The Great Confrontation
LoriLe Kent and Fin-El reappeared in the WarPort on Earth within an
hour of their taking leave from Katherine de Ka’an. This was a
replica of the one which had been in Superman’s Fortress. It was
one of only three around the world, and it was hidden under the lowest
reaches of Metropolis. If you didn’t have Kryptonian genes, you
didn’t get into it. The two of them, Slug and UMC-hander, rode
the GravLift up to ground level, got out within a cover building, and
made their way into the canyoned level of the Lows.
“This thing has to be done precisely,” said Lori. “The time isn’t
“You’re right,” said Fin, staring in the same direction. “Adam is
coming home now. What’s your plan?”
“They’re usually separate when he goes to work. I’ll wait till
she leaves the house on her own.”
“I’ll likely be working myself then,” said Fin.
She looked at him. “Shouldn’t take all that long.”
“It’s a dangerous business, Lori,” he said. “Especially in one
person’s hands, not two.”
“It’s a dangerous business no matter how many hands are in it,” she
said, as evenly as he’d ever heard her. “But these two hands are
going to be enough.”
He exhaled. “Will you be coming over tonight?”
“Not a good idea,” she said. “I’ll try for tomorrow night.”
“That sounds like the most boring idea I’ve heard in the last five
years,” he said, affecting a blase attitude.
Her expression softened. “You’re learning.” The
dark-dressed Slug girl embraced him with surprising tenderness.
Fin-El watched his lover walk off into the throng of working-class
Metro humanity in the shadows of the mile-highs. Then he shook
his head and started looking for a cab.
In flight, Alan Kent reflected on how good it was to be the Man of
Before he’d been allowed the cape and costume, the powers...well,
they’d had to be kept on the doublesly. Only in secret, or among
the Family. As if he were Jesus, waiting until Mary asked him to
make wine at the wedding. It was frustrating, in ways a normal
man could never understand. Many in the Family still new that
But now? Well, all he had to do was put on the blue, red, and
yellow and let her rip!
The exhilaration was almost enough to keep him from remembering that he
usually had to don the colors because he had a fight in front of
him. How many Earthers could fly, without the use of a
MagPak? How many of them could bend tritanosteel in their bare
hands, survive the impact of a nuke on their chests, soar through
deepest space without a starcraft?
Only those of the Family, and of them, only he was allowed
nigh-autonomy on his power usage. And now that power was to be
used against the deadliest terrorists in the city, Heaven’s
Seven. He was looking forward to it, and simultaneously hoping
that no one would die before he could get there.
Of course, it might conceivably be a trap.
He used his super-vision and other senses to scout around the area for
what traces of seawater there might be, and found none. Since
Lady Hecate had cursed the seas against them three generations ago,
Kryptonite had no power over the Family, but seawater did. So
far, none of the Supermen had wound up asleep in the briny deep, though
there had been a few close calls.
Then he scanned the area from which he traced the flare to have
come. It was a storage enclosure. Surprisingly enough, none
of Heaven’s Seven appeared to be there. One person was, though,
and Superman’s eyes widened slightly when he saw him. He upped
his speed in response.
A nanosecond later, Superman had smashed through the walls of the place
and had his hand buried in the purple shirtfront of the last man he’d
expected to see in Metropolis.
“Joker,” he said, and probably had something else to say to the
grinning, green-haired, white-skinned figure.
Then the android that he held burst open, its thin layer of lead-lined
skin parting, and a terrific compressed burst of seawater mixed with
something else, something quite deadly, caught Superman in the face, in
the chest, all over his front. The stuff inundated him. He
sagged to his knees almost immediately. Regular seawater was bad
enough, but this...this...
The android’s grinning mouth parted in an automated laugh, after which
it delivered a message.
“So glad to see you could make it, Supes. Nice to know you’re as
gullible as your ancestors, too. This little stand-in of mine is
not only brined to the, ahem, gills, but I mixed in a little of an
ancient family recipe with it. Joker venom. So that when
you die, you’ll be the happiest corpse Krypton has ever produced.
Ta-ta. And just one more thing: when you meet Batsy up there,
give him my worst regards. That is...if you both meet each other
up there, that is.”
The android ended the message with more of the Joker’s simulated
Things were going dark for Superman. He could barely hold onto
the android’s shirt as he crumpled to his knees, and struggled to keep
from falling on his face.
He felt the corners of his mouth being pulled into what an observer
might have interpreted as a smile.
Consciousness came back as a sensation of being dunked repeatedly in
liquid. Something was holding him by the hair and immersing him
in what felt like water. There was pain, to which he’d never
Sheol with this, he told himself. Open your eyes.
He did, and saw himself naked. The liquid about him was, indeed,
water, and he appeared to be in a metal-lined tank of some sort.
He grabbed hold of the wrist of the hand that was dunking him
under. When he did so, the man on the end of that hand dragged
him out to chest level.
The hand belonged to his brother Adam.
He was wearing a brown leisure suit with red trim and did not look in
the least bit pleased. Glancing about, Alan saw his Superman suit
lying on the floor beside Adam.
“Don’t talk yet,” said Adam, tersely. “You need a bit more
So he kept silent, and Adam did, swishing him in the water a few more
times. Then he was dragged out and placed face-down on the tile
surface of the floor, still dripping, coughing a bit...not from the
water, but from the aftereffects of the poison.
“Well?” said Adam. “How do you feel?”
Alan coughed again, shook his head, and turned his upper body to look
at his brother. “I’m alive.”
“I hope that’s one for the positive column,” said Adam.
Tentatively, Alan reached out for his costume. Adam kicked his
hand away. “Don’t,” he said. “I’ve burned off as much of
the poison as I could with my heat-vision. But you still need to
run tests on it before you put it on again. If you do.”
The last three words hung in the air as if they’d been drawn visibly by
a holographic process. “How,” said Alan, and then coughed.
“How did you, know?”
Adam bent down, resting his hands on his knees. “Heaven’s Seven
sent up a flare. They were advertising. I knew you’d go
after them. Keeping an eye on you seemed like a good idea.
Especially when you got a faceful of seawater and Joker-juice.”
“You saved me,” said Alan. “Saved my life.”
“I shouldn’t have had to,” said Adam. “A troop of Seveners were
moving in on you to finish the job. I had to knock ‘em away and
grab you up before they could see me. I’ve been soaking you at
the water reservoir of a hotel two blocks over. Had to cut the
water supply off so that the guests wouldn’t be poisoned by the Joker
venom I washed off your body.”
Adam looked disgusted. “Alan. Think. You’ve got the
suit. For Rao’s sake, think before you barge into a situation
like Brang’s Brigade. The Joker-droid was lined with lead.
Didn’t you X-ray him?”
“Didn’t think of that.”
“Yeah. Looks like you didn’t think of much.” Adam shook his
head. “You’ve done good up to now. But I can’t keep
watching over you.”
“I don’t want you to.”
“Then you’d better start looking out for yourself,” said Adam.
“You’d better use your brains for something other than acting.”
“Hey, now! That’s too low a blow.”
“Is it? If I’d been much later, or if you’d had your mouth open
when the Joker-droid sprayed you, you’d be running in the Happy Lands
now and paying court to Rao. Think. Use your eyes, your
ears, even your nose before you jump in. Because you’re probably
going to be jumping in alone.”
Alan dragged himself up to a sitting position. “At least we know
now that the Joker, he’s working with the Seven. That’s
Adam nodded. “That’s something. Maybe Batman can help out
on this. You feel well enough for speed?”
“Maybe.” Alan whished one arm through the air until he moved it
too quickly to be seen. “Yeah, I suppose I am.”
Adam produced a rolled-up plastic bag from the back of his
trousers. “I’ll put the costume in this. Carry it with
you. Test it at the Fortress and don’t put it on till its
safe. And if you fly at super-speed...”
“Nobody will see I’m naked,” finished Alan.
“Exactly,” said Adam. “Now, fly. I’ve got to replace this
reservoir before they get too thirsty around here, or too dirty.”
Carefully, Alan picked up the costume, now dry from Adam’s heat-vision
treatment, and placed it in the plastic bag. He knotted the
opening shut. “Adam?”
His brother looked at him.
“Do you love me? As a brother, that is. Do you love me?”
“Just when I thought the night couldn’t get any dumber,” said
Adam. “You’re my brother, aren’t you? End of message.
“Thanks, Adam. Thanks for everything. Hope you won’t tell
“I won’t. Get out of here, Superman.”
Alan paused, bag in hand, and looked at his brother. He seemed,
to Adam, to be trying to drill a hole in his brother with his eyes, but
not using heat-vision. Then it passed. Alan accelerated to
invisibility-producing speed, in the direction of the doorway; and was
Adam watched for a second, then got to work.
The meeting chamber of the Guardians of the Universe had stood for
ages, in one form or another. During the Great Crisis it had been
devastated, but rebuilt. The Guardians themselves, the little
blue men who passed on power rings and assignments to Green Lanterns,
were now accompanied by the tall pink women of the Zamarons, whom they
had taken to wife. Both sat at the great circular dais, evenly
spaced, and oversaw the business of keeping the galaxy in order as best
Right now, they were facing a lone Green Lantern. His name was
Tal Thorn, and he hailed from Rann in Alpha Centauri. His hair
was blonde, he was well-built, and he wore the mask, costume, and ring
of the Corps with pride.
The first speaker of the Guardians addressed him. “Green Lantern
of Rann, your next mission will involve supervision of Earth.”
The Lantern said nothing. He had taken care of problems on other
worlds in his space-sector before, since all of 2814 was his
beat. Earth was within his balliwick, just as Rann had been for
Terran Green Lanterns.
The Zamaron beside the Guardian spoke next. “Normally, we would
leave the policing of Earth to its resident heroes. But there has
been a transition in the line of Supermen. A new Superman has
taken the role, and we fear there may be problems.”
Another Guardian continued. “It is not our policy to interfere
without reason. But if you could observe, perhaps covertly, how
the new Superman fills his office, and if he needs assistance, we would
be satisfied as to the level of attention we should give to the planet.”
“I understand, Guardian,” said the Lantern. “Should my observance
be from afar, or on-planet?”
“Your decision,” said a Zamaron. “However, we do expect a report
within 30 days. Have you other questions?”
“No,” the Lantern said.
“Farewell, Green Lantern of Rann,” said another Guardian. “The
blessings of the Universe go with you on your assignment.”
Tal Thorn turned and left the hall of the Guardians without another
word. On the way out he stopped at the great Power Battery, the
one which stood over three times as tall as a man and virtually
crackled green energy, and recharged his ring. It didn’t need it
to get him home. But he enjoyed the ceremony of the thing.
He recited his oath as he levitated above the floor, ring pressed to
the great lens of the Battery. Then he dematerialized through the
ceiling, surrounded himself with a protective green bubble, and flew
It had been some time since a Green Lantern had worked with a
Superman. A few generations ago it had been common enough, but
that was when Earth boasted its own Lantern. Hal Jordan of legend
had been the first, and had successors.
Of course, the most famous Earthman on Rann was the storied Adam
Strange, who had rode Sardath’s Zeta-Beam to their world and, 500 years
ago, saved the planet from menace after menace. Now he would make
the journey in reverse. A few things would have to be tied up for
his absence, but that would be simple enough.
Tal Thorn had a feeling the Guardians weren’t telling him all they knew
about the new Superman.
Then again, finding things out would make the journey that much more
interesting. Especially when he showed that self-powered
Kryptonian what a job a trained, power ring-equipped agent of the
Guardians could do.
He smiled. The new Superman was going to have some competition.
The men of Heaven’s Seven were not pleased, and it showed.
The council was sitting in hidden session, and the Joker was
present. He hid his expression behind a pair of folded,
purple-gloved hands. It was impossible to tell if he was smiling.
“The plan failed,” said the Revelator.
“Indeed,” said the Joker.
“Your plan failed,” the Revelator said.
“No need to throw blame around,” said the Joker. “I would much
rather throw acid around, but it’s so hard to come by and so expensive
One of the council rose and pointed at him. “He vanished from the
midst of our squad. By what means, we don’t know. Our men
were knocked out, and we barely managed to recover them. We have
to assume that the Superman still lives.”
“Reasonable assumption,” said the Joker. “Not that I’m a
reasonable man. And it stands to reason that perhaps the Blue
Boy’s father came by and saved him.”
“In which case, we need to prepare for another Superman,” said the
Revelator. “Which we should have before.”
“Tell you what,” said the Joker, leaning over the table. “There’s
a better way of trapping Supermen. All you have to have is the
right animal for bait. Like, for instance, a bat.”
Another of the Seven rose and started to say something. The
Revelator silenced him with a hand motion. To the Joker, he said,
“You have an idea for another trap? A better one?”
“Tell us more, Joker. But if we have another failure, the
alliance is done.”
“Oh, that wouldn’t do. Not while we’re having such fun. All
right, hoodies, listen in on this one. It’s guaranteed to turn
your hair green.”
Sy Kent didn’t like being left alone. After all, Adam’s apartment
wasn’t like her own house, and even though she loved him, she hadn’t
gotten used to the new arrangement. They’d been fooling around
when Adam looked up, like he was using super-vision (which he probably
was), and then said he had to go. He dressed and flew off within
a second, and hadn’t been back yet.
She thought it was inconsiderate, and considered trashing his food unit
just to let him know how she felt. Then again, Daddy would
probably make her pay for it. So maybe she just wouldn’t give him
what he wanted for awhile.
Or maybe she would. She wanted it, too. She could figure
out something else.
Then, as she turned, someone pressed her way through the window at such
a rate that it turned into molten Plasteel. The invader turned,
exhaled in the window’s direction, and froze it into a semblance of
Sy Kent blinked. Between her blinks, the form before her resolved
into a familiar one. “LoriLe,” she said, almost involuntarily.
Impassively, the Slug girl turned to her. “The same,” she
said. “I have a few questions for you, Sy. I really could
care less if you answered them.”
In Slug talk, that meant Lori was very interested, indeed. “I
don’t have to answer anything,” Sy said, folding her arms. “This
is Adam’s place. You’re trespassing, and I have the authority to
tell you to get out.”
“So tell me,” said Lori, folding her own arms.
Lori simply stood there.
“What do you want?” Sy wasn’t sure she wanted to know the answer.
“Only to talk to you,” said Lori. “Especially about Katherine de
Sy’s eyes narrowed. She turned away, heading for the
bedroom. In a trice, Lori was in front of her. “Has your
super-hearing faded? I am slightly interested in talking to you.”
Sy threw a punch. Lori blocked it. Even as she did so, Sy
lifted a foot and kicked Lori hard in the gut. It hurt.
But she smiled.
“I’m glad you did that,” said Lori. “It gives me the chance to
give an old friend’s payback.”