Supergirl:

 The Apokolips Agenda

 Part 19

 by DarkMark

The sad part about things as they stood was that there were some planets Darkseid didn’t have to conquer.  They threw in with him willingly.

One of them was Thanagar.

Thanagar was the homeworld of the Hawkman and Hawkwoman of Earth-1.  That world had not known crime for thousands of years before the incident of the Manhawks, in which Paran Katar and his son, Katar Hol, donned wings and anti-gravity belts of Paran’s design and used them to defeat thieving, intelligent birds with human masks equipped with weapons.

It knew crime afterward, and Katar Hol became one of the first and greatest of the Wingmen, Thanagar’s winged, flying, hawk-masked police force.  On an early case, he teamed with rookie policewoman Shayera Thal against the Rainbow Raiders.  They fell in love and were married.

Then a shape-changing villain, Byth Kol, went from Thanagar to a distant planet, Earth.  Katar and Shayera Hol followed him there, were given cover identities as Carter and Shiera Hall by their contact, Midway City police commissioner Emmett, and became curators of the city museum.   In their Thanagarian identities, they battled and defeated Byth.  In that conflict, they became known to the people of Earth as Hawkman and Hawkgirl.

For awhile they migrated between Earth and Thanagar before deciding finally to make Earth their home, learning from the humans and employing their ancient weapons in fights against criminals of that world.  They made friends and allies, such as the Atom and Adam Strange.  Eventually they were proposed for membership in the Justice League, and first Hawkman was accepted, then, years later, Hawkgirl was as well.  Between those times, they were finally called back to Thanagar.

But things had not gone well in Thanagar.

An alien being whose only designation was “the Equalizer” had come there, with a mission to make all sentient beings equal to one another.  This, he hoped, would lead to greater harmony among peoples.  All the microbes which he unleashed was turn Thanagar into a menagerie of same-people, differentiated only by sex. All equally intelligent, all equally strong, all equally brave, all equally cowardly.

All equally mediocre, and stagnant.

The proud culture of Thanagar was brought low in a day, because there was none capable of preserving it.  Hawkgirl, having come there first, was fully affected by the disease.  Hawkman, who came later, managed to fight it off long enough to leave the planet and bring the Justice League to his rescue.  The League found a way to fight off the Equalizer, who disappeared in a blast.  Hawkman was cured, but his people and his wife were not.

Shortly thereafter, a race of amorphous beings called the Adaptoids attacked Earth, and Hawkman found a way of defeating them: by bringing Hawkgirl there from Thanagar, having her Equalizer-germs infect and weaken them, and subsequently curing her as well.  The Hawks hoped to find a cure for their people, but never did.

Thus, the two of them remained on Earth, and with the League.

Then something else happened:

A gold-skinned, alien queen came to Thanagar.  Her name was Hyanthis and she had been opposed, in times past, by rivals from other worlds and by the Justice League itself.  She cured the Thanagarians of their Equality.  In return, she demanded rulership over them, which she got.  Thanagarians had, unfortunately, a trait of following authority, which she provided.  One of her old rivals, Kanjar Ro, made a power grab on the world of Rann, whose hero was Earthman Adam Strange.  The two planets made war on each other, and Hawkman, Hawkgirl, and Adam Strange found themselves in the midst of it.

Kanjar Ro was defeated, but Hyanthis remained in power on Thanagar.  Hawkman and Hawkgirl were exiled to Earth, which fate they accepted.  No matter how many times they tried to go home, they had to admit their real homeworld was the one revolving around Sol.

In another incident, Hawkgirl was forced to take them both back to Thanagar to cure Hawkman of a poison that would have killed him.  This eventually led to battle with Hyanthis and her deposement, with the help of Superman and Batman.  The Thanagarians offered Hawkman the rulership of the planet.  He declined, and, once again, returned to Earth.

Shayera left him, and he had to track her across the cosmos.  When they were finally reconciled, she informed him that she would be known as Hawkwoman, and so she was.

Then both of them learned of the final phase in Thanagar’s degeneration.  The world’s authoritarian strain had been intensified by Hyanthis.  The Thanagarians took to the discipline and regimentation, and, like many another people, were convinced to put a tyrant of their own on the throne and spread their lifestyle to other worlds, by controlling them.

To do that, they decided they needed control of the weapons and tools whose science was lost to them in the Equalizer plague.  Their minds were recovering, but technological innovation was still somewhat beyond them.  To gain them, they had to take them from the only people who still had them: Katar and Shayera Hol.

To that end, the Thanagarians sent secret agents to Earth and waged what was termed a “shadow war” against Hawkman and Hawkgirl, and against the human race itself.  The Hawks fought them off, but had to keep their war a secret from their friends as well, lest the Thanagarian agents capture Justice League technology as well.

That was skewed by the Crisis.  Thrown into comradeship with their old friends and the other heroes of Earth, Hawkman and Hawkgirl were readmitted to the League, and revealed the secret of the Thanagarian shadow agents.  The heroes were grateful, and promised to be on guard against the enemy.

But it didn’t stop Darkseid from making them an offer they didn’t even try to refuse.

In exchange for an authority so powerful they practically lusted after it, and weapons and science with which to make war, the men of Hawkman’s world accepted his governorship.

Now Hawkman, Hawkwoman, their Earth-Two counterparts Hawkman and Hawkgirl, and Adam Strange and his wife Alanna fought Thanagarian guards with ray-weapons and their own good right arms, trying to survive, leading a band of rebels in an attempt to breach the security of the capital building.

“It’s a miracle we’ve gotten this far,” said Hawkwoman, aiming and bringing down another guard with a stun-ray.

“Not a miracle,” said Adam.  “A lot of communication-jamming Sardath and I arranged, a lot of help from the underground, plus a lot of luck.”  He blasted at a vehicle behind which Thanagarian soldiers were hiding and popping off blasts at them.  The vehicle blew up.  The Thanagarians, who wore body armor, were knocked unconscious.

Hawkgirl of Earth-2 blanched.  She was not used to this sort of fighting, hadn’t seen this sort of action since World War II.  She and her Hawkman weren’t aliens, just reincarnations of Egyptians.  Even though they agreed to help out, she wondered if they hadn’t made the decision too rashly.  Hawkman of Earth-2 saw her consternation and squeezed her arm, meaningfully.

“Does Kanjar Ro still have that gamma-metal gong of his?” said Alanna.

“If he does, the Absorbascon hasn’t told me,” said Katar Hol.  The night before, he had used the Absorbascon, a Thanagarian computer-device, to absorb data about his homeworld which had come about since his leaving.  Darkseid had placed a coalition of Adam’s and Hawkman’s enemies in power: Kanjar Ro, Sayyarr, Mosteel, Hyathis, and Kaskor.  They were rivals, but under the master of Apokolips, at least they managed to work together.

They would be prepared for Hawkman and his band.

“Then let’s go for it anyway,” said Shayera, and touched a stud on her belt.  The others responded in similar fashion.  The building would be protected by a force-field, but their belts would radiate a counterfield that would interfere with it and allow them to penetrate it.

All summarily took to the air, the Hawks propelled by wings and anti-gravity belts, Adam and Alanna shot forth by their jet-packs.  They made it through the force-field barrier, dodged blasts from sentry devices on the building, trained weapons of their own on its windows, and blasted their way inside from four different directions.  Each of them had studied diagrams of the building and knew what floor their enemies probably occupied.  Adam and Alanna broke into a floor below the council chamber, the Hawkmen and Hawkgirls breached the floor it was on.

They were met by the usual guards, and battle ensued.  After a cursory skirmish, the heroes were victorious.

Adam and Alanna fought their way upstairs to rezendevous with the Hawkpeople.  “Any luck?” asked Adam.

“We haven’t gotten to the chamber,” Hawkman responded.

“Let’s not disappoint them,” said Hawkgirl, and began running for the doors of Thanagar’s high council room.  Her borrowed blaster was at the ready, and she loosened a burst at it.  It blew the doors off their tracks, and knocked guards behind it on their kiesters.

When the haze and crackle cleared, she and the others saw a single figure standing before them, his clothes somewhat in tatters from the blast, but his metalloid flesh unharmed.  He was smiling.  Several others were visible behind him.

“Glad you could make it,” said Mosteel, and stepped forward, swinging his iron-hard fists.

Behind him, Hyathis, bearing a blaster of her own, advanced, saying, “Save some for me.  I want Hawkwoman’s blood.”

Kanjar Ro, backed by the lizardlike Sayyar and the Rannian Kaskor, grinned.  “We’ll all have our chance to spill some, my dear.  Quite a bit, in fact.”

“In the name of Darkseid!” cried Sayyar, who knew which side his bread was buttered on.

“Yes, in the name of Darkseid,” agreed Kaskor, cynically, and sent a blast at Adam Strange.

 -S-

Mongul made a grab for Zatanna and got her by the arm.  Immediately she said, “Lugnom asaeler em!”  The magic forces the sorcerous beauty commanded shook the alien conqueror’s grip.  But his power even topped that of Superman.  With an effort that sent beads of sweat popping from his pale yellow brow, he held on.

At least, he did until Lady Quark blasted him in both eyes with a full-power nuclear burst.  The giant cried out in pain, fell back, and loosened his grip enough for Zatanna to pull free with magic and muscle.  Pariah grabbed her and pulled her back to relative safety.

The problem was, when facing Mongul and Kalibak, there was no safety zone.  Even if Darkseid wasn’t personally supervising their efforts.

Harbinger tried exerting her teleportational power and, instead, barely managed to dodge a full blow from Kalibak’s war club.  It hit her a glancing blow in the side, bruised her badly, and knocked her sprawling into the wall.  She grabbed her side in pain.

Barda and Mr. Miracle tackled Kalibak together and were smashed back by a swipe of his powerful arm.  They were used to taking falls in their escape business and bounced like dice off a gaming table, but still felt the impact of his blow.  Only Orion or somebody above his level could match muscle with Kalibak, Scott knew, and even Barda’s power was below that.

Desperately, he tossed a flying disc at Darkseid, skimming it just past Kalibak’s ear.  It was thrown with a velocity that would have sent it through a human head, if such had been its target.

Darkseid calmly put up his hand and caught it neatly between his thumb and fingers.

“I expected better from you, Scott,” he said.  “As a graduate of Granny’s school, one could only hope for something less...disappointing.”

“Shove it,” Scott responded.

“An intriguing notion,” said Mongul, moving forward with menace.  “Let me get hold of your wife’s baton, and we’ll see about implementing it.”

Zatanna looked at Harbinger, grabbed her arm, and hoped the woman would knew what she was about to do.

“Ekat em dna ym seilla ot eht s‘rotinoM etilletas!” she cried, as quickly as she could form the words.  She had a feeling Darkseid was using his power as a damping field of sorts, as the magic flow seemed to be lessened in her body.  But thankfully, Harbinger was sharp enough to join her powers with Zatanna’s.

The teleportational skills the Monitor endowed Lyla with joined with Zatanna’s magic, and the host of heroes, Pariah, Mr. Miracle, Big Barda, Lady Quark, Zatanna, and Harbinger, all were enveloped in a flash of white light that lasted long enough to blind Kalibak and Mongul for a moment.  Darkseid showed no response to it.

When the two minions could see again, their foes were gone.

Mongul stepped over to the spot where most of them had stood, bent over, tore up two blocks from the floor, and crushed them to dust in silent fury.  It was a coping mechanism, and for him it worked.

“Damn them!” raged Kalibak.  “Damn them to the lowest hells of Hell itself!  Damn them for slipping through our fingers like water, like mercury!  Damn them for not staying long enough for me to smash their heads and–“

“Kalibak, my son, silence,” said Darkseid.

“But, father, I–“

He looked behind him and saw Darkseid’s eyes glowing red.  Kalibak subsided.

The monarch of Apokolips walked over to a place just behind Kalibak’s right, and stopped.  “Do you think that I had somehow lost control of the situation?”

“I–“

Darkseid’s hand descended to Kalibak’s shoulder and squeezed, gently.  The bestial Apokolyptic cried out in pain and went to his knees.  Darkseid didn’t loosen his grip.

“Do you think that I could not have destroyed them all with the merest touch of my Omega Effect, had I wished to?  We have lost nothing.  They are gone.  They will think many times before coming back, and may never do so at all.  I still have Orion.  Beautiful Dreamer is almost within my grasp.  Those two things are all that we are concerned with.  Agreed?”

“Ah, ah.”  Kalibak’s face was beginning to turn blue.  Even Mongul began to be concerned.

“Agreed, Kalibak?”

“Y–y–yes, fa–father–r, YES!”

After another long second, Darkseid let his son go.  Kalibak flopped face-down on the floor and sucked in great gasps of air.

The grey-faced being turned away and began walking to the door, and then down the hall.  He spared neither Kalibak nor Mongul a backwards glance.  He would, of course, have to have Desaad checked on.  If the fool had suffered substantial damage, that would mean Darkseid himself would have to take on the interrogation of Orion.  If that happened, there might not be enough mind left afterwards to enslave.

One thing Darkseid knew for certain.

The way both his sons had turned out, he couldn’t afford to die anytime soon.  Even Apokolips deserved better than that.

 -S-

Glorious Godfrey was in fine form.

“There is only one thing a man can depend upon in these troubled times,” he said, one finger held aloft before the crowd.  “Only one thing a man can rely on, in the face of these free-willing apostates on Earth and those Source-huggin’ liberals over there in Dark-forgive-me I should even utter the name of the place–“

“New Genesis!” cried out one in the audience, with his hands cupped about his mouth.

“Thank you,” Godfrey grinned.  “Praise Darkseid.  Thank you, brother, that’s exactly what I mean.  And the one thing all of us, any of us can rely on is this: faith in Darkseid, and complete and utter subservience to his will.  Now, some of you, some of you out there will say, ‘But Godfrey, all will be subject to his will in the day of Anti-Life.’  Well, that’s so, brothers and sisters, that’s very much so.  But listen to what I’ve got to say, now.  When the day of Anti-Life comes, Darkseid is gonna look down upon his legions, and he is going to know, brothers, he is going to know who was completely loyal to him from the beginning, and he is going to know those who were only loyal after Anti-Life.  And it’s true!  Yes, it’s true!  I say it to you three times, so you know it, brethren, it is TRUE!”

One hard-bitten veteran of several anti-New Genesis campaigns lurched off his bench, hustled to the aisle, and fell down upon his face, weeping.  “Darkseid knows I’m loyal!  Darkseid knows I’m loyal, Brother Godfrey!  He knows it!”

“He knows it, brother,” said Godfrey, standing like a pillar of rectitude in his white robe with the red trim and pointing down with gentleness at the soldier who sprawled on the carpet with his face buried in it and his backside up in the air.  “He knows your loyalty, and I know it, also.  Praise the Darkness, we know it.  Somebody say, ‘Hail, Darkseid!’”

“HAIL, DARKSEID!”

Godfrey looked offended.  “Is that any way to show your loyalty to the Great One?  I mean, do you really call that a response to the one who’s worked so hard to make Apokolips everything it is today?  Get off your rear ends, brothers and sisters, and let me hear it!  ‘Hail, Darkseid!’”

“HAAAAILLLL, DARKSEIIIIIIID!!”

“Well, that’s better,” Godfrey grinned.  “Now, somebody, three or four of you, pick up the brother and set him back in his seat.  ‘Cause people are gonna have to come down that isle in a little bit, when I run out of steam–as if!–and I don’t want them to have to step in a bigger wet spot than he’s already made.  Bless you, brother.  And bless all of you.

“Now, I’ve got news from the front.”  The congregation started going, “Yeah.  Yeah!”  Godfrey waved his hand to calm them a bit, but only a bit.  He knew how to play them.  “I want you to know that Brother Mantis has established a Zone of Occupation on that little tiny Earth in our own universe, and where was their mighty Superman when he did it?  Why, he decided–“ And at this, Godfrey looked quite astonished.  “–He decided to take a vacation.  Where?  I can’t imagine.  I just think that he saw Brother Mantis and the fightin’ brethren of Apokolips and he looked at them, and he said to himself, he said–-‘Maybe it’s time I let this old Earth fend for itself awhile.’”

Godfrey turned a 2000-watt grin on the crowd, and they hooted, hollered, laughed, stomped, waved signs with various anti-Highfather, anti-New Genesis, and even anti-Superman slogans on them, and chanted “Hail Darkseid!” for a few minutes.  Finally, Godfrey motioned for silence again.

“Well, we know what we’re gonna do with Superman once he gets back,” said Godfrey. “But it may have to wait till we do, excuse me, till the Great One does what he’s going to do with Highfather.”  He chuckled.  “That name always cracks me up.  I can imagine one of his sons, one of the brighter ones, going by and saying, ‘Duh, hi, father!’  And he thinks to himself, ‘Hm, not a bad idea for a name.’”  A little polite laughter.

“And of course, it’s been brought to my attention that Superman’s got himself a relative,” Godfrey noted.  “One of the female persuasion.”  A short “woooooo” went up from the men in the crowd.  “I’m not sure, but I think they call her ‘Supercurl’ or ‘Supergirl’ or ‘Superslug’ or something.  And I’m sure that the Great One will find something to do with her, as well.”

There was a chortle of knowing laughter.

“And maybe Kalibak’ll find something to do with her, too,” added Godfrey.

“Yeah!  YEAH!” came the chorus.

Godfrey bent low, to confide what he had to say most intimately, and smiled.  “And maybe, if you’re very very good, and very very loyal, brethren...they might even let some of you watch.”

That notion got the biggest roar of the entire meeting, thus far.

It took three minutes of “Hail Darkseid!”s before Godfrey could get the crowd calmed down enough for him to do the windup.

“Dearly beloved, I don’t have to remind you that we’ve got a war on.  What Lord Darkseid needs more than anything else now is your loyalties, your minds, your hearts, your spirits, and your bodies.  And that’s why we’ve got something for you, dearly beloved.   That’s why we’re going to give each and every one of you who comes up to the podium a token of his appreciation, and a symbol of your loyalty to the cause, and to him.  Here’s what we’re going to give you, brethren.”

He turned, reached behind him into a box, and pulled a gleaming metal object from it, holding it up in both hands high over his head so that all could see it.

“A Justifier helmet!  Yes, brethren, a Justifier helmet!  If you wear one of these, you know that all will know, that he will know, that you are completely and totally faithful to the Great One, and to the Dark Cause.  Now, my part, at least the speaking part, is done.  I want you to form a line right in front of the podium here, and Brother Marno and his lovely assistants and I will pass these out, and I don’t want a one of you leaving the building without wearing one.  That’s right, just come right on out in the aisle, nobody’s going to call you anything but loyal.  Doctor Bedlam, will you lead us in our song of decision?”

A blank-featured android standing at attention beside a keyboard gradually gained features until its visage became that of a black-bearded, serious-looking man in brown and blue.  Doctor Bedlam’s hands went to the keyboard, and he began to play.  After a few bars, his baritone voice rang through the hall:

“I’m like you, you’re like me,
We’re all Darkseid’s family.”

Glorious Godfrey descended to the table in front of the podium, flanked by armed guards, and began handing out what seemed to be an unending supply of brain-controlling Justifier helmets, one at a time.  He pumped the hand of each and every one of those who came to him, and more than a few had tears in their eyes.  “Bless you, brother,” he said to them.  “Bless you, sister.  Thank you, brother.  Hail Darkseid.”

He reflected on the length of the line, and wondered if he could duck out after about 45 minutes or so and leave the rest to Marno and the girls.  It had been a tough day.

Best to have them send a boy and a camera to the room.  That always helped him to relax.  Darkness knew, he needed it.

On the street outside the hall, concealed partly by the night and partly by the garb they had adopted, three figures conferred among themselves in voices they hoped would be too low for the door guards to hear.

“You hear all of that?” asked Dev of Izaya.

“I heard enough,” Highfather replied, quietly.

Dev picked up a rock from the sidewalk and broke it in two pieces with his hands.  “I’d like to go in there and kill him.  For what he said about Kara, I mean.”

Superman put his arm about Dev’s shoulders. “Take it easy, Dev.  I heard him, too.”

“I know about keeping a cover, El,” Dev said.  “Know it even better than you.  It’s my job.  But once this is finished, I want to merge his atoms with the side of this building.  And let him know why.”

“I suggest you save your wrath for Darkseid,” said Izaya.  “Godfrey’s only power is persuasion, though that is great enough.  We have wasted time enough already.”

“We’ll have enough wrath for Darkseid, I imagine,” Kal said.  “But I’m a bit like Dev.  After what I heard...I think I can spare a little for Godfrey, as well.”

“After me, El.  Only after me.”

The three of them walked away.  They were only challenged by one street patrol.  Highfather looked deeply into each patrolman’s eyes.  Afterward, the cops wondered why they were standing in the street with nobody in particular around, and went back to their beat.

There were no such incidents after that.

 -S-

Snapper Carr had both hands to his temples.  “You want us to do what?  Together?”

The Phantom Stranger, standing before him and the others, said nothing.

“I think he said that he wants us to–“ started the young man sitting next to Snapper.

“I have stated your mission,” said the Stranger, as firmly as he ever did.  “You may introduce yourselves to each other.”  It didn’t seem to be much of a request.

Snapper rubbed his hands together, looked at the rest, said the hell with it to himself, and began.

“Uh, I guess I’ll start things out.  My name is Snapper Carr, and I am a super-team mascot.  That’s what the Justice League designated me as after I was too little involved in things to be an honorary member.  I, uh...”  His fingers snapped of their own accord, and he wished he could stop doing that when he was nervous.  “I helped the JLA out on their first public case.  It was, like, the one with Starro.  I hung around with them until I did a really dumb thing, which was listen to a guy who turned me against them.  Turned out he was the Joker in disguise.”

The overweight black man said, “The Joker?  Heavy stuff, pal.”

“Yeah,” said Snapper.  “So I lost even my mascot status that way.   Then I, like, got involved with this Star-Tsar cat and it turned out sort of totally uncool.  Things were pretty chilled between me and the League as a result.  After that I got a job in a laboratory, and I gave it up when I got a gig drawing comic books.  I draw for DC Comics.  Maybe somebody’s seen my stuff?  No?”  He looked around the room.  “Oh.  Well, that’s my story.  Next?”

The young, brown-haired man in glasses beside Snapper cleared his throat.  “Well, my name, my name is, uh, Lucian Crawley.  Please don’t call me Creepy.  That’s, really, a name I could do without.  I guess I’m here because I was once the Mind-Grabber Kid.”

“The who?”  The black woman gave him a totally blank look.

“The, uh, the Mind-Grabber Kid,” said Crawley.  “I worked with, well, actually, worked against the Justice League one time.  I have this helmet which I designed myself.  It amplifies my natural telepathic and telekinetic abilities.  But I’ve never had a, what you might call a ‘gig’ since then.  I write computer software programs.  I suppose that’s it.”

“So, kid, you’re not even a super-hero?” said the stocky, green-clad man.  “Sounds to me like you were more of a super-villain.”

“Well, that’s one of the reasons why I, uh, didn’t do it after than one time,” Lucian admitted.  “Sorry.”

The black man said, “I guess I go next.  I’m Mal Duncan.  I used to be one of the Teen Titans.  Went under my own name, then I was Azrael, then I was the Guardian.”

“Oh, you couldn’t be the Guardian,” said Snapper.  “He was white.”

“That’s the other Guardian, hon,” said Mal’s wife.  “Mal used his costume design and shield.”

“I quit the Titans when they broke up the second time,” said Mal.  “Since then I’ve had a couple of novels published, and I’m doing fine.  Who’s next?”

“That’d be me,” said his wife.  “They call me Bumblebee.  My real name is Karen Beecher.  I had a costume with wings on it to make me fly.  I used to be one of the Teen Titans, too, and I got out of it the same time as Mal and we got married.  That’s about it.”

“Guess I’m next,” said the stocky man.  “I’m the Human Cannonball.  Operated out of Metropolis, but what with Superman, Black Lightning, the Guardian, excuse me, the other Guardian, the Thorn, and the Blue Devil around there, it’s hard to find any work.  So I retired.  I’ve got a carpet-cleaning business now.”

The only competent-looking one among them, dressed in a white dinner jacket, black pants, and expensive-looking shoes, shot a look at the Stranger.  “Do I really have to do this?”

The Stranger nodded.

“Very well,” he said, acerbically.  “My name is Christopher Chance.  I make my living as a human target.  I assume the identities of persons set up for certain ill fates, and try to stop said ill fates from occurring.  It’s a living.  Now, tell me why–why–you have asked me to operate with these amateurs.”

“Amateurs?”  Mal came up out of his chair.  “Hey, pal, who you calling amateurs?  I don’t see any costume on your back.”

“I don’t perceive any brains in your head,” snapped Chance, and the rest of the crew interposed themselves between Mal and Chance forthwith.

Chance sighed.  “I apologize.  It’s just...how am I supposed to work under these conditions?”

“I do not want to work with this man,” said Mal. “No way.”

“Mal, calm down,” said Karen, and, with a look over her shoulder, added, “We’ve had to work with worse than him before.  But I’m not really sure when.”

“Stow it,” snapped Snapper.  Then, to the Stranger, he said, “But why?  Why have you chosen us?  What are we supposed to do?”

The Phantom Stranger said, “I have chosen you because each of you fall underneath the level required for the late Anti-Monitor’s attention.  If he even had files on any of you, they were probably inactive.”

Each of them took some time to digest that.  The Cannonball finally said, “So, what you’re saying is that...we’re basically too crummy for him to notice.”

“Oh, jeez,” said Karen, looking skyward.

Christopher Chance looked hurt.  “You mean that I...that is, myself...”

The Stranger just looked at him.  Chance remained open-mouthed for a long time.

“For this reason, you will be perfect undercover agents,” the Stranger said.  “More conspicuous heroes would draw the attention of Darkseid’s forces.  Only you have a chance of success in your endeavor...and succeed you must.”

With that, the Stranger walked out the door.  The Cannonball tried to follow.  “Don’t bother,” said Snapper.  “He won’t be there.”

Chance flopped in one of the chairs and put one hand to his head.  “I need champagne,” he said.  “Please.  Champagne.  Now.”

Snapper Carr looked at the lot of them, and wondered if Aquaman had ever felt like this when he was running the JLA.

“That’ll have to wait,” he said.  “Like it or not, we’ve got a job to do.  Let’s get started.”

 -S-

For the better part of a day, Supergirl had put Superboy through his paces.

The kid’s flight control and speed were decent.  It seemed that he’d practiced that power most of all, because he liked it.  She could fly rings around him, but he had nascent talent.  Just underdeveloped.  She raced him across the sky and pushed him to really open up, smiling as her super-vision detected a look of surprise on his face as he realized his capacities, then a youthful grin as he appreciated what he could do.

Kara had also put him through a bit of rough-and-tumble sparring.  His strength wasn’t up there with her Kal’s or Dev’s, but he was a growing boy, after all.  He admitted to taking a couple of martial arts classes in school, and she showed him a few klurkor moves.  It seemed that he liked having a partner as strong as or stronger than himself.  He’d also shot a few appreciative glances her way, but she’d emphasized that she had a boyfriend back home, so he didn’t press it.

Guess I don’t have to worry about a Mrs. Robinson complex, she told herself.

Then the two of them were joined in the air by a flying Harbinger, who was carrying D’reema.  Kara slackened speed and Superboy followed suit.  Their two friends quickly caught up to them.

“I feel we should go, Kara,” said Harbinger, simply.  “If we stay here much longer, we tempt Darkseid.  This world isn’t used to our kind of conflict.  Besides, I wish to contact my sister-self.”

D’reema added, “She told me she feels an empathy with her separate self, and that the other her may be in danger.”

“Suits me,” said Kara.  “You want us to head back to Earth-One?”

“By way of another Earth,” said Harbinger.  “There is at least one other in our immediate primary system that needs checking.  A brief visit will not hurt.”

“You mean you’re leaving?” said Superboy.

“‘Fraid so, Kal,” said Kara.  She flew closer to him, then leaned in and pecked his cheek.  “You take good care of your Earth.  Once this is over, Kal and I will try to pay a visit.  If it’s all right with your folks, of course.”

“I don’t know about my folks, Kara,” beamed Superboy.  “But it’s sure all right with me.”

“Tell your folks goodbye for us, Kal,” said Supergirl, and joined hands with the other two.  Beautiful Dreamer and Harbinger said their farewells to the Boy of Steel, and a crackle of energy from Harbinger surrounded the three of them.

They began to fade from Earth-Prime’s plane of existence.

Superboy looked at their vanishing figures.  He looked down at the house where he and his parents lived, over a hundred feet below.  He hesitated a long moment.

Then, just in time to catch the event horizon, Superboy shot forward and entered their space-warp.

It was over too quickly for him to sense anything that happened during the transition.  Between two ticks of a second hand, he and the three women had slipped into another universe.  One great difference was apparent.

The new universe was dark.  As dark as midnight.

Stars were visible above them, and the buildings of whatever city they flew above were in sight below.  Was the time differential that great between dimensions?, Superboy wondered.  Was it late afternoon where they came from, and darkest night in this world?

The women looked as perplexed as himself.  Then Harbinger pointed upward, and shielded D’reema’s eyes with her other hand.  He looked up in the direction she had indicated, as Kara was also doing.

His eyes immediately compensated, and he was glad they did.  Otherwise, he might have suffered ocular damage.

The sun was in eclipse.  And it looked as though it was staying that way.

Supergirl’s head jerked in another direction, as if she had heard something to tip her off.  Following her lead, Superboy activated his super-hearing.  A sound of rushing air, as if a missle was coming towards them.  And it was coming towards them.  He triggered his telescopic vision and caught sight of it.

It was a man. A flying man.

The flying man had white hair, silver arms, a blue chest, and red legs.  He left a trail of sparkles behind him in the sky.

At about the same time, they heard a boom, not unlike a cannon, below them.  This was followed by similar booms from other directions.  A shell of some sort whizzed past him, not missing by that much.

The flying man was now among them, not slackening speed, saying, “Come on!”  Supergirl and Harbinger, still carrying D’reema, didn’t hesitate, so he supposed he shouldn’t either.  Further booms were heard, and one shell ricocheted harmlessly off his leg.

The white-haired man led them aerially to a meat-packing plant that seemed not to have been in operation since the Nixon Administration, and Superboy wondered how whoever was lobbing shells at them could miss tracing the trail of sparkles there.  But it seemed to fade out fairly rapidly.

The man looked grim as he said to Supergirl, “You’re lucky I recognized you and Harbinger here.  Get inside.  We’ll probably have to change hideouts as a result of this.”

“Hideouts?” Supergirl looked puzzled.  “Cap, what are you talking about?”

“Who is this guy, anyway?” asked Superboy.

“His name is Captain Atom,” said Harbinger.  “We are in the universe designated as Earth-Four.”

“Okay, glad to know it,” said Superboy.  “But, just so we’re all on the same chapter heading, what is going on?”

Captain Atom looked at him.

“We’re taken,” he said.  “This world has been conquered.”

 (next chapter)

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