If it hadn't been for their exhaustion, Dev and the five Supermen wouldn't have spent even the short time they did on the Rock of Eternity before leaving.
The men had awakened, one by one, naked, with scented and sudsy water being splashed over their tired bodies in an enormous, palatial bath. The crystal of the bath chamber itself, the golden fish in the walls whose mouths pumped forth hot and cold water, and the small mermaids who tended to them were all part of a picture that the six Kryptonians almost refused to believe.
"What in Sheol is this?" asked Superman V. "Dev, don't any of you tell my wife about this, okay?"
Dev got over his initial shock after a few seconds. The fish-tailed girl shampooing his hair was a pleasant diversion indeed. He leaned back and bent her head down to him for a kiss. She slapped water in his mouth and he spit it up. The others laughed.
"Okay, darling, sorry. Don't tell whoever's ruling Atlantis these days about me, eh?" he said.
"At-lan-tis?" said the girl. "Where is that?"
"Ah, skip it, girl," he said, and settled back down. To the others, he said, "Tell me, boys: you think we're dead?"
"I doubt it," said Superman III. "Once, when I fought The Survivors, I experienced death, and it wasn't anything like this. This is much more pleasant."
Superman VI, sitting sullenly as the mermaids poured scented water over him, said, "This is pleasant, but an unnecessary distraction. We're on the Rock of Eternity. Hadn't any of the rest of you thought of using your super-vision to discover that? For all we knew, this could have been a deadly trap."
A new voice said, "Don't spurn our hospitality, my friend."
They looked in the direction the voice had come from. In an archway that led to a hall beyond, the man who had added his power to theirs in the Axis realignment stood, clad in a white belted robe and wearing shower sandals. He was smiling. "I've already had my bath. Miss Dawnstar has told me something of your purpose here, and of your identities. I am Captain Marvel. Welcome to the Rock of Eternity."
"You look a bit different," said Superman II. "We've met before, when Dad introduced us. He met you in one of the Crises."
Dev looked puzzled. "Hold on, Two. You mean, there was another Crisis? How did Earth survive it?"
Jordan Kent said, "You're probably thinking of what they called the Crisis on Infinite Earths. There were lots of minor Crises before that one. Every time the Justice League and Justice Society got together on a trans-Earth case, they called it a Crisis. The one in which my father and this gentleman met was Crisis XIV, the first Earth-S Crisis."
Captain Marvel doffed his robe and sandals and, naked, stepped into the bath. The mermaids did their number on him again. "I'm sorry, you have me confused with the first Captain. I'm the twelfth of the line. I understand there are fewer of us than of you, because most of my predecessors were allowed to age very slowly, or not at all, if they wished. Also, not all of my family took the mantle of the Marvels. Our lines have not met for centuries, and I bid you welcome."
Dev thought about asking him if the Great Confrontation had been the last time in which the Marvels interacted with the Els. Then, glancing furtively at the others, he thought better of it. Best they not know of that.
Aloud, he said, "Cap, maybe it's best not to speak too specifically of what's happened between their time and ours. The less they know of what's to come, the less they'll have to have brainblocked before they go home."
Marvel got the hint. Good, thought Dev. Maybe his Wisdom of Solomon is kicking in after all. The Earth-S hero said, "An excellent idea, Dev-Em. I'm not certain if any of our lines have met. On behalf of the Marvel clan, I give you my right hand." He extended it, dripping water and suds, and sloshed over to Dev. The Kryptonian raised his own soapy mitt and shook his hand. The Captain had a strong grip. For a second, Dev thought of what Superman I's reaction would be, to see this handshake, and he smiled.
The heir of Shazam said, "Once you finish with the bath, you'll be our guests in the hall of gods and heroes. I daresay, after you get a taste of ambrosia and nectar, you'll find it hard to go back to Earth cuisine. And you must be in need of sustenance after your labors."
"This is all well and good, Cap'n," said Dev. "But we really don't have time for any more of this. I've got a girl to get back to on my Earth. If I'm not wrong, she's handling the most important part of the operation. So if you can get us our clothes and show us to Dawnstar, we'll be taking our leave. Not that we don't appreciate it, but I'm sure you understand."
"Of course," said Captain Marvel. "Clothes and victuals, brothers."
There was a clacking noise, as if from a horde of deer stepping over a concrete floor. The sextet of Kryptonians looked towards the archway. Seven satyrs, no more than four feet in height, goaten from the waist down and human from there up, save for the horns on their foreheads, stood on the edge of the bath, each of them bearing towels draped on one arm and holding a newly washed and pressed uniform for each of them. On top of each uniforms was a small sealed container of ambrosia and a sealed vial of nectar.
"Our uniforms, and provisions for the journey," announced Captain Marvel. "I'm going with you."
Superman IV said, "We're grateful for the aid, Marvel, but, really...this mission is overcrowded as it is."
"You have Black Adam," Marvel replied. "I will guide him back to his proper era. And if he tries to escape--" The hero grinned a big grin. "--I've always wanted to test myself against him. Very well, gentlemen, let us dress and depart."
Dev was out of the bath first of all of them, flying towards the satyr who held his clothes.
He couldn't tell them or even himself why, but he had suddenly become very anxious about Kara.
Just as he was taking the towel from the little goat-footed guy, Dawnstar stuck her head around the edge of the doorway. All the men yelped and started covering themselves with their hands or diving to the bottom of the tub, except for Captain Marvel, who stared at her as if entranced.
"I've already had my bath," she said. "Now, if you gentlemen are finished with yours, we need to get going."
Kara was barely able to roll with the kick that contacted her face. It threw her backward, making her impact back-first on the rocky soil of the planet. It hurt like hell.
Satan Girl was smashing a double-handed clenched-fist blow at the back of her head. She moved slightly and took it on her shoulder, but it brought a new wave of teeth-clenching pain into her body. Numbly, she wondered if she'd be able to use her right arm to best efficiency in the fight after that.
She was tired, on the brink of exhaustion, emotionally wrung-out after the trip to the Netherworld and the fight with Mordru. Now, to be flung against a fresh, raging Satan Girl...it was simply too much.
It was hard enough fighting her when she had been prepared and in good condition. How in the hell was she supposed to win against her now?
The villainess pulled her up slightly and rammed a boot toe hard into her stomach. Supergirl gasped out breath, sucked it in, and, while Satan Girl was drawing back for another punch, reached out with her hands and clawed the hell out of her opponent's face.
The bitch-beauty cried out and fell back for a second, blood from the scratches making trails down her face. Supergirl, running on instinct and guts, pulled herself up and smashed three punches into her Hellsister's gut, and then pinned her to the ground with her arms crossed over Satan Girl's throat.
"What do you mean, you lost your baby?" gasped Kara. "Did you have a miscarriage? Remember, you were the one who wanted that fight." If she could get her talking, perhaps Kara could buy time for a recovery.
"Miscarriage!" shrieked Satan Girl. "You pathetic lightling. I could bear children even if I were fighting to the death. They took my baby."
"Who took your baby?" Kara bore down hard. Satan Girl was bucking. She couldn't hold her down.
"I...don't...know," the Evil Woman said, and hurled Kara off her, into the sky.
Good idea, thought Kara. She added her own velocity to the throw, and soared into the planet's stratosphere. Her super-hearing detected a roar of air-passage and a sonic boom. Satan Girl was coming after her.
By the time she reached outer space, her Hellsister had caught her.
Satan Girl grabbed Kara's left boot and, incredibly, sunk her teeth into it, trying to hamstring Kara. Soundlessly, Supergirl shrieked in pain and smashed her other foot down onto her foe's head five times in quick succession, dislodging her.
With the unnamed world below them and the stars at their back, Kara faced off against her enemy. She was tired. She was hurt. In every way that mattered, she was not prepared for this battle.
And she was fighting for her life.
"Satan Girl," said Tellus. "She...is fighting...Satan Girl."
"Where?" rapped John Constantine. "Give us a place."
Phantom Girl said, "John, stop it. Can't you see he's hurt? The strain is--"
"Bugger the strain. We've got one lost bird out there, she needs our help, and this lug is the only contact we've got. Where is she?"
"Don't..." Tellus was almost unconscious now. "...know."
Constantine whipped his gaze to White Witch. "Mysa, give him an upper."
"John, I can't," she said. In his condition, it could kill him."
"Bloody hell! If you don't, she'll kill Supergirl. Cast the spell."
"No." Saturn Girl stepped forward. "We won't kill Tellus just to please you. I will share the load."
Lightning Lad looked at her. "Imra, be careful. Be very careful."
She said nothing. Saturn Girl was one of the three original Legionnaires, and in many ways was the toughest. She came up behind Tellus, lay her hands upon his scaly shoulders, and prodded her mind gently into hers.
<Tellus,> she sent. <This is Saturn Girl. Open to me. Let me share the burden. What was too much for one, may be just enough for two.>
<Ohhhhh,> he groaned. <Forgive my...weakness...>
<You are not weak, only tired,> sent Imra. <Another being might have died, or gone insane, under your load. Now, let me in.>
He did, and Saturn Girl, too, looked through the eyes of Kara.
The dark and light half of Kara were smashing each other across the unfamiliar solar system they now occupied.
They tumbled away from the gravitational pull of the planet they had landed on, and kept fighting in the void. They smashed at each other, kicked, chopped, and catfought, and each of their blows would have torn the side out of a mountain. Both of them worked at speeds which would have made them a blur to an observer, had there been any.
There were few things as awesome as two Kryptonians at war.
Kara knew, like it or not, that only one of them was going to leave this match alive. That thought gave Satan Girl the only pleasure she had left to her.
The static that signified a scream resounded in their telepathic plugs again and again. It was the only thing they could hear across their battlefield.
It would be quite a lonely place to die.
Both raked the other with their heat-vision as they grappled. They couldn't use super-shouts to try and puncture each other's eardrums in airless space. That was the only one of their powers blocked to them.
After getting kneed in the crotch once, Kara gave up her hesitancy and kicked her enemy back where it counted. She didn't like doing it, but she liked even less being the recipient of the tactic. Satan Girl groaned, rallied, closed, and sent a swift high toe-kick to the side of Kara's head. The heroine almost blacked out from its force.
Satan Girl capitalized on the move, grabbed Kara's right arm, and twisted it sharply, trying to break it. The pain brought Supergirl back from unconsciousness. She whipped around, throwing Satan Girl into the void, and the distance she hurled her foe bought her some time. The deadly doppleganger was thrown a mile and a half away before she righted herself and came charging back like a rampant locomotive. Supergirl charged right back at her. The women veered a bit, corrected, decided to hell with trying to clothesline with an outstretched arm or leg, and simply smashed into each other with full force.
The impact was greater than that of a comet striking a planet.
Both women bounced off each other and hung in the void for a few seconds, reeling from the force of their collision. Kara was glad for the respite. She couldn't tell Satan Girl's condition precisely, but the villainess seemed to be as hurt as herself by it.
<What's the use of this, Satan Girl?>, sent Kara, her fatigue seeming to come through the telepathy. <There's nothing left for you. If you kill me...what's left for you to make a life from?>
The Evil Woman gave her a terrible glare. <I'll work that out afterward. Stop resisting me and I'll get to it sooner.>
Kara said, <Tell me about your child. How is it you know he is gone?>
Satan Girl hesitated. For once, Kara saw something other than hatred in her eyes. Even one such as her Hellsister could feel sorrow.
<A woman knows when she no longer carries a child,> she said. <I know not who took it from me. I was liberated from the prison you had placed me in. The one who took me from it placed me in a coma before I could see his face. I awoke in a large tube, with a red-sun lamp above me and my arms' veins pierced with nutriment tubes. My child was gone...>
Kara said nothing, waiting.
<...That was all I was wanted for. I tore the needles from my arms and opened the tube's hatch. There was no one in the chamber. I smashed the red-sun lamp. My costume had been laid out for me nearby. They were expecting me to do what I did, I now know. As soon as I was clothed, there was an explosion. I was transported from wherever I was to the world we both found ourselves on. Within a minute of my arrival, I saw you emerge from a glowing circle. That is all I know. But my child is still alive...I can sense that. I just do not know where he is.>
<You won't believe this, but I'm sorry,> said Kara. <On my honor, I am. And if you will swear to stop this battle, I will help you search for your child. That is my promise.>
She didn't think it would be wise to let her know of Mordru's fate.
Satan Girl looked at her for a second, then threw back her head, opened her mouth wide, and sent forth the blips through her telepathic plug that signified laughter.
<Ohhhhh, don't you wish, Lightsister,> sneered the dark woman. <I can find my child. After our war, I will find him. Or her. There is nothing left to us now, except the fight. You would not tolerate my existence, nor I yours. I am not capable of your empathy, of your petty virtue. You are not capable of my ruthlessness and power. Come, sister. Let us destroy each other.>
And both of them leaped at each other, to do just that.
Saturn Girl was almost in a trance now, and Tellus was more relaxed. Brainiac had injected him with a spray-hypo of light stimulant that was geared to his non-human body, and he rested more easily. But the words the telepaths spoke were anything but restful ones.
"The attempt at negotiation has failed," reported Saturn Girl. "They're back at it again."
Brainiac 5 slammed his fists on the meeting table, making almost everyone jump. Laurel Kent, just as anguished, went over and placed a hand on his fist. Brainy looked at it a moment in wonder, then said to Saturn Girl, "Describe the planet for us. The star. How many moons on the planet, how many planets in the system, visible constellations, anything."
Constantine, smoking a Silk Cut, was as focused as a general during an invasion. "Can't one of you two go off somewhere and maybe triangulate her position, or something?"
White Witch said, "Telepathy doesn't work like that, John. Sorry."
"So am I, darlin'." He grated his teeth. "Stranger, how're you feeling? Can you give us a hand here? And you, E?"
The Phantom Stranger looked weary, and Constantine felt like scum for pushing him further. "I can try, John. But all I can think of to do now would be to add my powers to the mind-scrying. Without knowing where she is, I cannot gather her."
"My friend has more power than I in these matters," said E. "I formed no bond with her before the sending. I cannot aid her yet."
They all heard a rasping laugh from the corner of the room in which Drang was pent.
"So the woman is to die after all," he said. "The sweetness of the thought almost recompenses for all else."
The heroes were silent for a second, the disgust rising up in their minds like bile in their guts. But before any of them could give voice to their thoughts, one of them was in motion.
Mr. E shoved his chair back and, moving unerringly for a blind man, walked over to the circle holding the crouching sorcerer-spirit.
"Well, what have you to say, you blind bas--" began Drang.
With one swift motion, Mr. E unscrewed the portion of his white cane that concealed the sword within.
If one had been close enough to tell, one might have noticed that the sword was of silver, with a long cross carved on both sides of it, though they would not know how long it had been sunk in holy water, nor what words had been said above it.
Mr. E's right foot scuffed part of the circle and allowed him entry. It opened him to attack by Drang. But in this case, Drang was in the greater danger.
Even as the orange wizard-being tried to spring forward, the blind man drove his sword-cane deep into what served Drang as a chest. It could not pierce vital organs, of course, for Drang had none, in his form.
What was important was that Drang's space was occupied by something that was totally antithetical to his being. The terror in his eyes for a fifth of a second indicated that he knew it, too.
He almost had time for a scream before the flash of light that signified his discorporation.
Drang the Destroyer, at long last, was destroyed.
The Legionnaires, the Action duo, and the magicians around the table were awed. None of them had uttered a word during the entire action. Mr. E slipped the sword back within the cane housing, then turned and walked back towards his seat.
Constantine broke the silence. "Thanks, E. Really startin' to get on my nerves, he was."
The war between the two Women of Steel went on. Without pity, without ceasing, it went on.
Kara drew on her every erg of reserve power to keep fighting. But, increasingly, she found herself on the defensive. She fought to keep Satan Girl's fingers from her eyes, her jaws from her carotid artery, her knees from her crotch. She had hurt Satan Girl, too. It showed, in the bruises and blood on her face and in her motions, which were vicious but not as strong as they had been at the start of their fight.
They tumbled across space, and neared another planet in the solar system which they now occupied. For an instant, out of the corner of her eye, she saw a landmark--an incredible, man-made landmark--on its surface.
It had been an engine. Now, it had been covered over by cities, by dwelling places, even by (incredibly enough) soil and farmland, and neatly-plotted rivers and lakes. But, in its time, it had been an engine.
An engine for moving a planet.
She knew where she was. She also knew the existence of a warp nearby. If she could only get into it..perhaps there was a chance of turning this around. Even if it took her life to do it.
Satan Girl was behind her now, scissoring her body cruelly, bending her arms behind her back, trying to force them up enough to break them. The low bass tone that the plug transmitted was the sure sign of a groan from the suffering blonde heroine.
She might not be able to keep Satan Girl from killing her before she could get to the warp.
"She saw something on the planet," said Tellus. "It was important to her. An identifying feature of some nature."
The Legionnaires and other heroes were gathered closely around the pair of telepaths. "What?" said Colossal Boy, eager for any news of his lost, lovely ally. "What kind of feature?"
"Let me focus, Tellus," said Saturn Girl, her eyes closed and her slim white hands on his scaly temples. Imra Ardeen sent her probe deeper and deeper into his memory, scanning what he had picked up from Kara's sight. She was performing what would amount to a computer enhancement of a dim photograph. There was a chance she might distort the feature, but it was more likely that she could make the thing recognizable.
Finally, she said, "An engine. The shape of an engine. It's a motile planet, or it was. The engine is covered over now. It's used for living space."
Brainiac 5 said, "What color is the sun?"
"Yellow," said Tellus.
"Did she see any more planets?"
"Difficult...to say," said Tellus. "Three, perhaps more. One with two moons, another with four."
The green-skinned youth grabbed Element Lad by the shoulders. "Third Genesis. That's where she's at. Get on subwave and contact them. They've got a treaty with the U.P. They'll help us."
Jan Arrah said to Lightning Lad, "Do it." Garth sprinted to the Computo interface make the contact. Then Element Lad turned to White Witch. "How can we get there in time?"
Mysa shook her head, sadly. "I don't know. I can't warp that far, I'd have to do it in jumps. Also, there's no way I could transport a large number of us, or a cruiser. It'd have to be--"
"A small squad, in suits," rapped Element Lad. He pointed to Mon-El, Ultra Boy, and Laurel in quick succession. "You. You're going. You, and you, you're going too. Get two suits."
Laurel protested, "But, Jan, I don't need a suit for space. Even if I'm not powered."
"The other suit is for Mysa. She's going along."
A cold, firm hand touched Jan's shoulder and made him start. He looked into the eyes of the Phantom Stranger...or what he had that passed for eyes. "I shall add my powers to your sending, Legionnaire. They will boost the Witch's powers, and make the journey that much shorter."
Element Lad clenched his teeth, swallowed. "Okay. Just so long as you know what you're doing."
"I always know what I am doing," said the Stranger.
Jan Arrah found he had nothing to say to that.
The fight was going badly for Kara. Satan Girl's greater energy and her hatred were giving her the advantage, and she was using it to fill Supergirl's lithe body with pain.
After squeezing Kara's midsection till she was almost limp, Satan Girl next wound her steely thighs around her opponent's head and locked her ankles, grinding away at her with a head scissors. She held one of Kara's arms by the wrist, keeping it under control. Satan Girl reveled in the body contact and the sadistic pleasure that the wrestling gave her. She also savored the groans of pain she was forcing from Kara. Supergirl was trying to turn them about in space, trying to whip free, but even her flight power seemed feebler now.
To Satan Girl, the experience was quite erotic.
Grappling had one advantage that fist-fighting didn't: you were less likely to get hit, yourself. Also, with a fading opponent, one could keep the torture coming, and enjoy the victim's reactions.
After a little more of the head scissors, Satan Girl let up and wound her legs about Kara's waist for a leverage base again. She grabbed both of Supergirl's legs to keep herself from being kicked in the face, bent one double and folded the other leg over it, and took firm hold of the foot that was facing her.
Then Satan Girl began to twist the foot, forcefully and painfully.
Kara screamed in pain. She twisted herself about in space, whirled them both around in a circle, but Satan Girl wouldn't give up her grip. And Kara couldn't reach her.
By the time the villainess did let go, Supergirl was sure her ankle had been sprained. Or broken.
Satan Girl unwound her legs from about Kara's waist. The weary girl was reaching for her ankle. She smashed her hard in the face, bringing more blood. The blips of laughter transmitted themselves wrathfully into Kara's telepathic plug.
Supergirl forced the pain from enough of her mind to concentrate. Grimly, she admitted one thing to herself: she could not win this fight, physically. She was at the end of her tether. She had been tired enough after the battle with Mordru. Now she was past exhaustion. Satan Girl had come into the combat fresh, and with the knowledge of her lost child as a goad for her hate.
I'll die without ever once having made love to Dev, she told herself, looking at the masked woman who was about to close on her again.
Or maybe not...
She kicked away with her one good leg and forced all her energy into flight power. Supergirl rocketed away from the space in which they had been battling. Her pulse was hammering at her temples. Her body was trying to warn her of over strain. Her consciousness overrode that, telling her that if she didn't get away, overstrain would be the least of her problems.
Besides, she knew where she was going. And that gave her a slim modicum of hope. But there was a long ways to go before she got there...and Satan Girl might catch her before she did.
For several seconds, the Evil Woman hung in the vacuum, smiling so ferociously it made the muscles at the corners of her mouth ache. She knew that Supergirl's life was in her hands, when she chose to take it.
But there was no point in letting a pleasure be too short-lived. If cats were only concerned with a mouse's nutritive value, they wouldn't play with one before they killed it.
She waited another three seconds, then went after Kara.
She wasn't sure if she'd kill her when she caught up to her, or just break another part of her before the main event.
Tellus had another bulletin from the front. "Supergirl has broken away," he said. "She is...fleeing...but in a certain direction. Satan Girl is following."
John Constantine said, "All right, Telly, which friggin' direction is she headed? Towards Miami Beach?"
The amphibian hesitated before answering, as if he was studying intently what he saw through her eyes.
"It appears to be a warp," said Tellus.
Kara was putting all she had into her flight speed, and it was going to get her to the warp in space. But not before Satan Girl caught up to her. She could sense that much. Her Hellsister was right behind her, and in grave need of finishing her off.
So she turned around, and before Satan Girl could react, hauled off with a strong little right hand, and bashed her as hard as she could, right in the face.
It hurt her hand. She thought she might have fractured something. Luckily, she hadn't. Thinking back on it, later, she guessed it must have been one of the best punches she had ever thrown in her life.
Satan Girl rammed right into it, took it hard, took it full, got a busted nose and cheekbone out of the deal, along with a couple of loosened teeth, saw a flash of brilliant whiteness, and, for a second or two, lost consciousness.
She caromed forcefully off of Kara's five knuckles and flew backward, into the void, her body flailing limply. Kara knew she wasn't dead. It would never be that easy.
She wiped globules of blood away from her own nose with the back of her hand, wincing a bit. Then she turned again and flew full-tilt for the warp. The next part was going to be dangerous.
She had to lure Satan Girl into the warp. She had to stay just far enough ahead of her that the villainess could trail her, leading her into the place where the final gambit would be played.
She had visited this universe, not so many weeks before. This time she would not be protected by matter-conversion. This time, she and her Hellsister would be naked before its annihilistic effects.
It would be time for one, or both of them, to die.
And Kara full well knew the odds were with the latter choice.
Tellus said, "She's going into the warp."
Saturn Girl echoed, "Great Lord, she's going into the warp. Nobody will be in time."
"Why not?" asked Constantine. "What's so special about a warp?"
Brainiac 5 wheeled on him, opened his mouth angrily, and then caught his temper. This man is a primitive, he told himself. It's not right to call him stupid. He took in breath, exhaled, and then said, "Beyond more than a very short distance, you cannot track someone in a warp. He could be a mile away, he could be 2000 light years away. Even with Tellus acting as guide, we could not direct our team to the proper location."
Constantine snapped one of his cigarettes in two. "Get me the name of the idiot who designed that bloody transit system. I want to kick his friggin' ass!"
When Timber Wolf put his head on the table and almost died laughing, John figured he'd said something really, really stupid. Again.
Within a few seconds, everybody was laughing at his inadvertent joke, and they were very glad for the chance to laugh. So it didn't take long for Constantine to finally crack a smile, and then start chuckling. "All right, already...wotever, it wasn't that funny."
But he didn't stop laughing.
Supergirl couldn't afford to think of the fatigue poisoning her body. She couldn't afford to think of how badly she needed rest and sleep, for Kryptonians tire like any other sort of humans when their labors are strenuous enough, and they need to sleep and dream like all sentient beings. She couldn't afford to think about what damage had already been done to her face and body in the fight thus far.
All she could do is hang there, at the edge of the warp in space, that hole in reality where strange patterns in hardly perceptible shades of color formed, reformed, and vanished in patterns too quick for even a superbeing to follow. Within this warp, if one had a strong enough sense of direction, one could find his or her way to another part of this universe, or another universe. Or one could simply get lost for all time. That last was very easy.
Supergirl used her telescopic vision on Satan Girl. She was coming around, stirring. Kara needed her awake. Thus, she stung her hand with a burst of heat vision. It did the trick.
The warp wasn't far distant from where they had collided. Kara turned her telepathic plug up to full broadcast as she saw the masked woman shake her head, orienting herself in space.
<Over heeeere, honey,> sent Kara, as tauntingly as she could. She wished she could blow a raspberry or a Bronx cheer over a telepathic line.
Satan Girl snarled how she was going to kill her and enumerated what things she was going to do to her in the process as she hurled herself forward. The telepathic plug couldn't keep up with her super-speed delivery and just encoded it into a packet, which it transmitted to Kara's plug in a "messages received" bin. By the time Satan Girl crossed into the warp, Kara had accumulated about five of these packets.
The short recovery time had helped. Kara was able to match, and exceed, Satan Girl's speed inside the warp. It was important to stay within a mile of her foe, as there was no way she could be traced even with super-senses beyond that distance. But what distance a mile was, was very hard to estimate within the warp.
The pings that signified another message packet arrived periodically, and Supergirl knew she was on the right track. Satan Girl was still behind her.
Rao help Kara when she caught up.
Somewhat refreshed, the five Supermen, Dev, Dawnstar, and Captain Marvel XII soared away from the Rock of Eternity. The Old Man stood on his doorstep and watched them go, then went back inside.
<You say we won't need a warp to get back to our own Earth here?> asked Dev, telepathically. <How can that be so?>
Marvel, flying point, sent back, <The Rock is a nexus among all times and places. If you reach it, in a sense, you are in the ultimate warp. My mentor has been to your Earth before, and has shown me the correct vector to reach it.>
Superman IV turned to Dawnstar. <Sorry you're not flying point for us this time, Dawny,> he said, somewhat uncomfortable with the familiarity of her nickname.
She responded, <Quite all right. This entire voyage has been of great benefit to me. The Eternity Rock--if I can learn to use it correctly, and can access a warp to this universe, it may be the best navigational tool I've ever dreamed of.>
<Well, that's one way of looking at it,> allowed the Kryptonian. <And this has been an incredible adventure, even for us Els. We've met four other generations of ourselves, and the first Supergirl as well. And we've met your Legion, which most of us had only heard about from the stories my father told me...> He shook his head. <You wouldn't think people like us could be awed. But we have been, and then some.>
<You all certainly awed me today, at the Axis,> said Dawnstar. <Perhaps we will meet again.>
<Perhaps, but doubtful,> said the Superman. <We're all pretty busy in our own times. Also, we don't know if Supergirl has been successful on her own mission yet.>
Neither one had to tell the other that, if Kara and Gim failed, everything they did would become totally irrelevant. But they preferred to hope that the mission had succeeded.
For a moment, Dawnstar wondered how they would know if the two Legionnaires had lost. Would she and her companions suddenly vanish from existence? Would they abruptly be sent to a Mordru-created version of Hell? Or would things continue as they were, but with changes that none of them were equipped to perceive or understand?
She opted to wait until she learned of Supergirl's and Gim's mission before making any more horrific scenarios in her mind.
Then she noticed something only an instant before the Kryptonians, with her tracker-senses. <Look,> she sent, pointing ahead. <It's Earth. Probably our own Earth. And we haven't been in flight even a third of the time it took us on the first trip.>
Superman IV and Dawny gazed at the cloud-mantled bluish globe, not too far beyond them in terms of their capabilities.
<It must be that a voyage from the Eternity Rock is much smaller than one to the Eternity Rock,> guessed the Legionnaire.
<That, or Marvel just took a short cut,> opined the Superman.
And both hoped they'd hear good news when they got there.
There had only been one brief punch-up between Kara and Satan Girl during their time in the warp thus far. Thankfully, Supergirl was able to break away again and get to the very exit-nexus she wanted. Superman had taken her to it one day in the past, after a case he had with the Justice League and Justice Society. The Green Lanterns of two Earths had led a foe of theirs into it, and managed to escape destruction when their enemy died.
She prayed for as much luck as they had.
Kara stopped at the warp-gate and looked behind her. Satan Girl had stopped as well, less than a mile behind her. To her credit, she wasn't stupid. She knew that Supergirl was leading her on. And, having Kara's memories, she knew where she was headed.
<That is the anti-matter universe,> sent Satan Girl.
<Oh, very good,> mocked Kara, smiling like a teacher tutoring her most backward pupil. <Now, if you'll just join me here, I can finish you right off.>
The villainess didn't budge. <It'll blow us both to bits if we touch any substance there without force-shields or matter-conversion,> she sent. <I can just wait you out. You'll come back, or you'll be atomized. Either way, I win.>
<Oh, will you?>, asked Kara. <I thought for certain that you wanted to tear me apart with your own hands. Except it hasn't been that easy, has it? Maybe you're just not up to it, after all...since you're just a pretty pathetic copy of me.>
Satan Girl's expression of hatred, which was about the only one she owned, intensified. <YOU...> she began, and that was all she could get out.
<Just one more thing, darling,> sent Kara. <I didn't want to have to tell you this, but we killed Mordru. He's dead. Hope you didn't get attached to him too much.>
At that, Supergirl knew she had succeeded. Probably a little more than she wanted.
Satan Girl surged forward like an express train, her arms outstretched, and Kara flew through the warp.
In two more seconds, they were at war again, and Satan Girl vowed that she would destroy Supergirl before the anti-matter got anywhere near them.
Dev-Em's party touched down outside Legion HQ, where Dawnstar vouched for all the newcomers with the Science Police guards outside. The eight of them flew inside to the meeting room. They walked in just as Saturn Girl was saying, "Qward. They're in the Qward system in Anti-Universe One."
The scene before them was tense, to say the least. Saturn Girl was standing behind a seated Tellus with her hands on the amphibian's shoulders, both of them looking almost entranced. The other Legionnaires, heroes, and newcomers, the last of which included a strange, dark-suited man and a blind man in worn white clothes, were gathered around the two telepaths. Dawnstar picked out Colossal Boy in the crowd, saw that the other Legion contingent had arrived, and was relieved. Some of the Legionnaires in the room noted the presence of Captain Marvel, but none of them had time to make introductions right now.
"Gim," said Dawny, running towards him in joy and throwing her arms around him. "You made it back! What happened? Where's Supergirl?"
"Mordru's dead," he said. "Daxam's safe. And Kara's fighting that bitch Satan Girl in an anti-matter universe. We're going to send out a party, but we won't be able to get there in time...six warp-jumps'll take too long." He closed his eyes, covering them with his hand. "Dammit, Dawny, she's going to die!"
From his tone of voice, Dawnstar could tell he was close to tears. Then she heard a riot of voices from the Supermen behind her, overridden by one shriek from Dev: "No!"
Element Lad, grim-faced, said, "You succeeded?"
"Yes, but--" began Dawnstar.
"That's good," he said. "I'm sending Mysa, Mon, Jo, and Laurel out there after Kara. The Krypts can come too, if they want. But they'll all need force-field generators from the supply room to survive out there. At any rate, it'll take them...too long." He sighed. "But we're going to send them, anyway."
Dawnstar caught a glimpse of Dream Girl, sitting at the meeting table. Her eyes were closed, and her head was thrown back, and Star Boy was sitting beside her, holding her hand. Nura was having a prophetic vision again. Dawny didn't want to know what she prophesied.
She turned back to Element Lad and said, "We may be able to make it in time."
"What?" he said. "What are you talking about?"
"Six jumps would take too long," she said. "We'll go back the way we came. I will guide them."
Dawnstar went over to the Supermen, who were standing fast by Dev-Em, who was pumping the Legionnaires for details of Kara's fight. Dream Girl shook her head and came back to the present. "Ah, Creator," she breathed. "Thom, call Mon over here. Quickly."
"Okay," said Star Boy, and motioned the Daxamite to their side. He looked as anguished as anybody, for he, too, loved Supergirl.
"What is it?" said Mon-El.
"Mon, listen, and don't tell anyone else about this," confided Dream Girl in a whisper. "I want you to go down to storage, and get a backpack and a suit, right now."
"What for?" he said. "I don't need any space suit."
"Not that kind of suit, you big ninny. Listen."
The star-system of Qward had twin suns for the last thousand years. The new one was rather small, as stars go, but a star is a star, for all that.
Supergirl and Satan Girl were headed towards the younger star, though either of them would do for Kara's purpose. Every now and then she felt stings, which she guessed were from the impact of random anti-hydrogen atoms in space. Nothing which would do real damage, and she was grateful for that. Her super-vision raked the void to make sure she avoided anything of real substance. Even a fragment of meteor the size of a teardrop would go off like a hydrogen bomb if she contacted it.
The Anti-Monitor's fortress of once-living stone was now dead, and hung in the heavens above Qward. They had bypassed it some minutes ago. She didn't feel like sightseeing in the place in which she had almost died, anyway. Maybe it would be ironic to have the Anti-Monitor's universe do to her what he himself could not. But such ironies weren't to her taste, right now.
A collision with even a man-sized chunk of anti-matter might not destroy a Kryptonian. Superman himself had once set off an anti-matter bomb of such dimensions, sent by a foe called Black Zero. He had survived the explosion, though he had narrowly escaped injury. A planet-sized mass undoubtedly would do the job, if a Kryptonian set foot on it without shields. But there were living people on Qward, and she had no right to doom them.
They had come close to the young star of Qward. Blindingly close, for anyone without the invulnerable eyes of a spawn of Krypton. Kara flew closer still, wondering how long she could go before having to pull up, before angling away from that detonating nuclear-fusion anti-plasma.
A strong grip on her injured ankle settled the question for her.
<Ohhhh, Rao, thank you,> rasped Satan Girl. Supergirl cried out mentally in pain and tried to kick her with her free foot. Satan Girl scrambled up her body and entwined her legs with Kara's,.providing support for herself. A shudder of fear went through Kara as she looked on Satan Girl's wrecked face. The battle had taken its toll on the Evil Woman, as it had on Supergirl herself. But neither had been finished yet.
Before the shudder ended, Kara was already taking a hail of blows from Satan Girl.
She warded off as many as she could with her arms, which were aching from the impacts. But many punches did get through, landing on her face, throat, chest, and stomach. Their entwined legs prevented kicking or kneeing at the moment. Kara desperately tried to go on the offensive, raising her tired arms, landing as many blows as she could to Satan Girl's face and body.
It wasn't enough.
Satan Girl gave Kara superficial burns with heat-vision, tore at her hair, raked her eyes with her claws, even bit her in the neck. Supergirl managed to tear her throat away from Satan Girl's jaws again, but was uncertain how much longer she could hold out.
And she knew that, given the body damage that she had sustained, the fight was bringing her very close to death.
She had been using her flight power to plummet them both down towards the antisun's surface. They were enough into the "atmosphere" of the sun that both were taking hits from random anti-matter particles. Not large enough to damage them, but it felt like beestings. Both of them could survive contact with, or even immersion in, a positive-matter sun. Kal had done it before, though she had not yet tried it.
But physical contact with a body of antimatter that large would annihilate them both. Or just one of them, if Kara was lucky enough to escape.
The second bit was beginning to look less and less of a viable option.
Satan Girl's judgment finally overrode her wrath. She looked down at the great orb, only a short span of space below them, and used her flight power to resist Kara's. It took several seconds, with Kara's body pulling and tugging at her own, but she finally halted them both with a great effort.
<You thought you could kill us both in the star,> she snarled. <Not me. Not me, Kara.>
And with that, she cracked a blow to Kara's face that broke her nose.
The static-shriek of pain in the telepathic plug was a sonata to Satan Girl. Smiling for the first time in minutes, she followed with another wallop, and another, and another. Four unanswered blows. Kara tried to resist, but her defense was fading.
Satan Girl pounded her. Over and over again.
And as she did it, she was sending to her.
<Do you know what I'm going to do after I kill you, Kara? Do you know? Well, listen. I'm going to find my child. I'm going to raise him to be what neither Mordru nor I could be alone. A sorcerer with the genes and power of the greatest necromancer in the universe, plus the body and powers of a Kryptonian. He will be a scourge such as Mordru never dreamed of. And I will rule through him, and he will rule because of me. We will conquer as none have ever conquered. But it may take a little while to find him. So I'm going to do something first, just to get the kinks out. I'm going to find me a planet, one with people on it, lots and lots of people. And I'm going to kill them all. Then I'm going to another planet, and kill just, maybe, half of them. And I'll make the ones who live worship me. By the time I find my child, he may be the object of a new religion. Wouldn't that be nice, Kara?
Satan Girl hesitated. She had been laying into Supergirl like a butcher on a steer. But she had been so busy in her fantasy that she had taken no notice of what she had really done.
Supergirl was not moving.
Satan Girl smashed her a few more times, just to make sure. Then she listened for a heartbeat.
Blood poured in globules from the wounds on both women. Satan Girl was wary of a trick. For a full two minutes, she listened to Supergirl's heart.
It could still be a trick. But she couldn't stay there forever. A random impact with anti-matter could make her just as dead as Kara.
Below them, Satan Girl saw a solar prominence reaching up. One of those sun-storms sent plasma millions of miles above the star's surface, and its mass dwarfed that of Earth many times over.
That would be the most convenient thing, she decided. She loosened her legs, unwrapped them from Kara's limp, drifting body, and took her foe in both hands. With what spit she had left, she sent globules of saliva at Kara's face.
<Murdering bitch,> she sneered.
Then she lifted her overhead and threw her with all her force.
In the middle of that throw, she heard something that froze the thoughts in her very brain.
Kara had started her heartbeat again.
Supergirl grabbed Satan Girl by the legs, added her own momentum to the force of Satan Girl's super-throw, whirled them around several times like two partners on a trapeze bar, and flung her enemy down towards the thrusting fingers of the solar prominence.
The worst part of it was seeing the grin of determination on Kara's bloodied face as she threw her.
Satan Girl heard one last sending before she hit the plasma.
<Hellsister,> said Supergirl, <go to Hell.>
Kara pulled up, flying away at an angle, keeping herself beyond the event horizon of what was to come with the last shred of power she had. But she knew that she had to avoid the blast area. She trained her super-vision on the hurtling woman in black, even as she flew away.
The villainess hit the anti-plasma.
There was a look of confusion on Satan Girl's face as she exploded.
Her positive-matter structure was instantly annihilated by an equivalent mass of anti-matter in the solar prominence. It flattened part of the plasma-storm a bit, made for a more spectacular sight, and disintegrated a small bit of antisolar matter.
But that was all right. There was enough antimatter in the star to spare.
It didn't take that much of it to kill a Satan Girl.
On the Rock of Eternity, the Old Man peered through one of his windows again and perceived approaching figures. Well, now, he thought, back again after so short a time? Perhaps they've come to stay longer. And from the looks of their number, they'd brought a few new guests. That was considerate of them. Why, he'd have them gladhanding with Zeus and Mercury, have Venus do her fan-dance for them--she was a shameless hussy, but he enjoyed it as much as any of the rest--and have them sit a spell and get the lowdown from them on what was happening on their Earth, in their time. After all, it was hard to get company up here, except for wandering godlings and such.
The whole mass of them came up to the Rock's event horizon, angled off, and headed elsewhere.
William Batson sniffed. Well. He'd have to talk with that young one, once he got back. You should never neglect your parents of the 12th generation, even if they didn't wear a red suit with a thunderbolt on it any more.
His eyes crinkled in a smile. He knew what he'd do. The next time Young Billy said the word, he'd just sidle up to Zeus and say, "Let him stew a while before you throw it."
That's serve him right.
"She...used her telescopic vision," breathed Tellus. "Satan Girl...was destroyed."
John Constantine pumped his fist in the air. Colossal Boy wiped sweat off his brow. There was some brief rejoicing among the Legionnaires still in the meeting room. Lightning Lad said, "Way to go, Kara!", and hurled a small bolt between his outstretched hands in celebration.
"So where is she now?" asked Element Lad, not daring to get optimistic yet.
"I..." Tellus strained, and Saturn Girl dug her hands into his shoulder muscles to untense them as best she could.
She answered, "She doesn't seem to be seeing anything, Jan. I'm not getting any conscious input from her. Confirmed, Tellus?"
"Yes," the big Legionnaire said. Blok, the biggest of them all, hovered nearby, feeling some empathy for Tellus.
"Unconscious, but not dead, right?" pressed Element Lad. "Otherwise there's be no contact, right?"
Saturn Girl said, simply, "Right, Jan. On both counts. There's still some hope."
Nobody in the room liked the word "some" very much.
Supergirl had been lucky. Incredibly, unbelievably lucky. She had missed contact with the exploding plasma of the anti-sun, save for a few stray molecules or atoms which were barely felt by her.
Now, she hung drifting in the space of the anti-matter universe, dormant. The exhaustion and punishment of the two great battles had taken their toll. Kara had passed out while flying away from the sun.
It was a boon to her body's defense systems. They slowed her life processes down, began the repair work that would be necessary, if she was to survive. But there was much work to be done. Kara had suffered external and internal injuries. Traumas, abrasions, burns, broken bones, even possibly a small concussion. She was bruised and she was bleeding.
If she were a normal woman, in normal circumstances, she might have been rushed to an emergency medical unit and worked over by a team of doctors, med-techs, and nurses, treated, prepped for surgery, operated upon, and given time for a monitored recovery in a comfortable bed.
But she was not a normal woman, and these were not normal circumstances. Her slim form described a slow ballet of body- and limb-drift, propelled by reaction to long-ago movements and perhaps by the gravity of the antistar below her.
So it was very possible she could still die.
There was a sending in the void.
<kara kara kara>
<kara is that you? I thought I heard you>
Another pause. The Girl of Steel could not hear the voice in her telepathic plug.
<I felt something after I heard you kara. Please respond. It's been so long out here kara. Please respond.>
There was no response.
After a few more tries, the sender gave up, and waited.
He vaguely imaged flying people heading their way.
Mon-El was carrying Mysa Nal, the White Witch. The rest of the party included the Supermen, Dev, Ultra Boy, Dawnstar, Laurel Kent, and Captain Marvel XII. All of them were ringed with the nimbuses of force-fields that would guard them against the contramatter of the anti-universe.
Captain Marvel had to fly point this time, to get them into the anti-matter ‘verse. It took some doing, even with the help of the Eternity Rock's nexus properties. But within minutes leaving it, they were within their destination's deadly boundaries. And they were within flying distance of the twin suns of Qward.
<Start looking, boys,> ordered Dev-Em. The Kryptonians, Mon-El, and Ultra Boy began focusing their telescopic and x-ray visions, with the addition of a filter that kept them from going blind in the incredible glare. Captain Marvel had no vision powers, and, for that reason, he finally had to hang back. Mon-El left White Witch and Dawnstar in Marvel's keeping. He sped on with the rest, still carrying his bulky backpack. The others hadn't been able to get him to tell them what was in it.
It was Ultra Boy who, using his penetra-vision, found her first. <Over there,> he pointed.
Even though there was a lot of "over there" to be covered, the searchers followed his line of sight unerringly. A woman's body floated in space.
All of them tried to be the first to reach her. But it was only proper that Dev-Em managed to beat the others there. By the time Mon, Laurel, Jo, and the five Supermen reached Kara, Dev was cradling her in his arms, laying his head to her chest to check for a heartbeat, and sobbing.
<She's dying,> Superman VI said, breaking the silence.
<Let's get her to Daxam,> sent Mon-El, putting a hand on Dev's shoulder and getting it shrugged off. His homeworld had perfected medical techniques that were cutting-edge for almost all of civilization.
<Rao, is this how you serve the woman that saved your universe?>, Dev-Em cried, and would not be comforted. His hearing had gauged Kara's life-signs accurately.
They were still there, but fading.
There was another sending. It was from Captain Marvel.
<Bring her to me,> he said. <There's something I want to try. It could save her.>
Dev-Em said, <She's not leaving my hands.>
<Then follow me,> said Marvel. <If we get her back to the Rock, she might still have a chance.>
Superman II said, <Let me help you, Dev.>
<No,> said Dev. <I'll take her. Don't touch her. Let's go.>
Then he turned, and poured all his powerful energies into flight and speed. The others followed him at the same velocity. They intercepted Marvel and his party. Two of the Supermen took Mysa and Dawny in their arms and hurtled onward with the rest. Captain Marvel flew point, leading them away from the realm of malignant matter.
Mon-El hung back, as he had a thing to do before leaving, and had been asked to do it so that none of the others would see.
From his backpack, he took a particular kind of suit, and gave it a quick and powerful shove towards the antisun below.
Then he turned and caught up to the rest of the party, and was more concerned with saving Kara than with what might be transpiring behind him.
The Legionnaires back at home base were comparing notes about their missions. Brainiac 5 pumped Colossal Boy for every detail of his and Kara's battle with Mordru, and John Constantine, the Phantom Stranger, and Mr. E were listening intently to his report. After Gim finished, the Stranger said, "You are most lucky, young man. If luck, indeed, was not augmented by other forces."
Gim leaned against the edge of the meeting table. "I'd like to think so, sir. I was praying hard enough, believe me. Anyway, all I know is that I went out like a light around the time Kara pulled those negative G's...just pretty well shot my bolt. Then, when I woke up, I was back on the table." He shifted position. "And to think she was thrown into a fight right after what we did...it's unbelievable."
Brainiac 5 said, "Keep praying, Gim. She's going to need it. And congratulations." He clapped his friend on the back. "You both did the Legion mighty proud today."
"You both helped save the universe today," said Mr. E, with no trace of irony. Coming from him, it sobered them considerably.
Element Lad considered the blind man and what he had done to Drang. Technically, E had murdered Drang. This was not something he would have tolerated from a Legionnaire. Luckily, E was not one of their number, and Drang had been a spirit-being, and evil to the core. But the old man had shown himself to be as ruthless as one of their enemies.
He was going to be glad once Mr. E was out of this caper.
John was pacing the floor. "All right, when do we get to hear from the search party? Are they out of radio range or something? I thought you'd have better communications than that in this bleedin' century."
Brainy said, "John, let it go. Our subwavers won't work across the anti-matter universe. The only way we can know what's going on is through the mind-bind, and that won't work until she wakes up." He didn't add "if she wakes up," but it was in his thoughts. "We're giving Tellus and Imra a rest right now. When Dev's group get back to our plane, they'll call us. Until then, we just have to wait."
"Hell with that," grunted Constantine. "You want me, I'll be out catchin' some air on your front porch."
"Just don't leave the grounds, John," said Element Lad. "It's different from your era out there, and we don't have time to give you an orientation."
The trenchcoated man kept silent. But he sent up a mental message as he walked out, and hoped that it was heard:
The deal was to bring the girl back. You don't get my marker if she doesn't come back. Alive.
The Old Man was at first glad that his protégé and the rest of the bunch had decided to pay him a comeback visit, after all. That is, until he caught sight of the woman they were carrying, as they approached the Eternity Rock from afar.
"Oh, my," he said. "Most dreadful."
He ordered two of his little homunculae to prepare a bed, others to boil some water and healing fluid, and still others to tear some white robes up for bandages, should they be needed. The rescue party was already landing near his garden.
The brown-haired man they called Dev was carrying a blonde girl, and she didn't look good at all.
The twelfth Captain Marvel pushed forward and confronted the wizard. "My liege, we must beg a boon from the gods. Just one of them will do."
He peered at the battered Supergirl, held in the grieving Dev-Em's arms. Regretfully, he said to his descendant, "Begging a favor of them for a mortal, young one, no matter how powerful she is, will be a difficult thing indeed. They do not think of a mortal's death the same way that we do."
Dev-Em said, with real threat in his voice, "Old man, we've come to your blasted rock to save her life, and if you don't..."
William Batson stood before Dev-Em, undaunted, but sympathetic. "I did not say I wouldn't help you, young man. Just that it would be difficult. It took the playing of Orpheus to win even a chance to bring back his love from Hades. And he failed, ultimately. But we have already failed, if we do not make the attempt. Follow me, and do not treat them as rudely as you have me."
Dev wanted to make an apology, if it would help, if anything would help save the life of the woman in his arms. But he couldn't get any words out. Superman II guided him forward by the shoulder, saying, "Come on, Dev." The wizard was walking before them, Captain Marvel behind him, as they all headed for one of the greater structures on the peak of the Rock, the temple of the Olympians. After a few steps, the Old One said, "Feh--let's fly."
And he leaped into the air, his grey robe blowing in the breeze, and flew point as all the heroes behind him left the ground and flew.
The temple was Grecian in style, massive as a Sphinx, and contained building materials unknown to mortal man. But few of them were intent on appreciating its architecture at the moment. Bia and Kratos, Zeus's guards, stood at the front door and waved them through. The Old Man lighted on the marble steps and walked in, as a courtesy. The others picked up on it, touched down as well, and walked in.
Shortly thereafter, they were in the presence of the gods.
On a golden throne with thunderbolt-carved armrests atop a tier of marble stairs sat Zeus, red-bearded and white-robed, the force of his presence daunting even at a distance. Mercury was by his side, half-naked in only a breechcloth, winged sandals, and a hat with wings, holding the serpent-wreathed Caduceus he had taken from the sun god. Venus sat at Zeus's feet, blonde and beautiful in a timeless way. Lamed Vulcan stood with his mallet stuck in his belt, black-haired, muscular, and sweating. Apollo, curly-haired, clad in a belted toga bearing the emblem of the sun on it, beamed good health and radiance and stood with folded arms at Zeus's right hand.
The other Olympians were on a day trip to Asgard.
The Old Man made greetings, led them in a bow (Dev took his on one knee, still holding Kara's limp body), and quickly came to his request.
"The young woman our new friend bears in his arms has done the cosmos a great service. She and an ally have gone to the plain that separates Cursed from Blessed, and destroyed a sorcerer of great power who would have merged with Darkness. Then, so these young ones tell me, she was thrown into battle with a personification of her own darkness, which fight she won, but at great cost to herself. My protégé brought her to me, and asked me to intercede with you, in request of a healing."
Then he stopped, and all waited in the silence to hear the gods' response.
"Wizard, we have no doubt of the truth of your words. Indeed, we too have felt the forces which wracked and twisted the cosmos, but were powerless to act, blocked from direct access to mortal realms. The woman you bring to us is indeed worthy of praise, and of our gratitude. However. You know as well as we that the span allotted to any mortal is finite. When their thread is cut, it makes no difference if it be today, nor a hundred years from now, in the grand design. If this is her time, then it is her time. There would be no point in our intervention."
Dev-Em seethed. "Bloody hell. I love this woman, you hear me? If you don't heal her, I'll tear this place down like a house of cards." He started to move forward, still holding Kara.
"Stop!" William Batson put out an arm and blocked him. Dev tried pushing past the old man. He couldn't. Dev was amazed. Three of the Supermen got him and pulled him and Kara back, and one whispered in his ear, "Don't blow this, Dev. They've got power beyond all of ours combined. We've got to persuade them."
After Dev had been restrained, the old wizard continued. "I beg forgiveness for the man, lord Zeus. The woman is his beloved. I am told that their love is quite young, and t'would be unfair to pluck it at this early a bloom."
Zeus spoke again.
"With all sympathy for this woman, her lover, and her condition, wizard, our decision still stands. We have greater import on our mind today. The payment of Eternity Rock for this millennium has not been made. It was stolen from the White Bird by an unknown brigand. The forces awaiting it are displeased, and their wrath is dreadfully provoked, even by such as we. Therefore, we must reiterate, there are greater things before us than a mortal's life."
They looked amongst themselves, then, Superman II, Superman III, Superman IV, Superman V, Dawnstar, Laurel Kent, Mon-El, Ultra Boy, Captain Marvel XII, and even old William Batson. And their eyes showed the sadness of a rejection that would probably cost the fallen Kara her life. Laurel sniffed, wiping back a tear. Mon-El struggled not to weep himself, for Supergirl was one of his greatest friends.
Dev-Em, at that moment, did something very strange. He handed Kara to a bewildered Old Man, saying, "Here, keep her for a minute." Then he stood before the assembled godlings, and stepped up before Zeus himself, at the bottom step of the tier. He stared straight into the eyes of the thunderer.
"Great Zeus," he said, "am I to understand that you're looking for a piece of rock?"
The red-bearded one said, "We have said it."
Dev reached in his trousers. "Does it look something like this?"
Even Zeus lunged forward on his throne to have a look. And the gods and goddess of Olympus were agog, as a human would be in their presence.
In Dev-Em's hand, between his thumb and middle finger, was the small piece of rock he had recovered from the Cosmic Axis.
Zeus finally admitted, "This is what we seek. You may approach the Presence." He held out his hand.
Dev closed his fist around the rock fragment. "Not so fast, Great One. All I'm asking for is a fair exchange. If you heal Kara, you can have the rock with my compliments. If you don't..." He looked at his fellows, and their mood was tense, but, for the first time in a long moment, hopeful.
"...If you don't, I could say that we'd tear the place up and fight you, and we're pretty strong in our own right," continued Dev. "But that wouldn't get us what we want, and we'd probably lose in the long run. So, if you don't want to deal, all I ask is that you let me die alongside her. ‘Cause I really don't want to go on without Kara."
Zeus sat silently for a second.
The others of Dev's party didn't dare make a sound. William Batson's jaws were clamped together tightly as he waited for what was to come.
Then Zeus said, "Apollo."
The sun god knew Zeus's wish. He turned to Mercury and snapped his fingers. "Hand it over," he said. Grudgingly, the messenger turned over the Caduceus, which he had stolen from Apollo in ages past.
Apollo, holding the serpent-wreathed staff, descended the steps of the marble tier and approached the Old Man and Kara. The wizard lay Supergirl gently on the floor. Dev stepped up to her.
The god of the sun knelt and touched her with the staff.
"Great Rao," whispered Dev, in awe of the deed.
Within seven seconds time, the bruises on Kara's face and body withered and faded from sight, the cuts and gashes on her form healed without scar, the broken bones knit smartly, the internal bleeding stopped, her heartbeat sounded firm and rhythmic, her breathing came more easily, and even the torn parts of her costume were mended. That last, Laurel thought numbly, was a nice touch.
She was still asleep, but she was resting soundly. Dev went on one knee, cradling her in his arms. He was crying.
Imperturbable, Apollo held out his hand. Batson took the fragment of rock from Dev's hand, and handed it over. The sun god marched outside, onto the great marble porch of the temple, and held the bit of Eternity Rock high above his head between two fingers.
The small white bird swooped down from the stars, snatched it from him, and sped away again.
Inside the temple, Dev-Em was burying his head in Kara Zor-El's shoulder, and was still crying.
Just off the Rock of Eternity, inside its event horizon, another being watched and hovered. He did not wish to be seen by the others yet.
He didn't know if he dared.
Well, perhaps he would just follow them from afar after they came out, and hope they were headed home. There he might be able to decide just what to do.
He hoped he didn't scare the hell out of them.
Thanks to the Rock of Eternity's shortening their journey, and to the multi-light speed at which they traveled, the subwave communication that Laurel gave them through her handset only arrived a few minutes before Dev-Em's party did. It was to the point: "Kara's safe and recovering. We're all coming home now. Out."
The various heroes and heroines whooped up a storm when they heard it. Gim Allon offered a short prayer of thanksgiving in Hebrew. Shadow Lass and Phantom Girl were grateful that Mon-El and Ultra Boy had made it through again. Dream Girl squealed and hugged Star Boy. Cosmic Boy glad-handed Lightning Lad and Saturn Girl, as the Original Three tended to do after a triumph. Action Boy, using his Mercurial powers, did a backflip out of the chair and landed on his tiptoes. Captain Action told him to watch the furniture. Blok hugged the weary Tellus, carefully. Brainiac 5 left the room, entered the john, and emerged several minutes later in control of himself. Element Lad rubbed the back of his head with both hands, then came up grinning. "Four for four," he said. The others cheered.
Even the Phantom Stranger cracked a brief smile.
Then he turned to Mr. E, who was still seated at the table, holding his cane. "Come, my friend, we must walk on."
The blind man, who had seemed as resolute as a drill sergeant during the fight, suddenly seemed to be nothing more than a tired old blind man, after all. "We must?"
"Yes, we must. You backward, I forward. But we will meet again, in earlier times. I know this for a certainty."
Mr. E looked at the floor. "I must walk. It has been such a long, long walk. How long must I walk, Stranger?"
The Stranger said, "Not for much longer. Only a thousand years or so. Until you come to the one whom you must teach the art of time-walking. Then you may die."
The old man turned his face to the Stranger. "Only a thousand?"
"Yes, my friend."
"And then I may die?"
"How will I know the one whom I must teach?"
"You will know him, when he comes."
Mr. E considered it for a few seconds. "Well, then. Only a thousand. That is good news. Have we done something, today?"
"Yes, we have, my friend. A great and good something. I thank you for your help. Shall we go? We have another friend to whom we must say goodbye."
"Yes, yes," said Mr. E. "Hrm. I must walk. Walk again. Do you think you could help me up from this chair, young man?"
The Stranger grasped his hand and helped the blind man up. Then he took Mr. E by the arm and led him gently to the door. Element Lad saw them.
"Hey, Stranger, are you leaving?" he said. "Thanks for your help. Both of you. Are you sure you can't stay?"
Neither of them acknowledged him. And, as the others were drawing him back into their festivities, Jan Arrah shrugged, and went back to his fellows.
The twosome emerged from the building and saw John Constantine sitting on a bench in the plaza, looking at the morning sky and smoking a cigarette. The Stranger guided them over. "The woman is safe, John. And we have come to say goodbye."
Constantine turned to face them, and only barely managed to hide his grin of pleasure before speaking. "Well, that's a nice bit of news. About Superbird, that is. How have you been keeping yourself in the last thousand years, Stranger? Still kickin' around between the two extremes?"
"I have been busy," allowed the dark-clad man. To Mr. E, he said, "Stand, for a moment." He let go of E's arm, and offered his hand to Constantine. The blonde man in the trenchcoat took it and shook it. John was about to say, "If you're ever in contact with your younger self, tell him to come by Ed's and we'll have lunch."
But the Stranger clapped his other hand against Constantine's forehead first. And with it, he obscured the memory of Mr. E's involvement in the adventure.
For, sometime in the near future, he and Constantine would have to work with a much younger Mr. E, in the adventure in which they showed the fundaments of sorcery to a young boy who might become the prime magician of their age. And even Constantine might balk at associating with E, if he knew beforehand that the blind man would attempt to kill the boy, and have to walk to the end of time and back afterward.
Now, even if one of the others told John about Mr. E's participation in the crusade, he would not retain the memory.
But by the time they participated in the matter that would also involve Dr. Occult, John Constantine would know of E, and would be persuaded to take him on as one of the four magicians in that endeavor.
So it was that the Phantom Stranger left John Constantine entranced for a few moments, while he took Mr. E's arm again and gently led him away, their shoes clacking on the stone of the plaza. They entered an arch and were not seen coming out the other side. By that time, the Stranger had let go of E's arm. He walked forward in time. The old man walked backward.
They would meet a few more times, in each direction.
Constantine came out of his trance, made the lunch offer, and said, "And don't be a stranger, eh?", before he realized that the dark walker was not there anymore. "Thanks a lot, ace," he muttered. Then he stood up. He looked about himself, and then glanced upward for a second.
"All right, all right. Maggie Thatcher. And church. Just once. But don't rub it in, eh? Bollocks."
Then he trudged back inside the building.
The rescue party touched ground not long after Constantine went back inside. Dev was still carrying Kara, and she was still sleeping. He stood there in the plaza for a moment, with the others forming a rough circle about the two of them.
"The girl needs to get her rest," he finally said. "I don't want to take her in there, where they'd make a big commotion and maybe wake her up. I'm going to put her to bed. Will you tell the others?"
"Certainly, Dev," said Laurel, and smiled. After all of this, the two of them were finally back together. Maybe something would come of it, after all. She was a first-class fan of romance. Especially other people's.
Captain Marvel glanced around a bit at the architecture of the Legion's headquarters building, walking in with the rest of them. "Remarkable," he said. "Maybe I can incorporate some of these ideas into the Tower of Thunder. Do you suppose some of you might like to see my place, White Witch?"
Mysa said, "I'm sure they would, Cap. But not today, okay?" Secretly, she chuckled. Hardly anybody called her by her heroic name.
Dev hung back for a bit, letting the others go in, and stood alone for a bit, looking at the sleeping Kara in his arms. It had been so close...to have fallen in love with a woman in such a short time, and then to almost have her snatched away...
There was the sound of someone else landing, behind him. Dev turned, still holding Supergirl, and dropped his jaw. "You," he said.
"Hello, Dev," said the newcomer.
"Uh, it is really you," Dev began. "I mean, you're not a ghost, or..."
"Nope, it's really me. I'm glad to see Supergirl came through it all right. If it wasn't for her, I might not have woke up in time." He paused. "Do you think they'll want to see me?"
Dev said, "Well, um, I don't really see why not. Given the circumstances and all. Uh, listen, I have to put Kara to bed. Welcome back, and all. All right?"
"Perfectly all right, Dev," said the other. "I'll explain it all in a bit."
The three of them went inside, and then proceeded in two different directions.
The Supermen, Laurel, Mysa, Ultra Boy and Mon-El got a heroes' welcome from the Legionnaires inside. Phantom Girl jumped into Jo's arms, kissed him on the cheek, and said, "Jo, I meant what I said, earlier. Do you still want to?"
Ultra Boy said, "I've wanted to for a long, long time. But let's wait a few minutes to announce it, all right? I think they should hear about Kara first."
"Sure. Priorities." They stared into each other's eyes and didn't say anything at all for a while.
Mon-El and Shadow Lass hugged tightly upon meeting. Brainiac 5 stepped up to the Supermen and Laurel, who were still grouped together. "Where is Kara?" he asked. "And Dev, for that matter?"
Superman III said, "She is still sleeping. Dev took her to--that is, he's taking her to her room. She needed her rest."
"Oh." Brainiac considered it. "What about her injuries? What did you do about them?"
Laurel intercepted him. "We took her to a healer, Brainy. She's going to be just fine."
He said, "That's good. Very good. Gentlemen, my words seem inadequate to convey my thoughts in matters of emotion. But be assured you have the gratitude of the entire Legion, and of myself, for what you have done today. If we can be of aid, as we were to your ancestor, call upon us."
Superman II said, "It's likewise a privilege for us to be of aid to the first group of heroes of which my father was a member. Thank you, Brainiac, for letting us help save our world, and our kinswoman." He shook Brainy's hand. The other four Supermen did the same, and offered their sentiments. Then they joined the others. Laurel hung back for a moment, and then approached Brainiac 5. He looked inquisitively at her. "Brainy, I--" she began.
There was a commotion near the doorway, and a shriek from Dawnstar. Both of them whipped their heads around towards it. Brainy sprinted over to the crowd, and Laurel flew.
The Legionnaires were massed in front of an orange-suited figure, who had caught the fainting Dawnstar.
"I was afraid it might go something like this," admitted Wildfire. "Hi, everybody."
The Drygur Moliom of Rokyn was about as tense as the other members of the Science Council, but he strove to conceal it. They had been in the Tunnel longer than the scientists' estimate, longer than the greatest transitional time recorded. But that had been centuries ago. There was no way of gauging accurately how long this would take.
They were emerging from the warp. The large monitor screen in the Council chambers told them that, relaying a satellite camera's image back to them. There was the characteristic greyness of emergence, which would last only a minute.
"I think there is time for yet another prayer," said one of the Councilmen, anxiously.
"There have been prayers enough, Councilman," said the Moliom, not moving from his seat. "Now is the time in which the results are shown."
Another of them was holding a hand-sized video communicator in his lap, with his wife's face on its viewscreen. They wanted to ensure that, if need be, each other's faces were the last thing each of them saw.
The greyness was passing, now. The Moliom leaned his chin against his fist and looked at the monitor intently. "Oh," said another council member, and was silent.
The transition was completed.
The Council looked at the screen before them.
Rather than the hellfire of a nova's interior, they were looking out at the calming view of the constellations in a Rokynian night sky. There were also a number of Daxamite spaceships in view, and nobody could quite figure that out.
A cheer went up from the councilmen in the chamber, and politicial foes found themselves hugging each other, yelling in relief, and all but dancing on the chamber floor.
Within another minute, a communication came through from one of the Daxamite ships. Its captain bore greetings from the United Planets. He said that Daxam had been endangered as well, but now it was safe, and they were gratified to discover that Rokyn survived as well.
"Have they discovered what caused us to start phasing again?" asked the Moliom. "And was our return simply a natural phenomenon, or were some of you responsible?"
"Have no real information on the first question, sir, and little on the second," responded the captain. "But if it was connected to our problem...I'd conjecture the Legion of Super-Heroes had something to do with it."
The Moliom turned to an aide.
"Open a channel to Earth," he said.
The Legionnaires and the Supermen gathered round about Wildfire, who was trying to gently shake Dawnstar back to consciousness. "C'mon, Dawny," he said. "It's only me. I'm back. Uh, guys, do you think you could lend me a hand?"
"Lend you a hand?" said Element Lad with a big smile. "Great hell, I'd think we'd have to lend you a whole body! Is it really you, Drake?"
Mon-El and Star Boy both looked at Dream Girl. "You knew this would happen?", said Mon.
"Oh, yes," she said, nodding. "I mean, I thought it would. I saw the suit filling up when it was tossed into the sun, and some of us flying off. So I knew that somebody would have to take one of his old containment suits up there. But I didn't want to tell Dawny. In case it wasn't totally accurate."
"Looks like you came through again," said Star Boy. "Congratulations, Nura."
"From me, too," allowed Mon-El. "Now I don't feel stupid about lugging it up there anymore."
Brainiac went to a wall panel, took out a flat plate with a sensor device attached, and brought it over to Wildfire. "Drake, if you please, would you give me a short burst here?"
"Oh, sure." He pointed the forefinger of the hand he wasn't using to prop up Dawnstar. A tiny pulse of energy popped from it and struck the plate. Its quality was analyzed by Computo. Brainy barked, "Computo: identify."
"Energy pulse pattern consistent with and identified as that of: Drake Burroughs, codenamed ‘Wildfire', designated Deceased," pronounced Computo, from a wall speaker.
Brainy gave a half-smile. "Computo: change designation of Drake Burroughs, from ‘Deceased', to--'Active'."
Dawnstar awoke with a great gasp of breath. "Ohhh, I--Drake," she said, looking at her reflection in his face plate. "Drake, Drake, is it really you? What happened? How did they bring you back?"
Wildfire said, "Well, Dawny, it's kind of--ah, how long have I been
"About a thousand years, give or take a few," said Cosmic Boy.
"Oh, hell," he said. "I've been playing mumblety-peg with myself for a thousand years. I can't believe I spent all that time in that star and still stayed sane."
Mon-El looked at him with folded arms and a wry expression.
"I know the feeling," he said.
Dev-Em sat in Kara's room, on the couch, watching her sleep.
He didn't feel like going down to the victory celebrations right now, even with ghosts in orange suits around. He wanted to be there when Kara woke up. Rao knew they deserved a little quality time together, apart from the rest. Especially if she had to go back to her own time when she got up.
He hoped he could make her stay awhile.
But Dev, too, was human, despite his Kryptonian nature, and was still a bit worn from his mighty labors at the Axis and his voyage to the anti-matter sun and the temple of the Olympians. And Kara still wasn't waking up.
So whether he liked it or not, he had to lie down on the couch, close his eyes, and tell himself he'd only be out for a little while. Just a little. But he needed it.
Twenty seconds later, he was sawing logs.
A tea party of three watched the two of them sleeping. The hostess was Mrs. Spring, although the decor of her house had changed since Kara visited it. But then again, it would change whenever anyone visited it. Her two sons, and one of her son's pets, were the other ones present.
"Thuthink she can suh, see us in here?" asked the black-haired son, his hand trembling a bit with the teacup.
"Don't slosh, son, I don't want to have to press you a new pair of trousers," said Mrs. Spring. "There's a possibility she may have been sensitized a bit. But no, I don't think so. She should be oblivious to us until and unless we choose otherwise."
"She certainly was something," allowed the other son, who wore rimless glasses and had a forked brown beard. "At least as good as that other one," he admitted.
"Oh, huhher," said the first son, and sipped tea quickly, looking at his brother.
The glasses-wearing one said, "Well? Aren't you going to say it?"
"Suhsay whuwhawhat?" ventured his brother, the little gargoyle on his shoulder trying to ride out the trembling storm.
"Say, ‘The other one who bopped you in the nose and broke it,'" he snapped. He glowered at his brother. The other was shaking, but one could sense it wasn't with terror, entirely. He was doing his best to hold in a fit of giggles.
The brown-bearded brother picked up a candlestick in fury and raised it.
"Stop!" called out Mrs. Spring.
They both turned their heads, and their mother looked very frightening indeed, as she did when she had to be.
"Cain, if you kill your brother even once while you are in this house, I'll bend you over my ironing board and you won't eat sitting down for at least a twelvemonth. Do you doubt me?"
"Uh, no, mother," said Cain, and put the candlestick back on the mantlepiece. He massaged the back of his neck.
"Mother?" asked Abel, having finally mastered his giggle-fit. "Why did you, um, cuhcall yourself ‘Mrs. Spring' when you had MuhMiss Zor-El in for tea?"
"Oh, you booby," complained Cain. "It's her name in Hebrew. ‘Life-spring'. Don't you learn anything in a million years' time?"
"That will be all, boys," announced Mrs. Spring. She held out an apron. "This is for you, Cain. I want you to do the dishes for me. And you, Abel, take your little gargoyle friend and go do the hedges. And make sure and get the back this time, and don't think I don't mean it."
Both of them said, "Yes, mother," and went to do their chores.
Over the warm and soapy dishpan, Cain mused, muttered, and rubbed disconsolately. Occasionally he glanced out the window at his brother with the hedge clippers. Of course, there were other uses hedge clippers could be put to.
And clippers weren't meant for use inside the house, after all.
Cain began to sing while he worked. It really did make the task go faster.
Supergirl awoke with a start. She took in her surroundings in a glance, realized she was in the room she used at Legion headquarters and that she was in bed with her uniform on, except, thankfully, for her boots, which had been taken off and placed thoughtfully by the nightstand. She massaged the back of her neck for a moment, and caught site of Dev, snoring on the couch.
Kara sniffed her own underarm and made a face. There was no deodorant that worked worth a rip in the anti-matter universe.
It came back to her at once, then, and she was terrified for an instant.
The battle. The pain. The death of Satan Girl. Then her merciful unconsciousness.
Was she dead now? Was this the Happy Lands, which a thoughful Rao, perhaps, had stocked with a vision of Dev?
Quickly, she trained her x-ray vision and hearing powers on the area beyond her room. She saw the rest of the Legion's headquarters complex, saw the other Legionnaires and the Supermen, and heard a bit of their conversation. She cut it off after a few seconds.
Somehow, she had been saved and brought back to the Legion's headquarters building. She had been healed, incomprehensible as it seemed. And Dev had come to watch over her, but fallen asleep.
It was better to let Dev sleep, she decided. He probably needed it as much as she had. Evidently, they'd both made it, and he'd brought her back. He would have answers for her, when he woke up. She walked barefoot over to where he lay and regarded him, tenderly, almost touching his hand, then thinking better of it.
The strangest thing, she thought as she walked into the bathroom and eased the door shut, was the bloodstains on her suit. Undoubtedly they were of her blood, and some of Satan Girl's as well. But she didn't feel wounded, and when she had passed out, she was still feeling her wounds...all of them.
Kara locked the door, stripped her shirt, cape, and bra off, and examined herself in the mirrorscreen. A camera behind her projected an image of her back, beside the frontview. She lifted her arms, ran her hands over her body, stepped out of her skirt and panties, hoping that Dev wasn't awake and choosing to use his X-ray vision just then, and checked the rest of herself out.
Well, whatever the case was, she was certainly mended well. Perhaps someone like Raven had given her a healing treatment. Perhaps she had been in an artificial coma for a long time, while her body healed itself.
She drew a bath in the soft brownness of the tub, got into it, and soaped herself well. She also washed her hair and rubbed both it and the rest of her body dry after the bath with a towel that was treated so as not to burn up with the friction of super-speed. She chose a brown robe with the "S" shield embroidered over her right breast (it had been done by Duo Damsel, who was good at such things) and wrapped it around her, belting it tight. Then, with the water and suds still in the tub, she soaked her costume and scrubbed it clean of bloodstains with her hands, the soap, and some judicious heat-vision. Once it had been cleansed, she wrung it out, blasted it all over with her vision-power until it was dry, and put it on a hangar. Then she lifted the tub stopper and let the water flow out, and was a bit unnerved by how much of the stuff that went down the drain was brownish in color.
Finally, she combed and styled her hair again, spritzed herself with some of the scent she kept around in both her 20th and 30th Century bathrooms, and padded back out the door again.
Dev was awakening. She was glad of it. She walked over to him and sat on the edge of the couch where he lay.
"Kara?" he said, looking at her in the semi-darkness.
"Me, love," she said, leaning on one elbow. "I guess we're both back."
She kissed him.
"To begin with," Wildfire was saying, "The shock of the thing killed the Anti-Monitor. I'm fairly certain of that, because I don't think I could have been in the thing as long as I was and not known of him if he was still around. I think it almost killed me, as well. I mean, there we were, in an energy / matter / anti-matter reaction. It was a miracle I got us far enough away so that when we both went boom, it didn't take all the rest of you with it."
"I think you're good at miracles, Drake," said Dawnstar, not wavering her gaze from her reflection in his face plate, and sitting with one of his hands in both of hers. "Go on."
"But you know, that's all I am right now, is energy," he continued. "So if I really get killed, ever, it may be they can't do it that way. I do think that it knocked me out for a long time. Maybe a few centuries. I don't know, I don't have any way of estimating it.
"Anyway, when I came back to myself, I was surprised there was so much of myself to come back to. I didn't have the same perceptions, by a long shot. I mean, I was a whole 50 per cent or so of a star. I was covering, well, a lot of area. I tried pushing off of it, getting myself together, but it was no go. My consciousness, my components, they were just scattered all over the mass of it, all bound atomically to that plasma, and I just couldn't get them massed together. Not back then, at any rate. I was mad, I was scared, I was frustrated, all of that, and then I finally accepted it, at least to a big degree. I was a star, and that was all there was to it.
"After awhile, I got pretty good at sending out my consciousness. I could reach as far as Qward, that world of weirdos the Anti-Monitor used to rule. They were still rewarding the wrong kind of behavior in that society, at least by my yardstick. So I tried sending out some mind-messages, and scared the hell out of a number of people, maybe literally. By the time I was done, I'd started a whole new religion out there. Didn't set myself up as a god, but started them thinking differently, talked to some of their minds, and told them I was the little man in the sun, and I could see them everywhere they went. And that communication, well, that helped to keep me sane. As sane as I was kept, I mean.
"They had a big religious crisis over it, and the other side started a war, as much as I tried to prevent it. I really did, but you know how that stuff usually goes. My side basically won, so it's held supreme over a good part of the planet now. Not that I've got anything against Anti-Monitor worship, as long as the worshippers treat each other nicely. They weren't doing that before. Am I rambling?"
"You've got a right to ramble, Drake," said Saturn Girl. "Go right on and ramble."
"So there I was, talking to a lot of people through their minds for a lot of years, and that's basically how I spent it, other than in giving out heat and light and all that stuff. I got more and more of my control mass centralized, over the years, and kept hoping that I'd make it out someday. I didn't know if I could survive separated from the star, without one of these suits. But I kept trying. I made some really big solar prominences trying, let me tell you.
"And then I was doing one of these prominences, and I heard a sending from someone else. Someone I knew. Yeah, I can remember one of my friends from back-when, even if it's been hundreds of years, because I know you all. I never forgot you. Especially not--" He nodded at Dawnstar, and she beamed, thanking the Great Spirit silently.
"Well, it sounded like Supergirl. And she was telling somebody to go to hell, and about then, something goes splat! into one of my prominences, and I had a blowup that really woke me up all the way. It was a full-fusion blowup. I'd detonated something of human-sized mass, and I hoped it wasn't Kara, especially if she'd come all that way to see me. But from her sending, I realized it was somebody else she'd flung into me. As soon as I could, I started sending out thought transmissions, but I couldn't get a response from her. I kind of imaged her body where it was floating from gravity fluctuations and light blockage. So I tried to keep as much of my mass as I could away from her, because I didn't know if she was shielded or not. I guess I was right to."
"You were," said Superman II. "Sorry, go ahead."
"Then some more of you came, and got her," said Wildfire. "I tried sending, but I figured that you had your minds on different priorities just then. From what I could pick up of your thoughts, I could tell she was in a really bad way. You were about to head out on that salvation run. I thought that might be the last I ever saw of you. Then one of you ejected that tiny mass, but I was picking up the attractors from it when it came within range of me. It was..." He felt of his chest area with his gloved hands. "It was this old suit. And with that, I knew I could fill it up again. I could remanifest myself. So I did. I wasn't a sun anymore--I was Wildfire again."
He was silent for a few seconds. Before anyone else could prod him, he said, "But you know, I think there's still some of my consciousness back there, in the star. Not that I'm missing anything, like memories or such--I don't think so, anyway--but I think I might have kind of cloned myself. I might go back there, one of these days, and see if I could have a conversation with myself. Because if it's anything like I was before, that star's probably pretty lonely." He said it with no irony at all, and nobody laughed at him.
"Well, I--after I got my bearings back, I saw the group with Supergirl. I wanted to show myself to them, wanted to make myself known to them, but I was, well, scared. I hadn't met anybody in a physical way, in a touching way, for about a thousand years, as it turned out." He laughed. "I cannot believe I'm talking this way. It sounds so stupid."
"No, it doesn't, Drake," said Sun Boy. "You were saying?"
"Ah, I hung back, kind of tailed them at a distance. I suppose any of you could have looked back and seen me, if you knew where to look, but you were really concerned with Kara then, and I don't blame you. So I waited while you went in that floating rock, then trailed you again when you came out and came back here. And when Dev and Kara were out there, and the others of you had gone inside, I decided to finally screw up the old courage and test myself. I came down and introduced myself to Dev. For a moment there, he seemed to think I was a ghost. And I don't blame him. But he seemed to accept me, so I figured I'd come in and see if anyone would--uh--you know."
"Accept you," said Phantom Girl, quietly. "As if you had to ask, Drake. We've been grieved by your loss for some time now. If you, or any of the others we've lost, were to come back, don't you think we'd accept them?"
"Oh, I think we would," said Lightning Lad, holding Imra's hand. "They did me."
Wildfire paused. "Thanks, people. I know that, sometimes, I wasn't the easiest guy to get along with--"
Element Lad said, "Oh, stow it! You think we're going to hold a couple of personality clashes against you at a time like this? Welcome back, you dumbo!"
Mon and Ultra Boy grabbed Wildfire on either side. Laurel understood what they were about to go, and grabbed Wildfire's legs. Before Drake could ask them what the hell they were doing, they had flung him up, bounced him off the ceiling, and done it two more times, to the laughter and cheers of the other Legionnaires. Then they caught him a final time, and put him back on his feet.
"Welcome back, Wildy, on behalf of the whole Legion," said Element Lad. "Now I'm sure you and Dawny would like a little time to be alone together. So, gang, why don't we shelve the rest of the celebration until they and Kara and Dev get back? That'll give us some time to get things prepared."
"It'll give us time to get some sleep," said Lightning Lass, stifling a yawn.
A tone in the wall signified Computo's intrusive presence. Brainiac looked up and said, "Computo, report."
"Message from member Reep Daggle, codename Chameleon Boy," it said. "Recorded subwave transmission."
"Go ahead and play it," Brainy directed. Some of the Legionnaires felt a twinge of guilt. They'd almost forgotten about the one of their number who was still recuperating on Zerox.
The viewscreen near the meeting table lit up and showed a view of Chameleon Boy, his midsection still wrapped in pain-killing bandages where he had taken a heat-vision blast from Satan Girl. He wasn't quite in the pink, but he was still smiling bravely.
"Greetings from the good ship X7H slash 91 dash 12," he said. "I know it isn't much of a name, but we Durlans tend to be unimaginative when it comes to naming spacecraft. The folks on Zerox have been pretty nice to me...I guess Kara threw a real scare into them when she made that speech they told me about. I'm still on the mend, but they let me use a communicator and I asked my homeworld to send a ship after me. Don't bother apologizing, I've heard of the doings on Rokyn and Daxam. I figure you're all involved with that right now. I'll be on-planet in about five hours. You can send a transmission here, if you need to. That's all, and see you soon." He gave the Legion salute. His image winked out.
Element Lad said, "Computo, send a non-vid reply. Start: ‘Great to see you Cham stop all missions successful stop Wildfire's back stop more details when you get here stop well done endit. Transmit."
The five Supermen were standing off by themselves, watching the others and talking among themselves. "We need to get back," said Superman V. "Much as I like meetin' other folks in our line of work, this really isn't our time."
Superman II, their unofficial leader, nodded. "I know, Five, but I thought we should wait for Kara. We all want to say goodbye to her. I even want to say goodbye to Dev. I started out disliking him, but darned if the son of a babootch didn't turn out to be a man in total, when we needed him, and when Rokyn needed him."
"When Kara needed him, too," said Superman IV. "Most of all, granddad."
Superman III, his hands behind his back, said, "There's one thing we haven't considered yet--at least, not openly. Do you think we need to have our memories of this erased? I mean, now we know how part of our future is going to turn out--that all of us will end up being in the family business, so to speak. Shouldn't we--"
Superman VI came to stand before him. "Should anyone attempt to erase the memories of this endeavor, of my meeting with my ancestors, and with Supergirl, Dev, and the others, I would smash him into the earth. We can keep a secret. It is well met that we remember."
"A little more forcefully than I'd put it," admitted Superman II. "But basically, Six, I think I agree."
Captain Marvel XII found himself sitting with Captain Action and Action Boy, and was excited when he found that the sources of their powers included some of the gods who powered him. He even stuck out his arm for an arm-wrestle with Action, who declined gracefully, to Action Boy's amusement. "Very soon, we'll have to go back to our time with Krellik," said Captain Action. "But perhaps, sometime, we can meet again. Right now, our job is still to find and neutralize Dr. Evil."
"Dr. Evil?" noted Marvel, with a raised eyebrow. "Even on my world, I thought I'd run into some villains with corny names. But that takes it. Who is this guy, another worm villain like my ancestor fought?"
"He's my grandfather," said Action Boy.
"Oh," said Marvel.
"There is one thing you could do for us, Captain," said Carl Arno. "We can't destroy the Coin of Loki that gives Krellik his power. But if you could take it back to the Eternity Rock they told us about...well, it'd be a thousand years and an entire dimension away from him. And it'd be watched over by Zeus and company, themselves. That sound like an idea to you?"
Marvel beamed. "Sounds like a great idea, Action. Glad to help out." He turned to Action Boy and clapped him on the shoulder. "How's about a few laps around the planet to see whose speed of Mercury is the best, lad?"
Carl Arno said, "Um, thanks, Cap'n, but...not today."
Wildfire and Dawnstar had finally broken away from the crowd and were headed for Dawnstar's room. They couldn't make love, at least not in any way that Dawny knew how, but they could be with each other.
"Are you all right, Dawny?" asked Wildfire, still holding her hand. "You seem a little distant. I must still look like a ghost."
"Hm? Oh, no, you're fine, Drake," she said, and squeezed his gloved hand.
Must I tell him about my assignation with Jhodan?, she thought. Must I let him know that I have tasted love with one other than him, before I thought he was dead, and that the sort of love he could not give me was sweet...and that I still, Manitou forgive me, want it?
Perhaps, she sadly told herself, it would have been better for her had he not come back at all.
And she damned herself thoroughly for that thought.
Dev and Kara had kissed repeatedly, and had not stopped embracing, while he told her the tale of their journey to the Rock of Eternity and her healing by Apollo himself. She was hard-put to believe it, but the knowledge of what he had done for her warmed her heart all the more. "There's something I have to tell you, too, Dev," she said, her head on his shoulder, her body feeling his hardness.
"Mm-hmm?" he asked, nuzzling her ear.
"There was one thought that kept me going, through all that fight with Satan Girl, besides the fact of what she'd do if I didn't stop her." She paused.
He finally said, "Okay, Kara. What?"
"That I'd never get to make love to you if I died out there," she said, all in a rush, and trembled.
He pulled his head back to look her full in the face. Then he reached into a pocket of his pants with one hand and pulled something out. "I, uh, bought these awhile back. For protection. In case you--"
"I'll help you with it," she said, and opened her robe, tense in her anticipation, wondering what Kal would think of her, and finally deciding to hell with what he thought.
Dev gazed at her perfection, embraced her again, kissed her again, and she helped him with his clothes.
By this time, the others down in the meeting room had decided that whatever Kara and Dev were doing in their room, they were going to keep doing it for a good while longer. Most of them had a pretty good idea of what it was, too, though nobody was crude enough to state it outright. Most of the Legionnaires were pretty tired from their various efforts. Thus, most of them opted for some Quicksleep, and filed out to their rooms in the complex. The five Supermen and Captain Marvel XII took off for a short tour of the planet, leaving word that they'd be back in an hour or so. Captain Action and Action Boy decided they needed to get home. So, with a drugged Krellik, they were sent back in a Time Cube to a moment about an hour after they had left with the Legion. How they finally found Dr. Evil, and what occurred when they did, is a story for another day.
Before long, only Brainiac 5 and Laurel Kent were left in the room. He was there because he had already slept. She was there because she didn't need to, yet, because she hadn't gotten a chance to speak with him very much since she came back, and because of the expression of solitude on his face as he sat at Computo's console, inputting data into it through a forehead-feed.
"Hmm? Hello, Laurel," he said, glancing at the Kryptonian girl standing beside him for a second.
"Qwerl?" Maybe she'd have better luck using his real name.
"Yes, Laurel, what?" he asked, still turned to the screen before him.
"Blast it to Sheol, will you look at me while I'm talking? Powers on!" She turned him towards her, grabbing his shoulder and swivelling the whole seat around. "Now will you talk to me? I wanted to say thank you for what you've done for me."
"Oh, well, Laurel, you should really thank yourself," muttered the Coluan. "I just more or less brought out the powers that were inherent in you. You just couldn't access them, hitherto."
She crouched before him, bending her knees and sweeping her cape back a bit. If he was like any guy she knew, 12th-level brain or not, her bikini-clad bod ought to keep his attention. She could tell that it did.
"Come on, Brainy," she said. "You know I didn't even know I had them, until you hypnotized me. I thought that punch I did with Ar-Ual was just adrenalined. You were smart enough to figure out what was happening, and you gave me what I'd been wanting all my life. So thank you very much for it." She leaned in and pecked him on the cheek. He looked dumbfounded, but not unpleased.
"Well, uh, thank you very much for that," he said. She wondered if he would turn a deeper green if he blushed.
She cut to the chase. "You're looking down. Want to talk about it? We're all alone. We could even go outside if someone else shows up."
He looked at her, tiredly. "It seems that everyone here has unencrypted my data. Am I that transparent?"
"I'm a woman, Brainy. I know about love." She waited for him to say something. When he did, he didn't want to look at her.
"The woman I've wanted for most of my life is upstairs now, making love with a man who has nothing of what I have to offer, and I have nothing of what he has to offer," he said. "The worst part of it is, I can't even hate him. He's probably good for Kara. The battle's done, to the victor belong the spoils."
"It's not like that, Brainy," she said, sitting on the edge of the meeting table. "Kara likes you a lot. She just never wanted you. That happens. I know it doesn't make it feel any better, but when it happens, it does. It's happened to everybody, sometime or other."
"To you?" he asked.
She nodded. "Once in awhile."
He sighed. "Do you know there was a time when Shadow Lass wanted me? It was right at the time she joined the Legion. We were both attracted to each other. But taking her would have meant giving up Kara. So she gave up on me and went with Mon-El. Which I don't blame her for."
Laurel crossed her bare legs. "Tell you what, Brainy. Why don't you give up on her, and go with somebody else?"
Cautiously, he said, "Like who?"
He laughed, briefly. "Laurel! I mean, are you really ser--"
"Hush, Brainy." She crossed her fingers, Kryptonian fashion. "You're hurting, we all can see it. I think you're kind of nice. I'd like to see if we're, like, maybe compatible. Now, wait!" She cut off his upcoming words with a gesture. "I'm not saying I'm going to go to bed with you. I can't even promise you we're going to be a big romantic item. But you're here, and I'm here, and, like, I think I can skip the Kara ceremonies." She grinned wickedly. "Wouldn't it be great, you know, if when Dev and Kara come out, they see all the rest of the gang, and the Supermen, and all...and they notice the two of us aren't there?"
She waited. After a second or two, Brainiac began to smile. "Where do you want to go?" he asked.
"I'm hungry. You've never been to the best Rokynian restaurant in town, I'll bet."
"Sounds like a winner to me," he said. "Do the waiters dress up like Superman?"
"Oh, I hope not!" she giggled.
Brainiac took the forehead lead off. "Computo," he said, looking at Laurel.
"When the rest of the Legionnaires enter the meeting room, tell them that Laurel and I are out. Tell them to--carry on without us." He smiled, and extended his hand to her.
She picked him up bodily and flew him out the meeting room door, out of the building, and into the night sky. "Whoa!" he said, and thought, I've traded one Kryptonian for another. But it looks like I might have better luck with this one.
Laurel, for her part, thought about how Power Boy had had a crush on her.
She shrugged. Sheol with that. Let him get his own girl.
It was about noon, and John Constantine was in the commissary, alone. About the only thing he could figure out was getting coffee out of a dispenser. "I'm starving," he muttered. Then, remembering what he had seen Brainiac 5 do, he hollered, "Computero! Hey, you up there in the wall speaker! How's about some eggs and hash browns, like? Sunny side up, and not too runny? Think y'can handle that?"
"Compute, I'm talking to you," he said. Then he gave it up, and was just about to see if he could find somebody and ask what to do.
That was when White Witch walked in, having just refreshed herself with a shower and change of outfit. He looked straight at her, his hands fairly immobile on his Silk Cut pack. "Umph," he muttered, absently.
"It won't work unless you're voice-coded for it, John," she said. "Even then, you have to call it by its proper name. Computo."
"Functioning," it said.
"Prepare standard breakfast number seven for our guest. Eggs not undercooked, sunny side up. For me, my standard lunch."
"Meals in process," the voice said, and went about its work. Hums were heard behind two wall panels. Within thirty seconds, the panels opened up. Two Computo servos shushed out, airborne with trays which they placed before Constantine and Mysa. Then they flew back to the wall panels, which closed up behind them.
"Well, I s'pose I don't have to leave ‘em a tip," said John. He took a fork from a plastic packet and dug into his eggs.
In the midst of eating the flesh of an animal from her homeworld, Mysa said, "John, tell me something about yourself."
Mysa put down her fork. "All right, John. Don't tell me anything. I know how it can be sometimes."
"No, you don't," he said. "And be glad of it, or you wouldn't have asked." He went back to eating.
She thought of a new tack. "Do you have a lady back home?"
That seemed to bring him back around. He looked at her sidewise. "I've had a few here and there," he admitted. "Some of them in the line of duty, y'know. Yourself?"
"I've had a lover or two," she admitted. "What do you do for a living, where you come from?"
He speared some hash browns with his fork, brought them to his mouth, chewed thoughtfully to give himself time. "Precious little, I gotta admit. I get by. What I do, I don't do for free. I make arrangements. Heh. Used'ta be a rock ‘n' roll singer, but who in my end of town ruddy didn't, back then?"
"Is rock-in-roll a style of music?" she asked. "Perhaps your form of opera?"
He snorted. "Lady, y'have just made me very depressed about your century. Here's the sort of thing I sang." He put down his fork, stood up, and mimed holding a microphone, hamming it to the hilt. Then he gave her an a capella version of "Venus of the Hard Sell." Except that he changed one line, and sang it thusly:
Soldier boys die but Supergirl still flies
Violent days--it's a permanent craze
It never pays to love the Venus of the Hardsell
And after he ended with "Don't die for the Venus of the Hardsell," he pretended to be utterly exhausted, the applause of a million wonka wizards in the biggest stadium in Britain thundering over him and almost drowning out an E-note from his backing band. Friggin' hell, he thought, making himself honest, they'd never worked their way out of pub dates.
He was surprised when he did hear somebody clapping.
John cocked an eye and saw Mysa banging her hands together and laughing a bit.
"Ah, thenk'oo, ladies ‘n' gennlemun, thenk'oo very much," he said. Then, coming back to himself, he admitted, "‘Course, since it's about 1000 Anno Elvis, doubt you know it. That was our big hit, though we did it a bit louder. Now, can I ask you a question, fer a change?"
She shrugged. "I guarantee no answers."
"Fair enough. Okay. You said you asked your computer about who to call on when you paid your visit, and it said me. Not that I ain't flattered. But why?"
She toyed with her napkin, looking down at her plate, and then looked up at him. "I honesty don't know. I suppose I could get Brainy to run an analsis of the factors the comp used in making the decision. But based on what I've seen, John, I could make some conjectures."
He sat down opposite her, took another cigarette out--just about his last one, and lit it. "Proceed, dearie," he said.
Mysa touched her forehead, running her fingers over her antennae. It was a gesture she made sometimes when she was thinking of how to phrase something. "I don't think it was because of power. I don't sense that much energy in you, not that way. I believe you do have a lot of practical knowledge of the Art. But knowledge without practice is an empty thing. Still, there might be many with more knowledge and more ability than you. But there's something more."
He waited, letting the ash lengthen on his cigarette.
"You know how to coordinate things. I don't see you so much as a warrior as a general. You seem to have an overview of the forces, and the ability to figure out who needs to go where and do what to get something done. That's a rare ability. I'm trying to develop what I have in that direction. Being the lone Artist in the Legion, except for Sensor Girl, whom I know has some ability, is difficult. But I do my best. And I think I've learned a lot from you."
After a few seconds, he said, "Well, thank'ee, Missy. I've had a lot worse tributes from a lot bigger figures. Not that there's anythin' wrong with yours, mind." She grinned. "Hey," he said. He gave her his hand to shake, and she shook it.
But she didn't let go of it.
He gave her a quizzical look.
"You're leaving later today, John," she said.
"Well, yes, Missy, I expect I am," he said.
"Would you like to make an arrangement before you go?"
He looked at her and said, "Well, under the circumstances, Missy, I imagine such arrangements could be made. Um, where should we make ‘em?"
"My room," she said. "But I'll thank you to keep quiet about it." She let go of his hand.
"Compared t'me, the statue of Lord Nelson is a regular chatterbox," he said. He went around the table, and she gave him her hand again. Before they walked up, he looked up at the wall speaker. "Keep yer bloody yap shut about this," he told it.
She giggled. He found that endearing.
He regarded her. "Y'know, when we met, I thought you would'a rather be on latrine detail than give me the time of day."
"When we met, that's a pretty accurate statement of how I felt about you," she said. "But I've seen a little more of you since then. And I like it."
"I could do a right boff wisecrack to that, but I won't," he said. "Lead the way, darlin'."
Luckily there was no one in the hallway at the time. Well, he told himself, Constantine old boy, she's not the first bird who's wanted to get under your trenchcoat.
He thought of Zatanna.
Then he figured that what would happen 1,000 years down the line shouldn't worry her too much.
"Mmph?" he said.
"We're going to have to go down there pretty soon," said Kara.
"They can wait a little longer," he opined, lying naked beside her. "But I'll get up in a bit and we can go."
She sat up a bit more, folding her arms over her breasts. "Can I talk to you about something?"
"Whatever you want. Talk, Kara."
She moistened her lips. "I'm feeling bad about something."
"What we did?" He turned to look at her, propping himself up on one elbow. "Now, look here, Kara, what you did was one of the most beautiful things you've ever done, I would imagine."
"Not that, you big dope," she said, playfully whacking him on the head. "But don't interrupt me till I'm done. Because you won't know what I'm feeling bad about until I tell you. Believe me."
He waited. She began to speak again.
"Today, or yesterday, maybe, I killed twice. Before that, a few weeks ago, I helped kill the Anti-Monitor. I don't think I had a choice in any of these matters. But I wish I hadn't had to kill Satan Girl. Maybe even Mordru, but I don't see any way we could have stopped him otherwise. I feel a little bad about the killings, but not that I had to kill them. Do you understand the distinction?"
Dev said, "I think I do. You know you did the right thing, but you don't like the fact that you had to do it."
She nodded. "Yes. That's it, exactly. Kal's been a super-hero 18 years longer than me. I don't think he's had to kill yet. Or if he has, he didn't tell me, and I think he would. The thing is, I feel as though it should make me feel worse than it does. Not that I don't feel bad about it, in some ways. Satan Girl bore a child. She wanted to find it, wanted to be its mother. As much hate as she had in her, she had enough love for that."
He nodded at her. "Her redeeming trait. Are you finished yet, Kara?"
"Almost. I'm afraid that I might get to the point where killing doesn't bother me at all, or that I might see it as a viable alternative. That's not a nice feeling to have, Dev." She paused, and then said, "That's it. I can't think of anything else to say that I haven't already said, in one way or another."
Dev said, "Now you want me to tell you what I think of your feelings?"
"Yes," she said. "But I want you to know that I love you very much, and that I couldn't ask anybody but you about them right now. Or maybe ever."
She would have given a year's salary to have a camera right then to record the tender look he gave her.
"Well, love, to begin. I understand your feelings about the matter. But the way I look upon it is, soldiers don't often have the option to pick and choose. No poor farmboy, or its equivalent, knows sprite-of-the-morning about killing when he gets called into an army, or joins voluntarily. He gets trained in theory and practice, but he does not get to actually kill anybody until his number comes up and he gets into battle. Now: the first poor sod that he gets to kill, who is he? Is he some slavering fiend that sacrifices babies to a dark god? Is he some maniac that runs down the main thoroughfare with a blaster, seeing how many people he can off before his charge runs out? Nope. Just some poor beggar like him, wondering about how long he's got till he's out, wondering how he'll manage to get a job when he does and make payments on an apartment and transport, and whether or not he'll get laid on Saturday night." Kara laughed. He smiled at her. "At least we didn't have to worry about that this Saturday night, eh, love? But to resume.
"So the war is fought, like all damn wars are fought, either by some yobbo with a pointed stick or about twelve hundred men manning one of the Dreadnought ships. And afterwards, the lads that come back seem less worried with killing, then the ones who got killed beside ‘em...because they feel that, one inch to the left or right, hey, it's me in the ash canister with the flag decal on the front of it. They start thinking, ‘Why am I so bloody good, so much better than the guy on the left or the right, who bought it?' Yeah, I know this is shopworn, but bear with me.
"Now, look at it this way. We are put here, we are raised up, if you will, because there are things out there which only we can deal with, given the powers we have, because the bad things really do exist outside of the children's books and we're lucky that we're only asked to handle so few of ‘em. You don't like the fact that you were placed in the path of some of these cretins, some of these black figures, and that you were forced to do what you had to do. But consider it, Kara: do you think they would have had the least bit of sympathy for you, if they'd been the ones to break your pretty little neck?" He waited.
"I know they wouldn't have," she said. "But--"
"None of that ‘but' crap, please, Kara," he said. "The Anti-Monitor. He wasted whole universes. You wouldn't be able to calculate the lives he took. From what I hear, he damn near killed you, Kal, and another Supergirl, and if it hadn't been for that healer girl, he would have, even after you killed him. If he had killed you, you can bet that every universe with a single human being or sentience in it that we could relate to would have been--flimpf. Now. Do you honestly feel it was a bad thing that you helped kill him?"
"No," she said.
"No ‘but' this time," he noted. "That's good. Now we consider Mordru. You and the others have fought him time after time after time. He's probably got more power under that silly hat he wore than the whole Legion has in its membership, countin' all the reserves and Subs and hangers-on. You neutralized him time and again. You didn't kill him. He had his chance to reconsider, every step of the way. At any time, he could've said, ‘This being a space tyrant is boring. I'm going to be a good little space tyrant.' Didn't. That type never does. To them, it's all about power, Kara. Not the fact that they kill, but how much power they get when they kill the right people...even if a whole damn world has to get killed ‘cause it's in their way.
"Well, Rokyn was in his way, and so was Daxam, ‘cause they have billions of people with the same powers as you and me. He sent out Adam and Ar-Ual to kill every one of those people, and put a spell on ‘em to make sure they didn't turn back. The boys and I nearly broke our backs making sure he didn't kill Rokyn. Jan and company barely managed to save Daxam. Finally, Mordru wants to merge with Evil itself. You and Gim stopped him. He couldn't have been stopped by anything except what you did, Kara. Could he?"
"Not unless he stopped himself," she admitted. "And he wasn't going to do that."
"No, so you had to do it. You were chosen, because, somehow, whatever chose you knew that you and Gim could do the job. And afterward, Satan Girl? Are you really going to say we could have reformed her? Or that all those murders she did, and all those she would've done, didn't matter, just because she had a kid?"
She sighed. "They all matter. I don't think she would have stopped till one or the other of us was dead. I had three fights with her beforehand...four, if you count the one before these last few. I didn't want to kill her. But she just wouldn't stop."
"No," Dev said, putting a hand on the cold flesh of her arm. "And that's why you did stop her. So don't feel bad about that, Kara. Just thank Rao that you had the skill, strength, and guts to do it, when you had to. But, Kara, the fact of your feelings signifies something precious: your morality, sweetheart. And that's a very good thing. So, if you can follow me: I think you should feel good about your feeling bad about something very good that you had to do. Does that make any sense?"
She hugged him again. "It does, Dev. Why don't you quit being a spy and start being a psychiatrist? I'll come to you five nights a week."
"I've got to have some time to patrol, don't I?"
Before Dev could answer, a new voice was heard. It came from the wall speaker.
"Kara Zor-El, your presence is requested in the meeting room," said Computo. "The persons known as Codename: Superman II through VI wish to pay their respects, before they depart."
"Damnation," said Dev. "Bloody mechanical peeping Tom."
"Tell them that we'll be down directly," said Kara to the computer. "Endit. Come on, Dev, let's get dressed."
The Supermen and Captain Marvel came back not long after Kara and Dev made their entrance to an empty room. All six of the returnees reacted with predictable joy, but Marvel had the same flustered and delighted look that Dev had seen on his face when Dawnstar had peered in at them in the bath chamber. Just a big kid, Dev thought, and probably never had a woman yet. Well, sorry, lad, but she's spoken for.
Kara stepped up to shake his hand. "We haven't had a chance to talk, Captain, but I want to thank you for what you did for me," she said. "I've met your ancestor and his two partners already. I'm glad you're carrying on his tradition."
"Um, oh, my, thank you," said Marvel, fumfuhing at light speed. "I, uh, haven't met my mentor's assistants. Tell me--was Mary--"
"She was very pretty," said Kara. "I enjoyed working with her. You would have liked Junior, too."
"Gosh, thanks," he said, turning red and smiling at the floor. Dev had to hide his face to keep from cracking up.
Superman II made a graceful save by being the next to step up and shake her hand. "I also wish to pay my respects, Tynth Kara," he said. "I, personally, am honored I had the chance to meet the first Supergirl. I'm only sorry my father couldn't have been among us. But I know he would have been as proud of you today as we all are. You credit the Els." He turned to Dev, and shook his hand as well. "Dev, I was prepared not to like you when we met. Brush up on your recruiting tactics. For now, all I can say is that I'll never think of you as the Knave of Krypton anymore. Good job."
Dev returned the shake, and said, "You're a pretty good hand in a situation yourself, Jor. If you ever get the chance, come and visit. Just call ahead to make sure I'm there, okay?"
"My turn, dad," said Superman III. He shook Kara's hand and said, "Tynth Kara, I credit you with the ability to keep this meeting a secret from me until we meet after this, in my time. I thought it was really something to be able to go out with Dad and Granddad on a three-man mission. But right now, all I can think of is--Gramps doesn't know what he missed!"
She laughed. "All right, Kal, I'll keep it a secret. But only until you tell me you know!"
After III shook hands with Dev, it was Superman IV's round. "We have seen many wonders today, Tynth Kara. We have assembled five generations of Supermen. We have realigned the Cosmic Axis, and rescued our world of Rokyn. But none of these, and none of the other things which have been done, please me more than meeting you, and seeing you rescued from death. Take care, and know that you will never be forgotten by the great-grandson of the Superman you know."
"Thank you, Dav," she said. "You and the others are a credit to our line as well. Take that from someone who knows the first Superman best of all."
Supes IV moved down to shake and farewell with Dev. Superman V took his place, with a big farmer-boy grin. "Tynth Kara, I just can't wait to get home, tell all the rest of the women in our line how pretty you looked, and watch ‘em all turn green with envy and hightail it to the beauty shop. Just you wait, they'll all be tryin' to get that Kara look."
She broke up laughing. "Get on with you, Kor. Do you act this way with all the women you meet? If you do, I'll bet your wife burns you in bed with her heat vision."
"Sometimes she does!" laughed Kor-El. "Sometimes she burns me up in other ways, too, and that's the kind of super-power I like best. You take care of yourself, Tynth Kara. Come and see us sometime."
She shook her head. He had to be the Andy Griffith of the El line.
Superman VI came last of all, with his General MacArthur demeanor. "And so the day ends for us, Tynth Kara," he said, still unsmiling. "To what my predecessors have said, I can add little. Other than that your beauty is the equal of your valor...and that your valor shows you to be, in my view, the greatest of El women...and among the greatest of all Els. From the first Kal-El to yourself, my line can ask for no better examples of the warriors for Truth, Justice, and the Rokynian Way. I thank you."
Not knowing how to take it, she just held out her hand and said, "Thank you, Jen-El." He shook it. Then he went to Dev and shook, saying, "Well done, comrade. Treat her well."
"You've got it, Six," he said.
Captain Marvel said, "We have to leave, I'm afraid. The Supermen are going to help me take Black Adam and Ar-Ual to the Rock. Tell all the Legionnaires goodbye for me, and if I don't make it here soon, I hope they'll come visit us."
"We will, Captain," said Kara.
The six heroes flew to the Legion's brig. There they would release Black Adam and Ar-Ual and convey them both to the Rock of Eternity, where they would be kept as servants of the Old Man, under the watchfulness of Zeus. Both would be given their chance to reform, and both would be given the chance to, perhaps, find love with one another. Whether they did or not is, again, a story for another time. The five Supermen dispersed to their own eras, after making their farewells, and Captain Marvel returned to his Earth.
None of them would forget meeting each other, or Kara Zor-El. But they would keep their secrets.
When the Legionnaires later went to release Professor Zoom and transport him back to his own century, they discovered he had vanished. The lassitude drug they had given him had been burned off, in time, by his incredible metabolism. From there, he vibrated out of the metal walls of his cell, and broke the time barrier again, heading for the 20th Century. There, he would make an offer to Iris West that would result in her death, and, ultimately, his own.
So, for awhile, it was just Kara and Dev in the Legion's meeting room. And they held hands and talked about what they purposed to do with themselves.
"What are we going to do, Dev?" she asked. "Could you come back to the 20th Century with me? We could find a job for you, Kal and I could."
"The 20th?" He made a face. "No offense, Kara, but that century gives me polyps. It's like caveman times, compared to Krypton. I have a job here. I'm not going to leave it. Why don't you stay in this time? What have you got that's so important back there?"
"Well--for a beginning, my life."
He spread his hands. "Which means what?"
She took her hands away from his and laid her hands in her lap. "Which means everything, Dev. My parents. My friends. Everybody I know. You couldn't adapt to the 20th, you think. Maybe I could adapt to the 30th...but there's something else.
"I've managed to make my life work as Supergirl, but I've never managed to make it work as Kara, or as Linda Danvers. Ever since I've gotten out of college, it's just been switch towns, switch jobs, try to find my niche as a person. I've never really gotten to achieve much of anything that doesn't involve using super-powers. Kal's been a reporter, and he's good at it. He takes as much pride in being a newsman as he does in being a super-hero. And me, well, it's like I think I said to myself one time...I'm kind of the handiwoman to the universe. Someone calls on me, I go there, I do what they tell me, I clobber a super-villain, and I go back to my civvies until somebody wants Supergirl again.
"There's so much more I could do than beating up super-villains. Kal and I have powers that could benefit the whole world. He thinks that we should let humanity develop as it's supposed to. I'm not sure we shouldn't be pitching in there and advancing it. Stopping wars, feeding people, helping fight disease...I know it sounds dumb. I know it sounds idealistic. But there's so much more I could do, and I'm not doing it. Does that make sense? Even if I have to make an effort as plain old Linda Danvers, I'm ready to. And for that, I have to be back in my own time. You're almost worth giving that up for, Dev...but I'm sorry. It's time for me to be selfish, in this case."
He studied her over clenched hands. "Selfish, perhaps, but adorable. But you don't want to let this thing go, do you?"
"Well...no," she said, hesitantly. "Not if we can help it."
"You have weekends off, don't you?"
"Yes, usually I do. Um, does that mean what I think it does?"
"It means that I'll give you a signal on the old Legion ring Friday nights in your time, and let you know when and where to meet me. This love has just started out, Kara. Let's do what we can to keep it going a while, and see where it takes us. I think it's worth a try. How about you?"
She sighed. "That sounds like the best idea I've heard in a long, long time, Devian." She took him in her arms and kissed him, open-mouthed. When they came up for air and hugged, he said, "You know, you don't have to go home yet. You can stay awhile, and go back to just after you left."
"I know, Dev, but I really should. We can stay together an extra day or so, though."
"Uh, Kara, Dev, hello," said Wildfire.
The two of them lurched around in their chair, and saw that Drake and Dawny had returned. "Holy Rao," gasped Kara. "It's Wildfire! Drake--you died saving me!" She got up and gave him a big hug of gratitude. "What happened to you?"
"I kinda got better, but it took awhile," Wildfire said. "I'm glad I had the chance to save you. You repaid the favor, kind of. I'll talk about it later."
"Well, you'd better." She disengaged from him and took Dawnstar by the shoulders. "Dawny, I am so happy for you. I never dreamed this could happen, even with all of the stuff I've seen so far."
"Thank you, Kara," she said, simply. "I am also very happy to have my Drake back again."
Supergirl couldn't miss the trace of sadness in her eyes, and wondered why, but didn't press.
The other Legionnaires were beginning to file into the room, and all of them milled about Kara in joy. There was much hugging, much handshaking, and a decent amount of cheek-kissing. But in the midst of all that, Computo gave an announcement.
"Laurel Kent leaves message that she and Qwerl Dox, codename: Brainiac 5, are ‘out,'" said the computer. "She asks that the other Legionnaires, quote, ‘carry on without us,' unquote. End of message."
There was laughter and a few shrieks of mirth and joy in its aftermath. John Constantine, still holding Mysa's hand (a gesture which the others noted, but did not comment upon), said, "How's about that, Mysa? Ol' Greengenes got ‘imself a bird at last. That ought to keep ‘im happy, for a change, besides futzin' around with Computero."
"I think it will, yes, John," she said. "And I'm sorry that you have to go back." She paused. "This isn't a bad place to be in, really."
"No, it ain't, darlin'," he said, sitting on a seat near one of the walls. "But it ain't my place. Nor my time, really. Got bricks in the oven back home." He hesitated. "If you call ahead, maybe you could see me."
"Maybe," she said. "But...you've got somebody back home?"
He worked his jaw a bit. "On occasion," he admitted.
"I'll never forget you, John," she said, at last.
"Make sure of it," he said. "I may need the work." He kissed her again. Then she took him to the room where they stored the Time-Cube.
John Constantine emerged from it not far out of London on a brisk afternoon, and began hoofing it back to his apartment, hoping he could thumb a ride along the way. While he walked, he whistled one of the filler tracks from Mucous Membrane's one and only album.
Mysa had told him, before he left, that the child they were looking for was named Tim Hunter. That was just great, he had told her, as if there weren't probably several thousand kids named Tim Hunter in the world. Couldn't she narrow it down a bit? She couldn't. At least it was something to go on.
Well, after he'd gotten back in, he'd see about getting hold of the Stranger again, since he was the one who'd brought it to John's attention a few weeks ago. He hoped they wouldn't have to hire a detective agency to find the kid. When that happened, the Stranger always wanted him to pay.
John Constantine stretched himself, decided it was better to think about Mysa, and walked on.
It is definite that he attended church at least once, afterward. It is probable that he voted once for Margaret Thatcher, though such cannot be verified. But he did not forget his marker.
And not once was he known to cut off an angel's wings, or to cause its fall.
When Mysa came back to the meeting room, Ultra Boy and Phantom Girl were standing on two chairs, about to make a proclamation. He looked in her direction. "Ah, she's back! Okay, I'll go ahead and tell you all. We've still got some arrangements to make, and some people to call. But if everything works out, come next Thursday, you're all invited to see the lovely Miss Tinya Wazzo become Mrs. Jo Nah." A big cheer went up from the Legionnaires. "And you'd better be there, too!"
While they were clapping, Dev leaned over to Kara. "Well, Kara? You know you've got to stay for at least that long, don't you?"
She replied, "Yes, Dev. I'll stay for the wedding. And we can be together at least till then."
"Well--" She smiled back at him. "Maybe a little longer."
"That's just what I wanted to hear," he said, and took her hand.
She didn't know how she was going to tell Kal.
In between then and the wedding, the government of Rokyn learned how their planet had been saved, and who was responsible. They issued a series of awards in absentia to the five Supermen, gave another one to Kara, and gave a last one to Dev, who had to accept his in secret. He was still, after all, a spy.
The restrictions against him were finally lifted by the government, and he was allowed to see his mother, and took Kara with him. They had a tearful reunion. When he asked, as he had to, what had become of his father, he was told that his father was dead.
So it goes.
Two years after these events, this happened:
A massive figure looked into a very special nursery on a rather remote planet. There was only one infant there, but there were many attendants, some with small Kryptonite medallions, some with wands, all with protective clothing.
The child rested within an Inertron-walled crib. For the moment, he slept soundly. The overseer mused that even this might not be able to hold him, should his strength be as great as a full-grown Kryptonian. But this, for the moment, was what they would house him in.
An assistant, standing by him, said, "A dangerous child, indeed, sire. Even Mordru's power might not be enough to restrain him."
"Mordru was a fool," said the other. "I bearded him twice. Once, I took his power. Then, I took his child. When he achieves full growth, he will be a tool even greater than those used in the elder days."
"A fool, indeed," agreed the assistant, who dared not do anything else.
"But a useful fool," said his master. "One who is easily capitalized upon. And the child is born of one who was cloned from she who caused me no small inconvienience in the past. That, too, is fitting."
"Fitting, indeed," said the assistant. "To have taken the Supergirl-clone from her imprisonment, Boom Tubed her to a point one year in her future, kept her comatose until her child's delivery, then sent her back to confront the Supergirl...a stroke of genius."
The assistant grinned. "Why, you might even say, Dread Lord, that the Satan Girl was Supergirl's dark--"
The master whirled and swiftly pierced the other's gut with the spear he was holding. The Spear of Destiny.
Desaad clutched at the shaft transfixing his midsection in agony. His master shot forth beams from his eyes which reduced him to his primal atoms. Later, he would reassemble them, and trust that Desaad would learn by that not to make jokes using his name.
Would it take 15 years to make the child a warrior of magnitude? 18? 20? It mattered not. He would give him as long as it took, and there were other things to be done in the meantime.
In this, as in all other things, Darkseid was patient.