Supergirl:

 The Apokolips Agenda

 Part 26

 by DarkMark

Thanks to interdimensional transportation, a lot of heroes and villains found themselves on Earths not their own, teamed with others from similarly foreign worlds.  The unions worked out to varying degrees, but many of them found themselves separate from their usual working partners.

Such was the case for the Batman Families of Earths One and Two.  Batman and the Outsiders worked on Earth-One, trying to hold the line against Mantis and the super-villains under his command.  The Bat-Squad, formed mostly of secondary Family members from the two Earths, fought on Earth-Two against a crew of villains from several Earths.  Nightwing was in action with the Titans, which left the young Robin of Earth-One, the older Robin of Earth-Two, the Huntress, Batgirl, Batwoman of Earth-Two, Flamebird, Man-Bat, the King of the Cats, and a lesser-known Earth-Two hero called Blackwing, an ally of the Huntress’s, to do battle.

Their foemen included the Jokers of Earths One and Two, the Two-Face, Riddler, Penguin, Killer Moth, and Baron Tyme of Earth-One, Lionmane and Nightingale of Earth-Two, and the long-unseen triumvirate of villainesses, Silken Spider, Tiger Moth, and Dragon Fly, all of them contemporaries of Poison Ivy who had finally been nettled into activity once again.

All of them fought it out on the streets of a Gotham City whose citizens were used to superhero battle, thanks to the long tenures of the late Batman, the Green Lantern, and the Justice Society.  But they had a tough time placing some of the combatants, and the general consensus was that the unfamiliar heroes were Batman wannabes.

As it was, the forces of the Bat had done well.  Batgirl, the Huntress, and Flamebird had taken the trio of villainesses in a hard-fought battle and subdued them.  Lionmane was tough, but not beyond the power of Man-Bat, who dragged him sixty feet in the air and then dropped him onto the pavement like a rock.  It didn’t kill him, but he was out of the fight after that.  The Riddler’s gimmicked question-gun failed to take out Blackwing.  Two-Face was a tough combatant, but Robin of Earth-Two managed to put him out for the count.  Robin of Earth-One avoided the Penguin’s deadly umbrella darts and kayoed him with a Batarang.  Killer Moth, for all his mechanical might, was embarrassed that the weaponry of the old crusaders, Batwoman and the Cat King, had bound and immobilized him.  That left three villains to deal with.  But they were the deadliest by far.

And Baron Tyme, the sorceror foe of Man-Bat, spoke a single spell and bound the lot of them in a glowing web.

The Joker of Earth-One grinned even more widely.  “Splendid show, Tymely.  Now, if you’ll back off a moment, I’ve got a venom-bomb here that’ll cut the Bat-quota from nine to zero in ten seconds.”

The Earth-Two Joker, missing a tooth on his left upper side, took umbrage.  “Listen here, you...Milton Berle gag-thief!  I’ve been on this stage for over forty years now, and I missed my chance to take out the Big Bat himself.  I’ve got senority!  Stand back, and hand over that bomb!”

“In a bat’s eye!” sneered the younger Joker.  “The world belongs to the young and vigorous, old man.  This is my bomb, and my moment.  Most of the idiots downstairs come from my Earth.  First rights to me!”

Robin of Earth-Two called up, “You wouldn’t consider letting us in on the debate, would you?”

“Shut up!” both Jokers chorused.

“Keep ‘em talking,” advised the Huntress.  “If we can pitch a gas-bomb of our own through this weird netting, maybe we can manage a win.”

Batgirl was passing out rebreathers and gas masks from her utility belt to those who didn’t have them.  “Don’t know if these’ll be proof against Joker-gas, but it’s not like we had a big choice.”

Blackwing took the offered mask and said, “It’s good to have worked with you, Batgirl.  Even if it may be our last case.”

“Don’t talk like that,” said the Earth-One Robin.  “Batman says never to give up until thirty minutes after you’re dead.  And we aren’t dead yet.”

“That’s just what my dad would have said,” allowed the Huntress.  “But I don’t know if the Green Hair Twins will give us enough time...”

Baron Tyme said, “This is ridiculous.  The longer you argue, the more opportunity you give them to escape.  And if there’s one thing the Bats are good at, it’s escape.  Make a choice and do it, or I’ll destroy them myself!”

“You wouldn’t!” gasped Old Joker.

“Try me.”

The two Jokers looked at each other.  “Well, old man,” said Young Joker, “it won’t be the first time comedians have had to team up.”

“Then you’ll play the straight man.”

“In your dreams.”

The Earth-One Joker held out his hand with the round gas-bomb with a Joker-face painted on it.  Old Joker took the hand, and both of them raised the bomb high.  “On the count of three,” said Young Joker.  “One, two...”

“Three,” said a deep voice, as a black lasso swung down from above, encircled their wrists, and tightened, pulling the Jokers’ arms up with the bomb still grasped in their hands.

Baron Tyme looked up, saw a figure in shadow, and prepared to loose a powerbolt of mystic force at him.  He was a bit late.  The interloper leaped down to the building ledge, blue-black cape billowing behind him, and sent a powerful left to his chin that knocked him one story down to the ground.  Tyme kissed pavement and went unconscious.  As his senses faded, so did the magical net holding the Bat-Squad.

“Who in blue blazes is that?” exclaimed Man-Bat, limbering his wings.

“It’s...” began Flamebird.  “But I thought he was on Earth-One.”

Batwoman squinted at the caped figure on the ledge.  “That isn’t your Batman, Flamebird.  He looks more like...no.  No, it can’t be!”

“My God,” said the Cat King.  “I know what you’re saying...but I can’t believe it, either!”

The twin Jokers raged and tried to strike as the masked hero took the Joker-bomb from their trapped hands and stashed it in a cape pouch.  “YOU again!” snarled Old Joker.  “Can’t you leave things well enough alone, for once?”

The hero jammed a forearm against his enemy’s throat and shoved his face close to his foe’s.  “Joker,” he said, “shut up.”

The other Joker fumbled in his pocket and tried to slash the masked man with an envenomed knife.  Without looking at him, the hero grabbed his wrist, exerted terrific pressure, made the Joker cry out, and made him drop the knife.  Then he took both of their heads in his hands and, smiling grimly, bashed them together.  The old Joker went out immediately.  The young one needed a punch in the face to finish the job.

The masked man crouched and leapt down to the sidewalk and faced the heroes and fallen villains.  The wind swept the cape away from his chest.  The nine members of the Bat-Squad could all see the bat-emblem on his shirt.

It wasn’t in a yellow circle.

“Good Lord,” said old Robin, paralyzed by what he saw.  “It...it just can’t be...”

“DAD!”

The Huntress, tears seeping out under her eye-mask, ran to the Batman and hugged him, unable to speak.  He stiffened, in embarrassment.  “Oh, Dad,” she finally managed to get out.  “Dad...”

“Are you...the Huntress?” he said, at last.

Abruptly, she stiffened and thrust herself away from him, in amazement.  “Your voice,” she said.  “It’s not my father’s.”

“No,” said the Batman, with some sadness.  “I’m not your father, Huntress.  But I knew him.  Before you were born.”

“Who the devil are you?”

The other Squadders were coming closer.  The Batman motioned towards old Robin.  “If that’s Robin,” he said, “he knows.”

Young Robin turned to his adult counterpart.  “What in blazes is this, big guy?  I thought the Batman of this Earth was...”

“He is,” said old Robin.  “Hold on, youngster.  And you...Batman...stay put for a moment.”  He stepped closer.

Batman said quietly, “Don’t you remember me, Robin?  Of all here, don’t you still remember me?”

“Somebody better give me a program,” said Man-Bat.  “I didn’t bargain on walking into an episode of Twilight Zone.”

“Manny, can it,” snapped Flamebird.

Robin’s memory was almost as great as that of his late mentor’s.  True, the man’s lower face looked quite a lot like Bruce’s.  But there were subtle differences.  And the voice, yes, it was pitched a bit differently.  His height, too...he was a full inch taller than Bruce had been.

In a flash, it came to him.  And even after having not seen him in thirty years, the thrill of recognition overwhelmed him for a moment.

“Brane Taylor?”

The Batman, after a short pause, smiled.  “So you do recognize me.  That’s good, Robin.”

Old Robin grabbed him by both shoulders.  “Brane...it’s great.  I never thought I’d see you again.  And brother, am I ever glad I did.”

“Brane Taylor?” The Huntress’s face showed her curiosity.  “My...my father told me something about a man with that name.  He said he was the Batman of the future.   Are you...?”

“The Batman of the 31st Century, to be exact,” said Batman.  “I could not come back to stave off his death.  It was history.  I am sorry.”  He paused.  “But we have some records of the great battle of this era.  I could not keep away from it.  I hope you’ll forgive me, Huntress...I always wanted to meet you, of all people.”

After a pause, the Batman’s daughter reached out her hand.  The Batman took it.  Slightly, Helena smiled.  “Thanks for your help,” she said.

“My pleasure,” smiled the future Batman.

Batgirl spoke up.  “Speaking for the rest, I’d like to thank you for saving us.  But I don’t know as much about your history as these two appear to.  How’s about letting us know who you are?”

“You mean this isn’t the ghost of the old Batman?” asked young Robin.

“Not hardly, kid,” said Blackwing.  “Go ahead and give, Mr. Taylor.”

“Well, if you’re certain the opposition can’t hear, I’ll speak,” said Batman.  The nine heroes gathered closer around him for confidentiality, and he began.

“It’s a fairly simple story,” he admitted.  “Even in the year 3065, we have crime.  But we also had the example of heroes of the past who fought crime.  One of the greatest, of course, was Batman I...the Batman of your era.  Many films, videotapes, written and photographic records of his career still survive, a millenium hence.  They were preserved.   We know of many heroes, the All-Star Squadron, the Justice Society, the Seven Soldiers, Infinity, Inc....but my personal hero was always Batman.”

“Good choice,” opined the Cat King.

“I run a fleet of cargo ships in transpace,” said Taylor.  “We were hit by a run of piracy, and the pirates seemed to be operating on inside information.  The detectives I hired couldn’t turn up enough information.  I was wondering what else could be done, and, while I was watching a video document of the ‘Your Life Story’ appearance...you know, the one in which Batman was invited to a review of his career, and the Joker here crashed it...I found my answer.  If a Batman could solve crimes during the 20th century, another one could do the same in the 30th.

“So I became the Batman, or at least a Batman, and tracked down the inside man in our operations.  After that, the authorities were able to bring the pirates to bay.  But...well, there seemed a lot more work that a Batman could do in my time.  And I decided to do it.

“My weapons are far advanced beyond the ones he used, of course.  They had to be.  Before long, my nephew Richard found out my secret, and I hit upon the idea of training him as my Robin.”

“Holy crow,” said Robin of Earth-One.  “You mean there’s one of us in your time, too?”

“Sure is,” said old Robin.  “I’ve met him.  Go on, Brane.”

“Richie and I were fighting a pirate named Yerxa,” said Taylor.  “Rich broke his leg at the outset, and I needed an assistant.  That was when I hit on the idea of going back to the 20th, and seeing if the original Robin would be amenable to working with me.  You do remember that, don’t you, Dick?”

“Definitely,” said old Robin.  “Kind of hard to forget a big time-sphere materializing out of nowhere in the Batcave, and another guy in a Batman costume stepping out of it.”

The future Batman smiled.  “Both of us had to go to a planetoid called Vulcan, pose as criminals, join an outfit called the Lost Legion, and stop Yerxa from smuggling vulcanite.  But we did it.  Yerxa had managed to learn my true identity, though, and Robin here had to go back in time and bring his Batman to the future to convince the public that Brane Taylor and Batman were two different people.”

“My father,” said the Huntress.  “I still can’t believe all the things he was involved in, after all this time.”

“And I remember the next time we met,” said Robin of Earth-Two.  “That was after Bruce had injured his arm, and couldn’t operate as Batman without giving away his identity that way.  Brane here had left a communications device with us, in case we ever needed him.  I called him in to sub for Bruce on that case, and we took down a guy named, um, Martin Vair together.”

“Yes, despite the fact that I couldn’t get used to not being able to use my equipment in your era,” smiled the Batman.  “Sometimes I think I got through that case on dumb luck.”

“No,” said Robin.  “You were a little out of your time, but you were still a Batman.  And you came through with stars, just when we needed you.”

“Thanks, Robin.  I just regret that I...”  He looked at Helena, and sighed.  “But there are some things we cannot change.”

“It wasn’t your fault,” said the Huntress, quietly.  “It wasn’t you who caused my father’s death.”

“But it was all I could do to keep from warning him about it, both times,” said Brane.  “That was why I didn’t come back to your time any more than I did.”

Robin of Earth-One stepped up and offered Brane his hand.  “Speaking for us Earth-Oners, welcome to the Bat-Squad.  Will you be staying long, I hope?”

Brane Taylor looked out at Gotham City, which was showing some of the ravages of battle, and contemplated his answer.

“For as long as it takes, young Robin,” he said.  “For as long as it takes.”

 -S-

Metron’s vision was blurring, even as his throat gave way to the grip of Dr. Bedlam.  He vowed not to give way.  He vowed not to be defeated, to be murdered by this android pawn of Darkseid.  Half of its chest had been blasted away by the armament of his Mobius Chair.  But the head, shoulders, and arms still remained.  And while the head remained, the consciousness of Bedlam still animated it.

And it was still crushing his throat.

The new god tried to pull the animate’s hands from his neck, but Bedlam’s automaton was stronger.  The features that overlay the blank face of the android smiled in sadistic triumph.  Metron cursed, internally.  Would this be the last face he saw before the Racer’s?   It could not be...it could not be...

It was going to be.

And then, the expression on Bedlam’s face shifted.  It became one of surprise.  It should have been agony, given the fact that his entire head was melting.

But, after all, the body he wore was just that of an android.

The grip on Metron’s throat slackened, and the New Genesite thrust his opponent back, throwing him off the chair.  Before Bedlam’s body could hit the ground, Metron triggered a switch on his chair arm.  A seeker missle emerged from the underside of the Mobius Chair, struck the falling android, and blasted it to bits.

Drawing in a painful breath, Metron looked towards the ground, in the direction from which the beam had come that had melted Bedlam’s head.  The woman who had provided it was in battle, but still managed to wave up towards him before unleashing another burst towards her foes.  Jezebelle of the Fiery Eyes.

In response, Metron sent his chair on a strafing run, buzzed the Apokolips guards besetting her and Bug, and sent them packing with raybursts.  “Flee, spawn of Darkseid!” he cried, in a voice a bit hoarse from the choking.  “The day of reckoning and recompense has come.  The day Metron’s debt is repaid is here!”

“Hey, thanks,” said Bug, dispatching one last enemy with a roundhouse kick.  “Glad to be of service.”

Jezebelle paused, and almost toppled from exhaustion.  Bug caught her, even as Metron landed his chair near them.  “Is she injured?” he asked.

“Just wasted, I think,” said Bug.  “Jezzy, talk to me.  Are you okay?”

The blue-skinned beauty panted.  “I’m fine, Bug.  Just...give me a moment.  This fight has taken a lot out of me.”

Metron nodded.  “And most grateful am I for that part which saved me from death.  My greatest thanks, Jezebelle.”

“You’re welcome, Metron,” she said, leaning on Bug to get her wind back.  “Outside of Bug here, there’s nobody I’d rather do it for.  What about Orion?”

“Last I saw, he was in front of the west wall,” said Forager.  “Superman dropped him there.”

Metron said, “Climb aboard my chair, the both of you.  We will see to his rescue.”

Jezebelle and Bug clambered onto the arms of Metron’s conveyance.  It rose into the air on a stream of undefined propellant particles and carried them high above the fortress of Darkseid.  An enterprising Para-demon flitted towards them, wings spread and weapon at the ready.

Metron blasted it out of the skies with a particle beam and, afterward, the other para-demons gave them a sufficiently wide berth.

A second later, Bug pointed downward.  “There,” he said.  “But, by the Source!  Look!”

The three of them beheld a sight which had almost caused combat to come to a standstill in the immediate vicinity.

Straddling Orion’s prone form on the ground, Highfather and Darkseid faced each other, each of their hands firmly grasping Izaya’s staff.  Both of them glowed with power, the dark-bright aura surrounding them building in intensity until it hurt the trio to look at it with the unshielded eye.

Then, with a sudden roar of power, the lords of New Genesis and Apokolips soared from the ground and shot into the skies, both still holding the staff, both exerting their terrible powers against each other.

They were quickly lost to sight.

Jezebelle blinked.  “What...what can we do?”

Slowly, Metron said, “For them, nothing.  For Orion, as much as is possible.   Let us descend.”

But as they did, the three of them beheld a squadron of Apokolips soldiers emerging to surround the prone body of the son of Darkseid.  The five newcomers moved slowly, but were able to make formation before Metron and his allies could arrive.

All five of them were massive, red-colored, and threatening.

Gravi-Guards.

Darkseid’s elite troops, who could concentrate gravity in their vicinity to the point of even overpowering Superman.  In an earlier encounter, Metron recalled, it had taken the Infinity Man to defeat them.  And the Infinity Man was long gone.

The foremost among them raised a fist and sneered.

“Come and take him,” he said.

 -S-

On Earth-One, Paradise Island was under siege.

Communication between the Amazons on Earths One and Two wasn’t as frequent as it possibly should have been, but Queen Hippolyte had been alerted by her Earth-Two sister-self as to the assault they had recently suffered from Badra and her Kryptonian cohorts in Mars’s service, plus the disappearance of their enemies from Transformation Island.  Now Hippolyte, Mala, Paula, and all the other Amazons knew where those villainesses had gone.  They had come here.

A host of Valkyries had come from the Earth-Two universe as backing troops.  They had clashed with the Amazons of that Earth more than once during the Forties, and had not forgotten their enmity.  Apparently Darkseid’s reach was long enough to find them.  He had persuaded them to attack the Earth-One Amazons first, and to save their traditional Earth-Two foes for later.

The Valkyries were abetted by many of Wonder Woman’s female foes from this Earth, and by the enemies of her counterpart from Earth-Two.  The two Cheetahs, Priscilla Rich from Earth-Two and Deborah Domaine from Earth-One, had met for the first time and were collaborating, not without friction.  From Earth-One came the likes of the Mask, Giganta, the Silver Swan, Dr. Cyber, Morgana, Inventa, Torcha, Panthea, Astarte, and Circe, the ancient sorceress.  From Earth-Two there hailed Queen Clea, Eviless, Lya, Zara, and Hypnota.

The only thing Hippolyta could find to be glad of was that none of the enemy were male.  No matter what happened, they’d preserve Aphrodite’s Law.

Even if they died.

The Amazons stood in battle armor, facing a ring of hovering Valkyries.  Mala brandished her sword, standing next to Hippolyte.  “News, Mala?” asked the blonde Amazon matriarch.

“Nothing yet, O queen,” admitted Mala, showing a bit of stress.  “I fear Princess Diana still battles the hordes of Apokolips in America.  We have had no response from our mental radio messages to our sister Earth.  As for the mortal Amazons, our communications links are down.”

“Then we stand alone,” said Hippolyta, shifting her great golden shield on her arm.

“Perhaps,” allowed Mala.  Some Amazons had fallen to wounding.  No fatalaties had occurred, so far.  But both of them sensed that, with the next charge, the Valkyries would be out for blood indeed.

“We will give good account of ourselves, Sister Mala,” promised Hippolyta.  “Gerda and her armored bitches will not pass this sunset unscathed.”

“Then you authorize deadly combat?”

“If we must,” said Hippolyta.  “I can see no other way.”

Mala gave a signal to a flag girl nearby.  The Amazon ran up a black flag and displayed it prominently.  All the assemblage knew what it meant: fight to the death, and sell your lives dearly.
So this, thought Hippolyte, was how it ended.  After all those millenia of staying apart from Man’s World...but was that such a wise course, after all?  For if they had made alliances, the Amazons might not stand alone in their time of need...the champions of Aphrodite faced the hordes of an alien god.  Women like themselves, but dedicated to destruction.

Riding a flying horse, Gerda, queen of the Valkyries, lifted a golden megaphone to her mouth.  “Will you yield, Hippolyta?  Or shall we charge?”

The Amazon queen opened her mouth.  The next words she would say would signal the final bloodletting.  The women who stood beside her would be hard-pressed.  Victory might not be beyond grasp, but it was unlikely.  And it was certain that some of her sisterhood would die.

Then, a noise.  No, two noises compounded.  Both of them somewhat similar.

“My queen,” said Mala.

“Be still, Mala,” directed Hippolyta.

Even Gerda and her coterie were surprised.  The noise was coming from behind them.  It seemed to be the sound of two great jet engines, coming near at devastating speed.  Yet, as the Valkyries and villainesses turned, they could see nothing.

That is, until they saw the glint of the sun off the transparent hulls of two planes, and the women who piloted them, clad in red, white, and blue.

But they were only the advance guard.  Behind them a great warp in space was torn, and through it streamed a host of armored women, of two armies.  Hippolyta recognized them at once, and her heart leaped at the sight of them.

The most numerous were the Amazons of Earth-Two, the mighty sisterhood who had produced the earlier Wonder Woman of their world.  Leading them, in full armor, was the black-haired Hippolyta who was the Amazon queen’s sister-self, and the Mala of their world, along with Paula and Gerda Von Gunther, the mortal women who had become Amazons.

But alongside them came the mortal Amazon army of South America in Earth-One.  So Diana had managed to contact them, after all!  And now, for the first time in centuries, they had come to fight beside their immortal sisters.  For the first time, the breach was healed.

The Robot Planes of both Wonder Women came nearer, and from them leaped two other heroines.  One of them, in gold and red, fell expertly and with both fists outstretched, slamming hard into the jaw of Gerda and flatly knocking her off her winged horse.  The both of them crashed to the ground of Paradise Island, but the Amazon girl bounced up and, in a moment, regained her feet in front of Hippolyte and saluted.  “Amazon Fury reporting for duty, Ma’am.  Just got here from Earth-Two.  Are we late?”

The second heroine to “drop in”, a powerful black woman in a one-piece outfit, was known to Hippolyte all too well.  She had begun existence as a child carven by the Amazon queen, just like Diana, and given life by Aphrodite, also like her.  Of late, she had based herself in Africa.  But now she, too, had come to aid her Amazon sisters.  She was every bit as powerful as Diana.

Like Fury, the black Amazon drew a bead on an adversary, this one being Lya, the daughter of the Duke of Deception, and knocked her off her borrowed steed.  She landed on the island’s soil carrying her unconscious burden in her arms.

“Greetings, Queen Mother,” said Nubia.  “Glad you didn’t finish the battle before I got here.”

Circe, circling above on one of the winged horses, snarled and lifted both her arms.  This operation stood in grave danger of being gummed up.  It was in need of some serious magic, the kind that could drop these Amazon imbeciles in their tracks.  She sent her mind down twisted paths of logic, began a series of gestures, and started a complex chant.

She didn’t get very far with it before a golden lasso encircled her arms and yanked her up and off of the horse, and her chant ended in a cry of pain.

Through the speaker of the Robot Plane, Wonder Woman of Earth-One said, “Hola, mother!  Sorry I’m late.  It took a while to get everybody together.”

“And now, Valkyries,” said the Wonder Woman of Earth-Two through her own plane’s speaker, “about our unfinished business—we’re ready if you are.”

Hippolyta turned to her flag girl.  “Strike it,” she ordered.  Obediently, the girl switched the flag of black for a flag of white.

Now the Valkyries found themselves sandwiched between two armies of Amazons, and suddenly things didn’t seem so rosy after all.

The queen of the Earth-One Amazons caught the eye of her counterpart and held up her fist in affirmation.  The Earth-Two Hippolyta did the same.  A second later, both of them echoed the same order:

“ATTACK!”

Dr. Cyber, her face hidden by a metal mask, groaned.  “Oh, hell,” she said.  “I thought this was going to be a mop-up job.”

 -S-

The trick with tearing apart the firepits of Apokolips was making sure the things didn’t threaten any lives when they did it.  A delicate task, requiring a huge amount of power.  But Superman and Supergirl were up to it.

The huge nuclear waste pits were miles across, easily visible from space.  They provided power for Apokolips and served as dumps for trash of all kinds as well.  The radioactive material was held in force fields that served as transmitters of energy to stations buried far underground, and then pumped to all parts of the pitted globe.

Thus, the Kryptonian duo had to plunge through the noxious, blinding, horrifically hot and deadly mass of atomic trash, smash through force fields which were never intended to hold back beings on their power level, and emerge in the control rooms.  The Apokoliptic on duty wasn’t prepared for the sight of two blue-clad humans smashing through the retaining wall.  He had weapons, he had communications devices, and the alarm was going off to beat the proverbial band.  For all that, he couldn’t move or speak.  He just stood there and gaped.

“Out,” said Superman, pointing, his body dripping radiant trash.

The attendant tried to form words.  Other guards came rushing in, saw the scene, and stopped in their tracks.

“Get out!” said Supergirl, and punctuated it with a gust of super-breath that blew the unlucky staff out the door and down the hall.  When they could pick themselves up again, they ran.

Over the din of the alarms and flashing lights, Superman said, “Where’s the force-field controls?”

Kara was already at them, twirling dials.  “There.  I’ve compensated for the holes we knocked in it.  The stuff won’t get out.”

“Good.  And the power transmitter?”

“Here.”  She held up her hand over part of a board, and brought it down in a klurkor stroke.  Energy spattered and sparked, and Kal had to put out a fire with his own super-breath.

“Guess that settles it,” he said.  “We’ve got 49 more of these to go.”

“Now that we’ve learned how, it ought to go faster,” opined Kara.  “Ready?”

“Yep.  Let’s get a move on.”

The two of them held their hands clasped over their heads and began twirling to make themselves into human drills.  Then they sprang upward, crashing through the ceiling, boring through reinforced walls and solid rock to reach the surface.  It took them somewhat less than a second.  They emerged on an Apokolips street, almost causing a land-car wreck before they headed upward.  At the speed they were making, even the para-demons had no chance to catch them.

The power started going out in that sector of Apokolips.

Over and over again, the Duo of Steel plunged into the fire-pits.  Over and over again, they demolished the power transmitter mechanisms.  In their wake, the world of Darkseid began grinding to a halt.

The hospitals and other emergency-threatened locales had their own generators, but the power of Apokolips was much impaired.  It took them half an hour to accomplish the task.  From above, a viewer in space would have seen little changed.  The great pits still seethed with deadly energy.  But if he came a little closer, he might have seen the lights in the great cities going out.

One pit was left unassaulted.  That was the one from which Mongul was still trying to extricate himself.  The Kryptonian pair had decided not to press their luck where he was concerned.

Finally, Superman and Supergirl soared up from the last wrecked pit and hovered in the ionosphere.  “I’ll do you, then you do me,” suggested Kal.

“That’s fine by me, Kal,” said Supergirl.  By this time, they were more radioactive than refined plutonium.  Kara rotated before her cousin as twin bolts of heat blasted from his eyes.  He went over her costumed form with the precision of a laser scanner, burning the malignant material from her body and costume.  She held up her cape so he could get the back of her shirt.  “Ummm,” she mused.  “Feels good, like a heat massage.”

“Don’t you ever take things seriously, Kara?” asked Kal.  “Okay, I don’t see any wavelengths coming off of you that we can’t handle.  It’s my turn.”

Supergirl gave Kal the heat-vision treatment as he turned around before her, going up and down his frame with her blazing eyes.  “I take lots of things seriously, Kal,” she said.  “That’s why I have to joke about them.  If I had to worry too much about the things that rest in these two little dishpan hands, I might not be able to function.”

“You function exceptionally well,” he said.  “And your hands are not dishpanned, Karaish.  I know.  I checked them out when I was going over them.”

She smiled wryly.  “You and mom.  She always used to worry about me taking up smoking, even though it couldn’t hurt me.  She was always checking my hands for tobacco stains.  As if!  Disgusting habit.”

“So what disgusting habits did you have?”

“Chewing gum.”

“Okay.”

“Hold up your feet, Kal,” she said.  Obligingly, Superman presented his soles to her, and she scoured the bottom of his boots with the power of her eyes.  “Okay, I’d say that’s got it.”

“We need to get back to Darkseid’s fortress,” said Kal.  “The battle’s still going on there.  And we need to pick up Orion.”

“All right,” she said, bending her head down towards the world below.  “Just let me make a cursory exam here.  Want to make sure that nobody’s life is threatened by what we just did.”

She stiffened.

An instant later, she said, “Kal, go on ahead.  I’ll catch up as soon as I can.  Promise.”

“Kara, what?”

“Just go!”

She was already hurtling downward as she said it.  He used his super-vision and picked out the area in which she’d most likely land.  Kal’s eyes narrowed for a moment, then he decided that the situation would be in good hands with his cousin on duty.  A second later, he sped away towards the capital city of Apokolips.

Supergirl was headed for a hospital in the city below.  Most such places did have their emergency generators going, and this one had, as well.  But the strain they had put on it was too much, and the generator burned out.  That in the middle of an operation on one of Darkseid’s soldiers.

She didn’t bother with signing in.  She just knocked the guards at the door away on her way in.  Then she flew to the basement room in which the generator was located, and skidded to a halt on the floor, unconcerned with the looks she was getting from the technos trying to bring the thing up to speed.

“Where’s the problem?” she asked.

“Great Darkseid!” swore one of the uniformed men, not sure how he should respond.

“How can we get this thing back up?” she asked.  “Don’t have time to fight you.  Right now, I’m on your side?”

The three men in attendance exchanged glances, then one said, “The power core’s down.  Needs recharging.”

“Show it to me,” she said.  “Quickly.”

Another one held up a schematic and pointed its location out to her.  “We’ve got the thing opened, but you’ll need protective clothes.”

“Don’t worry about it,” she said, and, reaching into the guts of the generator, deftly disconnected the power core and held it in her hands.  An instant later, her hands were moving so quickly over it that none of the three could quite see them.  She backed up her manipulations with bolts of heat-vision, working feverishly.

Three seconds later, she replaced the component and reconnected it.  “Turn it on,” she said.  As they did, she prayed to Rao.

The track lighting in the ceiling came back on.  The third man there swore, softly.  “Praise the Darkness.  And thank you, miss.  Are you from the Great One himself?”

His supervisor looked at him with terrific contempt.  “Rojath, you are so uninformed I’m surprised you can tell a diode from a dipstick.  I’ll tell you who she is later.  But, off the record, miss, thank you.”

“You’re welcome,” she said.  “Keep it working.  I’ve got something to do before I leave.”  She flew out of the room and down the halls and up the stairs, upsetting doctors, nurses, and patients alike.  One of the guards hit an alarm.  She really didn’t care.

Kara stopped long enough to snatch a sterile smock before she burst into the operating room.  Her super-hearing was turned on enough for her to catch the ebbing beat of the heart of the soldier on the table, his chest open to the surgeons and nurses in attendance.

“Who in the name of the Pits are you?” demanded the surgeon in charge.

“Never mind that,” she said.  “I can help.”

She plunged her hand into the gore of the Apokoliptic’s chest and performed a heart massage with infinite care and skill, the way she had learned ages ago from Kal and a doctor who taught her emergency therapy.  She did not stop until the heart’s beating became strong enough and the machines which sustained him came back to full force.  Then she bent to the man’s unconscious mouth and reinflated his lungs with her super-breath.  He was still under anaesthesia, but now he had a fighting chance.

Supergirl broke her kiss of life and looked up at the astonished medics.  “Can you take it from here?”

“Yes,” said a doctor.  “Yes, of course.  But who...why...”

“That’s not important,” she said.  “Just bring him through.  Thanks, and farewell.”  Still in the sterile gown, Supergirl left the floor, assumed a position parallel to it, and flew back through the operating room doors.

An instant later, the doctors were back at work.

The patient had stabilized nicely, and they were confident of bringing him out safely.  One surgeon looked up at the other.  “You really want to tell him about this, when he wakes up?  Who he owes his life to?”

“You really want to tell the administrator, and have him tell the authorities, and both of us wind up in a mobile med unit on the New Genesis front?”

“No,” said the other.  “Nothing happened here tonight out of the ordinary.”

“Not a thing.  Just a little power failure.  Tie this off, will you?”

 -S-

Mantis and his forces had claimed Metropolis and a good portion of the surrounding state.  Most of the populance had been evacuated, but the heroes of Earth-One were stymied by the power of the energy parasite and his forces.  Whatever they threw at him, he could absorb and throw back.  Thus, the defenders were impelled to fall back to a defensive position.  They fought many skirmishes with the outer ring of super-villains, mostly to a draw.

The Outsiders wondered how long it would be before Gotham City fell, and fought like hell against the possibility of that happening.  So did the remainder of the JLA and the New Titans.  But with Superman, Supergirl, Wonder Woman, and Green Lantern gone, things weren’t going well for the defenders.

Team Metropolis, an ad hoc team consisting of the Guardian, the Thorn (at nighttime), Steel, Vixen, the Black Orchid, Elastic Lad, Blue Devil, and Insect Queen, were doing their valiant best to try and liberate their hometown, but the Secret Society of Super-Villains had beaten them back.  Now a new foeman appeared, high above the fray, familiar to all of them.  He was one of Superman’s deadliest foes, and it didn’t matter that he wore a cowboy outfit and rode a winged horse.

“Kinda obligin’ of you all to group together like this,” announced Terra-Man in his Texan drawl.  “Haven’t had a chance t’do much killin’ lately.  You may not be the Big S, but you’ll do till he hits town.”

“Big talk, for a guy who rides something off a Mobil billboard,” said Blue Devil.  “You haven’t nailed us yet.  And considering your win-loss record, I doubt you’ll manage it even now.”

“Better ease up, Dan,” allowed Steel.  “That guy’s weapons only look antique.  They’re alien-made.  He could take out a city block with those guns of his.”

Lana Lang, in her yellow eye-mask and costume, shivered.  “This isn’t right, Jimmy.  By all rights, we should be reporting this stuff, not taking part in it.”

Elastic Lad stretched his fists out a full five feet from his elbows.  “I’ve had to duke it out with bad guys about as often as I reported on ‘em, Lana.  Lots of times, Superman wasn’t there until I’d already mixed it up.  If we have to die for the city, this is the way to do it.  And if we don’t, we’ll be on the spot for the story of our lives.”

“On the spot is right,” said Lana.  She rubbed the ring an alien had given her as a girl, and great gauzy wings sprang from her back.  Her lower section turned into that of a great bumblebee, though her chest, head, and arms were still that of a human woman.  “It’s been a long time since I’ve done this.  Wish me luck.”

“Luck in spades, honey,” said Jimmy as he began stretching up towards Terra-Man.

“Oh, great,” said the Guardian.  “Those two are pushing it.  Orchid, take Steel upstairs!”

“As you wish, Guardian,” said the mysterious masked woman in purple.  She grabbed Steel, late of the Justice League, by the armpits and hauled him skyward, intending to hurl him as a living missle at Terra-Man.  The Thorn looked on, and burned with anger at not being able to participate...yet.  Vixen began scrabbling up the side of a building, hoping she could manage to launch herself at their sky-riding foe, and doubly hoping he didn’t move out of the way when she did.

For his part, Terra-Man smiled.  He also aimed his gun.  It was loaded with the very bullets Steel had described, and any one of them had the power to blast all eight of his foes into oblivion.  “S’long, hombres ‘n’ senoritas,” he said.  “Just bidness.  Nothin’ personal.”

Another sound of wings.

“Hold, villain!”

The voice that cried out the challenge came from behind.  It was unfamiliar to Terra-Man, and to the heroes who faced him.  But, by the neon and streetlights, all present were able to make out the figure of another man riding another winged horse.  This one wore golden armor with a red tunic, and bore a mighty sword in his strong right hand.

Terra-Man wheeled his winged horse and got off a shot.

The knight caught the bullet on his blade and knocked it aside.  It hit a street, blew a big hole in the asphalt and damaged some cars, but caused no injury.

The space outlaw had never seen anybody do something like that.

“Dunno who you are, sidewinder, but you’re crowdin’ my turf!”   Terra-Man spurred his aerial steed forward.  The knight was doing the same with his horse.  Both were set for a head-on collision, and Terra-Man was aiming both his guns.

But the knight swerved, coming up beside Terra’s winged mount, and the flat of his blade came around in a powerful sweep, slamming the spaceman from the Old West right across the face.  His hat went flying, and so did one of his guns.  Terra tried to rally, barely managed to hold onto his reins, and found himself hard-put to keep from slipping out of his saddle.

To Steel and the rest, it looked like jousting out of an old King Arthur movie.  “Is that...” Steel began, still in Black Orchid’s grip.

“I have no idea who he is,” said the Orchid.  “But he’s doing well.”

Terra-Man grasped for his tobacco pouch and threw it.  It contained stuff that was far deadlier than tobacco, substances which had taken down Superman himself.  Steel saw it.  “Throw me!” he shouted.

The Black Orchid obliged.

His metal-reinforced hands reached out on the fly.  Steel grabbed the pounch, brought it close towards his body, covered it with both hands, and rolled into a ball for impact when he fell.  He didn’t fall very far.  He heard a sound similar to a small jet engine, and felt somebody grabbing his left ankle and pulling him upward.

Steel craned his neck up to look.  Blue Devil had him by one hand.  The other one was grasping his trident, from the back of which a jet was keeping them aloft.

“Do I look ridiculous?” asked Steel.

“Don’t worry about it,” said Dan Cassidy.

Terra-Man tried to unleash his other gun at the knight, but the Black Orchid, freed of Steel’s burden, flew forward and smashed a blow across his face.  He dropped the gun, which, with a little finesse, the Guardian caught before it hit the street.  She was off and away before the knight wheeled and made his demand of Terra.  “Surrender, brigand, or face the justice of the land!”

“You dumb ranny, I been avoidin’ justice for over a hundred years!” snarled Terra, wincing at his bruises.  He began to reach under his horse’s saddle for another weapon he had concealed there, and hoped he could get it in time to use it.

He couldn’t.

The knight’s horse smashed into the side of his own cayuse and darned near knocked it out of the sky.  The knight himself grabbed the reins of Terra’s horse in one hand to keep him under control.  Terra-Man swore, brought up a gloved hand, and hoped that the alien metal he had under it would be enough to take this tin-plated idiot out.

The good right hand of the knight shot out, slammed five knuckles into the mustached man’s chin, and sent him to the mental equivalent of Boot Hill.  He had to grab Terra-Man by the shirtfront to keep him from falling.  Within a very few minutes, he and his horse had guided their two foes back to a safe landing on the ground.

The Guardian and his team surrounded the two horses, the hero, and the fallen outlaw.  Insect Queen, flitting above, humphed.  “Oh, well, at least I didn’t have to sting anybody,” she said.

“Bethink yourself not a noncombatant, milady,” said the knight.  “Not every soldier sees action in every battle, but every one of them be a soldier, for all that.”

“Very poetic,” said Jimmy Olsen.  “But now that you’ve done our work for us, Prince Valiant, clue us in.  Who are you?”

He smiled, and partially unsheathed his sword.  “Call me Sir Justin, for such was I known in King Arthur’s court.  By chance I was frozen for centuries, on a world they tell me you call the Second Earth.  By further chance I was freed over forty years ago, to do battle in your modern world.  I am a member of those who were called the Seven Soldiers of Victory, who are now named the Law’s Legionnaires.  By the name the men of this century have given me...I am the Shining Knight.”

The Blue Devil and Steel landed in time to catch the end of Sir Justin’s speech.  “Son of a gun, man,” said the horned hero.  “You ever consider doing stunt work in the movies?  You’d be a natural.  That is, if you brought the horse.”

“Silence, Dan,” said the Thorn, impatiently.  “We are grateful for your help, Sir Justin.  Will you stay and aid us in the battle to come?”

The Shining Knight looked at Terra-Man, laid out peacefully on the sidewalk, and then towards the towers of Metropolis, where Mantis held rule.

“As long as there is war to be waged,” he said, “there is no choice but one.  And God help us in our battle.”

“Amen,” said the Guardian, without irony.

 -B-

Across the skies of Apokolips, visible on the side that held night, a comet or something like it streaked.

Only a being with telescopic vision could see that it was composed of two parts: Darkseid and Highfather, both holding fast to the staff between them, both battering away at each other with energies that could cause untold devastation, were they groundborne.  The two of them were in suborbital space, propelled by their contradicting power, and neither one of them took notice.

Both stared in each other’s face with undisguised hatred.  Highfather saw the being who had plotted and abetted his wife’s murder, many years ago.  Darkseid saw the one Celestial who, above all, had blocked his plans for conquest time after time.

Some years back, Darkseid had attacked Izaya, brutalized him, left him almost for dead.  But Izaya had been a pacifist then.  Now, he had tempered his philosophy.  When he had to be, Izaya was a warrior anew.

And he was a warrior most formidable.

But so was Darkseid.

The powers of Alpha and Omega contended, as the two of them blasted a trail through the sky, barely held near the planet’s atmosphere by what gravity could reach them.  There was no directing their flight, no conscious attempt to bring themselves upward or downward, north, south, east, or west.  They simply circled the globe, hurled their might at one another, and dared each other to be the first one to yield.

From the looks of things, that might not happen for ages.

Below, the men of Apokolips looked on the blazing streak, and wondered.

Highfather and Darkseid fought on.

 -S-

Metron, Jezebelle, and Bug were at a standoff.  Neither the weapons of the Mobius Chair, Jezebelle’s eye-blasts, or Bug’s agility were able to make much headway against the five Gravi-Guards.  The things were like five miniature mountains.  They didn’t move fast, but where they stood, they were virtually immovable.  And two of them had their hands on Orion’s body, pinning it down.

The four Female Furies, Stompa, Lashina, Mad Harriet, and Bernadeth, had tried to help.  But Granny Goodness had turned up on a flying war-scooter, escorted by a host of her prize pupils from her military academy, and they had to break off and fight them.  The women were badly outnumbered, and it was all they could do to hold their own.

The warrior harridan cackled in glee as a soldier’s blow got through to Bernadeth, an instant before she killed him with her Fahrenknife.  “Show them the skills Granny taught you, dearie, but we’ve got the numbers.  Now you’ll learn what it means to turn against Granny in her time of need, oh, yes you will!  Better you’d fallen into the hands of Desaad!”

Stompa lashed out with her great feet against several of Darkseid’s troopers, smashing them back.  “Will you shut up, Granny?  I never could stand that cackle of yours, even on the obstacle course!”

Granny responded by pointing her baton at Stompa and unleashing a nerve-beam that sent the Fury into a painful, involuntary buck-and-wing.  Stompa bumped against a wall and slid down it, exhausted.

“One doesn’t speak out of turn to Granny, my darlings,” she rasped.  “And now, my pets, if you’d be so good as to kill them?”

There was a loud booming sound from behind.  Granny whirled on her flying platform to see what was incoming.

Big Barda and Mr. Miracle tumbled out of the end of a Boom Tube.  Neither one of them looked like they were there for afternoon tea.

Barda leaped from the edge of the Tube and landed square on Granny, taking her down, overturning the platform, and dumping both of them twenty feet to the ground.  They hit hard.  Both women were tough, more powerful than human women by a magnitude, and Granny’s elderly appearance belied her strength.  But Barda was still the strongest woman Granny had ever encountered, and she maintained her edge as a warrior.  The villainess tried to get to a positronic knife and gut her foe with it, but Barda grabbed Granny’s wrist, bent her hand backward into a sprain, and got the both of them on their feet.

Granny, now a spitting cat of a woman, grasped for Barda’s face, trying to tear her eyes out.

“Granny,” muttered Barda, “that’s not nice.”

She drew back a fist and let it fly.

A few more such punches rendered the matriarch of Darkseid’s troops beyond any command capacity that day.

Mr. Miracle, two flight-discs attached to his feet, soared over the scene.  “Metron,” he called out.  “Is Himon with you?”

“Scott Free!” exclaimed Bug.  “I knew he’d make it in, somehow.”

Metron, hovering over the ground but at a safe distance from the Gravi-Guards, said, “Greetings, Scott Free.  Your mentor came with us, but I have not seen him of late.”

“Mr. Miracle,” Jezebelle called up.  “We think Orion’s still alive, but we haven’t been able to get at him.”

The lead Gravi-Guard sneered.  “Oh, you can get to him, sure enough.  Just come within range of us, and we’ll pile your body parts on top of him!”

Above the din of battle, a new roar was heard, like the sound of a mighty body flying at hyper-speed.  It drew the attention of most of the combatants in the area, and a few of them even had time to look before a blue-clad, red-caped form came down from the skies like a thunderbolt, crashed knuckles into one of the Gravi-Guards, and soared back upward again.

“Su–“ began Mr. Miracle, barely able to track his progress.

The man from Krypton blasted down two more times and felled two more Gravi-Guards before the fourth and fifth grabbed him, exerted their gravity-warping powers to compensate for his strength, and piled on him, beginning to crush him.  Metron and Jezebelle blasted away at them, but to no avail.

But, instead of resisting, Superman went with the flow, forcing his body under the ground.  One of the Gravi-Guards came with him, still pushing him downward with the force of Krypton’s gravity.  Then, unexpectedly, the Man of Steel bored laterally through the ground, dislodging his foe.  A quick turn upward and he broke ground outside the circle of Gravi-Guards, emerging from his earthen prison.

Orion was still within the Gravi-Guards’ keep, and two of the Guards were still conscious.

“Got any ideas, Scott?” asked Superman.

Mr. Miracle, hovering above the fray, said, “I’m thinking.”

An instant before everyone else heard the noise of rushing wind, Superman cocked his head and said, “Hold on.  Supergirl’s coming.”

The Girl of Steel soared in from the Southwest, and wasted no time in greetings.  She made a straight line from above for the circle of Guards.  “Kara, no!” Superman yelled, but there was no stopping her.

By the time the words had left his lips, she had Orion’s ankle firmly in hand.  But one of the Guardsmen held him by the neck, and she knew that to try and wrest him away would tear his body apart.

Her super-hearing told her that Orion was still alive, though his heartbeat was weaker than normal.  With a look of rage on her face, Supergirl unleashed a smash at the Gravi-Guard’s face.  He toppled like a falling redwood.

But two more had since revived from Superman’s assault, and they lay hands on her and were bearing her downward.  Supergirl blasted away at them with her heat vision, strove to knee and punch them, but was unable to do much damage.

With a cry of anger, Superman leaped into their midst.  He forced two of the Guards apart and, with great effort, pried one of them away from Kara.  But the Gravi-Guards were overwhelming them both, and Orion was still their prisoner as well.

“Crush them!” rasped the lead Guardsmen.  “Crush them in the name of Darkseid!”

The four Guards who were still conscious grasped them on all sides, pressing them in a human wedge.  This time, there would be no boring through the ground to escape them.  Superman and Supergirl were caught chest to chest.  They looked at each other, and each caught the sight of desperation in the other’s eyes.

The Gravi-Guards exerted their powers and began to crush the Kryptonians within the press of their bodies.

Metron was unloading some of the heaviest explosives in his Chair on them, to no avail.  Jezebelle and even Bug attacked, but it was like attacking a skyscraper with a paper sword.  The Kryptonians were facing death, and none appeared able to save them.

Then a new voice was heard.  “Scott, the sonics!  Join your Mother Box with mine!”

The man on the flying discs looked, and saw a familiar figure throwing off the uniform of an Apokolips soldier.  The mentor who had taught him every skill he had at the art of escape.

The new god called Himon.

Mr. Miracle looked upon his white-haired teacher, comprehended what he requested, and activated the Mother Box powers that were now an integral part of him.  They reached out to the small Box Himon carried on his person, and formed a circuit.  Then both Boxes directed a certain power of theirs against the Gravi-Guards.

It was difficult to hurt the Guardsmen with physical force.  But even they could fall prey to the sonic bursts that assaulted their ears, interrupted their balance senses, and threatened to make them reel and fall down.

Superman and Supergirl felt a slight lessening of pressure.  “Kal,” Kara gasped.  “What’s happening?”

“Don’t use your hearing power,” Kal said, after taking in a great breath of air.  “Push against me.”

“Hold...fast!” demanded the lead Guard.  “Grasp hands.  Do not slacken!  These two, at least, we shall destroy.”  Trying not to stagger, the foursome managed to keep their ring intact, and they were all still overshadowing Orion’s body.  But, as the sound blasts from Himon’s and Mr. Miracle’s Mother Boxes intensified, the red-skinned quartet began to reel like a party of drunks.

Not far away, another unit stepped cautiously through a break in Darkseid’s fortress wall.  The Losers’ League, Tigra in their midst, took in the sight.  “Zipsville,” said Snapper, in a low voice. “That’s Superman and Supergirl those nasties are mashing.”

“Gravi-Guards,” said Tigra, unable to see Orion through the mass of bodies.  “They control the flow of gravity within their reach.”

“Suppose I could score a split with the old bowling ball here?” asked the Human Cannonball, touching his helmet.

“Anything that’s too powerful for Superman, Chase, is too powerful for you,” judged Chris Chance.  “But we can’t stand by and let them die.”

“Maybe we won’t have to,” said Mal Duncan, turning to Mind-Grabber Kid.  “Think you can use the Force, my son?”

Lucian glared at his teammate.  “If you don’t cut out those Star Wars jokes, Duncan, I’ll turn your mind inside out one of these days.   But it’s worth a try.”

“Do it, Luch,” directed Snapper.  “Blitz their brains.”

The helmeted youth placed his fingers at the side of his head and concentrated.

The four Gravi-Guards, trying hard to keep their footing and to resist the counterpressure of the Duo of Steel, suddenly felt a new presence in their minds.

<RELEASE THEM.>

“What is...happening?” croaked one of the Guardsmen.

“Pay it no mind!” grated their leader.  “Crush them, before...before...”

<RELEASE THEM.  YOU HAVE NO CHOICE.>

“Captain, I...I...” said a third Gravi-Guard.

“Keep pressing, or you’ll be the next to die!”

<RELEASE THEM.  BY ORDER OF DARKSEID.>

“I...the Dark Lord is commanding...I have to let go...”

“DAMN you!  Someone is playing tricks with your mind!  Hold fast, Enash, or...”

The Gravi-Guard let go and fell back.  He lay on the ground like a beached fish.  The three who were left tried to join hands to seal the gap he had left, but Superman twisted his body as much as he could to prevent it.

“Pour it on, Lucian,” said Snapper.  “It’s working.”

Supergirl gritted her teeth, looked into Kal’s eyes with grim satisfaction, and kept pressing against his chest with her hands, as he pressed against her shoulders with his.  It hurt...but they were holding their own.

<DARKSEID ORDERS YOU TO RELEASE YOUR CAPTIVES.>

“I...I must obey,” said another Gravi-Guard.  “It is the will of Darkseid.”

“I will destroy you for this!” the lead Guard promised.  For another three seconds, the circle held.

Then the third Guardsman fell back, and the other two tottered under the impact of the mental barrage and the sonics.  And with that, Superman and Supergirl gave their utmost, shoving against each other with a force that could move a planet out of its orbit.

The two of them broke free with a shout of triumph, and flew above the fray.  The last pair of Gravi-Guards went down on their backs.  Before any one of the four could manage to try and regain their footing, Himon darted forward, grabbed Orion by the legs, and started to drag him from their circle.

Mr. Miracle began to fly towards him on his foot-discs.  He was smiling.  “Old-timer,” he said, “looks like we’ve cheated the Racer again!”

That was when he saw another presence step out from the shelter of Darkseid’s fortress wall.  A person he had encountered in times past, and knew as one of the Dark Lord’s deadliest attendants.

Kanto, Darkseid’s personal assassin.

He had a weapon, and it was aimed at Himon’s back.

“NO!”

He pried the flying disc from his right foot and had it in hand to throw even as Kanto pulled the trigger.

For his part, Himon was perplexed.  A moment prior, he had been hauling the unconscious form of Orion from the circle of Gravi-Guards.  Then there was a sudden burning feeling on his back.

Simultaneously, he heard the sound of rushing wind from above and behind him.  Was the Superman coming for him, to fly him away?

He turned and saw who it was.  It was neither Superman nor Supergirl.

The figure that came for him was black, dressed in colorful armor, and borne across the air on skis.

Himon had time to say “Oh,” before the Racer took him in his arms and bore him away.

“Is this all there is?”, he asked, as he saw the heavens opening before them.

“Yes,” said the Racer.  “For you.”

“What about Scott?  And Orion?”

“Take no heed of them,” replied his bearer.  “For you, the race is run.”

And before they left the mortal plane, Himon was almost certain he heard Scott Free screaming his name.

 -S-

Snapper Carr barely knew what he was doing.  All he knew was that he had seen an old man cut down by somebody with a strange gun, while dragging a terribly wounded man out of the circle of Guardsmen.  He heard somebody screaming a name, “Hyman,” or something like that.  He also heard somebody calling the killer something in language that he would never have used at the Justice League meeting table.

He realized the second screamer was himself.  And he was running full tilt boogie at the assassin, who, disdaining the use of his blaster, was holding a throwing knife.

Then a blue-clad woman interposed herself between Snapper and Kanto and shattered the weapon on her chest.  Snapper stumbled against her and almost broke his nose.

“Put it down,” she said to Kanto, in a deadly tone.  “Put everything you have down.”

Superman had already landed and was holding Orion’s body.  “Do as she says, or you’re toast,” he warned.

“Sorry, I have my orders,” said Kanto.  “And my protection.”

His left hand, already in his pocket, aimed a Kryptonite beamer of Darkseid’s own design at them.  He could drop the both of them without taking it out of his pocket, and intended to.

But before it could be triggered, or before the Kryptonians’ heat vision could be brought into play, a pair of small but effective guided missles shrieked towards him and contacted him right in the chest.  The explosion occurred before he had time to widen his eyes.

Superman whirled to take the impact on his back, shielding Orion from its fury.  Kara stood, unharmed by the blast, and looked on its aftermath.  She had to make a supreme effort not to throw up. There wasn’t enough left of Kanto even to bury.

Metron, hovering above them, contemplated the scene.  The ports on his Mobius Chair from which the missles had come were still smoking.

“To those who offer us death,” he pronounced, “death will be given.”

Mr. Miracle and Big Barda were already on the scene.  Scott clutched Himon’s body, his gloves reddening as he embraced his fallen mentor, and cried in great, harrowing sobs.  Barda covered the both of them, her warclub at the ready, daring any of the enemy to strike.   No one took the dare.

“Oh, Source,” said Jezebelle, looking upon it.  “Oh, great Source.”

“The Source had nothing to do with this,” said Forager, through his teeth.  “Darkseid did.”

Tigra broke from the Losers’ League and ran towards Superman and Orion.  She grasped the New God’s insensate form with both her arms and wept.  “My son.  Oh, gods, my son.  What have they done to you?  What has Darkseid done?”

“He’s alive, ma’am,” said Superman.  “And we’re going to keep him that way.”

Supergirl rushed up to them.  “Let’s get him back to New Genesis.  If there’s a way of keeping him alive, it’s bound to be there.”

But, as the two of them spoke, both heard another sound from the skies.  It was a day for such noises, as if the lot of them were standing in World War II-era London.  That was an appropriate comparison, as the sound was something like that of a falling buzz bomb.

Metron and company saw what looked like a falling meteor.  Superman and Supergirl trained their telescopic vision on it.

“It’s them,” she said.  “Highfather and–“

“Don’t get near them,” said Superman.  “The energies could destroy us.”

Someone, from the direction of the fortress, cried, “Kara!”

She recognized the voice.  “Dev!” she exclaimed, and sped forward towards the source of his voice.

What walls were still standing between her and Dev went down in her passage.  She burst through a final one, and saw Dev in what remained of his Apokolips robes.  His regular uniform was torn beneath it, and he was showing some bruises and cuts as well.

At his feet lay an unconscious Gravi-Guard.  “Hello, princess,” he said, smiling with an effort. “Ran into a bit of difficulty.  This bloke here almost broke my neck.”

She hugged and kissed him before he could resist.  “Devian, if only you’d been with us.  But now, we’ve got to get Orion to New Genesis.  Come with me.”

“Did the kids and Tigra make it through all right?”

“You mean Snapper?  Yes, they’re safe.”

“Then we’ve got a lot of people to get offworld.  Give me a hand, Kara, I’m not moving any too quickly right now.”

“Uh, Dev...”, she said, looking upward.  Then she took hold of him, crashed through the roof, and got them outside a few seconds before a pair of blazing figures hit what was left of the fortress and blew the rest of it apart.

Superman, seeing the blast, flew about it at super-speed, making a circle about it, catching the impact and debris on his invulnerable body.  He winced as he felt the backwash from the Alpha and Omega powers of the two who had impacted, but he did not give way.  For her part, Supergirl herded their allies out of harm’s way.  The lot of them waited and wondered.

Then, as the blast dissipated its force, Superman broke off his circling, darted within, and came out carrying Highfather.  Izaya was battered, a bit seared, and definitely tired.  But he still clutched his staff, and he looked triumphant for all that.  Kal, somewhat weakened by the Alpha energy, set his burden down gently among the group of New Genesis allies.  Izaya looked out at them and blinked.

“Metron,” he said.  “Scott.  Jezebelle.  All of you.  Has the battle gone well?”  He looked at Tigra, who was kneeling, clutching Orion.  “Does my son yet live?”

“Never mind us,” said Lashina.  “What about you, Highfather?  And...”

From behind them, they heard one last wall fall.

Darkseid, glowing with black, maleficent power, staggered from the ruins of his keep.  His eyes were fixed on the lot of his foes.  He showed at least as much damage as Highfather.  But he was quite capable of dealing out an Omega Effect death.  And that, guessed the knowing among them, was just what he was preparing to do.

His eyes began to glow in a manner different from the aura that surrounded him.

Izaya raised his staff above his head and let white energy pour forth from it.

“Kal,” said Kara, still holding Dev’s hand.  Superman turned towards her as the Alpha Effect surrounded the lot of them, the Loser’s League, Metron’s band, Tigra, Orion, Mr. Miracle, Barda, and the Female Furies included.

Even as the Omega blasts reached for them, the invaders vanished in white light.

Darkseid stood stock-still for a long moment, not even taking notice of what his blasts destroyed in their path.  He stood in thought for a good long while.

There was a noise behind him.  Debris being dislodged and pitched away.  Someone had survived the destruction of his fortress.  Slowly, Darkseid turned, to see Kalibak pulling himself from the ruins.

“Father,” said Kalibak, brushing the stone from his person.  “Have they gone?  Have they taken him, already?”

Darkseid took his time before answering.

“Only his body,” he said.  “I have his mind.”

  (next chapter)

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