by Brian K. Asbury and Martin Maenza
June 28th, 1987:
Lex Luthor lay back on the cot in his cell, seeming for all the world to be asleep. He was far from it, of course, his mind active as ever with plans for his escape from this miserable hole and his forthcoming revenge on the man that put him here — Superman.
Most of the details were worked out, but it would require a little luck and some cooperation from a few of the other inmates in exchange for springing them along with him. That would be a small price to pay. The diversion he had in mind would win him sufficient time to break into the machine shop, and he would need just five minutes alone there to construct the device he needed. And then the world would beware him.
Luthor opened his eyes. A young woman was standing over him. Her hair was white, her eyes green, and her skin golden. She was also wearing an extremely revealing cutaway white dress, and some sort of electronic gadgetry was strapped to her arm like a long gauntlet. Her lips bore a curious smile of half-amusement, half-impatience.
He sprang off the bed and onto his feet in a fluid movement and observed immediately that the cell door was open and that two uniformed men lay supine on the other side of it. “When you’ve finished goggling like a tourist, perhaps you’d like to get together and follow me. We don’t have much time.” The young woman started for the door.
Luthor made no move to follow. “‘Follow me’? Just who do you think you’re giving orders to, girl? Who the hell are you?”
The girl turned back to him. “I thought you had a saying on this planet — never look a gift horse in the mouth. I’m here to get you out of here, sugar. I’d thought a supposed genius like you could’ve worked that out all by yourself.”
Luthor smiled sardonically. “Oh, I have. But it’s not that straightforward. Before I go anywhere with you, my alien friend, I want to know who you’re working for.” After all, he mused, escape is one thing, but there are certain people out there whose motivation for springing me might have less to do with my personal liberty and well-being and more to do with their own personal desire for revenge. People like Kobra, for example. He certainly did not want to put himself into the hands of that unsavory individual, nor any of maybe a dozen others like him whom he had crossed in the past.
The girl sighed. “Look, babe, I don’t have to take this crap. I could just knock you out like I did everybody else in this wing and carry you out.” She raised her equipment-covered left arm. “But, having the body of a weak and feeble woman, as you can see, I’d find that inconvenient. I’d rather have you follow me under your own steam. Explanations can follow later.”
“That’s some sort of sonic weapon, isn’t it?” asked Luthor.
“Very good, sugar-bunch.” She glanced at it and smiled as she ran the fingers of her free hand over it. “It enhances my own natural sonic powers, enabling me to use them over a wide area — and selectively, too. Designed by a friend of mine.”
“Alien technology,” Luthor observed. “Appropriate, as you don’t appear to be human yourself.”
“Not much escapes you, does it?” said the girl sardonically. “Now, are you coming or not?” Luthor stood his ground. She sighed again. “OK, OK. Does the name Brainiac mean anything to you?”
Luthor found himself doing a double-take. “Wha-a-at?” His mind raced. Why would Brainiac want to spring him from jail? He had worked with the megabyte marauder on a number of occasions, of course — the most recent being during the Crisis on Infinite Earths of two years previously, when they had recruited a whole army of super-villains in an attempt to conquer all five Earths that had survived the assault of the universe-destroying creature known as the Anti-Monitor. (*) But the last he had heard, Brainiac had been rendered inactive somehow and was drifting in space.
[(*) Editor’s note: See DC Universe: Crisis on Infinite Earths: The Villain War.]
Also, most of his previous associations with Brainiac had been before the computerized villain had changed. Brainiac’s original green-skinned humanoid body had possessed the emotions of a human. Even knowing that inside he was a mass of servos and circuitry, he could work with someone who acted in a reasonably human fashion. But something had happened to that Brainiac of old. He had changed almost beyond recognition into a more robotic form in every sense — totally cold, totally devoid of any human characteristics. Greed and ambition had driven Luthor to work with that creature during the Crisis, but he was not keen to repeat the experience. After all, the new Brainiac had killed Luthor’s Earth-Two counterpart without a thought: would it do the same to him if it figured he had outlived his usefulness?
“OK, to hell with it,” the girl said. “Thinking time’s up, hon. Are you coming willingly or not?”
Luthor took a deep breath. “I’m coming — but I want some real explanation from you as soon as we’re out of here.”
She grinned. “You’ll get it, babe. I’ll give you my name right now as a free sampler — they call me Stealth!”
Luthor grunted and followed her out of the cell and down the corridor, then up a flight of stairs. She seemed to be heading for the roof, which made sense, he supposed. He observed as they progressed that the many security doors seemed to be unlocked rather than forced. He felt a pang of admiration. She was good, this one.
The last couple of flights were not supposed to be used by anyone without express clearance from the governor himself. The locks and other security devices here were supposedly state of the art and uncrackable. But then again, he considered, their designers were unlikely to have allowed for somebody using alien technology to get past their handiwork.
Finally, they reached the roof, the pitch-dark night sky providing them cover, and stopped at a small, compact flying craft that looked big enough to hold eight or nine people. However, a side hatch was open, revealing no crew or passengers at present. Now’s my opportunity, thought Luthor.
He stepped right up to Stealth. “There’s just one more question I have for you,” he began. As she started to turn toward him, his hand snaked out, and he grabbed a pair of wires on her peculiar electronic sleeve. He yanked hard, and they came free.
“Wha–?!” she exclaimed. Luthor grinned. He had been studying her equipment carefully on their way up to the roof, and he was certain that those leads disconnected the power supply. Well, now he’d find out.
“OK, sister,” he said. “Now we do things my way! Nobody dictates to Lex Luthor!” He grabbed her arms with all his strength and held her fast, forcing her back toward the shuttlecraft.
Her eyes narrowed. “Is that so?” she growled. Suddenly, her arms came up, forcing his apart. He found himself being turned around and slammed back into the ship’s hull. Pulling her arm free, she lashed out, catching him across the throat with her forearm, and then jabbing her fingers into his solar plexus. Luthor doubled up and sank to his knees, retching and wheezing.
“That’ll teach you to play the tough guy with me, baldy,” Stealth said. She produced something from her belt and slapped it against Luthor’s neck. “This tranq patch should make you more cooperative. Now, don’t struggle — you’ll remain conscious but too weak to move much. So behave, or I’ll put your lights out altogether.”
With deceptive ease, she hefted him up into one of the seats in the shuttle. Strapping him in, she then closed the hatch and seated herself in the pilot’s chair. She studied the chronometer with some concern. Damn! she thought. This is cutting it too close. Any native aircraft launched to investigate me will be reaching here any moment now, and the people down here will be waking up now, too. With my sonic enhancer damaged, I can’t put them back under.
There was only one thing to do — get out of there. She hit the controls, and the engines roared into life. Easing forward the throttle, she felt the shuttle lift into the air. The proximity alarms immediately started to beep. The monitors showed several aircraft approaching at speed. Just planes, though, fortunately — no flying humans yet.
“Sorry, honey, but there’s no gentle way to do this. Those aircraft are locking weapons on us, and I don’t have anything to fire back at ’em. So, sit back — you’re about to be treated to one of Stealth’s legendary fifteen-G liftoffs!”
She thumbed the engines to full, and the shuttle lurched forward and up, blasting through the atmosphere and leaving the Air Force jets standing. Stealth gritted her teeth as the G-force crushed her into the seat. She hoped the out-of-condition Luthor could take it. His moans of pain had stopped, so presumably he had already blacked out. White clouds turned to blue sky, which turned to star-spangled blackness. Stealth eased back on the controls and felt the force of acceleration drop to a more tolerable level. After a brief glance back at the unconscious Luthor, she checked the scanners. No danger of pursuit from the humans’ military forces up here in orbit, of course, but Earth had other defenders who could easily follow her into space. Time to engage the hyperdrive before she had company from Superman or one of the Green Lanterns.
She quickly programmed in a course that would take her several light years away from Earth. There, she would change course again, and again several other times, so as not to leave an easily followed straight-line trail. Checking that the coordinates were correct, she adjusted the attitude and vector of her small craft and activated the hyperdrive engines.
She studied the readouts in disbelief for a few seconds, then tried again. Again nothing. Then something occurred to her. She punched the control panel in frustration. “Salaak, you son of a mudworm!” she breathed. “You disabled the fragging hyperdrive!” (*)
[(*) Editor’s note: See The Paladins: Albion’s Call, Book 3, Epilogue: Missing: One Knight.]
She got to her feet and stared out helplessly at the stars. “Now what am I gonna do?” she asked them. No reply was forthcoming.
“Garryn Bek? Is that you?”
The tall young man with the curious, wedge-shaped haircut smiled as he looked at the face of the speaker on the com-screen. “Stealth. Long time, no see. We thought you’d given up on us.”
“I never give up on anything, Bek,” said the golden-skinned, white-haired beauty. “But I got stranded on Earth after that invasion nonsense.” (*)
[(*) Editor’s note: See Captain Comet’s Rehab Squad: Strange Visitors, Chapter 5: Doomsday and Valor.]
“Really?” Bek leaned back in his chair. “I heard the Green Lanterns repatriated all the prisoners they liberated from the Alliance.”
“They did. But I quietly disappeared. I decided while I was on Earth I might as well get on with what Dox hired me to do. I figured I could build or steal a ship — I didn’t figure on just how primitive Earth technology was.”
“But you have a ship now,” observed Bek.
“A Dominion shuttle with the fragging hyperdrive disabled, honey. What’s more, I had to cannibalize the sensor deflectors to jury-rig a sonic amplifier so I could spring the target from jail. That was something else Dox neglected to mention — that Luthor was stewing in a cell.”
“Luthor’s status apparently varies, depending on how successful a hero called Superman is at catching him — and how careless the prison authorities get.”
“I discovered that the hard way. But I didn’t know about the hyperdrive problem till I made orbit. I’m now stuck here, with no way to make even the nearest inhabited star-system and no cloak or any other kind of anti-detection device. There’s an organization here called the Justice League that operates from an orbiting space station. I’ve managed to reach Earth’s Moon, and I’ve established an orbit which keeps it between me and the JLA Satellite. But if they or anyone else spots me, they’re sure to investigate. If they find Luthor on board, I’ll probably end up in a cell myself!”
“So what are you doing about it?”
Stealth screwed up her nose in annoyance. “That’s why I’m calling you, wedgie-boy. I have what Dox wants, but unless he’s changed his mind, he’s gonna have to come fetch it — and me. Otherwise I’m taking Luthor back down to Earth and dumping him. Say, why am I talking to you, anyway? Last I heard, you were Dox’s security chief. He hasn’t demoted you to planetary telephonist, has he?”
Bek grinned. “Nope. I’m still head of security, for my pains. And I mean pains! I got shot by a would-be assassin a while ago. (*) I’m still not fully recovered.”
[(*) Editor’s note: See Tales of the Green Lantern Corps: Noleon Fae: Dictator Blues.]
“Right now I’m on a space station called Star Cross. It was part of the Computer Tyrants’ defense grid, but it was decommissioned after Dox and his people kicked those uppity adding machines off the planet. Dox has gotten word something big might be going down in the near future, though, so he’s told me to get this place up and running again — like yesterday! In fact, we’re upgrading the entire planetary defense setup. Some of it’s pretty impressive stuff. Anyway, currently we’ve got all interplanetary comms routed through here. I just happened to be working on board when you called, is all.”
“Fine. Whatever. So can you spare some time from your precious duties to come and get me the hell out of here?”
Bek leaned back and sucked in his breath. “What’s in it for me, baby?”
Stealth flashed him her sweetest smile. “I don’t break all your teeth when I get back to Colu — baby!”
His grin turned into a grimace. “Sounds like a good deal to me. I’ll get on to Dox right away and ask him if he can spare someone.”
“Spare someone?! Don’t knock yourself out, sugar-bunch.”
“OK, OK,” said Bek. “I’ll stress that it’s urgent.” He started to reach for the control that would put him in direct contact with the presidential mansion in Colu’s capital city. However, he hesitated as he saw the display on Stealth’s screen start to waver. “Hey,” he said, “your signal’s starting to break up. You got a communications problem, too?”
“No, I–“ Her face turned partially away. “Oh, grok! We’ve got company!”
“That Justice League outfit you mentioned?”
“No. Something coming up from the Moon itself. Oh, holy swudding bok! It’s–!”
The display shimmered violently and then went dark. The last thing Bek heard before the audio also died was: “You are now prisoners of Garguax!”
June 29th, 1987:
Out on the Pacific Rim off the West Coast of the United States, a blonde woman dressed in a blue costume and a black-haired young man in a red tunic and blue trunks swam slightly ahead of a small underwater craft. Aqualad motioned to Oceana to follow his lead, and he veered off to the right. In the miniature earpieces each wore, they heard the voice of the Herald. “We’re right behind you. It should be up ahead another three-thousand yards.”
The two swimming heroes noticed a trench approaching and dived down toward it. The craft, within which rode the Herald and the Bumblebee, followed closely behind. As they descended, the water started to get a bit darker. Still, Aqualad and Oceana had no problems seeing thanks to their inborn abilities. The beacons in the earpieces would allow the craft to follow if it became too dark.
Soon, a large contraption came into view. “There it is,” the Herald said to his wife in the seat next to him. “That has to be the source of the California earthquakes. Its location matches the triangulation coordinates I ran up yesterday.”
“It certainly doesn’t look like it belongs here,” the Bumblebee concurred. “In fact, it doesn’t even look like anything I’ve ever seen before.” Indeed, the huge device had an odd design to it, very unnatural in its shape, construction, and materials.
“Time to take it out,” the Herald said as he began to bring the craft’s weapon system online.
Aqualad and Oceana overhead the entire conversation and started to move off to the side. That was when the young woman noticed something approaching. With her violet eyes she saw one — no, make that four — oddities approaching. They were transparent spheres about two feet in diameter that moved through the water easily. Inside these spheres were some brown, misshapen things each with a large, gaping maw. She froze in panic, not knowing what to make of these things.
“Defend the device, brethren!” one of the Gil’dishpan communicated mentally. “Do not let the Earth-dwellers touch it!” The other three spheres huddled together, and the aliens inside combined their mental energies to create a searing bolt of energy directed toward the swimming heroes.
“Oceana, move!” Aqualad exclaimed as he pushed the woman out the path of the blast. The New Titan then took the brunt of the attack himself, which stunned him.
“Aqualad!” Oceana exclaimed. Twice now she’d met him, and twice he had come to her rescue. (*) She could easily see why Aquaman, whom she had admired since her youth, held the young man in such high regard. Before the aliens could gear up for another attack, she quickly swam to his side and pulled him to safely.
[(*) Editor’s note: See Titans West: Two If By Sea.]
“Mal, we have to do something!” the Bumblebee said.
“We will, baby,” the Herald said, “right after we take out the fishbowls’ quake-maker!” He pressed the trigger on the steering device and launched a pair of high-powered laser blasts into the large alien machinery. Within seconds, the whole device was riddled enough, causing it to explode violently into thousands of smaller pieces.
“Nooo!” the Gil’dishpan cried out. “Hurry, we must flee!” The others responded to the directive and rocketed off into the murky ocean depths.
“Should we go after them?” the Herald asked.
“Later,” the Bumblebee replied. “Garth might need some help first.” She activated the hatch section in back that would allow Oceana to get Aqualad aboard the vehicle. When the water was pumped out and pressure stabilized, she joined the two in the back. “Garth, are you OK?”
“Yeah, I am, Karen,” Aqualad said, though he looked a little weary. “Those little buggers sure packed a wallop.”
“Thanks for saving me,” Oceana said.
“No problem, Lisa,” Aqualad replied. “What about those guys, whoever they were?”
“They got away,” the Bumblebee replied. “But we took out their device, and that was our primary mission.”
“Definitely,” Oceana agreed.
“Still,” Aqualad said, “when we get back to the surface, we should alert Aquaman. He and the Justice League might want to keep an eye out for those creeps to make sure they don’t stir up any more trouble!”
Not far away, but in a very hidden recess of the ocean floor, the Gil’dishpan gathered to regroup. “Damn those humans! They destroyed our device to crumble their cities into the oceans!”
“No matter, brethren! Soon it will not matter, for the entire power of the invasion forces will soon pick this planet apart!”
“Yes! To the invasion forces!”