The Apokolips Agenda
Gorilla-City was a site of battle. Grodd had, for all intents and purposes, won.
The isolated African metropolis, guarded for thousands of years by the null-devices of hyper evolved apes, had a location known to only a few humans. The first of them to learn it in this era had been Barry Allen, the Flash, when he aided King Solovar against Grodd, the evil super-gorilla with the Force of Mind power. Time and again Grodd had struck, and time and again the Flash, or an occasional other hero such as Superman, had helped put him down.
This time, Grodd had help.
Over the low-slung spires of Gorilla-City towered a titan not ever seen there before, whom Grodd had enlisted as an incredible ally: Titano, the super-ape. He stood over 40 feet in height, with a strength that dwarfed a regiment of Solovar’s troops. Worse yet, his eyes blazed with the green of Kryptonite power.
In his youth, Titano had been Toto, a chimpanzee sent into space in a NASA program. Exposure to a radiation bath from a pair of colliding meteors, one of uranium and the other of green Kryptonite, had totally transformed him upon his return to Earth. He grew into a gargantua, and even Superman had seemed powerless to stop him. It took the trickery of Lois Lane to induce him to block his deadly vision with a pair of lead spectacles, after which Superman hurled him across the time-barrier into the prehistoric past.
But the skyscraper simian had encountered Superman and even Krypto several times after that, and had finally been brought forward to the present by the Atomic Skull, another one of the Man of Steel’s foes. Superman had taken Titano to the Planet of Giants after that battle, and there it was hoped he would remain.
Another of Grodd’s new allies had taken a hand to see that he didn’t.
Mr. Mind, the green, bespectacled worm genius who had bedeviled Captain Marvel in two eras, had been assigned to Grodd’s unit by Lex Luthor. It was he who designed a unit to transport Titano to Earth, where Grodd used his mind-force power to make the towering innocent his deadly tool.
Mind didn’t much care for Grodd, nor vice versa. But both of them put up with the other, for the sake of the operation. Thus far, they both had to admit that it had turned out well.
A number of other scions of the city or intelligent simians had come to Solovar’s aid, among them Bobo the Detective Chimp and Sam Simian. Right now they were holed up in a bunker with the ape ruler himself and a few chosen guards, trying to stave off Grodd’s last assault. The only comfort was that Monsieur Mallah, the genius-ape member of the Brotherhood of Evil, had already been captured before he could be recruited for the enemy side.
Mr. Mind, enconsced in a miniature flying-ship, buzzed aggravatingly near Grodd, as the two of them stood outside Solovar’s bunker. A squad of mind-controlled apes were blasting away at the door with a power-ram. Already Grodd was sporting a self-designed crown, and grinning with his arms folded.
“Ready to discuss surrender terms, Solovar?” asked Grodd.
“What terms?” came a voice from a speaker in the roof.
“Oh...you surrender, you sign over control of the city, I execute you. Like that.”
“Thank you. I will wait.”
Grodd shrugged. “Suit yourself.” The ram boomed against the metal door one more time. It wouldn’t hold for much longer.
The little green worm in the flying ship tilted his craft skyward, catching sight of something in his radar. Then he swept by Grodd’s ear. “Grodd,” he exclaimed, pushing his ship upward to indicate the direction. “Look at that!”
“What is it this time?” groused the primate of power. Then he saw it, too.
A team of invaders, flying through the air towards Titano at speeds approaching disbelief. He had never seen them before, but, from legends he had heard in the human world, he knew of their existence. But they had not been seen for years, even by Men.
No matter. They were here. And he had a weapon to use against them.
“Titano,” he raged, “at them!”
The ape colossus was already sweeping the air with his green vision, and it contacted the flying band in midflight. Their number was made up of a white dog, an orange cat with a streak of white lightning down its sides, a monkey, a white horse, and a strangely humanoid rabbit in a red, white, and yellow costume. The horse, cat, and rabbit tried to form a shield in front of their fellows, but Titano’s rays washed over them. The dog and monkey fell. Swiftly, the red-costumed rabbit flew down, grabbed each of them by the cape, and placed them safely on the ground.
Titano stood his ground, as ordered by Grodd, and slapped at the horse and cat with his mighty paws. It should have knocked them away like playing cards. Instead, he was rewarded with a feeling of anguish that caused him to howl in pain.
“Titano!” screeched Grodd in his native language. “Blast them again! Use your eyes!”
It did no good whatever. The great white horse and orange cat slammed like cannonshells into Titano’s chest, toppling him over, crashing him onto a plaza of vacated buildings. They regretted the damage, but super-hero fights tended to create such.
The big bunny was tending to the dog and monkey. “Both of you okay?” he said. “All right, I’ve got dibs on the worm.”
Then he took to the air and bulleted straight at Grodd and Mind.
The gorilla tyrant was quick on the uptake. He exerted all his Force of Mind powers and blasted away at the white-eared wonder, and managed to duck as his foe soared overhead. His flight path carried him straight into Solovar’s bunker and smashed in a portion of it. Grodd smiled, evilly. The super-rabbit looked a bit confused.
“He’s done our work for us,” said Grodd, still pouring on his mind-over-mind power to keep his foe off-balance. “Change of plans. Get Solovar out and shoot him.”
And then he gave a howl of pain.
From behind, two pairs of canine jaws were biting him. One belonged to a white dog, the other to a brown dog in a black mask.
It only broke Grodd’s concentration for a split-second, but that was enough for his costumed foe to rally, spring forward, and smash a white-gloved, four-fingered fist into his simian jaw.
The scourge of Gorilla-City dropped, and the two dogs barely had time enough to scamper out from under him before he fell like a lead sinker. His Force of Mind and consciousness went out at the same instant.
Titano and the apes of the rebel forces felt a weight lift from their brains. Mr. Mind decided it was time to retreat. He kicked his speedster up to full blast and prepared to make connections for a transporter beam back to Brainiac’s satellite.
Unfortunately, and to his great consternation, a great white maw opened up before him, two jaws crunched down on his craft, and he was held there, safe but immobile.
Worms of Punkus have their own varieties of curse words, and he used them all up on the horse that had swallowed him.
Solovar, still in his robes of office, stepped as majestically as possible through the bent opened door of his shelter. A small group of guards followed. He looked in wonder at the heroes who were assembled before him, at the fallen Grodd and Titano, and the ape-rebels who were regarding their weaponry. One of them said, “Excuse me, sir, but did we really use these?”
“You did,” said Solovar, gravely.
“Oh,” said the ape, in a small voice.
“But not of your own volition,” Solovar added.
The ape stood at ease. “Oh, thank you, sir!”
“Don’t thank me yet, there’ll be an inquest.” The ruler of Gorilla-City stepped forward, extending one hand to the rabbit, who shook it gratefully. He touched the head of the horse with the other hand, then passed the same benediction onto the three dogs and the cat, and ended with the monkey, who dressed in a blue and red costume. To the last, he gave his biggest smile. “Thank you, fellow primate,” he said. “Are you the leader of this band?”
A voice rang out in Solovar’s mind. <He can’t understand you,> it said. <But I can link us all up telepathically.>
<Oh,> thought Solovar. <That would be acceptable. Which one are you? And for that matter, who are you? Please accept my gratitude.>
<I’m the horse,> the thought came back. <My name is Comet. We’re the Legion of Super-Animals. We were told you needed some help. A wizard got word to Captain Bunny when he found out where this worm in my mouth had gone. So...here we are.>
“The wizard told me where to seek out this band, and they’re a good crew, for nonanthropomorphs,” said Captain Marvel Bunny. “I live on a world other than yours. But I’ve been here before, helping out the Marvel Family and your Superman.”
“Ah, Superman,” said Solovar, aloud and in his mind. “So you are associates of his.”
<Not all of us,> said the masked dog. <I used to be the dog of Batman and Robin. I’m the Bat-Hound. I handled crime in Gotham.>
<That’s only because I wasn’t around there, Ace,> remarked the white dog beside him. <They call me Rex, the Wonder Dog. Pleased to meet you.>
<I could put either one of you jokers in the shade, without half trying,> sent the caped dog. <I’m Krypto. If you haven’t heard of me...>
<Um. Sorry,> said Solovar. <That cape connects you to Superman, does it not?>
<He used to be his pet,> the cat answered. <I’m called Streaky, the Supercat. If you’ve seen Supergirl, tell her hi from me.>
<And I’m Super-Monkey,> thought the last of the crew. <Who are you, ya big gorilla?>
Solovar seemed a bit taken aback. <Solovar, ruler of Gorilla-City,> he said. <Thank you for your aid, small one.>
“Sir,” said one of the guard apes. “Do you want us to take these rebels into custody?”
“In a minute, Aklar,” said Solovar, with a bit of pique. “I’m having a conversation.”
Aklar and another guard looked at each other, but remained at attention.
<As I said, we’re the Legion of Super-Animals,> said Comet. <We’re not seen on Earth very much these days. There are many other planets in our universe, and many of them populated only by animals. We make it our mission to help them.>
<Yes, well...good,> said Solovar. <Are you all from Krypton, like Superman?>
<Only two of us,> sent Rex. <Comet’s an alien. The rest of us are from good old Earth.>
<The best ones,> affirmed Streaky.
<Shut up, cat,> said Krypto.
<As for who we are and what we are,> Comet continued, <thousands of years ago, I was a centaur. I saved the sorceress Circe, of my world, from an enemy. She created a potion that was to turn me into a full-man, but her adversary switched it for one which turned me into a full horse. To recompense me for it, she fed me another potion which gave me super-powers, and enabled me to turn into a full-man for a time when I am near to a comet. Hence my name.>
<Krypto and I both came from Krypton,> said Beppo, the Super-Monkey, and that seemed to be all the explanation needed.
<Me, I got my powers from this chunk of experimental Kryptonite,> sent Streaky. <Then all the Kryptonite on Earth got changed to iron, and I lost my powers. But my buddies wouldn’t let that situation stand for long.>
<At our first meeting after the Kryptonite incident, Beppo and I sought out Streaky,> explained Comet. <When we learned what had become of him, we brought him across time and space and had Circe dose him with the serum which had given me my powers. Now he is a true Supercat, without need of his X-Kryptonite.>
<I helped out Batman on a lot of cases,> said Bat-Hound. <You wouldn’t believe the kind of messes humans can get themselves into when they don’t have a dog. But I was getting too old, too fast.>
<So was I,> thought Rex. <Bobo, my chimp friend, was, too. Then we discovered the Fountain of Youth on a case. That brought us back to our prime, and I let Ace have a taste of it, too. We hooked up with the Legion shortly after that.>
Comet said, <When we first banded together to save Superboy and the Legion of Super-Heroes, they called us the Legion of Super-Pets. But we are not that. We are our own beings. I, who have been half-man, full-man, and full-beast, know it best of all. So we renamed ourselves the Legion of Super-Animals, and now we patrol the spaceways, protecting our own kind. There are enough human heroes to take care of the human worlds.>
“Are there?” mused Solovar. “Sometimes I wonder. But what of you, O rabbit?”
The costumed coney beamed. “The name is Captain Marvel Bunny. I was just a simple lad until I came across a comic book with a story about an absurd-looking creature with short ears and tiny little eyes. He turned into a super-hero by saying, uh, the name of a wizard. I tried it myself...and boom! I became a hero myself. Later on, I found out the comic had been planted by the old wizard himself. He felt my planet needed a hero, and I’m glad he chose me. Later on, I met the creature who called herself Mary Marvel. Then I met her two partners. We got along pretty well, and not long ago I took out King Kull to save them. I’ve had a long career, but we’re pretty long-lived on my world.”
“GET ME OUT OF HERE!” rang out an amplified voice.
<Shut up, worm,> thought Comet.
“Well,” said Solovar. “We’ll trust you to take care of the crawling one yourselves, and perhaps Titano. Can’t leave him here. But there’s one thing left to do.”
<What’s that?>, queried Krypto.
“This,” said Solovar. He grabbed Grodd by the armpits, pulled him up, and shook him. He didn’t stop until Grodd’s eyes groggily opened.
“Yes?” he asked, still waking up.
Solovar smashed him in the face and returned him to a position covering the pavement. He massaged his knuckles, smiling.
“Much more satisfying,” he remarked.
Snapper Carr knew, somehow, that Superman was about to appear behind him. He was right.
Guess you never lose those old instincts from the JLA, he told himself as he turned around.
Both of them were standing in a small museum section of Izaya’s palace. The rest of the Losers’ League were fraternizing with the Forever People and the Magic Squad. Snapper just wanted to be by himself for a bit, and he’d managed that for about half an hour.
“Snap,” said Superman.
“You look tired, Supes,” remarked Snapper.
Superman walked a few paces inward, past a plexiglass case holding a helmet from the world of the gods who had come before the Celestials. “I am tired. Going to catch some sleep in a minute. But before I do, I wanted to say a couple of things.”
The brown-haired man, still in his civvies, looking as incongruous as a bum at a Park Avenue gathering, shrugged. “You’ve got the floor.”
“First off,” Superman said, and hesitated just perceptibly before continuing, “I want to apologize for the way I regarded you and your unit earlier.”
Snapper put his hands in his back pockets. “Not everybody has to be on the power level of the Justice League to work, Supes. If they did, there wouldn’t be a cop employed on Earth.”
The Man of Steel sighed. “All right, all right. Perhaps I deserved that, Snapper. But I thought...and I don’t think I was wrong in thinking it...that you guys were in way over your head, in danger you wouldn’t be able to cope with. I wanted to save your lives.”
“Thanks, I appreciate that,” said Snapper. “But...”
“Yes, Snap?” The sweat showed under the armpits of Superman’s blue sleeves, and he vowed he’d take a bath and wash his costume before he sacked out. But he still wanted to work things out first.
“But you don’t seem to realize that everybody’s got a part to play,” said Snapper. “I mean, I felt like that was the trouble with the League. I didn’t have a costume or a funny name, so...”
“We let you in on a lot of cases, Snap,” said Superman. He hadn’t forgotten how the man before him had betrayed the League before, as a dupe of the Joker and of the Star-Tsar, though he, like most of the Leaguers, had forgiven Snapper. “Don’t tell me you don’t remember them.”
“I know, Supes,” said Snapper. “I know that most of anything. Yeah, I remember Starro, and Doc Light, Starzl, and that ‘I’ thing, and the Alien-Ator, the Royal Flushers...heck, I could list ‘em all. By heart. But then, after that Offalia thing, it stopped.”
Superman nodded. “You know why.”
“Yeah,” said Snapper. “I fell in with John Dough. And I was wrong. But when Green Arrow dressed me down for thinking you guys were too high and mighty, too far above the crowd...”
“...Why did he quit the League years later, for just about the same reason?”
Superman folded his arms and leaned against a wall. “Probably for the same thinking. He only saw the ones like me, Diana, Green Lantern, and Firestorm. He ignored the ones like Atom, Ralph, Batman, and the Canary. Yes, even her.”
Snapper shook his head. “He came back, later. But I’m not sure I still buy the reasoning, Supes. To me, the League sometimes felt...well...”
“Go ahead and say it, Snap.”
“I doubt we’ve got a lock on that.”
“No, but that’s the way it seemed, sometimes.”
“You’re making this very hard, Snap. I wanted to see if we could be friends again, to see if bridges could be built instead of leaving them torn apart. But if that’s the way you want it, that’s the way–“
“No!” Snapper’s eyes blazed. “Don’t you see, Supes? It’s not the way I wanted it! It’s never the way I wanted it! I never wanted to stop being friends with you. I just wanted to stop being your pet!” Before he knew what he was doing, Snapper had grabbed Superman by the front of the shirt and was sticking his face in front of him. “Look here. Do I look like Krypto? Have I got white fur and a dog’s ears? Well?”
“Cut it out, Snapper,” advised Kal, counting to five million mentally.
Snapper exhaled. “Up against the rest of you, what was I? Just another hanger-on. Just another groupie. The one you let tag along.”
“And you enjoyed it,” Superman pointed out.
“Yeah, I did, for a long time. Wasn’t every kid in the world got to pal around with Green Lantern, Aquaman, Flash, and all the rest of those cats.” Snapper smiled, unselfconsciously, his hands off of Superman’s tunic. Kal breathed a bit more easily. “I even liked meeting your cousin, when I built that Superboy robot out of those Kryptonian sled parts. But boy, was that a botch.”
“Wasn’t your fault, Snap. That was Klax-Ar’s doing.”
“Yeah.” Snapper looked down. “At least I got to clue you in on that phony Star-Tsar. Even if the Arrow wanted to take me down for it.”
“GA is, as we both know, too hot-headed at times,” said Superman. “But he’s gotten better.” Superman paused. “So where do we go from here, Snap?”
“I don’t know, Supes. I don’t know if ‘we’ve’ got a place to go, anymore.”
“Do you still resent me?”
“Oh, no. Aggravated, yeah. But I don’t hate you.” Snapper rubbed the back of his neck. “I still don’t know what I’m going to do after this. Not professionally, I’ve got a job. Drawing comic books. But I don’t know if the Loser’s League is gonna go on.”
Superman nodded, but didn’t say anything.
Snapper continued, “It took Dev-Em to get us to our objective. I appreciated the help. But it just showed...”
“Sometimes everybody needs help, Snap,” said Superman. “Including me. When you guys saved me from the Kryptonite Man.” He smiled, and touched Snapper’s shoulder. “Without you, the Kid, and the rest, I’d have been in desperate shape. I’d have been the last one to admit I needed a hand. Before then, that is.”
The young man grinned.
Superman said, “Also the bit with the Gravi-Guards. I need to thank Mind-Grabber Kid personally for that.”
“I’ll tell him you said it,” said Snapper.
Superman sobered. “But I haven’t got much more time to talk. Got to get some sleep, got to work on a plan of action after that. We’ve got less than three days before all of us could be Darkseid’s zombies. I have a feeling a lot of the burden is going to be on Dev, Kara, and myself.”
“Are you afraid, Supes?” Snapper said the words before he knew he’d gotten them out.
The man from Metropolis said nothing.
“I’m afraid, too,” admitted Snapper. “The stuff I’ve seen here, it’s way over our heads. The unit could get killed, just like flies. Just like Himon.”
“But I...well, maybe we’ve still got a part to play,” said Snapper. “Isn’t something still going on, on Earth?”
“On at least four of them, by last count.”
“I want to talk with the crew,” said Snapper. “If we could get back home, maybe we could lend a hand there. And afterward we’ll figure out what to do. If there is an afterward.”
“There will be, Snap. It just matters in whose hands the afterward will be.” He gave Snapper a big, impulsive hug.
“Whoops, Supes! What is this for?”
“Because you’re still my friend.”
A few seconds later, the Man of Steel let him down. “I’m going to catch forty. Then I’ll speak to Izaya about Boom Tubing you back to Earth. Keep out of trouble till then, okay?”
Snapper smiled again. “Will do, Supes. Take care.”
Superman’s feet left the floor and he went into a horizontal hovering position for an instant before he flew out the door. Despite all the mileage between them, Snapper Carr had to admit it still thrilled him every time he saw that.
An instant later, he discovered his fingers were snapping.
New York City was reeling. The big action was in the Metro / Gotham area, where a larger army of heroes was waging war against Mantis. But the Secret Society of Super-Villains had long since opened a front in the Big Apple, and were holding on very well indeed. With the Justice League, Outsiders, and New Titans united in Metropolis, NYC had to make do with what heroes arrived...and with the help of ordinary cops, firemen, soldiers, and public-spirited citizens.
But most of the latter category resorted to rescue work and trying to keep the super-ops away from ordinary people. The real battling was left to the super-heroes.
Most of them had come in from duty in Chicago, and they were showing the wear. Nonetheless, the New Doom Patrol, the Challengers of the Unknown, the Forgotten Heroes, and various hangers-on were holding the line. Or trying to.
But up against a small army spearheaded by the likes of Amazo, Brainstorm, Despero, Dr. Tyme, the Time Commander, General Immortus, Reactron, and a number of others (including also-rans and hangers-on like the Toyman and Prankster, who felt considerably out of their depth), it was proving quite tough.
“We need the big guns,” groused Robotman, ducking under one of the Time Commander’s hourglass power-sweeps. “The Lanterns, the Superpeople, the Marvels. Where in hell are they?”
“Four Earths to choose from, plus all of space,” said Prof Haley, shooting a blaster that sent a mass of gunk over the Commander’s hourglass, dampening its power. “It’s not like you didn’t know what you were getting into when you came.”
The orange robot with the human brain looked up, saw the flat, black, golden-haloed radio form of Negative Woman jousting in the sky with the radioactive Reactron. “It’s just that we’re always in over our head, Prof. Or seem to be.”
“Goes with the territory, I’m afraid,” said Celsius, trying and failing to knock Immortus’s skycraft down with a fireburst. “Just keep pluggin’ till something opens up or help comes, I guess.”
Brainstorm, on a sky-sled of his own design, began to descend. The tall psionic helmet atop his head amplified his already incredible mind-power, and one blast of it was enough to scatter Prof, Rocky, Red, Ace, Robotman, Celsius, and Tempest. He grinned. Another one ought to be enough to do some permanent damage.
A black-haired man with a well-trimmed beard, in a green shirt, orange pants, and cape, came to the fore. “I believe my talents are necessitated,” he said.
“Who in blue blazes are you?” snapped Robotman.
The newcomer didn’t bother answering. Brainstorm looked ready for a challenge, anyway. He made another bombing run from the sky, his helmet crackling with blue power, and sent a bolt towards the stranger that would have turned a normal human being into a pile of smoking grease.
Instead, the green-shirted man concentrated, put one hand to his forehead, held his other out towards the attacking villain, and shot a visible power-burst from his forehead that struck Brainstorm’s bolt, slammed into his body, and knocked him off his sled. He fell two stories to the ground, landing on the green part of a traffic island. He was hurt, but not injured. He was also angry.
“Kiss your brain goodbye,” he raged, preparing his assault.
“Not today,” said the other, and focused his power once again.
Brainstorm’s helmet blew up.
The Challs and Doom Patrol members gaped for a second. Brainstorm was out, but otherwise intact. For a moment, they had respite. “So,” said Tempest, “the question Cliff put still stands. Who are you, sir?”
The strangely blank-eyed man turned towards them. “I am Ra-Man. Prince Ra-Man. Call me Mind Master, or call me prince of ancient Egypt. I am not as active as I once was, but in this crisis, none of us may keep quiescent. Has Eclipso been seen on this plane?”
“Uh, no,” said Robotman. “Not in this neighborhood, anyway. Wanna help with the rest?”
“Indeed,” said Ra-Man.
That was as much as he got out before a blue beam from a clock-like helmet hit the lot of them and froze them in place. Robotman had time to see who had done it: a one-shot villain he had fought with the original Doom Patrol, Dr. Tyme. Within Tyme’s beam, existence itself was frozen.
The eight of them, including the immobile form of Valentina Vostok, Negative Woman’s body, were sitting ducks.
A towering form in a strange costume and a shorter man in a business suit came forward. “Nice going, Tyme,” said Professor Ivo. “These may not be the Justice League, but they’ll do for appetizers.”
“Then it is your will they be destroyed,” said Amazo, the faux power ring on his finger glowing a deadly green.
“It’s all our will,” said Despero, the alien enemy of the JLA. “Just get it over with, android.”
A voice rang out from nearby, and a pile of rubble was thrown aside by two mighty hands. The assembled villains gazed at a man in Greco-Roman armor, who looked bigger than any two pro football halfbacks amalgamated together. In one hand, he held a great mace on a chain. On his other arm, he wore a curved, square shield with a great red V on it, the same letter he bore on his chestplate and belt buckle. A high-crested helmet, boots, and a leather kilt completed his costume.
To his credit, Dr. Tyme swept his helmet-beam in the armored man’s direction. But his foe was swift enough to ward it off with his shield, and Tyme found himself frozen by his own device.
The warrior looked serious and grim. “I am the Son of Vulcan,” he said. “These are my allies. Yield, or I will strike. This is your only warning.”
“Is this somebody you know?” asked the Toyman, holding a seemingly ineffectual jack-in-the-box in his hands.
“Shut up,” advised the Prankster.
“Impressive,” said Ivo, with a sardonic look. “But I don’t think you’re from around these parts, so let me advise you: this fellow here is a being of my own devising. An android. His name is Amazo, and he has all the powers of the Justice League of America. I don’t know if he’s familiar with what they can do, Amazo. Why don’t you show him?”
The humanoid smiled with hatred and sent a green fist from his ring towards the hero. The Son of Vulcan caught it on his shield, but it drove him backward, all the way into the side of a granite-walled bank building across the street. He cracked the outer wall. It didn’t feel good, even to a demigod.
“Show him some more,” said Ivo.
Obediently, Amazo sped towards him with the speed of the late Flash, grasped his foe with the strength of several heroes combined, whirled him around at an incredible amount of RPM’s, and threw him into the sky. The Son of Vulcan, armor and all, quickly became a blur and was lost to sight.
“Should I go after him?” inquired Amazo.
“Not yet. Do these others first,” said Ivo.
The great android approached the paralyzed Doom Patrollers and Challengers, decided Superman’s heat vision would probably be the most efficient method, and began throwing inner relays to trigger his power. But before he could get down to business, his hearing, hyped by the abilities of both Superman and J’onn J’onzz, picked up on something.
“He’s coming back,” said Amazo.
“Then deal with him,” Ivo said, exasperatedly. “Use a little initiative, will you, Amazo? When I order you to, that is.”
Amazo pushed himself into the sky and took flight, smiling in anticipation. Not of battle, but of destruction.
But the Son of Vulcan was arcing back towards Earth through his own natural flight power, and the mace in his hand had been transformed into a gleaming sword. The great shield of his father was held before him, but even beyond it, Amazo could see the mask of grim resolve on his face.
He tried to blast him with a power beam. The sword cut it in two, parting it to either side of the rocketing warrior.
He tried to push him away with super-breath, or blast him with heat vision. Both of them failed, warded off by the great shield before the flying man.
Well, thought Amazo, that left brute strength, among other things. With the power of the Elongated Man, he stretched forth his arms, ready to wrap them around his enemy and crush him once he came within range.
With a shout not heard since the days of ancient Greece, the Son of Vulcan transformed his sword into a great battle-axe, raised his mighty arm, and let fly.
The speed of the Flash should have enabled Amazo to dodge. The might of Superman and the Martian Manhunter should have enabled him to withstand the blow.
But none of those heroes had ever faced an opponent quite like the Son of Vulcan.
The axe smashed through Amazo’s body, opening a great hole, scattering electronic and artificial-human parts to the pavement far below. The android’s eyes blanked, sparked, and exploded. His body went inert. It fell over a hundred feet, striking the concrete outside of Rockefeller Center and flying apart from the impact. The artificial limbs separated from Amazo’s torso. The gleam of the power ring on his finger faded.
Professor Ivo had a dead android on his hands.
Seconds later, the Son of Vulcan, weapon in hand once again, landed on both feet, straddling what was left of his fallen foe. With one swipe, he severed Amazo’s head from his neck assembly. Then he lay it on the pavement and split it in half with his axe.
Then he turned in the general direction of the remaining super-villains.
Despero grabbed Ivo by the arm and hauled him onto his flying platform. “Come on,” he said. “Strategic withdrawal time.”
“Oh, no, it’s not,” said another voice, just ahead of a powerblast that sent Despero’s machine crashing to the ground.
The Son of Vulcan looked up at a man in gleaming futuristic armor, standing on the roof of a nearby building. One hand was glowing with nuclear power. The other was grasping a defeated General Immortus by the collar.
“Thanks for the help,” said the Atomic Knight. “I think the tide’s beginning to turn.”
Izaya threw open the door of the chamber. Four persons were inside. Three were living.
The mortuary chamber was Spartan, as fitted the New Genesis attitude towards death. On a hovering bier lay the body of Himon, eyes closed, hands crossed on his chest, as peaceful as he had ever seemed in life.
Kneeling before him, in his red-and-yellow costume and green cloak, was Mr. Miracle. Behind him stood Big Barda and their friend Oberon, who had been summoned by them to their small wake and mourning. Barda and Oberon turned to see Izaya, but did not make a sound. Scott himself did not move.
The lord of New Genesis stepped into the room, closing the door behind him, his staff rapping gently on the stone floor. “He will not arise, my son.”
Scott Free took his time about answering. “He will always arise. This is only another escape.”
“There are some traps, Scott, from which the only escape is death.”
“I will not accept that!”
Izaya moved behind him, gently brushing Barda and Oberon out of the way. “You have no choice, Scott. The Racer has come. He is gone.”
Mr. Miracle turned the face of his yellow mask towards Highfather. The eyes within it were reddened by tears, shot through with anger. “The Racer can be escaped! Fastbak did it. Kalibak as well.”
The white-haired patriarch clasped his son from behind by the shoulders. “But Himon has not. There is no life within him, my son. Not even that which I could stimulate with an Alpha Bullet. He will be one with the Source. And one with our hearts. Forever.”
Scott looked at Highfather with terrible intensity. “He was my true father.”
Izaya controlled himself with an effort. “Then what am I, Scott?”
“The one who sired me,” said Miracle. “The one who traded me to Darkseid for a pact, and then left me in that hell of Granny’s.”
“Scott,” said Barda, warningly. “You overspeak yourself.”
“Let him,” advised Highfather.
In the shadows, Oberon drew a breath of relief.
“I was nothing but a pawn,” said Scott. “Just one of Granny’s boy troopers, to be beaten, drilled, bitten by cavalry dogs, thrown through all of her damnable obstacle courses, and then to be beaten some more. At any time, you could have saved me, Highfahter.”
“And if I had,” said Izaya, fingering his staff, “Darkseid would have declared war again. Do you think, Scott, that I was so callous as not to care for you? Do you think that, even then, I was not observing?”
“I only know what I experienced! Metron it was who kept me sane, appeared like a ghost when I truly needed him, kept me from bowing to Granny’s mind control. Himon it was who taught me to escape. Who found me, nurtured me, made me part of his underground. He was the one who gave me love.”
Izaya looked downward, slightly, in sadness.
“He was the one who gave me the power to be Mr. Miracle,” said Scott. “Time after time, they thought they had him. Time after time, they thought they had destroyed him. But it was always one of his android Followers. A duplicate. Like...like...” He gestured towards the body.
Gently, Izaya said, “No, my son. That is not a Follower.”
“Don’t call me son!”
Izaya grabbed Mr. Miracle, turned him to face him with a strong grip, and looked down onto his face with the eyes of Moses looking upon the errant Israelites of the Exodus. “I call you son! And not even you may gainsay me that! Do you think Himon fathered you on Avia? Do you think Darkseid would have accepted the son of Himon as a foster son? Do you think I gave you with gladness, boy? Is that what you think?”
“I...I think many things,” said Miracle.
“And not with anything but your heart,” said Izaya, sadly. “And I can understand that. My son. My son, Scott. Do you not think, all those years, that my heart was not pierced as well by your sufferings? That Orion alone could make up for it? True, I love him. I love him all the more for having snatched him from Darkseid’s embrace, for having made him New Genesite. But do you think–can you ever think–that he could take the place in my heart of my true son? Of you?”
Barda had swept Oberon with her to the back of the chamber. For all his brashness, he was glad to be there at the moment. Izaya continued to speak to Scott.
“Though I could not go where you were, Scott, I watched you. Even Metron did not know. Darkseid is not the only one who can observe from afar. If you had been truly endangered beyond your capacities...well, then I would have dared all. I saw you when you escaped Armagetto, my son. I saw you when you went to Earth, and met the man who gave you his name...Miracle. And, finally, you saw me.”
“Yes,” said Scott, whispering.
“When we saved you, and Barda, and Oberon, and Shilo from the minions of Darkseid, you saw me.”
“I saw you,” Scott admitted. “And Himon was there.”
“Yes,” said Izaya. “And so was Orion.” He turned his face away from Scott.
Mr. Miracle reached out a hand to touch his father’s robe. “Orion. Forgive me, Highfather. I...I know...”
“My foster son lies mindless and mutilated,” said Izaya, still facing away from Scott. “His mind lies within that of Darkseid. It will yield to him the Anti-Life Equation, unless we stop him. Do you think, Scott, that you are the only one who mourns?”
The man in the mask clasped the robed man to him and buried his head on his shoulder. “Father,” he said.
“Son,” said Izaya, embracing him.
Barda let herself and Oberon out quietly. Neither of them were noticed.
Kara was awakened from four hours of sleep by Dev-Em’s shaking of her bed. “Up, Karaish,” he said. “We’ve got business.”
“Ummmm, I don’t...” She shook her head, not opening her eyes. “Dev...can’t we put off the end of the world till tomorrow?”
“I’ve gotten even less sleep than you and El,” said Dev. “So keep your slaps to yourself, okay? There’s been an arrival. We’re needed.”
“Oh. Great. Who is it?” She swept back the covers. She noted she was still in her Supergirl costume, but her boots were sitting beside the bed. “Darkseid’s legions? Tell them to give me a couple of minutes to get freshened up.”
He overturned the bed and dumped her on the floor.
“Get up, get your boots on, and come with me.”
Kara groused, standing on one foot to put on her left boot and then on the other to don her right one. “I probably smell to high heaven for sleeping in my clothes. Well.” She pulled her comb out of her cape pouch, rearranged her hair at super-speed, and convinced herself she probably looked at least presentable. “Okay. Guess I’m ready. Who is it?”
“Old friends,” said Dev. “Outside. We’re wanted as a welcoming committee.”
She focused her X-ray vision, sent it through the walls of Highfather’s palace, and saw in the sky outside the shape of a familiar circular golden satellite.
“Oh, they’re back,” she said. “They made it. Where’s Kal?”
“Waiting for us.”
“Let’s go!” She straightened her cape and flew out the door. Dev-Em followed in her wake.
The two of them wended their way through the corridors of Izaya’s palace, surprising more than a few New Genesites on the premises, until they emerged from the front door, bypassing the guards on duty. In the plaza out front, a number of New Genesis troopers were stationed, awaiting orders. Standing among them were the Forever People, the Magic Squad, the Loser’s League, and Jezebelle and Bug.
Apart from them, Izaya stood with Mr. Miracle, Oberon, and Barda, looking upward at the satellite. Superman and Metron were already hovering beside it. Supergirl thrust herself forward with a spurt of flight power. She and Dev were at Kal’s and Metron’s side in an instant.
“Kara,” said Superman. “Good to see you again.” She thought he looked a bit tired, but that was understandable.
“Have you used your vision on that thing yet, Kal?” she asked, floating several hundred feet off the ground.
“Not thoroughly,” he said. “Just a moment. I know it’s the Monitor’s satellite.”
“Yeah,” she said. “But there’s somebody in it who’s going to come as a big surprise.”
Dev, training his own vision-powers on it, said, “Yeah. I think I know what you mean.”
Metron spoke through an amplifier to Izaya below. “Those within are our allies, Highfather. One of them is one of us.”
Izaya nodded. “Let them come,” he called up.
Superman rapped once on the satellite’s outer wall. The hatch section opened. In the opening stood two women, one in a blue and red costume, the other in her characteristic short dress.
Mark Moonrider, looking on, was the first of the Forever People to call one of their names. “D’reema! D’reema, you’re back!”
Beautiful Dreamer, standing beside Harbinger, looked down and smiled. “Hello, brothers,” she called. “I’m grateful we all made it.”
Supergirl came up and hugged both the women. “It’s great to see the both of you back again. Come on, let’s get you on the ground.”
Harbinger smiled. “We have much work to do, Kara. But it’s fine to see you again, as well.” She and Supergirl flew towards the ground, gently. Beautiful Dreamer took up Metron’s offer of a ride on his Mobius Chair, and came with him.
Superman flew up and stepped inside the Monitor’s satellite. “All right, everyone else,” he started. Then he fell silent. Dev-Em came up behind him, hovering.
Zatanna, Lady Quark, Pariah, and Alex Luthor were visible within, all giving their greetings to the Kryptonian pair. But Superman’s attention was fixed on one other occupant of the craft. That occupant was as dumbstruck as Kal himself, at the moment.
Finally, Kal had to speak. “Great Krypton,” he said.
“Holy spit,” said Superboy.
Dev smiled. “Welcome to this year’s model, El.”
“Shut up, Dev,” said Superman.
The New Titans, in Metropolis, were fighting off another outgrowth of villainry rallied round Mantis. They worked in concert with the Outsiders and the members of the Justice League who were present, but all had their hands full. Changeling, Wonder Girl, the Flash, Cyborg, Kole, Jericho, Starfire, Raven, the Hawk, the Dove, and the Golden Eagle fought off foes both familiar and unfamiliar to them, and tried to hold the line. That was all any of them could do, at the moment.
Into this mix materialized the Phantom Stranger.
Cyborg, facing off against Houngan, looked at the cloaked and hatted figure in astonishment. “Who in blazes are you? Ouch!” He grabbed his leg where Houngan had stabbed a corresponding place on a voodoo doll.
The Stranger’s shaded eyes looked out impassively on the black sorceror, who poised there with his electronic fetish, wondering how to treat this new factor. Then silently, the Stranger reached out his hand.
The tiny doll in Houngan’s hand now bore the features of Houngan.
Then it blew up.
Shrieking, the fetish master fell into a faint.
“Much obliged, mister,” said Cyborg, recovered enough to send a sonic blast into Plasmus, another foe. “Now who are you and what are you doing here?”
“Cyborg, I know him,” said Wonder Girl, lassoing Phobia with her Amazon lariat. “That’s the Phantom Stranger. He’s one of the JLA, kind of.”
Starfire, soaring down with a blast of flame that scattered some attackers, called out, “Have you come to aid us? Any help we can get is welcome.”
Solemnly, the Stranger walked to Raven, shoving aside an attacking Warp with an offhand motion. “I have come only for you,” he said.
The daughter of Trigon looked on him with astonishment. “Me? What for?”
“We must heal a mind,” he said. “And you are the one who must do it.”
His gloved hands reached out. Gar Logan, the Changeling, hopped towards him in the form of an angry green rabbit. “Hey, wait a minute! Nobody takes a Titan away in mid-battle, man. We need her!”
The Stranger whirled without haste, reached out his hand, and caught the rabbit by the scruff of the neck. “And, Garfield Logan, I have need of you.”
Before even the Flash could reach the spot where they stood, the Stranger, Raven, and Changeling had faded from sight.
“Oh, great,” said the Hawk, pausing from pulping Mr. Esper’s face. “Just great. We’re two people down. What are we supposed to do now?”
Then he, the Dove, and the Eagle had to duck low as a small missle loosed by Gizmo, the inventive genius of the Fearsome Five, exploded overhead.
Hugging the ground, the Dove answered, “You had to ask, brother. You had to ask.”
“It’s incredible,” said Superman. “Simply incredible.”
Young Kal grinned. “Yeah. I feel kinda the same way. You wouldn’t believe how many comics stories I’ve read about you.”
The Man of Steel reached out once again, ran his hand over the chest and S-emblem of Superboy. “I’ve met myself, my Superboy self, several times, thanks to time tricks. I’ve even met parallel-world Superboys. But never anyone quite like you.” He shook his head and smiled. “Do I seem as odd to you?”
Superboy said, “It’s very weird for me. Not bad-weird, just weird. I mean, a month ago, all of you were just characters in my comic books. Or my dad’s comic books. Then I met Kara here, and Beautiful Dreamer and Harbinger, too. They were real. I almost expected the Three Little Pigs to walk up next.”
“They must’ve been in a different comic book,” Kara snickered.
“Kind of like finding a lost son, isn’t it, El?” asked Dev, standing with one arm around Supergirl’s shoulders. “The kid looks so much like you did back then, I catch myself wanting to tell him I’m sorry for getting him in trouble on Krypton.”
“Yeah, they called you the ‘Knave of Krypton,’ didn’t they?” said Superboy.
“Among other things,” admitted Superman. “Things have changed since then. Thankfully. Have super-villains started springing up on Earth-Prime since your arrival, Kal?”
“Not so far,” Superboy said. “Mostly just crooks. Nobody in a costume yet. I’ve had to learn on the job.”
“That’s good,” said Superman. “That’s why we decided to bring Ultraa from your Earth to ours, to prevent villains from springing up as a natural counterforce. We didn’t think your world could handle them yet.”
“We?” Kal the Younger looked at him curiously. “And Ultraa? I heard the reports on him, but he vanished. He was a little before my time.”
“The Justice League brought him to our Earth,” put in Supergirl. “The last I heard tell, he was still in Australia. Am I right, Kal?”
“The Justice League was on my Earth? And I didn’t get to see ‘em?” Superboy looked disappointed. “Oh, well. I’ll probably get to see ‘em later.”
“Much as I’d like for us to keep this up, guys, I’m afraid we can’t,” said Supergirl, stretching her long legs out on the bench on which she sat. “As you’ve pointed out, Kal, we’ve got less than three days to stop Darkseid. If we’re going to make an assault, we need to do it now.”
Dev said, “I’m for that, I have to say. He’s got enough defenses, still, but you two shut down a lot of his power in that last attack. If we hit him, maybe the four of us can nab him before he snatches that Equation out of Orion’s mind.”
Superman glanced towards the sward outside the palace where the Forever People were sitting, exchanging stories of recent happenings. The Magic Squad and Loser’s League had been transported to Earth-One by Harbinger, who stood conferring with Zatanna and company apart from Metron, Jezebelle, Lightray, and Bug, the latter of whom made up a fourth party nearby.
“We’re still going to have to defend her,” said Kal, looking straight at D’reema. “She’s the only real weapon we’ve got. And Darkseid knows it.”
“Then somebody’ll have to remain behind and guard her,” said Supergirl. “I’ll volunteer. But that still doesn’t give us a plan.”
Superboy rested his hands in his lap. “Plans. What good are they against somebody like Darkseid? If he’s got power that can stand up against us all...”
“He’s got power, all right,” said Superman. “But it isn’t just the power he wields physically. Each of us Krypts is far stronger than him, alone. His Omega Force could probably destroy us. Where Darkseid’s power really resides is in his generalship. He can command forces. He’s mobilized more troops even than the Anti-Monitor...”
“Kal,” said Kara, in a moment of premonition. “I feel something. Something very bad...”
There was a sound like a crack of thunder.
It reached the ears of the four Kryptonians before those of the New Genesites and Terrans. But only by a fraction of a second. All of them saw from what source the sound had come.
The glowing circle of a Boom Tube had opened in the sky, not far from the Monitor’s hovering satellite. A stream of flying figures was emerging from the end of it, with speeds almost beyond credibility. Twenty of them emerged in the first few seconds.
Supergirl and Superman knew them by sight. Dev-Em recognized them from reports he’d seen in his days on old Krypton. Superboy, to his chagrin, realized that he recognized some of them from comic books. All of them seemed to have a red metal band about their wrists.
In their lead was a bald man in yellow and green clothing.
“Good afternoon, Kal-El,” grinned Jax-Ur. “Nice day for a killing. Or four.”