Supergirl (Kara of Rokyn):
Last Waltz With Luthor
Commissioner James Gordon had always been glad that crooks in Gotham and Metropolis had had a sense of territorialism. For the most part, you could depend on the Joker to stay in Gotham and Brainiac not to attack anyplace other than Metropolis. There was only a river between the two, but villains were attracted to their main nemeses (usually, a dangerous attraction), and they didn't roam that much.
Now, someone ostensibly connected with Lex Luthor was in his office, and he didn't like it a bit. Even if it was a woman.
But if she was a link to the Superman disappearance, the whole thing might be worth it. Maybe.
"Now let me see if I've got this straight, ma'am," said Gordon. "You say you're the wife of Lex Luthor?"
"That is correct," said the brunette woman in the soiled yellow dress.
"And he's got Superman held captive?"
"Also correct," said Ardora. "But I freed the Supergirl from captivity."
"Why didn't you free Superman, too?"
"Because he was not in the same place," she said. "My husband has several Lairs. He is in another of them."
"Sure, an' wouldja be sayin' that yer husband never took you out of the one and to another?" put in Captain O'Hara, who had been with Commissioner Gordon almost as long as the Batman. "That seems quare to me, indeed."
The woman shrugged. "I rarely went out in your world at all. Lex did not want me to. He feared--the Superman might see me."
Gordon rubbed his right temple. A trucker had brought this woman in less than an hour ago. He'd found her on the side of the road, said she was acting like a looney-tune, and then heard her say she was the wife of Lex Luthor himself. Now she said she was a copy--a clone?--of another woman just like her, that she had originally come from another world, and that she had set Supergirl free from a vat of purple glop.
The Superman thing had brought a bunch of crazies out of the woodwork, most of them straight out of the tabloid headlines: MY TORRID AFFAIR WITH THE MAN OF STEEL, and all that. The Gotham cops had even picked up a couple of nut jobs who were wearing Superman outfits and swearing up and down that they were Supermen, even with blonde or brown hair, paunches, and the inability to do better than a one-foot hop off the ground.
Still, this woman didn't seem that crazy. Strange, yeah. But she wasn't breaking character, if she was pretending.
Gordon turned to O'Hara. "No luck on turning up Batman, Captain?"
O'Hara shook his head. "Nary a whit, Commissioner. Sgt. Hainer had the signal on so long last night it almost burned out the filaments. And you haven't gotten him on the Hot-Line, I can imagine."
"Right," said Gordon. He looked at Ardora. "Ma'am, I'm going to remand you to the care of a colleague of mine. This thing is more in his jurisdiction. I'm sure he'll be more than adequate to protect you, should you need it."
She looked a bit frightened. "I will need it. My husband will not be pleased when he sees I am gone."
"Husbands rarely are, in these cases," said Gordon, dialing his phone. This dame was probably the wife of some delicatessen owner or some such, out to grab some notoriety, or just off her rocker. But everything had to be checked out. He knew the man who did the checking, in this case.
"This is Commissioner Gordon of the Gotham City PD," he said, into the receiver. "Like to speak to Inspector Henderson, please. Thank you." A pause. "Hello, Bill? Jim Gordon. Listen, we've got a woman here who claims to be the wife of Lex Luthor. Yes, that's right, Bill, THE Lex Luthor. She calls herself Ardora and...what? You what? They're doing what? Listen, Bill, if this is for real, do you want her here? It might be harder for her to be found--" He shot a look at Ardora. She seemed to have grown paler, and was gripping the bottom of her chair with both hands.
"All right, Bill. All right, if that's how you want it. Yeah, keep me posted. No, I don't know where Batman is, either. Okay, we'll be waiting. Thanks. Bye."
Gordon hung up the phone. "All right, ma'am. Inspector Henderson of the Metropolis police force seems to think you may be the real article. He's sending a car for you to take you into protective custody."
"Where is that?"
"A place of safe-keeping."
"Oh." She didn't look very reassured, but at least she didn't seem as scared as before. "That would be a good thing."
"I'm sure it will be. I want you to go with Henderson's people and give them all the aid you can manage. The disappearance of Superman is, well, it's gigantic in impact. But I must give you a few words of caution."
Ardora bent forward, listening.
"Don't reveal your identity, or talk about Lex Luthor, to anyone except the police officers who come to get you, the Inspector, and anyone he reccomends to you. That clear?"
"I understand," she said.
"We're also going to get you out of those clothes and into a policewoman's uniform," Gordon continued. "That dress, dirty or not, makes you too conspicuous. If you are who you claim to be, hiding you will be difficult enough."
"I furthermore understand," said Ardora.
"If you do, you're way ahead of me," allowed Gordon. "Captain, have Sgt. Holmes see if she can find a uniform that'll fit Ms. Ardora here. And for cripes' sake, see she gets into Henderson's hands safely, okay?"
"Crystal clear, Commissioner," said O'Hara. He held a hand out to Ardora, in almost a courtly manner. Irish manners had not died out in his family. "If'n you please, Ms. Ardora."
Hesitantly, Ardora got up from her chair and took his hand.
Luthor was enraged. He put his Warsuit-gloved hand through the wall, causing a shower of sparks.
"She's gone," he said, dangerously. "She managed to get out. She got OUTSIDE."
Wanda and the rest of Luthor's minions, even the super-powered Starfire and Dr. Cyber, knew enough not to say anything to Lex at such a time. But Nasthalia, figuring she had an in with Lex as his relative, ventured to say, "Lex, please--"
"Shut UP." Luthor pointed one metal glove at her. It glowed with power. Nasty fell silent, and looked at her cousin's hand with true fear.
"My surveillance cams aren't worth squat," Luthor said, gutterally. "I didn't set them for enough of a range outside here. Didn't think I'd need to. She got out and went on the road. She got OUT." He walked through the fountain-room of his Lair like a lumbering Frankenstein. His seven robot slaves stood before him against the far wall of the chamber, where he had summoned them.
"She got out because of YOU."
Energy blasted forth from Lex Luthor's hands and showered the robots in its destructiveness. All behind him except Starfire and Cyber had to shield their eyes. A horrific burning smell filled the chamber, and many of them had to cough. Nozzles spraying fire-retardant foam came from the walls and poured over the area, but his actions continued unabated.
When he was done, nothing remained of the robots except a large puddle of molten metal, and the wall behind them was crumbled and white-hot.
Luthor turned back to his group, the fury in his eyes dampened only a mite. Ten seconds passed before he finally spoke.
"We must reschedule, because of this. Starfire. Cyber. You will begin the active agression phase immediately. The Kryptonian girl will undoubtedly surface. When she does, you must kill her. Or I will kill you both."
Starfire breathed deeply. "I think we can satisfy you in that regard, Lex. With pleasure."
"Shut UP!" he raged. "Do you think this is a game? Some sort of petty robbery after which, we will all be remanded to comfy cells in Metropolis State? This is the Earth we play for, and the Universe beyond. Our enemies are fallen, but not yet dead. Until their powers are harvested, and their lives ended--they are still a threat."
"Lex, maybe we should go ahead and kill Superman now," said Wanda. "I mean, if Supergirl's free, then she could--"
"We will do. Nothing. Of. The sort," said Luthor. "The Kryptonian will die when I decree it, and not before. Now be silent!"
Luthor breathed heavily. "Starfire. Cyber. Go. I will shortly broadcast a message of ultimatum to the world. Remember: the Supergirl will doubtless confront you. Do not bring her back here. Destroy her."
Without a word, the two women turned and went to the chamber that allowed them access to the outer world. Wanda Nordo wondered whether or not to try and offer Lex a session in bed to calm him down, and decided against it.
He was addressing her and the other stooges now, Louto, Pluto, and Plato with her. "Take yourselves to the empowerment chamber," he said. "We have little time now, and what power we have must be utilized. Damn!"
The four of them began to go where Luthor had directed them. Wanda could see the fear in their eyes, and, considering how hardcase most of them were, it was a telling statement.
"I think...I think he can tell us where we want to go," said Val Thorul.
"Oh, dear Lord," said Lena in a voice just above a whisper. "Kara, are you sure we have to do it this way?"
Supergirl lay a hand gently on her shoulder. "If there was any other way, Lena, we'd be doing it. But this is the only way I know."
Gabby, sitting beside Steve Lombard, chewed a piece of Doublemint. "The kid don't look like he came up through anything like Suicide Slum, but he's got somepin'," he opined.
"Yeah," said Lombard. "Maybe a line on the Big S...and on Clark Kent."
Scrapper, perched on a wing of the Whiz Wagon, said, "I met Clarkie more'n a few times up at the Planet, even though he was mostly on the tube after awhile. Does it make sense that Luthor would nab just one o' Superman's pals, and not the matched set?"
"There's a lotta things won't make sense until we have Big Baldy under lock and key, Scrap," said Tommy, leaning against their craft, his arms folded. "And he took us all out like we were amateurs."
"That's all we really are. Amateurs," said Lombard, standing up. "Like a high-school scrub team up against the New York Giants. Luthor has power enough to take on the two girls over there, and both of them are from Krypton. Even with that contraption of yours, we're just tackling dummies, kids. That's all."
Big Words peered at the ex-athlete through his thick spectacles. "Your colloquy is, to say the merest, a shade on the defeatist category. Pray tell how one aspires to lend any succor to the Man of Steel, with such philosophy?"
Lombard looked back at him. "Philosophy's beyond me, kid. I barely passed English Lit 101 in college. All I know is what I learned on the gridiron: no matter what kind of opposition you're facing, you get in there and give it all you've got. That way, if you lose 49-0, you can be glad it wasn't 63-0. Or worse."
Jimmy Olsen, in his Elastic Lad costume, twisted his head back seven feet to speak to Steve. "Is that what Life boils down to with you, Lombard? Always sports? Always the Big Game?"
"Maybe it used to, Jimmy. Before I lost my job, that is."
Elastic Lad's face sobered. "I'm sorry, Steve. Believe me, I am sorry you got canned."
"Yeah, well, it happens." Steve walked around the side of the Whiz Wagon, hands in his pockets. "You get out of high school, and if you're lucky, you're good enough to make the pro teams. But you can't play there forever, either. If you're lucky, you get a job as a sportscaster. If you're real lucky, you get a job doing it with a big network. I was real lucky, Olsen. All the way down the line."
Even Supergirl had to pause to hear Lombard's soliloquy. She'd met him a few times, and had heard Kal tell of all the practical jokes he'd tried to play on Clark Kent. Now, it sounded as though he was getting a bit beyond the depth of the average water pail.
"I met up with Kent. Clark Kent. Thought he was a big wimp. 200 pounds of sheer chicken. But he had something I didn't have. He was smart enough to be a real reporter. Knew about politics, economics, crime, arts, entertainment, even sports. I tried to get him at sports trivia questions and you know, I just couldn't. He had smarts. Plus he was good enough to be an anchorman. I'd never come near that seat. I was glad just to be where I was. Where I...was."
Lois started to move towards Steve, but Kara shook her head "no". Whatever Steve had to get out of his system, he'd have to do it alone.
"I couldn't tell you how many damn pails I put on top of doors trying to catch him just once. I never managed it. I couldn't tell you how many joy-buzzers I tried on him, or whoopee cushions, or...well, you name it. Every time I got him, which wasn't too often, somehow he got me. And I never stopped doing it, so help me. You'd think I'd have learned, right? You'd think I'd have learned.
"But I didn't. And I lost my job. Just another old football player nobody even thinks of anymore, unless they remember what's-his-name that used to be on WGBS. All the girls I used to go out with, the ones I thought wanted me for my body...once I wasn't on TV anymore, they just skipped past me on their answering machines. I guess it's just luck, and that always runs out. Just like the field...no matter how fast you run, you only got a hundred yards you can go. Once that's over, you gotta let somebody else have the ball.
"Clark was...somebody beyond me. Like somebody smart enough not to be in the game, just above it. I never knew if that chicken act he put up was for real. How could it be? I always thought, deep down, that he was just puttin' me on. Puttin' all of us on. He acted like a wimp, and I rode him for that. But I think...maybe...he was more of a man than anybody I ever knew. Don't ask me how I know that, but...you just do.
"That's why I'm here, kids. Not because of Superman so much as because of Clark. On account of all those wash pails and joy buzzers. And because he was in that catbird seat a long time after they made me leave. I figure I owe him for that. I figure I owe him big-time.
"That's that. That's all."
Captain Strong spoke up. "Wise words, matey. An' about as good as I've heard from this crew. What say, Miss Kara? Are ya ready to set sail?"
"Gonna try, Cap'n," said Kara. "Are you ready, Val?"
"I guess so," said Val. "If we go in that direction." He pointed to the east. Kara put her arms about his waist.
Shyla Kor-Onn stopped Supergirl with a hand on her arm. "Wait, Kara. I've been listening to your videocasts with part of my hearing. It's Luthor. He's on your video. All over!"
Supergirl whipped her head around. "Where's the nearest TV set?"
"In here," said Tommy, pointing to the Whiz Wagon. He punched up a control and part of the dashboard retracted to reveal a viewscreen. "What station?"
"Sounds like it's all over," said Shyla. "Hurry!"
Tommy activated the commercial VHF band and, by this time, none were surprised to see the visage of Lex Luthor filling the screen.
"...within 12 more hours is required," he was saying. "Even now, two of my aides are in a position far above Earth, equipped with vision-powers to puncture and destroy Earth's ozone layer. Within 12 more hours, they will do so, unless the United States, the Soviet Union, the People's Republic of China, and all other nuclear-equipped powers sign a surrender treaty giving Lex Luthor absolute control of their governments. Other nations will follow, but these must be the first. Once again. 12 hours. You have no heroes capable of withstanding my power, for I have taken theirs. The future is in your hands...and will shortly be in mine." He held up his purple-metalled gauntlets. Then the picture was replaced by a SPECIAL BULLETIN card, which would be followed quickly by the networks telling people what they had just seen over again.
"Great. Incredibly great," snapped Kara. She trained her super-vision through the roof of the Newsboy Legion's hangout, and noted that Shyla was doing the same thing.
"There's two of them," said Shyla. "Maybe I could keep them busy while you rescue Kal."
Supergirl shook her head, grimly. "No. I hate to say this, but...no. Superman taught me years ago that the fate of the many outweighs the fate of the few. We'll have to polish off these two first, and then go after Kal. I don't like it, but...that's what we have to do."
Shyla looked at Kara with a mixture of respect and agony. That she would risk sacrificing her own cousin, in favor of these Earthers, not even her own kind...it was either dangerously skewed priorities, or a morality of a much higher kind.
Still, if all these billions died, even if they were Earthers, there would be no balancing that by the salvation of one man. Even if he were Kal-El, the Superman.
Lois Lane broke in. "I can't believe it. You can't be serious, Supergirl! This is Superman we're talking about. Your own cousin. The man I love. The world's greatest super-hero. There's no way we can just leave him. He may be dead by the time you finish with those two, if they don't finish you instead!"
Jimmy Olsen said, solemnly, "No. Kara's right. If even a hundred people get killed because of what those witches are doing up there...Superman wouldn't think it was worth it. We can try and take on Luthor ourselves."
"No, you can't," said Supergirl. "Not with that warsuit of his. You all wait for us to get back. Get a fix on Luthor's location as best you can, Val, and we'll follow up as soon as possible. And...pray for us."
"That we'll do, missy," Captain Strong assured her. "That we'll do."
Inspector Henderson was taking a call on a phone at the other end of the room as the two women activated their flight power. It was old hat for Jimmy and Lois, but the rest of them, even though they'd seen Kryptonians fly before, never failed to feel a twinge of awe when they saw it. Kara and Shyla opened a window onto a narrow alley, flew through it, and vanished upward into the sky.
Henderson hung up the phone. "I have to leave," he announced. "They may have found Lex Luthor's wife. I've got to arrange transport for her. The rest of you...stay put. Like she said."
Nobody said anything as Henderson left the building.
Lois Lane hugged herself in frustration. "I guess that queers things for us, now. They're probably right. How could we take on somebody like Luthor, and manage to win? With no super-powers to speak of?"
Captain Strong said, "Beggin' your pardon, missy, but I've been known to bend a few steel bars meself, with the help of sauncha."
Jimmy, elongating himself across the floor and then springing back to shape in his purple and green costume, said, "My Elastic Lad powers aren't much, but I know how to use ‘em, Lois. When Kara gets back, we'll be in the fight beside her."
A klaxon horn sounded in the building. It was the Newsboy Legion's equivalent of a doorbell. Steve Lombard said, "Don't tell me Luthor's found us, already."
Wordlessly, Tommy turned on a viewscreen by the door, giving them a look at who was beyond it. The klaxon had a different tone than it would have, had an unauthorized person been ringing their alarm. At least one of the visitors had to be a friendly.
Four persons were outside. The first was the familiar, blue-and-gold-clad, shield-bearing hero whom the Newsboys knew for their old friend, the Golden Guardian. Beside him, in a red-and-yellow suit, was a Titan they knew of but had never met, Kid Flash. On his shoulder was a green rabbit, managing to look somewhat impatient.
The fourth appeared to be Superman.
"Let ‘em in," advised Gabby. "Fast."
From a height of several miles, Starfire and Cyber, having managed to come to grips with their feelings of vertigo, were backing up Luthor's rhetoric by using their heat vision to punch fairly small holes in the Earth's ozone layer.
"I'm making one over Detroit," said Starfire. "They'll probably call off the auto strike there when they start feeling it."
Cyber said, "I'm aiming for Mexico City. It's not fair to just stay in the U.S. Let them burn down there, too, and we'll have a better bargaining position."
"Well, we don't have to stay geosynchronous, you know," the eyepatched woman pointed out. "We can just let the Earth rotate under us and pick out targets as we go. Let's give the Italian boot a hotfoot when it comes by."
Cyber cocked her head. "Wait a minute. I'm hearing something. Incoming."
"A missle?" asked Starfire.
"I'm not sure. Whatever it is, it sounds like two things. Headed our way."
The two of them immediately shut off their bolts of heat and converted to telescopic vision. Their super-hearing told them what direction to look.
Two streaking forms, surrounded by a red aura of air friction, were flying in their direction.
"Supergirl," said Cyber. "But who's the other one?" By this time, the two newcomers were almost within normal sight range.
Starfire set herself for combat. "We'll ask her," she said, "just before we kill her."
The two villainesses braced for impact.