The universe is a coin with two sides, yet unlike a coin with a head or a tail, the universe has a positive and a negative side. It was in the negative side of the universe that the nightmarish world of Alpo-kolips hung in the blackness of space. From a distance, this world appeared to be nothing more than a globe of machinery, its sole purpose to discharge great gouts of flame, products of the fire pits, into antimatter ether.
Drawing closer to the world, the appearance of machinery lessened, and what looked like great, black wires crisscrossing the planet were revealed to be a maze of shadowed slums. Deeper in the shadows, things moved through the gray ash that covered the world, a byproduct of the fire pits. The pitiful beings scurried back and forth from place to place; their only desire, their only reason for existing, was to do the will of the master. He was all-powerful, he was all commanding, and he was all horrible; he was Barkseid, master of Alpo-kolips.
In his great fortress, the ancient immortal mastiff stood with his gloved paws behind his back, looking down at the slums surrounding his home. Despite the evil that emanated from his massive body, there was still a regal air about him. From the midnight blue helmet that covered all but his face, ears, and jowls, to the matching tunic that appeared molded to his well-muscled chest, and his knee-high boots, he was a dominating presence wherever he went. He knew his solitude was being intruded upon before the figure in the shadows spoke.
“Is your existence so dismal, Dogsaad, that you are willing to forfeit it by intruding where you are not wanted?” Barkseid asked, his voice almost as gravelly as his complexion appeared to be.
The dalmatian cowered against the nearest column, his purplish-red robes rustling slightly with every movement. “Master,” he began again. “I… I would never intrude unless it was of the most dire importance. I beg your forgiveness.”
“Forgiveness?” Barkseid asked. “Do you confuse me with Highcollar that you think I would show you compassion?”
“Oh, no, Master. I only meant…” Dogsaad suddenly wished this duty had fallen to someone else.
“Never mind what you meant,” the mastiff growled. “Tell me why you are here.”
“Doctor Bredlam has detected an intruder,” the dalmatian said.
“In the fortress?” Even as he asked, Barkseid knew the answer was no, for he would have sensed the intruder.
“On the planet, Master.”
“Then send the parrotdaemons to find and rend this intruder limb from limb,” Barkseid commanded.
“They are already searching, Master,” Dogsaad said quickly.
Barkseid turned and faced the dalmatian, causing the animal to momentarily freeze. “Your life is rapidly reaching its end. Tell me what you came to tell me.”
Dogsaad began to rub his antler against the column again. “Master, the intruder is from the world designated Earth-C-Minus.”
The mastiff’s paw shot out and grasped the front of Dogsaad’s robes. As he pulled the startled creature close, Dogsaad thought his life was over.
“Is it one of those wretched members of the Just’a Lotta Animals?” Barkseid asked.
“No… no, Master,” Dogsaad said with a whimper. “The energy signature doesn’t match any of those creatures.”
“Then who is it?” the lord of Alpo-kolips demanded.
“Doctor Bredlam has no clue,” Dogsaad replied.
“Then, begone,” Barkseid commanded as he tossed his henchbeast aside.
The dalmatian picked himself up and limped toward the door. As his hoof neared the handle, Barkseid spoke again.
“Find Devillambs, and send him to me.”
Dogsaad bowed. “Immediately,” he said. If the master was calling for his most skilled hunter, then he must truly be worried. Almost immediately, Dogsaad banished that thought from his mind. Even thinking that Barkseid was afraid of something could be dangerous.
Once the dalmatian was gone, the huge mastiff turned and glared into the shadows. “You have cheated. Your magic has brought your pawn here.”
“I brought no one here but myself,” a large hare said as it stepped into the light.
Barkseid looked at the creature and was silent. He watched as the hare tugged the cuff of his jacket sleeve, unfazed by the mastiff’s scowl. Finally, Alpo-kolips’ lord spoke.
“In our centuries of… acquaintance, despite all of your cryptic mutterings, you have never spoken other than the truth,” Barkseid said. “If you didn’t bring him, then how did the intruder arrive?”
The Phantom Strange-hare, whose black fedora hid most of his face, cast a glance at his host, then looked out over the slums. “That is something you will have to discover yourself.”
“Trust me,” Barkseid replied, turning his attention to the slums as well, “I shall. I most definitely shall.”
Several minutes earlier:
The large, muscular moose stepped out of the glowing portal and into the dark alleyway. An instant before his passage to this world closed, a voice was filling his head with final instructions.
“You have three hours to complete your mission. I have filled you with enough energy to succeed, but you must still be cautious. Once you have completed your mission, you will be sent home.”
“What if I fail?” the moose asked, stepping a bit farther back into the shadows.
“If you fail, OMAK,” the voice said, “you will not be returning home.”
There was no goodbye from the voice, just the fading of the portal as the connection to Brother Ibis was lost. In that instant, and for just that instant, the moose felt completely alone. Immediately, he shook off the feelings of hopelessness and began to assess his situation.
At the entrance of the alleyway, a group of creatures were gathering, peering into the darkness to see what had happened to the light that only seconds ago had shined like a beacon. While the majority of the natives searched for a few more seconds, one ran off, apparently seeking a member of the local constabulary. The sudden disappearance did not go unnoticed by OMAK, the One Moose Animal Kingdom.
“This can’t be good,” the moose muttered to himself. He remained in the darkness for a few more seconds, trying to decide what to do. As he had planned, the creatures began to lose interest and wander away.
Well, OMAK thought, that takes care of one problem. He waited a few more seconds, knowing each one could bring him into direct conflict with the natives. When he finally felt a bit more secure, the moose moved to the end of the alleyway and looked out into the street.
The first thing he noticed was that he was going to stick out like a sore hoof. Everyone he saw — mostly various breeds of dogs in all shapes and sizes — was dressed in drab, tattered robes, while his outfit was a bit brighter. His blue tunic was dark enough, but his orange leggings and yellow boots and gloves were definitely in contrast to his surroundings. Despite the fact that he saw a few rare non-canines who had antlers of some sort, none of them sported a foot-tall mohawk — one of the side-effects of his transformation into this form.
Before stepping out into the street, OMAK spotted an old sloth pushing a cart of rags. Before the creature knew what had happened, the moose had rushed his cart, stolen an armful of rags, and disappeared into the opposite alley.
After wrapping the gray cloth around him, OMAK hunched his shoulders, emerged from the alley, and blended into the crowd.
Once on the street, OMAK paused just long enough to get his bearings and locate the fortress of this world’s lord and master. There was no mistaking the great stone citadel that towered over these slums, casting its oppressive shadow over the beings that called these ash-cloaked streets home.
The moose hadn’t gone very far when there was a cry from someone in the crowd several yards ahead of him. As the crowd began to scatter, seeking safety in any open building they could find, OMAK looked up and saw a half-dozen winged soldiers flying in his direction.
The soldiers were a brilliant green. Armor encased their bodies, leaving only their demonic faces, razor-sharp beaks, and wings uncovered. Tufts of green plumage poked out from the tops of their helmets.
OMAK knew immediately that these were Alpo-kolips’ dread parrotdaemons that he had been warned of. “At least the crowd had scattered,” he said to himself, “so I don’t have to worry about innocents getting hurt.”
Tossing aside the rags that he had only recently acquired, the moose activated the powers of flight bestowed upon him by Brother Ibis. As his foes drew nearer, OMAK let his mind sort through his powers until he pinpointed the source of flight he wanted. With the speed and maneuverability of the hummingbird, the moose attacked.
With a speed that the parrotdaemons were unable to match, OMAK circled his foes, forcing them into a tighter formation. Bred solely for battle, the emerald soldiers did not realize that they were being rounded up. Once they were in a tight group, the moose came to a sudden stop directly in front of them. Surprised by this whole confrontation, the parrotdaemons watched their foe to see what he would do next. Zipping backward, OMAK tapped into his myriad of powers available to him and added a second to his power of flight. When he zipped toward the parrotdaemons, this time he did not dodge around them. He struck them head on with the speed of the hummingbird and the strength of a bull elephant.
The front two parrotdaemons took the full force of the attack and dropped unconscious to the street below. The rest of them were sent crashing into the surrounding buildings, momentarily stunning them. It only took the One Moose Animal Kingdom seconds to add them to the unconscious soldiers on the ground.
But when the locals emerged from their hiding places, the strange creature that had defeated Barkseid’s shock troops was gone.
By the time Devillambs arrived, the Phantom Strange-hare had vanished. Although Barkseid couldn’t fathom the Strange-hare’s sense of honor, he knew his opponent would not interfere.
The bulky young sheep, clad in white and red and armed with a wicked-looking broad-tipped lance, wasted no time once he arrived. “Who is my target?”
Barkseid admired his hunter’s straightforwardness. “There is an alien on Alpo-kolips,” the ruler said. “It is attempting to reach this fortress.”
Devillambs was silent for a moment. When he finally spoke, Barkseid knew the question was one intended solely for strategic purposes. For that reason alone, the lord of Alpo-kolips withheld his wrath.
“Why not mass the troops here and destroy the alien when it arrives?” Devillambs asked.
“If the alien arrives here,” Barkseid said, “then all is lost. No, the alien must be detained or destroyed before it reaches this fortress.” He was about to dismiss his hunter when he had a thought. “If you manage to capture the alien, do not bring it here. Contact me, and I will come to where you are.”
Devillambs nodded, then gave his master an evil grin. “The alien will not reach the fortress. I vow that this alien is about to have a baaa-aaad day.”
Barkseid smiled an equally evil smile and dismissed the vicious sheep.
Moments later, many of the lowlies that dwelt near the entrance scattered as they saw Barkseid’s killer lamb emerge from the front gate.
Devillambs was on the hunt, and there would be no mercy for his prey.
OMAK landed in another alley a few blocks away. He had only gone a little way when he heard the crowds murmuring excitedly. Immediately, he began to search the skies, expecting to see more of the parrotdaemons. Seeing none, he cautiously began to search the streets. Not too far away, he heard a sound that struck him as odd; it was the sound of a bleating sheep. No, he realized as it got closer, not bleating. It was singing.
“Barkseid had an evil lamb,
Its heart as black as coal;
And when I find the alien…”
OMAK listened for the last line, turning as he did. He found himself looking down into the black eyes of a bulky lamb.
“Boo,” Devillambs said, leveling his lance at the moose.
Before OMAK had a chance to react, a bolt of energy shot forth from the lance’s blade and struck him in the face. The last thing he heard as he crumpled to the ground was the vicious lamb’s laughter.