A Force of Four
There was little time for Power Girl to assess her chances in the fight. Anyway, she knew they would all be bad.
She and her companions, Wonder Woman and Fury, were both facing three Kryptonian males. The two Amazons were powerful, but not in the same bracket with their enemies. Kara herself had triumphed over one of their foes, but just barely.
Now they were facing off in an arena on the planet Mars, created by the war-god whose name the planet bore. That same war-god who sat in a self-made throne, flanked by a stasis-held Queen Hippolyta and his agent, Badra, the latter of whom seemed eager to see the blood flow.
What little she knew of Mars had been passed on to her by Wonder Woman. The war-god was the rival of Aphrodite, the Amazons' patron goddess, since time beyond measure. During World War II he hatched plot after plot against the Allies behind the scenes. Sometimes he acted through his three pawns, the Duke of Deception, Lord Conquest, and the Earl of Greed, sometimes directly. But Diana, Hippolyta, and the Amazons had frustrated his schemes, and Mars's involvement in the affairs of Earth had tapered off and then seemingly vanished.
Or perhaps that had been wishful thinking on their part.
Mars had already called for the fight to begin. Power Girl had murmured, sotto voce, to her friends, "Try and hit them two-on-one. I'll make it three-on-one, if I can. Avoid their blows as much as possible."
Wonder Woman had shot her a glance, then shot one of hatred at Badra.
The villainess had time to laugh before the six below her joined in battle.
Power Girl, seeing Mala, Kizo, and U-Ban hurtle forward at super-speed, pushed off from the ground, in a move calculated to spare Wonder Woman and Fury. She turned her body in a way to place her side parallel to the ground, enabling her to catch all three of the men in their midsections with her legs, her middle, or her upper body.
It felt like slamming into three pillars, but the threesome were knocked off their feet. She tumbled among them, kicking to her feet, trying to fly away again.
Mala grabbed the end of her cape and she fell face-first to the ground. His boot caught her between the shoulder blades.
Wonder Woman rushed forward like a comet and crashed the knuckles of her right fist into his face. It made her hand hurt like hell, but the blow and Fury's tackling Mala about the legs knocked him onto his back.
U-Ban and Kizo grabbed an Amazon apiece. Before they could manage to do anything to them, Power Girl leaped up, grabbed the two Krypts by the collars, and banged their heads together.
Mala was back up, and blasting the women away with super-breath.
Looking upon it, Mars smiled. The Amazon, her whelp, and the bitch in white were targets for butchery, and the best part of it would be knowing Hippolyta had to watch.
He just hoped the Krypts would take long enough, and be inventive.
After all, what was the use of building an arena if the players didn't give you a good show?
The Star-Spangled Kid had the cosmic belt about his waist, and was in tune with Ted Knight, the Starman, whose Cosmic Rod had been its prototype. His cellmate, Northwind, had tried to learn why Syl was staring into space, but Syl had shushed him and kept the mental conversation going. In short order, Starman had told him what had befallen the JSA, and how they were trapped in the gulf between dimensions. Since the Society was able to observe what was happening on Mars, Syl had also been told of the villains' plans, of the Grail's anti-magic spell, and of the battle being waged in Mars's arena.
<So Lyta, Kara, and Diana are fighting the Kryptonians?>, sent Syl. <We've got to get out of here, then. But I don't know what good we'll be...even with our powers...against them, let alone against Mars.>
Starman, from within the Crime Champions' citadel, sent his response. <You have to find the Grail, and destroy it, or reverse the spell somehow. If the JSA can enter the fray, we can change the course of battle. Even against Mars.>
<Can he hear us?>, asked Syl.
<He might,> said Ted. <But I think he's too busy watching the spectacle to pay much attention to you kids. Sorry.>
<No offense taken,> Syl replied. <First order: how do we get out of here?>
<Don't know,> Starman answered. <We've tried channelling our power through the mind-link here, and it's no go. Not even with the Spectre pushing. Can you use the belt against the cell walls or bars?>
<I'll give it a go,> said Syl. Then, aloud, he said, "Hit the floor, Norda. Gonna try something."
"Try everything," said the winged Infinitor, and flattened himself against the floor of the cell.
The Kid's body was surrounded by a crackling aura of power as he triggered the power of his cosmic belt. He stretched his arms out, hands pointed at two opposite walls. Twin blasts of force impacted against the walls of their confinement.
But it wasn't enough.
Damn, Syl thought. Got to try it again. I'll try it until my brain burns out, if I have to. Can't let Kara get killed...unless she's already been...
<Syl,> said a third voice in his mind. <You reading me?>
<Is it...is this you, Hank?>, thought Syl, and wondered at his ability to distinguish one telepathic "voice" from another.
<It's me,> sent Brainwave, Jr., the psi-powered Infinity, Inc. member. <The Krypts proofed the cells against my brain-blasts, but they didn't keep me from telepathing. Guess they didn't think it'd be of any use. But I think I can help.>
<Think you can hook up with me here, boost my willpower, something like that?>
<Better. I'm going to hook all of us up like a gestalt, have all of us push together. If that doesn't work, we're all cooked.>
Starman, still in contact, sent, <I don't know if we'll be of much use, Hank. But I'll try and get the others on this side for a will-pool. Maybe we can lend a hand, too. At least, we'll try.>
<Thanks, Mr. Knight,> responded Hank King, Jr. <All right, let's get the team online. Sound off. Nuklon.>
<Here. We've got to get Lyta out of this, Hank!>
<Don't I know it. Northwind.>
<Here. Can I get off the floor?>
<Not yet. Hourman.>
<I'm here, Hank. I think you can assume all the rest of us are, too.>
<I am here, Hank,> sent Wildcat II. <This telepathy is invigorating, is it not? Promise you will not read below my surface thoughts.>
<Oh, please,> sent Brainwave. <All right, Obie, Jade, Dr. M, you're in, too. Concentrate on reinforcing Syl's will. I'll channel it into his brain. All together now, PUSH...>
The walls of the Star-Spangled Kid's cell began to vibrate.
"Ouch," said Northwind. The mental feedback was beginning to hurt.
An audible creak was heard.
<I'm getting a brain-pain,> sent Jade. <This better not take much longer, Syl, or-->
<Shut up,> sent Hank. <PUSH...>
Beyond a dimensional barrier, Starman and his comrades sought to push as well, though none could tell if it was having any effect or not.
The walls were trembling. But some of the reactive force was penetrating to Syl, even through his aura of power, and his arms were beginning to hurt. If the aura burst an instant before the force-beams, he might be torn apart by the blowback.
Some of the Infinitors were on the floor, clutching at their heads, noses bleeding. They strove as best they could to keep the will-pool unified, but they felt as though their brains would burst.
Sweating, trembling, Syl Pemberton felt the force of the stars which he borrowed, felt the power of their united wills, and knew that the next one had to be the last.
The word turned into a scream in his head as the force of white light from his hands battered and smashed and burst through the walls of his cell, and not only that of the two beyond, but through all the cells in the newly-made Temple of Science prison block, and some of the rooms beyond.
The sigh seemed to come from all of their minds as the Infinitors disengaged from the gestalt and retracted back within their own mental spaces. Syl Pemberton tried to keep his feet. But he fell, trying, upon the winged back of Northwind. All of them were still conscious...but still recovering.
Got to help the women, thought Syl. Got to save the world...
A new voice, one totally unfamiliar to him. With an effort, Syl Pemberton opened his eyes.
The speaker, some guy in street clothes without even the decency to wear a stupid costume, was standing in the doorway, on top of the barred door which had just fallen off its lock and hinges.
"I'm the guy that got you into this mess, sort of," said Aldon Persis. "And I'd really like to help get us all out of it."
"Rao is good to us, sometimes," said U-Ban as he grabbed Power Girl by the neck, pulling her up from the arena wall against which Mala had blown her and the other women. She tried to punch him, but he blocked the blow. She tried for a kick, but he grabbed her ankle.
Then, holding her by throat and ankle, he lifted her high over his head...
"No!" cried Fury, trying to hurl herself at him. But Kizo grabbed her cape and then her arm to hold her back.
...and slammed her hard, back-first, across his outstretched knee.
White light filled Kara's skull.
Can't black out...can't let myself...got to stay in this fight...but what for? Rao, this hurts so much...
Fury used one hand to loosen her cape from its stays and her other to swing Kizo, before he knew what was happening, into U-Ban and Kara like a maul. Kizo's grip on her hand loosened, in surprise, and the young Amazon freed herself and grabbed Power Girl. She hustled them both away, gathered her legs, and leaped, hoping to clear the arena and gain them both some time.
She was a good distance above the site when something very like a leash seemed to form about her foot and yank her back, like a fish on a line. Fury and Kara impacted on the red sands of the arena again.
Mars laughed with glee. None of these victims was going to leave his domain that easily. Not while they were still alive, anyway.
He looked at Hippolyta, seeing the anguish in her eyes, noting the pallor in her stasis-held form. He looked at Badra, who was looking at Wonder Woman backpedalling from Mala, catching his blows and heat-vision on her Amazonium bracelets. It was obvious that the Kryptonian was only toying with his prey.
Then, strangely enough, the Amazon lowered her arms, and shouted one word:
Kizo, three steps away from her, looked at her, his arm upraised. But, if the spot where Wonder Woman was looking was an indicator, she hadn't been talking to him. She had been addressing Mars.
"Hear me out, O god of war," said Diana, in a voice loud enough to be heard by all. Even Mala and U-Ban were hanging back, now, waiting to see what was in the offing. "If my words prove of no avail, I will remain motionless and allow your pawn to...destroy me."
"No," said Fury, getting to her feet. "NO!"
Power Girl shook off her sluggishness and grasped Fury's ankle. "Wait, Lyta. If Di's got a plan...it sure beats going through any more of this."
Fury glanced at Power Girl, saw the bruises on her face and the scratches on her side that showed through the torn place in her uniform. She swallowed, and said nothing, but stayed where she was.
Mars looked at the woman in red, white, blue, and gold. "Say on," he rumbled.
Badra turned towards him, in anxiety. "No, Lord Mars! She is your greatest foe, and I your greatest ally. This can only be a trick--"
The war-god looked at his charge, briefly.
Badra shut up.
"One there is who has not joined the battle," Diana continued. "The one who proclaims herself your greatest ally. She, whose lust for my death is matched only by your own. She, who has not suffered the battering I have today and earlier, at her own hands. I challenge her to single combat. Upon the outcome of which our lives--and those of my mother, daughter, and Kara, and the people of Earth--will depend. Only stay the men from fighting me or my allies. That is what I propose."
"You are insane, Amazon," snapped Badra. "Mars has no need to make bargains with you. You have no power here..."
"Silence," said Mars.
Again, Badra kept her peace, but with great difficulty.
Mars spoke again.
"Since the days of the great war on your sphere, Amazon, you have frustrated me," he said. "With the power of Conquest, Greed, and Deception I opposed you and Aphrodite's other whores. Yet did you frustrate me. And, though my work on Earth has prospered in various places...though your ‘peace' has been shattered across your world, time and again...the nation in which you dwell has remained unconquered, and untyrannic. This has caused me pain. Great pain.
"I will allow you this much," said Mars. "I will allow my agent to battle you, should she wish to do so. I will keep both my allies and yours separate from both of you. But I make no bargains about the reward. All that will be done is to give you a chance to revenge yourself on your tormentress...to allow her a chance to kill you...and to afford myself a better spectacle. Well? What say you?"
Power Girl and Fury looked upon the first super-heroine of their Earth, standing in the rust-colored sands of the arena, and saw the defiant but calm gaze she gave back to Mars. And both, despite themselves, felt the first bit of hope they had experienced since the battle had begun.
"Diana, let me fight her," said Kara. "I'm the Krypt here, I can take her."
"Be silent, Kara," said Diana. "What of my friends?"
"They will still have to fight the Kryptonians," said Mars. "But I will add one thing to their advantage: your mother."
"No!" screamed Fury. "Mom, don't do it! Grandma's not up to this, they'll kill her!"
Power Girl wiped blood away from her mouth. "I'm with Fury on this one, Diana. Keep your mother out of it. Bad enough we're in this thing."
Mala looked troubled. "Lord Mars," he said. "Bad enough we have to battle women. None of us, I think, wishes to fight an older woman. True, we did subdue her, but..."
Then he went to his knees in pain as Mars sent a burst of energy through him.
"It will be as I have said," the war-god thundered. "The women will not live to see their world destroyed. One of the few disappointments of this day. But even a god cannot have everything."
Kara lifted her head. "Mars. I've got a question."
The helmeted visage turned in her direction.
"Why here? Why now? You've had ages to plan to destroy the Earth. Sheol, it's been decades since World War II, even. Why have you waited this long to spring this on Diana and the rest of us? What kept you?"
Mars hesitated before answering.
"Because, if I waited much longer, I might lose my opportunity," he admitted. "There are other forces in play. I either strike now...or forfeit the game."
"What do you mean by that?" asked Power Girl, stepping towards him. "I like my answers clearer than what you just gave me."
The leash of energy formed about her foot and yanked her into a faceful of red dust. She spit it out, angrily.
Mars stretched out a huge left hand, grasped Hippolyta, and threw her from her seat into the arena sand. As she tumbled upon it, near Kara and Lyta, the paralysis lifted from her body. She arighted herself, not without dignity, grasping an arm apiece of Power Girl and Fury, and stood between them. Though the oldest of all the women, her power was but slightly daunted by age.
Then Mars grasped Badra with his other hand, and she shrieked at his cold touch. Unmoved by her response, he hurled her in Wonder Woman's direction. The Hatorian got to her feet, not ten yards from her enemy, even as a fence of power encircled them both to keep them separate from the other combatants.
Badra gazed at Wonder Woman with some confidence, and a smile rose to her lips.
"Well, then, Amazon," she said, "it appears your wish is fulfilled. Perhaps mine, as well."
"Not yet," said Diana. "Have at you, traitor to womanhood."
The two leapt at each other before Mars could even say, "Begin anew."
Jade, looking furtively out the window of the Temple at the arena, said, "Syl, we've got to help them."
"Best way to do that is to free the JSA," said the Star-Spangled Kid. "All right, Aldon, you sure that thing is the McCoy?"
Aldon Persis held the Grail in his hands. "Believe it, Mr. Pemberton. I used this to power the anti-magic spell. I can use it to reverse it, if I've got enough time. It doesn't take as long as casting the original spell, but it takes a little while."
Nuklon, towering over the rest, grabbed the Grail away from Persis. "I've got a better way. Let's crush this thing."
"No, Hank!" warned the Silver Scarab. "I've been around enough ancient power objects to know--"
The mighty mohawked mutant grasped the 2,000-year-old cup between both his hands and squeezed hard. The pressure could have crushed solid concrete.
It did nothing to the Grail.
However, Nuklon himself lurched backward, letting the cup drop like a hot stone from the Earth's center, and cried out in pain. "I...what the...", he stammered.
Obsidian helped him back to his feet. "Hector told you not to mess with that thing, and he meant it."
Syl picked the Grail up and handed it to Persis. "Get to it, Al. Do you need a text or anything?"
The grandson of Sargon the Sorceror fingered the Grail respectfully. "I'm going to try a standard reverse on this one. If it works, it'll take a lot less time than having to run thru the original spell backward."
"And if it doesn't?"
"Then you'd better settle in for about an hour and hope I remember all the words."
The Infinitors' leader sneaked a look out at the arena. It was hard to tell what was going on, but he'd caught a glimpse of Kara and one of the Krypts flying above the arena and coming to blows, then falling back below the top level of the thing.
If Persis's spell took too long, or if it looked too bad for the women, he'd have to risk sending the group into battle. They'd probably be hamburger in minutes, but they couldn't sit back and watch Fury, Diana, Kara, and Hippolyta get killed.
"Obie, Jade," rapped Syl. "Your belt radios still working?"
"Mine is, Star," acknowledged Obsidian.
"Mine, too," said Jade. "What do you want us to do?"
"Sneak out to the arena, find a place to peek in and not get seen," said Syl. "Let me know what's going on in the fight. Just in case Mars gets wind of what we're doing, I want the powered people here to protect him. But if they're looking really bad, tell us, and we're in."
Jade didn't say anything, but she paled noticeably. She nodded her head.
Obsidian crossed himself, then followed his sister.
Aldon Persis was chanting at warp speed, and had been for all the time Syl had been giving orders.
Nuklon, Dr. Midnight, Northwind, Silver Scarab, Hourman II, and Brainwave, Jr. made a circle about the chanting man and the Grail, and waited, and prayed.
Lois Kent had never spoken to any Amazons except Wonder Woman and Fury, and it was even odder to know that the one she spoke to had the same name as the Kryptonian criminal who looked like her late husband.
The Amazon Mala, talking to her from a phone on an Air Force transport, had told Lois briefly of the recent events on Paradise Island. Then she revealed that she had finally convinced the sisterhood to leave the isle, despite their traditional agoraphobia, that they had sailed to the mainland in what boats they had left undamaged, and that they commandeered several planes at the nearest airport to take them to Washington, D.C. Fortunately, President Reagan remembered Wonder Woman as well as he did Superman. Possibly better, since her outfit was fashioned after the American flag.
"Our usual modes of transport will not serve in the current situation," said Mala. "Your President has been gracious enough to give us passage in your warriors' aircraft. We will be in Gotham in a bit over an hour. Will that be sufficient time?"
Lois looked out at the assembled heroes and sighed. "I don't know. I really don't, Mala. I think Kara and all the rest are on Mars, and we've no way of getting there. None of us here have the powers of...Superman...and there's no rocket capable of reaching Mars at present."
"Then our situation is quite desperate," said Mala.
A thousand sarcastic replies sped through Lois's consciousness. She swallowed them all. "Yes. Very definitely. But not as desperate as Kara's, or her friends'."
"Is there anything we may do once we are in Gotham with you?"
Lois said, "Just what we've been doing. Wait, and pray for a break."
There was a pause on the other end of the line. "The grace of Aphrodite be with you, Lois, and those with you. But especially with our sisters on the war-god's world."
"Thanks," said Lois. "God help us all. See you soon, Mala."
"Farewell, sister of Man's World." The connection was broken.
The Vigilante, incongrous as hell in ten-gallon hat, bandanna mask, and Western outfit, stepped up. "Pardon my sayin' so, Ma'am, but what I caught of that jaw-music didn't sound terrible good."
"Great ears, Tex," said Lois, putting the phone back on its cradle. "The Amazons'll be here in about an hour, people. Just...keep hoping, and keep praying. That's all we can do."
Molly Mayne, not in her Harlequin outfit but in a conservative green dress and spectacles, said, "Sit down and I'll get you some tea from the pantry, Lois. Do you a world of good."
"Nuts to that, honey," said Lois, taking a seat Jimmy offered her. "Coffee. Black. Straight up."
The heroes that were left to Earth-Two conversed among themselves. It was going to be a damned long night, they generally agreed.
And all of them wondered if it might be their last.
The field of battle was chaotic, as might be expected. Hippolyte, casting an agonized glance at her daughter closing in combat with Badra, threw herself valiantly into the arena. She landed nimbly on her feet, standing side-by-side with Power Girl and Fury. Both women showed the marks of the fight with the Kryptonians. Conversely, the Krypts showed little bruising and no blood. Damn their invulnerability, thought the Amazon queen.
Kara was tiring. Small wonder, that. She had been in a punishing enough fight before this one. Now she was having to carry the offensive against three men of her world and keep Fury from being hurt too badly. The strength of an Amazon is great indeed, but a Kryptonian's strength outpoints it a bit.
"You wished a show, Mars," Hippolyta shouted. "All right, by Aphrodite, here's your show!" So saying, she leaped at the Kryptonians, her arms outstretched and her hands balled into fists. Mala and Kizo she caught in the jaws; U-Ban she butted in the jaw. Her head and hands hurt as if someone had smashed steel girders over them. But the Krypts went down.
Unfortunately, they came up again. Power Girl grabbed Hippolyta by the arm and yanked her back, coming to the fore. One of Kara's eyes were blackened, her right cheek was bruised, and her nose was bloodied, almost broken. Hippolyte could see other bruises on the blonde's legs, and there were bound to be similar sights on the parts of her body that were covered by the costume.
Kara spat blood and raised her two blue-gloved fists. "Come at me, you three palookas! Let's see you take out one Kryptonian girl, if ya can!"
An instant after that, Fury's hands contacted Power Girl's shoulders as she flipped over her friend in an acrobatic move that sent her feet straight into U-Ban's and Kizo's guts. Power Girl closed on Mala and slammed him with a haymaker. Blood from her cracked knuckles was discoloring her right glove. Her foe was rocked back, but Kara pressed forward too quickly, was suckered, and received a terrible uppercut that knocked her twenty feet into the air.
Hippolyta leaped at Mala to grapple with him. He threw her aside like a doll. She skidded on the rough red sands of Mars, gasping, her dress torn by the impact, her leg showing skin marks.
The other two had Fury upside down, one of them each holding one of her ankles. If they should decide to pull in opposite directions--
But Kara plummeted from the heavens, her blue boots smashing full-force into Kizo's and U-Ban's heads. Both yelped in pain, and Fury was able to wrest herself free. Before retreating, she delivered some well-placed stomps to their bodies.
Mala stood aside as his brothers got up, angrily, and the women regrouped. The Kryptonian trio knew they could take their time.
Fury gave Kara a quick once-over with her eyes. The last woman of Krypton looked even worse than she had after fighting the corrupted Superman. Her breaths were coming in ragged gasps. She looked to be having trouble just standing, and Fury went to her side to help her up. "‘M okay, okay," said Kara.
"Like hell," said Fury.
Hippolyta gazed upon her granddaughter and Power Girl, checked their three foes, two of whom were getting back on their feet, and glared at Mars, who was looking impatient. She didn't dare look at Diana and Badra.
"Lyta," said Hippolyta, "there is no way we can win this battle."
"I know, grandmother," said Fury, not taking her eyes from Mala and company.
"Nonetheless, we will die as warriors. No cries for mercy shall pass our lips. Our last moments will be spent battering our foes, even as they crush us...and Kara."
"She's as Amazon as they come," said Fury, "and then some."
"Thanks, Lyta," said Power Girl, pushing Lyta's arm away so that she might stand on her own. "Le' me take point."
"If any of our allies survive this day, let Kara's name be written on our rolls as an honorary Amazon," said Hippolyta. "And if any are left alive to write of this battle, let them say that four Amazons met their foes in unequal battle this day, and defied Mars to the last drop of their spilled blood."
"I love you, grandmother," said Lyta, almost too quietly to be heard.
"And I you, granddaughter," replied Hippolyta. "Hola!", she cried to their trio of foemen. "Let us begin anew!"
The three women surged forward again, wearing grim battle-faces that might have been those of Greeks in the Trojan War.
Before they had covered half the distance, all three felt the pain of searing heat along their bodies.
Power Girl halted, grabbed her two allies, and tossed them to the ground. Then she spread her body over the both of them and stretched her cape to its full extent, shielding them as best she could. "Stay down, you two," she warned.
"We've gotta fight ‘em!" wailed Fury.
"They'd...broil you like a hot dog," grated Kara. "Stay down, and I mean it!"
The three outlaws of Krypton were standing in a circle about Power Girl, sending six beams of heat from their eyes at her caped back. One Kryptonian could cause pain. Two could injure. Three could destroy.
But Hippolyta and Fury lacked the Kryptonian durability to withstand heat vision for a time. Without her protection, both women would soon burn to death.
Kara bit her lip to keep from screaming. The terrible beams seared her back like a grid of white-hot iron. That, despite her protective cape. There was only so much longer she could take it.
Her brain rushed to formulate an escape stratagem before the three of them could die.
But all she could really come up with right then was to lie there and take it.
And she wondered how long she could take it before she died.
Wonder Woman had smashed her shoulder into Badra's midsection at full throttle like a gridiron star going for the quarterback on a rush. The "Umph!" from the Hatorian's lips told Diana that she'd had the desired effect.
The smash that Badra gave her on the side of her mouth let her know that her enemy could have a similar effect, and quite a potent one. But the Amazon had been waiting for this moment for days. Viciously, she unleashed blow after blow on Badra, putting all she had into the punches. The woman in green was down, her back against the Martian sands, and her rival in red, blue, yellow, and white was straddling her, releasing and refuelling rage with every knuckleful.
Badra's eyes had closed with the first of the blows. But she was gauging Diana's rhythm, and, in the slight interval between the falling of the right hand and the approach of the left, her own right came up in a ferocious blast that paused Wonder Woman's assault. Badra struck with a blow from her left hand, then reached up with both hands and raked her nails across the Amazon's eyes.
Diana had the presence of mind to close her eyes and turn away as much as possible, but the scratchjob was still painful. Worse, it gave Badra the chance to smash a double-handed blow into her diaphragm. She gasped in pain. A second later, Badra worked a leg free and delivered a booted kick to her opponent, knocking her away.
Wonder Woman staggered backwards, knowing she had to rally, knowing what had been done to herself, her daughter, and her sisterhood by this witch in green, sparking her combativeness. Yet, even as she made ready for a return blow, Badra hit her with what felt like a two-handed maul to her ribcage. Grunting, Diana dropped to her knees.
A karate blow to the back of the neck sent Diana to the sand. She wasn't out yet. That was just how the villainess wanted it. She was going to have fun with her old enemy before finishing the job.
Badra ground a knee into Wonder Woman's kidney while levering her neck back with a powerful arm. The heroine's groan of pain brought a smile to her attacker's face. Diana had been through some days of rough treatment. Badra, on the other hand, was in prime condition. A Hatorian wasn't as powerful as a Kryptonian, but she was well within the power range of an Amazon.
But Wonder Woman wasn't out of the fight yet. Her own hands, yet powerful, grabbed for Badra's arm, pulling it away from her throat as she pitched sideways to dislodge her foe from her back. Like a cat, she was on Badra again, and the two exchanged several more blows before separating and getting to their feet.
Both heard Fury give a short yell of encouragement to her mother. It didn't seem to matter.
Badra glanced briefly at Mars, enthroned like Nero, taking in all the battles simultaneously. But he was looking directly at her, and the approval in his gaze was unmistakeable.
Wonder Woman wiped her mouth with the back of her hand. "Expect no help from your patron. I've dealt with all his lackeys before, and beaten them. As I beat you."
"Then deal with me a second time," said Badra. "If I get done with you soon enough, perhaps he'll let me help the boys deal with your daughter. And your mother."
A second after she had done it, Diana realized she'd been goaded too well. She should have harnessed her fury, and tried a move with more finesse.
Instead she just charged, with a war-cry on her lips and a face twisted in hate. Badra managed a sidestep, no easy feat considering Diana's velocity, and swung a knee into her abdomen.
Wonder Woman's body seemed to wrap around the outstretched leg, her booted feet leaving the sand, her expression becoming one of agony, her arms outstretched as if to stop herself by pushing against the very air. The rebound, when it came, bounced her onto the red grit again, its coarse grains grinding into her exposed back.
Badra dropped a knee across her throat.
Smiling as she increased the pressure, she realized that it was more fun to be a participant than an observer by far.
Aldon Persis continued to chant, as the Star-Spangled Kid maintained a force-field dome about the both of them. He hoped it would shield them from detection as well as assault. Considering the forces arrayed against them, he privately doubted it would hold for more than a few seconds, if they were assaulted.
Wildcat II turned away from the window, her expression grim and terrified. "Syl, the woman do badly. They are down. The Krypts are--"
"Go," snapped Syl Pemberton. The others didn't need the encouragement. They were already in motion.
For Nuklon and the rest, it was bound to be a suicide mission.
But if he managed to get Persis through his chant safely, then, considered Syl, it would have to be worth it.
He'd deal with the problems of their deaths, and his survival, at another time. He didn't dare touch that thought right now.
Kara grimaced in agony. It seemed as though the Krypts were writing their names on her back. If her cape was not aflame by now, it would be in a moment.
"Hippolyta," she said, her mouth as close to the queen's ear as she could manage. "I'm going to try something. Whatever you do, don't resist me."
Before her ally could even nod, Power Girl grasped her wrists just below the bracelets, leapt up, and placed the Amazonium bands directly at the point where the Kryptonians' eye-beams converged on her.
Given more time, it is possible their beams might have turned the wristlets into slag. But Amazonium is one of the strongest and most reflective metals known, and Kara was cooling Hippolyta's wrists with her super-breath as she held them up.
The forces of the heat-beams bounced off of the bracelets and right back into Mala's, Kizo's, and U-Ban's eyes.
Even they were blinded and hurt by that.
Fury leapt up and bore her mother and Power Girl to another part of the arena. As they stopped, she noticed the white-clad woman going to one knee, clenching her fists, and quivering.
"Good God, Kara," gasped Fury.
"I'm all right, Lyta," said Kara, through clenched teeth.
Hippolyta raised the blonde's smouldering cape and looked at what she could see of her back. It was badly burned, as though someone had heated a metal grating to redness and pressed it against her.
"You are not all right," said Hippolyta. "You must let us carry the fight from here."
"No," said Kara, beginning to straighten up. Lyta noticed the tracks of tears at the corners of her eyes. "I'm not dead yet. If it's my time to go...one of them's going with me."
Fury nodded, grimly. "Let me help."
"And me," agreed Hippolyta. "Three of us against one of them. Let us try that tactic."
Mala stood his ground, alongside his brothers, some yards distant from them. "Give up, Kara," he called. "Our vision returns. This battle serves little purpose."
The god of war heard, and was displeased. The sky above them seemed to deepen to violet for a moment, as he raised his hand and gestured towards them, lacking a thumbs-down gesture to complete the picture. "The battle continues!" he thundered.
Kizo looked at Mars, a bit nervously. U-Ban was still rubbing his eyes.
"We knew naught of...our patron," said Mala, and the slight note of contempt and unease as he said the word was picked up by the three women, "before his appearance here minutes ago. We thought we only fought for ourselves, and Badra, for our own gain. Now--"
Then he screamed and dropped to his knees, his body surrounded by purple sparks. Fury, aghast, thought the Krypt looked like an ordinary man who had touched the third rail in a subway.
It only lasted an instant, but it was convincing enough to Mala and his brothers. The man with Superman's face picked himself from the ground, looked at Mars, whose arm was still pointed in his direction, and made a decision.
By that time, Kara, Fury, and Hippolyta were in flight, crashing into him, hoping to take him down before his two brothers could lend a hand. Mala, still feeling the aftereffects of the Mars-blast, was rocked considerably.
Kizo reached out a hand for Fury's cape, meaning to tear the blonde
battle-maid from his brother's body and toss her against the arena wall
with enough force to kill her.
He never quite got there.
Some force was inserting itself between his will and his body. His hand hang in the air, unable to do what he wanted.
U-Ban heard the sounds of running feet chuffing against the arena sands and turned quickly enough to see a red-clad giant dropping from the air, let loose by a winged and feathered man, plummeting fists-first towards him.
He didn't see Brainwave, Jr., who was using his psi-powers to freeze Kizo as long as he could, or Wildcat, Hourman, Silver Scarab, Jade, or Obsidian.
But he did hear Nuklon yell, "Chew on this one, Kryptie!", before the giant's ten knuckles smashed into his jaw.
Mars lurched forward in his seat. The prisoners had escaped. He had no fear of their power. The Kryptonians could butter the sands with them in no time.
But if they were free, Persis might be free as well. And if he managed to get his hands on the Grail...
The god of war simply vanished from the arena, putting aside his anger at not being able to see the rest of the fight. It was disgusting that he himself had to play an active role in this, instead of leaving it to his pawns. After all, generals had a different station than soldiers.
Still, inattention to details had lost many a campaign before. Wherever Persis was, it was time to show him why war was hell.
And then send him to Hell itself.
The Spectre's great form seemed to fill the whole of the Crime Champions' satellite. "Mars attacks," he said.
"Hey, I remember that," said Johnny Thunder. "Gum card set. Real neat. Anybody remember that ‘Burning Flesh' one? And--"
"Shut up, Johnny!", said the Atom.
The ghost's great green-gloved hands expanded to pull the Justice Society more firmly together, compacted before the viewscreen showing the Star-Spangled Kid standing over the chanting Persis. "We must unite our power, and our will, and strive to transmit it through the mind-link to the young one's belt. Without us strengthening his field of force, they will surely perish."
"We might, too," said Starman. "Do it, Spectre."
Without a word, Dr. Fate touched his amulet, Green Lantern activated his ring, Starman concentrated anew on his cosmic rod, and the others joined hands, touching their friends and uniting their thoughts in a will-link with them.
For once, Johnny Thunder didn't bumble. "Say you, T-Bolt. Give ‘em a hand!"
"Like you said, boss," the pink bolt rapped, and merged his essence with the Spectre's.
Wonder Woman damned herself for her performance. She had not been helpless, but she had been on the defensive all too much. There was also the matter of the pain Badra had dealt to her. That, she gauged with a warrior's expert opinion, was greater than she had dealt to Badra. She had tried to break away from the fight, tried to come to the aid of her mother, her daughter, and Kara, but an invisible fence of force walled her off from them. Clearly, options had to be weighed.
The fact that Diana could think this clearly with Badra bending her backward over one knee and strangling her with both hands was tribute to her mental processes. But even she knew that she couldn't survive much longer, if the pressure on her throat kept up. And Badra wasn't slackening.
Her vision was tinged with red. What she saw was from an upside-down position, an odd way to be viewing the world for your last moments of life. She gazed at the arena seats, where Mars was sitting, chewing on the thought that her oldest enemy would be looking upon her final gasps before she was taken by Aphrodite. If Aphrodite could find her, with this spell in effect.
Diana blinked, which took great enough effort.
There was no Mars in the arena.
Perhaps he'd just moved to a different section? No. Not likely. A second before, he had been there, looking a bit discomfited, if she could credit her eyes. Now, he had vanished. Teleported, most likely.
No Mars to see the battle.
No Mars to give Badra help.
As things began to go purplish-black, Wonder Woman kindled whatever spark of thought, life, and energy lie within her, and decided it was time for the old Last Desperate Chance play.
Her arms swung up in coordinated action and, with greater force than even Hippolyte could have credited her, banged her Amazonium bracelets as one against the sides of Badra's head.
It would have dented, and perhaps pierced, battleship steel. It was enough to make Badra holler, "Aaahhh!", and slack her grip for a moment.
Diana sucked in breath through her nose and used her mouth to clamp down on her enemy's hand like a pit bull.
This time, Badra's howl of pain was heard all over the arena. Even the Kryptonians stopped an instant to see what was going on, before getting back to their own business. The Hatorian was trying to pull her hand loose from Diana's mouth, trying to batter her into letting go with her free fist, trying to get the hell away from her before she lost the web between her right thumb and index finger and whatever meat and bone were in the grip of Wonder Woman's teeth.
Generally, Diana ignored the beating until color was back in her face and a modicum of strength was back in her body. That took about three seconds.
Then she ratcheted back a fist, sent it forward, saw Badra trying to block it in desperation, evaded the block, and landed five knuckles in the right spot to bust hell out of Badra's nose.
The villainess sprawled, one hand going to her skiied-to-the-side schnozz, a howl of pain starting up from somewhere inside her, totally unaware that Wonder Woman had let go of her hand.
Diana buried a hand in the front of Badra's dress, dragged her up, and let loose an uppercut to her foe's jaw. The force tore her loose from the Amazon's grip, sending her spinning backwards on the rusty sands. When she managed to get to a sitting position, she was seeing double. Or triple. Multiples, anyway.
What looked like a phalanx of Wonder Women were coming directly at her.
And none of them looked like they were interested in making small talk.
Power Girl was not pleased with the entry of her old teammates into the battle. It did give them a respite of a couple of seconds. But all it really meant were that there were more bodies for her to protect. None of them, not even Nuklon, as durable as the two Amazons.
Still, she had to admit that she admired their spirit. But she wondered, grimly, how many of them would get killed because of it.
Nuklon had grown to his maximum height of 13 feet. To his credit, he was fighting smart. His blows did no more than sting his foes. But when they tried to slug him, or blast him with heat-vision, he reduced his density to almost nil. Not even Kryptonians can hurt a foe they cannot touch. So he stood there, and grinned, and let his foes throw punches that ended with them landing face-first in the dirt.
Brainwave, Jr. had managed to hold Kizo for about ten seconds before the Krypt broke free. Predictably, he came at the Infinitors like a Juggernaut. But he passed them by a respectable distance--maybe four feet--and impacted against the arena wall. The forcefield enclosing them absorbed most of the shock, but the wall still cracked behind it.
Hank King had addled Kizo's mental connections enough to throw off his perception. With the addition of further brainstrikes, Kizo was unable to pinpoint his foes' location, even by hearing. Super-senses depend upon connections with the brain for efficiency as much as normal human senses do, and Hank was throwing monkey wrenches into the gears of his synapses.
"Frab!", snarled Kizo, and tried to shut Brainwave out. But, even though the old analogy of doing something with the gate after the horse is loose didn't quite apply, it was close enough to account for some of his difficulties.
Wildcat II sprinted at him from behind, in a crouch. Seeing her, Obsidian, as powerless as his sister Jade, shouted, "No, Yolanda!"
She hit Kizo close enough to his knees to send him over her back and onto the ground, and then kept running. Over her shoulder, she hollered, "Why not?"
Kara had taken advantage of the confusion to give Mala a double-fisted smash to the eyes to keep him from unleashing heat-vision and, secondarily, from seeing. The Krypt shouted in pain, his orbs injured for the second time in a short interval. Power Girl moved in and swung her leg forward in an attempt to reappraise his family jewels. But Mala's big hand came back, swung out, and smacked her away. Kara landed on her kiester in the sand--thankfully, not on her still-aching burned back--and decided his hearing was just too good at present.
She found herself in line of sight with U-Ban, who was holding his own despite Fury hanging onto one arm and Hippolyta to the other and Silver Scarab blasting him in the head with solar-energy bursts. Northwind was swooping down and up again in his direction, yelling and trying to distract him. Dr. Midnight, Obie and Jade, brave as hell, Kara estimated, were scuttling up to him as close as they dared and darting away, trying to achieve the same effect on the ground.
Hourman II, deciding to take a bigger hand in things, rushed in and started bashing U-Ban in the belly. His Miraclo-enhanced strength would have sent his fists through solid concrete. U-Ban was made of harder stuff, and Rick Tyler knew it. His gloves were tearing over the knuckles, and his knuckles were starting to bleed. He set his jaw and kept hammering, knowing that he was trying to turn a tornado aside by blowing through a straw at it, but knowing he had a contribution to make, anyway.
With a surge of power, U-Ban threw them all off. Hippolyta, Fury, and Hourman went flying. But Power Girl was also in flight and, quickly, she picked them all out of the air. Then she said three words:
At that, she threw them all back at U-Ban, glad they had presence of mind to point their fists in the direction she was aiming them toward. A nanosecond later, she grabbed up Nuklon and did the same with him. Then she gathered all that remained of her speed, all that was left of her power, and joined the wave herself.
The hands of Fury, Hippolyta, Hourman, Nuklon, and Power Girl contacted U-Ban's head at close enough to the same interval for the difference to be negligible. It all tended to fuse together as one great impact.
Nuke and Hourman went down, grabbing their fists, which hurt like the devil. Even Lyta's and Hippolyta's knucks were sore as blazes from the contact. As for Kara, she was hurt enough for the numb feeling in her fingers to be set aside, though she flashed on the thought that someday she might get arthritis in her hands, like a boxer.
Irregardless, it seemed to do the job. U-Ban of Krypton was staggering woozily on his feet, trying to keep the ground under his soles, not aware that he had a flight power that could do the job for him.
Power Girl moved in and to the side, planted her blue boots, and swung her elbow hard and fast into the side of his jaw. She couldn't tell if he said anything or not.
U-Ban sent up a little puff of dust from the ground as he fell senseless.
But as she wondered how many times she was going to have to do that to him before it was all over, Kara was jolted from the ground and onto her back by what felt like a Marsquake.
Even before she saw him, she guessed what had happened. Kizo crouched not far distant with his fists still on the ground, unable to tell precisely where they were but still able to easily cause ground tremors by striking the planet.
Someone else's hand grabbed her by the ankle, lifted her, and threw her with a crash against the force-field wall of the arena.
She saw it was Mala and tried to make the flashes of light get out of her field of vision.
Mars didn't so much materialize in the room that housed Star-Spangled Kid and Aldon Persis as simply become there. When you are a god of war, you can get away with that kind of thing.
There was, he noted, a field of force between him and the youth in the silly-looking red, white, and blue tights and the human pawn who had set up the spell-barrier that banished magic, save for Mars's powers, from this region of space. The pawn was chanting as quickly as he could manage, and was sitting cross-legged, with the Grail before his crossed legs. Stupid looking cup.
The defender caught sight of Mars, and the war-god was pleased to note the look of fear in them, despite the bravery that would override much response to that fear. Well, in a few seconds, it wouldn't matter.
Mars approached, and brought his right hand down upon the bubble of force. It should have shattered like a thin glass goblet, and Mars was right to expect it to.
But before the blow landed, the defender's belt began to glow, and the force field responded in kind.
The good right hand of Mars impacted the Star-Spangled Kid's force field.
It tingled like the devil from the smack he gave the thing.
But it didn't break through.
In their well between the worlds, the Justice Society of America felt the impact of the blow. Even though the Spectre tried to absorb as much of the shock as he could, it still shook their bodies, minds, and souls.
"Wow," spoke Robin, from his place on the floor. "Did it...did we..."
"We held, Dick," said the Huntress, helping him back up.
Dr. Fate, Green Lantern, and Starman were frozen as if cast from plastic. Johnny Thunder held Starman's wrist with one hand, and with his other held fast to a chain composed of the Atom, the Flash, Robin, the Huntress, Hawkman, Hawkgirl, Hourman, and Dr. Mid-Nite, who completed the chain by holding tight to Green Lantern's red-sleeved arm.
Above and around them, the Spectre united them and shielded them in his great hands.
"Hold fast," he warned. "The next blow comes with greater force."
But they held fast, and wondered how much longer they could keep holding.
Until the chant was completed?
Or until their brains were mulched?
Wonder Woman would have been surprised at her own energy, if she had had the time. Lately, she had been labelling her punches. "This, for my mother," she said, smashing Badra with a left to the chin. "This, for my daughter," she pronounced, sinking her right into the villainess's stomach. "This, for the sisterhood," she declared, with a double uppercut to Badra's chops.
The Hatorian woman was bruised in about all the visible places that Diana could strike her. She was woozy, on her last go-round before the decision. But she could still strike out, and rallied enough to launch herself in a drop-kick at Diana's midsection. She connected. They fell apart.
Badra raised herself from the ground first.
So, perhaps, there still was a chance for triumph. After all, the Krypts were more than holding their own, and Mars was only absent, not vanished. But damn it, where was he when she needed him?
Whatever the case, it was time to go over there, however she could manage it, and break the prone Amazon's skull, or neck, or something. After all, she was still the better woman.
Wonder Woman raised herself from the sands, brushing off her shoulders, smiling at Badra. "Is that all you had left?"
Stunned, Badra just looked at her.
Diana decided against trying to itemize the members of the Justice Society or Infinity, Inc., and even ruled out Power Girl. But it was forgiveable, under the circumstances.
"This one is for me," she said, and swung her balled fist forward.
Satisfyingly, Badra's feet left the ground and her body was momentarily parallel to its surface.
The follow-through sent Diana to the ground as well, half-sprawled over Badra's fallen form. She panted, clenched and unclenched her hands, thought about tying her foe up with her magic lasso, and remembered it wasn't at her side anymore.
She pushed herself up to a sitting posture and smoothed her hair back from her face. Probably, she looked a sight. There was an ache in her head that was probably akin to what mortals called a migraine. Multiple pains of different sorts were manifest in her body and were impossible to ignore anymore. There were some slight tears in her costume and she knew without consulting a mirror that she was scratched, and bruised, and bloodied.
All the same, she figured she looked a lot better than the other gal.
But the others.
Wonder Woman swung her head around with a start, displeased at the queasy sensation the movement gave her, and saw the others' battle with the Kryptonians. She noted the presence of the Infinity, Inc. crew, but doubted they could make much difference in the fight.
She pulled herself to her feet, taking a couple of seconds to do so, and sent herself in the direction of the warring superhumans.
At a point between them and herself, she came up against Mars's invisible field of force. She hammered her wristlets against it, striking sparks but doing no damage.
So, whatever the wargod might be doing, his power was still in effect. Fury, Hippolyta, Kara and the Infinitors would have to face the Kryptonians on their own. If they could.
And even if they did beat them, Mars would be another matter entirely.
Mars struck again and again at the barely-visible bubble surrounding Syl and Persis. Each strike transmitted its force through the ether to the being or beings that were resisting him. Surely none could withstand him for long. His was the power of forces beyond this plane. No matter how the men of this dimension were constructed, no matter if their bodies were Terran or Kryptonian, mortal or Amazon, they were naught but jelly over a calcium framework to him. The jelly easily spread into different and interesting shapes, the calcium broken and shattered into pieces incapable of supporting much besides air.
And yet, this...bubble...was witstanding him.
The damned magician idiot was still chanting, and the Grail...
The Grail was beginning to glow.
With a roar of terrible rage, the master of war smashed away at the barrier, full-power, three times. The entire Temple of Science shook with the impacts. The Star-Spangled Kid looked outward and didn't dare to believe that he was holding up against the power of Mars.
But he felt a slight weakening of the force field, a slight bending inward.
If Persis didn't finish his chant quickly, or if it didn't work right, they wouldn't last two seconds longer than the force bubble.
And Mars struck it once again.
Mala didn't bother to heed Kizo's requests to guide him to the Earthers, that he might help slay them.
He also bypassed his fallen brother U-Ban as the unnecessary hindrance he was.
The coterie of women and men in costumes had massed in a pathetic defensive line between him and Kara Zor-L. Nuklon, Hourman II, Dr. Midnight, Wildcat II, Brainwave, Jr., Silver Scarab, Northwind, and the powerless Jade and Obsidian stood in a rough V-form with Fury at the point. He indulged himself with a bit of super-hearing, checking their heartbeats. All of them were racing with fear. But the youth hid it well.
Behind them, Hippolyta knelt beside Power Girl, trying to restore her to full consciousness. Mala doubted it was possible. He and his brothers had done their work too well on that white-clad bitch.
He stopped only a few paces in front of the group, and addressed them.
"Before I begin," he said, "let me state that this gives me little pleasure. I have no particular quarrel with any of you. We have demonstrated twice over now that none of you, save perhaps your ‘Power Girl' suffering on the ground behind you, is within reach of our power. Of my power.
"Nor--and I may suffer for this--does it give me particular pleasure to find myself in the place of a subordinate, at the end of my sojourn here. I assure you that, had I known this ‘Mars' was involved, I would probably have refused alliance with Badra. But things are as they are, not as we--as I--would wish them to be.
"I do not particularly relish what I must do to the cousin of Kal-L. She is, after all, the last woman of our race. It was a hope of mine, though an illogical one, I grant, that she might realize our position, join the alliance, and bear us the start of a new generation of Kryptonians."
"In your dreams," said Fury. "Maybe in her nightmares."
"Don't goad him too much," whispered Jade.
Mala, who loved hearing himself talk, disregarded Fury's comment. "Perhaps Kryptonians can sire their own stock from lower races. I am sure that we will find out in the years to come, after we make our bid for conquest. That being said, I must remind myself that Kara Zor-L is the cousin of Superman. And Superman was our deadly enemy.
"We have not forgotten the thirty years we spent in the Kryptonite globe because of him. Nor have we forgotten being cheated of our revenge by his death. Should Kara Zor-L live, she will inevitably prove to be a hindrance to us. It is regrettable that she must die. But die she must.
"There is no need for battle. Our audience has left the stands. This show of combat pleased him, but it was most inefficient. Please. Let me do what is required, and I promise to make her death as quick as I possibly can. Your own will be even quicker, and as painless as possible. The decision is up to you."
Fury clenched her fists to stop her hands from trembling. She wished that Syl was here, for their last stand. But Hec Hall was there, in his Silver Scarab armor, a hand firmly on her shoulder. So were the other Infinitors. If one had to die, dying with a lover and friends was better than some alternatives.
She thrust out her half-armored chest. "You know what our answer is, big man. Come and get it."
"Nope," said Nuklon, still towering above all at his 13-foot height. "Our answer is--go to hell!"
Brainwave, Jr. had been trying to pry into Mala's mind for some minutes now, but the Krypt was prepared and his mental defenses were great. He launched as great a brainblast at his foe as he had ever attempted. Hourman made ready to turn his fists into oatmeal against the invulnerable foe. Nuklon, immaterial now, would attempt to merge with Mala's body and solidify. Maybe, on an atomic level, the Kryptonian wasn't invulnerable after all.
In response, Mala swung his arms, bringing his hands together in a great thunderclap of sound and air. The force blew the Infinitors off their pins, save for Nuklon, who was ghostlike, and Fury, who had set her stance too well. Mala rushed forward and brushed her aside, roughly.
Nuklon lunged at Mala, intersected with him, tried to solidify. He cried out in pain. Immediately, he ghosted out again, withdrew, and sank to his hands and knees, becoming of normal human solidity. The man's body was too hard to permeate.
Hippolyta had helped the battered Power Girl to her feet, and both stood defiant against Mala, for what good it would do. The queen of the Amazons stepped in front of Kara.
Kara shoved her aside and stared at Mala balefully.
"Try it, you son of a babootch," she said.
Hippolyta tried to stop him but was knocked sprawling.
Mala's hands reached out for Power Girl's throat.
Wonder Woman had seen all, had suffered anguish for her mother's, daughter's, and friends' plight, and now saw all too well what he intended to do to Kara. The heroes of Man's World and Woman's World had faced death times without number. For several of them, Superman and Batman included, Thanatos had not been balked.
She doubted she could tunnel under the barrier in time, if at all. Mars was wise enough to either extend its power through the planet, or restrain her with a force-leash if she tried. At any rate, there was only one thing she knew to try in the time remaining.
As quickly as her worn body would allow, she backed up to the very edge of the field, feeling its undaunted surface against her back. Then she launched herself forward, holding her wristbands before her, sprinting at the other edge of the barrier.
With Mars absent, perhaps the strength of his field lessened. Perhaps not.
Within a very short time, she would find out.
The god of war could sense the bubble of force withering, and knew that the two whom it protected were aware of it as well. No matter what strengthened their hand, in a contest with a god... Mars mentally shrugged. There was no contest.
Once again he raised his arms, channeling the power that was his into them so intensely that they glowed in the dim light of the chamber. He held them at apex for a moment, then brought them down.
Syl Pemberton's mouth opened.
Aldon Persis continued the chant.
Mars's arms descended, contacted the bubble, shattered it. With a crackling of energies, it was no more.
He reached out for the youth in the blue shirt with the white stars.
Persis said a final syllable, and drew a breath.
A light burst up from the well of the cup, so bright that even Mars found himself blinded for a moment. He paused.
Then he found himself propelled backwards, by a force he had never encountered the likes of, smashing him back through wall after wall of the Amazons' temple. Finally, he crashed through an outer wall and through the packed sand of the arena he had created, and into the field of force that lined it.
And through it.
The energy of that field of force was blasted to random ergs as effectively as had the Star-Spangled Kid's force-bubble. But in that coruscating blast, Mars's progress was finally halted. He lie there an instant, not harmed by the crashing through the many walls, but certainly staggered by the force that had sent him through them.
Some distance behind him, Wonder Woman sped through the space where the barrier between er and her allies had been, but it was no more, and she continued towards her friends and foes with an Amazonian war-cry.
Mars wasn't really concerned with that.
His attention was taken by the sight of a great, white-skinned, green-cloaked-and-hooded being who poured (there was no other word for it) forth from the hole he had made in the building wall. From the cloaked being's great hands leapt a horde of costumed men and women, all of them joining battle, and several of them sufficiently powered to challenge every one of his mortal allies.
The great red-bearded father of war snarled and formed a battleaxe in his hands from pure mystic energy. He rocketed forward, swinging it at the cloaked one. "Fool of a spirit!" he cried, in a voice like the thunder of a dropped bomb. "You face the power of a god!"
"Not my God," said the Spectre, in a tone that chilled even those who had known him for forty years.
He reached out a green-gloved right hand and caught Mars's axe-holding hand by the wrist. He grabbed the war-god's other hand with his left.
Mars swore in a language known only to his kind. He brought all his power to bear upon the foe before him. But, somehow, the Spectre wasn't giving way.
And Mars realized that, if the cloaked one's power did not slacken, he would be the one to falter.
This was not possible. Not in this sphere. Not among mortals, even those who were more than their fellows in power and might. No, not even among them.
But the spirit was holding him. And right now, there wasn't a thing he could do about it.
Just as Kara was going to try her best, and possibly last, punch at the jaw of the guy who had his hands on her neck, something hit him in the back like a rocket sled. It toppled both Power Girl and Mala to the ground, landing her painfully on her back. She rolled onto her front quickly and managed to get to her feet, a tad faster than Mala. As beat as she was, she wanted to try and give him a shot to the jaw.
But she had to settle for sloppy seconds, because Wonder Woman was already busting her fists on him.
Mala was driven back in pain and surprise. Diana looked at least as bad as Kara, but her determination and desperation were energizing her, and she intended to take full advantage of it.
"Come on, Infinc!", said a familar voice from above, in conjunction with a bolt of force that burst from his belt and knocked Mala to his knees. "Let's get in a few shots before the oldsters beat us to it!"
Lyta Trevor looked up, registered the flying form of the Star-Spangled Kid, and was glad. Then she stepped up to Mala and kneed him as hard as she could. She figured, grasping her leg a second later, that he'd hurt her a lot worse than she had him, but he wasn't moving very quickly.
Hippolyta joined forces with the others and rammed into their foe, but was shoved back by him an instant later. No question about it, even at this point, he had power enough to destroy them all. If they gave him a chance.
Kizo had finally thrown off enough of Brainwave Jr.'s mind-boggling to get back in the game. He launched himself into the sky, grabbed a circling Northwind by the wing, and prepared to rip his limbs and head off. No more of Mala's grandstanding, no more of U-Ban's stupidity. This thing had gone on entirely too long already.
Except that he found his arms pulled away and restrained with the rest of his body in a great green hand.
Kizo turned his head to see the hand's source. It emanated from the palm of a young, green-skinned woman, floating in the air not far from him. He exerted his strength, preparing to snap the fingers of the hand into a million flinders.
The only problem was that the hand wouldn't break.
"It's magic," smiled Jade. "Kryptonians aren't much good against that."
A shadow fell over Kizo's head. He had time to look up and see another green hand, with brass knuckles adorning it as an artistic touch, proceeding from the ring of another player in the game. He tried to use his heat-vision, but was just a tad too slow. The fist struck him several times, and left him unconscious.
"You can say that again," said Green Lantern, flying near to his daughter and giving her a one-armed hug.
Mala looked upon the sight before him in the arena and wondered how in Sheol things had botched up so badly. He had thrown his attackers away from him like matchsticks, but they had regrouped with a sea of heroes behind them. His two brothers and Badra were down. Mars was seemingly immobilized by the Justice Society ghost. Several of the attackers coming towards him were packing magic.
There was no use in cursing his luck. When even a war god couldn't get you out of trouble, it was time to get out, Kryptonian or not. He crouched, straightened, leaped into the air.
A blue-gloved hand caught him by the ankle. "Forget it, Mala," rasped Power Girl. With a yank, she sent him sprawling into the red sands.
"You damnable little bitch," Mala snarled, getting to his feet and preparing to attack her. In Kara's present condition, she was hardly a problem. If he could wrap her up in time to get away...
A glowing golden battering ram smashed him in the side of the head. It hurt like hell, and knocked him spinning to the ground.
Dr. Fate, his hand glowing with mystic power, prepared to unleash another spell of solidified force. Starman beat him to it, hammering at their foe with a mallet of stellar energy. Not being magic-based, it didn't hurt Mala much, but it made Ted Knight feel pretty good.
The Kryptonian smashed at Starman's hammer and knocked it aside. His eyes began to blaze with heat. If all else failed, he'd simply burn some of the Earthers to death. That might be diversion enough to let him escape. Once away from this planet, he intended to forget about Earth, Mars, and anything in their immediate vicinity. There would be plenty of worlds upon which a Kryptonian could make an empire for himself. Better not to share the glory with war-gods, brothers, and Hatorian witches as well.
Then there was a glowing golden lasso tightening about his waist.
"You will stand still, shut off your heat-vision, and not attempt to escape," said Wonder Woman, looking battered but still holding tight to the end of her magic rope.
Mala raged, prepared to unleash a double-bolt of heatforce at the Amazon that would cremate her on the spot. The problem was that, somehow, he couldn't manage to do it. The power of the woman's damnable rope overrode command of his body.
The blue-and-gold clad one in the helmet dropped from the skies to light before him. He spoke some words, and energy coursed from his pointed hand towards Mala. The Kryptonian had time to see that much, but not even to curse, before things went black, deep, and silent.
Wonder Woman looked upon the foe who looked so much like Superman that it was a pity, fallen unconscious on his side in the Martian sands. She didn't let go of her rope. "Thanks for the help," she told Dr. Fate.
"Our job is not yet finished," said Fate, in the hollow voice of Nabu. "If Mars prevails, all our power will not withstand him."
They both looked up towards the figures of the Spectre struggling with the armored and helmeted warrior deity of the Greeks and Romans.
Slowly, but with great force, Mars seemed to be forcing the Spectre back.
Power Girl was also watching the cosmic test of strength, wondering what could be done to tip the balance against Mars. Starman, Green Lantern, Jade, and Dr. Fate were streaking upwards to add their own energies to the Spectre's. Johnny Thunder's bolt was still merged with the ghost's body, giving him that much more power to draw upon. But Mars was still thrusting forward, still bringing the war-axe closer to the Spectre's head.
Her back was still causing her great pain, the skin cracked and bleeding from the burns. She clenched her hands and jaw, trying to endure while the battle still remained unwon. Kara surveyed the battle site. All three of the Kryptonians were down. Mala, Kizo, U-Ban...
Where was Badra?
The Flash and Obsidian, the latter now restored to his black-hued shadow-self, were approaching her. "Hey, Kara," said Jay Garrick. "Better let me take you to Mid-Nite and have that back of yours looked at."
She flew past him at the highest velocity she could manage, headed for the Temple of Science.
Badra had simply refused to go under when unconsciousness beckoned her. It would have been so much easier to. It felt as though the Amazon bitch had nearly taken her head off with that lucky blow. But her work was not yet finished, even if she could not make her body respond at that point.
So she lay on the sand, fighting the blackness which kept enveloping her, driving it back bit by bit by bit. The unwanted dividend of the action was the pain in her body going unanesthetized by sensory failure. But a Hatorian princess, she told herself, must endure such matters.
It took several minutes for Badra to regain full awareness and body control, but at last she managed it.
Badra staggered up from the sand. Thanks to her area of combat being isolated from the Krypts', all the others, including Wonder Woman, were at the other end of the arena. She looked above and saw the ghastly sight of her patron grappling with the Spectre. She also knew that, with about two dozen combatants on the other side, she could not escape detection for long.
It was hard work taking the first step towards the Temple, but easier taking the second. It also helped that her speed was far greater than a Terran's. The restrictive force-field had long since vanished from the arena. She set her hands against the sandstone wall before her and pushed. The surface before her cracked, yielded, and broke away, allowing her escape into the grounds outside.
She covered the distance between the arena and the Amazons' temple within seconds, but paused on its steps, fighting the wooziness from the combat. She would not yield to her vertigo or nausea. If all seemed lost, there was still one gesture to be made.
The Justice Society and their whelps would no longer have an Earth to return to.
Badra stood upright, entered the Temple, made her way down the halls to the lead-covered room. Her hand found the recognition plate in the door, and she managed to press her eye--now a bit bloodshot from some of Wonder Woman's blows--against the retinal scanner. Within two seconds, the locks that Mala had installed clanked open. She swung the door open.
Within the room was the altered Purple Ray, fitted into a large device that resembled a huge industrial laser. There was also a computerized tracking system that would allow her or the Krypts to aim the ray at a number of reflectors they had set up in orbit around Mars. Several coordinates for targets had already been programmed into the guidance system.
Earth was one of them.
The power for the device was already up, thanks to a generator she and the Kryptonian trio had installed. The coverage of the ray, with help from the reflectors, would be enough to envelop the entire Earth and decimate its population as the globe rotated. Within 24 hours, all life on the planet would be ended.
That was what Badra was counting on as she sat at a console, typed in a brief command string, and hit the "enter" key.
For a second she sighed. This would be her gesture of triumph. The Terrans might be able to save a portion of their planet, but at least a hemisphere of it would perish, plus whatever else rolled into range before the ray could be cut off. Her eyes closed a bit in weariness.
Then they opened again. Her ears told her that the Purple Ray had not discharged.
Two others were in the room with her. One was the Flash, who was just reducing his velocity to make himself visible. The other was Power Girl, looking much the worse for wear, but still aggressive, and still angry.
"Kara here has good eyes," said the Flash. "She figured I'd be the man to take care of your machine, while she took care of you. Took me a little time to track down the power source of this thing, about a thousandth of a second. Pretty easy to pull the plug when I found it, though."
"Now I'm going to take care of you," said Kara. "It may take a hundredth of a second."
Badra was a quick enough thinker. Seeing her best option was flight, she leapt from the floor and crashed through the lead shielding wall. She was waist-deep in it when she felt something grabbing her leg.
Power Girl hauled her back into the chamber and pinned her to the floor with an arm. Desperately, the Hatorian sank her nails into Kara's back under her cape. The blonde screamed in pain as Badra's hand carved new furrows in her cracked and bleeding skin. With her other hand, Badra tried to strike.
Power Girl was a bit faster.
Her blue-gloved fist smashed down once, twice, three times into Badra's face. She paused, then hit her once again to make sure. Then she listened with her super-hearing.
Badra was out, and looked as though she'd stay that way.
The Flash tried to put Power Girl in a fireman's carry, but she yelped in pain. "Don't do that, Jay, it hurts!"
"Sorry," said the speedster. He jerked a thumb towards the door. "We've still got trouble out there, though. With Mars."
She looked at the device in the room. "Maybe we can do something about that."
The Spectre had tried to shift himself and Mars into another plane, but Mars held them firmly anchored to their present universe with his own power. He summoned occult energies to strike at Mars, and the god of war felt their impact, but his strength continued. The war-axe still descended, a notch at a time.
"When the axe cleaves you in twain, spirit, none will reunite your being," snarled Mars. "Nor will I stop cleaving you until there is a piece of you for every star in this galaxy."
"Hold him, Spec, hold him!" called Hawkgirl.
Brainwave, Jr. placed his hands on his temples and concentrated. Seeing it, Syl grabbed him by the shoulders and said, "No, Hank, don't try it! It's too much even for you!"
"Too late," said Dr. Midnight. "He's done it."
The psi-powered Infinitor was attempting to send a brain-block into the mind of Mars. It was ambitious, brave, and foolhardy. Mars's essence was beyond what a mortal could affect or comprehend. The feedback knocked Hank unconscious, and sent him sprawling into the Star-Spangled Kid's arms.
The Justice Society and Infinity, Inc. members looked up at the fantastic fighters, each seemingly over fifty feet in height. None had to imagine whom Mars would turn on after he carved up the Spectre. After that, he and his four pawns would do as they wished with the Earth--and, perhaps, with the universe.
"We have to get the Justice League here," said Wildcat. "We can get to other Earths now."
"Too late, Yolanda," said Robin. "It's all in Spec's hands right now."
Johnny Thunder looked up, ruefully. "Won't be for long." Then he looked back, wanting to say something to Wonder Woman, in praise of her defeat of Badra.
"Hey!" Johnny burst out. "Where's Diana? And her mom? And Fury?"
The heroes' attention was diverted for a moment. They looked, and saw that not only the three Amazons, but Power Girl, Badra, and the Flash were gone.
But a few seconds later, a wall of the Temple of Science shattered into fragments, and the missing heroes reappeared, on the run, the four women bearing something with them.
Something that seemed, to the JSA'ers and Infinitors, like a long, gleaming gun.
Power Girl yelled an alarm, in a voice that almost split their ears. "Everybody hit the dirt! Spectre...out of the way!"
To their credit, the heroes didn't ask a lot of stupid questions. They fell face-first into the red Martian sands like an Army regiment on a training course.
The Spectre, of course, could not get away. But he was quite aware of what was happening, in ways that only ghosts can be. So he did the best thing possible.
He opened a huge hole in his midsection, through which Mars's breastplated chest was quite visible.
Power Girl aimed the weapon. Fury and Hippolyta steadied it. The Flash held onto the generator, which they had torn from the building, still connected to the device. Wonder Woman sat the computer keyboard of its controller on one knee, punched in the trigger phrase, and entered it.
A violet light, mixed with green, shot from the mouth of the gun.
Mars was about to press the axe into the ectoplasmic forehead of the Spectre, who was bending his head back at an angle impossible to mortals. But even the god of war was not faster than the altered Purple Ray.
Nor was he immune to it.
The blast struck him in the midsection and tore him apart as if he were styrofoam. The great war-axe fell from his hand, causing a tremor when it struck ground. The Spectre parted one side of his midsection, rolled to the other side, and reunited himself, out of the range of the ray. Power Girl played the deadly beam on every visible bit of Mars's great body.
Some of them thought they heard a scream, but nobody could be quite sure.
Within seconds, all that seemed to remain of Mars was a glob of amorphous plasma, hanging in the air.
Then another burst hit it, and even that was gone.
After a second had passed, Kara said, "Switch off. But let's wait for awhile. Just to make sure."
Mars didn't come back.
"Okay," said Power Girl. "I think we can power down right now."
"Kara," said Diana. "Let me--"
That was the last thing Power Girl heard before, exhausted, she hit the ground.
The next thing she heard, while her eyes were still closed, was Fury clearing her throat.
Kara felt a bed underneath her, realized that she was lying face-down, and felt loose garments more suited to a hospital than her white leotard on her body. She tried to turn over onto her back. Remembering what had happened recently, she settled for just her side.
In front of her were Wonder Woman, Fury, the Amazon Mala, and Queen Hippolyte. They were sitting in some of the ornately covered chairs from the Paradise Island healery. Thus, Power Girl deduced that she was probably back in their hospital.
"Look, mother," said Lyta, with a smile. "Kara's up again. Welcome back!"
"Thanks, I think," mumbled Kara. "How long?"
Hippolyta stood and put her hand on one of Kara's. "Not much over a day, dear. And praised be Aphrodite that you got that much rest. You needed it."
"So did the rest of us," put in Wonder Woman. "But you needed it worst."
Mala said, "I saw you hesitate before turning on your back. Rest assured, Kara, it is healed. Feel it yourself."
The Kryptonian reached behind her gingerly, poking an area of her back gently with a fingertip. No pain, no burned, split, or scarred flesh. Just normal skin. She ran her palm over as much of her back as she could reach. "I'm all well again," she said. "What happened?"
Fury said, "Flash caught you when you fell. Mom disconnected the Purple Ray from the weapon housing. That made it a healing device again, and she used it on your back. I just couldn't believe how you managed to fight and help carry the ray, as bad off as you were."
Kara lay back in bed, relishing its coolness on the skin that was exposed by the hospital garment. "So the Purple Ray managed to undo all that scar tissue? That's great...and I hope you tell Paula Von Gunther that, for me." She looked closely at Wonder Woman's face. "Looks like you got a beauty treatment, too."
Hippolyta said, "My daughter did not want to have the Ray used on her
own face. She said she could heal in her own time. But I persuaded
her that Steve Trevor would not like to see her thus, and she relented.
If she hadn't, Fury and I would have held her down and had Mala do it to
Kara sat up in bed. "So. We won, I take it. Tell me all that happened after I went under."
"Well, the first thing was that the Spectre and all the magic guys from the JSA teleported us back home," said Fury. "They sent most of them to the JSA's HQ in Gotham. Only from what Mala told me, they couldn't get in! The place was crowded to the rafters with second-string super-heroes and Amazons. Mala had finally convinced the sisterhood to come after us, but they couldn't get to Mars, so they stayed with the other heroes and waited for word. A whole bunch of ‘em had to wait in the parking lot. Gotham's Finest had to set up roadblocks to keep the looky-lou's and reporters out of the area, but some of those helicopter boys got some good shots of the Amazons outside. I think I saw Mala wave, on tape."
"You did not!" said Mala, steadfastly.
"And you three brought me here?" asked Kara. "What about the Temple?"
Wonder Woman said, "The Spectre brought it here and placed it on its regular site. As long as he does not touch the ground, Aphrodite's Law remains unbroken. When the Kryptonian males stole the Temple, the nullification of Magic kept the law from being breached then. Luckily for us."
"Indeed," said Hippolyta.
"What about our four sparring partners?" asked Kara. "What happened to them?"
Fury replied, "You should've seen it. Spec wanted to kill ‘em. It was all Fate and company could do to hold him back. They finally convinced him that, since they hadn't really murdered anybody yet, they shouldn't be executed. So they compromised and put ‘em in stasis auras with their magic. Since the Krypts are the last men from your planet, both groups decided to let you decided what should be done with them. We'll decide about Badra afterward."
Mala said, "Not even a Venus girdle can withstand that one for long. Though such is against our nature, O queen, perhaps execution is in order."
Hippolyta stared at her fellow Amazon. "Not while alternatives exist, Mala. She will remain in stasus till we find a means of imprisoning her for life. We will find that means. Our hands will not be stained with blood...even hers."
Power Girl drew her knees up to her chest and encircled them with her arms. "So...what about Mars? Is he dead?"
Mala, Diana, and Lyta looked to Hippolyta. The queen shook her head. "We do not know. He is gone, and that is all that may be said. I entranced myself to consult with Aphrodite on the matter. All she could say is that he does not appear corporate on the mortal or Olympian spheres. But he is likely not in the realm of Hades, either, or Zeus would have known it and noised it to her. If he is gone forever, well and good. If he appears again, sometime in the future...there shall be Amazons to fight him. Of that I am certain."
"Well said, queen mother," Diana affirmed. "As for the sorceror, Persis, who aided the villains and then Lyta's friends, he turned the Grail over to Doctor Fate, who placed it somewhere else for safekeeping. All he would say is that the Grail is unlikely to be found again by mortals in a lifetime. Persis was given a stern warning and allowed to leave. I do not think he will mess much with the mystic realm again."
"He also made some of us get our picture taken with him," giggled Fury. "We signed it, too."
Power Girl swung her legs out of bed, stood on them, found them firm enough. "Sounds like we're four for four. Glad I'm well enough to walk again. Not like the last time I was here. Is it close enough to dinnertime? I'm starving."
Mala smiled. "We were holding off the banquet until you awoke."
Kara soon made her decision about what to do with the three Kryptonians, and Queen Hippolyta decided it would be a suitable fate for Badra as well. Kal-El of Earth-One had told her of a place where the surviving criminals of his Krypton were placed. It was not that hard for Dr. Fate to find, and he teleported the foursome there, bringing them out of stasis.
The Phantom Zoners found they had four new inmates. Nobody was much pleased with this, least of all Badra. None of the Zoners liked the fact that Mala looked like Superman. The trio from Krypton-Two looked down their three noses at the criminal coterie from the other Krypton. <You came from a copy of Krypton,> said Kizo. <We came from the original.>
<You can take both Kryptons, and you know where you can put them,> rasped Jax-Ur, and turned his back on them. The other Zoners followed suit.
In a short time, Mala and his brothers wanted equally little to do with Badra. Shunned by her former underlings, unnerved by this realm of greyness and shadow, she tried to strike up a relationship with Jax-Ur or General Zod. Neither was much interested.
Another Zoner was, though. One who was tall, female, and very imposing. Even Badra was unnerved by her piercing, not-quite-sane gaze.
<Tell me of this Power Girl whom you mentioned,> said Faora Hu-Ul. <Is she anything like Kara Zor-El?>
<Kara Zor-L?> sent Badra. <That's Power Girl's own name.>
An alliance was formed, tentatively. Not quite friendship, not quite partnership. But at least Badra had somebody to talk to. Even if the other person scared the hell out of her.
Badra thought that, if she ever got loose again, she might consider using whatever she had used against Earth-Two again. The problem was, she couldn't remember just what it was. Neither could the three Kryptonians. The other inmates weren't any help at all. They just laughed at them for having a memory-wipe imposed on them, and let them alone.
Faora told Badra that the Zone could be escaped, at times. She and her fellows had done so before. When they did it next, she agreed to accept Badra's help in destroying Supergirl, as long as she got to do the real killing. If they emerged in Earth-Two's universe, they would collaborate against Power Girl.
<But, if you have escaped from the Zone many times,> asked Badra once, <why is it that your Superman and Supergirl yet survive?>
Faora had fixed her with a steely eye.
<Next time,> she sent. <Next time, it will be different.>
In the wake of the battle on Mars, the Justice Society and Infinity, Inc. had a conference. Several of the more powerful members of the JSA were remaining with the group. Others, such as Hawkman, Hawkgirl, Dr. Mid-Nite, and the Atom, were in favor of retirement, and Johnny Thunder, despite the power of the Thunderbolt, was considering it as well. The older group asked the Infinitors to become officially part of the Society. The younger heroes declined.
The Star-Spangled Kid explained that the offer honored the Infinitors mightily, but they worked better as a unit, and wanted to preserve their own identity distinct from the JSA. However, he did suggest that the two groups might consider an umbrella organization to encompass them both in time of need, like the All-Star Squadron of forty years past. The measure passed a vote in both groups, and the Justice Alliance was born. Some heroes who had appeared at the Gotham gathering were contacted, and several of them joined, to form an Alliance grouping separate from both Infinc and the JSA.
No one discovered the escaped captives from Transformation Island. Search though they might, the Amazons were unable to track them down. Nor could the other heroes of Earth learn what had become of the many super-villains who had vanished without a trace.
Aldon Persis went back to selling Oldsmobiles for a living, and did well enough at it to buy himself a dealership in the coming years. He kept his grandparents' accoutrements locked in the steamer trunk and, except for a few harmless heirlooms, let them stay there.
The Holy Grail was transported by Dr. Fate into a crate which had sat, uninspected and mostly unmoved, in the basement storage area of a Washington, D.C. agency for almost fifty years. The only other object in the crate had been brought there by a Professor Jones in the 1930's. The bureaucracy had boxed it up, labelled it Classified, and kept it there until everybody concerned who knew about it were dead, or at least disinclined to talk about it. The Grail and the other occupant of the box reposed side by side, and time went on about them.
And thus ended another great crisis on Earth-Two.
Karen Starr made a phone call to work, assured everyone there that she was recovered and returning the next day, and rang off after talking to five or six co-workers to let them know she was all right. Power Girl hung up the phone, checked the faked medical report that had been forged for her, and put it in a drawer to take with her to work in the morning.
She made one more call, to Andrew Vinson. "I'll be over later on," she said, with a smile that could be felt all the way to the other end of the line. "You can show me how much you missed me when I come."
"Can't you give me an interview on what went down?" pleaded Vinson. "An exclusive, I mean?"
"Sure, if you think you'll feel like it afterward," said Power Girl. "Gotta go. Bye."
Then she opened her window and leaped into the night, flying over the streets of Gotham City, across the great river, and into Metropolis. The great five-pointed symbol atop the Daily Star building gave her a target to home in on. Nearing it, she picked out a window to an office she was familiar with, and saw the light still burning in it. She landed on the ledge outside it and tapped on the pane.
Lois Lane opened the window.
Power Girl clambered in, and saw that Jimmy Olsen was also in the office. Lois embraced Kara as she set foot on the carpet, her cape blowing about them from the wind entering.
"You've come back," she said. "You're safe. The heroes told me you were, but...oh, just thank God you're here, Kara."
"And I want an exclusive on the whole shootin' match!" yelled Jimmy, grinning with joy.
The blonde girl smiled and pointed at him. "And you can go chase yourself, Jimmy. Anyway, I wanted you to know that everything's been settled, and Mala and his boys are someplace where they won't bother us for a long time."
"How about forever?"
Kara shrugged. "We'll see. Anyway, I've got something to tell Lois, but it's for her ears only. So, Jimmy, if you would, please?"
The old reporter grabbed his hat from Lois's desktop. "I know, I know. Okay if I listen at the keyhole?"
"Only if you want your ear fried with heat-vision. I'll talk to you later this week, Jim, I promise."
"Good enough. Hey, Kara...nice to have you back." Jimmy Olsen left the office, went to the coffee machine, got a cup, then went to the elevator. He had a hunch he wanted to play out.
Lois stood away from Power Girl in the office. "I am so glad you made it, Kara. Does it make sense if I tell you that...well...you're one of the closest ties I still have to Clark? Does that make sense, Kara?"
Power Girl nodded, soberly. "It makes a lot of sense, Lois. Even though trying to take on his burden, in my own way, is pretty damned tough...I kind of think I'm getting the hang of it. Wouldn't you say?"
"Maybe," Lois said. "Maybe you are. Especially if you went up against those three, and lived. Tell me how it was, Kara. Tell me what you wanted to speak to me about."
Stepping forward, Kara touched Lois's shoulders with her hands. "It's hard to say it, Lois. I think I heard from Kal."
If Lois had stepped into an empty elevator shaft at the top floor of the building, her expression would have been less shocked than the one she wore.
"I can't credit it entirely," said Kara. "It was while I was being choked to death by U-Ban. But I know how Kal sounded when he was alive. Lois, it did sound like him."
"You heard my husband's ghost?"
"I don't know. I can't say for sure. I was too near death myself. But...something was definitely there. Something, or someone, who gave me just what I needed when I needed it. I probably would have died if I hadn't gotten that bit of inspiration, just when I needed it."
Lois almost burst into tears. "My husband. My God, my husband. My Clark."
Power Girl guided her to a chair. "I'm sorry, Lois, if it makes you feel bad. All I can say is, it made me feel anything but bad."
"What did he say to you?" said Lois. "Tell me."
"He told me that...he told me that he knew I loved him. That was what I really wanted to hear, Lois. I'd been feeling...bad about the way I treated him. He died, and I never got to tell him what I felt about him. I never got to thank him the way I should have. Then...he was there, in my mind. He told me it was all right, that he knew I loved him. I don't know how he did, but Lois, I'm so relieved he did."
"What else did he say?"
"He said that, if this was a dream, make it the best dream I ever could. That's just what I intend to do, Lois. I'll never try to make them forget Superman...hell, I want us all to remember him. But I'm going to make them remember Power Girl, as the new girl Metropolis can count on. In my own way."
Lois touched Kara's chest. "I think you're doing a good job of that, Kara. We wouldn't want you to do it any other way than your own, either."
After a beat of silence, Lois said, "Did he say anything about me? Any messages, anything at all?"
Power Girl flushed a bit, in embarrassment. "I don't recall anything, Lois. Sorry. It wasn't what you could call a long conversation, and he was talking to me. About me."
"But if he was there for me...maybe he'll be there for you, too. Someday."
"Yes, I suppose so," said Lois, looking down. "Maybe. Someday." She looked up at her friend, again. "But to know he's out there, and that you talked to him, in your mind...that's such a wonderful thing to know, Kara. It really is."
"I think so, too." Power Girl smiled. "There's something I wanted to do for you, Lois."
"Did you ever enjoy flying with Kal?"
"Enjoy it? I loved it! Why, I used to pester him to fly me home every night from work. He wouldn't do it as often as I liked, but when he did..." Lois's eyes focused on a choice selection of yesterdays. "...Magic, Kara. It was really magic."
Power Girl stepped a bit closer. "Would you like to fly with me, Lois? Just a short one, I've got someplace to go, myself. But I think you'd enjoy it."
"With you? Why...I...I mean..."
Kara grasped Lois by the waist with one arm, stooped to pick up her legs with the other, and carried her to the window. "Just takes three words, Lois. You know...
Quite a few stories below, Jimmy Olsen, standing under the light above the building's entryway, took a sip of coffee, waved to the doorman, and looked up.
Yep, there she was, blue cape and all.
Looked like she was carrying somebody, too. It was easy to guess who that was.
Smiling, Jimmy watched the two of them vanish into the night sky.