CHAPTER TWO

The enormous citadel stood proudly on the dark side of the moon, a grand and complex piece of architecture that few had ever laid eyes on. Its sole inhabitant, Uatu, was known as the Watcher of this part of the universe. His solemn duty was to observe and chronicle the ever-unfolding events of history, but never to interfere. He stood with hands folded neatly behind his back and he stared out into space toward at the blue and green planet known as Earth.

There was a quiet but distinct mechanical hum approaching from behind him. Uatu did not turn around. "Hello, Metron," Uatu said in a somber greeting. "Hello, my old friend."

"Hello, Uatu," Metron replied. He sat upon a great throne known as a Mobius chair, which levitated in midair. The chair continued to hum softly as it floated toward Uatu. "It is good to see you again."

"Not under the best of circumstances, I am afraid," Uatu replied, finally taking his gaze off of Earth and turning toward Metron.

Metron folded his hands in front of him thoughtfully. "So you indicated in your message. What is it that troubles the Watcher so? You have witnessed untold centuries of history play out before you, and yet I have never seen you look as pensive as you do now."

"I have never seen such a confluence of events as what is playing out as we speak," Uatu replied. He gestured toward another area of the citadel. "Come. Let me show you what is occurring even now."

Uatu crossed the room to a large bank of machinery. Metron quietly followed his troubled friend in his levitating chair. With a few swift motions of his hands, Uatu activated the devices laid out before him. Several holographic images appeared in midair. With a few more gestures Uatu was able to move the images around, bringing certain ones to the forefront while others were shuffled to the back. The image that was now front and center in their field of view was of the fiery war planet known as Apokolips. Just above it was the image of the planet's ruthless overlord.

"You know of the despot known as Darkseid," Uatu said. It was not a question, more of a statement of fact.

"All too well," Metron replied.

"Then you know that his all-consuming quest has always been to learn the secrets of the fabled anti-life equation."

"Indeed. With knowledge of the anti-life equation, Darkseid could rob any living being of any will of their own, turning them instead into an instrument of Darkseid's own fiendish design."

"He has found the solution to the equation," Uatu said, grimly. "One of the earliest known solutions to the anti-life equation was found on Earth in ancient Egypt, and that knowledge was possessed by a powerful mutant known to some as En Sabah Nur. To others, he is known as Apocalypse. I do not believe is a coincidence that both he, and the planet that Darkseid rules over, share a name that refers to the coming of the end times."

"How did Darkseid come to align himself with a mutant Earthling?" Metron asked.

The Watcher motioned once again with his hands and shuffled the images around. They now watched the group of mutant freedom fighters known as the X-Men battling En Sabah Nur in the 1980s. He was flanked by four horsemen: Magneto, Psylocke, Angel, and Storm.

"In his search for knowledge of the anti-life equation, Darkseid learned of En Sabah Nur using a simple derivative of the equation to enhance the powers of four mutants and subtly influence their will to align with his own machinations," Uatu explained. "En Sabah Nur was believed to be killed at the conclusion of this battle with the X-Men, but, he was resurrected many years later. With his new incarnation came an enlightenment that allowed him to achieve a more advanced, more complex solution to the equation. Now he could truly strip an individual of their will and transform them into an instrument of pure destruction."

Metron brought his folded hands to his lips and looked on silently.

"When Darkseid became aware of this, he struck a deal with Apocalypse," Uatu continued. "Apocalypse can conduct the anti-life transformation process on but a few individuals at a time, almost always four in number. Darkseid, who had spent his whole life in a tireless quest for the equation, could implement it on hundreds, even thousands at once. If Apocalypse would join forces and share knowledge of the anti-life equation with Darkseid, then Darkseid would assist him in wiping all humans from the planet Earth in a mass genocide, leaving only mutants."

"I see," said Metron. "Is what they intend to do?"

"It is phase one," Uatu continued. "Once the humans have been eliminated, Darkseid then intends to use the equation to launch an all-out war on the planet New Genesis. By that point he will have an army of soulless soldiers with which to overrun the planet. His victory would be assured."

Uatu waved his hands again and shuffled the images once more.

"He already has four super-powered beings under his control," Uatu continued. "As a demonstration of the equation, Apocalypse turned the four members of the superhero team known as the Fantastic Four into his new horsemen."

The image that now appeared before Uatu and Metron were of the quartet that used to be Reed Richards, Susan Storm-Richards, Johnny Strom, and Ben Grimm. The former Fantastic Four had been transformed, via the anti-life equation, into dark and twisted versions of themselves who were ready to serve Darkseid and Apocalypse.

"It is fortunate, then, that the heroes of Earth have recently organized themselves into one untied Justice League," Metron commented.

"Is it, Metron?" Uatu asked. The images before him now showed dozens of heroes including Superman, Spider-Man, Batman, Iron Man, the Flash, Captain America, and many others. "Is it indeed so fortunate? If Darkseid aims to turn the most powerful beings to his side, then the heroes of the Earth would only serve to become his weapons. I fear that an assembly of these heroes may only prove to be more ammunition for Darkseid's deadly arsenal."

"This sounds very grim, old friend. Is there no hope?"

Uatu paused thoughtfully. "These two individuals, who have been at the epicenter of many events that have led to where we are today, show some potential to turn the tide. If, indeed, anyone can." As he spoke, the images of Superman and Spider-Man moved closer to the two viewers.

"The last son of Krypton," Metron remarked with recognition. "And, the sensational Spider-Man."

The holographic images began to diverge from each other and spread out. New images began hovering all around the pair of friends, surrounding them.

Jonathan and Martha Kent holding baby Kal-El in the middle of a field, with their overturned truck behind them. Peter Parker being bitten by a genetically altered super spider while on a field trip with his high school class. A teenage Clark Kent pulling Lex Luthor from the underwater car wreck beneath Loeb Bridge. A battle-worn Spider-Man, witnessing Norman Osborn being impaled by his own goblin glider. Clark Kent and Peter Parker meeting each other for the first time at the offices of the Daily Bugle and shaking hands. Spider-Man perched on a rooftop beside Clark, who was wearing a special costume that included a yellow visor across his eyes. Clark hoisting Mjolnir to fight the Incredible Hulk as the jade giant lay waste to the Triskelion. Clark Kent and Peter Parker, both looking solemn and dressed in black, laying flowers at the grave of Chloe Sullivan. Superman appearing publicly for the first time in his famous red and blue costume to catch a crashing plane while Spider-Man frantically swung around pulling civilians to safety. Superman lifting the Negative Zone Prison into the sky, knowing full well it may be his last heroic effort as the prison came closer and closer to exploding. Spider-Man rescuing Superman from the murky abyss of the Negative Zone.

"This unlikely friendship between a living god from a dead world and a human gifted with the powers of an arachnid was, in many ways, what led to the formation of the Justice League itself," Uatu commented. "They were an inspiration to many who wished to join with them and unite in the pursuit of a greater good."

"Then are they not the best equipped to oppose Darkseid and En Sabah Nur?" Metron inquired.

"Ironically, there are six individuals whom many would consider to be villains who may stand the best chance of defeating that unholy alliance." The images changed once again. They now showed Lex Luthor, Ra's Al Ghul, Vandal Savage, the Red Skull, Magneto, and Dr. Doom. "This secret society has undertaken a quest to locate the six infinity gems and assemble the legendary infinity gauntlet. If they succeed, the gauntlet would be powerful enough to defeat Darkseid and his anti-life equation, or at least to rebuild the ruins of Earth in the aftermath."

Uatu waved his hand once again and all of the images ceased.

"Then the greatest hope for success lies in the hands of a group of villains?" Metron asked.

"It is a bleaker picture than that, old friend," Uatu replied. "If a war is coming with Darkseid and the anti-life equation on one side, men like Dr. Doom and Lex Luthor with the infinity gauntlet on the other, and all the heroes of Earth caught in the middle, I fear that the fate of the very universe is in jeopardy. This war could bring about the end of all that is."

Uatu stared silently at Metron for several long moments.

"But perhaps the most disturbing thing," Uatu continued, "is that this news does not surprise you in the least."

"What makes you say that, old friend?" Metron replied.

"The entire time I have been telling you this tale and showing you these images you have not so much as batted an eye or raised your brow. You have asked questions and made comments but they seem almost rehearsed, those of a man pretending not to know what he already knows." Uatu was growing more agitated as he spoke. "Your Mobius chair allows you to transverse the time stream, Metron. You have advanced knowledge of the past, present, and future. The days that lie ahead are not a mystery to you." He paused, hoping that was he was about to say was incorrect. "You know, don't you? You know that I am right, and that there truly are catastrophic times ahead?"

Metron looked very solemnly at Uatu. "Why have you really called me here?" he asked, rather than respond to his accusations.

"I have sworn an oath never to interfere in the events of history. Merely to observe and record them. But you, Metron, have sworn no such oath. With your Mobius chair and your ability to travel through time, you could stop what is coming. You could end this catastrophe before it even begins. Will you do it, my friend? Will you intercede and stop the coming armageddon?"

Metron's chair slowly levitated a bit higher. He looked thoughtful. Perhaps he was considering Uatu's request.

Then, he replied simply, "All things come to an end, Uatu." His chair floated higher and higher into the air toward an opening in the ceiling of the citadel. "Even universes."

Without giving the Watcher a chance for further rebuttal, Metron and his Mobius chair flew up into the darkness of space and out of sight.