The Apokolips Agenda
Uncle Sam was hopeful that his message to Earth-One would bring the boys a'running. He was less hopeful that it'd be in time to do him and his crew any good. But there was hope.
Earth-X, the one on which the Nazis had won World War II and ruled it until the Freedom Fighters, the Justice Society, and the Justice League liberated it, was in danger of being tyrannized again. Black Condor, the Ray, the Human Bomb, Doll Man, Firebrand, Usa, Phantom Lady, and Sam himself had been pressed into service. Again.
Problem was, it didn't seem to make a whole lotta difference. This time the enemy seemed like an army again, and they had super-powers, to boot.
The Fighters made their home in and around Washington, D.C. these days, and the bad ‘uns seemed to know where to find them. They descended out of some kind of hole in the sky like Valkyries out of a Wagnerian opera. All colors, all kinds, all weird. And wouldn't you know that the individual Fighters had been taking the day off, enjoying life, so to speak. Which, Sam admitted, was a lot easier to do these days with Usa along.
They'd been doing lunch together when the sirens went off, and both he and Usa had rushed to the restrooms, come out in their working clothes, and signalled the rest of the crew to get it in gear. To their credit, they had.
The Freedom Fighters were outnumbered by a whole bunch to one. Practically everyone they faced was unfamiliar to them. There weren't any super-villains around Earth-X that Sam knew of; the few still alive when the Nazis had taken over were mostly rounded up and executed.
The bad guys seemed to be led by one big Nazi who came over, in a green uniform with a big white swatika inside a black circle on his chest. He had a blonde crewcut, a Heidelberg dueling scar, and an attitude you couldn't cut with acid.
"Achtung!" he had hollered, with the help of a bullhorn, while in flight. "We claim this planet in the name of Apokolips!"
"Like monkeyshines you do," muttered Sam, and leapt up with a force that carried him into the air and on a path that interconnected with that of the Nazi. He heard Usa say, "Be careful, Sam," but she was already in flight, using her Freedom Torch on the enemy.
He hammered the Nazi with a left and a right, and another left and a right, and probably some in between. He took back some blows that rocked his head back on his shoulders, but Uncle Sam had taken a lot worse in his time, and wasn't about to give in to any Sieg-Heiling sonofasomething while he was still on two feet and breathing.
The Ray was blazing away at the newcomers with light. The Bomb was scattering them with his powerful hand-blasts. Sandy was using her black-light ray to blind them, and Firebrand, the Condor, and Doll Man were making do with their good old fists.
But it just deuced well didn't seem to be enough.
A gorilla with a bandolier and a jetpack, swearing in French, had torn him away from the Nazi and held him while several others battered him. Sam smashed out, tore the big monkey off his back, plummeted to the ground some fifty feet below, hit a concrete sidewalk, and got hurt. But he dragged himself to his feet and looked the enemy in the eye, pausing only to pick up his battered, three-colored top hat.
The enemy was on the ground now, shoving aside civilians and cars, tearing into an ad hoc strike squad of police. Sam vaulted into them and started pounding away. He was making headway, too. Lots of the "army" was just glorified thugs in fancy union suits.
But one of those thugs had electric powers that made Sam's hair stand on end, and interrupted him. Another, some fruitcake in an all-white costume, had a gun that sprayed fast-freezing stuff at him that put him in an icy straitjacket. It would take time for him to flex his muscles and break out of it, and time was something he just didn't have.
He was satisfied that the big Nazi guy was showing the bruises of their encounter. But that was a cold sort of comfort, because the guy was swinging a haymaker at Sam, and try as he might, he couldn't duck it.
"Nighty-nite, Onkel Sam," the big bruiser had said. Then impact. And blackness.
He had awakened sometime later, finding himself in a well-lighted room. He tried to move, found he could not, and looked down.
From the neck downward, he was encased in a block made of two halves of steely metal, fastened together by a great lock in front. It had to be stronger than steel, because it resisted his efforts to break it when he exerted his muscles. After a few efforts, he slacked off.
By that time he had noticed the little man in the red uniform before him. He was somewhere around four feet in height. He looked like a comic-opera Prussian, right down to the monocle, and he was smiling.
"I am glad the Vundabar Vault passes the test," the little man said. "Permit me to introduce myself. I am Virman Vundabar, of Apokolips."
"You sure don't look like anything from the Book of Revelation to me," grunted Sam. "Less'n one of the Four Horsemen was a midget."
The little man clambered up several rungs set into the side of the steel block, removed one of his gloves, and slapped Sam smartly across the face. It didn't hurt Sam, but it seemed to satisfy Vundabar.
"Your comrades are encased in traps which similarly negate their powers," continued Virman. "The black-light room for the one called Ray, a self-sealing cell for your Human Bomb, an area charged with deadly energy for the most beautiful Phantom Lady, and something akin to this for your Usa. The Black Condorman is easily caged, since he only has the power to fly."
"None of us are easily caged, Mr. Varmint," said Sam. "And we're even harder to keep."
Virman slapped him again. "We only keep you for hostages. Insurance against the incursion of ‘heroes' from other worlds. They'll think less strongly of attacking us if we hold your lives in the balance."
"So what do you propose to do now?" asked Sam.
"Some of our army have already taken your current president in hand," said Virman. "We also have command of your defense system controls. The Army of Apokolips has the power to make nuclear war on all of your Earth. Unless it capitulates, we will do such a thing...and Boom Tube our way to safety."
"Like tarnation ya will!" Sam strained at his bonds, and the two halves of the metal block groaned a bit. But only a bit.
"Like tarnation we will not," said Virman. "Only a liberationist of Scott Free's caliber could escape this trap, and even he would be taxed, without his many devices. Ease yourself, and enjoy our--"
He ended his sentence with a cry of pain. Then he fell backward.
He'd seen the little guy sneak under the door, hop, skip, and jump over the floor, and leap up to smash a powerful blow into the back of Virman Vundabar's head. Now the six-inch man was standing by Virman's shoulder, making sure his victim was out.
"Kinda figured you'd show up," said Sam. "He didn't mention trapping the Doll Man."
"I'm kinda easy to overlook, Sam," said the pint-sized paladin. "Here, let me see about this lock." The hole of the contraption was large enough for him to squeeze inside, so he did. Seconds later, Sam heard the tumblers moving.
"Work fast, Darrell," advised Sam. "This may set off an alarm."
But, luckily, it didn't seem to. A minute later, the lock popped open, and Uncle Sam's great strength pushed the two halves of the block open wide. Doll Man made his way up Sam's pant let and coat to his shoulder. He noted that Sam had never lost his hat, during the whole ruckus.
"I can show you where they're holding Usa and the others," said Doll Man.
Sam shook his head. "First, show me the way to our headquarters. Much as I hate to admit it, we need some help."
So the two of them had sneaked and fought their way out of Vundabar's installation, made their way back to the Freedom Fighters' headquarters beneath the Lincoln Memorial, and used a communicator to call the Justice League at their satellite. The one who answered was that saucy Green Arrow, whom Sam had never taken a shine to. But he was a Leaguer, and that was what counted.
Briefly, Sam had outlined the situation to the Arrow. The hero
had responded, "I'm on monitor duty here, but I'll give the others a call
and tell ‘em to get on it. Then I'll hit the Transmitter Cube and
come there myself. Can you hold out till then?"
Sam had smiled, even through his bruises.
"We held out for over thirty years," he said. "Reckon we can make it for a few more hours."
There were times in which Kara wished that icebags worked for Kryptonian headaches the way they did for Earthian ones. This was such a time. The punch she had run into in the Boom Tube was strong enough to rock her world, but she had made an effort to shake it off by now.
Superman had used his telescopic vision, and Dev-Em had confirmed him. "It's Mongul," he said, grimly. "He and Darkseid have Orion."
"You've faced this man before?" asked Lightray.
"Oh, yes," said Superman. "I had the bruises to prove it."
Supergirl explained, "Mongul is one of our few foes that's Krypton-class. In fact, he may be a bit stronger than Kal or I, but he lacks our other powers. I've fought him, too."
"Then let us away!" said Lightray, his hand at the Mother Box on his belt. An explosion was heard a second before a circle appeared in the air before them. They could dimly see Apokolips at the other end.
"We'll have to do this fast," opined Dev-Em. "Get in there, hit ‘em hard, grab the guy, and get back. No stopping to liberate the planet, yet."
"Let's retrieve Orion first, Mr. Krypton," said Mr. Miracle, sky-skating towards the Boom Tube on his two foot-held flying discs. "Then we'll go over battle plans." In an instant, he flew through the end of the cylinder. Lightray was right behind him, and just ahead of Barda. Kal, Kara, and Dev followed, with Metron, Bug, and Jezebelle bringing up the rear. Oberon watched from below.
"Godspeed, guys," he said. "An' I hope none of ya come back on your shields."
Jim Rook was a long ways away from his regular career as a rock star, but he occasionally did gigs when a "senior's tour" thing came up, or when he felt like it in some LA club. Some years back, he'd noted the boom-and-bust cycle of rock ‘n' rollers' careers and decided that popularity was a chancy thing, but a good producer could always find work. So he put the guitar and keyboards back, except for occasional session work and a couple of here-I-am albums. He made a home for himself behind the glass, in front of a mixing board. And he found out he liked it.
Now he had a wife, a son, a daughter, and a comfortable house in the Canyon. Plus he had a string of fairly successful rock, pop, and country discs he'd engineered, and a lot of money in the bank.
He also had a sword he kept in a glass case above his bed. When people asked him where he'd gotten it, he just mumbled, "Oh, picked it up somewhere," or words to that effect. He never let anybody take it out of the case.
Truth to tell, he didn't much touch it himself.
It was 3 a.m. and he was crashed in bed alongside his wife Janet. The kids, Jack and Janie, were in their rooms.
An alarm went off in his bedroom.
Jim Rook straightened up immediately, as awake as a combat veteran. This should not be happening. This could not be happening. Their house was protected, for cripes' sake. They had guards on patrol in the neighborhood, high fences with electricity, the whole nine yards.
But someone had gotten in. He had a couple of Dobermans in the house, but he didn't hear them barking. If the intruders had taken them out...he shuddered, thinking of a little hanger-on in the community some years ago who had done in an entire houseful of people with his gang. A hanger-on named Manson.
He had no guns in the house. Jim Rook was a trained martial artist, but didn't know how well that would do in an uncertain situation. Janet was up beside him. "Jim, what's wrong?" she said, choking back fear. "Why's the alarm on?"
For the first time in years, he reached for the glass case. "Call the cops," he said.
"Call the cops!"
The reasons for the alarm being tripped were in the living room. Three females, all in outlandish costumes. One looked like a teenaged girl. The gear looked too expensive and too garish for burglars or punks. A thought ran through his mind about crazy groupies, but another thought replaced it. Memories of what he had become when he first held this sword, which was humming wildly in his hands.
The Dobermans were sleeping peacefully on the floor.
One of the women, a blonde in a red helmet and blue skintight suit, seemed to be their spokesperson. "Jim Rook, we have need of you," she said.
He stepped forward, holding the sword before him, warily. "Who are you? How did you get in here? And how do you know my name?"
"My name is Harbinger," said the woman. "I was charged by the Monitor with keeping files on every superhuman on the planet. Including those who only appeared for a brief time, such as yourself. We need your help."
"Help for what?" His face was grim-carved stone. Nobody had the right to come in here, where his family was housed, without permission. Nobody. Even if they were from some side-world where elves, fairies, and trolls lived. The one he had seen, and fought in.
The young girl in the purple dress spoke up, stepped closer, but stopped as he brandished the sword. "Mr. Rook, my name's Amy," she said. "But I'm known as Amethyst in Gemworld. I think something happened to you like it happened to me...I'm an Earth girl, too, but I got sent to this other dimension and got these gem-powers and, well, found myelf in a big situation. Is that what happend to you?"
Rook said, "I don't know what in hell you're talking about. Just stay where you are, and keep those hands where I can see them."
The third one, a woman in a green outfit, said, "Oh, we don't have the time for this," and extended her hand towards him. It had nothing in it but a burst of magic. He shouted as it hit him, but it didn't hurt.
All it did was leave him standing in the uniform he'd worn to rescue Janet, all those years ago. The black suit with the head-covering, the red cloak, and the big belt with the "N" on the buckle.
"My name is Jennifer Morgan," she said. "I'm from Skartaris. And, according to Ms. Harbinger here, your name is Nightmaster and we need you. Let's get going."
By the time a robed-and-slippered Janet Rook reached the living room, all that was left were the two sleeping dogs, which she let lie. She bolted back and checked Jack and Janie's rooms, found them okay, and didn't wake them.
Dear Lord, was it happening again?
The cops knocked at the door. At least, she hoped it was the cops.
She didn't know what she was going to tell them.
Supergirl nearly ralphed when she soared out of the other end of the Boom Tube. Apokolips would make the worst industrial dump look like a garden spot.
An entire planet, roughly the size of Earth, almost entirely covered with metal, concrete, and--fire-pits.
The fire-pits were enormous, possibly the size of states or small countries in her world, dotting the globe and belching flame into the sky. She guessed, correctly, that these served as power-sources and garbage dumps on Apokolips. She also bet that some of the garbage dumped in them once walked on two legs.
She looked at Dev, flying within earshot of her, and said, "I know what we're doing here. But, like you said, let's do it and get out."
"With pleasure, Kara," said Dev.
The three of them, paced only by Lightray, sped up and left the others behind. Metron shouted out, "No! Let us accompany you. You know nothing of Darkseid's defenses!"
The Kryptonians heard him, using their super-hearing, but were too focused on what lie ahead. With their triple power, they could take Mongul. Darkseid, with his Omega Effect power, would be a tougher nut to handle, but their mission was rescue and retrieval, not battle. At least, not any more battle than they couldn't avoid.
"We need to find Pariah, too," she said to Superman, using a bit of voice-projection to make certain he heard it at their great rate of speed. "I can't see him with my vision powers, but he has to be somewhere on-planet."
Lightray said, "With all due respect, Supergirl, Orion is our first objective. We may return for your friend at a later time. But if Darkseid has chosen to take Orion at this moment, we must assume that--"
"We're there," burst in Kal, pointing at the horrific fortress of Darkseid below them. They noted flying guardsmen, either in anti-grav packs or aerial craft, converging on them. Some Para-Demons were present, too.
"Only thing to watch for besides Darkseid and Mongul are Gravi-Guards," said Superman. "They're slower than molasses, but they have gravity-focussing powers like Geo-Force. They can negate our strength. They did it to me, when I met the Forever People."
"Point ‘em out if you see ‘em, Kal," said Dev, and broke formation to drop feet-first at the great onyx installation. He shrugged off some ray-blasts from the roof guards and crunched through the top of the building as if it were cardboard. Several floors below gave way. He didn't really have time to bother with the Apokolips functionaries that gaped at him on his way down.
Orion was in a stasis cell, bound to a tilted table by a ray that held him paralyzed. His helmet was off, and his face was not that of a New Genesite. It was horrible and twisted, the face of the son of Darkseid. This was the visage that his Mother Box usually repressed. There were several guards standing by, armed with ray-rifles. Dev let them have their shots, and the blasts glanced harmlessly off his chest. By that time, Kal and Kara had arrived as well, plunging through the hole he had made in the building. Mongul smashed through a door and confronted the trio.
"So nice to see you both again," he rumbled, stepping forward. "And you, too, whoever you are."
"The name's Dev-Em," said Dev. "And we're all Krypts at this party."
Mongul lunged forward, both hands held up to smash at them. He did get in a couple of blows, and they had awesome power behind them. But Superman dodged the hands that tagged Kara and Dev, and unleashed a blow to Mongul's jaw. It didn't kayo his enemy, and Kal knew it wouldn't, but it did rock him back on his heels. In fact, it knocked him on his rear end. Mongul rubbed his jaw for a moment, then got back up.
Supergirl looked rather loggy, but she was rallying. Dev-Em had smashed the table holding Orion, but until he was taken out from under the ray, the Celestial would still be motionless. Well, first things first. Dev stepped back out, slammed his body in between Kal and a charging Mongul, and wished that he hadn't after feeling the impact. But it wasn't much worse than he'd taken from Black Adam, a few days back and a thousand years in the future.
"Can you do it, Kara?" asked Superman, helping his cousin to her feet.
She shook her head, whipping her blonde tresses about. "I'll...rise to the occasion. Together?"
"Together," agreed Kal. "You, too, Dev."
Mongul's hands were spread to reach out and crush whomever he grabbed in a bear-hug. But Superman, Supergirl, and Dev-Em were ready for him. Three fists flew for the same target, three points on Mongul's jaw, all delivered with the blockbusting power of a Kryptonian.
The space tyrant could easily have held his own with any one of them. But in a three-on-one situation, he had only one recourse. His eyes rolled up and his three opponents stepped back so that he could hit the floor, face first.
Kara sighed. Now, not only her head hurt, but her fist felt like a five-alarm carpal tunnel syndrome. "Let's get him, and get out of here," she said.
As they turned towards Orion, still in his cell, a new voice came from behind them. It was familiar only to Superman. "I wouldn't," it said.
They would have whirled at super-speed, except they found their powers of velocity rapidly draining away. No wonder, Kara thought numbly, as she saw the color of the newcomer's skin when he stripped away the last of a protective garment. It must have been impregnated with lead.
The man was grinning, and his skin was glowing green.
"You," gasped Kal, on his hands and knees, with an expression of pain. "You."
Dev, beside him, tried to fly, but only managed to get a foot or so before flopping on his face. Kara grabbed him by the ankle and tried to pull him back, but was too weak to even manage that. Her vision was fading, and with it, her consciousness.
She heard Dev saying, with great effort, "El...who is he?"
The green man replied, "Superman, you've been incredibly remiss. You mean to tell me that this guy is from Krypton, too, and you haven't yet told him about your old friend, the Kryptonite Man?"
In an apartment somewhere in Metropolis lives a man known as Willie Walker, if you can call it living. He is a paraplegic, lacking even the power to speak. His sister and brother-in-law, Verna and Ray Johnson, take care of him. As much as they can, they have a nurse do it. But Willie is not on heavy life-support, and neither of them would think of pulling his plug before he passes on naturally.
The thing was, Willie had pulled the plug on a lot of beings, and not just the ones he fought in Vietnam, where he acquired his paralysis.
It began one day when a herald of Death appeared in his room, a black man like himself, only in an incredibly strange costume. The intruder had merged with him, and when he did, Willie found himself able to move, to speak, to fly on the strange skis the intruder wore, and to wield great and terrible power.
It was the power to harvest the souls of people he later learned lived on New Genesis and Apokolips. They feared the sight of the man he had become, for he was the harbinger and completion of Death.
When his job was done, the man on the flying skis returned to Willie's apartment, to Willie's bed, and let Willie become Willie once again. But he knew that it was always just a matter of time before he rode those skis again.
Verna looked in on him now, came to his bed, stroked his forehead, talked to him. He blinked for answers, once for yes, two for no. He loved having her around, loved having her read to him, hold his limp hand.
Only this time, his hand was a bit less than sensationless. He could almost feel the ski poles materializing in his palms, though he knew the change wouldn't take place until he was alone.
Sometime, very soon, the Black Racer would appear in the skies.
Sometime, very soon, somebody else would die.