The Apokolips Agenda
The problem with the four newcomers to the Battle of Metropolis was that, at first, nobody knew what side they were on.
That changed very quickly, as the pale, blue-clad beauty placed herself before the New Titans and Outsiders and, gesturing with her hands, caused an arc of water to rear up, impossibly, from the nearby river, pitch itself over their heads, and slam into their foemen with the force of thousands of pounds of water through a fire hose. What remained of the Fearsome Five and Masters of Disaster were largely bowled over by the impact.
“Holy spit,” offered Cyborg, looking on.
Kole said, “Flash, I’m newer than you. Who are these guys?”
Wally West, looking at the foursome, said, “They’re beyond me, too, Kole. But so far, I’m pretty glad they’re on our side.”
“Call me Tsunami,” shouted the girl, still directing streams of water at their enemies. “I stand with the heroes.” (1)
The villainous Dr. Light, soggy from Tsunami’s aquatic assault, grimaced and lifted a light-blaster of his own design. Before he could aim it at her, one of the foursome, a youth whose flesh was gray and stony, lifted his own hand. Immediately, the plates of a nearby sidewalk uprooted themselves and began flying at Light with astonishing velocity and accuracy. The super-villain threw himself flat on the ground, and found the soil itself coating him in a suffocating grip. He tried to reach his belt for another luminous gimmick, but a small rock smashed his belt-pouch and bruised his fingers. He cried out.
The gray hero sprinted up, grabbed him by the collar, and smashed him with a mineral-hard fist. Dr. Light was, as the phrase had it, out like a light. His opponent looked at the Titans, the Outsiders, and what remained of the villains.
“You can call me Kid Rock,” he said. (3)
Heatstroke yelled, “I’ll call you Hot Rock!”, and shot forth from her hands a burst of flame designed to turn him into lava. Before it could reach its target, the blast was parried by a wall of fire from another source. The third hero, in a costume of red and yellow not unlike Heatstroke’s own, blasted back at her with a flame-pillar that slammed into her midriff and sent her back into a building wall. She cracked her head against the marble block of it and, groaning, went down.
“Regards from Firebolt,” said the other. (2)
Mammoth, pulling himself out of the tangle of fallen villains, got to his feet and charged at the assembled heroes. “Enough! Mammoth mangle you. Mammoth smash you all! Mammoth tired of this stupid stuff!”
He passed by a pair of huge blue boots and yellow legs, or almost passed by them. A large, blue-gloved fist descended on the top of his head. It knocked him flat. “Mammoth,” he said, “you advertise yourself too much.”
Geo-Force looked at the towering figure before them. “And perhaps you, sir, advertise yourself too little. Who are you? And who are your comrades?”
“I think the big one’s cute,” opined Halo.
The titanic hero smiled, tightly. “I go by the name of Giantboy. We’re kind of temp heroes. As for our team name...let’s just say we’re the H-Team. That work for you?”
Metamorpho said, “Man, as long as you keep laying out licks like that, you can play in our band any day. We’ve still got a lotta work to do. You game?”
“But definitely, sir,” said Firebolt, who had been Chris King.
Tsunami, formerly Vicki Grant, said, “That’s what we came here for.”
And Kid Rock, transformed from Nick Stevens, raised a fist in the air. “You got villains? Lead us to ‘em! Let’s rock ‘n’ roll!”
Dev-Em had never seen Brainiac’s starship before, and Kara had not seen it in this design. It was designed in the shape of Brainiac’s head itself, a monstrous robotic form with metallic tentacles surrounding it, Medusa-like. The propulsion unit was below it. The sight of it both disgusted and slightly frightened them, and Kara guessed that Kal, to some degree, was feeling the same.
<Why hasn’t it hit us with weaponry yet?> asked Supergirl, via a telepathic plug.
Superman gestured to the tracking device in his hand. <Because of this. It’s still sensing us as either the Huntress or the Sportsmaster, or both. But we can’t count on that for much longer. They’re bound to have us in visual.>
<So what are we waiting for, El?>, asked Dev, readying himself.
<Scope it out with your X-ray vision,> advised Superman. <Then, we go.>
An instant later, the three of them smashed through the outer wall of the ship like a human wedge.
Lex Luthor and his cronies were barely able to register the readout before the assault was in progress. Red-sun projectors were activated, but melted by heat-vision before they could work. Kryptonite reserves were found, torn away from the ship with their lead shielding intact, and flung into space. Kal and Kara melted and reshaped the hull into place before much air could escape. The magic fields set up by the Wizard were detected and avoided.
Like it or not, Luthor had to admit that he’d never been able to fully account for Superman’s speed.
The very walls grew metal tentacles and began to reach for the three heroes. The Krypts batted them away nonchalantly. Superman fixed Luthor with a stern gaze, one he’d practiced for just such an eventuality.
“If you use that warsuit, Lex, I may see how much of it I can make you eat,” he said.
Luthor stared back at him. “Bluffing, as usual.”
“Try me. I don’t have time for jokes.”
There were few persons inside the ship at the moment. Kara deduced that it was mostly reserved for command people. She recognized their old foe Lex, to be sure. Another of the occupants resembled him to a certain degree, though he was at least twenty years older and had red hair, shot through with grey. He also looked, if possible, more ruthless than Lex.
Supergirl had heard tell of a Lex Luthor of Earth-Two, and guessed that this was him.
Dev-Em found himself looking at a short bald man with coke-bottle glasses and a white smock. “And who might you be, mate? The Deadly Druggist?”
“You had better be on Captain Marvel’s power level,” grated Dr. Sivana. “Anybody who speaks thus to me and isn’t invulnerable is asking for some serious evil science.”
Supergirl turned to a black-haired, black-bearded man in a simple black suit with white trim. “Since we’re doing introductions, you may as well tell us who you are,” she said.
“That’s Vandal Savage, Kara,” said Superman. “He gave me some trouble not long ago. I haven’t forgotten it, either.”
“At your service,” said the immortal villain, doing a mock bow.
Dev looked at the last of them, a man in a green monk’s robe whose cowl hid his face in shadow. “That leaves only you, as far as I can tell.”
The cowled man said nothing. But Dev could feel his eyes burning into him, and didn’t much like it.
“The gentleman’s name is the Hooded One,” said Lex Luthor of Earth-1. “He represents Earth-4. He doesn’t like insolent idiots any more than I do.”
“You’re such a charmer, Lex,” said Dev.
“You know me, but I do not know you,” Luthor continued. “You have the advantage of me, sir.”
“And we mean to keep it,” said Supergirl. “We don’t have much time, Lex. Want to plea-bargain?”
The redheaded Earth-2 Luthor rolled his eyes to the ceiling. “I knew it. The environment of this Earth drives heroes nuts.”
Dev grabbed Luthor-2 and shoved him up against a wall. “Listen, you. We don’t have time for this. We’re less than two days away from turning into mass-produced zombies, by the guy you gave your allegiance to. Now, I’m not El here. I never took any oaths about what to do with my enemies. And as far as I’m concerned, you’re an enemy. Got that? I’d be willing to bet I can break your arm or any other body part I want before El can get to me. You got that?”
Old Luthor paled somewhat, but said nothing.
“Restrain your friend, Superman,” said the Luthor of Earth-1.
Superman stood with arms folded. “He seems to be getting results.”
Lex Luthor’s glove started to glow with power. Supergirl reached out and grabbed his wrist, roughly, and squeezed. “I can break this glove and the wrist under it, Lex,” she said. “Your call.”
Superman looked at her in concern, and Lex didn’t miss it. But he also didn’t press his luck. He deactivated the glove. She stood back a pace, but kept her eye on him.
“We have defenses here we haven’t even activated yet,” said Vandal Savage. “Some of them by my modifications. We could still kill you, Superman.”
“But you haven’t yet,” said Superman. “And I’ll bet I know why.”
Even Sivana looked chagrined, and gazed about himself furtively. Kara caught on, and began scanning the walls of the starship. Even though a lot of it had lead shielding, she was able to perceive what she needed to.
“This place is being monitored,” she said. “That’s not surprising. But I’ll bet we only have a short time here before Darkseid sees us and destroys it.”
Luthor sighed. “Exactly. Can you save us?”
“We could do a quid pro quo,” said Kal. “Your lives in return for information and help.”
“Oh, balderdash,” said Sivana. “Everyone knows you heroes don’t let anybody die. You’re just like the Big Red Cheese in that respect. You’ll save us in the final reel.”
“Guess again,” said Kara, in a quiet voice. “I’ve had to kill twice, already. And I did.”
“Kara!” Superman looked as though someone had shoved 90-proof Green K in his face.
“I was forced to do it,” continued Supergirl. “The first time, I had to choose between that and the universe. The second time, I had to save my own life. I wouldn’t kill you, Lex. But with what we’re facing, in as little time as we’ve got...I might just run off and leave you to your own devices.”
“So would I,” said Dev. “And I think even El here might. Care to deal, Lex?”
Luthor looked at the rest of his fellows, and even the Hooded One silently nodded yes. Then he turned back and said, “I think you’ll have about five seconds before...”
The three Kryptonians were already in action.
Superman, Supergirl, and Dev tore out interior walls from the starship, ripping apart Brainiac’s ship-mechanisms, melting what defensive devices they had to with their heat vision. Within nanoseconds, they had enough metal with which to surround the five criminal masterminds.
At super-speed, the threesome used their heat-vision and super-pressure to reshape the metal into a sphere, which they built around the two Luthors, Vandal Savage, Sivana, and the Hooded One. The five villains didn’t even have a chance to mentally register it yet.
Kara and Kal blew air into the sphere to ensure the quintet would be able to breathe and to give them Earth-normal air pressure. Then Dev sealed the metal over the hole they had blown into with his heat-vision, melting a bit of metal over it and cooling it with his super-breath.
The three Krypts took the sphere in hand, each of them spreading their arms to encompass a different part of it, and slammed through the side of the starship again, breaking through and entering the depths of space.
They conveyed the sphere far away from the ruptured ship of Brainiac. But even at that, they barely had time to escape before a wave of pure destructive energy lanced out from an unknown relay station and struck the likeness of Brainiac. The ship was blown to bits, in silent space.
<Have we got enough air in there for them to breathe till we get them to Earth?>, Dev queried, telepathically.
<We do if we hurry,> said Superman, and began propelling the metal sphere towards Earth at warp speed. Kara and Dev added their power to the effort.
Supergirl knew that they’d get there in time to save the villains’ lives. But it was going to be a bumpy ride for them. Somehow, that didn’t bother her all that much.
The boy with the balefully glowing eyes was going to kill them both.
Through his pain, John Constantine remembered what he’d heard tell of Klarion, the Witchboy. He’d never encountered him, but he tried to keep tabs among the names of the Craft’s practitioners through his contacts. That just made good sense. You never knew who you’d be up against, or who you might have to ask for a favor. Klarion he’d heard of, and the ones who told him what he knew spoke of him in awed tones.
The kid had come to Jason Blood, the Demon, and healed him of some wounds in order to be able to hide out in his place from the cult of witches that was after him. But Klarion wasn’t a friend of the Demon. He didn’t have to be. The blood of witches was strong in him, as strong as it had been in many generations.
The next time he met the Demon, Klarion had created a duplicate Demon to kill Jason Blood’s three closest friends. He almost succeeded. Later, he fought the Demon a third time as part of a complicated plot involving an industrialist called Oscar Pound and another demon, Baal-Satyr. This time, Jason Blood had Wonder Woman on his side, and that tipped the balance in his favor. Klarion had taken a powder then, and hadn’t, to Constantine’s knowledge, been seen since then.
Now, the 18-year-old punk was blasting Constantine’s mind and brain apart from the inside, it felt, with his considerable psychic powers. From the screams John heard, he knew Tim Hunter was getting the same kind of treatment. Swampy didn’t sound like he was doing much better. John didn’t have the capacity to do a counter-chant, or pull anything out of his inside coat pockets, or do much of anything except writhe in pain on the grass, and wait for death.
...unless what the Stranger, Occult, and E had said about Tim’s potential turned out to be true.
“Tim!” he called out, barely able to manage it. “You’ve gotta take him. You’re the only one. Reach inside you. Use your power. Hit him!”
“I...I can’t,” said Tim, with a sob of pain.
Constantine looked, and saw the miniature Swamp Thing sprawled flat on the ground. He could also see writhing roots and tendrils from nearby plants trying to envelop Klarion, who was withering them before they got near him.
“You can, blast it! That’s why...why we took such time with you! Why we...why we brought you to those different places! To...Creation, and the Dreaming, and...Fairyland. Because you CAN! DO it!”
Then Contantine had to flop on his back and put his hands to his eyes to try and keep them from exploding.
Tim Hunter was in the worst pain he’d ever been in, worse even than when he’d almost fractured his skull dumping off of a skateboard. He could see his two friends, in at least as bad a shape as himself. He also knew that none of them were going to be able to survive this.
Not unless he did something he’d never been able to do.
He thought, wildly, of the James Bond movies he’d watched and the comic books he’d read. He thought of other heroes he’d read of in books of mythology or pulp fiction. All of the stories seemed to have one thing in common. The hero, at the end, got One Last Desperate Chance.
This one was his.
Despite the pain, Tim Hunter tried to calm his breathing. He struggled to disregard what of the agony he could, and to send himself into the state which Dr. Fate had once revealed to him. The strength of the soul, the strength of the mind. Dr. Occult had once told him, “A man is as strong as he will let himself be,” and this was his credo.
Tim knew himself for a fifteen-year-old kid. But he was going to be the strongest fifteen-year-old kid that the world had seen since Superboy, if that was what it took.
Deep down. Down into the subconscious. Into the Id. Into the places where the Power lay.
He couldn’t see it, couldn’t hear it, but he could perceive it. It was there, somehow. Like an emergency reserve. He had to grasp it, to mold it, to use it.
He worked on instinct. And as he did so, the pain seemed to lessen, the pressure seemed to decrease, and a great flow of energy seemed to suffuse his slight frame.
Before he knew it, he was rising to his knees. Then he was standing up. Facing Klarion, whose eyes seemed even wider in surprise.
“You’re making this more difficult,” the Witchboy said, in a calm voice. “I’d have finished you a lot more quickly without it.”
Tim Hunter stood, breathing hard, and gathered everything within him into a ball of force which could not be seen. But it sure as hell could be felt.
“Put a sock in it,” he said, and, stretching out his hand, let the energy go.
As quickly as he did it, Klarion cried out, flying up in the air as if hit by a plank in the chest, and went over backwards. He lay on the ground near the swamp, screaming, his limbs twitching like an epileptic in a seizure, his eyes so wide it didn’t seem that his lids would ever cover them again, his mouth open and wide and spewing spittle.
Tim kept pouring it on.
And when it was finished, the pain and pressure left Tim Hunter’s mind, and the energy flow was shut off. He gasped in effort and sunk to his knees. It felt as though he’d been running the 660 at gym class. If magic took this much effort, he was going to have to get in shape.
Klarion was paralyzed, insensate, lying on his back, staring senselessly at the sky.
John Constantine touched Tim on the shoulder, giving the kid an awful start. “It’s just me, kid. It’s just me. You came through. You did good.” He gave Tim an extra pat on the shoulder. “You did what I couldn’t do.”
“Aw, John,” said Tim. “If he hadn’t gotten the drop on you...”
“Bugger that,” said Constantine. “You’ve seen what’s inside of you. How do you feel?”
“Awed, kind of. Never really thought I had somethin’ like that in me. John. What am I supposed to do, now?”
Constantine squatted before him. “Well, you’re supposed to keep on learning. You’re also supposed to learn how to use it in the most effective ways. And if you ever end up like Barney Google Eyes there–“ He gestured with his thumb towards Klarion. “–I’ll be waiting for you. Believe it.”
“I do,” said Tim.
“Swamp, are you okay?”
The six-inch Swamp Thing lumbered towards them on its stick-legs. “I am...recovered...Constantine. My gratitude...Tim. You...saved us...both.”
He stuck out one root-covered hand. Tim, not knowing what else to do, offered his right forefinger. The Swamp Thing grasped it and shook it.
“Tim,” said Constantine. He pointed towards a nearby tree. “Go over there a moment and turn away.”
“Why?” Tim looked suspicious. “What’re you going to do?”
The British mage looked grim. “Just go. Now.”
“I want to know what you’re going to do, John.”
“Don’t question a superior officer, kid,” said Constantine. “Just go!”
Tim Hunter looked at Constantine for a long moment. Then he turned and walked towards the tree, looking behind him.
“I...echo his...concern, Constantine,” said the Swamp Thing. “What is...your intention?”
“Just watch,” said John, and, walking towards Klarion, knelt on the ground beside him with his back to Tim.
Then he reached in his coat pocket, took out a switchblade knife, and opened it. He placed the pointed end of it against Klarion’s throat and pushed in, hard enough to barely prick the skin.
“Constantine,” warned the Swamp Thing.
Ignoring him, John spoke. “Now you listen to me, you little snot. I don’t know if you can hear me with your conscious mind, but I’m gettin’ through to you on some level. If it wasn’t for settin’ a bad example for the kid over there, I’d cut your friggin’ throat in a second. Damned if I don’t think I ought to go ahead and do it anyway. But I’m cuttin’ you a little slack instead, and that’s the last time I’ll do it. If I ever...ever...hear that you threw down on Tim again, or if I ever see you again, I don’t care what you got in your bag of tricks. I’m going to give you a Peruvian necktie. Understand? You had three chances with the Demon. With me, you only get one. That’s all. I never want to see you again. The end.”
He pressured the blade enough to let a drop of blood escape Klarion’s white throat and stain his steel. Then he withdrew the knife, wiped the blade on the grass, and turned to the tiny Swamp Thing. “Don’t use any plants from that patch,” he warned.
“I would...never...have let you...do it, Constantine,” said the Swamp Thing.
“Good thing you didn’t have to find out,” said John, seriously. Then he turned towards the tree. “Tim, come on back. It’s over.”
Tim Hunter came out from behind the tree. “John. You didn’t.”
“Not quite. He’s still breathing. If you ever cross his path again, you tell me. Him and me have got an understanding.”
Coming nearer, Tim said, “I thought we had one, too, John.”
“Not that kind,” said Constantine. “This is the way it is sometimes, Tim.”
“It’s never going to be that way with me.”
The Englishman looked at him and only spoke after a long pause. “Oh, yes, it will be.”
Tim didn’t even try to repress his shudder. John Constantine went to Klarion’s body, sat down on the ground, fumbled a Silk Cut out of the package in his pocket, lit it with a match, then waved out the match and tossed it into a puddle of water.
“Now what?” Tim asked.
“I already told you what,” said Constantine. “We wait for a ride.”
Before he had the time to smoke two cigarettes, the ride arrived.
A green nimbus was seen in the sky. The three of them looked up. It was clear against the gold and red of the Louisiana sunset. It was coming near at considerable speed. Tim tensed, but Constantine lay a hand on his arm to try to calm him. The Swamp Thing remained standing.
Before long, the green glow came close enough to them for Tim to discern some sort of form within it. And then it was before them, coming to a landing on the ground before the three of them. The green aura dissipated, and they saw the being within.
The uniform was familiar. Tim had seen enough pictures of the Green Lantern to recognize his costume. But the being within was quite literally alien. His head, to Tim, resembled the top of a carrot, right down to the green leafy crest growing out of its top. He had only one huge eye, surrounded by a black mask. This Green Lantern was a far ways away from the ones native to Earth.
Nonetheless, at least it was a Lantern.
“You are my Terran contacts,” said Medphyl, Green Lantern of planet J586. “I bring you greetings from the Corps of Green Lanterns.”
“‘Lo,” said Constantine. “We’ve got a hitchhiker for you. And a prisoner. Be careful of the kid, he’s a sorceror.”
The tiny Swamp Thing stepped up to the plant-man. “Welcome,” he said. “We have...somewhat...in common.”
The alien GL stooped and picked the Swamp Thing up in his palm, looking at him curiously. “You are an Elemental. Do you always come in this small a size on Earth?”
“He’s just on a diet,” John said. “Best of luck, Swamp. Let us know how it went when you get back.”
“Be careful of that guy,” said Tim, gesturing to Klarion. “Keep him in a coma or something. If you don’t, he’ll kill you.”
“I shall,” said the Green Lantern. “Farewell.” He used the ring to surround himself and the Swamp Thing in a green aura, and then took to the skies once again.
Constantine waved, once. “So long, Swamp. Don’t forget to write.”
Tim Hunter looked at the fading green glow, and wondered at the distance he had come from his normal upbringing in less than a month.
“So now what?” he asked, toying with a stick in the dirt.
“Now we get back to Winter’s, and eat,” said John. “Never save the Multiverse on an empty stomach.” He offered a hand to Tim. Reluctantly, the youth took it. They took several steps forward.
The sunset of the Louisiana swamp faded and was supplanted by the interior of a Georgetown mission. Baron Winters, Dr. Occult, and Madame Xanadu were in the drawing room, startled only for a moment by their presence.
“You’re back,” said Winters.
“Wait’ll you hear how the kid managed today,” said Constantine. “It’ll cost you dinner.”
Winters grimaced. “That’s the thing I hate most about magicians. You’re all freeloaders. Come on.”
In the Hague, a group of heroes who had not come to America for over a decade debated what to do in the current crisis. They were possibly the earliest super-hero group to be banded together on Earth-One, and they called themselves the Club of Heroes, in English.
Most of them had been inspired by the example of the American Batman to fight crime in their native lands, without powers but with special skills and equipment. From Italy came the Legionary, who employed the armor of an Roman warrior and gimmicked spears in his work. From Great Britain hailed the Knight and his son, the Beefeater, formerly the Squire. From Australia, the Ranger came, the masked guardian of the outback. South America provided the Gaucho, who employed bolas and other such weapons against crooks. The Musketeer of France was there, complete with his shock-wielding sword. All of them knew each other, but hardly any of them had worked with each other in years. That they had come together after so long a time was a mark of the danger at hand.
The Legionary had the floor. “First, we have heard nothing from the Green Arrow Brigade, am I correct?”
The Musketeer looked at him tiredly. “Antonio, where have you been in the last fifteen years? Those imitators were so short-lived, they fell away mostly when Green Arrow of America changed his costume.”
“Ah,” said the Roman. The Green Arrow Brigade had been an international team of heroes, like their own, whose members had modelled themselves after the original Green Arrow. They had much shorter careers than the Club of Heroes members, and even shorter than the original GA. “Well, with the Global Guardians in America, that leaves us alone.”
“It ruddy well does,” said the Ranger. “And as far as I’m concerned, the Tasmanian Devil can stay where he’s at.”
The Knight, white hair showing at more than his temples, said, “Thus, the real question to be decided here is, what aid do we send, if any?”
“‘If any’?” questioned the Beefeater, looking at his father. “Dad, we need to get over there and help the Yanks. They did as much for us in the Big One.”
“True,” said the Knight. “But this is a much different kind of conflict, son. And, if you haven’t noticed, none of us have super-powers.”
“Neither do Batman or the Arrow, or a lot of other guys in costumes I could name,” the Beefeater pointed out. “Doesn’t stop them from fighting.”
The Gaucho said, “Si. But, as your father has pointed out, the battle in Metropolis has drawn the most powerful heroes on Earth. So far, they have been unable to counter the one called Mantis and his legions. What good could we do?”
“We could do whatever we could,” said the Beefeater. “We could show ‘em we’re on their side.”
“We already are, bambino,” said the Legionary. “But aiding an ally in a battle where one could make a difference is one thing. Charging blindly into a holocaust is another.”
“I agree with the Legionary,” said the Musketeer. “The Guardians have powers, and they are in the fight. We could do but little to affect the outcome.”
“I ought to go over there on my own!” the Beefeater seethed.
The Knight looked at him. “Do it, then. But you’ll be going alone, if you do.”
The young man looked at his father in anger, but said nothing.
“I might stand with Beef here, in another setting,” said the Ranger. “But they’ve got a point. The fight in Metropolis is too big for us. We’re needed where we are. There ain’t too many heroes per capita in the places we come from. They’re over quota in America.”
“Then I propose we remain together for the duration here,” said the Knight. “We’ll keep tabs of the situation. But unless it directly threatens our countries, or breaks out of America, we stand pat. Do we really need a vote?”
“Yes,” said his son.
“I don’t think so,” said the Legionary. “But if you wish, I’ll put it to one. Those in favor of the Knight’s proposal, raise their right hands.”
Four hands went into the air.
“Now those opposed, raise your right hand.”
The Beefeater’s hand went up, alone.
“The vote is carried. We will wait.”
The Beefeater said, lowly, “We will shirk.”
“Son,” said the Knight, “mind your manners.”
Other worlds had their ways of dealing with the crisis.
On the planet Algor, the Squadron of Avengers, a foursome of heroes who included the thunder god Wandjina, the Silver Sorceress, Jack B. Quick, and Blue Jay, fought their greatest enemies, the Offenders, plus a new group of individual menaces, the Terror Organization, and managed wins over them both. That despite the fact that Darkseid had helped hype the powers and equipment of the villains. The Squadron had met the JLA once, but didn’t need their help in this battle, and probably would have refused it.
The green Martian populance and the few white Polar Dwellers who remained alive on Mars II fought off an invasion of the Yellow Martians and their commander, Wonder Woman’s old foe, the Duke of Deception. Neither race had liked the traitorous Yellows, and both were glad to see the attacking force in prison camps and the Duke himself repelled. This battle, more than anything, helped forge bonds between the races of J’onn J’onzz and the late Commander Blanx.
The Zamarons were aided against a force of Qwardians by the Guardians of the Universe, who finally overcame their separatist instincts and stood side-by-side with the women who had evolved from Oan females. In the aftermath, the warrioresses opted to still maintain their separate government and world. But a goodly portion of them returned to Oa with the Guardians, and it was accepted that, if they came through the present crisis, a new generation of immortals would soon result.
Other planets, such as Daxam, Braal, Cargg, Oceania, Durla, and Daxam, either were untouched so far by the forces of Darkseid or coped with them in their own ways. And on a plane called, by some, the Fifth Dimension, a group of three magically-powered beings held a summit meeting of their own.
Mr. Mxyzptlk looked worried. “I’m worried,” he said. “I don’t have to tell you guys, this is one of the most seriously un-fun things I’ve seen in my lifetime. Or even before it.”
“Yeah,” agreed Bat-Mite, sitting at the seventeen-sided table in his faux-Batman costume with the floppy ears. “This sitch possesses the least prank capacity of anything I’ve ever seen. If this Darkseid wins, the whole thing might even spread into our worlds. That is, if we don’t strengthen the barriers.”
“Golly,” said Quisp, the aquatic sprite. “Even the water-worlds might be affected. Even my friend Aquaman might turn into a zombie.”
“Oh?” said Mxyzptlk, dryly. “Do you think anyone’d notice?”
“That’s not nice, Mxy,” pouted the green-haired water-imp.
Bat-Mite slapped his hand on the table. “The thing is, if we can trust the Fun Potential Monitors, this thing is gonna be decided in about two times around their sun for Earth. They’ve got Batman and just about every hero on five Earths working on it, along with a bunch of stuffy sorcerors. If they can’t crack it, I don’t see how we’d make any difference.”
“We could entertain the troops,” mused Mxyzptlk. “But there’s not much fun in that.”
“Quisp not want to entertain troops,” said Quisp. “Quisp wants to help save Atlantis. Even Xebel, Mera’s world, if they’ll let me.”
The Silly Sprite adjusted his tiny derby. “Last we saw, the Waterlogged Wonders had the problem there in hand. Don’t believe they need you, Quisp.”
“May go see ‘em, anyway.”
“That’s an unfun thing to do,” chided Bat-Mite. “Open a portal between your world and theirs, and the Anti-Fun Equation could poke through it. All your people would be turned into Seriousers.”
Quisp looked sober indeed. For a sprite, such was a fate worse than death. Unless, of course, you got to play pranks in the Afterlife.
“I think the action is clear,” said Mxyzptlk. “We let the heroes handle this one. Once it’s resolved, if they’re not zombies, we’ll give them a little time off and then do a prank raid to celebrate. Agreed?”
“Agreed,” said Bat-Mite.
“All right, maybe,” Quisp said.
“Good. Let’s throw out the second order of business.”
All three of them reached for sheets of paper on the table and threw them over their left shoulders.
Then Mxyzptlk gave Bat-Mite a hotfoot, Bat-Mite shot Mxy’s eyes full of sparkles, and Quisp went home to see how things came out.
He hoped he didn’t have to come to a meeting like this again. It was just too darned serious.
“Don’t fidget so, dearie,” said Granny Goodness. “After all, in two days’ time, the whole thing will be over. Won’t that be nice?”
Beautiful Dreamer looked at the big woman on the bench before her, dully. “You honestly want to be a zombie?”
“All it will mean is serving Darkseid more efficiently,” Granny replied. “Efficiency is something I’ve always striven for, in myself and in my troops. And they were efficient, oh yes they were, missy. Or they were dead.”
“Why don’t you just kill me and get it over with?”
“Because our Great Lord doesn’t want me to.” She smiled. “But that won’t stop me from smacking your pretty head, if you get out of line.”
D’reema stared back at her, defiantly. “Darkseid would destroy you for that.”
“Our Dread Lord allows me some latitude,” said Granny. “You wouldn’t like to find out how much, missy.”
D’reema went to face the door, her arms folded. “You Apokoliptics tortured my stepbrother. You ruined his brain. You murdered Himon. You killed my mother.” She whirled and gave Granny an angry look. “What do you have to be proud of, you witch?”
Granny gave her back a stern look. “Think you’re the only one to lose someone in battle, missy? You’re not. I have, too.”
The Forever Person gave her back a neutral look.
“Oh, yes,” said Granny, not smiling. “My husband, Mogar, was one of the elite trainers of Darkseid’s troops. We were mated by order of the Dread Lord himself. We didn’t care for each other at first, but then we came to hate each other. Oh, yes we did. It was delicious.”
D’reema was past the point of being repulsed by anything Granny told her. She sat against the side of the wall and waited for the recital to be done.
“Then Mogar died. He was torn to pieces by one of the blastwielders on your side. Do you think only New Genesis soldiers stink when they’re dead, missy? My husband died before he could give me a son.
“That was when I went to the Dread Lord himself and asked for the position my husband had. He doubted a woman could handle it. I grabbed one of his guards by the head, banged his head into the floor three times, kicked him where it hurt, and told him to stand up. He made it, just barely. I gave him an inspection, slapped him around a little more, and then kept him at attention. After a little more of that, the Dread Lord decided to give me a try.
“He put me in charge of the military school, and that was what I wanted most in this life. Besides serving the Dread Lord, of course. Instead of just one son to mold and shape, I had a thousand of them. And daughters, too. I had to show him what I could do, and I did. I improved every aspect of Darkseid’s training.”
“Improved,” said D’reema. “Is that why you lost so many of them every year?”
Granny made a dismissive gesture. “The weak always die. But the strong, ah, yes, those were what Darkseid loved. And what Granny loved as well. They gave me their love, and their loyalty. Granny made them the kind of boys who could stand up to Izaya’s brats in battle, and win. And so far, missy, we are winning. That’s Granny’s legacy. That’s what she has to be proud of. And now, you.”
“Yes. This is one for one. I tell you my story, you tell me yours.”
“You want to hear about me?”
Granny Goodness nodded.
D’reema considered it for a long moment, and then decided the hell with it and began to speak.
“I was born the same year my mother died,” she said. “Two years after Scott. I never knew him. I was too young before he was...taken away. I was never close to Orion. He frightened me. I grew up apart from him, by my desire and by Father’s consent. It hurt him, but I couldn’t accept Orion.
“I tried to be closer to my father, but...that was difficult, as well. He had given away my brother, and taken on the son of Darkseid. And I had no mother. I was part of the court, part of the family, but...distant, as well.
“Thus, I found another family of sorts. Three of them were the sons of a warrior who was killed in the Great War. He died and his body was given to the Source. His sons were Big Bear, and Serifan, and Mark Moonrider. Vykin was the son of his greatest friend, who also died in the conflict.”
Granny spoke. “And this warrior’s name?”
“His name was...his name was Taaru,” said D’reema.
The harridan of Apokolips stared thoughtfully, and nodded.
“There was an incident in which Big Bear and Serifan were attacked by Apokoliptics,” D’reema continued. “That was when we knew Darkseid was about to resume the war. The two of them fought off the warriors, not knowing the one they wanted was me.
“Not three days’ time afterward, we faced a greater force. The five of us were out at a gathering, secretly, near the Source. Highfather would have punished us if he had known we were there. But we had joined our Mother Boxes’ power into a common, larger box, and we were experimenting with it. We were convinced we could...touch the Beyond with it. We were wrong. Instead, the Beyond touched us.
“While we were there, sitting in a circle, the Box above us, we heard the noise of a...of a Boom Tube. A squadron of Para-Demons were coming out of it. They were making for us, attacking us. The males fought them, fought them with Big Bear’s strength and Moonrider’s Megaton Touch and Vykin’s magnetic power and Serifan’s Cosmic Cartridges, and I with my illusions. But it seemed futile. There were so many of them, so many, and they kept coming, and coming on. And it would be over before the soldiers of New Genesis could do anything about it.
“My back was to the Source, then, and I felt...something. Not quite a communication, but a compulsion. I had to touch the Mother Box, and have my friends touch it as well, all together. Despite the fighting, I managed to rally them to do so. The para-demons hovered apart from us for a moment, and in that time, I had them levitate our common Mother above us, and touch it in unison, and concentrate on what was beyond themselves, and beseech her and the Source for help. And I kept my back in contact with the Source.
“That was when the four of us were both shunted away, taken from the plane of New Genesis, and united. With ourselves, and with something more. With a spirit, and with more than that...I believe it was part of the Source. And when he and we appeared in a new form and shape, we knew who the sixth among us was. None of us had to ask.
“He only said to the para-demons, ‘I have heard. I am here. I am the Infinity Man.’ And so he was.
“Within five minutes’ time, he put the demons to flight, those he did not disable entirely. They Boom Tubed back to Apokolips, to what mercies Darkseid would deliver. After the Tube was closed, the Infinity Man vanished again, and we reappeared in New Genesis. From that moment on, we knew our fates would be as one. From that moment on, we were in truth what Orion had called us in jest. The Forever People.
“But Darkseid would not be balked then, and he came for me personally a week later, Boom Tubing in, snatching me from among my friends, robbing me of my senses. He was gone before they could follow. But they knew where I was, because they could track the transmissions of my personal Mother Box. That was when they mounted Big Bear’s sky-cycle and Tubed to Earth. There they met Superman, who rescued me from Darkseid with the Infinity Man’s help. Darkseid thought, then, that I possessed the Anti-Life Equation. He was only looking for the wrong thing.
“You know the rest. How we spent a term on Earth, and then on Adon. How I came to be here. That is my story.”
“So,” said Granny. “It could be that you possess the Life Equation because of your direct connection, even for so small a time, with the Source.”
“I was probably born with it,” said D’reema.
“It makes no difference,” Granny said. “It was a shame that Highfather didn’t give you to Darkseid as well. The Dread Lord would have given you to Granny. Granny would have made you into the warrior that you should have been. Taught you discipline, and strength, and courage, and, above all, obedience! Yes, obedience to Granny and to the Dread Lord himself. Young D’reema, do you not know what you have missed in your upbringing–“
So taken was Granny with her rhetoric that it took her a few moments to notice D’reema was missing.
“What?” she shouted, in astonishment. “Where have you gone? What have you–“
Then it struck her. The Mistress of Illusions was simply plying her trade.
Granny’s eyes narrowed. She splayed her arms out and walked forward, carefully. “Come here, Miss Snooty Baggage,” she called. “Come here, and let Granny show you–-AHHHH!”
The cry was prompted by what looked like the floor opening beneath her feet, leaving her standing on nothingness, with molten lava, flames, and red, pointed-tailed demons far below her.
Granny caught herself on hands and knees before she could bring herself to shut her eyes and convince herself it was unreal.
“There’s no escape from this cell, missy,” she said. “Even I haven’t got a key. Now, I’m going to open my eyes and you’re going to stop all this foolishness.”
When she opened them, she found herself within a world of whiteness.
Everything about her was blank. No walls, no ceiling, no floor, just blankness. Granny walked cautiously forward and barked her shin on the edge of the bench on which she had sat. On impulse, she felt for the edge, then reached under it. She heard something scampering away.
“You mustn’t tease Granny like that,” she cooed. “It could make Granny very, very angry.”
The world became blacker than pitch, and the change in light intensity threw Granny off her game for a moment. But that was simpler to adjust to. She simply closed her eyes and listened for the sound of breathing. Granny reached her hand out, felt until she contacted the wall of the cell, and walked around it, her other arm outstretched. The cell was not that large. If she kept walking, sooner or later she would contact something.
Quickly, far quicklier than would have been believed for a woman of her girth, Granny whirled and reached behind her. She brushed something solid, something human, something which barely got away from her. Granny lunged in that direction, her eyes popping open.
Before her, the surroundings changed from blackness to whiteness rapidly, over and over again, many times in succession. Then confusing optical patterns, hypnotic spirals, angles that could not exist in reality, were seen. A thousand Granny Goodnesses charged towards her, replaced by Darkseids, Orions, and even Mr. Miracles. Then, finally, the room was filled with dozens of Beautiful Dreamers.
All of them spoke in unison, their mouths in perfect synchronization. “Which of us will you choose, Granny? Which of us is the real D’reema?”
“All of you, as far as I’m concerned!” snarled Granny, lunging into the phantom group. On impulse, she fell to the floor and rolled on it like a human steamroller. Before her prey could avoid her, Granny felt the touch of a human leg and grabbed for it. D’reema tried to leap above her, but it was too late. The big woman’s ham hand clenched her ankle with a grip of titanium steel.
D’reema kicked at her viciously, without effect. Granny cackled, and, keeping a grip on the girl’s ankle, reached up and pinned her to the floor with a hand to her throat. “Now, missy,” she said, looking down into her face with eyes of hatred, “you’ll see what Granny does to little girls who play nasty games with her.”
“I think not,” said another voice.
The two of them whipped their heads around to see the speaker. His face was visible in an open barred plate in the door. Neither of them said a word. Both were lucky they were still able to breathe.
“No harm shall come to her,” said Darkseid. “Unless I decree it.”
Then he was gone.
The two women sat on the floor for several long moments, unable to move. Then, finally, Granny got up, moved shakily to the bench, and sat down with a huff. She patted the space beside her.
“Sit down, Missy,” she said, “and tell me some more about your life on New Genesis.”
Dr. Fate had asked for Amethyst to be brought to him, so she was. The rest of the Magic Squad accompanied her, except for Nightmaster, who was with the Warlord. Fate and Dr. Mist were sitting on a curbside of a Metropolis street. It was hard to tell, given Fate’s full-face helmet, but he didn’t look good to her.
“Blessings,” said Fate. “You and I may be key to this battle.”
“Um,” said Amy, kneading her hands tensely and absently. “I’m not sure how, sir.”
“Your father, Amy,” Fate spoke, sitting a bit straighter and looking almost as though it pained him. “He was a Lord of Order in human form. As am I, when I wear this helmet. Together, we may provide the power that can overthrow Mantis.”
“If we are lucky,” said Mist, ruefully.
Jennifer Morgan stepped up and put protective hands around Amethyst’s shoulders. “Just a minute, Doctor. You’re not talking any male-female magic, are you? Amy here may look big, but she’s just a girl. I won’t have any of that stuff, no matter who her father’s supposed to be.”
“I am not speaking of magic on that level,” said Fate, tiredly. “I refer to the union of a Lord and Lady of Order on a more aesthetic plane. No physicality involved.”
“All the same,” said Jennifer, “if you want something like that, you try somebody older. I mean that.”
Amethyst put her hand on Jennifer’s. “No, Jen, I think I know what he’s talking about. Uniting our powers, not our, well, physical bodies. But this Lady of Order stuff, what is it? I just thought I was a princess from another dimension. Well, and a normal girl, of course.”
“So much more than that,” said Fate. “So much more. If you heed me, Amy, we may be able to help defeat Mantis. But not to destroy him, regrettably.”
Amy blurted out her next sentence. “Well, then, who will kill him?”
Fate said nothing. After a moment, Dr. Mist said, “Such questions are best not answered, Lady Amethyst, before the deed is done.”
Shade, Mellu, and Jennifer looked at Amethyst intently. The girl in the purple dress took a long time to make up her mind. All of five seconds.
She looked at the Daily Planet building in the near distance, and then at the two master magicians sitting on the curb.
“Tell me what you want me to do,” she said.
On New Genesis, Superboy had been with Izaya on a routine inspection of the troops and war equipment, and was awed by what he saw. There seemed to be enough firepower here to level Krypton. He had been introduced to the commanders, and had been accepted by them, which was gratifying.
When the two of them returned to the palace, they found a colorful complement waiting for them. Metron, in a new Mobius Chair. Lightray. Mr. Miracle. Big Barda. Oberon. The Female Furies. The Forever People. Zatanna. Lady Quark. Alex Luthor. Pariah. All of them were standing in the courtyard, and there wasn’t a smile among them.
Mark Moonrider was the first to speak. “Highfather, we have to go after D’reema. There’s no time to waste. We’re going.”
Highfather stood before him, resolute. “You will not, Moonrider. Not alone. Darkseid’s forces are on high alert. Alone, or even in the unit you now form, you would be destroyed.”
“With all respect, Highfather,” said Lady Quark, “we don’t have long in any case. And we’re powerful in our own right.”
Izaya surveyed them all, like a general inspecting his troops. “So is Darkseid. Especially when he is that close to his goal. My armies are rallied. They will be the key to this battle. Sending the lot of you in alone...that would be suicide. And it would lose us our very hope to recover my daughter, to save Orion’s mind, and to thwart Darkseid. If such may be done. It is my decree that we wait five hours, no more than that, for the advent of the Green Lanterns. They have been summoned, and they have given me good faith that they will appear.”
Big Bear was the next to speak. “And if they don’t show up in five hours, Highfather? What, then?”
The king of New Genesis looked at his younger subject and spoke again. “Then we go in anyway,” he said. “Prepare yourself for war.”
(1) Tsunami was created by DAVE COCKRUM, age 58, New York State, U.S.A.
(2) Kid Rock was created by R. J. CROXTON, age 41, Arkansas, U.S.A.
(3) Firebolt was created by DARKMARK, age 47, Texas, U.S.A.