Kara Zor-El said, "Would you believe that Kal once told me that one of the first girls he ever fell for in his life was named Supergirl?"
The others at the dinner party reacted with shock, laughter, surprise, disbelief, curiosity, amusement, or a combination of the above.
"How's this, Kara?" asked Van-Zee, cautiously. "You don't mean he fell for you, do you?"
She smiled an I-know-something-you-don't smile at him. She and her parents were guests at the home of Van-Zee and Sylvia, in the city of New Kandor on Rokyn, a world settled by survivors of Krypton. The latters' two kids Lyle-Zee and Lili Van-Zee, both of them now 18 years old, also sat at the dinner table. Zor-El said, "I think the one she means is that magic Supergirl who showed up a few months before Kara. But go ahead, honey."
"No, Daddy, you're wrong this time," said Kara. "There was another Supergirl before me. But the one I'm thinking of came along years before either of us. She was a queen, only about 11 years old, from an Earth country called Borgonia. Kal told me all about her. Her given name was Lucretia, but they called her Lucy. She was blonde, really smart, and one of the best girl athletes ever. That's why they nicknamed her ‘Supergirl', ‘cause Superboy had only been operating for a few years back then."
"And she's the one he named you after, Kara?" asked Sylvia, the Earthwoman who had married into a Kandor family years ago.
Allura said, "No. Go ahead and tell them, dear, you've told me this story before."
Kara dipped a vegetable stick in a sauce dish, bit off a chunk, chewed it and swallowed before resuming, just to build suspense. "No, Mom's the one who made the costume for me and told me to introduce myself as ‘Supergirl' when I landed on Earth, to let him know we were related. But getting back to Queen Lucy. She and her duenna had come to Smallville, the town where Kal lived after he first came to Earth, to hide out from a count in her country who wanted to eliminate her and take over the throne. She enrolled in a Smallville school and spent a few weeks there. Kal told me he and Lucy put on a charity acrobatics show, and the locals ate it up. Then she got kidnapped by the count's men and taken back to her homeland and locked in a metal mask, I believe. So Kal went over there as Superboy, got her out, clobbered the count, and convinced her to stay on in Borgonia because the people needed her as queen. I could tell from the way he looked when he told me about it that he really had a crush on her back then. Now Lucy is married and has a son and a daughter. I've never met her. She wasn't Kal's first girlfriend...that was a girl named Betty, whom he went out with a few times...but I've always thought it was very neat that his first big crush was on a Supergirl."
"Just as long as it wasn't on you, honey," said Allura, touching her daughter's hand. "And we've heard him tell about that other Supergirl, the one his friend created with that magic thing."
Lyle looked up from his dish of meat. "I think our family's got a serious case of the weirds," he said.
"In your case, I know where it all went," said Lili, and prepared to duck if Lyle threw something off of his plate. He just gave her the nod, letting her know she was in for it after dinner if she didn't run fast enough.
"Kids, behave," said Van-Zee.
"Sometimes, things for us are weird," admitted Kara. "Like when you and Sylvia got married, Lyle. You were gone for a month, and when you got back, wham...two five-year-old kids, and you're an old married couple."
Sylvia smiled. "We thought it was just as weird when we came back to Kandor, and only a month had gone by. When Van was enlarged by Superman that one time...well, you know who he fell for." She smiled impishly at him.
"Yep, Lois Lane," said Van, digging in a fruit cup. "But she was sort of spoken for at the time, so I looked around on Earth for a girl who looked just like her, and I was very, very fortunate to set my eyes on one Sylvia DeWitt."
"Yeahhh," she said, grabbing him by the head and kissing him. "Just little Sylvia, on the run from a convienience marriage Dad wanted to trap me into. I was never so glad to see a man from outer space in my life."
After the laughs had died down, Van said, "So we tied the knot, I took her on a tour of some of the universe's finer points, and then I took her to another universe to live. You know, Superman had a lot of enemies in those days, and both of us looked exactly like him and Lois. And even if they knew we weren't them, people like the Superman Revenge Squad weren't shy about kidnapping anyone connected to Superman back then, to lure Kal into a trap. I didn't want any of that. Also, we couldn't go back to Kandor at the time, because the Fortress was full of a deadly gas. So I got a dimension-scope from the Fortress, used it to scan a few universes, and picked out one which had a habitable and habitated Venus. That's where I took us, and that's where we stayed."
"And that's where we had our two formerly adorable children," said Sylvia, "whom I am gonna ground until they forget what the sun looks like if they start a food fight right now. Got it, Lyle, Lili?"
"Ah, Mom, it's not like we're kids anymore," sulked Lili. "I mean, we're graduating Primary Learning next month."
"Which means you'd better have a studies program picked out for University in three months," said Sylvia. "We won't be around to give you free housing and food forever, you know." Part of the jibe was serious, but Lyla and Lili did good in school, thankfully.
"Anyway, all of us had super-powers on Venus, except me," continued Sylvia. "Van, the dear, saw me just about breaking my hands when I had to spank the little darlings one day, and both of them grinning to beat the band. So he fixed up this serum that gave me super-powers, too, and the next time Lyle mouthed off at me, I had him bent over my knee again, and he was just about ready to start laughing when he found out all of a sudden that it wasn't a laughing matter anymore. You remember that, Lyle?"
"Oh, yeah, Mom." He grinned. "Some memories get better with time, but that ain't one of them."
"But anyway, there was a bit of timeslip in that universe. It was a sixty-to-one ratio. We'd spent 5 years over there, and only one month had gone by here. And you know what got us back here?" Sylvia was beaming.
"I think I'm afraid to ask," said Allura. Zor-El kept his peace.
Sylvia whooped. "I thought I'd caught Van smooching with another woman! I thought he'd gone to my Earth again, and I used my super-vision to see where he was over there, with some help from the Dimension-Scope thingie. The first guy I saw in a Superman uniform was kissing this redheaded hussy, and I was so sure that Van was...oh, you know." Another round of laughter, all around, but Kara noticed Van was blushing. "Turns out it was the real Superman. He was kissing Lana Lang. And I took Lyle and Lili, stomped out, and left him, just like in the movies. But Kal and Lois found out from Van what went wrong, and they straightened us out again. By that time, the mess in the Fortress was all cleared up, and we could come back and live in Kandor, so we did. And you ought to have seen the looks on the faces of Van's relatives, when he comes back with a wife and two five-year-old kids, saying, ‘Folks, I'd like you to meet the family.'"
Kara was just about to fall out of her chair laughing.
"Fast work," she gasped.
"Oh, yes," groaned Van, his chin in his hands. "You wouldn't believe what kind of hassle the school board gave us with Lyle and Lili."
"So there I was, a rich girl, a supermom, and now a little bitty lady in this city in a dad-blamed bottle in a place right in the middle of the Arctic," hooted Sylvia. "I mean, I wanted to get away from Daddy, but this was too much!"
"Did you ever get to meet your father again, Sylvia?" asked Zor-El, conversationally.
"Sure, Zor, several times," Sylvia said. "I asked Superman to let him know about a month after we came back, just for decency's sake, and Kal got a communications hookup and let him talk to us and see us for awhile. When Kal told him what had happened to me, Dad was about as indignant with him as if the poor guy had been one of his subordinates and had screwed up. But he learned pretty quickly that you do not talk to Superman like that." She smiled in satisfaction.
"Well, what did Kal say?", pressed Kara, eagerly.
"He said, ‘Mr. DeWitt, my name is Superman. You don't pay me a salary. You didn't vote me into office. I do what I do because I choose to do it. If you don't speak to me with civility, I will fly out of here and I promise you that you will never hear from your daughter, or from me, again. Is that clear?' And about that time, Dad started realizing just who he was talking to. So he made some kind of apology, and Superman showed him the little viewscreen machine he had with him, and we talked. He really was glad to know that I was all right, you know."
"Now he likes to say, whenever he's at a party, ‘We married into Superman's family, you know,'" said Van. He shook his head and sighed. "One great thing about Kandor: I didn't have to worry about my in-laws."
Van, Kara recalled, was the son of KalyaVar-El, her great-aunt on her father's side. A number of people of her mother's family, the Ze's, had survived, but not as many, alas, as the Els.
"Well, Kara, what about you these days?" asked Van. "Is it dull, not having any bad guys to beat up on?"
Kara looked sober. "The last time that happened, Van, I almost got beaten to death. Right now, I'm looking forward to just making movies. But Jas and I still spar every once in awhile."
For an instant, all remembered the adventure of only four months' past, in which four Phantom Zone fugitives had escaped, kidnapped Kara, and threatened all Rokyn with a plague culture. To conquer them, Kara had battled Faora Hu-Ul, the deadliest martial artist in the Zone, and beaten her. But she had taken terrific punishment in the fight, and had required face-shaping treatments afterward.
As a result of her actions, her heroic stock on Rokyn had risen even higher. She was given a citation by the ruling Science Council, feted at dinners and celebrations, and made one of Ar-Rom Studio's biggest holomovie stars. And that after just two pictures, one of which was a docudrama of the Zoners incident. One politician had even made the statement, "The Terrans have their Superman, and we have our Kara Zor-El. I'm not sure which is the greater hero."
But, as Kara had noted, Faora Hu-Ul had almost killed her in the fight.
Van sobered. "I'm sorry, Kara. I apologize to you, too, Zor and Allura. Honestly, my mouth ran away with my brain at that point."
Zor crossed his fingers. "Vanian, don't worry. But I'm like Kara...I hope all that fighting stuff is in the past for us all now."
Allura sighed, and Kara went on. "What I am doing, since we finished the pic that was based on that, is trying to find a new subject for the next one. I want to try something different from an actioner. The bosses at Ar-Rom have given us the okay, to see if it'll work. We've been looking at various properties, everything from drama to comedies to sf to historicals, plus everything in between. They say a biopic in which I play myself would bring in lots of cash. But I don't want to play me again, I want to play somebody else."
"I wish my sister would play somebody else," offered Lyle.
"You're doomed, brother," said Lili.
"Kids," said Van, and both subsided for the moment. Kara studied his jaw for a second. She was pretty sure that he was Nightwing, the Batman of Kandor, and that his friend Ak-Var, who was married to Van's niece, was Flamebird. Both of them had helped bring down the Zoners in her last adventure. But she'd had a secret identity, too, and there was one cardinal rule among super-heroes: don't pry.
"Can I make a suggestion, Kara?" piped up Lili.
She turned to the girl, an 18-year-old version of her mother, visually, but with a personality of her own. "Sure, honey. What?"
Lili, worrying a paper napkin between her hands, said, "Well, I'd like to see you in a science fiction movie. And I know just who you ought to play. I want to see you do Tonn, the ancient astronaut."
"The legendary ancient astronaut," amended Lyle. "Nobody even knows for sure that she existed, Lili."
Kara courteously appeared to consider the notion. "Thanks, Lili. We'll think about it." Legends made Kryp and Tonn, two astronauts from different worlds, the Adam and Eve of Krypton. She wasn't so sure she wanted to do something like that just yet. They'd probably give her an action script if she came up with that as a basis.
Lili said, "Oh, please do, Cousin Kara. And if you do, please let me know, okay?"
"Don't worry, Lili, if I do, I'll make sure you're the first to know." Kara sipped a hot drink and shared a grinning glance with Sylvia.
A thought came to Allura. "You know, dear, you're not the first member of the El family to be in pictures. Don't you remember the other one?"
She looked at her mother. "Who, Mom?" She had a good memory, but not the super-memory she possessed under Earth's yellow sun.
Zor cracked his knuckles together, a Kryptonian sign of surprise. "Mother moon. You're right, Allura. Kal was in a picture here. How could I have forgotten that? It was Lyla Lerrol's last."
"Oh, Lyla," said Kara. "Holy Rao. I'd forgotten. I'd forgotten all about it."
But Kal never did, she told herself.
Sylvia said, "I'm afraid I'm not up on that bit of family history, Zor. Can you tell me how Superman could be in a movie on Krypton, before he was born?"
Zor-El, Superman's uncle, sat back and considered. "Time travel," he said. "He can do that, you know. So could Kara. So could any of us, if we weren't under a red sun and heavy gravity. He'd gotten stranded back here by some circumstance, before Jor and Lara had ever gotten married. The strange thing was, he'd met them before, on another time-trip thing. Both of them had been part of the Investigations Bureau, working on that Kil-Lor case. He'd introduced himself as Superman then. When he arrived this time, they knew him from that earlier instance, so they were glad to see him. They said he seemed to be keeping some part of himself secret. We wouldn't learn what, for a long time to come. Anyway, he got himself a job as a movie extra, almost by accident, when he made his way to Kryptonopolis, and that's where he met Tynth Lerrol. Shortly after that, he made sure to attend his own parents' wedding."
"His own parents?" Sylvia was agog. "His own mother and father, and he saw their marriage?"
"Well, Sylvia, wouldn't you, if you had the chance?" asked Allura.
"Of course, they recognized him from that incident with Kil-Lor," continued Zor. "He was still wearing the Superman outfit, as well. This time, he told them his given name was Kal-El. Jor thought they might be related, but Kal didn't confirm or deny. He got a job as Jor's assistant, which also helped him in another way, because Jor held a dinner party and guess who was one of the guests there?"
"Lyla Lerrol," said Kara, her hands tented, not looking at anyone.
"Exactly," said Zor. "Jor had done some consulting work as a tech on the picture she was making. There she was, and there he was, in the position about half the men of Krypton would have killed to be in--"
"Don't get me speculating as to which half you'd be in," noodged Allura.
"Sorry, dear, but you know how she was, nowhere near your quality, though," said Zor. "But Kal hit it off with her, and she didn't even understand it herself, but they became an item. I only saw them a couple of times, but I could tell--both of them were in love."
Kara wouldn't look up at anyone.
"But Kal and Jor were at work on the space ark project," said Zor. "They actually got the thing built, right here in Kandor, and they were going to take off with several thousand people who believed my brother and go off in space. But before they could get the people and supplies loaded, while Jor, Kal, Lara and company were back in Kryptonopolis, you know what happened."
Sylvia asked, "Was that the day Brainiac shrunk it?"
Van nodded. "It was. Believe it."
"So there Jor was, and believe me, he didn't blow up in front of the wife or Kal, but he came over to my place and really sent up a storm," said Zor. "He cursed out the mossbacks on the Science Council, he cursed out the people that didn't believe in him, and he cursed out whoever was in that stupid spaceship who shrank the whole city and his Space Ark with it. Actually, it was a blessing in disguise. We never would have saved as many people with the Ark as Brainiac did by shrinking Kandor. But let's skip that.
"Anyway, Kal was still doing a little extra work on The Space Explorers, Lyla's movie. They had already decided that they were going to get married, a couple of days after the picture wrapped. The fancasts were having a field day with it, they were about to zip the pics of the two of them together all across the planet. And then..." He paused.
"What happened then?" asked Sylvia, enrapt in the story. Kara glanced at Lyle and Lili. Both were hypnotized by Zor's story.
"Well, then Kal got into the rocket that Jor-El had helped design for the picture, and there was an accident involving a flame-beast, and the rocket took off," said Zor, simply. "So, it was the second time one of my brother's rockets had carried Kal away from Krypton. Once it got out of range of the sun, Kal's powers came back, and I imagine he had a mighty tough choice. He could try to come back to Krypton, have about three years of bliss with Lyla...though I don't know what would have happened to him, mind you, once he'd been born to Jor and Lara...or he could go back to Earth, and play hero.
"And you all know what he did. Which turned out to be the best thing for us, because he was there to mentor Kara, who helped us get out of the Survival Zone, and the two of them finally enlarged us all here. What's best hurts, most of the time."
Van-Zee sighed, in awe. Sylvia couldn't say anything.
Lyle said, "Mom, I think I'd like to do something." Sylvia looked at him. He seemed to be holding back tears. She waved him off, and Lyle walked very quickly away and shut the dining room door behind him.
"Wow," said Lili, hardly noticing her brother's abscence.
"Wow indeed," said Zor, sadly. He looked at his daughter. "Kara?"
The girl who was once Supergirl spoke slowly and clearly, still not looking at anyone.
"She was Kal's one true love," she said.
"It wasn't just that she was beautiful. It wasn't just that she looked like the statue of Lorra the love goddess. It was that she was one of Kal's own kind, and there he was, on a world where he didn't have to be Superman, where he couldn't have been even if he'd wanted. It was long before he'd made his first enemy. Nobody would be trying to get back at him by hurting her. He didn't have to wonder if she was just drawn to him by some phony glamour about being Superman. It was more her wondering if he was drawn to her just because she was a sex-symbol actress. There, he didn't have to play Clark Kent or Superman. There, he was free--maybe for the first time in his life, I don't know--to love somebody. And he knew he only had a short time in which to love her, because he knew Krypton was going to explode in less than four years.
"So he let the barriers down, and let himself love somebody all the way. And Lyla loved him back. She could have had anybody she wanted in the world. But Kal had been where she was, in a way, and wasn't impressed by her fame. He was impressed by her. It was even greater than that thing he'd had for Lori Lemaris, and he'd wanted to get married to her when he was in college. Now, he was going to get married. And he was going to have all the love he'd been denied for a lifetime, in just the three years he had left before the planet blew up. That was what he told me. Spoken, and unspoken.
"Then she was taken away, and he had to come back to Earth." She paused. Before anyone else could jump in, Kara continued.
"He was like a caged tiger for at least a month after that. Down at the Daily Planet, he even yelled at Jimmy Olsen over something stupid, and then apologized. That was really out of character for Clark. I called him up from the orphanage, just to see how he was doing. It was the first conversation I ever had with him in which he told me to leave him alone. That was it, just ‘Leave me alone.' He sent me a message later saying he was sorry, but he wanted to be alone for a long while. I was afraid for him."
"Kara, that's all right," Allura started to say.
"The guys at the Planet figured he'd been thrown over by some girl, and they were right, but he couldn't tell them, of course. Even Lois tried taking him out, but he wouldn't let her. He just closed himself up in his little world for awhile, and worked. I went to see him once, but he just told me that he loved me but he couldn't see me right then. And I tried to talk to him about whatever it was, but he wouldn't. I was so afraid for him, so awfully afraid.
"A couple of weeks later, he called me at the orphanage and let me know he wanted me to meet him at the Fortress when I could. So I snuck out and flew up there. As soon as I closed the big door after me, he was there, and he just grabbed me and hugged me for all I was worth. Then he told me all about it. Everything. He didn't cry, but I could tell that, sometime between coming back and when I saw him, he must have. Probably more than once.
"I was so damned sorry for him. And I worried that, if I ever fell in love that deeply, I might get the man I loved taken away from me like that. A couple of times, that did happen...but to Sheol with that.
"I tried to matchmake for him a few times after that, either with Lois or with other women, but it didn't work. Whatever he had with Lois, whatever he had with any other woman, I don't think it was anywhere near what he had with Lyla. And he never saw her again." She paused again.
"Sometimes, I think Kal's the loneliest man in the universe."
There was silence for a few beats after that.
"I think I'll help out in the kitchen," said Allura.
She and Sylvia moved off to do just that. Lili was gazing at Kara, wordlessly. Kara looked up, with wet eyes, and said, "Daddy, would you and Van mind if I..."
"It's all right, Kara," said Zor, quietly.
She got up and left the dining room, walking down the hall, catching a glimpse of her mother and Sylvia talking in the kitchen, and headed for the bathroom. Once inside, she ran water into a basin and splashed it on her face. The draining water drowned out any other noises a listener outside might have been able to hear.
It also gave her time to think. She thought about the effect the story of Superman's doomed romance had on herself, and on all the people at the dinner party. She thought of Kal's standing as the greatest hero of Krypton, and of Lyla's iconic status among film buffs as the Marilyn Monroe of a doomed planet.
After that, she shut off the water, rubbed a towel against her face, and rummaged in her purse for a communicator, which she flipped open. First, she took a couple of deep breaths and got herself fully under control. Then she entered a code and the face of her friend To-Bin, assistant to the head of Ar-Rom Studios, appeared.
"If it was anyone but you or the boss, Kara, I'd hide this thing under my pillow," he said, tiredly. "Got an early day tomorrow. What is it?"
"To, I think I've got the title of my next movie," she said.
"So? What's it sound like?"
She drew in a breath, composed herself, and said three words.
"Kal and Lyla."
There was silence for a moment, on the other end. She looked at him. He had his mouth open in awe.
"And I don't want to play Kal," she added.
Jimmy Olsen and Lois Lane were having a conference over coffee at the McDonalds around the corner from the Planet.
Lois said, "He's been gone for over a month now. Superman, too."
Jimmy nodded, his usually hyper personality quite subdued now. "Clark might not be Superman, you know, Lois. They just both might be in trouble together."
"Do you believe that, Jimmy?"
"The part about him not being Superman--no. Got to admit it. About them being in trouble? Yes. Definitely."
"The Justice League still says they can't find him?" asked Lois, fighting back her nerves.
"Right," said Jimmy, who didn't tell her how he had a clear channel with them. He knew that Batman was secretly Bruce Wayne, and Bruce had kept him informed of the League's efforts. "But there's someone else they can't find, either. And that scares me worse."
"Who?" asked Lois, tightening her grip on the cup.
"Lex Luthor," said Jimmy.
Lois sighed, rubbed the bridge of her nose, and then looked at Jimmy again. "Jimmy, I need your help. You're in touch with one of the League. I want you to have one of them get in touch with me."
"Green Lantern. I want to send a message to Supergirl."
He mused a second, then drank the rest of his coffee, got up, and left a five-dollar bill on the table. "I'll see what I can do," he said. "Let's get back to work."
Two sisters sat across from each other in a secluded meeting room. They hadn't seen each other in awhile, and both were catching up on what the other was doing, in a manner of speaking.
One of them had to hide her face behind an all-covering yellow mask. That was because, underneath it, she didn't have much face left. She wore a purple skin-tight jumpsuit.
The other was a beautiful black-haired cosmopolitan type, with a fur that would have enraged animal activists and made even most rich women jealous. She wore an original dress from the highest-priced designer in the world. The black patch with the eight-pointed white star over her eye was an original, too.
"So, tell me, Sofia darling, what have you been up to in the last year or so?", asked the lady in the eyepatch, fitting a cigarette into a holder. "After that last tiff with the Amazon, you've been keeping a low profile." She smiled at the calculated barb.
In a voice partly muffled by the mask, the other said, "Not as low as you've been keeping for the last few years, Stella, dear. The world at large hasn't heard from you since you had those few encounters with the bimbo in blue. And it must be simply dreadful to have one's nom de guerre taken up by one of those Teen Titans, now, isn't it?"
Stella smiled. "Now that orange-skinned bimbo I'm personally going to enjoy dismembering, when the opportunity presents itself. But it's getting a bit late. If our host doesn't show herself soon, I'm headed out of here. I'd like to see Fisherman's Wharf again."
A door opened, and an armed guard let in another slim, beautiful, black-haired woman. "Dr. Cyber, Starfire, welcome to San Francisco," said the newcomer. "My name is Nasthalia Luthor. Let's talk business."
Lena Thorul awoke with a start. She almost knocked the lamp off the side table grabbing for it to turn it on.
She drew in deep breaths to calm herself, and thought, wildly, about scenes in movies where someone wakes up in fright and has a cigarette to calm themselves down. But she had no cigarettes, just a double bed that had been half empty for almost two years now.
She sat on the side of her bed for a few seconds and composed herself. Then she opened a drawer from the night stand, took a cassette recorder from it, turned it on, and began to speak.
"This is August 17th. Another entry in my dream journal. I think this one might be a prophecy. It's been a long time since I've had one...but this one seemed intense enough to be. I just hope it isn't.
"I saw my brother Lex. His wife Ardora was alive, and he was killing her.
"And then he was killing Superman."