The way Lois Lane Kent coped with her loss was by working.
Since she had lost her husband, and her husband had been Superman, she was working, and working, and working.
It still wasn't enough, but it was getting there.
The stockholders had held a special meeting when Clark's death had been revealed. And hadn't that revelation been the hardest bit of all? Even now, when he was cold and in the grave, she couldn't let them know that Clark Kent and Superman were one and the same. They gave out the cover that Clark had been one of the uncounted casualties of the Crisis: body unfound, but still declared dead. Several members of the Justice Society testified to it.
The fact that Superman had also died in the same week didn't raise too many suspicions. Lots of people had died that week.
At least he had died stopping the Crisis. As if that was supposed to make her take less sleeping pills at night.
Looking over the expanse of her cluttered desk, Lois shook her head. My god, she thought, if only I had known this was in the cards. Just a little farmgirl "thirty minutes from Broadway", as the old song had it, who did well in her high school journalism courses, got a cub reporter's spot at the Hillsdale paper, broke a big story on a local murder, put in an app to the Daily Planet and got a job there as a sob sister-cum-reporter. Months after she arrived, here came Clark Kent.
She barely noticed him at first. When she finally did, she wondered why she noticed him at all.
Then came Superman.
Then came the suspicion, at last, that Clark might actually be Superman.
And then all those years working together, side by side, sharing Superman's adventures, being so frustrated with him at never popping the question, being so angered at Clark for acting like he wanted to pop it, until finally, at the opening of the 1950's, Clark finally did get her to marry him, and she found out he was really, honestly, no-doubt-about-it Superman.
In fact, since he was under an amnesia spell cast by The Wizard, she found out about him being Superman before he knew about it that time.
Then the great happiness, and the great loss years later, and the time Kara spent with them, and...
...And for some reason, Lois shivered, as though that old b.s. about feminine intuition really was true, after all, and her chromosomal ESP was trying to tell her something. Something important.
Maybe even something dangerous.
Well, whatever it was, there were a lot of heroes to take care of it, still. The Spectre. Dr. Fate. Green Lantern. Starman. Johnny Thunder. Wonder Woman. The Infinity, Inc. bunch.
Even Power Girl.
Lois was past retirement age. She realized she might only hold this job for a year, as a favor the Planet stockholders did to the wife of their great editor, and to a woman who'd given the paper almost 47 years of her life.
She didn't look as old as she was, but she felt old.
There was work to be done. It stared at her from the face of one of those newfangled computer screens. She mourned her trusty Olivetti typewriter, still in a shrine at her home, and did not trust words that were not on paper.
But it was her work. It would not wait for premonitive shudders, and would barely pause for her to grab another cup of coffee with its friendly benzedrine rush.
Besides, she still loved the work.
Lois Kent got down to it.
The Salem tower of Dr. Fate has no windows or doors. If you are not a magician of Fate's caliber, or even if you are and do not know the proper incantations, you cannot enter it.
Nobody is quite sure who built it, but rumors have it that it predated even the famous witch trials. The owner of record is one Kent Nelson, a wealthy doctor and archaeologist who bought the land shortly before World War II and has held it ever since. It lies a good thirty minutes out of town, and is on fenced private property. Mr. Nelson has refused to let researchers or witchcraft fanatics anywhere near it.
Not on record are the guardian spells that keep practitioners of the Art from entering. Even a Kryptonian would find himself powerless to storm the tower, since their race is very susceptible to magic.
But three Kryptonians and one Hatorian? Well, that would be a different proposition indeed.
Badra held her fists before her as a human battering-ram, with the three Kryptonians clutching her legs and adding their flight-thrust and force to her velocity, and hoped that she wasn't being too rash about the matter. Hatorians were a little better about weathering magic.
Luckily for her, their force was sufficient.
The crash of superhumans through enchanted stone walls was heard as far as Salem itself. In the midst of a lecture on ancient Sumeria, Kent Nelson stiffened for a second, looked at his watch, and knew, come hell or high water, he still had ten more minutes left before he could let his students go and put on the old blue-and-gold to investigate.
That, he guessed, might be too long to do any good.
The tower now sported a large hole in its side, and Badra, Mala, Kizo, and U-Ban picked themselves up off the floor within it and gazed upon the interior.
The walls within seemed as black as obsidian, with a steel staircase winding up a pole to the upper chamber. Mala launched himself upward, intending to fly to the top.
He got about two feet up and fell on his face. "Umph," he said.
"Do you not know that your powers are negated within these walls?" said Badra, scornfully. "Of course, some of us aren't--Kryptonians." She pronounced the last word with derision, and all three of the men winced.
Badra soared upwards, vanishing through the opening at the top of the staircase. U-Ban started to walk up the steps.
"Stop, brother," said Kizo. "She'll be able to find what she seeks without our help, if it be here."
"And if it isn't?" retorted U-Ban.
"Then we get the Sheol out of here before this ‘Doctor Fate' arrives," opined Mala. "She can face him alone."
In a few moments, the black-clad woman was plummeting down the length of the tower again. The three men of Krypton saw the urn she was carrying, and wondered at its import. Badra made a two-point landing on her booted feet, with impact enough to send a crack through the stone floor of the tower.
"I have the thing," she said. "Let us leave. But keep at least fifty yards distant from me while I hold it, lest you lose your powers again."
"Agreed, Badra," said Mala. "But where shall we go?"
"Follow me," she said, and flew through the hole in the wall to the outside world. The threesome stepped through the hole one by one, sprinted away from the tower, and, with each stride, attempted to use their flight power.
When they were fifty feet distant from the tower, each of them rocketed into the sky, trailing in Badra's wake.
The four were gone by the time Dr. Fate arrived and saw the hole in his sanctum.
Saying nothing, the figure in the gold helmet stepped within. He did not stoop at the edge of the hole, which was at the height of his nose. He simply passed through it.
Once inside, he sensed what had been taken. He quickly flew to the room at the top of the tower, and stood amidst the shambles that Badra had made, searching for the object she had found.
Fate unerringly picked his crystal ball from the wreckage. He tried to scry with it, to see where his treasure had gone, but the object's emanations of mystic energy cancelled out any attempt to track it.
Instead, he used the crystal for another purpose. Placing his gloved hands on its surface, he sent out a telepathic message to the members of the Justice Society. It said, approximately:
Meet at headquarters. The Grail has been stolen.
Karen Starr received Fate's telepathic message at work. She looked up for a moment, then down at the computer screen. The program on which she was working, a virus-detecting thing, had about as many bugs as the infected programs she tested it on.
It'd be great to put on the blue-and-white, leap over the river in one bound, and touch base with the JSA again. But she was a working girl, and there were only so many times you could take off early if you wanted to keep your job.
She dialed an answering service and left a message: "This is Karen. I may not be able to make the meeting. Got lots of work to do. But if it's super-urgent, give me a call back. Thanks."
Within half an hour the phone in her cubicle rang. She cradled the receiver on her shoulder while typing away at the keyboard. "Karen Starr," she said.
"Karen, it's Al," said the Atom. "Just wanted to let you know. Kent says it's important, emergency status. But we may have enough confirmed people to handle it."
"Sounds good to me," Karen replied, brushing the edge of her hair away from her mouth. "I just can't make an early-evening meeting. Most of us are going to catch dinner, then come back and work. Soooo...I'm Computer Rooter tonight. If I get out early, or it turns really bad, I'll come."
"I understand," said Al. "We'll send out a message if it gets bad. And, Karen...I'm sorry."
"Hmm? Oh, thank you, Al." The Atom of her world was a few years younger than his fellows, being a college student when he joined up, and was quite a bit smaller than the others, being only a few inches over five feet. Now he was a married college prof, but sometimes he acted like he still felt he was the Justice Society's junior member. "Gotta go, I'm kinda busy."
"We will be too, tonight. See you, Karen."
"You too, Al." She replaced the phone on the reciever.
Larry Morton popped his head over the partition. "Hey, Kare. Who's Al? Got yourself a new boyfriend already?"
She smiled as sweetly as she knew how and said, "He's the head of our group, Larry. Proctologists Anonymous. We're lining you up for our next home demonstration."
There was a man in Cliffland, a large city not far from Gotham City and Metropolis, who was named Aldon Persis. Like his name, he was somewhat Middle Eastern in appearance. But he wore a regular American business suit in his regular job, which was selling Oldsmobiles. His coworkers and few friends called him Al.
What few knew was that Al was the grandson of two sorcerors of the 1940's. These sorcerors had been enemies for a good while. But one was male and the other was female, and, one night, the two of them decided that enough was enough and settled their differences in a more pleasurable fashion.
It has been speculated that the brief liason was the source of Sargon the Sorceror's off-and-on-again corruption. But no one can really be sure, and it is impolite to speak ill of the dead. In the case of beings like the Spectre, it can be downright dangerous.
The Blue Lama, the sorceress who had been Sargon's most long-running foe, gave birth to a son, who, thankfully, did not bear his mother's coloring. He kept his mother's grimoires and devices, mostly locked in an old steamer trunk, and decided against messing with any of that stuff.
The son of the Blue Lama married in time and had a son of his own, who was Aldon Persis. Aldon had discovered his father's steamer trunk full of his grandmother's tools of the trade. He was a curious sort of person and did much research into the material therein.
As far as sorcerors went, Aldon Persis was good at theoretical matters, only passing fair at actually performing the stuff. But he was a tireless researcher, when something interested him. And he had been interested by the spell-casting performed by Adolf Hitler and Emperor Tojo in December of 1941, which shielded the Axis dominions from the magically-powered or, in the case of Superman, magically-susceptible members of the American superheroic community.
The spell had been performed by Hitler, holding the Spear of Destiny, and Tojo, holding the Holy Grail. The Spear had been lost after V-E Day, and he was unable to find where it was now, though rumor had it carried into China shortly before the Communist revolution.
The Grail he had a better line on. Though it had been kept a state secret, Aldon Persis had learned that the power object had been turned over to General Douglas MacArthur as part of the Japanese surrender terms. President Truman had chosen to turn the Grail over to the Justice Society for safekeeping.
Its present location was a matter of speculation, but he had deduced, he believed, the logical member to possess the Grail, and the place he would have kept it.
Not many months ago, he had been contacted by a woman who was no mean researcher herself. Most of the black wizards on Earth had vanished recently, along with most of the super-villains. Where they were now, God only knew. But he hadn't been a card-carrying sorceror, or a costumed fighter for justice or self-gain. He was just a man with a pedigree.
That had made him important to the woman called Badra.
Now, Aldon Persis was sitting back in his apartment, wearing blue jeans and a T-shirt with no legend on it, listening to old Simon and Garfunkel, and having a wine cooler. He wasn't really expecting any visitors at the time.
It was at just that moment that Badra crashed through his roof. The beams and sheetrock and insulation came down on top of his stereo and completely wrecked it, right in the middle of "Fakin' It". A large piece of plaster ended up in his lap. The alien woman batted away a rafter before it could come down on Aldon's head.
He was sitting there, in his easy chair, unable to speak. That is, until he noticed what he saw in Badra's hands.
"The Grail," he said. "You've got the Grail."
"Right," said Badra. "You'd better come along with us. Where's your stuff?"
"Oh, um," he said. "In the bedroom. Metal chest under my bed."
She moved straightaway to the bedroom. He got up, sending the piece of plaster from his lap to the floor, and went to his bedroom door to watch. Badra got one hand on the bottom board of the bed, threw the bed over on its side with a swift movement, and grabbed the metal chest beneath it by a handle on its side.
Someone was banging on the door and ringing the bell. "Bet it's my landlord," he said to Badra. "Why the hell did you come in through the ceiling? You wrecked my apartment!"
"It is more convienient than entering through a door," she said, evenly. "Come with me."
He didn't figure refusing her at that time would be a world-class idea. Badra's attention was drawn to the banging on the door. She strode towards it, dragging the heavy chest easily by one hand. He followed.
The landlord, Mr. Timmons, was still bruising his knuckles on the door. "Persis! Open up! What the hell happened? What fell on my roof? Are you all right?"
Badra slammed her palm against the door.
It popped off its hinges, its lock gouging through the wood of the doorframe. The door went straight outward, and Mr. Timmons went right with it. Luckily, he only had one step to fall down, but he hit his head on the sidewalk and raised a nasty bump. The door didn't do his nose much good, either.
Badra emerged, and snapped, "He's just fine. I fell through your roof."
Then she took the chest in one hand and Persis in the other, and dragged herself and both burdens (one of whom was screaming in acrophobic fright) into the sky.
When he saw the three flying men trailing them, Anton Persis figured that he'd really gotten into something over his head, this time.
But he also knew there wasn't a lot he could do about it.
The Justice Society has made their home in Gotham City for quite a few years, despite the Batman's legendary low-attendance record with the group before his death. Their headquarters building is a deceptively normal-looking brownstone which, despite its appearance, has enough scientific and mystical safeguards about it to rattle the teeth of the hardiest super-villain. Terrorists don't even consider hitting it, unless they're really dumb. One group, Pacific Jihad, was, and found themselves waking up in holding cells at the local courthouse, having turned over their bombs and weaponry to the police in a fugue state a few minutes before.
It was a neat enough lesson, and the other such groups learned it well.
The JSA themselves have been in existence for 45 years and have learned how to move quickly when summoned. Thus, a quorum of members were present as Dr. Fate placed the crystal ball in the middle of their meeting table and said, "Those of you who are adepts, join with me in this doing. We must learn the whereabouts of the Grail."
"You don't have to tell me twice, Doc," said Johnny Thunder. "Uh, exactly what was it you wanted us to do?"
"Jeez Louise," muttered the pink Thunderbolt by his side. "Just say the word, Johnny."
"Say what?" asked the blonde-haired, crew-cut man in the suit and bow tie, who looked 45 but was really almost 70.
Hourman, who knew how to get around such things, said, "Say ‘me', Johnny."
"Say you?" asked Thunder. "Why would I...oh, yeah, right, I forgot."
The Bolt, who was Johnny's magic-powered bondservant, and who had to obey Johnny's commands when he said "Cei-U" (which, to all intents and purposes, he just had), sighed, stretched his pink hands forth, and added his power to Dr. Fate's.
Alan Scott, the Green Lantern, raised the hand with his power ring on it. "We should be able to break the block on it," he remarked. The magic green beam burst forth from the ring, tapping the power of the mystic Starheart. It fed into Fate's crystal ball, joining the sorcery of the other two mages.
Starman, the red-clad, green-caped master of stellar energy, raised his gold-colored Cosmic Rod. "If all that doesn't work, maybe a little science-based power will help," he said. A gold beam poured from the rod's tip, and the concentrated energy of the stars was lent to the mix of energies empowering the crystal.
The rest of the heroes who looked on were not magicians or power-wielders like Starman, but they had their own powers or talents. Hawkman and Hawkgirl, the latter just newly added to the Society's ranks, stood side by side in yellow masks and folded grey wings. The adult Robin and the Huntress, the former partner to the late Batman, the latter Batman's daughter, were also gathered round the table. So were the five-foot-two Atom, in his blue-yellow-and-red costume, the Flash, in his Mercury hat, red shirt with the lightning bolt, blue pants, and red winged boots, and the costumed blind man who saw in both daylight and darkness with goggles of his own invention, Dr. Mid-Nite.
Of all the active members, that left only Power Girl, Wonder Woman, Wildcat, the Sandman, and the Spectre absent. Wonder Woman was on Paradise Island with her mother and her daughter Fury for a visit. Wildcat, his legs shattered by a lightning bolt during the Crisis, was on indefinite leave. The Sandman had recently suffered a stroke and, though ambulatory, had cut down his participation sharply.
The Spectre, the mightiest of them all, had grown alienated from the Society in recent months, which Dr. Fate reckoned a dangerous thing indeed. But that was a matter for another night.
There had been other members. But no one knew what became of the first Red Tornado, or cared enough to investigate. The second Red Tornado was serving as a member of Earth-One's Justice League of America. The Star-Spangled Kid served as leader of Infinity, Inc. And Batman, Superman, Mr. Terrific, and the Black Canary were all dead.
That left it to the twelve beings present in the room to deal with the problem at hand.
Bathed by the conflux of energies, the crystal ball cleared its mists and began, slowly, to form an image in its circular depths. An image of four figures on a mountain, grouped about a fifth, but standing a respectable distance away from him.
As well they might, Fate mused. He recognized the form of the chalk drawing the youth had made about himself on the face of the rock clearing on which he sat. He also saw the Grail placed before the man, as he sat cross-legged before it and read aloud from some arcane text.
"Get a fix on the location, Fate," said Green Lantern, crisply.
"It's in the Catskills," said Dr. Fate. "If we use a warp, we may be just in time."
Hourman popped a Miraclo pill into his mouth and powered up, risking its addictive pull and the strain on his aging body. Dr. Mid-Nite, a physician in civilian life, eyed him, but said nothing.
Fate, Green Lantern, and Starman sent forth power beams that converged in a triad over the crystal ball. At the point where the beams met, another form of space seemed to be opening. A roughly oval hole appeared over the meeting table's center, with blue sky and mountain visible through it. Its edges seemed prismatic, with rainbow colors.
"For Justice and Democracy, gang," said GL. "Let's hit it."
By that time, Dr. Fate was already through the warp, and Hourman was right behind him. The rest flew through, or stepped atop the table and leaped into the warp-hole.
When it closed behind them thirty seconds later, the room was empty.
Anton Persis had been rapidly chanting. He had been over the ancient text many times, consulted experts about the correct pronunciation, and done cold runs of various parts before, always leaving out the exact power words that might--might--have produced some premature results. He had never performed this spell before, hoped to heaven he never would again. But then again, he'd never been yanked up into the air by a flying superwoman from outer space before, either.
Earlier on, he had hoped that the rewards she promised him for his performance would be delivered in good faith. Right now, he was just hoping he got out of this thing intact. Body and soul. Especially that last part.
Badra was only fifteen feet away from him. The three flying guys in the strange costumes were keeping their distance, which was fine by him. They seemed more allergic to magic than Badra was.
Only a few pages left to go, and they'd know if this chant would work, or not.
He thought he'd seen the Grail urn glow once, but it might have been a trick of the setting sun. If he didn't get this done soon, it was going to be hard to read the pages of his grandmother's grimoire.
Then Anton heard one of the men holler something. "Frab!", the man said, which sounded like a curse. "Look there!"
"Superman's friends," said another.
Badra said, "Hold them off, you three. We only have a few minutes to go."
"What about you?"
"I'll protect the Earther. Now go!"
While the conversation had been going on, Anton hadn't looked up or paused in his spell-chanting. He didn't really dare.
Whoever was coming after them, they couldn't be as bad as what would come for them all if he miffed this spell.
So Anton Persis kept scanning the pages, kept reading the words, and sought to filter out the sounds of impending battle.
Karen Starr stretched and yawned on her way back from the water cooler. She'd had one cup for herself, and one cupful poured into her trusty Weegee water pistol. If Larry Morton kept it up with the stupid jokes, she was going to give him her Annie Oakley routine.
On the way back to her station, she glanced out the window and paused before it.
The sky was getting dark. Awfully dark, for this early in the evening. She didn't think that sunset was supposed to come so early today.
Some thunderheads looked to be brewing on the horizon. She checked them out with her telescopic vision and ascertained that they were the real deal. But the forecast had been for a partly cloudy night, without even a 20% chance of rain.
Well, such things happened. Weather changed without much regard for forecasters, on Krypton as well as on Earth.
So Karen Starr went back to her cubicle.
And she wondered, fleetingly, if it had been a bad thing to keep Power Girl out of the JSA's business tonight.