By Dannell Lites
Her name was Katherine de Ka'an HT312.
A good name, she thought. Staunch and simple as she was herself. Of course, it paled beside the name of "Supergirl". That was a fact she disliked a great deal. El Family tradition held that, since the time of the Prime Superman, the Founder, there could be only one public hero to represent the Family; the Superman. Accompanied, naturally, by his chosen successor, the designated Superboy.
Family tradition said *nothing* about Supergirl. Which did, she decided, make for a rather large, charming loophole. As long as she didn't reveal herself to the public, no one in the Family objected. At least so far. She exploited this ruthlessly. And why shouldn't she, she asked herself time and time again?
Even before her mother passed the diaries of Kara Zor-El, the Prime Supergirl, to her to read and contemplate when she was of age, she had felt a distinct kinship with her. They were both Krypts, after all. In an unbroken line for over five hundred years, she was descended from The Last Daughter of Krypton. And she found no trouble at all in understanding "Linda Lee's" youthful frustration. Delegated to her older cousin Kal-El's shadow and sworn to silence about her very existence, the Maid of Might's desire for her own fame and destiny pricked Katherine sharply as most merely physical things could not.
But like herself, "Linda" had endured and been rewarded. True, Katherine was not allowed to throw off the shackles of Family tradition and join The Superman in the spotlight of public fame. But she had Klarior's respect. She knew that and found warmth and heart in the fact. The many branched House of El made him her "Uncle" in name only, but he was Moliom of his House and none denied that. He had earned it many times over.
And, reading Kara's diaries, she found a kindred spirit and it was a fine, reassuring thing to know that she was not alone in her search for purpose and love. Kara, too, had sought and needed these things. And found them.
Or, at least Katherine *thought* she had.
The diaries were frustratingly incomplete. Gaps, missing pages ... Of the love there was little doubt. With First-Husband Dev-Em there could be no mistake about that at all. Love and passion for him poured from the pages of Kara's diary like a river.
Dev ... Dev ... Dev ... Kara's diaries were full of his smiles, the sound of his voice calling her name. The feel of his body and the labyrinth of his mind and heart. No, all this was plain for any and all to read. What was less clear was what happened to him.
Something had sent a grieving Kara Zor-El fleeing back to Rokyn, wounded in spirit and bleeding from the only place she was truly vulnerable: her heart. Something terrible had happened. And yet the diaries did not name the cause. Whether this was because there were parts of it missing ... or because Kara Zor-El could not bring herself to speak of it was difficult to know. The only thing that was sure was that, beyond a certain point, the name of Dev-Em was never spoken. The child was not named -Em. Kara named her daughter Allura Zor-El, in honor of her mother.
There was no mention in the diaries of whether Kara had ever told her daughter of her father. Katherine had spent many a teenaged fantasy dreaming of "Devian" and longing for the love that had touched Kara Zor-El so sharply. But it was difficult. She searched Rokyn, and even Earth, but try as she might she had never been able to find any record of their marriage. Their names were nowhere written in any Book Of The Sun. There were no holos or even flatpics of them standing upon a Sun Altar before a priest of Rao.
Katherine often wondered why.
It was heartbreaking to never know the answer.
Eventually Katherine's labors brought her a flatpic of Dev-Em. Unruly ginger-colored hair that spilled across his forehead framing deep brown eyes that danced with mischief and a striking smile that made her shake her rueful head.
"I'll bet you were a devil, you were," she thought.
But eventually there was once more love for Kara, she read. This time with a non-Kyrpt. Almost as if she had drank her fill of heroic, extraordinary men, been burned by the fire and lightning that comes with youthful passion, and longed for something more solid and enduring.
Heroic men were an El Family tradition, though.
Katherine considered Adam and Alan Kent. Sooner or later she was likely to end up with one or the other of them. It was almost inevitable. But ... which one? She refused to let the matter be decided by something as mundane as Family politics. Whichever of them she gave herself to, it would *not* be simply because he was the chosen one. The Superman. Frab on that. She was no Helen of Troy; no prize for the strongest. She was, by Sheol, *Supergirl* and she fully intended to remain so.
Still, it was a difficult choice, wasn't it?
Adam and Alan. So alike in some ways. So very different in others. And soon one of them would carry a great burden. The "S" shield of The Superman. And the other ...well, he might carry an even greater burden, she realized.
Adam was wonderful. His bed was just a fun place to be, and that was all there was to that. Full of smiles and great charm, Adam Kent brought dizzying memories of the wake of his presence. Nights of jaunting from one lowdown to another, all around the Earth. Chasing the fleeing sunrise and dancing the night to rest
He loved to see her smile. It pleased him to spark wonderment and passion in her eyes with each new thing. She still remembered the tart, crisp taste of her first apple. A real one, not a soysub. The way her blue eyes widened at the unfamiliar, mouth-puckering taste had delighted Adam.
"W-What *is* this?" she had demanded. "It's wonderful!"
Adam's smile had rivaled the sunrise. "It's called an 'apple', Kathaish" he said. "I thought you might like it." She recalled that she had leaned over the table and kissed him. They shared the taste of the apple. His bright blue eyes had darkened. They had fled the noise and glitter of the lowdown and it wasn't until much later that they had fallen asleep, nestled together like spoons.
And there were the in-between times. The times when they huddled together and simply talked of many things. "Of cabbages and Kings," Adam had quipped, once, "and whether pigs have wings!" Yes, Lewis Carroll's words had still survived. She loved hearing them from his lips. It was so easy to laugh when Adam was around.
Alan was different.
In his company there were no lowdowns or expensive foods. No hidden retreats in exotic places to steal her breath away. No, none of those. But Alan's company brought quieter, deeper joys. Other than his three month stint as "Tab Hunter, Time Master" on the popular holovid of the same name, she had only seen him ply his chosen profession once. But she was never likely to forget it.
It was an OffBroad costume drama. A period piece from the 20th, with the unlikely, mysterious name of "Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolfe?" It was her first experience with live theatre. The complimentary pass Alan gave her led to a seat high up in what was apparently still called "the balcony" for some unfathomable reason. Katherine was mildly disappointed, afraid that she might not be able to see well enough to enjoy the performance.
But it didn't matter in the least.
From the moment Alan shambled onto the stage as the rumpled, scholarly failure "George", Katherine de Ka'an was mesmerized. She watched Alan in horrid fascination as he and "Martha" played their hurtful, punishing games, and understood that love and pain were at the heart of them. She heard him speak of "Martha's" infidelity with patience and wisdom and blinked back tears.
When their fictitious "son" was dead, slain by "George's" compassionate hand to save "Martha" from herself, Katherine had to look away lest she be blinded.
She watched "George" and "Martha" cling together for comfort in their mutual grief at the play's end. "Martha" leaned on "George's" surprising strength, the strength that had always been there, and he held her tightly against the fear.
"Who's afraid of Virginia Woolfe, Martha," Alan whispered in "George's" soft, yielding voice, kissing "Marth's" disheveled hair. "Who's afraid of Virginia Woolfe?"
"I am, George," "Martha" wept, "*I* am ... "
When the curtain rang down, saving them all from the sight and the fear of such loveliness, the audience sat stunned for many moments. And then they simply exploded with applause, bringing their hands together in a great, thunderous noise that shook the ancient building around them.
"Ah God, Alan," Katherine thought with despair. "How can you live with something that beautiful trapped inside you and not be able to set it free? Ah God ... "
And it was that thought, not the pain of "George" and "Martha's" triumph that finally made her weep.
Alan had been quiet the rest of the evening. So very, very quiet. Almost as if he'd drained himself on the stage and had nothing left to give. Katherine accepted that. Later, much later, she wished fervently that he had said something. Anything. If he had, she might ...
She might have taken him for a lover.
She wasn't really quite sure why she had never done that. Oh, she "told* herself that it was because it would only cause trouble. That it was tactless and tasteless to bed two brothers.
"Liar!", she told herself.
Katherine had not taken Alan to her bed, though not for any such ancient (if high minded) reason as that. She suspected it was because she knew that, if she did, it would not be because sleeping with him was fun, or due to a simple physical passion, or even for his bright, bright smile.
No, not for any of *those* reasons.
Not, she remonstrated herself quickly (perhaps too quickly?) that such was all there was to her feelings for his brother Adam. Not at all. Why, Adam had been her friend, perhaps her best friend, long before he became her lover.
Then why? she asked herself. Why haven't you gone to bed with Alan?
Her inner voice--perhaps, she thought with grim wryness, her superego--had to go without an answer.
Gently, she rode the MagPak down to the streets of Metropolis and, with a thought, switched it off. She certainly had no need of it. Flying was one of her greatest joys. It set her teeth on edge to almost always be forced to fly at superspeed to avoid being seen and not enjoy it fully. But it was a small thing and not worth upsetting The Family over.
"Choose your battles, carefully, Katherine," she advised herself. There was no point in making unnecessary trouble. Rao knew there was enough of that looming on the horizon. Striding down the street in search of a vidbooth, she sniffed the crisp, clean air of the giant City whose streets she trod. She imagined that she could smell it in the air. There was trouble brewing in the far flung El Family. Just beneath the calm and peaceful veneer of Family unity, discontent seethed and roiled like lava waiting to erupt. She paused nervously and looked about.
Can't Uncle Klar see it? Feel it?, she wondered. He must, she decided. The Family was gathering and everyone knew what question would be foremost on everyone's lips: Who? Adam or Alan? This was to be expected. But the most uneasy thing was the surprising, growing number of Family members who insisted there was no need for a choice. Let them both be Superman. Rao knows there's enough work for them both. And more!
Heresy! cried others. Family tradition demands a choice! Only one may be The Superman. Only one!
Not so, insisted the reformers. Times change. Tradition must give way to modern thinking.
Heresy!, the traditionalists repeated.
Katherine sighed. There are so many of us now, she thought. In the beginning it was a simple thing. The Family was smaller. Things were clearer. Often there *was* only one to fill the role of The Superman. The direct line of descent from the Prime Superman , Kal-El I, was intermingled time and time again with human and Amazonian genes, of necessity. The powers did not always breed true. A few, a very few, had them in full measure. Many showed no trace of them at all. Her "cousin" JorDanv, for example.
Or her brother Zor. Poor crippled, embittered Zor. Uncle Nim, the Family physiotech, had explained the tragedy quite simply. "He's inherited the superstrength of his forbears," he told Zor's grieving parents, "but not the invulnerability to use it safely." The first time Zor had tried left him paralyzed from the neck down as his bones shattered and his muscles tore.
But there were so many these days who had one or two useful powers, who had much to contribute, they claimed. Why should they be left out, relegated to oppressive secrecy and obscurity? They were Els too! And as proud of their heritage as The Superman. Unfair!, they cried. It was, they claimed, bordering on criminality to deny the use of their powers to them and the people they might help.
And lead by George Kent, Klar's own elder brother, their voices were growing louder.
Thrusting the painful memories aside, Katherine stepped up to a public vidbooth, frowning. She inserted her cred wafer into the vid and quickly keyed a number sequence. She was soon rewarded with the presence of a familiar face.
"Katherine," smiled Lyra Kent.
"I came in early for the Family gathering, Lyrior," Katherine smiled back. "Saw the newsvid about Heaven's Seven on the way in. Tell Klarior for me that he did a splendid job."
Lyra Kent lost her blossoming smile. She pushed an errant strand of hair off her forehead. Katherine thought she looked tired. "He'll be happy to hear that, Kathian. But I'm afraid that wasn't him." Surprise widened the lovely young woman's striking blue eyes.
"Oh!" she smiled in sudden understanding a moment later. "Adam or Alan?"
The older woman tried to smile wanly without much success. "We're not sure," she admitted. "Adam doesn't answer his com. And Alan ... " Her face tightened in worry. Katherine found her own brows knitting in sympathetic concern as she listened. Lyra continued: "Alan is visiting one of his actor friends this evening. Klar says they're fine and I'm not to worry." There came a brief flash of softness and a sardonic half smile to grace her dark features. "He's the only one allowed to do that," she said lightly. "You know how he is." But the merriment was very forced, Katherine admitted to herself. Klar or no Klar, husband or no husband, Lyra Kent longed for news of her sons.
And dreaded it at the same time.
Katherine was restless all the way to the Kent home; flying erratically and barely avoiding another magpaccer speeding home from his days labors. Damn! she fumed. Why can't I just fly on my own! Curse this silly, clumsy ... !
She stopped herself right there. It was useless to rail against the way of things, after all.
She found no answer to that question that she was willing to share with anyone.
Landing with a rather loud, clumsy THUNK on the balcony of the Kent home, Katherine scowled. She folded her MagPac into a pocket of her jumper and approached the Privacy Shield. Oh frab! Now what was the password again? It lurked in her memory like a shadow, just beyond her recall. Now who had reset it the last time? Uncle Klar or Aunt Lyra? Ah! Aunt Lyra. She remembered her literary Aunt's proclivity for strange and ancient poetry, grinning. "Got you now, Lyrior!" she crowed to herself in triumph.
"And, has thou slain the Jabberwock?" she quoted in as natural a voice as possible. "Come to my arms, my beamish boy! O frabjous day! Callooh! Callay!"
Obediently, the Shield flickered and died.
She did not chortle in her joy, though.
Stepping into the Common Room, Katherine spied no one. An ominous sign, she thought, but stilled her unease quickly. There was enough to fret over without inventing things, that was certain. She thought to peer about with her x-ray vision, but then reconsidered. More than once, as a young girl learning to use her burgeoning powers, she had found the results of such uninvited intrusion to be--well--highly embarrassing. One of the things that she and her invalid brother Zor could still yet smile and joke about was her inadvertent pubescent sight of his first urgent, fumbling kiss with an equally awkward partner. He kept bumping Marisa's nose and she kept giggling.
"Lyrior?" Katherine called.
As usual, the sight of the wife of The Superman gave her pause. Tall and slim, Lyra Kent smiled graciously when she entered the room, and embraced Katherine warmly.
It still amazed Katherine that Lyra's burden as Matriarch of the House of El and wife to this generation's Superman did not, at first glance, seem apparent. Her slender shoulders bore the weight of it well. The women of the Family were many and varied. From her own dear, demure mother to her reckless cousin LoriLe, a dabbler in the gangs that roamed the Highups, they all looked to her, to Lyra Kent, for inspiration and help in times of trouble.
Katherine thought of Adam and Alan. If she were to marry either of them ... then *she* would likely find herself in Lyrior's position. A very daunting thought, indeed. And how would she reconcile the existence of Supergirl with marriage and Family expectations? Lyra Kent had no powers. She had forged her own legend in the literary world. With her words and talent the wife of Klar Kent had captured the minds of the masses as surely as her husband captured the criminals that preyed on society, even in this 25th century. A former journalist, now a renowned poet, acclaimed for the humanity of her poetic voice, she spoke quietly, succinctly, but powerfully. Katherine often found herself wondering if she were the source of Alan's thespian genius.
Of course, Klarior, too, played his hour upon his own stage. Before the whole world, in fact. It were best not to discount him, after all.
Katherine returned the embrace of the extraordinary woman in her arms.
And if she did not marry Adam or Alan? What then? She loved them both, or thought she did. Could she live without Al -. She blinked and cold fear washed through her. If not Adam or Al - Alan ... then who? *Was* she willing to sacrifice Supergirlhood on the Sun Altar of love? The answer frightened her. It frightened her more deeply than any foe she had faced.
Could there be anyone else for her? What would it be like for an ordinary man to be wedded to Supergirl? Not an easy thing to face, she knew. It would take a most extraordinary man to dare such a thing. Where would she find him? *Would* she find him? Dare she risk being alone?
So many, many questions.
And so damned few answers.
Not for the first time, Katherine thought she understood Kara Zor-El . No wonder the Prime Supergirl had waited so late in her life to take a lover and bear children. It frabbing sure wasn't easy, was it?
"Why so silent?" asked Lyra, with a smile. "You're pensive today. Not contemplating being a poet, are you?"
Katherine caught herself. "Uh, don't worry, Lyraior. No competition here. It's just...well, you know. What we're all thinking aobut."
The wife of Superman nodded. "I know. I thought the Reunions were fun when I first got married. Now, I almost think I'd rather go to a war." She forced a wry smile. "Sometimes they're not too different, are they?"
Katherine thought of answering that, but decided not to, and kept her peace.
Lyra herded her into the warmth and comfort of her sitting room. As they stepped within the sanctum, the room sprang to life around them. The lights flared to a soft radiance and in the corner, near to the huge windowShield looking out upon the cityscape Lyra's computer hummed to life. There on the screen were the still visible beginning, the first vague stirrings of a new poem, lighting the blankness like a beacon.
"With ill grace we pay a single fee
For moments that leave us key
I've got rusty strings and fingers
And my nails are short where I've bit them down
Songs that never, always linger.
Can you still hear me there upon the ground?
Will you, then, ignore my plea
Leaving me with only me?"
It was the soft sound of feet landing on the balcony much as she herself had done earlier that distracted her. Surely the sound of it was much too faint for merely human ears. Why then did Lyra Kent turn in the direction of the Common Room as if something whispered of her husband's return?
And why was she frowning?
Wordlessly, Katherine watched as Lyra glided from her sitting room. The younger woman followed close behind her. At their backs, the lights of the sitting room died and the computer fell silent. Like a faithful hound, the house lights followed them into the Common Room.
Klar Kent hung suspended, floating about a foot above the grass carpet of the Common Room, staring out of the transparent Shield with the gold, purple and scarlet glory of the setting sun framing him. Katherine could not see his face and thought that might be for the best. Klar composed himself before he turned and drifted, like a feather caught in a punishing winter wind, to the floor of his home.
"Lyra," he said, in muted greeting. "Katherine."
"Hello, Klarior," said Katherine. Lyra was already moving towards him.
Slowly Klar and his wife of more than thirty years embraced, and Katherine discreetly withdrew.
But no matter her discretion, cries and whispers reached her ears in the far recesses of the Kent Home where she hid.
"... he won't listen ..."
"Klar! He's your brother! What will you do?"
"... intends to force the issue ... divide the Family ..."
"And what of Adam? And Alan?"
"... no matter which of them I choose ... they, like the rest of us, are caught -- ensnared in George's bitterness and anger. ... never forgiven me ... feels *he* should have been The Superman, not me. Perhaps he's right ..."
"I won't hear you say that, Klar Kent, I won't! You *are* The Superman! And whatever happens tomorrow you'll do what's best for all. You'll do *your* best. No one can ask more than that."
"... whatever happens ... love you ..."
Katherine covered her ears and told herself that she was not afraid. That the icy hand gripping her was only a small failure in the Weather Control systems of the Kent Home.
But she knew that she lied.
From the Diary of Bronnagwalin of The Bat
Be Bronnagwalin Bat-flain. Here, in this silence, this hiddenness, can be who I *am*. Not as others call me. Bron Wayn E7705. Meaningless sounds. Not me. Not. Not. Not. Am not Bron. Will say again. Am Bronnagwalin. Shadow Walker. Avenger. Bat-flain. But, among you, among gadjos, must use your words. Must say "you" and "me", "my" and "mine". Foolish. Will not. This be my place. Others not welcome here.
Be HighRom, not gadjo. Rom are wanderers. Go where please and bespeak no man's permission or help. Bron Wayn is but hiding place. Crouch there and wait. Crouch still as death. *Will* find him. Will. Will. Will. Father-killer. Bat-murderer. *Will* kill him.
Taken already from him his child-wealth. Joker-son of his body lies dead. But not by my hand. Struck by lightning he was while we fought. Joined Klar-brother to fight Joker-spawn and Muto, then when success was ours discovered too late that Joker-son was not father-slayer. That be his father. Joker before him. He it was who planted the bomb that killed. A public ceremony, all there saw death come on shrieking wings for my flain-kin. Father. Mother. Sibs. All dead. But not Joker-demon. The dead child-wealth could not speak to name his father's place. Death robbed me of my right to avenge my flain.
But searched for him. Did find him. Joker-father is no longer hidden. Be he uncovered, now and *mine*. Such a great fool, I. Shaming me to be so foolish. So blind. Hide in plain sight. All HighRom know this simple thing. Was first thing Alfric taught this student heart-son.
Oh, yes. *All* HighRom know it. Be that not so, Alfric?
Romspeak is rich tongue. Flows. Sings. Not like gadjo-gab. Romany words have depth, hidden meanings. Flavor and spice. Yours is a poor speech, weak and frail, needing many words to say a thing. Not so with Romspeak which, like Rom ourselves, comes from the beginning of the world. Can say things not found else. Like yarlicsoma. If tell means "the good, green time before", would understand word? Nay. Not so. Or ehrlichi. Means love to last forever, it does.
Say word slowly. Ehr-li-chi. Roll it around, caress it with your tongue, taste its flavor. Have grasped it now, think you? Be it not so. That love and hate come from the same heart and pain, we HighRom know this thing well. Word spat, bitten off like a thread or a life brought to its end means also hatred to last as long. Ehrlichi. Yarlicsoma. Klar-brother's search was always for yarlicsoma. Mine for ehrlichi.
Did find them both.
First Batman's child-wealth was woman child. Had no child-wealth man-son of his body. So then must find different immortality. Did it so: took to him Rom-son of tender years with murdered sire and dame. Did teach him, care for him, protect him all his life. The Gray Son, the RobinSinger, be not born of First Batman's flesh but forged in his mind and spirit. There were many years of glad adventures and sharing of the heart between them. Onesoul were they. Ehrlichi. BatPuter has records of all these things. The Gray Son's joining with Selina Cat-Daughter, cat-flain, child-wealth of First Batman and Cat Avatrix. All there. My blood comes directly to me from them, unsullied.
The Great Exodus of 22nd century flung the Rom amidst the stars. Did become HighRom, traders and wanderers. ShipHomes range far, see much. Some, like we Bat-flain, keep camps in home system of Sol. The asteroid named Baltorr be official home to Bat-flain of my line. Not so. Makes pretty marks in gadjo records to lull authority. False, false, false. Home be where I set my foot. Home be flain-kin and oath-brothers like Klar Kent. Home is heart-space, blood and steel, not wood or stone.
Taught me that, too, did you not Alfraic? Be it so. Learned from you, I did. Learned much from you and well. Trust no one not of my blood. No one. Gadjo's are cowards of thin blood. Cage you they will. Look. Think. *See* Remember all these things, I do, Alfraic. Remember ... other things, too ...
Remember long nights not spent alone because you were there. Remember hot, comfort food from your table, nourishing my body and spirit. Remember healing from your hands when sick and wounded. Sound of your voice singing back the darkness, the demons that came for me there. Remember your lessons that gave me back myself; all that I am. Told me that I was HighRom. That I was Bat-flain. Remember.
Why, Alfric? Why? Why did nurture your own death with my spirit? Did amuse you? Was great hiding place, not so? Yes, so. Could always watch me; know when I came close to you. Covered trail like expert tracker you are. Clever, clever Alfric. Yes, all this was well done, worthy of you, spirit-father.
But why the rest of it? Why the laughter and the smiles? The heart-space and onesoul betwixt us? Why? Did think it would stop me? Thought you so? Cruel. Cruel. Cruel. Took my first steps in your hands. Am First Husband to woman you choose for me. My child-wealth is your name-son ...
HighGods above ... why, why, why? Did wish to see me suffer more? I - I -
Be it so, then. Come spirit-father ... embrace for the last time the wealth made from your mind and heart.
Will say it once before I kill you.