The high council of the United Planets was in emergency session. Not that anyone of them knew what to do about the matter.
"Rokyn has vanished," Chairman H'lpz said, his treelike form overshadowing the meeting table. "We can't establish contact even with subwave. Unless it returns to our space within a week, we can assume that the world and all its inhabitants have been destroyed."
<Perhaps our policy of Rokynian / Daxamian containment has been ill-considered,> said Worli, a merman delegate from a waterworld, telepathically from a transparent tank in which he sat. <If they perish, we could all well be seen as murderers on a cosmic scale.>
"Damn that, Worli," replied Janoslav Jagello, the representative from Earth. "The record will show that the U.P. spared no effort to try to resolve these crises. Our policy was guided by the nature of the Rokynians and Daxamites themselves. Or does the delegate wish to deal with over 100 billion beings, each with the power to move a planet the size of Terra?"
Worli, who had never liked Earthmen, smugly replied, <The delegate from Terra need not worry. Within several days' time, the number of living Daxamites and Rokynians will be totalled in the thousands. Then we will all undoubtedly be faced by all those offworlders, demanding to know why we virtually condemned all their worldsmen to death."
Kantos Kar, the Thanagarian, struck the table. "Enough. This is not the time for recrimination or delegational rivalry, gentlemen. We are dispatching phase engines to Rokyn's space already, but they may be inefficient, given Rokyn's size and its distance from our own plane. We have sent warships to Daxam, but nothing seems of use against that--that woman and the asteroid. Our job is to devise new solutions to both problems. I suggest we begin that process now. We have damnably little time."
When no one said anything for several seconds, Tru Hallis of Braal magnetized a water carafe to himself, poured a drink, drank it, and said, "What about the Legion? They seem to have the inside track on this operation."
All eyes (or what passed for them, among non-humanoids) turned to Jagello of Earth.
He finally said, "They tell me they're working on it. That's all that I know right now. And the Legion has never failed us yet, gentlebeings."
<Perhaps,> said the merman, soberly. <And yet, as you worlders say...there is always a first time.>
Nobody could think of a good response to that. They prepared to brainstorm. And they prayed that somebody among the several dozen adolescent heroes and heroines knew what the hell they were doing.
Back at Legion headquarters, John Constantine had just finished his assessment. There was a stunned silence for a few seconds. Dev-Em broke it.
"That's great work, pal," he said, leaning over the table, "but while you're playing consultant, Rokyn is probably headed for a major burnup. I don't give a rip about Mordru right now. Those are my people, and I'm damned well not going to see them fry."
"I agree," said Superman IV. "As a Kryptonian, I cannot let the new world of my people perish. With all due respect, Legionnaires...and Kara...we of the El line must first save our homeworld. After that is accomplished, we will join the fight against this Mordru."
Laurel Kent said, "I'm as much El as anyone around here, ancestor. I may not have all your powers, but I'm going along with you."
Supergirl stood up. "Count me in on that mission, friends. A Kryptonian's first duty is to her people. Eight of us ought to be able to find a way to save Rokyn."
Brainiac 5 stood as well. "Oh? Do any of you have any idea what caused Rokyn to phase out? And how will any of you operate under a red sun?"
"That's not fair, Brainy," snapped Kara. "Maybe Mysa can cast a spell to shield us from the sun. Maybe we can wear some kind of body filters. I don't know. But we've got to save Rokyn!" She smashed her hand down on the table, and broke off a small, pie-shaped piece of it. "Sorry," she said, absently.
Constantine said, simply, "You can't, darling."
She turned quickly in his direction, an expression of rage on her face.
John Constantine gave her no rage back. He said, with his hands folded, "The dreams see you helping carry the stick to Mordru. Like it or not, you're in the big mission."
"My people could die!" wailed Kara.
"A lot more people could die if we don't stop Mordru," injected Brainiac. "His mergence with this ‘Dark' I don't fully understand. But if I take Constantine's theory as a possibility, he might be in a position to exert control--or an enormous amount of influence--over all reality. His power might extend back as far as Creation. He could, theoretically, stop the people of Krypton, Daxam, or my world of Yod from ever existing. Those beings who remained would be under the influence of an entity with conscious control over all evil--and the ability to make those worlds living Hells."
"He would still be opposed by the Light," pointed out Dream Girl. "I mean, wouldn't he?"
"True enough, dearie, but that's still ceding a lot of power to Mister Funnyhat," said Constantine. "I wouldn't want to let him try it, if we can do something about it. And we can."
Mysa spoke up. "Constantine, he's operating at a power level you couldn't even conceive of. I knew him when his power wasn't augmented. And now, with the power objects he's acquired--"
"Bollocks!" shouted Constantine, jumping up from his chair. "So the berk's climbed to the top of the ladder. So what? I know about ladders. You can kick him off the top of it, or kick it out from under him. If you haven't got the guts to try it, that's your problem. But back when I came from...I knew the blokes and shielas I hooked up with'd spit in the wanker's eye. The friggin' plant I worked with had more guts'n anyone of you." He hitched up his trousers, took out another cigarette and lit it, just to have something to do. "You gents may as well send me back. Doesn't look like there's anything else I can do here."
Dev-Em lunged over and grabbed Constantine by the lapels, shaking him like a dog. The cigarette fell out and smouldered uselessly on the floor. "You mouthy...arrogant...twit," yelled Dev-Em. "You think nobody here has any guts but you. How's about I show ‘em what yours look like?"
Constantine was smart enough to keep his mouth shut. Kara, Laurel, and Superman II were already taking Dev in hand by the time. Brainiac said, "Hold. Let him go, Dev. Constantine is right. Even if all we've got to go on is the guidance of a few dreams, we've got to try. We're going to try. If the Legionnaires die today...we're going to save the universe again beforehand. Long live the Legion!"
Automatically, but with force, the other members chorused, "Long live the Legion!"
Superman VI, standing with practiced grimness against a wall, his arms folded, said, "And if the line of Kal-El must perish, let it be with our hands crushing the enemy's throat."
Kara looked at Superman V. He shot her a look of disgust that said, "I know, but he's my son." But Timber Wolf gave a big smile, and said, "I'm with him."
Brainiac 5 sat down again and said, "All right. We have Element Lad and his group working on the Daxam problem. They've sent us back identification that the woman pushing that asteroid is Ar-Ual. Satan Girl we already have under wraps. I believe Mordru's objective for her was to have her bear his child, the continuation of his material lineage. That leaves Drang and Black Adam, unless Mordru used his own power to push Rokyn out of phase. He could have, but his mode of operation this time seems more towards delegating responsibility. Ergo: either Drang knows what has become of Rokyn, or Adam does."
"Let's break this Adam out of the box and talk to him," said Star Boy. "Drang looks like riskier business."
"He is," said Supergirl. "I agree. Let's try Adam first."
The assemblage of heroes--Supergirl, Laurel Kent, Brainiac 5, Dev-Em, Dream Girl, White Witch, Shadow Lass, Timber Wolf, Star Boy, Dawnstar, Constantine, and Supermen II through VI--filed or flew out of the meeting room down to the holding cell in which Black Adam sat. With the Kryptonians standing guard directly in front of it, Brainiac ordered Computo to open the cell. The black-and-gold-clad Egyptian gave them a look of bored malevolence. "Good of you to come," he murmured.
Dev reached in and dragged him out by the shirtfront. Black Adam slapped his hands off, and Supermen II and IV grabbed him by the arms. Superman V stepped in front of Superman VI, keeping him from attacking. "None of your lip except what I ask for, punk," said Dev. "Now. We're onto you. Tell us what you did to Rokyn."
Black Adam gave him a sullen stare back.
Dev slapped him hard in the face. It drew blood. Adam snapped his head up defiantly. He still said nothing.
"Tell me!" yelled Dev, and hit him again. Adam surged against his restrainers, almost broke free, but not quite. Superman III grabbed Adam from behind, his arms around Adam's chest, reinforcing his kinsmen's power. Dev grabbed Adam's skull with one hand, his thumb and ring finger near the edges of the Egyptian's eyes. "I'm not playing games here, my friend. This is not a good-cop-bad-cop thing. I'm going to count in my head from ten to one in just a moment. If you don't give me an answer by the time I get to one, you'd best have a good memory for visuals...because you'll never use these eyes again. The count starts now."
Supergirl tried to go to Dev, but Laurel grabbed her by the arm. Kara hoped Dev was bluffing. She knew, somehow, he wasn't.
An instant later, Adam spurt out, "Gah!", and began convulsing in his captors' grasp. His leg flailed back and struck Superman III in the thigh. The third Man of Steel grabbed Adam's leg in a scissors grip. Superman V grabbed Adam's other leg. Even one limb of a villain of his power might be enough to kick the Legion's headquarters to pieces.
Kara broke away from Laurel and pulled Dev's hand back. "Stop, Dev. Don't you see? He's trying to tell us, but he can't. Mordru must have put some sort of mindblock on him. If he tries to give us information, he'll go into convulsions. Maybe die."
"My heart is just so eaten up by sympathy," rasped Dev-Em. "How do we get the block off him?"
Dawnstar said, "Perhaps Mysa and I may be of aid in that, Dev."
Shadow Lass turned to Dawnstar in confusion. "You, Dawny? What the heck are you talking about? You're a spatial navigator, not a mystic or telepath."
"I am a navigator, Tasmia," said Dawnstar, her white wings opening impressively for a moment. "But I am also one of The People. I was taken to my tribe's shaman for a vision quest when I was but four. If Mysa can use her magic to take us within Adam's mind, I may use my tracking gift to guide us to that which we seek therein. Shall we proceed, Mysa?"
White Witch said, "I guess pointing out we could possibly get lost in there forever behind Mordru's blockage is pretty superfluous now, right?"
"We have guts," said Dawnstar, her back turned to Constantine. "We must try."
Black Adam's convulsions had abated now. He hung, sweaty and limp, in the grasp of the Supermen. Mysa told them, "Have him kneel. We're going to do this sitting down." He offered no resistance as the three Kryptonians pushed him to his knees.
"Do what the ladies tell you to do," said Superman III.
Mysa Nal and Dawnstar sat on the floor, Mysa squatting on her legs and Dawny cross-legged. The sorceress stretched forth her hands, laying one on Dawnstar's head (her eyes were already closed) and the other on Adam's. "With me, Dawnstar," said Mysa, and both of them seemed to breathe in rhythm. The others watched in fascination, except for Constantine, who was nonetheless silent and intent. Kara guessed that he knew what the two Legionnaires were trying to do.
Supergirl grasped Dev's left hand. He shot her an inquisitive look. She pulled him over to Laurel, and had them grasp one hand apiece. Then she went to Superman VI, who looked at her with suspicion.
"Come on," she urged. "We're going to do a prayer unit."
"I've not done one of those since childhood," confessed the sixth Superman.
"High time you did it again," said Kara, and pulled him over to Kara and Laurel. She grasped Dev's right hand, and put her other hand in Superman VI's. He, in turn, took Laurel's free hand, completing the circle. Kara closed her eyes and began the chant in Kryptonian, asking favor from Rao, begging forgiveness of transgressions, urging him to consider their purpose.
And if you don't, thought Dev, there'll be a lot fewer Raotians on this side of the veil, so give us a hand, will ya?
Constantine went and sat beside Dream Girl. "Ain't bloody much I can do at this point," he muttered. "I'll have a bit more to do later on, though. The Superpeople, they havin' a prayer meetin'?"
Dream Girl, turned off by him, said, stiffly, "What's wrong with that? Haven't you ever prayed before?"
The trenchcoated man flinched. "I pray to one side, all they'll probably do is send down a hook with a ‘Sorry, Charlie' sign on it. I pray to the other, they might send out a bleedin' search-and-destroy unit, ram a spit up me arse, and bring me down to the barbecue. All I really can do is kind of send out an all-points alarm, sayin', ‘Folks, it's only me, doin' a job, so don't put too much in the way, please and thank you.' Then I go do it."
Despite herself, Nura softened a bit. "Sounds very lonely. Do you really have no faith, John? Seems kind of strange, considering your line of work."
"Oh, I got faith all over the friggin' place, missy. I got faith oozin' out of every orifice. Difference is, I know what's on the other side, or at least a lot of it. I know damn well what's ahead of me. All I can do is try keepin' it away, one more day, every time I wake up. So far it's worked. And it's been kind of interesting."
Star Boy, who was Dream Girl's lover, caught sight of them and started to sit beside them. Nura waved him away. "It's all right, Thom. We're only talking."
"Make sure of it," said Star Boy, favoring Constantine with a warning look. But he did move away.
Nura said, "You talked about a couple of teams you had. Was that like the ancient Justice League? You weren't a member, were you?"
Constantine laughed. "Not hardly. No, the League's standards ain't gone that low. These were just some mates I'd run across in my time. You probably wouldn't know ‘em. The homeboys were guys like, let's see, Zatanna, who was certainly no guy. And Zatara, her father. Baron Winters. Occult. Prince Ibis and Taia, which was his wife. That other Prince, Ra-Man. Sargon. Plus Steve Dayton, an old friend, who called himself Mento. Last but not least, that Mr. Mystic guy, from Earth Whatsis, X, I believe. I had to put us around Winters's bleedin' banquet table, there was so many of us. I was in charge of the thing, like a damn General Montgomery of the seance table. On the away team, there was a lot of types you wouldn't know. Maybe Dr. Fate, you'd know him. Plus that Deadman spook, and Merlin's Demon, and the Stranger, and Spectre, and Swampy. Swamp Stuff was the one who really carried it off. I knew he'd be good for something in the long run. After that, everybody went home. Almost everybody. Me and Occult went out to McDonalds, I brought Winter back an Egg McMuffin, and I caught a flight back."
Dream Girl shifted her bathing-suited form in her seat. "I believe you said some didn't come back."
"No. They went home, all right...way home. Sargon didn't make it. Burned up in his seat."
"Burned up?" She looked at him in horror. "What do you mean, burned up? Someone started a fire?"
Constantine turned directly towards her, very grim. "I mean, burned up, ducky. Like somebody materialized a bloody thermite pill in your gut and touched it off. Foomp, like that. We had to keep going. Little while later, Zatanna started smokin'. Her daddy didn't like that, so he took the force inside himself. Again, foomp. His top hat was in the middle of the table, with the inside of the band still smoulderin'. We still had to hold their hands. Or what was left of ‘em. Dayton got to see what was over there, on the other side. Blew two circuits on his helmet and his mind went post toastee. Could'a happened to me, could'a happened to anyone there. I'm not sure who was luckiest."
Nura's eyes were very wide. It was awhile before she could say, "And this Dark did that?"
"That's what it did." He took a long draw on his cigarette. "And that's what we did. Nice bedtime story, what?"
"It's horrible," she said.
"It is at that, missy," he replied. "And unless I'm guessin' terribly wrong, we may have to do it again."
Brainiac 5 had moved away from the rest of the group and was conferring silently with one of Computo's hovering modes, through a thought-interface system he had built. Upon its screen, he called up a file covering Laurel Kent, from a medical and physiological standpoint. Few physicians or analysts could have penetrated its secrets as deeply as he did, and none living, probably, could have done it with his speed. He fed recent facts into the file, mentally. He asked Computo to draw projected conclusions. Then he designed what he wanted. He gave a command to Computo.
<Make it,> he ordered.
<Functioning,> replied Computo.
Brainiac favored the brunette Kryptonian girl with a glance. She was there, eyes closed, head lifted to the heavens, holding the hands of Dev and a Superman, joining them in the Rao-chant.
I hope her prayers cover this, he thought.
<Do you wish Computo to convey your request to Laurel Kent?> asked Computo.
Damn. <No, Computo,> thought Brainy. <For now, break contact.>
He had to be careful what he thought when he thought it, sometimes.
There was a shriek from the other side of the room. Brainiac wheeled, raced to its source. Dawnstar was out of her trance and looked drained. Mysa didn't look much better. Kara and her friends had stopped the Rao-chant.
None of them had been the one who screamed.
The scream had come from Black Adam.
He looked like hell, sweating up bayous under his arms and around his thighs and even down his face. Kara thought he looked like somebody who had hauled two truckloads of coal up Mount Everest with just normal human muscle power. He was gasping for breath.
For all that, Black Adam looked a bit relieved.
"Manitou," whispered Dawnstar. "Are we out again?"
"I think so," said Mysa. "I think...I think I am very tired."
Dream Girl was at her sister's side by now, holding her across the back and under a shoulder. "It'll be all right, Mysa," she said. "I'll get you to your room. You can sleep it off for awhile."
"No room," breathed Mysa. "I have work to do here. Dawny finally got me past the barrier. In his mind. I know what he has done. I know what we have to do...what the Supermen have to do."
"Where do we go?" said Dev-Em. "What do we do?"
The White Witch caught her breath and said, "Dawnstar can guide you. You have to enter the Earth-S dimension first. Then, to the Rock of Eternity. She will show you how to get there. From there...the Cosmic Axis. You must pull a small bit of rock from beneath it. If it does not crush you first. Then you may set it aright. If you hurry."
Superman II slapped a fist in one palm. "Show us the way, and we're there already." He turned to his descendants. "Gentlemen, if you please. And you, too, Dev."
"Never claimed to be a gentleman," said Dev. He turned to Black Adam. "Let's get this one in the brig again, first."
Black Adam's head came up. For once, his expression showed no rage or fear. Only a bit of tired calm.
"I'll go quietly," he said. And to Mysa and Dawnstar, he said, "Thank you."
Three Supermen led him away. Kara stepped over to Dawny and helped her up. "You did real good, kid," she said.
Dawnstar beamed. "I thank you, O Kara. Such a journey I would not repeat in this life. Despite Adam's manners, his mind is full of fury and vanity and violence. And getting under the mindblock Mordru provided him was like crawling under a suffocating sheet of lead...that lived. Without Mysa, I could not have done it."
"And without her, I wouldn't have done it," said Mysa. "You must go now, Dawny. Rokyn depends on you."
Laurel Kent put in her vote: "I'm going, too. Just for moral support. I may not have super-strength, but I'm, like, going to do my bit. I can't sit around giving the chairs calluses while Rokyn's endangered."
Kara ruffled Laurel's hair in a friendly fashion. "Listen here, Laurel. You have a good heart and a tough spirit. You're a credit to the whole El line. But take it from me...they'll need strength on this mission. And having another hanger-on, even as an observer, might cramp them too much. Let the boys go alone, this time. There'll be plenty of work here before we're done."
Laurel said, "But, Kara! Nobody saw me in any prophetic dreams. I can't help out in any magic. I've got to do something."
"No." Superman II weighed in, and settled the argument. "Kara is right, Laurel. You do us proud, even without all the powers your ancestors possessed. Even Kara has another duty to perform." He laid a powerful hand on her bare shoulder. "But your courage is the equal of any in our line. Rao will find some other way for you to serve."
Laurel looked crestfallen, and Kara felt sorry for her. Rao better find something for her to do, Supergirl thought, because I can't think of anything, either.
Nonetheless, Kara hugged her, because she thought she needed hugging. Laurel said, "Thank you, Kara. I'm sorry I can't, like...I'm just sorry, okay?"
"Hush, Laurel. You've been given much more than a normal woman would ever have. Even my power isn't enough, at times. Be grateful for the level you've got," said Supergirl. "I know that's pretty shopworn, but I've found it to be true."
Laurel drew in a long, sighing breath, and Kara heard the beginnings of fought-back tears in it. "I'll try, Kara. I'll really try."
Kara let Laurel go, and made her way over to Dev. They stood there, fumbling for words, for a few seconds. Then Kara said, "I hope you come back all right, Dev."
"Yeah, me too, Karaish. And I hope I've got you to come back to." He reached out a hand, traced her cheekbone gently. She grasped his hand, savoring its physical reality.
"If you don't, maybe you know what I feel about you," she said. "Will that be enough for right now?"
"It'll do," he said. "But if there's anything that'll get me through this thing...it's knowing there'll be a chance of seeing you again afterward." He paused. "Believe it. That's not a con, this time."
She wrinkled her nose. "Oh, Dev. I know when you're doing a con-job. Take this with you."
Kara grabbed him around the neck with both arms, pulled him down, and kissed him. They held each other very tightly for several seconds. Then she stiffened, thinking, Oh, no. Brainy. I forgot about him...
Dev broke the kiss, nuzzled the side of her face, and whispered, "It's all right, Kara. He'll just have to learn to live with it."
They held each other for several seconds more. Then they broke the clinch. Supergirl looked in Brainiac 5's direction. He had his back to them.
"Wait a minute, Dev," she said. Then she flew over to where Brainiac stood, facing Computo's mode-screen. "Brainy," she said. "I'm sorry. I didn't mean to do that in front of you."
He turned and gave her a very cool stare. "Beg pardon, Kara? I'm kind of busy here. Good luck on your mission."
She stood behind him as he turned back to the screen. She raised a hand, trying to think of something to say. Within a few seconds, Dream Girl took her by the arm and said, "Don't bother, Kara. We all know, by now."
Kara didn't look up from the floor as Nura led her to the meeting table, to sit beside her and Constantine. He looked up at them. "Hello again, Ms. Kara. Just checkin' through the dream data again, makin' sure it's all right. Dreamy here has the vision of the big war our boys went through in the Netherworld. Colossus has the one about Christ, Arthur, Hitler, and the spear, and where it's at in Jerusalem. You have the dream about carryin' somebody who's carryin' the spear, and The Dark Hand, and Mordru enterin' it, if we're too late. It all fits. Once Colossus gets here, we're going to send you both to Jerusalem to get the spear."
Feeling drained, Kara said, "And then what?"
"And then we'll probably send you both to Hell."