by Starsky Hutch 76
Elsewhere, Commander Steel tried to find his way around the maze-like corridors of the Illuminati pyramid. He had hoped that he would come out in the same spot as Vandal Savage so that he could continue to engage the enemy directly. He had encountered several guards whom he had quickly dispatched, but he didn’t want henchmen. He wanted the villain himself.
As he turned the corner and walked down yet another hallway, he braced himself for either another dead end or another hallway leading off into several unclear directions. Instead, he came to an enormous room whose main feature was an enormous pit. Behind it was an enormous stone carving of the Illuminati symbol. Before it was a stone dais. On it stood a man who looked strangely familiar.
It took Commander Steel a moment to recognize him as Vandal Savage. He had a white head of hair and was sporting several days’ growth of whiskers rather than the full beard he was normally associated with. He was also dressed in a heavily starched white dress shirt and wool trousers rather than his usual military-cut uniform. It quickly dawned on him that this was not the same Vandal Savage he had fought an hour earlier. That version lay unconscious nearby on the stone floor.
The conscious Savage raised his arms and began a low chant. He continued to repeat the same words over and over again, his tone growing louder and more forceful with each repetition.
An uneasiness came over Steel. He felt his flesh begin to crawl, and the forehead of his cowl grew moist as he broke out into a sweat. The very air seemed to grow heavy, and he knew he was in the presence of true evil. That feeling wasn’t coming from Vandal Savage, though. It was coming from whatever was in that pit.
Suddenly, he recognized the words Savage was chanting. Ph’nglui mglw’nafh Cthulhu R’lyeh wagn’nagl fhtagn. This ceremony had to be stopped before that sort of evil was unleashed upon the world. He found himself wishing Steve Trevor or Agent Liberty were here. This was the sort of evil that the pure-of-heart types were usually called upon to vanquish, and with the sorts of things he had been forced to do over the last few years, he hardly thought he qualified. They weren’t here, though, and he was. He would have to stop Vandal Savage before he released the being known as Cthulhu.
As Steel raced into the room, he suddenly found himself confronted by a host of cybernetically enhanced guards. One of them attempted to level his blaster at him. Steel quickly knocked it out of his hands. The guard then lunged for him. Steel grabbed his arm and spun him around into a choke hold. As another guard fired at him, Steel turned the first guard toward the blast, using him as a human shield. He then lifted his now-lifeless form up and used him to knock down several other guards, sending their guns flying.
As he fought his way through Savage’s forces, he was suddenly distracted by a sight so bizarre and horrible that it struck him almost like a physical blow. Lined up against the walls were several figures trapped in a crystalline substance, almost like mosquitoes trapped in amber. One of those people he recognized. It was Gloria Giles, though she was much older than she had been the last time he had seen her. Or Gloria Giles Farley as his sources told him she was now known on Earth-Two. What was she doing here?
The butt of a rifle connected with the space between his shoulder blades while he was distracted, knocking him to his knees. Fists rained down on him as he fought to rise up again under the assault. He had to get up. Gloria needed him.
The future Savage watched over his shoulder with an amused smile. He then turned to continue the summoning. This time, he would take all Cthulhu had to give. After millennia of study, he knew the Old One had so much more to offer than mere immortality.
“Keep at them!” Agent Liberty ordered. “They’re all that stands between us and the prize inside.”
“Do we even know what the prize is?” Vixen asked.
“No,” Odysseus answered for Liberty as he struck one of the enemy soldiers with his sword, severing a cybernetic arm.
“Then how do we know it’s a prize?”
“Good question,” Liberty said. “The enemy wants it. That makes it enough of a prize.”
“Speaking of the enemy, isn’t that one supposed to be on our side?” Robotman said, pointing. Racing through the enemy troops toward them was Mekanique. She was heading straight for him.
“So whose side are you on, anyway, lady?” Robotman asked, bracing himself for an attack. The two locked arms and began to grapple.
“I’m on no one’s side but my own!” she said.
“Fascinating,” Robotman said. “A machine who claims independent thought and free will.”
“I’m no machine!” Mekanique said irately. “But it appears you are. I had hoped you were merely a cybernetic shell like your predecessor, albeit more sophisticated.”
“Blame it on the nanites,” Robotman chuckled. “Why do you care, anyway?”
“So you might be of some use to me. Instead, I shall simply strip your form of its secrets and then toss it aside upon the refuse heap of history.”
“You act as if I have any intention of letting that happen,” he said in a strained voice as she attempted to take over his form. Mekanique looked down at her own arms, and a web-like network of circuitry seemed to be threading its way out from the place where his hands met her forearms as his nanotech moved into her.
Mekanique let out a shriek of rage, and there was a flash as she forcefully separated herself from him lest she find herself consumed by him, instead.
Robotman gave a hearty laugh. “Not quite what you expected, eh?”
“Laugh now, machine-man,” Mekanique said, racing away. “Your time will come.”
“She’s running?!” Baby Boom exclaimed. “She’s actually running?”
“I certainly didn’t expect that,” Robotman said, watching her as she darted back through Vandal Savage’s forces. “Perhaps there was some truth to her claim not to be serving Savage’s interests.”
“Then why aren’t they firing on her?” Indigo asked, indicating Savage’s forces.
From the outraged expressions on many of the enemy soldiers’ faces, they looked as if that’s exactly what they wanted to do. The only thing holding them back was military discipline.
“Give them time,” Agent Liberty said. “When Savage learns she’s been playing both sides, he’s sure to give them the go-ahead. In the meantime, I’ll just keep hoping for a clear shot.” He took careful aim, training his aim-sight at her, and fired. She shimmered out of the space where his shot connected with the wall behind where she had been, and she reappeared a few inches to the left, giving him a cold smile before disappearing again.
“Damn,” he spat. “Why do I have the feeling that’s one missed shot I’ll really come to regret?”
The future Vandal Savage’s cybernetic soldiers held Commander Steel fast as Savage continued to chant. Steel’s head felt as if it were swimming as he listened to the future incarnation of the immortal recite the words. To his alarm, he realized he could now understand what he was saying, even though he was speaking an ancient, dead tongue.
He was getting caught up in it, absorbed by this ancient, unspeakable evil the same way Vandal Savage had been so many centuries earlier. It was only a matter of time until he belonged to whatever unnatural horror Savage was setting free.
His head swam even more as several tendrils began to appear at the rim of the pit. They moved about, searching the edge as if guiding themselves, feeling the way for whatever monstrosity lay below.
Commander Steel heard a pained moan escape from the soldier who held his left arm. His grip loosened as he shook at the sight of the long tentacles issuing from the pit. Steel was too far beneath the spell of the demonic entity to break free at this point, though. All he could do was stare in misery as the green, scaly peak of the monstrosity’s head began to break the surface, making it apparent that the tentacles weren’t appendages but what passed for the creature’s face, except for two serpent-like eyes. The peaks of two narrow, bat-like wings came into view next, followed by enormous, taloned hands. The soldier on Steel’s right actually fainted as more and more of the monstrosity came into view while Savage continued to chant. Steel did not fall from lack of support or use the opportunity to try to escape. He stayed where he was, spellbound.
You’re a fool, Steel thought to himself. He just wants you to think you can control him. Once you’re done, he’ll go back to trying to raise R’lyeh and supplant humanity with his inhuman followers. He didn’t know how he knew all of this, but he knew it to be true. Savage was about to unleash an ancient, unspeakable horror upon the world, and all he could do was stand and watch.
There was a sudden crash, and the stone door leading to Cthulhu’s tomb shattered as Agent Liberty and his team burst through. An outraged Vandal Savage turned at the sound. Even the inhuman eyes of Cthulhu turned in their direction.
“The cavalry has arrived,” Commander Steel croaked in relief.
The monstrosity from the pit gave an horrible, inhuman scream and raised one of his taloned hands. Eldritch energy fired out from his hand and ensnared Vixen. With a jerk of his wrist, she was flung across the room and collided with one of the ancient machines along the far wall. There was a burst of light, and she disappeared. (*)
[(*) Editor’s note: For the fate of Vixen, see DC Universe: Invasion, Book 2, Chapter 2: Home.]
“Nooo!” Baby Boom screamed. She generated one of her explosions by the monster’s head, and it let out another outraged screech. It turned its hands toward Baby Boom, and she let out a pained scream as she was enveloped by eldritch energy. Her uniform began to stretch and rip as her form expanded with sudden age.
“He’s draining her life force!” Agent Liberty exclaimed, raising his blaster to fire it at the beast. Distracted, it turned toward Liberty and inadvertently released Baby Boom, snaring several of Savage’s cyber-soldiers instead. Since they were not meta-humans, they were quickly consumed, and their skeletons dropped to the ground and fell apart with a clatter.
Baby Boom fell to the ground in a daze, and Matches Malone raced to her side to help her. As she pushed herself up, his eyes grew wide. “Holy–! You sure ain’t no little kid now, Babe,” he said.
Her eyes grew wide, too as she looked down, and she folded her arms across her chest self-consciously. “Stop looking at me like that!”
“Better get used to it,” he said, taking his jacket off and slipping it over the now-teenage girl’s shoulders.
Agent Liberty screamed as he found himself enveloped. Cthulhu bellowed in rage as it attempted to drain him without result. Liberty raised his own rifle at it and fired, also getting little result.
“It’s killing him!” Indigo exclaimed, trying to fight her way through Savage’s cyber-soldiers toward him. “Somebody do something!”
“Just keep doing what you’re doing!” Commander Steel ordered. “You’re no match for that thing!” He imagined Senator Perkins’ reaction if he returned his daughter as an old crone — or worse, a lifeless husk.
“Trevor, your sword?” Steel asked.
“Perhaps,” Odysseus said with a nod, understanding his meaning. “Could a weapon created by one god slay another?” Odysseus flew toward Cthulhu, drawing his sword. With a swing, he deflected the eldritch blast from Agent Liberty. It struck the future Savage and sent him flying like a rag doll to hit with a wet thud against the stone wall of the enormous tomb.
Odysseus found himself suddenly enveloped by the creature’s eldritch force as it began to feed on his godly life force. A very different-sounding shriek issued from its obscene tentacled excuse for a mouth, and everyone realized it was the sound of exultation and happiness. The entire pyramid began to shake.
“We’re rising!” Steel exclaimed. “He’s using Odysseus’ power to raise R’lyeh! We’ve got to end this quickly!”
A broken and battered, white-haired future Savage rose up, one arm hanging uselessly at his side. With the other, he hefted up one of his fallen soldiers’ rifles. “I didn’t come this far to have all of my plans end like this!” He fired, missing Steel entirely because of his injuries and hitting Carcharo instead, slamming him in the shoulder.
“Dios!” the shark-man exclaimed. “I’m seek of getting hurt on every meession!” He reached out and sliced Savage across the stomach with his claws.
The future Savage dropped his rifle, and his good arm went across his stomach in a vain attempt to hold his guts in as blood bubbled up into his mouth. Mekanique suddenly appeared behind Carcharo, and he looked at her pleadingly. She simply smiled at him and then disappeared once more. Seeing that his situation was hopeless, he stumbled backward and fell into the pit, disappearing from sight.
Odysseus continued to fly up at Cthulhu, despite the eldritch onslaught. A glow now seemed to issue from beneath the beast’s scales from the godly energy he had consumed. Odysseus grabbed his sword by the blade and hurled it at the monster, sending it spinning through the air. It landed with a sickening sound as it struck Cthulhu between the eyes, and the monster let out an outraged, painful howl before exploding in a burst of light.
As Agent Liberty’s vision cleared, he looked up to see the form of Steve Trevor falling downward. It took him a split second before it dawned on him that he was smaller than he had been before. He quickly leaped up with his enhanced muscles to catch him in midair and was startled to see that it was plain, ordinary Steve Trevor cradled in his arms, unconscious. Though he was looking far younger than his seventy years. In fact, except for the long hair and toga, he looked much the same as when he had first met him forty-five years earlier.
One of the cyber-solders attempted to raise up, and Commander Steel kicked him back down, placing his foot in the center of his chest. “By the power invested in me as a duly-appointed representative of the government of the United States of America, you gentlemen are under arrest.”
The soldier looked up at him, staring into his cold gray eyes. His mouth moved wordlessly before replying, “Yes, sir.”