The Apokolips Agenda
After the dark but rainbow-shot pulsing of the interdimensional gulf, Supergirl, Beautiful Dreamer, and Harbinger emerged into the brightness of day on another Earth. There was a slight pop as the warp closed behind them. Not as loud as a Boom Tube, thank Rao, but audible.
The three women streaked across the afternoon sky, a half-mile above the tops of the skyscrapers. “Got any idea where we are?” asked Kara, who was already scoping out the scenes at ground-level with her telescopic and X-ray visions.
“It’s not New Genesis,” said D’reema, appraisingly.
“We’re on another Earth,” said Harbinger. “I chose one close enough to our own primary system, but not one of the Prime Five. We might be followed here, but it’ll take more time.”
“That’s always nice to know,” Supergirl answered. The two of them weren’t too visible from street level, but they’d be showing up on radar. The IFF device in her belt that tipped off Earth-One governments of her identity might not be effective here. She angled their flight to bring them closer to the Earth they flew over. “Have you ever been here before, Lyla?”
The red-helmeted girl shook her head. “It may be, probably is, one of the Earths I surveyed with the Monitor’s instruments. But I won’t know which until we have some more reference points.”
“Such as which heroes, if any, this Earth is hosting.”
Beautiful Dreamer looked concerned. “What about my people on Adon? What about my brothers and sisters, Supergirl? They still face the shadows.”
“We’ll just have to assume that my cousin and the others can keep them safe,” said Kara. “Because right now, our main concern is going to be keeping you safe.”
“I am flattered,” said D’reema. “But if Darkseid is sending troops against us, should we not be in your universe, where we can lend our might against the foe?”
“What we’re doing is playing for time, and there’s probably not much of that,” said Lyla. “If Darkseid can find you on Adon–“
“He probably found them by monitoring us,” said Supergirl. “Darkseid’s got ways of seeing things even my vision powers can’t get to.”
“Which means,” said Dreamer, “he might be able to find us here.”
“Do you see any flat humanoid shadows materializing in the sky?” snapped Kara.
“Then I’d assume he hasn’t tracked us yet.”
D’reema, Kara noted, at least possessed a decent knowledge of when to shut up.
She exhaled. “Any objections to changing to our civilian i.d.’s? Just in case they’re not used to flying women in these parts?”
“I have no problem with that,” said Lyla. Kara arrowed them both to the roof of a skyscraper, taking note with her vision powers of how many people were looking through building windows and pointing at them. The building roof was abandoned at the moment. After a quick X-ray scan, she pushed open the doors of a stairwell and took them both down it. A guard was on his way up.
One quick-change and two rearrangements of clothing molecules later, all there was for the guard to see was three decent-looking women. A brunette in a medium-length black skirt and white blouse, a black-haired bomb in an orange maxi, and a blonde in an archaic purple dress. “Afternoon, ladies,” said the man.
“Hi,” replied Kara. The three of them continued on until they were past him, then opened a door onto one of the floors. Their heels clicked on the flooring as they passed by a number of offices.
“So what do we do now?” asked D’reema. “Do we just---hide?”
“Unless you’ve got a better idea, I’d say, yes, we hide, and find a place to sleep before long,” said Supergirl. “I’m not sure my American Express card will work on this world.”
“Oh, never you mind about that,” said Lyla, smiling. She pulled out a purse that, somehow, Kara was sure hadn’t been there a second before. “I’ve world-hopped before. I always bring enough money.”
“It might not be the kind of cash they’ll accept here,” warned Kara. “There might be different faces on the dollar bills. On Earth-3, according to Kal, a one-spot had King George on it.”
The girl in the 1890's dress opened her purse and pulled out a wad of century notes. “These adapt to the planet we’re currently occupying,” she said. “If need be, the purse produces coins, gems, or even living objects.”
“A useful thing indeed,” noted D’reema.
“Counterfeiting,” observed Kara.
Lyla sniffed. “Indeed not. Only convienience. Shall we find a room, ladies?”
On the way out, in the lobby, the three of them passed a first-floor store with a magazine rack. Kara stopped with her hand on the pushbar of the glass door, so abruptly that Dreamer bumped into her back. “Umph,” said the black-haired girl. “Supergirl, what–“
“Shush! Call me Linda when I’m like this,” she hissed. “And I don’t know what Earth we’re on, but I know somebody we can pay a call on. I hope.”
Lyla looked in the direction Kara was looking, and saw, after a second, what the Kryptonian had seen. An issue of Time Magazine, with a color photograph and a large cutline below it on the cover.
The photo was of a teenager in a blue, red, and yellow costume, and the cutline read: SUPERBOY—FOR REAL.
Kara told Lyla to buy them a copy.
Below the waves, the battle went badly for the forces of Atlantis. The Deep Six, by name Slig, Gole, Pyron, Shaligo, Jaffar, Trok, had buttressed the forces of Ocean Master and were driving the defenders back further and further into the city. Aquaman had summoned whales, sharks, electric eels, even giant squid to their aid, and the Apokoliptic forces were barely delayed by them.
The Sea King guessed that Darkseid had somehow recreated the robot trio,
Magneto, Claw, and
Torpedo-Man, with the help of some of his other enemies. The resources the Lord of Apokolips commanded had to be unimaginable. If only they could be turned to something beneficial, instead of this insane gladiatorial combat. If only he could be left to govern his subsea nation, instead of having to fight idiots in costumes whenever they paid a call.
There wasn’t time for contemplation. The lives of the Atlantean people were at stake. The call had gone out to the Justice League for help, but they were obviously too busy. He turned to Mera. “I want you out of here,” he said.
“No,” she said, looking at the enemy.
“You’re going to bear our child, Mera. I’m ordering you as the king of Atlantis to leave. Get away while you can.”
“And as the queen of Atlantis, I countermand that order, Arthur,” she answered. “This is my home as well, now, Arthur, and these are my people and my friends. If they die, I die with them.”
One of the enemy swam forward, a grin of death on his face. “That may be a prophecy, Mera. Believe it.”
Aquaman saw the man, and a snarl reflexed itself over his face. “Oceanus!” he yelled, and thrust forward to meet him. Mera called at him to come back, but it was too late. It had been years since either of them saw the other, but neither had cause to forget.
Oceanus had been a renegade of Mera’s other-dimensional water world. He had come with her to Earth-One and helped her seize power when she thought Aquaman had spurned her, though the only reason he seemed to have was because he had been named king of the realm and as such, had to marry an Atlantean. He had almost destroyed Aquaman and Aqualad with the hard-water powers of his people, but she turned against him, seeing what she was abetting, and drove him away but lost her own powers for a time. Afterward, Aquaman declared her an honorary Atlantean, and they were wed. Oceanus had returned to his world, and had not come back, until now.
Arthur knew that he had no counter to his foe’s hard-water power. The only thing he could count on was his own speed and strength. Initially, it was enough. He blasted through the water between them and landed a haymaker on Oceanus’s jaw that sent the villain spinning backward. “Attaway, Aquaman!” prompted Aqualad, who was busy, with Aquagirl, fighting off some more enemies.
Unfortunately, Oceanus was hurt, but not kayoed. Angrily, as he fell, he stretched out his arm towards Aquaman. The Sea King tried to dodge, to dart away, but the otherworlder’s power was too quick. Bands of hardness formed from the very water itself, becoming denser, shaping themselves at Oceanus’s command. They tightened about his chest and arms, his legs, his throat. He telepathed desperately to the sea life about him: <Attack Oceanus! Before he can strangle me!>, but the villain had already surrounded himself with a water-bubble. The hammerhead sharks and octopi battered against it fruitlessly.
Mera stretched forth her own arm and concentrated. A pair of hard-water hammers materialized, split, neared Oceanus, drew back, and then came together in a great BONG! against his shield. Two more hammerings and the shield cracked. The villain dodged past the hammers and the fragments of his bubble, bound to take the battle to Mera.
Another figure darted before him, blocking his way. “That’ll be enough of that, sonny,” the interloper said.
Oceanus gaped. The character before him was an old man, possibly topping sixty years of age. And yet, he was dressed in the same outfit as Aquaman, except for his gloves, which were yellow. In fact, he even looked similar to the man who was being crushed in Oceanus’s hard-water grip. He looked ridiculous.
“Out of my way, old jellyfish,” snapped Oceanus, and tried to push past him.
“Old jellyfish?” retorted the Earth-Two Aquaman. “Old?”
With that, he brought up an uppercut that started somewhere below his waistline, impacted on Oceanus’s jaw, broke it, and continued upward in a follow-through. The water-bands about the younger Aquaman faded.
Old Aquaman rubbed the knuckles of his yellow-gloved hand. Mera was already at Arthur’s side, wresting away the last of the water bands. “Is he all right?” asked the older man.
Mera nodded. “He’ll be fine. Thanks for your help.”
“Don’t mention it. Been too long since I’ve been in a good fight. Anyways, I never cottoned to smart-mouthed shrimp.”
A ray-blast scattered the lot of them. When the water became less heated and bubbly, Arthur Curry looked and saw Ocean Master not far before him, with several of the Deep Six at his back.
“As above, so below, dear brother,” commented Ocean Master. “I’ve instructed the Deep Six not to kill you—quite. As for the rest, including this old character, well, they won’t have to be so fussy.”
“We’ll show you fussy, seashell-head,” snapped Natalia Perkins, swimmng up with her father Neptune and her mother Tsunami. “We’ll show you Davy Jones’s real locker!”
“Shall we kill them now?” asked Slig, one of the gruesome, green, scale-covered monstrosities that made up the Deep Six, Darkseid’s elite underwater troops.
“Go ahead,” said Ocean Master. Save Aquaman for–for–“
Before his eyes, vegetation was coiling up from the ocean floor.
A mass of seaweed, growing thicker and stronger than any Arthur had ever seen, even in the Sargasso Sea, sprang up into being. The eyes of both defenders and attackers grew wide. Jaws dropped. Magneto ripped at a batch of it with his robotic strength. It just grew back again.
Then he found the stuff coiling into his metallic body, coming through his slightest joints and intake valves, insinuating itself into his machinery, expanding with force, and, quickly, crushing his inner circuitry and destroying him.
Similar fates befell Claw and Torpedo-Man, Magneto’s two robot brethren. Karla, the flame-hair, tried to burn the stuff, but a tendril coiled about her neck and choked her unconscious. The Un-Thing’s invisibility was negated by a large vegetative clump outlining and restraining him. The Human Flying Fish tried to get away, but another strand lassoed him about the feet and pulled him down to the ocean floor.
“Arthur, what in Neptune’s name is going on here?” Aquagirl was still holding the Fisherman tight in a scissors grip while Aqualad’s blows to their foe’s head and gut barely slackened, even though he, too, was agape at the developments.
“I don’t know, but at this point, I don’t care!” Aquaman surged forward, evaded several rayblasts, and came to grips with Ocean Master. He stared into the lenses that covered his half-brother’s eyes. “This time I’m not letting you go, Orm. This time, you’re going down for it.”
“Brave words, Arthur,” sneered Ocean Master. “You’ve never been able to kill me, anymore than I could kill you. Sometimes I wish I was still amnesiac.”
Aquaman unleashed a blow that almost shattered Orm’s helmet, almost injured his neck, and definitely left Ocean Master unconscious.
“Maybe you’ll get lucky with that one, then,” muttered the sea king.
The Deep Six were flailing about in the grip of the seaweed, which had grown as thick and powerful as the roots of a redwood. Those farthest from the battle site, with a bit of perspective, were horrified to see what looked like the rudiments of a face in the weed-growth.
Then one of the Six was squeezed a bit too hard, and his head popped off.
It trailed lubricant and transmission fluid, not blood.
Lori Lemaris, closest to the site, her upper body sheathed in battle armor and her hands holding a blaster, looked at it in awe and comprehension. “Androids. Arthur...these six monsters are just androids!”
“As if that makes a difference,” grated Aquaman II, Old Aquaman’s son, giving a hard elbow to the Human Flying Fish’s face.
Jerro, Merman, and Man-Fish were battling Black Manta and his men, all of whom were as astonished as the others at the vegetative developments. Neptune and Natalia Perkins were fighting off the Scavenger and the Huntress, respectively. Tsunami was using her wave-power to sweep away some of the enemy sub-vessels.
Without the presence of the Deep Six, the tide of battle–or at least its subcurrent–had turned.
In a few more minutes, it was ended.
Aquaman’s gills drew in deep breaths. Carnage, destruction, but not perhaps as bad as it might have been. Luckily, not many lives had been lost. The Twin Cities would have to rebuild, but they had done that before. This battle, at least, was won.
He signalled to Aqualad. “Get ‘em secured and jailed, Minnow. If there’s a second wave behind this one, I want us ready for it.”
“Will do, Aquaman,” said Garth. “But please, don’t call me ‘Minnow’ anymore. Okay?”
The Sea King smiled, tiredly. “Will do, Garth. On your way, get Dr. Vulko. I’d like to talk to him.”
Aquaman II pointed at the seaweed mass, which had grown a large and distinctive head. “Don’t you think you’d better talk to him first?”
The heroes who weren’t occupied with disarming and trussing up villains followed Aquaman to the seaweed creature. Old Aquaman floated side-by-side with Arthur. His eyes narrowed. True, he’d seen a lot above and below the sea in his sixty-plus years, but he’d never seen a phenomenon like this.
“Can you...talk?”, asked Aquaman.
The head’s eyes, red and unsettling, focused on him. “What would...you like me...to say?”
“We’d like to thank you for your help, whoever you are,” said Mera.
“You are...welcome,” the head rumbled. “I was...asked to...lend aid.”
Aquagirl floated near Natalia Perkins. “This thing isn’t from your Earth, is it, Nat?”
“No way,” Natalia responded.
Then Aquaman snapped his fingers. “Wait a minute. Now I remember. Of course! We monitored a battle you had with the Floronic Man. I saw it with the Justice League. Batman’s worked with you. You’re the one they call the Swamp Thing.”
“Indeed,” the plant elemental said. “I have...aided the Green...above the waters...many times. This is...my first time...below.”
“So...who told you about our little problem, Mr. ...Thing?” asked Lori. “Was it Superman?”
“Him? Nah, it was me.”
Aquaman turned his head abruptly and in shock. The voice had come from Old Aquaman, who was grinning. Aquaman II quickly stroked to his father’s side. “Dad, are you all right?”
Old Aquaman said, “This isn’t your dad, fishface. I rode Swampy down here. I’m the one who pointed the way, and it was one hell of a ride down. This guy over here, we’ve met before, but he doesn’t remember it.” He pointed his thumb at Arthur.
Aquaman took his otherworld counterpart’s arm as gently as possible. “Uh, Art, look...I’m sure the battle was a bit taxing. Why don’t I get you to shelter and let you take a break, rest up a bit? I’m sure you’ll feel fine afterward.”
Old Aquaman’s expression changed to one of bewilderment. “Eh? What’s this? Why’re you holding my arm, sonny? What’d I do when I blanked out?”
“Blanked out?” Aquaman was even more bewildered. “Are we under attack?”
The next voice to answer came from Aquaman II. “No such luck,” said the hero. “I was in him, now I’m here. I’ve been in you a couple of times. Maybe Batman or Supes told you about me? I’ve worked with Swamp Stuff here, too. Sorry about confusin’ you. I’m a ghost. Boston Brand. Known in the trade as Deadman.”
Aquaman and all the rest looked at him for a long moment.
“I’m on your side, too,” Deadman reassured him.
“Okay,” said Aquaman.
Zatanna was mortified. There she was, imprisoned in a cell within Darkseid’s huge headquarters building. Her mouth was covered by a metallic clamp that reached all the way around her head and held her jaw immobile. Thus, no chance of speaking a backwards spell. She’d banged the thing against the wall of her cell enough times to make her teeth rattle and her face hurt, but hadn’t so much as dented it. For feeding times, a jailer shoved a sticky patch through a slot in the door. He’d told her to apply it to her bare flesh, and said she’d absorb nutrients from it that way. It didn’t feel much like eating a meal, but at least she wasn’t hungry.
She had no idea how the others were kept, but had a feeling a few of them were in suspended animation. God only knew what was being done to Big Barda. She was a traitor to Apokolips, and Darkseid wasn’t known for being merciful to traitors.
So why was she allowed her freedom? Because the others could activate their powers simply by willing it, or by exerting their own super-strength? Probably.
Zatanna heard a noise outside. The sound of great, clumping feet. Well, on this world, there were enough stumblebums that moved around like Mack trucks on legs. Until that one spoke, there would be no way of identifying him.
The guard on duty was the first to speak. “Greetings,” he said. “In the name of Lord Darkseid.”
“Greetings,” said the other, not giving anything away. The voice was harsh, loud, alien. She had not heard it before. Instinctively, Zatanna backed against the wall. She felt for her Justice League signal device in her belt, but found it had been taken away.
“Your business, sire?” said the guard, evenly.
“I wish access to the prisoner,” the loud voice said.
“I’ll need a signed order on that one,” the guard replied.
There was a smash and a horrible squishing sound.
“I’ll see you get one,” said the loud voice, in apparent sarcasm.
Zatanna turned and smashed her jaw-prison as hard as she could against the wall. It did nothing except make her face ache.
The metal door with the slit in it was being pushed inward from the center as if it were a bubble. Then it gave way, and the being who stood in the doorway could barely fit through the frame.
Zatanna scurried to another corner of the room, took a fighting stance, looked about for something she could use as a weapon, and knew nothing would be of the least bit of use to her.
He was smiling in a businesslike fashion. One of his hands was red and dripping.
“I’ll have to get retroactive permission for what I’m about to do,” remarked Mordru. “But I don’t think they’ll deny me.” He stepped forward, and Zatanna dived for the floor, trying to duck and run for the door. Mongul grabbed her by the cape and hauled her up. She gave him a karate chop that would have laid out a Mafia hitman. It only hurt her hand.
“You’re the first,” said Mongul. “The others will be more problematic. But I’ll find a way.”
For a long second all the world was his reddened eyes.
Then, impossibly, almost before she heard the running footsteps, there was a figure between them, shoving against Mongul and herself, separating them with a force that ripped the cape from her shoulders. For which she was glad, she numbly admitted.
“No farther, Mongul,” said Pariah, a look of defiance on his face.
Silence for no more than an instant. Then Mongul roared, his brain filled with lust for blood and something else afterward, and, forgetting all he knew of the man before him, he raised his reddened hand and struck with a force that would stagger Superman.
His hand rebounded from a field no more than five inches away from Pariah’s body with a force that fractured the bones in his hand. Mongul cried out.
He had forgotten: any blow struck against Pariah rebounds in force against the striker.
Actually, he forgot most everything except the unaccustomed feel of pain.
In a moment, Pariah had Zatanna out of the cell with him and was running as fast as he could down the hall with her in tow. She added her own speed to their flight. If only her mouth were freed, escape would be a few words away.
As it was, Mongul was a being of no mean speed himself. Pariah didn’t look like he had anything on him with which to open her jaw clamp. She glanced behind them once, briefly, and wished she hadn’t when she saw what was left of the guard. She also saw the figure of Desaad, cowering against a wall.
In a short time, Mongul would overcome the pain of his injured hand and come after them. Pariah would be able to withstand any assault directed against him. She wouldn’t.
“Do you know where the others are?” he asked, on the run.
She shook her head “no”.
“Then we must find them. Quickly,” he said.
She nodded her head emphatically, and kept running.
Big Barda was confined on a rack which chained her limbs. There was an apparatus for feeding her and one for collecting what resulted from feeding and drinking. She wrenched at the metal, tore at it, sought to bend it to her will and strength, and knew before she started that Darkseid had correctly gauged her limits.
That didn’t stop her from swearing most satisfyingly at the jailers when they came to feed her, and smiling arrogantly at them when they cuffed her for it.
“Once Darkseid is dead, don’t think we’ll forget who served him,” Barda assured the feeder. He smacked her roughly on the right ear. “I have a great memory for faces.” Her cheek was the next target. She sneered, feeling the nutrient patch on her neck do its work.
“None will have a memory for your face once we are done with you,” said the guard, and drew back for another punch.
“That will be enough!”
The voice, though aged, held the absolute note of command. Moreover, it lit fear in the guard’s eyes. His fist trembled for a second, then unclenched as his arm came to his side. He stood and faced the one who had spoken.
“Mistress Goodness,” he said, humbly.
“Granny will do,” said the bulky, white-haired woman, stepping further inside the cell. “Just dear, sweet Granny. Now. On your knees, you wretch!”
The guard obeyed. He did not look up.
“You were touching too closely on the responsibilities of Granny,” she reminded him, smiling without mercy. “This one is my special love. She was the one who disobeyed Granny. She broke away from Granny, and even caused her a bit of discomfort in times past. Now, that properly makes her Granny’s pet, not yours. Wouldn’t you agree?”
“I, I most assuredly would, Mistress–“
“Granny. I certainly would, Granny.”
Big Barda looked at her former superior. “If you do punish him, Granny, would you let me watch?” She grinned.
Granny didn’t, pointing a baton imperiously at her ex-charge. “That will be enough! This is a private matter.”
“If you say so,” said Barda, with a verbal shrug.
“Now, then,” said Granny to the kneeling guard. “Granny would properly supervise your discipline herself, if she had the time. Instead, I want you to go straight to Terrific Trano and tell him that you misbehaved, and that I said so. Will you do that?”
“I, I will, Mis...Granny.”
She lifted his head with the end of her baton, and smiled. “My, you’re such a good boy. Tell him that only 47 strokes will do. Not 46, not 48, but only 47. Will you do that?”
“Ab, absolutely,” he said.
The guard rose and quickly left the room.
Granny drew nearer to Barda. The tall woman in the rack refused to flinch, but her smile was gone. In its place was a look of Spartan endurance. She would need it.
“You’ve been such a bad girl, Barda,” cooed Granny Goodness. “Such a very, very bad girl.”
She flicked a switch on the end of her baton. A section near the top, no more than an inch in length, began to glow. It brightened into redness, then whiteness. A sizzle of acrid air came from about its tip.
Barda strove to keep her breathing normal. Her jaws were locked. In her mind, she recited the mantra taught to her in her war-training at the age of four: There is no pain, there is no pain, there is no pain, only illusion. There is no pain...
“But we can burn that badness away from you, oh yes we can,” said Granny, gently, pulling a zipper down the front of Barda’s uniform. The skin was bared to her and, despite herself, Barda shrank from the touch of her old superior’s fingernail. It traced a path from breastbone to navel.
“Let’s just see what we can do,” whispered Granny, and began to lower the baton.
Then there was a THWAK of impact as something oval and flat hit Granny in the back of the neck, giving her a look of incredible surprise for a second, then making her eyes roll up in her head. Granny Goodness flopped over Barda’s body, her baton dropping from her hand, striking the floor, and burning the places where it struck. Even under Granny’s bulk, Barda could see whose hand was catching the flying disc on the rebound.
Mr. Miracle smiled, grimly. He moved to grab Granny under the armpits and ease her to the floor. “We haven’t got much time,” he confided. “I wasted a lot getting my gimmicks back. And we have to free the other women.”
“Well, do me first!”
“With pleasure.” From a hidden pocket of his yellow-and-red suit, Scott Free produced a lockpick and went to work on the fastenings of Barda’s bonds. Within ten seconds, he had her loose. She stood, sighed, zipped herself up, and embraced him. “I know we haven’t got time for this,” she said. “But don’t stop me.”
“I don’t think I’ve got the strength to, dear,” said Mr. Miracle. “But let’s get a move on.”
“I think the others are this way,” said Barda, nodding her head to the right. The two of them rushed outside. The guard who had punched her, and several others, were lying in the hall outside in dreamland. They hustled down the corridor.
“How did you get free?” she asked, in a whisper.
“A good magician never reveals his secrets,” Scott said, sotto voce.
“They scanned me for just about everything,” said Scott. “But some of my hairs are only partly natural. Hollowed-out. Explosives, corrosives, sleep-gas, made from natural compounds. Once I fought off the sleep drugs, once I got my hands free, no big deal.”
“Hooray for Apokolips technology.”
“Think of what it would do for my rep if I couldn’t get free.”
Just before they turned a corner, Barda said, “Think of what I’m going to do to the couple of stiffs on duty by the next cells.”
Then she leaped out into view. The three guards on duty had seen a lot in their time. But the sight of a very tall, very powerful, very pissed-off Barda was enough to paralyze them, for a moment.
They never got near their communicators. And their weapons didn’t do them a bit of good.
“So where in Sheol did they go?” asked Dev. “Can’t we track them using that out-of-time trick we used to find this place, El?”
Superman shook his head, his arms folded. “Don’t think so, Dev. Even Highfather’s Alpha Bullets couldn’t find them, and they can track targets even into different time eras. Harbinger’s taken them someplace we can’t locate, right now. Probably to another universe.”
“Bloody Sheol!” Dev snapped grabbing Kal by the shoulder. “That’s the woman I love, El. That’s the woman who loves me, I think. We’ve got powers that make the mythical gods of Krypton and Terra look like also-rans. We can see across a galaxy, track an electron, see through the walls of a women’s loo!”
“I will not lose her, El!”
Superman gently removed Dev’s hand and put one of his own on Dev’s shoulder, and gave him a serious look. “Dev. She also happens to be my cousin. My blood-kin. The woman I’ve known for fifteen years, and love more than anyone this side of Lois. The girl I saw pop up out of a rocket outside of Metropolis in a suit that looked like my own, and flying. The first Kryptonian who came to live with me on the face of the Earth. If you think I intend to lose her–“ He put his face a very few inches away from Dev’s. “–you are one sadly mistaken son of a babootch.”
Dev exhaled. “Point taken, El. I’m sorry.”
Kal clapped Dev on the upper arm. “Let’s go talk to the others. We have places to go.”
The two of them had been in D’reema’s garden. Mark Moonrider was huddling with Highfather inside her house. Big Bear, Serifan, Vykin, and the Magic Squad were trying to help with cleanup operations, but there was only so much they could do. The Adonites were gathering and tending to their dead. They had lost their Eden.
And even though Darkseid had been the serpent in the garden, Superman knew who had shown him the way.
He knocked on the door, loudly. Moonrider opened it. “You may as well come in,” he said. The young New Genesite looked as though he’d missed four meals and two nights of sleep.
“We’re ruddy well going to,” said Dev.
Izaya was standing in the living room, which was filled with interior plants that D’reema had tended. He leaned on his staff. “We must take the battle to Darkseid,” he said. “He is my foe, more even than Orion’s.”
“With all due respect, sir, Darkseid has probably prepared for such a thing,” said Superman. “If you make a frontal assault, he probably has contingencies for your capture.”
“My powers are sufficient to grapple with his,” said Izaya, tiredly. “I fear to leave my homeworld undefended. But if I can hurry war’s end by a single day, it will be worth it.”
“We’re not talking slacker business, Father,” said Dev. “What we’re talking is espionage. Subterfuge. Sabotage, maybe. Hidden strikes, definitely. Are you game?”
Izaya looked at him, curiously. “You wish me to act the part of a spy?”
“Why not? Kal and I are going to. I’ve got the experience, and he’s a quick study. You’re invited, if you know how to keep your cover i.d. straight.”
“If we can cut off the head–and save Orion in the process–the rest of the snake may die,” said Superman. “I’ve been to Apokolips before, but it’s mostly foreign territory to us. You know the planet more than we do.”
“I do,” admitted Highfather. “But Darkseid has eyes everywhere. For me to step in the wolf’s lair is a great risk indeed...speaking not for myself, but for New Genesis.”
“I can go with them, Izaya,” said Mark Moonrider. “I’d be proud to.”
Izaya smiled at his worldsman. “You could not deal with Darkseid. You must also locate D’reema. Take the others with you, and find her. Before our enemy can. This is your charge, Moonrider.”
After a moment, Moonrider said, “Then I accept it, Highfather.” He bowed, and left.
Izaya looked at the two Kryptonians. “I have two of my blood to rescue, and more.”
“And I’ve got a woman that I’m gonna find, if I have to hit every Earth in the whole set to do it,” said Dev. “Let’s see about some disguises.”
Jerome Kent wasn’t sure what the hell to do, whether to call the cops or simply let the three newcomers cool their heels on his porch until they left. True, they were women, admittedly very pretty women. But, even in their small New England town, it wasn’t a great idea to let strangers inside your house without making sure of their intentions, first.
“We’d just like to see Clark,” said the brown-haired girl. “Is he in?”
“Well, I’d like to know who you are and what you’re doing here first,” said Jerome. “What business do you have with my son?”
“We are from another–“ Dreema began.
“–another town,” said Lyla, cutting her off. “My name is Lyla, sir. We’ve already told you that. And this is Drina.”
“My name is Linda Lee Danvers,” said the brown-haired girl. “Would you just tell him that, Mr. Kent? That’s all you have to do. We’ll wait.”
“Tell me what you want with my son,” said Jerome.
“We just want to talk with him,” said Linda. “I know it’s hard to trust three strangers, Mr. Kent. But I think Clark and I may be related. On my father’s side.”
Jerome Kent sighed. “And that’s all you’ve come here for?”
“Well, that and to talk to him.”
Kent shook his head. “Wait here.” He closed the door.
D’reema sighed. “Did we do the wrong thing, Kara? Have we made them too suspicious?”
“We’ll know in a few seconds,” said Linda. “And remember: my name is Linda.”
Lyla looked at the decently-trimmed lawn, the garage, the stack of firewood piled against it, and the open field behind the house, and thought wistfully of a world she’d lost long ago, when she’d taken a trip by sea.
The door opened.
Kara caught her breath.
A young man stood in the doorway, black-haired, blue-eyed, wearing a red sweatshirt, blue jeans, and Adidas running shoes. His face was almost a perfect duplicate for that of the youth she knew from her days with the Legion of Super-Heroes, before he matured into the man who had met her when she emerged from a rocket on Earth.
He looked at her with suspicion and curiosity, and his father was right behind him, watching.
“I’m Clark,” he said.
“Hi,” said Linda.
“Let me show you who I am,” she said. Taking a comb from her collapsible purse, she ran it several times through her hair, and watched Jerome Kent’s eyes grow wider with each stroke. Clark’s mouth opened in astonishment.
When she was finished, her hair was blonde, and styled as it normally was in that state.
“Now do you recognize me?”, she said. “Or do I look enough like they draw me in the books here?”
“What is this all about, Clark?” said Jerome.
Clark Kent stepped forward, approached Linda, and touched her shoulder to make certain she was real.
“We need to talk, Clark,” she said.
“Whoever you are,” he said, “this had better be good.”