DC Universe: Deus ex Machina, Chapter 2: A Higher Calling

by Libbylawrence

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A grim Captain Comet, alias Adam Blake, stood on the sandy shores of his island base of Vumania, staring into space. He wore his normal red, white, and blue costume, along with a long brown coat.

“Adam, glad to see you,” said Dolphin, a pretty platinum blonde girl who wore a light blue top with cutoff jean shorts. “I assume you took care of the business you were speaking of before?”

“It was hard to see Greg’s nephew,” he said. “The poor kid had been out of the country and didn’t know his uncle the Vigilante had died. (*) I understand he is more determined than ever to carry on by resuming his own heroic career now.” (*)

[(*) Editor’s note: See DC Universe: Invasion Interludes, Chapter 4: The Vigilante’s Last Stand and Showcase: Swashbuckler: The Heroic Legacy.]

Dolphin crossed her legs and frowned as she listened to her leader. “You said he was called Swashbuckler? (*) I’m ashamed to say that I’ve never even heard of him.”

[(*) Editor’s note: See “Riddles in the Dark,” Detective Comics #493 (August, 1980).]

“A forgotten hero not even remembered by the Forgotten Heroes,” remarked Captain Comet. “That’s an irony for you.”

“Have you heard from the Golden Glider, or is she still on that national skating tour?” asked Dolphin.

Comet shook his head. “We were together for a while after her Houston show, but you know Lisa — she hates anything overly somber. That’s just her way.”

Dolphin nodded as she considered the fact that perhaps it was Lisa Snart’s sensational manner that had drawn Captain Comet to her. She gave him excitement and romance, while he contributed a stolid sense of morality to her life.

“I managed to spend a couple of hours with Marene and Doug Herald,” added Comet. “As you recall, they are the married couple who took on slightly different roles in the virtual reality, post-atomic world envisioned so vividly by the late Atomic Knight. I figured they should know the details of poor Gardner Grayle’s final days. I managed to pick up the facts while I crossed the country. They were sad, but they took comfort in knowing two things about the fallen hero.”

What two facts?” prompted Dolphin.

“First, he died as a hero during the alien invasion, much like Greg Sanders did,” explained Comet. (*) “Secondly, his visions were more than merely the hallucinations of a troubled man. I’ve learned that he was truly tapping into images from an alternative timeline, which until last year was a possible future!”

[(*) Editor’s note: See DC Universe: Invasion, Book 2, Chapter 12: Neutron.]

“So, in a way, the Atomic Knight really was more of a hero than anyone ever knew,” said Dolphin.

Captain Comet agreed. “Alternate timelines, possible futures, parallel Earths… I believe in them all,” he said.

“Ah, but do you believe in magic, Adam Blake? Do you believe that eldritch might could burn even your noble heart?” screeched a woman who leaped out of the main base above and posed threateningly before them. She had long, curly blonde hair and wore a black halter top with long black pants and boots.

They recognized her as their ally June Moone, alias the Enchantress, although she had discarded her customary brief pink costume.

June? What’s wrong?” gasped Dolphin. “You radiate pure evil! Don’t tell me that you’ve been taken over by the Wizard of Ys again!”

Captain Comet’s keen mind probed the troubled woman’s thoughts, and he recoiled for a moment. “No, Mara, that’s not the Wizard directing poor June like a puppet on a string,” he said. “That’s someone far more evil and decidedly feminine in manner!”

The Enchantress cackled wildly and said, “Indeed? Evil, am I? Well, all the better or the worse for you, hero!” She raised her hands, and black fire erupted around Dolphin and Captain Comet.

He protected them both with a telekinetic shield, then slowly forced his way closer to the possessed Enchantress. “June, you can resist her! You drove out the Wizard of Ys, and you can beat her, too!” he said. (*) Captain Comet acted with speed, courage, and skill, but even as he performed a physical attack, his vital mind was racing with possibilities.

[(*) Editor’s note: See Captain Comet’s Rehab Squad: A Cosmos Imperiled, Chapter 1: Secret Society at Stonehenge.]

Odd — I can see images from her mind, he mused. Her thoughts are dominated by images of evil and yet also of loss. It’s as if the mind or spirit that has taken over June is fragmented in some manner! That schism may be just what I need to defeat the intruder.

Dolphin dived forward, her powerful legs carrying her over the ring of black fire that had imprisoned her. She rolled across the sand and rose up to deliver a strong punch to the possessed Enchantress. The blonde witch laughed as she literally shrugged off the girl’s blow. June Moone was first taken over by the Wizard of Ys via a minion he created for the purpose, she thought. She tried to use her magic for good until his influence began to dominate her. Now she has fallen under yet under malevolent power, and this one seems more powerful than the Wizard ever was! She gasped as electrical energy surged from the hands of the laughing Enchantress, and Dolphin screamed in pain for a moment until a gleaming glyph of power flashed into view over her body and deflected the magic.

The Enchantress scowled and said, “The symbol of Arion! ‘Tis known and feared even on my lost world!” She drew back as Dolphin silently gave thanks for her father’s protective magic. His spell of protection was removed at my insistence, but somehow something inherent in our bloodline must have responded to that magical attack! she thought as she raced aside to regroup. Father said he felt I carried the potential for magic within me.

Captain Comet had been forcing his own way through the magic fire via a precisely focused use of his own power. Even as he drew closer to the madwoman, he sensed her mind was one in conflict beyond that which he had expected. June’s mind is there, but I also sense two other warring minds of a remarkable similarity. It seems that this force that has claimed June is divided against itself! he thought. I once hoped to use my powers to aid the Thorn; she suffers from some personality disorder as well, but she refused. For her I’d only planned a prolonged and gradual treatment, but in this case, I’m going to have to risk damaging this presence in order to try to mend the schism. As the man of the future exerted his mental power, he urged the woman’s warring factions to unite, and with an effort beyond the casual assurance his stolid features suggested, he succeeded.

The Enchantress collapsed into his arms and said, “Thank you, Adam! That powerful force just swept over me. I couldn’t resist! Part of me didn’t want to.”

Dolphin placed a hand on her friend’s arm and said, “You mean some part of you still responded to the darkness of the spirit? That could mean you still contain essence of the Wizard’s evil magic!”

The Enchantress shook her head and gestured to restore her outfit to her normal brief pink tunic. “No, no! You misunderstood me,” she insisted. “The part of the invading spirit that I responded to was not evil but good!”

“That fits what thoughts I picked up,” said Captain Comet. “Your invader was split between a warring good side and an equally powerful evil side.”

“And there she is!” said Dolphin, pointing to where a ghostly figure hovered before them.

She had long black hair, a pale but pretty face, and she wore a costume consisting of a purple body-suit with fishnet covering on her arms and legs. “I am thankful your power restored me,” the figure said. “I meant no harm. You see, I served as a force for good for two decades in the ’50s and ’60s before my allies and I met with a great defeat. I dared reach out to dark forces in order to increase my own power. I only wanted to become a greater force for good, but I was overwhelmed and became the very embodiment of all I once opposed! When I found myself here on your Earth, I was drawn to June Moone, since she is receptive to magic. My dark half drove her to attack you until Captain Comet saved me from my decades of enslavement.”

“What are you?” asked Captain Comet. “I suspect you are in astral form.”

The Enchantress shook her head. “I fear for once you are wrong. She is a ghost.”

The raven-haired witch nodded sadly. “I fear I did not truly survive what destroyed my world. Only my spirit, mixed until now with both good and evil, reached here. Even now, I am being drawn away. Without a body I can’t live. You’ve brought me peace before my rest, and I thank you. I will warn you of peril that I brought here while under the spell of my dark side!”

“Tell us!” said Dolphin. “What is it you have done?”

The fading witch said, “I gave one from your universe knowledge that he has used to wrong many from my Earth. I urge you to find the truth behind the deceptions. Go to these places and bring justice to them also!”

Captain Comet nodded as the ghost vanished, and then he said, “She sent me a series of mental images. We need to split up and go to some places I know well. Dolphin, I need you to go to New York. Enchantress, you must go to the Ohio, while I need to find some JLA allies of ours!”

The two women listened as their leader gave them an explanation and instructions. It was true that they were Forgotten Heroes, but they could do much good, and now they were truly needed.

***

Meanwhile, in Boston, Lana Lang was alone on a terrace in a bit of uncharacteristic melancholy. She had long ago given up on a romance with Superman, even though she had been linked to him during their childhood in Smallville. She had moved on to a romance with fellow Smallville native Clark Kent, but that, too, had ended rather suddenly without much of a closure. Between those romantic idylls, she had fallen for another hero from space, but the noble Vartox had been a truly tragic figure doomed to lose more than one planet and more than one lover until he more recently settled on Earth and married the fiery alien Maxima.

Lana had hardly been sitting home alone since then, but she was alone now, and she longed for some romantic companionship. She was pouting rather prettily when something silvery caught her eyes. The pretty redhead turned, and a second later, a bolt of energy sliced by her ear. She dropped to the floor and waited, but nothing else happened. She stood up and made her way across the terrace to an adjoining terrace where the fired beam had likely originated.

She was a reporter with experience, courage, and a powerful need to know. She soon realized that there was no sign of her attacker. Then, as she glanced around the narrow terrace, she saw a shiny bead. Lana picked it up and frowned as her keen mind recognized it. The decorative bead had fallen off the black dress worn by her friend Lois Lane. What would Lois have been doing out here? she mused as she returned inside and felt a chill wind sweep across the empty terrace.

In an alley nearby, the red-costumed Executrix removed her mask and a flowing red wig to expose dark black hair. “I’ll get her next time,” she said. “That’s a promise. I’d have had her if that shadowy figure had not loomed into view! I guess Boston has its share of costumed creeps, too.”

***

In a neighborhood in Cincinnati, Ohio, a feminine yet feline form crossed the rooftops with skill and grace. She swung from one roof to another and then flipped through the air in an amazing series of acrobatic moves. Robotman has come here, and I will track him, she thought. He and his kind won’t ruin this world as they did my home. This I vow on the memory of my poor lost aunt.

A moment later, she was gone.

***

The next morning, Lana Lang knocked on Lois Lane’s door and tried to find the best way to approach her friend. I can only assume Lois may be on to some big scoop, mused Lana. She has been acting oddly, and my efforts to find her last night failed completely. She was not in her room at all last night, from what I gathered from questioning the maid.

Her thoughts were interrupted as the pretty, dark-haired reporter opened her door and said, “Hi, Lana. You seem to be up and ready to go this morning. I thought you always took time for extra beauty sleep?” Lois clutched a pink robe to her chest and listened intently as Lana replied.

“What about you, Lois?” said Lana. “I figured you’d be sound asleep after the night you must have had.”

Lois frowned and said, “I slept like a log last night. I guess I was dead to the world. If you came by, I must have snored right through your knocks.”

“Sorry, pet,” said Lana. “My mistake. I was a bit concerned about you after a sniper took a shot at me last night!”

Lois’ eyes went wide, and she said, “Sniper? I didn’t know! No wonder you were trying to find me! We’ve both made plenty of enemies through our work.”

“Some nut-case tried to kill me with a high-tech energy rifle,” said Lana. “I actually thought you might have noticed something. I found a bead from your gown near the most likely spot used by the shooter.”

“That’s impossible,” said Lois. “I turned in early. Oh, wait, I was walking around outside for a bit of air earlier. I guess I lost a bead or two.”

After Lois promised to meet Lana later for lunch, they separated. Saying their goodbyes, Lois closed her door and dropped her robe to reveal a strange costume of black and red. “Lana, I hate to lie to a pal, but I have a higher calling now,” she said. “Doing only good takes a priority over appeasing your need to know.”

***

As Tawny Young jogged outside the hotel, she heard a noise and then gasped in shock as something struck her from the side. She fell flat, clutching her side in pain. Before anyone could rush to her aid, the red-costumed Executrix dropped down from a rope and aimed her laser rifle at the prone figure.

“Consider this an honor, Miss Young,” she said. “You’ll be the first of your group to die at my hands!” Before she could pull her trigger, an agile figure darted forward and kicked the gun out of her hands with a dazzling display of speed and skill. She flipped backward and landed perfectly as she grabbed for a small throwing sai. “Who in the–?” she muttered.

The Executrix gasped as the woman in black and red connected with a rapid series of blows unlike any she had ever experienced. “I am a master of every known form of martial art! What kind of fighting is this?” she hissed as she wiped her bleeding lips and circled the hooded woman. The woman in the black hood made no reply except to kick out again, narrowly missing the assassin.

Lana Lang suddenly turned the corner to witness the fight, and as she watched, she realized something the hit-woman could not know. Klurkor! That hooded heroine is using Kryptonian martial arts! she thought.

Before the battle could continue, a burly, balding, red-haired man came into view and dropped the wine bottle he had been swigging. “The Black Hood! I must have lost it!” he said. “Can’t believe it works, even here!”

The woman in the hood turned for a moment, and in that instant, the Executrix connected with the blunt end of a hastily recovered rifle. The hooded woman dropped to the ground as her attacker cursed and raced away. “Too many witnesses,” muttered the red-haired hit-woman.

Lana raced forward to bend over the fallen woman in black and red. “Are you badly hurt?” she said. “Let me help you!”

The drunken man with the red beard said, “She don’t need no help, baby. The Hood will fix her up. It’s magic!” Sure enough, the fallen woman sat up slowly as Lana impulsively removed the black silk hood to reveal the features of Lois Lane.

“Lois! I knew it had to be you under that rather tacky hood,” she said. “No one else knows klurkor like you!”

Lois nodded as her hand reached out for the hood, but her movement was too slow, and the man pulled it free of Lana’s grasp first. “I found that hood,” she said. “I put it on by impulse, and something took control of me. It urged me to do only good, and it enhanced all my abilities. I became some type of super-heroine! I was prowling the streets in search of crime to fight last night!”

“Tawny is hurt badly,” said Lana. “We’d better summon medical help and take your story inside.”

The big man said, “I can explain it. It’s not a pretty story. It’s one I call, Tell Me How Your World Died!

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