Last Waltz With Luthor
Supergirl awoke. She was lying in a bed, and it was not her own.
The chamber was quite palatial. She looked around, seeing the ornate hangings, imported rugs, works of art which were probably taken from museums like the Louvre, carpeted floor, and...she checked it with her X-ray vision--walls reinforced by a metal which had to be much, much harder than regular construction-grade steel.
Kara could not see beyond the walls of the strange house. Not surprising. If this was Lex Luthor's pad, he'd be certain to have insulated it with lead shielding. But...
Where was the woman who had placed her here?
She felt her powers resurgent. Not, perhaps, the full strength she was used to on Earth, but it was building back after her hours in the tank with the Parasite. These would be enough to...what? Track down Luthor and her cousin, Kal? Certainly not to battle Starfire and Cyber together. Time to think.
Her body still hurt. She'd been worked over badly by Cyber and Starfire, and had the bruises to show for it, which she could see on her legs and arms. Kara felt a dull rush of anger towards the two who had beaten her, plus more than a twinge of anger at herself. Here she was, the woman who'd learned martial arts from Lady Shiva and who'd taken on Faora Hu-Ul barehanded and beat her...
...and those two newbie superwomen had beaten the crap out of her.
Of course, it was two-on-one. Of course, she had to surrender or see the Earth's icecap melted. But dammit, her body and her pride had been hurt. Once she caught up with them again, she was pulling out all the stops. Especially with Starfire. That eyepatched bitch needed a good butt-kicking, and she owed her twice now.
But Kal was still gone, and he had to be her first priority.
Kara Zor-El sat up in bed and threw back the covers. She was still in her bikini underwear. Where was her costume? She did another X-ray scan of the room and found it hidden within a dresser drawer on the opposite side of the room. As she got out of bed and went over to the dresser, she saw a note on top of it:
When you awaken, please leave. I cannot keep Lex out of
this room forever.
So. Ardora had become her semi-ally, after all. At least enough to protect her. But...where was Ardora? She did another scan. Luthor's wife seemed to be nowhere she could detect. Perhaps she was in one of the rooms whose view was blocked from Supergirl by lead.
There was a way to find out, of course.
Kara opened the dresser drawer, took out her costume, spread it on the bed, and used her heat-vision to burn the last traces of the Parasite out of it. Lord, it was good to have her super-powers again. Even though she'd gotten used to being a normal woman on Rokyn...nothing replaced the feeling of being Supergirl. Then she donned her uniform again and opened the door, moving at super-speed to make herself invisible to human eyes.
She quickly sped through Luthor's auxiliary hideout. Nobody was home except for the robots standing guard duty. If they detected her, their motions were too slow, relatively, to indicate it. Evidently Ardora had left some time ago. With Lex? Impossible to tell.
Trying to find an access to the outside world took too long to suit her. Barry Allen, the Flash, had shown her and Kal the way to vibrate themselves so that their atoms slipped between that of ordinary matter. It had taken them a lot longer to master the trick, since their atomic structure was a lot denser than the Flash's, but they'd gotten the hang of it. Kara tuning-forked her blue-clad body to the proper pitch and sent herself soaring through the roof.
Looking about her surroundings from an aerial viewpoint, she saw where the hideout was located. Beneath the ground on a stretch of farmland midway between Smallville and Bigville. She nodded to herself. Surely the Justice League had combed this territory, but Luthor must have had a way of concealing it.
Supergirl attuned her vision-powers to track what radio waves and broadcast phenoms she could manage. Yes, waves were coming into Luthor's lair, but they seemed to be the normal commercial broadcasts from television and radio. She tried to pick out input that would be unique to Luthor himself, adding her super-hearing to the mix. No luck. She reflected that Luthor might be communicating by code on a regular ham radio band. But either he was too smart to string trackable communications links between his hideaways, or they were on a bandwidth that even she couldn't track.
Given Luthor's genius, the latter was a possibility.
Fine. She'd been taken captive by Starfire and Cyber, she'd met Luthor's wife, apparently risen from the dead, and she had escaped, with no idea of where Luthor or Superman really were. Really clicking on all cylinders, Kara, she told herself.
Well, what the hell. She'd gotten a bit farther down the line with this thing, and maybe with a little brainwork she and the rest of her irregulars could figure out where their quarry was. She soared into the air, headed for Metropolis, and lessened her vibrations to become visible again. On the way, she passed close by an airliner and waved to the folks on her side. They waved back. She grinned. It was fun to grandstand like that.
Then she turned all too sober when she thought of what might happen to Ardora when Lex found out that he no longer had a captive. True, Ardora was his wife.
But up against the sin of liberating one of his greatest enemies, even being married to him and carrying his child might not be enough.
This is what had happened in the interim:
Lex Luthor had taken his henchmen, Pluto and Plato Statler, Wanda Nordo, and Louto Marono, to the hideout in which Superman was kept in his Parasite cylinder. Starfire and Cyber had taken the New Titans to a third installation in which they, like the Justice League, were kept in suspended animation cabinets of Luthor's own design. He was running out of them and they asked if they could simply kill the next heroes who opposed them. Luthor replied that he'd think about it.
"After all," he said, "there's only so much Parasite I can use. Unless I can clone him."
"Might be kinda dangerous," said Pluto.
"Deadly, even," said Plato. "He can't be happy about being trapped in that cylinder all this time with Superman."
Wanda, leaning on a computer bank, asked, "So. What do we do about the Leaguers? Can't keep ‘em on ice forever, Lex."
The great bald head swung in her direction. "The plan is to subject them to the Parasite as well. They won't hold out as long as Superman, and we can imbue their powers in ourselves and whomever else we choose."
"Hey, I'm for that," said Louto. "Make me the new Green Lantern, huh, Lex, please?"
"I want to be the Flash," said Pluto.
"The Flash is gone, stupid," Plato answered. "Maybe even dead. Besides, what you get I'd get too, and I don't want to be the Flash."
"There's still that Boy Flash," retorted his brother. "We can use him."
"We haven't got him," pointed out Wanda. "Not yet, anyway. Just simmer down, you guys, till it's all settled."
Louto said, "Guess I've gotta ask. Just when is this thing gonna be settled, anyway?"
Luthor almost smiled.
"Very soon," he said. "Very, very soon." He opened a section of his warsuit, took out a small microphone, and spoke into it. "All right. Come in."
The metal door into the chamber was wrenched into two pieces by the mighty hands of Starfire and Dr. Cyber, who stepped in afterwards. Even Luthor's aides were impressed.
"It is time we made our demands," said Luthor.
Kara flew quickly to Metropolis to check in with Inspector Henderson. The first thing she heard when she opened the window was a familiar voice, followed by Henderson's "NO!"
She saw the inspector talking with Linda Danvers, Dick Malverne, and Shyla Kor-Onn. The Kryptonian woman was the first to turn around, drop her jaw, and then rush to her and embrace her. "Kara!" Shyla exclaimed. "You're back! You're alive!"
"Uh, yeah," said Kara. "Great to see you, too, Shy. What are you doing here?"
Linda was the next to come to Supergirl's side and tried hugging both women in relief. "Welcome back, si...Supergirl," she said. "Where were you?"
"Oh, getting my head handed to me by two women and then getting my power sucked out by the Parasite," said Kara, gently pushing both her friends away. "Let me tell you all about it."
"You've got a lead?" said Henderson. "You'd better tell me all about it."
After the Girl of Steel had told her tale, the inspector asked, "So you can take us to this place, now? You know where Luthor's hiding?"
"I know where that Lair is, yes," said Supergirl. "But Luthor's always had multiple Lairs. I'm concerned about Ardora, now, as well as Kal. Lex won't have much trouble finding out who set me free of that Parasite glop. Wife or not, she needs protection."
"So Luthor hates Superman more than he loves his own wife?" said Dick, incredulously.
"Stay out of this, son," warned Henderson.
Kara nodded. "He hates Superman more than he loves anything. But I've got an idea as to how to find him."
"How?" said Shyla. "And while we're at it, tell me where I can get my hands on one of those bitches who worked you over in the sky."
"As for the latter, I have a feeling we'll meet them soon enough," said Kara. "And I want a piece of them, too. In fact, as many pieces as I can get."
Shyla grinned. "Two-on-two is a lot better odds than two-on-one. I haven't seen good enough competition for a long time, anyway."
"Honey, this time, we're going to be the good competition," Kara replied. "I'll show ‘em what Lady Shiva taught me, for sure. But we're going back to Luthor's Lair, after I call somebody. Can I use your phone, Inspector?"
Henderson sighed and gestured towards it. "If you'll tell these two amateurs to go home. I can use this person from your hometown, but I've just kicked out a bunch of civilians who were better than they were, and I'm getting tired of these guys horning in on my case."
Picking up the receiver, Kara said to Linda and Dick, "He's right, you two. You may be old friends, but this is too dangerous, even for you. If super-heroes are getting their backsides kicked all over the country, you can imagine what they'd do to civvies."
"I am not a ‘civvie'," said Linda, indignantly.
"Oh?" said Kara, gently. "Can you bend steel in your bare hands, or change the course of mighty rivers, or fly faster than a speeding bullet?"
Linda stood there with her mouth open for a long moment, then said, "I...don't suppose I can."
"Well, then," Kara replied. She punched in a string of numbers. The phone on the other end rang twice, and was answered by a male voice.
"Thorul residence," it said. "Cap'n Horatio Strong speakin'."
"Captain, it's Kara," she said. "Let me talk to Val."
"Oh, god," said Henderson, rubbing the back of his neck.
Ardora had hardly ever been out in the open in her short life. Lex had taken her outside, under the stars of night, once in a great while. He had explained that their great enemy, Superman, and his allies would like nothing better than to find him and imprison him again, and God only knew what they would do to Ardora. He implied that the male heroes would have their way with her, while the females cheered them on. Remembering his implications, Ardora shivered.
Nonetheless, there she was, in the above-ground world. The sky was blue, like that of dear, perished Lexor. The unfiltered air had a strange tang to it, possibly of the pollutants Lex had vowed to abolish. But it was breathable. The noises of Terran birds came to her, as did the rumble of what must be those conveyances that the people of this world used to transport themselves and their goods from place to place.
So much had been taught to her, by Lex directly and by sleep-instruction of his own devising. But Supergirl had seemed sincere when she said that Lex would kill her. It was hard to tell, and God knew, she was naive even by her own limited standards. Still, Supergirl had seemed to be a good woman.
Thus, she had been a fool and hidden her.
Now Supergirl had left, undoubtedly, and she had waged a mighty debate within herself. She would already have earned Lex's displeasure by freeing his enemy. There was no telling what his wrath would be like, though perhaps it might be softened by the fact that she was his wife, carrying his child.
Yet, now there were doubts.
Was Lex a good man?
Was Superman a bad man, and Supergirl a bad woman?
She could not learn the answers within the confines of Lex's Lair. So she had used the tricks she had picked up from watching Lex, of programming the robots not to stop her when she left. She did not know how to deactivate Lex's monitor cameras, but trusted that she would be able to make her way into the Outer World before he returned. Sometimes he was gone for days. She prayed that this was one of those times.
The wind was chilly to her in her billowy yellow dress that left her arms bare, and her sandals weren't really made for walking on this country road. All she had for foodstuffs was what she carried in a small bag, held in her right hand as she walked, taken from the larder at the Lair.
How far behind was it, now? A mile? Perhaps two? She had no idea. She had had to cover much ground before she even got to this road. But she had followed the sound of the rumbles. Perhaps one of those rumbles would find her here.
And, in truth, one of those rumbles seemed to be increasing in noise.
Ardora turned and saw behind her a metal behemoth, one of whose eyes bore a man. She screamed and ran directly in front of its path, like a deer in headlights, barely managing to tumble over the other side before it passed, its great horn honking in a key that changed as it approached and then flew past her. She flattened and crushed most of the food in her bag, rolling over it. Clutching at the earth, Ardora looked up, panting, bearing the grime of the road and the dirt she had rolled on.
The behemoth had stopped, a short distance down the road. Now it was backing up.
Ardora froze, as if a lion had noticed her and was coming back for her.
The great metal thing on its huge tires finally stopped beside her, and disgorged the man within it. His skin was dark brown. Lex had told her there were men colored differently from himself and her, and that men of this color were, inexplicably, called Blacks.
"Hey, lady, you awright?" said the man.
"I, I do not know awright," Ardora said, haltingly.
He held out his hand, looking strangely at her. "You from some kinda party or somethin', ma'am? Don't look dressed t'be hikin' down this way."
"Can you," she said, then swallowed and said, "can you control this thing?"
He looked at her even more queerly. "I'll say I can control it. I been drivin' this route for five years now. You sure you ain't hurt?"
"I do not think I am harmed," she said. "Can you take me to this, this city called Metropolis?"
The Black said, "I'm not bound that way, but I'll give you a ride into Gotham. You'd be better off ridin' with me than walkin' in that getup, anyway. Come on."
"I must speak with Supergirl," she said. "I am...I am the wife of Lex Luthor."
That, perhaps, was the wrong thing to say. The man looked at her as though she was a spirit of the unquiet dead. But just as she was considering running away, he spoke.
"You may be crazy," he said. "But crazy or not, you better come with me. Just might be crazy enough to be true."
The woman in the yellow gown took the hand of the trucker and was helped into the cab of his monster. It took off shortly afterward with a great roar. She was buckled in by a safety belt and sash, but she held the seat with both white-knuckled hands. The Black gave her a slim plastic package. "Jerky," he told her. "Have some."
She tore the plastic open and bit some of the strange substance off. It tasted good. Not like the pate de foie gras Luthor had synthesized for her, but...good, nonetheless.
Barney Baines looked at her edgewise. The woman didn't seem dangerous. But there was a one-gas-pump town coming up in twenty minutes. Might bust his schedule, but he was gonna stop there, put in a call to the cops, and find out what was what.
That was for sure.
It looked to be a normal mugging in a neighborhood not far from Suicide Slum. Two hoods had just coshed a parking lot attendant over the head, broken into the till, and emptied it. They were just out of the chain-link gate when they saw somebody striding up to them who looked familiar.
Everyone in Metropolis knew who this guy was.
And when he spoke to them, saying, "Put the guns and the money down. NOW.", they knew it for a voice they'd heard on the evening news many a time.
"Les," said Smitty, "we better do what the man wants."
"No," Les said, desperately. "No!"
"Les, please," moaned his partner. But Smitty was a three-time loser. One more time was all he'd need to cool his heels in the pen until they were cold forever.
Sure, Superman was supposed to be bullet proof. But when you're desperate, and a gun is all you've got, you tend to use it. So Les did.
He fired three shots directly at Superman's chest.
It knocked Superman over.
"What?" said Smitty, agape at the sight. "Whaaat?"
Then two other costumed figures dropped from two-story rooftops. One was male, and carried a big yellow shield. Another was female, and didn't seem to have much on.
The Guardian looked very, very angry. "Superman comes back, and you kill him," he grated. Les let three more shots go at him. They bounced off his shield. Then the Guardian threw his shield right at Les, caught him in the breadbasket, and bounced him off the chain-link fence. By the time Les completely rebounded, a yellow-gloved set of knuckles caught him in the face. Once was all it took.
Smitty had unleashed his sap and was swinging it cautiously. While the guy in the blue suit and helmet was busy with his partner, all he had to do was bash this dame in the halter, shorts, and high boots, and he could maybe lam. But the broad didn't look like she was much scared. Well, let her get her head bashed in being brave.
He swung the blackjack.
Smitty felt his wrist being grabbed in a grip that had to be too strong for any regular broad, but it was her on the end of his arm, all right. That thought was formulated on the fly, as she was judo-throwing him hard onto the pavement. His sap skidded away when he landed. He tried to get up and run. She grabbed him by the shirt front and smacked him hard in the jaw, several times. How many, he wasn't sure, as he was unconscious after number three.
The Guardian pulled her away from the man. "Never mind him, Thorn, he's finished. Superman is...is hurt."
The Thorn, looking curious despite her coldness, said, "I didn't know he could be."
But Superman was getting up, with a look of pain on his face. "I knew...I knew...this suit would protect me," he grunted. "But damn it, those bullets hurt!"
The Guardian and the Thorn, two of Metropolis's other heroes and Superman's occasional allies, hurried over and helped him up. "Thank you," he said.
"Are you all right?" asked the Guardian. "What happened, Superman? Did you lose your powers?"
"Temporarily," said the blue-and-red-costumed man. "I think I may have run into some Gold K and not known about it till now. Probably a delayed effect, and..."
The Thorn reached out, grabbed his hair, and pulled a plastic mask off his head.
Dan Reed looked out at both of them, sheepishly.
"You almost got yourself killed," said the brown-haired beauty. "Crime-fighting, especially in a Superman uniform, is too dangerous for your kind. Never do this again."
"I think I've seen this guy before, Thorn," said the Guardian. "On television. Aren't you..."
"The name is Reed," he said. "Dan Reed. It's more complicated than it looks. Let's go somewhere and I'll tell you all about it."
Kara and Shyla had flown (with Henderson, who insisted on accompanying them) to the home of the Newsboy Legion, where the band of irregulars whose interference Henderson despised had set up shop. Present were Captain Strong, Lois Lane, Big Words, Gabby, Scrapper, Flippa-Dippa, Tommy, Steve Lombard, Lena Thorul, Val Thorul, and a late arrival, Professor Potter, who was helping Big Words tinker with the engine of the Whiz Wagon. Plus one other, in a purple and green costume that sent demons flying through Henderson's mind.
"No," he said to Jimmy Olsen. "No, no, NO."
Jimmy grinned, drank a vial of Professor Potter's potion, and, seconds later, stretched his arm across the room to shake Henderson's hand. "Good to see you, too, Inspector," said Elastic Lad.
Supergirl walked over to Val, holding a steel container with a lid screwed on tightly. "Listen closely, Val. I need your help. You're probably the only one of us who can pull this off. But--" She shot a look at Lena. "--it's bound to be dangerous. Are you game?"
Val nodded. "Yeah."
Lena looked tense, but said nothing.
"All right," said Kara. "I'm going to open this canister. I do not under any circumstances want you to touch what's inside. But I want you to see if you can utilize any of your psi-powers to find a mental link with what's inside, and where the rest of it is. Do you understand?"
"Mental link?" asked Steve. "Who's in that can, the Atom?"
"I think I understand," said Val. "Leastways, I'll sure try."
Carefully, Kara opened the container. Val looked inside.
Within was a glob of purple jello. His eyes widened.
They widened even more when it told him, <Hello.>