Wonder Woman hurled her tiara in a sweeping arc that sliced through the poison-emitting devices and halted the rain of acid. “You prove yourself to be as cold-blooded as your namesake by your disregard for your own men,” said Nubia to the man who had identified himself as Kobra. “As for this so-called invasion, you have your nerve to act the role of the injured party when your men invited this intrusion upon themselves when they attacked innocent people!”
She kicked another guard aside and flipped upward to land next to their leader. She grabbed his robe, and he fired a small dart out of one voluminous sleeve. Nubia swatted it aside with casual disdain and said, “I want your hostages now!”
Kobra cowered away from her raised fist and cried, “Release me! You have devastated my men. You have destroyed my equipment. I have no hostages. You speak madness!”
Wonder Woman looped her lasso over his arm. “I order you to tell me why you took Etta and Howard and where they are!” she said.
“I did not abduct anyone,” said the man. “This base was designed solely with the purpose of creating a rocket to launch certain devices into an orbit from which they will allow us to attack America at Kobra’s command. I am not the true Kobra. I am merely one of his many tools around the globe!”
A woman’s laugh echoed from above, and Nubia looked up to see an infamous costumed form. The woman had flowing brown hair and wore an animal-print costume. She prowled the narrow walkway above and looked down on the others with eyes that gleamed with malice. “The Cheetah!” said Wonder Woman in surprise.
“He speaks the truth,” snarled the feline criminal. “His goals, or those of his slimy master, had nothing to do with you. I merely infiltrated his little cult by posing as a witless plaything called Lady Eve. I learned his secrets, and with help from an ally, I learned just how I could draw you here. You served as a wonderful distraction and freed me to secretly alter the rocket devices as I pleased. You see, even the Cheetah could not effortlessly take over a Kobra base alone. Now you’ve routed the cultists and given me time to make their weapons my own! I simply tricked a few of the cultists into snatching your precious friends. They had no idea that the Lady Eve was not merely delivering the orders of their insipid master!”
“You witch!” cried Wonder Woman. “Why involve Etta and Howard? All you did was merely to lead me here with some message and get me to defeat them while you slipped in the shadows?”
The Cheetah crouched across the thin metal railing and ran one hand through her long hair. “Why?” she said. “Because you care for them, and nothing pleases me more than seeing any Wonder Woman suffer!”
Nubia shoved the fake Kobra aside and said, “I will show you the true meaning of the saying about there being more than one way to skin a cat!”
The Cheetah hissed and said, “Not if I do this first!” She pressed a remote switch.
Wonder Woman whirled as a roar echoed and thunderous vibrations shook the base. A silvery-coned rocket emerged from a concealed gantry and began to rise. “Great Hera! She has launched their weapon!” she cried. She jumped forward to reach the speeding rocket as it blasted skyward.
The powerful device thrust upward as the amazing Amazon clutched one side and climbed upward to try to alter its course. “Artemis guide my aim!” she prayed as she whipped her lasso around and looped it around the cone of the rocket.
She struggled to retain her grip as the rush of the rocket swept her from side to side. “I can only guess what evil device the Cheetah placed aboard this craft. If Kobra wanted to use it to attack a helpless world, what plans could that madwoman have formed for it?”
Wonder Woman planted her boots against the side of the rocket and forced her way higher. She reached the top even as the rocket threatened to exit into space. Got to act now! she thought as she hurled herself off the rocket after securing the end of the magic lasso around the top.
She landed on her soaring invisible plane, which she had telepathically summoned moments earlier. As she looped the other end of the lasso within the plane, she closed the hatch and ordered the plane to tow the rocket into deep space. She smiled as the miracle of Amazon science overpowered the rocket and sent it into the sun. She gathered in her lasso and vowed to bring the Cheetah to justice.
I pray that witch has not harmed Etta and Howard and Abernathy, she thought. That Kobra leader said they were not there, but obviously the Cheetah somehow duped him about many things. I also want to learn just how she managed to spy on me and learn I had met them! She zoomed downward in the plane and saw the Cheetah, who snarled defiantly and laughed.
“Your friends were bores,” she hissed. “They’ll die as easily as my last mouse!”
Artemis had recently told Nubia that the Cheetah had killed an innocent woman, and she feared for Etta and the others. (*) She vowed to either free them or avenge them. “Your claws may have enabled you to hurt him, but I’m made of more burnished steel!” she said.
[(*) Editor’s note: See Showcase: Artemis: Cat and Mouse Game.]
The Cheetah smiled coldly and said, “Kobra gave birth to me. I repay him for his efforts by thwarting his scheme and using him as he dared to use poor socialite Debbie Domaine. (*) All who harm me or my cause shall suffer!”
[(*) Editor’s note: See “One Super-Villain: Made to Order,” Wonder Woman #274 (December, 1980).]
Nubia said nothing as she dived for the agile woman. She tackled the Cheetah, who growled and raked at her with her sharp claws. They tumbled off the landing and plunged to the lower level as the hate-filled Cheetah fought like an animal.
“You don’t understand,” she said. “That rocket was designed by Kobra to kill. I altered it with the help of an ally. It would have issued in what I call the Vegan agenda. It would have broadcast powerful hypnotic rays that would have turned the populace into non-meat eaters. Thus would I have protected the natural world I champion!”
Wonder Woman elbowed her in the face and said, “You can’t change the world by dominating it. How you can proclaim yourself to be the defender of animal life and then coldly take human life is beyond me!”
The Cheetah twisted free and rolled away as they landed. Wonder Woman grunted and got back up to see the lithe woman sprinting away. “You won’t get away from me!” cried Nubia as she craned her neck in search of any sign of any innocent captives. Even if Etta and the others were not there, the cult could have abducted other victims.
Turning, the Cheetah cried out, shrieking, “I’ll see you pay! Don’t turn your back! The Cheetah will strike again!” Before either woman could act again, a crackling energy field enveloped the Cheetah, and in a flash she was gone.
Teleportation of some type. Odd, I’d swear she was not expecting it, thought Nubia. Still, that woman moves like lightning. She clawed at me like a savage beast! She raced through the base with the speed of Hermes and sighed. “No use. Apparently, Cheetah tricked those Kobra goons into taking them somewhere else and lured me here by making sure one of them was captured. She wanted to use me to defeat them and allow her to steal that rocket.”
Nubia saw flames spreading across the base. “Hera help me get these fools to safety. Their Kobra substitute has apparently activated some self-destruct mechanism!” She worked swiftly and evacuated the base as the fire attracted the local authorities. Police eagerly took the beaten cultists into custody.
Wonder Woman explained all she knew to the police and received their thanks. “No thanks are needed,” she told them. “I hope I can track the energy that took the Cheetah away. She must know where my friends are being held.”
She gasped as a huge figure appeared in the sky above her. The image of a striking woman clad in silvery armor and an ornate helmet loomed gigantically across the sky. “You who call yourself Wonder Woman and dare boast of being spawn of Hippolyta the horse mistress will only see your mortal followers again when I wish it to be so. Your destiny is bound not by the Three Sisters but by the grim resolve of the Dark Commander! I enabled the Cheetah to find you and take your friends. I gave her a little hypnotic toy, as well. I also removed her from this place as a reward for services rendered. She did sport with you well for a mere mortal. Thus did I reward her. Again I warn you, Nubia of Mars Isle, you will walk a path of my creation, and it shall bring you to a Hades all your own!”
Nubia saw the apparition flicker away, and she shivered. “I know not who this Dark Commander is, but I vow to rescue her captives or give my very life in the trying!”
Meanwhile, on a desolate and rocky shore in a region once called Themiscyra, two colorful figures hid in the ruins of a once-great city. One of them was a swarthy Greek in convict gray. His name was Nikos Aegeus, and he seemed to possess a confidence far greater than his physical prowess would make evident. He turned to the dark-haired woman by his side who wore a short white Amazon tunic and sandals and carried a gleaming sword. She was lovely and moved with the grace of a warrior; however, her eyes were unnaturally bright.
“Sofia, my love, you freed me from my cell and brought me here to this scene of my previous defeat,” he said. “I have enjoyed the irony of hiding here where my old foe Wonder Woman’s ancestors once lived. It has been a delight to see how you have been unable to forget me and all we once shared. I forgive your past treachery, and yet I must make you see that if we are to resume our old relationship, then as always I must lead!”
She smiled coldly and said, “Nikos Aegeus, you are a fool! I brought you here and pretended to care for you for one simple reason. You once bore the weapons of the gods. Now, having failed them in the past, you must be judged and receive your punishment!”
Nikos scowled and said, “That fancy sword you’ve been carrying is magical. I know that much. You even talk and move differently since you started wearing it. Still, don’t get any ideas about who is the leader here. By what right do you claim to speak or act for the gods? Is that doddering dolt Bellerophon behind this? He may have given me my weapons and the winged horse, but I owe him nothing!”
Sofia stood proudly and gave him a look of purest scorn. “That demigod is not behind this,” she said. “I serve one who is far above him.”
Nikos frowned as a glowing light filled the chamber, and two more people appeared before him. Sofia dropped to one knee and raised one arm in a salute. “Hola, Queen Mourn!” she cried. “Hola, Myrmidon!”
The woman called Mourn was tall and regal, and had flame-red hair that curled intricately down her armored back. She was beautiful, and she wore a red orb around her neck. Her companion Myrmidon was a tall man with a muscular yet agile body. He wore golden armor, and his helmet covered his face. “Arise, my child,” said Mourn. “You have served me well. In bringing your sword and this petty rogue to me, you have pleased me. I smile upon you.”
Aegeus scowled. “Bah! I sense the aura of an Olympian. I turn my back upon your kind. I need nothing from any of you!”
Mourn laughed a throaty laugh and said, “Defiant to the end. Good. My people ever prized a valiant heart.”
Aegeus eyed her knowingly. “Your people? Amazons. I know your type. I spit upon you all!” he said.
Mourn’s eyes flashed in anger, and she placed a hand on the chest of her male companion. “Aegeus, I shall be brief. You failed Bellerophon, and you failed Father Ares. Thus I condemn you to death. Myrmidon, slay him!” she cried.
Myrmidon raised his helmet to reveal a handsome face with intelligent eyes and a discerning nature. “Mourn, I have vowed to protect you with my very life, but killing is not my way,” he said. “You know this. My teacher made it clear to me that a man’s worth may be measured directly by the value he places on all life.”
She frowned, and the orb on her chest flashed. “Fine, my love. Merely humble him!” she said.
Myrmidon approached Aegeus, and the Greek militant cried, “I have neither armor nor weapon!”
Myrmidon removed his helmet and the golden chest plate and tossed aside his sword. “Then I, too, will fight without weapons. You do have the advantage. I stand in peril of being whined to death!” he said with a slight smile.
Aegeus roared in anger and charged the taller man. Myrmidon sidestepped and allowed him to crash to the ground. He stood back and did not pursue the advantage he had over his foe. He waited, and as Aegeus rose, he circled him warily. “You’ve got the look of the Olympians as well,” sneered Aegeus. “Although none of them had such pretty manners!”
He moved forward and swung at his enemy, only to miss with each effort. Aegeus was not slow, nor was he out of shape. He simply could not connect with the more agile man. Myrmidon caught his fist and pushed him downward to send Aegeus crashing to the ground. “By the gods! You are a strong one!” cursed Aegeus.
Looking left and right, Nikos Aegeus saw the woman called Mourn smiling in pleasure. He whirled to see Sofia sitting nearby on the sand, looking steadily at Mourn with adoration in her strange eyes. Aegeus dived for her and tried to wrest the sword from her hands. He snatched it away and smirked in pleasure. “Now, Myrmidon — or Warrior, if that is all the name you have — let us see how you like it when my blade finds your unarmored body,” he said.
He charged Myrmidon, who ducked his swing and twisted his arm with a sudden powerful snap that left Aegeus in pain and unarmed.
Sofia’s eyes had returned to normal when the sword had been ripped away from her grasp, and she lost some of the regal stature she had projected minutes before. Her eyes widened, and she looked around as if she had recovered from a dream. “Nikos? What in the world? Athena, help me!” she whispered.
Mourn walked over and lifted the fallen Sword of Artemis, returning it to a startled Sofia, who was transformed in manner once more. “My thanks, my Queen!” she gasped.
Stroking Sofia’s hair maternally, Mourn turned to where a beaten Aegeus cowered in the sand. “Enough!” he groaned. “You have broken my arm!”
Myrmidon shook his head as if in bemused disgust. “Here, let me help you,” he offered.
Before he could lift the man to his feet, Mourn moved like lightning. Having drawn a dagger from her hip belt, she sliced Aegeus across his throat. “There was no cause to do that!” said an angry Myrmidon. “The man was clearly no threat!”
Mourn’s red gemstone gleamed again, and he calmed down. Kissing him, she said, “Trouble not your overly tender conscience. He is at peace.”
Sofia nodded in approval and approached the Amazon. “My Queen, may I resume my old crusade?” she pleaded. “I would bring this modern world to its knees for you! Let me make the name Wonder Woman feared once again!”
Mourn smiled and said, “Patience, good Artemis. You need time to adjust to your new body. The girl resists your spirit whenever she is not in contact with the sword that carries your name. You will soon reclaim your right to be Wonder Woman from the woman who now presumes to use the title you originated eons ago. For now we must be about the work Father Ares would have us do. His Dark Commander has given me special orders, and Queen Mourn will not fail one Ares favors so highly.”