Supergirl (Kara of Rokyn)
Pain and Jasmine, Part 2

by DarkMark


             For a week after she lost the match, nobody much saw Kara Zor-El.

             She went into seclusion in her New Kandor home, put off assignments,
             spoke briefly on the comlink when she had to, gave no interviews, and, for
             all anyone knew, had spun herself in a cocoon to wait for spring.

             When her mother called, it was, "Mom, I'm fine, I don't want to talk about
             it, we'll talk about it later, goodbye."

             When her father called, it was, "Dad, I'm sorry I spoke to Mom like that.
             But I don't want to talk about it right now. Can you tell her I'm sorry? I'll
             call back later. Bye."

             When Nar-Es called, she said, "Nar, I just can't get back into it. I'll call
             you later. Bye."

             When Hira called, she told her, "Look, Hira, I appreciate you calling, but
             I'm just not up for a talk. Thanks, I'll call you back. Bye."

             And Kara sat in her robe, or lay in her bed, and watched over and over
             again the vid of her matches with Lady Jasmine.

             "She beat me," she told herself. "She beat me twice. She made me give up
             twice. How can I face her? She's the better woman."

             And more than once, Kara sought out the place where she had secreted
             her Supergirl costume, and thought about going back to Earth.

             They had shown up on her doorstep and she did not let them in.

             She had combed the holovid channels looking for word of what she had
             been in, saw Jasmine doing arrogant interviews, heard herself being
             demeaned in public by her foe--her conqueror--though the interviewers
             tried to defend Kara.

             She recorded those interviews and watched them again and again, as well.

             Kara sat in her house in a purple robe and nightdress, ate when she was
             hungry, went to the bathroom when she had to, and watched the vids.

             That was how she spent a week.

                                        - S -

             Zor-El and Allura sat in their own dining room, with the lights turned a little
             low. It was Zor's favorite room of the house. His waistline was starting to
             show it. He'd always had a CompUnit built into the wall right beside his
             favorite chair, so that he could do his paperwork (or what amounted to it)
             while having a snack.

             Right now, neither of them felt much like eating.

             Allura, in a beige dress with the El's star-crest on the right breast, said,
             "You know whose fault this is, Zor."

             He looked up, tiredly. "I'm not in the mood for this, dear."

             "It's our fault for letting her do this." Allura had her arms crossed and was
             rubbing her own forearms, as if she were cold. "We should never have let
             her turn into a, a wrestler of all things and parade around in that skimpy
             outfit and get hurt."

             Zor took a deep breath. "So what were we going to do about it? You
             know how much I talked to her, I pleaded with her, and she just smiled so
             sweet and showed me that stubborn Ze side--"

             "My family is no more stubborn than you Els are pigheaded stuffed shirts!"

             "All right, all right. She showed me her pigheaded El side, then. Whatever.
             She just smiled at me and said, 'It's a lot less dangerous than fighting super-
             villains, Daddy', and went back to it. I couldn't cut off her allowance, could
             I? She makes her own money."

             "In that near-nothing costume."

             "What were you wearing when I first saw you, dear?"

             Allura blushed and smiled. "That was different."

             "You were an artist's model and that was one of my required courses. One
             of my favorite non-science courses. You know why," said Zor, grinning.

             She picked up a banyo-fruit from the bowl on the table and drew back for
             a pitch, smiling. "You want this all over your tunic, smart guy? You were
             such a lousy artist."

             "I drew you well, didn't I?"

             "So you had a good subject."

             "I still do. You come over here."

             Allura, shaking her head, got up, went around the table, and sat on
             Zor-El's lap. "You're gonna make me take off my housedress. Hear me,
             Mother Moon, this idiot wants me to take off my housedress and he thinks
             I'm 19 again. Worse, he thinks he's 19 again."

             "Well, part of me is, anyway," said Zor, snuggling against her shoulder.

             "Gods," she said. "Here." She shoved the banyo- fruit in his mouth and
             made him bite part of the pulp. Then she took it from him and bit the other
             side. They chewed for a few seconds. Then she kissed him, open-
             mouthed, and both tasted the fruit on their tongues. They didn't break the
             kiss for a good long while.

             When they did, Allura said, "Zor, you know I still wanted to be an artist?
             Silly me."

             He looked to the heavens. "Father Rao, she gave it all up for me. She
             didn't realize that Mother Moon gave her a body too great for me to

             "I'm not taking my housedress off yet!"

             "Give me time. Did anybody mention stubborn?"

             "Did anybody mention pig-headed?" smirked Allura, squeezing Zor's nose
             between her thumb and forefinger. Then she looked away and sighed. "But
             that's not solving the problem, Zor. We've got to talk to Kara."

             He hugged her gently. "I know. And she can be more stubborn and
             pigheaded than either one of us. She got beaten in some stupid wrestling

             "Don't call it stupid, if it was important to her," said Allura.

             "Yes, dear. So she went into training, and learned how to wrestle, and
             Zara-the-Morning-Sprite she's back, and doing all that crazy stuff in a ring.
             But at least she's back here, on our planet."

             Allura nodded, seriously. "Zor, our little girl is so critical of herself. She
             doesn't ever seem to think she's measuring up. That whole planet Earth
             loved her, everybody in Kandor loved her, even Kal treated her like his
             little sister. But she's never satisfied. If she fails once, she thinks she's a
             failure. And then she gives up on it and goes and does something else."

             Zor-El said, "Right. First that Earth college, then the vid job as a newsie,
             then a counselor at another college, then an actress, then post-graduate at
             another college yet. Then she became a wrestler. But that was important to

             Allura put the side of her head against the side of his head. "I know, honey.
             She really felt like she was part of things here on Rokyn. And she is. But if
             she gives up now that she thinks she's failed...what else is there for her?"

             Zor-El gently disengaged from her, sat Allura in his chair, and stood up.
             "Well, she's not going to give up. We won't let her."

             Allura gaped. "Zor, what are you planning on doing?"

             "Get a couple of chairs and put them in the hovercar. Pack a lunch. Get a
             sleeping tent and put it in the trunk, we might need it."

             She stood up, amazed. "Zor-El, I think you might just have a plan in mind."

             He looked at her, seriously. "That I do, Allura. Jor-El was a lot bigger
             scientist than me. But he wasn't half the planner I was. And he wasn't
             nearly as good a salesman."

             She touched the tips of her fingers together. "Zor, I think I like your idea.
             But I'm going to get something for her that I think she'll like. And there's
             one thing you have to do first."

             "What's that?"

             She posed, hands on hips. "Come take off my housedress."

                                        - S -

             And so the hovercar of Zor-El, with the foodstuffs and the tent and a small
             carrying cage and Zor-El and Allura in it, pulled up over Kara's estate. The
             scanners recognized Zor-El's vehicle and didn't set up a force-field to keep
             him away. He set the car down on a small landing area near the house.

             The two of them got out and went to the door. Zor- El banged on it.

             "Kara, hello. It's me. Your father. Zor-El. Remember?"

             He banged on it again.

             "If you're asleep in there, wake up. We're not leaving, Kara. I've brought
             your mother along, too."

             He banged on it again.

             "That's right, dear," said Allura. "Now you just come along and open that
             door. We're not going to leave until you do. Understand me?"

             Zor-El banged the door.

             "You're being stubborn," said Zor.

             "Pig-headed, too," said Allura.

             "And we can both teach you lessons in being stubborn and pig-headed,"
             said Zor. "Allura, go get the folding chairs."

             She went to the car, got some shiny white folding chairs, brought them
             back, and set them up.

             Zor-El and Allura sat down in them, right in front of the door. The little
             visual sensor took both of them in, and they both knew it.

             Kara would be getting pictures of both of them.

             Zor-El settled back and put his hands behind his head. "Wake me up when
             she opens the door, dear."

             "I doubt you'll have too long a nap, Zor," said Allura, and pulled a
             booktext plate from her purse. She dialed up a romance novel and began
             to read.

             She got through the rough equivalent of 20 pages before Kara opened the

                                        - S -

             Kara looked like hell.

             Her hair was a mess, her eyes were baggy, and, from the sight and smell of
             things, she hadn't changed her nightgown or taken a bath in some days.
             There were a few bruises here and there, but they were fading. That was
             about the only thing Alura and Zor-El saw hopeful about their daughter's

             Kara didn't know how to look at them, and she studied the ground at her

             Zor-El and Alura got up and stood before her. Alura's mouth was open,
             Zor-El's was closed and thin- lipped. They spoke at the same moment,
             then hesitated. Kara's face turned up to see them. Haunted eyes.

             Zor-El put his hands on Kara's shoulders, ran them down her upper arms,
             and then finally embraced her. Kara started sobbing.

             "Oh, Daddy, Daddy, I'm sorry, I'm so sorry," she said, and she said it over
             and over too many times.

             Alura was weeping and trying to hold them both.

             "Shh, honey, it's all right, don't be sorry, and let's talk inside, shall we?"

             The three of them moved indoors.

             Numbly, Kara knew what the house looked like. Dirty dishes not sent
             through the recycler for a week, a sheet still flung over the couch where
             she spent the first night after the match, books and papers scattered
             everywhere, magazines with articles and photos about her stuffed in the
             trash but not incinerated yet. Zor- El sat her down and pulled the
             magazines and vid-discs out of the garbage can. Alura sat on the other side
             of Kara, all of them on the sheeted couch. Kara crossed her arms over her
             breasts and didn't look at either of them.

             From the bedroom came the sounds of the match replay on her holovid
             machine, with a snatch of the announcer's comment, "I hate to say it, Yor,
             but she needs to give up."

             "Turn that thing off," said Zor-El, and Alura scurried into the next room.

             He looked about the shambles of the living room.

             "This is what it's come to?" he said.

             Kara didn't say anything.

             "Your father is talking to you, Kara," said Allura, keeping control over her
             nausea and revulsion by sheer force of will.

             Kara choked up a little. She still didn't say anything.

             "Why didn't you let us help you when you were hurting?" said Zor-El.
             "Why didn't you let us help you deal with the pain? Don't you think that's
             one of the things fathers and mothers are for?"

             Kara put her arms around him, buried her face in his chest, and cried some

             "Daddy, I just don't want to go out there anymore. I just can't face anyone.
             I just can't do it again. I used to be, Supergirl, and she just, she just..."

             Zor-El tilted her teary face up to him. "She just nothing. You're still
             Supergirl, and you're still Kara Zor-El. And you're still our daugher, and
             Alura and I love you very much. And so does that whole world out there,
             Kara. It's only you who doesn't love Kara very much right now."

             Alura seated herself beside Kara again and drew her over to her, making
             Kara face her. "Do you think that we'd ever stop loving you because of
             some silly wrestling match? Do you think that Rokyn would turn away from
             the girl who helped enlarge Kandor, the girl who was Supergirl? Shouldn't
             you give us, and them, more credit? And yourself a lot more credit?"

             The golden-haired girl drew a long sigh. "Mom, I just wanted to be a real
             woman for once. Not a Supergirl. And you didn't like what I was doing for
             a living and it's all gotten just so hard--"

             "Stop it!" Alura took her daughter by the shoulders, sternly. "Did I ever say
             I wasn't proud of you? Ever? Can you find me a woman on Rokyn who
             isn't jealous of who I am, the mother of Kara Zor-El? If I thought I was big
             enough to, I'd bend you over my knee and give you a busting. And if you
             don't straighten up, I just may do it anyway. Now get a grip, and listen to
             what I say: I am proud of you. I am proud of you as a daughter, as
             Supergirl, and, yes, even as a wrestler, if that's what you want to be."

             "We'll always be proud of you, Kara," said Zor-El. "But it's time you
             started taking a little pride in yourself."

             Kara hugged herself more tightly. "It's not that easy, Daddy."

             He nodded. "Uh huh. It's not that easy. I know it. You hit an obstacle, and
             instead of trying to overcome it, you quit and go someplace else. So what
             are you going to quit this time? Life?"

             "Stop it!" Kara yelled, surprising even herself. "I don't deserve this. I got
             beaten the other day, Daddy. Physically beaten. Do you know what that's

             Zor-El bored in on her. "Not as much as you do, Karaish. But that's not
             the problem. I saw you take as bad a beating, or worse, from Zora. And
             you came back from it to win that time. I was proud of you. But what did
             you feel about yourself when you did it?"

             Kara hesitated. "I was kinda proud of myself. But Daddy--"

             "No, Kara!" said Allura, jumping up. "Stop that thought right there. What
             did you just say?"

             "That I was kinda proud of myself," she said. She hesitated. "But that was
             something different. Somebody different."

             "'Different'!" said Allura, hands on her hips. "Sink 'different' in the sun and
             watch it vaporize! I hated watching you get beaten up, Kara. Literally,
             viscerally, hated it. But I had to admit that when I saw the last of that vid,
             when I finally got your father to let me see it--and don't make me tell you
             how I did that!--despite it all, I was so proud of you at the end that I felt
             like a ripe pod about to burst. If Zor had touched me then, I would have
             exploded all over him. Wouldn't be here to tell it."

             Kara spread her hands in despair and looked at her parents. "But Mom,
             Daddy, don't you understand? I wanted so much to succeed. To make
             good here, on Rokyn. To show Kal that...well, maybe I could do
             something on my own. And now..."

             "Well, don't you think you've done that?" said Zor- El. "I saw both of you
             wrestle that tag-team thing, and you made him look like a stump-legged
             jima bird."

             She actually giggled. "Oh, he wasn't that bad."

             "Oh, yes he was!" said Allura. "And I'll yank your hair out if you tell him I
             said that. Even if you are a wrestler."

             Kara blinked at her. "What was that you said, Mom?"

             "I said I'd yank your hair out."

             "No. The other part."

             Allura said, "Even if you are a wrestler?"

             Kara said, "I thought you wanted me to get out of it. Not be a wrestler, not
             take bumps in the ring anymore, not show off my body to the crowds."

             Zor-El settled back on the couch. "Well, is that what you want? Because if
             you want to stop being that, fine. Choose another career, we'll help you as
             much as we can, you know that. But is it what you want?"

             Kara walked about the room, not looking at either of them. "I don't know
             what I want. I really just don't, right now."

             Allura replied, "Well, you'd damned well better find out what you want,
             before the Health Ministry hangs a Condemned notice outside your house.
             Kara, look at me. Do you really want not to be a wrestler?"

             She looked at her mother. "I've been trying to break into the movies."

             "Fine. Is that what you want to do?"

             "Well..." She fumbled. "I don't know. It's that last...that last match, you
             know. Feeling like a broken tooth, just hurting you every time you put your
             tongue on it. But you can't keep from putting your tongue on it as often as
             you can."

             Zor-El moved behind her, gently grasped her forearms. "So how do you
             want to take care of that broken tooth? Pull it, fill it, what?"

             She shook her head. "I guess Jasmine is the broken tooth. But I failed,

             "You did not fail! You got beaten. The only way you fail is if you let this
             beat you. Kara, life is a lot tougher than some wrestling match. And you're
             old enough now that I shouldn't have to be doing this. So what next? Do
             you want to get back in that ring?"

             Kara hesitated. "I'm scared of her."

             "I didn't ask if you were scared of her. Do you want to get back in that ring
             and get back at her?" He shook her. "Say it, Kara. I won't say it for you.
             Do you want to get back in the ring?"

             She finally broke. "Yes! Yes, yes, yes, I do! I want to get back at her and
             show her up and get that stupid belt back, and then give it up. That's what
             I want, Daddy. That's what I want." She was crying now. "But how do I
             do it?"

             Allura had opened the door and gone outside. Zor clutched her to his
             chest. "With our help, honey. That's how you do it. With both of us by
             your side, all the way. But most of all, with you on your side. Are you
             ready to start facing life, instead of just making right turns to it?"

             She sniffled, wiped her nose with her hand. "I guess so. Yes."

             "Say it again. Yes, what?"

             "Yes, I'm ready to face up to life."

             He gave her enough silence for her to realize that, perhaps, maybe, just
             possibly, she really meant what she had just said.

             Almost involuntarily, Kara's shoulders straightened. She breathed more
             calmly. Then she disengaged herself from Zor-El, and stood there, looking
             at him.

             "It's going to be hard, Daddy," she said.

             "It always is, Karaish," he said.

             "You really think I can do this thing?"

             "Do you think you can do it?"

             "I really think I can tr--"

             "Stop it!" Zor-El's hand went over her mouth. "Now, I'm going to let you
             repeat the first part of that sentence. If you say the wrong thing, this hand is
             going over that mouth again. Now what?"

             His hand withdrew from her mouth.

             "I really think I can."

             He smiled. "I really know you can. But you have to face up to her. And I
             can't do that for you. Besides, I'd look stupid in a pair of trunks."

             She giggled.

             Allura, behind them, said, "I wouldn't go that far, Zor. You look pretty
             good to me in less. Here, Kara. We brought you somebody." She held out
             the carrying case.

             The occupant said, "Meow."

             Kara, wide-eyed, took the case from her mother by the handle. She turned
             it to look through the bars.

             A little orange cat looked out at her. He had a white star-like mark
             between his eyes.

             "We always knew how you liked cats, dear," said Allura. "It isn't good for
             you to be so alone. He isn't Streaky, but he should do."

             Kara smiled. Streaky was off someplace, or dead. She hadn't seen him in
             years. But Mom was right, she did love cats. She unhooked the cage door
             and let the cat curl up in her arms.

             "Hey, White Star," she said, cuddling it to her shoulder. "How you doing?
             Do you like me?" The cat nuzzled its head against her shoulder and purred.
             He knew how to con a good meal with the best of them.

             "Mom, you're the most beautiful mom in at least four universes," beamed

             Allura bit her lip, smiled, and choked back tears. It had been so hard
             keeping back her depression and revulsion at the sight of this place with a
             surface layer of banter. Now, the sight of Kara's smile made her want to
             cry for joy.

             "Okay," said Zor-El. "Now you've got your cat, and you've got us. Feeling
             better now?"

             "Oh, so much," she said. "Daddy, what I said about Mom goes the same
             for you, except changed to the appropriate sex. I'm sorry I kept you out
             for so long. Really."

             "Honey, it's worth that and more just to see you happy for once. Now get
             yourself in the other room and take a bath. After which you and Alura had
             better show me that she knows what makeup tricks made me chase her
             face for the better part of a year, and that you know how to get the look
             that made them put you on the cover of these." He held up one of the
             magazines. It had a 3-D hologram of her in a bikini on the cover. Zor-El

             After a moment, Kara smiled, shyly.

             "That's an old picture, Daddy. I look a lot better than that now."

                                        - S -

             Within a day, the news came out on the holovids: Kara Zor-El was back!

             She'd given an interview to the newsies, with her father and mother sitting
             proudly on the dais behind her. "Despite my loss of the belt, I'm not giving
             up," she said. "I'm not giving up my wrestling career, and I'm not giving up
             on my acting career. I'll be taking a little time off to get in shape. And when
             I out!" She grinned. There was some appreciative laughter from
             the audience.

             They liked having Kara back.

             Someone directed a question to Zor-El, asking him why he'd ducked
             questions before about Kara's wrestling. He admitted, "No man likes to
             see his daughter taking a pounding. Even though Kara's done her fair share
             of pounding, and more, I assure you." More gentle laughter. "But I've
             come to accept it, and she needs our support. So she's got it, from myself
             and Allura. And we'll be there for her next match--and as many as we can
             make afterward."

             Kara's eyes shimmered with pride. The newspeople burst into applause.
             She gave Zor-El a one-armed hug and a cheek-peck. Then she testified
             that she had the greatest daddy in the universe, and a mom to match.
             Allura stepped up to give her words of support and got a similar hug. Then
             her parents sat back down.

             Rokyn's Golden Girl, to all appearances, was on the comeback trail. "I'll
             be contacting Nar-Es, my manager, to see about booking me some new
             matches within a month. In between those, I'm going to be doing some
             screen tests for some of the vid-studios. Let's just hope somebody wants
             to see me do something more than just wrestle." She grinned. More

             Finally, there came the question. A female reporter asked, "Kara, do you
             plan on challenging Lady Jasmine for the belt? And if so, when?"

             There was a low murmur. Kara's face grew sober. If there was a hint of
             fear in her eyes, none of the cameras caught it. But she did show some
             white on her knuckles as she grasped the podium. She looked straight out
             at the audience and gave her answer.

             "Yes. Whenever I'm ready. Thank you all, and that's the end of it."

             Kara and her parents left the dais, mingled with the newsies and guests on
             their way out, and refused to answer any questions about Lady Jasmine.

                                        - S -

             Lady J was having her own problems.

             So far, none of the vid studios would touch her for anything but wrestling
             work. Her hopes of making a leap into the holomovies were scotched so
             far by the discovery of the erotovids she had done in the past. Not illegal,
             and pretty tame compared to Earth stuff. But enough to make it hard for an
             audience to accept her, once the word got out. And if she tried acting, it

             One of the studios had indicated they might give her a shot. But they were
             also interested in Kara Zor- El, and they dropped the suggestion that if she
             managed to beat her decisively in a title rematch, her negotiating options
             would be better.

             So Jasmine's hatred for Kara Zor-El was redoubled by jealousy. She
             could not have her for a lover, and now Kara was blocking her from
             increased income and legitimacy. She stared at the holoimages of their
             matches one afternoon, seething with pleasure, frustration, and malice.

             Oh, to be able to crush that little blonde bitch once and forever...

             The doorchime rang. Jasmine activated the computer scan.

             The hologram image and i.d. readout of the person at her door caused the
             villainess to widen her eyes. She spoke a codeword that hissed the door

             Zora Vi-Lar, the Black Flame, entered, clad in a purple jumpsuit and black
             cloak. She wore no mask on her face, but Jasmine recognized her without

             "Hello, Jara," said Zora. "You might recognize me. I've been away for

             Jasmine waited a second before answering, laconically, "So I hear." She
             was about to shut off the holo of the match.

             Zora held out a palm to stop her. "No, let it play. It's no secret that
             watching Kara Zor-El get beat is to me."

             Jasmine smiled, slowly and cruelly. She was clad in green shorts and tunic,
             barefoot, and quite aware of her effect on Zora. "Was quite a rush doing it
             to her, too." She sat in a weavechair and regarded Zora. " just
             came here to trade notes about the little Argonian wimp?"

             "Maybe," acknowledged Zora. "Um...please run that last part back a bit.
             Right there...I like that leg hold."

             "I really made her howl with that one." Jasmine looked proud.

             Zora shifted in her seat, using her own posture to stimulate Jasmine
             oh-so-subtly. "Yes, Kara does have a problem with toeholds. I beat her
             the first time with one, took another fall from her the second time with
             another. Of course, she also has problems with being dragged into the
             corner post crotch-first." Zora smiled wickedly.

             Jasmine laughed. "Yeah, I know. One of my favorite parts of your second
             match. Liked your far as it went."

             "Cut the insults," warned Zora, who recognized the barb. "We're getting
             along pretty well so far. I sought you out because I thought I might be of
             help to you. Help to me as well."

             Jasmine waited.

             "Kara's not going to be sitting on her butt before your rematch. She's going
             to be training as tough as before, but she's going to be training smart. You
             got her last time by breaking her focus."

             Jasmine snarled, "I got her by breaking her body."

             "That, too, but you can't do the one without first doing the other. If you
             count on that again, she may be ready for you. Ready to try something else
             on your program?"

             Jasmine pulled up her tunic partway, exposing her midsection, ostensibly to
             massage her own ribs. She didn't miss the subtle effect it had on Zora.
             "What's the riff?"

             Zora leaned forward in her chair. Her posture had a similar effect on
             Jasmine, and she was gratified by the look she got. "Simple. I become on
             as your trainer and co-manager. It gets on the news. That'll throw our little
             blondie into another parsec. The two women she fears most in the
             universe, both lined up against her for the next fight. One outside the ring,
             one in it. It's an edge, Jara. Just might be the edge you need."

             Jasmine smiled like a shark. "So you want to be my trainer? Think there
             are some--" She pulled off her tunic. "--Holds you can teach me?"

             Zora sat stonelike for a moment, giving her the eye. "Maybe you can teach
             me some first," she said. " me a favor, will you?"

             "Like what?" said the champion, breathing heavily.

             Zora unclasped her cloak and began to unzip her jumpsuit. "Put on a holo
             of one of my matches with her," she said.

             "I've got one with only the good parts in," said Jasmine, and spoke a
             command. The holovid player called up a 3-D image of Zora and Kara's
             second match, with Kara's moves against Zora edited out.

             The purple jumpsuit was already on the floor. Jasmine's green shorts joined
             it there.

             Kara's two greatest foes began making each other grunt and groan.

                                        - S -

             Elsewhere, Kara Zor-El was having a match.

             She'd already faced the tough Ula Tan-Tora in months past, and now
             wrestled her again, to be sure of some stiff competition. The powerful,
             freckled brunette in the yellow-and-red swimsuit gave Kara a tough time,
             which is exactly what she wanted. But the Kara, clad in a gold bikini with
             the red S on her right breast, gave back as much punishment and then
             some. Despite the torture moves, neither woman bore the other ill will, and
             both liked the competition. When Kara took the match with a double
             chicken wing, the fans hollered their heads off.

             She got Ula to her feet and hugged her joyously. Ula responded similarly,
             and, when they broke, each girl held one hand high in victory, with her
             other arm about her opponent's shoulders.

             Ula waved the mikes down and gasped, "After this one, all I can say
    out, Jasmine!" The crowd cheered themselves hoarse. Kara
             beamed with pride. The announcers smiled and gave their reassessments of
             the Argo City Amazon. Hira drew a breath of relief. Nar-Es mopped his
             brow. Watching from the eighth row, Allura had to be held back by Zor-El
             from going into the ring herself and congratulating Kara. "Wait till
             afterward, dear," said Zor, with a smile that stayed on so long his face got

             And Kara smiled and waved and blew kisses, got a locker-room massage
             from Hira, went out with her folks to a restaurant, and stayed up so late
             with excitement that Hira finally made her take a sleep-treatment so that
             she could be up before noon.

             Nar booked two more matches, and Kara won them both. She started
             making the covers again. The newsies gave her airtime, and she worked it
             like a pro. She toured schools and community halls in her offtime, giving
             talks about her career as Supergirl, about the adventure in which Brainiac
             was beaten and Kandor was enlarged, and about her return to Rokyn and
             her wrestling. The kids and their parents packed the halls.

             This time, whenever they asked about Jasmine, Kara answered back
             confidently, "When I'm ready for her, we'll sign the rematch. And I'm
             getting ready!" They cheered, every time.

             Kara found time between to continue negotiations, via a communicator
             hookup Superman had installed, with the movie studios on Earth. Nothing
             was signed yet, but the deals were still moving forward. The week of
             silence on her part had hurt the process, but hadn't proved fatal.

             She also made the screen tests.

             Kara had been an actress before, in New York on Earth, playing the part
             of Margo Hatton, a badgirl in the soap opera Secret Hearts. Before that,
             she had appeared in two movies: one as Linda Danvers, in a flick called
             Queen of the Islands, and another as Supergirl, playing herself in a movie.
             So her ability was not in question. She may not have had super-memory
             any more, but she knew how to memorize lines like a pro thespian. No
             super-powers could give you the ability to portray a convincing character.
             That was just talent, and she had enough of that.

             Ghi-Sonn III looked at the test holos of Kara in a comedy scene playing a
             fumbling makeover artist at a funeral parlor, in a romance where she had to
             reject the man she loved until she finally got him to say just the right words
             to her, and in an action bit where she used klurkor to fight her way out of
             an underworld ambush for a police agent.

             The camera ate her up.

             So Ghi-Sonn summoned Kara and Nar-Es to a closed meeting at his
             home, and laid it out for her.

             "You can make it in this business, Karaish," he said. "I want to try you in
             an action vid. That's what they'll want to see from you first, anyway. Kara
             the Fighting Girl. But I expect to see you punching those lines as hard as
             you did in the romance and the funny one. Got me?"

             Kara hesitated, then laughed briefly for a second. "I just can't believe it. I
             got to hate acting so much on Earth. Now, I can't wait to try it again."

             Ghi-Sonn frowned. Nar explained, "She was in a five-day-a-week show,
             sir. When you were in one of those things, you were lucky to be have time
             to use the ladies' room twice a day."

             She put her hand on Ghi-Sonn's, reassuringly. "Don't get me wrong, sir.
             On Earth, I had to juggle three things. Being Linda, being Supergirl, and
             being me, Kara. Here, on Rokyn, it's a different game. I love it. Sure, I'll
             do it."

             Ghi-Sonn wasn't smiling. He said, "How is it different, Tanthi Zor-El?
             Seems to me you're trying a three-ball juggling act again."

             Kara and Nar looked astonished. Nar rose from his seat. Ghi-Sonn waved
             him back down. "It's like this," he said. "One: you have the actress thing.
             Two: you have the wrestling thing. Three: you've got your Kara, as you put
             it. Your private life. I don't think you can handle all those things together,
             either. But I think you can handle two of them."

             There was silence. Ghi-Sonn, sitting with one leg crossed over the other,
             waited for her to break the silence.

             Kara, sitting in a straight-backed chair held by force-beams over the floor,
             sighed and put her palms down on her knees. "You want me to give up

             Nar was staring at Ghi-Sonn, figuring that his girl had to do the talking for
             both of them right now.

             Ghi-Sonn said, "I think you'll have to, Kara. First, holoacting's a busy life.
             Not just making the holo, but doing the promotion, keeping the profile
             high, that sort of stuff. Plus there's image. You can be a sports star, or a
             holo star, but not the same, in my studio. Not if you want to make it."

             Kara rubbed her hands together. "I can't quit right now. I've got some
             unfinished business."

             Ghi-Sonn nodded. "That fight with the Jasmine gal. You ought to see what
             she used to do before she got into wrestling. No way we'd take her. Any
             newsie could get a few seconds of that into the updates, and a movie with
             her would be dead. But even with that, I know one studio has made
             tentatives with her."

             Kara looked at him curiously. "So why don't they take her?"

             The studio head said nothing. Nar-Es breathed deeply.

             "They want to see if she can beat me in a rematch," guessed Kara.

             Ghi-Sonn massaged his bald temple. "So I hear. Sorry to spring that on
             you, but you'd hear it on your own, anyway, soon. Now: the scenario. You
             can go with us now, you can spite her, she never gets at you, and you get
             what she wants. A holo career. Not a bad picture, Kara. Think about it.

             "Or: you keep on with your wrestling. Our offer gets cold. If it gets cold
             enough--" He interlaced his fingers, saying, nonverbally: it'd be over. "Or, if
             things don't turn out like you hope in the ring--"

             "If I get beat," said Kara, quietly.

             "--your popularity could take a beating, too," finished Ghi-Sonn. "You're
             on the upswing right now. But if you get beaten and then go with us, you
             look like a has-been. You look like you had to jump ship. Does that look
             good for either us or you? Honestly?" He spread his hands, looking at both
             of them.

             "Tanth Sonn, this isn't just any woman we're talking about here," said Nar.
             "This is Supergirl. The woman who helped get us out of the Bottle. You
             think that doesn't matter?"

             "It matters," said Ghi-Sonn. "But being a superhero, being a wrestler, and
             being an actress...three different things."

             Kara said, quickly, "There's another way. I book the rematch with
             Jasmine. I fight her. I win. Then I can take your offer, and my popularity's
             still high. How about that?"

             Ghi-Sonn sighed. "There's too many ifs in that one. If you're ready. If you
             get to fight her. If you win. She's not a pastry, Kara. Jasmine is a very,
             very tough girl."

             Kara took a deep breath. "What if I booked the rematch with her for four
             weeks from now?"

             Nar was on his feet. "Kara! I won't allow it! You're not ready yet! You
             need more time..."

             She turned on him. "Nar! I know what I'm doing. I've got a plan of my
             own. Take my word for it."

             He looked at her sadly. "It sounds like what you told me last time, Karaish,
             and you know what happened then."

             Ghi-Sonn rested one fist on his knee, the other arm hanging over the back
             of his chair. "Do you really think you can do this, Kara? I can't commit to
             anything, if you decide to do it that way."

             Kara was standing, both palms on his desk. "But you won't withdraw the
             offer if I do it that way, will you? You will keep the option open until after
             the match?"

             Ghi-Sonn cogitated for all of five seconds. Kara was afraid to look away
             from him.

             "That's the way you want to do it?" he said.

             She nodded.

             "Then you'd better win," he said.

                                        - S -

             On the walkway outside the studio office, Nar was crazed with anxiety. He
             waved his clutched hands in the air as he tried to talk sense into his client,
             who was walking confidently forward, not looking at him. "Kara, you are
             throwing everything away with this craziness," he insisted. "You are not
             listening to me, again, and you know what happened last time. How are
             you going to take this woman? Bribe her? You need more training, more
             fights beforehand."

             Kara said, "Nar, I know a way to get sixteen weeks into four," and did not
             look at him.

             "Sixteen into four?" He looked like a hovercraft had hit him in the back of
             his head. "I can't do division like that. What gives?"

             She swiveled her head to him. "Call Hira. We're going to Earth."

                                        - S -

             Dinah Lance still had a florist's shop in Star City. It was affiliated with
             FTD, and she did pretty good business with that and her hothouse for
             plants. She figured that, in years to come, it might be the major source of
             income for both her and Ollie, given his penchant for joblessness.

             She smiled ruefully while repotting chrysanthemums. Oliver Queen was still
             trying to play aging radical, man of the people, when he'd been born with a
             silver spoon in his mouth and had been well-off till his fortune got stolen out
             from under him. Liberal democrat? Yes. Radical? Hardly. Big-mouthed?

             But she loved him. God knew why, but she still did.

             And she hoped he loved her too. He damned well better.

             The front door chime rang. Still in her blue shirt, jeans, green soiled apron
             and rubber gloves, Dinah went to answer it. She stripped off the gloves on
             the way.

             A familiar blonde figure was standing in street clothes beside the front

             "Kara!" exclaimed Dinah in delight. "I mean...uh..."

             "Oh, don't worry, Dinah, you can call me Kara when I'm dressed like this,"
             smiled her visitor. "I just didn't feel like putting that brown hair on this
             morning. How've you been doing?"

             Dinah came from behind the front desk to stand directly before Kara. She
             gave her a big hug and said, "I'm doing great. And you...Kara, good grief!
             I knew you were strong, but from the feel of you, you've got muscles!"

             Kara smiled. "I've been pretty active lately. How have you and Ollie been

             The florist doubled a fist in victory. "The date's been set. Next month, on
             the 15th. I gave him the old we-wed-or-no-bed, and it worked. And
             you're invited. All the gang is going to be there, and I want you to be, too.
             I wish you could have joined, so that it would have been more than just me
             and Diana keeping ourselves company."

             Kara nodded. "First it was the no-powers rule. Then, after they rescinded
             that, Arthur puts the Stupid League together. Then I went off-planet. What
             are they doing now?"

             Dinah wrinkled her nose. "You know. The Stupid League is gone. Most of
             the gang is back and on tap, but they're not taking on near as many jobs
             together. I'm not supposed to tell you this, but they're putting out feelers to
             the Titans. They want to incorporate them. So far, guess what the Titans've

             "Drop dead?" grinned Kara.

             Both laughed. "Yeah, Dick is really rubbing it in. But enough about us. Are
             you back for good?"

             "Nope. But I need your help." Kara briefly outlined her situation, then
             made the pitch.

             "I've got four weeks here. I can make that stretch into sixteen, in the
             Fortress. But I need a trainer, and I need her now. You're the best I know
             of, and I'm looking for martial arts instruction, too. I know some klurkor,
             but I want to learn a lot more. I really need it, Di. Can you help me?"

             The pretty brunette bit her lower lip, then slowly shook her head. "I'm
             sorry, Kara. I have got loads of work, and the wedding's coming up in 17
             days. I am just freakin' booked solid. Could you put it off for a month or

             Kara massaged the fingers of one hand, in thought. "No. The schedule's
             tight enough as it is. Who else do you know?"

             "Well, couldn't you get Diana to have her mother and the girls take care of
             you at the Island?"

             The blonde Rokynian in the short green dress sighed and sat down on a
             nearby white plastic chair. "No. They're good, but they fight by a code of
             honor. Not as mean as what I'm up against. Besides, I've learned their
             moves. The Amazons just don't have much to teach me that way anymore.
             Who else?"


             Kara considered it. "Maybe. But I don't know. I need the best of the best,
             Di. Diana has strength. But by now, I'm a better fighter than she is, I think.
             Don't tell her that!"

             "Whoa!" Dinah grinned. "If she's within 100 miles from here, you're gonna
             see one pissed-off Amazon stomping in here in about five minutes! But if
             you don't want her, and you aren't sure about Batgirl, who's left?"

             Kara bonked her fists together, and was careful not to cause a minor
             concussion wave. "Yeah, who's left? I know it's a hard thing to ask. I need
             a really tough teacher. I want it to be a woman. And she's got to be free
             for four weeks. Di, who have you met that's better than you? Anybody?"

             Dinah Lance considered it, then put a hand to her mouth. Kara looked up
             at her. "Who is it, Di?"

             "Oh, no. Forget it."

             "Who?" Kara got to her feet. "Come on, tell me. I'm a big girl."

             Dinah waved her hand in a dismissal motion. "Skip it. Forget it. She's bad
             news. Female mercenary, probably kills people. You don't want her."

             Kara thought about it. "Female mercenary? Killer- for-hire? Not good."

             "Right. Shiva Woosan. They call her Lady Shiva. She knows stuff about
             martial arts, like, well, beside her I'm an amateur. Like I'm Woody Allen
             and she's Schwartzenegger. So forget about it."

             Kara crossed her arms under her breasts. "Is she a murderess?"

             "Kara, I don't know. More like a special-op-for- hire. I've never really
             fought her, but I sparred with her once. She was great, I got a black eye
             out of the deal. We weren't enemies. Lucky for me."

             Kara rolled her tongue around her mouth. Then she said, "Where is she?"

             Dinah looked up, agape. "Kara, no. You can't get involved with her. It's
             like putting your hand in a tar pit and expecting it not to come out black.
             Believe me."

             "Where is she, Dinah?" Kara's gaze didn't wave from Dinah's face.

             The florist who was the Black Canary looked at Kara with a hardened
             face. "Don't make me do it, Kara."

             "If I have to, I can go to the Justice League and use their computer
             database. I can talk to the Batman. I can go to Interpol. Even Kal has
             probably got the info somewhere. You may as well tell me, Dinah?"

             "Would you not use those names? People may be listening."

             "I'm listening, and I can tell they're not." Kara waited, arms crossed.

             Dinah went behind the desk, took out a notepad, wrote an address and
             number on it, and then added something. "Show this to her. It's a code
             word. She'll know you're for real that way. And Kara? Two things."

             Kara said nothing.

             "One: you didn't get this from me. Two: if she does, no matter what you
             and she are doing, I expect you to stop it long enough to come to the
             wedding. Deal?"

             "It's a deal," said Kara. She took the note, gave Dinah a hug and a peck
             on the cheek, and said, "Bye- bye, and thanks. I'll see you on the 15th."

             Dinah smiled sadly. "I hope you'll be alive to see me on the 15th."

             Outside, Hira was waiting on a bench. She was smiling, holding on to the
             bottom of it, and trying to see how much she could use her flying power
             without actually lifting the bench, bolts and all, into the air. "Having fun?"
             said Kara.

             "Oh, my, yes, Kara," beamed Hira. "We've only had super-powers once
             or twice in Kandor. It's so much fun, I think I'll retire here in a few years."

             "I think not," said Kara, taking her by the crook of the arm. "We've got
             some more sights to see. Ever been to a steam bath?"

             "How do you bathe steam?"

             "Never mind."

                                        - S -

             Two hours later, three women in towels were sitting in a Star City
             bathhouse. Shiva Woosan was looking with detached curiosity at Kara
             and Hira.

             "You don't sweat," she said.

             "No. No, we don't." allowed Kara.

             "Well, we do on Rokyn, but we can't here," said Hira. "We're not allowed

             Shiva considered it. "It must really be you," she acknowledged. "What is
             the task you wish undertaken?"

             Kara said, "Black Canary tells me you're the best. That's just who I need
             for a trainer."

             "A trainer?" Shiva Woosan looked at the blonde with the gaze of a
             practiced poker player. She was six feet tall, slim yet wiry, beautiful, Asian,
             and possibly the deadliest non-super-powered woman on the planet.
             There was no disguising the layer of callus on the edge of her hands. Kara
             guessed that she had broken things more squishy and fragile than just
             bricks with them.

             "A trainer?" Shiva repeated. "Why do you require a trainer?"

             Kara didn't take her eyes off Woosan's face. Her ears listened to the
             pulsing of the blood in Shiva's body. Her heartbeat indicated curiosity, but
             not fear or hatred. Considering that she knew she was speaking to a girl
             that could possibly move a planet, that was impressive.

             "I have a fight coming up within a month. I need the best training available.
             I know how to wrestle, but I want to learn more. I know some
             klurkor--that's our form of karate--but I want to learn all sorts of martial
             arts. I can't use the deadly stuff in the ring, but anything I can get will give
             me an edge. I'm going to need that edge."

             Shiva considered it, then looked her in the eyes again. "How do I train a
             girl like you?"

             "In the Fortress of Solitude." Shiva's eyes widened for the first time since
             she had met Kara, if only for a moment. "Superman has a boxing ring
             there," Kara continued. "It has a red-sun lamp overhead. That'll cancel out
             my powers. It also has a continuum shifter that'll put us in a space-time
             pocket in which we're on a four-to-one ratio with normal time. Four weeks
             in the real world will be sixteen weeks in the pocket."

             Shiva said, "How would the great Superman feel about letting one such as
             myself have free run of his Fortress?"

             Hira observed Shiva's sharpness, didn't like it or her one bit, and kept her

             "The room we'd be in would be sealed off from the rest of the Fortress,"
             explained Kara. "We have a kitchen in there, food synthesizers, and I can
             construct bunks in nothing flat. I can move in computers, a library, TV..."

             "I am not interested in that." Shiva waved her hand briefly. "One does not
             need computers in a dojo. What makes you think I would do this thing? I
             am not one of your--League of Justice."

             Kara looked down at her knees, then looked back up. "Because I don't
             think your ego would let you pass this chance up. Have you ever seen me

             "In news broadcasts, sometimes."

             "And you know I'm strong enough to crush mountains here into enough
             gravel to pave New York twice, right?"

             Shiva said nothing.

             "I'm giving you a chance to say that the strongest woman in the world came
             to you to learn your fighting skills. You'll also get the chance to go
             one-on-one with me, bash me up a lot, throw me around the ring like a
             Barbie doll, and make me moan and groan. How'd you like to carry
             around that memory for the rest of your life?"

             Shiva still said nothing, but considered it.

             "As for money, I don't have a lot negotiable here. But I can still do a pretty
             good job of squeezing diamonds out of coal. Big diamonds, too. One a
             week, if you agree."

             Shiva said, "One for every week in the pocket, not in the real world. If I

             Kara said nothing, but her heart skipped a beat.

             The Asian pantherette stretched, giving the other two women a good look
             at her muscularity. "I would require other conditions."

             Kara quickly said, "I can't help you on anything illegal."

             Shiva looked at her sharply. "I would expect nothing less from you, girl.
             Grant me more sagacity than that. It is something more negative from you,
             but with a positive effect for me."

             "What?" said Kara.

             "Only this: that you and the Superman agree not to hinder me or my
             operations from this point onward. I know we have not yet crossed
             swords. I make no request from you to intercede on my behalf with the
             Batman, or others. But such an agreement would make me more secure."

             Kara hesitated. "I'd have to talk to Kal about it."

             "Of course," said Shiva, as if to a ten-year-old.

             The heroine was getting more than a little miffed at the woman before her,
             but kept her composure. "If I can convince him, will you agree to train

             Shiva said, "If you get his agreement, we will talk. Here. 24 hours from
             now. If you are late, I walk away and our conversation will not be
             remembered. If you are here, with his consent, then we will talk." She
             looked at Kara coolly. "How does he know I will not kill you? Without
             powers, that would be a simple thing. And I would gain in stature from it."

             Kara said, unflinching, "Because it would not be a thing of honor."

             After a pause, Shiva said, "Do not depend overmuch on honor, little one.
             Few people have as high a concept of myself."

             Then she left the room.

                                        - S -

             "No, no, and no." Kal slammed the inertron table with his palm each time
             he said "no", and made the Fortress room shiver. "Kara, you must have left
             part of your brain in the WarPort. Check and see if the cleaners haven't
             dumped it."

             Hira was taken aback. It had been bad enough to see Superman get his
             head handed to him in the tag-team match some time before. But seeing
             him lose his cool was, somehow, even worse. She rubbed her hands
             together and said nothing.

             Kara, dressed in her Supergirl suit to make the best impression on Kal,
             had her hands on her hips. "Kal, mind your manners. Remember all the
             times I helped you out and charged off into outer space with about 30
             seconds lead time? I almost lost my jobs over that, lots of times. And I
             almost lost my life sometimes, too."

             Kal said, "I acknowledge that, Kara, and I thank you. But that was
             important. We were fighting criminals, super-villains, invasion fleets, that
             sort of thing. We weren't getting ready for a...a stupid wrestling match."

             Hira broke her silence, grimly. "This isn't just any stupid wrestling match,
             Kal. This is the most important wrestling match of Kara's life. If she loses
             this one because she didn't have the opportunity to train for it--"

             "You've lost matches before," pointed out Kal.

             "--if she loses, she misses a chance to get out of it and get into acting,"
             finished Hira.

             Superman did as much of a double take as she'd ever seen him do.
             "Acting? What is this? You're back doing Secret Hearts? I thought you
             wanted out of that, Kara."

             Kara lay her hands on the table before Kal. "It's a new stage in my life,
             Kal. On Rokyn, it's a new game. I'm with my own people there, I don't
             have to juggle a career and my Supergirl stuff at the same time, and I don't
             have to be anyone other than Kara. Please, Kal. What do I have to do to
             get you to help me?"

             For an instant, Kal flashed on the time when the two of them had fought
             Mongul, the ultra-powerful conqueror from space. In that battle, Kara had
             been knocked unconscious and somehow thrown across dimensions into
             what, apparently, was the realm, or a realm, of Afterlife. It had taken The
             Spectre to bring her back safely, and Superman had learned a great deal
             about the limitations of his power on that day. He had also, for a brief
             moment, heard The Voice that commanded The Spectre...and he didn't
             want to hear The Voice again on this side of the curtain. Kara had been
             insensate on her journey, and remembered nothing of it.

             He sighed, "Kara, I cannot give that woman access to my Fortress. Not
             even if the room was sealed off. I just don't trust her. And asking me to
             agree to lay off her? Don't you realize she'd immediately take advantage of
             that? How would you like her to assassinate somebody, and me be
             powerless to do anything about it? Some of us still have to concern ourself
             with Earth, you know."

             "Touche, Kal," said Kara. "But don't you remember when you had to fight
             Muhammad Ali to save the world from those space-bummers? It's the
             same sort of thing."

             "It is not. The whole world was at stake then. And Ali was an honorable

             "So is Shiva," Kara said. "And my world is at stake right now. Not Rokyn
             or Earth. My personal world. Kal, you've just gotta let me do it."

             "No. Not here, no agreement, nothing. That's final." Kal interlaced his
             fingers. "The argument is over."

             Hira produced a holodisk from her bag. "I challenge that, Kal. Let me
             show you something, first."

             Superman looked wary. "Is this one of her matches? Are you trying to
             psyche me?"

             Hira thrust it under his nose. "Are you afraid to watch it? Your little cousin
             had to endure it. Where's your holodisc player?"

             Kal sighed, then got up. "Come on, I'll show you where it is. And then I'm
             going to check myself out for Red Kryptonite exposure. I think it may have
             made me lose good judgment for 48 hours."

             Moments after Kal had seen the defeat of Kara in all its tawdry 3-D glory,
             his mien had changed. He wasn't able to speak for a few moments. Kal got
             up from his seat, paced to the doorway, not looking at either of his guests.

             Hira had pegged his reaction accurately. He might not like Kara's new
             career, but even he couldn't stomach the sight of her taking a beating.

             Kara was tense, having relived the match one last horrible time. She fought
             back depression and fear with a mighty effort. Hira put one arm around her
             shoulder and told her everything was going to be all right.

             Finally, Kal said, "You really want to get back at her, don't you?"

             Kara replied, quietly, "I want to show myself I can do it."

             He turned back to her, with a solemn face. "We can't do it here." Before
             Kara could respond, he held up an arm. "But we can do it somewhere
             else. What would you think about an efficiency Fortress?"

             Kara beamed, flew to him, and crushed him in an embrace.

                                        - S -

             Even at super-speed, they couldn't get it completely built before Kara had
             to return to the Star City steam bath rezendevous.

             "We're building a little Fortress just for the duration," explained Kara. "It'll
             have all the necessary things there, and we're going to put the ring in it. We
             should have it done by tonight."

             Shiva, impassive, said, "And what of your cousin's agreement?"

             Kara replied, "There are conditions. For assassinations, he says, the deal is
             off. If it's just normal wartime or espionage work, as long as it doesn't
             seriously compromise American security, he'll look the other way. But it's
             the best deal I could get from him, Shiva. And he told me that if you didn't
             agree, well, he could keep you under constant surveillance and then swoop
             down and nab you any time he saw the need."

             Shiva almost smiled. "First the carrot, then the whip. I felt that Superman
             might try such a gambit. But is it possible that he will feel some gratitude
             towards this person if she is successful with his younger cousin's tutelage?"

             "He said he'd be grateful, but don't press your luck."

             Shiva paused, and gave away nothing with her expression or pulse rate.
             "Do you realize how little I can teach you in sixteen weeks? Even if you are
             a good student?"

             Supergirl answered, evenly, "A lot more than I could learn from anyone
             else in the same time, I'm sure."

             This time, she didn't miss the signals of approval for her statement.

             "Wait outside the building while I go and return with warm clothing," said
             Shiva. "I will watch you finish building our new dojo."

                                        - S -

             And she did.

             Superman and Supergirl wanted to install her in one of the completed
             rooms of the mini-Fortress, but Shiva refused. She simply stood in the
             snow, clad in parka and hand-muff and face-scarf, and made clouds with
             her breath as she watched the two-person construction crew from

             The concrete slab had already been laid the night before, as had many of
             the walls. Kara and Kal transported stone and mortar faster than eye could
             register, the stones cut with their own powerful hands and shaped with heat
             vision. They slapped on mortar, slapped down stone, and hardened it into
             firm position with those same heat-bolts. Insulative material was brought in,
             then wiring of a sort unseen by Terran contractors, then interior walls and

             The roof was still off, but that would be the last step. Luckily, no snow was
             falling just then.

             So far, the operation had taken about an hour and a half...that long
             because, even then, it took some time for mortar to dry.

             Superman did not look at Shiva while he was doing this. She observed him
             calmly and thoroughly, and even sat lotus-fashion in the snow while the two
             blue- costumed figures worked. Finally, Kal zipped off in the direction of
             the Fortress. Kara whooshed over to Shiva's side.

             "Hold up your arms, please," said Kara.

             Shiva did so.

             Kara gave Shiva a light warming with her heat vision.

             Shiva lowered her arms again. "You are a considerate pupil."

             "Thank you."

             "I will still make you jealous of the dead when we finish our first session."

             Kara smiled. "I'm looking forward to it."

             She saw Shiva looking past her shoulder and, for the first time, displaying
             astonishment in her eyes. Kara turned around and looked in that direction.

             In the distant sky was a tiny blue man-speck, flying, bearing on his
             shoulders a huge metal platform. On it was the boxing ring from the
             Fortress, what appeared to be foodstuffs, equipment for the kitchen, a few
             computers, a generator, and some other things, including two shower stalls,
             sinks, and toilets.

             Within instants, Kal had placed his massive burden down beside the
             construction site. He and Kara leapt to their task. They snatched items
             from the metal flat and flew them into the walled enclosure, unerringly
             installing them in the places indicated on memorized blueprints.

             When all the objects had been taken off the flat, Superman grasped an
             edge of it, balanced it, and eased it onto the top of the building. Then he
             welded it in place with bolts of heat from his eyes. Finally, he hung a large
             metal door in the front doorway, one with a foot-square glass plate in it.
             He took Kara by the right wrist and held her hand to it, letting a laser
             scanner record her print. Then he did the same with his own right hand.

             Looking at Kara, Kal said, "The door will open to your or my touch now,
             but to no one else's. It also has a heat-sensor, which will prevent anyone
             holding a dead hand to it."

             Shiva knew that bit was meant for her. "I am flattered by your trust, friend
             Superman. A dead hand could be warmed in a kitchen, if one was
             desperate to get out."

             He finally looked at her, with an undisguised glare of contempt.

             "I have sensors installed in this building," he said. "If Kara's in trouble, I'll
             be notified immediately, wherever I am. And I can get here fast. Really

             Shiva paused before answering, "I believe you could. But your cousin is in
             my care, now. A teacher must care for her pupil. She will be hurt, but not
             more than necessary. The more she learns, the less necessity. Agreed?"

             Superman blew smoky breath from his mouth. "Agreed. Just remember my
             warning." Then he flew to Kara, hugged her, and kissed her forehead.
             "And you just remember I love you. You're crazy, but I love you."

             Kara hugged him back, burying her head in his chest. "I know you do,
             cousin Kal. And I love you, too. Now go back home. We'll be fine here."

             "You'd better be." Superman gently disengaged himself from her, then
             launched himself into the air.

             Kara watched his red-caped form soar away into the distance, till it was
             lost from normal sight.

             Finally, she squared her shoulders, turned to Shiva, and gestured to the
             little Fortress. "Well, here it is, Shiva. Our home away from home."

             She put her hand on the glass plate and the door swung open to admit

       (next chapter)