The Apokolips Agenda
Superman has friends in some far-off corners of the universe, and some in more accessible (if you're a Kryptonian) parts of the solar system. He doesn't get to see them all that often. In fact, some have only met him once. But he makes a great first impression.
Some of them belong to a loose alliance even he doesn't know about. It used to be called the Friends of Superboy. Now it is known as the Friends of Superman. A few of them live on Earth. Others live in other parts of the solar system. Others live on entirely different star-systems.
The originator and leader of the group was Kral, a native of Titan, Saturn's large moon. When Kral and Kal-El were boys, Kral was sent by the rulers of Titan, who could best be described as rather authoritarian (read: tyrants) to case out Earth for conquest, and to see if Superboy had an Achilles heel. Kral, who had powers of his own, duly learned of Superboy's Kryptonite weakness. But he also learned of the Boy of Steel's nobility and selflessness, the generosity of the Kent family towards a stranger Clark had brought home, and the realization that, despite its wars, crime, and inequities, Terran society was really--at least in some parts--quite better than Titan's.
So Kral had fessed up to young Kal-El, and had gone back to Titan reporting that, if Superboy had a weakness, he sure couldn't detect it. He also told his superiors that if they tried invading Earth, most likely the Boy of Steel would fuse all their attack craft into a line of metal and throw it back to Titan. They grumbled, but finally decided to investigate weaker planets.
At the same time, Kral began to implement a plan to reform the Titanians. He synthesized a form of radiant mineral which would react upon the minds of his world's inhabitants and push their motivations from power-hunger to altruism. It would take time, but it would happen within his lifetime. After synthesizing enough chunks of the stuff, Kral seeded the rings of the great motherworld with them. Sure enough, the behavior of the Titanians began to change for the better. Luckily for him, none of the holdouts from altruism had learned what he had done.
Some few persons on his world were even developing low-level telepathic powers. But he judged that it would be generations before this became a widespread thing.
Right now, Kral was in his study. For all an observer knew, he was doing nothing. But one of the low-level psychics might have picked up on the telepathic message he was receiving.
It was coming all the way from Earth.
Garokk, a mystic, was the son of two homo magi and had first met Clark Kent when the latter was a Superbaby and Garokk, as Gary, was an innocently magic-working toddler. The two encountered each other much later, as teenagers, then their paths never seemed to cross again. But Garokk was one of the covert mystic guardians of the Earth, and had been brought into the orbit of the Friends of Superboy by Kral, who found out about him from long-distance scanning.
<I've been contacted by Doctor Mist,> Garokk sent. <Azmo Coven confirms. Something big and dark is manifesting out there.>
<Big and dark as the recent disturbance?> asked Kral. <We were dealing with people from five different Titans and half a hundred time periods for awhile there.>
<They called it the Crisis down here,> said Garokk. <We thought Superman and the rest of his abovegrounders took care of things a few months back. But there are apparently aftershocks. Of what sort, we're really not sure.>
<Describe, please,> sent Kral.
Garokk, an investment banker in his civilian identity, tried to explain. <Coven is better at explaining these things than I am. All we can verify is a great malignance. Possibly not native to our universe. Neither Mist nor Fate seems to think it's on Earth just yet. Maybe not even near you. But put that together with the vanishing villains thing, and it's likely we're not out of the cauldron on this one yet.>
Kral reflected. Earth had many times the number of super-villains as super-heroes, though on his world their old values might have made them switch labels on the two camps of superbeings. Where he was, he could afford to keep out of the play of powerful beings clashing with one another. The Crisis on Titan had kept him busy enough.
But if Titan was safe from that, now, and a threat came from another direction, he might have to reconsider.
<I'm going to notify the Friends of this,> Kral decided. <If necessary, can we arrange a rezendevous with you on Earth?>
<Let me know beforehand, and I'll try,> sent Garokk. <Keep me posted.>
<You as well. Good health, brother,> said Kral, and broke contact.
The man of Titan moved to another section of the room, touched a hidden contact, and watched part of the wall open to reveal a round communicator disk, hung upon a flat surface just behind it.
Kral took it and activated it.
With little delay, contact was made with several other heroes throughout the universe. Dyno-Man, Luma Lynai, Marvel Maid, Marvel Man, Power Man, Mighty Man, Ron-Avon, and several others. All of them had made common cause with Superman, Superboy, or Supergirl in times past. Now all of them might have to act in concert for the first time.
It would, thought Kral, be of great help if they knew what they were up against.
"This is Kral," he sent through the communicator. "The Friends are needed."
Izaya had satellites in position that beamed back images of the chaos on New Genesis, and of its attackers. Shadows. The weirdly distorted shadows of humanoids. They were descending like locusts upon the Celestials. Upon men, women, and children. Those whom they touched screamed and fell. Dead, or unconscious? Impossible to tell, at this juncture.
On the Field of Heroes, the burial ground for those fallen in the previous Apokolips-New Genesis War, the caretaker, Brakon, had been showing a woman and her son the memorial to one of Izaya's commanders. "One of our distant relations, on my mother's side," the Celestial woman said, holding her son's hand. He had a small Mother Box held to his ear with his free hand.
Brakon had been putting on his tour-guide's smile for the pair, but what he beheld coming out of the sky froze it immediately on his face. He couldn't tell what they were, exactly--para-demons? Warriors with gravity-packs?--but it didn't matter. If you had seen action, and Brakon had, you knew what an enemy strike looked like.
"Get down!" he shouted, already shoving the woman and the boy to the sward. He covered them with his body. The boy was shouting; his foot was twisted in the fall. The woman cried out in alarm. Brakon looked up, activating the power-baton that was his primary defense-weapon.
The things were coming on too fast for that. Like giant man-shaped cutouts of blackness. They were coming for them, reaching out... He clenched his teeth and waved the baton at them, sputtering force from its end.
They still got him. The woman, and the boy as well. He had time enough to register the coldness in their touch. Then he was unable to think of much of anything.
That scene was repeated, in various ways, for thousands of other New Genesites.
And Izaya saw more of it than he really cared to.
Transport and communications were breaking down. It was hard to tell how many shadows were attacking, or what parts of the globe might be spared their deadly touch. But action had to be taken now.
And, with Orion and his strike force gone, there was only one who could take it.
Highfather sent a message to his major domo: "Orion and his group must return now. With or without the two he seeks." The new god in charge of communications dispatched the message.
Then the robed ruler of New Genesis approached the Source, put one hand flat against its cool, polished-granite surface, and sought to draw what power he could from it. His other hand he raised to the ceiling, all five fingers splayed.
From those fingers shot five pellets of energy, leaping upward, penetrating the ceiling without leaving a mark. In their wake came five more, and five more again, and so on. The series seemed as limitless as a river's flow. But those who knew Izaya knew that, even with his energy, there were only so many Alpha Bullets he could generate.
These were the natural counterforce to Darkseid's Omega Effect, and, like that of the lord of Apokolips, Izaya's power was awesome to behold.
The bullets of energy streaked across the planet at the speed of light, each a shadow-seeking missle. Within a fraction of a second, the first shadows were struck by them--and negated. Where a murdering shade had been, there was nothing to behold. The beleaguered new gods looked up in dumbstruck gratitude, wherever they were, and wondered who and how they were reprieved.
Missle after missle struck. The shadowers of Qward realized their peril, tried to escape, but were powerless to avoid the Alpha Bullets. In a radius that spread ever further over the Celestials' world, the power of Highfather delivered his people.
But the strain was telling upon the ruler of the new gods.
Izaya struggled to keep his sweat-slicked palm upon the surface of the Source. He could not tell whether or not he drew power from it, but he wasn't willing to break contact to find out. His good right hand remained upraised, more pulses of light breaking forth from its fingertips. His breath grew ragged, his heartbeat labored. But he would not flag in his efforts.
Now, as much as ever before in his life, Highfather stood in the breach, and defended his people.
Among the shadows, a signal was relayed: "Pull back!" The troops of reinforcements among the dark legions retreated from their positions, and stayed at a safe distance from New Genesis. They awaited their commander's orders.
The old man in the robe sent forth another stream of bullets, and another, and another. How many more would it take? How much more effort would be required?
It did not seem as though it could end. But it did. The last shadow was dissolved by light. The last invader was repelled.
At least, Izaya thought, as his next five bullets found no targets, the last of the shadows. But this was, undoubtedly, just a softening-up tactic.
"Farspeaker," he said, into a wristband, "Darkseid will attack soon. Prepare the defenses."
"It will be done," said the other, through a small speaker in Izaya's wristband. "But, Highfather, what of you?"
"Find Orion," said Izaya, and sagged to the floor.
That was where the attendants found him, a few seconds later.
The Guardians of the Universe were in session.
Indeed, they rarely stopped being in session these days. The horrors of the Crisis had been felt by the world of Oa, as well, and several Guardians had died in the attack of the Anti-Monitor. Now, they seemed even more ancient than they had several months before. Their blue skins appeared paler. Yet, those who remained on the Great Dais still possessed great power, and still commanded those of lesser but more widespread power, the Green Lantern Corps.
Now, the question was not how to unleash the power of the Corps and their mighty rings. It was where, when, and to what extent.
"The danger of annihilation has passed," said First Speaker, stating what all of them knew. "The danger of conquest and tyranny has apparently risen anew. Native to our universe, but apparently spreading into other dimensions, as well."
"And in those realms, as the Speaker is aware, we have no jurisdiction," said Third Speaker, at his right. "In those worlds, we would be outlaws."
"Not outlaws, but vigilantes," amended Fifth Speaker. "Our Lanterns must often operate without formal designation by planetary governments as law officers. Yet, few refuse them their aid."
First Speaker swiveled his head from one to the other. "Let us not haggle without end over finer points of debate. This is a council of war, not a determination of price for goods in a market. Number Four, present your data."
The Fourth Speaker, with little obvious emotion, said, "Most of the sectors policed by the Corps have experienced upheaval. The Corpsmen are busy attending to matters at home, but a number of their native enemies are apparently engaging in attacks upon them. So far, the attacks have been repelled. But so many at the same time, over such a great span of universal space, bespeak coordinated effort."
"And that, as we know, stemming from the world called Apokolips," stated Second Speaker.
"But latest intelligence seems to indicate that Apokolips may have harnessed the power of Qward," said Seventh Speaker. "This may prove a force even threatening to ourselves. Steps, inarguably, must be taken now."
None of them had to be reminded of the episode, not too far in the past, in which Qward had created an army of Black Lanterns and challenged the Corps themselves. But much more recently than that had come the Anti-Monitor's attack on Oa itself. That had left the Guardians in a stasis beam, which several Corps members had barely managed to penetrate, at the cost of several of their lives. There was an ancillary battle with several nemeses of the Green Lantern of Earth, Hal Jordan, which had resulted in more deaths, including that of Tomar-Re, one of the most honored Lanterns of all. Hal Jordan had regained his place in the Corps during that battle, but at what a price.
Now several Lanterns were living communally on Earth...Jordan himself, John Stewart, who had been his replacement, Kilowog, Katma Tui, Salaak, Ch'p, and Arisia. Too much for a single sector. But Earth had been a great trouble spot before, and the Guardians were seeking out replacements to cover the sectors that the others had come from.
"We shall contact the Corps members through a blanket broadcast and explain the situation," said First Speaker. "Most will remain on their homeworlds, and await further orders. The Corps contingent on Earth will be our spearhead. The many heroes upon their world can be counted upon to aid them."
"But teams of Corpsmen could do what single Lanterns could not," pointed out Third Speaker. "Especially when their own natural powers outweigh those of other worldsmen."
"I propose the Green Lantern of Daxam lead a corps of five Lanterns against emergencies in star-sectors far from Terra," suggested Seventh Speaker. "His powers, once out of the range of his red sun, will greatly augment that of his Power Ring."
"Proposition noted," said First Speaker. "And there is one heroic team attached to a Green Lantern not of Earth, for we placed one on that world at Hal Jordan's suggestion. We will contact the Green Lantern of Thronn. The Honor Team shall aid in the struggle."
"Even if it leads to Apokolips?" asked Third Speaker.
There was a micron of hesitation in the First Speaker's response, but no more than that.
"Even there," he said.
Orion had the floor in the Justice League Satellite, and his aura of command rivalled even that of Superman.
"The Crisis was not actively participated in by my father," said the new god in the grey helmet. "He is, however, apt to capitalize on that which will turn the balance of power in his favor. You have spoken of a mass vanishment of contrabeings from your worlds."
"Super-villains," murmured Kara.
Orion looked at her briefly and went on. Big Barda ventured her a smile, and Kara was glad that not all the New Gods seemed to have steel rectums.
"Many of you were involved in the recent conflicts against Darkseid," Orion continued. "At one point, he created what he called a ‘Secret Society' of contrabeings, ‘super-villains', to use your words, as potential tools for his aims. They broke from his control, but now he may have a far larger, deadlier contingent under his command. And if Darkseid has a talent for anything...it is generalship."
Superman nodded. "Simultaneously, when we first learned of him on Earth, he was coordinating operations against me, a group of kids from your world called the Forever People, Mr. Miracle and Barda here, and your own group, Orion. Most of our opponents are hard-pressed to even get a one-pronged attack coordinated."
"But some of them do pretty well with that one-pronged attack," said Supergirl. "And the Anti-Monitor outpointed even Darkseid."
"In power," rumbled Metron. "But not, perhaps, in ingenuity or evil."
Lady Quark seethed. "If destroying entire universes is not evil enough, the word needs to be redefined. The thing murdered my husband and daughter."
No one could think of anything to say to that, so Orion took up his exposition again.
"The Source indicated that two persons bearing your shield--" He gestured to Kal and Kara. "--will be the keys to our aid in this matter. But, given that your adversaries will probably also be in play, I submit that the rest of you, and all those like you on Earth, will probably be needed."
"It's a bummer we have to do this," said Oberon, perching on the back of a chair. "I know you guys have been busy with this Crisis thing and all, and we slacked out on that. Mea culpa."
Mr. Miracle looked tired. "If anybody had needed some last-minute escapes, we'd have been there."
"Oh, really?" asked Green Lantern. "Think you could have gotten one for the Flash?"
Miracle got an unkind look on his masked face and started to step forward. Big Barda grasped his arm, gently. Dev-Em stepped between the escape artist and Hal Jordan. "There's no need for that, people," said Dev, more kindly than most might have expected. "We need a coordinated effort here, not sniping."
J'onn J'onzz spoke up. "I believe Hal's comment was uncalled for. However, the Flash, who is no longer with us, was one of his greatest friends. If apologies could be made, perhaps we could go on."
Green Lantern stuck out his hand, Miracle grasped it firmly, and they shook. "Sorry about the joke," said Scott Free. "I suppose, given the scope of what we've been through, nothing much sounds funny at present."
"That's all the more reason for making jokes," said Hal. "We need some relief. And I apologize for steaming off at you. I...we all still miss Barry."
Green Arrow lay a hand on the Lantern's shoulder. "We all miss him, big buddy. Just like we're all glad to have you back."
Jezebelle, who had been hesitant to speak, said, "We of the Celestials know the pain of a friend's passing, as well. Lonar, among others...and Source knows what happened to Beautiful Dreamer and her unit. We offer our condolences, as well, for we too knew the Flash."
"True," said Lightray. "When Orion was turned into a Promethean Giant, the red one went where no New God could go, and cured him."
Metamorpho, who was sitting on a ledge near the ceiling with his head in his hands, said, "Promethean Giants, huh? That some Japanese expansion club? What's their record?"
"Rex, please," hissed Element Girl, below him.
Batman cut in, verbally, to bring the extraneous talk to a halt. "All right, Orion. We know something of the situation now. Is there any more hard data to go on? And if not, what's your game plan?"
The son of Darkseid looked at Batman with some annoyance at his tone. For a split-second, some who knew him well began to see the demon's face surging below the mask of normality Mother Box had created for him. But it passed, with a moment of self-control. Batman had not backed up an inch.
"Hey, Orion," said Bug, trying to calm the waters. "Want me to score you some wine from the pantry, if they've got--"
"Bug, silence," said Orion, softly. Then, he said, "Until we engage the enemy, Batman, there will be precious little ‘hard data' at hand. What I propose is that your Superman and Supergirl return with us to New Genesis, that we maintain lines of communication here, and that your League and the others stand ready for action. When we determine the nature of the threat--"
"‘Nature of the threat'?" repeated Firestorm. "Bullspit! Somebody's copped all the villains on probably five Earths. We find ‘em and we bash ‘em."
"--When we determine it," said Orion, with emphasis, "we will direct you to it. Agreed?"
"Agreed, as far as that goes," said Batman. "On behalf of my team, at least."
Wonder Woman said, "We have no formal leader at the JLA, but I think we can put it to a voice vote. All in favor of the plan as it stands, say ‘Aye.'"
"AYE!" came a number of voices. Some, Kara noted, probably didn't even belong to members.
"Any opposed, say ‘Nay,'" continued Diana. Nothing was heard. "Ayes have it."
Big Barda spoke up. "I am not so certain this is the wisest course, Orion. If Darkseid really commands such an army, we might be better off going in with a combined force of all those we have assembled here."
Orion turned to her. "Perhaps, Barda. But this phase of the mission must be reconnaisance...spying, if you will. We will learn where Darkseid has marshalled his forces, then we will strike."
Dev-Em stepped up to the new god. "In that case, O, I'm going with you. I'd be doing it anyway, if Kara and Kal were headed that way. But I can be of more use than just as one more warm Kryptonian body. I'm a spy." He smiled.
Orion looked at him. "Are you really, now? Have you ever been to Apokolips?"
"No," allowed Dev. "But I'm a quick study. And I have helped fight Darkseid."
The New Gods snapped to attention. Even Metron turned his head in Dev's direction. "You have?" Orion asked. "Where? When? Under what circumstance?"
Kara stepped up beside Dev and put her hand on his shoulder, facing Orion with a placating smile. "It was on a case with Kal. Remember, Orion, your father can fight on a lot of battlefields at once."
"That he can," acknowledged Orion. Kal flicked a relieved look in his cousin's direction, and she caught it. True, Kal had been along on that battle. But he had been a teenager then, and the battle would not take place until a thousand more years had passed. He did not remember Darkseid when he returned to the 20th Century, thanks to Kara's post-hypnotic suggestion about learning things that would pertain to his future life, until shortly after he met the villain alongside the Forever People.
Both of them still had the same underlying and unsettling thought: if Darkseid is going to survive into the 30th Century, what can we do against him here?
But since that thought was of no practical use to them at present, they filed it away for the present.
"I'm a quick study," said Dev. "I can be of help in this one, Orion, just as Kal and Kara will be. Okay by you?"
Orion looked at Superman and Supergirl.
"I've worked with him before," said Superman. "He's...efficient."
Kara said, "The last time we had a job together, he saved a couple of planets. I went with him on a spying job, too. He's good."
"You flatter me no end," said Dev, ruffling her hair and getting his wrist grabbed.
"He will come with us, then," said Orion. "And then--"
There was a pinging noise from Orion's helmet. He stopped instantly, and listened.
"It's his Mother Box," opined Oberon, who had been around Scott, Barda, and other Celestials long enough to know what the things sounded like.
The pinging lasted less than five seconds. Afterward, the man in red looked impossibly grim. "We must go now. Highfather is endangered. New Genesis is under attack."
Another voice spoke up. "I will go with you."
The three Kryptonians and Orion looked at the woman who spoke. It was Harbinger. "You will need me to maintain communications," she said. "I can telepath to any of my split-selves throughout the multiverse. We can keep the others posted in that manner. Besides...Darkseid, I fear, has Pariah."
"Then I will go too," said Lady Quark, stepping forward.
"No, Tashana," said Harbinger. "The smaller the force, the better, in this instance, if we don't want to be observed. Please. For me, stay here."
The woman from the sixth Earth closed her eyes and sighed. "All right, Lyla. But bring him back. I have all too few friends left to me."
"We have no more time," said Orion. "Step back, all the rest of you."
The members of Orion's contingent, the Kryptonians, and Harbinger stayed close together as the other heroes withdrew a bit to give them room. Orion placed one hand on his helmet, and stretched forth the other.
An explosive sound was heard.
A great circle of light and energy appeared in the air. It was hard to distinguish what could be seen within it.
Orion reached for his flying apparatus, stepped into it, activated it, and shot through the Boom Tube. He was followed in short order by Barda, Mr. Miracle, Oberon, Jezebelle, Forager, Metron, Lightray, Harbinger, and Superman. Supergirl and Dev were the last to enter. They linked hands. He looked at her.
"Ever been through one of these before?" he asked.
"Never," she said.
They leaped in an instant before it phased out.
The others were a bit awed, even those who had seen such a device before. "Bats," said Black Lightning, "if that's what they use to get where they're goin' where those guys come from, all of a sudden the subway looks a helluva lot better."
Batman's attention was drawn to something he saw through one of the quartz windows of the satellite. The Creeper turned to Plastic Man, who was sitting beside him on one of the sofas around the rim. "Hate to point out the obvious, Plas, but that guy took a couple of our biggest guns with him. Not like the rest of us are exactly pencil-neck geeks, but what if that army of scumbags decides to hit us while they're gone? And how's the Blue Angel going to tell us what's going on if she's gone, too?"
Plas looked at Batman, and elongated his head to look through the same window the latter was gazing into. The Elongated Man did the same, and the sight of it almost made some of the others laugh.
They stopped when they saw two groups of heroes, each led by a Harbinger-self, each protected from the conditions of space by separate magical auras, approaching the satellite from different directions. One of them was spearheaded by Doctor Fate. The other was led by Captain Marvel himself. The others, those who were close enough to be distinguished, looked familiar.
"Well," said the Creeper, a trifle sourly, "guess that answers that question."