The Great Confrontation

    Part 15

    by DarkMark  and Dannell Lites

Katherine de Ka’an awoke, feeling less pain than she had in hours, in a hospital bed in Rokyn.  

The term “hospital bed” might be misleading to an Earthman, or one of Superman I’s era.  Her bed was supported by a magnetic lattice that held it above the floor, perfectly still, until such time as it needed to be moved.  There was no contact with the walls or floor.  A machine in the ceiling scanned her every vital sign over and over again, instant by instant.  

If her pain rose, a spray attachment would emerge from the wall behind her head and infuse a spray into her bloodstream through her skin without piercing it at all.  If she needed medicine to sleep, she pressed a button on a handset or called for it, and the sleep aid came through the same mechanism.  If she got hungry, or wanted to talk to a nurse or doctor, she verbally requested it.  A sensor picked up on it and transmitted it directly to the nurses’ station.  If she needed attention, and needed it fast, the sensor sent warning immediately to the doctors on duty and treated her as appropriately as it could.

She looked to her left.  Alan Kent was sitting beside her bed, dressed in Kryptonian wear.

“Hello,” she said, softly.

“Hi, Kath,” said Alan.  “How do you feel?”

She sighed.  “Better.  Physically, at least.  I’m no Supergirl.”

“No.  Not yet.  But...Sy will never be, either.”

“Sy.”  Katherine drew back into herself for a moment.  Adam went to her, reached over, took her hand.  

“She won’t hurt you again, Kath.  I’ll see to that.”

She looked up at him.  “Can you guarantee that?”

Alan rubbed her fingers.  “As much as I can guarantee anything.  Sy is going to face penalties for this, and so will her family.”

“What kind of penalties?”

He sighed.  “I don’t know.  I haven’t been back to Earth since I brought you here.  Adam told me he’d see to it.”

“Adam.”  She shook her head.  “You know what he’s doing to this family, don’t you?”

“No,” he said.  “He’s my brother, Kath.  What is he doing?”

“He wants to be head of it,” she said, and her grip was strong on his hand.  “He’s going to tear it apart doing so, if he has to.  He’s playing all the angles, Alan.  I’ve seen enough to know.”

“What have you seen, Kath?”

“I see with my eyes and my heart, Alan.  What I saw with my eyes was Adam coming for me a week ago and trying to bed me.”  She paused.  “I threw him out.  But I’m pretty sure he knows you were there.”

Alan’s face was stony.  

“He said he’d just about kiss off the cape and suit to have me,” she continued.  “Now, he knows he can’t have either.  What I saw with my heart was more important, Alan.  My heart saw that Adam doesn’t like to lose.  He’ll really do anything he can to keep from it, which is why it hurts him so much when he still does.  He’s like an expert gambler, Alan.  He never shows what he’s feeling inside, when he doesn’t want you to.”

“Tell me out straight,” said Alan.

“He’s bedding Sy,” said Katherine.  “She told me so herself.  I think he’s in bed, figuratively, with Irinia.  They’re allying themselves against you and your side of the Family, Alan.  He wants the cape.  I think he’ll deal with the devil to get it.”

After a pause, Alan said, “You’re speaking of my brother.”

Kath raised herself on the bed and gripped his arm.  “Alan, Alan, don’t you see?  It doesn’t matter that he was your brother.  Jax-Ur was somebody’s brother.  Lex Luthor was somebody’s brother.  The Chronal Emperor was somebody’s brother.  It doesn’t mean they were good.  And, Alan...I’m afraid Adam isn’t good.”

Alan-El looked down, then straight into Kath’s eyes, sadly.  “How bad do you think he is?”

“Dangerous.”

Pause.

“What am I supposed to do?” asked Alan.

“You’re supposed to be Superman,” said Kath, as gently as she could.

“Great Rao,” said Alan.  He let go of her hand.

“Wait.  Where are you going?”  Kath almost got out of bed.

At the door, Alan turned.  “To do what you told me to, Kath.  Remember the phrase of our ancestors?  ‘This is a job—for Superman.’”

He left.  She thought about following, but knew she wasn’t up to it yet.

All she could do was offer a few more prayers, and hope they took.

    -S-

The call had come into Klar Ken’s office and he didn’t like it a single bit.

“There’s going to be a family meeting, Klar,” said Theor, one of the Elders.  “You’ll be presiding.”

“I don’t have time for this now,” Klar snapped.  “I’ve got newscasts to put together, idiots to talk to, two to hire, one to fire.  We’ll have to postpone.”

“We don’t have time to postpone, Klar.  This line is secured, check?”

“Secured double,” said Klar.  There was nothing on Earth except Kryptonian super-hearing that could tap into their conversation.  

“Here’s the bit, Klar,” said Theo, tersely.  “You know about the assault on Katherine.”

“I do,” Klar said.  He’d heard about it from Adam a few hours before, and almost yelled his son’s head off.  Then he’d put a call through to Rokyn, to learn that the woman was sleeping, but recuperating, with Alan on board.  Alan had filled in a few details, then broke contact before Kath awoke.  It had taken all his self-control to keep from going to George’s place and having it out with anyone there.  Only Adam’s assurance that he’d take care of things had mollified him, partly.

But he still had an evening newscast to put together.  And lots of updates beyond that.

Klar sighed, took his glasses off, wiped his eyes.  Like it or not, he wasn’t Superman anymore.  He was just the editor-in-chief of the Daily Planet News Service, which provided journalistic fare of all sorts to a large part of Earth and many of its planetary outposts.  That was his job.

After work, he’d have to do a job he liked much less.  He wondered if some exterior force, one of his old foes, was working a mischief upon the Family.  Could it be that simple?  Just a matter of finding out who was responsible, what he was doing, and stopping it?

Klar had a feeling it wouldn’t be like that.

He bent to the task of editing.

    -S-

Bron Wayn wished he had the setup that the first Batman had.  A young assistant to work with, a loyal butler, a police commissioner who collaborated with him, all of that.  It made being the Batman a lot less lonely.

Of course, there was his son Al, and Al’s wife Delva.  But both of them were off-planet now, and he wanted them to stay that way. And alive.

The voice of the Gotham police detective broke his reverie.  “And that was the last time you saw your butler, Aelfric Hoff R3756?”

“Correct,” said Bron.  

“Any clue as to why he left?”

“None whatsoever,” Bron said, hoping the apparatus he had under his suit would mask his reactions from the cops sensor devices.  He was a good liar when he had to be, but not to a machine.

“Gambling debts?  Lovers quarrels?  Questionable activities?”

“No, no, and no, sameish,” said Bron.  “He never gambled, he never fell in love, and I don’t think he would have had time to do the last.”

The shamus gave Bron an eyeing.  “Lots of servants manage to keep things hidden from their employers, Mr. Wayn.”

“I’m sure they do.  Apparently Aelfric did.”

“All right,” said Regman Tel L5746, the detective.  “We’ll put him on the Lookout Lists.  I’m sure you’re aware that, given your stature in the community, Mr. Wayn, the newsers are going to be on top of this in a short time.”

“I’m aware of that,” said Bron.  It would make things difficult. But even more difficult would be breaking the law by not reporting Aelfric’s absence.  The Batman would have to take care of things, but not without that.

“That’s all I can do, Mr. Wayn.”  Regman allowed him to stand up and shake hands, after which Bron left.    Reg stared after him for awhile, with his partner Ken on hand.  After a few seconds, Ken said, “More than meets the sensors to that guy.”

“You sure?”

“Readings were too perfect.  We couldn’t strip him, though, to check for cloakers.  No evidence.”

“Think he killed him?”

“I don’t know, Ken.  Right now, we’re looking for the Joker.  His first thing was to kill a descendant of a friend of the first Batman.”

“So you think...”

“The Waynes were supposed to be friends of the Batmen,” said Reg.  “If the Joker’s involved, it could be part of the pattern.  He hits somebody close to Wayne.”

“We don’t have evidence that Aelfric Hoff is dead.”

“No.  We don’t,” said Reg.  “Just speculation.  I hate speculation, Ken.”

“Keep an eye on Wayn?”

“Yeah,” said Reg, finally.  “To the nthest.”

    -S-

M’Nath, Curso, and Yinsen were having dinner together.  The dinner consisted of a seven-course meal in one of Metropolis’s lowest-level dining establishments.  Since the Mob controlled it, nobody much objected.  Besides, the three crime bosses were big tippers.

After the Coluan, M’Nath, bit into some otherworld delicacy, he remarked, “So far as I know, we haven’t heard a thing.”

“Yeah,” admitted Curso.  “That’s the reason I brought you here.”

“Has Chang?” said Yinsen.  “He was supposed to be the contact for Mr. Mask.  The guy said he’d handle things through Chang.”

“No word from Chang,” said Curso.  “He’d tell us.  Or he’d tell somebody.”

“And they’d tell us,” said M’Nath.  Anybody who withheld information from the Combine did it at the risk of their body.  Or life.

The Metro crime chief pulled a wad of flesh from the meat on his plate with his hands and ate it.  “Boys,” he said, “I’ve been doin’ a bit of thinking.  Care to hear?”

“Thinking is dangerous stuff,” M’Nath said.  “Coluans know.”

“Load us, Curso,” said Yinsen.  “What’s your call?”

“The call is this,” said Curso, still chewing.  “We ain’t got proof.  I admit that.  But suppose this guy in the mask really is the Boy in Blue?”

Yinsen nodded.  “The thought had crossed my mind.”

“If it is, one of two things is possible, at least.  One: he’s setting us up for something, giving us bait and seeing if we take it.  Two: he’s the new kid, and he’s turning bent himself.  Either one’s possible.  But let’s think about number two.”

M’Nath, intrigued, settled his black-suited body.  “Give, my friend.”

“If Mr. Mask is the new Superman, he may think he’s got us by the curlies.  But just think about it.  By gettin’ involved with us, what does that make him?”

“Bent,” said Yinsen.  “If it’s on the straight, and he isn’t playing the other end of the street.”

“Which we have no assurances he isn’t,” murmured M’Nath.

“We’ve taken risks before,” Curso said.  “We take ‘em every day.  Suppose that Big Blue is bent.  His joints with us makes him just as dirty.  Ergo...”

“And if we expose him, he makes us dead,” said Yinsen.

Curso looked at the Asian.  “Maybe.  But remember, if this is Superman...how many guys do you think he’s doused?”

Yinsen lifted an eyebrow.  “No telling.  But with the rep of his family...I’d say next to none.”

“Let’s play this from the other end of the street,” said Curso.  “Ever hear the story of the genie in the bottle?  We do this right, we’ve got our own personal genie.  In a big colored suit.”

“Don’t know if I like this,” said M’Nath.  “It depends on too much we don’t know.  Suppose we find out more before we do anything else, Curso?”

“Just my sentiments, Nath,” said Curso, a glass of wine in his hand.  “Let’s get an audience with Mr. Mask.  Then let’s get something on him.  Once we’ve got that...”  His voice trailed off.

“We’ve got a genie,” said Yinsen.  “Or we’ll get dead.”

“That’s the choice we made when we got into the life,” said Curso.  “Well, gentlemen?”

M’Nath looked at Yinsen.  Yinsen nodded.

“Okay, Wally,” said M’Nath.  “We’re sold.”

    -S-

“Where the doublehell is Alan?”  

Lawrence Lazio, director of We’re All Martians, was in a mood not even a quadruple brandy could mollify.  That was only two brandies over normal, but still a cause for concern.  The white, green, and other colored beings on the set were doing whatever they did in such cases, sucking up to the boss if they had to, ignoring him and hoping the thing would blow over if they could, studying lines, eating, drinking, gambling on the Big Pick Six thru CompLink, reading cheap novels on a BookLine feed, and the like.  

“We don’t know, chief,” said Melvin 0967 Gaines, Lazio’s assistant and chief shock absorber.  “But he’s made it in with time to spare before.  Sometimes.  You know?”

“I know!” roared Lazio, so that everyone could hear it thru the EarSets they wore pressed to their skulls to receive orders.  This time, it made them wonder if their brains would oatmeal out through their ears.  “And I’m sick and tired of it!  What’s he want us to do, a doubledamned repeat before the first quarter’s even over?  Ratings.  Has anyone around here heard about ratings?”

“Day and night, chief,” said Melvin, hurriedly.  “But...”

“Exactly.  But when else?  Am I the only one who worries about these things?  Am I the only one who’s concerned with production around here?  Am I the only one who grows a new ulcer and needs a cloned stomach graft every month?  Am I...”

“I’m here, Larry,” said Alan Kent.

En masse, the cast and crew turned to the doorway.  Alan was coming thru it, grinning, in costume and makeup.  Makeup.

“How’d you get in makeup?” shrieked Lazio.

“I knew I was gonna be late, so I had it done before I came,” said Alan.  “I paid for it.  You can pay Sally the union fee.”

“How’d you get in costume?”

“I dress fast.”

“Alan,” said Lazio.  “I am going to kill you.  I will loop a steel cable about your neck, tie the back end of it to my Hover, drag you through the skies of this fine city, and smash your stinking, inconsiderate body against every building I can find until long after the point where you have ceased to resemble anything human.  I will do that, Alan, and I will pay to have the buildings cleaned afterward.  However.  Before that happens, I will see you get you ass on that stage and give me the best performance you’ve given me all season.  Do you understand, Alan?”

“Absolutely, sir.”

“DO YOU UNDERSTAND?”

“YES, SIR!”

“Melvin, call up the medics,” said Lazio.  “Tell them to clone me two extra stomachs this month, just in case.”

“Right on it, Chief,” said Melvin.

Silence for a second.

“Well?  What are you waiting for?  We’re scanning!  All of you get in place!  Do you know how many credits per minute it costs us to scan?”

“Well, Chief, approximately...”

“Shut UP, Melvin!  Action!”

    -S-

Theo 3567 Siegel had served as an elected judge in his community.  That was one of the reasons he had been appointed a Family Mediator.  Usually his duties were just business disputes or counseling. Every now and then things got out of hand, but when it came to violence, few of the Family had done more than dust one another’s jaw at the most.  There had only been one time recorded when a Family member had to receive the Gold K treatment, followed by exile.  

He hoped it wouldn’t come to that again.  But all his instincts told him that this was going to be one of the nastiest cases he’d heard thus far.

“This is a preliminary hearing,” Theo announced, from his place in the center of the table.  The Mediation Council met in a room none but the Family members had ever seen, and all too few of them, a good distance below the surface of Siegel’s estate.  “Case before us, Sybilla Kent, daughter of George and Irinia Kent, charged with assault on the person of another family member, one Katherine de Ka’an.  Is the accused present?”

“She is, Mediator,” said another El member, formally.  Sy Kent, who had been standing between George and Irinia, stepped forward, but said nothing.

“Is there a Family member appointed to argue her case?”

Nobody had seen anyone standing beside George and Irinia.  Typically, the father would handle his child’s advocacy.  But George was staying where he was.  Theo frowned and was about to speak again.

Then someone moved from the back of the room.  He stepped to Sy Kent’s side, quickly, and nodded to the judge.

“I am, Mediator,” said Adam Kent, quietly.  “I am advocate for Sybilla Kent.”

For a long moment, Theo Siegel held the silence.

“We shall proceed,” he said.

   (next chapter)

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