A Force of Four
Kara Zor-L looked at the advancing Kryptonian with fading surprise and waxing fear.
Time slowed down, subjectively, enough for her to comprehend what U-Ban, who wore a sickening grin, was after. Enough for her to realize that he was one of the three men in this universe powerful enough to accomplish it.
Say it, one part of her mind told the rest.
All right, she responded. Powerful enough to rape me.
This was U-Ban, the third of the three brothers from her native world who had turned criminal and twice fought Superman. He was the only one whom she had not met, yet. The others, Mala and Kizo, had beaten the snot out of her in a two-on-one fight. Two men against one woman. Even when the woman was Power Girl, those were bad odds.
And the brothers were not the weakest of Kryptonians. Each of them could have gone toe-to-toe with her cousin Kal-L, who himself had beaten her in a fight after being corrupted by the waters of Koehaha.
But Kal never wanted to rape her.
Until she met the two Krypts, she had never felt the fear that a normal woman does of having her body taken by force. It disgusted her that men (and, sometimes, women) would attempt such a thing. When she had come across such a crime in her Metropolis patrols, she had beaten the perps to the point of injury. No man of Earth could force himself upon her, and she would not have that happen to Earth women when she could prevent it.
But U-Ban was no man of Earth.
He was unbuckling his belt and saying something to her, calling her "worldwoman", as if that meant a thing. She shrank back.
Oh, Rao, she prayed, let not such a thing happen to me...to the last woman of your planet...
"You may burrow through the Earth, Kara," said U-Ban. "I will follow. You may fly into space or dive to the bottom of the sea. I will follow. I will make you a woman."
He was too late for that. But she didn't expect that it would matter.
Tough girl, her mental jester mocked her. Everybody thinks you're such a tough girl.
But she had to be tough. Finding out that so many years of her life were a pre-programmed lie, coming to a strange world, finding only one man of Krypton and then losing him, turning from innocence into grim experience on a planet she never made...she had to be tough, or break. She had to wall the little girl off, most of the time, and put on the casing of the big, tough, capable bitch.
Well, then, looks like he's just about here, said the jester. Are you going to be the little girl...or the bitch?
She made her decision.
U-Ban was already exposed, about to throw himself upon her.
She focused her heat vision on full power and let him have it.
"AHHHHHHHHH!" U-Ban screamed, looked very, very surprised, and grabbed his crotch. The very air was steaming around it. Not enough to injure him, probably, but damned well enough to make him hurt.
"Pull up your pants," said Kara, getting to her feet. "You look ridiculous."
He started to straighten up, his expression changing from one of pain to one of anger.
She brought one up off the floor and gave him an uppercut that smashed him right into the next level.
Power Girl had enough time to turn to face him as he crashed through the ceiling about eight feet behind her. Well, whatever the hell was about to happen, she wasn't going to lay down and die waiting.
She assumed a defensive stance, one fist cocked and ready. "You want it, tough guy? You're going to have to fight for it."
U-Ban screamed something which she didn't understand. But the way that he leaped at her indicated that the terms were all right by him.
On Mars, the Infinitors awoke, one by one, in cells which had been constructed near those of Wonder Woman and Fury in the Temple of Science. Since there were a large number of team members, they generally were parcelled out two to a cell. Hippolyte rated her own solo chamber. Syl Pemberton awoke with Ginger Baker playing his "Toad" solo between his ears. Northwind was in the cell with him. He heard voices talking elsewhere in the area, mostly women.
"Oh, ah," he said, rubbing his head. "Norda. Hey, Norda. Twitch or something, will you?"
He moved his foot to nudge the winged wonder from Feitheira and noticed, for the first time, that his belt had been taken away. With it went the cosmic power device that was his legacy from Starman.
"Damn," said the Star-Spangled Kid, with some feeling.
Norda stirred, lay one hand to his eyes, and looked at Syl as though he was trying to focus. Syl stooped over his partner and touched him. "Easy, man," he said. "I don't know where we're at, but we're locked in. And I don't have my belt."
Nuklon's voice, then. "Hey, Pemberton. Is that you? Are you up and around now?"
Norda said, "Syl. Where are we?"
"Don't know, Norda," he replied. Then he raised his voice. "I'm alive, Nuke. So is Northwind. What about the others?"
He heard Fury saying, "Mother, grandma, it's Syl. Tell him you're all right, okay?"
The voice of Princess Diana was next. "This is Wonder Woman, Kid. We are all on Mars. Our captors are the Kryptonian trio, and my old enemy Badra."
"I am Queen Hippolyte," said a voice from the cell beside Diana's. "Sadly, I must report that my own bracelets, like my daughter's and granddaughter's, have been chained together. I have no Amazon powers till the chains are broken."
"But we're glad as hell that you're all right, especially you, Lyta," said Hector Hall. "It's Silver Scarab, Kid. Just in case you don't recognize my voice."
The young man in the star-spangled blue-and-red costume leaned against the stone wall and sighed. "Look. To make things simpler, the rest of you just sound off by name. Let me know if you're really hurt. Okay, let's hear it."
"Jade," said Jennie-Lynn. "I guess I'm okay, Syl."
"Obsidian here," said Todd Rice. "Guess I'm okay, too. No powers, but okay."
"Dr. Midnight," said Beth Chapel. "More or less intact."
"Wildcat," said another new recruit. "I am fine."
"Good ol' Brainwave, Jr.," said Hank King, laconically. "I'm basically all right."
"Hourman, the Next Generation," said Hank's roomie. "Yeah, I'm okay."
"The rest of you I've heard from," said Star-Spangled Kid. "Northwind's with me, and I think he's all right. Next question: if we're on Mars, how come we're still breathing?"
Fury said, "Badra told us in one of her gloat sessions. They put a force-field dome over the area and filled it with imported air from Earth. They had to, or their little Quisling wouldn't survive here, and neither would any of us. They want us to be around long enough to see the Earth get destroyed."
Syl Pemberton and Norda both looked at each other for a moment.
Then the Kid said, "Say that again?"
"I can't get an answer," said Starman, finally. "Either the Kid's unconscious, or separated from the belt. Or dead."
"Don't talk that way," said the Huntress. "We've had enough death in this team already. My dad, my mom, Superman..."
The Spectre hovered above them. "And how should he speak, friend Huntress? If Sylvester Pemberton has crossed the veil, it is so. Such things cannot always be avoided. As I well know."
"Yeah, you would, Spec," said Robin. "Think you can give us a hand? Maybe poke through the barrier by using Syl's belt as a conduit?"
"No," said the Spectre. "The anti-magical influence still remains. I might discorporate in such an environiment."
The Flash quit trying to vibrate into an Earth from their unusual hostel. "We don't even know where the Kryptonians took the kids. We lost contact with them when they left Earth. Blasted great."
The other JSA members had little to offer. Dr. Fate, looking out at them, suspected that some of them were glumly touching the idea of giving up at last. That, above all, would be deadly to them.
Then Johnny Thunder spoke. "Uh, Starman?"
Ted Knight looked in his direction.
"I don't know if you could do it, but...well, here's an idea."
The Thunderbolt, his arms folded and his jagged end hovering above the floor, said, "Tell ‘em, master. Before it dies of loneliness."
"Say, you, be quiet," ordered Johnny. "Now, here's the deal. You ever see that Uri Geller guy on TV?"
Hourman, looking at Johnny, blanched. "Thunder, Geller's a fake artist. Bends spoons with his thumbs while nobody's looking and claims he did it with his mind. Sleight-of-hand, strictly."
Johnny stamped his foot on the carpet. "So what? I mean, ain't the idea good?"
"What idea?" asked Hawkgirl, coming closer to him. "What idea, Johnny?"
The Thunderbolt kid swallowed hard. "What if, instead of trying to talk to the Star-Spangled Kid through that belt...Starman here moved it over to him with his mind?"
The Flash, having put up with Johnny's cement brain for over forty years, was finally about to let him know what he thought. "Johnny, that is just about the--"
"--Best idea anyone's come up with in the last hour," said Green Lantern, clamping a green, power-ringed hand over Flash's mouth. "Ted, do you think you're up to it?"
The red-clad, green-caped hero looked at his comrades, and knew those who had mystical abilities would add their powers to his own again. They might not be of any use in the Earth-Two plane, but here, they could give his Cosmic Rod an immeasurable boost.
"I think I'd better be up to it," allowed Starman.
Kryptonians in the Earth-Two universe were constructed a bit differently than their counterparts on Earth-One. If you flung them against or through a wall of granite with enough force, it hurt.
And Kara was hurting. She was aware of that much, as U-Ban smashed her through the Fortress's outer wall. She had a really nice view of the evening sky before he launched another punch at her, coming through the wall towards her.
"That's enough," said Power Girl, leaping upward and coming down full-force on his back, boots first. U-Ban grunted in pain. That was satisfying.
Less so was the backhand he gave her, which knocked her against the mountain once more.
Shaking the stars and flashes out of her eyes, the Blonde Blockbuster noted that, at least, U-Ban's trunks were up where they belonged. He wasn't going to give her an easy target again. She decided not to be one for him.
Yelling out a great "Kiaii" as she peeled herself away from the rock, Power Girl lashed out with a klurkor kick aimed at U-Ban's head. He ducked, caught it on his shoulder, winced with pain. His clenched hands came across from her left with a terrible hammer-blow which caught her on the side of the face. She yelped in pain and fell down the side of the mountain, crashing through a tree or two on the way down. Kara pancaked on rocky ground and, panting, got up on hands and knees.
He was onto her back, levering her head back with one powerful arm. "Now, woman of Argo, you will satisfy my needs. Whether conscious or not does not matter. Afterward, it will all be the same. Pity, as you are the last woman of our kind. But there are other women, though they are a bit more--fragile."
Her face reddened, her breathing constricted, Power Girl turned her head and bit down hard on U-Ban's forearm. He howled in pain and released her.
"Needs a little mustard, really," said Kara, and kicked him in the face.
In another portion of the Temple of Science, Kizo had gotten his reward for bringing back Infinity, Inc. He turned on his side towards Badra, who lay back against her gold-covered pillow, the sheets wrapped just above her breasts. "Exquisite," he said. "For this, I would crush a hundred heroes."
She smiled, very subtly. "I trust, then, that the payment was sufficient."
"Ah, Rao, indeed," said the Kryptonian. "That you have chosen me, of course, is the only sensible decision you could make."
"You do not say."
"I do," affirmed Kizo. "Mala is a good man, but too much of a scientist. U-Ban is mentally a reckless youth, despite his years...no self-control, good for little. There is only one true man of action among the three of us, and that is me."
"So it is," she said. "At any rate, Kizo, you must keep this secret from your brothers. They would become jealous, and such jealousy erodes any enterprise. Even one of this caliber. You agree?"
He clasped her hand. "As long as this is not the end."
She gave him her most seductive smile. "If you can show me the same each time as you have tonight."
"I get better with practice," he said.
She kissed the side of his face and then got out of bed. "Remain here for awhile, Kizo. After I am gone five minutes, use your X-ray vision and make certain your brother is not aware of your departure. There is a reason I lined the walls of this room with lead."
"Badra." He clutched at her arm. "I truly was magnificent, wasn't I?"
She looked at him. If she had not faked ecstasy, it would have been over even more shortly than it was.
"Indeed magnificent," she said. "Now release me. I must check on Mala's progress."
"Mala. Hmph," said Kizo, watching her dress. When she had donned the green dress that was her uniform, she left the bedchamber.
Walking towards the laboratory, she reflected on how deadly a game she played. But it would not do to have the Krypts united against her. If she could play one against the other, she might still retain control over them, through sex if not through loyalty.
And if that ran out, well, she could possibly mount an expedition to find some large chunks of Kryptonite still orbiting as asteroids around Krypton's great red sun.
Then, abruptly, she felt a chill. The sort of chill she experienced when...he was trying to communicate with her.
Something was wrong. Had one of the prisoners escaped? Gods knew, Wonder Woman had gotten out of enough traps in her existence. But not this one. No, this one just wouldn't be escapable. Especially not with his help.
Nonetheless, she had to check. She still had her own power, and that of two of the Krypts to draw on. That should be enough to take care of Diana, her family, and the wimpish Infinitors.
She wondered where U-Ban had taken himself to.
And, of all things, she wondered about Power Girl.
The two survivors of Krypton had battled mercilessly, furiously, slamming each other about the mountain peaks of the Fortress's surrounding area. Power Girl tried to keep him away from the Fortress as much as she could. It would not do to have her cousin's shrine demolished too badly. But she couldn't steer the conflict away from it all the time, and they crashed through its walls and toppled Superman's trophies more than once.
She didn't see any Kryptonite around when she was inside.
Both were bleeding, Kara from one side of her mouth, U-Ban from a nose that had run into her knee. Both were showing bruises. The sounds of their blows impacting upon their bodies echoed throughout the mountain range. Even though the area was generally off-limits, rangers assigned to the surrounding area learned of the explosive noises and radioed for surveillance. They were turned down because of the high security.
So they waited, and watched, and hoped that whatever was in there didn't come out.
U-Ban was incensed that a mere woman, one who barely came up to his collarbone, could battle so fiercely and, yes, cause him not a little pain. Kryptonian or not, the wench was supposed to take what she was offered and then die afterwards when he wrung her neck. Not to fight him off like a damned banthpanther in a white leotard!
And Kara had to admit that, despite the pain of his blows and kicks, despite the knowledge of what he intended to do to her if he beat her, despite the knowledge of his superior strength and the peril the world and her friends were facing...
...she kind of enjoyed this fight.
He reached out a hand, fingers pronged to tear at her eyes. She caught his arm under her own armpit and sent four hard knee-blows in succession to his sternum. U-Ban grunted with every one. She allowed herself a bit of satisfaction.
Then he smashed his forehead against her own, and filled her head with pain.
Power Girl's senses swam, and her grip weakened. Deadly in this instance, and she knew it. But she needed precious seconds to recover, precious seconds to remaster her body...
U-Ban drew back his free fist and smashed it against her jaw.
Kara loosened her grip and flew away from him at hyper-speed, crashing into the side of another mountain. To this impact, an instant later, was added that of her foe flying headfirst into her gut. Power Girl gasped, strained for breath in automatic and pained reaction.
U-Ban's hands found her face and neck and began wrenching at their targets.
She tried heat-vision, weakly, but couldn't get a bead on him the way he had her head turned. She raked at his face with her gloved hands and, despite the scratches she gave him, he wouldn't turn loose.
"I will kill you, and then I will take you," he snarled, one hand holding her eyes shut, the other crushing her windpipe. "I will kill you, and then--"
Even the mental jester wasn't mocking her now: Come on, Kara, get up, he's going to...you know what he's going to do.
Maybe I shoulda let him, she snapped back at her mind-jester. Maybe I wouldn't be getting my last neck-massage now. Maybe it was useless from the start. After all, Sheol...I'm just a woman...
<Isn't that enough?>
Not her own mind-voice, not that of her counterpoint-sister, but a new voice. A voice which, she had to admit, sounded a little...familiar.
A man's voice.
<You are a woman, Kara,> said the voice. <But a very important woman. One who has been chosen to be the last surviving woman of Krypton. Beyond you, there are no more heroes of your world. Upon you lies the task of opposing its last surviving sons. For they are unworthy.>
Yeah? thought Kara. And I'm supposed to be...worthy? Because I fell into something I would never have dreamed of doing, when I was a little girl? Because my planet blew up, and I didn't blow up with it? Because I was taken out of the very best lie I ever lived in, and made to live on this...little quaint backwater planet? Because I saw my cousin die? And I never got to tell him I loved him?
<Kara,> said the voice. And she heard it clearly, despite the hands (both hands, now) wrapped about her neck, despite the pressure that would not let up, despite the fact that, within seconds, she was sure, she would cease to be the last heroine of Krypton. <Kara, I always knew. Even through all our difficulties, all our quarrels, I always knew. And, Kara...I loved you, too.>
Great Rao, I am imagining things. I am dying...and dreaming...
<Then make it the best dream you ever had, Kara. Make it a dream worth dying for.>
Then there was no more voice of any kind in her head. But she was still conscious.
She forced open her eyes. There was the face of U-Ban, not eight inches above her own. It bore the marks she had placed on it that day, but he was grinning, despite it all.
Even if she died, the one thing she wanted to do before she went was...to wipe that damned grin off his pasty face.
She was pressed against a vertical wall of rock. She had the space to work with. If she only had the strength.
She had to have the strength.
With all that remained to her, she drew back her knee as far as she could.
Then she sent it up with speed and force that dwarfed that of an ascending Atlas missle.
The resulting THWAMM was heard at least as far as any other blow was, that day.
For a second, U-Ban's grin remained in place. It took an instant or so for the rest of his body to give him a wake-up call, so intent was he on what he was doing.
Then, all at once, his grip lessened, his eyes widened and were not in the least confident anymore, and his mouth dropped open. He tried to say something, tried to make noises, but even Kara's super-hearing couldn't pick them up.
Power Girl drew a ragged breath. Color came back to her face. She pushed him away, but only as far as the length of her left arm, the hand of which she fixed in his Kryptonian tunic.
She reproved herself for not having a snappy comment as she smashed him in the face with her right, but, after all, she'd been under a little stress lately.
Kara didn't stop pounding. The knuckles of her right hand acquainted themselves with U-Ban's face again and again and again. Through main effort and determination, he struggled to bring his own hand up. She slapped it away and kept pounding and pounding and pounding. When her right got tired, she took hold of him with that hand and let her left get in some work. There was no time lost in any of these operations. To U-Ban, it was just the same fist hitting him in the face over and over, like a piston from a top-notch but antique Kryptonian motor.
A girl. A girl was beating the crap out of him.
Kara was dully aware of yelling something at him, but since it was language even she didn't normally use, she figured it wasn't really her. At one point, he seemed to be trying to say something between the punches, maybe negotiate a settlement, let bygones be bygones, even compliment her on her figure, hairstyle, and eyecolor. That was nice of him, but she really didn't have time for conversation.
He might have used heat-vision on her, but by the time he thought of that, his eyes were too blackened and swollen-up for it to be of much use.
The Girl of Power was knocking his head from one side to the other now, telegraphing her punches and not much caring about it. Hell, she could send ‘em Western Union by now, she figured, and still manage to connect.
U-Ban looked up at her one more time, with a face that was considerably changed from what it had been when he started the fight. Her left hand was still holding his tunic fast, and he didn't think he could even tear out of it at this point.
The woman from Krypton showed what she had been through that evening, herself. Her cheekbone was bruised, she was sporting a mouse under one eye, and there was some blood from her nose and mouth. Plus there were a number of scratches on one cheek, prominent enough against her tanned skin.
For all that, she was smiling like a wolf who has just chosen which of a flock of sheep to turn into several days worth of dinner.
Then she yelled something, probably only a wordless yell, and a blue-gloved fist that might have had neutronium inside it came forward so fast he could barely see it fill his field of vision, and there was a very loud thump somewhere, and after that the whole picture faded to black.
Kara Zor-L gasped several times, then judged it a good time to release her grip. Her fingers were getting awfully tired.
U-Ban fell like a plummet, 45 feet straight down through open sky, crunching a pine tree over as he contacted it and landing face-first on the soil beside it, so hard he sank several inches into it.
Two seconds later, Power Girl alit beside him, sat down, felt of her face, and held back the impulse to cry with pain. It took her about ten seconds, but she fought it back. Then she sighed, brushed a strand of hair out of her face, and reached over to check U-Ban's pulse.
His heartbeat was regular, but he was dead to the world.
Kara didn't smile, but she felt a rush of triumph.
"Guess you must not have wanted it hard enough," she murmured. "But the next question is--what am I gonna do with you?"
Kara whirled. The voice had come from behind her.
The speaker was Kizo. He stood beside Mala, and both of them stood before a black, purling space-warp. Neither of them was smiling.
"The question is," said Mala, "what are we going to do with you?"