The Apokolips Agenda
Doctor Mist was one of the few beings who could speak to Doctor Fate on the latter's own terms, though they had first met only a few months ago in the Monitor's satellite. Like most of the meetings in that place, it had been a brief encounter, mostly just a "hello" among the crowd. But each recognized the other's power.
Now, the man in the golden helmet was speaking to him through a crystal ball. That was Fate's preferred way of transdimensional communication.
"There is little hard evidence to go on yet," Fate was saying. "But the scrying indicates an impending threat. I am glad to know your basic agreement."
Mist, the African sorceror supreme of Earth-One, had lived for over eleven millenia. He had been given immortality in the Flame of Life, and had founded Kor soon afterward, but had eventually left the city and what empire he had given it. Others had come in his wake. He now dwelt in a mountain whose face was carved in his likeness.
But the likeness, like that of King Ozymandias, showed him as he had been--a tyrant, who ofttimes misused his powers. He had changed his ways, had repented, and now used his mystical abilities covertly, for the most part. Even the heroes of this world had not known of him until recently. But the Global Guardians, the team of international superbeings he brought together, had known of him and accepted his leadership. Superman knew of him as well, when he and the Guardians had fought side-by-side against a team of villains operating in different parts of the world.
Fate, he had learned, belonged to a different Earth. His source of power was the golden helmet, in which rested the essence of Nabu, a Lord of Order. Kent Nelson, a youth in the 1920's, had been given the helmet, the amulet, the blue-and-gold costume, and the power to fight the dangers from the darkness in his plane. When he emerged in 1940, he called himself Dr. Fate. Now he was married to a woman named Inza, he was both an archaeologist, a professor, and a doctor, but he still fought villainy, both mystic and otherwise, usually alongside the Justice Society.
There was much, Mist decided, that each might learn from the other. If they dared.
"I have sensed the darkness, but its source is not on this world," admitted Mist. "As to its origin point, one cannot say at this time. Either it is far from Earth, or its author is a master of concealment, or both."
"But," said Fate, "it is likely that Earth will not be kept outside its reach for long."
"We know of the vanished villains as well as you do," Mist said, sweeping his red cape behind him. "If we could but snatch one of these persons before transition, place a tracing spell upon him, the mystery might be illuminated."
"If our foe has this sort of power, it is likely he could detect and negate such a spell," advised Fate. "It would be worth a try, however. Still, the watchword is that the Crisis, though staved off, has not yet run its course. You agree?"
Doctor Mist said, "In light of current revelations, with much regret--I must."
"The Justice Society will be entering Earth-One's plane soon, to offer aid," Fate said. "Will the Global Guardians be at the side of the League?"
Mist looked upon the rows of statuettes before him, each of them representing one of the heroes he could call upon. The Bushmaster. Godiva. Green Fury. Icemaiden. Impala. Jack O'Lantern. The Little Mermaid. The Olympian. Owlwoman. The Seraph. The Tasmanian Devil. Thunderlord. Tuatara. The Rising Sun, the new Doctor Light, and Sunburst, who composed Japan's newly-formed Team of Three. And the Wild Huntsman.
"You may count on it," promised Doctor Mist.
It was another mob scene on the JLA satellite, Supergirl discovered, but not as bad as it had been in the Monitor's one during the Crisis. For one thing, the League's orbiting headquarters didn't have that much room.
Thus, she, Kal, and Dev were only rubbing shoulders with the entirety of the Justice League and Outsiders. Even the Teen Titans would have to come up later. Or the New Titans, as they were now calling themselves. The New Gods had gone with Harbinger to pick up someone else, though. That left her two companions to handle some of the Q-and-A session, as much as they knew.
There had been time for a little howdy-and-shake session with the others, and she was glad that Dev, despite his reservations, was able to carry himself well with the unfamiliar heroes. She sensed that reaction to him was mixed. But that was all right with her, as long as some of it was approving. After all, she wasn't a League member.
Wonder Woman, though, was quick to offer her hand to Kara. "This is your lover, is it not, Kara? Congratulations."
Kara beamed at Diana. "Thanks. Very much. I think I've finally found someone I want to share my life with, Di, even if we're living in separate times."
The Amazon princess looked at her, curious. "You mean he comes from a different era? How can you make that sort of relationship work, Kara?"
She looked at Dev, who was carrying on conversation with Metamorpho and Black Lightning. "It isn't easy sometimes. But we've managed so far, because we want to. How are you and Steve doing?"
A smile found its way onto Wonder Woman's face. "We have been blessed, Kara. If I had known I'd be this happy in Steve's arms...well, let us just say that, for the sake of the villains I had to fight all these years, it was a good thing for the world that I didn't find out sooner. I know Kal has been just as pleasured by his marriage to Lois. Even Hal and Oliver show more optimism than strain these days. We are finally doing things for ourselves now, and not just for the world."
Supergirl nodded. "And it sure feels good."
"How does...", began Diana, and then she stopped. "Never mind."
"Go ahead and say it, Di."
Diana said, "How does Kal feel about this?"
Kara drew a breath. "It took some getting used to. Now he's not totally in sync with the idea, but he's getting used to it. He has to."
The dark-haired woman nodded. "It is hard for him. You are living together, correct?"
"Yes, we are, Di, but I'd appreciate you not letting everyone know. They may have guessed, but--"
"I understand, and I will keep your secret."
Kara said, "It isn't much of a secret, I suppose. And I don't mind the crew here knowing, as such. But if it gets out to the world that Supergirl's sleeping with somebody...well, I'd just as soon keep the news en famille as much as I can."
"By the way, how's Donna doing?"
"She is expectant. That's why she will not be here with the Titans when they show up. I visited her and Terry a few days ago and I almost shed tears of joy, Kara. And just think, before long, the same will happen to me. Steve and I will produce a child."
Wonder Woman noted a bit of sadness in Kara's eyes. Then it was gone, and Supergirl was giving her a big hug. "You pass this along to Donna for me," she said. "And tell her I'll try to make the baby shower, if she lets me know. Okay?"
"Agreed, Kara," said Diana, hugging back.
A few seconds later, they heard one of the male Leaguers singing. "I'm so young and you're so old, this my darling I've been told, oh, pleeeease, stay with meeee, Di-anna!"
Green Arrow was behind them, his arms outflung in a miserable pop-star imitation, and Black Canary jumped him from behind, getting her arm around him in a hangman's hold. "Now what do you say, Ollie?"
"Gurk," offered the archer. "Uh...sorry, Di. And, ulk, Pretty Bird, too."
"That's better," she said, and lowered him to the floor. Wonder Woman chuckled.
"Anyway, Kara, just wanted to let you know that I've met your new guy, and he's my kinda Kryptonian," said Ollie.
"Which is not necessarily a compliment," smiled Dinah Lance Queen. "But I like him, too. Kind of a dashing sort, isn't he?"
"Oh, yeah," said Supergirl. "We've been dashing around all over the place, lately. But thanks, you two. I'm glad you guys are on our side."
"I think they'll all be on your side, honey," Green Arrow said, putting an arm about her shoulder. "It'll just take a few longer to recognize it, is all."
"Hope you're right." She noticed J'onn J'onzz and the Red Tornado standing off to one side, by themselves. "Hey, be right back."
Kara walked up to the Martian and the android, both of whom looked like they could use some company. "J'onn, Reddy," she said, holding out both her hands and smiling. "It's nice to see you both again."
The red-hued humanoid took her left hand, shook it, and inclined his head in a short bow. "A pleasure to behold you as well, Supergirl. May you and your man both be blessed."
J'onn shook her right hand, his green face giving her a courteous smile. She could feel the strength in his grip. After Superman and Wonder Woman, he was the third strongest Leaguer. Once, when he'd been in an addled state, he had fought her, thinking she was responsible for the murder of a friend, and she still remembered his powerful blows. "My congratulations too, Supergirl. Seems everyone's doing well for themselves in the romance department these days."
She treaded very lightly, but sensed he wanted to say something. "Um...everyone, J'onn?"
The Tornado said, "Not everyone, Supergirl. I have a family of sorts, with Kathy and Troya. But, as you know, marriage between a human and an android would be difficult, at best."
"Well, it could be, if there wasn't love," said Kara, and hoped it was the right thing to say. "Besides, we've got the example of Doc Magnus and Tina. I mean, they got married a few weeks back, and even though the courts don't legally recognize it, nobody's making them separate, you know."
"I am aware of that marriage," said the android. "But Kathy does not know I am what I am."
"Well," said Kara, hesitantly, "have you ever thought of...telling her?"
J'onn said, "I am sure he has, at times, Kara, but it'll happen in its own good time. In the meantime, let me congratulate you on your new union. May your loins be fruitful."
"Thanks, but not yet!" Kara burst out laughing. Even J'onn grinned. Then after a few moments, she said to J'onn, "Really, I'm sorry. I guess I didn't make you feel any better by showing up here with Dev, did I?"
"My current unmated state is not your fault, Kara," said the Martian Manhunter. "It is just circumstance."
"Well, I hope circumstance changes for you soon, J'onn," she said. "I don't know another Justice Leaguer who deserves some better luck than you, except maybe Arthur." Aquaman had a son die on him, and Mera had walked out on him for a time before their recent reconciliation.
"Then you have not heard the news?" J'onn J'onzz glanced briefly in Aquaman's direction. "Mera is pregnant again."
"What?" exclaimed Kara. "I mean, that's great! I'll have to go congratulate him on it. But, J'onn, even though you're a Martian, there must be some woman on Earth you can go to."
"If there is, I haven't found her quite yet," said J'onzz. "But Detective John Jones may do better."
"Like how? Is it all right for me to ask?"
He crossed his arms in front of his red-banded chest. "When I worked as a police detective in Middletown, I was partnered with a policewoman named Diane Meade. We were almost an item. When Jones, my civilian self, was apparently killed, and I undertook the Diabolu quest, we separated. I learned later that she married, had two children. But now--" He hesitated. "Now, she is divorced. I am debating seeing her again, asking if she would consent to see me again. But--"
"Do it, J'onn," said Kara, holding his green hands in her flesh-toned ones. "Do it, or I'll chase you from here to Middletown with a torch. She'll probably love seeing you again."
"Will she love it if, in the future, I must tell her that I am a Martian?"
"Will you know, if you don't give it a try?"
He paused. "Good thinking. Very well, Kara, I shall attempt it. Thank you for the encouragement."
"You just needed a little noodge, big guy." She looked at the Red Tornado. "Maybe you do, too."
He looked at her with a hostile stance. "My decision will be my own, Supergirl. Thank you."
"Uh," she said. "You're welcome." She stepped away, about to head towards Aquaman, who was talking with Kal and Batman. But on the way, she was intercepted by someone else.
It was the white-haired, yellow-costumed woman from the dead universe of Earth-6. Her name was Lady Quark. "You are also Kryptonian," she said, as a fact.
"Well, yes," said Kara, taken aback. "I am. I think your name is Quark, is that right?"
"How do you stand it?" Lady Quark went on, grasping Kara's arm almost in desperation. "How do you stand being one of the only survivors of your world?"
"It's, well, sometimes difficult," Supergirl said, trying to pull away but to be gentle about it. "But there was nothing else I could do except cope with it. I had no choice. Did this--"
"I lost my world," said Lady Quark. "I lost my husband, my daughter. I am the only one left. The only one. Is there something you do to survive such a thing? Can you tell me?"
Kara pulled her arm free. "Well, I had Kal," she said. "He was family, at least. He was such a great help. I found friends..."
"I have no family," said the woman. "They all died. The man I married, the daughter I bore, the world we protected. All gone. All of them. Gone."
A red-haired man in golden armor came up beside them. "Excuse me, Tashana," he said. "I need you over here for a moment."
"How did you do it?" asked Lady Quark, again. "How did you manage?"
Supergirl kept some distance between herself and the woman in yellow. "I managed because I had to," she repeated. "I managed because I wanted to. I found some new friends. My parents came back, long after I made a new life for myself here. Is that any help, Lady Quark?"
"Tashana," said Alex, a bit more firmly.
Lady Quark took a deep breath and looked down. "Forgive me."
"That's all right," said Kara. "No apologies necessary."
All the same, she was glad when Alex led Lady Quark away.
She speculated on how odd it was to see him again. A Luthor from an Earth which was as dead as Lady Quark's. But he was not a villain, nor was his father, who had parented him with the Lois Lane of that world. In fact, the Luthor of Earth-Three was that planet's only super-hero, according to Kal, who had met him.
When the white wave of anti-matter coursed across Earth-Three, the senior Luthor had barely managed to save his son, sending him across dimensional boundaries in a spinning chamber that, like it or not, had to be described as a top. But the journey through the anti-matter left Alex with a body that was quite different from the one he started out with.
For one thing, part of his makeup was anti-matter.
It was held in some strange symbiotic stasis with his positive-matter atoms, and did not react with the normal-matter universe about him. But the synthesis speeded up his aging process fantastically. Within days, the infant had matured into a young man, about 18 years of age. He'd landed on the Monitor's satellite and even the Monitor had been hard-pressed to supply the ravening kid with enough food to sustain the growth.
Once matured, Alex discovered he had the power to create a gateway from positive-matter to negative-matter universes, and perhaps between other universes as well. By passing through his gate, a traveller was converted from one sort of matter to another, and vice versa when returning, so that there was no danger of a cosmos-shaking explosion. Luckily.
That was how Supergirl and the others had gotten to the Anti-Monitor's lair in the universe of Qward, where she had almost died in combat. Instead, she and the other Supergirl had managed to destroy their foe, and she was healed by Raven of the Titans.
Alex was still aging. The heroes had done what they could to retard this, and had been partially successful. But right now, he was less than a year old, and physically looked 40.
The worst part of it, she thought, might be that he and Harbinger were rumored to be in love.
She looked over her shoulder and saw Dev. "There you are. What do you think of the party?"
He shrugged. "Would have preferred our own."
"I'm with you on that."
"You know what the weirdest thing about this is? At least, to me?"
"What?" asked Kara.
He put his hands on her shoulders and leaned in to whisper in her ear. "That, even though everyone knows what we've been called up here for, Karaish, I haven't heard the name of Darkseid mentioned five times."
She shrugged. "That's the way it is, sometimes. We have so little time to get caught up on each other, what we've been doing with our lives and all, that usually the first part of our meetings is just a big gabfest if we have enough time. It's like, we'll talk about Darkseid or whoever the villain is and what we have to do about him when we call things to order. But till then, we keep posted on our friends."
"Okay," said Dev. "I suppose it makes sense. Though I'd rather be doing this with the Legion."
She put her arms around him, unashamedly. "Wouldn't you rather be doing it with me?"
"You know it, darling," he said, and kissed her without thinking about it. Before they broke their clinch, hoots and applause went up throughout the room. Kara turned beet-red.
"Frab it, we've got to be more careful about these things," she hissed.
He turned his head to the crowd, still holding Kara, and grinned. "We'll consider doing it again if you throw money." She punched him in the ribs.
Halo of the Outsiders was all smiles. "Golly gee, Kara, it's so nice to see you've got yourself a guy. A nice-lookin' one, too. Do you ever double-date?"
"Halo, please," said Katana, one hand on her charge's shoulder.
Batman waved his arms for silence. Kara thought that he looked as though he didn't want to be here, and she could imagine why. "We've all had time to socialize, now," he said. "I believe we can bring this meeting to order. In case anyone in the room is still ignorant, we've recently learned two things. First, a large number of super-villains have vanished from our Earth. I suspect that several other counterpart Earths have been so affected. Is this confirmed?"
Superman nodded. "The Justice Society told us as much when they came over for the wedding. Probably Earths S and X are also affected, but there's no way of knowing outside of contacting them ourselves."
"We have enough trouble on our own planet, if this ‘Darkseid' is the menace you have described him to be," said Geo-Force. "My pardon if I speak out of turn."
Firestorm said, "Don't worry, Geo. Like Batman said earlier, for the purposes of this meeting, we're one team, not two or more. You've got a right to speak."
"As do you, Ronnie," said Batman. "But let's confine our remarks to the situation at hand, please. Right now, we're standing pat in anticipation of Harbinger's return. But if you, Alex, or you, Lady Quark, can fill us in on anything you may have learned from her about this matter, I'd be glad to grant you the floor."
Young Luthor was about to say something, but it seemed as though he'd stepped on someone else's cue.
A ball of warp-force appeared in the center of the room, shoving several heroes aside, including a sprawling Kara and Dev. Within seconds, the sphere of light faded, and Harbinger was visible. Alongside her were eight other figures.
Five of them were familiar to Kara by now: Orion, Metron, Jezebelle, Lightray, and Forager. But three newcomers had come with them.
One of them was a man in a yellow-and-red outfit, complete with facemask and green cloak held at the throat by a chain.
The second was a tall, powerful-looking, black-haired woman, in blue and yellow armor, carrying a staff of some sort. She stood as close to the man in red and yellow as Kara herself had been standing to Dev, for the same reason, she guessed.
The third was a man even shorter than Danny DeVito. He had white hair and was wearing a normal shirt, pants, suspenders, and shoes, if clothing as scaled-down as his could be considered normal. He seemed a bit nervous, but he got over it.
"Hi, League," he said. "Long time, no save-the-universe. Little touch of humor, there."
Superman, who ended up beside Kara and Dev, said, "The man in the costume is Mr. Miracle. The lady in armor is his wife, Big Barda. The other gentleman is called Oberon. I've worked with all of them before."
"Oh, the escape artists," said Kara. "Okay. I remember you talking about them."
"I sure hope somebody has a field manual for super-types somewhere around here," said Dev. "When we get down to it, I want to know which guys I'm supposed to punch."
Superman gave him a brief, bitter look.
"I don't think you're going to have any problem distinguishing, Dev. Believe me."
In such times as the present, it was hard for Highfather to admit that he could do little except wait.
Wait for the return of his son Orion, with, perhaps, his other son Scott, and the party of Celestials he had sent beside him. Hopefully with the one known as "Superman", and whoever else wore the triangular shield, as well.
The heroes of that Earth and another besides had helped New Genesis on more than one occasion. But Darkseid had employed beings of that world in his cause, too, for a time, as that--what was it called?--Secret Society of Something. Not to mention Inter-Gang and his other operatives of that world.
Still, whatever other worlds the Enemy involved in his machinations, he knew that it would be settled, finally, on this world and most likely on Apokolips as well. The Source had once prophesied it: the Last Battle would be fought between father and son, in Armagetto.
How far away from that conflict were they? No way of telling. Perhaps centuries, perhaps only days. Perhaps, he admitted, less even than that.
The young ones had to be found, before Darkseid located them. But whether or not they could be retrieved depended on how hard-pressed the Celestials were on other fronts. And, if anything, Darkseid was a consummate general.
A chime sounded. With a start, Izaya turned to a viewscreen in his throneroom and activated it. The face of Fastbak, a warrior whose speed rivalled that of Lightray himself, firmed into view. He looked exhausted, and the landscape blurring by him gave testimony to his travelling velocity.
"Izaya," gasped Fastbak. "Izaya. Alarm must be sounded. Outposts are under attack."
"Attack? By whom?" Parademons? Mantis's insect-troops? Regular Apokoliptic attack squads? Kalibak's legions?
Fastbak had to catch his breath before giving his answer, and it looked to Izaya as though there were a bit of ice on his chest, somehow.
"By shadows," he said.