by Starsky Hutch 76
’Twas the week before Christmas, and Apokolips lacked joy,
All were miserable, that is, except one fair-haired little boy.
Kalibak grunted as he lugged the cumbersome tree toward the quarters of his younger brother, Prometheus. What did the boy want with a tree, anyway? The boy read too much, plain and simple. It gave him odd ideas — especially the books from Earth.
As Kalibak entered the doorway, the boy looked up, his blue eyes growing wide with delight. “You got it! You’re the best big brother in the whole world!” Prometheus ran to the behemoth of a man and hugged him. Kalibak credited himself for not freezing with shock this time. The boy was the only one who had ever hugged him in his entire life, unless you considered being grabbed and slammed to the ground hugging. Unused to showing affection, he brought an uneasy hand down and tousled the boy’s hair as he had seen men do with children on pirated television shows from Earth.
“What do you plan to do with this tree?” Kalibak asked in his deep, bestial voice. “I hope it is worth whatever underhanded revenge DeSaad will surely plan once he discovers I have removed it from his hydroponics laboratory.”
“I’m gonna decorate it,” Prometheus said cheerfully, holding up a colorful picture from one of his children’s books from Earth. “It’s a Christmas tree. See?”
Kalibak gave a grunt as he took the offered book. To anyone else, this book would have been considered contraband, and its owner would be immediately arrested and swiftly put to death. But as the favored child of Darkseid, nothing was denied him. He knew he should have been insanely jealous of the boy the way he was of Orion and Pandora. But for some reason he was not. “These colorful balls…” Kalibak said, squinting at the picture. “Are they meant to represent low-hanging fruit so you can entice and ensnare prey?”
“No, silly,” Prometheus laughed. “It’s just decoration. For fun.”
Kalibak reddened and gave a nervous smile. If anyone else had called him silly, he would have given an angry roar and reached for his feared weapon, the Beta-Club. But somehow, the boy calling him so actually made him feel… good.
“I did not have a lot of experience with fun as a child,” Kalibak said, handing the book back to him.
“Well, Christmas is supposed to be the most fun time of all,” Prometheus said. “We have to decorate so Santa will come to visit.”
“Santa Claus?” Kalibak asked.
“He brings toys and presents to all the boys and girls of the world,” Prometheus said, flipping the page to an image of the jolly old elf.
“Why?” Kalibak asked.
“For fun!” Prometheus laughed, rolling his eyes. “But only to children who are good and nice.”
“Then that would explain why he has never been here,” Kalibak said with a shudder. “Granny Goodness punishes nice behavior. She says it is weak. She wants all her students to be as mean and vicious as possible. I… I am glad that our father did not give you to her.”
“Wow,” Prometheus said with wide eyes. “Me, too.” He turned his face back to the picture and said, “I’ve been extra-good this year, so we’ve got to make this place look extra-festive so Santa will deliver lots of toys.” A thoughtful look crossed his face. “I could share them with Granny’s students…”
“Granny wouldn’t like it,” Kalibak said in a serious tone. His face broke out in a smile at the thought of his former trainer’s anger. “No, I don’t think she would like that very much at all.”
Kalibak was still smiling when he left his younger brother’s quarters. His expression quickly changed at the sight of his sister, Pandora. Like Prometheus, she had been created in a lab when Darkseid abducted Supergirl and Power Girl to use their genetic material to spawn new progeny. Unlike Prometheus, she had been artificially aged to adulthood. She had briefly operated as an Earth-One version of her mother under the name of Powergirl until her father’s genes had kicked in. She quickly changed from good to evil, and she even mutated to resemble him, albeit a feminized, far more attractive version with skin and hair that had the appearance of polished grey marble. She even wore a uniform that resembled the blue tunic favored by Darkseid. She had become in every sense of the word her father’s daughter. (*) Oh, how he hated her.
“Spending some quality time with the apple of our father’s eye?” she said haughtily.
“As if that is any business of yours,” Kalibak grumbled.
“I suppose it is wise of you to cozy up to him now, while he is young and impressionable,” Pandora said. “After all, he will eventually come to rule us all one day.”
“I am eldest,” Kalibak said. “Therefore I am first in line.”
“Oh, Kalibak… even you know better than that,” Pandora laughed condescendingly. “Tell me, big brother, does it not bother you to see to see how that spoiled brat is doted on?” she continued, resentment creeping into her voice. “How he is getting everything you yourself were denied? Come, now, your temper is legendary. How is it you haven’t just wanted to… you know…”
“You stay away from him!” Kalibak growled.
“Or what?” Pandora said, looking both surprised and amused at his reaction.
“Don’t test me, wench,” Kalibak said. “You won’t like the results.” He stalked off angrily with Pandora’s laughter echoing behind him.
Granny Goodness stood before the throne of Darkseid, trying once more to make her case for the transfer of Prometheus to her care. As usual, she seemed to hit a brick wall where the boy was concerned.
“But, sire,” she pleaded. “It sets a bad precedent. All children who are to one day serve your glory are given over to Granny’s loving care.”
“Sets a bad precedent?” Darkseid said, smiling darkly. “If I am not mistaken, is it not I who establishes whether or not something is a good or bad precedent for Apokolips? Am I not Darkseid?”
“But of course, sire,” Granny Goodness quickly said. “But it has been tradition for many generations. If it were to suddenly change, there would be talk.”
“I see,” Darkseid said. “You feel I have put you in an unfair position.”
“I felt it was time for a change,” Darkseid said. “Your tender mercies might be well and good for the lowlies, but not for a son of Darkseid.”
“But I trained Kalibak–”
“Yes, Kalibak,” Darkseid said. “And what a finely tuned killing machine he turned out to be. But he is also more beast than man. That is fine for the battlefield, but not for one who might be called upon to rule someday.”
“But surely Lord Darkseid will rule until the end of all time,” Granny Goodness said, lowering her head.
“That is, of course, my intention. But I’m sure that was my father’s intent as well,” Darkseid said. “As it was his father’s before him. I can’t chance the same thing happening with Prometheus.”
“But surely my training cannot be blamed for those traits,” Granny started.
“Then what is to blame?” Darkseid said darkly, leaning forward. His red eyes crackled with energy, casting shadows across his craggy visage, which was locked in a stony grimace. “My genetics? Or perhaps Suli’s?”
“I — I–” Granny stammered. She knew very well her next word could be her last if it were the wrong one. Darkseid’s first wife had been the only person he had ever loved until Prometheus. Beautiful, loving, and kind, Suli brought out a side of him few would ever have believed existed. All thoughts of war and conquest left his mind when he was with her. Apokolips would have been a much different place had Suli lived. Queen Heggra, Darkseid’s mother, would have none of that. She ordered DeSaad to poison her lest her peaceful nature corrupt her son. Once Darkseid discovered this plot, he gave DeSaad the choice of poisoning Queen Heggra or dying along with her. If he would kill his own mother over Suli, what would he do to Granny over a perceived insult to her?
“No response?” Darkseid said, raising an eyebrow. “Then I believe this interview is concluded.”
“Y-yes, sire,” Granny said, exiting quickly as she cast frightened glances over her shoulder for the omega beam she thought would surely be arriving to vaporize her any second. To both her shock and relief, it never came.
As Granny exited one end of the large throne room, a lithe figure entered from the other end. “She’s right to be concerned,” a silky voice said.
Darkseid turned in the direction of his daughter. “I doubt Granny Goodness is very concerned about the well-being of Prometheus.”
“More like concerned for a world with Prometheus in it,” Pandora said. “As leader of the Female Furies, I speak with her regularly. She’s concerned about some of the peculiarities in his behavior. And she’s not the only one. He’s not like other children of Apokolips.”
“Of course he’s not,” Darkseid boomed. “He’s the son of Darkseid!”
“You know that’s not what I was referring to,” Pandora said, giving him a look that reminded him of his mother, Queen Heggra.
“Yes,” Darkseid sighed. “I suppose those are the genes of his mother showing through. He will change, eventually. You did.”
“But what if he doesn’t?” Pandora asked. “Despite similarities in appearance and powers, Supergirl and Power Girl were two very different people. There was a fury beneath the surface in Power Girl that just wasn’t there in the late Kara Zor-El. It might have made me more receptive.”
“He will change,” Darkseid repeated. “Apokolips… changes everyone.”
“Even if he does, that is still years away. And it is not that his behavior is merely odd. He seems to have an effect on people — even you. It now seems very appropriate that you named him Prometheus after the bringer of light.”
“And what of your name?” Darkseid said through gritted teeth. “Pandora? The bringer of pestilence?”
Rather than be angered, she simply raised one eyebrow as if amused. It was Queen Heggra all over again. “Well, then, I guess you just have to decide which would be more fitting for Apokolips,” his daughter said before exiting the same way she entered.