A Force of Four
On her way back to Gotham City, Power Girl made another call on her belt-radio.
"Double-I, this is Karen. Please acknowledge. Situation immediate. Standing by."
There wasn't always somebody on duty at Infinity, Inc.'s Los Angeles headquarters, but they always had a recording device handy. This time, however, Nuklon answered the call. "Karen, this is Al. Go ahead."
She cupped the wafer-thin microphone close to her mouth to shut out the noise of the wind as she flew. "Our friends from the Big City are missing. Altercation in the Catskills. I'm on my way back from there. They are gone, Al. No trace."
Al was silent for a beat, then said, "No trace, Karen?"
"None at all, Al. They ran into something big. Right now, I don't have a clue. Can you come down?"
Nuklon replied, "I'll put out a general call to the crew. Hold on, another call. Can I put you on hold for a second, Karen?"
"Sure," she said. "I'll be here."
Land between the Catskills and Gotham hurtled by her at several miles per second as she waited for him to come back. When he did, Al Rothstein had news for her. "That was Obie, Karen. She and her brother got a call from her mother. Confirmed that Dad has not come home. I suspect, uh, my dad is absent as well."
"Your dad gave me the call, so I expect he is." The Atom, Al Pratt, was Nuklon's godfather. "You folks need to be on the lookout down there. Whatever hit them may hit you as well."
"Acknowleged, Karen," said Nuklon. "By the way, one of us was out with her mother. Is she gone?"
"Who was she?"
"Where was she?"
"Don't know, Al," said Power Girl. "Once I get back in town, I'll try to raise them."
"I'll try from out here as well. Good luck, Karen."
"Thanks, Al. Out." Kara Zor-L snapped off her communicator. Paradise Island, with its Bermuda Triangle barrier, was too hard to reach with her small set. She needed a more powerful apparatus, like the one in the Hall of Justice.
Power Girl put on the speed, and knew Gotham would be within unaided sight in seconds.
It was well past dinnertime on Paradise Island, and Lyta Trevor was glad that the sisterhood of Amazons had nothing against meat. There was enough land area to raise a few birds both for eggs and eating, and to support a small herd of cattle. Plus there was plenty of arable land which the women used to raise crops. No matter how advanced their science was, the Amazons never forgot their agrarian heritage.
Thus, Hippolyte, Wonder Woman, Fury (who was Lyta), and their friends Mala and Paula Von Gunther and Paula's daughter Gerta had their choice of turkey, beef, and pheasant, all prepared in a fashion which Lyta supposed was faintly Greek in origin but was different, in certain ways, from Man's World cuisine. And Lyta loved it. The veggies weren't too shabby, either.
They had dined in a big mess hall near the queen's palace, among over 100 other Amazons, in a setting that never lost its classic splendor for her. All marble and fine hanging draperies and rare woods and classic Grecian architecture, with some adaptations taken from their contacts with the modern world.
If the movie studios had access to this place, thought Lyta, the Amazons could make millions just letting them shoot films on it.
Hippolyte resembled her daughter, Wonder Woman, to a large degree. Her hair was black and fashioned in more of an upsweep than Diana's. She wore a gold tiara with a strange symbol, a golden choker, a green dress which bared her arms and part of her bosom and had a slit up to the knee, plus leather sandals and the metal bracelets of submission which every Amazon was required to wear. The queen had her dignity on as well, but Lyta knew that she was glad to act like a grandmother to her in private.
The paradox was that Wonder Woman looked older than her mother.
This was by Diana's own choosing. Years ago, she had foresworn immortality, which was the Amazons' heritage, in order to marry Steve Trevor and bear Lyta. Thus, her hair was a bit greyer now, and a few wrinkles had found their way around her eyes. But she still filled out the brief red-white-and-blue uniform of Wonder Woman nicely, and her strength, though a bit down from its peak, was still enough to crush concrete and tear apart steel.
Lyta herself was blonde and 22 years old and just graduated from college. She wore a red-and-yellow outfit with gold trim. In Man's World, she went by the name of Fury. She was not as strong or swift as her mother had been, the day she left Paradise Island and flew a transparent plane to America bearing the injured pilot who, years later, had become her father. Fury also wore stylized armguards, rather than the plain bracelets of the Amazons, but they were accepted as tokens of Aphrodite's Law. Mom had tried to get her to wear the traditional bracelets, but Lyta wouldn't have them.
Mother and daughter had had their share of hassles with each other, as all mothers and daughters will. Lyta hadn't thought about becoming a super-heroine until the day that the Wonder Woman of Earth-One came over for a visit. The other Diana was looking for advice from her "sister" about marrying the Steve Trevor of her world. As it turned out, that Diana had left the other Steve standing at the altar on that occasion, though she married him a few years later.
What impressed Lyta was the more youthful and vital appearance of the other Wonder Woman, who was still an active super-heroine. In an instant, she had realized that was the way her mother used to be, back when the big war was raging and the Justice Society was kicking Hitler's butt.
And that was something she had the potential to be.
After the younger Wonder Woman went home, Lyta had told Diana, "Mom, I wanna be an Amazon for sure!" So her mother had redoubled Lyta's training sessions, taken her more frequently to the Amazons' island, and watched her daughter learn how to lift multi-ton weights, run faster than a gazelle, play bullets-and-bracelets against the slugs of a Dirty Harry-size gun, and throw lassos and jump kangas with the best of them.
Steve threatened to ground her from Paradise Island unless her grades improved, so she kicked her studying into high gear as well and graduated high school with a 3.8 average and an intact virginity. She and Mom still fought, still made up, and still loved each other. But she was glad as hell when she got accepted by Georgetown University and could move out on her own.
After her freshman year, Lyta went home and told her parents she was going to quit and become the new Wonder Woman.
To both statements, Diana Trevor had said, "Like hell."
Steve had concurred. "Super-heroing is a non-paying profession," he had said. "Also, you can't get any damn where in this world, Man's or Woman's, without that degree. You're going to stay in and study your pert little butt off."
Lyta had flared and asked where Mom had gotten her degree, if it was that great a thing. Diana, who was still a career USAF intelligence officer, had replied, "On the Island. Though I'd have a hard time transferring credits. If you're not going to college, young lady--"
"She is going to college," broke in Steve, with his steeliest military-man demeanor.
"--then you can spend several years prepping on Paradise Island, where there will be no beer-busts with boys, no Steve Winwood concerts to go to, and slumber parties of quite a different kind," Diana had said, without interruption. "That's if Mother accepts you, and if you prove tough enough and smart enough to stay. Or you can go into the Army, if you want, and earn money for your education that way. But one thing is certain, young lady."
"Mom," started Lyta, and that was as far as she got.
"You are not going out to bust crooks and fight idiots in longjohns as it is right now. Put that out of your head. And I will not allow you to tag along with me like Robin the Boy Wonder. So make your choice, dear, and I give you five minutes. Check the clock, Steve."
"Four fifty-seven and counting," said Steve Trevor.
"Mom, this is not fair!"
"What's the time, Steve?"
"Four forty-two and counting," said Steve.
"I want to be a super-heroine like you!"
Neither of her parents said anything to her and the clock kept ticking.
With a huff, Lyta had said, "I do not want to go back to Georgetown."
"So transfer," said Diana. "But make your decision. How much time, Steve?"
"Two and a--"
"I'll transfer, I'll transfer," said Lyta, clenching her fists.
Diana had walked up to her, not in the least intimidated. "Fine. You've got a week to figure out where, or I'll decide for you."
"I still want to be a Wonder Woman," said Lyta.
"Not for three years, at least," answered Diana.
So Lyta had gone to the University of Southern California where she met another superhero brat: Hector Hall, son of Hawkman and Hawkgirl. They'd known each other from the JSA families' old get-togethers, and something clicked between them. It had clicked harder than her mom would have approved, Lyta knew. Because, by the end of their junior year, they were sleeping together.
Both of them had the smarts to use protection, and both of them knew how to keep their grades intact while continuing the romance. Sometimes, Lyta wondered if her folks and the Halls would get into a big fight if they knew about it. Probably not, she decided. Her mom would just whack her one.
And her mom really knew how to whack.
But Hector had shown her a secret project of his own which he had just completed: a suit of silvery armor, made of the Ninth Metal that defied gravity and allowed Hawkman and Hawkgirl to fly. He told her that he was going to become a super-hero on his own, and that he was going to petition to join the Justice Society.
"They're letting in new members now," he'd explained. "Power Girl and Star-Spangled Kid and Huntress all got in. Why not me?" He'd paused. "And hey, for that matter, why not you?"
She'd thought about it for all of one second. "Why not?" Then she asked what he was going to call himself.
"The Silver Scarab," he said. "It's a reference to Egyptian mythology. Ties in with that Horus stuff that my parents trade on. What about you? Are you going to be Wonder Woman, Junior, or are you going to try for something original?"
Sitting in a lab chair, holding her hands in her lap, Lyta explained, "No. Only one woman can wear the Wonder Woman suit, and she has to earn it. But--I could be somebody else. Some other kind of heroine."
"Tie it in with mythology, just like me," advised Hector.
"The thing is, Hec, with us, you don't know how much is mythology, and how much is truth," said Lyta.
But that night, she'd sat up with a copy of Bulfinch's Mythology, read about the Furies, and decided on her name. "Call me Fury," she said. She made a short trip to Paradise Island in her mom's Robot Plane, had an Amazon tailor and an armorer help her create an outfit, swore them to secrecy, and came back in her "working clothes." A red leotard cut thigh-high, a red tiara with a gold jewel at the forehead, a gold-metal half-breastplate, an ornate belt of the same metal, golden boots and gloves and a cape, and that was it. She didn't bother with a mask. Her mother had revealed her secret identity years ago. Lyta didn't intend to bother with one.
Before long, she and Hector hooked up with several other JSA-related kids of their generation, and they crashed an emergency meeting of the Society on Christmas Eve of ‘83. They'd offered their services and asked to be signed up on the spot.
The JSA members gave them a welcome less warm than the snowy streets outside. Wonder Woman looked as though she wanted to give Lyta a busting, even though she'd delivered her last spanking years ago.
So the Society's proteges and offspring had slunk off, accompanied by Power Girl, Huntress, and Star-Spangled Kid. The latter three were of a younger generation than the mainline Society crew, and didn't like the condescending tone of the elders to the new arrivals.
The crew, which included Fury, Silver Scarab, Green Lantern's kids Obsidian and Jade, Northwind, the hybrid son of one of Hawkman's friends and a bird-woman, Brainwave Jr., the mind-over-matter-powered spawn of one of the JSA's greatest foes, and the three younger JSA'ers, decided to form a group of their own. The Kid had named them Infinity, Inc.
Their first gig was helping the JSA and the All-Star Squadron fight the Ultra-Humanite and some of his cronies when they were time-warped back to 1942. When they got back to 1983, they had to fight the present-day Ultra, plus some Society members who had been corrupted by the Stream of Ruthlessness. (Lyta had seen Power Girl after a crazed Superman had pounded her into the ground. It wasn't a pretty sight. Then again, neither was seeing her mom turned into a crazed harpy.) The Infinitors had saved the day in that one and gotten their elders back to normal. The oldsters grudgingly had to admit that the kids had done good.
The problem was, for Power Girl and Huntress, that the team was relocating to L.A., where Syl Pemberton, the Star-Spangled Kid, owned Stellar Studios. Neither of them wanted to leave Gotham. So, when the time came, they accepted detached service status with the Infinitors, and went back to full-time membership in the JSA.
There had been other members to fill the gap. Dr. Midnight, the new Hourman, and a new Wildcat all came along a few weeks ago. There was even some female detective with lightning powers that the Kid had worked with, more recently than that.
Besides, Lyta was never taken with Power Girl. Kara had an attitude problem, and Lyta figured she also slept around. She was pretty sure that Syl and PG had done the deed, and Kara might have had a one-nighter with that Firestorm guy at a JLA / JSA party. Plus there was Andrew Vinson.
Nope, Kara was just too full of herself. Lyta suspected she was full of something else, too. Little Miss Longlegs from Krypton should just pick herself one guy to sleep with, like Lyta herself had done.
"Lyta, dear," Wonder Woman said to her. "Mother asked you a question."
"Oops, sorry," said Lyta. "Just woolgathering, Mom." She caught a glimpse of Mala and the Von Gunters, grinning behind their napkins at her. "Yes, Grandma?"
Queen Hippolyte smiled tightly at her. "In this room, child, I have no objection to being called ‘Hippolyte' or ‘Grandma'. Outside of it, though, you must remember to call me ‘Queen' or ‘Milady Hippolyte'. It is a necessary term of respect. Do I make myself clear, granddaughter mine?"
"Perfectly. As crystal, Gra--I mean, Milady Queen Hippolyte. For sure," added Lyta.
Gerta didn't even try to hold back her giggling. "Is that really the way they talk in Los Angeles these days?"
"For sure it is," said Diana, tiredly.
"I was asking you if you had put your kinesthology training to work in your new career," said the queen. "This is what you studied in the Man's World university, was it not?"
"It was, Milady Queen," said Lyta, fussing with her napkin. "But the Star-Spangled Kid pays us a good living wage as members of Infinity, Inc. I don't really need to hang out my shingle just yet. I can fall back on it if I have to, though."
"Star-Spangled Kid," said Mala, her mother's greatest Amazon friend. "Infinity, Inc. And I thought ‘Wonder Woman' was a stone-dumb name when I heard it." She smiled at Diana.
Diana said, smiling back, "Don't knock it, Mala. The only two heroes with more recognition value than myself are Superman and Batman. And, sadly enough, both of them are dead."
"This almost puts you in the position of a mercenary soldier," said Hippolyte, thoughtfully.
Lyta was struck dumb and so was everyone else at the table.
"Mind you, I have not expressed approval or disapproval of that fact," said Hippolyte. "Only that, having been taught skills, it is meet that you employ and develop them. Is this not so, Lyta?"
Uncomfortably, Fury said, "Yes, Queen Grandma. I intend to use my skills, when the time comes. For the moment, being a super-heroine is my first duty. There are skills I must use in that capacity, as I am sure you well know."
Diana looked uneasy. Darned if Lyta wasn't starting to act towards her grandmother the way she acted towards her mother.
Hippolyte seemed to sense the slight barb, but didn't react much to it. "I am quite well aware of that, granddaughter. I shared many adventures with Diana, who was the first great heroine of the modern age in Man's World. But I charge you to remember, once you leave the Isle, that Amazon's Work is not always dressing in battle-gear and besting the foe on the field of combat. It is also the demonstration of Woman's worth in the place of commerce, in the fields which must be tilled, in the theaters of the mind and of art, and in the demonstration of the compassionate heart. I would not have you become all of one, so that you neglect all of the other."
Lyta nodded, impatiently. "Balance in all things, yes. Yet, milady, you know that one side is often neglected so that one may gain proficiency in another."
Paula von Gunther, Gerta's mother and an ex-Nazi spy who had been converted to the light by Wonder Woman, attempted to step in. "Lyta is still very young, Queen Hippolyte. She has much time yet to make the rest of her life. I'm sure she'll do a fine job in the making."
Thanks for the save, Paula, thought Lyta.
"Even so," said Hippolyta, "she has greater than mortal years ahead of her, but less even than her mother, who renounced immortality at a later date than her, and much less than a pure Amazon who has not renounced the Waters of Youth. So there are fewer days to you, Lyta, than you might expect. Use them wisely while you do have them."
Wonder Woman's eyes widened. "Mother, what are you saying? Are you saying that Lyta has--"
Lyta's eyes were widening at the same time that her skin was flushing crimson.
Diana finally finished the sentence. "--has given herself to a man?"
"Ohhhhhhh, hell," muttered Lyta, and hid her face in her hands.
That was when a warning siren went off.
Lyta was never so grateful for such a sound in her entire life.
Hippolyta flipped open a communicator switch--an incongruity for the motif of the room, but a necessity in the modern world, even for Amazons. "Guardians, report," she said. "What means the siren?"
An Amazon's voice came back through a speaker. "Unidentified airborne objects approaching, my Queen, at great speed. Possibly as many as four. We are preparing to intercept."
Wonder Woman stood up and hitched at the Magic Lasso at her belt. "Come on, Lyta," she said. "We'll intercept this in the Robot Plane. And afterwards, young lady, we are going to have a talk."
Lyta shot her a look of aggravation. "Would you rather I'd have been a Sapphite?"
Mala noticed something. "My Queen--ladies--look at the roof. It's beginning to smoke!"
And a second later, it burst into flame and started to collapse.
Power Girl was back in the JSA's brownstone and was trying not to crush the communicator's microphone in her hand. She had tuned into the almost unknown shortwave channel that broadcast from Paradise Island and had traded a few terse sentences with an Amazon manning the communications board.
"We've no time to talk," the woman had gasped. "We are under attack."
"By whom?" Power Girl demanded. "Can you identify attackers? Repeat, can you identify?"
"We cannot," said the Amazon. "They are skyborne. Great heat afflicts us. We must--break contact! Send help, woman!"
The source wave had cut off, and Power Girl had not been able to reestablish the connection. She swore, briefly.
Then she opened a line to Infinity, Inc. again. "Double-I," came the voice. "This is Al."
"Al, this is Karen," she said. "Diana's home is under attack. Repeat, Diana's home is under attack. Rally the troops and come help. But none of you men are to touch the ground. Got that?"
"Got it," said Al, who knew about Aphrodite's Law. "Attackers identified?"
"Negative," said Kara. "The informant said they were coming from the air, and they were attacking with some kind of heat-weapon. These are probably the same parties that attacked the JSA. I'm on my way there, Al. If I find out more on the way, I'll let you know. Keep the line monitored. Got it?"
"Roger wilco," said Nuklon, who loved to talk like they did in old war movies. "And, Kara? Good luck."
"Roger, will need much of same," said Power Girl. "Out."
After breaking the contact, she called Lois Lane. "Lois, this is Karen," she said. "You know Diana?"
"The one from the island?" said Lois. "Or the one from England?"
"Who do you think? They're both from islands. But the island our Diana's on is under attack. I have a feeling the same party that hit our friends is the one hitting Diana. I'm on my way there."
"Anything you want me to do?"
"Yes," she said, "although I'm not sure how you can do it. There are other heroes around besides our friends and our younger friends. I'm not sure how to rally them, but if we fail, the ball might be in their court. You think the Planet could lend a hand?"
Lois said, "I'm not sure how much of a monster rally I can do, Karen, but I'll give it a try. I take it you want them to be alert that they might be on a hit list, too?"
"Absolutely. Gotta go, Lois. Bye." She pushed down the phone plunger to end the call, then made another call to her boss's answering machine at United Computer Corporation.
"Boss, this is Karen," she said, affecting a pained tone in her voice. "Afraid I've come down with something pretty bad. Maybe those tacos, maybe a 48-hour virus. Don't know if I'll be able to make it in tomorrow, but I'll try. Thanks very much. Bye." Then she hung up.
Kara stood up, ran her gloved fingers through her hair, and sighed. The JSA was gone from the face of the earth. The Amazons were under attack. The only bright spot in the entire mess was the fact that Infinity, Inc. didn't seem to be hurt. Yet.
Well, one thing was for sure.
This was a job for Power Girl, if there ever was one. Maybe more of a job than she could handle.
She took the elevator to the roof, launched herself into space, and poured on the speed in the direction of the Bermuda Triangle.
And not once did she say "Up, up and away."