"THE MEN OF MAGNIFICA"
By Bill K., from a title by Gardner Fox

Story is (c) 2000 by Bill Kropfhauser; Atom, Black Canary, Dr. Midnite,
Firebrand, Flash, Hawkman, Hawkgirl, Johnny Quick, Liberty Belle, Phantom Lady,
Tsunami and Wonder Woman are (c) 2000 by DC Comics, Inc.; Green Lantern is
(c) 2000 by Martin Nodell; all are used without permission, but with respect.

In the mid forties, Gardner Fox wrote four Justice Society stories that were
never published. Three of those four stories, including "The Men Of Magnifica",
are lost works. I have taken the story title and built an entirely new story
around it. Nothing in this story is intended to reflect what Gardner Fox
originally wrote; however, it and every Justice Society story are based on his
works and his imagination.

Since DC continuity seems to change every few months and I can no longer keep
up, this story is based on continuity established prior to "Crisis On Infinite
Earths" and on observations from a perspective of fifty years.
--------------------------------------------------------------------------------

Though she projected an outward sense of calm and unflappability, inside
Black Canary was tremendously nervous. It was just last month that she'd been
rewarded with membership in one of the most prestigious organizations in the
land, that of the Justice Society of America. Nothing had come up during the
month that necessitated an emergency session, so the regularly scheduled meeting
would be her first as a member. She'd already sat through six of them, off to
the side as Johnny Thunder's guest.

But this was her first one as a member. She paused at the door, gathering
her courage. Fighting criminals hadn't been this daunting. Her chest swelled
under the blue bolero jacket as she took in a deep, steadying breath. A gloved
hand grasped the knob and turned. The door opened.

The others were sitting at the round table, waiting for her. Flash gave
her an easy smile. Dr. Midnite twisted his head toward the sound of the door
opening, listening rather than looking. But her eyes went to Wonder Woman,
sitting at the table with notepad in hand ready to transcribe the minutes of the
meeting. The amazon glanced up at her, exuding the unassuming grace and
confidence she always did. Her lips curled into a warm smile of greeting and
her eyes twinkled with conspiratory knowledge, the only other woman to crack
this boy's club. Black Canary felt her nervousness wash away.

"Take your seat, Black Canary," Hawkman said, grim and imposing in his
hawk's head cowl and huge wings. "Now that we're all here, we can begin.
* * * *
"Where do you think you're going?"

Libby sighed to herself. She didn't want to have a fight. At least, not
with Johnny.

"I'm sorry, wasn't the costume a dead giveaway?" she bristled, then
instantly regretted it. Snapping at him wasn't going to forestall a fight.

"Do I have to remind you. . ." Johnny Chambers began, but Libby cut him
off.

"No, you don't! I'm getting far too many natural reminders as it is!"
Libby inhaled deeply, trying to quell the irritability within her. It was an
irritability she'd rarely experienced before, but which seemed to come all too
easily recently. "Look, I understand you're concerned about me. I think it's
very dear. But I'm not an invalid, OK?"

"I thought we agreed," Johnny responded, taking on that wounded puppy dog
expression that was like sandpaper on her already brittle nerves. "No more
Liberty Belle."

"Did you see the morning paper? That poor couple shot down in their
home?"

"The police can handle it."

"So can I! I did that sort of thing for five years, and I did it well!"

"Yes, you did, but it's different now. Especially now; you have to take it
easy."

"I'm just going to be doing a little investigating!"

"In that?" Johnny asked, nodding at her get up. Libby wore her yellow
breeches, blue blouse with the red gloves and the red bell emblem on the front,
the costume of Liberty Belle. "We both know that the costume's a trouble
magnet."

"Johnny," sighed Libby in mounting frustration. "Don't smother me!"

The pang of hurt was instantly clear on Johnny's face. Libby hated
herself for hurting him, but she had to take a stand. If he got hurt because he
wouldn't back down . . .

Suddenly, there was a sizzle of expended energy that sliced through the
room. On reflexes honed from five years of facing danger, both Johnny and
Liberty Belle pivoted into defensive postures. They saw a crackle of energy
suspended in the center of the room. The crackle began to expand until it
metamorphasized into a humanoid male.

He stood six and one half feet and his body was perfectly chiseled muscle,
lean enough to be athletic, yet powerful enough to rip a table in half. His
features were gentle and handsome, golden curls adorning his noble skull. A
simple tunic draped loosely over his body. It was as if a god had descended
from Olympus and stepped into the living room Johnny and Libby shared.

"Who are you?" demanded Johnny, reflexively moving forward to shield
Libby. "What do you want?"

The man said nothing. He merely raised his right hand and pointed it at
Liberty Belle. Instantly the air around her began to crackle as an energy field
surrounded her. Before she could move, the heroine was caught. Johnny began to
speed up.

"3X2(9YZ)4A!" he bellowed. The speed force kicked in and Johnny Chambers
felt the energy course through his legs. Not bothering to change into Johnny
Quick, Chambers lunged for Liberty Belle, hoping his momentum could throw her
clear of the field without injuring her.

But the super speedster was too late. The field and Liberty Belle inside
of it dissolved into nothing. He passed through without touching anything but
air molecules. Pivoting, Johnny went gunning for the mysterious stranger, with
no concern for being gentle. The stranger was beginning to fade away, too.
Putting on a burst of speed, Johnny flung himself at the man. He passed through
harmlessly and came to a stop in the doorway to the kitchen.

Turning around, Johnny found himself alone in an empty house. Panic
surged up. Johnny forced it down. This was all totally beyond him. In an eye
blink, he donned his costume and sped out the door, gaining the momentum to
launch himself into missile mode. His destination was Gotham City.

There were people to whom this wouldn't be beyond.
* * * *
"And that's all the business we have," Hawkman said, standing as he
addressed the others. "This meeting is adjourned."

"So how did you like your first meeting, Black Canary?" Dr. Midnite asked
pleasantly.

"Well. . . I. . ." she hesitated, not wanting to offend. "I didn't expect
this group to be so formal and organized."

"She thought we just bashed crooks for a living," grinned Atom.

"I wouldn't mind a little less paperwork and a little more crime busting,"
grumbled Green Lantern.

"You would," smirked Wonder Woman, not looking up from her notes.

"Leave him alone, Wonder Woman," Flash warned playfully, smelling a chance
to nail his friend. "You know he never lets a fight go."

"I have no reputation left, thanks to you," Green Lantern responded with
mock indignation. Flash chuckled. Just then, the door opened.

"Well, is your stuffy little meeting over with?" Hawkgirl asked, striding
into the room. Several members recognized the peevish tone to her voice and
knew Hawkgirl needed attention. Hawkman intercepted her before she got too far
into the room. Black Canary, in the midst of sizing up Hawkgirl since this was
their initial meeting, noticed the instant intimacy between the two and the
edges of her mouth curled. They seemed to fit together like a hand in
glove - - or perhaps more accurately yin and yang.

Dr. Midnite smelled it first: the burning of oxygen as other energy
molecules disrupted them. Black Canary, instantly spotting Midnite's reaction
and using her eyes, ears and nose to triangulate onto the spot, noticed the
ripple of growing energy displacement in the far corner of the room.

"Head's up!" she barked and the entire room went on alert.

They all saw it now, save Dr. Midnite: A swirl of crackling energy
pulsating in the corner. It seemed to grow, elongating to the floor and
increasing in intensity until its brilliance overwhelmed everybody.

"What is it?" asked Atom.

"Some sort of energy field," Flash replied. He passed his arm before him
at hyper-speed, as if deflecting the light photons before they hit his eyes and
blinded him. "Holy smokes, there's someone inside of that field!"

"That's impossible!" growled Green Lantern. "That field was only inches
across a moment ago!"

"So's your ring, but there you are," replied Flash.

The brilliance died down. In the corner was a man, different slightly
from the man who visited Libby Lawrence and Johnny Chambers and no less
imposing. His head was adorned with soft locks of pale orange that trickled
down the back of his head and brushed his shoulders.

"What do you want?" Hawkman asked, his tone demanding a response. Green
Lantern moved to his right to give his demand weight.

The intruder ignored Hawkman. He scanned the room with the casual
diffidence of a farmer scanning a pen of cattle. His hand came up with simple,
unthreatening ease, but the group tensed for battle just the same. His finger
pointed, first at Black Canary, then to Wonder Woman, and finally to Hawkgirl.

"Come with me," he said, his voice an unearthly, singsong timber that
seemed in the room and at the same time around the room.

Before the three women could recognize that they were fading out of
existence, they were gone. As Hawkman was in the process of shouting out
Hawkgirl's name and Atom added too late that the three were gone, as Green
Lantern began to bring his ring to bear, The Flash was already two paces from
the giant. His fist was cocked and prepared to rain a hundred blows onto him in
the next second. He swung and was already pulling back to launch the second
punch before it registered that his first had hit nothing but air.

"Too slow!" he fumed, even as the rest realized the intruder had
disappeared as well.

"What was that?" Dr. Midnite asked, confused by the bizarre images he'd
seen through his goggles.

"Where'd they go?" Atom demanded impotently.

"What. . .?" began Green Lantern.

"HOLD IT!" snapped Hawkman, seething with barely controlled fury.
Instantly everyone in the room deferred to their chairman. "Babbling isn't
going to accomplish anything! Now be quiet and listen!" The others listened
intently while Atom snuck another peek at the room, just in case they were still
there for some reason. "They all faded out surrounded by fields that gave off
intense light energy. Flash, Green Lantern, Dr. Midnite, use your powers to
find some residue of that radiant energy."

"What good will that do?" Atom protested as the others began combing the
room. "We have to find them!"

"We will find them," Hawkman replied with quiet confidence. "But we need
evidence to point us in the right direction. It could take decades to find them
just groping around blindly."

"Nothing so far, Hawkman," Flash said. He stopped spinning and began
vibrating at a speed that made him barely visible.

"There!" Dr. Midnite pointed at the air. "It's faint, but I see it!
Green Lantern, pick it up!"

Green Lantern's ring projected a wide-angle green beam over the spot Dr.
Midnite pointed to. At once an energy signature was visible to the naked eye.
As the five heroes gathered around, Dr. Midnite heard footsteps in the outer
hall. Suddenly Johnny Quick burst into the room.

"I need help, you guys!" he gasped, agitated as much as winded. "Libby's
been taken!"
* * * *
The room was bare, save for the occupants. It was colored a light blue
and lit with a soft, comfortable light, but the light was the only comfortable
thing about it. In the room, four women stood against two of the walls, their
wrists dangling above their heads from chains and manacles. One continued to
strain against the unyielding metal, fighting to escape. The other three
captives had long since realized the futility of the gesture.

Suddenly, in the center of the room, a pulse of energy formed.

"Look!" one of the captives cried. "Shield your eyes!"

"God, not more!" groaned another.

The energy pulse elongated until it touched the floor, then split off into
four separate fields. Wonder Woman, Hawkgirl and Black Canary formed from the
energy, as did their god-like abductor. Disoriented, the other two looked
around while Wonder Woman faced their captor directly.

"Where have you taken us?" she demanded.

"Wonder Woman, look!" gasped Hawkgirl, pointing at the other captives in
the room. Chained to the wall nearest them were Firebrand and Phantom Lady.
Chained to the far wall were Tsunami and Liberty Belle. Hawkgirl gaped in
astonishment, while Black Canary began easing herself behind the giant.

"What is all this?" Wonder Woman asked angrily.

"Submit quietly and nothing will happen to you," replied the god-creature.
"Resist and you will be chained."

"Sorry," Wonder Woman said with a confident smile, "but what you ask is
against my religion."

She turned away from him as if he were nothing and strode toward
Firebrand. The man's hand shot out and seized her around the wrist to pull her
back. The amazon held her ground and flexed her mighty shoulders to jerk the
man off his feet and into the wall.

To her surprise, he went nowhere. The pair stood, locked in a contest of
strength that seemed evenly matched. Then Wonder Woman's upper arm began to
shake almost imperceptibly, indicating she'd reached the limit of her power.
Moment's later, she was pulled off of her feet and brought down face to face
with the giant. He seized her other wrist and held them up in front of her
face, locked in the twin vises that were his hands. Try as she might, Wonder
Woman couldn't pull free. The giant gave no hint that he was straining. In
fact, his expression was almost pitying.

"You're strong for your age," Wonder Woman grunted, masking her growing
consternation.

His reply was the twin glows of energy fields forming around his hands.
The fields began to grow in size and brilliance. Instantly Black Canary lunged
forward, bringing her right arm up hard between his legs. No reaction.
Propelled by her wings, Hawkgirl tried to drive her shoulder into the giant, but
only bounced away. He remained unaffected.

From the energy fields, two tendrils of energy began to extend toward each
other. Like groping fingers, they reached out to one another until they
brushed. Instantly they joined, forming a link between the two fields. They
glowed brightly for a moment, then died away. In their place, twin manacles
covered Wonder Woman's bracelets, linked by a metal chain. The amazon's eyes
grew wide with horror and astonishment, even as she felt her great power drain
away by Aphrodite's curse.

"Oh God," moaned Firebrand, the last hope of her and her fellow captives
gone.

Grasping the chain, the man dragged Wonder Woman over to an empty wall.
He pressed his hand flat to the wall, the chain under it. A flash of brilliance
and the links were attached to the wall by a metal ringlet, holding the
struggling amazon's hands above her head. Without anger or malice, he turned to
Black Canary and Hawkgirl.

"You must be restrained as well," he said, as if talking to infants. "Do
not resist and you will not be hurt."

As the strange man seized Hawkgirl and dragged her fighting and clawing to
a spot next to Wonder Woman, Black Canary quickly surveyed the room. There were
no doors, no windows, no vents or access panels; no means of escape. Just four
smooth walls made of some unknown substance, a floor and a ceiling made of the
same, and Six helpless captives. Just then, she felt a presence loom over her.
Black Canary turned and found the giant beside her, towering over her.

"OK, no need to get violent," she replied, presenting her hands to him.
"I know when I'm licked."

After Black Canary was shackled to the wall, the orange-haired man
disappeared in a burst of brilliance. The room was thick with depression.

"How long have you been captive?" Wonder Woman asked the others.

"I don't know," Tsunami replied, her delicate Japanese features
crestfallen and her willowy body stooped in defeat. "After a while, you lose
track."

"God, is it you, Tsunami?" Hawkgirl asked. "I haven't seen you in years!"

"I haven't exactly been running in your circles," she shrugged. "I stay
active on the West Coast. My people need a hero, too.

"Did that man kidnap you three, too?" asked Firebrand.

"Yes," Black Canary said, her sharp blue eyes studying the other four.
"Do you know anything about him or why we're here?"

"Just what you've seen. The one that took me wasn't very talkative."

"None of them seem to be," Liberty Belle added, her lips pursed in
frustration. She turned to Black Canary. "I'm not familiar with you."

"Black Canary," she smiled sheepishly. "I'm new."

"Hell of an initiation," muttered Phantom Lady.

"You said 'them'?" Black Canary continued. "There's more than one?"

"The one that took me had golden hair," Liberty Belle replied. "Phantom
Lady's abductor had black hair and Tsunami's was platinum. They all seem to be
physically perfect specimens, though."

"You suppose everyone around here is like that?" asked Hawkgirl.

No one answered. No one wanted to consider the possibility.

"Well, the first order of business is to get out of these chains," Black
Canary said, undaunted.

"We've tried," Firebrand said. "I practically set this place on fire
trying to melt mine off. They seem impervious to heat."

"I sought to use my control over water to introduce water vapor into the
lock mechanism," Tsunami said, "and open the mechanism with hydraulic process."
She looked down, shamed. "Only to find there is no lock mechanism in the
manacle."

"And no lock mechanism means there's nothing to pick," Liberty Belle
added. "Tsunami wasn't strong enough to pull free and they're too tight for me
to slip them."

"Wonder Woman?" Black Canary said, turning to her fellow member. The
reaction she got surprised her. For the first time since they'd met, for the
first time she could ever remember, the amazon bowed her head and averted her
eyes in embarrassed humiliation, beyond even what Tsunami had evidenced.

"I've allowed a man to chain my bracelets of submission," the amazon
whispered, looking like she wanted to crawl into a hole. "By Aphrodite's law,
I have no more strength than you do, Black Canary, until the chains are
sundered,"

The room fell silent, stunned by that bombshell.

"It's not your fault, Wonder Woman," Hawkgirl said, trying to console her.

"Oh, but it is. I'm paying for being over-confident. We're all paying
for my over-confidence."

Black Canary exhaled in frustration. Momentarily stymied, she realized
she would just have to bide her time and wait for an opportunity to come.

The captives didn't have long to be miserable. The by now familiar energy
field appeared in the center of the room, small at first, then elongating
vertically until it was Six and a half feet long. Without warning, Six bursts
shot from the field, formed fields of their own and elongated in kind. The
room filled with light. When it dissipated, seven beings of physical perfection
stood in the room with the seven captive women. They were distinguishable only
by their differing hair color and by subtle variances in their facial features.
The captives tensed, unsure of their captors' motives and uneasy at being
helpless. The being with the golden locks spoke and the other Six deferred to
him.

"You are all fine stock," he said, "and superior choices."

"For what?!" snapped Liberty Belle. "Where are we?"

"A world that shares the space of yours on a different vibratory plane, if
you can conceive of such things. We call it Magnifica."

"Is it possible?" Phantom Lady gasped.

"Hawkman always theorized it was," Hawkgirl replied. "Don't ask me how,
though. His theories are always over my head."

"Next question: Why are we here?" Liberty Belle demanded, pulling at her
chains.

"To explain that, you must know the history of Magnifica," the man said.
As he spoke, Black Canary and Liberty Belle studied him. The man seemed
soft-spoken, intelligent, articulate, logical without arrogance or vanity, and
yet there was an inhumanity about him that went beyond the acts of abduction and
forced imprisonment.

"For centuries," he continued, "Magnifica has been a perfect society and a
social paradise. These wonders have only been possible through the protection
and leadership of the Council of Seven."

"This council is . . .?" Black Canary asked.

"Seven men of genetically perfected mental and physical prowess. I am
first among the current council, hence my title 'First of Seven'. The council
protects the citizenry of Magnifica, stewards them through life, provides for
them and advances the civilization for the benefit of the generations to come.
We perform a lifetime of miracles, the last one being the reproduction of
another generation of the Seven."

"Oh no. . ." Phantom Lady gasped, her eyes wide and the color draining
from her face as her realization took hold. Several other captives made the
connection moments later.

"You surmise correctly," First Of Seven replied without malice. "You
seven will bear the next line of the Seven." The remainder of the council
behind him said nothing, yet it was easy to read anticipation in their body
language.

"What's the matter?" barked Firebrand. "You don't have women on this
planet?"

"None with the genetic makeup of you seven," First Of Seven explained
patiently. "Our women could only dilute the genetic perfection we have
attained. For generations we have taken superior women from other worlds to
bear our successors."

"And what if we do not wish to participate?" hissed Tsunami.

"You may resist," First replied with lack of relish, "but it will be
futile. The Men of Magnifica have never been defeated."

"REALLY?" roared Firebrand.

An inferno of fire sprang from her fettered hands. It shot out across the
room, striking First Of Seven and engulfing him in hot, angry flames. Black
Canary, chained directly opposite Firebrand, turned her head as a thick wave of
heat slammed into her from the fire. Wonder Woman gasped audibly, at the
strength of Firebrand's response and at the thought of her immolating a living
creature, even one who meant to rape her. The remaining council remained
unmoved, unconcerned as they watched their fellow seemingly burned to death.

Then it was the captives' turn to gasp as First calmly emerged from the
dying inferno alive, unhurt, unaffected by the roaring fire. He walked calmly
up to Firebrand until they were inches apart.

"Have you learned that you cannot oppose us?" he asked. "We are not
villains. Were there any other way, we would not do this. But Magnifica must
perpetuate the Council of Seven."

"Now what!" spat Phantom Lady, enraged. "Do you beat us into submission?
Or do you just rape us while we're chained to the wall? We fought a war to rid
our world of your kind! I will not submit willingly to you now!"

"It matters not," said Sixth of Seven, a beautiful sandy-haired man that
under different circumstances Sandra Knight could have taken a shine to. "You
have been the one matched to me. My time is growing close and I will have you."
Phantom Lady glared up at him. She could see he was struggling against inner
demons to retain his composure.

"The time for debate is over," proclaimed First. "The mating begins."

The Council fanned out, each man to his pre-selected mate. Wonder Woman
lashed out with her foot, but was parried easily by Second of Seven. Hawkgirl
shrieked. Black Canary tried to get her attacker in a leg scissors, to no
avail. The others resisted as they could.

"Don't do this!" wailed Liberty Belle as she writhed in the grip of Fifth
of Seven.

"Do not resist us," Fifth said, his voice heavy with the strain of pent up
desires washing over him. "It is necessary! It . . . NO!" Fifth staggered back
from Liberty Belle, horrified. "First! I-I cannot mate with this one!! She is
with child already!"

"Then you lose out," sneered Fourth of Seven, his hands and mouth pawing a
squirming Tsunami.

"No!" Fifth protested, his logical mind veering into irrationality. "We
must discuss this! First, I demand . . .!"

"We . . ." First said, detaching himself with great effort from
Firebrand's blouse, "We will, Fifth. Come, my brothers."

With great difficulty, the others pried themselves away from the fettered
heroines. They gathered in a small circle and in seconds were enveloped by a
blinding light. When it dissipated, they were gone.

Firebrand stared at Liberty Belle with a look of total shock. Hawkgirl's
mouth was turned up in an expression of utter joy as she looked at her longtime
acquaintance. Wonder Woman's response was controlled: she seemed pleased, but
her pleasure was tempered with the gravity of the situation. Liberty Belle,
though, only stared at the floor with a worried look on her face.

"Oh," she sighed, her voice heavy with concern, "Johnny's got to be going
through hell right now."
* * * *
"Pregnant?" gasped The Atom.

"About two months," responded Johnny Quick. He was slumped in a chair at
the roundtable, surrounded by Atom, Flash and Dr. Midnite. Off to one side,
Green Lantern probed the air with his ring while Hawkman watched intently.
"That's why you haven't seen her on the streets recently. Someone in her
condition . . ." Johnny wavered, seemingly on the brink. "Oh God, I should have
stopped him!"

"We'll get her back, Johnny," Flash said softly, his hand a tangible
reassurance on the hero's shoulder.

"How are you progressing?" Hawkman murmured to Green Lantern.

"Still probing," Green Lantern replied. "I've still got the signature,
but they've gone a long way. They're not on this Earth any longer."

"One thing we should consider is who we're going to be going up against,"
Atom said, wandering over. "You saw that guy - - a physical bruiser that can
teleport as well, and not just himself, but others."

"Impressive, but not unbeatable," Hawkman replied. "If we all work
together, we can take him."

"If there's only one of them," Dr. Midnite interjected, joining the group
around Green Lantern.

"Hawk, this probe is going inter-dimensional," Green Lantern said.

"Really? Interesting," mused Hawkman with scientific detachment.

"Inter-dimensional teleportation?" questioned Flash, joining the others.
"That's commanding a lot of energy." It was a statement of fact, but there was
a cautious note of warning to it as well.

"It's still nothing we can't counter," Hawkman replied resolutely.

"I've got it!" exclaimed Green Lantern. "The trail ends on a planet in
this space on a different dimensional plane."

"Can you get us all there?" asked Hawkman.

"Sure. I can erect a transport pod around us with my ring and it will
carry us through the vibratory barriers."

"I'm coming, too!" Johnny said resolutely.

"I was counting on your help, Johnny," Hawkman smiled and Johnny suddenly
realized that he wasn't the only one with a loved one in peril.

"All right, all aboard the Green Lantern Limited!" joked Green Lantern,
erecting a protective green bubble around them. "Next stop, the kidnapper's
hideout! Please keep your arms and legs inside the bubble."

The emerald brilliance of the bubble grew in intensity until it engulfed
the room. Spent, the light died away and the Justice Society was gone.

Though they hadn't moved in a physical sense, the Six heroes got a sense
of motion as a kaleidoscope of colors arced and danced around the bubble.
Though they were tinted green from the bubble, it was still an awe-inspiring
display. Atom, for one, was particularly struck by the sight. He stared out at
the swirling vista with the wonder of a child.

"God," he sighed. "The colors!"

"Lightwave and vibratory frequency changes," Flash replied. He was
unimpressed, having experienced such a phenomenon before. "Loud, but harmless."

"You've been able to experience more than some of us, Flash," Dr.
Midnite said. "You're lucky."

Suddenly, the bubble shook violently. Several heads turned to Green
Lantern, only to see his brow furrowed and his mouth twisted in a grimace.

"Trouble?" Hawkman asked.

"Some sort of barrier," Green Lantern choked out, his face clearly showing
his strain. "But it isn't wood, so I'll get through it."

The passengers tried to put aside their unease and trust their teammate.
* * * *
"Well, your little surprise has bought us a reprieve," Tsunami said with
relief she didn't feel.

"What good's a reprieve from being raped?" asked Phantom Lady. "If we
don't get out of here, we'll still be raped."

"Then we'll just have to get out of here," Black Canary replied. The
others looked at her; some with hope and the rest with incredulity at the utter
nerve of this kitten who growled like a lioness.

"Do you have an idea?" Wonder Woman asked.

"I think so." She grasped the chain holding her right arm and pulled
herself up off the floor. Suspended by her rigid right arm, Black Canary used
her left to pluck at the choker she wore around her throat, a choker most
thought to be decorative. Wonder Woman could see a small stone between her left
thumb and forefinger as Black Canary eased herself to the floor. "My Canary
amulet can catch light and focus it into a beam of heated light."

"I've already tried that," Firebrand protested. "These shackles are heat
resistant."

"Yes, but your fire is diffuse heat," Black Canary replied. "My amulet
projects a concentrated beam and maybe that concentrated beam can cut through
this metal." She looked around for the room's light source. "I need a light
source, though."

"Brandy!" Liberty Belle said. "If you burn as intensely as you can,
you'll give off a tremendous amount of light, too."

"Yeah," nodded Firebrand. Then she turned to Phantom Lady next to her.
"If I do, though, it's going to get pretty hot over here."

"Anything's better than being raped," she replied. Then she grinned.
"Besides, I could use a tan." To the others, she said, "Close your eyes. My
goggles will shield me, but you don't want to be looking at this. Black Canary,
I'd lend you my goggles, but," and she shook her manacled wrists, "you know how
it is."

"I'll make do," Black Canary said. "Anytime you're ready."

Firebrand's hands erupted into flame. The fire grew in intensity until
the room was bathed in light. Facing the chain linked to her right wrist and
glancing at the amulet out of the corner of her eye, Black Canary tried to angle
the amulet so the beam it was projecting struck the metal chain. The beam hit
the third link and Black Canary held it as still as she could.

At first nothing happened. Persistently, Firebrand's hands burned.
Patiently, Black Canary held the amulet aloft. Tension from the others began to
mount, as all they heard was the crackle of Firebrand's flame. The more time
passed without any sign of success, the less hope kindled in the captives.
Sweat began to bead on Firebrand's forehead. She had limits and she would soon
reach them. The redhead strained to hold on.

"I smell smoke!" Liberty Belle said hopefully.

"The chain is definitely smoking," confirmed Black Canary. "Keep it up,
Firebrand."

"And Mom always told me chain smoking was bad for me," joked Hawkgirl.
The pun lightened the mood of the room.

"You can stop now, Firebrand," Black Canary advised. "The beam cut
through." Black Canary pulled on her right arm. The weakened link, still hot
from exposure to the beam, began to deform under the pressure until the gap was
wide enough for Black Canary to pull free. With her right arm free, she
transferred the amulet to her right hand and held it up. "Got enough left for
another go at this?"

"You bet!" Firebrand exclaimed. "I want to get out of here! Golden boy
is definitely not my type!"

Minutes later, Black Canary was freed from the wall. Instantly Wonder
Woman spoke up.

"Black Canary! Cut my chain! Once my strength is restored, I can free
the others more quickly than your amulet!"

"Good thing," huffed Firebrand. "I'm getting tired."

Firebrand flared again. With the amulet closer to the light source, the
beam was that much more intense and cut the chain more quickly. Once the link
was severed, Wonder Woman did the rest. Her feminine shoulders tensed and, with
some strain, snapped the chain. She then dug her fingers into the manacles over
her bracelets and, with a few seconds effort, twisted them from her wrists.

"Those chains look pretty tough," Hawkgirl said as Wonder Woman reached up
and grasped with both hands the chain that held her. The amazon pulled at the
metal links, with no results at first.

"I will grant you," Wonder Woman said through clenched teeth, the strain
of her exertions in her voice, "that this metal is far stronger than any I have
known. But - - unnngh," and the chain tore away from the wall, freeing
Hawkgirl, "it is not impossible." It took considerably longer to free the
others than anyone was comfortable with, but at last all seven were free.

"Now," Liberty Belle said, looking around the smooth, unbroken surface of
the walls of their prison, "how do we get out of here?"

"How about the direct approach?" Wonder Woman said. She walked up to a
wall, lifted her foot up and jammed it into the wall, attempting to push through
it or to push it down. It did neither and the reflected force of Wonder Woman's
kick sent her staggering back. "Well, so much for the direct approach."

"How much you want to bet it's fireproof, too?" scowled Firebrand.

"Fire," whispered Liberty Belle. "With all the burning you've done,
Brandy, if this room were airtight we'd have suffocated by now. So if these
walls aren't porous . . ."

"There has to be a vent we haven't found! Good, Liberty Belle!" exclaimed
Black Canary. She ripped the black glove off of her hand, wet a finger and held
it up. "I can feel air flow."

"Allow me," Tsunami said gently, moving to the center of the group. "I am
much more sensitive to currents than any of you." Her eyes closed and her head
lolled back. She splayed her fingers as she spread her arms slightly from her
body. The raven hair falling down her back seemed to dance faintly. Then she
turned about sixty degrees to her right and pointed to a corner. "There."

Liberty Belle and Black Canary scurried over and knelt down to the corner.
Canary put her hand against the wall.

"Air flow," they said in unison, smiling triumphantly.

"This section must be porous to allow air in," reasoned Liberty Belle.
"By its very nature, the structure is weaker here."

"Let's see how weak," Wonder Woman said. The two heroines parted and
allowed Wonder Woman access. She knelt down and placed her hands on the
section.

"If I may once more intrude," Tsunami spoke up. "While I am not as strong
as you, Wonder Woman, I am known to possess more strength than the average
woman."

"I welcome the aid, sister," Wonder Woman said with a warm smile.
Heartened, Tsunami knelt down beside the amazon.

Together they began pushing. Like the chains, there was no immediate
impact from their efforts. Black Canary and Liberty Belle watched intently
while Firebrand, Phantom Lady and Hawkgirl hung back and tried to keep their
hopes up. The two heroines pressed on, their shoulders quivering from the
strain of pushing against a barrier that would not budge.

"It's not going to work," hissed Tsunami.

"Don't give up yet," grunted Wonder Woman. "No woman is defeated until
she quits on herself."

With little prospect of success, the two continued. After a time, Liberty
Belle started forward, intent on adding what little strength she had to the mix.
A sound stopped her short. It was akin to the rending wail of a wooden beam
pushed beyond its limits just before it broke.

Digging her heel into the smooth surface of the floor, Wonder Woman gave a
final shove. Tsunami joined her and a huge section of the wall thrust out and
broke away.

"They did it!" cheered Hawkgirl.

"Don't cheer just yet," Wonder Woman said. "Unfortunately our prison is
approximately ten stories above the ground."

The familiar crackle of energy silenced all further conversation. Several
of the heroines whirled in time to see First of Seven materialize behind them.

"You actually thought you could escape," First said, a hint of annoyance
in his otherwise even tone.

"Everybody get out! Now!" screamed Hawkgirl, spreading her wings in an
attempt to herd the others toward the opening.

"But . . .!" gasped Phantom Lady.

"Don't worry, I'll fly you down!"

"And I will catch anyone in need of aid!" Wonder Woman added, flinging
herself out into space.

Hawkgirl adjusted the intensity of the anti-gravity field on her nth metal
belt, seized Phantom Lady around the waist and threw them both out the hole.
Meanwhile Firebrand grasped Tsunami by the arm and dived out the hole just after
Hawkgirl. Once airborne, she ignited her hand and pointed the flame down,
creating a hot air updraft that caught them and slowed their descent.

As Liberty Belle was about to jump, she looked back for Black Canary. To
her horror, the young heroine had lunged at First of Seven, aiming a martial
arts kick at his head in an effort to stall him and ensure the escape of her
teammates. What she hadn't counted on was First's speed. His mighty arm sped
through the air faster than the eye could follow and suddenly Black Canary was
suspended upside down, First's hand clamped around her right ankle. The woman
twisted and fought to pull free, but the mighty man of Magnifica held her tight.

Without a second thought, Liberty Belle charged the superhuman. She dived
to the floor and threw a roll block at his ankles. Both he and Black Canary
were flung forward and his grip dislodged. Black Canary was up in an instant.
Seeing Liberty Belle was right behind her, the dark-clad damsel raced to the
hole in the wall. However, as they reached it, the sudden appearance of a
sizzling energy field forced them back. The field flared with intense light and
when it died, the hole was repaired. They looked back at First, who had
regained his feet.

"You two are staying," he said through clenched teeth.

Down in the street of a futuristic metropolitan vista, five women looked
back up at the towering structure they'd just escaped, as the inhabitants stared
and gave them a wide berth.

"Liberty Belle and Black Canary didn't make it," Hawkgirl said, speaking
the fears of the others.

"Then we must go back for them," Wonder Woman replied with imposing
resolution.

"Are you crazy!" Phantom Lady gasped, grabbing the amazon by the arm.
"Look, I don't want to leave them behind any more than you do, but we can't beat
those guys! We have to get away and find a weakness we can exploit!"

"Run and hide? Abandon a sister?" Wonder Woman asked, with obvious
distaste. "That's not what an amazon does."

"You can't beat them! Not yet! We will come back for them! But if you
go marching back in there now, you'll just get captured again and that won't do
them any good! Please, Wonder Woman!"

The princess of Paradise Island stared at Phantom Lady, then back at the
structure, clearly torn. After an agony of consideration, her shoulders bowed
slightly. "Very well," she whispered and it seemed the hardest thing she could
do.

"There's a scout ship launching from the tower," Tsunami hissed.

"They're after us!" Phantom Lady said. Pulling back into the shadows of
the building they stood in front of, she motioned for her teammates. "Get back
into these shadows! My black light projector will hide us until it passes.
Then we can make for that wooded area over there!"

The rest complied. As one, they peered up over the building's
outcropping, waiting for the scout to move off. But it didn't move off and was
quickly joined by another ship.

"It appears we need a diversion," Wonder Woman said, moving from cover.

"What are you going to do?" Hawkgirl gasped.

"I thought I'd see if they can catch me in a race," she replied, her
demeanor light and jaunty, as if she were on a picnic and not in a race for her
life. The others looked stricken, but Tsunami stared at her with a newfound
respect. "Come come, I'm the fastest runner in the annals of Paradise Island.
If these ships catch me, I deserve to be caught. When they follow me, get to
the woods and find shelter. When I lose them, I'll find you."

"Luck be with you," Tsunami whispered.

"And you, sister," the amazon winked.

Turning, she broke into a sprint. Within Six seconds, she was racing down
the pedestrian lanes of the city at sixty miles per hour. The two craft
patrolling the skies broke off in pursuit of her. The remaining four women tore
into the woods at the edge of the city.
* * * *
Green Lantern continued to strain against the barrier that had the group's
trek through the vibrational dimensions stopped. The others watched, keeping
their concern buried. They knew Green Lantern would never give up.

"Is the barrier energy-based or vibratory?" Flash asked at last.

"It's hard!" snapped Green Lantern. "Can't seem to push past it!"

"If you don't know, just say so," grinned Flash. "Let me out of the
bubble. I want to try something."

"Are you sure you can handle the dimensional stresses out there?" Green
Lantern asked.

"If I vibrate out of harmony with the dimension, I can remain immaterial
to it."

Green Lantern nodded and opened the bubble just long enough for Flash to
speed through. Outside, Flash seemed to be standing still.

"What's he doing out there?" asked Atom.

"He's trying to gauge the vibratory pattern of the barrier," Johnny Quick
answered. "My guess is if he can figure out the vibratory pattern, he can set
up counter-vibrations that will dampen the barrier and let us through."

"Well, he'd better do it quickly," Hawkman said. "He still has to
breathe."

"Doing things quickly is what guys like us do best."

"Well, I hope it works," Atom replied. "I'm tired of being Atom the fifth
wheel again. I want to land - - find something I can get my hands on. My
schtick is too physical for this super-science stuff."

"You get used to it, Atom," Dr. Midnite said. "My powers are best used
for stealth. I'm always left in the dust of Flash, Green Lantern and Wonder
Woman, too. You just have to pick your spots. If you weren't contributing, you
wouldn't have been here as long as you have.

Just then, Flash knocked on the bubble. Green Lantern opened it and Flash
popped his head in and took a breath.

"It's vibrational. I think I can set up a dampening field."

"Need help?" Johnny Quick asked hopefully.

"No offense, Johnny, but my speed's a little more precise than yours."

The five heroes watched with dissipating patience as Flash tried to
counter the vibration barrier before them. The longer it took, the more fear
began to mount in the titans that they would not be able to retrieve their
friends and loved ones. Even after Green Lantern made a bubble appear around
Flash's head to feed him air, there was little to offer them encouragement
beyond the hero's reputation for pulling off miracles with amazing regularity.

"Making any progress, Flash?" Hawkman asked through the tube connecting
the bubble around Flash to the bubble surrounding them all. He could see the
sweat pouring down from under the scarlet Mercury's helmet, but couched his
question and tone so as not to aggravate the flagging hopes of his charges.

"Don't know," grunted Flash, the exertion evident in his voice. "It's
hard to maintain a sufficient vibratory strength. Barrier's huge - - hard to
dampen!"

"Let me help, Flash!" pleaded Johnny Quick, clearly antsy to get through
and get to Liberty Belle, and perhaps to prove himself to this mighty assemblage
of the finest heroes of the world.

"No, Johnny!" Flash insisted, a little more sternly than his usual
easygoing manner. "Unless you can vibrate at my precise rate," and he gasped in
a quick breath, "you'll only sabotage me!"

They watched the speedster gamely continue, though they knew he was taxing
himself.

"Try localizing it," Hawkman said suddenly. "Dampen enough for a single
man instead of the whole bubble."

"Should have thought of that myself," Flash said, scowling.

"No one's keeping score," Hawkman replied gently.

Redirecting his energies toward a smaller area, Flash's efforts began to
show success. Hope and elation spread through the JSA like electricity.

"It's down!" Flash shouted. "Go! Now! But one at a time!"

Instantly Johnny Quick lunged through, so quickly that he almost sped
through Green Lantern's protective bubble. Hawkman ushered Dr. Midnite through
next.

"How about I go last, Hawk?" Atom said. "In case it starts to close, I'll
have a better shot of getting through than you tall guys."

Hawkman nodded. He went through the gap, followed by Green Lantern.
Flash gestured Atom close, then locked his free arm around the hero's waist and
plunged through the gap moments before it closed. Atom wasn't aware the scene
had changed until he was already across, so fast had Flash moved. But the
scarlet speedster stumbled once he was through and staggered to a stop on the
floor of the bubble. Instantly Dr. Midnite moved to him while the others, save
for Green Lantern, formed a concerned circle around him.

"Is he all right, Midnite?" Hawkman asked.

"He exhausted," Dr. Midnite said, feeling Flash's pulse and listening to
the deep, rapid exhales. "Nothing permanent unless he's got a condition I don't
know about. I don't know how much use he'll be in a battle anytime soon."

"I'll," gasped the Flash, "hold my end up."

"You just rest," advised Johnny Quick, kneeling next to him. "I'll give
those eggs all the speed they can handle."
* * * *
The wooded area opened into a clearing that featured a modern residential
area. The homes were like something out of a world's fair and each house was
laid out in a precise geometric pattern designed to maximize space and minimize
damage to the eco-system. The four escaped heroines looked around for the
longest time for some sense of law enforcement or other government presence, but
there was none. Several of the homes had activity in them, but the first one
seemed lifeless.

As Hawkgirl watched from the rear of the group, she was unaware of a
presence behind her. The presence, wrapped in shadow as she was, approached
silently until inches separated them. A hand reached out and touched Hawkgirl
on the shoulder.

"JESUS!" gasped Hawkgirl, lurching forward. As she stumbled around to see
what was behind her, she fell into Firebrand's back. This shoved Firebrand into
Tsunami and the three fell in a tangled heap amid the grass and dried leaves,
right next to the kneeling, very surprised Phantom Lady.

"Did I startle you?" asked Wonder Woman, unable to completely conceal the
amused grin on her face.

"Startle? You nearly scared the," Hawkgirl sputtered, then caught
herself, recalling that she wasn't intimate friends with a lot of the people
here, "um, life out of me!"

"Could you get off me, please!" snarled Firebrand.

"Shh!" hissed Phantom Lady.

"Indeed, given our situation, you shouldn't let people sneak up on you
like that," admonished Wonder Woman, but there was a twinkle in her eye.

"Don't talk to me," grumbled Hawkgirl.

"Did you elude the pursuing craft?" Tsunami asked incredulously,
extricating herself from the pile.

"Yes," Wonder Woman nodded. "It was quite easy. Those craft have very
impressive speed and maneuverability - - for craft. Matching an amazon's speed
and maneuverability is another matter."

"That said," Phantom Lady interjected, "I don't think we'll be safe for
very long in these woods. That dwelling over there seems empty for now.
Anybody adverse to a little breaking and entering?"

None of the women were exactly wild about the idea, but Hawkgirl summed up
their feelings. "Hey, it's not like we've got much choice."

They made the back door of the dwelling without incident. Rather than
have Wonder Woman break the lock, Phantom Lady tried to pick it. When the
advanced lock proved too much for her, she retreated in favor of the amazon
princess. Digging her fingers into the magnetic catch of the door, she forced
it open and held it for the others to get inside.

"It seems empty," Wonder Woman commented. "But it's clear someone does
live here."

"Maybe they'll be sympathetic to our cause," Phantom Lady replied, looking
around.

"If we're lucky, they're on vacation," Firebrand added.

"Look at all the gadgets in this place!" marveled Hawkgirl. "It looks
like a World's Fair home of the future!"

The others looked around. Every room was filled with futuristic
mechanisms designed to provide every convenience to the dweller. The
furnishings had a sleek, ergonomic design. The surfaces gleamed of chrome or
glass, or were made of a slick, smooth, alien substance none of them could
identify. The room caught Wonder Woman's scientific interest, while the others
could only gape in amazement.

"Either this is an affluent section of this city," Wonder Woman whispered,
"or the standard of living in this civilization is quite high."

"It's certainly in keeping with the part of the city that we've seen,"
Tsunami added. "The progress is enormous."

"Hey, do you suppose they've got some way of tracking us?" asked Phantom
Lady.

"We should assume so, just to be safe."

"I don't get it," Hawkgirl spoke up. "How can a civilization as advanced
as this let those seven bullies rule them?"

"How did Germany allow Hitler to rule them?" Tsunami said. "How did the
government of my ancestors allow their military to take control of them?"

Just then, Wonder Woman seemed to rise up to a cautious readiness.

"Someone's coming," she said.

Their first notion was to hide or flee. But Wonder Woman held her ground
and that gave the others the confidence to stand with her.

"Ohh!" gasped the woman who entered the dwelling upon seeing the five
heroines standing in her living room. "W-Who are you?"

"Don't be alarmed, sister," Wonder Woman said gently, giving the woman her
warmest smile. "We will not harm you."

"We just need to hide out for a while," Firebrand appealed.

"What have you done?" the woman asked warily, keeping her back to the door
in order to plunge out of it at a moment's notice.

"We haven't done anything," bristled Hawkgirl.

"Then why does the Council of Seven search for you?" she asked, still
wary.

"Who said the Council was searching for us?" Phantom Lady asked.

"Who else would search for you?" she replied, as if Phantom Lady had just
admitted to being an utter moron.

"They want us to have their babies," Firebrand said, believing her
explanation would sway the woman to their side. "We chose not to."

"You are the women chosen to bear the next generation of seven?" gasped
the woman in utter horror. "I cannot hide you!"

"We will not expose you to the Council's wrath, if that's what you're
afraid of," Wonder Woman answered, trying to reassure her. "I pledge that on my
honor as an amazon."

"They would not harm me," the woman replied, astonished at the suggestion.
"I've done nothing. You think I refuse out of fear?"

"Why else?" asked Wonder Woman, her turn to be astonished.

"The Council of Seven are great men," smiled the woman reverently. "They
are vital to the safety and well-being of Magnifica." The fugitive heroines
looked at her, unable to believe what came from her mouth. "Look around you;
these great advances were invented by the Council. Look outside; all of our
great progress is the result of our Councils of Seven. No crime goes unsolved
on Magnifica. No criminal goes unrehabilitated. Disasters are averted by them.
There is no war, no disease and no want. Everything Magnifica is has come from
our Councils of Seven."

"So it's OK to overlook kidnapping mothers for their children?" Firebrand
asked.

"Naturally you would feel that way," the woman replied, genuine sympathy
on her face and in her voice. "I am sorry for you. It is detestable, and if
there were another way we would abandon the practice. But the Council must
survive. I am sorry."

"So are we," scowled Firebrand. She turned and headed for the back door.
"Come on, ladies. The only people we're probably going to be able to count on
in this fascist little 'paradise' is us."
* * * *
Liberty Belle fought a losing battle with the restraints that held her.
Fatigue was settling in, but she refused to give into it. Not now; she was
fighting for two now. Three if you included Black Canary.

Her torso was surrounded by thick woven straps of some strange, dense
fabric that constricted her as it tried to return to its normal state. One
surrounded her torso beneath her breasts and pinned her arms to her body.
Another wound around her wrists, constricting them together. There were bands
over her thighs and around her ankles, and one covering the lower part of her
jaw. She couldn't get a make on what the bands were woven of, but she knew
they were tough and they were tight. First had bound them with ease and left
them there in the same blank walled prison cell while he and the others tried
to retrieve the other five "brides".

Without warning, Libby felt something press against her hands. It
couldn't be what she thought it was, so she twisted around and looked over her
shoulder. It was Black Canary. She had been bound the same way Liberty Belle
had been, but it hadn't stopped her from squirming around so that she lay on her
side and her throat was pressing into Libby's gloved hands.

Or, more importantly, the choker around her throat. Remembering Black
Canary's amulet was kept there, Liberty Belle began feeling around the pendant
on the choker for a way to open it. Finally she found a switch and the pendant
sprung open. The amulet fell out into her hand. Liberty Belle was confused as
to what to do with it, but she wasn't confused for long. Using several wild
thrashing movements, Black Canary regained a sitting position, her back to
Liberty Belle's, and quickly reclaimed the canary amulet. Almost at once,
Liberty Belle felt her fellow captive rubbing the amulet against the band that
held Belle's wrists.

"Ummm?" asked Liberty Belle, wondering if she should help somehow.

"Hmm hmppf," Black Canary replied, steadying Belle's arm with her hand.
Patiently the heroine waited while Black Canary continued to rub the amulet
against the band. Occasionally she would flex, trying to pop it. The ninth
time she tried it, her effort worked.

It wasn't easy squirming out of the remaining bands. They were tight and
there seemed no connection to unfasten. With several contortions she thought
past someone of her age, Liberty Belle finally shrugged off the rest of her
restraints. She immediately began working the bands off of Black Canary and,
after a concerted effort, succeeded in freeing the petite blonde.

"Is there anything that amulet doesn't do?" asked Liberty Belle.

"It doesn't make very good coffee," Black Canary joked self-consciously.

The two looked around their now familiar prison.

"Stuck again," Liberty Belle commented.

"At least the others got away," Black Canary replied. "Why'd you help me
instead of taking off with them?"

"You needed it," shrugged Liberty Belle. "Isn't that what we're supposed
to do? It comes with the uniform." She glanced over at the young girl in the
blue jacket, leotard and fishnets. "Besides, it wouldn't matter if I was
captured again. They don't want me anymore." She continued to survey the young
girl - - and she was no more than a girl despite her authoritativeness and
heroics. "You know, I've been very impressed with you, Black Canary."

"Thank you," Black Canary grinned. Though she tried to conceal it, praise
from a veteran campaigner meant a lot to the girl.

"You've got a cool head, a good eye and lots of determination. Does
anything make you quit?"

"No," she said with the resoluteness of youth. "I figure it this way:
given enough time, I can beat any situation. Some things just take longer. But
if I quit, I beat myself."

"Can I ask you just how old you are?"

"Seventeen."

Liberty Belle let out a low whistle.

"What's wrong with seventeen?" Black Canary asked, slightly hurt and
defensive.

"Nothing," Liberty Belle said, smiling to herself. "But you're doing
everything I can do and at half my age. In a way, you kind of remind me of how
I was before the war - - competing at Munich, seeing Hitler for what he was and
leading the call against him before it was popular, all because I young and
thought I was invincible because I was right." She looked down. "Maybe
Johnny's not so out of line after all."

She glanced at Black Canary and saw the young blonde staring at her,
trying to understand a woman trying to come to grips with being at a crossroads
in her life.

"When we first, um, started seeing each other, he insisted I retire as
Liberty Belle. He's kind of old fashion about stuff like that. He didn't even
want me working on the radio, but I at least talked him out of that. The I got
pregnant and he insisted I stay home to raise our family," and she looked down
again, blushing, "even though we're, um, not quite married yet. I'll admit the
last two months haven't been easy. And when I see young go-getters like you
around now, perhaps he was right after all."

"Look out," she heard Black Canary say, just as the woman's hand squeezed
her upper arm. "Sad Sack's back." Liberty Belle tensed as she looked up and
saw First of Seven standing in the room with them. The tension of some physical
infirmity was clearly painted on his handsome face.

"You escaped your restraints," he said, openly incredulous, "again? Truly
we have selected well this time."

"So what now?" snapped Liberty Belle irritably. She stood up in between
First and Black Canary, shielding the young heroine. "You lock us up in a more
complex trap? Or did you think you were going to start your primitive little
mating ritual early?"

"No," he replied, his body trembling slightly. "Nothing like that."

"Going to wait until the others get back? You'll have a long wait."

"I think not."

"I see they're still not back," needled Liberty Belle.

"I am here," First said, marshaling all of his composure, "to settle the
dispute. . .between my brothers. Seven are needed. . .but only six of you are
suitable, due to your condition. There is not time to find a replacement, but
the seven must continue as seven."

"Belle!" Black Canary hissed from behind her. Liberty Belle glanced back
and saw Black Canary was up and ready to fight, as if she anticipated what First
was about to say next.

"Your fetus. . .interferes," heaved First, his voice tight and gasping to
speak without roaring, "so the fetus. . .must be. . .removed."

Liberty Belle stared at him, horrified.

"NO!" she cried. "My God, isn't it bad enough your 'perfect society' is
built on forced abduction and rape? Now you're going to add murder to the
list! What makes you think your race is more important than my baby?!"

"What makes. . .your baby. . .more important than my. . .race?" countered
First. As the two glared at each other intently, Black Canary was easing
herself behind First.

"You do not know everything about us," First continued, defending himself
and his society. "You would not be. . .so quick to condemn if. . .you did."

"I KNOW ALL I NEED TO KNOW, MURDERER!" bellowed Liberty Belle, tears
welling in her eyes.

At that moment, Black Canary struck. With a lightning-like kick to the
back of the knees of First of Seven, she knocked the support from the giant and
sent him crashing to the floor, kneeling. Instantly she was on him, one forearm
wrapped around her adversary's windpipe and the hand locked on the elbow of her
other arm, the forearm pressing against his cheek and her hand pressing on nerve
groupings behind his left ear. First's hands reflexively went up to the arm
across his throat, seeking a handhold to pry it loose.

"This," First choked out, already growing red in the face, "cannot
succeed!"

"It can if I can pinch this nerve group hard enough!" Black Canary
growled.

"Can you hold him?" cried Liberty Belle.

"Nothing's going to make me let go!" Black Canary snarled through clenched
teeth as First strained at her arm.

"And if you do," Liberty Belle said, reaching over and covering First's
nose and mouth with her blue-gloved hands, "I won't!"
* * * *
The kaleidoscope of colors surrounding Green Lantern's force bubble faded
in favor of a crystal blue sky so pristine it put to shame any seen on Earth.
Instantly Green Lantern converted the bubble into a platform that he flew
beneath. Following the direction of the energy signature, he towed them toward
the nearest populated city.

"It should be smooth sailing from here," Green Lantern said. "I'll have
us on the planet surface in minutes. Get ready. We're close to the end of that
signature."

"Hot dog!" Atom exclaimed. "Now we'll show 'em!"

"Cool your heels, Atom," Hawkman replied. "Just because the energy
signature ends at a particular point doesn't mean the girls are there. We may
have to search this entire planet."

"Then what are we waiting for?" Johnny Quick asked impatiently. "Libby
could be dead by now!"

"Calm down, Johnny," Dr. Midnite whispered, putting a hand on Johnny
Quick's shoulder. "You're not the only one with a stake in this."

As they entered the city, still about fifty feet off the ground, they
passed the gleaming spires of the city, spires that dwarfed them as they reached
into the heavens. Below them were sophisticated hovercrafts and mechanized
sidewalks, video terminals at every corner and poles with futuristic observation
cameras. It looked like they had just flown onto the set of a science fiction
movie.

"Will you look at that architecture," marveled The Atom.

"This is a phenomenally advanced civilization," Hawkman said, obviously
impressed.

"That building up ahead is where the signature ends," Green Lantern called
out. He ignored the pointed fingers and the fearful voices coming from the
frightened population in the streets below.
* * * *
Black Canary and Liberty Belle continued to hold First, trying to strangle
him into unconsciousness, or worse if necessary. The giant thrashed around, but
couldn't manage to dislodge the tenacious heroine in blue, while Liberty Belle
hung onto his face like a mother protecting her young, which she was.

"He's not as coordinated as before!" Black Canary shouted out, daring to
hope.

"Yes!" echoed Liberty Belle.

Suddenly First's eyes opened wide, as if he were trying to draw the entire
room in through them. An energy field formed, first around him, then around all
of them. The field flared and all three disappeared.

"Hey, we're outside!" Black Canary said as the trio reappeared in the
street before the building that had been their prison.

However, her moment of distraction allowed First of Seven to wrench free
of her sleeper hold and shove her away with his still-mighty arm. His other
hand knocked Liberty Belle away and she landed near Black Canary. First loomed
above them as he regained his feet. The two heroines could see his calm,
logical exterior had dissolved into discomfort and rage.

"Do not think," he gasped, seething, "you have won." He pointed a
quivering hand at the pair. "I can return you to your. . .cell with a thought."

"Get ready to dodge," Black Canary murmured to Liberty Belle, not thinking
that the more experienced heroine already knew to do so. However the gesture
was rendered moot when a scarlet and yellow blur climbed up the back of First of
Seven and began raining blows down on him.

"Kidnap my girl!" roared Johnny Quick as he pounded on First of Seven with
a torrent of super-speed punches. "I'll teach you!"

"Johnny!" gasped Liberty Belle, scarcely able to believe it.

"Not just Johnny," Black Canary smiled, pointing off to their left. "It's
the whole cavalry!"

Liberty Belle looked over and saw the entire Justice Society racing up to
help. Her chest swelled with relief. Perhaps they were going to escape this
nightmare unscathed. She ran toward Johnny, hoping to somehow help if she
could.

"Leave some for me, Johnny!" called The Atom as he ran up.

"How does this feel, you stinking kidnapper?!" Johnny bellowed as he
continued to punch away at the leader of Magnifica's Seven. Flash judged that
he was closing in on two hundred and fifty punches in the few seconds since he
jumped off of Green Lantern's platform.

As the others occupied themselves with First, Hawkman swooped down and
landed next to Black Canary. Betraying his own feelings, his powerful hands
seized her by the upper arms.

"Black Canary, where's Hawkgirl?" he asked desperately.

"She and the other's escaped," Black Canary replied, forgiving the
roughness of her treatment. "They're probably in hiding."

"What others?"

"Almost every female who's ever been a mystery man on our Earth. Hawkman,
he's not the only one! There are six others just like him! All physical and
mental marvels!"

"We'll just have to hope we run into the girls first," Hawkman replied,
surveying the area grimly.

The populace began to gather around the scene in numbers. They surged
forward, mob mentality beginning to fester in the group. Hawkman's eyes
narrowed, and Black Canary looked around for something she could use to shield
herself with.

"They're attacking one of the Council!" screamed someone in the mob. The
crowd surged forward, an ugly mood growing among them.

"Stay back!" warned Hawkman, flaring out his wings to add to his physical
presence. "We don't want to harm you!"

"Relax, Hawk," he heard Green Lantern say as a green barrier sprang up,
separating the mob from them. "I can handle crowd control."

The mob shoved urgently against the barrier, but made no headway. By now
Johnny Quick was up to six hundred blows. He had a broken knuckle and was
tiring rapidly. Unfortunately, First was not.

"No!" wailed a woman in the mob, appealing through the barrier to Black
Canary. "He will reach the stage of madness soon! You must mate with him
before it is too late!"

"Mate?!" gasped Hawkman, whirling on Black Canary. "Good Lord, is that
what this is about?"

"Afraid so," Black Canary replied grimly. "Only Liberty Belle's pregnancy
gave us the time we needed to escape."

"Hawk!" yelled Dr. Midnite. "Bogies at two o'clock!"

"That's the rest of them!" hissed Liberty Belle, her throat tense. As she
spoke, First finally fell. Johnny Quick hopped off of him, his right hand
stained red.

"More?" he roared. "Then they'll get what their friend got!"

The remaining six landed inside the barrier Green Lantern erected, leaping
from their scout crafts. Instantly Johnny Quick charged the nearest one.

"Step up, you piece of dirt!" he snarled.

"The women are ours!" bellowed Fourth of Seven, the madness edging into
his voice and actions. Johnny swung at the superhuman. Fourth dodged with
maniacal ease and caught Johnny with a vicious elbow to the chest. The force
threw Johnny Quick onto the pavement ten feet from where he was struck.

"JOHNNY!" wailed Liberty Belle. She ran up to him as the speedy hero
struggled to get up. He lost his struggle and collapsed into her lap.

"Yeah?" snapped The Atom, confronting Fifth of Seven head on. "Take this,
you big gorilla!" He put everything into a roundhouse right that caught Fifth
squarely on the jaw. To his amazement, he saw Five was unaffected. Fifth then
hit Atom with a whip-like backhand blow before the diminutive hero even saw it.
It knocked Atom off the ground and threw him backwards.

"Got you, Atom!" Green Lantern said, catching the hero before he impacted.
"Come on, Flash! Let's teach these guys some manners!" Flash and Green Lantern
charged into the fray while Atom regained his senses.

"I don't see us beating them on purely physical terms," Dr. Midnite
whispered, easing up next to Hawkman.

"I don't, either," replied Hawkman. "Black Canary, did they mention how
they got their powers?"

"Some sort of selective breeding, I think," Black Canary told him. "They
said mating with their own women would 'dilute the process'."

"That doesn't help," Hawkman said. Spreading his wings, he crouched down
and thrust himself into the air.

From the outskirts of the forest, the five female escapees ran toward the
battle. They had spotted Green Lantern and the others from their place of
concealment and were hurrying to join them. Wonder Woman, naturally,
outdistanced the others.

"There seems to be some commotion in the city!" she called to the others.
Hawkgirl, flying low among the trees, caught her first.

"Maybe Hawkman and the others are kicking the stuffings out of those
pretty boys!" Hawkgirl said hopefully.

"They are trying," Wonder Woman said as the other three arrived.
"However, it doesn't look as if they're succeeding." At once, Wonder Woman
turned to the others, looking as if she were about to suggest a pick up game of
baseball. "Perhaps we should lend them a hand." Without waiting for agreement
from the others, she took off at top speed for the battle.

"Why not?" shrugged Firebrand, exhaling from exertion. "Hiding hasn't
gotten us anywhere."

Green Lantern turned in time to see Second of Seven catch Flash with a
forearm across the ribs. Flash crumpled like he'd been struck with a lead pipe
in the stomach. The speedster landed at Green Lantern's feet.

"Sorry," he gasped weakly. "Didn't have. . .enough left. . ."

"Watch your back, Green Lantern!" Wonder Woman shouted, leaping over the
mob and landing at his side. She caught the punch Third of Seven was about to
level Green Lantern with in her feminine hand, held it in place for several
seconds, then directed it above her head while delivering a wicked kick to
Third's middle.

"Hey, I'm the one who's supposed to be saving you!" groused Green Lantern
as his ring materialized a thick steel manacle around the arms and torso of
Second of Seven.

"If it makes your male ego feel better, you may think that," Wonder Woman
said, using the momentum from Third's mad lunge at her to shove him face first
into the pavement. Green Lantern just shook his head.

While Firebrand propelled herself into the fray with fire blasts from her
hands, Hawkgirl flew Phantom Lady and Tsunami over the mob. They dropped down
near Sixth of Seven.

"Come on, Tsunami!" yelled Phantom Lady as she threw a shadow in the eyes
of Sixth. "I'll blind them and you put them down!"

Tsunami concentrated on the underground water pipe below the pavement. At
her command, the water surged beneath Sixth until the pressure burst both the
pipe and the pavement, sending a torrent of pressurized water into the man of
Magnifica.

Meanwhile, Hawkman swooped down from a high arc and slammed his shoulder
into the back of Seventh of Seven. As he swooped up, Hawkgirl joined him.

"If I had time, I could possibly find a weapon to affect them," fumed
Hawkman. "But we don't have time for anything but our own abilities."

"Then they'll have to do," Hawkgirl responded. She cut her anti-gravity
field down to zero and plummeted feet first right into Seventh, slamming him to
the ground. "See, Mr. Scientist," taunted Hawkgirl, turning and looking up at
Hawkman. "Sometimes the simple way is the best way!"

"Behind you!" bellowed Hawkman even as he arced to the ground. Hawkgirl
turned to see Seventh already rising up. She tried to back away, but his hand
seized her by the throat. Her hands came up, trying to pull him away, but he
had a grip of steel.

Hawkman flew in close and whipped at Seventh's eyes with his wings.
Unfazed in his madness, Seven lunged and caught one of the wings, then jerked.
Hawkman slammed down hard on the pavement. Hawkgirl struggled to break the grip
around her throat, but she also found herself slammed onto the street, with
Seventh on top of her.

"Johnny, don't try to get up!" pleaded Liberty Belle as Johnny Quick
struggled to pull his head up from her lap.

"Is," Johnny asked groggily, "baby OK?"

"Yes," Liberty Belle replied, "for now. But we have to get away soon!"

A shadow loomed over them. Liberty Belle looked up and found Fifth of
Seven, teetering from the twin batterings of the battle and his madness,
standing over them.

"Leave him alone!" she cried, shielding Johnny Quick with her body.

"Need you," Fifth said, his voice a dry rasp. "Now!" He lunged at
Liberty Belle, momentarily oblivious to the fact that she was unsuitable for his
purpose, and dragged her to her feet.

"Let her go!" Johnny yelled impotently, unable to regain his feet.

"You heard him!" Dr. Midnite growled, his blackout bomb exploding at
Fifth's feet. "Hands off!"

The thick black smoke from the bomb fanned out quickly, enveloping Dr.
Midnite, Fifth, Liberty Belle and Johnny Quick in a blinding black haze. Only
Dr. Midnite could see anything in it.

"Eyes have to be vulnerable, even on these monsters!" Liberty Belle
thought, lashing out blindly at the behemoth that held her. She found the eyes
and raked down with her fingernails, then smiled in triumph as she heard Fifth
howl in pain.

Dr. Midnite then struck, grabbing hold of Fifth around his neck and trying
to twist his head off. But Five proved more formidable, flailing his arms
wildly in pain and catching Liberty Belle with a backhand shot that sent her
down next to Johnny, even as he shrugged Dr. Midnite off. The hero tumbled hard
to the street. He tried to get off, but Fifth caught him with a forearm and put
him out.

From there, the JSA began to fall like dominos. Sixth of Seven forced his
way through the water, caught Tsunami and slammed her to the pavement. An angry
slap spun Phantom Lady to the ground and she didn't get up. Third of Seven
caught Wonder Woman with a hard punch that slammed her into Green Lantern. His
concentration disrupted, the manacle around Second was then sundered. Second
in turn put down Wonder Woman with a devastating punch between her shoulder
blades. Third then slammed a knee into Green Lantern's back, ending his threat.
Second, Third and Seventh then made short work of Atom and Firebrand.

Black Canary eased warily back toward the buildings, hoping to lose
herself in the melee. As long as one of them was still free, there was hope.
Hope ended when an iron grip seized her by the back of the neck and hoisted her
seven feet in the air. She twisted her head around to see who it was and where
to kick. The sight horrified her. First of Seven, his face battered and
bloody, an eye hanging from its socket and half his teeth gone, glared at her.
His hair was matted with blood. His arm shook from muscle tremors. There was
no intellect left to be seen in his one good eye.

The gathered crowd cheered.

"Now," gasped First, his voice husky with lust and madness, "there will be
no more resistance! We can wait no longer! You will receive. . .the next
generation!"

"NOOO!" howled Liberty Belle. With speed born of desperation, she
scrambled away from Fifth of Seven's grasp and over to the fallen rubble of the
corner of a building destroyed in the battle. She scooped up a jagged piece of
rubble in her gloved hands and pointed it at her own throat. "You're not going
to replace my baby with yours! I'll kill myself first!"

"Stupid inferior!" spat Fifth angrily. "To do that will kill your fetus
as well!

"If my child has to die," Liberty Belle screamed, tears streaming down her
face, "let it be with me! If our death means an end to your sick scheme, then I
accept it!" She glared at Fifth in desperate triumph. "And then where will
your precious council be with only six vessels?"

"Don't do this, you stupid fool!" howled Third, brought to pause from
forcing himself on Firebrand.

"You all thought we were beaten from the beginning!" Liberty Belle raged
at them bitterly. "Well, you're the ones who are beaten! Either we all go free
or. . .or you only have six captive mothers!"

Everyone stared at Liberty Belle: The Seven, her fellow heroes, even the
amazed crowd of onlookers. The entire gathered waited for someone to make the
next move.

"We do not bargain," First sneered contemptuously, Black Canary still
squirming in his grasp.

"No!" Fifth shrieked, whirling on his brother council member. "She is the
one chosen for me! If she dies, I cannot pass myself on!"

"Then the Council will become six instead of seven," First replied, deadly
challenge in his raspy voice.

"Traitor!" Fifth bellowed. "If that's to be, then I will have your
woman!" He lunged at First, locking his hands around the councilman's throat.
Black Canary fell, rolled away and tried to regain her breath. "You've always
been so superior! You will be first no longer!"

Instantly Second of Seven dropped Wonder Woman and raced over to the two
fighting, with Seventh of Seven close behind. Second looped his arms under
Fifth in an attempt to pull the man of Magnifica off his brother.

"Fifth!" raged Second. "Let him go! Let him go!"

"Get away from him!" snapped Seventh, shoving Second away. "First
deserves everything he gets!" Enraged, Second lunged at Seventh and the two were
quickly fighting.

"Hmph!" sneered Fourth of Seven. "Kill yourselves for all I care! I'm
taking my woman!" He reached for the belt of Tsunami's pants as he held her.

"You'll wait for the rest of us!" snarled Sixth of Seven, grabbing the
hand and jerking it away. Tsunami fell to the ground and crawled away.

"You don't tell me what. . ." Fourth started to say. He was stopped when
Sixth savagely punched him. Fourth tumbled backwards into Third, with Sixth
diving on them both. Hawkgirl barely managed to escape the brawl that ensued.

The Justice Society regrouped away from the fighting and watched. Liberty
Belle returned to Johnny's side, though she kept her weapon handy should she
again need it.

"Great Hera," marveled Wonder Woman as she watched them fight. "They've
gone completely berserk. They're fighting among themselves like a pack of wild
dogs."

"Lucky break," scowled Firebrand. "I'm not sure I could have fended them
off any longer."

"They're destroying each other!" cried a voice from the crowd of
onlookers, as did others. "Stop them! Please, you have to stop them!"

"You've got to be kidding," Phantom Lady replied, glaring at a tearful
pleading woman in the crowd.

"Please!" she begged. "Our lives depend on the Council! Our entire means
of existence will be destroyed!"

"We can't survive without them!" wailed another.

"Could that be true?" Tsunami wondered aloud, looking to a battered
Hawkman.

"Perhaps," he replied cryptically.

"Hey, do we risk saving them and ending up as their 'brides'?" demanded
Phantom Lady.

"Can we risk destroying an entire civilization by not stopping them?" Dr.
Midnite posed.

"I think the point is moot," Hawkman told them. "I don't think we have
the power to stop them."

So the JSA and the crowd watched in growing horror and revulsion as the
Men of Magnifica destroyed one another. After a brutal, bloody conflict, one
after another fell until just two stood. First of Seven, looking as if he had
been in a boxing match with a tank, was throttling the life out of Second of
Seven. When Second's lifeless body fell to the street, he turned somehow, his
gaze locking on Black Canary. Like a shambling Frankenstein, gaunt and shaking,
he took two lumbering steps toward her.

"Come. . .to me," he gasped. "N-Need you. . ."

A beam from Green Lantern's ring struck him across what was left of his
jaw. First pitched backwards, crashing to the street. He took a shuddering
breath and died.

"Come on, Johnny," Liberty Belle said softly, helping Johnny Quick to his
feet. "It's over. Our baby's safe."

"What an amazing waste," Dr. Midnite said, surveying the carnage and
shaking his head.

"Are you all right?" Hawkman asked, holding Hawkgirl in his arms. She
arched her back to look up to him and smiled, loving the intensity of his gaze.

"Sure," she beamed. "It'll take more than this to crack my hard head."

"The first thing I'm going to do when we get home," Flash said, sitting on
the pavement amid the rubble and rubbing his ribs, "is tell Joan that I love
her."

"That sounds like a good idea," Green Lantern said, squatting down next to
his friend. Then he added playfully, "What's her number?"

"YOU LET THEM DIE!" screamed someone in the crowd. It swelled menacingly
around the heroes and all thoughts of victory were put aside.

"I've got 'em!" Green Lantern said, reintegrating the barrier with his
ring.

"Everything we have!" screamed someone in the mob. "Everything we could
have had is gone now! Because of you!"

"Oh?" Liberty Belle snapped. She got to her feet and climbed up onto a
mound of rubble to face down the mob. "And just what did you have?!" They
stared up at her angrily. "A few conveniences? A standard of progress and
development matched by no other planet known? How wonderful for you!" She
glared at the crowd, hating them like she had hated no one since the Nazi's had
been vanquished. "And if it came at the expense of my unborn child and the
lives of seven women who'd done you no harm - - on top of the countless
generations of women who've gone through this before - - well you were just
ready to look the other way and keep benefiting from it all! So now your
precious society is going to come crumbling down? Well I can't say that I give
a damn!"

Liberty Belle surveyed the crowd again. There was less hostility among
them and more than a few looking down in shame.

"Any society," she continued, "no matter how noble, that's been built on a
foundation of cruelty deserves to fall!"

Liberty Belle then stalked off of the mound of rubble and pushed her way
through the crowd. The rest of the JSA followed. Several of the heroes glanced
back for a last look at the stunned and grieving population of Magnifica.

THE END