|Superman: The Age of Superheroes 1938 to tomorrow
Author: SuperCharles PM
Active Again. 1943 The Heroes return to a World at War. Black Magic, The Cult of the Crimson Flame in DC, intrigue in N.Africa, with guest star Liberty Bell joining Lois in Casablanca. Superman joins Dr Fate on the Eastern Front. Ares Rises - Wotan plansRated: Fiction K+ - English - Fantasy/Sci-Fi - Clark K./Kal-El/Superman & Diana of Themyscira/Wonder Woman - Chapters: 84 - Words: 471,121 - Reviews: 190 - Favs: 57 - Follows: 34 - Updated: 11-27-11 - Published: 09-01-08 - id: 4512581
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December 1942. Below the bleachers of Stagg Field at the University of Chicago in a disused American Racquets court, forty persons of note waited. Enrico Fermi was centre of this radical piece of scientific theatre. He headed his team of researchers, as together they instigated a nuclear chain reaction at Chicago Pile-1, the first man made nuclear reactor. Before the dignitaries the young scientist George Weil places the final control rod, while Fermi watches carefully.
Arthur Compton picks up the phone and dials. In Washington James Conant, Chairman of the National Defence Research Committee answers.
"The Italian Navigator has landed." Compton says.
Conant hears the enigmatic statement. He pauses and asks. "How were the natives?"
"Everyone landed safe and happy." Compton replies.
Moments later the coded message was relayed to the Oval Office, and onto the Resolute Desk.
At seven minutes before four PM, Fermi shuts down the experiment.
His calculations had been sound, there had been no runaway chain reaction or catastrophic explosion. The principle of an Atomic bomb is proven.
Chicago was a teeming metropolis of concrete and steel whereas Themyscira was an island paradise, a garden of beauty and a reserve of nature red in tooth and claw, both natural and supernatural. Made by the gods for a purpose. Themyscira hung above a deep dark pit. Dooms Door – the gateway to the underworld of Hades.
Defending this portal between worlds from outsiders; the barbarians of Man's World, and hellish creatures from within pit was the Amazon's purpose. In their isolation they kept the peace. Today the Seer Menalipe's eyes were turned inwards as in her mind she travelled beyond. Through the heavens above and to the Patriach's World crossing the mystic veil that separated the invisible isle from the lands of men.
Today a scream of anguish and fear, crossed her lips, shattering the silence of still Temple courts.
The ancients taught; that which is Below corresponds to that which is Above, and that which is Above, corresponds to that which is Below.
Change one and change the other.
Meanlippe's cry was carried outwards by means of the incredible Amazon Mental Radio. A message seeking the Champion of the Olympian, the Amazon Ambassador, Diana, Princess and Wonder Woman.
Diana was a world away – separated by time and space from her sisters.
Time past. The call was not diminished. It did not fall or pass away.
It was patient.
Then as Christendom readied itself for the celebrations of a baby's birth, lost heroes returned from another place, a pocket universe, crossing the void between worlds.
It was Menalippe's tears that greeted Diana as she returned to real time and the Los Angeles Underground. Into the subterranean lair of the defeated avatar of the Ultra Humanite.
Doctor Occult had joined agents of Alsos into the chamber, and along with him they greeted the returning adventurers from the Lost worlds of Venturia and Auria.
Among them was Colonel Lane. His presence belying the body language of his stern military bearing. He looked like a soldier. He was a worried a father, even if he didn't show it.
Applause broke out among these soldiers in uniform. The Portal crackled and spat flaring arcs of energy. From the open Iron gate walked men in uniform, men in colours. Cheers greeted the Justice Batallion's return. As she stepped through the gate Diana heard a familiar voice.
"The god of war rises." The Amazon Seer announced. "Mars is ascendant."
At the same moment Menalippes warning reached her, a bright light shone across the rocky chamber. It was Doctor Fate. The Magic Master rose from the concrete floor toward her.
Wonder Woman heard, saw, and gasped and fell. A strong hand caught her before she struck to the ground.
"Diana what is wrong." Superman asked.
She knew that his incredible vision powers could not perceive what an Amazon witnessed by the wonder of Mental Radio. Menalippe's message had been sent to Diana's mind alone.
Could Doctor Fate understand it too?
Diana had frequently used the Mental Radio to call home to the Queen and her Amazon sisters. Also talking to the likes of Etta Candy, even Captain Trevor.
Yet this Mental Radio message was so very different to those.
Wonder Woman realised she couldn't answer Superman's question. Her breath was taken away. In this moment the Amazon Princess found herself in another place. It was a meeting of minds. Across the Mental Radio's mystical connection, images sounds and emotions were loaded down into Diana's consciousness. With Menalippe sharing her transcendental experience, Diana was transported into another real of consciousness.
The Seer saw beyond the physical, and she carried Diana with her – into the Astral plain. The first six heavens. Here Wonder Woman saw so many ghosts. Not of Christmas past – but of Christmas present. The world at war reflected as if through a hexagonal looking glass.
Phantom armies rose to fight alongside their Princes, as nation met nation above and below.
The astral world was an image of the physical. A portrait painted by the wants and desires of the living, and like any true work of art the Astral rendered the world not in photographic realism but in a representative impression. It was a dream world. So the world of the Astral was as a surreal as a painting by Dali.
Here Diana saw Ares growing stronger with every bullet, and every bomb, with the blood of the valiant and the innocent. Wonder Woman saw in his red eyes a fire like the sun. It was a hunger for destruction, as the Seer had foretold. Ares sensed the sea change, as the dark waters of the Astral Plain shifted beneath the giant's feet. Responding in kind to the power of Atom. The god of bloodshed reached out. His arm maimed, his hand missing above the wrist, the bleeding stump held out almost pleading. Wonder Woman understood him, Ares longed for his lost grip on the business of War.
"Diana?" Superman asked. His voice cut through the mystic mist.
"She's in a trance." Bruce said, his gravel edged voice a whisper in the background.
Wonder Woman's eyes were firmly looking upwards as if into her own skull.
"Breathing is irregular, heavy." Superman answered. "Diana?" He tried again.
"Kal." She answered. Her back arched in his arms. Breathless, she gasped. Then grabbing the Batman's armoured wrist she hauled herself upright, and away from Superman.
"Ares rises." She told them. "Untold Bloodshed." Then remembering herself she added. "I'm fine."
Stepping back she stood to her full height.
"It looked like it." Gotham's Dark Detective noted. By her side was Superman. A warm hand took hold of her shoulder.
"Diana – whatever is going on?" Superman asked.
He was concerned, yet how to begin to describe what she had seen? It was like describing a chaotic dream.
Before she could answer the light that emanated from the hands of Doctor Fate grew brighter still. The golden glow so intense that the Batman ducked under his cape, raising it to his face as he and others were forced to shield their eyes. Superman stared on, he wore a concerned frown.
Diana's eyes were able to cut through the glare, she saw Kent Nelson's fingers were locked onto the Helm of Nabu. Doctor Fate appeared at war with himself.
From Fate came a voice deep and ominous, ancient. "I must step forward."
"NO!" Kent shouted.
From the ranks of the waiting personal a young woman ran forward. Her arm pressed across her eyes. Even so Diana recognised the pretty features of Inza, Kent Nelson's wife. "It's Nabu, he's trying to take over." Inza cried out.
Doctor Occult acted. He reached into his coat pocket, then extended his hand. Wonder Woman saw in his grasp a disc inscribed with a 'cross pattée', a cross whose arms narrow at the centre and broaden at the perimeter. Light wheeled from this disk, a vortex of spectral colours, intersecting the fiery ankh symbol that had all but engulfed the blue gold figure of Fate.
Diana saw that Kent Nelson and this burning ankh were quickly embraced by Occult's four armed symbol. Strengthened the mortal hands of the archaeologist opened up the Helm of Nabu. The bottom half detached from previously uniform shell of golden metal, opening along an invisible seam until the Helm parted into two sections. With the lower half the long golden cloak disappeared shrinking into the closed fist of Nelson. The brightness was gone.
Fate fell to the floor, dropping into a crouch on one knee, before rising to his feet once more. His face was partially revealed. The remaining half helm covered his hair and eyes.
"I'm all right." Kent Nelson said, his voice his own. Inza embraced him.
Doctor Midnite took Fate's pulse pressing his fingers to the now exposed skin of Nelson's neck.
The atmosphere in the liberated bunker changed from celebration to an ominous silence.
Heads turned expectedly, eyes full of questions.
Diana wondered if Doctor Fate's internal conflict was tied directly to Menalippes warning. To the battle being fought on the Astral plain above, just as the war was below.
"Since the Nazi's brought into being the olden god Wotan, the spirit and the power of the Wizard Nabu that permeates Helm of Fate as become increasingly assertive." Kent Nelson explained.
"To the point of trying to take over?" The Bat-Man concluded.
"A form of possession." Doctor Occult joined them, his magic disc returned to his coat pocket. Occult then explained. "Doctor Fate through the Helm glimpses the possible futures – history yet to be written, possibilities that rest often on single event or personality. The difference between defeat and victory..."
"For the sake of a nail the Kingdom was lost." Doctor Midnite interjected.
"Precisely." Occult agreed.
"Many of the futures K..." Inza began to say, before correcting herself, aware of the mixed personal present. "I mean Fate." She said. "The things he saw - well they're terrible. Full of fear and evil things." She told them.
"Images of the Astral Plain. The Ghost War."
"They're kidding – aren't they Batman?" Robin asked. Beside him the svelte Mercy crossed her arms. "I don't think so." She said to the Boy Wonder.
"Nazi's and their Black Magic?" The Atom asked. To which Inza nodded.
"My esteemed colleague Doctor Occult is right. I'm too weak." Kent Nelson admitted.
"You're only human." Occult said to him. "No man can glimpse the horrors you have seen and not feel fear. You have borne this burden bravely."
Doctor Fate sighed, saying. "But that fear is the problem. Through the Helm of Nabu such fear manifests itself as the Wizard, it takes on his personality – just as ghost of the Ultra Humanite took bodily form, so this fearful ghost of Nabu seeks to take my flesh, my life..."
"You won." Inza said kissing his cheek.
"At great cost." Doctor Fate said, his voice bitter."
"What is it?" Superman asked.
"I have tried to hang on, for as long as I could." Fate said. "With the Helm halved, so the power of Nabu is halved. I am no longer as powerful as I once was." Kent Nelson told the Man of Steel. "Just when we need all of that power."
"But." Inza said to Fate. Tears in her eyes. "You are yourself."
"There was something Wotan was keeping from me, some thing very terrible – very evil, I saw trains, people in freight cars like cattle. I can't see them now, they're gone."
Fate shook and lent on his wife.
"Hush now." Inza warned. "You have spent your strength."
Superman turned to Diana. "Wonder Woman – Did you see Wotan too?"
"I saw Ares, seeking his lost hand." Diana replied thinking how best to answer him. "I mean that's the vision my sister Menalippe shared with me. How it is connected with Doctor Fate – with Wotan... I'm not sure."
"Perhaps the two things – these two wizards past and present, and Ares – Mars, this War, are connected." Superman suggested.
Diana nodded. "That is my suspicion.
Superman's frown deepened. Both he and the Bat-Man though so very different had this much in common, an instinctive distrust of magic, and for good reason, she thought.
The Man of Steel looked at them and said. "As my Pa would say, out of the skillet and into the fire."
The oil lamp shone in the tented Field Command. Major General Alexander Patch, sometimes Sandy to his friends reviewed the Top Secret file on his desk. Christmas had come and gone. Just another day here on Guadalcanal. It rained, and the bloody business of war, democracy versus tyranny had continued regardless. Still the Marines had tried to make the best of it with a turkey dinner despite the shelling from the Japanese positions.
Sandy read the enclosed transcript stamped in red, Top Secret. It was from the offices of the Office of Strategic Services, it was titled 'Justice Battalion'.
After a long moment of reflection he looked up. "Better show him in." Patch said to his Chief of Staff. Brigadier General Sebree. The tall man gestured with his signature baton to a Marine. The guardsman exited the canvas office.
Patch had in December 1942 taken command of over fifty thousand men, their orders were to drive the enemy from Guadalcanal. Across the air strip, Henderson Field, lay the Japanese Imperial forces. Entrenched in the jagged collection of peaks called Mount Austen, or as they called it here on the ground, Grassy Knoll. That was gallows humour. There was no green and pleasant rolling field. Instead rising over them were ravines and rocky peaks clad in huge palm leaves, ferns, jagged banana plants, elephant-ears of the Taro, all clung to the rise and fall of the land. A solid wall of vegetation, in places a hundred feet high.
"So I'm to address you as the Sandman?" Patch asked the man stood to attention before him.
"Sir. Yes Sir."
"You come to me highly recommended Soldier." Patch looked the unorthodox marine up and down. At first glance he passed for a man in uniform. The dark military green augmented by deep purple mask and detailing. He wore a heavy utility belt, sported bulging extra pockets, and holstered a strange pair of guns. His face was hidden behind a cowl and a close fitting tin type hat. Around his neck hung a compact gas mask. He was a secret operative in plain sight.
"I'm told you've already been busy."
The Sandman remained to attention. He nodded.
"At ease Soldier." Patch said. "This command is grateful. By foiling a Japanese incursion in the early hours you saved a good many lives."
"Thank you Sir. Sorry I didn't have time to defuse all the bombs."
Patch nodded. "Never mind that, it could have been a great deal worse.
"Our adversary is hungry, his supplies are low, and the Navy – God Bless them, is making sure they stay that way."
At sea the Navy had made resupply of these islands almost impossible, and that was another battlefield. One of so many across the world.
"Backed into a corner." The masked man noted.
The General agreed. "Exactly – and that's when they get desperate. Necessity being the mother of invention, and being a woman, necessity is a bitch."
The Major General reflected on the loss of aircraft. "Like I said, it could have been a lot worse." He stated. "A lot worse. It wasn't thanks to you.
"Five P-39's lost, versus several hundred tonnes of ordnance and several hundreds of thousands of gallons of high-octane fuel."
The Sandman nodded. "Thank you sir, only wish we'd been quicker. Got to defuse the charges on those birds too."
"You're not Superman." Sandy said. "And even Superman can't be everywhere."
Patch paused before sharing his conclusions with the President's very special agent.
"These incursions behind our lines represent an unacceptable risk to Henderson Field."
The Mystery Man nodded. It was as if the Sandman was expecting this. "You mean to secure Mount Austen."
The General nodded. "There's going to be a heavy butchers bill I fear."
The Sandman nodded. "What can I do?"
"Keep the enemy off our backs as our guys press forward. The Jungle offers cover, camouflage and opportunity for commando style operations, and the enemy has no qualms about engaging in what are suicide missions.
"However you're role is in the shadow war – apparently you possess certain abilities in this field. Dammed if I can get my head around this voodoo stuff. Men can fight men, bullet to bullet, bayonet to bayonet, but hocus pocus – black magic..." Patch felt on uncertain ground. The island was thick mud, bad enough for men and machines, but this supernatural stuff might as well be quicksand. "Well I'd never believed it – not even in my wildest dreams."
"Don't worry sir." The Sandman said. "If the Jap's have any Weapons of Magical Domination, I'm sure I'll get to know about them, let's just say my dreams are that wild."
Patch forced a laugh. You had to try. "Great. Let's keep this business as quiet as we can."
"Discretion at all times Sir – Guaranteed. With the Sandman around, you can rest assured. That's a promise."
Diana Prince waited in line. Millionaire, or lowly government employee, Princess, or Women's Axillary Army Corps Secretary, in Washington DC you queued. War had brought three hundred thousand people to the Nations Capital.
Diana took advantage of this time to order her thoughts. As ever locating the Hand of Mars remained of up most importance, all the more so given Menalippe's vision, but so far the trail of the Mad Red Monk had gone very cold. She did not doubt Wotan still sought the Fist of Ares for his Fuhrer.
"Woo Woo" Etta Candy said with false but determined enthusiasm in the southern drawl that identified her. Together both gal's wore the uniform emblazoned, fittingly Diana thought, with a badge showing a golden bust of Athena. The irrepressible Texan also modelled an infectious smile, despite the hunger that lunch time brought, that and the smell of fresh pie wafting from inside Scholl's Colonial Cafeteria, Connecticut Avenue.
It was with the smell of fruit pie still fresh in her mind, that Diana entered the new Pentagon building. The paint still fresh on the walls of its seventeen and a half miles of corridor. A triumph of design, the worlds largest office building, and yet a man could walk between two points anywhere in the building in around seven minutes. In truth it was a town in it's own right. Almost thirty acres in size. Construction had taken a remarkable sixteen months. The headquarters of the United States military was to be Lieutenant Diana Princes's new working address.
Steve Trevor's face was a picture of desperation masked by a practised smile. Diana forgave his duplicity. As a man he suffered from the inherent faults of his gender. The Amazon Princess was predisposed to forgive these weaknesses, for Captain Trevor was nothing if not brave and determined. Furthermore as an agent of the Office of Strategic Services – a spy, deception was a necessary tool of his trade. He did not disappoint.
"Oh hi Di." He said. Off hand he turned and flipped through his papers, paused in the door to his Office. Looking up he asked. "Good Lunch?"
"Long queue." Diana replied taking her seat. Watching the blond officer through her large glasses.
"In Washington right now the two are inseparable." She added.
Trevor folded closed the manilla file. He turned away, then he said. "Have you heard of the Crimson Flame."
Diana paused for a split second and sifted through her memories, page by page Newspapers flashed through her minds eye, radio broadcasts played over the images. Faster than Trevor could notice she ordered the reports – Priestesses. Eastern Mystery and Magic. The Divine Feminine.
"I believe they have meeting place along Connecticut Avenue." Diana replied. "I think the Washington Post carried an article a few weeks back. Would you like me to get you that?" She looked up from her type writer to measure Steve's reaction.
"What do you remember?" Steve asked.
"As I recall the Post wrote something about the Crimson Flame being a new and fast growing religion, unusual in that women take the role usually take by men as Priests. I got the impression the writer thought it all quite silly."
The Captain's face indicated he thought otherwise. "I found myself reminded of that other lot, they were big in Metropolis and New York for a while."
"The Temple of Light." Diana interjected. This was a troubling idea. Surely she instinctively thought a religion that celebrated the Divine Feminine must be naturally peaceful and benign.
Diana waited for Steve's slower mental process to complete. Thinking he must be mistaken; it is his job to be suspicious. Second thoughts she reflected, as is mine.
Remembering the wrath of Wotan's Dark Angel Valkyrie, Diana reminded herself evil came in many guises, some of them female. She glanced at her collar motif. Athena's profile a visible reminder to be wise in all things.
"Come with me Diana." Steve said a moment later, tossing the file onto his desk through the open office door, he led her toward the Pentagon's Mall Entrance and into a reception lounge.
"This is Miss Armstrong." Steve introduced Diana to the young blonde, who was seated with coffee.
Expensively dressed, sporting a fine hat, she offered her hand. "Pleased to meet you Lieutenant Prince." There was in her bearing a confidence that wealth and security bought, and yet Diana saw in her fear, the spirit of the hunted.
"Helene's father is Senator Armstrong. He sits on Military Intelligence Committee on the Hill."
Diana nodded. Such was Man's world, a network of known names. Each helping one another stay ahead. "Helene, I see you're a member of the Crimson Flame." Diana had at once observed a flame shaped pin on the label of the young woman's coat and deciphered its meaning.
Trevor smile was slight and brief. Diana read his approval as confirmation. However Helene's fear also came into focus. "They've hurt Papa." She blurted. Tears welled in her eyes. Steve found a clean white handkerchief in his pocket. Helene dabbed her eyes.
"Senator Armstrong has been struck down with a heart problem." The Captain added.
Diana recalled that news.
"It's not like that Captain Trevor." Miss Armstrong declared. "It's not natural."
Diana had already drawn this conclusion. She asked any way for appearances sake. "Helene, do you think the Crimson Flame is somehow to blame?"
"Oh yes." The young woman nodded. She was emphatic. "Papa refused to have anything to do with the Crimson Flame, he forbade Mother from joining me at the Temple, refused the Order's invitations... There's no doubt about it Father was stricken because he wouldn't let me attend any more meetings."
Steve Trevor lent forward in his seat. "There it is Diana, Helene and her mother would like this matter investigated. Colonel Darnel has kindly directed Miss Armstrong to my Office."
Diana nodded. Steve really meant his boss had kicked this down the ladder to him. Now it was his turn. His expression shouted to Diana – there's a war on! Axis spies to catch! More important things to be done.
Captain Trevor continued. "However the order does not allow single men to attend it's meetings, and I thought..." Steve paused. "I thought you'd be interested in this kind of thing."
Diana smiled thinking how he really meant that she was a little bit weird, hence a good fit for this."
"Of course Captain Trevor, I'd be delighted to help."
Diana was far from idle in the intervening hours. Wonder Woman foiled a bank robbery, and later visited an Orphanage. There she reminded the children to recycle waste paper, to collect newspapers, and of course those worthless old comic books for the war effort. Wonder Woman also appeared in New York to promote the sale of War Bonds, and Diana Prince fulfilled her secretarial duties at the Pentagon flawlessly.
Come the night of the next meeting of the Crimson Flame. She and an unwilling but dutiful Captain Steve Trevor shared a car to the Connecticut Avenue address.
"You will need me. I must sponsor you, otherwise you won't get in." Helene had told them.
Diana had expected Miss Armstrong to meet them at the old Theatre, that the Crimson Flame had adopted as their meeting place. However Helene Armstrong was not to be see. Instead on arrival they had been recognised and invited in. Steve asked this older woman about Helene.
"I haven't seen Miss Armstrong for some time." The Woman told him as she greeted the evenings supplicants. "However I do have you both on my list, at her recommendation. So pleased you are able to join us tonight."
Diana saw nothing but sincere joy in the older woman's face. She was at least convinced her beliefs were true.
They were directed inside, and Steve chose a couple seats at the front of the small theatre. The music hall had be transformed into a meeting place for the Crimson Flame, and all in all the stage suited the ceremonial services theatrical beginning. Rich red velvet curtains swept aside silently to reveal pentacle of young women, who rose from the floor in their skimpy flowing costumes. At once Diana felt nostalgic for home, and yet at the same time she found herself suppressing a desire to laugh. As graceful as these dancers were, as elegant as the music played by the unseen pianist, these disciples to her eyes still danced like awkward young children. Oh how they lack discipline Diana thought, and a firm hand – proper training in the art of movement.
She noted that Steve Trevor was however very impressed with the display. He crossed his legs, his cap placed on his lap. Diana noted the predictable male response with anthropological interest. As amateurs by Themysicra's criterion these girls were good enough to impress both Steve and the wider audience, men and women. Then again their dancing was the equal of similar acts she had seen on the last occasion she had visited the movie theatre. Again she reflected that Amazon standards were much higher than Hollywood Musicals, and while she had enjoyed herself watching the general clowning around, well that was how her mother would have described it, she should as Steve liked to say – cut them some slack. They were doing their best.
The dancing came to a climatic ending, coinciding with crashing cymbals and bursts of flame. Diana's keen senses smelled stage pyrotechnics. Then something quite different occurred, first the lights dimmed, then two bare chested men, wearing long loin cloths in the middle eastern style entered carrying between them something resembling a flattened golden bowl. From this burst into life a searing Crimson Flame.
At once the dancing acolytes fell to their knees, waving their hands and bodies in a serpentine dance. From beneath the stage came the vibrant sound of a heavy bass drum. They swayed to it's mesmerising beat.
Diana felt the tendrils of the magic begin to touch her mind, and it was with Amazon Mental discipline she erected a wall between her mind - both conscious and unconscious, and the flickering Crimson Flame's light and rhythm.
Beside her Steve Trevor was already entranced. Acting was an art form she had mastered as a small child, and Diana pretended to be like him, one of the mesmerised crowd.
The Crimson Flame became a human torch, a face from which a slow masterful voice emerged.
"I am the Crimson Flame of Life. I burn within the breasts of all who obey me. Whoever opposes me shall be consumed. So shall I be the Crimson Flame of Death to my enemies."
The voice continued echoing through the room, on one level it told the congregation that they were brave, successful and attractive. Subliminally the same voice whispered obey me, obey me.
Diana decided that this cult could be very dangerous.
What obedience did the Flame demand, what tasks did the cult give its members.
After she had said her goodbyes to Steve, the Captain was free to pursue the mystery of what had become of Helene, beginning with a visit to the Armstrong household where the young woman resided. Diana let him go. Alone in her Washington apartment, she settled down by her Mental Radio – a device shaped not unlike a small wall clock in the guise of a temple. She extended her mind across to Salem, Massachusetts, in the knowledge that Doctor Fate's magic crystal viewing sphere was able to receive the Amazon signal.
In the darkness of the tall tower that was Kent Nelson's base of operations a female voice answered.
Diana concluded her Justice Battalion colleague was still visiting the Eastern Front. Reconnaissance for the President. This snippet of information worried her, but Diana was adept enough not to permit this thought to reach Kent's wife. Inza was not without her own skills in matters occult. She answered Wonder Woman's inquiry.
"The Crimson Flame." Inza began. "Yes Kent and I discussed looking into this new religion. I have his notes – yes, here it is. Led by a High Priestess called Zara, who is based somewhere in the deserts of North Africa. The cult was adopted by certain notable escapees from Nazi Europe, who seem to pick up the Crimson Flame's teachings, as they passed through Casablanca on their way to Lisbon and America."
Diana relayed the images and experience of the Crimson Flame's rituals to Salem. At once Inza saw them replayed in the mystic crystal sphere. She gasped with their intensity.
"That is disturbing." Mrs Nelson agreed. After a pause Inza said."Okay Diana, I'll attend one of their meetings in Boston, and we should ask Doctor Occult to make similar inquiries, as he is still in Los Angele with Alsos, and so on. That way we'll learn whether this mesmerism is something special to Washington, or more widespread."
Ending her conversation before Inza became too exhausted with the mental effort of using the mystical sphere, Wonder Woman then left Diana Princes Apartment in a blur of invisible movement. Moments later she had crossed Washington DC. Steve Trevor was startled by her arrival, but ever the intelligence officer he recovered quickly.
He was leaving the exclusive Washington Address of Senator Armstrong. Helene's father.
"Hey beautiful. Am I glad to see you." He said with his trademark smile. "I have a hot potato for you my hot potato." He joked leaning on the olive fender of Army car he'd taken.
"Really?" Wonder Woman sighed. "What's the problem Steve."
"It's Helene Armstrong."
"Yes Senator Armstrong's daughter – ah, Diana Prince told me she was in trouble."
"More than that Wonder Woman. She's missing, and the news has caused her father to suffer a second heart attack. God only knows where she is."
"When did she go missing."
"Shortly after meeting with Miss Prince and myself on Tuesday." Steve replied.
"That was forty eight hours ago Steve, she could be half way across the world by now."
"Really?" The Army Captain asked.
"Call it Wonder Woman's intuition."
Superman found himself falling. In a moment of desperation he strove to fight back. Wotan's presence was strong over Leningrad, and the plight of the besieged citizens of the former St Petersburg was desperate. For many months they had struggled. Close to starvation, under constant bombardment from the aggressor, Hitler's ambition was determined and absolute, this city would be his. Her jewels were stolen, her body stripped of her finery. Thieves in grey stole the city's treasures; paintings, objects de art, furnishings. All carried back to Berlin. This fabulous legacy of Czarist Russia ruined. On Hitler's express orders, Catherine Palace, Peterhof Palace, Ropsha, Strelna, Gatchina, Palaces and other historic landmarks that lay outside the city's defensive perimeter were looted and then destroyed.
The visible consequences pillage left a broken city scape, but this was nothing as compared to the cost in blood.
First descending from the thin cold air of the stratosphere, the Man of Tomorrow swept downward to the city held in thrall by the forces of the Nazi war machine. Absent from the real world for so much of the previous year, trapped in the bubble that was Lost Atlantis, the American Icon, the adopted scion of Freedom had been ignorant of the so very desperate plight of these Russian innocents. Proud but poor under the illiberal tyrant Stalin, now his people were subject to a regime who had no sympathy for the indigenous Slavic population. To the National Socialists, these comrades of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics were the undermensch.
At first his lightning descent was controlled, followed by thunder and moments later an explosive crash.
It was in the atmosphere above the city that Superman was enveloped in the pervasive effects of evil magic. Dark power invisible to his incredible senses assaulted him.
Clear in his memory was the explanation given to him by Doctor Occult. "Wotan is poisoning not only you, but the world. - "That is his power – his poison; this is the sphere of Wotan's influence, his energies permeate the conquered territories, and Germany itself, just as the Nazi soldiers control these areas."
Superman understood the besieged city was disputed territory. According to Doctor Occult's analysis Wotan's evil Kryptonite charged Magic influence would be proportionately reduced.
His Commander in Chief had asked him to undertake this mission. Given the circumstances Superman did not hesitate to put himself in harms way.
The reality of this struggle between opposing invisible spheres of influence was made very real to him as Superman smashed into the ground. This was the Astral War as Wonder Woman had declared it.
Superman found his ability to control his mass curtailed. This was not a graceful landing, at home where freedom reigned Superman alighted the pavement as a gently as a falling feather. In the middle of this battlefield the Man of Tomorrow struck like a two hundred and fifty pound shell. He emerged from the blast hole angry. Aware like his strength, his senses were also dulled. The world seemed to lack colour and depth. Yet at the same time the earth had gained substance, and it was quiet – too quiet. Instead of thousands of heart beats drumming life's rhythm, distinct from the sound of gunfire and shells exploding far louder, there was few dozen souls, and some raised voices – now whispers in his ears.
"I'm that boy again." He growled, springing to his feet, he stared through the mist of broken stone and brick, thinking my hearing, my vision, my ability to fly, all are compromised by the background magical field created by Wotan's Nazi sorcery's sphere of influence.
As weak as a Super-boy, the caped man leapt for cover as a bursting shell fell all too close. He splashed down into snow. Shrapnel fragments stung his body like bee stings. He accelerated, his boots kicking up muddy slush, just faster than a model T ford. He'd been at school in Smallville the last time he'd been this slow if foot, and here and now, he was nowhere near as powerful as a locomotive.
The bodies that greeted him were lean, dirty drawn faces pale behind the smudges, bundled clothing gave the illusion of girth, and any outward signs of gender.
Superman gasped to the guerilla fighters. Pointing at his S shield chest centre. "American!"
"Your Red Flag will get you killed." The answer came back in Russian.
The words were almost prophetic as a bullet slammed towards the Man of Tomorrow fired by distant sniper. Superman grimaced as he snatched it out of the air, like an angry hornet it stung his palm. A small victory that only reminded him of his weakness.
"Still fast enough." He told them. His Russian as excellent as book learning could give a man. Just as an infant had once looked into the growing wombs of his adoptive father's cattle, now Superman could still see the horrors of famine written inside the bodies of these people. Wasting hearts, weakened internal organs, for some of the people he met in the coming hours, even a return to fresh food would come too late.
As he stood in the shadows his suit darkened in colour, adjusting the alien fabric shifted into a variation the healing mode that had first engaged after his battle with Wotan over Berlin.
Running through the broken city a Superman clad in purple and black saw the emptiness in the eyes of traumatised children. Watching from the shadows the Nazi lines where Hitler had sent young Germans to do his bidding in the bitter cold of the Russian Winter. Mud had stopped there machines, dragged down men and horses, and then frozen them both when the ice had come, leaving armour trapped where it stood.
Superman located the house he sought.
In the cellar a group of men and women, in Russia the girls got to fight on the front line with the men against the invaders. Especially here in Leningrad. With them a broad faced man with a generous smile. Superman stepped out of the darkness. His speed and strength still great enough to shame the greatest of acrobats. Still Mike Gibbs managed to hide his surprise well.
"Superman at last." The American OSS agent said with relief. "And in camouflage. How was your trip?" He asked.
"Bumpy – I ran into some propellers on route. At least that's one wave of dive bombers that won't get to bomb our comrades."
Superman knew 'Guerilla Gibbs' from his file. Mike was an expert in Guerilla Warfare, and his brief was to incite Partisans where ever Nazi occupation forces held sway.
Mike took that as a cue to switch to Russian. "Comrades." He said. "Superman has come to help."
The thin faces looked at the Man of Steel. "I hope he is more successful than the last costumed hero your President sent." The speaker had a strong beard, but that was all that was strong about his physical condition, although Superman didn't doubt the metal of his spirit.
"I'll try. I might not be firing on all cylinders here,..."
"Save your excuses Superman. Doctor Fate explained the problems the Nazi Black Magic creates."
Superman frowned. This was his mission from the President. So he asked. "What has happened to Doctor Fate?"
The Russians looked to each other. Their heartbeat faster, it was fear. Fear of what exactly Superman could not tell. He reflected in this siege there was a great deal to strike terror into the hearts and minds of men.
Gibbs shook his head. "That's a question I can't answer."
"What about Ivan – does he know?" Superman asked in English.
"I don't." The gaunt bearded Russian, whom was the senior officer amongst his compatriots, switched to English. "However, it might be, I know a man who does."
"And he'll only talk to you Superman." Gibbs confirmed what Superman had been told in Washington.
"I see." The Man of Tomorrow looked 'Ivan' in the eye. "And where can I meet this friend of America."
The Russian smiled. "The enemy of my enemy is my friend, is that not the way of things Superman?"
"If you mean Joe Stalin was Hitler's ally, before the Nazi's invaded, before the United Nations began shipping food and the trucks you need so badly across the North Atlantic, then I guess that much is true."
"We're practical people Superman." Ivan continued. "Are you?"
"Why – who are we talking about?"
"You know him Superman. You've met him, fought with him."
The Man of Steel lifted his hand and beckoned to the Russian. Silently insisting he speak.
"He is called the Supreme Abbot of the order of Red Monks, you know him by his other name."
"Rasputin." The Man of Tomorrow said. "The undead, the Vampire." Thinking, he who holds the Hand of Mars.
Diana Princess of the Amazons ferried Steve Trevor across the Atlantic at several times the speed of sound within the magic bubble of her invisible plane. Wonder Woman swept through the purple portal between worlds first over the waters around Bermuda, emerging in Themyscira, banking across the paradise island before leaving the hidden realm once more. This time Diana piloted the gift of Hermes through to the Mediterranean Sea. Her heart felt heavy.
The pull of the Nazi Magic registered on the thamaturgical level dial, the needle swung towards the red, before easing back as they left occupied Greece for newly liberated North African Coast.
"Casablanca." Steve Trevor pointed to the port, dim in the twilight. He turned and smiled broadly, a twinkle in his eye, as he winked at her.
Diana smiled. The aviator had a child's enthusiasm for flight, for travel and adventure. She did not doubt he harboured as her friend Etta would say a crush on Wonder Woman, even though Diana Prince remained invisible to him as the Plane in which they rode. In turn she held the brave officer in high esteem, admired his dedication. She felt pride in his successes, many, more than not down, to her efforts in either her assumed identity, or as Wonder Woman. Steve Trevor was a good ally, even if his loyalty lay with America always. As an officer in Military Intelligence's Office of Strategic Services he opened doors that as Wonder Woman she would otherwise be forced to kick down. Diana did love the tussled haired blond flier, as much as an Amazon could, and therein was the rub. Steve Trevor while wise enough to defer to her strength, and special knowledge, remarkable given he remained a man of his time and place. As he smiled at her Diana saw him through Amazon eyes; as a man he was doomed forever to be a child. Wonder Woman could love, nurture and protect – mentor Steve Trevor into a more progressive feminist, mould him into the wisdom of Athena, but this distinction would remain. Although still young in years, Diana was blessed with wisdom beyond that measure. Yes Athena's gift empowered her thoughts, but more than that her childhood had been spent learning from, listening, watching, observing, her sisters; women with thousands of years of collective wisdom.
She could not, but love Steve Trevor, but as mere man he would be forever a child in her eyes, even when in due time his corn coloured hair grew white with age, and death took him. Even as Diana smiled back at her little boy, she felt a deep sense of sadness for the so short lives lived by those born into Man's World.
Al Pratt was another soldier. The US armoured Column pressed through North Africa. Like his Justice Battalion Colleague Wesley Dodds, Pratt had been placed in the thick of it. Riding with the mechanised armour, the short stocky man had been with the American Tank Corp as General "Monty" Montgomery, another man short in stature but long in courage and fortitude had led the British into Italian Tripoli liberating the city from the Fascists. A mad dash that had taken allied forces 1300 miles across North Africa chasing the Desert Fox Rommel. Next would come the battle for Tunisia. The Mighty Atom was up for the fight. At last America was taking the war to the Axis.
Lois Lane balanced a Martini in her grasp as she listened to the piano player. He'd struck up a now familiar tune. The song of the moment, and especially here - the place.
You must remember this
"A kiss is just a kiss
A sigh is just a sigh
The fundamental things apply
As Time Goes By.
And when two lovers woo
They still say, 'I love you'
On that you can rely
No matter what the future brings
As Time Goes By."
"Here's looking at you kid." Lois said tipping her glass towards the demure blonde beside her.
Libby Lawrence smiled. "I haven't seen it yet."
"Really?" Lois replied, thinking, even so as a voice of popular culture you know enough to recognise the film's memorable tune. "I just thought Bogart and Ingrid Bergman would be your kind of thing."
Lois wasn't really sure quite what was Libby's kind of thing, but she thought a guess might persuade the all American beauty to spill. Truth was Lawrence close up and personal was unlike her popular persona. Lane was puzzled by quiet reserve of this other American Woman here in the bar of the Anfa Hotel in Casablanca, January 24th 1943.
"I've been awfully busy of late." Lawrence replied. Her diction was very precise. The quality of her voice was distinctive, and easy on the ear. Still Lois reflected, dulcet tone is required for Radio. Elizabeth Lawrence had first achieved fame by winning the American Intercollegiate Girls Athletic Tournament. She'd made headlines escaping across four countries before leaving England for America. Hence this shy and retiring young lady contradicted Lois's expectations.
However Libby had become a household name – a recognisable voice on the radio; "Men and Women of America! You must choose now, shall it be tanks, guns and planes – or chains?" They'd been strong words, delivered with passion. Yet here in person she seemed altogether less formidable – less passionate. A cold fish. Lois's gut recognised something of the Clark Kent about Libby Lawrence. It was an observation she mentally filed away for future reference.
The day was cool, but not cold. Metropolis had been deep with snow when she'd left America to report on the North African Campaign. She wondered if the War's first female correspondent, Life's Margaret Bourke-White, might join them. She had been torpedoed by a U-boat in the Mediterranean the previous month while on board a British ship transporting troops and nurses to North Africa.
Of course Casablanca didn't see that kind of winter. Hardly unsurprising situated on the North African Coast. The Vichy French Protectionate of Morroco had fallen to Allied Forces under Patton the previous November. Now not yet two months later the President of the United States and the British Prime Minister had come to Anfa Hotel. The purpose of this meeting of minds - how best to defeat Hitler?
This would be the fourth meeting between the Leaders, who now looked east to a new ally in Stalin's Soviet Union, as Hitler turning against his erstwhile friend had united Nations against the Axis.
Naturally Lane was here on behalf of the Daily Star, other news organisations had sent their own correspondents. Not that any of them knew what was going on. That said it had to be big, given the heavy security around the hotel and surrounding district. Libby Lawrence was here for the same reason. She had spied the son of Harry Hopkins, FDR's close aide.
Lois counted herself lucky to be included in the Press detail. Shortly the word came, and just before noon on the bar emptied. They were ushered by the military attaches into the Anfa's garden overlooking the Atlantic, where in very informal style, under the palm trees the British Prime Minster Winston Churchill sat alongside the President Franklin Delano Roosevelt. Churchill's signature Cigar sending up it's own version of smoke signals. As the President spoke Roosevelt introduced the signature phrase for this conference. "The elimination of German, Japanese, and Italian war power means the unconditional surrender by Germany, Italy, and Japan."
Churchill spoke afterwards, eloquently as always. It was with a wry smile and jaunty wink that he acknowledged Lois and Libby in the pack of press hounds. Lane was sure he remembered her. Who could forget that fateful night when Wotan had attacked. Then Lois recalled that Libby too had been introduced to the Prime Minister, after escaping from Europe, shortly before her return to the States.
"We are still in full battle, and heavy action will impend." The cherub faced leader's deep distinctive voice announced. "Our forces grow. The Eighth Army has taken Tripoli, and we are following Rommel—the fugitive of Egypt and Libya—now wishing, no doubt, to represent himself as the deliverer of Tunisia. The Eighth Army has followed him a long way—1,500 miles—from El Alamein where I last saw them, now to Tripoli. And Rommel is still flying before them. But I can give you this assurance- everywhere that Mary went the lamb is sure to go."
As the Press was escorted from the garden, herded back in the Anfa Hotel Lois thought about the wolf packs of the Atlantic, she thought of the Desert Fox Rommel, and the wider conflict.
She wondered why the Russian leader Stalin had not attended, and what this might mean?