The Apokolips Agenda
Part 8: A Supergirl In Supertown
By the time Superman, Supergirl, Dev, and Orion's band emerged from the other end of the Boom Tube, New Genesis was being strafed by Para-Demons.
These creatures, apparently limitless in number, have wings, are very strong, resemble stone gargoyles, and can wreak great devastation, especially when armed. Darkseid was their armorer, and they were the second wave of his shock troops.
Superman was shocked, indeed. The capital city of New Genesis, the place he had first known as Supertown, had been the first place on that planet he had visited. When he had met the Forever People, they described it as a place of wonders where even he, a powerful Kryptonian, might fit in without having to hide his true nature. He had finally gotten to see it with his own eyes, to tread it with his own feet, and it seemed to be part ancient Greece, part the 30th Century of the Legion, and part Utopia.
Now, it was being blackened and ravaged. None of them could tell how much had been done by the Para-Demons and how much by those shadows which had attacked that world before. Warriors of New Genesis, jetpacks on their back and blasters in their hands, were already counterattacking. They seemed swamped.
One of the beings who was swamping them was on the ground, having smashed a man into the dirt, advancing on a woman and her child. The mother was cradling her son against her chest, trying to interpose her body between him and the winged, stony ravager that advanced on them.
She didn't have to bother.
The Para-Demon had to halt when he felt his right wingtip grabbed by a force from above that was multiples of times stronger than himself. Stronger, indeed, than just about any force he had ever encountered.
The weird part about it, to him, was when he turned his head and saw that he was being held back by one hand of a flying girl. She didn't look at all amused.
That was the last thing he registered before four tanned female knuckles hit him in the face and brought him oblivion.
Supergirl stopped long enough to hustle the woman and boy into a shelter building she had found nearby. At super-speed, that didn't take long. She couldn't afford to. Thousands of the monsters were besetting this world.
She hurled herself into the strange skies of New Genesis, both her arms stretched out perpendicular to her body, and screamed in rage. The group of Para-Demons she was headed for didn't have time to run for it. They barely had time to see she was there.
Her powerful, blue-clad, Kryptonian arms acted like twin plows, knocking the winged beasts out of the air. They fell like shot birds, hailing down on the landscape. The New Genesis troops had a chance to gape at the blue streak that was mowing down the enemy.
Superman had smashed his great hands together in an impact that almost deafened the New Gods who hovered too near to him. The shockwave from the crash buffeted a flying legion of Para-Demons. That was all the time Superman needed to separate them physically from the New Genesis flight troops they were attacking, and to tap them into dreamland.
Orion triggered the accelerator on his jet-system. "Did we bring the Superman to our world to let him fight Darkseid's scum alone?" he yelled. "For Highfather, attack!"
Those who came with him needed little urging. The New Gods joined the battle for their planet.
Supergirl, ranging over hundreds of miles in seconds, had heard Orion's cry before she got out of normal earshot and glanced backward, activating her telescopic vision. The son of Darkseid was using his "astro-force" power against the Para-Demons, to deadly intent. He blasted them out of the skies and didn't seem to be concerned about letting the enemy survive. Most of those who felt his power hit the ground and would never move again.
It chilled her. But what chilled her more is that, three times recently, she had pretty much done the same.
Dev-Em had grabbed one of the Paras by the ankles and was using him as a more-or-less-human flail, knocking demons out of the skies by the dozens. He finally threw his "weapon" away and hurled himself bodily into a bunch of them, throwing them out like toothpicks catapulted from an uncovered blender. Luckily, she could tell with her super-hearing that the Paras he hit were just kayoed, not killed.
The other New Genesites didn't have her powers, and couldn't afford her scruples.
Jezebelle's "fiery eyes" were downing a number of the winged attackers, and Bug was doing his best to aid her, but they were mobbed by a pack of the Paras. Luckily, Lightray rocketed into the winged beings, dispersed them with the impact, and flew off, towing Bug and Jezebelle by an arm each. Metron subdued those who remained conscious with a rayburst from his chair.
Big Barda was almost as warlike as Orion. Lacking ray-powers, she made do with what she had: her strength. Propelled by flying discs that were attached to her feet, she honed in on a trio of Paras that were threatening some New Genesites in the street. The middle Para she smashed in on from the back and knocked him over his intended prey. She turned to the one on her right, blocked a blow from him, and smashed him full in the face, propelling him backward and rendering him senseless.
The one on the left grabbed her from behind, around the throat. His arms were long, much longer than the reach of Barda's arms. It mattered little. Tightening her throat muscles against the grip, the warrior-woman slammed her legs against his thorax. The Para loosened his grip and fell back in pain.
Barda's hand whickered out in a flat-handed strike and
(Great Rao, no)
impacted hard against the Para-Demon's neck. Kara could tell from the angle at which the head and neck rebounded from the blow that its neck was broken. It fell to the ground and, after a few twitches, lay still.
Barda was helping the attack victims to safety.
Did she have the right to judge? Barda was of this realm. She did not condemn human soldiers who killed enemies in defense, or cops who shot down crooks when they had to.
Still...she was glad for her powers. Very glad. They gave her options, and one of those options was not having to kill.
In most cases, she reminded herself.
Up ahead were more Paras, menacing another city. She grinned. Pushing herself forward like a bullet, she had to admit that part of this stuff would always be fun.
Pariah was in a zone of blackness and was glad that they'd at least provided him with a chair on which to sit down.
His captor called himself Darkseid. Lyla probably knew about him. She'd helped the Monitor compile that catalog of superbeings and remembered a lot of them by heart. But he didn't know a damnable thing about the man before he met him. If, of course, one could call him a "man".
In a way, he was more frightening than the Anti-Monitor. Certainly not as powerful. But more intelligent, apparently, more focused, and more consciously evil. A laser beam as opposed to a juggernaut.
Yet, Darkseid couldn't do anything to physically damage him. The Feedback Effect that surrounded Pariah prohibited it. But he had used his power (did he call it the "Omega Effect"? Pariah wasn't certain) to cut Pariah off from any search-probes from his long-distant friends. Then Pariah had been taken in hand by Darkseid's guards, and the man himself had interrogated him.
The first question was simple enough: "Who are you and why are you here?"
His answer was equally straightforward: "I am Kell, called Pariah. I am drawn to sources of great evil and impending disaster which, in this case, I presume to be you."
But Darkseid had kept up the questioning, and Pariah wasn't certain at this point that it had all been verbal. He had made his unwilling guest dredge up all the memories, all the terrors, and serve up a decent portion of them for the Lord of Apokolips's consumption.
How many years ago? Impossible to estimate. He didn't age anymore.
But it began on an Earth that was now as dead as so many Earths were, so many he'd seen destroyed, so many he thought he'd destroyed himself...
On that world, that Earth, his name had been Kell. Kell, the Scientist Supreme. The brilliant pioneer of new energy-sources, new means of warp-travel, conqueror of disease, tireless researcher into the nature of Matter and Anti-Matter. And thanks to his ownership of many patented processes, he was the wealthiest man on the planet.
But his controlling passion was cosmology, the nature of the very universe itself. And of how it came to be. If indeed, it had come to be, and not always somehow been there. Lacking direct observation of the process, all they had was theory, educated guesses.
Kell had not believed in God. Indeed, he was unwilling to ascribe greater powers of intellect than his to any being. He suspected the universe of being nothing more than a self-actuated machine, of his world and those which were known to be life-bearing as only recipients of fortune in a great cosmic chance-game.
But, of course, one didn't know that.
And one wanted to know.
There was a means of doing so. His intellect had found a means of capturing lightwaves long since past from the events they depicted, and revealing them on a monitor. The problem was that a great deal of energy was needed to do this, possibly dangerous to the observer.
And Daneeta, his lover, had reminded Kell of the ancient legend common to many peoples: that anyone who attempted to learn the secret of the universe's origin would destroy himself, and possibly the world upon which he stood.
But just in case the legend described a real scientific hazard, and to guard himself against the real danger of energy-poisoning, Kell had found a way to seal himself within a cube-field of shielded anti-matter. The contramatter itself was held sandwiched between two layers of protective energy, but it would prevent any dangerous emanations from reaching him while he used the monitor system.
Thus, he had made love to Daneeta for luck the night before, noted her curious unresponsiveness, and then gone the next day to his laboratory, placed himself within the anti-matter cube, triggered his machine, and settled back to watch the show.
The holoscreen had spiralled backwards, compacting events that took eons into mere seconds. Galaxies whirled backwards to their origin point. The blackness of space, true...but...something more...
Outside the cube, forces gathered, but he ignored them. Daneeta had burst into the lab in a protective suit, but he told her to remain where she was, or the energy would penetrate even that and destroy her.
She didn't listen. She tried to get to the monitor and destroy it.
Within three steps, she was fried in her suit.
He gaped in horror.
But his attention, damn it to perdition and beyond, was still drawn to the monitor. The damnable monitor.
And upon it was the galaxies spiralling backwards into their source. Something on the edge of visuality. But...
He adjusted the screen only a tiny bit, but he didn't really have to. The source was firming into visibility...perhaps the last time it had ever been visual, perhaps not.
The gigantic, colossal, beyond-belief Hand.
It was releasing galaxies into the void like a farmer making a broadcast of seeds into a plowed field.
There was more than a Hand. There was the wrist, and the arm it was connected to, yes, he saw all that as if a camera was panning up on an actor, and he saw...
It was impossible to retain all that consciously. Even today, his memory would not retain what he had Seen.
In that moment, all his notions of atheism, all his belief that nothing was superior to Man (to Kell), was dashed beyond repair.
In the next moment, his world was eaten by whiteness.
The legends were true. The legends were true...
He heard somebody screaming, cursing, and above all, weeping. Weeping as though the tears would never stop.
After awhile, he realized it was himself.
From that day forward he had been thrust unwillingly into many, many universes, all at the point of their greatest danger, all of them before they were destroyed by a wall of whiteness. All of this, he attributed to his great sin. The sin of arrogance.
The sin that had cost him his woman, his world, his universe and so many others besides. All but his own life, and he found himself unable to take that.
The sin that had made him a Pariah.
This year, it had all changed. He had managed to save Lady Quark by taking her with him when her universe was destroyed. He was not sure if she was grateful for that, and she did not seem to be sure, either. He had also learned that most of the universes which had perished were destroyed by the Anti-Monitor, the anti-matter multiverse's counterpart of the Monitor, who used Pariah as an unwitting point man.
Finally, during what the inhabitants of the five linked Earths called the Crisis on Infinite Earths, the Anti-Monitor had been destroyed by two Supergirls and several other heroes. His curse of being drawn to perishing universes had been broken. Instead, it had been transmuted into a power which drew him to great danger and evil. Sometimes he could resist it, since it had been weakened. Other times, when the evil was too great, he could not.
This was one of those times.
Darkseid had learned all this. He had pronounced his judgment in one word: "Interesting." Then he had left, placing Pariah in this zone of blackness.
That had been some time ago. Pariah wondered how long it had been. Probably only hours, but it seemed like days. He also wondered what would occur next.
In that, he did not have long to wait. The blackness dimmed, but the chamber beyond was dark and its contents hard to see. Had he been moved, or had the room been altered?
There was another present. A dessicated-looking man in a robe, whose eyes held something unholy and joyful. He was at the controls of a strange machine.
"Who are you?" asked Pariah, in a dull voice.
The man looked delighted.
"My name is Desaad," he said. "And now, we're going to play."
Even despite the grimness of the situation, the heroes of Earth-One were glad to see their old other-Earth friends.
Doctor Fate had brought the JSA contingent directly from Earth-Two, since he wanted to bring them en masse rather than using the Transporter Cube to admit them one at a time to the satellite. Captain Marvel had led his Marvel Family and Squadron of Justice to the Rock of Eternity, made the proper angle, and entered the Earth-One universe without problem.
The big hassle would be fitting every one of the heroes into the JLA satellite, which, though sizable, only had so much space. So the twin Harbingers who had caught up with the Earth-Two and Earth-S contingents on the way merged, and offered the use of the Monitor's satellite. Elongated Man, Black Canary, and Green Arrow remained behind on the Justice League craft as requested. The others went along, with some help from Green Lantern of Earth-One and the magically-powered heroes of the Justice Society and Squadron.
The group floated or flew through a warp which landed them within the golden interior of the Monitor's spacecraft. Wonder Woman noted the sadness on Harbinger's face as they touched its deck, and realized its reason. Her mentor, the Monitor, had died in this very place, at Lyla's own hand.
The newest arrival to the group, Isis, marvelled at the design and the array of strange devices within. "Even in my time, I've never seen anything to rival this," she proclaimed, touching a machine. "Pray tell me, what does it do?"
"It's a food synthesizer," explained Harbinger. "But we've much to attend to besides that."
"Quite a bit roomier than the last time," remarked Firestorm. He remembered how, more than a month ago, Harbinger and Alex Luthor had rounded up all the heroes and villains from five Earths, including many from other time-epochs, and crammed them in here more closely than passengers in coach-class of a Pan Am flight. Now, it was positively sparse by comparison.
The two Wonder Women greeted each other with a hug, and Fury, who had insisted on coming along, had one reserved especially for the Amazon of Earth-Two. "Auntie Diana," she gushed, "it's great having you back, even if we have to get into another darned battle to do it."
"The same for you, Lyta," said Diana, hugging her back. "How are you and Syl Pemberton getting along."
"Oh, they're getting along very well," said the Earth-Two Wonder Woman, with a notable lack of enthusiasm. "But, like Lyla said, we've got a lot more to talk about than that."
Harbinger took the floor, standing to face the three-Earth heroes. "All of us have been drawn by a great horror perceived across dimensions. From what we've learned since then, it is based in this universe and its author has a name: Darkseid."
"We've never tried our hand against him," said Captain Marvel. "Should be interesting."
Batman regarded him with suspicion. "Don't be too eager, Billy. Even Superman wouldn't go against the Big D without making sure Lois's inheritance would go through cleanly, just in case."
Power Girl sighed, holding herself. "We've just been through one of the toughest fights I've ever fought. Three Krypts, one Hatorian, and Mars to boot. Now we're up against Gary Granite-Face himself. I should've taken my vacation time." She looked around. "When are Kara and company supposed to get back?"
"Don't know," said Green Lantern of Earth-One, looking up from conferring with Alan Scott. "They left for New Genesis. Said it was under attack."
"Then what are we doing here?" said the girl from Krypton-2, stepping forward with both fists clenched.
"In case you haven't heard, baby, every super-villain in creation has vanished and is probably being held in escrow," said the Creeper, acidly. "We're betting Big D is behind it. They'll be turning up somewhere, and when they do, we'll need to be on top of it."
"But would they strike here?" asked Looker. "On a world so well-defended by heroes? What about another part of the galaxy, for Pete's sake, or even another universe?"
Batman said, "Looker has a point. Harbinger, I'd like to suggest that we divide ourselves into teams and some of us be sent to the four other Earths. Unless Darkseid is marshalling all his forces for a strike at New Genesis, the army of villains should be surfacing on some or all of them before long."
"Point well taken, friend Batman," said Ibis the Invincible. "I would be loath to entrust our world to the Lieutenant Marvels alone, even though they are capable. What of it, Harbinger?"
"Very well," she replied. "But there are other heroes to gather besides yourselves. Many yet remain on Earths One and Two, and I have not yet been to Earths Four and X. As for--"
The Justice League signaller went off simultaneously in the uniforms of those who were JLA members, cutting off Harbinger's words. Batman held up a hand for silence as he took a small communicator out of his belt. "Batman acknowledging," he said.
The voice of Green Arrow came from the tiny speaker. "Bats, it's me. Uncle Sam wants you. All of you that you can spare, like. Earth-X is under attack by a buncha bad guys. He got to us through the old crystal ball like we used for the JSA, the first time, and he did not look good."
"Any more info?" rapped Batman, conscious of the heroes gathering about him to hear better.
"We got cut off," said Ollie Queen. "I'm about to use the Transmitter Cube to go there. That's all I've got."
"Don't, GA," said Batman. "If they're hitting Earth-X, they'll be hitting other Earths soon. We need you and the others to stay put, help coordinate things, and keep watch."
"Awww, Bats," groused Green Arrow. "Just when it gets interesting, you put me in the dugout. Hell, all right."
"It'll be more interesting than that pretty soon, Arrow," said Batman. "More, probably, than we can take. Out." He snapped off the communicator and looked at the others. "Who's going with me?"
By her own count, Kara had racked up over a hundred Para-Demons. There were better than a thousand of the winged buggers, but she and her party were doing a decent job on clearing New Genesis's skies.
Still, she thought as she put the boot to the backside of one of the attackers and plowed him into the side of a large statue, if they had hoped to keep their presence in this world a secret, they'd blown it now. If Darkseid was observing them somehow, he knew that the Kryptonian trio had been added to the forces on Highfather's side.
But nothing could be done about that. This area of New Genesis was clear of Para-Demon infestation. With a sigh, she left the fallen fiends to the Celestials' cleanup squads below. Supergirl set a course back for the capital city.
With her telescopic vision, she picked out her cousin Kal and Dev-Em, in two separate locations. Both had managed to take care of a great number of invaders, and she wondered, in amusing jealousy, whether each of them had bagged a bigger total than she had. They were mopping things up and preparing to return to Izaya's home base as well.
She gazed on that city, the hypersonic windblasts pushing her hair back from her face. Orion, Mr. Miracle, Barda and company couldn't travel as widely or as quickly as the three Krypts, unless they Boom Tubed it. They had remained generally in the area of the city, though their battles had taken them far apart. Orion had just finished plowing into one last lone Para-Demon and knocking him out of the sky. Bug was perched on a nearby building, raising his hand in a triumph cheer.
Then a circle of energy crackled into existence very near Orion, facing his back. She wasn't using her super-hearing, but she didn't have to. Kara recognized a Boom Tube easily enough. She kicked in more energy to her super-speed flying. Whatever Orion was facing, friend or foe, he could use the help.
Orion's hunting instincts, she saw, didn't play him false. He had turned almost before the Boom Tube opening had fully materialized. His hand was sending forth a blast of Astro-Force. But a great yellowish hand, larger than a normal human's by far, emerged from the Tube--she couldn't see more than that, at present--and grabbed him by the chest.
The New God in the grey helmet looked surprised, grabbed the yellowish hand with both of his own, but didn't seem to be able to break the grip.
Supergirl cursed herself for not being faster and poured on more speed. Just one more second--just one--
She arrived just in time to see Orion's feet being drawn through the Boom Tube, and that was time enough to enter it herself.
Whatever was in there was going to get a taste of Supergirl's knuckles, and she doubted much of anything this side of Darkseid could stand up to that. She wasn't called the Girl of Steel for nothing.
That was her last thought before striking something that felt very like a fist, though she didn't quite have time to analyze it. All she knew is that it was hard, it was forceful, and it was making everything go blue-black.
Superman and Dev-Em arrived just in time to see the Boom Tube fade as Kara came sailing out the end of it. Dev caught her before she could hit the ground. "Kara," he said, shaking her and stinging her with heat-vision to awaken her. "Kara!"
The man in blue, red, and yellow felt of Kara's pulse and listened to her vital signs, found them acceptible, and flew to a spot where he hovered before Bug. "What happened?" he asked, tightly.
The red-masked youth sputtered, "A Boom Tube happened. They got Orion!"
"I saw that," snapped Superman. "Looks like we're headed for Apokolips."
Bug, who was noticing Mr. Miracle, Barda, Metron, Lightray, Oberon, and Jezebelle converging towards them from various parts of the sky, murmured, "Darkseid. He's probably using this to lure us there...he'll be ready, Superman."
The Kryptonian hero smiled grimly.
"He'd better be, Bug," he said.
Orion was flung across the room against a wall. It hurt, and the tubes of his flight device were bent so badly that they'd have to be straightened before he could use them again. But he hadn't sustained any real damage.
He was in one of Darkseid's chambers, and his father and Kalibak were standing nearby. "You," he said, in a voice deep with menace.
Darkseid nodded, without passion.
Kalibak, Orion's half-brother, looking like a Neanderthal in a future-warrior's suit, brandished a club and looked imploringly at his forebear. "Please, father, don't let him finish him. That right belongs to me!"
Darkseid gave Kalibak a Gibraltarian look. "That right, whelp, belongs to myself. Even a son should know better than to overstep...especially in this matter."
"Damn you," said Orion, and surged forward, palm upraised for an Astro-Blast.
The fourth being in the room, he of the great yellow hands, appeared from the side and smashed a great open-handed strike at Orion's face. The New Genesis warrior caromed off a wall and struggled up, in pain.
"Only unconsciousness, please," said Darkseid.
Orion aimed a blow at his foe's jaw at approximately the same time that his foe did the same to him. Orion's punch was far less effective. The hero's senses faded and he slumped to the floor.
Darkseid stepped to his son's side, nudged him with a boot. Orion did not respond. The Lord of Apokolips addressed his newest henchman.
"Well done, Mongul," he allowed. "But we must swiftly prepare for guests."