Meeting With A Devil by John Lavernoich

Inspired by the DC Comics limited series Millennium by Steve Englehart, Joe Staton & Ian Gibson

(Writer's note: The following story takes place between the events chronicled in Millennium#7-8 (Mid-to-late Nov. 1987).)

Several years ago: It had been several hours since the renegade Manhunter androids were destroyed, partly as a result of Superman and Hal Jordan -- the latter a member of the Green Lantern Corps -- destroying the Highmaster, which powered all of the androids. The Manhunters' dreams of not only disrupting the Millennium Project -- which would turn a select number of Earthlings into the next generation of super-powered beings -- but also eventual conquest of the universe were destroyed, just like the androids themselves.

The Manhunter androids once served the cause of justice on behalf of their creators, the Guardians of the Universe, by protecting the vast universe many centuries ago -- until something went wrong with their electronic mechanisms, resulting in the androids becoming the renegades that would make them among the most feared in the galaxy. After a failed attempt to conquer the planet Oa -- the Guardians' home base -- the Manhunters were stripped of their weapons by their creators, who thought that they would no longer pose a threat to the universe.

But the Guardians were wrong -- after their failure to conquer Oa, the Manhunters made long-range plans to exact their revenge on the Guardians, plans that would go through various refinements over the course of the next three billion years, as they secretly operated on various planets throughout the universe, including Earth. Among the sleeper agents that the Manhunters would recruit on Earth during the majority of the 20th century were Dan Richards, Paul Kirk, and Mark Shaw; in later years, Richards and Shaw would learn of the Manhunters' true intentions, as would members of the original Justice League of America, who also learned of the androids' connection to the Guardians of the Universe.

The Manhunters had hoped to ruin the Guardians' Millennium project, not only to get revenge on their creators, but also to become the self-proclaimed rulers of the universe. Despite several factors that were supposed to work in their favor -- including the sleeper agents assigned to get rid of Earth's super-heroes through blackmail, terror, and death -- the Manhunters, driven by both revenge and self-deluded dreams of absolute power, failed. But then, the Manhunters weren't perfect -- nor did they have the power to peer into the future.

Yet, there were several questions that even the Guardians had failed to answer over the centuries -- partly because, despite the fact that they were very intelligent and powerful, they didn't have all the answers. Among the unanswered questions was one that had baffled the universe for many centuries: What really caused the Manhunter androids to turn against not only the Guardians, but also the very universe that they were sworn to protect? Not even the Manhunters knew the answer -- in fact, for many centuries, it was long rumored that only God knew the true reasons behind the Manhunters turning against both the Guardians and the cosmos. In truth, that rumor was false -- yet almost nobody in the universe was aware of it for centuries, and for several reasons that were rooted in ages-old hatred and revenge.

The factory building on the outskirts of Los Angeles, CA was supposed to have been totally abandoned. But inside the building, its largest room, which housed the Manhunters' Grand Temple -- one of the few secret bases that existed on Earth, as well as one of the few that were still intact -- would prove any curious or foolhardy passersby who walked or drove by it wrong, even if one of them had a subconscious death wish. The Grand Temple, like all others that were located throughout the universe, was where the Manhunters gathered to plan their warped plans of conquest -- but tonight, there was complete silence inside this darkened temple, and with good reason: The Manhunters had hoped to come back here to celebrate what was supposed to be their ultimate victory. But tonight -- such wasn't the case.

Within seconds, a human sleeper agent clad in the red-and-blue armor of the Manhunters entered the Grand Temple -- a little puzzled, a little confused. Fenton Wexler was recruited to join the Manhunters' Earth-based cult six years ago -- like other sleeper agents, Wexler's body was trained to absolute physical perfection, while his mind absorbed the warped information he gained from the Manhunters' equally-warped teachings in both deception and subversion. Yet, Wexler didn't participate in many of the Manhunters' covert operations since he became a sleeper agent -- partly due to both the Earth and the rest of the universe learning the truth about the Manhunters only a few years ago, which forced many of them into hiding. Wexler wasn't even summoned to the Grand Temple to take part in the Manhunters' plot to disrupt the Guardians of the Universe's Millennium Project, for reasons known to only the Manhunters and their android cult leader, the Grandmaster.

Still, Wexler -- clad in not only his battle armor, but also the blue-colored facemask that hid his identity -- felt that he had to come here in order to aid both the Manhunter androids and the other human sleeper agents. Wexler was unaware that the Manhunters' recent plot had not only ended in failure, but also resulted in their downfall -- but then, Wexler was lucky enough to avoid getting captured by Earth's super-heroes. However, as Wexler was about to learn -- his luck was about to run out.

"Manhunters? Grandmaster?", yelled Wexler, his voice altered by a device built into his face mask. Wexler prayed that he wasn't the only one alone inside the Grand Temple -- and in truth, he wasn't. The unsuspecting Wexler was being watched by a mysterious figure that stood in a darkened corner of the Grand Temple, his features hidden by the shadows that had once served the Manhunters well. The mysterious figure entered the Grand Temple several hours before Wexler entered -- and had kept his presence a secret from anyone who might enter it. In point of fact, the mysterious figure knew far more about the Manhunters than even the androids and sleeper agents themselves -- including their final fate at the hands of Earth's super-heroes; using that particular knowledge to his advantage, there was no reason for the mysterious figure to remain hidden in the shadows any longer.

"Manhunters?", yelled Wexler, "Grand …?"

"They're gone," said the mysterious figure, as he walked several steps toward Wexler, while his features remained hidden, "And I'm glad to say -- for good."

"W-W-Who said that?"

"They call me the Powerbroker, Fenton Wexler -- you are Wexler, aren't you?" As the Powerbroker continued to walk towards Wexler, the Manhunter sleeper agent pointed his energy baton -- the cosmic weapon that was used by both the Manhunter androids and their human sleeper agents -- directly at his target, who knew more about his opponent than even Wexler himself. Of course, the only thing that mattered to Wexler at the present time was the fact that the Powerbroker had just invaded the Manhunters' Grand Temple without activating its technologically advanced security system.

"I'm a Manhunter," yelled Wexler furiously, "And you've just invaded our chamber -- a …!"

"Mistake?", said the Powerbroker, as he confronted Wexler, face-to-face, "I doubt it. Then again, your so-called technology -- however advanced it may be -- is no match for my superior intelligence. Of course, your fellow asses never had any kind of vision -- even when they humiliated me and left me for dead centuries ago."

"What the hell are you talking about?"

"Hmm -- obviously, you don't know why I despise not only the Manhunters, but also the Guardians of the Universe and the Green Lantern Corps. But then, when I secretly altered the Manhunter androids' programming centuries ago, I also erased any knowledge of them crushing my plans for interplanetary conquest, in order to insure that they wouldn't get in my way. Sort of like, as you call it, leveling the playing field -- but on a grand scale that would dwarf even your petty accomplishments."

"I still don't know what you're talking about!"

"You're right -- you don't, mainly because you're blind to a truth that's more complex than your already-narrow mind would ever understand. Of course, the fact that you've been brainwashed by the Manhunters certainly has a lot to do with your somewhat inadequate view of the world -- a weakness that, thankfully, I don't have."

"You're …!"

"Lying? No, I'm simply telling you the truth as I see it -- a truth that you can't handle. But then, if I have my way, you won't live to warn anyone about my existence -- or reveal the fact that I turned the Manhunters against the entire universe, simply because they and the Guardians meddled in my affairs. Yes, Wexler -- I'm responsible for the Manhunters being who they are today, or at least who they were until they were destroyed mere hours ago."

"I refuse to …!"

"Believe it, Wexler. The Manhunters are gone forever -- a simple truth that even you have to face, unlike the lies that those android asses force-fed you from childhood. But then, I know far more about the complexities of evil and deception than you can ever hope to learn and/or understand -- an advantage that'll serve me well once I conquer the universe!"

"Too bad you've forgotten something that's become our personal mantra -- no man escapes the Manhunters!" But before Wexler could fire his energy baton at the Powerbroker, the latter removed a metallic disc from his jacket pocket and hurled it straight at his would-be attacker. Within seconds, the metallic disc attached itself to the front of Wexler's armor -- then exploded; seconds later, the contents of the explosive disc caused Wexler's armor and his energy baton to disintegrate into nothing, revealing the Manhunter sleeper agent in just his t-shirt, blue jeans, and socks.

"And you're about to learn that nobody stands in my way," said the Powerbroker, as a seven-foot man -- one of the criminal's henchmen, who was all muscle, as well as being masked and clad in black from head-to-toe -- materialized from out of nowhere and stood behind Wexler, "Including you!" Within seconds, the Powerbroker's henchman picked up Wexler and put his muscular arms around his chest, as he started to squeeze him very tight -- so much so that Wexler couldn't escape his opponent's powerful grip, even as the Powerbroker approached the once-powerful Manhunter sleeper agent.

"In a minute or two, you'll be dead," said the Powerbroker, "But before that happens, you're about to see my true face -- the last that you'll ever see alive."

"W-W-When the Manhunters find my …!", yelled Wexler, his voice laced with pure fear.

"The Manhunters are gone -- just like the Guardians of the Universe and the Green Lantern Corps will soon be extinct! Never will they -- or anybody else -- will stand between absolute power and me! And to prove that I mean what I say …!" Wexler watched with horror as the Powerbroker morphed into a being that he had never seen before -- a being who was alien in more ways than one -- and who was about to become Wexler's executioner. Once his transformation was complete, the Powerbroker's left hand clutched itself around Wexler's neck instantly, while the henchman who assisted his master reacted with a sense of sadistic pleasure that equaled that of the Powerbroker. Then, the Powerbroker, possessing the strength of several Samsons, squeezed Wexler's neck with his left hand so hard, that it snapped within seconds, instantly killing him. Once Wexler was dead, the Powerbroker's henchman let go of him, as his now-lifeless body fell face down on the floor.

"The fool," said the Powerbroker, as he morphed back into his previous form, "He idolized and served a band of pathetic androids that saw themselves as gods -- a fatal mistake that his soul will have an eternity to regret."

"What now, master?", asked the Powerbroker's henchmen in a gravelly voice.

"Leave the fool where he is -- then activate and attach the digital time bombs to all four walls of the Grand Temple. After you activate the final time bomb, we'll take our leave -- by the time the bombs have done their job, the building that houses the Grand Temple will already be burning to the ground. And when the authorities arrive on the scene -- and they will, believe me -- there'll be little left to connect not only the building to the Manhunters, but also its utter destruction to us." Within seconds, the Powerbroker's henchman attached four digital time bombs -- all the size of a pocket calculator -- to the four adjoining walls of the Manhunters' Grand Temple. Then, the Powerbroker used a remote control unit to activate the small yet extremely powerful time bombs before throwing the unit itself on the floor -- all four time bombs would go off in just two minutes, enough time for both the Powerbroker and his henchman to leave not only the Grand Temple, but also the building that housed it.

Fifteen minutes later: It had been roughly thirteen minutes since the digital time bombs exploded, resulting in a raging fire that ravaged the building that housed the Manhunters' Grand Temple; the men responsible for both the explosion and fire -- the Powerbroker and his henchman -- were already long gone.

By the time the firemen arrived on the scene to put out the fire a few minutes afterwards, there wasn't much of the building left to save -- and no proof that the Manhunters had once operated there. But then, there was also no proof that the Powerbroker was responsible for the fire that destroyed the building -- the same fire that had also destroyed the remote control unit that helped activate the time bombs, rendering the device beyond all repair. As for Wexler's corpse, the intense flames and heat resulting from the fire had already cremated it, reducing it to ashes. The reasons for both the explosion and the subsequent fire that it caused would remain a mystery, not only to the firemen who put out the fire, but also the police who attempted to solve said mystery without any success -- which is exactly how the Powerbroker wanted it.

Ten minutes later: The private jet carrying the Powerbroker was flying 35,000 feet above the ground, many miles away from the scene of his recent crime. The Powerbroker was, in a sadistic way, proud of what he had just done -- he knew that the authorities wouldn't connect him with both the explosion and fire that destroyed the building that secretly housed the Manhunters' Grand Temple. But then, nearly the entire world was unaware that the Powerbroker truly existed, a fact that he used to his advantage.

So much for the Manhunters, thought the Powerbroker, as he sipped a glass of Corsican brandy, And it won't be long before the Green Lantern Corps experiences their final downfall -- after they decide Sinestro's final fate! But then, those moronic asses don't know their equally moronic leaders' greatest secret -- and never will, even after they're finished for good! The Powerbroker was already aware of that particular secret concerning not only the ex-Green Lantern known as Sinestro, but also his home planet Korugar -- and the consequences that would arise if either an Oan or a Green Lantern killed a single Korugarian, including Sinestro; how the Powerbroker learned that particular piece of information was one of many secrets that he kept to himself. In fact, the Powerbroker silently predicted -- very accurately -- that the Green Lantern Corps would end up executing Sinestro with their power rings, thus leading to the end of the Corps itself.

And the Powerbroker smiled -- for he knew that the end of the Green Lantern Corps would remove another obstacle from his path towards gaining total control of the universe. But the Powerbroker, however brilliant and warped he was, was far from infallible -- for the Green Lantern Corps would indeed learn the Guardians of the Universe's greatest secret, even if its members learned it a bit too late following Sinestro's death.

The Powerbroker was also wrong about something else, a all-too common miscalculation shared by his ilk: There were still plenty of super-heroes on Earth and throughout the universe who stood in his way -- and as long as they existed to serve justice and protect the innocent, the Powerbroker's chances of taking over the universe would always end up being next to nothing.

Dedicated to the memories of JIM APARO & IRV NOVICK -- J.L.

The characters mentioned in this story are the respective trademarks and properties of DC Comics ©2006