Supergirl looked at the Legionnaires for a long moment, her mouth open, not saying anything. Though she could not see him, since he stood a bit behind her, Dev’s mouth was open as well.
Then, still without saying anything, she turned and began to walk towards the door of the room that housed them.
“Kara,” said a blonde man who had a more adult voice than the one she knew belonged to Element Lad, “wait.”
“Wait?” She spun on her red-booted toe. “Wait?”
“He’s right, Karaish,” said Dev, walking towards her. “Let’s hear things out.”
“Oh. Let’s hear things out. Yes. Let’s just do that.” Kara put her hands on her hips. “I used to be the Legion’s star absentee. I was in so few cases that I’ll bet some of the members didn’t even know I was in it.”
“Kara!” Was that Timber Wolf? Couldn’t be anybody else, she thought, fleetingly, although the Legion had to have gained and lost members since the last time she’d seen them.
“Shut up! I’m there so few times that you, Brainy, if you are Brainy, made a robot love doll of me to keep him company. A lovely gesture, Brainy, and I’m flattered. But I was hardly ever there. And now? Now? You grab me out of even the 30th Century and you tell me, ‘Oh, Darkseid’s around and we just couldn’t handle it without you!’”
“Kara.” Dev had hold of her arm. She pulled it loose. “Will you shut up and let them talk?”
“I will not shut up and they can damned well talk after I’m finished! And I’m not finished!” She whirled and pointed at Mon-El, yes, that had to be Mon, because he was standing near a blue-skinned woman in a black costume that covered up a lot more bod-space than Shadow Lass’s outfit used to, but it looked like her, anyway. “I serve in the Crisis and I almost die, I get my guts torn open, and luckily I get helped out by another Supergirl and healed by Raven. Almost Death #1. Then the Legion, my Legion, has me come to the 30th and I have to go to Hell and fight Mordru, and Satan Girl almost beats me to death. I still don’t know how Dev brought me back, but I’m thankful he did. Thank you, Dev.”
“Shut up! That’s Almost Death #2 Then we go back to the 20th and everybody gets into a big gang war with everybody else, and I wind up on Apokolips and save everybody from that damned Anti-Life Equation, and I’m the only one on her feet to fight Darkseid, and he damned near disintegrates me. Almost Death #3. Am I seeing a pattern here? And now...now...you snatch me and Dev from what was supposed to be a peaceful weekend of relaxing and, and seeing the sights, and catching up with old Legion friends and, oh, you know what all else, and now whoomp! I’m in whatever time I’m in, and you say that magic word ‘Darkseid’, and I’m supposed to drop everything and sign up for the latest crusade, and I DON’T WANT TO!”
She surveyed the faces before her and fit names to them, even though their faces were a bit older. Brainiac 5. Laurel Kent. Mon-El. Shadow Lass. Star Boy (who probably wasn’t going by that name anymore). Lightning Lad. Saturn Girl. Element Lad. Timber Wolf. Lightning Lass. Rond Vidar. Cosmic Boy. Night Girl. And of course, there was Dev beside her.
She sighed and crouched, her elbows on her knees and her hands hiding her face. “I. Am. Just. Getting. So. Damned. Tired.”
Laurel Kent, who, Kara noted, had grown into a fine figure of a woman, said, “Kara. I never would have believed you would act like this.”
Dev crouched beside her and stroked her hair, gently. He looked up at the Legionnaires. “Actually, I’m not so far away from those sentiments. Brainy, tell me why you took us from the time we were in. Tell us now.”
“We have evidence,” said Brainiac 5, slowly, “that Darkseid has the son Mordru fathered with Satan Girl.”
Kara’s head came up.
“Actually, it’s pretty good intel,” said Lightning Man. Kara remembered him from a visit she and Kal had taken to the adult Legion’s time, and he didn’t look too much older than he had then. “We have a lot better spy network than in your time, Kara. Take a look.”
A 3-dimensional hologram sprang into being just over their heads. It picked out a portion of the Milky Way Galaxy, then drew in on several planets in distant but related solar systems. From each planet, in turn, images of carnage, wreckage, destruction emerged. Kara and Dev gazed at them. True, they weren’t strangers to sights such as these. But, still...
From one, a moving image sprang forth. A rapidly-moving figure, tearing through the machinery and soldiers of a well-equipped army. Just one man against a horde, and within minutes, that man had won.
On the perimeter, two figures were visible. They weren’t that distinct, but it was as though the image somehow meant to call attention to them. An instant later, it zoomed in on them. They were still indistinct, but the computer running the display enhanced it as much as it could. She knew these men, even if their images weren’t that well-defined.
To emphasize it, Computo, or whatever had replaced it, produced two gallery images and set them beside the two mystery men. She didn’t have to read the Interlac legends identifying them.
“Darkseid,” said Kara. “Desaad.”
“Back at last,” said Dev. “My regards to your intel system.”
“I’ll mention that,” said Brainiac. “There’s more.”
The focus of the image came back to the lone warrior, or berserker, or...hell, just call him a murderer. His visage was less distinct than those of the Apokolips pair, probably because the computer didn’t have a model from which to work. Still...the eyes. She could make out enough of them to see something there, a fury, a lack of conscience, a lack of superego with which to restrain the id.
Eyes that, in another face, could have belonged to Satan Girl.
Supergirl was standing again. Quietly, she said, “What do they call him?”
“We don’t know yet, Kara,” said Star Boy. “But you can see why we wanted you on board for this one.”
“Frab,” she said.
Laurel came to stand before her, sympathetically. “Yeah,” she said. “My sentiments exactly.”
Dev said, “What do you expect us to do this time?”
“Help us, naturally,” said Brainiac. “We need your powers, your intelligence, your capacity for espionage, Dev, and your ability to pull out a win when everything else has failed, Kara. Your characters are known to us, as we’re all well aware.”
She shook her head. How must this man have changed, who had once loved her for years from afar and now was married, probably for over a decade, to a woman who had once been a less-than-confident Legion hanger-on? How had Laurel changed? How had everything changed?
“How long has it been since I fought Mordru and Satan Girl?” Kara asked.
Laurel said, “Over 18 years. I know it feels like yesterday to you, Kara. But we need you, and we need Dev.”
“One thing gets me,” said Dev. “I fought Darkseid, back in the 20th, and I know he isn’t thick. He’s one of the smartest nasties out there, strategically speaking. The General. So how is it that you were able to get images on him and this kid? Wouldn’t he have been smart enough to keep you from doing that?”
Mon-El was the one to answer. “In this case, Dev,” he said, “it may be a sign from him. If he doesn’t give a rap that we know or not...he may be calling us out.”
“In that case, Rao help us,” said Dev. “Rao help us all.”
On the world called New Apokolips, plans were being made. As always.
“The enemy will probably try to resummon the spirits of my first son and Izaya,” said Darkseid, standing with his hands behind his back, staring at a star-map on a wall before him. “With Berserker’s magic, I fear this not.”
“That tired old prophecy of meeting Orion in Armagetto?” Desaad smiled, but hoped his liege would not take offense. He had no desire to be killed again.
“The Source said it once, and Metron repeated it to me,” said Darkseid. “But I do not fear it. No victor was mentioned, and in over a thousand years, it has not come to pass.”
“I would like to meet him, in Armagetto or any other place,” said Berserker, the son of Satan Girl and Mordru. “I would take his Astro-Force and force it into his guts, before I ripped his body asunder.”
Darkseid turned, slowly, and even the youth subsided.
“Underestimating my first son’s power would be like unto underestimating my own,” Darkseid said. “All too many battles are lost thru one’s own arrogance, and thru underestimation of the enemy. This will not be done. Agreed?”
“Agreed, father,” said Berserker. The other held his gaze steadily for a few seconds. Berserker finally turned away.
The master of New Apokolips faced the wall, away from the other two in the chamber. “There seems to be no era without ‘heroes’. From my own time unto this, and perhaps before, there have been—forces of opposition. I marshaled their enemies from five dimensions a millennium ago, even found Anti-Life, and yet...I lost. I slept till this era, stole power from your blood-father, boy, and from others, controlled a world-army of Daxamites, each with the power of a Superman, and yet...I failed. Still, I exist, and in that...there is confirmation. I should not be allowed to live thus far, had I yet achieved my destiny. We will bring order to the cosmos, boy. If not thru Anti-Life, then by sheer brute force.”
“And genius, sire,” said Desaad.
“Yes, Desaad, and that, too,” said Darkseid. “Let us hope that genius will be sufficient this time. I may not have Anti-Life, but I will acquire what I require. Go. Tell the armies the time is nigh for battle. We attack.”
“I shall tell them we strike on the morrow, sire,” said Desaad, getting up hastily from his chair.
Darkseid paused, and looked at him. “Who said anything of tomorrow, Desaad? I want them in the warzone today.”
The United Planets got the notice from Aldebaran III thru infrawave but, even so, it wasn’t in time for them to do a damned thing about it.
The emergency communications center sent the message that the planet was under attack from a blitzkrieg-style fleet of warships, not of a design known to present civilization. They couldn’t do a match with earlier craft, outside of identifying a few common features. But that didn’t seem to matter.
The defenders were mowed down in the air, on the ground, at sea, and everywhere else they stood to fight. What reports they managed to pass on from the front suggested that the invaders had more than regular Earth-class strength, weaponry beyond what was known to the U.P., and some sort of blanketing, terrifying energy that, some said, registered high on the mystic scale.
Within a standard Earth day, Aldebaran III was conquered. What images were relayed back to the U.P. Counterintelligence Corps showed the planet’s rulers surrendering to a general in unusual armor, and an apparent youth who stood arrogantly, arms crossed in front of him, looking at his prey with triumph and contempt.
Naturally, the pictures were passed on to the Legion of Super-Heroes, among others. By that time, the strange young conqueror had gone, and three other planets were in the throes of defeat.
The Great Campaign had begun.
The Rock of Eternity hangs in the junction of all Time and Space, and in the temple which stands upon its green, verdant surface, the gods of Olympus spend their normal existence. So, too, does a wizard who was once called William Batson, then Captain Marvel, and finally just the Old Man. He is aided by a one-time foe who was given the power of six ancient Egyptian gods and goddesses, and who now is the Old Man’s assistant, along with his paramour Ar-Ual.
Thanks to his former crimes, the assistant, Black Adam, will never be allowed to advance to the state of wizardhood. But he does what he can to atone.
On this day, however, he was caught napping, and the Old Man almost did the same.
Black Adam, clad in a grey tunic quite unlike his old uniform of black and yellow and cataloging the annals of Zeus, saw the wizard suddenly stand rigid in the library chamber, his eyes widening as if...it had to be admitted...in fear.
“What is—“ Adam began.
“Go to Zeus. Have him throw the thunderbolts. Now!”
Adam truly wanted clarification. But the look in the Old Man’s eyes showed that he wouldn’t get any, and would be a fool to ask. With the speed of an heir of Shazam, he flew to the temple of the Olympians. Zeus was there, with several others, one of which was Ar-Ual. Hastily, Black Adam went to one knee.
“Shazam-heir,” said Zeus, in formal greeting.
“Your liege,” said Adam. “The wizard Batson says you must throw the thunderbolts, at once.”
“Without mortal request?”
“He mentioned none, sire.”
Zeus looked at the Egyptian quizzically. But he reached beside himself for the quiver that stood beside his throne. From it, he withdrew three jagged golden thunderbolts. At a gesture, a section of the temple roof opened up. As Ar-Ual looked into her mate’s eyes with questioning, Zeus let fly once, twice, three times.
The bolts of power flew into the space between immortal and mortal worlds.
As the third one flew, Black Adam stepped towards his lover and took her in his arms.
“Adam, what,” she managed to say.
Using his god-given strength, the Egyptian superbeing threw her through the temple roof before the hole closed, fast on the trail of the thunderbolts.
Ar-Ual had time barely to cry out before leaving the atmosphere that surrounded the Rock of Eternity. She also, hurtling through space, was able to see what occurred next.
A bolt of blinding white energy emerged from an unknown point, struck the Rock, and engulfed it in an explosion of force that caused her to shut her eyes.
When she was able to open them again, the Rock was nowhere to be seen.
Her cry of anguish could not be heard in soundless space, not even to herself. She still sped away from the site of the Rock, propelled by Black Adam’s throw.
Then she took control of her flight with her own inborn Kryptonian power. She could follow the thunderbolts to their destination, an Earth foreign to her universe. Or she could try for help from a source more familiar to her, even a thousand years and more from her own era.
Choosing a course apart from the bolts, she headed for a warp that would lead her to the dimension occupied by a world some had called Earth-One.
There was another Earth, in another plane of existence, which had luckily been spared war for the past 1000 years. After its conquest by the Nazis in the mid-20th Century and its liberation by a team of heroes from three worlds, the Earth housed a human race which, now unified, forged a new kind of unification, and strove for excellence in peace, not in war.
They had no need of heroes with fantastic powers. Some humans, mutated through natural or scientific means, had turned their abilities to civic use. They appeared here and there throughout the millennium, but there were no villains of similar power for them to battle, and this was counted a blessing.
One of those who counted it a blessing was Sammwel Smyth, who lived in North America, in a city once known as Dallas. He was a professor of ancient history, and his greatest love was the lore of the Freedom Fighters, those who had liberated his world from the German conquerors and helped mold it into the world it had become, a thousand years hence. So much there was still to know about them, and so much of their lore was hidden. As if no one could understand some of their nuances, without being one of the Fighters themselves.
Samm Smyth was an old man now, with white hair and a goatee he had fashioned after one of his favorite heroes. But he knew, as he prepared for bed now, that the body he wore could only last for a few more years. Perhaps less. Not even the science of his time could undo the heart condition he had developed.
As he reached for a globe of water, his right arm began to tremble. And try as he might, he could not get it to complete the action.
The monitor to Medical Services went off, in conjunction with the lessening beat of his heart. Samm felt sensations he had never hoped to feel, but knew that one day he must. The floor was cushioned and comforting as he hit it, lying on his back.
At least his children and grandchildren would carry on, thought Samm, as he began to close his eyes. Even his nieces, nephews, and grandnephews...
...and a particular vision filled his eyes, or perhaps his mind, with nothing in common of what he would expect of Death, or an angel.
A landscape of golden mist was the backdrop. Before it, standing perhaps on nothing visible, a figure dressed in three primary colors looked out at him (and it had to be looking at him), with eyes that could have stared down an eagle.
The figure’s right arm came up and its forefinger pointed directly at him.
“Sammwel Smyth,” it said, “I want you.”
After a second’s hesitation, Samm knew there was but one response.
“How may I serve?” he said.
When the medrobs and human medics got to Samm’s apartment a few instants later, they were totally mystified. A shattered water-globe was on the floor and the room sensors showed that Smyth had fallen beside it and lay there for a few seconds.
Then the sensors did not register his presence.
How in the hell did a man that dead get up and walk away?
On yet another Earth, a large number of heroes, both juvenile and mature, were gathered in seats, some of which hovered by magnetic means, around a central dais. On that dais, the leader of their group spoke to them.
“Here’s the upswing,” said Superman. “Sorceress has told us there’s a major outflux of mystic energy leaving our dimension and headed for another universe. Since a lot of our operations depend on her ability…and others, as you know…handling the magical arts, we’re probably going to have to send a team to investigate. And if need be, to deal with the problem. Any questions before we ask for volunteers?”
“How big a team do you want?” asked Atomic Ace, who wore a protective costume of red and gold. “No matter what, I want to be on it.”
“I’m thinking about eight,” said Superman. “Of course, I’ll be participating, and so will Sorceress.” He nodded to the beautiful blue-skinned girl who sat demurely at the meeting table, her color a trait of her ancestress, the Blue Lama.
Ultra Man, whose energy-based power allowed him to use one power at a time at full efficiency, or more than one at lesser settings, raised his hand. “Sign me up. Phantomette as well.”
Green Lantern, whose ring had been handed down for centuries since it was fashioned by Alan Scott, said, “I’ll go. Any loss of magic affects me, too.”
Powerman, a Thoronite whose abilities approached those of Superman, said, “Been awhile since I’ve seen action. I’ll volunteer.”
Amazon Queen, a blonde-headed scion of the Trevor / Prince line, stood up, magic lasso at her hip. “This one isn’t just for the boys. My powers come from magic as well. I’m getting in on this one, Supes.”
The brunette Titan Girl, from one of Saturn’s moons, spoke up. “You can probably use a telepath on this mission. I’m in.”
“Which leaves us with one slot open,” Superman noted. “Last call.”
One red-gloved hand went up so fast it was there before anyone but Amazon Queen, Powerman, and Superman could follow it. “I’mnumbereight,” said Johnny Flash.
“Looks like we have our outbound team,” said Superman. “The rest of you are under Magnetic Man’s command till we get back.”
Shiela Thirteen, who had been a full-fledged heroine in the past and now was an honorary member, said, “Excuse me, Dave. You mentioned a magical outflux. Could this be related to the loss of my helmet?”
“It could very well be,” said Superman. “After all, we are bound for Earth-One. Now, team, if you’ll follow me to the transporter, we’ll get started.”
The eight members of the Legion of Allied Heroes’ away team got up from their places at the table and went forth to their interdimensional duty.
It was night, now, and Kara and Dev managed to be alone on the roof of the Legion’s complex, sitting side by side and looking up at the stars. Kara’s hand found Dev’s. “I used to enjoy star gazing,” said Kara. “That was before I started thinking of them as battlefields.”
“They’re not all war-places, love,” said Dev, massaging her fingers with his own. “Some of them, many of them, are peaceful. I’ve been to a few.”
“Not likely on Legion business.”
“No, but they’re out there.”
“Dev, whatever else, we have to settle this. This thing we have between ourselves.”
“I suppose we do.”
“Dev?” She didn’t look at him as she spoke.
“If you’ll marry me…”
“I’ll live in the 30th.”
He waited before speaking. “Are you sure this is what you want?”
She turned her head to look at him. “What I want is you. If this century is part of that, just so long as I can go home when I want, I’ll come live with you.”
He sighed. “You’d better be sure about this, Kara. You really want to get married?”
“I want you.”
“Then say it, Dev. I want to hear it from you.”
“All right, Kara. Will you marry me?”
She stood up. “I’ll give you my answer in bed.”
He got to his feet. “Probably be the best answer I’ll get all week.”
“Maybe not, if you’re lucky.” She took his hand again and they headed for the downlift. “But it might be our last chance for awhile.”
And if we’re not lucky this time, she thought, it
the last chance in our lives.
To be continued...