The Last Herald of Galactus #5
Written by Dannell Lites,
Edited by Marvelite
The Last Herald of Galactus
from The Last Herald of Galactus
issue #1, issue #2, issue #3, and issue #4
It was Steel who helped The Batman carry the unconscious Kal-El to the top of the Daily Bugle Building and the attention of Reed Richards.
"The poor man!" gasped Sue Storm-Richards, the Invisible Woman, when she saw the blood and the many bruises on Kal-El's body. "Reed, will he be all right?" The scientist looked up from his softly humming scanner in distraction, his blue eyes alight with the zeal of scientific discovery.
His wife's amused, tolerant frown caught his attention, then. He checked his data readout once more.
"Why, I have no idea, Sue darling. He seems to have no serious injuries that I can detect. But he's definitely not human and that's a factor I'm finding difficult to compensate for. Normal for him is an unknown quantity. Amazing!" He tapped his small instrument insistently. "Oh, now that can't be right!" he exclaimed.
"Was that an energy spike?" asked Steel, politely, restraining the urge to rubberneck over his fellow scientist's shoulder.
"A huge one," agreed Richards. He shook his head in disbelief. "Gentleman," he said with a trace of awe, "according to my instruments we are looking at the Earth's most efficient solar energy converter. Every single cell in his body is a tiny solar energy battery and storage unit. The power readings go right off my scale." Richards looked about but Magneto and his X-Men, brave but prudent, were long gone. "No wonder Dazzler's powers worked so well in conjunction with his."
The Batman wasn't the only one to frown at this.
"You know," began The Scarlet Spider, and it was no idle musement, though it worked hard to disguise itself as one, "I hope he's not pissed when he wakes up ... "
The newly conscious Guy Gardner opened his mouth to boast or crack wise, but then, apparently, thought better of it.
"You got that right, Webhead," breathed the Flash.
Kal-El groaned and Wonder Woman made the decision for them all. Kneeling, the Amazon Ambassador to Man's World lay a restraining hand on the young alien's chest and gently eased him back down to the rooftop's hard, battle-littered surface. He closed his eyes and seemed to breath easier after a moment.
"Easy, my friend," urged Diana, "easy. You've had quite a jolt."
"Ga - Galactus?"
"Defeated," the heroine assured him. "Thanks, in no small part, to you." Several minutes passed before he could sit up unassisted. He did not refuse the dark guantleted hand that helped him to his feet.
"I think you need to see this," said The Batman. "I found it on Galactus' ship."
The voice lacked it's usual crisp, coolness. For a moment Kal-El was almost certain he heard hesitation there in those deep tones. Slowly, the dark guantleted hands probed one of the pockets of his ubiquitous utility belt. When his quick fingers withdrew themselves they grasped a small ... something .. that glowed and pulsed a fiery red in his gloved palm.
Even Kal-El's eyes had difficulty gazing upon it; trying to focus his eyes on it was impossible and made his head throb dully in time with its rhythmic pulses. It was always so with Galactus memory spheres, he knew, since they did not exist solely in this dimension alone. He did not presume to understand their construction.
Reaching out, The Batman placed the small sphere in Kal-El's naked palm and closed the other man's hand firmly over it. It dissolved, sinking noiselessly into his hand like a ghost and Kal-El shivered with the familiar chill. Memories that were not his own exploded in his mind. Senses reeling, he gasped.
The laboratory was no longer tidy and pristine. The stink of desperation and the sharp tang of ozone filled the air with their unmistakable stench. The ground shook itself, spasming like a dying beast. A small white pup whined and then howled, seeking shelter in the shadow of it's Master's feet.
"Stop it!" shouted the strident voice of his father, Jor-El. "Stop it! You weren't supposed to take so much energy! Only enough to stop the approaching cataclysm! That was your oath to me when I agreed to this. Instead you've hastened it and begun a chain reaction in Krypton's core ... Great Rao, the planet's breaking up ... "
"I hunger Jor-El of Krypton," returned the voice of Galactus, "I hunger!"
"Jor! What's happening? You've been locked up in this laboratory for weeks. I - "
His wife's voice caught his attention with its near panic. When she caught sight of the imposing figure of Galactus joined to The Machine steadily feeding him the energy of the dying planet, she clutched the sleeping child she held protectively closer to the warmth of her body, vainly attempting to shelter her infant son.
Jor-El turned haunted eyes away from the damning evidence of his sensors, resting them on his wife. "Lara ..." he choked, "you have to understand ... the Science Council ... they wouldn't listen ... called me a fool ... an alarmist ... forbade me to act. Krypton was doomed. I - I had to do something. Rao forgive me, I thought ... "
Hands flying over the heat and motion sensitive nodes of his control panel, the frantic Kryptonian scientist began shutting down the power fueling his laboratory, itself a gift of Krypton's endless supply of geothermal energy. Disconnecting himself from The Machine, Galactus removed the energy siphons from his body.
"You've killed us all!" cried the despondent Jor-El. "How could I have been such a fool? I trusted you and you betrayed me." The ground shook itself like a tormented animal in it's death throes. From the window, it was possible to glimpse the sight of the toppling of tall towers, hear the screams of the dying as the planet beneath them writhed in agony.
"I am Galactus," responded the Devourer of Worlds. "I am what I am. Worlds perish and die, but Galactus must live. The death of your world is unintentional. I would undo it if I could. But that is beyond the power of even such as Galactus."
A great calm seemed to overcome the doomed scientist, then. Standing still and steady he regarded Galactus and closed his eyes in thought.
"We are what we are," he said in a quiet voice. "All of us. I, no less than you. It was in my nature to trust you. It was in your nature to lose control of yourself. Hunger must be a great burden. And the instinct to survive is strong in all things." He glanced down at his surging instruments, reading once more the story of destruction they told. "You should leave if you wish to live. You'd better hurry. There isn't much time."
"Galactus is beyond mortal consideration of good and evil, Jor-El of Krypton, yet your concern for my safety is puzzling, under the circumstances. Explain." Taking his wife's hand, Jor-El faced Galactus.
"There is no need for all of us to perish. You have a right to save yourself if you can. But do not delay. Time is running out." Galactus paused, his vast purple eyes grew distant and dreamlike and the scientist in Jor-El, ever curious, wondered, perhaps for the last time, what the great alien could be thinking.
"No," agreed Galactus. "There is no need for all to die in the coming destruction. It lies within my power to save you and your family, if you wish. Decide quickly, Jor-El of Krypton. Time is short, indeed."
For an instant Jor-El's face brightened with the rebirth of hope. To live ... to survive .. to explore, uninhibited by foolish tradition and elderly technocrats, this most marvelous of Rao's creations the Universe ... The thought was almost dizzying and his body shook, momentarily, with the desire .. the *need* ... for it, like an ache in his bones.
But the dream was swift to fade under the crushing onslaught of his guilt.
"No," he said finally, and the regret that dwelt in his voice was only an undertone, a trace of poignancy. "I cannot leave. I will see this thing through to it's end. I am it's author, am I not? That is only fitting." He reached for his wife's hand spoke again to Galactus.
"But my wife and child ... you must save them. Please. Like the rest of my people, they are innocent. They played no part in this." His eyes pleaded with Galactus.
"Please," he said again.
"It shall be done," promised the last survivor of the Universe that preceded the creation of this one with The Big Bang. Perhaps he remembered the garden planet of Taa and his life there as an ordinary, mortal creature; a scientist like the man standing before him. None could say. Not even Kal-El's glimpse into the mind of his Master could tell him that. At Jor-El's side Lara stirred.
"I won't leave my husband," she said simply. "I'm not entirely sure what's happening here, but I know this: my place is here with you." She looked into Jor-El's eyes and smiled. "Whatever comes, we'll face it together."
"Lara, *please* ... " The dark haired, strong willed woman, shook her head.
"We haven't time to argue, Jor." Tenderly, Jor-El brushed aside one dark curl spilling over her forehead in disarray.
"Rao preserve me from willful women," he whispered and kissed her palm. With a last gentle smile for her husband, Lara turned to the waiting Galactus.
"But the child, our son Kal-El," she said firmly "You must save him."
Weeping quietly, Kal-El watched the rest of the tragedy play itself out in the memory crystal gleaned from the mind of Galactus. This time, Galactus, and thus Kal-El's, last view of Kal-El's parents before the destruction engulfed them, was the familiar sight of Jor-El embracing his wife; but, now, he did not miss the joy and peace lighting their faces as they watched their son taken to safety in the hands of Galactus.
"Uh guys?" came the tired, reluctant voice of The Scarlet Spider, "I'm sorry to interrupt, but something weird is happening with The Big G-Word over here. Professor Richards? You'd better come and see this."
As the bewildered heroes watched, millimeter by steady millimeter, the unmoving form of Galactus grew smaller and smaller, as if the great body were consuming itself in it's frantic efforts to find energy to sustain it. Reed Richards knelt by the side of their vanquished foe and scanned the rapidly shrinking form with an arcane instrument whose purpose was unknown to all but a few of the astonished onlookers.
"What the hell is going on here, Big Brain?" demanded Guy Gardner.
Looking up from his instruments, Reed Richards frowned. With a definitive snap he closed the instrument case and shut it off.
"He's dying," said Mr. Fantastic, putting away his scanner in a hidden pocket of his uniform. The news shook Kal-El.
"Dying? No! He can't be! He - no ... "
With his ring hand Guy Gardner made a sharp gesture, cutting the air like a blade and smiled.
"Let the sucker croak," he announced. He brought his Power Ring to bear on the dying alien. "In fact, I'll be glad to help the dirtbag on his way." A slender braceleted hand with strength enough to sunder steel flashed out and caught Gardner by the wrist.
"Guy, when was the last time someone called you an insensitive maniac?" said Wonder Woman and squeezed hard enough to bring unbidden tears to Gardner's eyes and a snarl to his lips. When he tried to snatch his hand away, the Amazon warrior released him.
"Not since this morning," the one true Green Lantern shot back.
"Sometimes I really miss Hal," murmured the Flash.
"Yeah, you and every other wimp on the planet, speed-geek."
When the pugnacious Gardner began to advance on the scarlet clad protector of Central City, he was halted by a dark guantleted hand that grasped him from behind by his rust red hair. Spinning him about, disorienting him completely before he had time to think, another dark guantleted fist lashed out, striking him squarely in the face. He went limp in his opponents hands and The Batman let him fall unceremoniously, but carefully, to the rooftop.
"We can't just let him die," the dark vigilante said, his gaze falling on the grieving Kal-El. "We have to do something." A sharp ripple of unease passed through the ranks of assembled heroes. No one, of course wanted to be the one to say it. It was Steel who finally took upon himself the unpleasant task. Clearing his throat, he regarded The Batman levelly.
"What do you suggest we *do*, Batman?" he said softly. "If we save him now, we'll just have to face him again ... sooner or later. And the next time we might not be so lucky. I don't like it anymore than you do. But there it is. Reality bites." The Batman recalled the many, many times he had captured The Joker and his ilk and sent them to Arkham Asylum, only to have them escape and kill again.
And still he could not bring himself to countenance it.
"It's wrong," he insisted. "It's not our place to judge him or punish him. Just to stop him. He's an intelligent being. We should be able to reason with him. He might agree to leave the Earth in peace." He glanced again at Kal-El. "He has honor, of a sort."
"He's also got a humoungus appetite, Bat-Dude," pointed out The Scarlet Spider. Reed Richards shook his head sadly.
"I'm afraid the point is moot, gentlemen ... Princess. At this juncture I don't see any way *to* save our foe. We don't have the technology or the power. There's nothing we can do for him."
Most of the heroes were somewhat ashamed of the relief that washed through them at the hero-scientist's announcement. Mercifully, the situation was out of their hands. They had defeated Galactus and the painful question just raised by that victory had but one answer.
Whatever happened, their consciences were clear, they told themselves.
"I - I should be getting back home," said the Flash.. "Iris will be wondering what happen to me. She'll be worried ... "
"Yeah, me to, I guess," said the Scarlet Spider. "You guys gonna be okay here without me?"
One by one the heroes began to take their leave of the sad, uncomfortable situation. Wonder Woman was one of the last to depart. She lay a slim hand on Kal-El's broad shoulder.
"Do you have someplace to go?" she asked. Silently, the kneeling Kal-El shook his head.
"You could come with me," the Amazon Princess offered. "My friend Julia always has room to spare." Princess Diana smiled fondly. "She'll make you pay for the privilege with the answers to a thousand questions. But you'll be welcome in her house." The young alien said nothing. Galactus' hand was small enough, now, that he could encompass it within his own and he did. The Amazon squeezed Kal-El's shoulder lightly, knowing that it was little enough solace to offer.
"You should come away from here," she told him. "You can't help him. No need to punish yourself so." Again, Kal-El shook his head.
"No," he said, "I can't leave him." His throat worked and he swallowed hard. "No one should die alone."
"If you left, I don't think he'd know the difference," she said kindly.
"*I'd* know," said Kal-El and made no move to rise or leave.
Feeling bereft, like a mother deserting her child, Diana of Themyscira sighed. As the Amazon caught a passing breeze and lifted herself upon it, she smiled, though. Sharp eyes brought her the sight of the dark clad figure waiting patiently in the deep shadows of the rooftop.
Kal-El would not be alone, after all.
It took some time for the drama to play itself out to it's inevitable end; for Galactus to die. The great body was powerful and did not give up the struggle easily. Kal-El did not abandon him.
And The Batman did not abandon Kal-El.
He never spoke to Kal-El. He was simply there, a silent, caring presence, sitting unobtrusively nearby. He did not intrude on Kal-El's grief, if such it was. He was simply there.
When the Devourer of Worlds was gone completely, faded like a night mist in the dawning light of day, The Batman rose and approached Kal-El. He did not touch him as Wonder Woman had. But his voice, when he spoke, was low and full of rough, little used compassion, like a rusty hinge given the succreae of soothing oil to lighten it's burden.
"Go home," he said.
Kal-El thought of the kindly Jonathan and Martha Kent, who loved him, and nodded.
Concluded in Last Herald of Galactus #6
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