The Apokolips Agenda
Two members of the Justice Society of America were not able to participate in the fight against Darkseid’s legions. One was the Sandman, who had suffered a heart attack some years previously and now, as Wesley Dodds, stayed at home, attended by his aide Sandy Hawkins. Both of them watched what they could of the battle coverage on television. Sandy could have participated, but he chose to guard his guardian.
Another one had been remanded to a nursing home. This was Wildcat, otherwise known as Ted Grant. He had been stricken by a lightning bolt which shattered his legs. Due to the nature of the injury, caused by the cosmic forces of the early Crisis, even Dr. Fate could do little to heal him. His legs were on the mend, but he was a long ways away from the point of being able to get around even on a walker. For him, there was only the wheelchair.
And he had been, in his time, the heavyweight boxing champion of the world.
There were two others with him in his room, both in costume, because he liked being reminded of his JSA past. One of them he had never met before today. This was the Wildcat of Earth-One, as old as himself. His history generally duplicated that of the Earth-Two Ted Grant, within limits. He had come out of retirement at times to fight beside Batman and, once, the Creeper, but age had taken its toll on him, too.
But Batman had come to him a few days ago and asked him to go with the third person in the room to another world, where another Ted Grant needed cheering up after an accident. He agreed, due to friendship with Bats and curiosity about this other Wildcat. He also feared what he would have to see. But he had learned enough in the ring about hiding fear.
The third party in the room was also a Wildcat, but she was a woman. Yolanda Montez was the Wildcat of Infinity, Inc., and her genes had been altered before birth by one Doctor Love to give her the catlike powers of agility, leaping power, and clawlike nails. She had seen the crippling of Ted Grant and, in his honor, became the second Wildcat of Earth-Two on that night. Now, in her all-black costume, a female version of the one the Earth-One Wildcat wore, she sat at Ted’s bedside and waited for her chance to speak.
“So you’re still pluggin’ away at that little gym, brother?” asked Ted of Earth-2. “Good for ya. Makin’ a living?”
“Yeah, kinda,” said Wildcat of Earth-1. “Had to yuppify it to survive. You know, health-centered instead of just boxing. But we do boxing, Ted. We’ll always do boxing.”
“You better,” said old Ted with a gleam in his eye. “Unless you end up like this–“ He pointed at his legs. “Or in the grave. Just leave the hero stuff to the young punks, okay? I stayed in too long, and this is what it got me.”
Yolanda stood and squeezed his hand. “You once saved the Society, Ted. You rescued them from the Psycho-Pirate. If you had not been there, who would have done that?”
“Didn’t say I wasn’t useful, honey,” said Ted. “Just that I stayed in the game too long. I knew when to get out of the ring, just like Ted here. Right?”
“Yeah, I knew when to hang up the gloves,” said Ted-1. “Until that crazy Batman got me to put ‘em on again to take on a creep named Koslov, and I got back into the hero thing. But I never did it that steady afterward, just a few times here and there. Got enough money to reopen the gym, and that’s what I did.”
“That’s the way,” said Ted-2. “Don’t let the costume boys get you back in harness, Ted. That’s for young men. Or men that got the Ian Karkull treatment. Hell.” Ted’s head lolled to the side on the bed. “Sometimes this hurts like somethin’ I ain’t gonna mention in front of a lady.”
“You can say anything you want to before me, Ted,” said Yolanda, stroking his hair. “I have heard much worse in my neighborhood, before I was six.”
“Don’t believe in such talk,” said Ted. “Was raised in sticks, but...better.”
“I know it, Ted,” said the other Wildcat, and grasped his hand. He felt the strength in it, felt the qualities only another boxer could detect. Yeah, this guy was definitely a contender back then. The Earth-One Wildcat wondered what it would have been like, to go up against this guy in his prime. Then he decided it was best not to know.
The man in the bed looked up at his counterpart. “Tell me, kid. How’d you decide to become a Wildcat?”
“Probably same as you. You had a Socker Smith, right?”
“Right,” said Ted Grant of Earth-2. “They doped him on your world, too?”
“Yeah,” said the Ted of Earth-1. “He died where you were, too, right? In the ring?”
“Uh huh. Hadda clear myself. Kid told me about Green Lantern in a comic book. Gave me ideas. They used to call me a real wildcat when I worked out at Stillman’s. So how’d you get the idea?”
“A kid told me about Green Lantern in a comic book.”
Yolanda giggled. Ted-2 looked up at Ted-1. “Naw. Really! You couldn’t’a had Green Lantern comics on your world. You didn’t have no Green Lantern then!”
“Yeah, but we had the comics,” said Ted-1. “They were just, just comics. Some kid told me about the Lantern, and I said, ‘Why not?’”
“So you didn’t have the Lantern, but you had the comics,” said Ted-2. “Doesn’t make sense.”
“Guess it doesn’t, Ted,” said Ted-1. “But, hell, we got a Lantern years later. That was after I retired. I was pushin’ leather and fightin’ crooks even before Superkid showed up.”
“Now you’re makin’ me feel better. Did you ever meet the kid?”
“Superboy? Nah, he mainly stayed to himself, in Smallville.” Ted-1 fidgeted. “Look, Ted, if, like, there’s anything I can do...”
“Like what? Get in a wheelchair and go seven rounds with me?” Ted-2 grinned, even though it seemed labored. “Skip it. It’s...okay just havin’ you around. Is it weird for you, too?”
“Seein’ you? Oh, yeah.” Ted-1 smiled. “But I can deal with it.”
“Don’t think we will ever forget you, or leave you alone for long, Ted,” said Yolanda. “The Society will pay their visits after the battle we’re fighting is finished. I’ll come by, too, as often as I can. And I’ll try to get Infinity to do the same.”
“That’s all right, Yolanda,” said Ted. “You just...keep outta trouble, okay?”
She stroked Ted’s forehead. “Would that I could. But I’ll have to return to the battle very soon. It was hard for me to get permission to leave, as it was.”
“Understood,” said Ted. “Don’t get killed, kid. Things really got...ratcheted up...these last few years. More power bein’ thrown around. Less of a place for...us.”
Yolanda nodded. “But that means there is more of a need for us. To represent the less-powerful man among the mighty ones. Wouldn’t you agree?”
“Maybe,” he said. “Maybe there oughtta be a...you know...featherweight, ‘n’ welterweight, ‘n’ flyweight division for superguys, too. It’d make things easier. Nowadays they wanna throw the flyweights in with the Jack Dempsey super-villains. ‘S how Larry Lance bought it, and Batman...and even Supes.”
Yolanda sensed that Ted was in some low-level pain, and thought about ringing for the nurse. But Ted had told her he didn’t want to get addicted to pain-killers, so she decided to let him make that decision himself. “Yes, Ted,” said Yolanda. “And the Canary, too.”
“Yeah,” said Ted. “That was a rotten shame...when I found out. Beautiful, she was. You ever meet her?”
“No. But I have met her daughter. She is also beautiful.”
“So ’re you.”
Ted looked seriously at her. “Tell me. Is Kara okay? Is she...bearin’ up?”
The woman Wildcat nodded. “She grieved. But she...she has done well. I told you of how she led the Society and Infinity against Badra and Mars.”
“Yeah. Regular little heller, she is.”
“I’ll tell her you said that.” Power Girl and Wildcat had been at odds during her early tenure in the JSA, thanks to Kara Zor-L’s feminist outlook. But they had gotten used to each other’s presence as teammates, and eventually became friends.
“Could you...have her see me? I’d like that. She probably needs a, needs a friend. Right now, I mean.”
Ted of Earth-1 watched as Yolanda took his counterpart’s head in both hands and placed a kiss on his forehead. “She has many friends, Ted. We try to be there for her, and for Lois. But I will see she comes to see you after the battle is done.”
“Thanks, Yo. Thanks. Tell her I’m thinkin’ of her. I’ll be here, if she needs help.”
There was silence for a second, and it was broken by a new voice. “‘Cat. I’m awfully sorry...but I need help, too.”
Ted of Earth-1 knew that voice, and he was only a fraction of a second later than Yolanda in whirling to face the speaker. They immediately put themselves between her and the man in the bed.
The woman was past her prime, but still showed the signs of having been a beauty in her time. She had black hair streaked with grey and wore a long coat, open at the front. It revealed a tiger bathing suit and boots, the uniform of a woman known to both Ted Grants and to Yolanda as well, who had heard of her and studied her JSA Enemies file.
Paula Brooks, aka the Tigress, aka the original Huntress, aka the enemy of Wildcat of Earth-2.
“Don’t come a step closer,” said the lady Wildcat, her claws bared and ready.
“You his or you mine?” said Wildcat-1, in an very cold and threatening tone. His dukes were up.
The Huntress looked tired. “His,” she said. “I ain’t here to fight. I’m here to ask for help. Please, ‘Cat. You’re the only ones I can talk to.”
“How’d you get in?”
“You think security is that good? You ought to tighten it up.”
“We will,” said Yolanda. “You had better be sincere in your request, Huntress. If I even think you’re trying to hurt a crippled man...I might do things that would make me leave Infinity.”
“Let her talk, baby,” said Wildcat-1.
“I’m not gonna fight anymore,” said the Huntress, plopping down wearily into a Formica chair. “Especially not the Cat. I got the hell knocked out of me just a few days ago. Those guys in the red suits...one of ‘em just tapped me with his finger, and I was out of it. Got away, though, when we were bein’ transferred. I need your help.”
“You’ve been saying that over and over again,” said Yolanda. “What for?”
“My husband’s still in custody. Carl, y’know, the Sportsmaster. I need you to get him out.”
“Kid, if your Sportsmaster’s anything like my Sportsmaster, the clink is just where he needs to be,” affirmed Wildcat-1.
“Let ‘er talk, Ted,” said Wildcat-2. “She’s my old problem, after all. What’s the matter, Paula? Super-villain stuff ain’t payin’ as well as it used to?”
“It never did, ‘Cat,” said the Huntress. She stood up, started to go towards him, but the Wildcats blocked her way, so she stood still. “But he’s still my guy, and I love him. Hell, I need him, and he needs me. We haven’t got that long to spend together, anyway, and we both need to be out of the joint.”
“Why should we help you? Why not your super-villain friends?” asked Yolanda, tersely.
“They’re in stir,” the Huntress answered. “They may get sprung, they may not. I don’t know how things are going. Not with this Crisis thing. But if you help me...I can help you.”
She stepped closer to Yolanda. “I was in the satellite. The one they’re usin’ as a headquarters. I can lead you to Lex Luthor. Both of him.”
“Lex Luthor?” Wildcat-1 gaped. “That’s way out of my weight class, honey.”
“Perhaps not out of mine,” said Yolanda. “How do we know you speak the truth?”
The Huntress fished a small box out of her coat pocket and showed it to them. “This. Every one of the units had one of these. It’s a communicator. You can track it back to Luthor.”
“Why hasn’t he helped you?” asked Wildcat-1.
“I asked him to. I begged him to. But he said that he’s up to his dome in operations right now, and he can’t spare the forces to spring ‘em right now. And I know he’d throw us back into the fight. And ‘Cat...’Cat, I just don’t want to fight anymore.” She looked close to tears.
Yolanda, despite herself, felt a bit of sympathy for the woman. But she said, “You could be leading us into a trap.”
“I could,” she admitted. “You’ll have to find out for yourselves. But it’s no worse than if you’d found out on your own. Will you help me?”
“We could just take that thing from you, and do it ourselves,” said Yolanda.
“You could,” said the Huntress. “But if you do, you ain’t what the guy in that bed is.”
The Wildcat of Earth-2 spoke up. “Let her through, gang. Just let her through.”
“Take off that coat,” ordered Yolanda. The Huntress obeyed, dropping it back on the chair. The female Wildcat frisked her thoroughly, even running her clawed fingers through the villainess’s hair. Then she took her by the arm, and held it while the Huntress stepped to Ted Grant’s bedside.
“‘Cat,” she said, “I never would’a wanted this to happen. To you, I mean.”
Ted Grant nodded. “I believe you.”
“Does it hurt?”
She sighed. “I still think you’re better off than me.”
“Maybe so, baby. Call me Ted, okay?”
“Yeah, Ted. Call me Paula.”
“Ever think of what it would’a been like if you’d stayed with the Young All-Stars?”
“Lotsa times.” She shrugged. “But I never would’a met Carl.”
Ted looked at Yolanda. “Yo,” he said, “think you can give her a hand?”’
“I don’t trust her,” said Yolanda.
“I didn’t ask you that,” he said.
Wildcat-1 spoke up. “Maybe I’m punchier ‘n normal this mornin’,” he said. “But Ted...I do.”
Yolanda paused. Then she said, “All I will do is contact Infinity, Inc. and see what can be done. We will not ‘spring’ anyone. I will see if they wish to speak to the authorities. And that is all I can promise.”
“But you’ll promise that?” asked the Huntress.
“Yes,” said Yolanda, wondering if she had ever been such a fool before.
Unexpectedly, the Huntress hugged her. Yolanda thrust her away immediately. The black-haired woman looked startled, then resigned. “All right,” she said. “Guess I can’t expect more than that.”
“I will tell the police of your presence,” said Yolanda. “But I will also tell them what you have told me. We shall see.”
“That’s all I ask,” said the Huntress.
Yolanda, still holding the Huntress’s wrist, turned to Wildcat-1. “Come with me, Ted. I will take you back to the Transmatter Cube at the JSA building.”
“Well, heck, Yolanda, don’t the cabbies know the way there? On this world, I mean?”
She blinked at him. “Of course they do. But–“
“And this temporary card you’ve given me, it’ll get me in okay, won’t it?”
“Yes,” she said. “But you’re not safe here.”
He put his fists on his hips. “If I ain’t safe here, then how safe is he?” He nodded his head towards the man in the bed.
Yolanda sighed, then shook her head. “All right. But if you are attacked, it will probably be someone a lot stronger than any boxer.”
“Bring ‘em on.” Wildcat grinned and lifted his fists. It was bravado, but all three of the others, even the Huntress, loved to see it. The bedridden Ted Grant loved it most of all.
“Come with me,” said Yolanda, taking the Huntress with her. “And if we meet any of your partners on the way, much the worse for you.” She allowed the Huntress to put her coat back on, then opened the door. Both of them left.
Wildcat of Earth-One pulled the cord on the nurses’ alarm. “Yes?” said a voice.
“This is the friend of Mr. Grant,” said Wildcat. “An unauthorized party just got in. My friend just took care of it. But this ain’t acceptible.”
“We’ll have somebody down there right away.”
“We want guards. Armed guards. At least two. No, at least three. Or I’m callin’ the papers to tell ‘em what kind of joint you’re runnin’ down here.”
A pause. “We’ll see about it as soon as possible, sir.”
The light winked out. Ted Grant of Earth-2 grinned. Ted-1 grinned back. He sat on the side of the bed.
“We got time before they get here?”
“Before that? Oh, yeah. Probably could fight a whole round before they’ll get anybody here.”
“You ever fight Joe Louis, kid?”
“Did I ever fight Joe Louis? Hell, yeah. The question is, did you ever fight Joe Louis? And how are you here to tell about it if you did?”
“Well, you first.”
“Okay,” said Wildcat.
He’d almost run down all the first round action before the guards got there.
The quintet of heroes warped in over the Sears Tower in Chicago and distorted TV receptions for an instant.
Supergirl, Superboy, Son of Vulcan, Harbinger, and Beautiful Dreamer dropped neatly to the building roof.
“So this is Earth-One,” said Kal, looking at the urban sprawl below. “And this is Chicago.”
“Haven’t you ever been here?” asked Kara. “I mean, to your Chicago.”
“No,” Superboy said. “Not yet. Dad blame, it’s big.”
“Will we be safe here, Kara?” D’reema was concerned, it seemed, although Kara thought it also might be from standing on the roof of a building over 100 stories tall.
“Not for long,” Supergirl admitted. “I want to get you into safekeeping, although I’m not sure how safe anyplace in this world is right now. I also need to find out what’s been going on here while we’ve been gone.”
“Truly as Carl Sandburg described it,” said Son of Vulcan, reverently, standing near the roof’s edge. “Hog Butcher of the world, stacker of wheat...”
Harbinger was sitting cross-legged on the roof, her blonde hair blowing under her helmet in the breeze. Superboy noticed her. “Miss Lyla,” he said. “Trouble?”
“My other-self is far away from here, Superboy, and I need to reunite with her,” said Harbinger. “It drains me to be split for so long.”
Kal nodded. “I can imagine.” He put a hand on her shoulder. “If I can help, let me know what to do. I’m a rookie, but I’m learning.”
“Thank you,” she said. She looked at him and remembered her days as a young girl of the 19th Century, before she met the Monitor. And in that, she felt empathic for what Superboy of Earth-Prime was going through.
Then Superboy saw her close her eyes and put a hand to her forehead. “What’s the matter?”
“Hush, Kal-El,” she said. After a few moments, she opened her eyes and smiled. “My sister-self is in the Monitor’s satellite. She is coming here and we will reunite.”
“Glad to hear that,” said Supergirl. “You’ve been looking a little peaked lately, if you don’t mind me saying, Lyla.”
The Son of Vulcan stepped over to them. “We cannot bandy words all day, Supergirl. If there is battle on this world, tell me where to find it.”
Obligingly, Kara used her telescopic vision. First, she checked out the city, and saw to her disgust the damage created by the battle of Forgotten Heroes and Forgotten Villains, both long gone by now. Then she enlarged her scope and took in much of the rest of the country, and more besides. Kal noted her expression going grimmer.
After about ten seconds, she said to the Son of Vulcan, “Take your pick. There’s action all around. Fighting in Metropolis, in New York City, Gotham, Coast City, even overseas.”
“Many of those names are unknown to me,” confessed the hero of Earth-4. “But I know of New York. Have you a conveyance?”
“I could get my Mother Box to Boom Tube you there,” said Dreema, pulling a small, flat object from her costume. “It’s not as powerful as the one my family unit uses, but it’ll work for you.”
“No way,” said Supergirl. “If Darkseid’s involved in those wars, I’m betting he could trace a Boom Tube back to you fast as a quark. My primary objective is to keep you safe.”
“But, Supergirl, don’t they need us in the war?”
Kara sighed. “Yes, Kal. But for us, D’reema is the war. Think of her as Albert Einstein during World War II. If the Nazis got hold of Einstein, what do you think would have happened?”
“See what you mean,” he said.
At that, two figures began to materialize on the building roof. Son of Vulcan said, “Supergirl, what–“
All of them stood at the ready and surrounded D’reema, but Supergirl quickly called out, “It’s okay, crew. I know this guy.”
“And this other is my sister-self,” said Harbinger. “We’re safe.”
One of the newcomers was, indeed, Harbinger’s split-self, and the other was a mysterious being Kara had met only twice, once in the far future. The Phantom Stranger.
“Greetings to you all,” said the Stranger. “Tala presses me greatly. I may only stay to warn you: Supergirl is needed on Apokolips. Superman and Izaya have already begun the fight.”
“Already?” Kara tensed. “That settles it. We’ll find a place to take D’reema, one of you can guard her, and the rest of us will go to Apokolips.”
“No,” said the second Harbinger. “I’ve been monitoring the situation from the satellite. Darkseid has not yet begun his assault on New Genesis. It’s not yet the final battle. But the heroes of Earth are also hard-pressed.”
“I cannot stay for much longer,” said the Stranger. “Make your decision, and make it now.”
Kara decided. “Okay. Stranger, if you can, take Son of Vulcan here to New York to help out there. Lyla, you need to merge your selves now, and teleport me to Apokolips. Then I want you to take Kal and D’reema and go to the Monitor’s satellite. And Kal?”
“I want you to guard D’reema. With your life.”
“You got it,” said Superboy.
“It shall be done,” said the Stranger. He pointed a hand at the Son of Vulcan, who looked warily at the man with the shaded eyes. Then both of them vanished.
“So this is how you get around here,” noted D’reema. “Quite efficient.”
Superboy watched in amazement as the two Harbingers stood and touched hands. One of them shimmered, converted herself to energy-particles, and was quickly absorbed by the other. The Harbinger who remained looked fresher and more in charge than either of her predecessors.
She stretched out her blue-clad arms to Supergirl. “Godspeed, Kara,” she said, and sent pink energies from her hands towards the Girl of Steel. They covered her in a nimbus of power, which quickly faded. Supergirl was no longer there.
Harbinger faced Superboy and Beautiful Dreamer. “There are others of us in the satellite,” she said. “We will help guard D’reema. But I cannot believe we will be long unknown to Darkseid.”
“As the Source wills,” said D’reema.
“Beam us up, Scotty,” said Kal, and winced at his own cliche.
The pinkish aura surrounded Superboy, D’reema, and Harbinger herself, and then all three were gone.
Shortly after that, TV reception in Chicago returned to normal.
On Adon, the Forever People had come to a decision. By the reckoning of the Magic Squad, it was darned well time they did.
“We don’t know where they’ve taken D’reema,” said Mark Moonrider. “But without her to guard, like it or not...and I know none of us like it...” (With that, he favored Big Bear, Serifan, and Vykin with a glance.) “...we’re back in the war. And this time, we have to finish it. It’s either us, or Darkseid.”
“If he harms D’reema, I’ll see Darkseid dead,” vowed Vykin, bravely.
“Be at peace, brother,” said Big Bear, laying a hand on his friend’s shoulder.
“Peace has been shut down for the duration,” remarked Nightmaster. “Believe it.”
Rac Shade consulted with Amethyst and Jennifer Morgan, who were sitting facing each other in lotus fashion, their fingertips pressed to a Mother Box which was hovering between them. “Anything from that?” he asked.
“No,” said Amethyst. “Her Mother Box is deliberately damping its signals to keep anyone from tracking her.”
“It keeps Darkseid from finding her,” remarked Jennifer. “But it also keeps her away from us.”
Mellu said, “Then what do we do next? We’ve been sitting around here too long to do any good. Where do we go, and when?”
Serifan adjusted his cowboy hat. “We’re going to New Genesis, ma’am.”
“And as for when,” said Mark Moonrider, “it’s right now.”
He took the Mother Box from Amethyst and Jennifer and led the party of heroes from the house into the front yard. Looking at the well-sculpted lawn and garden, he felt a twinge of nostalgia: all this showed D’reema’s skilled hand.
Source willing, they would find her.
A group of Adonites were gathered round the home, just outside the stone fence, wondering what was to come next. Moonrider, the Box under one arm, spoke to them. “When we come back, you will know we have vanquished Darkseid. If we do not...remember us.”
There was nothing else to say, except what he said to Nightmaster and his band. “Make a circle around us, and make physical contact with us. Mother Box will do the rest.”
He allowed the Box to hover five feet above the ground. Against its four sides he and Big Bear, Serifan, and Vykin pressed their hands. Nightmaster, Shade, Mellu, Amethyst, and Jennifer Morgan gathered round and touched the Forever People’s backs, some looking a bit uncomfortable.
There was a loud BOOM.
Some of the heroes gave a start. A large circle of energy appeared in the air, just over the grass-covered ground.
Big Bear smiled. “Been a long time since we’ve seen one of those,” he said.
“Let’s go,” said Moonrider.
He leaped into its maw first. Big Bear followed, with a howl of joy, like a paratrooper leaping from a plane. Serifan, holding onto his hat, was third, and Vykin sprinted after him.
Rac Shade beckoned to the others. “Quickly,” he said, and led the way, entering the glowing circle. Mellu, Nightmaster, Jennifer, and Amethyst followed.
The Boom Tube quickly faded from sight.
And the Adonites wondered if they would see any of them ever again.