A Force of Four
Wonder Woman heard her daughter calling her name, and was somehow reassured.
"Mom? Mother, are you all right? Can you hear me? Are you waking up, Mom? Come on, Mom, please..."
She blinked her eyes, tried to make sense of the dull visuals her eyes relayed back to her. Tried to keep the pain splitting her head recede, tried to make the nausea fade away. "It's all right, Lyta," she murmured. "I'm here."
"Oh, thank God, Mom," said Fury. "Don't try to move too much. Well, anyway, you can't, but don't hurt yourself any worse."
Princess Diana's vision cleared somewhat. What she saw was not comforting. She felt restraints at her wrists and ankles and felt the tug of gravity at her body. "They've chained us, haven't they?"
Lyta nodded. "Must've been one of the men that did it. I can't break them."
Diana rattled her own chains. "I can't either. It seems."
The two of them, she saw, were hanging from a wall in the Palace of Science. Six metal staples had been driven into the walls, probably by the Kryptonians' bare hands. Four of them were higher than the bottom two and were parallel, two staples each circled by a chain which bound either Lyta or her mother, passing through the chains which had been welded by force onto their metal bracelets. When this was done by a man, an Amazon was powerless to resist, by Aphrodite's Law. Their ankles were also bound and held by a chain attached to the two lower staples.
Both of them hung somewhat off the ground, leaning forward, and it was not comfortable for Wonder Woman or Fury.
Before them was a mural depicting great scientists of the ancient world and their achievements, with a legend: THE WILL OF THE GODS MAY BE UNKNOWN. THE WAYS OF THE GODS MAY BE KNOWN, A BIT AT A TIME. Beyond that were stairs leading to the upper chambers.
They heard footsteps coming down the steps. From the sound of them, it was a woman.
Badra appeared before them, clad in her short green dress, stepping off the stairs and regarding them with her arms folded. It was hard to read anything but arrogance in her face.
"Don't you think you should tell your pretty daughter who I am?" she said to Wonder Woman.
The Amazon princess tried the chains once again, setting the heels of her boots against the wall, with the chains holding her two feet off the floor. It was useless. She sighed.
"Fury, this is Badra," Wonder Woman said. "One of the great one-shot wonders of my career."
Badra stepped forward. Fire was in her eyes, and Fury was certain that her mother hadn't been wise in her choice of words. "Hold it right there, bitch," said the young Amazon. "If you want to pick on somebody, make it me."
The Hatorian woman looked at Fury with a smile of great maliciousness. "Oh, don't worry. I will. What I do to her will resonate doubly in your soul. That's how these mother-daughter things tend to go. Isn't that right, Diana?"
She drew back her hand and slapped Wonder Woman as hard as she could.
"STOP IT, YOU BITCH!"
Wonder Woman said nothing. A large red spot appeared on the side of her face where she was struck. She stared at Badra.
Badra drew back her other arm and, hearing Fury curse her all the way, laid another tremendous slap on the other side of Wonder Woman's face. Diana tried to ride with the impact, but the force was too great to be cancelled out entirely.
"A ‘great one-shot wonder,' am I?" asked Badra, slapping Diana again. And again. And again. "Perhaps I won't need more than two shots to achieve my objectives. Will I, Diana? Will I?"
She slapped Wonder Woman's face again. A bruise was starting to form along one cheek. The heroine started defiantly at her, tried to hawk and spit, but Badra slapped her hard in the mouth. Diana's eyes closed in pain, and she sagged in the chains.
"Oh, big bad brave Mama, has to have somebody in chains before she hits ‘em," said Fury. "You've got the guts of an angleworm."
Badra looked at Fury with a gaze of cold vengeance. "Let's see how much fortitude you have, little missy. Watch this."
Fury's eyes widened.
Badra made her right hand into a claw and dug her fingernails into the side of Wonder Woman's face.
She raked down, breaking the skin, bringing blood. Fury screamed.
"Stop it! Stop it! Please!"
Wonder Woman's eyes were tightly shut and her mouth was clamped in a grim rictus, but she said nothing. Badra's hand kept clawing down, and the evil woman's eyes burned with a terrible light of pleasure.
"Please! Stop it! I'm begging you! Do it to me, kill me, but leave my mother alone!" Fury was screaming loud enough to fill the entire, echoing, stone-walled structure. But Badra wouldn't even glance at her.
Finally, one word escaped Wonder Woman's lips. "Enough," she said.
Badra grasped Diana's chin. "What was that? Has the great Wonder Woman suddenly reached her limits? Or should I try again?"
Not opening her eyes, Wonder Woman said, "Think. What you will."
Roughly, the villainess let go of the Amazon's jaw. She stepped away, listening to Wonder Woman's labored breaths. Then she glanced at Fury, who was living up to her namesake. The blonde's eyes were filled with tears and hatred. The muscles of her body were in sharp definition as she strained against the chains, without effect. Badra felt that if she dripped water on the girl's forehead, it would turn to steam.
"When I get free of this," Fury hissed, "I'll tear your face off. Slowly."
"I think not," said Badra. She raised her hand, the one with the reddened fingertips, and waved it at Fury. "Goodbye."
Wonder Woman did not look up. She heard the Hatorian's boots clicking up the steps, heard the curses her daughter sent after Badra. Diana counted her ploy successful.
By distracting Badra through her insults and defiance, she had caused her foe's focus to remain on Wonder Woman alone. Fury remained untouched by the witch. Her face stang as though someone had taken a pitchfork to it. But her daughter had not been harmed. That was the important thing.
Fury was crying. Diana held back her tears, and noticed something other than her pain.
She noticed that it was somewhat cold.
Kara was barely able to roll with the first punch she took, but she rolled right into the second punch, which came from another antagonist. Briefly, she flashed on the battle she had with Superman sometime ago, when he had been corrupted by the waters of Koehaha. From that event she had learned what a Kryptonian fist felt like, when it contacted her face.
Now she learned it again. It felt just as painful.
She also recalled that she had lost her fight with Superman, and that, in his time, Superman had been beaten in a three-against-one fight with these two and their brother.
Neither was what she could call a comforting thought.
The Kryptonian girl had a chance to look into the face of one of her opponents and at his uniform as he shot a fist forward into her gut. He was black-haired, resembled her late cousin quite a bit, and was dressed in a red and green outfit with a green triangle upon his chest. He wore a headband of white. He was also grinning.
His partner was trying to pin her arms from behind.
"Sheol with this," grunted Kara, and let fly with a kick. It slammed hard into Mala's gut. That wasn't where she'd been aiming, but it did the trick.
Mala's eyes went wide with pain and surprise. He'd expected this job to be a walk. Two of them against a girl? No problem. Three of them had taken down the great Superman.
Now, the pain in his abdomen and his lack of breath were forcing him to reconsider matters.
Kizo was trying to hold onto the blonde in the white leotard but not making a good job of it. The damned wildcat just wasn't cooperating. One of her arms was loose. She was reaching behind, below...
She gave a squeeze and he yelled and flew backwards quickly. He was out of her grasp, which was very, very fortunate. Kara looked behind her for an instant, said, "Be back to you later," and turned towards Mala again. He was recovering a bit, looking very angry, and coming for her.
But Mala was a bit out of practice in super-fighting. Taking on opponents who weren't Krypton-class had dulled him just a bit, and Power Girl intended to take advantage of it. This next bit would take a little finesse, but she figured she could do it. And Kal would never have thought of it.
As he swung a roundhouse punch at her, she backflipped over him. While upside down, she extended her blue-gloved hands, turned towards his face, and went for his eyes. It wasn't as effective as if she'd done it bare-handed, but his scream of pain told her what she needed to know.
Kizo was coming on strong again and smashed into her with a body-block, calling her many names in Kryptonese. She sent her bootheel into his jaw, knocking him back, and called him bitchspawn in their common language. Power Girl bored in hard, slamming three hard punches into his stomach. He was pretty solid there, but he felt them. His hand came up in a great slap that smacked her on the side of the face and sent her flying. She felt that, too.
Kara thought about cutting and running even as she felt the bruise under her cheekbone. She disregarded it for the moment. If she took one of them out, fleeing might be a viable option. With two of them still up, she could count on being wasted when they caught up to her.
Besides, she had to admit it to herself: in a way, she was enjoying this fight.
The two began to converge on her from non-parallel directions. She waited as long as she could, then whirled like a dervish, elbows out, and threw them both off for a second. Power Girl quickly zipped upward and then came down like a maul, boots first, on Kizo's head. He went down towards the water below them.
But his brother Mala had been waiting for such a chance, and hurtled forward at full super-speed, his fist cocked and at the ready. Before Power Girl could avoid it, he smashed the great wrecking ball of his fist into her head, at the side of her jaw.
It was a blow of more force than she could withstand. Indeed, it almost broke her jaw. The blonde warrior-woman flew backwards in great loops, her cape flapping between her splayed-apart legs, her eyes glassy, her hands grasping at nothing.
White lights went on and off within her skull. But Kara refused to lose consciousness. The danger was too great, and, above all, these were two of those who had hurt her greatest friends. Power Girl refused to give in.
What felt very much like a shoulder had rammed into her midsection, knocking the wind out of her. She gasped, trying to drag back air into her lungs--not that she needed to breathe, but the reflex action was the same that a normal woman would have, if dealt such a blow--and tried to strike at her foe's head, but her fist was easily batted aside.
Another fist, probably from the other Kryptonian male in the mix, snapped her head around from the other side. She could feel blood spurting from her nose. It felt very much like the hammering she had taken at Kal's hands, all those months ago. Unlike Kal, they probably wouldn't stop when or if she gave up. Probably, unless ordered otherwise, they would kill her.
As a double-handed blow smashed into her back, she realized that there was a third option, one that had never occurred to her in her life, before this instant. There were other things men could do with women, if they wanted to and rendered said woman helpless.
And of all the men in the universe, only these two and their brother would be capable of doing that to her.
Rallying, Power Girl brought her leg up, doubled it, kicked out at the one before her--Mala? Kizo? It didn't matter--and connected, but without enough force to do more than push him backwards a bit. Through a haze, she saw his grinning face again. He was reaching for her throat, and the other one did have her arms pinned this time, and there was no freeing them.
Then there came a blast of power, and all of them were knocked apart.
Kara fell away from her tormentors, towards the chilly ocean below, and dropped into it with a medium-sized splash. It could not hurt her and she was all but unconscious, anyway. Mala and Kizo looked up at the new foemen.
Some of them were flying. Others were in a skycraft of strange design. One had wings and feathers. Another had silvery armor. The one who had apparently sent the energy blast towards them was a youth in a red, white, and blue uniform, whose belt glowed with lambent power.
"Back off, or you get Kryptonite right in the face," shouted Star-Spangled Kid. It was a bluff. He hoped he was as convincing to these punks, who were probably Kryptonians, as he was to apparatchiks at his movie studio.
The two Kryptonian men looked at each other. It was possible, even probable, that they could take him out, and the others with him. But it was risky. Besides, they'd done what they came to do. Wonder Woman and her brat were in the hands of Badra, and Power Girl had been immobilized.
None of these types probably had the speed to track them, if they left.
"Let's go," said Mala, and the two of them turned, flew in two opposite directions, and were past lightspeed before the members of Infinity, Inc. could do a thing about it.
Star-Spangled Kid drew more power from his Cosmic Belt. A gold aura surrounded his body. He opened a hatch door and flew out of the craft, protected by his belt's force-field from the slipstream. The Kid yelled to the others, "It's all right. I'm going after Kara."
"It better be all right," said Northwind.
The Kid's belt was a modified version of Starman's Cosmic Rod, and its power was directed by his will, when the belt was activated. Accordingly, he was surrounded in a bubble of air when he plunged into the dark sea waters, and, though the silence and the sight of the darkness below the small expanse of light unnerved him, he was perfectly safe.
Power Girl, like most of the flying heroes of the Society and Infinity, had an IFF signal device in her belt. It was convienient in letting nations whose airspace you violated know not to send any missles against you. Syl Pemberton used his belt's power to home in on Kara's signal. He also used it to light up the darkness of the ocean below as he plunged downward toward's the signal's source.
A few minutes later, his blue-and-white-masked head broke surface, along with Power Girl's. He held her close to his chest with one arm about her front, and her closed eyes and sagging head betold her insensibility.
"Let's get her to the island," he said as he flew alongside Northwind, Silver Scarab, and the Rocket Racer. "Looks like they got her pretty bad."
And if any of them heard a note in his voice that signified more than concern for a fellow teammate, they were courteous enough not to comment about it.
The day shift came on at United Computer Corporation and began the day's work. One employee at least was missed. Sylvia Hernandez and Larry Morton both looked at Karen Starr's cubicle. No one was there, no note from Karen or management about the abscence.
"Where is she?" asked Larry. "Holy jeez, Sylvie, did I get her mad or something?"
Sylvia said, "Not enough to make her leave. She got sick last night from that taco salad. Makes me feel like I should have my stomach pumped."
Larry, all 5 foot 9 of him, looked at the scattered orderliness of Karen's work area. He touched a key on her workstation computer. The screen displayed the normal company logo. "Wonder if she left word in here?"
"Larry, don't touch anythng," she said. "That's the supervisor's job. Go get him." She took Karen's phone receiver off the hook, dialed 9, then dialed her home phone number. It rang, and kept ringing, and kept ringing, until finally a robot device played back a message giving her the option of leaving a message when Karen Starr got back home. Sylvia took the option, and said, "Karen, this is Sylvie. Please call me when you get back, whether I'm at work or at home. We're worried about you." Then she hung up.
She looked up at Larry Morton. "Thought I told you to get the supervisor," she said.
He nodded. "I just wanted to make sure she wasn't there when you phoned her. I'm kinda worried about her."
"She's been gone before, Larry, and come back all right pretty soon afterward."
"How many more abscences does she get this year, Sylvia?"
"Let's just say that it's a good thing her work is at the level she keeps it. Go, Larry."
The two Kryptonians flew faster than even the fastest missles created by Man, but knew that they were being tracked by radar. Very soon, they could depend on the encroachment of the major powers of this planet, which would be curious as to their existence and doings at the North Pole. They had little time left to them. True, they could knock down conventional aircraft and nuclear-tipped armament, but much of Badra's plan depended on a surprise attack.
The more they left living superheroes behind, the less of a surprise it would be.
Therefore, they had agreed to give Badra back what she gave out. If the pushy broad in the green dress got huffy, she could try her luck with a three-on-one. After all, U-Ban would stand with them, and the two of them had had enough practice knocking Superman's bitch-cousin about. Power Girl was tough, but she was only a woman.
Mala and Kizo saw the Amazon's marble temple, incongruous on the Arctic wastes, decelerated, and flew inside it an instant later. At the entrance hall, they found a strange tableau: the chained Wonder Woman and Fury, their brother U-Ban, and Badra holding Aldon Persis by the wrist. The human was crying out.
Mala changed his body position from horizontal to vertical and touched the floor, halting his flight. "What passes here, Badra?", he inquired. He noted, out of the corner of his eye, Fury giving him a stare of malice.
Badra looked at him and Kizo, who had just landed beside him. "Caught this little ingrate attempting to use a healing ray on the Amazon here," she said. "Apparently he's going soft on us."
"No, please, it isn't like that," said Persis, shivering from more than the cold. "It's just that--uh--if the Justice Society comes back and sees her injured like that, they'll be fighting to kill, not to capture. I'm doing it for your own good!"
The Hatorian tossed him nonchalantly against the mural wall and heard his yelp of pain. He slid down the mural, holding his head where it had struck the hard surface. Badra snapped, "I hope the idiots do return. I'll--we'll--have their heads for our trophy room, just like we'll do these two, once I'm done with them."
"Just you wait," grated Fury.
"Shut up," Badra shot back. "How went the rest of the operation, you two? I see you didn't bring back the Power Girl. Well?"
Mala looked at Kizo, who returned his buck-passing gaze. U-Ban silently chortled, at the thought of what must have occurred.
"Another group of heroes turned up," said Mala. "They threatened the use of Kryptonite. We had beaten Superman's cousin severely, so we decided to leave. The wench may have died from the beating, for all we know."
Badra laughed scornfully, and stepped closer to them, putting her hands on her hips. "Kryptonite! Did you see any of it?"
"Well, no, we did not," admitted Kizo. "But--"
"‘But!'", the villainess mocked. "Did you feel any weakness, such as you would have in Kryptonite's presence?"
Mala glared at her. "We did not. But we had no way of knowing."
"You had every way of knowing," retorted Badra. "None of the ones called Infinity have any power to fabricate Kryptonite, save the green-skinned bitch, and we've neutralized her power. You could have taken them easily."
"We have done what was required," said Kizo. "Have a care, Badra!"
Even U-Ban stepped forward. "I stand with my brothers in this," he said. "Remember, there be three of us, and only one of you."
"Let me and my mother go, and there'll be five of us, and one of her," shouted Fury.
U-Ban looked at her. An instant later, Fury's face became so hot she screamed in pain, writhing in the chains.
"Stop it, you swine," rasped Wonder Woman, tiredly. "Take your feelings out on me, not my daughter. I am your foe, not her."
"I think not," said U-Ban, who had shut off his heat-vision. "I was just teaching your daughter a little lesson in discipline. Her mouth is too great. Should she open it again to my displeasure, I'll fry her tongue."
The young Amazon felt as though her face had received an awful sunburn. The heat would have charred and blackened the face of a normal woman. She couldn't resist shedding tears, but she refused to make a sound.
"I believe she has learned, now," observed U-Ban.
Badra spoke to Mala and Kizo. "Please excuse my outburst. It is true that you were facing unknown opponents, and you may have been sincerely ignorant of their powers. All the more reason for you to attend my next briefing. I have observed these super-children from afar, and know their capabilities fairly well. We must face them together. Your power, my direction. It has not played you false yet, has it?"
"Not yet," said Kizo. "But our association is still young."
Mala said, "For the moment, we stand with you, Badra. But have a care. We will not brook insult forever. We are partners, not slaves."
She nodded. "Just so. Kizo, you and U-Ban helped me bring this temple to these regions, before you returned to stand beside your brother, whom I had left as a sentry. I have another task for you three, which is just as important."
"Say on," said Kizo.
"Think you that you can construct a protective bubble about this entire structure, and then implant it on the world these ones call Mars, where we first met? We will need a refuge away from Earth for the next phase of our operation."
Mala said, "We can do that. But why bother with a bubble at all? You and we can survive in space unaided."
Badra replied, "Aye, but our human sorceror here might not, and I may have need for him. If he does not attempt treason again. Also, I want the Amazons alive for a time longer. I've not finished amusing myself yet."
"I imagine we can undertake the task, then," said U-Ban. "Come, brothers, let's scour the rocks ‘neath the sea bottom for what elements we'll need."
The threesome took to the air again, and flew out the doorway of the Temple of Science. Then Badra turned to Aldon Persis, who, for all his parka and warm clothing, was shivering. "You may help me," she said, simply.
Licking his lips, he said, "In what?"
"The larger model of the healing ray you pilfered," she said. "The Amazons call it the Purple Ray. It is used for mending injuries or destroying diseases. Once, it even brought the Justice Society back from the realm of death. But with a bit of alteration, I think the Earthers will learn that it can do things other than heal. Come."
When he was too tardy getting to his feet, she dragged him up by his elbow and shoved him ahead of her. They both went up the steps to the next level, and were lost to Fury's and Wonder Woman's sight.
Diana called out, in a tired voice. "Lyta? Lyta, are you all right?"
Fury answered back, her voice breaking, "I'm fine, Mother. I'm--just--peachy."
Then she burst into tears again.
Wonder Woman fought hard not to join her.
Kara awoke and grabbed for the nearest face hovering over her. Mala grabbed her wrists and held her back with an effort. "Take it easy, Kara," the Amazon said. "It's Mala. You're back on Paradise Island."
"Oh," said Power Girl. Her eyes focussed. She was in what appeared to be a bed, in one of the Amazon's dwellings that still smelled of smoke, but had endured by being far enough from Ground Zero. She looked up and saw a few familiar faces: Mala, Hippolyta, Wildcat, Dr. Midnight. "What happened? Did all of you Infinitors get here? What about the two guys I was fighting?"
Dr. Midnight said, "Most of us are here. The boys are in the Infinijet. Don't want ‘em touching ground. As for the two you fought, Syl bluffed ‘em and they ran like rabbits."
"But they might be back just as fast," said Wildcat. "We were concerned with you. Syl fished you out of the water. Glad to see you back."
Kara sat up in bed. "Those two are Kryptonians," she said. "I caught some curses and phrases in my language. They also hit as hard as Superman. They have to be two of the three Krypt outlaws Kal tangled with, years back."
Hippolyta said, "A woman was with them, I believe, from what little description I've gotten of those who saw them. We know not who she is. My daughter and granddaughter are still missing. So are most of the prisoners of Transformation Island."
"Mmm." Kara put both her gloved hands to her face, and shook her head. "Then we'd better get after ‘em. Where's my boots?"
"Kara, you need a little more rest time," said Mala. "You took a severe beating in that fight. Most of us will be remaining here, anyway, to defend the island against another attack."
"Well, I'm going to help the team make an attack on them," said Power Girl, stepping off the bed, barefoot. She looked under it for her boots, and found them there. After she put them on, she asked, "Which way's the Infinijet, ‘Cat?"
Wildcat said, "We'll take you to it, Kara. Just hang on."
Power Girl got up. "Just show me where it is. I'll fly there." She took a wobbly step. Perspective seemed to shift. She extended one leg behind her as a prop. She utilized her flying power and got a foot or two off the floor.
"Sister Kara, don't try it," warned an Amazon nurse on duty.
The Kryptonian girl finally lowered herself to the floor and sat there, her legs splayed out before her. She was still feeling dizzy, and, she had to admit it, sick.
"Sorry," she said, a second before she turned her head and threw up on the floor.
After she was finished, she felt Wildcat's and the nurse's arms on her, helping her up and guiding her back to bed. One of the women cleaned her mouth with a rag and another mopped the floor.
Power Girl sighed and turned to the two Infinity women. "I'll be okay in a bit. We Krypts are tough. Just don't try and take on those two by yourselves, okay?"
Dr. Midnight said, "We'll do what we have to, Kara. But I hope you'll be around to do it with us. For right now, get some rest."
"All right," said Kara. Disliking the situation, and herself, she settled back in bed, figuring that she could recuperate within a day.
That is, if those idiots from Krypton didn't destroy the world before she was finished.
(next chapter) .