Supergirl:

 The Apokolips Agenda

 Part 33

 by DarkMark

Changeling and Mento had been using their time together to rebond and, with the help of Steve Dayton’s cleaning staff, get the place back in shape again.  All the dirty plates, TV dinners, spilled pop cans, soiled sheets, and strewn-around books, papers, and other objects were being taken away.

Questor, Dayton’s chief aide, was considerably elated about the change, though he kept his front of dignity.  “I must say, sir, all of us on staff are quite pleased to see you past your Howard Hughes period.  It is invigorating to have you back.”

Dayton, in white short-sleeved shirt, grey jeans, and slippers, grinned through his beard and clasped Questor’s arm.  “Don’t get too optimistic yet, Ques.  I’ve got another mission in the pipeline.  But I intend to come out on the other side just like I am today.”

Questor’s face showed the alarm.  Gar Logan stood by, waiting for the denouement.  “But, sir, what if...what if you don’t?  What then, sir?”

“Then,” Steve said, soberly, “I want you to have me committed.”

Changeling was at Steve’s side immediately.  “Don’t worry, Dad.  We’ll take care of you, no matter what happens.  I’ll make sure of that, and so will the Titans.”

Steve lay an arm across Gar’s shoulders.  “I know you will, son.  What I feel for what you and Raven did for me goes beyond gratitude.  And even though she’s not here to confirm it, I think we both know Rita would be proud of you.”

Gar fought down a lump in his throat.  Rita Farr, his stepmother and Steve’s wife, had been Elasti-Girl of the original Doom Patrol.  She had died along with the Chief and Negative Man when Madame Rouge and Captain Zahl blew them to bits.  Years later, the Titans, Robotman, and Mento had avenged their deaths.  It was cold comfort, but closure.  “Yeah,” was all he could say.

“We haven’t bled an unrecoverable amount of money,” said Steve.  “Guess the underlings I have were as smart as they were supposed to be.  If this thing doesn’t turn out right–“

“Don’t say that, Steve.”

“Possibility I have to face, Gar.  As I said, if it doesn’t go our way, at least it’ll be in good hands.  Yours, too.”

The green-skinned young man hugged his stepfather around the waist, and Steve reciprocated.  “You may not be my real dad,” said Gar, in a low voice.  “But as far as I’m concerned, you’re number two.”

“Best thing I’ve heard in a long time,” said Steve, and, almost against his will, glanced at the Mento helmet on a table nearby.  He remembered how the design had frustrated him, until a very young man named Constantine had come to him with a set of schematics.  Constantine never said where he’d gotten them.  But they worked.

The last time, they’d worked too well.

And then, there were other presences in the room.

Steve, Questor, and Gar immediately sensed it.  Gar and Steve knew the sensation.  Whenever the Phantom Stranger made an entrance, the temperature seemed to drop about five degrees.

The man in the hat, cloak, and immaculate dress was there, with a new entourage.  The party included a quite dangerous man with white hair and an eyepatch, and he was packing heat and carrying a briefcase.  He wasn’t in costume, but he didn’t have to be.  A brown-haired woman was holding his hand, and looking tense.  Several others were also with the Stranger, all in costume.  That is, except for the one all in metal.

“Stranger,” said the Changeling.  “Why in hell did you bring Deathstroke?”

“Good to see you again too, kid,” responded Slade Wilson.  “Just think of me as insurance.  The missus wanted to come, too.”

The Phantom Stranger said, “I brought him for support, as I have brought Robotman.”

The last living member of the old Doom Patrol stepped towards Gar and Steve and clasped a hand apiece of them.  “Great to see ya back, Steve. Great to see ya back.  You too, Kid Lettuce-Face.”

“Same for you, rustpot,” said Gar, with an offhand grin.  “But that doesn’t change things about Deathstroke.  Sure, we got on okay last time, but, Stranger, don’t you know who he is?”

Slade Wilson stood before the four of them.  “He knows, just like the rest of you do.  Or should.  But I couldn’t go with the heroes, and I wouldn’t go with the bad guys.  Here, at least, I can do some good.  Anybody tries to attack you, I’m on ‘em.  So will the wife, here.”

Gar reflected that he wasn’t exaggerating.  Adeline Wilson had been a trainer in the U.S. Army and had initially given Slade Wilson his combat training, then refined it to an incredible degree.  She was also the mother of Gar’s fellow Titan, Jericho.   “He killed me once,” said Gar.

“I did.  But that was business.  I thought we got past all that the last time, kid.”

“You don’t ever get past that,” Gar said.

“Any more than I got past what happened to my son, Grant,” said Wilson, softly.

Gar stared at him.  Grant Wilson had died, trying to take vengeance on the Titans with powers that simulated his father’s own, but which drained his life through overstrain.  None of them had forgotten his death.

The lot of them waited in the silence and tenseness for what Gar would say next.

“I want to trust him, ma’am,” said Gar to Adeline.  “I do trust you, though.”

“Logan,” said Slade, “I swear to you, I give you my word, that you can trust me in this matter.  I’ll give it to Dayton here and anybody else you want.  I’m not saying I won’t kill anybody.  All I’m saying is that, if I do, they’re going to be on the other side.”

Both of the others with the Stranger seemed to freeze at Slade Wilson’s words.  But Steve Dayton said, “If he’s good enough for Gar, he’s good enough for me.  How’s about it, son?”

Changeling looked at Slade Wilson, and reflected on how, in their last encounter, he had steadfastly refused to take advantage of an opportunity to kill Gar.  Even if they were in a death-duel Gar had picked, resultant from the death of Terra, the traitor Titan.  “All right,” he said.  “I sure as hell hope I’m not being stupid.”

“Thanks, son,” said Slade.  “Let me get my working clothes on, and I’ll be back.”

“I’ll add my thanks, too, Mr. Logan,” said Mrs. Wilson.  “And I think I’ll feel more comfortable in cammo gear than this dress, for this outing.  I’ll be back in a minute, too.”

As the two left the room, Gar said, “Make with the introductions for these other guys, Stranger.  I’ve never met them.”

The Stranger put a hand on the shoulder of the kid with the helmet.  “This is Lucian Crawley.  He has telepathic powers of his own, and will be part of our team in this matter.”  He went to the other he had brought with him, a black-haired man in green with a white streak in his hair.  “This is Prince Ra-Man, also known as the Mind Master.   He will also be part of our team.  Steve Dayton will be the spearhead of our effort.  In this, we must not fail.  Nor will we, if our parts are correctly played.”

“So let me know what the effort will be,” said Steve, evenly.

“We must reclaim the mind of Orion from the mind of Darkseid,” said the Stranger, “before he can yield up the Anti-Life Equation.”

Gar’s hand tightened on Steve’s arm as Dayton said, “So. Another seance.”

“No,” said the Stranger.  “Not like Constantine.  The three of you will link minds, and we will be here to support you.  This will be no seance.  It will be a campaign.”

After a pause, Steve Dayton spoke.

“Let’s get started.”

 -S-

In the space just beyond the ring of shadow-demons, the Green Lantern corps blasted away with their rings, trying to penetrate through to Apokolips.

<Not enough success, Haljor Dan,> reported Eddore, the bloblike Green Lantern. <Thousands of these entities.  We dissipate one, it reforms.  And we have not yet broken through enough levels to reach objective.>

<Acknowledged, Eddore,> replied Hal, telepathically. <Keep plugging.> He glanced at Star Sapphire, who was using her own energy-powers to aid and abet the Lanterns’ effort, but with the same lack of results.  He racked his brain for specialists among the Corpsmen, those whose abilities went beyond just wielding a ring.  Finally, he hit on one candidate.  Then he sent another message.

<Sodam Yat.  Got a job for you.>

The Green Lantern of Daxam returned his sending. <Acknowledged and waiting.>

<Keep in hold until I place a message,> said the first Green Lantern of Earth-One.  Then, on another mental wavelength, he dared something he would not have thought of when he became a Lantern, all those years ago.

<Guardians of the Universe.  Hal Jordan of Sector 2814 calling.  Your help...is required.>

For a long moment, Hal wondered if he would receive back a response.  And then:

<We are here, Hal Jordan.  How may the Guardians help?>

In his sheath of green, he breathed a sigh of relief.  Then he opened a corresponding link with Sodam Yat, and said, <Stand by.> To both of them, he sent, <We haven’t been able to penetrate Apokolips’s sheath of shadow-demons.  There’s a layer of Kryptonite radiation below that.  I don’t doubt but what Darkseid will be smart enough to have something yellow waiting for us, if we do get through.

<But if Sodam Yat can get through, he can use his Daxamite powers to knock out enough defenses to gain us access.  The heroes of the Earths will be arriving soon.  We need to open the way for them.  If we can get him through it, he can do it.

<What I propose is this.  If the Guardians be willing, great sirs, you can provide a direct link between the Central Power Battery and ourselves.   You transmit it to the Corps, we’ll transmit it to Sodam Yat.  With that kind of power, he should be able to get through the shadow-demons without problem.  Once below that layer, it’s up to him.  That is, if you’re willing, Sodam.>

The Daxamite answered, <If I was not, Hal Jordan, I would not be a Green Lantern.>

The Guardian responded, after another moment. <What you propose is unprecedented.  The outpouring of so much power into one man’s ring, even that of Sodam Yat, chances an overload that could erase him from existence.  And much besides him.>

Hal waited.

<But your suggestion has merit.  And we are in the last stages of the multiversal crisis.  Therefore, it is decreed: we will cooperate.>

Saying a silent prayer of thanks, Hal Jordan said, <Thank you, great sirs.  Thank you very much.  Sodam Yat, are you still willing?>

<Unto death, and beyond, Hal Jordan,> said the big man from Daxam.

<Let’s get with it,> said Hal.  He opened a channel to the rest of the Corps. <Corpsmen, Hal Jordan here,> he sent. <Change of plans.  This is what we have to do.>

 -S-

Supergirl stood by as Dr. Fate, Green Lantern of Earth-2, and Johnny Thunder’s Thunderbolt created the conveyances that would take the heroes to Apokolips.  They amounted to four large spacecraft whose only propulsion would be magic itself.

“I don’t know that this is the greatest idea,” she said.  “Everyone’s so darned tired already from the fighting here.”

Power Girl, beside her, said, “True enough, K.  But we don’t have much choice.”

“No, I suppose not.”  She sighed, sat down on the pavement, and crossed her legs.  “Fight, fight, fight.  There doesn’t seem to be much else in our lives, does it, Kara?”

The Earth-Two Kryptonian shrugged.  “When you have the powers, it seems to be a given that you have to use them.  If we don’t, a lot of evil things can triumph.”

“Maybe that’s so, but I want to opt out.  There are a lot of super-heroes on my Earth.  They can cover any slack I might create.”

“Are you sure?”  Power Girl sat beside her.  “We don’t have very long to talk.”

Supergirl looked at her thoughtfully.  “I’m never sure about anything.  But I know how I feel.  I want to be a real woman, not a, a super-heroine.”

“There isn’t anything about being Supergirl you like?”  Power Girl tented her gloved fingers together.  “I can’t believe that, K.”

“Oh, Sheol, yes, there is.  I like having the powers.  I like the strength and speed and being able to fly and see across whole star lengths.  It’s just that I don’t like the purposes I have to put them to.  I can’t save the world every month.  But that seems like all I’ve been doing so far.”

“Well, Kara,” said Power Girl, “how much attention have you given to being a real woman?”

“What do you mean?”

“Seems to me about the only thing you’ve done, from what you’ve told me, is move from job to job to job.  You never make many plans for your future, you don’t stick with anything more than a couple of years.  If you want to be a ‘real woman’, as you put it, why don’t you put more effort into being one?  Instead of walking away any time a challenge comes?”

Supergirl stared at her.

“Sorry if I spoke out of turn, K, but that’s sure what it looks like from here,” said Power Girl.

“No, that’s all right,” said Kara.  “Maybe...maybe you have a point.  Rao, I’ve always thought of myself as Kara Zor-El, and I am.  Supergirl’s the closest to that, but she’s still an identity I put on.  Linda Danvers is the hardest thing for me to do.  I’ve always had Supergirl to fall back on.”  She paused.  “Maybe that’s why I was able to run so often.  Maybe that’s why I haven’t bothered.”

“Maybe,” said Power Girl.

Supergirl smiled and took her counterpart’s hand.  “I wish we could get together more often.  From the first time I met you, I thought it was like finding I had a sister.”

“Me, too,” Power Girl replied, squeezing her hand.  “I’m not on your wavelength all the way, but we have enough in common.”

“That’s just the way I’d want it,” said Kara.  “I wouldn’t want a clone of myself.  I appreciate having somebody like you around.”

“Somebody who could probably beat you at arm-wrestling.”  Power Girl grinned.

“Like to see you try.”

“Maybe once we’re finished,” said Power Girl.  “But there’s one thing I really do envy you.”

“What’s that?” said Kara, feeling as though she already knew the answer.

“Parents,” Power Girl said.  “You’ve still got yours.  Mine are dead.”  She looked sad.  “In this universe, there are a whole bunch of Kryptonian survivors.  In mine, there’s only four.  And three of them are villains.”

Supergirl embraced her sister-self.  “I’m sorry, Kara,” she said.  “Anytime you want, you come over here and we’ll be your friends.  When Rokyn is in phase again, we’ll take you there.  I promise.”

“If we live through this thing, I’ll take you up on it.”

“Yeah,” said Kara.  “If.”

Power Girl looked at her slyly.  “You wouldn’t consider sharing Dev, would you?”

“Fixing to pull your peroxide hair out.”

“Just joking, K.”  Power Girl fired a mock punch at Kara’s jaw.  “Just joking.”

Dev-Em and Superman’s shadows fell over them.  “You ladies ready to go?” asked Dev.

“We are ready to leave,” confirmed Superman.  He noticed Power Girl looking at him, with eyes that almost seemed ready to tear, but not quite.

“Excuse me,” she said.  “Would it be all right if I just touched you?”

“Just...touched me?”

“Yes,” said Kara Zor-L.  “Nothing...more than a touch.”

Superman shrugged, briefly.  “If you want.”

Supergirl watched intently as Power Girl stood and, tentatively, put out her blue-gloved hand and ran it over Kal’s features.  She seemed to breathe with a bit more ease after she had done so. “Thank you,” she said.

Kal held her wrist, gently and with some affection.  “Kara.  I’m sorry.  I miss him, too.”

She nodded. “That’s all right.  Seeing you here, even though you’re younger...sometimes it’s like seeing a ghost.”

Dev said, “Have a nice long look around, Power Girlie.  A lot more of us might wind up ghosts before we get back.”

Supergirl looked at him with some coldness, then took his hand.  “Come on,” she said.  “Let’s get on board.”

 -S-

“It begins,” said Madame Xanadu, dealing her deck of Tarot cards.

“Without us,” said John Constantine, scratching his ear and puffing on a Silk Cut. Tim Hunter coughed.

Dr. Occult leaned back in his chair.  “Would you rather have signed up to go with them, John?”

“You know better than that,” Constantine said, a trifle surly in tone.  “I’m no world-beater.  Just hope Swamp can do some good.”

“And the Stranger,” said Baron Winters.  “But one thing is certain.  We won’t have long to wait.”

Tim leaned over the table.  “Do those cards tell you anything, Miss Xanadu?”

She looked back at him.  “Yes, Tim.  They tell me too much.  And not enough.”  She pulled another deck, a Bicycle brand, from her purse.  “How’s about some gin rummy?”

“Sure.” Tim smiled.  “Can John and the rest sit in?”

“But of course,” she said, dealing out the cards on an untouched part of the table.  “There’s something charming about facing the end of the world with five-handed gin.”

 -S-

On New Genesis, the war machine was prepared, and waiting.  All that remained was the go-ahead from Izaya, and the Boom Tubes would be activated to send them to Apokolips.

In what passed for a War Room in his palace, Izaya sat with his advisors and Tigra and received word from Metron by a Mother Box transmission.  One of the advisors watched his liege with his head pressed to the small Box and finally said, “What word, my liege?”

Highfather looked at him.  “Not yet.  The Lanterns are seeking a means of penetration.  Metron says they are trying a new tactic.  They hope it will work.”

“Dear Source,” muttered Tigra, sitting next to him and trying to rein in her emotions.

“With all due respect, great sir, our time is limited,” said another.  “True, a two-pincer attack with our forces and the Lanterns would be desirable.  But if they cannot get through, and we can...”

“Then the conflict would be of needs much bloodier, and more men of New Genesis will be killed than if our attack is combined,” retorted Izaya, showing his wrath.  “Nonetheless, if their penetration is not made within the hour, we will start the attack.  Elom, do you think that I know nothing of war?  By the Source, I know all too much of it!  I was general before I became Highfather, and if I be general again, my orders will be obeyed!”

Elom was taken aback.  “Forgive me, Highfather.  I meant no disrespect.”

“No, you meant nothing more than to prod me into action,” he said.  “As if the mind of my son, the fate of my daughter, and the liberty of the Multiverse were not goad enough.  Rest easy, Elom.  I am not Darkseid.  You are safe enough.”

They seemed to breathe easier.  Tigra said, “Milord, I crave a boon.”

Izaya looked at her gently.  “If it be within my power to grant, and my will, Tigra.  Say on.”

“If our forces fail, if my son’s mind be lost to his body, and if Darkseid prevail, then kill me.  I wish not to live with those options, in that world.”

Izaya said nothing.  Mercifully, the Mother Box began pinging again.  He placed it at the side of his head.

In a few seconds, Highfather said, “The warrior is dispatched.  The operation has begun.”

 -S-

In his chambers, Darkseid sat, and meditated.  Actually, what he did was more than meditation.

What he was really doing was delving into his own mind and breaking down the mind of Orion.

<You resist, my son,> he thought. <I would expect no less.>

<Death and damnation to you, father.>

<Not yet for either of them, my son.> Darkseid sent a drill of mental effort into what remained of his son’s mind.  There was screaming even Orion’s stoicism couldn’t repress.  He was closing in on his objective.

Another voice. <Finish it, great lord.  Finish it, and reintegrate me.  I will continue to serve you, all the more loyally.>

<Desaad, BE SILENT.> He punctuated it with a burst of fury that sent the sadist supreme howling back to the corner of Darkseid’s mind reserved to him.  That finished, Darkseid bent to his task again.

Drilling, hammering, piercing, tearing apart the layers of Orion’s mind.  Each layer was tough, and they seemed as numerous as the skins of an onion, as the leaves of an artichoke.  It took great effort.  While he was thus engaged, he would be unable to direct the war effort, should Izaya find entry.

He almost laughed.  It was a certainty that Izaya would find entry.  He always did.

But the realm was well defended.  It would cost Izaya’s forces as never before.  And all he had to do was fend them off another few hours.  Then the speaking of a simple equation...it had to be simple, there was nothing else it could be...and the entire effort would be completed.

Darkseid tried to imagine how it would be.  The simple mental command to his foes to stand down.  The immobilization of the heroes of the Earths, of the forces of New Genesis.  The destruction of those whom he deemed too dangerous, or to whom he owed much vengeance, by their own hands.  The enslavement of those who remained.

Then he could get down to the business at hand.  The business of creating a truly efficient Multiverse.  Without war.  Without poverty.  Without unnecessary death.  Without independent will, that curse of humanity and Celestial alike.

All it needed was a firm hand at the tiller, and none was firmer than his.  But, of course, the Equation had to be dredged up.

So Darkseid bent to his task, disregarded his son’s mental screams, promised Desaad as much and more if he interfered, and waited for the New Genesites to arrive.

He swore it would cost them.  But for the moment, he was busy.

 -S-

Aboard one of the great ships, Supergirl and all present had heard a stirring battle address by Uncle Sam transmitted to them all.  It should have meant something to her, but it didn’t.  All she knew was that her stomach hurt from tension, her palm was wet with sweat in Dev’s hand, and she was praying to Rao to bring them through and to ensure that they never had to do something like this again.

The great craft were moving through the warp-space between dimensions.  She’d been there before, while hopping through shortcuts in space and on the infrequent occasions in which she’d gone to another Earth.  The visible patterns of energy and force, the hints of existences on planes her perception could only register in part, all went by her like so many unnoticed billboards on a highway.

“You’ll come back to my century when this is through,” said Dev, in a low voice.

“I’ll have a lot of my life to put back together after this,” Kara answered.  “But on the weekend, I will.”

“I want you to stay there with me.”

“I can’t.”

“You can.”

“No, Dev.”  She looked at him.  “I love you, but I haven’t made enough of a life for myself.  I’m going to do that in my time, and see you in yours.”

“Kara, Sheol.  You can build a life for yourself in my time, too.  Want a secret identity?  We’ll set you one up.  We’ll even see about getting you a job.  A better one than what you’ve got here.  And we can...well...”

She breathed.  “Get married?”

“I don’t know.  I don’t know right yet.  But maybe.”

She shook her head.  “No, Dev, not right now.  I love my parents and Kal too much just to leave them flat.  Maybe someday.  But right now...frab it, we don’t even know if there’s going to be a tomorrow, unless we get through today.”

“Isn’t that the way it always is?”

“Yeah.  But most especially now.”

Dev nodded.  True, there’d always be a timeline in which the Legion existed in the 30th Century.  But his presence here probably changed things.  Unless they succeeded, the timeline in which they lived would be one dominated by Darkseid, and possibly his descendants, forevermore.  Paradoxes would arise that he didn’t want to think about.  It was as bad as when they had to make sure Superboy lived through every Legion case, so that he could go back and become Superman.

But there was nothing else to do about it.

She looked about her at the vast number of heroes stuffed more or less comfortably into the seats of their space-ark.  Not far away was Infinity, Inc., and a group she had never met before, Helix.  The latter had been both the enemies and the friends of the Infinitors, and a skull-faced one of them was having a conversation in rhyme with the Demon.  Nearby sat two women and a man, one girl a blonde in a red and yellow outfit who called herself Joanie Quick and claimed to be the granddaughter of a World War II hero.  Another was a tough-looking youth in a black T-shirt and jeans, who only gave his name as Matt Munro.  The third was an Asian girl in a helmet, halter, and pants, identified as Natalia Perkins.  She had never met any of them.  They said they were part of the Justice Alliance, whatever that was.

Superman was riding in another one of the arks.  They didn’t want all the Kryptonians in one vessel.  As long as she had Dev there, it wasn’t so bad.

“I’m going to find D’reema,” she said.

“What?”

“I’m going to find D’reema, get her away from Darkseid, and rescue her,” said Kara.  “It was our responsibility to keep her safe.  We failed.  I’m going to get her back.”

“If we can,” said Dev.

“We’ve got to.  I’ve got to.  We can fight off all the para-demons in the world, Dev, but if we don’t save that one girl, all is lost.”

“You’ve got a point, love,” he said.  “But it isn’t like she won’t be defended.  Charge in there like a bull in a skirt, and you’ll probably trip every booby trap Old Rockface ever devised.”

“Doesn’t matter.  I fell down on the job.  I’m not going to do it again.”

“All right.  If I can, I’ll help.  If I can’t...you just be careful.  Very careful.  One of us comes out of this alive, I want it to be you.”

“Oh, Dev, shut up.  I want us both to come through this.  And Kal, and young Kal, and Power Girl, and all the rest.”  She put her head against his shoulder.  “I am just so damned tired of this.  I want it to end.”

“We’ve established that.  One last thing I want to tell you before we breach ether.”

“Uh huh?”

“I love you, Kara.  I know you know it, I know I know it.  But I just wanted you to know it again.”

“I always did, Dev.  And I love you too.”

He chucked her under the chin.  “Too bad they don’t have any private rooms on board this bus.”

She smiled, a bit.  “Save it till we’re back home.”

“You owe me one, then.”

“I’ll owe you a lot more than one,” she said.  “And I pay my debts.  In full.”

“Counting on it.”

The voice of Dr. Fate was heard in all of the arks.  “Reentering normal space in five minutes,” he said.  “Prepare yourselves.”

 -S-

The sensation was nothing like Sodam Yat had ever experienced.

When the entire Corps had fed him green energy through a power-line to his ring, it was beyond even the sum they could have generated.  It felt as though he was tapping the power at the center of a galaxy, that which held billions of stars in a turning spiral.  No Lantern had ever drawn on that much power, and perhaps none ever would again.

But, once he was beyond this sea of night, it might avail him nothing.  He would have to rely on the power of a Daxamite, the strength, the speed, the invulnerability that were his heritage underneath a sun that was not red.

Right now, it took almost all of his green power to insulate him from the touch of the shadow-beings through whom he moved.  Unshielded, even he would be frozen by their contact.  He gave thanks to his God that his sheath remained unbreached.

He could feel their hatred.  He could feel their desire to freeze, to kill.  He shrugged it off.  Green Lanterns were chosen for their immunity from fear.  They could be concerned, yes, but their sensibilities leaned towards cold and accurate assessments of a situation.  He’d need that all in his present operation.

The power from the Central Battery propelled him like a cannon shell.  Despite all the resistance from the shadows, he was through their final layer in a matter of minutes.  That which lay below was a gleaming layer of green.  The miles-thick later of Kryptonite radiation, deadly to Superman and Supergirl.  Even a Daxamite knew of them.

With his ring, he tracked the layer of satellites broadcasting the deadly green and shattered them.  In fact, they fell so quickly he had to cut off his beam with great abruptness.  It threatened to get out of his control.

<K-satellites neutralized,> he sent to Hal Jordan.  The greenness began to fade away.

Abruptly, his eyes were assaulted by a blast of yellow.

There was no way to use any of the great energy his ring commanded, now.  No way even to get word back to the Lanterns of his progress.  If they hit him with lead, which they undoubtedly would, he would have to trust in his ring’s latent power to preserve his own life.

From here on in, he must rely on the power of a Daxamite.

Warships of Apokolips approached him, blasted him.  Their rays and projectiles glanced off his green-and-black-clad body without effect.  He didn’t even favor them with a sneer.  Sodam Yat trained his super-vision over the pitted surface of New Genesis and found his immediate objective:  the broadcast stations that was producing the source of the yellow aura.  There was no less than five of them, with other relay stations should they fall.

He wasn’t as used to operating with his natural super-powers as without them, but he did know how to use them.

Sodam Yat accelerated his flight to several times that of light and smashed into all of the stations, tearing apart their connections to the relays as he did so.  As a result, only three relays had to be destroyed.  And as he stood in the wreckage of the last, among the unconscious bodies of the attendants on duty, his ring sprang to life in a verdant arc of green.

There was a booming noise behind him.  He turned, just in time to be attacked by a huge, yellow skinned being who grasped him about the neck and began to squeeze.

“Thank you,” said Mongul, sincerely, purpling the Lantern’s face.  “It’s about time I had someone to kill.”

The man from Daxam pointed his fist at the tyrant’s chest.

An instant later, Mongul’s hands were forcibly torn away from Sodam Yat’s throat, his body was sent smashing through what remained of the ceiling, and, screaming until he could be heard no more, he was propelled through the atmosphere and deep into the ring of shadow-demons.   Within seconds, he was frozen into suspended animation.

Sodam Yat gasped, felt his neck bruises, and sent a message to the Corpsmen. <Phase One successful,> he said. <Beginning Phase Two.>

With that, he concentrated his will, pointed his ring hand upward, and let fly.

The great green energy of the Guardians’ making contacted the inside of the layer of shadow-demons, spread until it formed a layer of its own underneath them, and began to push.

Behind it, the Lantern Corpsmen focused their wills, adding their mental power to that of Sodam Yat, and strained.  The layer of shadows was resisting.

<Blazes, Hal,> sent John Stewart. <It’s...just like...the climax of Children of the Lens, by Doc Smith.  Lantern’s Load!>

<Whatever,> grated Hal Jordan, and kept willing.

The shadow-demons, those deadliest of the Anti-Monitor’s warriors, screeched silently with their effort.  They had been set in place by the order of their lord Darkseid, and they had no will other than his in this situation.  The perimeter must be maintained.  The defense against the interlopers must be sustained.  They must remain as one, intertwined, cold, and deadly, despite this intrusion of an Arkymandrite in their midst.

But, slowly, they began to expand outward.

<Get back,> warned Hal. <They’re fixing to blow.>

The Corpsmen drew on what power that was funneled through them to draw back and shield themselves a bit more.  But almost all of the green power broadcast from the Great Battery through the Guardians’ bodies was pouring straight into Sodam Yat’s ring.  The incalculable might of the emerald energy, linked to the will of the sweating Daxamite, was forced up further and further, harder and harder, lifting the wall of shadow-beings as if air was being pumped into a balloon.

A crack of green appeared in the wall of black. Arisia was first to see it. <Katma,> she called.

<I see it, little one,> telepathed Katma Tui. <Stand fast, and be ready.>

More cracks of emerald, more fault lines among the shadows, began to spread and appear.  Desperately, the shadow-demons sought to reach across, sought to bridge the gap, but they only thinned themselves past viability.  They still struggled, still resisted.  But the warrior from Daxam continued his assault.

Star Sapphire appeared beside Hal and entwined her arm with his. <I’m glad to be here with you now,> she sent. <But I’m always glad to be with you.>

<Acknowledged and returned, Carol,> he sent. <Get ready to reinforce shields.  I think...it’s about to...>

The shadow-demons exploded into space.

They boiled past the Lanterns in a cloud of angry darkness, visible even in the void of space.  A cheer went up from the Corpsmen, even as they shielded themselves.  The breach had been made.  But the task had not yet been finished.

Below, Sodam Yat simply sent, <Phase Three,> and began.

The great globe of green force that now covered Apokolips was reshaped, leaving the planet’s atmosphere, turning itself inside out, and drawing the shadows within its maw with irresistable power.  It sucked them in, formed a much smaller globe of containment, and then, when the final shadow was within, sealed itself.

Then it hurled itself outward, on a trip beyond Apokolips’s solar system, into the void as quickly as the green power could send it.

Hal and his Corpsmen made a quick scan, found nothing more threatening in the area than a quick-frozen Mongul, and made the decision.

<Sodam Yat, power down,> sent Hal.

<Acknowledged,> sent Sodam Yat.

With that, he willed a reverse in the flow of power from his ring.  This would be risky business, to be sure.  The power had to return to the Central Battery, and then be sent back to himself and the Corpsmen in the correct portions.  The blonde Daxamite thought wistfully of what he was abandoning, and disregarded it.  One ring’s power was enough for a true Lantern.

For thirty seconds, they would be powered down, except for life-support functions.  He sensed his own ring shutting down, and held up his hand.

As he did so, he noticed two Apokolips guards coming through a break in the wall with yellow-colored uniforms and blasters.  “Stand, invader,” said one of them. “You are under arrest by the supreme authority of the Great Lord Darkseid.”

“In hell,” snapped Yat, and polished both of them off with a single blow.

He had to admit, even as the power returned to his ring, that some things were more satisfying to do by oneself.

A second later, he heard the broadcast from Hal Jordan to the Corps, himself, and all its allies.

<Highfather, Fate, Phase Three has been completed.  Engage your forces.  We’re going in.>

 -S-

Kalibak swore at the report he’d gotten back.  He drew back his great warclub, looked at the cowering messenger, and then lowered it.  “Get out of here,” he said.

“Oh, great Kalibak, let not my lord be troubled, but what message should I give the generals?”

“Tell them we’re at war,” he said.  “And that I’ll be down in a moment.”

The man scurried out of Kalibak’s chamber.

Sighing, Kalibak trudged towards his father’s chamber, and wondered if he would leave in the same configuration that he entered.

The doorplate responded to his fingerprints and body temperature, an eye-scanner took note of his retinal patterns, and an aura measurement machine matched him to a file on Kalibak.  Even so, he had to punch in a code to enter.  If he had not gotten the input correct, a number of defensive devices would have killed him on the spot.

The door swung open onto darkness.

Kalibak suppressed the impulse to gasp.  Despite his father’s name, he had usually worked in fairly well-lit surroundings.  To know that he was unseen within this zone of lightlessness indicated that Darkseid was deeply into a meditative state, in the final stages of his mental battle with Orion.  Even with the door open, Kalibak could barely pick out the shadowed form of his father.

“Close the door.”

“Father, I must know—“

“Close the DOOR.”

Kalibak quickly shut the door behind him.  The locks and bars fell into place, and the room was in total darkness again.  Despite himself, he shivered.

The voice came from the darkness again.  “Why have you come here?”

Moistening his lips, Kalibak spoke.  “Because, my father, we are under attack.  The Green Lanterns have breached our defenses.  The New Genesites and the scum of the five Earths will be upon us in minutes.  I seek advice, Great Lord.  I wish to know—“

“You must hold them off for a short time.  Until I have extracted the secret from Orion.”

“Yes, Great Lord, that much I understand.  But our resources are depleted.  The Secret Society—“

“The Secret Society has undoubtedly been beaten.  Or the heroes would not be here.  I will activate the Reserves.  They will deal with the men of Earth.  Our armies will deal with Highfather’s forces.  You will command them.”

“Father, I am, I am a warrior, not a general.”

“Then you will learn.  Go, and do your duty.  Do not fail.  And if you disturb me again, you will share space with Desaad.”

A sliver of whiteness grew as the door swung open again.  Kalibak rushed through it as fast as he could.  The door closed behind him.  He had no doubt that even he would be unable to enter it again.

Kalibak went to the war room and beheld Apokolips’s generals, clustered about a long table, monitors of the planet and the orbital space about it on the walls.

“Hail Darkseid,” said Magritt, one of the higher-ranking officials.  “We await your orders, Kalibak.”

“Deploy our forces,” said Kalibak.  “They are to attack the New Genesis armies.  The Reserves will battle the Terrans.  These orders are from the Great Lord himself.  As for tactics, do as you see fit.”

It was as good as he could do, and he had done it.  Kalibak left the chamber and headed out.  He shifted his grip on the warclub.  There were bound to be battlefields on which he could smash heads and splatter brains.

That was what he did well, and that was what he intended to do.  A lot.

 -S-

Highfather had left the council chamber several minutes ago and had not been seen since then.   The Forever People and the heroes who accompanied them were assembled in the courtyard.  The armies of New Genesis, in their various stations, were awaiting word from their commander.  To say that all were at full alert would have been an understatement.

Then Mark Moonrider and company beheld Izaya emerging from the palace.  Izaya, rather than Highfather.  The gathered heroes saw the New Genesis monarch in full battle armor, with only his face uncovered by a lifted visor.  The sole remnant of his Highfather identity was the staff which he held in one hand.  Moonrider, Big Bear, Serifan, and Vykin were immediately impressed by the gravity of the situation.  Izaya had divested himself, for the moment, of the last of his pacifism.  Now, he was again truly a warrior.

From his hand, Izaya released a Mother Box.  It hung before him as he spoke, and transmitted his words to the military forces about the globe.

“Today, we go forth to finish the conflict between ourselves and Apokolips forever,” he said.  “Today, we enter into the final battle between our light and their darkness, between good and evil.  Today, we will prevail, or see our universe, and many others besides, subject to the iron will of Darkseid.  Today, in conjunction with the warriors of the Earths, we will see victory.  This is New Genesis’s defining hour.  Our golden moment.  Until battle is done, I am not Highfather but Izaya.  And as Izaya, I issue my command: deploy Boom Tubes.  The invasion of Apokolips begins now.”

So saying, Highfather gestured with his staff.  A thundering sound was heard, and an energy-circle bigger than any that those present had ever seen opened.

Zatanna looked upon it with nervousness.  Superboy saw it and clutched her hand.  “I’m scared, too, Zee,” he said.

She favored him with a slight smile.  “It’s all right, Kal.  You don’t have to hold my hand.”

He released it.  “I’m proud to have fought by your side, Zee.  I’m honored to have met you and the others.”

“Enough talk,” said Lady Quark, grimly.  “There’ll be enough time for that afterward.  Let us be gone.”

So saying, she lifted off from the courtyard grounds and flew directly into the mouth of the Boom Tube.  Superboy, Zatanna, Pariah, and the rest followed.  The four Forever People, Bug, Jezebelle, Lightray, and several others came afterward.  Mr. Miracle, Barda, and Oberon stood beside Izaya for a long moment.

“Go with the Source, my son,” said Izaya, clapping him on the shoulder.

“Thank you, father,” said Scott.  “I’ll go with Himon’s spirit, as well.”  So saying, he activated a new set of flying discs on his feet and shot through the opening, Barda close behind him.

Oberon looked after them.  “I may never see them again,” he said.

“The way of the warrior, my friend,” said Izaya, gently.  “Now I must leave as well.  Remember us all.  Especially those who will not return.”

With that, Izaya activated his staff again.  He levitated from the ground, flew forward into the end of the Boom Tube, and was gone.  With another clap of thunder, the open end of the Tube collapsed and faded from sight.

“Holy geez,” muttered Oberon.  After a moment, he turned and went back inside the palace.

He had a feeling it was going to be quite lonely for a long while.

 -S-

Supergirl and the others in the arks knew that they had arrived in Apokolips space as soon as their craft took an impact from an orbital war-vessel.  The hits darned near shattered the hulls, and the magicians among them had to quickly strengthen their ships.

She stood up.  “Let Dev and me out,” she said.  “Cap and Mary and Junior as well.  We need to engage.”

Dev looked grim, and was silent, but was prepared.  Alan Scott, the Green Lantern of Earth-2, was in charge of their vessel.  “All right, Supergirl,” he said.  “It’s up to you, but we can use the help.  I’ll let you pass through the outer wall.”  He raised his ring hand and bathed both of them in its beam.

Power Girl also stood up.  “Do me, too, GL.  I’m not going to let them and Superman carry the load alone.”

Alan obliged her.  “Go take those warcraft.  But all of you...be careful.  They’re bound to be prepared.”

“In spades,” said the Flash of Earth-One.

“Keep calm, Wally,” advised the Earth-Two Flash, beside him.

Supergirl, Dev, and Power Girl stepped out of their seats, flew above the heads of their fellow heroes, and found the hull before them passing them through like water through cheesecloth.  They emerged into the coldness and void of space, their lungs automatically shutting down in the vacuum.  Kara and Dev were still wearing telepathic plugs, but Power Girl had none.  Supergirl hoped the other Kara was good at reading sign language.

The lead warcraft blasted Kryptonite radiation at them.  But all of them were swift enough to avoid it, circling around the blast in spirals.  Kara noted the presence of Superman, and was glad he stood (or flew) beside them now.  She put on a burst of speed and was the first one to smash through the hull of the lead ship.  There were an astonished bunch of Apokoliptics within, armed to the teeth.  She put them out of their misery with a fleet bunch of raps to their chins, all within ten seconds.  Supergirl was used to working fast.

A telepathic message came through from Kal. <Smash their propulsion unit, but not their life-support,> he said.

<I know, Kal,> she sent.  And then, to herself, went, Sheol, whattya think I am, dumb?

<I heard that,> he sent back.

She plowed through metal walls until she came to the engine room, which she thoroughly disabled with super-strength and heat vision.  Sometimes, she reflected with a smile, it was nice to have enough power to do things like this.

A moment afterward, she smashed through the hull of the ship, taking care to seal it behind her so that not much air would escape in the interim.  After all, her objective was to make sure as little life was lost as possible in this conflict.  How much that would be, she didn’t want to consider.  In the near distance she saw other Apokolips warships being immobilized by her three fellow Krypts.  In short order, three other flying figures joined them, wrecking other flying ships...Captain Marvel, Mary, and Junior.   Where the Three Liutenant Marvels were, she had no idea.

She glanced down and saw the space-arks already in Apokolips’s atmosphere, heading quickly for landings.  When they finally made ground, she hoped she and her allies would be there to help them.

In the meantime, she thought as she flew towards an oncoming warship, they still had a job to do.

 -S-

The Phantom Stranger had been silent, looking at the ceiling,  as Steve Dayton donned his Mento helmet and blue and gold costume.  Gar Logan guessed that he might have been praying, but he knew well enough not to ask that.

From outside, the lot of them heard two shots, from different calibers of weaponry.  They jerked, as people will at the sound of bullets being fired.

“Sounds like Wilson’s found himself some work,” said Robotman.

“Just so long as he keeps it out there,” said Changeling, trying not to show his nervousness.

“Gar,” said Mento, sitting at the round table in his study.  “Take my hand.”

The green-hued boy in red and white complied.  “Cliff, I know you’re on guard duty,” said Mento to Robotman.  “But as a brother in arms, I’d like to know that I’m spiritually with you as well.”

“Likewise, brother,” said Cliff Steele, clasping Steve’s free hand in his metal one for a shake.  “You do this thing, and you come through it okay.  We’ll be here for you all the way.”

“If I might be permitted to speak,” said Ra-Man, “we had best get started.”

Mind-Grabber Kid fidgeted in his seat.  “I’m not so sure I want to.  But I don’t think we’ve got much choice, from where I’m sitting.”

“Indeed,” said the Stranger, and that ended all conversation.  He placed his gloved hands upon Dayton’s shoulders.  To Mento, they seemed confortingly warm and real.  “Steve Dayton, do you do this thing of your own free will?”

“Yes,” he said.

“I have prayed for you, Steve Dayton.”

“Thank you.”

“Now.  Activate your helmet, and let me show you where you should go.  In this, you are not the passive observer of John Constantine’s seance.  You are a warrior.  We are your support troops.  We now begin.”

Gar Logan looked at his stepfather and saw his eyes focus on something far beyond the back wall he was facing.  He was glad he couldn’t see what Mento did, at the moment.

“Link up,” said the Stranger to Ra-Man and Lucian Crawley.  The two of them concentrated their abilities and did so, Lucian a bit reluctantly.

Within seconds, they had contacted the mind of Darkseid.

 -S-

Kalibak looked on the field of battle outside Darkseid’s palace, as he and the Army of Apokolips heard the Boom Tubes opening not far away.  To the troops, he said, “You have one choice, gentlemen.  Kill them, or get killed by me.  And don’t you doubt that I’ll do it.”

“Hail Darkseid,” said one soldier, nervously.

As the New Genesis warriors emerged, Darkseid’s son gestured with his club.  “At them.  Blood for Darkseid, warriors!  Blood for Kalibak!  GO!”

Brandishing blasters, long weapons of untold destruction, handbombs, and various other deadly accoutrements, the men of Apokolips went.

The New Genesites met them running, all of them united in a single war cry:

“IZAYA.”

The first blasts were fired.  The first men fell.

The Black Racer would have much work this day.

 -S-

The magical arks landed on the roofs of buildings and industrial plants in the city adjoining Darkseid’s palace, because there was little open space to land elsewhere.  Apokolips was overindustrialized to the hilt, and they didn’t really need large spaces on which to land, anyway.
The tops dissolved, and the heroes of five worlds came streaming out.  Even on that world, it was something to make the civilian inhabitants gape, turn tail, and run for cover.

It was the first time all the heroes of Earths One, Two, Four, S, and X had worked together, and all present well knew that it probably would be the last.  Justice League, Justice Society, Justice Alliance, Justice Force, the Squadron of Justice, Infinity, Inc., the New Titans, Team Metropolis, the Magic Squad, the Losers’ League, the Doom Patrol, the Challengers of the Unknown, the Forgotten Heroes, the Freedom Fighters, the Global Guardians, the Lieutenant Marvels, the Bat-Squad, the Metal Men, and a horde of independent heroes.  There was no time for much discussion of tactics, beyond that which they’d had on the trip.  The team heroes joined with their fellows and deployed.  The independents scattered, or joined with some of the team units.

They were a fighting force the likes of which had never been seen before in existence.

From the skies, there came another force, well-coordinated and primed for battle. The Green Lantern Corps converged on Apokolips, ready to bring the battle to Darkseid.

It even looked like they might have a chance, until they heard a series of booms.

Abruptly, a glowing collection of circles disgorged what Darkseid called the Reserves.  From them flowed a stream of Weaponers from Qward, bearing their deadly artificial thunderbolts.  Alongside them were a horde of villains from the Earths, those who had been held back from Mantis’s army, in case his effort failed (which, Darkseid estimated, was a distinct possibility).

The heroes grimly took the new arrangement into account, and attacked.  They were attacked, in turn.

Apokolips wasn’t going to be a cakewalk.

 -S-

And in his chamber, Darkseid felt a pressure that made him sit bolt upright.

What was this?  Another presence from outside?  One working against him?  As if...

...someone were trying to extract Orion’s mind from his brain?

“This shall not be,” he said aloud, without raising his voice.  Darkseid hardly ever raised his voice.  He had very little need to.

Yet, he could not escape the feeling of a pull in his mind.  Yes, it was there.  Someone was trying to lift Orion’s mind-patterns from him with the equivalent of a tractor beam.  His own mind was powerful, to be sure.  But this force seemed to be daunting, in itself.

He was being opposed, by a worthy opponent.  Just when he was on the verge of breaking through, of finally extracting the Equation.

Just when he didn’t need the conflict, it was there.

<Defeat them, Great Lord,> came the voice of Desaad in his mind.

Darkseid’s first impulse was to devastate him, but he held it back. <What can you perceive of our attacker, Desaad?>

<Not very much, in truth, Great Lord’s pardon.  Only an outside force, resisting my Great Lord’s exercises on Orion’s mind.  It must be resisted, pardon my assertiveness in suggestion.>

<Be silent, Desaad, unless you gain more information than that,> Darkseid answered.  Then he sent a blast of mental current at the attacker.  He could not channel an Omega Effect blast at the invader, but, hopefully, his mind-assault would be sufficient.

The pressure lessened.  Darkseid continued grinding at Orion’s mind.

There.  A little bit of the Equation, part he had not perceived before.  If he had not developed iron control of his emotions, Darkseid might well have cried out with joy.

The stuff was being dredged up.

 -S-

Mento’s head snapped backwards.  The Stranger caught him, held him gently but firmly to prevent him getting a whiplash.  “Are you under attack, Steve Dayton?”

After a long gasp, Mento said, “Yeah.  Think I am.”

“Ra-Man, Lucian Crawley, shield him,” said the Stranger.  “I will do what I can.”

Mind-Grabber Kid and the Mind Master increased the power of their mind-link with Mento, redoubling their efforts.  They strengthened the power of their shield against outer threats, and poured more into the beam of energy tethering Dayton to Darkseid’s mind.  Cliff Steele went to Mento and lay a hand on his shoulder.  “Hang in there, brother,” he said.  “We’re all here for you.”

“Nice to know, Cliff,” said Mento.  He was sweating.  Robotman tried not to show his tension.  Dayton had been driven insane before by just such an operation.  If he was pushed to the same degree, or beyond, by this one...no, best not to think about that.

The Stranger kept his hands on Mento’s helmet and head.  “Darkseid has won too many battles,” he said.  “It is time we hit him back.”

With that, his gloved hands began to glow, and Mento felt another force in his mind, channeled along the outside of his link to Darkseid.  An angry force, streaming along the tether, intent on striking.

Outside, there were two more shots, and a burst of semiautomatic fire after that.  Gar Logan thought of changing into a bird or a snake or something and investigating.

But, looking at Steve, he knew he could not leave.  So he kept holding his stepfather’s hand, and praying.

That was all he could do right now.

 -S-

As she flew downward, Supergirl took a hit between the shoulders from a Weaponer’s thunderbolt.  It exploded, and, despite her invulnerability, it hurt.

She turned, picked out her assailant from the flying army above, and zeroed in on him.  He was trying to extract another one of his bolts from his quiver.  His eyes were getting very wide.

Kara belted him in the face and knocked him out of the sky.  He fell, and she blew under him with her super-breath.  Just enough to cushion his landing, but not enough to keep him from hitting hard.

She looked at the Weaponers with a steely glance.  With a super-shout, she said, “Anyone else?”

Nobody seemed willing to take her up on it.

If she’d had the time, she would have plowed into the lot of them.  But her goal now was not taking on the forces of Darkseid.  It was saving Beautiful Dreamer.

She used her super-vision on Darkseid’s fortress, the underground portion of it that remained.  Not surprisingly, a lot of it was shielded by lead.  That didn’t matter.  She’d have to be careful of the Kryptonite Man, of course, but come Sheol or high water, she was going to get D’reema out of there or die trying.

No.  She was going to get D’reema out of there even if she did die trying.

Kara hurled herself down at the rubble-strewn headquarters of Darkseid.  She checked the environs and the battle sites quickly with her vision powers, just to stay on top of things.  The soldiers of New Genesis and Apokolips were at war, now.  Real war.  People on both sides were getting killed.

It disgusted her.  More than anything else, Darkseid had to be defeated quickly and this wholesale murder had to be put to an end.

She wondered what had become of Sodam Yag, the Daxamite Green Lantern.  With his power, she had expected him to practically be at Darkseid’s throat by this time.  Swivelling her head as she streaked down, she used her telescopic vision in a wide arc, and finally caught sight of him.

He was lying on the ground not far from the fortress, face up, apparently unconscious.

Standing near him was his apparent assailant.  A white-haired man in a green shirt, orange pants with a large K on the belt buckle, and blue boots.  He had high eyebrows and a decided look of cruelty.

He was also looking straight at her.

An instant later, she discovered he could fly.  At super-speed.

He smashed into her and dealt her a crushing blow to the jaw.

“I would really appreciate having a chance to kill Superman,” said Kralik.  “After all, he knows me.  But for right now, I’ll settle for you.”

 -S-

D’reema heard the sounds of battle outside—there was no way of avoiding it, even in the underground cell where she sat—and rushed to the doorway.  She pressed her face against the bars, hoping against hope.  But there was nothing to see except the hallway beyond.

“It’s no use, dearie,” said Granny Goodness.  “You’re going to have to wait this one out, like me.”

The daughter of Izaya whirled to face Darkseid’s lieutenant.  “Why are you doing this to me, Granny?  You once wanted a child of your own.   Doesn’t that bespeak any decency in you, any spark of love?”

Granny arose from the bench and advanced, and D’reema didn’t like what she saw in her eyes.

“Of course it does, dearie,” said Granny.  “But Granny has her own special kind of love.”

With that, her open hand came out and cracked D’reema across the face, knocking her to the floor.

Granny stood over her, her breath coming faster.  “The great lord is busy, now.  He won’t have time to worry with us.  I may pay for this later, but I’ll enjoy myself while I can.  Get up.”

D’reema fought back tears.  She would not let her enemy see her pain, or much of her sorrow.  She fought to turn a face of defiance to her enemy.

“Get UP.”

Granny grabbed D’reema by her long black hair and yanked, dragging her to her feet with a cry of pain.  “There, that’s better.  My, you’re a pretty one, D’reema.  Perhaps Darkseid will see fit to give you to Granny as a servant, once this is finished and he rules all.  Or perhaps just as a trainee.  Wouldn’t you like that?”

“The only thing I’d like to see is you in this cell and me outside it,” D’reema hurled back.

Granny slapped her again, slamming her up against the wall of the cell.  D’reema covered her face and tried to hide her sobs.

“One thing Granny teaches all her plebes is the meaning of courtesy,” said the old woman.  “Sometimes she has to take an offender out and kill him, in front of the others, just to show the other bad little boys what they shouldn’t do.  Now, Granny wouldn’t like to have to do that to a bad little girl like you.  So you treat Granny with courtesy, and there’ll be as little of this problem as possible.  Do you agree?”

D’reema said nothing, still covering her face with her hands.

“I said, do you agree?”  Granny grabbed a pressure point near D’reema’s shoulder and squeezed hard, making her charge scream.

“You’d better say yes, dearie,” said Granny.  “I can keep this going for a long while, you know, oh, yes I can.  And it doesn’t feel any better at the end than it does at the start.”

“Damn you, let go!”

“That’s the wrong thing to say, dearie.”

Already on her knees, D’reema felt as though someone had shoved a burning brand through her shoulder.  She bit her lips to keep from saying anything.  But Granny’s grip wasn’t loosening.  No...she couldn’t give Granny that satisfaction.  She couldn’t...

She screamed.

“Say it, you little witch!  Say you’ll treat Granny with respect, and the pain will go away.”

D’reema remained silent.  She conjured up illusions of monsters from the pits of Hell flitting about Granny, of zombified cadets whom she hoped looked like the ones Granny had killed, of Orion and Scott Free and Himon.  But Granny Goodness was prepared, and none of the illusions fazed her much, outside of giving her a barely perceptible shiver.

I will not break...I will not break...I will not...

With a groan, D’reema slumped forward.  A look of concern passed Granny’s face.  The illusions faded.  The girl slumped towards the floor.  Still retaining her pain-grip with one hand, Granny took D’reema’s wrist with the other and checked her pulse.  Weaker, but not to the point of endangerment.  The wench had simply fainted.

Granny released her grip, and D’reema’s head rolled limply to one side.  With a sigh of petulance, Granny lay D’reema out on the floor in a more comfortable position, on her back, her arms crossed upon her breast.  She looked about the cell.  Darkseid hadn’t even provided a blanket.  Perhaps she could shout for a guard, and see if one could be provided for the girl.

After all, it wasn’t as though she wanted her to be uncomfortable.

Granny went to the door, shouted down the hall, and was heard by no one.

Shaking her head, she went back to the bench, sat down, crossed her ankles, and waited for Beautiful Dreamer to wake up.  Perhaps she’d be feeling more courteous then.

 -S-

The Lantern Corps was almost at a standstill against the Weaponers of Qward.  Some of the other old enemies of the Lanterns who hadn’t made it to the space battle were also on hand to increase trouble, such as Evil Star and one of Katma’s old enemies, the Dark Advocate.  Strangely enough, at least to the Lanterns, none of their number had fallen yet.  Considering the losses they’d taken in other en masse battles, dating back as far as the war against Al Magone and his troops and as recently as the Goldface / Guy Gardner incident, this was heartening.  Since those times, the Corps had trained in team attacks and defense, and their lessons were paying off.

Star Sapphire, Hollika Rahn, Arisia, and Katma Tui had teamed up as a kind of Women’s Auxiliary Corps and were doing their share to kick a major portion of Weaponer butt.  Even so, they were on the defensive as much as on the attack, as were the rest of the Green Lanterns.

<Anyone have a report on Sodam Yat?>, sent Hal Jordan, warding off a thrown thunderbolt and blasting a return burst of power ring energy at a klatch of Weaponers.

A response came back from Kilowog. <His ring’s still sending, so the poozer’s still alive, Hal.  Probably out of action.  Want me to find him?>

<If you can do it without leaving the fight,> Hal replied. <We need all hands on deck.>

<?>

<Just an expression, Kil,> said Hal. <See if you can track him.>

Auron of the Omega Men soared in, zapped the remainder of the Weaponer klatch with a double-handed burst of solar power, and zoomed off to other battles.  He waved at Hal and Hal waved back.  A second later, the Green Lantern from Earth got another transmission.

<Hal Jordan.  Medphyl, Green Lantern of J586 sending.>

Green Lantern whirled, sending out a curtain of force to shield him from a thunderbolt attack his ring had warned him was coming from behind. <Acknowledged, Medphyl,> he sent. <What’ve you got for us?>

<Am arriving with package.  Hopefully within the hour.  How goes the battle?>

<Pretty heavy,> Hal acknowledged. <Watch out for Weaponers.  Within an hour for sure?>

<If all goes well,> said Medphyl. <May your roots be watered.>

<Same for you, brother,> sent Hal, and returned to the battle.  He glanced in another direction for a moment, saw a lovely, pink-clad form, and responded with mixed emotions.

How good it was to have Carol finally by his side, standing beside him in battle with the powers of Star Sapphire.

And how terrible it was that she should have to be here at all.

Once this was done, some things would have to be talked over.  Having thought that, Hal Jordan faced the Weaponers again, and got back to work.

 -S-

Supergirl had never met the man named Kralik.  All she knew is that he hit at least as hard as Kal, which was quite considerably hard, even for her.  He’d driven her backward with another powerful blow, and, when she brought her foot up for a klurkor kick, he’d simply dodged, taken a diminished hit on his shoulder, and given her a stiff-fingered thrust to the abdomen that hurt like hell.

She raced through what passed for her super-memory, trying to fit his name to any she’d heard about in the past.  There was Krellik, of course, the foe of Captain Action who’d shown up in the Satan Girl incident, but he wasn’t this guy.  Then she remembered: Kralik.  A foe Superman had faced all of one time, and had never forgotten.

Like Sodam Yat, he was a Daxamite.  Most of the populance of Daxam was peace-loving, law-abiding, and not inclined to roam much in space.  Kralik the Conqueror was none of those things.  He had learned of what power Daxamites had out of the range of their red sun and their world’s heavy gravity, and had opted to use it to amass power—and conquest—for himself.

Kal had met him while standing in for a planet’s champion in a duel against Kralik.  He found Kralik unequalled in fighting skill, cunning, and dirty tricks, and had to admit that, though Kralik’s strength didn’t surpass his own, his combat abilities were the better.  “I had hoped to end Kralik’s career,” Superman had said, “but he nearly ended mine.”  A lucky blow from Superman had decided the fight.  After that, he was transported back to prison on Daxam, and that had been the last anyone heard from him.

Until now, of course.

Now his legs were entwined with her own and his fingers were at her throat.  And, so help her, she couldn’t manage to tear them away.

Kara activated her heat vision and gave him a burst in the face.  He winced, snarled, but kept on choking.  This guy was tough, to be sure.  She reached out her right hand, scratched at his eyes and face, punched him.  He kept right on choking.

Where the hell were Dev and Kal when you needed them?

Wait, she told herself.  Daxamite.  One way to beat him.  One way to get an edge.

Kicking in her flight power, Supergirl propelled them away, trying to bring her chin lower to lessen the effect of his death grip.  True, she didn’t need to breathe, but if her windpipe were crushed and her neck broken, she’d die like any woman of Earth.  Her vision was beginning to fade.

No.   She wouldn’t let it.  D’reema...

The bastard was grinning.  He wasn’t even trying to impede her flight.  Must think he had her dead to rights, or dead, period.

Big mistake.  Bad mistake.

She was able to pick out a certain group of combatants on the ground below, and, with waning strength, to propel them both towards them.

Then not only her own strength was waning.  She felt Kralik’s grip weakening, drew in a straggling breath, saw his face register surprise and consternation.  He spoke.

“I...hurt,” he said.  “What are you doing to–“

She drew back a fist and smashed him right in the face.  Two more blows to opposite sides of his jaw finished him off.  Kralik dropped to the streets of Apokolips, right in front of the Metal Men.  He hit hard and didn’t move.

Lead, standing beside Tina, looked up at the descending Supergirl.  “Uhhh,” he said.  “Who’s this guy, Miss Supergirl?”

She grabbed the unconscious Kralik under the arms, hoisted him, and said, “He’s the guy you helped me beat, Lead.  Thanks a lot.  Gotta run.”  With that, she flew upward.

Lead scratched his headplate.  “You have any idea what that was about, Tina?”

The platinum robot shrugged.  “Not a clue.  Come on, we’ve got a war to win.”

Within seconds, Kara had picked out Ibis the Invincible with her super-vision, one of the few wizards who wasn’t currently engaged in battle.  She touched down in front of him, still holding Kralik.  “Ibis,” she said.  “You’ve got to help.”

He looked at the two of them.  “Indeed, if I can,” he answered.  “But what is required?”

“This man is dying,” she said.  “We need to get him into a realm called the Phantom Zone to save his life.   Can you find the location in my mind and warp him there, pronto?  If he doesn’t get there within five minutes, he’s gone.”

The Egyptian sorceror stretched forth his wand.  “Ibistick,” he ordered, in a solemn tone.  “Take from this woman the location of this Zone, and transport this man there.”  To Kara, he said, “Let him go and stand back.”

She complied.  In a second’s time, a great hand formed from the Ibistick’s powers, grasped Kralik, and flew through an opened warp which closed behind them.  In the instant it was open, she could see a few familiar faces.  Jax-Ur, Professor Vakox, Mon-El.

At least Mon-El would have one of his countrymen to talk to, now.

She massaged her throat.  “Thanks, Ibis.  Glad you could help.  Now I have to go.”

He smiled.  “That you should be concerned for the well-being of an enemy speaks greatly for yourself,” he said.  “May the gods be with you, Supergirl.”

“I’ll settle for just Rao,” she said, leaping into the sky.  “But I appreciate it.  Good luck to you, too, Ibis.”

She flattened her trajectory out after reaching a sufficient height and beelined for Darkseid’s wrecked fortress.  This time, she was going to hit a speed that would get her past anything he could muster.  At least, she hoped so.

Most of her vision was blocked by the lead shields of the underground chambers.  It didn’t matter.

She was going to bring back D’reema, no matter what they threw at her.

 -S-

As they fought the Apokoliptics, Nightwing mused on how much had been crowded into these last few weeks.

They had thought Raven was lost to them after the fight in which Trigon died.  But Superman had found her, in desperation, with his vision-powers and had sped her to the Anti-Monitor’s fortress to save the lives of the two Supergirls, though she could not save the Superman of Earth-Two.  Since then she had rejoined the Titans, though she still seemed troubled.

Koriand’r had barely escaped a forced marriage with Karras, the Tamaranian, in order to stave off a civil war.  Instead, Dick himself had hit on the idea of calling in the Green Lantern Corps.  The Earth unit couldn’t come, but a team of three Lanterns from other worlds had.  They had quelled the rebellion, forced a peace agreement, and left, taking Dick, Jericho, and Starfire with them.  But not before Nightwing and Starfire had been married in a Tamaranian ceremony.  So were Karras and Taryia, who loved each other and were glad they didn’t have to put that love aside for politics.

Dick and Kory had been wed on Earth as well, in the same ceremony that saw Bruce Wayne and Selina Kyle married and Selina poisoned shortly thereafter.  The Titans, the JLA, and the Outsiders had to unite to stop a deadly plot of Kobra, the villain who had tried to murder Selina.  Kobra had ended up dead.  Kory had been wounded, but had since healed.

Wally West had endured his crisis of confidence, taken up the mantle of the Flash, and, with encouragement from Francis Kane, triumphed over a group of Russian super-villains and saved the Weather Wizard.  He had since recovered from the illness that had threatened his life, and was back to his speedy self.  But he seemed a bit more mature than he had been.

Gar Logan was out there with the Phantom Stranger, God knew where.  Wonder Girl, despite being a couple of months pregnant, was here fighting side-by-side with her teammates.  Cyborg, Kole, and Jericho were still rock-solid, still assets to the Titans.

But the present crisis had brought many oldsters back to the fold for one last bash.  The Hawk, the Dove, Golden Eagle, Speedy, Aqualad, Aquagirl, the winged man called Azrael, all were there to lend a hand.  A small Titans-based auxiliary, consisting of their old friends the Ant, the Red Star, Joshua, and the Protector, were also there, fighting as best they could.

Raven was close by, having neutralized a couple of Weaponers with her powers.  “Raven,” he called to her.  “You left with the Stranger and came back.  What’s going on with Gar?”

“He is with Mento, whom I healed,” said the daughter of Trigon.  “I understand Steve will be an important part of a strike on Darkseid.”

“Healed how much?” said Dick, dodging a thunderbolt.

“His mind has been repaired,” said Raven.  “I doubt even his helmet can hurt him now.  His love for Gar has returned.  But he might still be driven insane, if the strain of his task is great enough.”

“Swell,” Nightwing replied.  “And by the way, great work.  If you ever leave again, we’re going to be very, very angry.  Can you get to Darkseid?”

“Not yet,” she said.  “A barrier of force protects him.  Only the Stranger can reach him, and reach him he must.”

“Oh.  Great,” pronounced Dick.  “Let’s get back to work.”

She looked at him, curiously.  “I have never stopped,” she said.

 -S-

The Marvel Family was currently tied up with a group of foes rung in by Darkseid.  First, Mr. Atom, who towered above all in the battle and, his might hyped by Apokolips technology, was able to smash Shazam’s heroes to the ground with a single sweep of his colossal metal hand.  Second, Sabbac, Captain Marvel, Jr.’s sorcerous enemy, who blasted them with spells that took their toll on the sextet of heroes.  Third, Oggar, the evil god who had once been part of Shazam’s grouping before he went renegade, and who could match the Marvels with might and magic.  Among them, they were giving the Captain, Mary, Junior, and the three Lieutenants a rough time.

“Should we help them, Supes?” asked Dev-Em as the two of them flew for Darkseid’s fortress.

“Rao knows, I want to, Dev,” said Superman.  “But right now, those bad guys are just symptoms, as powerful as they are.  We need to take out the source first.”

Dev nodded.  “I think Kara’s ahead of us.  She shouldn’t go in there alone.”

“When we get there, she won’t be.”

That was the last thing Kal had a chance to say before the two of them were intercepted by a flying form as powerful as either of them.  Worse, said flying form was surrounded by a deadly green glow, and a mighty blow from his right arm sent them both to the ground, bowling over several members of the Bat-Squad.  The new enemy followed them down.

Superman looked up through a haze of pain.  The foe descending towards them wore a yellow mask and cape and an orange-and-yellow costume with a thunderbolt in a circle for a chest emblem.  His expression was hidden by his mask, but his body language bespoke his arrogance.  And his Kryptonite- radiating power.

“I thought we’d taken care of him before,” muttered Superman, trying to raise himself up.

“Somebody else you know?” grunted Dev, pulling himself up from the street.

“He’s from Earth-Two,” said Superman.  “His name is Atoman.  He radiates Kryptonite.”

The Man of Steel got up from the pavement just in time to take Atoman’s punch to his face.

 -S-

In deep space, far away from Apokolips, Earth, Tamaran, Oa, Rann, Thanagar, Daxam, and other points of note, two groups of heroes met in a starship shaped like a metal skull.

One of the teams was a continent of the Friends of Superman.  Their number included Captain Thunder, Marvel Maid, Marvel Man, Luma Lynai, Vartox, Garokk, Azmo Coven, and Kral.  The other was known as the Vanguard.  Among them were heroes known as White Dwarf, Scanner, Anti-Matterman, Solaar, Drone, and Black Nebula.  Once, they had helped the New Teen Titans save Superman from Brainiac.

That was ironic, for now they stood within one of Brainiac’s starships in hopes of reviving him.

“Should we do this thing?” asked Vartox, sincerely.  “If we use evil against another evil...”

“We must,” said Scanner, the green-skinned, huge-craniumed leader of the Vanguard.  “We are too far from Apokolips to be of aid, and any weapon turned against Darkseid is a valid one.”

“I just hope we still believe that once this thing is done,” said Kral.  “But you are right about one thing: Brainiac will have the motivation to strike at him.”

“And we’ve got plenty of motivation to strike at Brainiac, if needs be,” said Solaar, who wielded solar flame.  “A-M, Nebula, go ahead.”

The hero from the universe of Qward, who constantly guarded himself from positive matter with a force field, joined with Black Nebula and her energy powers.  Both were hooked into the starship’s power system.  Brainiac had this and possibly other alternate starships built in case of emergency, and had transferred his consciousness into it (and possibly others) when his body was destroyed by Darkseid.  But, somehow, the craft had lacked the power to incarnate Brainiac in a body.

They hoped to remedy that.

The two of them joined their powers and fed energy through the ship.  Almost immediately, a reaction was noted.  The walls began to extrude metallic feelers, which converged on an open chair.

“If they get any closer to us, I’ll smash them,” vowed Captain Thunder.

“Be still, Captain,” said Marvel Maid.  “It’s just what we knew would happen.”

The feelers began to excrete metallic resin of a sort, which quickly formed into a familiar shape.  Looking on it, Kral could only speculate on how the glop could form itself into a hard metallic form in such a short time, complete with the interior workings Brainiac had to have.  But form itself it did.

In seconds, Brainiac was before them, sitting in his command chair.

“Humans,” it said, in a flat robotic tone, looking at them with its steel death’s-head visage.  “You will all die.”

“No, Brainiac,” said Kral.  “You’ll die again, if we want.  Anti-Matterman and Black Nebula are hooked into your power supply, and they can blow you and this whole ship to bits if they want.  Or if I give the signal.  We want to cut a deal.”

“The human underestimates the unit Brainiac,” the computer being responded.  “Destruction could be accomplished before you or they had a chance to react.  Query: what nature of ‘deal’?”

White Dwarf spoke up.  “The multiverse is endangered by Darkseid.  We know you’re not one of his greatest friends.  We need your help.”

Brainiac hesitated only a nanosecond.

“More input,” he said.

 -S-

Supergirl flew down towards the fortress of Darkseid and remembered what information they’d gotten from Lex Luthor about it.  He didn’t know everything, but he was aware that the Kryptonite Man was kept prisoner in its bowels.  Sodam Yat had knocked out the Kryptonite Broadcasting System, but that didn’t mean it was safe to barge in there without protection.

She landed atop the fortress, cleared away some of the rubble, grasped the ceiling of one of the remaining rooms just below ground level, sank in her fingers, and tore up.  A couple of startled monitors on guard looked up.  Supergirl disregarded them.

In a few seconds’ time she had shaped the lead shielding into a crude set of body armor.  She couldn’t see through it, but she trusted her super-hearing to substitute for sight.  Kara smashed through the floor of the room, remembering the schematics that Lex had drawn for them, and hoping the son of a babootch hadn’t been leaving some things out when he did it.

Kara descended straight towards the cells of Darkseid’s headquarters, one of which was bound to contain D’reema...

...and slammed into a resistant force so hard she thought she’d broken her ankles.  It did cause a crack in the lead shielding over her feet, and she quickly bent to repair it before the pervading K-radiation could weaken her.

A force-field.  It had to be.  Possibly something Darkseid cooked up with his Omega Effect.  Ruefully, she admitted he wouldn’t be dumb enough to leave his most valued prisoner undefended against Kryptonians.   But perhaps there was something else she could do.

Remembering the layout Lex had drawn for them, she smashed through several intervening walls, scattering what guards were on duty, and plowed through several other levels until she came to a last chamber.  Thankfully, it was not guarded by the same sort of shield that Darkseid had used for the prison chambers (and, no doubt, for his own quarters).  Her super-hearing picked up a heartbeat from a man under restraint, and under great stress.  There were also the noises of mechanized equipment, including life-support machinery, and the startled voices of Apokolips techs and guards.  Some of them, she knew, had to be training weapons on her.

She streaked for the source of the labored breathing and hoped she’d have enough speed to do what she needed to do next.

At a rate quite beyond that of the velocity of light, Supergirl stripped the lead armor from her body, verified with her eyes that the Kryptonite Man lay before her in a bed of restraints, plated the armor about him and sealed it before the K-radiation could sap her powers too fully, and, with an effort, pried him up from his bed of bondage.  Raybursts ricocheted off her back from guards and from automated weapons in the ceiling.  She paid them no attention.

Taking the impact on her shoulders, Kara flew upward, smashing through level after level until she and the Kryptonite Man reached the open air.  Then she levelled off, sped to the top of an Apokolips building far enough from the site of battle, and set her burden down.  With her fingers, she poked two holes in the area of the armor covering his nose,  through which he could breathe.

“I know you can hear me,” said Kara.  “You’re probably a bit grateful.  But I can feel that K coming through those nose holes, and I just can’t count on you staying out of this fight.  I’m sorry.”

With that, she clouted him smartly on the area of the armor covering his jaw.  He sagged.  Kara let him fall to the rooftop, and checked his vital signs with her super-hearing.  He was only unconscious.  The force of her lovetap would keep him that way till the battle was done, one way or the other.

The Girl of Steel leapt up from the building roof and flew back towards Darkseid’s fortress at hyperspeed, telling herself that she would find a way to breach the shield around D’reema no matter what it took.  She smashed through the roofs of several chambers again, knocked several intervening guards senseless, and made her way to the prison cells.  Kara trained her super-vision on them, saw D’reema and Granny Goodness in one, and peeled her lips back from her teeth in a snarl.  She could also see the faint glow of the force-shield around the cells, but she was going to try her luck, anyway.  She balled her fist and stepped forward, prepared to strike.

Something grabbed her by the cape and flung her backward.  She hit hard against the wall behind her.  She was not hurt by the impact, but was astonished by the power of the one who had flung her there.

When she saw the being responsible, she understood, and gaped at him.  Darkseid had more servants than she knew, and she had heard from Kal of this one’s deadly power.  A power which exceeded his own.

“Prepare to die,” said the Galactic Golem.

 -S-

Lois Lane was usually a print reporter, but this time, she was doing a stand-up for WGBS News.  She was standing up in the midst of the wreckage around the Daily Planet building, facing a camera, and doing a live news feed for the network.  She was practiced in looking like a professional during her work, and she needed every bit of that ability right now.

“You can see the devastation behind me,” she said.   “The Planet building isn’t unscathed, but it made out better than most of its neighbors.  The Weisinger Building, the Coates skyscraper, the Donnenfeld financial district...all in ruins.  Metropolis has been home to super-hero battles since the 1960's.  This time, it endured a super-hero war.

“Luckily, casualties are at a minimum.  FEMA and other agencies were effective in evacuating much of Metropolis’s citizenry before many of them could be hurt by the battle.  Our hearts go out to the people of Gotham tonight, and to Smallville, Bigville, and all the other communities who have taken in what must be thought of as...our refugees.

“The kingpin figure of this war, a villain identified as ‘Mantis,’ has been confirmed killed by an unknown hero.  The Parasite, one of Superman’s greatest foes, has also been identified among the dead.  In the wake of their deaths, the remaining super-villains surrendered and have been taken into special custody.  Some of them were reported removed to a sideral dimension by several heroes with transport capacity, until they can be imprisoned more effectively.  Many questions remain, and many answers are simply not at hand.

“Where Superman was during this conflict is a topic of great concern.  But this reporter has learned that he was on another world, with Supergirl and some other heroes, fighting against forces aligned with the ones which ravaged our city.  He was unable to reach Earth before the climax of the battle, and his reaction to the sight of its devastation was said to be, quote, ‘quite emotional’.

“Now Superman has left Earth again, along with most of its heroes, to, quote, ‘finish the war.’  Among those who have left with him are my friend and fellow Planet reporter, Jimmy Olsen, in his Elastic Lad identity.  Superman did not reveal their destination.  Until their return...if they do return...we can only speculate.

“Many Metropolitans have been reported missing in the wake of the super-villain war.  Among them are my...husband...Clark Kent, and Lana Lang, both of them co-anchors of the WGBS news.  If anyone hearing this report has information on them, or if Clark Kent and Lana Lang themselves are watching, please contact WGBS at the number which will be flashed on your screen.  Any other reports of missing persons may be phoned in at the same number.

“For the moment, those are all the details we have.  Tomorrow, the rebuilding will begin.  Today, all we have is the wreckage of a very proud city, and the hopes that the spirit of its people remains unbroken and willing to start anew.  For WGBS news, I’m Lois Lane.”

The minute the camera was turned off, Lois Lane sagged and sat down on a heap of fallen concrete.  Hank, the cameraman, looked at her with concern.  “You all right, Lois?  Hell, I’m stupid to even ask.”

Lois, her eyes closed, massaged her forehead.  “I’ll be fine, Hank.  Just...taking things an hour at a time.  That’s all I can do.”

“If you need a place to stay tonight, Lois, the family has an extra bed in the guest house.  It’s not good to be alone at a time like this.”

“Thanks, Hank.  I’ve got a hotel room.  Tomorrow I’ll be better.  Especially if I see Clark.”

“Yeah,” he said.  “Hope you do.  Hope all of us do.”

Lois didn’t answer.  She knew she had told a white lie on the broadcast.  She knew very well where Clark and Lana were, and where they had gone.  She wanted so badly to go to her motel room, crawl under the covers, take a sleeping pill, and forget the last week had even happened.  She wanted  to be back in bed with the man she loved, the man who had been taken away from her after so short a time together by this blasted crisis.  She wanted to call in sick to work tomorrow, or quit, and drive upstate to her parents’ farm in Pittsdale.

But she knew she’d be back at work tomorrow, because she was a reporter, and a good one.

Briefly, Lois thought about the Lois Lane of Earth-Two, and what she had gone through when her Superman died.  She also hoped that history didn’t repeat itself on other Earths with such exactitude.

Hank spoke to her again.  “Want to cut for eats?  I know a place that’s still standing that has great steaks.”

She looked up and gave him a wan smile.  “Lead me to it,” she said.

 -S-

Darkseid felt as though someone had hit him with a bludgeon.

An outside force was striking him.  Not just trying to pry Orion from his grasp, but striking him!  With enough force to actually be felt.  No...with enough power to actually hurt him.

This was not acceptible.  Certainly not on the cusp of his greatest victory.  And victory had to be assumed, had to be worked for, had to be expected, in order to be realized.  But preparations had to be made for the unexpected, at every step of the campaign.  This was only another bit of unexpected business.

With a sudden rage, Darkseid struck back, using his own well-honed mental powers to repel the pressure within his brain.  It worked, for a bit.  He could feel the attacker withdrawing.  Once again, he bent to the task of pulverizing his son’s mind.

Then he felt it again.  The swine were battering him anew, using a mental battering ram on the one hand and a pair of tongs to extract his son’s soul on the other.  It was effective, he had to admit.

But he would give them no more than that.  He was Darkseid.

The lord of Apokolips bent to his task, disregarded as much of the pain as he could, and went back to work on Orion’s mind.  There...another bit of Equation...

<WHAM.>

Ignore the pain.  Work.

Not much more time remained.  Not much more was needed.

<WHAM.>

Work...

 -S-

As the Golem knocked her through a steel-reinforced wall, Supergirl sought to find a way to strike back, and found her foe’s history a lot easier to review than Kralik’s.

The Galactic Golem (she remembered as the thing reached for her throat, just like Kralik, and she kicked her legs up at its face, barely managing to free herself) was a creation of Lex Luthor.  Brother Baldhead had found a way of putting galactic matter together into a living being, a huge, eight-foot semi-Frankenstein with blue-black skin dotted over with starbursts,  programming its mind to do what he wanted, and sending it against Superman.  The Golem lived on what Luthor termed “galactic energy”, which power boosted his considerably beyond Superman’s.  In their first encounter, Kal had learned that bashing the white starburst on the Golem’s forehead would have exploded it, but would also have destroyed a good part of the city and possibly the state if he had done so.

In their first battle, Superman and Luthor himself had lured the Golem off Earth with the enticement of meteors in space charged with the energy that sustained him.  Once the meteors were used up, the Golem became almost wholly inert.  He was picked up by a passing space patrol, revived by a judicious application of galactic energy, and tricked away from the planet he had been taken to by another swarm of meteors.   The problem with that was the meteors led the Golem back to Earth.

(Supergirl tried to hit the Golem in the labonza but took an uppercut that wedged her through the ceiling.  She was pulled down by her legs and the fight went on.)

The inevitable return match with Superman occurred, in the vicinity of the Fortress of Solitude.  Kal triumphed by coating the Golem with molten metal directly over the North Magnetic Pole.  The force of magnetism had neutralized the Golem again, and he remained a motionless statue, hopefully forever.  Wishful thinking.  Darkseid must have been researching every villain still available on the five Earths, and if anyone besides Luthor (possibly including Luthor, though Lex didn’t say such) could have freed him, Darkseid could.  And obviously had.

(His fingers feel like charged atomic particles, which, in a sense, they are...Supergirl scores a double-handed uppercut to the Golem’s chin.  It slows him down for a moment.)

Now, how can one beat an energy-being like the Golem?  Force him to expend his power?  Maybe, but that takes more time and more energy than you have, Kara.  Overload him?  Maybe, if you can get him to a gaggle of Green Lanterns, but that isn’t likely.  Overpower him?  Not possible.

Avoid him?  Maybe.

But that didn’t seem like an option, either.  The blue-black beast was grabbing her in a bear hug about the back and crushing her against his cosmically-energized chest.  She could feel the crackle and hear the muted spark of it as she struggled to keep from having her ribcage collapsed.  That would kill her as easily as it would an Earthwoman, and the Golem was capable of doing it.

At least he wasn’t smiling...

Then something rocketed into the Golem’s back, pitching them both forward, and Kara hit the floor of the fortress on her back.  Two pairs of hands grabbed the Golem’s arms and, with great effort, succeeded in pulling them free.  They got him off Kara, and pulled him up, just before the Golem threw them both off and watched them carom off the walls.

Supergirl rushed to the side of Power Girl and Superboy, and, checking them out, was gratified to know they weren’t badly hurt.

“Looked like you could use a hand, K,” said Kara of Earth-2, picking herself up off the floor.

“Likewise,” said Superboy.  “Only it looks like we can, too.”

The Golem was advancing.  Kara brainstormed for an instant, and then said, “Give me your capes.”

“My cape?”  Superboy looked at her in befuddlement.

“Don’t have the time to argue,” she snapped.  At hyper-speed, Kara ran behind young Kal, undid the clasps that held his cape in his neckpiece, and then did the same with a compliant Power Girl.  Then she did the same with her own.

“After I do this, hold onto him,” she barked.  Then she flew at the advancing Golem and, to its surprise, wrapped it up from head to foot in their Kryptonian-material capes.

“Grab him!”

Power Girl and Superboy both laid hands on the cape-wrapped Golem, wrapping their arms around his chest and legs, respectively, but knew they couldn’t restrain him for more than a few seconds.

Supergirl used her X-ray vision for accuracy, zeroed in on the area where the Golem’s forehead starburst was covered by her cape, and, praying for luck, slammed home a punch.

She barely had time to wrap her own arms about the mummified Golem before he exploded.

“HOLD ON!” she screamed, barely heard over the confined explosion.  The material of their invulnerable capes blew outward, stretching the fabric, heating up to an incredible degree.  It felt like trying to contain an atomic detonation by wrapping a bomb in gauze.  Kara saw the strain and astonishment in both her friends’ faces and knew they could see it in her own, as well.

But the capes held, and so, miraculously, did they.

With the blast’s passing, the capes collapsed inward.  The Trio of Steel felt the pressure lessening, the volume within the cape-wrappings diminished past that which were the Golem’s natural dimensions.  Then, the capes simply contained nothing within themselves.

Kal-El of Earth-Prime breathed more regularly.  “He’s gone,” he observed.

“Who in Sheol was that, K?  Blue Frankenstein, or something?” asked Power Girl, rubbing her arms.

“The Galactic Golem,” Kara replied.  “He’s an old enemy of Superman’s, an energy being.  That white star on his head was his Achilles heel.  I just had to gamble that our capes could contain the blast.  Thanks, both of you, and I mean that.”

“So what do we do next?” asked Superboy.

She turned to him with a grim expression.  “We save D’reema.  And we take down Darkseid.”

 (next chapter)

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