The Great Confrontation

    Part 13

    by DarkMark

Nobody in the hierarchy of Heaven’s Seven knew how the Joker had managed to find their sanctuary.  That was something to be considered later, when they had time.  If they had a later, of course.

Right now, the problem at hand was the fact that the Joker was there, in their secret council room, having thrown the grinning corpse of their chief lieutenant, Cyril Smit H124C41, onto the meeting table.  It was lying there, inappropriately, under the floating hologram of the Earth that always oversaw the seven councilmen.

The Revelator, fully masked and cloaked, was able to conceal any alarm.  That put him miles ahead of some of his associates.  To the Joker, who was standing at the end of the table and smiling malevolently, the masked man said, “State your business.  Or get out.”

Two of the Seven thought their master had gone piffly in the head.  A couple more silently praised the Revelator for his panache.  The other three didn’t know quite what to think, and sensed that their thoughts probably didn’t matter at the moment.  The meeting was in the hands of the Revelator, the Joker, and the Most High.  They fervently hoped the latter was really watching hard.

“My business is your business,” rasped the Joker.  “You wish to bring the Earth to an end, to see if the last book of the Bible will come true in dazzling Holovision.  Should have called it the Book of Premoniions.”  He chuckled, alone, at his own wit.  “Chaos.  Beautiful, shimmering, chaos.  That’s what you want, no?”

The Revelator shook his masked head.  “Not really.  We wish destruction, to pave the way of the Lord.  He will come with His Host and usher in an era of perfect order...”

“What a killjoy,” said the Joker.

“...and righteous judgment,” the Revelator went on.  “This will end the corrupt reign of Man, and usher in the perfect rule of God.”

“With you providing the timetable,” the Joker said.

“Of course,” answered one of the Seven.  “After all, somebody has to do it.”

The Revelator looked at his aide piercingly.  The latter knew he was in the running for the Lamest Summary Ever of the Cause category.  To the Joker, he said, “What are you here for?”

Casually, the Joker walked up the table towards his unwilling host, brushing the backs of a few acolytes on the way.  Each of them shrank back and wondered if they’d been branded by Joker-venom.  One of them felt gingerly of his mouth, willing himself not to grin.  The green-haired man finally stood before the Revelator, hands in the pockets of his purple suit.  “I am here, your destructiveness, to offer you a bargain.  We work together...on a trap.”

The master of the Seven sat a bit more contemplatively.  A deal, he could understand.  “Tell me more.”

“You have a problem with a big red cape,” the Joker said.  “Mine wears a blue one.  The red one isn’t expecting any problem from my corner.  The blue one isn’t expecting one from yours.  My genius with your resources.  We collaborate, we bring them both down.  The Big S and the Big Bat.  Singly, or together.  What do you say?  Oh, and by the way, I know you have a zapper under your cloak.  Don’t go for it.  All right?”

“There are enough weapons concealed in this room to turn you into slash hash in a millisecond,” said the Revelator.  

“Which wouldn’t do much for our collaboration,” said the Joker.

The master of the Seven considered the deal for the longest three seconds his acolytes had ever known.  Then he said one word:

“Done.”

    -S-

Katherine de Ka’an was learning the hard way that she should have taken more lessons in self-defense.  More klurkor, surely.  Because this brunette bitch was beating the Sheol out of her.

Despite the pain of getting struck in the face and body, Kath’s impulse was to worry about the two of them being seen.  Luckily, that didn’t seem to be the case, but you couldn’t tell what a government spy device was going to find.  That’d be just great, to be the member of the Family that exposed the rest to the public.

Fist in the mouth.  Time to quit woolgathering, girl.

Kath wasn’t an accomplished brawler, but everyone knows something about fighting, even if it’s just doubling up a fist or aiming a kick.  She drew back a fist, telegraphing her punch, and rammed it home into Sy’s gut.  The brunette, surprised by Kath’s stroke, oofed out a large bit of air and paused long enough for the blonde to hit her with an uppercut.  The blow put Sy on her ass, right there on the lawn of George’s house.  In the distance, floating homebots came over to scope out the situation and do what they could for the people and the grass.

For her part, Katherine de Ka’an leaped upward and soared into the sky.  

She hadn’t flown all that much in her life.  The security demands of the Family discouraged it.  But she was exhilarated every time she did, and usually did it without fear of detection, moving at super-speed to avoid visual detection and vibrating at a rate which avoided sonic booms and confused scanning devices.  

Unfortunately, they did leave heat trails when they flew.  But some things couldn’t be covered up.

Whether that was the way Sy found her or not, Katherine never knew.

The girl in the white sticktite halter and blue abbreviated shorts grabbed her from below by the ankle.  Kath’s other foot stabbed down desperately, catching Sy in the face.  She thought she heard a yelp of pain from the other girl, which was encouraging.  Quickly, Kath kicked at Sy again and again.  Some of the kicks landed on the brunette’s face, some on her shoulder.  If it just kept the bitch away from her, that would be enough.

She flashed on her ancestor Kara, the first Supergirl.  Really, she couldn’t see her forebear acting this desperately, this (say it) fearfully.  Then again, she’d never really put much thought into training to be a Supergirl herself.  

As Sy Kent upended her and propelled her towards the ground, she hoped Kara Zor-El would understand and forgive.

Kath hit the Earth just outside George Kent’s estate with a terrific WHAM.  The impact didn’t hurt her, but that was cold comfort.  She had to get up, had to counterattack, had to defend herself...had to do all these things...

...but she could barely raise herself from the ground that she’d been embedded in, on her back, her face barely sticking out of the dirt.  Face facts, Kath, an inner priestess-voice told her, you’ve come out secondish in this fight.  What fight there was of it.

Thanks a lot, she replied, internally, even as two feet hit the ground on either side of her half-buried body.

Sy Kent sported a bruise on her cheek, but she didn’t much look like it bothered her.  Her hand flashed out, penetrated the dirt, grabbed Kath by the shirtfront.  With little seeming effort, she hauled Katherine de Ka’an’s soil-stained form from the dirt.  Clods of earth and blades of grass tumbled from her, and she fixed her eyes on Sy, feeling that if the girl wasn’t holding her up, she might lie down again in the dirt.  That would be a very pleasant thing to do, just now.

But Sy’s look was all business.

“Listen carefully,” the brunette said.  “When you wake up, you’ll be back in your own home.  Keep your mouth shut about all this, and nobody will have to get hurt any worse.  You don’t have any part in this anymore.  Stay out of my way, and I’ll stay out of yours.  Otherwise...you’re going to get a lot worse than this.”

Really, Katherine thought it was remarkable that she heard the whole speech.  The fist that filled her vision-space an instant later was impressive enough to make her forget what had come before it.  Almost.

Blackness, shot with white stars and pain.

Was this what it felt like when Krypton exploded?

If she dreamed after that, she didn’t remember it.

    -S-

Even a power macher like Adam Kent had to answer a summons to a meeting when it came from his dad.  So he got in his hovercraft, knowing all the while he could fly a thousand times faster, set it down on the parking area of Klar Ken’s apartment building, and caught the grav-lift tube down to his father’s level.  

Adam was dressed in a black suit.  That was, if anything, his power color.  More than that, it was his security color.  When facing his dad, security was something to be prized.  His hair was cut conservatively and, by will, Adam forced his heartbeat to a calm level.  Amazing how the powers you picked up in Earth’s environment could work to your advantage in business.  

His face was almost as neutral as when he was gambling.

The lift-tube schussed open and Adam stepped into his father’s domain.  The living quarters weren’t as opulent as his own, but Dad lived well.  The apartment covered an entire floor of the building.  Klar could have had better if he’d wanted it, but he believed in living within his means.  A door from the inner quarters slid back into its recess and Lyra Kent stepped into the reception room.  “Adam,” she said.  “Come here.”

This time, Adam’s smile was unfeigned.  He extended his arms, walked to his mother, and embraced her.  No matter what, he would always love his mother.  “Mom, it’d be better if you were a Krypt,” he murmured, his head on her shoulder.  “That way, I could hug you as hard as you want.”

“Oh, rash,” scoffed Lyla.  “If Krypts couldn’t control themselves, I’d have never had you, Alan, and Lori.  How have you been?”

“The usual,” he said.  “Business, meetings, you know the agenda.  Doubleplus.”

“I hope that’s true,” said Lyla.  “Heaven help me, I hope that’s true.”

He looked her in the eye.  “Why?  Is there something I don’t know about?”

Lyla shook her head.  “I don’t know why your father wants to talk to you.  He’ll be here in a moment, though, and he wants a private fab.”

“I know,” said Adam.  His heartbeat began to quicken.  He forced it down like a twitching limb.  “Well, at least it won’t be about my grades.”

She ventured a smile.  “That’s long past.  But tell me, Adam...is everything really all right?  Everything you know?”

In his eyes, Lyla thought she caught a bit of uncertainty.  “Well, Mom, nothing’s ever 100 percent all right.  I mean, isn’t that one of the lessons you taught us three?  That you never quite get to write your own life the way you’d want it?”

“That’s true,” she said. “But at least we can choose as much of the meter as we can.”  He had to admit he didn’t like the way she was looking at him when she said it.  But, Sheol, this wasn’t a meeting with her, it was a meeting with Dad.  Still...

“Adam.  If there is anything bad going on, between you and Alan—“

“Oh, no.”

“—or between you and anyone else in the Family, I want you to tell me.”

“I’ll be sure to, Mom.”

“Please, Adam, don’t interrupt me.  I can keep a secret, even from Klar if I want to.  You are my son, and you can confide in me.  Will you do that, son?  Will you promise me?”

Adam smiled and exhaled.  “I promise, Mom.  I promise.”

Even he couldn’t stop his heart from tripping, for a second.  At least she couldn’t hear it.

Lori was silent for a moment.  Then she said, “All right.  Wait here, I’ll get your father.”

Adam waited and, indeed, she got his father.  Klar Ken stood in the opening of the doorway, wearing his spectacles, his dark blue robe hanging to his knees, his feet clad in sandals.  He didn’t favor Adam with a smile.

“Hello, son,” he said.  “We need to talk.”

Adam, lounging on the couch, gestured with his hand.  “I’m always available for a comm with you, Dad.  What’s on your mind?”

“How have you gotten rich, son?”

The phrase was said gently, but Klar Ken’s face was stone.

Adam Kent shrugged.  “The way most people do, I guess, Dad.  Master of Megabusiness Degree, apprenticeship, association with higher-ups, ideas, all that...”

“I know that,” said Klar.  “How have you gotten rich?”

“What’s this all about, Dad?”  Adam was monitoring his heartbeat as if he were a doctor in a cardiac ward.  “Why did you call me here?”

“I called you here because I’ve heard that you’re associating with George and Irinia,” said Klar.  “Are you?”

“Even if I had, what’s wrong with that?  They’re Family, too.”

“That’s true,” Klar said.  “But I’m not certain the rest of the Family is safe from them, sometimes.”

“I thought you liked Uncle George.”

“I do.  That doesn’t stop me from worrying about his side of the Family.  He was the one who almost tore down the meeting room on Mars.”

“I know that,” said Alan, impatiently.

“But he’s not the one that worries me,” Klar continued.  “His wife, Irinia.  She’s the power behind his particular throne, and...make no mistake, son...she’s a snake.  That daughter of hers is no better, if a trifle dumber.”

“It’s not like we haven’t heard these rumors before,” said Adam.  “But, Dad, what’s on your mind?  Go ahead and spit it out, doublequick.”

“I will.  Have you been doing illegal business with George and Irinia?”

Adam laughed.  “No!  Holy sun of Krypton, Dad, is that what this is all about?  I never did business with George in my life, outside of selling him power.”

“All right,” said Klar.  “Because, son, sometimes I’ve wondered how you make the decisions you’ve made.  Your instincts for timing, and places to strike, are uncanny.  I never possessed any such instincts.”

“Well, I’m not a seven-star journalist, Dad.  Neither is Alan.  Our talents are different.”

“You’re really not in business with George Kent?  Tell me the truth, son.”

“No, Dad,” said Adam.  “I am really not in business with George Kent.”

“Good.  Do you think you could go into business with him?”

“What?”

Klar sat down facing his son.  “Things are happening on that side of the family I’m not certain of, Adam.  I need somebody who could keep me informed.”

“You want me—great Rao, Dad!—to be a spy?”

“Call it what you want.  You’re the only one in the family who can do it.”

Adam closed his eyes, rubbed the side of the face.  “You have a drink?  Sometimes I wish I could get drunk.”

A panel in the wall opened and a grav-disk with a glass of brandy on it floated towards Adam.  He plucked the glass from the tray and chugged it down.  If nothing else, he liked the taste.  “Let me get this straight.  You want me to be partners with Uncle George and report back to you?”

“It doesn’t have to be business partnership, if you don’t want.  Just social association.  I need to know what they’re up to, Adam.  Particularly Irinia.”

“Why me?  Why aren’t you asking Alan to do this?  He’s the Superman, remember?”

“Alan couldn’t do this.  They wouldn’t trust him.”

“And me,” said Adam, slowly.  “They would trust me.”

Klar Ken said nothing.

“I don’t want to do this, Dad,” said Adam.

“All right,” Klar conceded.

“But that doesn’t mean I won’t.”

Klar’s expression softened a bit.  He still didn’t smile.

“How will we meet? Where and when will we meet?”, said Adam.

“Here,” said Klar.  “Not even a Krypt can see or hear through these walls. You can call me when you want to talk.  Nobody will suspect a son who just wants to see his father.”

“I hope not,” said Adam, evenly.

“Adam.”  Klar got up, went to his son, sat beside him on the couch.  “I know it was hard on you, not becoming the Superman.  I saw how hard it was on George, when I was picked.  But, believe me, the responsibilities are great.  Not everyone can handle them, and Alan is still learning.”

“I”m sure,” said Adam.

“The others of us serve as well, in other capacities.  Alan isn’t as cunning as you, I’m afraid.  Your skills make it easier for you to do what has to be done.  That’s why I’m asking you.”

“What do you want me to find out?”

“I’m not sure,” admitted Klar.  “But whatever Irinia Kent has in mind can’t be beneficial to our side of the family.  And, although I hate to admit it, to the rest of the world, perhaps.  Anything you can pass on would be helpful.”

“Can’t you just talk to George?”

“About Irinia?  No.  No, I can’t.”

Adam looked at his father for a long moment.  Then he said, “All right.  I think you’ve got a spy.”

Finally Klar smiled, and extended his hand.  As Adam was on the point of shaking it, Lyra burst into the room, a communicator in hand.  “Adam?  Alan’s on the comm for you.  Says it’s urgent.”

“Urgent?”  Adam hadn’t made any secret of the fact he was at his father’s apartment.  “What is it?”

“He wouldn’t say.”

Alan took the device, put the cubic end of it to his ear, and fastened the speaking device to his throat.  “Adam Kent.”

“Adam, this is Alan.”  His brother’s voice was grim, as hard as he’d ever heard it.  “I’m over at Kath’s.  You have to get over here right now.  No arguments.”

“I’m on my way.”  Adam stripped off the comm setup and handed it back to Lyra.  “Something’s come up.”

“What?”  Klar looked as though he was considering getting back in the dress blues.

“It’s just for me.  See you, Dad.  I’ll be back later for my hoverer.”  He hurried to the lift, and by the time he emerged at the top, he was already vibrating at super-speed to hide himself from the human eye.  From the roof, he rocketed over Metropolis towards the apartment of Katherine de Ka’an.

He used his super-vision to scope out the scene, but he was there almost before his brain registered it.  As Adam came out of the lift in Kath’s apartment, he saw it: his brother Alan was in his Superman outfit, crouching near the couch-bed where Katherine was lying.  She’d been bruised pretty badly, especially around the face.  Adam could tell, from her vital signs, that she’d recently been knocked unconscious.

Slowly, Superman XXI stood and faced his brother.

“She won’t tell me who did this,” said Alan.  “But, by the light of Rao, it better not have been you.”

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