A Force of Four
The Justice Society found their new accomodations a little cramped, even with the help of sorcerors like Dr. Fate and the Thunderbolt. Then again, there weren't too many places to stay when you were between worlds, so the Crime Champions' old place had to do.
The enclosed dwelling in warp-space was at least provided with the basic amenities of food and living quarters, kind of a bed-and-breakfast for the bandits from Earths One and Two who had once used it as a headquarters. This was during the case that first brought the Justice League and Justice Society together, all those years ago. Since time didn't seem to take much toll on things between worlds, the heroes found the foodstuffs still edible. If they hadn't been, chances were that the Spectre, Green Lantern, or even Starman could have done something about it.
Outside the yellow-walled structure, a miasma of greyness waited. It was like being in the midst of an eternal fog. If things existed in this nexus-point between dimensions, the heroes' senses were not equipped to perceive them. At any rate, nothing from outside contacted them.
But the villains did have a dimension-piercing viewscreen apparatus, and the exiled super-heroes had used this to keep up with events on their Earth.
The Spectre had shrunk himself to six-foot size and stood beside his fellows, which included the Flash, the Huntress, Robin, Hawkman, Hawkgirl, Dr. Fate, Green Lantern, the Atom, Dr. Mid-Nite, Johnny Thunder and his Thunderbolt, Starman, and Hourman. A pantheon of power, the first and possibly the greatest of all superhero groups.
Next to the Spectre, they were nothing, and they knew it. As familiar as he was to them, he still unnerved them. For good reason. He was a ghost, literally the spectre of murdered police detective Jim Corrigan, supercharged with powers beyond their own and sent back to the mortal world to fight threats from Beyond.
A year past, when the Justice Society had been on trial, the Spectre had broken into the courtroom and threatened to kill the authorities unless they were released. Dr. Fate had confronted him then, though his powers could not measure up to the ghost's. In the end, the Spectre had relented and left the courtroom. He had little contact with the Justice Society members after that incident, which, though they did not admit it, was fine by them.
Now he had been drawn into the conflict, had been endangered by the magic-cancelling spell cast by Aldon Persis with the use of the Grail, and had managed to drag himself and his comrades into hyperspace to save them from destruction at the hands of Badra and the Kryptonians and himself from a fate he could not ponder.
He had taken the Justice Society members, encased in a protective sphere, to the one place where they could remain unharmed within the void. The Crime Champions' habitat had continually recycled air, thanks to the machinations of the Wizard and Felix Faust, as well as a dependable power supply. The Spectre had deposited his comrades within the spherical structure, and then attempted to return to the Earth-Two universe.
He discovered that he could not.
Attempts to enter the spheres of Earths One, Four, S, X, and others were similarly fruitless. A side-effect of Persis's spell was to prevent inter-Earth travel. Whether the breach from Earth to Earth was made by means basically scientific or mystical, there was enough latent magic energy between the spheres to be affected by what had been done, and to block it like a brick wall against a doorway.
The Spectre had returned to the Crime Champions' headquarters, where some of the JSA members were beginning to recover from the villains' assault. With some guidance from Dr. Mid-Nite, he had tended to most of his teammates' injuries by supernatural force. The ones he didn't handle, Dr. Fate took care of. They gave their thanks to the ghostly guardian, though they still kept their distance from him.
Thus the heroes settled in for several days of waiting and observing.
They had seen what had happened to Wonder Woman and Fury, and they seethed in helpless rage and despair. They observed the battle between Power Girl and Mala and his brethren, her rescue, and the dealings of Kara and Infinity, Inc. with Hippolyte and the Amazons. They had seen Jade try to recharge her power using Alan Scott's battery, without avail.
There was nothing they could do but observe.
"We're getting pretty old for this," said Green Lantern. Casting a look at Fate, he amended, "Some of us, I mean."
"Without the energies which we received from Ian Karkull, we would be much older, physically," Fate reminded him. "As for the body which I wear, so long as it retains the Helm of Nabu, its aging is retarded even more greatly."
"Yeah, well, I'm glad for all of you," said Huntress. "As for myself, I'll just hide my crow's feet behind my mask when I get them."
Robin grinned. "Hasn't stopped me from getting gray around the sides, Hel. But us JSA'ers age gracefully."
Johnny Thunder said, "Say, you'd think that the Thunderbolt'd be able to punch a hole through to our Earth by now..."
The pink bolt sighed, phased himself through the floor of the chamber, and left to try just that. He knew that all he'd get out of the barrier-banging was a bent nose.
"What about you, Ted?" asked the Atom. "Your power isn't even magic-based. Any luck with it?"
"Nope," said Starman, holding his Cosmic Rod. "The barrier's proof against the Rod, just like it's proof against the transmitter cube. Flash and Power Girl can't even vibrate between worlds while it's up."
Hawkman and Hawkgirl's injured necks had been healed by the Spectre. Both were sitting side by side, their masks pushed back. "Maybe we're going at this the wrong way," suggested Carter Hall.
The Flash tilted his hat back on his head. "If you've got a suggestion, Carter, let's hear it. Fast."
"What if Ted just tried communicating with the Kid through his belt?", said Hawkman. "After all, Syl's power belt is just a scaled-down version of the Cosmic Rod."
"Even if we can't cross over into our Earth, we could still let them know our current condition, and get information from them," said Hawkgirl. "It's worth a try."
Hourman spoke up. "I'm for that, too. Not that I'm much help here. Miraclo powers aren't much good for crossing dimensions or fighting Krypts."
Dr. Mid-Nite put a hand on his shoulder. "Neither are blackout bombs, Rex. But we still manage to serve. Give it a try, Ted."
Starman clutched the Cosmic Rod in both hands and began to concentrate. Dr. Fate and the Spectre raised their hands and focused power into the device, boosting its capacity. Green Lantern used his ring to do the same. Johnny Thunder gazed upon the energies bathing the Rod in a power-nimbus and said, "Say, I bet the Thunderbolt'd be useful, if I could get him back and have him help out here."
The Thunderbolt phased back in through the floor of the room, his three antennae bent at crazy angles. He was nursing the biggest headache he'd ever experienced. "I'm coming, I'm coming," he groaned. "Of all the five billion people the Badhinsians could have given me to, why him?"
Nobody had an answer for him. He raised his hand and added his power to the Cosmic Rod.
"I don't think so," Lois Lane admitted. "I mean, Kryptonite is pretty rare. Every time Superman found a chunk of it, he wrapped it up in lead and threw it into space."
Power Girl smacked her fist into her open palm. "Just great. And there's no way of tracking where those chunks are, right now. If this was Earth-One, I could find the stuff within half an hour. It's practically as common as coal in that universe."
Jimmy Olsen, sitting on the edge of Lois's desk, said, "Not that common, Ms. Kara. But there's a lot more of it over there than there is here, from what Superman told me." He contemplated it. "It must be rough, being a Kryptonian over there."
"Oh, Jimmy," sighed Lois.
"Just as rough over here, if you have to fight three of them at once," Power Girl informed him. "Isn't there any bad guy over here that stockpiled Kryptonite against him?"
"I imagine Lex Luthor did, but what little he had is already gone," said Lois. "He got the first piece of Kryptonite from Dan Rivers, managed to find a little more over the years, but Cl--Kal confiscated it all. Then he spaced it. He really didn't take chances with Kryptonite."
Jimmy slapped his forehead. "Holy cow. What about Atoman? We forgot all about him."
Power Girl looked at him. "Atoman? Heinrich Melch? Yes, Kal told me about him. He was that Nazi guy who radiated Kryptonite power. Kal helped out the Kal and Batman of Earth-One when they had a fight with him, awhile back."
"That's the guy," said Jimmy. "He's still in stir, but I'll bet the warden of Sing Sing would let you borrow him, if you asked."
Kara considered it, chewing on a knuckle. Then she said, "No go, Jimmy. Leaving aside the problem of persuading him, which I could do with a lead suit and some arm-twisting, he can't do what he used to. Not over here, anyway. As I recall, his powers were boosted considerably by being on Earth-One. But when they brought him back here, they faded out to nothing. That's how they were able to capture him, and that's where his power level is now. I don't think he could even hurt me, at this point."
Lois said, "Yeah. You can't take him to Earth-One now, and even if you could, there you'd be, at his mercy, and the Kryptonians would still be over here. Anyway, if you could go to Earth-One, you could have the Justice League come bail us out. If they could."
"So we're back to square one," said Power Girl. "Magic's nullified. I can't travel to another dimension. That leaves Kryptonite as our only out."
The lady editor spread her hands on her typewriter. "I don't have a clue as to where you'd find any, Kara. I'm sorry. Like it or not, I've still got a paper to get out. If I can be of any help, though, give me another call. If anyone can get the Earth out of this mess, you and Infinity, Inc. can."
Jimmy said, "That goes double for me, Kara. Just think like Superman would have, and you can pull our fat outta the fire. He did it all the time."
"Superman, Superman," said Kara. "You wouldn't believe what a yoke that is, Jimmy. All the time, since his death, they've been expecting me to be Superman, only with boobs and better legs." She cast a glance at Lois, who was giving her a shocked expression. "Sorry, dear. But I'm me, not my cousin. If they could get that through their heads, and-- Wait a minute."
Both of them looked at her, waiting.
"The Fortress of Solitude," Power Girl said. "If there's any Kryptonite left on Earth, it's got to be there."
"It could be," said Lois. "I went to the Fortress with him a few times, and I think he did have some for experimental purposes. Trying to find an antidote."
"Go for it, Ms. Kara," said Jimmy. "Just make sure you use lead shields when you handle it."
She shot him a look of impatience. "Jimmy, I'm not quite that dumb. And it's just plain Kara, okay?"
With that, she went to the window, flew through the opening, and was gone. Jimmy Olsen looked after her till she was lost in the distance.
"Close the window, Jimmy," said Lois. "I've got some phone calls to make."
The Star-Spangled Kid took the belt radio message he got from Kara. "I'm headed for the Fortress," she said, simply. "Please, Syl, hang on till I get back."
Syl Pemberton, sitting at the JSA's communications console, replied, "Something we can use against the Krypts?"
"Maybe. I shouldn't be more than a couple of hours. Then we can check out Mars."
"Okay, Kara, I'll trust your judgment on this," said Syl. "Anything else?"
"Nope, just keep in touch. Out."
He broke the contact, then turned to the rest: Jade, Obsidian, Silver
Scarab, Dr. Midnight, Hourman II, Northwind, Nuklon, Brainwave, Jr., Wildcat
II, and Hippolyta. "Guess we cool our heels for a couple. Time
for a quick nosh, in case anybody's got the hungries. I know I have."
"I will eat, but only to keep up my strength for the battle ahead," said Wildcat. To Jade and Obsidian, she said, "Jennie-Lynn, Todd, accept my sympathy for your troubles."
"Thanks, Yo," said Jade, sadly. The power battery of Green Lantern hadn't given off a single spark when she tried it, no matter how long she held the power-pulse on her hand to it. She and Obsidian, her brother, were still powerless.
Brainwave, Jr., said, "I didn't get much of a chance to use pure brain energy against the Krypts. Maybe they're vulnerable, mentally. I'm darned well going to give it a try when we meet ‘em on Mars. If they're on Mars, that is."
"Lyta could be dead by now," fumed Silver Scarab. "We need to get to Mars, now."
Queen Hippolyta turned towards him with fire in her eyes. "She certainly could be dead, young man. She could have been killed at any time during her captivity. She may be killed at any time during the next few hours. Can we help that?"
"Well, no, ma'am," said Hector Hall, taken aback. "But--"
"Would you have us go against these villains, who have defeated the entire Justice Society and ravaged my island, without the weapon which Power Girl can bring us?"
The rest were as embarrassed for the Scarab as he was for himself. "Um, no, not a good idea, I've gotta admit. But I'm concerned. I mean, she is my, uh, my..."
"Your lover," said Hippolyta, finishing it, coldly.
"Please, dear Queen, Hector meant no disrespect," said Northwind, trying to calm the waters. "It's only his fear for Fury's life, and for that of her mother."
"Who are, you might remember, my daughter and granddaughter," Hippolyta said. "Think you not that my heart is rent for them every second of their captivity, as if it were torn by twin lions? But till we gain whate'er advantage we may obtain, through Kara or any other, it would be folly to charge in on our foes, would it not? These are three with the power of Superman, and one with the power of an Amazon most mighty."
Jade, looking odd in her costume without her usual green flesh-tint, said, "We know that, Hippolyta. We'll wait on Kara. But you've got to understand, Hector is in love with Lyta. He's got to blow off steam somehow."
The Amazon queen looked at the silver-clad hero. "Best you should retain your rage, that it may be loosed at the proper moment. Forgive me, young friends, but I, too, have ‘steam' which must escape at times."
Dr. Midnight was about to speak. At least, she had her mouth open.
She was interrupted when Kizo smashed through the outer wall of the building.
The Kryptonian deliberately avoided crushing the communications board against the wall. He thought he might have use for that. But it was fun to make an entrance like this, and note the fear and surprise in his enemies' eyes. Superman must have done it like this.
"Good evening," he said, and launched a punch at the Star-Spangled Kid.
Syl barely had time to get up a force-shield from his belt. As it was, the impact knocked him against the opposite wall, and almost through it. He fought the blackness which threatened to engulf him, succeeded, and triggered a bolt of power which he sent against Kizo.
The villain was already flying at the other Infinitors, and the impact of the bolt didn't seem to faze him much.
"Jade, Obie, out!" yelled Northwind, flying between the two powerless Infinitors and their opponent. But it was a bit late. All Kizo had to do was turn his head and blow at them. The winged wonder was crushed against the two others, banging them both against the wall. The three of them were worse for wear, but Northwind got up and made a charge.
The Kryptonian was closing on Nuklon, one of the few members with super-strength. The mohawked mutant expanded to eight feet in height, smashed a blow against Kizo's jaw, and yelped in pain. Their foe's chin was as steely as Superman's. Behind him, Hourman II had already taken a Miraclo pill, felt the burn for two seconds, then charged in with both fists pumping at Kizo's midsection.
Hippolyta, screaming in rage, smashed a kick at their enemy's back. It was the most effective of their efforts, but all it did was knock him forward. Kizo got up with a sneer, turning on them slowly and deliberately.
Brainwave, Jr. put one hand to his head in concentration, stretched forth his other hand towards Kizo. His most potent beam of mental energy battered at the Kryptonian, directed at his foe's mind. It seemed to slow him for a second. Then Kizo advanced and slapped Hank King against the wall. The costumed youth slumped like a broken doll.
Syl and Silver Scarab hit him with blasts of energy. Dr. Midnight tried a blackout bomb, but his super-breath dissipated the ebony vapors. Nuklon and Hourman tried to grapple with him, Hippolyta smashed away at him with martial arts blows accentuated by her Amazonian strength. Even Wildcat raked at him uselessly with her claws.
Kizo flexed his powerful muscles and threw them all away from him.
"Nice try," he acknowledged to the sprawling heroes. "But not enough."
The Star-Spangled Kid thought of using his belt's power to warp them away, but not in time. Kizo lightly tapped his chin and rendered him unconscious. He wheeled in an arc, knocking out Northwind, Silver Scarab, Wildcat, and Dr. Midnight. Jade and Obsidian were already in dreamland, unable to weather the assault without their powers. That left Nuklon and Hourman, both of whom leapt at him full-speed, fists outstretched. At the last moment before they would have contacted him, Kizo whipped both of his own fists out, landing them on Nuke's and Hourman's chins. The heroes' bodies moved forward a bit, propelled by their own momentum, then sank to the floor.
Hippolyta caught him in the throat with a deadly karate blow.
Not even Kizo could withstand that hit, delivered with all of the Amazon queen's strength. He gagged, clutched at his neck. She aimed a kick at his crotch, connected, sent him sagging to the floor. Fire bloomed in Hippolyta's eyes as she prepared to reach for the nerve in his neck which, if pressured properly and with enough power, might render him unconscious.
She never got that far.
Kizo rose from the floor, rage in his mien, and grabbed the woman about the throat. She gasped, struggled, kicked, clawed at him. But he was just too powerful.
Within seconds, the pressure on her throat increased to an intolerable degree, and everything went black.
Kizo hung on until his super-hearing assured him that Hippolyta's heartbeat signified her unconsciousness. He dropped her to the floor. Then he pressed a signal device on his belt.
In response, a warp of blackness opened up before him. Strange atmosphere began to leak through, and sands of redness were seen through the opening.
He began to throw the Infinitors through it.
On Paradise Island, there was a joyful reunion of two Amazons. Gerda Von Gunther had been found, emerging from a cave on the isle. She had made her way there and passed out during the heat-assault by the Kryptonian trio. Paula, her mother, clasped Gerda to her bosom and shed tears of joy when the latter finally walked into what was left of the Amazons' meeting hall. Even the Amazon Mala joined the two of them in a group hug, then informed Gerda of what had transpired.
"Now the Queen herself has joined the heroes from Man's World to search for Princess Diana and Lyta," said Mala. "It has not been so long a time, but we fear for her as well."
"I don't blame you," said Gerda. "But you said the Infinity bunch wanted you to rally the Amazons for a rescue mission. Do you think they'll come? They've been bound to the Island for years."
Mala took her time about answering.
"First, we must learn the place where the princess and her daughter are being held. Then we will convene the sisterhood, and attempt to persuade them to lay home and hearth aside for the nonce. But--"
"No," said Paula, firmly.
"What?" Mala was unprepared for the elder Von Gunther's statement.
"If you wait that long, Mala, it'll be too late to get the sisterhood to be of any effect," Paula continued. "Moreover, the villainesses on Transformation Island--Eviless, the Cheetah, and all the rest--have been liberated. Probably converted to their own ways. Probably already preying on Man's World, or preparing to finish the job on us. You have to convene the meeting right now. The Amazons may have suffered some powerful blows--but they can still fight. We can still fight."
Mala said, "If they can bring themselves to leave the island."
"Yes," said Paula, not varying her gaze from Mala's face. "If."
After a long moment, Mala went to a p.a. system at another end of the meeting hall. She flipped on a power switch, was grateful that the jerry-rigged generator worked, and pushed a button that would broadcast her voice throughout Paradise Island.
"Sisters of the tribe, Hola," she said, her words reaching every Amazon on the isle. "Mala summons you, in the name of our queen Hippolyte, to the Meeting Hall within the hour. A decision must be made on the matter of bringing war against our enemies--and leaving, for a time, Paradise Island. Attendance is mandatory. That is all."
Then she flipped off the power switch, waited, and prayed.
She prayed that Hera would give her sisters the courage they needed to leave their home.
She prayed that Kara, Hippolyte, and the others would find Diana and Lyta.
And she prayed that all of them would somehow survive the battle to come.
The Fortress of Solitude on Earth-Two is not like its counterpart on Earth-One. For one thing, it is not located in the Arctic. It is in a mountain range in New York, on land which the government had awarded to Superman in secret for his duties to the United States and humanity as a whole. The area is guarded as closely as Mount Weather, for the most part, though only a few officials know what is being guarded.
On the side of one peak, a great door has been placed, with the familiar "S" shield graven into it. No one without the power of a Kryptonian can get in, and the security devices within would ensure that a non-Krypt would be immobilized within seconds, should he somehow manage to enter.
Kara had been there many times, and, in fact, was the titular owner of the Fortress now that Superman was dead. She never recalled any Kryptonite within, except fake versions used in an exhibit. But, as Lois had said, that was no reason to assume that the Man of Steel didn't have a chunk or two lying around under lock, key, and lead sheathing.
The girl in the white leotard and blue cape soared to the Fortress door, placed her hand against a palm-sensor and her eyes against a slit in the metallic door. The computer devices placed there in recent years by Superman recognized her, identified her, and told the defense mechanisms to stand down.
Then Power Girl used her great strength to turn a massive combination lock, listening with super-hearing for the tumblers to fall correctly. After they did, she bunched her muscles and shoved forward.
The huge metallic door swung inward.
She looked at the detritus of a legend.
Forty-seven years of Superman's existence was contained within those walls. The great globe of Krypton, the statues of his mother and father, a reconstruction of the rocket which brought him to Earth. Paintings in the receiving hall of Krypton before its destruction, painted by the Man of Tomorrow himself after his time-trip back there in 1949. Trophies of his many battles, against Luthor, the Ultra-Humanite, the Puzzler, the Lightning Master, and so many others.
She even saw the statue of Power Girl he had carved from solid silver, standing proudly with hands on hips, at one side of the great hall, and felt a rush of sympathy for him anew. He had loved her. And she had never told him she loved him, in turn.
Now it was too late.
Kara Zor-L stepped in, her footsteps echoing within the enclosed space. She began to use her X-ray vision on the structure, peering within its walls to see if she could detect the glowing, green, deadly mineral, or an enclosure of lead which would block her vision and probably indicate Kryptonite's presence.
She wasn't using super-hearing at the time. But she heard the onrush of wind close enough to begin a quick turn towards the opening.
She wasn't fast enough. She was struck solidly in the back, and sent sprawling onto the green tiled floor, knowing by the pain between her shoulders the nature of her opponent.
Kara turned over on the floor and saw a grinning U-Ban before her.
She didn't have to guess what was on his mind, and a brief bolt of fear shot through her.
"My brother has had his way with Badra," he said. "And I have been without a woman too long. Come to me, worldswoman. Do not make this any harder for yourself than it is already going to be."
And U-Ban began his quick and powerful advance.