The utter darkness of sub-space still surrounded Rokyn.
Artificial lights blazed everywhere, holding back the night enough for that world's inhabitants to function. They were still in the Tunnel, and only a few hours away from emergence. Into a field of nuclear plasma.
Places of worship were crowded past capacity. Police tried in vain to curb riots. A number of suicide attempts were successful. The news services presented a host of commentators that looked more haggard by the minute.
All urged the Rokynians not to give up hope, at the same time they were admitting that this could be the end.
The ruling council was still trying to find a solution. More accurately, they were trying to do anything that would keep them from admitting total defeat.
And the phasing of Rokyn went on.
None could yet stop the planet's march into the being of a nova star.
Element Lad had reentered the Legion cruiser. He was grimly conferring with his fellows, as they watched the tiny figure of Ar-Ual still pushing the leaden asteroid towards Daxam.
There were more than a score of Daxamite ships in the area, staying far enough away from the asteroid so that its leaden sea did not endanger their crews, but radiating force-fields to block her, trying to push her or pull her away with tractor beams, even trying to destroy her with their armament. Mordru's force-field was adamant. The best they could do was slow her down.
If she stopped pushing the asteroid, the Daxam ships might have been able to immobilize it. Indeed, she had tried stopping once, and the spasms of agony that Mordru's spell had brought on convinced her to keep on with her task. So she did.
"That force-field she's under will have to drop when she's near enough to dump that load," he said to Mon-El. "I can try to get under it at that point and transmute it to something else. But it'll be risky."
Mon-El was holding back his terror. His people, the inhabitants of Daxam, were about to be poisoned to death by a sea of lead, as deadly to them as Kryptonite was to Rokynians. Once exposed, their death warrant was signed. No removal of them from the proximity of the lead would undo the harm.
"You can get most of it," said Mon-El. "But unless you get all of it..."
Blok rumbled, "Perhaps we have been relying on the wrong means to penetrate Mordru's force-field. Perhaps we should use a practicioner of magic to unravel it."
Sun Boy said, "It's a little late for that. Daxamites aren't any better for sorcery than Rokynians. Can we get any wizards here for an attempt?"
Element Lad shook his head. "I don't know. I think we've only got an hour or so before she gets within planetary range. We can't get White Witch here in time, and I don't know of any in her class on reachable planets. But we could try." He turned to Saturn Girl. "Imra, send out a request for any adepts on inhabited worlds nearby. I doubt they'll be strong enough to counter Mordru's spell, but what the hell."
"Got it," said Saturn Girl, and went to the communications chair.
Magnetic Kid, whose brother had transferred to the other ship to head back to Earth, stood beside Lightning Lad and Lightning Lass, observing the others. "I've really got to hand it to Mon," he remarked. "If it was Braal under this kind of threat, I don't know that I could hold myself together."
"Shush," said Ayla Ranzz, Lightning Lass. "He'll hear you."
Mon-El jerked his head around to see them. He had an expression of fury on his face.
Before they could stop him, he shot past them to another chamber, went into an airlock, and, clad in a spacesuit and carrying a propulsion unit, was out of the ship.
On the viewscreen, the Legionnaires watched his blurred form hurtling towards Ar-Ual and the asteroid with the leaden sea.
He bounced off the force-field without even making it spark. From the movement of his body as he caromed off into the void, they could tell that the impact had knocked him unconscious.
"Get him in with a tractor beam," said El Lad.
After that, nobody on board had much to say.
On Earth, Mysa Nal completed her spell-casting and a small space-warp opened within Legion headquarters. The Supermen and Dev could have vibrated themselves into another plane unaided, but they didn't know what effect that would have on Dawnstar, who was going with them as a guide. The warp would only remain for a few seconds.
"Bye, Kara," said Dev, turning back for one last look at Supergirl. "All right, lady and gents, let's go!"
Dawnstar led the way, her great white wings spreading first to catch the air and then to propel her up and forward. She went through the magic-made rent in space, through which was vaguely visible a glimpse of an Earth that looked akin to their own, reassuringly. The Legion had never before crossed over to this Earth, though.
Dev-Em was right behind her, followed by the phalanx of Supermen. They followed faster than the unaided eye could perceive them. After the sixth Superman had entered (they even had a protocol for this, it seemed), the warp-iris closed shut behind them. White Witch ceased her concentration and breathed a sigh of relief.
Kara breathed a last prayer to Rao on their behalf, and prayed especially hard for Dev to be brought back to her.
The six Kryptonians and Dawnstar emerged on a plaza on the world called Earth-S, whose designation was still taken from the wizard Shazam, who had given powers to Captain Marvel and his family a millenium ago. A politician was making a speech. The septet appeared under his floating dais and upset it, tumbling him off. Superman III caught him. "Sorry," he said, and deposited him safely on the ground.
By the time the police droids converged on the newcomers, they were already out of the atmosphere.
A 55-year-old black-haired man in the crowd had beheld the incident, and decided the phalanx of aliens could bear some observation. After all, it only took a word.
He spoke it and was gone.
Within her prison cube, Satan Girl seethed. Even at her full power, these metal walls would be proof against her. And, thanks to the trace of Kryptonite in her shackles, she was hardly at her full power.
At least her jaw seemed to be mended. Perhaps Drang had done that for her, when he had inhabited her. Perhaps she just healed fast. Whatever the case, it was whole, though it gave her a twinge every now and then.
She clashed the padded inertron chains between her wrists against the side of the cube. Thrice now, she had had the opportunity to destroy Supergirl. Thrice now, she had failed. Once, because the cowardly bitch had run out on her. Once, because Satan Girl had underestimated her. Once, because Drang had fouled her up with his cursed inhabitation.
But she was still alive, oh, yes, alive. And she would yet have a chance to tear Supergirl's throat out. No toying with her, no beating her up just to watch her suffer. She would go in there to kill, and she would kill.
Would it make more sense to kill the Legionnaires before or after she destroyed Kara? She decided that when she emerged, if Supergirl was not there, she would murder any Legionnaires she found. Then she would destroy her counterpart when she found her. If Supergirl and the Legion were there, she would find a way to cut her out of the crowd, isolate them both, and destroy her.
If it were only Supergirl, then Supergirl would die. Even if it meant Satan Girl's death in the process.
<Do you wish freedom?>
Satan Girl whipped her head around, bonking it painfully into the side of the cube. A voice within her head. A voice. Whose voice?
<Do you wish freedom?>
That was not Mordru's voice. She was beginning to dislike him. After all, he had the power to free her from ten such cubes as these, if he'd bother to pay some attention to her plight. It wasn't as if she weren't carrying his child.
But whose voice was it?
<Do you wish--> it began again.
"Yes, yes, yes, I wish freedom all over the place," she snapped, aloud. "I wish freedom enough to get out of here and tear that little bitch into all of her component parts and put them in specimen jars. Of course, I want freedom. Who the hell are you? What do you want me to do?"
The next thing she heard was a roaring noise like an explosion.
The next thing she saw was a circular opening in the back of her cell.
She had to propel herself backwards into it, but the attracting force emanating from it would have been hard to resist at any rate.
Satan Girl had a sensation of passage within something like a cosmic subway passage. It mattered little to her. Wherever she ended up, she could find her way back to Earth. And she would.
She emerged, landing on her back on a cool, obsidian-black stone floor. She spun around, gained her footing, sprang to her feet.
Round about was a chamber of strange instrumentation. Scientific devices of various sorts, which she barely comprehended. Several humanoid figures were within. One of them, in darkness, was massive indeed.
"Thank you," she said, nastily, to her host. "Get these shackles off me and tell me who you are."
"Not yet," said the dark being.
She started walking towards him. Before she managed four steps, two armored men were before her. They unsheathed tubelike weapons from their waists, activated them, and set up a barrier of crossed rays between them. She touched the lattice of rays with her shackled hands and cried out in pain.
Someone was behind her. She kicked back at him and connected, hard. He writhed on the floor.
By that time, more guards arrived, and lay hands on her. She cursed in the blackest manner she knew how. If she could only remove these damnable shackles, she would reduce them all to a thin layer of goo covering the floor of this chamber.
That was the last thought she formulated before a stunner charge was applied to the back of her neck.
Two guards caught her as she dropped. They bundled her over to a large, transparent tube. The massive leader activated a control switch and a large section in its front retracted. Satan Girl was placed inside, still unconscious. The front section shot back into place. A hum of energies filled the interior of the tube.
Satan Girl lay there, shackled hands in her lap, stretched out in dreams that were anything but peaceful.
"We shall keep her in the stasis tube until her harvest is ready," rumbled the leader.
"And afterward, milord?" said an aide nearby.
Without turning, the leader said, "After the harvest, we shall send her back, to deal with Supergirl."
The sensor alarm went off in Legion headquarters as soon as Computo detected Satan Girl's abscence from the cell. Supergirl was the first to arrive there, after the robot voice said, "Alert, E-status. Prisoner absent from cell. Prisoner absent from cell." Kara thought wildly about throwing the cell door open, decided that would be a really dumb move, and went to the viewscreens that monitored the interiors of the cells. Black Adam was still enconsced within his cubicle, chanting an Egyptian poem to pass the time.
Satan Girl was out.
"Computo," she said, tensely, as Brainiac 5 and the others ran into the chamber. "Playback events of prisoner's escape."
All that showed up on the screen was multicolored snow. "Interference," said Computo. "Events of 14:36:01 to 14:37:20 have been blocked. No data recorded."
"Somebody blocked off Computo while they were getting her out," said Brainiac 5. "Somebody like Mordru. Only someone with his kind of power could do that to my computer. Computo, secure defenses. Admit only incoming Legionnaires. Scratch that, Cos has guests. Admit only Legionnaires and friendlies accompanying them."
"Directive obeyed," said Computo. A tone in the intercom system let them know that a force-field had been activated about the building. Since the incursion of Professor Zoom, Brainy had improved the Legion's already-powerful defenses. And it still hadn't been enough to keep whoever was responsible from liberating Satan Girl from a reinforced inertron cell.
Supergirl sighed. "It'd be too much to hope that she just faded away, like she did when she merged back into my body the last time. Great Rao, Brainy, what are we going to do?"
"If we can manage it, we're going to send you on the mission with Gim," said Brainiac, showing the strain. "We'll worry about Satan Girl later."
Constantine and White Witch stood together, but the others--Timber Wolf, Star Boy, Dream Girl, Shadow Lass, and Laurel Kent--were close by. Timber Wolf rumbled, "It doesn't make sense. If Mordru took her, why hasn't he attacked?"
"Maybe he's waiting for something," said Supergirl. "Maybe someone else set her free. Oh, I don't know. Why don't we grill Adam and Drang about it? And, Brainy, why in Sheol haven't they found a way to save Rokyn and Daxam yet?"
Laurel was just about to cry from frustration, Kara noted. Shadow Lass noticed it as well, put her arm about Laurel's shoulder, and talked to her quietly. Kara hoped it would do some good.
"Kara, I'm not God," said Brainy, and the harshness of his tone took her aback. "I'm thinking as hard as I can. Let me put through a call again. John, Mysa, you interrogate Drang. Thom, Brin, query Adam. The rest of you, find something to do till the ship gets in."
Constantine and White Witch left for the meeting room, where Drang was still confined within the blue chalk circle. Star Boy and Timber Wolf went to the interface, opened a comlink with Black Adam's cell, and began talking with him. Supergirl went to Brainy, who was still showing her his back.
"Brainy, turn around," she said. "Look at me."
"We can talk just as well this way," he said, in a neutral voice.
"No, we can't." She grabbed him by the shoulder and spun him around, with force that would not be balked. He looked at her, angrily. She said, "If I've made you feel bad, I apologize. But I wasn't kissing Dev to hurt you. And I have the right to love anyone I choose, and we both know it."
"You certainly do, Kara," he said. "As I have the right to ignore you." He tried to pass her by.
"Stop it, Brainy!" She grabbed him by the arms and held him fast. "We have to settle this now. I know you aren't dumb enough to let this get in the way of Legion business. But I'm damned well not going to--to go off to Hell, or wherever--with you hating me because I love Dev. You at least owe me the privelage of explaining. Or trying to."
He said, "Kara, you have the right to choose anyone you want to. Even that arrogant muscle-boy of your own kind with the fake British accent. I'm quite well aware that I'm not a Rokynian. I'm as incapable of lifting buildings over my head as he is probably incapable of doing long division. You can date him, you can bed him, you can marry him and bear his children, if that's what you wish. You can even consummate your union on the meeting room table, if it'll stand the strain. But I don't have to be there to see it." He shook her hand off.
Kara sighed, shook her head. "Brainy, would you get it through your thick skull that I'm not doing this just to hurt you? I like you. I always have. There was...all right, is this a time for honesty? There was a time when I even wanted to love you. There was a time when I tried to make myself feel love for you, woman love. But, Brainy...I couldn't."
Brainiac 5 said nothing.
She knew the others were listening, but at this point, Kara didn't give a damn. She threw her hands out at him, trying to make him understand. "It's not that there was something wrong about you, or inadequate. Rao knows, you're one of the nicest guys I've ever met. Certainly the smartest. But, Brainy--Querl--there's more to love than that. If it doesn't click, you can't fall in love. And if two people don't click for each other..." She paused. "What can I say? Brainy, straight up. Did I ever tell you that I was in love with you?"
"No," he said, quietly. "No, you didn't."
"I liked being around you. I even told you once that you were cute. But, Querl, that's just not the same thing as love. And if you've loved me, or if you do love me...or even hold me as a friend, I wish you loved me enough to try and understand. There's something more between Dev and I than what you and I felt for each other. It's not like we planned it that way. We didn't do it to hurt you. I wasn't trying to break your heart. Perhaps I shouldn't have kissed Dev that way in front of you--"
Brainiac said, "Kara. Listen to me. Did you enjoy kissing him?"
"Yes, I did," she said, simply, and waited for him.
"Do you think that he loves you back?"
"Yes, I do," she answered, and waited again.
"All right, then. That's all there is to be said. But, Kara..." He paused, trying to marshal his words. "...This is not an easy thing for me. I did love you. The ‘click', as you put it, was there for me. I realized, some time back--as I admitted to you, and to the others, when we were getting Dawnstar back on track--that my love would be unrequited. Nonetheless, unrequited love is better than no love at all. I felt better about myself, just loving you, irregardless of whether you returned that love or not. Tasmia, Shadow Lass, once indicated that she might be interested in me, but she learned of my love for you, and that's how she wound up with Mon-El. Thanks to this love, I have no one. But as long as I saw you loving no one else, I could preserve, in some part of me, the fantasy that you might someday, somehow, return my love. Do you understand?"
Kara, now conscious that the whole room was silent, replied, "I think so, Brainy."
"I saw what was building between you and Dev. I'm still not certain he's not doing it just to get you in bed. No, don't bother, I shouldn't have said that, I apologize. But. When I saw you two kissing...I knew that part of me that held the fantasy had just died. And I am very sad that part is dead, and that I will have to accept its death. And right now, I have three major crises to cope with, each of which is bigger than the problems of two, or perhaps three, little people. Do you understand that, Kara?"
"Yes," she said, fighting back tears. Good lord, what a mistake coming here has been, she thought. First, I had Dawnstar hating me...and now this, with Brainy.
"Right now, I don't have the time to be noble," he said. "If we come through this, perhaps my emotions--my ‘heart', as you put it--will have space enough and time enough to let the hurt come to full fruition, blossom, and die. For right now, I have other things to worry about. But, Kara." He looked at her, with a sad expression. "You are right. I do want the best for you. I want what makes you happy. And if that is Dev, go. I wish you--" He ground it out. "If that is what makes you happy, then I wish you happiness."
Kara stood there, before him, for a long pause, then flew forward and tried to hug him in gratitude. He pushed her back, firmly. "No, Kara. Thank you, but--no."
She said, falteringly, "Brainy, I--"
He held a finger to her mouth. "No. Let it pass. We are Legionnaires, and friends. That is sufficient." He dropped his hand. He turned to Laurel, who was standing some ten feet away, but who had been hanging on every word of the exchange. "Laurel, I think I have something for you. Come with me."
Wordlessly, Laurel approached them. She hesitated as she passed by Kara. Not looking up, Kara said, "Go on, Laurel. Go with him." Laurel passed on.
The other Legionnaires pretended to be oblivious to the exchange, as a courtesy to Brainy and Kara. All except Dream Girl, who came to Supergirl's side and took her hand. Thom got up, looking as though he would come to console her as well, but she shook her head at him and he sat back down.
"If you want to talk to me, we can go outside and talk," murmured Dream Girl. "Sometimes, it's nice to have a third party to talk to, believe it."
"It's all right, Nura, thanks," sniffed Kara. "Damn it. I'm glad things worked out the way they did with Dev...but I'm so damn sorry about Brainy."
"Sometimes these things happen, Kara," said Dream Girl. "At least Brainy isn't like that crazy who tried to kill Thom once, so he could get to me--as if."
Kara's shoulders were shaking. Dream Girl gently guided her out of the room. When they were outside, Kara said, in a choking voice, "Oh, Nura, if I have to go to Hell, I don't care. Even if it is Hell, it's got to be better than this."
The second Legion cruiser emerged from the warp near Earthspace, decelerated, hit atmosphere, and began landing procedures. Within the hour, it had touched down safely at the spaceport adjoining Legion headquarters.
Colossal Boy, Cosmic Boy, Tellus, Polar Boy, Sensor Girl, Shrinking Violet, and Phantom Girl emerged first. Bringing up the rear were Ultra Boy, Power Boy, Captain Action, and Action Boy, carrying their comatose prisoners Professor Zoom, Krellik, and Tyr.
"Still think you're up for it, Gim?" said Cosmic Boy, quietly. "There's not a Legionnaire here that would blame you, if you declined."
The Israeli member of the Legion had regained most of his emotional stability since recording his dream data and sending it to his teammates, and felt even better after talking to Constantine. But the thought of what was yet required of him gave him more than a twinge of fear.
"I'm up for it, Cos," he said, squaring his shoulders. "Take me to Supergirl, and let's get this thing done."
They came to the Legion's headquarters building, were admitted through the force-field by Computo, and entered.
In Legion Cruiser One, Element Lad, Blok, Magnetic Kid, Lightning Lad, Lightning Lass, Mon-El, Saturn Girl, and Sun Boy still followed Ar-Ual and the asteroid on the viewscreen. A second screen was trained on the space which Rokyn had occupied. A third was a comlink to Legion HQ. El Lad looked up at Sun Boy.
"Dirk, any change reported in the Rokyn thing?"
Sun Boy shook his head. "Not a bit. The phase engines can't bring it back. It's too far gone. If they've managed to do anything for themselves on Rokyn, we don't know about it."
"Kal-El's people's world is about to be vaporized," said Mon-El, in a zombie-like tone. "Daxxam will still be there. But everybody on it'll be dead." He snorted grimly. "Maybe we win out. At least the planet will still be there."
Element Lad whirled around so fast he banged an elbow into Blok. "OW!" he yelled, rubbing his arm.
"Sorry," said Blok.
"Don't worry," said El Lad. "Mon, what you just said...the planet still being there. Mon, you may be a freaking genius."
"What?" said Mon-El.
"Garth, open a channel to the U.P.," said Jan Arrah. "I think we've got something."
"What?" said Mon-El, grabbing his teammate's unhurt arm.
Jan looked at Mon, his face showing hope. "Let's see if we can do it, first."
And Lightning Lad opened the channel to United Planets headquarters.
Within the Earth-S universe, the five Supermen and Dev-Em flew as a phalanx, with Dawnstar leading, and Dev-Em close enough behind her that he could grab her and draw her back into their midst if they should run into traps of some sort along the way. But for now, the Legion's supreme tracker bulleted forward, as focused as a samurai, her telekinetic flight ability driving her foward, the six Kryptonians behind her, all of them travelling at a speed that reduced light velocity to a crawl.
From the information she had taken from Black Adam's mind, she was able to guide them inerringly. Dawnstar shifted position, and they shifted with her, to the exact degree. They vanished into a warphole that had long been used by the Marvel Family, and others like them, when they wished to travel in space and time.
None of them noticed the figure flying quite a distance behind them. They were concentrating on other things.
Once within the warp, Dawnstar pointed them in the direction of a barely visible target. The Kryptonians used their super-vision and picked it out. A huge rock, hanging in warp-space, with a number of inhabitations on its face. The architecture suggested both classical Greek and Roman motif, with some traces of a Hebrew temple-like structure on it as well.
<The Rock of Eternity,> said Superman II. <Dad told me about coming here, on several occasions.>
<Maybe we should chip off a piece as a souvenir,> said Superman V. <Imagine having something from that for a paperweight.>
<Father, please,> sent Superman VI.
Dev gave a mental sigh. <Minds on the job, people. How close do we get, Dawny?>
<A bit closer,> sent the winged woman. That was the first message she had sent since the start of their flight, and she resumed her silence afterward.
Their course brought them close indeed, until they got to the event horizon which would take them to their destination. Then they veered off as Dawnstar pulled up and took off at a precise angle. The Eternity Rock was the gateway to everywhere in this dimension, and other planes could be reached from it as well. The delta-shaped group of superbeings flew on, and none of them doubted that Dawnstar had chosen the proper route.
They were barely gone from sight before a wizened, white-bearded figure emerged from one of the buildings on its summit. Seconds later, the being who had been trailing the septet alighted before him.
"Old one, I greet you with honor," he said. "Do you know if these seven be friend or foe?"
"I sense no overt evil within them," said the whitebeard. "They could probably use your help."
"Then such they will have," said the newcomer, and vaulted into space again.
The bearded man looked upon his protégé and smiled. Not so much as a "farewell" as he flew off.
Ah, well, gods and heroes knew he'd been in just as much of a hurry when he wore the suit.
Maybe he could bring them back for a visit, once they were done. Maybe not. At any rate, he had things to do. He went back inside, and started work again on a list of jokes for Zeus's roast of Solomon at the banquet that night.
Talking about the wives was too easy, he decided. Maybe the two women and the baby? Yes, that might be better.
And the flying man vanished from sight of the Rock of Eternity.
Darkness with lights, darkness with lights.
Mordru bestirred himself. The knowledge of the long-ago conflict before Man had been interesting. The history of Cthulu and his relatives he knew, but not in such scope. Nabu and the Order Lords, Melderkin and the Lords of Chaos, the Realms above and below, Asgard, Niffleheim, Olympus, Tartarus, the Border Worlds, the Dreaming, the Realms of Death, all of that and more, encoded within the facets of this little gem. Even with his own great powers of comprehension, even boosted with the helms of Chaos and Order, there was only so much he had the power to grasp, at this point.
He allowed himself the luxury of reflection, of wishing. Perhaps, if he still cared afterward, he would annihilate the Legionnaires. He could find them wherever he was. If his lieutenants had failed, he would tend to them.
He could also turn his attention to the accursed 20th Century, and wipe each Earth clean of heroes. Or he could simply destroy each Earth. Wasteful, but perhaps necessary. Other heroes could arise to replace those he slaughtered, if he left them.
Or perhaps he would just let them all live, and torture them in ways even he could not yet contemplate.
That would be for afterward.
He had greater things to accomplish right now.
Mordru oriented himself to what he thought of as a standing position, exerted a small fraction of his power, and began to open barriers few would have detected, and fewer still could have breached.
The entities about him screeched in fear and hatred, and tried battening upon him. They were of no consequence.
Mordru smiled, and wondered what it would be like to touch the Hand.