the United States has been privy to in the last thirty years. Now they, like many other nations in the world, have been dragged into it against their will. We can't see it from our viewpoint, but at present the international heroes known as the Global Guardians are fighting a motley band of super-villains, mainly in the skies, though some ground conflict has also resulted. I--wait, hold on. Jim, can you--Bernard, something's breaking out down the street. We're trying--hold on, we're trying to get coverage..."
The camera's focus shifted from the Tokyo skies to the narrow streets, which were mostly bare of people. Tokyo was almost under martial law for the duration of the battle. Several indistinct figures were glimpsed on the street, a couple of blocks down, fighting. Shaw's voice came back on, saying, "Catherine, can you give us any details of what you're seeing? Catherine, are you there?"
"Yes, I'm here, Bernard," she said. "It's hard for me to identify the superhumans we're seeing now, and we don't want to get too close. But I believe one of them, the one in the dark outfit, is the hero known as Tasmanian Devil. He comes from Australia. And...do you see that? The one lifting an opponent overhead, the bare-chested one--good grief! He slammed his opponent to the pavement, and his opponent is not moving. I hope the villain's unconscious, these heroes are usually pretty conscientious about not taking life. But the big one in the bare chest, I believe, is the Seraph, the hero of Israel."
"Gottenu," muttered Mrs. Berkowitz. "Now they're making Jewish super-heroes already? I thought it was strictly a goy thing."
"Nothing's strictly an anyone thing anymore, I think," said Cheryl. "When are they gonna get back to Chicago?"
The camera had moved in enough to show the Tasmanian Devil throwing a roundhouse right that sent another oddly-garbed foe to dreamland. The correspondent judged things safe enough to move in for an interview. "Could you tell us, please, who you are, and what has just happened here?"
The Australian looked at her in a mixture of disbelief, contempt, and amusement. "Well, for the record, ma'am, I'm the Tasmanian Devil, this big drongo here's the Seraph, and we're still on the job. Now, if ye'd be so kind, couldya call up the local paddy wagon ‘n' have ‘em take these drongos away? Gotta lot of work to do yet. Thanks."
The Seraph, a muscular man in a kilt, sandals, and cape who wore long hair and a beard, looked as serious as a judge, especially if the judge had been Samson. He reached out, took the microphone from the correspondent, and spoke into it. "I wish to reassure my countrymen that we have not forgotten them. As soon as possible, the Global Guardians will appear in Israel. This is the word of the Seraph. Shalom." He handed the mike back to her.
"Uh, thank you," she said. The two heroes turned and sprinted around the corner. Whether or not it was to join their teammates or to avoid further interviewing was not clear. Christine did some more summarizing before handing the potato back to Bernard.
"In Chicago, the tide of battle seems to have turned," said Shaw. "Here with the latest is Wolf Blitzer. Wolf?"
Cheryl sighed and crossed herself. "Thank God. Maybe we won't have to keep our heads down much longer."
"Don't count on it, Cheryl," warned Joan. "This thing is looking bigger than the mess with the Democrats back in ‘68. Until we get word from the mayor, I'm not even going back to work."
Mrs. Berkowitz spoke. "All my life," she said. "I said to myself, ‘If I ever get out of here, I'm going to America. No pogroms there, no storm troopers, no death camps, no yellow stars on your shirt. Nobody makes war on America.' Now, I come here, and in my waning years...it's just the same. Or, God help us, too much of the same."
"We've got super-heroes, Mrs. B," said John. "So far, they're holding their own."
"Yes, but for how long, John?" she asked. "And, worse, what's happened to Linda? Where is she, and her Dev person?"
John Ostrander had no answer for either question.
They watched the TV in silence.
Supergirl, Dev, and Superman had broken bread with the Forever People and the ones who Nightmaster told her he called the "Magic Squad". But Kara was getting impatient. Five Earths were being threatened, Darkseid held Orion prisoner, and three of the biggest guns in the campaign--herself, Kal, and Dev--were being held up on this mission. In her opinion, they had to finish things up and get back.
Yet here they sat, around a dinner table in Adon, trying to convince five old hippies to come with them and save the Multiverse.
"Personally, I want no more contact with Darkseid," Beautiful Dreamer said, between bites. "And if the cost of that is no more contact with Highfather as well, I'm prepared to pay it."
"Pardon me, D'reema," Superman pointed out, "but there's no staying out of the conflict. Izaya was quite clear on that point: if we want you, you can be sure Darkseid wants you as well. And if we can find you, he can find you as well."
"Point taken, Brother Superman," said Big Bear, wolfing down a joint of roast. "But we've gotten used to peaceful ways on Adon. And he hasn't found us yet."
Mark Moonrider toyed with a piece of bread. "If D'Reema is in danger from Darkseid, Superman, wouldn't it make more sense to keep her here, where we can guard her, and where it's been impossible for him to find us so far? As Big Bear says, we've gotten used to the ways of peace."
It was Nightmaster who spoke next. "Hey, I know all about the ways of peace, as you put it. Back in my time I was a rock musician, antiwar, the whole nine yards. The bit is, I got thrown into a situation in which I had to fight...something right out of Tolkien or Robert E. Howard. That's where I first got this." He held up the humming sword. "Like it or not, I had to use it, to save my girl, a couple of friends I met along the way, and, not coincidentally, me. Pacifism's great, guys, as long as everybody around you's a pacifist, too. But that's not always the case."
Vykin the Black said, "The one called Nightmaster speaks well, brothers. I fear we cannot evade the grasp of Darkseid, even here. If Adon is attacked, we must defend it...and we will find ourselves in this war, willingly or not."
Serifan adjusted his cowboy hat. "But,Vyke, that's just what we've been talkin' about. Ain't none of those Para-Demons or Dog Cavalries or Justifiers been knockin' on our door so far. S'been a long time since we've set foot on Earth or Apokolips, and I votes we stay right here for the duration."
Dev said, "Speaking for myself, I've been up against Darkseid, too. And here's something you've missed: if he wants little miss Dreamer here, he might devastate this whole planet if he finds her on it. Wouldn't be beyond him at all, would it?"
Dreamer said, soberly, "As much as I hate to admit it--not at all."
Dev-Em continued: "So, if she's off of this world, it might mean the Adonites get spared a visit by ‘Seid's advance men. We'll also be better able to defend her, and she'll be better equipped to make a play with that Life Equation thing, if and when she has to. Put that equation in your data cache, and see what you come up with."
Supergirl looked at the remainder of the group, Amethyst, Jennifer Morgan, Shade, and Mellu, and wondered again at the forces that had thrown such a disparate bunch of characters together. Then again, it wasn't any more remarkable than the events that had brought the heroes of the five Earths into concert. She set down her fork, noisily. "I can't see the purpose of any further debate. If Darkseid's only days away from getting the Anti-Life Equation, we need Dreamer. Despite your wanting to stay here, and Rao knows I can empathize, there's no way I can see you all just abandoning the five universes to Darkseid's control. If that happens, do you think Adon's going to be safe? Or, for that matter, anyplace else? She has to come with us. That's the only solution."
There was a pause, and then the entire crew appeared to be all ready to speak at once. It was interrupted by Harbinger falling backward out of her chair. She almost hit the floor before Kal and Kara super-sped over to catch her, even before Shade and Nightmaster, on either side of her, could react.
"Great Topaz," exclaimed Amethyst. "Talk about speed! But what's happened to Harbinger?"
Kara, Dev already at her side, lay her ear against Harbinger's chest. "She's all right. Heartbeat and pulse returning to normal. I think she's still even conscious."
Jennifer's right hand glowed. "I'll cast a spell to help her recover. Supergirl, please stand back."
Harbinger's eyes refocused, and she blinked. "That--will not be necessary, Jennifer. But--we are in danger."
Shade slid back his chair and jumped to his feet. The M-Vest was already creating a distorted picture of his body. "From what source? And how soon?"
"Peace, Rac," said Mellu, putting a hand on his arm. "Let her speak."
"My other-self has been stricken," said Harbinger. "The one on Apokolips. I can feel it."
Supergirl held Harbinger's right hand. "How closely are you linked? Can you feel what she feels?"
"To--some degree," said Harbinger. "But that is not important. Darkseid's minion has traced us through our self-link. He knows of my presence. My sister-self is blocked from recall. Now he can locate us..."
"How soon?" rapped Superman, even as he cast his X-ray vision through the walls of the home.
From without, a cry of horror was heard. It didn't take super-hearing to detect it. The heroes and heroines exploded towards the doorways.
Outside, they beheld the terrified Adonite villagers looking up at the sky and pointing at a wave of blackness coming from the horizon. The wave was broken into hundreds of smaller, humanoid units.
Dev-Em, launching himself into the air, said, "You've got a great way of answering your own questions, Supes."
Supergirl was right behind him, and within a second, both were in the midst of the wave of shadows, as was Superman.
Big Bear grabbed Moonrider by the shoulder. "Mark, I don't think even our powers are gonna work against that. And I don't know if our super-brothers are gonna be able to hold all of ‘em off."
"We've still got to try," said Mark Moonrider. "And we're going to."
Harbinger, still recovering, said, "What of your union-self, the Infinity Man? Could his powers not be of use?"
"You don't understand," exclaimed Vykin. "We haven't been able to contact him since the day we came to Adon. He may not even exist."
Beautiful Dreamer ran into the house, and emerged quickly with a Mother Box. "He may not, Vykin," she said. "But by the Source, we're going to try again!"
Harbinger directed her group to circle the Forever People, who themselves formed a circle around the Mother Box. The box itself levitated into the air, several feet above the outstretched hands of Moonrider's family unit. The quintet of New Genesites poured their wills into the organic circuitry of it, and waited.
Nothing, that is, until a Shadow-Demon touched Shade's M-Vest, producing a feedback shock that shattered the demon and knocked Shade five paces to the side.
Nightmaster drew his sword, which hummed like a hive of angry bumblebees. "Let's rumble, guys," he said, grimly.
And the horde of shadows came on.