Last Waltz With Luthor
Titans Tower was built to withstand a lot of assaults, but not those of two superwomen who tore it from its moorings and slammed it onto its side. The left end of the big T was now dipped into the water just off the island where the tower stood.
The heroes within--Nightwing, Starfire, Changeling, Speedy, Wonder Girl, Kid Flash, Jericho, Kole, and Cyborg--found themselves dumped end-over-end, plummeting many feet, endangered by the impact and by falling objects and debris. Koryand'r managed to pull herself and Dick Grayson away from a falling lab desk that smashed through an interior wall. Kole spun a globe of crystal about herself and Jericho that saved them from injury, though they got bounced around painfully within it. Changeling turned himself into a gecko lizard and hung on to a wall with his sticky paws for dear life. Cyborg managed to cover his vulnerable parts with his metallic ones and rode out the fall. Wonder Girl snagged a doorknob with her lasso, held onto the other end, and let Speedy grab her legs. Kid Flash simply vibrated fast enough for the walls and plummeting interior fixtures to pass through him.
The tower crashed with a tremendous noise, and the severed bottom sent up spurts of water from broken pipes and sputtering sparks from severed power cables. The impact was heard from at least ten miles away.
What not too many people saw were the causes of the disaster: Starfire and Dr. Cyber.
They tore their way into the toppled Titans Tower with little difficulty, grinning like two harpies on speed. The Titans were in several separate rooms, but both women had learned how to use their X-ray vision to some degree by now. They knew where to find their prey.
Cyborg used his metallic strength and sonic blasts. Speedy loosed explosive arrows. Starfire loosed starbolts at them from her hands.
The two interlopers shrugged off the impacts and kayoed Cyborg and Speedy with single blows, rapidly. But Starfire, who was known as Koryand'r and who was a golden-skinned native of a world named Tamaran, didn't get off so easily.
The girl in the black eyepatch grabbed her by a wrist and smashed her into a wall, repeatedly. She fought back, but it was like punching neutronium. The woman's black gloved fist descended several times, terribly. Starfire's face was bloodied by the third blow. She had lost consciousness with the first.
The other Starfire laid hands on her opponent's throat. "I should kill you for taking my name," she said. "I really should."
"Hey! Over here!" said another voice.
Starfire, the villainess, saw Nightwing, the guy who used to be that stupid brat, Robin. The one who walked around barelegged when he was younger.
Nightwing tried to scuttle away, pushed a button in his belt that would notify the JLA of an emergency. He'd succeeded in getting the woman away from Kory. That was the important thing.
Ms. Eyepatch leaped towards him with a jump that would have bested an Olympic champion's. Dick whipped a laser torch from his belt and blasted her with it. She took it on the palm of her hand, smiling.
Then she flicked him in the side of his head with two fingers and he lay still.
Cyber had split the globe carrying Kole and Jericho. The Wilson kid, who could possess any human by looking at them, almost managed to turn the trick with the woman in the metal mask. Almost. She was just too darned fast. Her slap felt like it would take his head off. Since he blacked out after being hit, he didn't know if it had or it hadn't. A similar blow took care of Kole, who was trying to encase Cyber in crystal.
Changeling had become a fly and managed an escape through a cracked plexiglass window. He cursed himself for not standing and fighting. But, he had to face it--Cyber, who had fought the Titans before, and whoever the eyepatched bimbo was, had more power now than he could handle. Thus, escaping and getting help was better than staying and falling.
Wonder Girl tried to loop her magic rope around Cyber from behind, but the witch in the mask easily avoided it without looking at her, as if she could hear the lasso falling. Cyber grabbed the loop and yanked it out of Donna Troy's hands. The young Amazon stood in a defensive position, ready to fight.
"How'd you get super-powers?" asked Donna, with a hard edge to her voice. "Dr. Moon whip them up for you?"
Cyber didn't answer her directly. "I've taken care of your big sister," she said. "Now it's your turn."
The young Amazon struck out with her wrist, tagging Cyber in the arm with her Amazonium bracelet. She could tell it hurt. But a karate blow to the neck was warded off easily. Donna wasn't quite as strong as Diana. And Cyber, she thought grimly, seemed to be even more powerful than Diana right now.
Cyber leaped up and kicked Donna in the chest, her foot smashing into the girl's diaphragm. The heroine slammed back into a wall. Wonder Girl gasped and gasped and gasped for breath, feeling as though she'd taken a cannonball in the thorax. She fought to straighten up, to bring up her fists against the advancing female juggernaut. But it was of no use.
Dr. Cyber grasped Donna in a bearhug and squeezed with precisely enough force to take almost a minute to put her out. That gave her time to look into the girl's face and savor her expression.
Then she opened her arms and the girl fell to the wall below her, like so much flour. Starfire said, "We're missing one, maybe two."
"They'll keep," said Cyber, gasping in pleasure. "They'll keep."
The two women began tearing up flooring to make a platform on which to sling the beaten Titans. Only minutes afterward, two observers saw a large section of outer wall on the Tower torn out, followed by the two flying women and their captives on a portion of flooring large enough to accomodate them.
Gar Logan had become a frog and was watching from the cover of some tall grass elsewhere on the island. "Wally," he ribbited, "what're we gonna do?"
Kid Flash, vibrating fast enough not to be seen, said, "Sit tight. I've signalled the old guys. They ought to be here in a few minutes."
But both of them, watching the two women fly away at great speed, knew that it wouldn't be fast enough.
Kara, sloshing against the purple liquid that was approximately 50 per cent of the Parasite, listened telepathically to what he had to say.
<I can shift the flow of absorption to him, to Superman, for about a second,> the energy-sapping villain confided. <That'll leave you free to act for about that long. I think you'll have enough power to break loose. But you have to get out of there, once you do. Luthor has the place monitored, and he'll know what happened.>
<What happens to you when Luthor finds out?> asked Kara.
<Don't know,> admitted the Parasite. <But I doubt there's much he can do to me in this state, except put me in a lot of little jelly jars.>
<Why can't you do Kal as well?> she asked.
The Parasite explained, <He's been under for a month and more. Lots less power to deal with. If I shifted the burden to you, he'd never be able to get out. You ready to try?>
<Not like I have a big choice,> admitted Kara. <Let me know when you're ready.>
<I'll give you a count,> said the villain. <Down from 5. Here we go. 5...4...>
She bunched her muscles. As far as she could tell, nothing had changed. She still lacked the power to break free of the containment tube.
Supergirl braced her back under the lid of the tube, crouching, her bent legs against the tube's bottom.
Then it happened.
Not all the power she had once claimed, true, but enough of it came surging back in a tide of might. Kara Zor-El flexed her leg and back muscles and heaved upwards. It would have to be enough...
It was one of the longest seconds in her life.
The metallic lid to the prison-tube broke open, tearing loose from its joints, ripping the lock, and flying upward as if it had failed to contain an explosion. It struck the ceiling of the chamber, bounced off, and clanged down not far from the tube.
Kara, standing, her skin and costume painted purple, blobs of the Parasite-jello hanging off of her, enjoyed a tenth of a second of triumph.
Then she felt herself weakening again.
<Must get out...>
She threw herself over the side of the tube, tumbling out of the hatch and striking the floor. The purpleness was still on her, still sapping her power, but not as much as it had been. Still, she could barely summon the strength to get to her hands and knees. Supergirl spat, snorted, expelled the mass of Parasite that had worked its way into her insides. It spattered on the floor under her mouth and nose.
<Have to get out of this damn costume. It's covered with him.>
She forced herself to stand, but swayed. She had to grab the tube's housing to steady herself. Mercy of Rao, and she'd only spent a few minutes inside that thing. What must Kal be like, after having spent an entire month?
Kara reached behind her, began to pull the purple-sodden shirt and cape off her back. She was wearing a bra underneath, which, hopefully, hadn't been too Parasite-permeated. It took a long time, longer than she would have wanted. Next she sat down on the tiled floor and began to take off her boots, one at a time. Parasite-glop dripped out of the tops of them.
<He said I have to get out of here. Fast. But I can't summon enough power yet...>
The left boot, then the right. Blast it, it was all over her legs. She knew she had a great set of gams, but this was one time her hotpants ensemble really worked against her. Kara expanded her golden belt with a touch, then shucked her pants, leaving only the bikini brief she wore underneath.
She did not look, nor feel, like a Playboy centerfold. The purple glop still matted her hair, still daubed her face, legs, hands, and whatever parts of her body it had gotten to after soaking through her costume. She tried to burn some of it away with her heat-vision, but didn't get very far with it. Her powers weren't strong enough yet.
Supergirl forced herself to her feet. Have to get out of here, she told herself. But how do I get out of here? I'm almost powerless, and I feel like I did when I was on the coast in that boat last month when the tides came in... The memory didn't lead to a calmer stomach.
But if she didn't get out of here quickly, Luthor would be back. And, in her present condition, she could count on getting dead shortly after that.
A mechanical humming noise caused her to snap her head up. A door was retracting. She drew in several breaths. Right now, she didn't think she could fight if she had to.
Someone stepped inside the room and looked at her.
"Who are you?" she asked.
The woman, a brunette in a flowing light-colored dress and a tiara that was almost like a crown, gasped and started to back away.
"Wait, please," said Kara. "I need your help."
The woman clutched a wall and looked at Kara as if at a snake. "You are one of my husband's enemies," she said. "You are a Kryptonian."
Kara stepped forward, closed her eyes against the vertigo, and then opened them again, looking at the other woman. "I am. And...I need your help. Or your...husband...will kill me."
She tried another step, went to her hands and knees again. She stayed there for a few seconds, sucking in breath.
She saw a long skirt and a pair of sandaled feet before her.
"Do you speak truly?" said Ardora.
"Best believe it," said Kara.
The woman hesitated for a long time. Supergirl remained silent, wondering what to say to this woman. Kal had told her Luthor's wife was dead. Not surprising that he would remarry, but this was pretty sudden.
"My name is Ardora," said the woman, at last. She held out a hand. "Will you promise not to hurt me, my unborn child, or my husband?"
"I guess I can do that," admitted Kara. After all, throwing Lex Luthor in jail again didn't necessarily involve hurting him. Though she would treat herself to a punch in his face, when she could manage it. That was rightly outside the bounds of any promise.
Ardora helped Kara up from the floor. "Let me take you to my chambers," she said.
The emergency room at the Metropolis suburb was overstuffed for the number of hours it took to process the victims Lex Luthor left in his wake at the police station. Thankfully, nobody was badly hurt. Most were victims of power-shock, but there were a few broken bones and superficial ricochet wounds from the cops who had tried to keep Luthor from getting to the chief and his guests.
Byrne and Henderson were into their clothes about as fast as they could get out of their hospital johnnies. Henderson had called the police chief on the intra-hospital phone as soon as he knew the latter was up, and both shunted aside protesting medics who wanted them to stay under observation for a night. "We've got a job to do," said Henderson, in his familiar hat and three-piece. He conferred with Byrne in the parking lot.
"We're leaving the rest behind," said Henderson.
"My sentiments exactly," agreed Byrne. "They're good, but this is a police matter. They're civilians."
"We need more than cops in this matter, though. We need long-underwear guys." Henderson blanched. "I hate to say that. But, hell, you saw him."
Byrne nodded. "I did."
"You call for a car?"
Byrne nodded again.
"Then let's hope it gets here before--"
The voice was familiar, and came in the direction of the hospital's front door, about fifty feet away. Henderson swore under his breath. He pivoted and pointed. "You are not coming with us!"
Captain Strong, still buttoning his shirt, snapped, "Baloney! Ya thinks ya kin take a bad ‘un ‘at's got that kinda power? You ain't packin' sauncha in that hat o' yours, are ya?"
Byrne said, firmly, "I don't see that sauncha helped you much in that encounter, Captain. You're also a civilian, and the Inspector tells me that you've been less than cooperative in this matter. You're not going."
The mighty-armed sailor stepped up to them both. "Ya cans not take down that bald-headed sea vulture with nothin' more than reg'lar cops. Ya needs more power than that."
"Strong," said Henderson, "forget it. From here on in, you and your friends are out of the loop."
"We're not going to endanger more civilians in this caper," said Byrne. "This is a police matter." From the corner of his eye, he saw motion. Byrne turned his head and caught sight of the prowl car he had requested coming towards the egress.
"Well, then, hows does ya expect to capture Luthor?"
"Without you," said Henderson. Both of them turned and walked towards the police car.
"Wait!" yelled Captain Strong. But neither of the cops responded. Byrne and Henderson opened separate doors, got in, and were driven off.
Strong stood there, his big arms hanging loosely, not saying a thing. Then he heard Jimmy Olsen behind him say, "Sorry, Cap. But he does have a point, there. Cops can't endanger civilians unneccesarily."
"Thens we have to do this separately," Strong said, turning to Olsen. "Think yer up to it?"
Olsen nodded. "I've been doin' stuff like this ever since I met Superman. But I'm going to go back home in the Whiz Wagon later and get something that may help. Have you heard the news?"
"What?" asked Strong.
"Titans Tower was knocked down. The New Titans were kidnapped. No witnesses, but I'd say Luthor's got a hand in it."
"Is they superheroes?"
"Then we gots a bigger problem."
Jimmy said, hardly loudly enough to be heard, "Yeah."
Strong said, "It's a good thing Supes has got us on his side."
The reporter grinned. "Maybe. Tonight's shot, Cap. Let me buy you a coffee."
The two went back inside the hospital.
Dan Reed finished up the newscast with the news that Titans Tower had been brought down, with estimates of millions of dollars worth of damage. No bodies were found in the wreckage, but a suspicious blip had been picked up on radar screens in that vicinity before it reached a speed beyond tracking. "As for that unconfirmed report from NASA earlier that the Justice League's headquarters may have suffered damage as well, official sources have no comment," said Dan. "And for the 39th straight day, Superman is missing...as is Clark Kent. For Big Ten news, I'm Dan Reed...good evening."
After the camera's red light was off, Reed stood up and smoothed his jacket. The producer gave him the OK sign. He walked off the set.
"Dan," said the producer, stopping him. "You should excuse me saying this. But you're starting to look up there like Walter Cronkite did when he gave the bulletin that JFK was dead. Something wrong?"
Reed looked hard at the producer. "Wrong? Hell, no, Syd. Superman's been gone so long we're thinking of him like an Iranian hostage. The Titans got their Tower knocked over on its side and got kidnapped. The JLA must've been attacked in space, even though nobody'll admit it. Everything's just peachy."
Syd replied, "Look, Dan. I've seen this sort of stuff before. These gladiators in costumes, the guys who make the big headlines. They're always down for the count, and they always manage to make it up again and put away the bad guys. I've learned not to worry about it."
"Superman's been gone for 39 days."
"That I'm worried about," admitted Syd. "But let's face it. We can't have him forever."
"No," said Reed, pushing past him. "But we need to find out where he's gone."
The newscaster went out to his office. He closed the door and locked it. Then he flopped into the swivel chair that he kept right in front of the photos of his parents and brother. All of them, people who did not exist. All of them, fakes provided by the man from whom he had been cloned.
Lex Luthor had created him from Superman's body cells. He had motivated him to be a replacment for Superman, once the original was killed...one controlled by Luthor himself. It had taken place during a time in which Superman was guiding a tour through an exhibit of his life's history, and the switch had come off without a slip. Almost. But Superman had stopped that project and defeated him and his maker. Later, Reed was glad that the Big S had done it.
But he wasn't even really Dan Reed. In his second meeting with Superman, he'd lost all his powers, and taken the place of Reed, who was a dead newscaster. Took a little plastic surgery, but that was managed. Now, he did a creditable job and brought in the same big bucks that Reed had done. Luckily, the man was a bachelor.
It was hard for the new Dan Reed to adjust, sometimes. Knowing that other human beings were usually loved into existence, grew inside a woman, were born, went through a lengthy maturing process, instead of stepping out into the world, a new creation made inside of a day.
In a sense, Lex Luthor and Superman were both his parents. From the looks of things, one of his parents had taken out the other one. Whether Superman was dead or alive was still unknown.
But what if Superman appeared? Wouldn't it draw the attention of his evil parent? Would it not give him access, perhaps, to information that would help him learn what had become of the Man of Steel, his good parent?
If he survived.
He shared many of Superman's memories. In them were confirmations of the Kryptonian's courage, for he had faced death many times on behalf of humanity.
Had he faced it one time too many?
If so, perhaps it was time Dan Reed faced it once.
There was a drawer in a chest at home which contained a costume Dan Reed had worn before. There was also a plastic mask that he had made for such a time as this one.
There would be time enough to plan where and when he should wear it when he got home.
Three worried people occupied the Danvers house that evening. Two of them, Fred and Edna, were even more worried when they heard what Linda intended to do.
"You want to go to Metropolis?" exclaimed Fred. "Great guns, Linda, why? You're not Supergirl anymore."
"I know, Daddy," said Linda, putting a hand on his arm. "But Kara hasn't been back in all this time, and if she hasn't, I feel as though I need to help."
Edna said, flatly, "No. I won't have it."
She stood up, hands on hips. "Linda. You don't think we've been watching the news? We saw those shots of Titans Tower lying on its side. We heard them say those, those Titans have been kidnapped. Then they told about how Superman's friends and all those cops were attacked in the police station. By Lex Luthor. Remember?"
"I remember," said Linda, quietly. "I saw it, too."
" If Lin...if your sister isn't capable of handling this on her own, then you aren't even in the running. I will not have you killed."
"I don't intend to be," said Linda.
"Neither did Superman," said Fred. "And nobody knows what's become of him. Linda, you're about to be married. Face facts. You cannot get into a blue, red, and yellow suit anymore and play Supergirl."
"I don't expect to, Daddy," Linda said, feeling like the fifteen-year-old she never was. "But it's not that kind of a thing at all. I just...need to know if she's hurt, or something. I want to know if I can help. Call it...oh, I don't know, call it empathy or something. But I know she's gotten herself into trouble out there, somehow. I've got to find out."
"Your mother is right, Linda," said Fred, wondering for a minute how natural it seemed to be talking to this girl as a daughter. "Leave this to the men with the powers. Any minute now, Kara could be flying back through her window to tell us that the entire thing's finished, that Luthor's back in jail, and that Kal, God help him, has been found."
They heard the sound of a window opening, in the direction of the guest room.
Linda was the first to bolt from the table. Fred and Edna weren't far behind.
There was a Kryptonian girl climbing in through the window, all right.
But she had red-hair.
"Shyla Kor-Onn!" said Linda, recognizing her.
"Kara," said Shyla, in surprise. "Is that you?"
"Uh, no," said Linda. "I mean, yes. I mean...yes, and no. I'm, I'm..." She lowered her voice, as if in shame. "...a clone. I don't have her powers, now. But I have her memories."
"Who are you?" asked Fred. "Are you one of Kara's friends?"
"I am now," said Shyla. "I just ‘ported in not long ago from Rokyn. Nobody was in the Fortress, but my source told me she'd probably come here first. Did she?"
"She did," admitted Edna. "But she's gone now. To Metropolis."
"She's been gone a long time," admitted Fred.
"Too long," added Linda. "And I'm worried about her."
Shyla sized up the situation, then looked at Linda.
"Then let's go find her," she said.