The Great Confrontation

    Part 18

    by DarkMark

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 right now.”

“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.  “Till tomorrow.”

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.

    -S-

In flight, Alan Kent reflected on how good it was to be the Man of Steel.  

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 frustration.

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 laughter.

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.

    -S-

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 gotten accustomed.  

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 dunking.”

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 something.”

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.  Fly, Alan.”

“Thanks, Adam.  Thanks for everything.  Hope you won’t tell Dad.”

“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 gone.

Adam watched for a second, then got to work.

    -S-

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 they could.

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 towards home.

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.

    -S-

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 these days.”

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?”

“Yes, indeedy.”

“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.”

    -S-

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 normality.  

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.

“Get out!”

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 Ka’an.”

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.”

  (next chapter)

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