Buffy Summers had long since forgotten about trying to get weird things to stop following her around. By now, she was just resigned to being tough enough to handle it whenever it caught up to her.
Even in Chicago, it’d probably turn up. She looked out of the cab window at what she could see of the city. It just didn’t seem to end. She’d been in a few big cities before, and, except for New York, you could probably put each one of them in Chicago’s back pocket.
The crew had told her to visit the Sears Tower, see the Picasso sculpture, take a look at that oddball building that they’d used to film RUNNING SCARED, and a few other things, and bring back the snapshots. That was, of course, in addition to taking care of what had drawn her to the city in the first place.
“What brings you to Chicago, miss?” asked the Indian cabbie, pleasantly.
“Oh, friends,” she said. “That’s all.”
Yep. Friends like Cordelia Chase, who gave her a phone call right in the middle of dinner and said, “Buffy. You have to go to Chicago.”
“I have to what? Cordelia, this is totally not the way to get on my persuaded side.”
“I’m sorry, look, really, I am. But this is something damned important, Buffy. I can’t even get the shape of it right in my mind, but you’re needed in Chicago. Definitely.”
“An image of the moon as red as blood. Hanging over the Sears Tower. I know. I looked it up to make sure.”
“Oh.” Buffy looked back towards her plate of stir-fry and balled a fist in frustration. “I’m so glad to hear that.”
“Bats flying around the tower. A sense of...I don’t know...inversion. Like the Hellmouth. Not unlike that, Buffy.”
“And here’s the clincher. You know that mob hit that made CNN last month? The one where they pulled the two guys out of the bottom of the river there, the ones chained together by their wrists?”
“No blood in the bodies. They didn’t let that detail out.”
“How do you know?”
Buffy sighed. “So how in the hell do I get to Chicago?”
“Is it okay for me to wire you some money?”
“Can’t you get some other teenage vampire stalker to do the job for you this time?”
“All right, all right. Jeez. I just wish I got class credit for this sort of thing.”
As it was, Cordelia had even been able to give her the addy of “the place where she felt she should go.” It was a boarding house near the U. of Chicago, to which the cab was supposed to be taking her. The fee on the meter was high enough that she decided she’d either try to find somebody in the building who’d give her a lift, or investigate the El. Couldn’t be any worse than a subway.
The place was a big brownstone, old and dignified enough, but still solid. Buffy sighed as the cab halted by the curb. She paid the man, allowed him to get her two suitcases out of the trunk, and took them herself up to the door. Then she rang the bell and waited. Idly, she wondered if John Belushi and Dan Ackroyd would answer the door in hats and shades.
No such luck. It was a smallish, gray-haired woman with a decent-sized smile. “Hello,” she said. “Miss Summers?”
“Um, yeah, that’s me.” Buffy picked up both cases, not wanting the old woman to exert herself. “You must be Mrs. Berkowitz?”
“That’s me, I’m afraid. Come on inside, but let me get one of those suitcases, dearie. I’m old, but that frail I’m not.”
Another voice came from behind her. “Oh, Mrs. B, let me handle it. If you strain yourself, we’ll miss your gefilte fish tonight.”
“Ah!” Ida turned, and an attractive brown-haired girl, conservatively dressed in a blouse, vest, and skirt stepped up and took one of the suitcases from Buffy’s hand. The blonde girl tensed for a second, almost imperceptibly. The kind of stuff she had in that bag wasn’t meant to be unpacked in public. People got nerved at the sight of stakes, holy water, silver crucifixes, and all. Plus the other weapons she packed, for more conventional problems.
The case was heavy enough, but the woman holding it,who looked just shy of thirty, didn’t have a problem at all. Mrs. Berkowitz said, “She’s in 3A. You know where that is.”
“Hi,” said Buffy. “Uh, for what it’s worth, I’m Buffy. Buffy Summers.”
The brunette favored her with a slight smile. “Glad to know you. My name’s Linda Danvers. Follow me.”
It’s only a rumor that vampires are confined to night rising. If they avoid the sun, they can pull a day shift. The boss, John Vladislav, insisted on it. “The human world works 24 hours a day, now,” he’d say, “and we can’t do any less, if we want to win. Anybody that doesn’t agree gets staked.”
So the dayshifters took care of planning and ops while the big boys and their coterie slept. They did not often travel, and, when they did, were bundled furtively into big vans and were kept covered until they arrived in the offices to which they were taken. A small force of nonconverted humans was used for the transport. The vamps handled this in the time-honored way: they held members of their employees’ family hostage, to ensure they did a good job.
Robert Platt, a Midwesterner who had come to the big city to make his fortune and found one of a different kind in a dark alley one night, had to admit that the four guys carrying his coffin didn’t do too bad a job. A little bumpy over the threshhold, but they could be forgiven that. He wasn’t working out enough to keep his weight down, and he resolved to do something about it.
The forward motion came to a halt and somebody rapped on the lid. “Leave us,” said the voice of his underboss. By the time Robert raised the lid, the four carriers were gone. That left only the underboss, Peter Rummo, staring into his eyes. Rummo, resplendent in his three-piece suit and long gray mustache to cover his fangs, loved doing that.
“So? How did it go?”
Platt grasped the edges of the box and sat up, smoothed back his hair with one hand, and brushed down his suit. “Fairly routine, Mr. R. Luchensa is still making noises about his boys, but the rest of the families are still keeping him down. So far, I don’t think we’ve got a hell of a lot to fear in that direction.”
“Get a couple of hundred years on you, and then you can judge who and what to fear. Any increase in payment?”
“They tried to jack me up, but I Hungarianed them down. One of their men tried to pull a knife on Woody. Woody persuaded him that wouldn’t do any good.”
“Left him how?”
“Impaired use of his left hand. Cuts and abrasions. Just show stuff.”
Rummo nodded, briefly. “We’ve much to do in the next week. The Outfit isn’t wise to our ways yet, but I have no hope for that condition lasting long. I want you at the Tower, tonight.”
“The Tower, sir?”
“It’s time you got some hands-on experience with the operation,” said Rummo. “You’re going to help the Blood Red Moon succeed in this endeavor personally, or find yourself on the business end of a stake. With garlic.”
After a pause, Platt nodded. “I’ll perform, boss. I’ll perform.”
“So, how long are you staying, Miss Summers?”
That was always a good conversational gambit, Linda knew. Buffy looked up from her green tea and said, “Oh, about a week at least. Depends. On, um, my business.”
Linda regarded the blonde girl sitting before her, Mrs. Berkowitz, Joan Raymond, and John Ostrander in the living room of their brownstone and felt a twinge of uncomfortable familiarity. She’d been around enough people with secrets to conceal (including herself) to recognize them from ten paces. The thing was, whenever said persons were around her, it usually presaged her meeting them as an opponent.
Being what she was sometimes drew those things to her.
John said, “I hate to seem like I’m prying, but...”
“You’re prying, John,” said Joan, with a smile. “What he wants to know is if you can tell us your business, Miss Summers.”
“Oh, I’m doing a research paper on the Sears Tower, and some other landmarks in town,” said Buffy. “But mostly on the Tower. I want to tour it as soon as I can. They do have guided tours, don’t they?”
“Several times a day, they do,” said Mrs. Berkowitz. “Elevator all the way to the top, and you can hear your ears pop three times in succession. Like champagne corks.”
“You ought to talk to a guy I know, name of Mike Kelly,” said John. “He’s an amateur city historian, knows a little about everything. Been consultant on a couple of mystery novels and such. I think he writes comics.”
“Thanks, maybe later,” said Buffy. “Today, I want to get to the Tower itself. I was wondering if, y’know, any of you folks have to go by there...I could pay for a ride. As long as it’s cheaper than a cab.”
“Oh, Buffy, don’t worry about that,” said Linda. “I’m off today. How’d you like me to run you up to the Tower in my car?”
“Oh, would you? Linda, that’d be dope. Sorry, I mean that’d be really cool.”
“That’s okay, dear. I know what you mean.”
And so it was that Linda Danvers ferried Buffy Summers up to the Sears Tower, went with her to the piano bar where they were playing “Ballet For a Girl In Buchannon”, heard with her the recorded voice of an actor reciting the quote, “Chicago ain’t no sissy town!”, and, finally, went with her to the 108th floor itself. It was roofed in concrete and steel and entirely circled with glass, so that the out-of-towners and whoever else made the tour could gaze out on whatever there was below to see.
What there was to see was Chicago, as far as the eye could see.
“My gosh,” marvelled Buffy. “The whole thing just doesn’t stop. Except when it gets to the big lake, there.”
“Lake Michigan,” said Linda. “This the first time you’ve seen it, Buffy?”
“Oh, yeah,” she replied. “So that’s one of the Great Lakes. Looks like an inland sea. I mean, it’s just been a patch of blue on a map until now, Linda.”
Linda Danvers smiled. Even though she’d seen a lot in her life, cities that could make this look like a backwater, she was still impressed on a human scale by the city when she moved here. Even Kal didn’t live in a city like Chicago.
“So, what are you researching specifically about the Tower, Buffy?” she asked, casually.
“All of it.”
“All of it?”
“Yeah. How it was built, who built it, how much it cost, et cetera. But I’ll want to do that research privately, Linda.” She looked at her host consolingly. “Sorry. You’ve been so nice to me, bringing me out here and all.”
“Well...how do you mean, ‘privately’?” asked Linda. “If you’re doing research, you’ll have to talk to people involved with the Tower. The building manager, the staff, the owners, if you can get them to give you the time...”
“I want to poke around a little. On my own.”
“On your own,” said Linda.
“Do you...know what you’re poking around for?”
Buffy clutched her valise in both hands. “I’ll know it when I find it,” she said. She was hoping Linda would leave her alone up here. But how likely was that? After all, didn’t she expect to bring Buffy home, as well?
“Linda. Would it be okay if I, like, caught a cab home?”
The brunette looked at her curiously. “Buffy, I thought you wanted me to bring you here because you wanted not to have to pay a cab.”
“Oh, I did. But only one way.”
“Don’t get me wrong, Linda. I like you, really. I mean, from first impressions and all. But I want to do my poking around on my own, and it really wouldn’t be right to ask you to stay all that long, and...”
“Are you a building climber?”
Linda said, “You know. A person who goes spelunking in the interior of buildings. Climbing them from the inside. Or even from the outside, sometimes.”
Buffy laughed. “Oh, no. Nothing like that. I don’t even like to, you know, climb a ladder to get on the roof of my house. I just want to check the entire building out, get the layout straight in my mind, get the feel of it before I start asking questions.”
“That’s going to take you till dinner?”
“Maybe after,” said Buffy. “I don’t know.”
Linda said, “Buffy, I don’t feel right just leaving you here. You’re an out-of-towner, you don’t know your way around, and this is a really, really big city. I’m not saying something bad could happen to you. But honey, leaving you alone in this place on your second day here just doesn’t make any sense.”
Buffy shifted her valise from hand to hand. “It’s just the way I work, Linda. I’m sorry.”
“Are you going to meet somebody here?”
The blonde girl’s eyebrows raised. “You mean, like a drug connection? No way. I don’t do that stuff.”
“You just want to poke around.”
To Linda, this whole scenario was making less and less sense in one way and more and more in another. Either Buffy was lying about being connected with drugs, or, worse, she could be a courier carrying something for the Outfit. Further out, she might be connected with some new wacky super-villain who decided to turn up in town for this month’s battle. Well, at least she could probably rule out Ambush Bug.
But she felt it was time to breach etiquette and turn her X-ray vision on Buffy’s valise. Linda gave it a casual glance.
She couldn’t stop her eyes from widening when she did.
Buffy caught it. “Something wrong, Linda?”
Linda Danvers struggled to maintain her composure. “Oh, nothing. Nothing, Buffy. Just must’ve been some indigestion from dinner. You sure that you want me to leave you?”
“Yeah, Linda, I’m sure. But I’ll be back in tonight. If I don’t make it for dinner, tell Mrs. B. and everyone hi for me. Tell her lunch was great.”
“I’ll do that,” said Linda. “Take care of yourself, and here.” She handed Buffy a slip of paper. “This has our address and my phone number on it. If you get in any trouble, call and let me know. Promise.”
“I promise, Linda,” semi-lied Buffy. Linda caught the trip in her pulse.
“Okay,” said Linda. “I hope you know what you’re doing, hon.”
“I hope so, too.” She gave Linda a brief, one-arm hug. “Thanks. Best of luck to you.”
“You, too.” Linda went to the elevator and got in. She’d have to make a show of things, but there was no way she was leaving the area. Super-vision could help her keep track of Buffy Summers, even 108 stories up, even through stone and steel.
Anybody who carried wooden stakes, silver crucifixes, garlic, and a fifth of unusual water in her valise wasn’t an Outfit bagwoman. But she’d still bear watching.
In one identity, or another.
“I can feel it, Benny,” said Johnny the Op. “Bad vibes. Just like the Sixties, when I got that ratty acid.”
“You ever really go through the Sixties?” said Benny Luftel, bored and leaning back in a chair, his feet against a window ledge. The window itself was blocked by a thick curtain.
“Hell, yeah,” said Johnny. “Woodstock, the Fillmore, all that crap. I know about vibes, man. I’m gettin’ ‘em bad, right now. Right here and now.”
“So what kinda vibes are they?” Benny yawned, exposing very long and glinting teeth.
“Vibes like you ought to know about,” said Johnny. “Slayer vibes. Benny...I think we’ve drawn attention.”
Benny Luftel checked his shoulder holster, brought the .357 Magnum out for inspection, eyed it, was satisfied, and slipped it back. Teeth might do the job, but in Chicago, you always packed heat if you were in the business.
“A Slayer?” he said. “Let’s slay her.”
One of the things Buffy had learned as a Slayer was: Trust your instincts. Sometimes, they amounted to a Geiger counter in her mind. She wasn’t sure about that old wives’ tale of women’s sixth sense, but whatever she had, she was grateful for it. Because right now, she was registering the vampiric equivalent of U-235 in the area.
The tour was over and, more than once, a guard had approached her and said, “Can I help you, miss?” She’d just smiled and said, “I’m bumming around and waiting for somebody, thanks.” Buffy wasn’t sure how much she was believed, but they let her go, and that was the important thing.
The big problem was, how do you find a klatch of vampires in a building 108 stories high? There weren’t any entries in the register for, say, Dracula Enterprises, Inc. On the other hand, there was Cordelia’s vision. Perhaps the real answer lay in deciphering it. So she went to the women’s room on the 100th floor, sat, and reviewed what she had been told.
A moon, red as blood, hanging over the Sears Tower. Bats flying around it. Plus a sense of inversion, “like the Hellmouth”. Okay. That was something, for starters.
If the red moon was hanging over the Tower, maybe that meant whatever was nasty was on the highest level. Or on the roof. Now, how to get up there?
Had to be an access ladder. But there were bound to be guards all around. After all, some weirdbeard might take it upon himself to damage the TV towers that were up there, or just to put a bomb up there and watch how many levels it destroyed. So how would she get up there? Belt the poor guy over the head, maybe?
And what about if she got up there? What did they have waiting for her? Well, not really for her. Just what was she supposed to find?
Jeez. Things were so damn simple when she just stuck to cheerleading.
She decided to go the direct route, and approached a guard. “‘Scuse me, sir. Could I ask for a favor?”
“Uh, yes, miss?” The guy looked to be about 28, probably taking makeup college courses at night, and probably wished he was in a cushier job than this one. Buffy put on her helpless-female smile for him.
“I’m doing research on the Tower, kind of, and I’d like to know if I can get a look at it from the roof. It is safe, isn’t it?”
“Uh. Well, it’s safe if you don’t happen to fall off of it. Otherwise, we don’t allow people up there, I’m sorry, miss.”
“Well, what if you, like, came with me for supervision? Wouldn’t that be all right, Mr., uh, Mel?”
The guard said, “No. Sorry, can’t leave my post like that. Maybe you should talk with the management, miss. If you’re doing research, they’re the ones you need to talk to.”
“Oh, I intend to, definitely. But I want to see what it looks like from that vantage point. I mean, I’ve seen the view from the 108th, but if I can see what it looks like from the very top...”
“Well, sorry, ma’am, but that’d be up to management. If you want, you can phone them from here.”
“Oh, that’d be too much of a hassle right now,” said Buffy, wondering if her bluffing skills were better than they sounded to her. “I’ll just try again another time.” She started to move away.
The guard said, “Miss? Miss?”
Buffy turned her head around slowly.
The guy had his hand out. “I’d like to ask you to show me what’s in the bag.”
“Well, I really need to go to the ladies’ right now. Can we just call this off for right now?”
“I need to see what’s in the bag, miss. Please hand it over for inspection.”
She broke into a run.
The guard tried to catch her, but Buffy banged her way through a door into a stairwell, bowling over a guy with a load of papers in his hands (they scattered everywhere), rushed downwards, heard the door banging open again and guessed it was the guard, physically leaped down a flight to the platform at the end, grunting on impact and thanking God she hadn’t been wearing heels today, bounced up after crouching, still holding her valise for dear life, and yanked open a door, rushing out into the hallway.
Behind her, the guard was on his pager. “All floors. We’ve got a female suspect, blonde, about 17-18 years, light brown dress, black briefcase. Running down the 99th right now, probably. Find and detain. Watch out for the briefcase. Repeat, watch the briefcase.”
She didn’t have to hear him to know what he was doing. A tape-loop ran in her mind: Stupid, stupid, stupid.
Of course, dear sirs, she could hear herself saying. You can see I didn’t have anything threatening in my bag. No bombs, no dope. I’m just going camping later on today. These are tent pegs. This? It’s just water. Want a drink?
She was walking as fast as possible, looking about her, and knowing she was having about as much luck not attracting attention as if she had been painted green like a woman from Star Trek: The Original Series. Heads were turning her way as she walked down the hall, wondering if there was an office or a closet or a john she could duck into.
Stupid. Stupid stupid stupid stupid.
Shut up, mind. Do your job. Find me a way out of this.
Buffy spied an opening elevator before her, said a silent prayer, and ducked in just as three people were going out. She put on her big, shy Tourist Smile. “Hi. Gosh, I’m from out of town. Isn’t this one, um, heck of a skyscraper?”
The few that looked at her gave her pitying smiles. One woman said, with courtesy, “Where are you from, honey?”
“California. L. A., actually. Not from there originally, but, well, who is?”
The woman nodded. Buffy sighed and maneuvered herself into the left rear corner of the car. Any minute now, she expected to see Alfred Hitchcock making a cameo. She also realized she hadn’t pushed a button for a floor, and resolved just to get out at the second opening of the doors.
That was on the 90th floor, and she pushed out with the few who left. Now what? She looked up and down the hall. People, offices, windows with a view of the imposing skyline. Maybe she should have waited till the elevator got down to the lobby? Nope. That’d be tempting fate too much.
Two guards were approaching, quickly. From the left-hand side of the hall. They had weapons. Buffy made calculations.
“Oh, miss,” said one of them, loudly. “Freeze.”
“We need to see your bag,” said the other, hand straying towards his billy club.
“Okay,” she said, and threw it at him as hard as she could.
The guard caught it against his chest and went flying backwards, upsetting a guy with a coffee cart and getting hot java over one shoulder. He cried out. Buffy snapped, “Sorry,” but she was already in motion.
The other guard had his taser out and thought he’d be capable of bringing down this twist with no problem. But he’d never seen a perp put on a show like this one did. She threw herself down, palms to the floor, bounced off them in a gymnast’s trick, threw herself over onto her feet, back onto her hands, then feet, then hands, and now...
...she was right in front of him and scissoring his head with an incredibly strong pair of legs.
Buffy flipped back and threw the guard with her, slamming him to the floor. Before he could get out a grunt of pain, she had released him, sprang to the other guy, grabbed her valise, and said, “I’m really, really sorry about this,” before giving him a shot in the jaw. Those present in the hall gasped or cried out or did something to indicate their reaction. She barely noticed.
The other guy was getting to his feet. She decided not to chance him going for a club, a taser, or even a walkie-talkie, and banged him over the head with her valise. He went down. It sickened her, but she sprinted down the hall towards the stairwell. Risky, sure, but she had no other choice just now.
Or if she did, she sure as hell didn’t know what it was.
If any vampires were around, they were darn-sure safe from her, she acknowledged. All of her efforts right now had just netted her charges of resisting arrest, assault and probably battery, and possession of a suspicious valise. Not two days in the city, and she’d probably be looking at the walls of a Cook County jail in hours. Minutes.
All the great Chicago criminals. Al Capone, Bugsy Siegel, and Buffy Summers.
Buffy sprinted down a total of three floors before she heard someone from above saying, “Hold it, ma’am. Hold it right there. We can help.”
She looked up and saw a brown-haired guy in a grey suit, light blue shirt, and red tie. He had his coat buttoned and she looked, despite herself, for a shoulder holster. “No, you can’t,” she said, and banged her way through another doorway.
There was a click of a hammer all too close to her head. “Yes, we can,” said a soft voice.
Buffy froze and cast her eyes to the left. A gun, sure enough. The old ears weren’t failing her, at least. .357 Magnum, from the looks of it. The guy holding it had black hair, thick and wavy, and was wearing a maroon Brooks Brothers suit. He looked twentyish and was smiling like a wise-ass. No, like a wiseguy.
There was nobody else in the hall she had come to and the windows were heavily curtained.
She could smell the vampire on him.
“Take one step away from the door,” said the guy with the gun. “Just one. Nice and slow.”
She obeyed. The door opened behind her, and the one who had called out to her from above was now behind her. Buffy started to turn her head. He said, “Don’t bother. I’ve got a gun, too.”
“Over here,” said Johnny the Op, and jerked his head towards an open office door down the hall.
“Why should I?” said Buffy, quietly. “Maybe I should take my chances with the guards.”
“Okay,” said Benny Luftel, behind her, and she heard the click of his gun’s hammer. Buffy calculated what she’d have to do: bend low, hit fast, try and cut the guy’s knees out from under him with her valise, and hope like hell the other one didn’t put a hole in the front of her with his cannon while she was doing it.
The probability of her carrying off the thing without harm seemed equal to her with her chances of leaping up and flying to the moon. Which, of course, was one whale of a nice option right now if it was being offered.
All that went through her mind the instant between the click and the sound of breaking glass.
Sunlight streamed in through a broken window and torn draperies. The two gunmen leaped back, avoiding the rays. A speeding figure was already inside the hall. Buffy saw a blur of blue reaching out to the guy who had been behind her, tearing the gun from his hand, compacting it impossibly into a small sculpture of twisted metal, and backhanding him so hard he somersaulted down the hall.
Then her unexpected savior swiveled to face the other guy, and just gave his gun what appeared to be a really hard look. The gun began to glow red. The guy cried out in pain, dropped it, and left it to smoulder on the floor.
By that time, the figure was no longer in motion. Buffy looked at her, taking her in as quickly as possible. A very pretty blonde woman in her late twenties or early thirties, in a blue and red outfit with a red cape. But she didn’t have to rack her memory files very hard for an I.D. Everybody knew who this woman was. Even if you were an out-of-towner.
“My name’s Supergirl,” she said. “Welcome to Chicago.”
Supergirl went over to the guy she had disarmed, grabbed him by the shirtfront, and hauled him up. “Now,” she said, “I’m going to ask you to do something for me, and if you do it, maybe I won’t knock you into next Tuesday. Tell me who you are, what you’re up to, and why you tried to shoot this girl. Give.”
She was holding her fist only a few inches from the guy’s face. The impact it could deliver was incalculable, but she could scale it down to make sure the person on the receiving end only got a nasty crop of bruises. But the man in her grip did an unexpected thing.
He bit her fist. And it hurt.
Kara Zor-El’s eyes widened and her jaw dropped in appreciation of seldom-felt pain. This guy was actually biting her hand, and it really did smart. In fact, it seemed as though he was just about to break the skin.
She swung her arm in an arc, throwing him against the wall. The gangster snarled, baring his teeth and showing off a truly formidable pair of incisors. Supergirl examined her hand. The guy hadn’t bitten through, but the fact that he could make her feel it was something to deal with.
What of Mister Two?
The guy was obviously tougher than the norm, because, after being dealt a blow by Supergirl that should have kept him quiescent for the next few hours, he had picked himself up and was going after Buffy, fangs and hands out. The blonde teenager was standing in the light, which should have protected her. But she ducked out of it to open her valise.
She pulled out the first thing that came to hand, a glass container of water. Buffy unstoppered it and met his charge with a fling of liquid against his face.
Benny Luftel screamed. Supergirl gaped anew. She thought this girl was a friendly, but she had apparently just thrown acid in this guy’s face.
The hoodlum with fangs staggered backward, hands splayed over his smoking countenance. Buffy pulled a stake from the rack within the valise and hurtled at him. Even hurting, though, the guy in the grey suit had presence of mind enough to lash out with one swinging arm and slam her up against the wall. Why this noise wasn’t bringing on the guards was something Buffy couldn’t imagine, but, she noted as she banged her head against the marble, she didn’t have time to worry about.
“Hang on, I’ll help,” said Supergirl, beginning to catch on, and wondering if she really dared to. She shot forward, flying, and caught the guy in the breadbasket, slamming him against the back wall and making a framed photograph of Mayor Daley fall to the floor. She looked at the hood’s ravaged face, part of the flesh burned away in spots, and swallowed hard. With one arm, she pinned him to the wall by the throat.
“What’s this all about?” she grated.
Benny grabbed for something in his pocket and pushed it against her face. It burned. She cried out, fell back on the carpet, put a hand to her cheek.
He had some weird kind of medallion in his hand, and Kara wasn’t sure she wanted to look too closely at it.
“Supergirl, hold on!” Buffy had two stakes in hand. She pitched one at Benny. It nailed him, but not through the heart. He bared his fangs, pulled the stake from his gut, and dropped it to the floor.
“Want a second shot, honey?” he rasped, looking more gruesome than seemed possible.
“As many as it takes,” Buffy said, circling him with wood in hand.
Johnny the Op had something else in his hand, and was talking into it. “Activate. Activate. Now!”
Supergirl got to her feet, and immediately felt like dropping to her knees.
Magic. Somebody was working magic. Powerful stuff, too.
What was to be done, had to be done quickly. She could feel her power ebbing as if somebody had turned a tap on within her. The Girl of Steel drove herself forward on shaky legs, grabbed Buffy, who yelped in surprise, and ran with her in tow (and stake in hand) to the broken window. This was going to be dangerous, but what in Sheol hadn’t been, so far?
“What,” began Buffy.
“Geronimo,” said Supergirl, and leaped.
Down they went. After a nanosecond, Buffy was screaming, and Kara gave thought to doing a little of that herself.
It was one thing to learn, academically, that a falling object accelerated at a rate of 44 feet per second per second. It was another thing entirely, Buffy discovered, to test that law of motion with your own body in practice.
“Oh, my God, oh, my God, oh, my Gooooooooddddd....”
“Hold on,” said Kara, keeping them away from the building face, seeing that people below were looking up and pointing, and not really giving a damn at the moment.
They fell over 55 stories before Supergirl felt her power resurge enough for her to kick in her flight ability. Taking care of the stress it would place on Buffy’s body, she pulled them into a dive, holding onto her charge, and then arced upward, taking care to remain only around the level of the 40th floor.
She checked out Buffy with her hearing and vision. The girl was huffing, almost hyperventilating, but seemed okay otherwise. She was also still holding onto that blamed stake.
“We’ll be okay now,” said Supergirl.
“If you say so,” Buffy answered. “Sorry I...I screamed.”
Kara gave her a curious look. “We both fell over 50 stories into empty space, and you’re sorry you screamed? Honey...are all the pages numbered in your book?”
“I’m usually better than this,” Buffy gulped. “But I’m not usually thrown out of a skyscraper window this high.”
“I should hope not,” said Supergirl. “They were putting out magic back there. I could feel it.”
“Is...uh, is that why...”
“Yeah,” said Kara. “I have a problem with magic. A little.”
Buffy tried to relax, then looked below her and saw Chicago’s streets several hundred feet below. She grabbed Kara around the neck, tightly. “Whatever your flight plan is...can we, like, change it to set down on the nearest solid ground?”
Supergirl smiled, and kept her right arm locked about Buffy’s middle. “You’re in good hands with Krypton Airlines,” she said. “But I know a place where we can go. Then I want you to tell me all about yourself.”
“Yeah,” said Buffy. “Likewise, for you. I’ve seen you on TV, like, and in the magazines, but this is so unreal. To be flying over the city with you.”
“Okay,” allowed Kara.
“And I just hope I don’t puke my guts up all over you,” added Buffy. “That would so ruin a beautiful moment.”
“I’d tend to agree,” Supergirl said.
A few minutes later, the two of them were standing on the roof of the Art Institute. It was a lot closer to the ground than Sears Tower, and Buffy appreciated it immensely. Kara stood away from Buffy, with her arms crossed. “Is there any burn mark on my cheek?” she asked.
Buffy looked closely at Supergirl’s face. “No. At least, I don’t see anything there. He must have zapped you with a charm of some sort.”
“As if I didn’t have problems enough with my own villains,” Supergirl said. “Now I get a bunch of vampires. Am I right on that?”
Buffy nodded. “Absolutely. That’s why I’ve got this stake in my hand. And why I threw holy water on that one vamp’s face.”
Supergirl cocked her head. “I thought you were an acid thrower. But that old movie bit is true? They really do get burned by holy water?”
“The ones that I’ve used it on do. These seem a little bit different from the vamps I’m used to. But not that different.”
Kara sat down on the roof, steadied herself with her palms on the surface, and crossed her ankles. “You do this sort of thing very often? At your age?”
“Well, yeah,” said Buffy. “I mean, I have for a couple of years now. I’m what they call a Slayer. Uh, maybe I shouldn’t have told you that, but this is Secret Origins time. You will keep it a secret, won’t you?”
Supergirl said, “Yes. But I’d better hear the whole story.”
Buffy sat down cross-legged, facing Kara. “Okay. To begin with, my name’s Buffy Summers. I live in L.A., and I go to school there and hunt vampires in my spare time. There’s a group of us, but I’m like the main focus. Sorry if that sounds egotistical.”
“Don’t worry about it, hon. Go on.”
“I was, like, just a cheerleader, and I shouldn’t say ‘just’ because you know how big a thing it is in school, everybody wants to be one, and I got it, but...that isn’t what you want to know, I’m sure. What happened is that I got visited by this old man named Merrick, who turned out to be a Watcher. That means he looks after Slayers, like me. A Slayer is, well, a girl born with better-than-normal strength and speed so she can kill vampires. Well, fight them and kill them. I guess we’ve been around for centuries, but I didn’t know anything about it before then.”
Kara nodded, thoughtfully. True, she knew second-hand that vampires existed. Batman had fought a few of them in his time, and even gotten turned into one for a short while. Superman had encountered an aquatic type of vampire on a case with Batman, and even once fought Dracula, or his other-dimensional self, on a Halloween night. All this she heard in their tales of then-recent cases, but she figured that, as rare as vampires seemed to be, she was unlikely to have to deal with them herself.
More fool Kara, she thought.
“I thought he was just an old letch at first,” Buffy went on. “But he turned out to be a mentor. Showed me about my, well, my powers. I shouldn’t say powers, they’re not like yours, but they’re just what I need to do the job.”
“They’re powers, dear,” said Kara. “Don’t be ashamed of them. Keep going.”
Buffy toyed with the stake. “It turned out there were a bunch of vampires in my old hometown. One of them killed Merrick. I had to bring down the lot of them when they crashed our prom. Well, I had a little help from a friend, but he was even more out of it than I’d been. After that, Mom and I moved to Los Angeles, I got started at Sunnydale–that’s my school–and I found out things had been sort of waiting for me there. Like Merrick said, it was my destiny.”
“What sort of things? More vampires?”
“Wall-to-wall. Plus other sorts of things I don’t want to get into. I found another Watcher there, and a group of us formed sorta ad hoc. We, uh, call ourselves the Scooby Gang. You ever seen Scooby-Doo?”
“We don’t have a dog,” grinned Buffy. “But we do all right. And just this week, my friend Cordy, who’s a precog, kind of, calls me up and says she’s got this prophecy about something heavy happening in Chicago, and I have to drop everything, come here right away, find out what it is, and see if I can take care of it.”
“What was the prophecy?”
“Oh, kind of esoteric. About the moon, red as blood, hanging over Sears Tower. With bats flying all around.”
Supergirl sat up straighter. “Wait a minute. A blood-red moon?”
Buffy looked at her quizzically. “Yeah. You know something significant about that?”
With a serious look, Kara said, “I have a feeling I might, Buffy. Batman told me one time about a case he’d handled in the company of someone else, whom he said was a real, live...well, more-or-less live...vampire. They were fighting another group of vampires in Gotham. The group was scattered all over the world, and Batman seemed to think they were pretty powerful.”
After a pause, Buffy said, “And that fits in with Cordy’s prophecy?”
“The name of the group,” said Supergirl, “is the Blood-Red Moon.”
Another pause. “Oh, boy,” Buffy finally said. “Looks like we’ve got our work really cut out for us. Uh. This is still a ‘we’, right?”
“Yes, Buffy,” said Supergirl. “Definitely a ‘we’. And now I guess it’s my turn to talk.”
John Vladislav backhanded Benny Luftel as hard as he could, right on
the face wounds. It made
Robert Platt wince to look at it, and he noticed Johnny the Op didn’t have anything to say, either. But his eyes were doing saucer impersonations.
“Mr. Vladislav, Mr. Vladislav, I swear to you,” Benny was saying, clutching his hurt face. “We got rid of them. We did our jobs.”
“You did your jobs,” said Vladislav, burying his hands in Benny’s lapels and shaking him. “You did your jobs. You did them so well that the Krypton bitch knows about our operation. You did them so well that the Slayer bitch lived. Yeah. You really done your jobs good, Benny. You know what? I think you deserve a big bonus for your job.” He loosened one hand, snapped his fingers.
A tall guy in an old-style suit and hat wordlessly and carefully opened the valise the Slayer had dropped, carefully withdrew a wooden stake, disregarded the pain in his fingers that the presence of the holy objects gave him, and clasped the valise shut again. Then he handed the stake to his boss.
“No, boss, no,” pleaded Benny Luftel. Johnny the Op, despite himself, started forward, more to plead than to oppose. But Robert Platt blocked him with an arm and a look. Johnny stood there, his hands twitching.
With one swift and deadly movement, John Vladislav slammed the stake through Benny’s heart and body.
That was all he had time to do before Vladislav hauled him to the broken window and dropped him out of it.
He was dust long before he could hit the ground.
The tall man said, “Somebody might find the stake, boss.”
“Find it,” snapped Vladislav, still looking out the window.
Obligingly, the tall man put the valise down, shape-shifted into a bat, and flew out the window.
After a second, Vladislav turned to his associates. They had sense enough to be silent. He looked even madder, Stan the accountant estimated, than he did when his stocks had cratered on Black Tuesday.
“Both of them are out there, now,” Vladislav said, pointing a finger at everyone before him. “Both of them know. Not everything, but they know we’re here. We’re going to bring them here again. We’re going to rub them out. We’re going to put this operation on triple-time until it’s completed. And if any of you guys does your job like he did...”
“I’m gonna personally shove you through the vortex myself. Head-first. Like a log through a sawmill.
“Just like we’re gonna do to the Slayer and the bitch from Krypton.”
“So, I’ve told you mine,” said Buffy, poking the sharp end of the stake in the roof’s concrete. “Now, you tell me yours.”
Supergirl wound her arms about her knees and drew them to her chest. “Well, I’m sure most of it is public record by now.”
“Oh, of course,” said Buffy. “But it’s not the same as hearing it from you.”
Kara smiled. “Guess it’s not. All right, let me see. It’s been such a busy life, especially from age 15 on. But those aren’t the happiest times for me. The best times were the ones I had in Argo City. That was where I was born.”
“It wasn’t on Krypton by the time I was born, Buffy. Krypton had been destroyed, years before that. Argo City, my hometown, was protected by a dome that my father designed. It even reached under the ground. It was just a prototype, and the Science Council didn’t think they were in that much danger of pollution. Plus they didn’t think Kryptonians would much like being cooped up in a domed city, even one they could enter and leave as they pleased. So Argo City was the only city that got one.”
“Is it still out there?”
“I’ll tell you in a bit, dear. Let me get through this. I was born seven years after the Destruction. My father was Zor-El and my mother’s name was Allura. There were hundreds of thousands of people in Argo, and a lot of them looked like they were in shell-shock, sometimes. Mom told me it was because they’d seen the planet, Krypton, blow up under them, and hurl us into space. Then she had to explain to me what a planet was, because all I knew was this domed city floating under the stars.
“But I was pretty happy. I hadn’t ever known old Krypton, and there were kids my age and younger being born every day. Our folks impressed upon us the ways of Kryptonians, so that we would never forget. As far as we knew, we and the Kandorians were the only survivors of the whole planet. Well, not counting the Phantom Zoners, but let’s not worry about them.”
“Let’s see,” said Buffy. “I think I read once that Kandor was this city in a bottle, right?”
“Right. It’s still around, on another planet. But anyway...I grew up on Argo, went to school, had friends, had a few enemies, even, and was starting to date shortly before my 15th birthday. Then, in my 15th year, it happened.
“Argo City was sitting on top of one of the deadliest masses of mineral there was. It had been turned into a variety of Kryptonite that could hurt us, even when we didn’t have powers. The change was gradual enough that my father and some others could cover it with lead. We had to grow things in hydroponic farms, or we would have starved and suffocated from lack of oxygen. Plus there was enough soil that hadn’t been converted that a little farming could be done on it. But mostly, we walked on plastic paving in Argo, and a lot of the trees were artificial.
“At the time I’m telling you about, Argo was travelling near a red sun. That robbed us of all the powers we found out we’d get under a yellow star. A meteor shower came down, ripped holes in the dome, and pierced the lead cover over the ground. The emergency crews tried to make repairs, but it was too much...too much.” Supergirl shut her eyes. “People were dropping like flies all over, Buffy. I saw it. I saw my friends die.”
Buffy gaped, hesitated for a second, then put her hands on Kara’s shoulders. “It’s all right, Supergirl. You don’t have to tell me anymore, if you don’t want. I understand.”
“It’s all right, Buffy,” said Kara, her eyes still closed. “Even today, 15 years later, it still hurts. Hurts like hell. But I deal with it.
“My parents had tried to escape into another dimension called the Survival Zone some weeks earlier. It didn’t work, just then. But we had an emergency rocket, designed like the one Jor-El used to send my cousin Kal to Earth. That’s Superman, in case you don’t know his real name. There was only room for one in it, so they sent me.
“We’d found out that Kal was Superman on Earth, so that’s where they sent me, in this suit that Mom had made for me that was like his costume. That way, they figured he’d know me when I landed. I didn’t want to go, but they made me. They said someone of Argo City had to survive, and that someone was going to have to be me. So...I went.
“The rocket was on autopilot for most of the trip. I was able to look in the viewscreen and see Argo getting smaller and smaller. I knew...I knew everybody there was dead, or would be very shortly. Even my mother and father, though I was wrong about that. And yes, I cried. A lot.”
Buffy was holding Kara’s hand by this time, stroking it. She let Supergirl go on.
“Anyway. Anyway, it took me a few days to make the trip, even with a space-warp drive. I had to land the ship myself, because the instruments failed just before I got there. Like Neil Armstrong on the moon landing, I guess. So I did it, and crashed the thing close enough to Metropolis to draw Superman’s attention. He showed up not long after I landed, and I saw him, and decided to see if I really had the powers on Earth that I had when Argo had passed under a yellow sun. I busted out of the rocket with my own strength. That’s how I knew I had super-powers again.
“And there he was, right in front of me. My own cousin, Kal-El, whom I’d never seen before in my life, except in pictures. He just couldn’t believe it. He thought he was hallucinating, or that it was some kind of trick being played on him by Mr. Mxyzptlk, or something. But it didn’t take long for me to show him I was the real article. I spoke to him in Kryptonese, and he spoke back to me like that. I mean, I knew English....we’d picked up broadcasts from Earth on our omniwave, and my father taught it to us. But practically nobody else on Earth knew how to speak it, and when the things I was telling Kal checked out with what he knew, he came around to the idea that I really, really was his cousin.
“But he couldn’t adopt me, or wouldn’t. He had a job and didn’t see how he could fit a girl cousin into it on a day-in, day-out basis. Plus he was worried about his secret identity. So he got me fixed up with one, and I...well, let’s just say that I eventually learned how to be an Earth girl, and got adopted, and got through your schools, and even learned how to be a Supergirl. I didn’t want to do that at first, the Supergirl part. But Kal said that was what we should do, because we had these powers and they had to be put to the service of humanity. So, even though I didn’t much like fighting crime or bad guys, that’s what I did. Over time, I got a little more used to it. And hey...I love having powers.”
“So now I’m in Chicago, and that’s where I’m staying, for the moment. I make patrols fairly regularly. Check things out with my X-ray vision, and whatnot. That’s how I happened upon you. Satisfied?”
“Supergirl, I can’t help but say it,” said Buffy, holding both her hands. “You remind me so much of me.”
Kara smiled, slightly. “But you’re so young for this kind of thing, Buffy. You’re not even out of your teens yet, and you’re doing, what? Killing vampires with stakes and such?”
“Yeah. You know the saying about the dirty job, and how somebody’s got to do it. And it sounds like we both started doing the dirty job at the same time.”
“I guess we did,” said Kara.
Buffy hugged her, and Supergirl hugged her back. “This is too much for a girl your age, Buffy,” said Kara. “Can’t you wait until you’re a little older?”
“Nope,” said Buffy. “The vampires won’t let me. I’ve done fine, Supergirl. Probably like you did, when you were starting out.”
“Call me Kara, dear,” she said. “That’s my real name.”
“Okay, Kara. I’m super-glad to meet you.”
Kara grinned at her. “Don’t overuse that adjective, Buff. I need to get you back to where you’re staying, soon, though.”
“I lost my valise,” said Buffy. “It’s got the rest of my equipment in it. The holy water, the crucifixes, the rest of my stakes, and such.”
“Too dangerous for you to go back and get it right now, and I can’t go there the way it is,” said Supergirl.
“What did they do, exactly?”
“I’m not sure. But it felt like, somehow, they were broadcasting magic. That takes away a Kryptonian’s powers. That’s why I had to dive with you until we were out from under its range.”
“What if it’d reached all the way to the street?”
“Does the phrase ‘road pizza’ mean anything to you?”
Buffy sighed and sat back. “I need to get to a new source of stuff, so I can reload. I can make more stakes if I can get to some wood and a carving knife, but the holy objects are harder to come by.”
Kara leaned on one hand. “Maybe I can help about that, although I won’t make any promises.”
“You can? Like, how?”
“I could make the trip alone, but I don’t like the idea of leaving you by yourself just now. Not with what we’re facing.”
Buffy sighed and stretched herself. “Well, if that means another airlift, I guess I’ll try to be up for it. Where do you want us to go?”
“I’ll show you,” said Supergirl, and, picking up Buffy in both arms, took to the skies again.
When they were in flight, someone on the streets below, buying pizza by the slice from a vendor, looked up, gaped, and pointed. “Look,” he said. “Up in the sky!”
“Yeah, yeah, Mac,” said the vendor. “I see ‘er too. That’ll be three bucks.”
The day’s work was just about done for the bishop and, all things considered, he was glad for a tumbler of Bushmill’s Green near to hand, a computer that worked consistently, and things upon which to write it. He was also grateful, he had to admit, that the Cardinal hadn’t barged in with another matter that would have taken his attention, most likely one of those missions that would require a plane ticket, a load of perspicacity, and three or four weeks away from the church.
No. Tonight, it was going to be a routine night. He was going to enjoy it to the fullest.
There was a buzz on his phone line. With an air of resignation, he picked up the receiver. “Yes?”
“Father Punk, there’s somebody here to see you.”
“For what purpose, my dear?”
“I think you’d better let them tell you. Totally.”
“All right,” said the bishop, with a heavy sigh. “Send them in.” He trusted her judgment, and wondered if he should regret his trust.
A few seconds later, two women stepped into his office. One of them a blue-and-red vision that he hadn’t seen in years, since he was introduced to her during her first public appearance in Chicago, to be exact. The other was a teenaged girl, from the looks of her, and she appeared a bit apprehensive.
All right, Lord, I understand, thought Blackie. Whatever else, this is not going to be a usual day.
“Supergirl,” he said.
“It’s good to meet you again, Father,” said Kara. “This is my friend Buffy. Buffy, this is Father Blackie Ryan. We’ve got a problem we could use some help with. I’m glad you’re sitting down.”
The bishop sat back, rubbed his jaw, and regarded the two. “Well, perhaps you’d better tell me about it. And, young lady, whatever you’re holding behind your back, let me see it, please.”
Buffy looked at Kara, then said, “All right, father,” and displayed a long wooden stake.
He looked at it. Then he looked at Supergirl.
Then he sat back and waited for them to start talking.
After Supergirl had given her summary of the affair so far, Bishop Ryan leaned forward and clasped his hands upon his desk. “Vampires,” he said. She couldn’t tell if there was fear in his eyes, or disbelief, or both.
“Yes, father,” said Kara. “As incredible as it may seem, they really do exist.”
“Like the fine movie they made, which is no more completely adapted from Bram Stoker than any other, regardless of using his name.”
“They’re here, father, “ Buffy said. “I know. I’ve fought them.”
“And pulling guns they are, like the Outfit men they’re said to resemble.”
Supergirl sat down in a Formica chair before his desk. “They’re just gangsters of a different sort. We need your help to deal with them.”
“I have to rebuild my arsenal,” said Buffy. “I’ve only got one stake to go against them. That’s not enough, father.”
Blackwood Ryan looked at her. “I should say not. And I should also say, young lady, that if this is true, and why should it be, after all, should I be giving bullets and a gun to a 17-year-old so that she can take on John Dillinger by her lonesome?”
“I won’t be alone. I have Supergirl here for company.”
“Yet, you’ve said that what they’re using incapacitates her, did you not, miss?”
“Unfortunately so,” said Kara. “That’s something we’ll have to deal with. But we don’t exactly have a choice.”
“Contrary to what you may see in the movies, the Church has no position on vampires. It doesn’t even acknowledge their existence, last time I looked. Don’t ask me when that was.”
Buffy fidgeted. “You don’t have to acknowledge their existence for them to be there. I know, father. I’ve dealt with enough of them in my time.”
Ryan looked at her. “You mean that you’ve killed them.”
“Yes,” said Buffy, softly. “I have.”
“I cannot believe I am having this conversation.”
“It’s a little tough for me as well, father,” said Kara. “But it’s true, as I can testify.”
Bishop Ryan glanced at his bottle of Bushmill’s and regretted that it must remain beyond his reach for the time of this interview. To Buffy, he said, “Young lady, the Church does not send out young girls as soldiers. Even if the existence of vampires were a given, which, to me, it is not.”
“Maybe we should go somewhere else, Kara,” Buffy said.
“Chill, Buffy,” said Supergirl. “Father Ryan, the Church may not take a position on vampires. But doesn’t it acknowledge the existence of evil?”
“That it does, to be sure,” said the bishop. “But our holy symbols are not intended to be weapons, Supergirl. A priest would not press a cross into a man’s forehead and expect to see it burn there.”
“Come with me, and I’ll show you how it works,” said Buffy.
“Maybe not, father,” Supergirl acknowledged. “But isn’t there such a rite as exorcism?”
Blackwood Ryan looked grave. “There is.”
“And does that not presuppose the existence of an objective evil?”
“It does,” said the priest, not liking the turn this conversation was
“Aren’t the symbols of the Church, plus prayer and the word of your God used in such a case?”
“They are,” said Blackie. “Though I hope never to have to be present when such is used.”
“I haven’t watched that movie, either,” said Buffy. “I get enough creeps just doing my job.”
“Nor have I,” said Kara. “But, in such a case, father, can’t the holy symbols be regarded as weapons? Because that’s the intent in which they’re used.”
“They’re used in a context of salvation, Miss Supergirl,” said Ryan. “The objective is not just the expulsion of evil, but the rescue and redemption of the victim.”
“And the whole human race could end up being victims if we don’t do this thing,” said Buffy, seriously.
“I can hardly credit my ears with this,” Bishop Ryan said. “Ladies, a warrior I am not. Is there evidence of your claim?”
“To get evidence,” said Supergirl, “we’d have to take you up there. I don’t know that’d be such a healthy thing for you. Or us, just now.”
“To the Sears Tower? I’ve been there thousands of times.”
“Not to the part where we were,” said Buffy. “You might be able to use a cross against them, father, or holy water. But how much range do those things have, compared to a gun?”
“I would not know,” said Ryan. “I’ve never used them in such a contest, Miss Buffy. God grant that I never have to.”
“Well, she doesn’t have that option,” said Supergirl. “Look at it this way. To do our job, we need the tools. You’re the supplier. If you don’t lend them out, the job will not get done.”
“Ladies, the Church is not an armory.”
Buffy put her hands on the priest’s desk and looked him in the eye.
“But that’s just what it is, father,” she said. “More than you could ever imagine.”
“And who can say, father, that Rao...or God, if you prefer to use that name...hasn’t led us to you for just that purpose?” said Kara.
Blackwood Ryan stared at them for a moment, then, to their amazement, laughed sharply. “To think that I’m being asked to play Van Helsing. I never would have believed it. All right, ladies, I still cannot believe what I’m hearing. But I do know that you, miss, are Supergirl. That does carry a lot of weight.”
“Gee, I hope not,” smiled Kara. “I’ve been dieting.”
“A little humor there, father,” said Buffy, trying to cover.
The priest rummaged in his desk, came up with a sheet of church stationary and a pen. “I have to do something which, in other walks of life, is called C.Y.A. I hope I don’t have to explain that acronym to you. What I want, Supergirl, is a written acknowledgment that you are borrowing the relics of the Holy Church and that you will bring them back–“ He looked at her intently. “–intact and unharmed, as the case may be, once you are done with them.”
“To the best of our ability, father,” said Kara, taking the pen in hand. “But as for how intact they’ll be, you’ll have to ask Buffy. She’s had more experience in this line of work than I have.”
“Just so,” said Ryan.
“It can get awfully tough out there, father,” said Buffy. “But what we can bring back, we will. I promise.”
Supergirl wrote out a pledge and signed it. “There. Now can you supply us?”
“I can try. And, ladies?”
“Yes?” said Buffy.
“If they really do exist, I’d just as soon you didn’t tell the vampires where this stuff came from.”
Supergirl flew Buffy back to the neighborhood where Ida Berkowitz’s brownstone boarding house was located. “I’ll be in touch,” said Kara. “I’ll need to, to plan our next move.”
“How will you contact me, Kara?”
“I’ll find a way, believe me,” said Supergirl. “Until then, Buffy.”
The Girl of Steel launched herself into the sky at such a rate that she soon became invisible. Buffy shielded her eyes with an arm, and guessed that was to keep bad guys, or anyone else, from tracking her. She headed out of the alleyway, made her way to Mrs. Berkowitz’s place, opened the front door, and entered.
John Ostrander, sitting in the front room to watch the TV, looked at her, quirking an eyebrow. “Hey, Miss Summers. Didn’t think you’d be this late. Where’s Linda?”
“Linda?” Buffy hesitated. “You mean, she isn’t here yet?”
A voice came from above. “Buffy, is that you? Did you make it back all right?”
“Linda!” Buffy went to the stairs and saw Linda Danvers coming down them, looking quite put-together. “You were out this late, too?”
“Yeah, had a few things to do.” Linda gave Buffy a friendly hug as she reached the front room floor. “I’m so glad to see you back, honey. Thought you might’ve gotten in trouble in the Big City. What happened to your bag?”
“You were right,” said Buffy. “I did get into some trouble. Went to the jane on one of those floors, left my valise right out in front of the stall like some, I don’t know, Midwesterner or something. You know? I had the stuff in it with me, I was, uh, looking at it while I was, you know.”
“Somebody took the blasted valise while I was busy. I won’t go into detail, Linda, but by the time I could follow, could have been anybody in a crowd outside.”
John said, “Some people will take anything, I guess. But a plain valise?”
“Maybe they thought it had something in it, John,” said Linda.
“Must’ve been,” he acknowledged.
Bishop Ryan had provided a plain cloth bag for the materials he had lent Buffy. She hoped nobody in the house wanted to look inside. At least Linda, thank God, hadn’t shown that kind of curiosity.
Mrs. Berkowitz, beaproned, came out of the kitchen. “Where’ve you been, child? I kept waiting and waiting for the both of you, and the rest of us were getting so hungry I couldn’t keep putting them off any longer. So we’ve already eaten.”
“Oh, that’s all right, Mrs. B,” said Linda. “We’ll manage on leftovers.”
“You absolutely will not! I’ve got mutton with rice and it’ll only take a minute in the microwave. Not as good as fresh, but what can I say? God gives miracles sometimes, like the idea for the microwave oven.”
“He certainly does, Mrs. B,” grinned Linda.
“I’ll be right back down for it, ma’am,” said Buffy. “Let me put my stuff up first.”
She bolted upstairs before anybody could ask any more questions.
“Linda,” said Mrs. Berkowitz. “You shouldn’t notice me asking, but our new girl is a bit of a strange duck.”
“You might just have something there, Mrs. B,” said Linda. “You might just.”
Peter Rummo watched Robert Platt watching workers while John Vladislav watched him. Chains of command, he thought, were just as much a pain in the rear for the undead as the living.
The device (contraption, he wanted to say) which was being built would have to be tested, dismantled, hauled up tout-suite to the roof on H-Hour, and reassembled in jig time. You couldn’t just go and build something on the roof of the Tower. Too much air traffic, too many helicabs. Some damn traffic copter for a radio station was bound to see something.
At least they had the Magicaster in operation. That was hooked into the TV towers on top of the building and not even the technicians who tended them had noticed anything awry yet. That kept all their blood in their veins. It was also what Johnny the Op had activated to bring down Supergirl.
If that’d only worked. They could have taken out the bitch in the blue blouse, and every hoodlum in Chicago would have been happy. But no, she and the Slayer had used some of the lives they must’ve borrowed from a hundred cats, and got away.
Rummo decided to make small talk. “Ever hear of something like this before, Boss?”
Vladislav turned to him, slowly. “There’s never been anything like this before. Some of the friggin’ California vamps tell me about something called a Hellmouth. This’ll make their Hellmouth look like a dentist’s nightmare.”
“Maybe look like anybody’s nightmare,” said Rummo.
“Gonna be yours if it doesn’t work right, Rummo,” said Vladislav. “I’ll see to it personally.”
“Don’t worry, Boss, gonna be all right. You’ll see.”
Vladislav put on his hat. “I got a meeting tomorrow with the Southsiders. You and the kid keep this on schedule, Rummo.” He grabbed Rummo by the lapels and shoved his face in front of Rummo’s. “And we got a very tight schedule. No allowances for Superbitch or the Slayer. Got that?”
“Got it, boss,” said Rummo, trying to keep his voice even.
“You better’ve got it. Or you eat garlic.” With that, Vladislav turned his underboss loose and left the room. Rummo straightened his coat a bit.
Looking on, Robert Platt had to admit there were advantages to having a buffer between yourself and the boss.
But after seeing the expression on Rummo’s face as he began to walk towards him, Platt remembered the saying about rolling the grief downhill.
Buffy was drawn to the noise of a rapping on her window and turned with a stake firmly gripped in her hand. Luckily, what she saw outside was a blonde in a blue suit and a red cape, floating there in the darkness. She opened the window. “Get in here, quick. Before somebody sees you.”
“I’m keeping tabs on the area with my ears and eyes,” said Supergirl, clambering in, “and nobody has yet.”
The Slayer shut the window behind her new friend. “I’m going to hang garlic around this when I go to bed. That may sound like something out of an old wives’ tale to you, but it works, believe me.”
“I believe you,” said Supergirl. “Even though a few days ago I’d have been pretty amazed by it.” She sat on the side of the bed. “Hope it doesn’t keep you up too late, but I thought we ought to discuss plans.”
Buffy pulled up a chair and sat facing Kara. “I have a feeling we’ll have to strike tomorrow. You think so, too?”
“Yeah,” Kara agreed. “Since they know we know about them, the vamps will be stepping up their production schedule. Whatever it is they’re working on.”
“It’s got to be something to do with the TV towers,” opined Buffy. “At least, I think it is. Tallest building in town, plus that magic broadcasting thing that laid you low. No offense.”
“None taken. I could notify the cops, of course, but I’m not too eager to have normal humans charging into a nest of vampires. I’ll leave word with Zatanna of the Justice League in any case, but I don’t think she’ll be able to help us in the time frame we’ve got.”
“Zatanna? The witch-woman? Wow. You know everybody.”
“Not everybody, Buffy. I just met you, for instance. But here’s what I think: no matter what they’ve got rigged up there, I don’t think they’ve got the main unit, whatever it is, assembled. I’ve checked it out with my telescopic vision. Outside of a couple of lead-shielded wires, I don’t see anything much out of place on the roof of the Tower.”
“Which means they’re building whatever it is on a lower floor,” said Buffy. “Probably the one we fought them on.”
“They’ve still got that magic broadcasting thing on, too,” Supergirl said. “I tried to approach the Tower a few minutes ago, and I felt the power loss starting. They’re not taking chances.”
“With us,” smiled Buffy, “I wouldn’t, either.”
“I think I’ve got a plan of action,” said Supergirl. “But I want you out of bed bright and early for it, and I want to meet with you after breakfast.”
“Hey, we could do it tonight, if you want.”
“No. I don’t think they’ll be able to get that far tonight, and you’ll be better off with some sack time first. Here’s what I want us to do.”
“This thing we do,” said Joey (the Ride) Marino. “I like it least of anything I’ve ever done.”
Max Cardona had his cigar lit by the guy beside him at the table, puffed it twice, took it out of his mouth, and spoke. “Shut up,” he said.
Joey Marino fell silent.
Anthony DiPrima, head of a unit roughly equal to Cardona’s, said, “Joey has a point, Max. We come here without the symbols of God. We deal with these...things...who are not God’s creatures. This does not seem like smart business to me.”
“Smart business is what brings money into our pockets, Tony,” Max said, in a softer tone. “We do the things no one else has courage to do, in order to get it. This just takes a little more courage.”
“That ain’t the point,” offered Harry Li, the overlord of Asian crime in the city. “Dealing with people, you don’t endanger your soul. Dealing with these things, the bets are off. I’m not even a Christian, and I know that.”
“Yeah, well, know this,” said Max. “These guys turned over 30 percent of their drug trade to us, after muscling us out of 20 percent of ours a year ago. And that was before we knew what they were. With the gains they’ve made, it turns out a 4 percent profit. Gents, do I have to be an accountant to explain the importance of this?”
“Nah,” said Bill O’Hara, one of the last Irish ganglords in town. “But try explaining it to your priest, Max. I’ve dealt with a lotta guys in my time. But I’ve never dealt with the Devil.”
“Not in person, at least,” grinned Harry Li.
“We ain’t dealin’ with the Devil,” said Max Cardona. “Only some representatives of what you might call the real South Side.”
“I resent that,” said DiPrima.
“No offense, Tony,” Max demurred. “You ever worried about where the money came from before? Or just that it was comin’ in?”
“If I didn’t know just where this was comin’ from...”
“So give the dough to a church, if it makes you feel better,” said Max. “You in, or out? Ain’t got a lot of time before they show.”
He looked towards each of them in turn. All of them gave away a little tension, in ways the non-expert eye would never detect. But none of them said a word.
“I didn’t hear anybody speak up,” said Max. “I’m assumin’ that means you’re in. So try and put a good face on this, gents. These guys we’re dealin’ with are businessmen. Just like us.”
“No,” said Joey. “Never like us.”
Before Max could deliver a rebuke, there was a rap on the door. “Boss,” said Arnie, the gunman standing guard outside. “They’re here.”
“Show ‘em in,” ordered Max Cardona.
The door was unlocked and Arnie escorted their guests into the room. John Vladislav and two of his men, both of them tall, imposing, stone-faced, and hiding fangs, came in. The gangsters around the table tried to hide their nerves and / or distaste. They had no idea whether they were successful or not, but Vladislav didn’t seem to mind.
“Max,” said Vladislav, and held open his arms.
“Johnny,” said Cardona, and embraced him. It was a brave move, putting Vladislav in primo position to nosh on his carotid artery. But Max hadn’t gotten where he was by showing fear. He was counting on Vlad to put business ahead of hunger, and he was right in that.
After the two of them broke their hug, Max showed Vladislav to the opposite head of the table, with two seats flanking him reserved for his muscle. At least, the others noted, they were well-behaved.
“You know my friends here, I’m sure,” said Cardona. “Mr. Harry Li, Mr. Bill O’Hara, Mr. Anthony DiPrima, and the Ride there, Joey.”
“It’s an honor to meet you all,” said John, with an easy smile. “You are the guys who made this city run. No easy task, I know.”
Cardona beamed. “You are a man of understanding, John. I knew this arrangement would prosper us all.”
“There are no difficulties that men of sound mind cannot get beyond, if they put their will to it,” opined Vladislav. “I am confident that I sit among men of such caliber today. Gentlemen, for your contribution to our operation, I thank you.”
Harry Li drummed his fingers idly on the tabletop. “It’s my understanding, Mr. Vladislav, that you would be gracious enough to let us know the nature of the operation today. With all due respect, that was the reason for this meeting, am I correct?”
Vladislav turned to Harry and, for a second, the latter thought he saw a look in the other’s eyes that telegraphed the phrase: You Chink. But Vladislav’s eyes softened a tad, and the Asian decided to pass it by for the moment. Depending on what the man said.
“Mr. Li, do I have your name right, sir?”
“Harry Li, that’s me.”
“Thank you. All right. The nature of our operation is something that could remove a major drawback from our paths. It takes a lot of money, true, but work is almost finished on the project. Enough of it is operational–“ Vladislav paused dramatically, then thrust a finger at the others. “–and it has recently been tested in action.”
“It has?” said Joey Marino.
“So,” said DiPrima, spreading his hands, “what is this project?”
“And what does it take care of?” asked Joey Marino, bravely.
Vladislav clenched a fist in triumph. “The bitch in the red hotpants herself. Supergirl.”
“Supergirl?” O’Hara looked at the vampire in disbelief. “That’s reaching for the stars, Mr. Vladislav.”
“Mr. O’Hara—it is O’Hara, am I right?—I never reach for something without being confident of grabbing it. This time we’ve grabbed hold with both hands. And we’re going to squeeze it till all the juice runs out and collects in a neat little pool for all of us to bathe our hands in. Let me tell you what we’ve got, gentlemen.
“True, Superbitch doesn’t bother with us much, so long as she’s got the fruits in the suits to rassle with. But that could change, like that.” Vladislav snapped his fingers. “Her cousin put a lot of mobsters away in the old days, before jamokes like Luthor got to be such a problem for him. Sometimes, he still does. Metropolis ain’t as bad as Gotham City, but you still do business with one eye on the sky. And you know how much Superskirt has depressed business, simply by being here.”
Harry Li nodded, to Max’s satisfaction. Just the knowledge that the Girl of Steel was in town had made everybody extremely cautious, and less bold about doing business than they might have been.
“What we have, gentlemen, is the perfect weapon against Supergirl,” continued Vladislav. “A machine that can put her out of business. Permanently.”
“With what? Kryptonite?” asked O’Hara.
John Vladislav shook his head. “Too hard to come by. Also, too expensive. Lex Luthor could probably get us some, but I don’t know anybody around here who wants to do business with that bald bastard. No, this is the other thing that’s Supergirl-proof. We’re talking about...magic.”
“I do not want to hear this,” said Joey Marino.
“Joey,” said DiPrima, with a hand on Joey’s wrist, “let’s hear what the man has to say.”
“Thank you,” said Vladislav. “This is nothing that’s going to touch you, gents. We do the business. We’re suited for it.” He grinned. “I would say it’s in our blood, but that’s too much of a joke. No, what it amounts to is a thing we’ve got which has been connected to the broadcasting towers on top of the Sears Tower. The whole thing isn’t ready yet, but part of it’s operational. Superbroad paid us a visit the other day. One of my boys turned it on...zap. She dropped out of a window like a lead weight. We hoped she was gonna splatter, but she didn’t. However. She did fall over 50 floors before she could take off again. And we’ve still got the machine in operation.”
The others were curious, despite their fear of magic. They waited to hear more.
“When we put the whole business online, which we hope to do very shortly, the broadcast range will cover the whole damn county. Maybe more than that. We haven’t really tested the thing. But once it’s started up, the whole city’ll be proof against Supergirl. Superman, too. Neither of them will be able to operate in town, and everybody will know it. That means, we go back to just cops. Does that sound like a good deal, gentlemen, or am I in the wrong office?”
O’Hara said, “You’re sure this thing can do what you say?”
“If I wasn’t, me and my boys would probably already be sportin’ wood. From our chests.”
DiPrima said, “I don’t know. I just don’t know. Gettin’ rid of the Blue Bitch, yeah, I could get behind that. But dealing with magic.”
Vladislav turned a grin on him that would have been disarming, had his fangs not been visible. “I tell you, Mr...”
“DiPrima,” said the ganglord, wondering if he’d made a mistake by offering that much.
“Mr. DiPrima, you’re not the ones getting your hands dirty with this. We are. What have we got to lose?”
“It’s not what you’ve got to lose that worries me,” said DiPrima. “It’s what I’ve got to lose. That worries me.”
Vladislav drew back, dramatically. “Am I then in the wrong place for such an endeavor? Gentlemen, we’re all in business. Part of business is the removal of obstacles. By any means necessary. I’m offering you an opportunity here you’ll never see again. Was I wrong to do so?”
Max Cardona said, “My friends have never dealt in such matters before, Mr. Vladislav.”
“Call me John.”
“Okay, John. They have no experience in such things, and a slight case of jitters is only to be expected. It is, you would agree, a risk.”
“That is true, Max. But isn’t all our business a risk? And have we not profited thereby?”
Max and Vladislav looked at the others. They got some hard stares back, but nobody said anything.
“Have we then come to an agreement?” asked Max.
Slowly, DiPrima said, “I would like to make Mr. Cardona our permanent representative in such matters. You would deal through him, and he would speak for us.”
“Fine by me,” said Vladislav.
“That arrangement sounds a bit better,” said O’Hara. “Count me in. But this thing of yours had better be able to do what you say.”
Harry Li said, “I’ll agree, tentatively, on both points. I want to see results, too.”
Several pairs of eyes went to the lone man not heard from. John Vladislav said, softly, “That leaves you, Mr. Marino.”
Joey Marino’s eyes widened, slightly. His name. Max hadn’t told the vamp what his last name was. But the guy already knew. Like it or not, that bespoke a kind of class.
At the same time, he had a terrible desire to cross himself. “I guess I’ll go along,” he said. “But when’s this dingus of yours supposed to be in full operation?”
John Vladislav clasped his hands together on the table. “We’re shooting for tonight. And if we don’t make it by then, I’m going to put a couple of faces down in holy water as kind of an added incentive.”
Before they knew they were doing it, several of the gangsters laughed. John joined in, briefly.
Max Cardona stood up, offered his hand to Vladislav, and shook the vampire’s hand. “You are a businessman, John,” he said. “You are a businessman.”
“Thanks, Max,” said Vladislav. “And see? No matter what they told you, I didn’t make you sign in blood.”
By late afternoon, two women walked together into the main entrance of the Sears Tower. Each hoped that the guards wouldn’t be searching every woman that came in with a purse. Or if they did, they hoped that what they had in the bottoms of their bags would stay hidden.
“Are you nervous?” said Buffy to Kara.
“I’d just as soon not comment,” Kara answered, smoothing her civilian garb with a hand. “Whatever you do, don’t look it.”
“I’m used to faking,” Buffy answered. They made their way to a bank of elevators. Each of them went to a separate one, and punched the button. Miraculously, the cars showed up at about the same time.
Buffy did a hand-clasp with Kara. “Luck, honey.”
“Luck to you, too, kid,” agreed Kara, and squeezed her hand once before letting it go. The two of them entered and stood among the other occupants of the cars before the doors closed.
Around the 40th floor, Kara felt the fading of her powers. She set her lower jaw in an expression of determination, and clutched her purse a little tighter.
Many floors higher, she finally left when the doors opened.
Well, she said mentally, here we go...
Johnny the Op turned to Robert Platt. “Incoming,” he said.
“How do you know?” asked Platt, with a crook of his eyebrow.
“I know. Believe me, I know.”
Platt rubbed the back of his neck and squinted. Sure, this guy might talk about vibes like he was still listening to Janis Joplin and Mother Earth, but he still seemed to have instincts. Sometimes they paid off.
“The Slayer and Supergirl?”
Johnny nodded. “I can feel ‘em, man. They’re coming.”
Robert Platt lay his hands on Johnny’s shoulders. “John. It isn’t dark yet. Do you and your boys think you’re up to it?”
The Op sucked wind in through his teeth. “We may not have a choice, Mr. Platt.”
The junior executive vampire nodded. “You take a squad and you get the black suits. And Johnny? Be careful.”
“Thank you, Mr. Platt,” said Johnny the Op, and headed out the door.
Platt watched him go. No matter what the bosses told him, people worked better when you treated them right. He hadn’t taken all those management classes for nothing. Once he had a klatch under him, he’d show them all how to do business.
Plus, there was the fact that Platt wasn’t calloused enough at present towards his subordinates. They were vamps. They were part of the clan. When one of them got staked or chewed sunlight, some of your blood was lost.
Maybe something could be done in the way of insurance, survivor’s benefits, that sort of thing. It was damned well time somebody thought like a modern businessman around here.
It’d be a long time before he dared entertain the thought of putting the stake to Mr. Vladislav himself. There was still much the old guy could teach him.
But once that was done, watch out, man. Al Capone would meet his Frank Nitti.
It was at times like this that Supergirl wished she had Kal beside her. But, as she told herself, there was nothing he could do under these circumstances that she couldn’t do herself. Actually, the way things were now, Buffy might be a bigger help to her than Superman.
That thought made her smile, incongruously. But it faded very quickly.
A guy with MBA written all over him and his briefcase leaned in a bit. “Funny story?”
She shook her head. “No. Just a memory, thanks.”
“Memories are good things to cherish, I think,” he said. “I’ve got so many stored away. I like to share them, sometimes. With the right people.”
“Well, thank you, but I’m not the right people.” Kara was beginning to chafe. Damn mashers. The rest of the people in the elevator were trying to ignore them, but they probably found it as difficult as she did.
“Are you new here?” he pressed. “Haven’t seen you here before.”
“I hope you never do again,” she said, trying to make the hint as subtle as a ball-peen hammer.
“Man, I think you’re barking up the wrong pew,” offered a man in the back.
“Maybe you can tell me what you do for a living?” he said.
The elevator was a long way below where she wanted to be. She gave him a hard and earnest look. “I face danger almost every day of my life. I fight aliens and mad scientists. Right now, I’m working my way up to vampires.”
His jaw dropped, then he began to laugh. “You can’t, you really can’t be...oh, come on, now.”
She bulled him into the corner and opened her purse, briefly enough to give him a look at pointed wood. His eyes imitated saucers.
“Keep it to yourself,” she said, “or else.”
Kara had the purse snapped shut before anybody else could see it. The guy stayed where he was, and she moved back towards the center of the car. She was smiling. A few of the other passengers gave her looks out of the corner of their eyes, but she didn’t mind.
By the time the elevator reached the top floor, she filed out with the rest of the remainder. The pushy guy had gotten out a couple of stops earlier. She chided herself that she gave herself away, in part. But if he was one of the enemy, their standards had gone down a hell of a lot.
They were at the observation desk, the glassed-in portion where you could observe the entire city from the 108-story perch. Some other day, but not just now. It wasn’t sunset yet, and there wouldn’t be any vamps here, with sunlight streaming through a continuous band of window.
But there was still danger. Kara took note of the guards, who were out in greater number than she figured was usual. With that reception Buffy said she gave them, no wonder. But she did wonder how itchy they’d be about seeing girls with large purses after that incident. Well, at least they didn’t seem to be giving her more than a cursory look-see. Thank Rao for that.
She knew where the place was that gave access to the roof. She’d done an examination of the building with her X-ray vision, from afar. But they were bound to be guarding that, and she didn’t have super-power one to count on right now. Not till that thing on the roof was neutralized.
Meanwhile, she was leaving Buffy to her own devices on the floor where they’d fought yesterday. That didn’t seem right, even to her. But they’d agreed on the plan. Under these conditions, Buffy was the stronger one. That was a thought to teach one humility.
They’d dressed enough alike to hopefully throw the vampires a spanner, if they could pull it off. At least both of them were blondes. But the guards might be looking for a blonde with a valise, or maybe just a purse as big as her Earth mom used to tote around. She used to kid around that Mom could fit Tennesee in her purse, with room for the Jersey Turnpike left over. But Mom never carried a payload like this.
To work, Kara, she told herself.
She made a quick walk to the room with the stairs to the roof. If it’d been locked, that might have been the end of that part of the operation. Luckily, it wasn’t.
“Oh, miss,” said one of the guards behind her. Too close behind her.
Kara didn’t even bother to turn. She rushed inside the room, slamming the door shut behind her. Surprisingly enough, it did have a lock. Even more surprisingly, it worked when she turned it.
There was a voice behind her. “I wouldn’t bother doing that, ma’am. Just freeze where you are, and let me have the bag.”
She didn’t have super-powers, but she could still duck, wheel, turn, and slam a guard in the gut with her bag with the best of them. And, thank heaven, she did know klurkor. The gun didn’t go off. Her upper-hand strike to the jaw did. “Sorry,” she muttered as his eyes closed and he slumped to the floor. She really didn’t enjoy doing that sort of thing.
Only one guard on duty? Great. Holy Sun and Mother Moon, there were some times she wished she had the whole Legion of Super-Heroes backing her up. Even some of Buffy’s bunch wouldn’t be bad now, if they were all that she had said they were. Time to run for the roof. She thought of taking her shoes off, then decided that if the sound of the fight hadn’t carried to anybody in earshot, the noise of her stepping on the stairs wouldn’t matter a lot.
The door was being banged on. Kara skedaddled up the stairs.
She reached for the door at the top, thought about what she was doing, realized she was about to go onto the top of a 108-story building without any super-powers at all.
Worse than taking a final exam naked.
Well, there were consolations. She could always throw herself off the top, and hope for something like last time. Provided she didn’t get killed in the process of doing what she had to do, first. But it was still late afternoon, and the vamps would be in hiding. She hoped.
As quietly as she could, she opened the door to the roof.
Kara stepped out.
She had to catch her breath once she did so. Certainly, she’d been at greater heights. Sheol, she’d been all the way out in deep space. But this time, when she looked out at the concrete and steel all about her, felt the wind blowing her clothes and hair, and saw everything so far, far below her...
...well, it brought into stone-hard reality that a body could do itself an awful lot of hurt falling off of this thing.
The two TV towers were before her as she turned. The wire connecting the magic thingie to them wasn’t obvious, but she’d scoped it out with her vision powers, earlier. Luckily, magic didn’t affect her long-distance. But the lead sheathing prevented her from burning it off with her heat-vision, and they knew she couldn’t blow down the twin TV towers without endangering people below.
This had to be a hands-on operation.
As she opened her purse to lay hands on a vial inside, shapes appeared. Roughly human in dimension, but covered from head to toe in dark camouflage. With onyx-black goggles covering the eyes. And guns in their gloved hands.
She hadn’t seen them there before. Professional, they were.
“Don’t bother,” said the one who seemed to be the group leader. “Just set it down slow-like, and then put your hands in the air.”
“Rather not,” she said, as she fell to the roof and a shot went over her.
Best defense: a good offense. Kara rolled, clutching the bag to her, and knew from the fact that she heard no shots that they didn’t think they needed to waste ammo on her. Perhaps they didn’t. She bounced up, still holding the purse, and ducked down like a football player. Kara aimed herself at the nearest player and whammed into him as hard and fast as she could.
It bowled him over. But it didn’t hurt him. Vampires were strong.
Four others were closing in on her. She knew she was going to find out how strong they could be.
Buffy knew just where she was going, imagined what she would have to do, and said silent prayers for Kara all the way up.
Her stop came and she was the only one who got off. The hall wasn’t an obvious den of evil, to be sure, and there were probably lots of folks who tromped through it unknowing during the daytime. But the shadows were lengthening. The elevator doors closed behind her.
She sighed, stepped away, and took a stake from her purse.
“Come on, guys,” she said. “Let’s see what Chicago has to offer.”
From the shadows, they came.
She ran towards them.
The windows, Buffy noted as she lunged, had cloth literally glued to their interior, plus another layer of glass over that. She’d have to bust the whole thing out to expose these vamps to sunlight, and that’d be a task, even for her. Best to just go with what she had.
Her oaken stake ripped across the chest of one vampire, gashing his turtleneck sweater and the undead flesh below it. He snarled and reached for her. She spun away, ducked down, slammed into the lower legs of a twerp trying to get her from behind. Buffy regained her feet, took the stake in both hands, slammed it into and through his back in just the right place. He cried out, died, dusted. It still wasn’t fast enough to prevent him getting blood on the carpet.
One guy yelled, “Pile her. Take her down, dammit!” There seemed to be at least ten of them still left, and the only weird bit was that they didn’t seem to be packing any heat. If she’d been facing ten guys pointing guns in her face, she had to admit she might be outmatched. But they weren’t armed. Why?
She grabbed a handful of garlic from the bag, the only thing she had there that was taken from a supermart, and tossed it at a trio of attackers. The vampires howled and swore when it touched them, but it wasn’t enough to do more than delay them. Buffy slammed into them and took them all down, but bounced up to put some distance between her and them, contacting a wall and bouncing off it. The vampires were generally concentrated at the other end of the hallway.
“No guns,” Buffy ventured, brandishing a stake.
“Yeah,” said one of the vamps, with a vaguely South Side accent. “You’re special.”
“Shut up and take her,” said another.
She thought of the bottle of holy water in her purse, but decided to save it for a last resort. Then she looked at one of the troops, who had something in his hand. He pitched it at her. A glass or plastic vial, unstoppered, and she didn’t think it held anything that came from a church. She fell, rolled, heard it splash and sizzle. It ate away at the carpet where it had fallen.
One of the vamps leaped, landed on her, covered her, went for her throat. His breath was fetid, disgusting. She was surprised she noticed that, in view of the fangs that would have done justice to a cobra. But he was trying to choke her, not bite her. With one hand he held her throat, with the other he grabbed her wrist. The sonofafanger was powerful, to boot. Buffy kicked up between his legs. It didn’t hurt him as much as it would a normal, but even an undead guy has some feeling down there.
“Hold her, Bill, hold her,” another vamp ordered. Buffy tried to drop her chin lower to frustrate his grip. She grappled with her other hand in her bag, came up with a stake, poked it into his side. He grunted, but it hadn’t hit a vital spot. She rammed it in further, twisted it. “Ahhh!” he groaned, and tried to roll off her. She kicked up, hard, dislodging him, and then slammed a hard right to his face.
Buffy got out from under him, but it was no good. The whole bunch of them were upon her, circling her, forcing her against the wall. Desperation time. She still had her purse in hand, and grabbed a vial of clear liquid from it. One of them reached for her. She elbowed him in the face, driving him back. An instant later, she had the vial unstoppered.
They drew back, expecting her to throw it. Instead, she turned quickly, dripping the holy water in a circle about her. Then she stood, proud and defiant, catching her breath.
“Damn!” shouted the ringleader. “What’re you waiting for?”
“The ring, boss,” said South Side Accent. “It’s holy water.”
“Sure is,” said Buffy. “Maybe we should get the priest to bless the whole Chicago River, while we’re at it.”
One of the nine bared fangs at her and hissed. She stuck her tongue out at him.
“Mind telling me a few things, while we’re here?” She laid hands on a stake, but didn’t want to use it until they were at closer range. “Such as, why aren’t you carrying guns? Last time I was here, you looked like something out of the Untouchables. Have you gone liberal, or something?”
“The Slayer bitch’s gone bonkers,” opined one of the vamps.
“Oh, shut it,” said the leader. “It’s like this, honey. The boss wants we should take you alive. How much alive, that’s up to us. But he wants something to do with you.”
“Really?” She beamed. “Maybe he’s gonna tie me to a log and send me to a buzzsaw. That’d be appropriate for your mentality.”
“Hey, not a bad idea,” said another vamp. “Kinda original. You think that’s doable?”
“Lenny, I swear,” groused the leader, backhanding him. “It gets to be a pain, sometimes, being the brains of the outfit. You know what I mean?”
“I can imagine,” Buffy said. “Why does he want me?”
“Dunno, really,” the leader, who wore an old-fashioned pinstripe suit, said. “Me, I’d just as soon tap you like a keg and pass you around. But all I know is what the boss said. He said you’re gonna be an appetizer. That’s the word he used.”
“Oh,” said Buffy, in lieu of anything else.
There was a pinging noise from the leader’s pocket. He withdrew a cell phone and activated it. “Yeah?” Somebody said something unintelligible.
“Ask him if he can order us some pizzas,” offered Buffy. “I love deep dish.”
“You got no manners? Can’t you see I’m on the phone? Sorry about that, Mr. V. You know how it goes. What? Okay, we’ll get things wrapped. She’s still here. Live ‘n’ kicking. Uh, yes sir. Yes, sir. We’ll have her up ASAP. I know, sir. Thank you, sir. Thank you.”
He punched the power button, folded the phone up, and put it back in his pocket. “Things are coming down to the wire, boys. Time we got her upstairs.”
One of the vamps said, a tad nervously, “How do we do that, boss?”
“Yeah,” said Buffy, brandishing her stake. “Just how do you do that?”
“Like this,” said the boss.
He reached out like a striking snake, grabbed one of his crew, and threw him face-first onto the circle of holy water.
The vampire landed on his chest, sizzled like bacon fat on a hot griddle, screamed. Buffy’s eyes widened, but she still rammed a stake into his mouth as he reached for her, desperately. It came out the back of his neck, disgustingly. He bled, died, dusted. The dust covered part of the protective circle. So did his clothes.
One of the vampires stepped on the dusty left-behind garb, grabbed her by the wrist. She slammed a palm strike into his face and dislodged him, but he’d already dragged her across by then.
Right, then. At least she’d gotten a little breathing time. Buffy grabbed for the crucifix in her bag, but another vamp was close enough to kick up and knock the purse out of her hands. It scattered the silvered cross, stakes, holy water vials, and host wafers across the room. The vampires howled and cursed in pain from the backwash, but the stuff was generally far enough away from them not to be more than a hindrance.
All she had in her hand, now, was one stake. Unless she could fight her way to the objects, that’d have to do.
Desperately, Buffy lashed out with her legs, kicking out at the foemen with a vigor and style that would have done a karate instructor proud. She drove a couple of them back in surprise, grabbed a third by the shirt, dragged him forward. Desperately, he tried to sink fangs into her. But all he managed was a strangled gurgle as she slammed the stake into his heart, twisted it, and withdrew it. He fell away, died, and left a perforated suit and a pile of dust.
But there were still too many of them. Buffy tried to batter away the septet of survivors, using elbows, fists, knees, feet, and, yes, her stake. Still, they seemed all hands, grabbing at her clothes, her hair, her body. The stake bit twice more. Unclean blood ran down its shaft, staining her hand and the sleeve of her blouse. There wasn’t time to think, just to slay and slay and slay.
This was what she was born for, or so her Watchers said.
Lots of times, it made her throw up.
A third went down under the force of her wooden weapon and her good right arm. But one of them had that arm by the elbow, now, and twisted it behind her sharply. She tried to twist around, to throw him, but the vamp in front of her gave her a hard knee in the stomach. Breath shunted from her abdomen through her open mouth. She tried to reverse its course, tried to gulp down air to replace it, but it felt as though she’d been struck in the gut by a pipe.
Another fist, coming from stage left, slammed into her jaw. She tried to roll with it, but the guy behind her holding her arm wasn’t making that an option. Black and white flashes formed before her eyes in a strange arabesque. She was losing it.
Desperately, Buffy tried to rally, whirled to get her trapped arm back in front of her, but one assailant buried his hand deep in her hair to hold her. Another one slammed more blows into her, while still another grabbed her by the legs and held on. She tried hard to hold onto the stake with her numbed fingers, but there wasn’t a darned thing she could do with it, the way things were going.
Yeah. So this was what Chicago had to offer.
“Hold her, boys, just a little longer,” said the ringleader’s voice. Things were blurring on her right now. She hoped Kara was still in action, but didn’t know how much weight to place on that hope.
What the hell. At least they wanted her alive, for a while. She’d get to find out what this whole brouhaha was about. Blood red moons and flying bats, indeed.
A fist about the size of the Washington Monument filled her vision for a second.
Then came impact.
Supergirl slammed a klurkor blow into one of the vampires at the neck and wondered, on another mental track, if she should change into her costume just for the psychological boost of it.
The vamp picked her up, hefted her, and threw her across the roof. She landed with a whump, bruising, skinning her palms where she skidded on the concrete, further away from the TV towers than when she’d started.
It hurt. Damn, it hurt.
She still had her purse with her, draped over one forearm, and, luckily, it was still shut. Two of the vampires were still within reach of her, and they were reaching. Desperately, she fumbled open the catch of her purse, grabbed within, and came up with some of the garlic. She flung it in their faces.
The wind carried a lot of it away. But the bad guys shrank back enough for her to get to her feet and lurch away. They were still between her and the tower. The damnable, power-cancelling tower.
Her powers. Kara cursed herself. Since she’d landed on this world all those years ago, since finding she had them and learning how to use them, she’d relied on them like normal humans rely on their five senses, their abilities to walk and lift small things, their capacities to think. She had so much more scope than them, and had gotten used to concealing her incredible might. It was always comforting to know that nothing anybody could throw at her, outside of the odd fragment of Kryptonite, could hurt her. She didn’t have to fear assault, fire, an auto accident, drowning, falling from great heights, anything.
“You may as well give it up, baby,” said one of the vampires. He was dressed in an all-black outfit that even covered his head. There were treated goggles over his eyes, and he spoke through the cloth that covered his mouth. “You can’t get past us. And we don’t want to kill you. Yet.”
“How reassuring,” she said, in the tone she’d perfected to show confidence to villains. How much it worked on this crew, she had no way of knowing. She grabbed a stake from the purse and held it out, business end first. “Who wants to be the first?”
Another vamp, to the left and behind the one who had spoken, said, “Don’t think you know how to use it, toots. You don’t move like a Slayer.”
“Don’t think this one is a Slayer,” opined another of the crew. “We got Superskirt, in a different outfit.”
“Oh, this is gonna be famous,” said a fourth. “Really famous.”
Kara lashed out with the stake, knowing she’d never be able to use it to its deadliest intent, not even against these. The vamp grabbed her wrist, started exerting pressure, but she still managed to reach his chest with it, and slashed the suit. He immediately let go of her and covered the gash with his hands. She fell back, tried to circle around the group.
“Watch for the wood, boys,” rasped the leader. “She thinks she’s got vinegar. Bust ‘er.”
Three of the cruds left. The leader was trying to get back to the exit door, maybe to get a new suit out of storage or something. Kara wondered, briefly, where the guards were. Certainly they had a key to the darned door, or could find one. Then she thought that there might have been more of this crew than what she could see, and perhaps they were waiting for them...
Not a comforting thought.
She stuck the handle of the purse between her teeth, dipped within using her free hand, and, as they came for her, pulled out a glass vial. They stopped in their tracks. Saying a mental prayer to Rao, Kara threw it.
The container of holy water struck one vamp in the chest. He howled, swore, grabbed for his shirt, tried to hold it away from his body. But it was too late. The blessed fluid ate through him like carbolic acid. Kara dropped her jaw, aghast. The black material was stained with red. She thought, incongrously, of Margaret Hamilton at the end of The Wizard of Oz.
He lurched forward, trying to reach her. On instinct, she kicked up at his jaw with a klurkor move. It knocked him back, and before he could get up from a prone position, he was dead.
“You bitch,” snarled one of the two facing her. “You lousy, light-loving bitch.”
She had another vial. “There’s more where that came from,” Kara warned.
“Yeah, but we’re ready for you now, baby,” said the other.
“I’m holding this until one of you gets close enough,” said Kara, edging in a direction towards the twin TV towers.
“We know how to play this game, Superbitch,” said the first. “You don’t.”
She had to admit they were right about that. The thought of killing made her sick. True, it wasn’t like they were really alive. But they had a semblance of life, for all their evil. And if she had one principle, it was to hold life holy and not to take it away from those who bore it. Kara didn’t like to think about the vampire she’d just destroyed.
Her sentiment, she knew, might end up destroying her.
She couldn’t take much longer. The afternoon light wouldn’t last more than an hour or so, if that long. Kara had delayed their trip there so she could put in a full day of work. If she’d taken off early, or called in sick, so that she and Buffy could have struck earlier...but she’d done that so often already that her employment was already in trouble if she did it again.
As she rushed the two vamps, she wondered about her priorities. Was she more worried about losing her job than dying?
She touched a signal in her belt that would send a message to Kal. He was out on a mission somewhere, but just in case she didn’t make it, this would let him know where she’d fallen. The vampires grabbed for her, but she slashed out at one and followed through to ward off the other. One grabbed her ankle, but she twisted free.
The towers were before her. She sprinted for them like a distance runner.
Just disconnect that wire, if it could be disconnected by hand, and all her powers would return. Well, maybe. Provided she was far enough away from the source of all this magic energy. Provided she could get through. Provided a whole bunch of things.
Rao, keep your light burning bright for just a little longer now.
Kara turned, slashed back at the vampire she heard coming for her, and just missed as he dodged with the agility of a snake. She thought about trying to throw herself over the edge of the roof, but the son of a bat was between her and the edge. The towers were closer now, anyway. She ran for it, glad she was wearing her flat-soled shoes.
The wire was visible now. Painted so as to blend in with the rest of the tower, it’d go unnoticed except during a real inspection. She wouldn’t have known about it herself if she hadn’t used her super-vision the day before to scope it out. Now, it was only a few yards away...and lessening. She had a pair of wire cutters in her purse along with all the anti-vampire stuff. Maybe her one last desperate chance hadn’t come up yet.
That was when she felt the hand on her arm, grabbing her, spinning her around in a circle, and flinging her away like a hammer thrown at the Olympics.
Her purse went spinning away, and all she had was the stake clutched in her hand. Kara went volplaning away from the TV towers, rolling and bruising herself on the concrete of the building roof.
When her motion stopped, she raised herself painfully up on one elbow to see who had tossed her. The ringleader was back. He’d managed to tie the pants of his fallen comrade around the ripped portion of his shirt, shielding him from exposure to the sun. Kara guessed that the vamp he’d taken them from was now industrial by-product, being blown particle-fashion over the streets of Chicago.
“Give it up, honey,” advised the vamp. “This ain’t your kind of work.”
Without replying, Supergirl turned and ran for the opposite edge of the roof. Jumping would be risky business, and scary as hell to boot. But she’d take her chances on regaining her powers below the 40th floor, and getting a chance to help Buffy somehow from long distance, than staying here with nothing more than a length of pointed wood for a weapon.
Within ten feet of the edge, one of the vampires made an impossible leap over her and a two-point landing in front of her. She stopped. So this, she thought, is what it feels like to be against someone whose powers have you outclassed.
She feinted with the stake, but he was too good. He had her wrist snared in a grip of titanium steel. Kara lashed out with her knee, tried scratching the mask off his head with her free hand, tried going for his goggles. He backhanded her in the face. It was one of the hardest blows she’d ever felt.
“Hold her, Artie,” said the ringleader. “Let her get away, and I’ll rip the shirt off your back right here and now.”
“She ain’t goin’ anywhere,” said Artie. Even as Kara tried to strike back, she knew he was telling the truth.
A choking hand went around her throat. She tried to use her hand on him, but another vamp’s hand reached out and restrained her own.
She didn’t know how long the choking went on, or even precisely when the greyness faded to black.
“Mission accomplished, boss,” came the voice on the cell phone. “One down.”
“You did good, Johnny,” said Robert Platt. “Squad One is bringing the other one up. You know what to do.” He paused. “How are the vibes?”
“Not sure. Have to get back to you on that.”
“I said, how are the vibes?”
A pause. “Seems pretty good from this end, boss.”
“That’s good. That’s real good, Johnny. We’ll be up to visit after a little while. Keep the guests entertained.” He clicked the off button. John Vladislav was watching him, smoking a cigar. He looked at the overboss, casually.
“You got to learn how to be more discreet on the phone,” said Vladislav. “Squad One. You make it sound like a friggin’ World War II movie. Don’t you think somebody’s listening?”
“Sorry, sir,” apologized Platt.
“At least you took care of the damn guards,” Vladislav begrudged. “At least Jacobs knew how to call in and make it sound like one of them.”
“What kind of time are we looking at, sir?”
“Get every damn thing assembled that we can before we have to haul it up,” said Vladislav. “Then we haul it up. If we don’t get it put together on the roof within an hour, the project’s off.” He leaned closer into Platt’s space. “I make myself clear?”
“Crystal, boss,” said Platt, shrinking away as much as was diplomatically sound. “Can I ask a question?”
“All right,” said Platt.
Vladislav turned on his heel and walked out of the office. He knew what Platt was going to ask. He’d been curious to know just what they were going to summon tonight. But he wasn’t going to tell the punk. Names, after all, have power.
Especially the name of M’Nagalah.
To be continued...
The two women were shocked awake unceremoniously by a bucket of water in their faces. Kara hoped it was water, anyway.
As their respective eyelids fluttered open and they saw the night sky and two figures before them, both Buffy and Kara felt themselves to be seated flat on the building roof, with their arms bound behind them. The bindings were of something stronger than mere rope, Kara guessed, which would have been hard enough for her to break right now, but something which Buffy might have escaped. From the feel of it, they were bound with metallic ropes to some sort of post behind them.
There were two gangster vamps before them.
One was the bucket-wielder, a smirking, unimportant type in a black turtleneck and jeans, looking like the sort of bruiser that filled out the Outfit’s bottom layer or that just above it. He banged the bucket arrogantly against his thigh. Beside him was a vamp who was obviously of more importance. He was no more than 5 foot 10, but he was dressed in a simple business suit and grey tie. His grey hair was barely visible under a hat, but, looking closely, one could see the hint of fangs near his lower lip.
They could see something on the roof surface, between them and the two vampires. A line of metal. No, more than that. Some sort of high-tech stripping, like a rake-edge bit of roofing, with circuits of some sort upon its surface. And within those circuits, Kara could almost testify she saw etched symbols. She wasn’t sure that she wanted to look at them too closely, or too long.
“Good evening, ladies,” said John Vladislav. “You cost us a few men. We’re going to let you make up for it.”
“Kind of considerate of you,” muttered Supergirl.
“Easy, Kara,” said Buffy, testing the strength of her bonds and finding them still too much.
“It isn’t every day we get to sacrifice a Slayer, and Supergirl to boot,” Vladislav continued. “You made it pretty easy on us. Did you really think you could outmuscle my men? With what we showed you we could do, using this system?” He gestured up toward the TV towers behind them.
Buffy shrugged. “Seems we managed to take a few of your boys down before they took us. I don’t think we made that bad of a showing.”
“We did better,” said Vladislav’s aide.
“Shut up, you,” said Vladislav, and cuffed him. The vamp grabbed his wounded ear, but said nothing. To the women, he said, “You bitches. You stupid bitches. You really thought you could pull it off, like we were in some kind of James Bond movie or something. Don’t you know better than to go into a situation like this without enough backup? I never go anywhere without I know what’s against me, and how much muscle I have to have against it.”
“I came here because of a vision,” Buffy said. “You’re the Blood Red Moon, aren’t you?”
Kara noted, with satisfaction, that Vladislav did a double take. “How’d you know that?”
“A friend of mine told me what she’d seen,” the Slayer continued. “A vision of a blood red moon over the Sears Tower, with bats flying around it. Kara helped me with the interpretation. I’ve never heard of your group before. They must not get out to California much.”
“We’re all over,” said Vladislav. “Doesn’t matter what you know. In a few minutes, you’re gonna be lunch.” He turned away, looking at the night sky. “So will the daysiders in this city. But you’ll go first.”
Kara said, “Mind telling us about your great evil plan? This is the place where the villain usually does his bragging.”
He turned back to them. “Watch your mouth, blondie. You aren’t exactly super while we’re broadcasting. I may want you alive for awhile, but I don’t have to make it pleasant. Capeesh?”
“All I want to know is what this setup is all about,” said Supergirl. “If we’re going to be the main course for this vampire or whatever you’re going to be hosting, just call me curious.”
“Call you dead,” said the guy with the bucket, and drew a .38.
Vladislav slapped his hand, then slapped his face. “How many times do I got to tell you? How many times? How many?”
“No more, boss, no more,” pleaded the vamp. “I understand. I understand. I swear on my father’s coffin.”
The fangfather buried his hands in his underling’s turtleneck. “I don’t really have time for this aggravation, Lester. You got me?”
“I said we don’t shoot the women, and we don’t shoot the women. We need them for later. Got that?”
“Got it, boss.”
“Now get out of my sight.” He shoved Lester away. The vampire stumbled, fell over his own bucket, picked himself up and went to another area of the roof, where some other shadowy figures were working.
The ganglord took a cigar from a stainless steel case in his pocket, lit it himself with a lighter bearing a sorceror’s star, and took a couple of puffs before turning back to the women, a bit more calmly. “We’re doing a Summoning,” he said.
“A Hellmouth?” asked Buffy.
“Not exactly, but maybe a little similar,” said Vladislav. “The Order has pretty good files on what comes down in our line of work. I know, I saw them. One thing I picked up on was something that went down in a place called Perdition, up in New York. Somethin’ manifested up there. Some dumb bastard who didn’t know what he was doing opened something up around there. Let something in. Wasn’t much of a spell, so it didn’t manifest very effectively. Not enough power. But it did okay, as it was. Somebody or other ran across it, got lucky, shut it down. Later on, it happened again, and it got shut down again. Big problem, as I see it: not enough power in the spell. Up the power of the summons, you get a bigger, better manifestation. That makes sense.”
“Guess it does,” allowed Buffy. “And this magic broadcast thing and these little metal things are part of that?”
“You guessed it,” Vladislav said, tipping the ashes off his cigar. “You can’t see it. We got it in a pentagram shape, facing the South Side. High-tech. Moving with the times. But to get the Big Guy over here, we have to offer a sacrifice. That’s where you come in.”
“Kinda figured it would be like that,” said Supergirl. “I’ve never heard of these things you’re talking about, but that’s okay. What is it you’re bringing over? Something out of H. P. Lovecraft?”
The gangster paused, then looked over the night sky. “That guy,” he said. “He was off about a lot of things. But he was close about some others. He never knew. Just as well.”
Supergirl glanced at Buffy with a meaningful expression. Buffy returned it. Both of them noted the grimness in each other’s eyes. Despite their bravado, they both realized that the end of the trail might be looming closer than they’d like to admit.
“When is all of this supposed to go down?” asked Buffy.
His back to them, Vladislav said, “You guys ready to power up?”
A tech answered him. “I think we’re on it, Mr. V.”
He glanced back towards the Slayer and the Girl of Steel.
“Get the Chanters up in position,” he said. “Get the boys back. If anybody misses a beat on this, you’re lunch for the Big Guy.”
The vampires stepped back from the perimeter of the metallic flange, far enough back so that Kara could tell they really respected its power. “Do you know anything about this?” she asked.
Buffy nodded. “We’re toast.”
“Like something out of Ghostbusters?”
“Buffy. Can you reach in the back of my dress?”
“Can you reach,” said Kara in a low voice, “in the back of my dress? You’ll have to rip it open. But I’ve got the wire cutters in there.”
“Yeah. Dropped ‘em in during the fight. Think you can manage to reach them?”
“I don’t know,” Buffy admitted. “Kind of awkward with these things on. It’ll be hard to get into position.”
“Especially with them watching,” said Supergirl. “But if you don’t—“
“Oh, can it, Kara,” Buffy said. “You know I’m going to try.”
There were no more lights on the roof of the Tower than were absolutely necessary. Mainly, just the lights that illuminated the TV towers behind them, plus a few portable lights scattered in various places. There was still a possibility they might be found out, but the necessity for concealment was passing. The two of them couldn’t see everything from their vantage point, but they did see two figures in dark robes going to separate positions and standing there, holding strange books before themselves, open like hymnals. Which, Kara guessed, in a negative way, might not be too far off.
The voice of John Vladislav rang out. “Power up.”
A switch on a portable generator was thrown. Track lighting on the metal flange was activated, revealing more of the mystic symbols than Kara wanted to see. They could both hear the hum of power.
“Chant,” called out Vladislav.
The two robed figures, and more of them than Buffy or Supergirl could see, fixed their gazes on their open books and began to repeat words from the books, rhythmically, hypnotically. Kara knew many of the languages of Earth, but this one was mostly a mystery to her. She suspected that its origins lie somewhere other than Earth. This did not reassure her.
“Stand by,” Vladislav ordered.
Kara felt Buffy’s fingers straining, fumbling at her dress. The wire cutters had been thrown down the back of her collar, in between her dress and the Supergirl suit she wore beneath it. It was a miracle their captors had missed them, but Kara estimated that Rao owed them a miracle or two right now. “Buffy,” she said, urgently.
“I’m trying to get to it, Kara,” said Buffy. “I’m trying.”
The voices of the strange cantors rose and fell. Kara had been in the presence of sorcerers before–Mordru and Drang came to mind–but none quite like this. Mages of the Undead, things to whom damnation had long ago become an established and inescapable fact, and to whom service to the Dark was a thing as common as a corporate executive apple-polishing for his boss. The ambience had changed, perceptibly. The cold winds that lashed them bore a new note.
There was a cry of surprise and, yes, fear from the vampires. “Shut up, shut up,” said Vladislav. But his voice, too, had a tinge of terror.
The cantors were chanting one word now, over and over: M’NAGALAH....M’NAGALAH...M’NAGALAH...
Supergirl looked up, behind and above them, beyond the post both of them were tied to. She looked at the two TV towers, and her mouth opened in astonishment.
An aperture was opening in the very air above them, and something was tumbling out. Something glistening, gelatinous, tentacled, eyed, and alive. It settled around the towers, but there was more of it coming out.
It was starting to slide down the sides of the towers.
“Mr. Vladislav,” shouted one of the vampires, “I’m gone!” He shifted into bat-form, tried to get away. Vladislav snapped his fingers. Two others, gifted with form-shifting, turned into bats, went after him, grabbed him, dragged him back to the gangboss.
With terrible efficiency, Vladislav tore the offending bat to pieces with his bare hands.
That was when Buffy ripped open Kara’s dress and, fumblingly, grabbed the wire cutters without seeing them.
“Don’t look up,” advised Kara. “Can you use those things on the ropes? You’ve got more strength than I do, now.”
“Let me try,” said Buffy, getting the cutters fully into her grasp.
“Take your time,” said Kara. “We’ve probably got all of thirty seconds.”
The glob of whatever-it-was was moving down the towers.
Kara knew that the thing could think. She could sense its mentality, as alien to a Kryptonian as to any Earth-being. Whatever M’nagaleh was, in evil he was as far beyond the vampires as the vampires were from her and Buffy.
It was drawing on the energies broadcast from the TV towers and from the high-tech pentegram surrounding them. She sensed that it could draw on more energy than that. The power system of the building itself, and, when it consumed that, of the buildings and the city around them.
And the lives of all humans in its path. Including hers and Buffy’s.
A tentacle began to reach down towards them. Not quite like that of an octopus, flatter and thicker, yellowish-orange and partly translucent. The damnable thing was groping around, getting closer to her face.
“I’ve almost got it. Give me a second more.”
The flat tip of the tentacle came near her face. She wondered, wildly, if biting it would do any good.
Then the most welcome sound of the night reached her ears.
The sound of a pair of wire cutters snipping through their bonds.
Kara threw herself forward, the top of her hair brushing the tentacle as she passed it. She lay flat on the roof for an instant, then rolled and grabbed Buffy, who was also sprawling. The cut cable still trailed from their wrists.
“Give me the cutters,” she said. “Now!”
Buffy slapped the wire cutters into her hand like a nurse handing a surgeon a pair of forceps. “Hope you’re strong enough to do it,” she said.
A vamp saw the both of them. “Mr. Vladislav,” he called out. “Mr. Vladislav, they’re...”
Buffy Summers leaped up, ran at him, knocked one of the cantors off his feet, and slammed into the vampire. She didn’t stop until both of them were at the roof’s edge. He had his mouth open and his fangs ready.
She slugged him in the chops.
With a long cry, he toppled over the side of the building. Evidently, she thought, he wasn’t a bat-form kind of guy. Too bad.
Buffy whirled, faced the coterie of vampires, and gaped as she caught sight of the abomination on the TV towers. “Good Lord,” she whispered. She caught sight of Kara, the rip in her dress showing her red cape, hustling towards the wire she was seeking.
The bad guys had to be kept away from her. Even if it meant getting inside that high-tech pentagram again. Even if it meant being under that...thing.
With a cry of fury, Buffy ran back, slammed a great kick into the neck of one of the cantors, grabbed his book of spells, and sent it sailing over the edge of the roof. Then she grabbed the cantor, lifted him over her head, and ran with him protesting back inside the pentagram itself. She made sure of where she was going.
“Sorry,” she said, and pitched him towards M’nagaleh.
A tentacle reached out, snagged him on the fly, and drew him within the greater mass.
Buffy could still see his body. But it wasn’t moving.
John Vladislav was shouting obscenities, and, in between, yelling, “Kill them!” None of the vamps seemed to want to go in the pentagram. They started drawing guns.
Biting her lip, Buffy grabbed part of the metal flanging, exerted all her hyped strength, and wrenched it up from the bolts which held it to the roof. Then she ran at the vampires, swinging it like a club.
Several shots rang out and she dropped flat to the roof, dodging them. The flange skidded across the surface and stopped at the foot of Robert Platt.
Vladislav looked at him. “What’re you waiting for, dumbass? Put that thing back where it goes! And you guys, cowboy the Slayer bitch!”
Buffy, getting to her knees, saw several guns of various calibers pointed towards her. “So long, Kara,” she muttered. “Hope you finish this up for me.”
Somewhere in there, two hands compressed the ends of a pair of wire cutters as hard as they could and bit through a telltale wire.
An instant later, a blurred figure interposed herself between Buffy Summers and her attackers, and hot lead spanged off a blue-clad chest with an S-shield on it.
Supergirl’s hands flashed out, grabbing the guns out of the hands of the trio of vampire button men and compressing them into scrap. Then her fists flashed out, and rocked their foes into dreamland.
Vladislav had already taken it on the lam.
Kara turned, grabbed Buffy, and flew with her to another corner of the roof. A sheet lay over a section of it, right where they landed. “What,” Buffy started.
Supergirl grabbed the sheet and flung it away, revealing what lay below. Some Host wafers, two unbroken vials of holy water, a crucifix, and three stakes in the midst of it. Plus a purse.
“That’s where it landed when they got me,” said Kara. “They couldn’t touch it, so they put it under the sheet. My powers are still being drained by the magic here. Can you...”
“I can,” said Buffy, taking as much of the armament as she could in both her hands. Then she turned to face the vampires, who were keeping their distance, somewhat.
“I don’t know if this is gonna work, Buffy,” said Kara. “But you’ve got to hold them off so I can try.”
“You came through for me, Kara,” said the Slayer, with a resolute tone. “Now I’ll do the same for you.” With that, she ran in the direction of the mobsters.
A tentacle flopped down in the spot she’d just vacated. Kara looked up. M’nagaleh was improving his reach.
“O-kay, Brother Blob,” she said, gritting her teeth. “Let’s see if this works.”
She flew upward, but a tentacle caught her by the waist and wound about her. It burned, like acid. Desperately, she caught it with a blast of heat vision, severing it from M’nagaleh’s body. Then she unwound it, burning her hands in the process, and flung it to the roof. On impulse, she blasted at M’nagaleh with her eye-beams. The amorphous being sizzled a bit, blackened in spots. But it was too large, too powerful, and too other-worldly to be destroyed by that. If it even could be destroyed.
Kara went with her original plan and, flying to the top of the towers, put her hands on one of them, exerted her reduced strength, and, with a great wrenching of metal from ferroconcrete, tore it out of the roof.
Then she did the same to the other tower. All over Chicago, TV screens would be going blank. Perhaps that would be a blessing.
She glanced for an instant at Buffy. The Slayer girl was in the midst of the foe, slamming home stakes, brandishing her crucifix, kicking out, dodging bullets. What Kara was doing had to be done quickly, if she was to survive.
Supergirl grasped the top of the left-hand tower and, flying upward, began to haul both towers and M’nagaleh into space.
The voice filled her mind. She didn’t have to know who was sending it.
<No way,> sent Kara. But, as she accelerated into the ionosphere and beyond, she felt M’nagaleh’s power trying to dominate her will. And, given what he seemed to be capable of, she admitted that his will might override hers in a very short time.
She had intended to strand him in space, if she could. But it didn’t appear as though she’d be able to get him far out enough in the void, given her reduced power and velocity, to keep him from being drawn back to Earth in too short a time.
<FEED ME,> it thought. Its tentacles and mass began crawling up the tower towards her. <FEED ME.>
It took Supergirl all of five seconds to decide what to do.
She knew the correct vibrational harmony to attain to reach a score of parallel Earths and sidereal dimensions. It would take some doing, especially to shake the towers and what was on them along with her. But it was possible.
With all her power, Kara began to vibrate. In seconds, the TV towers and M’nagaleh were vibrating sympathetically with her. In a move the Flash had taught her and Superman long ago, they began to lose the vibrational pitch that attuned them to Earth-One, and to slip into another plane of existence. The deadliest one she knew of.
<STOP,> thought M’nagaleh, and, indeed, she had to fight the impulse to stop right then and there. But she didn’t.
Within seconds, she saw a similar but different Earth below her, and a different solar system and set of stars about her. She felt the bee-stinging of contramatter particles against her body, and knew if she remained more than a few seconds here, she would be in more danger, perhaps, than M’nagaleh could offer.
Below her was the anti-matter Earth of the universe of Qward.
<YOU ARE FOOD,> thought M’nagaleh, his bulk coursing towards her. <YOU WILL BECOME ME.>
<You will become toast,> said Supergirl, and thrust the towers away with all her strength. A tentacle reached out for her face, brushed it, missed.
The mass of metal and monster hurtled towards the rotating globe below. In seconds it was within the outer atmosphere, and small bursts of flaming explosion were seen. By the time it got to slightly denser atmosphere, the anti-matter fully reacted with the positive matter of the towers and what was on them.
It exploded, greatly.
There was a terrible moment of obscenity in Supergirl’s mind. Then it passed.
Hovering outside the blanket of anti-air that surrounded the Qwardian Earth, Kara took a long moment to compose herself. Then she began to vibrate once again.
In seconds, she was back within the space of her own universe.
Seconds after that, she was over the Sears Tower. Thankfully, Buffy was still holding her own. There were several piles of dust and clothing about her. Evidently, she’d been busy.
Supergirl landed nearby and began knuckle-dusting jaws. A couple of vamps tried to batshift out of there. Her heat-vision seared their wings, and they dropped back to the roof. Buffy took a stake in each hand and dispatched them both. Kara winced.
“I’m sure glad I don’t have to do that,” she said.
“You should be,” Buffy answered.
John Vladislav was already starting to run towards the door to the stairs. The entire operation, gone. Just like that. Just because some dumb son of a fanger hadn’t searched the two bitches well enough. An op that could have put the whole world at the feet of the Moon, under M’nagaleh.
Well, they’d get payback for it. All it took was time, and money, and he had enough of those. A hit squad after the Slayer, and Kryptonite for Superbroad. He’d attend to both of them as soon as he went to ground.
But someone was waiting for him on the stairs.
“Outta my way,” snarled Vladislav, starting to bring his hand out in a slap. “Don’t you know who’s behind me?”
One of Platt’s hands came out from behind him to ward off the slap. “Oh, I wouldn’t worry so much about who’s behind you, Mr. V.,” he said. “It’s what’s in front of you that you should worry about.”
His other hand came out with a stake in it.
Vladislav’s eyes went wide. He tried to twist away.
He wasn’t quite fast enough.
Platt buried the stake in his chest and watched the Big Boss go dusty all over his shoes. From the pile that remained, Platt salvaged a pair of diamond cufflinks and a wristwatch. Then he turned to go.
He felt something grabbing him by the shoulders. Then he felt it hauling him up the stairs and out the roof door with terrific speed.
“Hey, what,” was all he had time to say before the force holding him set him down on his feet, in front of the Slayer girl. There were a lot of piles of dust covering the roof. That saddened him. But he knew he had other things to worry about.
Time for bargaining.
He smiled at her and held out the stake, blunt end first. “I borrowed this,” he said. “Used it to take care of somebody for you.”
“Isn’t that nice,” said Buffy, neutrally, and took the stake from him. Then she began to advance, holding the crucifix in one hand. Platt started to back away.
He ran into Supergirl, with her arms folded. To her, he said, “Listen. I know you’re not into this slaying thing. I did your work for you. We can do a deal.”
“No, we can’t,” said Kara. “And our work isn’t finished yet.”
A second after that, a wooden stake slammed through Platt’s body and abutted Kara’s chest. She saw terror in his eyes just before he turned into a heap of dust.
She shivered. “Does that ever get to you?”
“All the time,” said Buffy.
It took a good deal of explanation to the cops and building authorities, plus the reconstruction of the TV towers, which took her a few hours. Advertisers complained about lost income, but the stations promised to make it up to them. A lot of viewers griped about missing their favorite programs. Luckily, everybody trusted Supergirl enough to accept what she told them, which was that they’d faced a bunch of super-villains and an invader from space. That was true, as far as it went.
What of the Church’s armament there was to be recovered was bundled up and taken back to Bishop Ryan, with thanks. Blackie had her pose for a Polaroid with him, which was taken by one of the Megans. He would never reveal to visitors the whole story of her visitation.
The day after that, Buffy announced to the crew at Mrs. Berkowitz’s boarding house that she’d learned enough about the Sears Tower for now, and that she was leaving. Linda smiled warmly, shook her hand, summoned a cab for her, and helped her with her luggage.
At the airport, Buffy wondered, idly, what was in store for her back in Sunnydale, because something always seemed to be. She thought about her friends, and what it would be like to see them again, and how much she could tell them about her new sister-in-arms. Mostly, she looked out of the window she was facing, towards the planes that were loading and unloading passengers.
“Excuse me,” said a voice. “Okay if I sit here?”
She recognized it.
Buffy turned her head and saw a familiar blonde woman in a green pantsuit, standing before her. “Absolutely,” she grinned. “I’m glad you came.”
“Couldn’t let you go without saying goodbye,” said Supergirl, sitting beside her. “Suppose I could have flown you myself, but I’m kind of busy today and you’ve already paid for your ticket.”
“Yeah,”said Buffy. “Besides, I’d like to get back to normal. Relatively normal, I mean.”
“I think we made a good team out there,” said Kara. “But I hope we don’t have to do it again. It isn’t really my speed.”
Buffy nodded. “I understand, Kara. But I really liked working with you.”
“Yeah. And I like you, Buffy.”
Supergirl’s expression sobered. “But if what you have back in Sunnydale is as tough as what you had to face here...”
“Sometimes it is,” said Buffy, and wondered what Kara would say next.
“...Then I’m glad they’ve got somebody like you to take care of it,” Kara finished.
Buffy hugged her warmly. “Thanks, Kara. I’m glad you understand.”
Hugging her back, Supergirl said, “Oh, yes, I understand, Buff. Just like I had to understand when I came here, sixteen years ago. It was tough. Tough as Sheol. But I managed to make it, because I had to. And I think you will, too.”
“If you ever get out to Sunnydale, look me up,” said Buffy. “I’ve got friends who’ll want to meet you.” She paused. “But if we do, it’ll probably be on business.”
“Yeah,” said Kara. “So you take care of business where you are. And if you need some help, call Clark Kent at WGBS in Metropolis. Tell him Kara sent you. He knows how to get in touch with Superman, and Superman can get in touch with me.” She pressed a piece of paper into Buffy’s hand. “This is the number.”
Buffy stuck it in her purse. “Thank you,” she said.
Kara looked out the window at a plane taxiing towards the docking area. “I think that’s yours,” she said. “Be good, Buffy. I’ll be seeing you.”
“You too, Kara,” said the Slayer, squeezing her hand. “Take care.” She bussed Supergirl on the cheek. Kara smiled, then got up and walked away.
Half an hour later, by a window seat, reading a romance novel, Buffy’s attention was drawn by a number of surprised squeals and raised voices. Among them was one familiar phrase.
“Look! Up in the sky!”
She turned towards the window.
Flying beside their plane, pacing it, was a blue-clad, red-caped, blonde-haired figure. She was close enough that Buffy could see she was smiling.
A number of the passengers were waving at her. Buffy waved, too, as hard as she could, and mouthed words of greeting.
Supergirl looked straight at her, and waved back.
Then she banked off and headed towards Chicago, with the people in the pressurized cabin cheering.
Buffy watched her until she was lost in the distance. Then she turned back to her romance novel.
For awhile, it’d be nice to think about normal things, for a change.
Then she sighed, gave it up, sat back, and closed her eyes.
And, for the rest of the trip back home, she mainly thought of Supergirl.
Buffy Summers and related characters are copyright UPN. Supergirl and related characters are copyright DC Comics, Inc. Bishop Blackie Ryan and related characters are created by and copyright of Andrew Greeley. No money is being made from this story, no infringement is intended.
Like it or not, this one has to be for Frito, who put me up to it. So much for that.