by Brian K. Asbury, Immortalwildcat and Starsky Hutch 76
“So, you are the infamous Lex Luthor, archenemy of Superman himself. Of all the beings who could have been in that Dominion shuttlecraft, I did not expect to find you.” The grossly fat, green-skinned alien snickered into the goblet he was holding close to his pudgy lips, spilling deep scarlet wine down the front of his purple gown. A small hovering droid whizzed in and proceeded to mop up the offending liquid. Garguax ignored it and took a deep draft, then tossed the goblet behind him. Another bot scurried in to retrieve it, while a third one brought him a replacement.
“All the comforts of home, I see,” said Luthor, biting back the urge to express his disgust at the alien’s table manners.
“The fact that I am compelled to live in exile here on this rock does not mean I have to deny myself the lifestyle to which I am accustomed,” Garguax said, flashing an impressive array of slightly yellow teeth. “But come, my friend. Eat. You’ll waste away, standing there like that.”
“I’ve eaten enough,” Luthor declared flatly.
“Have to watch your figure, eh?” Garguax said. “I understand. Quite the man of action these days, aren’t you? I do recall seeing footage of you which suggested you weren’t always so fitness-conscious, but no matter. Some of us like to be hands-on, as you humans put it. Others, like myself, are more content to let others do their running around for them.” He tore a piece of an enormous haunch of meat and bit into it.
Luthor sighed. “Why am I here?” he said. “And where are my own clothes?” He indicated the baggy, shapeless gown he wore. “I feel ridiculous in this… dress!“
Garguax laughed, spraying one of the hovering bots with half-chewed meat. “Why, Luthor, surely you cannot be nostalgic for that drab gray outfit the Earthlings made you wear in prison?” As Luthor opened his mouth to speak again, the fat alien waved a hand. “Oh, don’t worry. My servants are merely using its measurements to fashion some more appropriate garb for you. I’m afraid we don’t have any human clothing, apart from a couple of outfits that General Immortus left behind some years ago, and they would be much too small for a big man like you.”
Luthor glowered. “I repeat — why am I here? What do you want with me?”
Garguax’s swollen features were suddenly serious. “You are not a prisoner, Luthor. Is that what you think? My word, no. The girl — yes. She refuses to identify herself or explain who she is working for. I don’t even recognize what species she is. But you — well, let me just say that I have wanted to meet you for some time. We have so much in common, you and I.”
“I can’t imagine what you mean by that,” Luthor said dryly.
“I refer to ambition, my friend. I have long harbored a desire to conquer the blue planet which lies some quarter of a million miles… well, below our feet, actually. However, while I have plans and I have resources, I have to confess that I have never really understood humans. To conquer the Earth, I need human allies — and the humans I previously allied myself with proved… shall we say… unreliable. Both General Immortus and the Brotherhood of Evil seemed to lose interest in our alliance after the Doom Patrol died.”
Luthor folded his arms. “The Doom Patrol. Hmmm… that’s some time ago now. I presume you do mean the original outfit, not the bunch who’ve been using the name more recently?” Garguax’s head nodded as another hunk of meat was shoveled into his ample mouth. “You’ve been sitting up here on the Moon ever since then? Doing what?“
“Building up my arsenal of weapons and perfecting a new generation of my plastic warriors,” said Garguax, the words slightly muffled as he chewed. “Actually, just rebuilding this place took some considerable time. My former allies made rather a mess when they left. You see, hatred of the Doom Patrol was the only thing Immortus and the Brotherhood had in common. After the Patrol died, they set upon each other with some considerable force. By the time I managed to persuade them to take their fight elsewhere, most of my base was in ruins.”
Luthor snickered. “That’s what comes of working with fruitcakes, Garguax. I teamed up with the Joker a couple of times, and I regretted it, too.”
Garguax swallowed. With some effort he stood up and waddled toward Luthor. “So… what do you say, my human friend? Will you be my partner in the conquest of Earth? It will be my honor to work with a genius of your repute.” He held out a greasy green hand.
Luthor studied the hand for a moment. “It’s not that easy, my green friend. As I said, I’ve entered into alliances before that I’ve regretted. If you want to work with me, there are a few conditions attached.”
“Naturally. Name them.”
“One. Superman must die. That has to be a priority; otherwise, we have no deal.”
“Your hatred of the Man of Steel is renowned, Luthor. Naturally, we shall deal with him. We must eliminate all of Earth’s self-styled super-heroes, or there can be no conquest.”
“Two, after Superman, I want that snake Kobra and his ridiculous cult wiped off the face of the planet.”
Garguax gave a complicated shrug. “I did not know you had an issue with the venomous Kobra, Luthor. However, I see your point. His organization could take advantage of our striking against Earth to try to seize some power for themselves. As a potential rival, it makes sense to eliminate them — and several other, equally dangerous organizations.”
“I don’t give a damn about any of the others, but I have a very specific score to settle with Kobra, and I want his head on a plate!”
“Done. Is there anything else?”
Luthor looked around him. “I want to take a good look at your setup here — all of it. You’ve some pretty advanced tech here, but experience has taught me that any technology can be improved if looked at with a fresh eye.”
“Gladly,” beamed Garguax. “Your genius for invention, coupled with what I already possess here, will surely be able to create weapons against which our enemies will be powerless.”
“Hmmm…” muttered Luthor. He eyed Garguax suspiciously. The fat alien sounded sincere, but something told the bald scientist that he should not trust the green greaseball any further than was absolutely necessary. Something about his statement about Immortus and the Brotherhood of Evil wrecking his base didn’t quite ring true, but Luthor was not familiar enough with any of them to speculate on just what was bothering him. Still, no information existed that couldn’t be found. He had proved that often enough in the past.
“There’s just one more thing,” he said. “The girl…”
“What about her? She’s in a very secure cell, I assure you.”
“She sprung me from the pen and shanghaied me into space,” said Luthor. “I think I have a right to know why. Also, I’d like to know what her connection to Brainiac is.”
“She hinted she was working for him when she busted me out of jail. I’m not entirely sure I believe it, but I want to know for sure.”
“It may be difficult to make her talk.”
“Leave that to me,” said Luthor, leering. “I have my methods.”
Garguax’s grin returned. “Done.” He offered his hand again. “Do we have a deal, then? Are we partners?”
For now, perhaps, thought Luthor. But we’ll see how the wind blows. He grasped the offered hand. “But first — those clothes you mentioned?”
“Of course. They should be ready by now.” Garguax waved his hand and muttered something in an alien language to one of his robots, which skittered away. He gestured for another goblet of wine. “A toast, my friend, to–“
The sentence was not finished. Suddenly, alarms began to ring. A look of concern on his face, Garguax signaled to another robot with a built-in screen in its body. It floated toward him and held station. “What is it?” said Luthor, following him.
“I don’t know. It’s — there!” Garguax pointed to a growing dot on the screen. “Magnify!”
The image jumped and became many times its former size. Garguax dropped his goblet, its contents spilling all over his gown. His hands started to tremble.
“What in the world is that?!” exclaimed Luthor, studying the image. “And can it really be that big?“
Garguax turned to face him. His features, while not precisely ashen, had lightened by several shades of green. “If it is what I believe it to be, friend Luthor, then your Earth is in very big trouble — and so are we!“
In an isolated bunker in the mountains of Turkey, two men sat at their respective consoles. “So who do you like for the series this year, Jake?”
“Ah, it’s still early, but the Meteors are looking pretty strong!”
“Oh, you’re just saying that cause you’re from Metropolis!” Something on the screen caught his eye. “Damn! We’ve got a launch!” Immediately, all thoughts of baseball were forgotten as both of the Americans turned dials and operated the trackball controls of their radar consoles to isolate the launch source.
“Got it! It’s in Qurac!“
“Get on the horn with C-in-C Med Ops! They’ll have a list of likely targets and can get the alerts out!” Looking at the tracking information appearing on his radar’s secondary display, Jake Morrison started reading off numbers. “Latitude: 34 degrees, 42 minutes. Longtitude: 43 degrees, 18 minutes. Bearing: 347 degrees.” His partner relayed them via radio to the office of the Commander-in-Chief, Mediterranean Operations.
“That’s coming our way, Jake!” exclaimed Steve Dodson.
“No, won’t make it this far. Damn, that maniac is firing on his own people! It’s coming down about 200 miles north of the launch point, which puts it,” Jake grabbed a folder from the desk next to his console and snatched a map from it. “I knew it. Right in the middle of the Al-Reznah territories. He’s firing on the rebel bases.”
“We’ve got people in there trying to help the revolution, don’t we?”
“Not officially. CIA reportedly has men in there, but Uncle Sam can’t admit to it.” Jake turned back to the screen. “Already descending. See if we can get satellite imaging.”
Steve turned to another console. After making adjustments, its screen lit up with grainy black and white images. “I’m only getting frame refresh at about five-second intervals.”
“I estimate impact in six seconds. Five. Four. Three — it’s down. Must be slightly higher terrain.”
“Jesus, look at that!” On the video screen, the image had changed from a tented encampment to a ball of fire, smoke and dust. Twenty seconds later, it was already clearing to reveal the missile, mostly intact, buried halfway in the ground. At the thirty second mark, the sides of the missile sprung away, and they saw the start of a billowing cloud of gas. “What the hell kind of missile is that?“
“Damned Scuds; half the time they fall out of the sky, and half the ones that hit their mark don’t explode,” explained the more-experienced Jake. “Never heard of one like this, though.”
As they watched the slowly unfolding series of events, they saw the gas cloud spread. Those engulfed by it fell to the ground, and while it was hard to tell from the crude images, it looked like they were convulsing.
“Something strange there. Look at those faces. Can you zoom in any more?” Steve reached for the control panel, and a pair of faces appeared in the screen. Both had broad smiles, far bigger than that normally worn by any human being.
“Call Washington. Something really nasty is going down in Qurac.”
On the JLA Satellite, the Martian Manhunter sat at the console watching the many screens as he sat at his post on monitor duty. The dark-skinned beauty that currently held the role of Wonder Woman walked up behind him, placed her hands over his eyes, and said, “Guess who.”
“Zatanna,” J’onn J’onzz said, “you must be careful. Nubia might catch us.”
“Zatanna?!” Nubia exclaimed with mock outrage. “Careful, green bean. This lasso also makes an excellent noose!“
J’onn turned his chair around, laughing. “You know I only have eyes for you.”
“You had better,” she said, smiling as he pulled her to him.
Their attention was diverted as the transporter suddenly hummed to life, and a familiar blue-and-red-clad figure appeared. “Hope I’m not interrupting anything.”
“Superman!” they both exclaimed at the sight of him. The Man of Steel exited the transporter tube with the aid of a crutch. His right leg was encased in a cast. Another cast encased his left arm. He also had a black eye and a bandage on his chin.
“You should see the other guy,” Superman said, grinning.
“What happened, Clark?” J’onn said.
“I had a run-in with a bounty hunter we all know and don’t particularly love,” Superman said. “Lobo.”
“Since you are still alive, I assume you defeated him,” Nubia said.
“Yes,” Superman said with a sigh as he eased himself into a seat. “He’s currently enjoying a long-overdue stay at Takron-Galtos.”
“Lobo,” Hawkman said grimly, entering the room with Hawkwoman. “There’s a name no law officer enjoys hearing on any world. He doesn’t do what he does for free. Did he give any indication who hired him?”
“Sorry, Katar,” Superman said. “All he said was that his employer had plans that he didn’t want me around to interfere with.”
“Could he have been any more vague?” Wonder Woman said.
“We’re lucky he got that much out of him, Nubia,” Hawkwoman said. “Lobo doesn’t usually give out any information on his employers. He probably didn’t plan on you being around to tell any tales, Clark.”
“He didn’t,” Superman said. “If he hadn’t gotten overconfident and given me a head start, I wouldn’t be.”
“He got cocky? With you?” Hawkwoman said.
“I was powerless. Plus, everyone knows I don’t kill,” Superman said, looking down. “I may have played a little hard and fast with that oath.”
“What do you mean?” J’onn said. “You said Lobo is at Takron-Galtos.”
“He is. His doubles aren’t. He split into three during our encounter,” Superman said grimly. “I laid a few traps during their chase. One led Lobo to an enraged bravado-beast. That led to his splitting into three and bought me some time. The second led a double to the disintegration pit. Another ended up in the transporter, which was set to Earth-Six.”
“A classic ploy!” Nubia said, impressed.
“I haven’t been able to think of anything else since then,” Superman said.
“I wouldn’t beat myself up over it,” Hawkman said. “You’re worth more than a million Lobos.”
“Is it right for me to make that call?”
“If you want me to make it, I will,” Hawkwoman said. “I’m glad you’re alive instead of two more Lobos!”
“We know so little of Velorpian biology, anyway,” J’onn said. “Would those doubles truly be considered alive?“
“Doubtful,” Hawkman said. “If that were really how Velorpians produced, it’d be a world full of clones. How could a society like that exist? Better yet, how could a supposedly peaceful, utopian society like Velorpia, built up of exact duplicates, have produced an abomination like Lobo? It doesn’t add up.”
J’onn sat down next to Superman. “Taking what little we know of his race into consideration, I’d say you did the right thing,” J’onn said. “Plus, you have a little one at home to think about. She needs her father. Being a hero… being a man… first begins with those responsibilities at home. In your place, I would have acted no differently.”
Superman sat in silence, considering what everyone had said to him. Despite their attempts to reassure him, it was an issue that would always haunt him. More disturbing, though, was the unsolved mystery of Lobo’s employer. Someone had wanted him out of the way, someone or someones with a plan so grand in scale that Superman was considered a major threat to it. Who were they, and what did they have planned for Earth?