The Apokolips Agenda
Part 5: New Gods and Old
Andrea Thomas looked at the costumed people who stood before her with vagueness in her eyes. "Why are you here?", she asked. "Is this some sort of masquerade ball?"
Captain Marvel looked at her with sadness in his eyes. "You were one of us, Ms. Thomas. Your other identity--it was Isis. The superheroine, Isis. We've met before. Don't you remember?"
"Isis?" said Andrea, both hands in her lap. She was sitting dully in front of a television which was beaming forth an episode of General Hospital. Luke was finally coming back to Laura. She had to miss that because some oddly-garbed strangers had come to her house.
"I think she's under a spell of some sort," offered Mary Marvel, who was pained at seeing another superheroine in such a state. None of them but Captain Marvel had met Isis. The woman who sat before them was a normal human being. Perhaps she was pretty, but she had let herself go. Her hair could have standed washing, her makeup was basically thrown on, and the housedress and robe she was wearing would have been trashed by most self-respecting housewives.
The worst part of it was the vagueness in her eyes. Was she amnesiac? Aphasic?
Neither Captain Marvel, Captain Marvel, Jr., Mary Marvel, Bulletman, Bulletgirl, Ibis, or Kid Eternity knew. In fact, if Shazam had not told Captain Marvel that Andrea Thomas was really Isis, he would have not known where to find her.
All they knew is that the beautiful superheroine with magical powers derived from the old wizard himself had appeared, fought crime briefly, then vanished without a trace. That was several years ago.
Why hadn't Shazam told the Marvel Family earlier, if Andrea Thomas was in trouble? The Captain considered it, then shrugged, mentally. The old wizard must have had his reasons.
The turbaned magician, Ibis, sensed an affinity with the woman. His magic, like hers, and like himself, derived from the ancient Black Land. The Marvel Family's powers also derived from a wizard who had practiced in Pharaoh's court. Indeed, without the mysticism of that time and that land, there would be few superheroes on their Earth today.
Now, Ibis raised his mighty wand. "Ibistick," he said. "Reveal to the woman her true self."
"That will be enough!"
The voice came from the door to the outside. Standing framed in it was a brown-haired, mustached man in a plain business suit, one hand holding a bag of groceries, the other outthrust and glowing.
"Rick," said Andrea. "Do you know these--oh, my!"
A transparent image had appeared in the air before Andrea. An image of a beautiful, brown-haired woman in a short-skirted white dress, calf-high leather boots, and wristlets, wearing a belt, a large golden collar, and a tiara, all bearing the same symbol. She knew, somehow, it was the symbol of Isis.
She also knew that the woman looked like her. An impossibly lovely version of herself. But--could it be? Were these strange people telling her that she had once been this Isis?
It was hard to think. It was especially hard to think of things before a few years ago, when Rick had taken her in. When he had her quit her teaching job. When he made the decisions for her, because thinking was so very hard. He was nice that way. He bought the groceries, paid the rent. Kept her company sometimes. Such a nice man.
And now Rick had fired a lightning bolt of some sort from his hand, which the young boy in blue had caught on his chest, bowling himself over. The man with the bullet-shaped helmet on his head had barrelled into Rick, knocking him into the wall and cracking it. Oh, that was going to be hard to repair. Was this some sort of football game played indoors? And the bag of groceries had spilled all over the floor. The bottle of salsa had busted open and was getting the rug all gooey and full of busted glass. That'd have to be washed, but vacuumed first.
Six of the visitors had piled on Rick and were holding him down. "Please, could you get out of the way of my television?" she asked, reasonably. "My story will be over in about fifteen minutes, and then I'll make some coffee for you all."
The brown-haired boy with the white shirt, mauve pants, and red waist sash was standing before her now. He looked like he was talking to someone who wasn't there.
"Don't worry, Keep," he was saying. "I know what to do. Even if it takes me till...ETERNITY!"
There was a flash of bright light and a crack of thunder.
Andrea couldn't understand how it could have occurred indoors.
But standing before her now was a shortish, shapely, dusky-skinned woman wearing very little besides a bikini and some ornate, ancient-looking gold jewelry. The jewel she wore at her throat was--sakes alive!--a duplicate of the one Andrea wore on her tiara. Rick had tried to take it off her head before, but he seemed to burn his fingers every time he touched it, so he left it alone.
"Can you help?" asked the boy.
She stared at him. "No one but I can, I fear. Thank you, Eternal Youth." Then she turned to Andrea. "Do you recognize me, sister of my soul?"
"Don't listen to her!" yelled Rick, who was being pinned down by several of the people in costumes. "She's a demon! She'll steal your soul, Andrea!"
"No," said the girl. "I will restore it. Place your hand on your amulet, Andrea. The jewel on your tiara."
It didn't seem as though it would hurt anything, so Andrea obeyed. "Like this?"
She turned to Rick, who looked as though he was about to throw off all six of the others. "I'll be through in a minute, dear."
"Now, repeat after me," said the woman, and she could see tenseness on the face of the boy behind her. "O mighty--"
"O mighty Isis!", said Andrea, with a sudden conviction that even she couldn't have credited.
There was no thunder.
But there was a brief, blue flash, of magic held pent for far too long, and liberated now in joyous transformation.
Rick tried to mutter a spell in an ancient tongue and Captain Marvel belted him.
The woman who arose from the chair was not Andrea Thomas.
She was the woman shown in Ibis's vision, the heir of Shazam's wizardry through her predecessor, the heroine who had too long been entrapped by her vilest foe.
And now she was free.
The woman grasped the hand of the Egyptian girl. "Soul-sister, it has been too long."
The girl smiled. "Truth told. But I shall always be with you, O Isis."
"Peace be with you in the House of the Dead," said the heroine, "O Isis."
"Eternity," said Kid Eternity, and the girl from Egypt vanished in another puff of smoke and peal of thunder.
Isis, looking resolute, walked on her high-heeled boots over to the pile of heroes and villain. "Release him," she ordered.
"Holey moley," said Mary Marvel, appreciatively. "So that's Isis!"
"This guy's fighting like a beached killer whale," grunted Bulletman. "No way are we gonna let him--"
With a final surge, Rick Mason pushed upward, throwing the sextet of heroes off of him. He stood, before they could regroup, and faced Isis, madness and hatred in his visage. "You," he hissed. "You, I'll kill."
But before he could mouth the spell he had in mind, the lovely woman in white spoke her own:
"This body free from wizard's soul,
Rick Mason's mind and form be whole!"
Rick lunged for her, but he only managed a step or two before collapsing.
He collapsed because something came visibly out of him. Something that looked like a dark-skinned, red-caped, half-naked Egyptian, with a large gold belt bearing an ornate serpent on its front. On his face was the madness that had been on Rick's visage.
But the strange being from Rick's body didn't quite reach Isis. Within a foot of her, he simply faded from view. She stood there, hands on hips, looking confident.
The other heroes had regrouped by now, and regarded her with awe and appreciation. Isis smiled at them, and especially at Kid Eternity. "Thank you for restoring me," she said to them. "For too many years have I lain dormant. And in that time did Serpenhotep increase his powers. You have noted this, yes?"
Bulletgirl, who was dusting herself off, said, "Yeah, if holding a guy down who fights like ten bucking broncos is any indication."
Ibis extended his Ibistick towards her. "O daughter of the Nile, I bring you greetings from the Black Land. Peace be unto your house."
She touched the tip of the Ibistick, in acceptance. "O son of Pharaoh's court, I return thy greetings. Peace unto your house, and justice attend thee." None of the others had gotten a greeting like this from Ibis the Invincible, and they regarded the ceremony with wonder.
Captain Marvel grinned. "It's good to see you back, Isis."
Isis smiled back. "It's fine seeing you as well, Captain. Who told you where I could be found? Old Shazam?"
"The very one," acknowledged Marvel.
"So, where have you been these last three years, Isis?" asked Captain Marvel, Jr. "And who was that guy who jumped out of this guy's body?" He gestured towards Rick Mason, who was lying unconscious on the carpet.
Ibis looked at Rick. "The wizard's name was Serpenhotep," she said. "He was the greatest enemy of my soul-sister in ancient times, and a foe of old Shazam. Serpenhotep once trapped Shazam, and, to become free, the old wizard passed on some of his power to the Isis of eld, whom you saw speaking to me. Not the hero-power whom you of the Marvel Family now possess, but the mysticism that was Shazam's new heritage. The Isis of that time helped free Shazam and defeat Serpenhotep. His spirit was pent within a tiny pyramid, which was later brought to this city's museum.
"In this era, my Andrea Thomas-self became Isis when on an archaelogical dig in Egypt. She found the amulet-tiara I now wear, and a scroll which promised her the powers of Isis--powers over the forces of nature, over the beasts of the field, and over the extranormal abilities of the mind. When Andrea put on this circlet, and spoke my name, with ‘O mighty' preceding it, she became the modern incarnation of myself. She became Isis."
Captain Marvel, Jr. blinked. Freddy Freeman and Billy and Mary Batson had thought themselves only lucky beneficiaries of Shazam's power, and later found that they were chosen. He had a feeling that Andrea Thomas had been chosen long before, too. Whether she knew it now, or not.
"Three years ago, the wizard Serpenhotep did escape his bondage, and fought me," Isis continued. "I defeated him then, and thought I imprisoned him in the pyramid anew. But he had taken over the form of my friend Rick Mason, whom you see below us, and Rick's mind was pent within the prison intended for Serpenhotep. Thus, I was off my guard.
"Serpenhotep, in Rick's body, lay a subtle spell of dominance upon me. It took some months to take effect, but my mind was made sluggish. Andrea Thomas could not remember my other-self, nor much of her own. Thus, mine enemy was able to build his power, preparing for a strike against this world. I know not how much more time he would have taken. But without your intervention--" She let the sentence hang.
"Glad we intervened, then," said Bulletman. "Even though I thought Cap was crazy when he told me about it."
"What about Serpenhotep?" asked Junior. "Where is he now?"
Isis said, "Back within the pyramid. Rick Mason's mind is once again within his body. It is to be hoped that he will remember nothing of his imprisonment. I reccomend that we take the pyramid to Shazam, on the Rock of Eternity, for its safekeeping."
Captain Marvel said, "Good advice, but it's going to have to wait for awhile. We came here for two reasons, Isis. One: to get you back from wherever you were. Two: to bring you along with us. The old wizard has seen a source of great and spreading darkness, based on Earth-One. That's where we're bound for, and we need your help."
The lovely woman looked curious. "I know nothing of this ‘Earth-One'. Is this another Earth than our own? And what is the nature of this darkness?"
"If you'll come with us, we'll show you," said Mary Marvel. "How about it? We've left the three Lieutenant Marvels to look over things while we're gone."
The woman in white stepped forward. "For freeing me from my soul-prison, and for freeing Andrea Thomas of her mind's bondage, I'd join my hand with yours even if t'was not my duty. Which it is."
Ibis nodded. "Well said, woman of the way. Then, if you would join us outside, we shall be on our way to the Eternity Rock."
"Next stop, Superman's burg," said Junior. "All aboard!"
The seven heroes stepped out of Andrea's home, their existences blocked from passerbys' perception by one of Ibis's spells. Then, almost as one, they rose into the air. Isis was the last, chanting,
"O zephyr winds that blow on high,
Lift me up that I may fly!"
With that, a great surge of air and antigravitic force built under Isis and hurled her into the heavens. She caught up to the others within seconds. They waved at her and she waved back, joining their formation.
It was good to be back.
Kara loved posing in a bikini on the beach for Dev, so long as she got to take pictures of him in his Speedos, too.
The Nikon she had wasn't what Dev was used to, but she showed him how to use it and before long he had it mastered. So she frolicked in the surf of the isolated beach they'd chosen, comporting herself like a bathing suit model. She wouldn't think of letting her picture be taken in the nude, but Kara appreciated her body and didn't mind showing it off in a skimpy suit.
The fun part was when she struck a pose while hovering several feet off the ground. Let Christie Brinkley try to match that!
After she did a backshot looking over her shoulder like Betty Grable in a World War II poster, Kara said, "That's enough of me. Let's get some of you."
"Oh, you know what I look like."
"Hush, Dev. Women have needs, too." He handed over the camera and she advanced it one frame. "Now. Turn around and flex."
"Yes, and look over your shoulder and smile. You've got a handsome tush. That's it, and..."
She snapped the shutter reflexively as both of them wheeled towards the direction of the sound.
There was a glowing circle in the sky, probably only a few hundred yards distant. Figures were emerging from it, and one looked awfully familiar.
"Damn it," snapped Kara.
Dev looked resolute. "That's it. That is bloody well it. I am going to have a word with El and that's all there is to it. He cannot keep dropping in on us this way. Sick and damned tired of it." He leaped into the air. Kara grabbed him by the ankle and hauled him down.
"Wait. Let them come to us. Let's hear ‘em out. Even Kal isn't thickheaded enough to do this without good reason."
"In-laws," groaned Dev, sitting crosslegged and glum on the sand. "And we're not even married yet."
Superman led the pack, and, as Kara looked at the others, she saw one who was also familiar to her. But, she reflected, she wouldn't see him for another 1,000 years.
He was the one in the red shirt and pants, grey trunks, gloves, boots, and helmet, riding a contraption that looked like two curved pipes with handlebars. What she could see of his face looked more masklike than his helmet.
"Orion," she said to herself.
Not far from him in the sky was a man clad in black, only his face exposed, and that telling as little as an undertaker's. He was riding in a flying chair, and the only part of him that seemed to move was his right index finger, to press a button now and then.
From the context he was in, she matched him with Kal's tale of how he, the Justice League, and the Justice Society had once teamed with Orion's allies against a foe she and the Legion had faced in the future. This chair-rider had to be Metron.
A blonde, youthful-looking, handsome male was shooting through the glowing aperture under his own power. He left a glowing trail of light behind him. He wore a white uniform, and Kara guessed that this was the one called Lightray.
Loping through the circle, dropping to the beach, and ambling forward on legs that seemed to be double-jointed, was a shortish person in a headmask of red with insectoid eyepieces, a white vest, and red sleeves and leggings. She had no idea who this person was, and guessed Superman had never met him.
Another one of the party was female, but blue-skinned and red-haired. Her eyes seemed to have no pupils, and were yellow and slightly slanted. She wore a pinkish halter, bikini bottom, shoes, and cape, completing the uniform with fishnet stockings. Kara glanced at Dev, saw he was looking at the girl, and momentarily considered stinging him with heat-vision. This, too, was another person of whom she knew nothing.
"Kara," said Superman, whose booted feet squished into the wet sand as he landed. "I'm sorry. We need your help."
"El, you need to quit butting into our business without an invitation," said Dev, standing up and putting his fists on his hips. "And we aren't issuing any invitations to you!"
Kara stepped between them as the five others approached. "Cool down, Devian. Kal...Dev does have a point. But what's the story?"
Orion sized her up, not as a man looking at a girl in a bikini, she thought, but like a sergeant assessing another soldier. To Superman, he said, "This is the second shield?"
"Second what?" asked Kara, agape.
The blue girl stepped forward, smiling hesitantly, and offered Kara her pink-gloved hand. "A thousand pardons, milady. If we could have met you at a more opportune time--but our hand is forced. My name is Jezebelle, of the Celestials."
Kara shook her hand. "I'm Kara Zor-El. Pleased to meet you."
The small, red-masked guy took off his mask and revealed a normal, human-looking face beneath. "Hi," he said. "I'm Forager. You can call me Bug."
The one in white had to do a couple of circles around them all before he could brake his speed, but finally pulled up before Dev, grabbed his hand before it was offered, and shook it vigorously. "Hola, warrior," he said, with a big grin. "‘Tis well that we meet. Call me Lightray, friend of Orion, soldier of Highfather, and foe of Apokolips."
"I'm Dev-Em," muttered Dev. "Now, will you please stop shaking my hand?"
The man in black hovered about seven feet above the ground in his chair, and looked down upon the rest of them. "I am Metron," he said, and left it there.
Orion stepped up to her and said, "The Source directed us to seek two persons who bore the shield Superman wears on his chest. Are you the other?"
Kal said, "This is Orion, Kara. And, Orion, this is my cousin Kara Zor-El, otherwise known as Supergirl. I think she's the one you're looking for."
"I've seen him before," said Kara. "In an image, I mean." Superman glanced meaningfully and silently at her, and she returned it. Both of them had seen a simulacrum of Orion and his foster father, Izaya, during a battle they shared with the Legion of Super-Heroes ten centuries in the future. She really didn't feel like explaining it right now, and neither did Kal.
"Would somebody mind telling me really--I mean, really--why all of you had to set off a bomb to get our attention, and why you had to show up here and now, of all times and places?" said Dev. "There's a reason we were here alone, you know. I mean, you are aware of that, right?"
Superman set his jaw. "I know, Dev, and I apologize to both of you. But this is very important. What you heard was the opening of the Boom Tube. That's the New Genesis transport device that brought us all here, after I determined your location."
"Just friggin' great," groused Dev. "A telescopic-vision peepin' Tom."
"Dev, please," said Kara, in a voice that brooked no argument.
"The Source directed me to you both," said Orion to Kara. "You must come with us."
"Tell me why," she said, the tide washing gently over her bare feet as she stood there.
He gave her a name. A one-word name. Dev's eyes widened. He had been in on that Legion case, too.
"In that case," sighed Kara, "let me get dressed."
"I'm coming with you," said Dev.
She looked at him. "But, Dev...you know who we're up against."
"That's why I'm coming with you," he declared. "Three Krypts are better than two. Right, El?"
Superman held his face as steady as he could. "If you insist, Dev. But you'd better be a team player on this one."
"If this guy's in town, everybody in the universe is going to be on the opposing team," said Dev.
"Let us get dressed," said Kara. "Then where?"
"The Justice League satellite," said Kal. "We've gotten a message from Harbinger. She's going to be meeting us there with a few guests."
Kara looked at him for a moment. The name Harbinger brought back foul memories of the Crisis, in which she had come near to death. She chose not to mention its context to Dev, though. Not just yet. He hadn't been there.
She turned to Dev and, hand in hand, they flew towards their housing.
Bug, looking at her retreating form, said, "She's blonde. She looks great in a bikini. She flies. So why couldn't I meet her when she didn't have a boyfriend?"
"Hush, Bug," said Jezebelle.
After the moment of transition, a new vista greeted Pariah's eyes. It seemed to be a throne room of sorts. From the aura of menace that he sensed radiating from it, he knew his power had not failed him. This time, he almost wished it had.
Several beings were present in the room, and all reacted to his presence with surprise. One seemed to be a gigantic humanoid primitive, with a large bush of black hair and a beard, holding a war club. Another was a large male in a green and yellow costume, who looked at him with astonishment and anger. A third, red-haired and handsome, stood in a white robe and seemed to have the bearing of an orator. The fourth person was a woman, large, hefty, powerful-looking, white-haired, old, and not at all attractive, clad in some sort of warrior's uniform. The fifth was dressed in brown and seemed to have no face at all, until one firmed up on his blank visage. The face, when it arrived, was black-haired, with thick eyebrows, a dagger beard, and a piercing, pitiless gaze.
But it was the sixth who drew his attention the most. He was the figure sitting in the ornate stone throne.
His face, exposed arms, and legs were gray, as gray and hard as stone. The back of his head was covered by a blue helmet of sorts, and his vest, shorts, gloves, and boots were also blue. His very presence, Pariah sensed, bespoke power and evil. Not on as great a scale of power, perhaps, as the Anti-Monitor. But he almost seemed like an Anti-Monitor scaled down.
"We have an unexpected guest," said the grey being. "I detect others looking for you. My shields will prevent their finding you."
The others waited for what would come next, or for a sign from their lord.
"I am Kell, also called Pariah," said the newcomer, after enough silence had been experienced.
The grey man's face was split by a smile, and that, to Pariah, seemed the most fearsome thing he had yet seen in this place.
"We are pleased to meet you," he said. "My name is Darkseid."