A Force of Four
Mala and Kizo looked at their fallen brother and Power Girl with sheer malice in their eyes. There was not much distance between them and the woman in the white leotard. They started forward, coldly, deliberately.
Power Girl held up her hands. "Okay. You want me to go with you? I'll go. I surrender."
The two Kryptonian men stopped, as she had hoped they would, and peered at her curiously. "You what?", asked Kizo.
"I surrender," repeated Kara. "Look at it this way. You guys beat the hell out of me last time we met. I was fresh, then. Right now, I've just had a fight with your brother. I'm not a glutton for punishment. Let's just go wherever you want to take me and be done with it. It'll be easier on all of us."
Mala looked at U-Ban. "You beat him thoroughly. And he is our brother."
"Your brother tried to rape me," she said, evenly. "And if you try the same, all bets are off."
Kizo and Mala considered it. Then Mala said, "You carry U-Ban. I will see to the woman."
So, with Mala holding Kara's arms (though he did not try to provoke her to battle) and Kizo bearing the unconscious U-Ban on his shoulder, all four of them passed through the warp.
They emerged on the red sands of Mars, not far from the stolen Temple of Science, in an atmosphere which Kara detected to be surprisingly Earthian.
"We had to bring air from your world here so the captives could survive," explained Mala. "Now. Come with me."
"Wouldn't miss it," Kara retorted, and entered the structure with her captors.
She felt a strange twinge, once over the Temple's threshhold. In this very building, she had been taught computer science by an Amazon device. Now, its treasures were looted by evildoers and bent against the Earth itself.
Mala still held her arms fast as they flew through its hallway. "Where are we going now?" she asked.
Kizo answered. "To meet the only one of us you have not yet met," he said.
Power Girl used her X-ray vision on the walls of the Science Temple as they sped along. She struggled not to show her apprehension as she picked out the imprisoned Wonder Woman, who looked to have taken a beating--and if this was their fault, that was one more she owed the Krypts--plus the members of Infinity, Inc. She also saw a strange little man who looked somehow Middle Eastern to her, sitting alone in a barred room that had more of the amenities of home than the other cells. One room was walled off entirely by lead, the one substance her vision could not penetrate. This one, she suspected, held whatever the three of them had stolen the building for.
Experimentally, she pushed a little against Mala's grip. He tightened it painfully. "Do not try my patience," snapped the man who looked so much like Kal-L. Kara subsided.
She also saw the other occupant of the building before they flew her into the receiving room. That person was a six-foot-tall black-haired woman in a green dress, who moved as though she owned the place.
After an appraising glance at Kara, the woman spoke.
"You must be Power Girl. My name is Badra. I am probably the last being you will meet before your death."
The JSA's brownstone was filled with heroes, spouses of heroes, and
Jimmy Olsen and Lois Kent.
The two reporters had been flown from the Daily Star by a living thunderbolt-woman who had merged into the body of a female detective in white clothing. Both reporters had been awed, but managed to recover.
Many of the persons in the JSA's meeting hall they had met in years past. Some were new to them. More than a few had been drawn there by a nationally televised summons from President Reagan, who had asked all non-JSA heroes still in operation to convene at the Gotham City headquarters to help in an unspecified crisis. The JSA wives (and, in one case, a husband) had already been headed there.
The Seven Soldiers of Victory had the capacity to enter the Society's brownstone, and the Shining Knight, Green Arrow, Speedy, the Vigilante, and Stripesy had done so. Two of their band, the Crimson Avenger and Wing, were dead. The other member, the Star-Spangled Kid, served as Infinity, Inc.'s leader these days. They had skipped some years of aging, leaving the present in 1955 and returning in 1972. But, unlike the Society, no occult means held back their further maturity, and some of them were old indeed. Speedy had to remind Green Arrow of certain things, and of persons he had once known, and the one-time boy archer was in his fifties. Lois looked upon them and wondered how any of their crew could be of use in a battle against three Supermen.
There were other heroes, younger ones, apparently making their coming-out at the meeting. A twentyish girl in red and yellow introduced herself as "Joanie Quick. I'm Johnny's granddaughter, Liberty Belle's, too. I've got the speed, but, well, I never thought of serving till just now. I mean, we had the JSA and Infinc, so I didn't think I was needed."
"And now you are," murmured Lois.
"Yeah. Now I am," she said. She gestured to a youth in black T-shirt and blue jeans beside her. "Oh, by the way, this is Matt. Matt Munro."
He shook Lois's and Jimmy's hands in a strong grip. "Always glad to meet the friends of Superman, Mrs. Kent, Mr. Olsen. You might not have known my grandpop. Used to call him ‘Iron' Munro. He was part of the Young All-Stars during the war. I'm kinda like Joanie...never saw any big need to use my strength, what with all the other heroes we had runnin' around, ‘cept for workin' at U.S. Steel. When I heard what had happened to the group--well, the Feds kinda gave me a lift."
Another pair, one in a somewhat familiar costume, both of them looking a bit soggy, came over. The tall man in brown hair and beard wore a red shirt, a gold belt with an "A" on the buckle, black trunks, and green leggings with fins on the back. The girl looked a bit Oriental and had an abbreviated green and white outfit.
"Good to meet you landers," the man boomed. "Name's Aquaman. Aquaman III. Granddad didn't mix with land heroes very much, but he did help out the All-Star Squadron every now and then during the war. Glad to lend you lubbers a hand. By the way, like to introduce my girl. Say hi to ‘em, Nattie."
The girl gave a shy smile. "I am Natalia Perkins. My honored grandparents were Neptune Perkins and the woman you knew as Tsunami. I inherited somewhat of their aquatic powers. It is a privelage to meet you all."
"Likewise," said Lois, resignedly.
Aquaman turned to the blonde female shamus standing quietly nearby. "Hey, missy. Didn't hear you give your handle. Could I trouble you for such?"
Laconically, she said, "I'm Jonni Thunder. That's spelled J-O-N-N-I, not the same as that guy with the crewcut. And yeah, I've got a thunderbolt, but it lives inside of me and doesn't do all the tricks that other guy's bolt does. But I'll match wits with him any time, and tie three-quarters of mine behind me, just to make it a fair fight. I've worked with Star-Spangled Kid before. Any of you types know where he is?"
"Maybe on Mars," said Lois. "Any of you guys know how to get there?"
The assemblage within earshot turned to each other, and the word spread, as did the helpless looks. Neither the Vigilante, nor Steve Trevor, nor Molly Scott, nor Joan Garrick, nor Joanie Quick, nor Aquaman III, nor Mary Pratt, nor Inza Nelson, nor the Vigilante, nor Stripesy, nor Jonni Thunder, nor Matt Munro, nor Natalia Perkins, nor Sandy Hawkins, nor Wendi Tyler, nor Speedy, nor Green Arrow, nor the Shining Knight had a ready answer for her. Or for themselves.
"Looks like we're kind of stuck, then," murmured Lois.
At that point, Andrew Vinson popped in from the communications room. "Everybody, listen up," he shouted. "I've gotten another message from the White House."
Jimmy looked at Vinson dubiously. The kid was good, but anybody that worked for the Gotham stations had to be regarded as a competitor. "What's Uncle Ron have to say, kid?"
"Apparently a--well, a whole bunch of Amazons landed in Washington in some--'borrowed' planes," said Vinson. "And the president wants them to come up here and meet with us."
Steve Trevor stepped forward ahead of anyone else.
"Tell him we'll try to work ‘em in," he said.
Aldon Persis wished for the five thousandth time, at least, that he had not taken up with Badra and her crew of Kryptonian gangsters. Of course, if he had refused her, chances are she would have killed him. But maybe he should have botched the Grail spell.
No, bad idea. Botching that spell might have released some grotty things from sideral worlds that even the Justice Society might have had a tough time against.
Then again, they'd had a tough enough time against Badra and the boys and the anti-magic spell, and had apparently left this plane. So Aldon's thoughts went round and round, ending up with the bit in which he begged off working on that big laser that was going to fry Earth, and ended up here.
In a comfortable enough cell, but it was still a cell.
"I wanna go home," he said to nobody in particular. "I want to get back to my job. I wanna sell Oldsmobiles."
Realizing that there shortly might be nobody to sell Oldsmobiles to did nothing to uplift his spirits. He might shortly be the only living human from Earth. And if any cosmic historians did the research and found out what had come down on that splendid cinder orbiting Sol, who would be in for a decent percentage of the blame?
Why, Aldon Persis, of course. He'd gotten the big hitters out of the way, so the assassins could do their work.
He considered suicide, but the only way he could think of to do it was to bonk his head repeatedly against a wall or some heavy object in the room, and that really didn't sound appetizing to him. The way things were going, he'd probably only severely injure himself, and have to live with that.
But there was another possibility. What happened if, once the Earth was toast and the heroes had all been mulched, the four baddies looked around, saw him, and said, "What's he hangin' around for, anyway?"
That seemed like a strong possibility, the more he considered it. Badra seemed to have a soft enough spot for him--she hadn't broken his neck, for one thing--and the three guys from Superman Town didn't seem to give a hang about him one way or the other. Yet, when they had eliminated all the other distractions...what use would he be to them, after all?
Was it likely they'd tell him, "C'mon, Aldon. There's a whole galactic empire to be won, and there's bound to be a job for you in it somewhere. You're a good kid."?
About as likely as him winning the freaking state lottery, or marrying Barbara Carrera.
"Grandma, Grandpa, tell me," he wailed, softly. "What should I do?"
Something was going by the window of his door.
Since it didn't look to be as big as a man, he leapt up, flattened against the wall beside the door, and snuck a look through the bars of the door window.
What he could see of it, before it turned a corner and was gone, suggested that it was a belt. A white plastic-and-metal belt with a big dial on the front of it.
A white plastic-and-metal belt that was floating three feet off the floor, turning a corner like it knew what it was doing.
Aldon Persis dropped to his knees.
"Grandpa, I know you're toast," he said in muted joy. "But, by golly, I'm glad you're still looking after things. And if you see Grandma...give her my best."
Then Aldon lay back on his bed and decided to try and get some sleep. It seemed like the smartest thing he could do, right then.
Power Girl looked Badra up and down, appraising her. "I take it you're the brains of this operation," she said, laconically.
The Hatorian woman sniffed. "My companions are intelligent men," she said. "But, yes, this operation was conceived largely by myself." Suddenly, she seemed taken aback, but for what reason Kara could not tell. "Not entirely by myself, though. I have had guidance, I must admit."
"From whom?" said Kara.
Badra ignored her question. "I regret that we will not be able to imprison you. I have no Kryptonite, we wield no magic, so...in awhile I'll simply have to let the boys have their way with you. Regrettable, since I have nothing personally against you...but necessary."
"One of ‘em tried having his way with me not too long ago," Power Girl said. "He hasn't come around yet. When he does, he's gonna be mighty sore."
"As will you, worldswoman," said Mala. "As will you."
She turned her head towards him. "Could you do me a favor and make yourself look like somebody else? Hearing stuff like that from somebody who looks like my late cousin Kal kinda rankles me."
He snorted. "Only one of us wears this face, now. Get used to it."
Kizo said, "Stop it, brother. She seeks to make you reckless with her taunts. Do not fall for her ploy."
Coldly, Mala said, "And do not attempt to correct me overmuch, brother. Or I might temporarily change your features myself."
"Peace," snapped Badra. "By the gods, you hotheads prove my point. You do require me to act as your brains. Being men, you think with your glands." She gave Power Girl another look. "A pity you aren't on our side. A Kryptonian woman might be clear-headed enough to be a vital part of the new empire."
"So where are you from?" asked Kara. "And why do you have this thing against Earth? You've just indicated you're not a Krypt."
Badra briefly related her origins on Hator, her voyage to Earth as a child in the wake of her world's destruction, her one-time battle with Wonder Woman, and her freeing Mala and his two brothers. "So you see, I came from a world not unlike Krypton," she finished. "Had you arrived several decades earlier, we might well have been allies. Friends."
"Oh, I don't think so," said Power Girl, with a smile. "And, you know, in my whole career as a superhero, there's something that's always been missing."
"I've never really met a woman who I could turn loose on," Kara continued. "I mean, Mala and company are nice, if they're not going two-on-one against you. But there's really nothing like going up against somebody of your own sex. It's fairer. It's more invigorating. I haven't gone a round with Diana, except maybe for some arm-rassling, and I haven't even done that with Fury. But you and me? Why, I can just see us both pulling hair, punching faces, kickin' and scratchin' to beat the band. I'll bet the men would just love it. The first Kryptonian-Hatorian catfight. What do you say?"
Badra's eyes widened in disbelief.
Kizo said, softly, "Mala...I think I would enjoy it."
"Shut up, brother," said Mala.
"Take her away," said Badra, turning from them. "Do whatever you want to with her."
Mala looked at Kizo, who had put U-Ban down in a sitting position against a nearby wall. "Wake him u--"
Power Girl slipped out from under his grasp like a greased weasel.
She had been gauging the pressure of his grip with great accuracy. Her talk to Badra had a specific effect on Mala, she could tell by a certain feeling against her back. And when a man starts to think down there, she told herself, he loses a little ability to think up elsewhere.
The two conscious Kryptonians had speed to match her own, and, for that matter, Badra might, as well. So she had to rely on a quick start to give her a slight edge. Just enough of an edge to matter.
Her super-hearing told her of two figures already in pursuit. She was knocking holes in walls, and they were in between her and the leaded room, so that she probably couldn't have reached their weapon in time to destroy it.
That wasn't her destination anyway.
On the periphery of her hearing, she could tell that Badra had joined the pursuit, and her speed was almost up to a Kryptonian's. Not quite, but not bad. She could also tell that the witch was screaming things about her which weren't in the least bit complimentary.
Kara Zor-L smashed into the cell of Wonder Woman at such an angle that the rock fragments of the wall hurtled away from the chained woman. Diana didn't even have time to register the event before twin beams of heat lanced from the blonde woman's eyes and found their way to the chains binding her bracelets together.
In the merest fraction of a second, Wonder Woman's bracelets of submission were unbound.
By the time the Amazon found her powers returning, Power Girl had picked her up and had smashed with her through another cell wall.
Other speeding figures filled the space behind them as they fled, but Kara had just that much of a jump on them. She made a line for Fury's cell. The young Amazon's wrists were liberated by a chop of a mighty, blue-gloved arm through iron links. Before Lyta Trevor could draw a breath, Power Girl had stuck her under her other arm and plowed with her and Wonder Woman into the cell of Queen Hippolyte.
Kara tried to break the lady's chains, but, for once, she was too slow.
Diana beat her to it.
The four of them were slammed to the floor by three powerful, hurtling beings. As quickly as it had all happened, as much of a shock as the return of their powers had been to the three Amazon women, the four of them rallied and prepared to strike back, thrusting Badra, Mala, and Kizo off of them and getting to their feet.
The Infinitors hadn't seen much besides a blur. When the cells stopped being smashed and the blur resolved itself into two sets of opposing players, individual cheers went up from the youthful heroes. "Go get ‘em, girls!" hollered Syl Pemberton, as loudly as possible.
But before another blow could be struck, before another blast of heat-vision could be loosed, from either party...
A billow of black smoke began to appear from in between their lines, and to darken the entire room.
Power Girl tried to clear it away with her super-breath, but, impossibly, the smoke would not dissipate. Not until a massive figure appeared within its depths, and took the black vapors into his very being, and stood there, gaped upon by all present, Amazons, Kryptonians, Infinitors, and Badra.
It was Queen Hippolyte who broke the silence.
"It had to be you," she grated. "Your choice of this world as a staging-ground, it indicated your presence. It has been your base in past eras, as it is today."
Power Girl didn't know who the huge guy in the Greco-Roman armor was, but she had the feeling he wasn't signing up for their team by the way Hippolyte talked.
Wonder Woman looked upon him, and knew he was one of the few beings who could possibly weather the anti-magic spell, or perhaps was able to insulate himself somehow against its effects, being the author of the entire plot.
Fury, her voice almost trembling, said to Diana, "Mother, is that..."
"Yes," she said, not wavering her eyes from her old enemy. "It is, indeed.
"It is Mars."
The god of war threw back his head and laughed.
Even the Kryptonian pair was taken aback.
The great armored being roared with laughter until it died down to a dull chuckle, and there was no humor in it.
Power Girl said, "Uh, Mars. As in, the war god, Mars? The one who used to hassle you during the Big One, Diana? That Mars?"
Hippolyta said, "There is only one. And he stands before us today. I know him best of all of us here."
"Oookay," said Kara, stepping forward with some trepidation and brandishing a fist. "Just wanted to get that clear before we started."
She swung a punch at Mars.
It went through him as if he were April mist, and she imbalanced herself and fell on her face.
The Kryptonians did not take advantage of it. They seemed hypnotized by the war god's presence. As well they might. Kara shot a glance towards Badra, saw fear in her eyes, moved towards her.
"Stop," said Mars, in a voice that might have reverberated throughout his entire world, somehow.
Kara didn't stop. But, before she could reach Badra, a flash that felt like lightning must to a mortal coursed through her and dropped her almost unconscious to the floor.
Wonder Woman was at her friend's side, chafing her wrists, bringing her around. "Fury, Mother, get behind me," she warned.
"Never," said Hippolyta, not taking her eyes from their enemy. "I stand between Mars and all others, no matter what the cost. I stand in the name of Aphrodite."
The war god's face was twisted by anger at the name. "She does not rule here," said Mars. "She has no influence here."
"She rules everywhere," snapped back Hippolyta. "Even in the depths of your alien world-dungeon."
Mars seemed to grow in stature, and his furious aspect increased. "You shall see," he roared. "You shall see who rules this world. All worlds."
Power Girl, fighting numbness out of her limbs, turned to Badra. "So Mars was your secret backer, all along?"
The Hatorian stared black hatred at her.
"Bet he was the one who got you out of that suspension capsule," continued Kara. "Maybe even told you about Mala, Kizo, and U-Ban."
"I learned about them on my own," Badra snarled. "But he approved of my choice."
At that word from Mars, even Hippolyte shut up.
But Fury didn't. "You overstuffed, tin-plated, dorkless big bag of stinkwind," she began. "I'll shut up when I wanna shut up, not when some dumb smokeass tells me to--"
"Lyta," said Wonder Woman, clapping a hand over her daughter's mouth, "shut up."
Power Girl got to her feet, staring at Mars. "Aren't you tied to Earth? If you destroy it, how will you survive?"
Raising his metal-clad arms, the war god bellowed. "Mars is not tied to Earth. Mars is tied to war. And what better war than that of vast empires within the second Heaven? Where billions may die, billions more be enslaved, and the bloodflow which results nourishes my power with every drop. No. Earth is unnecessary. A canker in my being. When it is destroyed, only my pain will vanish. But it will not be destroyed yet."
He held a palm towards the four heroines.
"Not before the game," he said.
Kara, Diana, Lyta, and Hippolyta vanished.
Mala had time enough to say, "Perhaps we may have erred a bit," before he and those who stood beside him disappeared.
The remaining Infinity, Inc. members looked at the vacant space where all had stood before.
Northwind said, "So...where did he take them?"
Brainwave, Jr. said, "And how do we get out of here to find ‘em? Provided we can find ‘em."
"Provided we can get out," said Dr. Midnight.
Something floated within Syl Pemberton's line of sight. He couldn't credit his eyes at first. But when the thing stopped, hung in the air before his cell, and wouldn't go away even when he blinked his eyes, he decided he had to grant its reality.
"Hang on," he said to the others. "Uh. Things in that direction...just may be looking up."
Mars hadn't taken his combatants very far at all. Only outside of the Temple of Science, a few hundred yards distant from it, but still within the protective bubble of Terran air.
U-Ban had been added to the villains' number, but he was as paralyzed as the others. It did not matter. The war god began pacing a large oval track in the red sands, almost a half-mile in length, and a quarter-mile in width. The eight opponents were within its bounds.
In Mars's footprints, the sands began to rise.
They rose, and formed themselves into hardened sandstone walls. But not merely walls, no.
They assumed the shape of an ancient Roman arena.
There was space enough for many observers, had there only been persons to fill the seats. But there were only three. Mars himself took a seat that might have been occupied by a Caesar. On his right hand, he placed Badra, whom he freed from paralysis. She gasped in a breath. On his left hand was Hippolyta, who remained in stasis. She could still see and hear everything that transpired.
Within the makeshift arena sprawled Power Girl, Wonder Woman, and Fury on one end, and Mala, Kizo, and U-Ban on the other. Mars lifted the paralysis spell from them all, simultaneously.
The two teams faced each other, and no one had to explain to them what they were expected to do.
Mars spoke one word.