The Apokolips Agenda
Supergirl turned to Harbinger. “Think you can manage this, Lyla?”
The woman in the blue and red costume nodded. “Yes, Kara. But I admit I’ll need a recharge session in the Monitor’s satellite after this. I expended a lot of energy in this mission. I also need to reunite with my other-self.”
Kara nodded. Harbinger had split into two separate selves for this, one of which was on another gambit entirely. Of all the rest, she herself was the only one who could easily make the trip between Earths unaided. Superboy wasn’t experienced enough to do it unaided, the Son of Vulcan might have the power but had never used such, and Beautiful Dreamer had no such ability. And it was important to keep the unit together, so she would allow Harbinger to convey her back to Earth-One with the rest.
The Son of Vulcan said his goodbyes to Captain Atom. “When we meet again, may victory be ours,” he said to his cohort.
“Thanks, Vulc, and don’t worry. If victory isn’t ours, we won’t be around to meet again,” said Atom. With a handshake, he released his friend.
Supergirl was next to shake hands with Captain Atom. “Thanks very much for your help in the battle, Cap. It was nice working with you.”
He smiled, the sunlight glinting of his liquid-metal uniform. “You’re welcome, Supergirl. And thank you for helping us liberate our planet. Let’s hope we can keep it that way.”
“Amen to that. We may see each other again before this is finished.” She let him go, and picked up the trussed-up Eclipso from where she had him lying on a bench in the UN plaza. She wanted to be the one to carry Blackstarr. But the Emir of the Eclipse she judged too dangerous a villain for Kal to handle, so he was carrying the lobotomized villainess.
“We’ve got to go, crew,” Kara said. “I have a feeling those shadow-demons may have fed info back to Darkseid somehow, so he may know we’re here. Ready for the next leg of the journey?”
“When you are,” said D’reema, putting on a brave smile. Kara was glad she was holding up. The Supertowner was the lynchpin of their defense against Apokolips. It was a safe bet that it’d get a lot harder to protect her, from here on in.
“Okay, Lyla,” said Supergirl. “Do it.”
The heiress of the Monitor stretched out her arms. A pink radiance of power emanated from them, impressing even Captain Atom and making the civilians, who stayed behind makeshift barriers, point and mutter. The warp-energy engulfed Harbinger, Supergirl, Superboy, D’reema, and the Son of Vulcan, brightened for an instant, and then faded, leaving empty space where they had been.
The quintet of heroes had entered infra-space, and the journey, though swift, took perceptible time. D’reema looked about her and gave her opinion.
“It’s not as good as a Boom Tube, but it’s not bad.”
In the ruling halls of Thanagar, Hawkman judged that the battle could go either way.
He and Hawkwoman, Adam Strange, Alanna, and the Earth-2 Hawkman and Hawkgirl were hard-pressed in their raygun-and-dukes duel against Darkseid’s coalition of Kanjar Ro, Hyathis, Kaskor, Sayyar, and Kromm, the metal man. It was six against five, true, but the five had great powers on their side. Kanjar Ro’s power-rod had made a shambles of their battle site. Hyathis, the powerful dictatress of Alstair, was physically a match for both Hawkgirls, though Alanna could turn the tide in the heroines’ favor. Kaskor had been trading shots with Adam Strange with deadly precision. And it was all both Hawkmen could do to keep the metallic Kromm back with both maces and ray-weapons. That left Sayyar, the lizard-man, who had almost broken through the beleaguered heroes’ defenses more than once.
It was getting bad. Hawkman barely dodged one of Kromm’s blows. The fist went straight through the reinforced wall behind him. Katar Hol blasted a dazzler-weapon into Kromm’s eyes, blinding him long enough for Hawkman to extricate himself. The Earth-Two Hawkman tried tackling Kromm from behind, but had to duck when the metalloid’s great arm came sweeping back in his direction. He used the pull of his whipping wings to propel him backward.
As it was, it put him within range of Sayyar, whose lizardian strength allowed him to grab the older Hawkman’s wings and almost pull them off. Carter Hall of Earth-Two was immobilized until Sayyar could be dealt with, and Hawkman of Earth-1 activated his anti-gravity belt to allow him to do just that.
Unfortunately, Kromm grabbed him by the leg and whipped him into the wall. Only Hawkman’s helmet saved him, but he was still dazed. Kromm stood over him, then reached out, his hands looming terribly close in Katar’s eyes.
That was when Katar heard the fluttering sound of another pair of wings.
“So this is where the battle is,” said a voice he hadn’t heard in some years. Its owner, a powerful-looking winged man in a black and yellow uniform grabbed Kromm by the shoulders, bore him to the ceiling of the chamber, whirled like a top, and pitched him for a loss down the hall.
Kromm tried to rise, but another new arrival, bounding down the hall, grabbed him by the tunic front and cocked his fist. The metal dictator grinned. “Go ahead, puny carbonite,” he said. “See what it feels like to hit a being of my density.”
“Okay,” said the other.
The brown-haired man in the red uniform let fly, slugged Kromm, and knocked him through a wall. Kromm did not get up.
Kanjar Ro, triggering another blast that barely missed Hawkgirl, grimaced in anger. “More reinforcements? Who in the void are these?”
Adam Strange threw caution to the winds, leaped over the duralumin desk he had been using for cover, dodged the blasts of Kanjar Ro and Kaskor, grabbed both of them by the sides of their heads, and smashed their skulls together. “We’ll introduce you later,” said the Champion of Rann.
From a position near the ceiling, the hovering winged man momentarily spread his wings wide over the figures of Hawkman-2 and Sayyar. Neither the lizard-man nor the Justice Society member was prepared for what resulted.
Bolts of electricity shot forth from projectors within his golden wings. Aimed accurately, they missed Hawkman and smashed into Sayyar, knocking him unconscious and blackening several places on his green skin. He fell backwards, letting go of his prey and not seeming much to care about it.
“Thanks a lot, fella,” said the Hawkman of the 1940's. “But—who are you?”
“He is dead,” said another voice. “Did you think you were the only ones who thought of reinforcements?”
A wall of the building turned into gas at one point, making a portal large enough for a man to step through. He was red-bearded, wizened, looking almost like the caricature of a half-cracked prospector. But his green uniform and the strange wand he carried identified him as one of Hawkman-1's most powerful foes.
The Matter Master raised his Mentachem Wand. Before any of the heroes could do the same to him with their weapons, they found their arms pinned to their sides by huge constricting bands of solidified air.
“Do them quickly, Terran,” barked Hyathis, the only one of Kanjar Ro’s crew still standing. “We cannot allot them time enough for a reversal of fortune.”
The eyes of the man in red, who was Captain Comet, fixed themselves on those of the Matter Master. For a moment, the Master’s face was still set in a grin of cruelty.
Then that gave was to dismay, as the tendrils of Captain Comet’s mind reached into his own.
The Mentachem Wand was fought over by two intellects. The Matter Master strove to intensify the crushing grip of the air-bonds, tried to form choking solid helmets over the heroes’ heads, but all in vain. He had never brooked resistance of this sort before, and was unsure how how to deal with it.
Or even if he could.
Then the bonds of air parted, the Mentachem Wand flew from his hands to that of Captain Comet’s on wings of telekinesis, and the villain had all of two seconds to consider his options, all of which looked pretty bad.
Hawkman of Earth-1 stepped up to him and said, “Normally I might be merciful. But today, you really should have stayed back on Earth.”
The Matter Master’s unconscious corpus decorated the floor.
Literally and figuratively, the heroes of Thanagar, Earth, and Rann breathed easier.
Hyathis, after a second’s pause, screamed, “This is not the end! We have risen before, we shall rise again. I ruled Thanagar once and I shall do so over your enslaved bodies. When we meet again, it will be only Hyathis you face...and it will be only Hyathis who triumphs!”
“Oh, give it a rest, sister,” grated Alanna. “Hold still.”
The two Hawkwomen grabbed one of Hyathis’s arms apiece and cuffed them behind her while Alanna held a ray-weapon on their foe. “Now,” said the Rannian woman, “will someone please tell me who these two are?”
“Indeed, madam,” said the golden-winged man, lighting on the debris-strewn carpet before her. “I am Toros Tos, son of Koron Tos, ruler of the world Moronon. On Earth, I was called the Shrike. This Hawkman is my friend, and an honorary citizen of my world.” He pulled Katar Hol to his feet.
“It’s a long story, Alanna,” said Hawkman. “The Shrike’s family was in space when their starship cracked up. They sent a lifeboat ship to Earth, carrying the Shrike here when he was a baby. Kind of like Superman. He landed in the Yucatan jungle. A native man saw him, noticed the wings, adopted him, and named him after their bird-totem, the Shrike. We came across him when he was trying to steal back treasures from our museum which had been stolen first from his adopted tribe.”
“True, Hawkman,” the Shrike said. “I had thought I was the only winged man on Earth. After I met him and his Hawkgirl, they helped me learn the truth of my origins and aided me in retaking my world from the despot who had taken over in my parents’ abscence. Now I rule Moronon. But this one here–“ He pointed to Captain Comet. “–he told me that my friends were in need of aid in battle, and I came willingly. I hope you do not mind the intrusion.”
“Mind?” Hawkman-1 clasped hands with the Shrike firmly, in friendship renewed. “You were like the cavalry in a Western movie on Earth. I just hope we don’t have to wait for a crisis like this to get together again, Kantos.”
The Shrike grinned. Hawkman-2 offered his hand, saying, “A friend of Katar’s is a friend of mine. Put ‘er there, Shrike.” The Morononian obliged him.
“And Alanna, this is Captain Comet,” said Hawkwoman, putting her hand on Comet’s shoulder. “We’ve worked with him before, Katar and I. But I’m not certain of your story, Captain. Can you–“
“Sure, Hawkgirl,” said Comet, and noticed a slight wince in her eyes when he called her that. “My real name is Adam Blake. I was born a mutant, pretty far ahead of my time evolutionarily. Super-strength, mind-powers, all of that. When I grew up, I called myself Captain Comet after the one that was in the sky on the night I was born. Fought aliens, crooks, the whole nine yards. I operated before the big hero influx on my Earth. The only one I recall from back then was Superboy, and we never met at the time.
“Anyway, I went exploring in space for a long time, came back when I thought I’d had enough, and fell into the hands of, uh, the Secret Society of Super-Villains. Yes, I think that’s a stupid name, too. I was duped into joining them at first, then I fought them. Met the Justice League along the way, including Hawkman and Hawkgirl here.”
“Adam,” Shayera said, “I call myself Hawkwoman now.”
“Oh? I’m sorry, ma’am. Definitely. Anyway, when this mess on Earth broke out, I went to the Monitor’s satellite to see what was what. I’ve had access ever since we were summoned by Harbinger, sometime back. You remember that. I found the message you left for the Justice League, when you said you were going to liberate Thanagar. Since I was pretty space-based myself, I thought I’d try and help out.”
“You did,” said Adam Strange. “You were one of my heroes when I was young, believe it or not.”
“Oh? Thanks, fella. You’ve got the drop on me, I guess we haven’t met.”
“His name is Adam, too,” said Alanna. “Adam Strange. He is my husband, and the hero of Rann.”
“Pleased to meet you, ma’am,” said Comet. “Anyway, I decided to see if I could pick up some backup on the way. Accessed the Monitor’s files, looked under Hawkman, and found out about the Shrike here. I stopped at Moronon along the way, explained the situation, and he was eager to come along. So there you have it.”
“So there we do,” said Hawkgirl. “And I’m honored to meet you both, as well. So. We get these idiots locked up, and then we get back to Earth?”
“No, Shiera,” said Hawkman-1. “You and Carter can go back. Comet, too, if he wishes. But Shayera and I...we’re staying here.”
For once, Captain Comet looked surprised. “Hawkman,” he said. “You’re...staying here? But the Justice League...”
“The Justice League will do fine on their own,” said Hawkwoman. “If they need our help, we will come. But only later.”
Hawkman-2 said, “Katar. Is this a spur-of-the-moment decision? Our Earths are still facing a great challenge. They need all our hands, all our wings, to set things right.”
“Thank you, Carter,” Hawkman-1 replied. “There’s a lot I’ll miss on Earth, especially the League, and you and Shiera. But Shayera and I made this decision days ago. We didn’t tell you or our friends, because we didn’t want them trying to talk us out of it.”
Shayera Hol said, “We love Earth only second to Thanagar. You know that. But every time we have neglected Thanagar in favor of Earth, disaster has struck. The Infinite Empire invasion. The Equalizer plague. The fall of democracy, the rise of tyranny, the earlier takeover by Hyathis here–“
“Indeed,” smirked Hyathis, arrogantly.
“–and the Shadow War,” Hawkwoman finished. “All of that transpired because we were too busy with Earth to take heed enough of Thanagar.”
Adam Strange said, “They told Alanna and I of their decision earlier. But they wanted you two to know only after the battle was won, if we did win it. So that’s why we didn’t tell you earlier.”
“You thought we’d try and talk you into returning to Earth, too?” asked Hawkman-2.
Hesitantly, Hawkman-1 nodded. “Yes,” he said.
The older Hawkman clapped a hand on Katar’s shoulder. “Then you don’t know me very well, do you, Katar?”
Hawkman-1 smiled, gratified. Then, sobering, he said, “Once before, when we liberated them, the Thanagarians offered me the rulership of this world. I turned them down. Now, I have to accept it. No, let’s face it...I have to take over the reins of power here, until we get things on an even keel and democracy can be reestablished. Like it or not, it’s my responsibility. And Shayera’s, since she’ll co-rule with me for the duration. So from here on in, both of us are residents of Thanagar.”
A long pause. Then Comet said, “Well...good luck to you both.”
“Thank you, Comet,” said Hawkman. “One favor I’d like to ask of you. If you come across Ray Palmer again...you remember him, he’s the Atom of our Earth...tell him goodbye for me, and that he and his bride Laethwen will always be welcome guests on Thanagar.”
“If I ever find him,” said Captain Comet, “I’ll try.”
Adam Strange said, “Let’s wrap this up, Katar. We’ve got to put these miscreants away, then make the announcement of your, uh...”
“Dictatorship,” said Hawkwoman. “You can call it that, Adam.”
“Rulership,” said Alanna. “We’ll be reestablishing the Thanagar-Rann alliance, and we’ll deal with rulers, but not dictators.”
“Well said,” agreed the Shrike. “You can expect the alliance of Moronon to be firm, as well.”
Hawkman-1 said, “Carter, Shiera, you’re welcome to be our guests while this is going on. We’ll send you back to your Earth afterwards, if you wish, with our compliments.”
Hawkgirl looked at her husband. “Well, what of it? Think we can spend a few more days here?”
Hawkman-2 sighed. “We need a break from battle. All right, we’ll stay. I just hope there’s an Earth for us to go back to when we do.”
You needed to get past a lot of safeguards to get into the palace of Darkseid on Apokolips. But mainly, what you needed to get past was a lot of guards.
To the five who guarded one of the prime gates to the stronghold, the sight of Desaad was more of a surprise than it should have been. They thought he was spending his time inside with special projects, and they had no desire to learn more of those projects. Yet, here he was, with five others in cloaks.
“We wish admission,” said Desaad. “And we must not be delayed.” He gave Sapient Surgo, the head guard of the First Gate for these past three years, a meaningful gaze. Surgo was sapient enough to catch the meaning of that look. It generally meant: I’m on Darkseid’s business, and if you hold me up, expect to find your way to my Special Projects bin.
Nonetheless, Surgo had to get proper ID on them. “Scan, please.” He pointed towards an eye-scanner set into the right-hand wall.
<On second thought, forget about the scan.>
“On second thought, forget about the scan,” Surgo heard himself saying.
The guards about him turned to regard him with gapes. “Surgo, what in the Pits are you saying? We have to ID everyone!”, said Reggis, the oldest guy in the guard complement.
<This is Desaad! He’s on the Master’s business! And I’ve been given orders to pass him right through!>
“This,” said Surgo, carefully, “is Desaad.”
“Yeah, we can see that,” said Trenc, another guard. “But just the same, Surg, don’t you think you’d better–“
“He’s on the Master’s business,” Surgo continued. “And I’ve been given orders to pass him right through.”
There was silence for a second. Then Krend, the fourth of the guards, said, “Show us the orders, brother.”
A second after that, Krend had a change of mind. “Ah, forget it. I’ll go along with Surgo on this. Don’t want delaying Desaad on my record, either. Pass him through.”
“Are you serious?” Prento, the last of the group, spoke up, one hand on a blaster that could lay waste to half a block with one shot.
<Look, do you want to argue with Darkseid?>
“Look, do you want to argue with Darkseid?”
“At least let’s check out the rest of these guys,” said Trenc. “Don’t you know that there’s a war on?”
Surgo, looking somewhat strained, said, “They go through. I’ve got orders. Anyone who disagrees, answers to me.”
“Begging the senior’s pardon,” said Prento. “But if we screw up, we’re gonna answer to somebody a lot higher than you.”
That was the last thing he said before Surgo cracked the side of his gun against his face. Prento fell, howling and holding a broken nose.
“You really feel like talking anymore? No? Anyone else? Put ‘em through.”
Silently, the rest obeyed. A metal door irised open in the wall before them. Desaad and his party of five entered. There were guards on the other side as well, but they seemed satisfied after a second with a look from Desaad, and from one of Desaad’s minions.
Breathing heavily in his cloak, Snapper Carr tested out their mental hookup. <Lucian, can you read me? Over.>
<You don’t need the military jangle with me, Carr,> Mind-Grabber Kid sent back. <I can hear you just fine.>
<Let’s just hope Big Dark can’t,> thought Mal Duncan. <We’re in a hell of a place for him to pull out a telepath on us.>
<We’re in a hell of a place already,> answered Christopher Chance, in the robes and Desaad mask. <If the real ‘Desaad’ turns up, be ready to scramble.>
<Scramble to where?> thought Ryan Chase, the Human Cannonball. <If we get held up, I’ll give ‘em an old ram in the guts with the cannonball helmet. That’s the best thing to do, believe it.>
<The best thing to do,> opined Bumblebee, <is not to get caught. I doubt that headgear of yours will be much good against this bunch of bruisers, Ryan.>
<Don’t insult my equipment!>
<Pipe down, all of you,> ordered Snapper. <Just keep cool, cats. The Stranger showed us where in this pile of rock Tigra’s being held. If we get her, we may be able to get Orion.>
<If they don’t get us first,> thought the Kid.
<Think happy thoughts, Loosh,> Snapper answered. <And am I ever glad you remember that bit with Obi-Wan and the Empire cops from Star Wars.>
<Only saw it 21 times,> said Crawley. <But my mind-control has limits.>
<Don’t reach them.>
<Don’t snap your fingers, then.>
<You got it,> thought Snapper.
While this conversation had been going on, the six of them had made it down two corridors. None of them really wanted to dwell upon what they were seeing, or the thought of what they were enmeshed in. All they wanted to do was get in, get Tigra, and get out.
It was, Snapper thought, a lot nervier than just about anything he’d been in with the Justice League.
Then, with a noise that penetrated the walls of the fortress, the sextet who had begun informally calling themselves the Losers’ League heard a terrific BOOM.
All of them stopped still for a moment. That lasted for as long as it took for a contingent of Darkseid’s guards to swarm out of the doors around them, surround them for an instant, and then run past them towards the gate.
<What the hell does that mean?> asked Karen, frightenedly.
<It means we put the rush on it,> thought Snapper, <as soon as these guys get gone.>
Outside the palace, in disguise, Superman, Dev-Em, and Highfather watched the proceedings.
A Boom Tube had opened in the air above Darkseid’s abode, and from its circular mouth came warriors familiar to all of them. Metron, Himon, Fastbak, Jezebelle, Bug, Stompa, Lashina, Bernadeth, and Mad Harriet. Metron was calling out something, probably words of encouragement, and the lot of them were quick to attack. But Darkseid’s guards were just as quick, and soon, Gravi-Guards, Parademons, Dog Cavalry, and line troops were pouring from the gates.
The New Gods and the forces of Apokolips had joined battle.
“The fools,” said Izaya, in surprise and anger. “I forbade them. I bade them guard our realm. The fools!”
“Holy sun of Krypton,” said Kal, under his breath. “That’s it. We decide here and now. Fight, or spy.”
“There is no other decision for me,” said Izaya. He stepped from the alleyway, tore off his robes, and, revealed, blasted away at the enemy with alpha bullets from his hands.
“I’m going, Dev,” said Superman, pulling off his robe. “What about you?”
“I’m a spy, El,” said Dev. “But I’m also a friend. Get me a way inside that pile, I’ll come out with Orion. I hope.”
“I hope, too,” said Kal. “Don’t get yourself killed.”
“And if I run into Mongul, be listening for me. I may need help.”
“You’ve got it, El.”
Dev remained in hiding for a few moments after his worldsman left the alley, flying, with an “Up, up, and away!”
He looked out with his X-ray vision, through the building walls.
Pure unadulterated chaos.
Good enough cover, he hoped.
Dev-Em accelerated to invisibility status via super-speed and made his way into Darkseid’s lair.