Supergirl:

 The Apokolips Agenda

 Part 34

 by DarkMark






Over almost the entire globe of Apokolips, the forces of New Genesis were attacking the planet’s armies.

Energy-cannons, warships, compressed matter bombs, anti-energy, almost any weapon that could deal death was employed.  Izaya’s forces strove not to harm civilians.  But casualties on both sides were mounting up.

The Green Lanterns and the heroes of Earth saw the carnage and were chagrined, but were too occupied with their own foes to do anything about it.  For the Celestials, this was not a super-hero fight.  It was war, and war in all its bloody incarnation.

Izaya had known it before, in the great conflict that had led to the exchange of his son for Darkseid’s.  Now their equipment had advanced a few decades’ worth, but the killing was much the same.  It made him sick.

But this time, there would be no compromise.  This time, one side would win, or possibly both would perish.  If this ended in a cataclysm to rival that which had befallen the Old Gods, such would have to be.

He damned himself and wondered if he would dare see what the Source had to say to him, once this all was done.

 -S-

Atoman was smashing the heads of Superman and Dev-Em together when he saw a man in a blue and black uniform and a captain’s hat approaching from above.  He threw the two Kryptonians aside for a moment.  “Another Amerikaner,” he said.  “Another fool.”

That was just before he was hit by the thunderbolt of Zeus.

Even a Nazi with the power of a Kryptonian couldn’t withstand that sort of impact, and Captain Action followed up with a double-fisted blow on the fly that sent Atoman spinning, literally.  Action Boy, utilizing the speed of Mercury, hit him from behind and kept the spin going.  Then a golden lasso encircled the villain from behind, pulling him away.  Groggily, Atoman looked at his captor.

“Ach,” he said.  “Der Wunder Fraulein.”

“Try Wunder Frau,” said Diana of Earth-One, and smashed him upside the head with her Amazonium-braceleted wrist.  His eyes rolled upward and he went unconscious.

Wonder Woman dragged Atoman out of range of Kal and Dev, who were being helped up by Captain Action and Action Boy.  “This is the second time you’ve had to bail me out, Captain,” said Kal.  “Hope it isn’t becoming a habit.”

Cap smiled.  “Just be glad I turn up at the right moment, Superman.”

“Much obliged, lad,” said Dev-Em.  “You related to the Flash?”

“Nope,” said the other.  “Call me Action Boy.  I’m Cap’s son.  Speaking of action, we need to make some.”

“I agree,” said Superman, rising to his full height and activating his flight power.  “I can see Kara, Power Girl, and young Kal at Darkseid’s fortress.  All of you, follow me.”

“With pleasure,” said Dev, and took to the air alongside him.  The Action pair followed suit.  Kal expected a trap along the way, given what they’d endured so far.  But the main objective now was Darkseid, and he was determined to reach him.

On the way, they saw two small figures standing on the ground not far from the fortress.  Superman recognized one of them, and knew they were in for trouble.

“I, I may not be able to do this thing,” said Master Man,  looking up nervously.

Lord Satanis, Superman’s old enemy, reached out a blazing hand towards him.  “You will,” he said.  “Or I will send you to our master ahead of schedule.  Do it.  Now.”

The villain from Earth-S gulped, said his magic word, and stretched his powers to the utmost.  He felt his consciousness being blitzed, felt every capacity he had being taxed, felt almost as a woman might feel during a particularly arduous birth.

Master Man was the opposite number of Kid Eternity.  Both of them had the power to summon the dead to life for a short period of time, but Master Man’s revived subjects devoted their powers to evil.  And this time, he was summoning the most evil being he had ever dared to bring back from behind the veil.

In this case, it was bringing him back from behind the flames.  When it was done, Master Man collapsed in a faint.  Nobody much noticed him.

The returnee stretched out a huge, clawed hand, and dropped Superman, Dev-Em, Captain Action, and Action Boy in their tracks.

Trigon looked out upon an astonished sea of heroes, picked out his daughter Raven, and smiled.

He would save her for last.  The rest would not take that long.

 -S-

Brainiac, though a mechanical creation, had some abilities which were disconcertingly human.  One of those was a device he had built which enabled him to make the equivaent of a telepathic assault.  With the Friends of Superman and the Vanguard standing by to make sure his assault wasn’t turned against them, he triggered the device, and, despite the distance intervening, hit his target unerringly.

Many light-years away, within his Omega Barrier force-field, guarded by darkness, on the verge of pulling up more of Orion’s last secret despite the attack of his unseen foes, Darkseid was hit with a barrage of mental static, and opened his mouth wide in pain.  This would be, in a lesser being, the equivalent of an agonized death-scream.

The lord of Apokolips struggled to put up what mental shields he possessed, disregarded the pain even as he reeled from it, and bent all the more to his task.  What agony he could shunt off to Desaad, he did.  He took no notice of the man’s screams within his brain.

The task was almost finished.  He must not fail.  He would not fail.

<WHAM.>

Followed by another burst of painful static.

The Equation was almost his.

That would be worth all of the pain.

That, and the revenge which would shortly follow.

 -S-

Supergirl, Power Girl, and Superboy were hammering on the force-field of Darkseid’s prison cells with all their might.  Nothing happened.  It resisted their strength, their speed, their combined heat-vision.  Power Girl shook her gloved right hand and was afraid she might have fractured a finger or two.

“This isn’t working, K,” she said.

“It has to work!”  Supergirl smashed a colossal, fist-bruising smash against the field over a door.  All it did was strike sparks.  Superboy moved behind her to take her by the shoulders.

“Take it easy, Miss Kara,” he said.  “We won’t help anybody by breaking our hands.”

Her shoulders slumped, but she remained tense.  “Much as I hate to admit it, Kal, you’re right.  Not even the energy residue in our capes fazed that thing.”

Power Girl said, “There has to be a natural counterforce to this thing.  If Darkseid put it up, who has the power to take it down?”

Supergirl started to say that she didn’t know, but she was interrupted by Power Girl slapping herself in the head.  “Stupid.  I should have known, for Rao’s sake.  I worked with the JLA and the JSA on that case where we came here the first time.  K, we need to get Highfather.  He’s the only one who can breach this field.”

“Oh,” said Kara, dully.  “If stupidity is contagious, Kara, I think I gave it to you.”

Superboy said, “Hey, I should have thought of it, too.  I’m the one who read all of the Fourth World books.  Want me to find Izaya and get his help?  I can use my vision to find him.”

Kara took a deep breath.  “If you can get through, Kal, go make like Gunga Din.  But if you can’t, we may not be able to make a second try.”

Power Girl was using her X-ray vision to scan the outside even as Superboy said, “I’m gone.”  He began to crouch for a spring.  She wheeled and grabbed him.

“No, you’re not, Kal,” she said, tersely.  “Take a look at what’s going on out there.”  She turned him around and pointed in the appropriate direction.

He gaped.  “Good Lord,” he managed to say.

Supergirl used her own vision powers to check out the situation and felt herself paralyzed for a long moment.  When she could speak again, she said, “Sit tight.”

All three of them stood there, and watched what was going on outside.

 -S-

A wave of unholy power was pouring from the red-skinned, antlered giant that stood before Darkseid’s fortress.  Many of the heroes of Earth-One had felt it personally, months before the Crisis, when Trigon had walked their world and died.

He was a demon, and more than a demon.  In his world, he was the absolute lord of mystic evil.  He had been summoned by a cult of dark worshippers to father a child on Arella, one of their members.  That child had been the girl Raven, and she, ironically, was the one who banded together the New Teen Titans to oppose him.  They opposed him twice, and, despite his power being beyond theirs as a hydrogen bomb is beyond the capacity of dynamite, they triumphed.  But, as the cliche goes, just barely.

In the second of these encounters, Trigon had turned most of the heroes of Earth to stone.  That was what he was doing now, and not all the magical power of the many mages in their company nor all the science-based might of the other heroes was able to stop him.  Dr. Fate, Halo, Captain Atom, Green Arrow, Batman, all the rest, all the heroes, all the villains, all of them were petrified in their tracks.

One youth, in a white shirt, grey pants, and red sash, was only partially affected, thanks to the efforts of an invisible spirit beside him.  But even he could not hold back the power of Trigon for long.

Raven herself, fighting back incredible dread, launched herself into the air.  Her bird-form swelled about her in glowing blackness.  “Father,” she cried, in a voice that carried over the battlefield.  “Destroy me only!  Or I will destroy you!”

“That will not be necessary,” said Trigon.  “For now, we will only...play.”  He reached out a titanic hand, grasped her almost casually, and held her, her power searing his palm.  He smiled down at her, and continued to turn the heroes and villains of Earth to stone.

<Kid,> said Mr. Keeper. <Say the word.  You know who to bring back.  It’s your only chance.>

The youth from Earth-S moved his lips, with difficulty.  “E–“

<Keep going, Kid.  Keep going!> The fat, blue-colored spook, visible only to the Kid himself, looked on him with desperation.

“...ter...”

<Two more syllables, kid.  Don’t let us down.  Come on!>

“...ni...”

Mr. Keeper lay ghostly hands on the boy, who was almost entirely paralyzed. <Just one more, Kid.  One more!  You’re the last hope!  Come on and SAY IT!>

And, with an effort that might have moved mountains, the boy’s lips moved once more.

“...ty.”

A burst of noise, a smell of ozone, a puff of smoke, and Kid Eternity had summoned one more warrior from the dead.

Said warrior was in a hospital johnny, red-haired with a white streak through it, standing on the field before Trigon, looking up and wondering what the hell he was doing here.

The demon looked down upon him and laughed.  “Little man,” he said.  “Why have you been brought here?  Tell me who you are, before you die.”

Hearing it, Jim Corrigan realized why he was there.  He straightened, gave Trigon the Clint Eastwood look he’d perfected on many a perp in his beat as a cop, and laid down the word for him.

“Don’t bother,” he said.  “I’ve already done that twice.”

And with that, he opened a mental channel, prayed, and watched the great red hand descend towards him with terrific speed.

That was only an instant before a white and green form boiled out from his chest like an angry billow of cloud, resolving into solidity, expanding, grabbing Trigon’s hand by the wrist, and forcing it upward.  The four-eyed demon looked on his foe with anger and concern, and not a little rage.

The Spectre looked into Trigon’s eyes, let him glimpse the skulls that served him for pupils, and thrust a hand into and through his chest.  It protruded from Trigon’s back, in ghastly fashion.  Trigon’s left hand went limp, and Raven flew to freedom.

Then the Guardian Ghost sent a surge of white energy through his arm, at full power.

Trigon exploded.

It was hard for the nonmystics to see or perceive.  For those who could see it, bits of red psychomatter radiated away from the Spectre’s outstretched arm, and Trigon’s face, for the second time in a lifetime, held an expression of terror before it disintegrated.  There was little audible noise, but a psychic roar for those who were attuned to hear it.

Trigon was dead again.

In the wake of his destruction, a new wave of energy purled forth and restored his victims to normalcy.  As quickly as they had been converted into statues, the heroes and villains of the five Earths became human again.

The Spectre turned his head to his comrades and smiled.  “My friends, I cannot stay,” he said.  “This summoning controverts too many normal channels as it is.  But I was glad to be of service in this battle.  From here on, I must return beyond the Veil.”

“Spectre, wait,”called Raven.  “We need you!”

But even as she spoke, the Wraith of Wonder was converting back to his smoky form, lessening, and boiling back into the body of Jim Corrigan.

The police detective looked out at the assemblage, saw a few old friends and many acquaintances, and said, “Sorry I couldn’t do more.  How do I get back?”

Kid Eternity spoke one word.  In a puff of smoke, Jim Corrigan was gone.

It took a few moments for everyone to take stock.  “The Spectre,” said Hourman.  “My God.  I never thought I’d see him again.”

“Actually, Dad, I hope we never have to,” said Hourman II, beside him.

Lord Satanis, standing beside the fallen Master Man, decided to take matters in hand and began to unleash a death-spell of his own.  Dr. Fate, streaking in from above, had ideas of his own.  The Servant of Darkness was a little slow on the draw, as it were.

Fate put his hands to his helmet, lifted it off, and, swooping low, jammed it over the red helmet of his enemy.  The power of Order, imbued within the golden helm, had an immediate reaction with the powers within Satanis’s headgear.

There was an explosion everyone could hear, and what happened to Lord Satanis was not at all pretty to look upon.

Kent Nelson, standing in his blue and gold uniform, hesitated a second.  Then he reached out, separated his own helmet from Satanis’s, and replaced it on his head.  Thankfully, it contained no baleful energies.  He then took Satanis’s helmet.  It came away from his body, with what was left of his head inside.

“The Helmet of Hell,” said Fate.  “It cannot be destroyed.  But I will secrete it away, once the battle is done.”

Metamorpho said, “Once this is done, I’m going to declare a Be Nice To Spooks Week.”

“Count me in on that one, Meta,” said the Flash, glad to feel his limbs returned to flesh.

Superman looked about him, and spoke to his allies.  “Those of you on the other side, this is your last chance.  Either stand with us, or stand with Darkseid.  There are enough of us left to clean your clocks, and that’s just what they’ll do to those of you stupid enough to fight for a being that wants to turn you into zombies.

“As for me, Dev, the Captain, Action Boy, and anybody else we can spare, come with me.  We’re going on ahead.  We’re going to take out Darkseid.  Or die trying.”  He launched himself into the air, Dev and company behind him by a nanosecond, and even managed to throw in an “Up, up, and away!” as he took flight.

As they headed for what was left of Darkseid’s fortress, Superman remembered what Highfather had told him of the Source’s prophecy of the two “S” shields.

He wondered what it meant, and what sacrifice they would have to make to fulfill it.

 -S-

Kalibak, aboard a warsled, was in his element.  With the rays of his warclub, and sometimes with the club itself, he was killing the soldiers of New Genesis.

Source, it was great.  To be able to make war anew, to be able to murder...this was what he was born for.  Not the wimpish restraint of his brother, or the generalship that was his father’s realm.  No.  Kalibak was a destroyer, like the primitives whose aspect he bore.  Some called him a throwback, and, if he was such, he bore the label proudly.  He was one with those who had slain to survive, or slain because of any damn reason they felt like giving.  Or no reason at all.

If there were a tribe of killers, he would proudly proclaim himself a member of it.  One of the survivors.

Those thoughts went through his mind as he broke through the guard of one New Genesite, swung his club, and splattered his brains.  The soldier turned upside down on his flying discs and his dura matter reached the ground before his body.

Kalibak laughed.

Then he saw who was coming for him.

Four wet-eared kids from New Genesis.  They were adults now, but they would always be children to him.  Wrapped safely in their naivete, unblooded in battle, thinking that in Earth they had refuge from the war between the worlds.  Simple-minded brats.

Riding a Super Cycle, and looking grim.  Trying to look like soldiers.  Moonrider, Big Bear, Serifan, and Vykin the Black.  The Forever People.

“Forever ends today,” muttered Kalibak, and triggered his warclub.

He sent forth a wide-angled neutron blast that should have enveloped the entire stupid cycle they rode, and targeted them all.  At least, that’s what should have happened, by all the estimation of the best weapons designers on Apokolips.

Instead, the black one, Vykin, simply stood up in his sidecar, pointed both his hands together, and generated a magnetic field that split the blast so that it travelled around them, not touching the cycle or the brats.

They said nothing.  They were still looking like soldiers, or trying to.  Well, the distance between them was lessening, and he’d have a chance to open some heads one way or the other.  And perhaps a more tightly-focused beam would do the trick where a widecast didn’t.  He adjusted the controls on the side of his club and tried again.

This time, it was the black-haired one, the good-looking sissy boy, the one they called Mark Moonrider.  He was bending his arm back as if he were about to throw something, but he had nothing in his hand.  Nothing visible, that is.  Moonrider swept his arm forward and followed through with ferocious body english, like a fastball pitcher out to strike out Hank Aaron in the bottom of the ninth.

A blast of impact hit Kalibak and knocked him backward on his warsled.  Mark Moonrider’s Megaton Touch had done its job.

“Your turn, brother,” said Big Bear, gently.  Serifan didn’t need any prompting.  He grabbed two capsules from the band of his cowboy hat like a gunslinger going for his .45's.  With both hands, he let fly.  They went unerringly for Kalibak.

Darkseid’s second son slapped away one with his warclub, which was just what Serifan was counting on.  A powerful charge of destructive energy went through the club at its touch, searing and fusing its mechanisms, causing Kalibak to roar in pain and, yes, drop the club.  He cursed himself, cursed his weakness, and cursed the whelp in the hat just before the second capsule hit him, engulfed him in choking gas, made him gasp and clutch at his throat, and lose control of the warsled.

That didn’t matter much in the long run.  The Super Cycle hit him and smashed the warsled to flinders.

Bits of metal, plastic, wiring, and whatever else comprised the splintered sled went flying past the Forever People on all sides, pushed around them by the magnetic force-field Vykin generated to protect them.  But, as they had intended, Kalibak landed right on the Cycle, crouching on the frontal assembly, and wondering what was to come next.

Big Bear stood up.  “Come on, you grotty, shaveless, plug-ugly son of a scaghead.  I’m not that hard to reach.”

“You,” snarled Kalibak.  “YOU...”

“He’s mine, boys,” said Big Bear, and met Kalibak’s charge while still standing up in his seat.

The son of Darkseid was as skilled as he was strong, and as deadly as he was skilled.  He had his hands out ready to rip Big Bear’s hairy head from his body.  But he had never faced the youth of New Genesis in battle.

Big Bear wasn’t only the strongest one of the Forever People.  He had mastered fighting skills quite unknown to even Kalibak, and, dodging one of the Apokoliptic’s hands, grabbed the other with his left hand and hit him with a knife-hand strike in a vital area of the chest.  It might not have worked without the softening-up process of Serifan’s capsules and the collision, but as it was, it was most effective.  Kalibak gasped, paralyzed for a second by pain.

That was all Big Bear needed.  His great gloved right hand came up in an uppercut and hung one on Kalibak’s black-beared jaw.  The bruiser’s head snapped backward with great force.

It didn’t put Kalibak out, but Big Bear held him by the shirt with his left hand and smashed blow after blow into his face with the other until it did.  Nobody in the crew had seen him this mad, this vicious, or this rampant.  But all of them agreed it was a darned appropriate time for him to be so.

After awhile, Moonrider said, “I think that’s enough, Bear.  He’s probably been out for a minute or so already.”

“That may be so, brother,” said Big Bear, still clouting his foe from side to side.  “But it does feel good to let out the old pent-up aggressions.”  With that, for good measure, he kneed Kalibak as hard as he could.  If his foe was on the conscious side of things, that would have taken care of it.  He wasn’t, and it was superfluous.

Big Bear draped Kalibak over the front of the Super Cycle.  “Anybody got something we can tie him up with?”

Serifan produced a lasso from beneath his seat.  “Never go anywhere without it, pardner,” he proclaimed.

A few minutes later, the Forever People headed for Supertown, their prize trophy tied to the front of their machine.

 -S-

Superboy streaked out from the fortress of Darkseid, hoping that the two Karas would still be alive by the time he got back.  Below him was a mass of heroes and a number of villains.  Above him, the Green Lantern Corps and the Weaponers continued their war.  On other points of the globe, the New Genesites and Apokoliptics were killing each other.

And here he was playing messenger boy.  But it had to be done.

He wasn’t as experienced with the use of telescopic vision as Kara and Kal, but he had done it before.  With a mental command, Superboy focused his eyes on the far distance before him, and swept it from side to side.

The Boy of Steel saw a lot more than he wanted to see.  All of it under the heading of death.

But, finally, he picked out a battle in which the largest mass of Celestials seemed to be engaged, not that far from Darkseid’s home city.  He surveyed the combatants, saw a battle standard, and checked out the armored figures nearby it.  One of them looked familiar, even through the armor.  He increased the magnification power of his vision, and checked out what was exposed of the man’s face.

Highfather.

Young Kal-El increased his flight speed and made for the warsite.  As he did so, he felt an incredible stabbing pain in his back, heard an explosion, smelled ozone.  The thing dropped him to the dirt below, whatever it was.  He landed hard, and face-down.

Superboy felt of his back, felt the cape and tunic over it, and ran his hand over the area.  It stung, but he didn’t seem to be badly wounded.  With such weapons, though, it was hard to tell.

Another thunderbolt landed near him, hit the ground, and exploded.  A Weaponer’s bolt.  That’s what they had hit him with.  But he didn’t have time for this.  For cripes sake, he was on a mission.  Darkseid was about to conquer the Multiverse.  Why they hadn’t rung in Dr. Fate, or a Green Lantern, or somebody magical who could just send a mental message to Izaya, he had no idea.  But he had long since passed over those types, on the battlefield outside Darkseid’s fortress.

That left it up to him, and he was damned well going to do it.

Kal-El of Earth-Prime launched himself into the air once again, looking upward, seeing the Weaponers on their flying disks, and taking note of those who might be breaking off their battles with the Lanterns long enough to toss a bolt at him.  When they did, he zigged out of the way, glad for what he know of broken-field running.

When he got to the battle site, he almost overshot it before he remembered to slacken speed.  A great anti-energy cannon had been brought up to train upon the New Genesis troops.  He slammed into it full-throttle, smashing it to pieces, scattering the soldiers of Darkseid, and continuing on without a clip.  Maybe that, he thought, would establish his bona fides with the other side.

In another second, he touched down on his feet before Izaya and his commanders and was met with a bunch of blasters pointed in his face.

“Stay,” ordered Highfather, in a loud voice.  “This one is known to me.  He is our ally.”

“Glad...to hear that,” Superboy said, a bit out of breath.  “Highfather, I...bring a message from Supergirl.”

“Are you sure of this boy?” asked one of the guards, his weapon still trained on Superboy.

“Lower your blaster or answer to me,” Izaya said.  “Speak, youth.”

“She needs you to use your Alpha power,” Kal said.  “Darkseid and...Beautiful Dreamer...are behind two Omega Effect force-fields.  We...can’t get through.  Need your help.”

“This is at Darkseid’s fortress?” Izaya asked.

“Definitely, sir.”

The lord of New Genesis raised his right hand.  From his five fingers, an equal number of white, bullet-like streams of energy poured.  Kal looked on it in awe.  Even Jack Kirby couldn’t do this guy justice.

In a moment, it was over.

Izaya said, “You may stay here and aid my troops, if you will, young Superman.  You may retujrn to aid your fellows.  Or you may come with me.”

“Uh, sir, where are you going?” asked Superboy.

“My liege,” said one of the field commanders.  “With all due respect, we need you here.”

“With as much respect, Tylon, if we do not win the war at Darkseid’s doorstep, we do not win it at all,” returned Izaya.  “I must take the battle to him.  But first I must make another journey.  In your hands, for the moment, I must leave this battle.”

“Lord Izaya,” said another.  “Do not.”

“I must,” he said, and a Boom Tube thundered into existence.

The armored king cast a look back at Superboy for a moment before he stepped within it.  Hesitating only a moment, Superboy followed suit.  The Tube’s end collapsed a few seconds later.  The commanders looked on in chagrin.

Finally, Tylon said, “We know how to fight, brothers.  With or without Izaya, we must win this war.”

They returned to the business of killing.

 -S-

The Green Lantern who was a plant arrived near Hal Jordan, bearing one small figure in his hand and towing an unconscious, creepy-looking comatose young man in a green travel aura.  <Greetings, brother Lantern,> said Medphyl, putting up a shield to ward off Weaponers’ bolts.

<Greetings returned,> said Hal, twisting to dodge a yellow thunderbolt. <What’ve you got?>

The tiny Swamp Thing spoke up. <He has...me...Green Lantern.  I will...strive...to be of...service.>

<It is a plant elemental,> said Medphyl. <If we can conduct him to the planet’s surface, we may be able to turn this war to our side.>

<I hesitate to ask how,> said Hal, blasting another Weaponer off his disks. <You need an escort?>

<I can defend myself,> Medphyl returned. <But if some would come with me, our seedling might more safely bear fruit.>

<Acknowledged,> said Hal.  Opening another couple of mental channels, the Green Lantern sent another message. <Honor Team, Omegans, we’ve got a job for you.  The GL I’m sending you a mental picture of needs an escort force down to Apokolips.  This is major.  Can we count on you?>

<Magicko speaking,> sent the Honor Team’s sorcerer leader.    <We will be there, Green Lantern.>

Primus sent, <The Omega Men will do their part, Green Lantern of Earth.  I’ll send an envoy in moments.>

<Acknowledged.  Home in on my ring signal.  Out.> Hal turned back to the vegetable hero. <They’re coming, Medphyl.  Just try and stay alive on the way.>

<We will, Hal Jordan,> said Medphyl. <May Darkseid wither on the vine.>

<The weed of crime bears bitter fruit,> replied Hal.

<A marvelous saying.  Where did you hear that one?>

<Oh...around.>

 -S-

In Baron Winters’s mansion, Madame Xanadu dropped her tarot cards.  “It’s almost there,” she said, in a voice above a whisper.

Dr. Occult, Tim Hunter, John Constantine, and the Baron turned towards her immediately.  “Oh, Christ,” said Constantine.  “Christ help us, Madame.  You sure?”

Tim put a hand to his head.  “I’m feeling something, too, John.  Feels like...pressure.  Cold.  I dunno.  Is that what you feel, Madame?”

Baron Winters said, “She feels what we will all feel in a few moments.  The Equation is almost within Darkseid’s grasp.”

Occult grasped John’s and Winters’s hands.  “Come on.  We have to get to the table.  We have to try a seance.   Maybe we can head this thing off.”

Winters shook Occult’s hand off.  “There is no time.  We could not get through before...it is spoken.  What is to be done, must be done by the Stranger’s men.”

“Can’t we give them a hand, psychically?”  Constantine stubbed out his cigarette in a dish, not thinking.

Winters stared at him.

“All right, all right, all right,” John replied.  “Guess I’d better start prepping for my career as Darkseid’s doorman.”

“Don’t even joke about that, John,” warned Dr. Occult.  “Don’t even joke.”

 -S-

Ra-Man, his brow dripping sweat, said, “I can sense an outside force working with us.  At least, not working against us.”

“Me, too,” said Lucian Crawley, his eyes closed with effort.  “But...it’s still so damn hard...”

“Maintain your power,” warned the Stranger.  “We are close to success.  But so is Darkseid.  Whatever works against him, I welcome.”

Gar Logan, holding Mento’s hand, said, “Dad.  How are you holding up?”

“Gar...just...hold on,” grated Steve Dayton, his eyes shut, his neck muscles straining.  Changeling gave his stepfather’s hand a squeeze.  It was tensed to the max, and Dayton did not respond.

Robotman paced the floor.  “Maybe I should be out there with Wilson,” he mused.  “I’m not much use here.  My team’s on Apokolips, maybe getting creamed.  I’m not with them.”

“Cliff,” said Gar.  “You know better than that.  You’re here because Dad and I need you.  Like he said, hold on.  Just a little longer.”

The man of metal gave a robotic sigh.  “That’s what I’m afraid of, kid.  We haven’t got more than a little longer to hold on.”

“Wait.”

The word came from Mento, and electrified them all.

“Hit him again, Stranger,” gasped Dayton.  “It’s coming...it’s coming...”

 -S-

At Darkseid’s Fortress, two things happened in short succession.  One of them was a twin series of white energy bullets, which protruded through what was left of the ceiling, zeroed in on the prison section and on Darkseid’s chamber, and struck them.  An energy discharge rocked both Kara’s flat on their rears.

After the flash faded, Power Girl grabbed Supergirl’s arm and got her back to her feet.  “K...”, Power Girl started.

Kara, tired as she was from the unending battles, leaped to her feet, shoved Power Girl in the other direction, and rocketed towards the cells.  “Find Darkseid,” she said, over her shoulder.  “Go!”

Power Girl went.

The second thing that happened was the arrival of Superman, Dev-Em, Captain Action, and Action Boy, tearing apart what remained of the roof and the rooms above Darkseid’s chamber.  Kal and Dev had used their X-ray visions to pinpoint his location, and smashed their way to his darkened room.  A few seconds beforehand, they wouldn’t have been able to breach the force-field with all their combined strength.  Now, four fists struck, and the door and wall around it crumbled.  Power Girl got there an instant afterward.

Light invaded the chamber of Darkseid.

He looked up.

For the first time they had ever seen, he smiled.

“Get him,” rapped Superman.  “Now.”

Darkseid spoke the Anti-Life Equation.

 -S-

With a cry of great effort, as if tearing a metal spike from a bed of concrete, Mento reared back in his chair and only a swift run and support by Robotman stopped him from falling backward to the floor.

“We’ve got him,” gasped Mento, sweat streaking his face and staining his armpits.  “We’ve got him.  Take him, Stranger.  Take him away.”

The Phantom Stranger lay his hands on either side of Mento’s helmet, stiffened, threw his own head back, and then slackened, breathing easier.

Neither Ra-Man nor Lucian were speaking.  They looked exhausted.

Gar Logan finally spoke.  “Stranger.  Did we win?”

The Stranger turned a grim face to the green youth.  “We extracted Orion’s mind.  But the Equation did not come with it.”

“Then...” said Changeling, not daring to move.

The Stranger said, “We have lost.”

 -S-

Supergirl grabbed the metal door by the bottom of the bars and tore it in half, flinging both sides away into the hall.  She shot into the cell so quickly that both women inside barely had time to register her presence.

“Supergirl,” said Granny Goodness.

“Shut up, you bitch!”  Kara’s hand came out, slapping the side of her face, barely holding her power back, and caromed Granny off the stone wall.  The agent of Darkseid slumped to a sitting position, unconscious.

Beautiful Dreamer was conscious, but still lying on the floor.  Kara knelt on one knee, and, gently, took her by one wrist and drew her up.  “D’reema,” she said.  “I promised I’d get you out.”

D’reema’s face showed gratitude, sentiment, and a holding back of tears.  She reached out, starting to embrace Kara.  Then, in a second’s time, her expression shifted to one of terror.

“What’s up?” asked Supergirl.  “What’s wrong?”

“The Equation,” she said.  “Darkseid’s spoken the Equation.”

 -S-

From the chamber of Darkseid, the power of Anti-Life began to radiate.

None of the physical senses could perceive it, but in their souls, everyone in its path could sense its approach and overtaking.  None could resist it.

Superman, Dev-Em, Captain Action, Action Boy, and Power Girl were the first to feel it.  The two Flashes and Joanie Quick, arriving an instant later, were the next victims.  Its power spread throughout the fortress, reducing all who remained to a more pawnish state than they had been in beforehand.

A moment of madness and terror went through Kal-El’s mind, as little as he wanted to acknowledge it.  This was a thing against which he had no power, no shield.  He was facing Dev, seeing his expression, and knew his ally was going through the same thing.

A second after that, he wondered what the problem had been.  He felt calm, amazingly so.  His muscles went slack.  It was all he could do to stand there, looking at Darkseid.  Even the Flashes and Joanie were stock-still.

All they had to do was wait for the Dark Lord’s first command.

All they had to do was love Darkseid.  And they did.

 -S-

Supergirl felt the chilling power from not far away.  “Oh, God,” she said.  “Oh, my God.”

“Kara,” gasped D’reema.

The Girl of Steel grasped her red cape, tore it loose from its stays, and wrapped the two of them up in it.  She could think of nothing else to do at the moment.  Perhaps it would shield them.  Enough light penetrated for both of them to see each other’s faces.

“The Life Equation,” said Kara.  “Say it!”

“I...can’t...”  The daughter of Izaya was almost hysterical.  “It’s...too far...within me...”

Supergirl rarely used the power of super-hypnotism.  It was more of a skill, developed by Superman’s teaching and reinforced by her super-brain and super-vision.  Now, she decided it was time to give it a try.  Even as she felt the coldness going for her own mind, her own will, she fought it off with ever bit of her being, and gazed hard into D’reema’s eyes with all her power.

“D’reema,” she said.  “Your will is my will.  You know the Life Equation.  It’s deep within you, but you can get to it.  SAY IT!  NOW!”

And as she said the last words, the iciness of Anti-Life began to flood her brain.

A moment of horror, then a moment of peace, then a moment of slackness.  Darkseid...oh, Rao, he was beautiful...

Someone far away, some woman, was speaking something indistinct.  In a language that was old, perhaps, even to angels.  Some words none could literally understand, but whose meaning all could grasp.  The meaning of those words came to Kara like a hammer blow through ice, as they finally ended.

FREEDOM.

The Life Equation.

With a shudder, the darkness left her soul.

Two hands were under her armpits, supporting her.  “Kara,” said D’reema.  “Kara.  Are you all right?”

Supergirl took a long breath and looked at the woman before her.  After a moment, she asked, “You said it?”

D’reema nodded.  “Yes.  With your help.  I didn’t even know what the words were, but I said it.  Kara.  We’ve won.”

Both women smiled at each other.  Then Kara crushed D’reema to her in a hug.  But only for a moment.  At super-speed, Kara flew D’reema out of the open doorway, through one of the many holes in the roof, and out onto the grounds outside the shattered fortress.  She set the girl down, not far from the advancing army of heroes.

“You’ll be safe here,” she said.  “As safe as you would be anywhere.”

“Wait,” said D’reema.  “Where are you going?”

Kara said, “I’m going to find Darkseid.  And kick his stone-plated butt.”

With that, she flew back into the fortress.

 -S-

Medphyl, surrounded by the Honor Team and the Omega Men for a guard, touched down on the soil of Apokolips, not far from the battle Izaya had just left.  Magicko lowered Strong Girl and Golden Blade to the ground with his magic, and Van Thorr, the Green Lantern of their world, remained on guard in the air.  He was still a rookie, but he was learning fast.  Primus, Kallista, Broot, Elu, Nimbus, Tigorr, and the Green Man descended on their own power.

“Looks like the good guys could use a hand,” said Strong Girl, striking out in the direction of the warring parties.

“Hold, Jerusha,” ordered Magicko.  “Until the Lantern’s job is done, we stay with him.”

“My job is done,” pronounced Medphyl, setting the Swamp Thing on a sward of grass.  “His is just begun.”

For a moment, the small homunculus who was the Green’s chosen on Earth simply stood on the verdant blades, closing his red eyes, extending his consciousness.  He connected with the Green of Apokolips.  That force which had been duelling with the encroachments of Man and Machine even more than on Earth, and had been losing even more desperately.

The Swamp Thing spoke to it.

“Come to me, and I will lend you my hand,” he said. “Come to me, and prepare for war.  And victory.”

And then it all began.

 -S-

Mr. Atom had the six members of the Marvel Family in his two hands, Captain Marvel, Mary Marvel, and Captain Marvel, Jr. in his left, Fat Marvel, Tall Marvel, and Hill Marvel in his right.  He was trying to crush them.  Actually, the giant robot wasn’t making much of a go of the job.  But while he held them, he was preventing them from intervening in the rest of the battle.

Lady Quark, looking on, had decided to do something about it.  In a trice, she rounded up Captain Atom, Firestorm, and Firehawk.  “If anyone can do something about this titan,” she said, “we can.  On my signal, hit him with your power.  Overload him.”

“Good strategy,” rapped Captain Atom, and raised his silver-encased hands.

“Sounds like a plan to me, lady,” opined Firestorm, and followed suit.

“I’m ready, too,” proclaimed Firehawk.  “Give us the signal.”

“NOW,” said Lady Quark, raising her own hands.  She blasted her nuclear power at Mr. Atom, knowing that, despite the robot’s shielding, it would find a way into his interior.  Captain Atom’s atomic fire, Firestorm’s and Firehawk’s nuclear power blasts, all of them penetrated Mr. Atom’s armor, all of them stoked the furnace-fury at his heart.

The robot’s strength increased.  Mary Marvel groaned.  “What are they doing?  This thing’ll crush us!”

Captain Marvel struggled.  “Not if...we can endure it, Mary.  Just hang on.”

“We’re hanging, Cap,” grunted Junior.  “Boy, are we hanging.”

The atomic warriors continued to pour power into Mr. Atom.  To his credit, the robot giant began to understand what they were about to do and struck out at them, smashing the ground where they stood with his Marvel-clutching hands, blasting at them with his eye-rays.  But the four of them had flight powers, and were able to dodge the robot’s great blows.  They kept up the barrage.

Atom’s metal skin began to turn red.  “Maintain the bombardment,” ordered Lady Quark.

“Can we contain him when he blows?” asked Firestorm.

“We’d better,” noted Captain Atom, still pouring fourth a double-stream of nuclear power from his hands.

The Metal Men observed the conflict—after all, it was hard to miss a thirty-foot-tall robot—and stretched themselves onto the scene.  Tina pointed at the giant from Earth-S.  “Iron, Lead,” she said.  “We’re gonna need a container, and just at the right moment.”

“Okay, Tina,” said Iron to the platinum robot.  “But I hope we’ll be fast enough to do it.”

“If you will, Iron, uhhh, I will,” promised Lead.

“And I’ll plate the both of you, I promise,” offered Tin.

Mercury looked on the little tin robot with disdain.  “Like you could be a great help.”

Gold grabbed Mercury by the arm, almost turning it into globules.  “And if you can’t be of any more help than that, Mr. Metal That’s a Liquid At Room Temperature, I suggest you keep your mouth shut.”

Mr. Atom’s body glowed with white heat.  He began to shiver, like a human with ague.  Lady Quark said, “One more blast, and then back away.  He’s about to–“

They didn’t have time.  Instantly, Lead formed himself into a dome covering Mr. Atom, Iron recast himself into a dome covering Lead, and, true to his word, Tin formed a plating over both of them.  In the end, even Tina, Gold, and Mercury followed suit.  Firestorm and Firehawk used their matter-restructuring powers to change the air about the Metal Men into a steel sheathing, reinforcing them.

The blast cracked the whole thing and made the Firetwins busy turning radioactive leakage into dandelion fluff and Lady Quark and Captain Atom busy taking the atomic heat into their bodies.  It was deafening.

A few moments after that, six individual tunnels punched up trails of dirt from beneath the fractured metal dome, and the Marvel Family members poked their heads up out of the sand.  “Thanks, very much,” said Captain Marvel to the nuclear foursome.

“You are welcome, Captain,” said Lady Quark.  “But we need to aid the Metal Men, and to decontaminate you, before you get back into the fight.”

Firestorm restored the steel sheathing to air and beheld the wrecked Metal Men within it, along with the shattered components of Mr. Atom, still radioactive and steaming.  Firehawk came up beside him.   “Can we put them back together again?”

“I think so,” said Firestorm.  “Our restructuring powers ought to be able to do it.  They’re hotter than U-235 now, and so are the Marvels.”

“The quicker we get this done, the quicker they can get back in the fight,” said Captain Atom.  “What happened to that bald nut case in the green robe, anyway?”

“Sabbac?” Firestorm pointed to a spot not far off, where the sorceror lay unconscious and bound.  “Isis and Ibis happened to him.”

“Looks like they happened pretty hard,” opined Firehawk.  “What about that guy in the toga?”

“Oggar?”  Firestorm said.  “I think that’s what they called him.”

“The last I saw, one of our guys was cleaning his clock,” said Captain Atom.  “The Son of Vulcan.  I think he’s been taken care of.”

Lady Quark favored them with a scowl. “Enough talk,” she said.  “Get to work.”

 -S-

Supergirl had sent her super-vision ahead of her, for caution’s sake.  The images she saw arrived in her brain only a fraction of a second before her body arrived on the scene of Darkseid’s den.  But it was time enough to be effective.

Dev, Kal, Captain Action, Action Boy, the two Flashes, and Joanie Swift were lying on the floor of the chamber as if they were dead, and Darkseid’s eyes were blazing red.

He’d gotten them.  He’d nailed them with his Omega Effect.  Even the super-speedsters among them, he’d hit.

Darkseid had enough time to hear a scream of terrible rage before a freight train in blue, yellow, and red hit him and smashed him into a wall, and halfway through it.

For a moment, she flashed back to the time she’d fought Darkseid before, a thousand years in the future.  The bastard had grabbed her by the head and tried to crush her skull.  He’d had the strength enough to do it, too, had he not been interrupted.

There was no way she could gauge his strength now.  But there was no time to worry about it.  She grabbed Darkseid by the tunic, blasted her heat-vision full-force into his radiant eyes, and was rewarded with a cry of pain even the Lord of Apokolips couldn’t suppress.

Then she hauled off and smashed him across the room.

 -S-

The Swamp Thing had made contact with the Green and gained its cooperation.  That was all that was necessary.

Outward from the place where he stood, a rush of vegetation, roots, grass, trees, plants native to the Apokoliptic soil when they could reach from that soil to the sun, burst outward in an infinite number of rays.  Even over the areas covered by sand, they sprang across it, overlay it, made it verdant again.

The forces of New Genesis and Apokolips had time to notice and turn towards the dull rumble before it engulfed them.  Their weaponry was overgrown, penetrated, deactivated by roots.  The vegetation grew about their feet and forced them to pull their lower limbs up, ripping roots with it.  They aimed blasters, and found flowers growing from the muzzles.

After a couple of minutes, about the only thing they could do was fling themselves at the guys on the other side and have a punch-up.  So they did.

Medphyl, looking upon it, reached for another magnitude of awe.  “By the power of O,” he said.  “This is the stuff of legend.  As in my world’s creation.”

Primus said, “Maybe we’d better take to the air, in case that stuff starts coming for us.”

By the time he had the last words out, the green onslaught had reached their area, hemming them in with tall grass and roots, but leaving a large circle bare where they stood.

“Thoughtful of him,” remarked Tigorr.  “What do we do now?”

“Wait,” said Magicko.  “For the end of the war.”

 -S-

Supergirl was headed in for what she thought was the clincher when Darkseid, shielding his wounded eyes with one arm, raised his right hand and loosed a blast of deadly force at her.  It staggered her, sending her crashing through another room.  The sanctuary of Darkseid was now a shambles of ruin and paralyzed bodies.

Kara hurt.

Darkseid seared her again with his Omega power, and she screamed.

He advanced on her.  “Woman,” he said.  “I perceived what you did.  You shielded D’reema from my power.  You gave her time to speak the Life Equation.  Because of you—because of you—the power of Anti-Life is lost to me forever.  Perhaps.  For that, there must be recompense.  For that, there must be death.”

“I’ll settle for yours,” said Kara, and, quicker than Darkseid could react, she gave him a red-booted foot in the face.  He tumbled backwards.

Supergirl dragged herself to her feet.  Darkseid’s quasi-mystic energy was enough to hurt even a Kryptonian.  Even enough to kill.  That much she knew, from the state Dev, Kal, and the others were in.

On the other hand, the strength of a Kryptonian was more than enough to hurt Darkseid.  He didn’t have the power that he had when she’d faced him with the Legion.  That was reassuring.

She sped towards him again, ducking under the twin eye-blasts that came from him, and rocked his world with an uppercut that would have taken off the top of a mountain.  To his credit, Darkseid was tough enough to take it, but went off his pins again.  She grabbed him bodily, turned him face-down to the floor, and hammerlocked his arm.  He didn’t make a sound, and he was resisting.  She torqued up the pressure until she felt the bones in his arm were getting near breakage.

“You may not be making any noise yet, but I know you’re feeling it,” she grated.  “Bring Kal and my friends back to life.  Or breaking this arm is just the start.”

Darkseid sent a surge of Omega power through his body and surrounded Kara with an aura of sparking blackness.  She cried out, ratcheted her head back, closed her eyes against the pain.  Her trembling hands managed to hold onto his arm, but that was all she could do.

“Underestimation,” said Darkseid.  “The fatal mistake of a military amateur.”  With great effort, he pushed himself up, freed his arm from Supergirl, and smashed her hard against the side of her face.  It left a bleeding bruise.  She gasped in pain.

“I can radiate the Omega power from any or all parts of my body,” Darkseid informed her, grabbing her chin in a crushing grip.  “But to release it in rays, I rely upon my eyes.”  They began to smoulder with power again.  The deadly power that could displace or disintegrate any matter he targeted.

She was about to bring her hands up for a chest strike when, of a sudden, a white-clad form barrelled in through the ceiling, struck Darkseid, tore him away from her, and smashed him into the next room.

Kara dazedly looked on and registered the aspect of the new arrival.  “Lightray,” she muttered, and pulled herself upward.

Darkseid smashed his foe across the face with a savage backhand.  Lightray tried to resist, sent several super-speed blows into his foe’s stony face, and hurt him.  A short burst of Omega Effect from Darkseid’s eyes into his face, and Lightray was screaming, dropping away from him, writhing on the floor.

The Lord of Apokolips looked in Kara’s direction.  “Well?  Aren’t you going to stop me?”

For answer, Supergirl began whirling in place, and, a second later, had drilled into the ground.

Even Darkseid had limits to reaction time.  Before he could manage a countermove, Supergirl burst up from the floor and ground below him, striking upward.  He tried to shield himself with his Omega power, but enough of the blow got through to make him feel as though he had stepped in front of a maul.

Kara followed up with blow after blow.  She could feel a lot of the impact blunting on his force-shield, but that only inspired her to up the delivery power.  She raked his shield with heat-vision, pinned him to the floor by sitting on him, smashed away at his head and chest, slapped away his arms when he tried to raise them.  And as she fought, she spoke.

“I’ve been through hell and a half in this last week.  I’ve fought Blackstarr, Eclipso, the Zoners, Kralik, the Golem, and I’m probably leaving some out.  I almost got zombified because of you.  Now you’ve hurt the man I love, and my cousin, and my friends.   I didn’t want to do this.  I didn’t want to do any of it.  I hate fighting.  But I promise you, Darkseid, if you don’t restore them and surrender, you’re never getting up from this floor in one piece.  I swear it!”

Darkseid was bleeding from his nose and mouth.  She couldn’t be certain, but she believed he had cracked ribs in the bargain.  She was getting through to him, and, Rao help her, she was enjoying it.

She’d tried to keep out of the way of his Omega Effect beams, but, finally, it just wasn’t possible.  The terrible beams from his eyes lanced out, caught her in the eyes, and dealt out blindness and pain.  Supergirl screamed.

Another blast sent her backwards, knocking her off Darkseid’s body.  She tried to focus, to use her super-hearing to pinpoint him, but the burning pain was filling her brain and corpus.  It was worse than a Kryptonite exposure.

Darkseid was standing before her again.  A third time, the rays from his eyes struck her.  This time, they were tearing her apart.  The cohesion of her atomic structure was dissolving.  Her body, despite its Kryptonian invulnerability, would be scattered to the wind.

She would die, and Kal, Dev, young Kal, and the others would die after her.

Kara struggled to bring herself up, to land a last blow that would take Darkseid’s life.  She hated herself for doing it, but if she was to die, she would take the Dark Lord down with her.  She willed her body to hold together just long enough, for her strength to sustain itself sufficiently, for the blow to be struck.  She had to.

Darkseid loosed another surge of power and she knew she could not.

“This has taken long enough,” Darkseid complained.  “Will you not simply die?”

Then, from within, from without, from everywhere at once, the sound of a thunderous boom.

In her present state, she could barely see.  But she was able to make out a glowing circle that had materialized in the room.  There were also two beings in that circle, one in gleaming armor, the other in a red uniform and a grey helmet.  The man in red had his hand raised.  Darkseid was turning towards him in astonishment, but it was too late.

“No, father,” said Orion.  “You will.”

With that, the son of Darkseid unleashed a bolt of blinding white energy from his hand.  The force that he had never dared to use against his father before today, the power that sidestepped both Alpha and Omega forces and could annihilate the bearers of both.

The Astro-Force.

Darkseid tried to unleash a blast of Omega Effect at his son, but it struck the wall of whitness, was stopped, and was turned back upon him.  Orion’s blast reached him all too quickly.  There was not even enough time for him to cry out.  It seared, it dissolved, it destroyed.  There was an indescribable sound and flash and smoke and a smell of something truly loathsome.  Izaya looked on and controlled his revulsion.

Orion simply looked on in grim approval.

When it was done, all that remained of Darkseid’s body was a desiccated, half-burned-away husk.

Supergirl saw it, felt her body separating, and was gratified, even in death.

Izaya’s own hand came up and released multiple Alpha Bullets.

“Stand with me in this, my son,” said Izaya.  “This may take all my energy.”

“What I have to give is yours, second father,” said Orion, and lay his hands upon Izaya’s helmet, sharing the power of the Celestials.

Kara felt the energy of the white strike her, scatter throughout her disintegrating form, negating the power of Darkseid.  For a moment, she felt as though the convergence of the two forces would tear her apart more quickly than the Omega Effect itself would.

Then, in another instant, the lattice of attraction that held the atoms of her body together was restructured.  Alpha Bullet countered Omega Effect.  The pain receded, faded, was gone.  Her sense of touch returned.  She fell to the floor on her side, exhausted.

And as she lay there, she saw Kal, Dev, Power Girl, Superboy, Captain Action, Action Boy, the Flashes, Joanie Quick, and Lightray recovering.  They were stirring, coming back to life, arising from the floor.  That was fine for them.  For her part, she’d be content to lie on it a while longer.

Izaya was standing over her, extending a hand.  “You have performed a great deed,” he said.  “We extend thanks on behalf of all New Genesis, and on my behalf as well.”

“Thank you,” she said, and took his hand just before she passed out.

 -S-

Over the world of Apokolips, the Swamp Thing’s assault had, in lack of a better phrase, borne fruit.  The war machines of both sides were stopped by encroaching vegetation.  The airborne machines of destruction remained, but even that conflict was winding down.  Above, the Green Lantern Corps was finally getting the upper hand on the Weaponers of Qward, and were pushing them backward.

Freed of the counterforce of super-villains, the heroes of the Earths deployed quickly over Apokolips, helped by those with teleport capacities.  The magical and scientific might of Dr. Fate, Dr. Mist, Amethyst, Ibis, Isis, Johnny Thunder’s Thunderbolt, Green Lantern of Earth-2, Starman, and Zatanna were instrumental in bringing down many of the air-based warcraft and para-demons.  But just as important were the heavy hitter heroes, including the Marvel Family, the Wonder Women, the Martian trio, and the recovering Superman, Dev-Em, Captain Action, and Action Boy.  The Marvels were zeroed out by the Weaponers who hurled thunderbolts at them, but the pink-hued servant of Johnny Thunder restored their powers after the hits and shielded them from further strikes.  Also, many of the Apokolips crowd found that heroes such as Nuklon, the Hourmen, Captain Atom, Lady Quark, Geo-Force,  and even those below their capacity such as Batman and his allies weren’t to be taken lightly.

But most importantly, Izaya and Orion returned to the fray, rallying their troops, bringing with them the likes of Mr. Miracle, Barda, the Female Furies, Bug, Jezebelle, Lightray, and Metron.  With them, at the battlefields, came a new conscript: the female Dr. Light, Kimiyo Hoshi.  Her job was to project a hologram of Darkseid’s body above the area, with the legend DARKSEID IS DEAD below it.  She didn’t like it a bit.  But she agreed that it was a necessity, to demoralize the troops of Apokolips.  Gravi-guards, dog cavalry, Granny’s crack cadets, and the line soldiers fell one by one, or surrendered.

It took over 24 hours.  But at the end of that time, Apokolips was finally conquered.

In fact, it was more than conquered.  The Green had virtually taken back the planet.  True, the deadly pits that furnished the planet’s power were still radioactive and off-limits to the plant growth.  But the paving material had been cracked and shattered by the shoots that came up through it, the machinery of evil had been clogged by the innumerable roots that immobilized it, and, from above, Apokolips now looked like a fairly verdant world.

At the end of it all, Izaya and Orion boom-tubed back into Darkseid’s capital, assembled the generals still alive, and forced them to sign surrender papers.

After the signing, Orion lay hands on his adopted son, with Beautiful Dreamer, Mr. Miracle, and Barda also present.  “This world needs a king.  There is none so qualified as yourself.  Orion, will you accept the burden?  Will you rule, as my ally, over the world of Apokolips?”

The red-clad man, whose face still showed the scars of repair surgery, took his time about answering.

“You and your allies rescued my body and mind from the clutches of my father.  My mind was restored to my body in time for me to destroy my father...and to save others, such as Lightray and Superman.  But my answer, Highfather, must be no.  I will not rule over the world of Apokolips.

“I will, however, rule over a world with a new name, one more appropriate to its present state.  I will agree to be the king of Third Genesis.”

And so it was.  But there was something more than that.  First, D’reema embraced Scott Free with a good deal of tears, reunited with her brother after more years than either wanted to remember.   She also saved a hug for Big Barda, her sister-in-law.

But after that, she went to Orion, who had turned away, and insisted on making him face her.  D’reema looked upon his fearsome countenance, accented by the horrific scars of Desaad’s handiwork, and trembled as she held up her hand.

“We both suffered in this,” she said.  “You more greatly than I.  But we came through it.  Second brother, I would...I would hold your hand.”

Orion said, “Only sister, I would hold more than that,” and embraced her strongly and gently at the same time.  D’reema said nothing, but hugged him back.  All the barriers were not yet breached, but it was a good start.

Not long afterward, Izaya boom-tubed back to his palace on New Genesis, entered, and, after some protocol, had Tigra brought to him.  She bowed.  He grasped her shoulders and raised her upright.

“Your son lives, Tigra,” said Izaya, and noted the tears that came to her eyes as he said it.  “I will take you to him forthwith.  But there is one thing I would do first.”

“And...that thing is, milord?”

He took her hand.  “It has been many years since I have had a queen.  More ties between the thrones of New Genesis and Apokolips would help considerably, in our present time.  But there is more than that.”  He looked at her intently.  “Tigra, duchess of Apokolips, will you consent to be my wife?”

She took all of three seconds to decide.  The announcement of the impending wedding was made within the hour.  It was, indeed, a day for wonders and miracles.

Then she was reunited with Orion, as Oberon was reunited with Scott and Barda.  The little man looked on the mother and son reunion from across the room and remarked, “Looks like everybody gets a happy ending today, huh, Scott?”

“Well...almost, Obie,” confessed Mr. Miracle, who had his mask off for the moment.

Oberon looked up at his friend and partner.  “Whattya mean, Scotty?  Don’t we have engagements, obligations, fer cryin’ out loud, dates ta play?  Don’t we still have a show?  The Greatest Escape Act on Earth?”

“Regrettably, Oberon...we do not,” Barda said, as sympathetically as she could.

The small man from Earth was drop-jawed.

Scott said, “We’re staying on New Genesis.  There’s more for us here than there ever was on Earth.  Besides, Orion’s probably going to need some help, especially in keeping Kalibak and a bunch of those guys locked up.  And who’s better to design a prison that’s darned well escape-proof than me?”

Barda picked Oberon up and kissed him on the cheek.  “We’ll miss you, Oberon.  Believe me, we will.”

“Nope, Barda, I don’t think you will.”

She gave him a curious look.

“If you’ve got an extra room somewhere in these digs...well, maybe I can move my stuff in.  Ain’t no use in breakin’ up our act this late in the game.  I don’t know what your immigration policy is, but...”

“Say no more, Obie,” smiled Mr. Miracle.  “You’ve got a place to stay.  With us.”

“Well,” said Barda, thoughfully.  “I guess we do get a happy ending, after all.”

Still in her arms, Oberon looked over her shoulder at a four-foot-nine serving girl, passing by with a trayful of covered plates.  “Baby, you don’t know the half of it,” he said.

 -S-

J’onn J’onzz had called a meeting of his old Justice League friends, including Batman, Aquaman, Wonder Woman, Firestorm, Zatanna, Green Lantern, Green Arrow, the Red Tornado, the Elongated Man, Steel, and Vixen, and spoke to them with J’en R’ass and his brother T’omm on either side of him.

“The battle is done,” he said, “and so is my sojourn on Earth.  My homeworld is said to need a ruler that all factions can accept.  T’omm and J’en here came for me, and I shall return with them.  Thus, I must resign my membership in the Justice League of America.  But not without regrets.  The League saved me from Commander Blanx when he first came to your world, gave me...something of which I could be part.  Not disguised as an Earthman, but as myself.  For that...and much else besides...I will always be grateful.

“One more announcement must be made.”  The Martian’s fingers were now entwined with J’en’s.  “J’en and I have agreed to be married.  The ceremony will be held within the month on Mars II.”

“Way to go, Big Green!” called Firestorm, pumping his fist in the air.  J’en smiled, and some of the heroes laughed before Batman shot the kid a stern look.

“Any of you who can manage the journey will be welcome,” J’onn continued.  “When you next hear from Hawkman, convey the same invitation to him and Shayera.  The same for Superman and Supergirl.  We must leave very soon.  And Steel, if you or Vixen ever see Vibe or Gypsy again, please deliver the news for me.”

“Will do, J’onn,” said Steel.  “Even if they don’t join Team Metropolis.”

Everyone present gave their individual congratulations to J’onn and J’en and shook T’omm’s hand as well. The last to pay his respects was the Red Tornado, who gave the Martian’s hand a solemn shake.  In a voice modulated lowly, the android said, “Perhaps, J’onn, if there is a chance for you to find love, there is one for me, somehow, as well.”

“Perhaps there is, my friend,” said J’onn.  “Perhaps there is, at that.”

 -S-

On Earth-S some days afterward, three heroes stood in a deserted subway tunnel and one of them lit a brazier.  The figure of an ancient wizard materialized on a stone throne.

Shazam looked out at the threesome whom he had empowered, and didn’t see a sympathetic face among them.

“Great sir,” said Captain Marvel, “we must talk.”

“First, you must be congratulated,” said Shazam.  “The Multiverse had been saved from tyranny.  One of the greatest evils extant in five dimensions and more has been defeated.  This is a time for celebration, my children.”

“It might be, great sir, if you hadn’t done what you did,” said Mary, quietly.

Shazam looked hurt.

Captain Marvel, Jr. was next to speak.  “We want to know, sir, why you altered our memories while we were in the Suspendium.  We want to know why you kept Mary and I from falling in love.”

He answered, “It was necessary to preserve the guardianship of the universe.  It was for the greater good, my children.”

“But it was done without our consent,” said Mary.  “Without even our knowledge.”

Shazam looked at his firstmade son, Captain Marvel, and saw a bit of sympathy.  But the World’s Mightiest Mortal stood there with his arms crossed upon his chest, and the old wizard knew that nothing less than a full explanation would do.

“If you were allowed to love, you would ask for your aging factor to be restored,” said Shazam.  “That would mean that, prematurely, others would needs be chosen to take your place.  Or that your places would remain unfulfilled for years, perhaps centuries.  It was because of that, that I altered your thoughts.”

Captain Marvel said, “Could you have gotten us out of the Suspendium?  When we were stuck in it for all those years?”

“If there had been need of you, perhaps I could have,” he said.  “But, despite the wars and injustices rampant on your world, there was little that truly needed superhuman attention at that time.  There was also no one to light the brazier and bring me back.  In a sense, my son, we were both trapped.”

Marvel nodded, slightly.  “So you weren’t entirely unselfish.”

“My son,” said Shazam, “no man, not even a wizard, ever truly is.”

After a moment, Captain Marvel, Jr. said, “Great sir, we seek a boon from you.”

Mary said, “We want to be able to age once again.  And we want to marry.  We ask this, great sir, in recompense for what was done to our minds.  Can you do this for us?”

“You would have me do this, knowing that it will bring you to Death’s door within a generation?  That you will no longer live hundreds, perhaps thousands, of years, but only the normal span of a human being?”

“That’s the deal we got when we were born,” said Junior.  “We’d like to go back to it.”

Finally, Shazam said, “Very well, then.  Approach me.”

The two of them did so. Captain Marvel looked on.  Shazam lay one ghostly hand apiece on their heads.  There was no visible discharge of power.  But both Junior and Mary felt something added to their beings again, something which had been missing or suppressed for over forty years.

Both of them felt the clock ticking anew.  They were grateful.  The two of them arose, and, silently, hugged very hard.  Shazam looked up at Captain Marvel.

The red-clad hero looked back at him and shook his head “no”.

Shazam relaxed somewhat.  At least for the next millenium, there probably would be a hero with the powers of the gods.

“Great sir, thank you very much,” said Junior, facing Shazam while still holding Mary. “For everything you’ve done.  For the powers, for helping Cap save my life.  But most of all, for bringing Mary and I together.  Thank you, indeed.”

“Indeed,” echoed Shazam.  “Since this be your choice, when you both be physically suited for marriage, may your loins be fruitful.  The blessings of the Elders be upon your children.  And so long as you choose to retain your powers...”

“We’ll retain them for a long time, great sir,” said Mary.  “And even though we don’t like what you did to us, we will still remain your friends.”

The old man looked somewhat more assured.

“The twilight of my life, even as a mage and shade, draws nigh,” he said.  “The Hero is not the last transformation for the Chosen One.  There will come a time when the Wizard must take his place.  When that time comes, I hope one of you will be there to take my place.  I sincerely hope that.”

Captain Marvel said, “Great sir, I’ll think about it.  But thank you for what you have done for Junior and Mary.  And thank you even more, for having the courage to admit what you have done.”

Shazam nodded.  “Please give my regards to Isis, as well.  And now, if you would.”

Captain Marvel’s hand reached out and stanched the fire in the brazier.  The shade of Shazam faded from the stone throne.

With Mary and Junior still embracing, he flew out of the subway tunnel, over the skies of Fawcett City, and to a certain apartment in a certain building.  Actually, he hovered outside the window and tapped on the pane.  A woman parted the curtains, gaped out at him, and opened the window.

“What on Earth are you doing here?” she said.

“Beautia,” said Captain Marvel, “are you doing anything tonight?”

 -S-

Supergirl woke up to feel Dev’s arms around her and see his face not far from hers.  This, she thought, was becoming a cliche.  But she didn’t mind it at all, and hugged him back.

“Dev,” she said.  “Then everything’s finished?”

“Just about, love,” he said.  “I’ll call in the Kals and Kara Two if you want.  They want to see you.”

“Oh, just wait a few minutes, would you?” she asked, running her hands over his shoulder blades, spine, and everything else she could reach.  “It’s been a long time since we’ve...”

“Yeah,” he said.  “But in the interests of protocol, I think we should see them first.  Because if we start...”

“...We won’t get finished for a long time.”

“You got it.”

She kissed him hard and nuzzled him.  “I’m so glad you all made it through.  If the pain was anything like what I experienced...”

“Don’t say it.  Don’t even think about it.  Okay?”

“Okay.”  She sighed.  “I want some r and r after this.  I am soooo tired of saving the universe.”

He looked at her with some annoyance.  “You’ve gotten so jaded that you don’t even appreciate what you just did?  What we just did?”

Kara paused.  “I’m sorry, Dev.  It’s just...something of that magnitude...it’s hard to get my mind around it.  I can’t deal with the whole, only the part I was involved in.”

“Understood.  But just remember, there’s five universes at least that have free will and are free of Darkseid because of what we did.  Especially you, and Orion, and Highfather.  All the people we know, all the ones we will know.  The ones we love, the ones we hate, the ones we’ll never know.  They’re free because of what we did.”

“I know.  Again, Dev, damn it, I’m sorry.  I do know what we all did.  But...right now, I just want to be with you, and not have to fight.”

He stroked her back.  “Not for a long time, anyway, Kara.  Not as long as I can help it.  And right now, I think I can.”

“Darn it, you keep that up and we won’t be able to see them for over an hour.  Dev.   Tell me just what happened.”

“You mean, in there?”

“Yeah.”

He stiffened somewhat, and looked away from her.  “Really want to know.”

“Not if it hurts too much to tell, right now.”

“Oh, it hurts, all right.”  He paused, released her, and sat on the edge of the bed with his hands in his lap.  “Okay, here’s what I remember.  We all smashed in there, into Darkseid’s bedroom or whatever it was, El, Kara Two, Kid El, the two Action chaps, and the Flash Trio.  You’d have thought that among the batch of us, there would have been somebody fast enough to have dropped him before he said the word.  But we weren’t.”

Kara shivered.

“It must’ve just been one word.  Or he must’ve been talking very fast.  Whatever he said, I don’t remember it...I don’t think I’m supposed to remember it.  All I know is that every one of us froze in our tracks.  In our souls.  Scared the hell out of me, and I’m not ashamed to say it.  For a second there, I felt like I’d been damned.  Literally.  Then I was looking at that grey-faced geezer, and I swear, it felt like...”

“Dev...”

“...it felt like I was in love with him.  That I’d do everything for him. That I didn’t have to do any thinking anymore, that he’d do it...do it all for me.  That nothing had to be done but what he said, what he wanted.  That his will was like the Great Mainspring of the Universe.  It was more than that, but, Sheol, Kara, it’s like you said...there’s only so much you can get your mind around.

“Then it lifted.  Like coming up from the bottom of a sea bed when you’re diving, the way I used to back home.  Like you’re depressurizing, and you don’t want to do it too fast or you get oxygen bubbles in your blood.  If we’d have been any better, maybe we could have attacked him when it started letting up.  But we didn’t have that kind of time, or maybe that kind of strength.  All I knew was what I saw.  I saw that beggar’s eyes glowing red.  Then I felt like I was being taken apart.”

“Rao, I know, Dev.  I felt the same thing.”

“He didn’t have time to give us too hard a blast, or I don’t think I’d be here right now.  No, I know I wouldn’t.   All I know is that it hurt worse than just about anything I’ve experienced.  I think I passed out.  Either that, or the old brain just won’t tell me what I went through.  I’m grateful for that.  I don’t remember a thing after that until I felt something hitting me, putting me back together again.  Waking up.  Seeing all the blokes and shielas, and you, and Orion and Izaya too.  And what was left of Darkseid.”

Kara nodded.  She didn’t like to think about Darkseid’s corpse.  It had not been a pretty thing to look at.

“You passed out about the time I woke up.  Wanted to stay with you, but El and Izaya said they needed all hands on.  So I just made him Boom Tube us to New Genesis, found you a place to sleep here, and went back the same way I came.  Then I went out with the lads and we won the war.”

“You did?”

“We did.”

“Very good.”  She hugged him again.  “Are we on New Genesis now?”

“Yup.  Orion’s in charge on Apokolips.  They’re calling it Third Genesis now.  You’ve been asleep more than a day, and you deserved it.”

“If this trend keeps up, the next time we save the universe I’ll go into hibernation for a year.”

“Oh, I’ll find a way of waking you up.”

“You’d better let the others in, or we’ll be waking each other up for a long time.”

“Counting on it later.”  He got up, went to the door, and palmed it open.   “All right, boys and girl, time for an audience with Her Highness if you want it.”

Superman, Superboy, and Power Girl entered the room.

After a look at her, Power Girl said, “Better not keep her too long, boys.  I have a feeling that five is rapidly going to become a crowd.”

 -S-

Afterward, lying behind him in a spoon position on her side, Kara put her arms gently about Dev’s neck from behind.  “Dev.  Marry me?”

“Hmm?”

“I want to marry you, Devian.  I want you to marry me.”

“Oh, Sheol, Kara, I thought we’d been through that before.”

“We have.  Doesn’t matter.  I want you for my husband, Dev.  I want to have your children.  I want a ring and rice and a white dress on Earth and the sun ceremony on Rokyn.  I want to be your wife.”

“That’s what you want.”

“Yeah.”

“That’s really what you want.”

“How many times do I have to tell you?  Frab it, Dev, don’t you know I love you?”

“Yes.  About as much as I know I love you.”

“So what’s stopping us?”

He hesitated.  “All the things in between.  My job in the 30th.  Your life in the 20th.  We haven’t got that sorted out.  We may never get it all sorted out.

She sat up, naked, in bed.  “Does any couple ever get everything sorted out?  Doesn’t everybody have to make some allowances, Dev?  I don’t care what we’ve got to do.  I want to be your wife.”

“Oh, damn.”

“Don’t you want me?”

“You know I do.  And as soon as we say anything about it, El will shove me into the event horizon of a white dwarf star.”

“No, he won’t.  He even likes you now.  And a lot of that is because he knows that you’re good for me, and I’m...well...good for you.  Besides, if he did, I’d kick him where it hurts.”

He smiled.  “You’d do that for me.”

“I would.”

Dev sighed.  “All right.  Can we make this kind of a deal, Kara?”

“What kind of deal?”

“Let’s try it a month in each other’s eras.  It’s only been a couple of weeks.  Give it a month more, without us saving planets or fighting the Fatal Five, and see if we can make it.  As a bichronal relationship, or in my time for good.”

“Or in mine,” she said.

Dev didn’t say anything.

“What happens after that?” Kara prodded him.

“Then, if we still feel the same way we do tonight...I guess I’ll spring for a ring.”

She plastered herself all over him.  “If we only feel the same way we do tonight, I won’t be doing my job.  Come here, Dev.”

“Kara.”

“Shut up, Dev, and let me do the driving.”

 -S-

Before the lot of them could go home, they were treated to a mass honors ceremony in the plaza of New Genesis’s capital city.  Izaya had returned to his Highfather robes, and had honored first the dead warriors of his world, then those who were wounded and yet living, then those who had escaped injury and yet fought.  Among these were the Forever People, Mr. Miracle, Lightray, Metron, Bug, and Jezebelle.  From the way the last two were acting as they sat together, Kara guessed they’d be putting out the invitations before long.

Finally, Izaya honored the heroes of the five Earths, and his attendants distributed medals to Superman, Captain Atom, Uncle Sam, Captain Marvel, and Doctor Fate, to be given to the individual heroes when they all returned to their homeworlds.  The assemblage gave them as big a cheer as they had for the war vets, and Izaya expressed his personal gratitude.

As the ceremony finished, D’reema sought out Supergirl and clasped her hand.  “Thank you for everything you did, Kara.  Sincerely.”

“Me?  Hey, you were the one who spoke the Life Equation.”  Kara grinned.  “Don’t sell yourself short, sister.”
 

“Oh, I know that.  But without your protection, and your mind-probe, I might not have been able to dredge it up. Now, I cannot even remember what it was I said.  But I thank you again, Kara.  Because of what you did, the war is over, and we are free.  All of us.”

Supergirl stiffened a bit, remembering the tyrannies to be found on Earth, and finally said, “To a degree.”

“Yes,” said D’reema.  “Inasmuch as we allow ourselves to be.”  She paused, and then said, “I wish you the best of happiness with your man.”

“Thank you,” she said.  “What about you?  Have you found someone?”

“I believe so,” she said.  “Moonrider and I have been living together for some time.  Now that we are back in the court of Highfather, he wishes to ask for my hand.  I am hoping for a double wedding with Father and Tigra.  We’ll have to work fast, but I don’t think he’ll object.”

The Girl of Steel smiled.  “Congrats, honey.  Just hope it doesn’t take an Infinity Man to keep you together.”

“You are invited to the wedding, if and when we manage it.”

“Won’t make any promises, but if time and life permits, maybe.  What about Orion?”

“Orion?  Oh, we’re a bit closer now than we were before.  He still frightens me a bit, but that will always be.  I know he is grateful that I accept him more.  I can...”  She lowered her voice.  “I can never accept him as a brother.  But I am working on accepting him as a friend.”

Kara nodded.  “That’s not what I was asking about, though.  Has he found somebody to love?”

D’reema shook her head.  “No. Perhaps he never will.  But there is always tomorrow.  Right now he is busy with the reformation of Third Genesis, with the imprisonment of Kalibak and some others, as you know, and with the contingent of your...’villains’...who have chosen to stay and try to make lives for themselves on that world.”

“I know,” said Supergirl.  Some of the super-villains had been taken by the Green Lanterns back to their prison planet.  Others would be remanded back to jail on the Earths.  Still others were stuck in that sideral dimension until it was decided just what to do with them.  Irregardless, things were going to be different on their worlds.  An era had passed.

Kal had even spoken about having words with Luthor.  When pressed for exactly what he meant, he didn’t say.

“But there are many women on his world and ours, and he may yet find love.  At least, that is what I hope the Source will grant him.”

“Can you show me to him?  I’d like to talk with him in private.”

“Of course,” said D’reema.  “For you, anything.”

And so it was that Supergirl found herself standing before Orion in a private chamber not long afterward.  He was wearing the more normal face that his Mother Box constructed for him.  Even so, it couldn’t hide all the scars.  But they looked better than they had the last time Kara had seen him.

“The blessings of the Source upon you for what you have done for our world,” said Orion.

“And the blessings of Rao on you for saving my life,” she answered.  “I’ve got something to tell you, Orion. Something important.”

He waited.

She took a breath, then said, “I don’t think Darkseid is dead.”

He nodded.  “I expected as much.”

She looked on him in astonishment.  “You did?  How?”

Orion leaned against a wall, contemplatively.  “Years ago, when I was a young god, the Source delivered a prophecy to us.  It said that the last battle between my father and I would be fought in the streets of Armagetto.  We fought in his palace.  We did not fulfill the prophecy.”

“But couldn’t it be wrong?”

“Was it wrong when it told us of the two shields?  The ones with the S-mark within them?”

“No,” she said.  “I guess not.”

“Darkseid has returned from death before,” Orion continued.  “He did that when we fought beside the League of Justice and the Society of Justice against him.  I have no doubt that he could do such again.  I have not spoken to Highfather of this.  But for my part, I plan to remain vigilant.”

Supergirl hesitated.  “Orion.  I’m not supposed to speak of the future to anyone.  But in your case, I think it’s time to make an exception.  You swear not to reveal what I’m telling you to anyone else?”

He looked at her intently.  “I do swear.  Say on.”

“All right.  A thousand years from now, when Kal, that is, Superman, only he was Superboy then...this is hard to tell.  What it amounts to is this: a thousand years from now, I battled Darkseid.”

Orion was silent.

“He almost killed me.  He was much more powerful than when I fought him awhile ago.  He didn’t use the Anti-Life Equation, but he almost conquered the universe another way.  I can’t tell you any more than that.   I don’t know if he took a time-trip before we met him this last time and came back, or if he’s somehow gone to the 30th Century after this battle, or if he’s just going to live for a thousand more years.  But we did fight him.  We won, too.  Or we will win.  That’s all I can tell you.”

Orion paused a long moment.  “If anyone could find a way of living that long in secret, my father could.”

Kara nodded. “That’s what I wanted to tell you.  Remember, not a word of this to anyone.  Even Highfather or Superman.”

“Your word is safe with me,” he said.  “And I thank you for it.   Is there anything else you wish to tell me?”

She looked at him and thought about how Orion and Highfather, or two duplicates of them, had also fought beside the Legion of Super-Heroes in that encounter.

“Only that I hope you find yourself a wife,” she said, and put out her hand for a goodbye shake.

 -S-

Brainiac said, “It is finished.  Darkseid is defeated.”

Kral noted that Brainiac did not say “destroyed.”  “Well, then,” he said, “I guess our little partnership is ended.”

There was a long bit of silence.

“It would be in our mutual best interest to go our own ways now,” Kral said.  The Vanguard and the Friends of Superman stood at the ready, no matter what went down.

“This unit posits that such is an acceptible alternative,” Brainiac replied.  “If the life units leave within 15.12 standard galactic minutes, the truce will be honored.”

“Doesn’t give us much time,” said Vartox, “but I imagine we can manage it.”

“Thanks for the help,” said Marvel Maid.  “I hope we never see you again.”

“If we do, it won’t be more than once,” said Anti-Matterman.

“15.09 and counting,” said Brainiac.

The two teams got into their respective starcraft and left Brainiac’s ship.  They felt his presence long after his skull-like ship was out of their scanrange.

If Superman ever had to fight that thing again, Kral mused, he was definitely going to need some friends.

 -S-

The Phantom Stranger did something none of them had ever seen him do before.  He collapsed.

Robotman and Changeling weren’t there any faster than Mind-Grabber Kid and Prince Ra-Man.  The man in the cloak and suit hit the carpet before any of them could catch him.  But they pulled him back up by his arms and pushed him up with hands on his back, and got him seated in a chair near Mento.  Steve Dayton was sweaty, pale, and taxed by his ordeal.

But he was also grinning, like a fighter who had just gone ten rounds and won a championship.

“Guys,” he said, “we won.”

“We did?” said Gar.  “Are you sure of that, dad?”

“Sure as can be,” said Mento.  “The guy we saved went back in his body.  That backwash we felt for a few seconds passed.  I don’t know what happened, whether it was up to us or somebody else.  But we won.  I know it.”

Gar Logan turned himself into a small green rabbit, hopped into his stepfather’s lap and said, “Eh, what’s up, Doc?”  Then he transformed into a green youth again, and grabbed Mento around the neck.

“Stranger, what’s happening?” asked Ra-Man.  “Are you injured?”

“Yeah, Phantom, what’s the word?” Lucian asked.  “You need some ibuprofen, or something?”

The Stranger looked like he would slide out of the chair with little provocation.  “Steve Dayton is correct.  We have won.  The war, or this phase of it, is over.”

“Whoopee!” said Changeling, turning into a kangaroo, bounding to the ceiling, and turning into his normal form to touch the floor again.

“Say it again!” said Robotman.  “You’re sure of that, Mr. Hat?”

“I am,” said the Stranger.  “Orion’s mind is back within his body.  The Life Equation has been spoken.  Now, if you will excuse me, I must go.”

“No, wait a minute,” said Changeling.  “You can’t leave just like that.”

“Oh, he can,” said Lucian.  “Just watch him.”

Without a word, the Stranger pulled himself together, got up from his seat, walked to the door, and left.  Somehow, Gar Logan knew he wouldn’t see him again if he went into the hall.

Who he did see poking his head through the door, a few moments later, was Deathstroke the Terminator.  “I think it’s over, guys,” said the masked man.  “How did it go in here?”

“We won,” said Mento.

“That’s good.”

Robotman said, “We heard a lot of shooting out there.  Want to fill us in?”

Deathstroke stepped inside, his handgun holstered and his heavier weapon slung on his back.  “Two different kinds of perps.  The normal ones I’d peg as Inter-Gang, from their weapons.  The others...vampires.”

“Vampires?”  The hair on the back of Gar’s neck threatened to stand up.

The Terminator nodded.  “Maybe from what they call the Cult of the Blood Red Moon.  The less you know about that, the better.  The guy in the hat suggested as much to us.  Adrienne and me, we were armed for ‘em.  That’s all you need to know.”

Mento, after a moment, said, “Have you been paid?”

“Your man Questor is gonna cut us a check.  All it’ll need is your signature.”

“You will have it,” said Mento. “Then, please let us never see you again.”

“You’re welcome,” said Deathstroke, and turned to go.

“Wait a minute,” said Gar Logan.

Deathstroke obliged him.

Gar went to stand before him.  “I’ll never forgive or forget what you did to me.  Whether you call it business or not.  But for what you did today, I’m grateful.  So thank you for that, if nothing else.”

“Accepted, kid,” said Slade Wilson.  “You do something for me?”

Gar hesitated.  “Like what?”

“Tell Joe I love him.  And that he’s doing a good job with the Titans.  And that I don’t ever want him to get like me.”

Changeling nodded.  “I’ll tell him that.  For sure.  So long, Wilson.”

“Keep your chin up, kid.”  The Terminator left.

After a moment, Robotman spoke up.  “What’s next, then?  Parcheesi?”

 -S-

The Phantom Stranger reappeared within the mansion of Baron Winters.  “It is over,” he said, standing with an effort.  “We have won.”

Tim Hunter stood up, knocking back his chair, and yelled, “Yes!”

“Quiet down, Tim,” said John Constantine, smiling around his cigarette.  “You’ll damage the Baron’s furniture.”

“Think nothing of it, my boy,” said Winters.  “But if you’re sitting in one of my Chippendales, I’ll take it out of your hide.”

A smile wreathed Madame Xanadu’s face.  “I could tell. The cards shifted so swiftly, in an instant.  Can you tell us more, Stranger?”

“It is enough,” he said.  “The crisis is abated.  With our help, and the help of the heroes, the freedom of the Multiverse has been preserved.”

“Free at last, free at last, and all that rot,” said Constantine. “But thanks, Stranger.  Any word on Zatanna, or do you know?”

“I do not,” admitted the Stranger.

Constantine turned to Madame Xanadu.  “I think a celebration’s in order, luv.  Are you maybe in a party spirit, eh?”

She glared at him.  “Only one card fits you now, John Constantine.  The Fool.”

Dr. Occult said, “One thing remains, Stranger.  We must find the one who killed Jim Corrigan.  That debt must be paid in full.”

The Stranger gazed at him with the eyes none of them had ever succeeded in seeing clearly.  “While we were in hospital, I took the necessary information from his mind,” he said.  “I engaged help.  The matter is being taken care of.”

Tim Hunter didn’t like the sound of it.  But he had accumulated enough sense about such things not to ask.  Constantine was beside him, anyway.  “‘Bout time we got you home, youngster.  Good thing it isn’t a school night.”

“Aw.  Heck.”  Tim began to get up from his chair.

Constantine was holding his hand out. “Tim.  Good job, soldier.”

Tentatively, he took it.  Constantine gave him a firm shake, and he returned it.  He even smiled.

Then the two began to walk the Relativity Highway.

 -S-

Ugly Mannheim was in what amounted to an Inter-Gang safe house, somewhere in Costa Rica.  He was counting two million dollars.  A million each for a hit on a Jim Corrigan.  First he had shot one Corrigan, then they Boom Tubed him away and he shot another Corrigan.  Then they boomed him back here.

It was part of the job, but it was the last time he was doing anything for that bunch.

Just business, but this time he could afford to retire.  Maybe to stay on here.  What the hell, it wasn’t like he had to pull a trigger anymore.  Unless he really felt like it.

“Hello, Ugly,” said a voice.

Mannheim whirled, sure as hell nobody had been in the room with him a second before.

The slugs tore into him before he could even get his piece aimed.  They slammed him against the wall, and he knew from the feel of it that he’d been hit where it counted.

All he had time to do was look at the guy who had taken him out.

He was all dressed up in black, with some kind of ski mask on his head and a red visor on his face.  He acted like a professional.  Just like Ugly. Only maybe–-no, definitely—so much better.

“Goodbye, Ugly,” said the Vigilante.

Those were the last words Ugly Mannheim ever heard.

 -S-

Medphyl returned the Swamp Thing to the Louisiana bayou, but, per his passenger’s advice, did not stay to meet the wife.  The plant-being Green Lantern thanked the elemental for what he had done, then returned to space.

It took a few moments to get back in contact with the Green.  Then the minature Swamp Thing dissolved his body, shot his consciousness through an intervening network of plants, and reformed himself into a six-foot-plus version from some vegetation in Abby Cable’s front yard.

For her part, Abby had been going over some lesson plans.  Dressed in her usual T-shirt and cutoffs, she heard the crackling that signalled Alec was building himself a new body, and rushed outside at the sound.

“Abby,” he said.  “I am...home.”

“Alec,” she said, going to him.  “You made it back.  What happened?”

“The...greening of Apokolips.  Would you...like a tuber first?”  He indicated the growths on his back.

“Not right now.  Just come inside.  And for cripes’ sake, wipe your feet.”

She sighed as she preceded him into the house.  No matter how impossible her husband was, it was good to have him back.

 -S-

Lois Lane was certain she could not face another day of work alone.  Even with the likes of Perry White, Dave Stevens, and all the rest of the supportive crew, she knew she was going to have to ask Perry for time off.  The hard part was, she knew he’d give it to her.  Even Morgan Edge wouldn’t ask her to do anything for WGBS.  He’d get somebody else.

Sure. Wimp out.  Just because your husband is fighting for the fate of the Multiverse somewhere in outer space.  Just because Metropolis is still in ruins, and the governor’s officially declared it a disaster area.  Just because there are no heroes left on Earth.  Just because...

There was a commotion around the glass doors near the front.  She looked up from her computer terminal.

Three people had just come in the door, and everybody around seemed intent on whooping with glee, pumping their mitts, even hugging them and kissing them on the cheek if they were the opposite sex.

She got a glimpse of red hair on two of the parties concerned and, before she knew it, was out of her chair, running, tripping on the carpet, falling flat on her face, and getting up to run towards the crowd around the doors.  Even if it took klurkor to get through the press, she was going to do it.

Luckily, she didn’t have to.  Jimmy and Lana both caught sight of her, called “Lois!”, and the third one of the arriving party pushed through the journalistic mini-horde to intercept her, hug her, and lift her off her feet.

“Clark,” she squealed, despite herself.  “You’re back!”

“I am,” he smiled. “And thank God you’re still here, Lois.”

“Does that mean–“

“Yes,” he said.  “Superman won.”

“Oh, God have mercy.  Thank you.  Thank you.”

“Don’t mention it.  I’ll tell you about it later.”

“Like hell.”  She took him by the hand, marched him back to her desk, and sat him down, then put her hands on the keyboard.  “You’ll tell me right now.  We’ve got a story to file.”

Clark sighed.  “All right.  Just so long as we get finished before the six o’clock news.”

 -S-

Over the next six weeks, Metropolis rose anew.

Construction workers, civilian volunteers, politicians, and super-heroes all did their part.  The Man of Steel himself donned a hard hat and spent his spare time helping to rebuild the famous skyline.  Only this time, a bit better.  The likes of Green Lantern, Firestorm, Firehawk, and others made guest appearances to lend a hand.  Team Metropolis made regular appearances and became the darlings of the city media.  Batman, Robin, and Catwoman turned up to make a speech for the workers’ benefit, and even tried their hand mixing cement.  Selina swore she’d have to buy a new costume afterwards.

The Justice League learned through sub-space communication of the decision of Hawkman and Hawkgirl to remain on Thanagar, and honored it.  With three members down from the JLA’s roster, they took the step of asking Supergirl if she wanted to sign up.  She declined.

She had something else important to do.

Days after touching base with her friends, returning to her apartment, explaining that she had gone into hiding during the fearsome fracas downtown with the League of Challenger-Haters, and spending several more days on her regular job, Linda Danvers once again became Supergirl, went with Dev-Em and Power Girl to the Fortress of Solitude, and activated the WarPort.  A few instants later, they emerged in the receiver on Rokyn, once again in phase with their universe.

Within an hour, they were taxied to a residence not far from the capital city.  Power Girl looked nervous, and Kara took her hand.  She could feel the sweat right through her blue glove.  As soon as their images checked out on a scanner, the door opened.

Zor-El and Allura came out and, grabbing Kara, smiled.   Power Girl almost fainted.  Dev-Em was there to steady her.

“Mom, Daddy, I want you to meet my friends,” Kara said.  “Only they’re much more than friends.  This is Dev, here.  Dev-Em.  We’re in love.”

“Oh,” said Allura, not sure of what else to say.

“Blessings on your house,” Dev offered.

“And this is Power Girl,” she continued.  “She’s from Earth-Two.  She looks like me, and on her Earth, well, she pretty well is me.  Her name is Kara Zor-L.”

Before Kara could say anything else, Power Girl had thrown herself at Zor and Allura, had wrapped her arms around them, and was hugging them both for all she was worth.

“Please, don’t stop me,” she asked, not even trying to hold back her tears.  “Just let me hold you.  And if you could, would you hold me back?”

The two of them did.  Looking over Power Girl’s shoulder, Zor-El gave Kara a non-verbal question.  She nodded and mouthed the words: Her parents are dead.

Allura finally said, “Come inside, uh, Kara–“

Power Girl sniffled, but managed a smile. “Just call me K.  It’s what I call your Kara.  Rao, you look just like my own...”

“And you look just like our own, too, dear,” said Zor-El.  “Come on inside, and tell us all about it.”

Dev looked on, letting the three of them enter first.  “I’m glad I’m in a universe where I’m not the last Kryptonian,” he said, at last.

“I’m glad you’re not, too,” said Kara, taking his hand.

“And I’m ruddy glad that you’re not the last one, either.”

“Amen to that,” said Supergirl.  “Welcome to the family, Dev.”

They went inside.

 -S-

Did everyone live happily ever after?

Only Oracle and Destiny would know of that, and they kept their own counsels.

Including this one.

 -S-

Darkseid arose.

The world was not his own.  In fact, it was not anyone’s, anymore.  Its inhabitants were long gone, either to death or planetary emigration.  About it, he had placed a field of alarm.  About himself, he had placed a force field and a field of negation.  None would notice him, and if they did, none could reach him.

He felt of his body, in what time he had left to him.

He knew of the secrets of cloning, even before the DNA Project opened on Earth.  He had employed the three fool Earthmen, the Wizard, Icicle, and Fiddler, to build him a body in times past.  He also built a spare to house his mind and soul in, if that body had been destroyed, which it had been.

And he was not damned fool enough to go into the last campaign without making sure he had another body elsewhere, just in case.  This one, for instance.  It served, just like the old ones.

His power was still intact.  Even Desaad cowered within his mind.  That was reassuring.

Within a few seconds, he would put himself in suspended animation.  He would sleep for a thousand years, till all his present enemies were dead.  A new Multiverse would be his when he awakened.  It would be as if no time had passed, at all.

Damn the women who defeated him.  Damn the men who destroyed him.  Damn his own son, Orion, who could have been so much for him, who could have been his successor, if only that pact with the corrupter Izaya hadn’t gotten in the way.

Spilled juice.  A general must know how to piece together a victory from a present defeat.

There would be no more trucking with the Anti-Life Equation.  He could only say it once.  It was as gone to him now as life was to the dead.  But if he had to conquer the worlds a more difficult way, he would do it.  He was Darkseid.

The Phantom Zoners had been a workable idea.  But there were too few of them.  He had released only a handful, concerned with his ability to control them.  What if he could improve his control, enslave them mentally, liberate the entire complement of Kryptonian prisoners to do his will?  They might be a force beyond even the army of villains he had assembled.

But there might be more Kryptonian survivors than they, in the future, if the world of Rokyn survived.

What if he could control them?  A world of supermen as his pawns.  An army to surpass even that of Apokolips.  A thought worth considering.

Rokyn, though, was often out of phase with the Earth-One plane.  There was, after all, a more easily accessible world.  Daxam.  Its inhabitants had the same might as Kryptonians, once off-world and out from under the rays of their red sun.  If they could be dominated...no, when they could be dominated...they would prove they key to the conquest of a universe.  Or even a Multiverse.

Before that, he would need to increase his power.  The Supergirl had dealt him blows powerful enough to impact through even his Omega force-field.  He would never suffer that indignity again.  No matter what source he had to draw them from, and he knew of more than a few, he would gain might enough to surpass a Kryptonian, and to destroy him.

Or her.

There were more plans to be made, once he knew of the universe in which he would awake.  Much remained uncertain.  But of one thing, he was very certain.

When he arose, it would be a time of great darkness.

He lay back on the slab he had carved years ago, before he placed this body on it.

Darkseid gave himself over to sleep, and, in his last moment of wakefulness, sent a message to the being who shared his mind-space.

To Desaad, he said two words:

<Pleasant dreams.>

 This one is for

 JACK KIRBY

 The true Source

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