A Force of Four
To put it bluntly, the odds were not with the bad guys this time.
It was true that the three Kryptonians who shot forward at them did, collectively, have three times the power of Superman. But they were facing Green Lantern, Dr. Fate, and Johnny Thunder's Thunderbolt, all of whom tapped the power of magic for their own uses. Mala, Kizo, and U-Ban were all susceptible to mystic power, as were all Kryptonians. That wasn't even counting Starman, whose Cosmic Rod functioned much the same as Green Lantern's power ring, but on a scientific basis.
Then there were the Flash, who could move at speeds beyond that of light, the Atom, whose great strength was more than human, though not Krypton-class, Hourman, who was even mightier than the Atom for an hour at a time, and Dr. Mid-Nite, Robin, the Huntress, Hawkman, and Hawkgirl. The last may have seemed like window dressing up against foes like the four they faced. But they, too, had swayed important battles in their times, against enemies as mighty as these.
Beams from the Lantern's ring, Starman's rod, and the hands of Dr. Fate and the Thunderbolt (who was being ridden by Johnny Thunder) flashed out at the threesome almost simultaneously.
But before the energies could make contact, the Kryptonian trio united in a super-shout.
The sound practically deafened the Justice Society members. Badra, who had known what was coming, had clapped her hands over Anton Persis's ears until it was past. To his credit, he never missed a syllable of the chant, though he would have much worse things to deal with than Badra if he had. Windows shattered in nearby houses, and the heroes of the piece were battered by the vibrating air of a wall of sound.
The hands of Mala, Kizo, and U-Ban struck at the jaws and bodies of Green Lantern, Dr. Fate, and Johnny Thunder at super-speed. Their magic sustained their lives, but could not prevent their unconsciousness. The Lantern and Fate dropped like wounded ducks. Hawkman and Hawkgirl soared in to catch them. Johnny sagged senseless over the pink Thunderbolt's back. Without a master to give orders, the Bolt was powerless to act. And none but Thunder could command him.
Starman gritted his teeth, sensing the battle was up to himself now. He focused his will through the golden rod he held in his right hand, and pointed it towards the three villains. A crackle of brilliant power came from its tip.
It surrounded the threesome, forming itself into a block of golden plasma that would have held fifteen blue whales immobile for life.
For several seconds, it held, and the conscious Justice Society members thought that Ted Knight had pulled off a win.
Then a creaking noise was heard, and cracks were seen in the great block of gold that hung in the air, and, finally, it shattered into uncounted fragments that quickly dissipated.
"Oh, boy," muttered Starman, and planned his next move.
It was to surround himself in a force-shield, which was fortunate. Mala came in and landed a blow that sent Starman spinning to the ground, force-field and all, and several feet into it.
Hawkman and Hawkgirl were on the ground, trying to revive Dr. Fate and Green Lantern without success. Hawkgirl took the mace from her belt and prepared to wield it with both hands.
The Atom laid a hand on her shoulder. "Let me try it, instead," he said.
Hawkman rapped, "Do it. He's got more strength than both of us."
"What good will it do against them?" the winged woman asked, handing him the weapon.
"More good than you could, I'm sorry to say," said Hourman, who accepted Hawkman's mace.
The three enemy brothers landed before the heroes. They stood, arms folded, smiling. With the loss of the magical trio, they were a lot more secure.
The Atom and Hourman rushed them, swinging the maces with power enough to shatter battleship plating.
The weapons touched the chests of Kizo and U-Ban and burst into metallic flinders.
Both had thought such might be the result, but they were still astonished. The two made ready to fling the handles at their foes. Before they could, Mala stepped forward, grabbed their heads in his two hands, and cracked them smartly together. Hourman and the Atom dropped to the grass, insensate.
Then he turned to Hawkman and Hawkgirl. "Guess you're next," he said.
The Kryptonians moved forward with terrible malice in their smiles.
But as they were reaching out to grasp the Hawks, the threesome saw them disappear.
"What in Sheol?" asked Kizo.
"Frab," swore U-Ban, who had been about to grasp Hawkman's throat. Even Fate and the Lantern were not before them anymore.
Mala wheeled and pointed towards Badra. "Over there," he said. The forms of the magician and the Green Lantern were laid on the grass closer to the spot where Badra guarded Persis. Hawkman and Hawkgirl arose from the ground on which they had been deposited and took to the air. Robin, the Huntress, and Dr. Mid-Nite were advancing on the woman and the rapidly-reading mage.
The Flash had slowed enough for them to figure him as the one who had so quickly moved their prey.
Badra stood between the heroes and Persis, her arms akimbo and her legs set far apart. "Come to me, heroes," she sneered at them. "Come and die."
Jay Garrick's words, "I'm not concerned with you, missy, just yet," reached her ears several instants after he had already run past her at multi-Mach speed. He set his hands on Persis's shoulders, and the touch of his hands made Aldon draw in a great, frightened breath before plunging ahead with his spell.
But Badra was no mean speedster herself, and her hand was much mightier than the Flash's. Judging his position from where he would have to be to pick up Aldon, she swung her arm around at peak speed and caught him a smashing blow against the chest. Her other hand held Aldon by the shoulder, to prevent him from being carried away with her foe's backward motion.
The Flash cometed back, trying to roll with the blow at super-speed, hurtling over grass and rock and gravel in head-over-heels fashion, but, mostly, just trying to breathe.
The woman from space turned towards the others with a sneer. The three who were left had only human capabilities. She would stand between them and their quarry, who was still reading the last few pages of the spell, until Aldon was finished. Then, if they still stood there, she would destroy them.
Dr. Mid-Nite's response to the situation was to throw a small spheroid at them from his belt pouch.
Badra followed its progress overhead and reached out an arm to grab it.
Just before it would have entered her grasp, it burst apart and emitted a thick cloud of dense black smoke.
Badra swore, bitterly. The Blackout Bomb could not harm her. But she had no super-vision to see through it.
And Aldon Persis, unable to read his text, had stopped in the midst of a word.
The three heroes were already braving the soup of Mid-Nite's fog. Batman's proteges had donned goggles from their utility belts which approximated the function of McNider's lenses, enabling them to see through the blackness. Their objective was Persis, trembling and unspeaking, and, if they exercised great enough stealth, they might be able to steal him away from the flailing Badra.
Then a great rush of air burst forth and carried the cloud of black smoke far, far away, dissipating it.
Dr. Mid-Nite, Robin, and the Huntress were clearly revealed, standing perilously close to Badra.
She yelled over her shoulder, "KEEP CHANTING!"
And as Anton did, her fists reached out one, two, three times and laid the three heroes senseless at her feet.
She looked beyond them to see Mala, Kizo, and U-Ban nearing her, having just used their super-breath to blow Mid-Nite's blackout bomb smoke away. Kizo carried an unconscious Flash. U-Ban bore a kayoed Starman on his shoulder. They deposited the heroes at her feet, along with the others.
"That's not all of them," said Badra. "Up there."
Hawkman and Hawkgirl were flying away at top speed, barely visible in the evening sky. There was nothing they could do except flee and seek aid. That, and hope their teammates were alive when they returned.
"Small problem," said Kizo. The criminals from Krypton took to the air themselves.
Hawkgirl had been watching behind them for just such an occurrence. "Carter, look," she yelled at her husband.
In response, Hawkman's hand went to his belt and came up with a small, hand-held communicator. He touched a button, one of five, on its side. "This is Hawkman. JSA is down. Four enemies. Great power. Red alert. All members..."
That was when he had to stop. Mala's hands were on his throat, choking him unconscious from behind.
U-Ban had been a little kinder with Hawkgirl, stunning her with a one-finger blow to the chin. It had the same effect. The three returned to Badra, and dropped the winged pair on the growing pile of heroes.
Badra stood with folded arms. "Decently done," she said. Persis was still chanting, behind her.
"Shall we kill them now?" asked Mala.
"Wait till the chant is over," said Badra.
Then her expression changed to one of awe, and her gaze went up to a point behind and far above the Kryptonians who faced her. The three, seeing it, turned, and gazed upon the most horrifying sight they had ever beheld.
Forming, seemingly, from the very air, seeming to fill half of the sky above the setting sun and below the just-visible crescent moon, was a gigantic humanoid being. A being with skin of palest white, a green hood and cape, great green gloves upon his hands and trunks upon his loins, and green boots upon his feet, though they were not visible as yet.
This was the resident hero of Cliffland.
"You have harmed my friends," said The Spectre, in a voice that could drown thunder but which was heard only by the terrified party below him. He reached forth his great hand, drawing it back, and prepared to send it downward at them.
Rao only knew what would happen when it touched them.
But as he did so, Anton Persis spoke one final word of the chant.
The Grail glowed with an uncanny light and sent forth waves of power, semi-visible, into the air surrounding them.
It had an effect upon The Spectre. He appeared to be breaking up, in waves. Sky was visible in patches, though his body.
As the foursome watched, the great ghost faded from sight.
Badra broke the silence. "Well, gentlemen," she said, "we have succeeded. Magic has been banished from the Earth."
U-Ban smiled. "Thought we were goners when that green-and-white whatever-it-be showed up. Shall we kill the heroes now?"
"What heroes?" said Kizo.
The four of them looked at the ground where, a few seconds before, the fallen JSA members had been strewn.
All of them had vanished.
"What in Sheol is this?" raged Mala. "Not thirty heartbeats ago, they were dead to the world...and now, gone!"
"Perhaps you didn't strike the swift one strongly enough, brother," said U-Ban to Kizo. "Perhaps he regained consciousness and took them away again."
"If I had struck the red-shirted one any more strongly, his head would have left his shoulders, hat included," said Kizo. "Perhaps I should demonstrate the blow on you."
"ENOUGH!" shouted Badra. "Those we fought were all unconscious. This was no fault of your own, but some unseen ploy of our foes. It does not matter. The spell has worked. The Grail's power has cancelled the working of all magic on this world. Even should the heroes return, they will be no match for our power. Not even the Flash or Starman. In the meantime, the world is ours. Until, of course, we destroy it."
Mala stepped towards her. "Is that what you intend us to do, now? I think the four of us are equal to that task."
Badra placed her hands on her thighs and smiled. "In good time, Mala. For now, we have another journey to make, of particular importance...and pleasure...to me."
"Where would that be?" asked Kizo.
Anton Persis looked up from his book of spells. The Grail no longer glowed, now, and was cold to his touch. He grasped it to his body, and wondered if it would be of any use to protect him from the four beings he looked upon who weren't giving him so much as a glance.
"Paradise Island," said Badra.
The thunderstorm had already broken in Gotham City when the beeper went off in Karen Starr's Power Girl belt. The device made no sound, but she could feel its vibration against her belly.
She paused, right in the middle of a presentation to her crew. The belt signaller wasn't used for anything less than a red alert. Something bad-nasty had happened to the Justice Society crew, and they needed her now.
"Oh, great," she said, and clutched her stomach. "That damn taco salad is acting up. Sylvie, can you take it?"
"It didn't do me that way," said Sylvia Hernandez, the number two person on her five-man projects team. "I had the same thing."
"Well, I've got the runs, and I've gotta run," snapped Karen. "I'll be back as soon as I can. You line ‘em out on that stuff, Sylvie."
Bewildered, Sylvie took the papers from Karen's hand and watched her trot out of the office. Larry called after her, "Hey, Karen, is this serious?"
"I'll be fine, Larry!" she called, and shut the door behind her.
When she wasn't back after fifteen minutes, Sylvia excused herself and checked the ladies' room. There was no trace of Karen Starr within, but there was a note taped to one of the mirrors, with writing in her hand.
FEELING REALLY BAD. GOING HOME. SORRY. TRY TO BE IN
"This just doesn't make sense," said Sylvie, pulling it off the mirror and reading it again. "This really, truly, doesn't make sense."
She prepared to put through a call to the restaurant about their salad, but the food testers would show nothing out of the norm in it. That was good, as she didn't fancy the whole bunch of them having to go down to Gotham General to get their stomachs pumped. Nonetheless, she was going to see if they had any Alka-Seltzer to spare in the medicine chest.
Sylvie was not motivated to look out the window. To see more than rain, she would have had to open it and stick her head out.
It would have been almost impossible for her to see a flying Power Girl.
Jimmy Olsen was talking with Lois in her office when she got the call. Lois punched a button that sent it thru her desk speaker.
"Lois, this is Karen. Can you talk?"
She looked up at Jimmy. "Private call, Jim."
"Gotcha, Lois," said Jimmy, and stepped out, his coat over one arm. Once outside, he grinned. He knew what Power Girl's voice sounded like. A pal of Superman's was a pal of Lois Lane's.
"Go ahead, Karen," said Lois, and waited.
"I've just been to the Hall. Nobody's there. Got a red message. I think our friends ran into some heavy turbulence. Have you heard anything?"
"How heavy?" Lois wasn't a JSA wife anymore, but the men in the masks were still her friends.
"It was--" Lois was hearing the sound of air rushing by Kara, even the sound of her flapping cape, when she listened closely. "Carter. He said they were down. Signal came from the Catskills. I'm on my way there. Have you heard anything from that area?"
"Hold on a second, I'll check." Lois put Power Girl on hold, checked the front desk. "Jack, this is Mrs. Kent. Has there been any report of anything unusual tonight from the area of the Catskills?"
The voice of Jack Beck, her city editor, came back. "We've gotten something on the wire, just a few minutes ago, Mrs. Lane. Cops reported an incredibly loud noise in a mountain area near a park. Says they investigated, found some smashed trees and wreckage. Think it might be a bomb. No idea why, and no bodies turned up."
"Thanks, Jack. Keep me posted on that." She punched him off and punched up Kara again. "Karen? Cops in a mountain area near a park reported a big noise, some destruction when they got there. They think it might be a bomb. What do you think?"
Kara said something which was drowned in static and high wind noise. "What was that, Karen? Say again," said Lois.
"I said, ‘The way Carter was talking, I hope it's nothing worse than a bomb.' Gotta go, Lois. Bye."
"Bye, Kara," said Lois, and switched off the phone. She ran both hands over her forehead and through her hair. My god, she thought, it never stops. Even after Clark is dead...it never stops.
A few minutes later, the same line rang again. She took the call. "Lois?" said another female voice.
"Lois, it's Molly Scott." Molly was Green Lantern's wife, the former Harlequin. Lois had met her first in the Fifties, and had attended her wedding a few months ago. "Alan's been gone awhile. He was with the others. I've been calling some of the girls, seeing if they have any idea what's going on. Maybe I'm stupid to be this way, but I'm worried, and I thought you might possibly know something. Just maybe, since you edit the paper."
Lois paused, then said, "I don't know much, Molly. Was Alan headed for the Catskills?"
"I don't know."
"Well, I do know one thing. You're not stupid to worry."
Power Girl flew over the area of Catskills that was the apparent site of the Justice Society's Waterloo. For a moment, she considered taking the cell phone out of her cape pouch and calling Lois. Then she decided against it.
The area was being inspected by police and reporters. There weren't many civilians in the area, but roads to the spot were blocked off by barricades. The sky overhead was partly cloudy, in contrast to the Gotham thunderstorm.
She propelled herself downward, and reflected that it had taken her at least as long as Kal to properly develop her power of flight. She had to admit that super-leaping, though effective, looked awfully dumb.
A police captain on the scene whipped his head around as the strange figure dropped out of the sky with a whoosh of wind. "Hold it," he barked. "This is a restricted area. Who the hell are you?" A couple of bluecoats had their guns out, but the older ones on the force were waving them down.
"I'm Power Girl, officer," said Kara, crisply. "I'm one of the Justice Society."
"Oh, really," said the captain, nodding as the blonde in the white leotard and blue cape made her way over to him. "I'm not used to broads that fly under their own power. Show me an ID. This is still an investigation scene."
She slid a card out of her belt with the JSA eagle-and-American-shield emblem. He looked at it under a flash and passed it back. "Okay, you prefer I call you Power or Girl? And what do you know about this?"
"The two words go together, Captain," she said, with a hard look in her eyes. "Power Girl. You ever hear of Superman? I was his cousin. We've got a few powers in common. And I've got a lot less patience."
"All right, Miss Power Girl," said Captain Reinhardt. "I worked with your cousin before. This place looks pretty torn up. You know anything about it?"
She shrugged. "I know the JSA were investigating something out here. There was an emergency call, said they were down, facing four enemies. The message was cut off before Hawkman finished giving it. I got it from a recorder down at our HQ. I used my super-vision on this area from the air...and I didn't see any bodies. But I didn't see my teammates, either."
Reinhardt considered it. Anything that could take on the whole Justice Society was beyond the power level of his P.D. "All I know is this: a highway patrol car reported hearing an earsplittin' noise from this area. A couple of people down in the valley called in and reported their windows were broken by a sonic boom. We checked with the FAA and the local airport. They radared some flying objects that were identified as friendlies by signal devices. Others weren't. They tried and failed to track the latter. They were just moving way too fast."
Kara pursed her lips. "The friendlies would have been my friends. We wear IFF's in our belts. What direction were the unfriendlies tracked in?"
"Southeast. That way." Reinhardt pointed.
"That'd take them out over the ocean."
"Guess it would. But they lost ‘em, so who knows where they were headed?"
"Thanks, Captain." She paused. "You've been a great help. See you later."
"Hey, wait a minute," Reinhardt said. He had a lot more questions to ask the underdressed girl in the white spandex. But she had already crouched, pushed off, and leapt into the air.
A few seconds later, she was just a shadow that passed rapidly between them and the moon.
There is a reason why planes and ships sometimes get lost in the Bermuda Triangle. That is because it is the place on Earth where Paradise Island is located.
Paradise Island, for thousands of years, has been the home of a race of Amazons. These women are devotees of the goddess Aphrodite, and, by observing her law and teachings, have harnessed "brain energy" which gives them more than human strength and power.
The most powerful of the Amazon sisterhood is Princess Diana, Wonder Woman, the daughter of Queen Hippolyte herself. In 1942, Diana won the right to go to Man's World as a representative of the Amazons, to fight evil and injustice and to champion Aphrodite's ways. Years later, she gave up her right to immortality that she might marry Steve Trevor. They had a daughter, Lyta, who grew to young adulthood, became the super-heroine called Fury, and joined Infinity, Inc.
Now both Diana and Lyta were visiting Hippolyte and the other Amazons at Paradise Island. This was convienient.
Because at this moment, Badra, Mala, Kizo, and U-Ban were coming to pay them a visit, too.
And there was no chance that they would get lost.