Brainiac 5 needed sleep, but he had to finish this task first. In a section of the Legion's medical center, he had Laurel Kent lying down in a reclining chair, her eyes closed, her hands grasping two rods which were connected by leads to a measuring apparatus. The grips were used to measure strength, and Computo had constructed them of Inertron and Daxamite plastic per his instructions. Even Mon-El could squeeze these grips, without fear of damaging them. He hoped.
Now he was about to find out if he was a fair enough hypnotist to do what he had purposed.
"Laurel," he said. "Nod your head if you can hear me."
She nodded, her eyes still closed. Hopefully, she was still in a deep enough trance.
"I want you to think back to your fight with Ar-Ual," he said. "Please. Do this for me."
"No," whimpered Laurel. His lips tightened. She was a brave girl, but she'd taken some punishment in that battle.
"Laurel, it is important that you think back to your fight with Ar-Ual. The Legion depends on it. You are fighting Ar-Ual. What is happening?"
The entranced beauty in the black bikini and red cape gritted her teeth. "I'm hitting her. Hard as I can. All over. Even kicking her. She doesn't feel it. I want to show them."
"Dev and Kara. Want to show them I can keep up. But...ahhhh!"
Brainy drew in breath. "Laurel. Stay with me. It's important to the Legion's survival that you stay with me. What is she doing to you?"
"She's...beating me up. All over. I'm getting hit. Getting scratched. It hurts. It hurts! No more! Take her away!"
"Laurel, stay with me. It'll only be for a little while longer. What's happening now?"
"She's still...hitting me. And I'm hurt. She may kill me. She's so much stronger...I'm scared. She may kill me. I'm looking bad! Kara and Dev will see me! I don't want her to kill me! I'm scared...I'm mad! I hit her!"
"You hit her," said Brainy. "What happens?"
Laurel suddenly calmed, as if astonished. "She's flying away from me."
"What does she look like, Laurel?"
"She looks like I hurt her."
Brainy hesitated for a second. "Do you feel stronger?"
"Yes. Yes, I feel stronger. Seems to be fading now. But I felt stronger. Felt like Kara. Ar-Ual's coming back."
"Laurel. The battle is over now. You're in a safe place. Now, I want you to do something for me. It's important to the Legion." Brainiac 5 ran a hand through his blond hair. This was the most important step, or one of the most important, anyway. He went on.
"Laurel. I want you to try to feel that way again, to gain that strength, all those Kryptonian powers, when you say the words, ‘Power On.' Then I want you to squeeze these grips just as hard as you can. Then when you say the words, ‘Power Off,' your powers will fade. This is very important to the Legion, Laurel. It's important to you. Will you say these words for me, Laurel?"
"Yes," she said, in a dreamy whisper. Her hands were limp on the grips.
"Laurel. Say ‘Power On'."
"Power On," she said.
She squeezed the grips.
Brainy watched her arm muscles flex into definition. She was gripping and squeezing. He looked at the readout on the wall monitor. She was at the level of a normal human female. Could it be he'd guessed wrong? Could Computo's calculations be faulty? Had he fed it garbage? If so, he'd try again. But not before he had some sleep.
He shot the monitor another look. Suddenly, the pressure on the grips had jumped. It was at a level 20 times that of peak human capacity, and growing.
Querl looked at the lovely girl on the recliner. Her teeth were clenched with effort, and she was beginning to break a light sweat. But she hadn't peaked yet, and she was still squeezing hard. She banged her arms against the armrests of the chair.
They bent outward.
Brainy was wide-eyed. The monitor was showing a pressure increase so rapid his eyes couldn't track it. It was way past Timber Wolf's level. It was still climbing.
"Remarkable," he breathed. The pressure level was approaching the magical Krypton-class plateau. Come on, Laurel, he silently urged. Come on...
There was another jump of power, and a crunch of broken substance.
Brainiac looked at her.
Laurel had crushed the grips. She was still trying to squeeze them.
"Laurel," he said. "Say ‘Power Down'."
"Power Down," she repeated. She was still trying hard to squeeze the grips.
"Laurel, stop squeezing the grips." She obeyed. Her tired hands let loose the wires and fragments of Daxamite plastic and metal. Her arms flopped down to her lap. The armrests were out of reach.
"All right," he said. "I'm going to bring you out of your trance in just a moment, Laurel. But when I do, you will remember to say ‘Power Up' when you need to use your powers, and ‘Power Down' when you're finished using them. Will you remember that, Laurel?"
"Yes," she said. Now her face held not only calmness, but, he noted, a bit of satisfaction.
"Laurel, you'll come out of your trance on the count of three. One, two...three."
She opened her eyes, lifted her head. "Wow. Brainy, I feel kind of tired. How did I do?"
"Computo," he said. "Strength level readout."
The synthed voice emerged from a wall speaker. "Subject: Laurel Kent. Exerted pressure at 1.09 level of Krypton / Daxam-class female. Damage of instruments prevented further observance."
He leaned on one of the wrenched armrests and gave her a tired smile. "I'd say you did pretty well. You can tell the others. I'm going to get a little Quicksleep first."
Element Lad, in the Legion cruiser near Daxam, had gotten through to the United Planets security council. He stated what he wanted, in a very few words.
"Phase engines," he said. "As many as possible, as fast as you can. Bring them here. Now."
Chairman H'lpz ran his stalklike extensors over a portion of table while an interface brought up the necessary data. "We can bring 50 within the hour."
Jan Arrah ground his teeth. "We'll need at least 100 more than that. Daxam's a big planet."
H'lpz was silent for a few seconds, then said, "Apologies, Legionnaire. 150 have been dispatched to Rokyn. We cannot get them to you in time."
For as many seconds, Element Lad paused, his gut churning with frustration. Then his hand stabbed out at the viewscreen where the chairman's image was held.
"Oh, yes, you can, Mr. Chairman," said Jan. "Let me tell you how."
The returning contingent of Legionnaires was greeted with tired jubilation. There were the suitable instances of handshakes, hugs, cheek-kissing, and several variants of high-fives, all out on the plaza in front of the HQ building. Captain Action and Action Boy had already met the other Legionnaires and Constantine, having been collected by them after their trip to 20th Century London. Nonetheless, both were still impressed by the grandeur and high-tech opulence of the Legion's headquarters building. But they were getting used to being impressed by the 30th Century.
"This is just too far out, Dad," said Action Boy, carrying a tranquilized Professor Zoom. "You don't suppose we could stay here, do you?"
Captain Action, a kayoed Krellik over his shoulder, said, "No, Carl. Dr. Evil is still at large. Until we end his menace, we can't leave our own time."
Carl gave his father a sober look. Dr. Evil, their greatest enemy, was Carl's grandfather, the mother of Action's late wife. They said nothing more about it.
Constantine hung back from most of the Legionnaires' greeting meeting. Supergirl noticed it and went to him. "Don't you want to meet the others?", she said.
He threw his cigarette down and ground it into the pavement. "‘Druther not," he said. He turned and started to go back in the building. She flew in front of him and stood there.
"John," she said. "I don't know you--"
"S'right, and you're bloody better off not," he snapped, giving her a surly look and starting to walk around her.
She grabbed him by the front of his trenchcoat. "--But, I do know that you need to at least shake hands with these people, if you intend to make this operation of yours work. So come on back with me."
He tried unhooking her hand, but she just held him tighter. He thought about trying to slip out of his coat backwards, but figured that a woman with the power of Superman would be able to grab him no matter what he did, if she wanted to.
"Look," he pointed out, as reasonably as he could. "I've nothing against you, sweetheart. I've nothing against the new troops. It's just that, if you've read the subtext what I gave you, the amount of people comin' out of my operations tends to be a few less than what went into ‘em. This way, it's easier on them, ‘cause they get to hate me afterward, and it's easier on me, ‘cause I don't get that attached to ‘em too hard. Izzat clear, Ms. Kara?"
She didn't agree, obviously. "We've had casualties before," she said, softly. "And we treasure our friendships, because we've seen how quickly they can end. Now come on." She shifted her grip to his arm, and herded him back to the Legionnaires. The first one she brought him to was Gim, who was talking with Dream Girl and White Witch. "Gim, this is John Constantine, in the flesh this time. He's been wanting to meet you, but he's shy. And John, this is Gim Allon, alias Colossal Boy. Go on, he doesn't bite."
Dream Girl and Mysa knew what was going on and grinned. Gim put out his red gloved hand, and John, not believing himself, shook it tentatively, then firmly. "S'you're Colossus," he said. "Pleased, I'm sure. Ever heard of the Cabala?"
Colossal Boy shook his head in wonder. "Sure, I've heard of it. Jewish mysticism. What's that got to do with me, John?"
"Nothin', mate, just thought you might have heard of it. It's good to see you. That dream really gave us a lot to work on." He leaned in closer, a bit more serious. "Think you're up to it?"
Gim gave him a relaxed expression. "I'm trained to be up to it."
John clapped him on the shoulder. "The spirit, mate. Sydney or the freakin' bush. See you at the Round Table." Gim grinned and clasped his arm in solidarity. Then he let him go.
Constantine gave Kara a grudging grin as they moved on. "This greeting the troops thing could get to be fun," he said. "Who's next?"
"Over here," she said, pulling him by the arm. "Tinya, Violet, hi! I want you to meet Mr. Constantine."
By the time his third greeting was over, Constantine was tugging on Supergirl's sleeve. "Kara, c'mon. There's some folks over here I haven't met yet. Give me some names, will you?"
It would be, the onboard computers predicted, no more than 30 minutes till Ar-Ual forced the asteroid within Daxam's atmosphere. Once there, she would overturn it, dump the lead sea into the atmosphere, and everyone on Daxam would sicken and die within a week. The Daxamite ships were still there, still trying everything in their power to stop her, and still failing.
To their credit, the Daxamian government had begun moving many of their population to what spacecraft they had, and hundreds of thousands were escaping that way. Other hundreds of thousands were being allowed through WarPorts for the first time, with only cursory review by the powers that be, and were emerging on other worlds within the United Planets. The problem with that, of course, was that not all lead could be removed from reception areas on planets where the Daxamites arrived. Inevitably, when the first ones came through, there were some deaths. The people in charge stopped the immigration, swept for lead, let more through, and hoped they had done their job well. If they had, nobody else died.
Nobody pretended that more than a small fraction of the Daxamites could be saved this way. But at least it was a better deal than the Rokynians got.
When thirty minutes remained, the first phase engine ships started showing up. Mon-El, who had been staring at the viewscreens as long as he physically could, was first to notice it. "They're here," he said. "Jan, look. The first ships are here!"
The Legionnaires looked.
The phase engine ships were massive, floating dynamos with broadcast dishes. In large enough number, in coordinated effort, they could project a pattern of teleportational energies which could, if enough ships were present to give the proper amount of coverage, phase an entire world into another dimensional plane. They could move smaller objects across space. The technology was akin to that of the WarPort, but on a much grander scale.
Ten were already within sight of the Legion scanner. More were coming.
Experimentally, one of the ships turned towards the lead-sea asteroid. It sent forth a teleportational beam in the great rock's direction. Nothing happened. The force-field of Mordru was proof against it. Two others joined in the phasing action, but the result was nil. They broke off the effort.
"Nice try," said Element Lad, "but we didn't think it'd work, either."
Blok said, "More ships are arriving. There is still a chance."
"There usually is," said Lightning Lad. "Only this time we don't get to do it ourselves. We have to depend on others."
Jan Arrah wheeled to face him, and his face was very snowy. "Garth. The last I heard, there was no Miracle Machine anymore. Matter-Eater Lad ate it. So I propose you take your jealousy pangs about not being able to charge in firing lightning bolts at the planet and--"
Magnetic Kid fairly leaped between them.
"Hold it, Element Lad, Lightning Lad, both of you." The kid didn't have the familiarity yet to call them by nicknames or first names. "Damp it down, please. Li--uh, Garth. I know it feels frustrating, but he's right. There isn't any way we can solve this with our powers. And, excuse me, Frer Jan, and I know you're uptight about this. So I can understand your overreaction. But it seems to me like--"
"It seems to me like I flew off the handle a bit," said Element Lad, smiling ruefully. "Truce, Garth?" He held out a hand.
Lightning Lad took it. "Forgotten, Jan." They shook. "But we're going to need a lot more than that out there." He gestured with his free hand to the screen. More ships had arrived, almost all of the fifty the U.P. had initially promised. They were positioning themselves in an arc around a section of Daxam.
"We're going to get it," said Jan. "The questions are, how many, and when. Keep praying."
And they did.
After the handshake party, the Legionnaires were about to troop into the building for the meeting. Constantine, still standing beside Kara, held up both his hands, in one of which he still held a cigarette. "Hold up, folks. Ah, your attention for a moment, please?" The heroes stopped and turned in his direction.
"First off, I'd like to thank you all for showing up, like. I'll try and sign a few ruddy autographs later." He attempted a smile.
"Autographs?" asked Ultra Boy.
Phantom Girl nudged him with her elbow. "It's supposed to be funny, Jo. Laugh a little, okay?" They both laughed, loudly, and some of the others caught on. Constantine looked a bit pleased, despite his practiced cynicism.
"My name's John Constantine, and I represent the same century as our lovely Ms. Kara here," he continued. She giggled, despite herself. "She got all the looks and powers. I got to be in a rock ‘n' roll band. Things even out."
"What's rock ‘n' roll?" said Power Boy.
"Laugh," said Shrinking Violet. And they did.
"Now, Ms. Kara and Colossus over there are going to have to take a short trip right now. Trust me, they'll both be back. They're just going to pick up a big swizzle stick we're gonna use on Mordru. We're going to get down to cases inside, I know, right quickly. I just think we owe this bird, er, girl, a round of applause, just as a going-away thing, and I promise we'll save her a piece of the pizza for when she gets back. That all right with you?"
The Legionnaires responded with a round of cheers, and a "Long Live the Legion!" Kara flushed, smiled, looked down, and stepped lightly on Constantine's shoe. She said, sotto voce, "John, if you do this again, I swear I'm gonna pancake your foot."
"Hey, I just wanted to say bloody ‘thank you', Kara," he said, also softly. "And one more thing."
"I hope your man makes it back," he said.
She looked up. Constantine looked at her, steadily. She had nothing to say. Briefly, she squeezed his hand, then let go. She sought out Colossal Boy and grabbed his arm. "C'mon, Gim, we've got a date in Israel, and your flight ring won't get you there as fast as me."
"Like you said," Gim murmured, and the two of them took off in a red-and-blue streak.
Scant seconds after they did, Laurel rushed out of the building. "Oh, holy Rao, hi, everybody! Like, where's Kara? I've got something I want to show you all."
Constantine cocked an eyebrow.
"She just left," said Polar Boy. "What's up, Laurel?"
"I'll show you what's up," she gushed. "Powers on!"
She gave her flight ring to a wondering Ultra Boy, then picked up Tellus and Cosmic Boy, one in each hand, hefted them lightly to show the others she could do it, and then sprang into the sky and flew with both of them.
Action Boy turned to his father. "Is this something unusual here, Dad?"
Captain Action, still carrying Krellik, said, "Let's file it under ‘usual', until we learn better." He approached White Witch. "Do you have someplace where we can stow this guy? And the others?"
White Witch, who had been following Laurel's flight with joy, finally looked at him. "Oh, sorry. Sure. Right this way."
They followed her.
Within a very short time, Supergirl and Gim Allon dropped out of the skies over Jerusalem. The IFF devices in their flight rings allowed them through the aerial checkpoints. Jews and Arabs had not made war on each other for a long time. That didn't mean they weren't careful.
Kara gave the city a brief scan, coming down. The Dome of the Rock was still there, but it looked different from her era. The Wailing Wall was there, but you had to enter a force-field to get to it. The Garden of Gethsemane was still preserved, as were the Tombs of the Virgin, King David, and the Kings. There were structures that were probably synagogues, churches, and mosques, but, outside of the symbols they displayed, they didn't look much like churches from her time.
Whatever. She was just glad Israel was still here.
The two of them touched down on top of an apartment building and got their bearings. "Where is it supposed to be, Gim?" she asked.
"Over there." He pointed in the general direction of the Zion Gate. He flew ahead and she followed.
A rabbi and his congregation, leaving a temple, looked up, pointed, and oohed and aahed. A priest caught sight of them outside his window, crossed himself, and assumed that the man and woman were not angelic until he had more to go on.
Supergirl and Colossal Boy landed near a thoroughfare full of land cars. "Around here?" she said. He nodded.
She trained her eyes on the ground below them.
Her X-ray vision pierced the concrete, foundation material, and soil as if they were not there. She had to admit, she enjoyed using this power. It was fun to be able to see through things.
Before Gim could say, "Maybe I was wrong," she was spinning right into the ground. He backed off as clods of dirt spurted up. He spit out the quantity of it that wandered into his mouth. Kara had turned into a human mole.
The hole she made was some six feet in diameter. She tunnelled down about 20 feet. Gim, walking over to it, heard her cry out. He rushed over to the edge of the hole.
Supergirl was holding her hands out as if they had been burned. She looked astonished.
By her booted feet, in the hole, mostly uncovered, was a simple, dirty, wooden spear with a metal tip. There didn't appear to be anything special about it.
"Gim," she said. "I think you're going to have to take it. I can't touch it."
"What happened?" he said, cautiously.
"It felt like my hands would burn off if I kept hold of it," she said. "Give it a try, okay?"
A policeman had stopped his hovercraft and was coming towards them. "What's going on here? Hey, are you..."
"Yes, officer, please," said Gim, and dived into the hole. He used his flight-ring to let himself down safely. Then he said to Kara, "You think something that could burn your hands off is going to be safe for me to touch?"
"Gim, please," she said. "You know about Kryptonians and magic. This thing may not be magic, but--it's got some kind of power."
He went over, stooped, gave the spear's head a touch. He half expected a Sistine Chapel ceiling spark.
He touched it again. Still nothing. After a third touch, he went ahead, grabbed it in both hands, and pulled it out of the earth.
"Hey, look at me," he joked. "The Jewish King Arthur."
The policeman was looking down at both of them, and some rubberneckers had gathered and were also trying to nudge their way into a looking point. "Get back there," said the cop to the crowd. To Colossal Boy he said, "Are you Gim Allon? Whether you are or not, you've got to check with the city before making archaeological excavations. As if we still had anything down there."
"We're kind of in a hurry, sir," he said. "Could you back up, please? We've got to go."
He did back up. Kara and Gim soared out of the hole. The crowd finally recognized them. "It's Gim Allon." "Yeah, Colossal Boy. Did I tell you Uncle David knew his grandfather?" "Yeah, and that's Supergirl. What's she doing here?" "You never know. Maybe she's converting."
"We'll fill the hole in if we can, when we get back," Supergirl assured the cop. Before he could say anything more, she wrapped her arms around Colossal Boy's waist, he held the Spear of Destiny in front of him with both hands so that it wouldn't contact her body, they leaped into the air, and were gone.
The cop stood there for a second, then told the crowd to move on, and called headquarters to ask for an earth-mover. He paused, then said, "Because I've got a hole here, and Gim Allon made it. Okay? Thank you."
He switched off, leaned against the hovercraft, and sighed.
The void the six Kryptonians and Dawnstar traversed was stranger even than warpspace. There were few points of reference here, not even the energy fluxes that could be used sometimes as markers. They couldn't see much of anything, as a matter of fact, and Dev was silently glad that this was so. It could be that whatever existed here was mostly beyond human perception. That might be a blessing.
But how could they know when they had reached their objective? Would it, too, be as invisible and intangible as whatever else lie in this plane?
Dev doubted it. If Black Adam could find it, so could they. At least, he hoped so.
<Dawny, are you sure you know where this thing is?> he finally sent, forgetting it was not on PM.
<Of course,> she said, simply. <Past the event horizon just ahead, and we're there.>
<What event horizon?> asked Superman V, one of the guys bringing up the rear.
By the time he had gotten out the last syllable, a shaft of brilliant whiteness sprang into view.
Its span looked as big as the diameter of Jupiter. It was whirring around like a pivot, and rotating at the same time. An aura that seemed to compose every color in the universe coruscated off it.
The Cosmic Axis.
<Time for the alignment job,> said Dev.
They flew towards it.