Last Waltz With Luthor
Gorbachev was getting too hard to please, thought Ronald Reagan.
"This loose-cannon adventurist from your country, your own, has endangered us again, Mr. President," fumed the Russian premier. "Time and again he has done so. Time and again, you have simply thrown him in jail. If you had executed him once, just once, none of this would be before us."
Patiently, the president said, "We have laws governing such things in our country, Mr. Gorbachev. Civil rights, due process, and very effective lawyers. Luthor is a wealthy criminal and can buy the best."
"Da! He has bought the best, and is already turning it against us both." Gorbachev yawned. "I thought your conglomeration of super-heroes was capable of ending any such threat."
"Well, sir," said Reagan, "normally they are. But Lex Luthor keeps turning up like some sort of, I don't know, baddest penny in the roll. He normally gets stopped by Superman within a short time. But now, well, you've heard of the situation with Superman."
"Indeed." Gorbachev's tone became less vehement. "What has become of our Comrade of Steel, Mr. President? We are concerned about this, as well."
Reagan winced at the "comrade" epithet. But Superman was a hero to the Russians as well as to the people of the nation he lived in. In the present circumstance, that was a good sign. "We don't have a...Mr. Gorbachev, people over here are looking into it, both super-powered persons and normal humans. From what intelligence I've got, it seems Luthor is the culprit in this case, as well. But as to what has become of Superman, our mutual friend...I only wish I knew, sir."
"As do I, Mr. President. As do I." The premier said, "But that is not solving our mutual problem, sir."
"Quite right. We could hit those women with themonuclear missles. So could you. But if their powers really are on a level with Superman's, we wouldn't be doing much more than throwing beer cans at them. We do, however, have a counterforce that may prove effective."
"Oh, Mr. President?"
"Supergirl, Mr. Premier. We have Supergirl."
Silence for a moment. Then Gorbachev said, "Well, Mr. President, let us hope that she will be enough."
"We can both agree on that."
"Because if she is not enough, and the missles are not enough, then we will have to meet Luthor's requirements."
The president would not answer for a good number of seconds. When he did, he said, "Let us both hope it does not come to that, sir. Let us both hope."
Starfire and Dr. Cyber only thought they were prepared for the collision of their bodies with that of Supergirl and Shyla Kor-Onn. In practice, it felt something like trying to hold back a subway train by stepping in front of it.
The two Kryptonians smashed into the augmented Earthwomen and drove them miles backward into the further reaches of space, hanging onto them as they struck. Both Kara and Shyla made sure the villainesses' heat vision was cut off from the angle necessary to strike Terra's ozone layer. The heroines themselves felt the burning impact of their foes' eyes, but they could take it.
Welcome to Round Two, thought Supergirl as, in airless space, she unloaded an uppercut on Starfire.
Shyla was attacking Cyber with klurkor chops to the head and neck. The metal mask that covered her face was shattered and battered away. The fire-ravaged features of Dr. Cyber were revealed beneath it. Even Shyla was taken aback for an instant. That gave Cyber the chance to kick her rival hard in the stomach. As tough as she was, even Shyla had to double up from the pain. She got a knee in the jaw as a follow-up. The Rokynian agent had a fight on her hands.
Grappling with Starfire, Kara regretted not having a telepathic plug for communication with Shyla. Until they reentered Earth's atmosphere, any talking they did had to be through hand-signal. On the other hand, what they were doing right then wasn't too complicated.
Starfire struck out at Supergirl's eyes. The blonde bent her head and body backward to avoid the one-eyed woman's thrust, and kneed her hard in the gut when she had a chance. Using martial arts in a zero-gravity situation, and with the strength of a Kryptonian, was difficult. But Starfire seemed to have gotten the hang of it, and Kara knew she would have to take such into account.
Shyla and Cyber were locked in combat now, smashing, kicking, kneeing, using karate / klurkor tricks, and getting down to alley fighting. Shyla's very brief time of having super-powers (this made her third experience) was balanced by Cyber's relative lack of expertise. But Cyber had been a fearsome enough fighter to give Diana Prince a run for her money when she had lost her Amazon powers. Therefore, both were fairly balanced.
The win would go to the one who fought the hardest. No, Kara amended that, catching a glimpse of their fight past her own. The winner would be the one who didn't get knocked unconscious.
Starfire's hand slashed out in a cruel blow, smashed her across the side of her face, and sent her wheeling through the vacuum. It hurt. Supergirl shook her head to clear it, touched her left cheek, and saw the redness on her finger. Blood from a slight cut was globuling out into space.
That would be quite enough, thank you.
She tried to voice a kiaii yell taught her by Lady Shiva, but in space, all she could hope for was a fearsome open-mouthed expression. For a moment, Starfire paused. Suddenly, this was not the Supergirl she had fought and beaten before, not even the Kara she'd taken down in two-on-one with Cyber.
This little witch acted like she wanted to fight.
That was just before Kara's fist went BLAM! across her face and bloodied her nose.
Following up with a barrage of punches, Kara hoped Starfire was just a little telepathic. That way she could hear her thinking, I may have only one last shot at you, baby--but this one's going to make up for the last two!
Superman lay in the purple jelly that was the Parasite and wondered if he was dying.
<I'm trying not to,> the Parasite sent to him. <But there's only so much I can do to hold back my powers. Understand?>
<I copy,> replied Superman.
<With any luck, you'll be okay if they make one of those here-comes-the-cavalry rescues,> the violet glop telepathed. <But, let's face it, you've been in me more ‘n a month. I'm surprised you've held out this long.>
<Glad to know you care,> thought Superman.
<I don't,> the Parasite retorted. <If it were up to me, I'd turn it on all the way and let you die. But that wouldn't get me my body back.>
<I think you can rely on us to keep our word once we're out of this thing.>
<'If,' Supey, ‘if'! Nobody's beaten Luthor this time around. If it wasn't for the others, you'd be spam.>
<Thanks for reminding me, Max,> thought Superman. Then he paused.
<You know I've gotten to a lot of your memories now, don't you?>
<I imagine you have.>
<Well, what's with the Lane morsel? Why haven't you tumbled her by now?>
<Lois Lane isn't a ‘morsel'. And Superman doesn't ‘tumble' women. If we got married, we would do what came naturally. Is that clear?>
<Talk about old-fashioned.> Superman detected the trace of laughter behind the Parasite's sending. <Seriously, though. You've known her for what, now, since ‘68?>
<Earlier than that. I met her when I was a boy. We were both out to get a job as cub reporter for the Planet. She scooped me because I couldn't file Superboy stories without revealing my identity. I met her several times after that, but didn't get to know her well until we started working together. But, yes, we have been working together for 18 years.>
<So why haven't you finally popped the question?>
Hesitation. Then, <Back then, it was always Lois trying to pop the question. I didn't want to get married. I had too much of a job to do, and...>
<Bullspit, Supes. Tell me the truth, now. I may have a lot of your memory images, but that doesn't mean I understand them.>
<Why should I tell you, Max?>
<I kinda thought we'd gotten to be confidantes by now. Kinda like cellmates.>
<I just...didn't want to get married,> said Superman. <It was letting...>
<Letting someone get too close to me,> Superman finished.
<You still feel that way?>
<I don't know. I don't think so. Kara...she had me just talk to Lois once, like a human being to another. I thought it could break through the impasse we've made for each other. More or less, I told her that her suspicions about my identity weren't far off. But she said that it didn't matter who I was, whether I was Clark Kent or somebody else, she had gotten tired of the whole business and wanted to wash her hands of it. She's 40, like me, and she said 18 years was long enough to be kept hanging. So she walked away.>
<Geez, tough times. I never had that problem with my women.>
<I've seen your record, Max. You slapped one around pretty badly one time. Got hauled into court, paid a fine, got a restraining order put on you, violated it, and went to jail for a few weeks.>
<Well, yeah, there was that one.>
<Well, she deserved it. She-->
<Max. Women never deserve anything like that. Neither do men. Do you understand?>
<Let's talk about something else.>
<No. I showed you my inner self, now you show me yours.>
<All RIGHT! She was a bitch and a tease.>
<She was probably just a very frightened girl, Max, that's all.>
<You want me to turn on full blast, Supes?>
<Go ahead. Kara will let you stay in a gelatin mold for the rest of your life.>
<Think you've got all the answers, don't you? Huh? Don't you?>
<If I had all the answers, Max, I wouldn't be here. I would be lying in bed with Lois and perhaps she would be making the beginnings of a second Superman, while we slept. Does that satisfy you?>
<I can't even get close to a woman without her running away now, Supes. They don't dig the tall, strong, and purple type. If I bought and paid for one, I might suck the life out of her while we were together. You understand?>
<Perhaps, Max. And perhaps you'd be better if we could find a cure for your condition.>
<Yeah, well, I'll settle for getting back my old bod, if and when. If and when.>
<So why did you throw in with Luthor?>
<Because he offered me a good deal. Said he'd get rid of you forever, and kick in a lotta dough at the same time. My two primary motivations.>
<If we got you your body back, Max, and if we removed your Parasite powers, would you reform? Would you even consider it?>
More hesitation. Then, <I don't know.>
A long pause.
<Supes. Supes! Are you there?>
<I'm here, Max. It's just...getting harder and harder to talk...>
<That's me. It must be me. I'm holding back as much as I can, Supes. I want you to know that.>
<Thank you...Max. I...appreciate...the effort.>
<Hold on, Supes. You gotta hold on. It's our only chance. Stay with me, big guy. Hey, you, kid! Yeah, you, holding that canful of me!>
<Shut up a minute. No, not you, kid, this guy here. You've gotta come now. He ain't gonna make it if you don't get here soon!> Pause. <The kid's gonna talk to the others. I think they're gonna try.>
<Yeah, Supes, what? What?>
<If I don't make it...>
<Yeah. Yeah. I'll tell the Lane gal you love her. I promise, Supes.>
<Do that. And...tell Kara...to go on...for me.>
<Don't think like that, Supes. Supes? Hey, Supes! Kid, enough discussion, you gotta get here RIGHT NOW!>
Val turned to the others in the Whiz Wagon garage, grim-faced. "We've gotta go right now. If we don't, the Parasite says he might not make it."
"Just what we've been waiting for," said the Guardian. "Let's hit ‘em, boys."
Changeling transformed into a green rhino. "I've got to agree on one thing with Henderson, crew. The non-professionals among you need to stay out of this. It's going to be tough enough going as it is."
"Non-professional?" exclaimed Lois. "Kid, I've been getting into and out of danger since before you were green. So has Jimmy. We've also faced Luthor more times than either one of us can count."
Steve Lombard, resolutely, stood up. "Nobody's keeping me out of this. I'm going."
"Seconded here," said Dan Reed, standing beside him in his Superman suit.
"Mr. Reed, you may be a clone of Superman, but you really don't belong here," said Jimmy. "Neither do you, Lena. Both of you should stay."
Lena shook her head furiously. "My son has to go with you to show you where the Parasite is. We can keep out of the action once we're there, but there is no way I am not going with Val!"
Tommy said, irascibly, "If everybody's finished, I'd like to point out that Superman's dying, and he'll be dead if somebody doesn't shut up and get their boots on!"
"A flawless deduction," put in Big Words. "Shall we velocitate to the scene of battle, and do our maximum for the cause, perform or perish?"
"Lead the way, matey," said Captain Strong, rolling up his sleeves and then downing a pouchful of sauncha. While they looked on, the big man's muscles seemed to visibly expand, and a light of joyful power entered his eyes.
Whatever that stuff is, thought Inspector Henderson, I hope I don't have to bust him for it.
Kid Flash settled the argument. "Gabby, throw me a tracer," he said. The kid in the flat cap opened a compartment in the Whiz Wagon, extracted a small disk, and pitched it to the young speedster. Kid Flash caught it on the fly and shoved it into his shirt. Then he raced over to Val, who was still holding the canister of Parasite-glop. "Got a good grip on it, pal?"
Val nodded. "Yeah."
"Then hold on tight," said Kid Flash, and grasped the boy. In an instant, he set up a vibration that attuned himself, Val; and the canister to just the precise desired pitch. Then he shot forward so quickly it was difficult for the others to even pick up an after-image.
They headed for the wall and went through it, but left no hole.
"Sonofagun," ejected Scrapper. "I hoid of how he does that, but I never expected ta see it."
"The rest of you get in the auxiliary craft," ordered Tommy. "Jimmy, I'd like to have you back with us, but if you'd fly the other one, I'd be much obliged."
"You've got it," said Elastic Lad, and stretched over to a smaller version of the Wagon. The Newsboys, the Guardian, a mouse-version of Changeling, and Inspector Henderson piled into the Whiz Wagon proper. Jimmy, Lois, Steve, Captain Strong, Lena Thorul, and Dan Reed got into the other.
Tommy thumbed a button on the Wagon's dash and the roof of the garage retracted into both of its sides. Outside, what passers-by there were gaped at the sight of two flying vehicles rising on jets of compressed air, and then blasting forward like low-flying jets.
Lena, strapped in as securely as possible, held firmly to her seat with both hands and told herself, I will not throw up I will not throw up I will not throw up...
She was not experiencing any visions of the future.
For that, she was supremely grateful.
The donnybrook between Starfire and Supergirl had been furious enough to separate them from Shyla and Cyber by the better part of a continent, though both parties used their telescopic vision enough to keep track of one another, between punches.
For her part, Starfire was amazed by Kara's fighting prowess. Every move she made, the blonde wench seemed to be able to counter. Even the complex techniques that had taken months to master. It was nothing like their first encounter, in which she'd had a depowered Supergirl helpless. Even their recent two-on-one fight had been nothing like this.
She interrupted her reverie to parry a flat-hand thrust by Kara, catching it between both of her arms. The girl was good, no doubt about it. But then again, so was she. Starfire exerted her strength, tried to break the arm she held captive. Supergirl held her face immobile, but Starfire knew from the pain in her eyes that she had her foe hurting.
But Kara knew how to take the pain, and how to gain an advantage. With a swift motion of her body, she grabbed Starfire's leg with her free arm, changed the leverage, wrenched her arm free, and swept up a savate kick that caught Starfire in the jaw. The bad girl's lip was jammed into her teeth. She reeled back, spitting blood.
Thrust out of Supergirl's grip, Starfire wiped her mouth on her black sleeve. All right, damn you, she thought. Not that it wasn't personal before, but now you've gotten me mad.
It was still a rush to be able to use the powers of flight and super-speed. Given these powers, Starfire wondered why Superman and Supergirl had done so comparatively little with them. But she had a more mundane use for them at the moment.
She rocketed forward as fast as she could with an outthrust fist that even Supergirl couldn't avoid and caught her in the jaw with it, sending her cartwheeling through space.
Only a little more speed, and Starfire was able to catch up to her. She grabbed her by the shirtfrong and unleashed more blows at Kara's face, hitting her three more times before the blonde's own fist came up in an uppercut that rocked Starfire backward with great velocity. Before she could get very far, Supergirl grabbed her by the ankle, reeled her back in, and sent a powerful chop ringing off the side of her head.
Starfire felt the pain, knew something had to be done, and, while faking a kick to her rival's abdomen, suddenly raked the long nails of her right hand across Kara's eyes.
The pain caused Supergirl to clap a hand across her face and double instinctively. Taking her chance, Starfire aimed a kick for a very tender area of the body and connected. The look of agony on the girl's face, her wide-open, silently-groaning mouth, and her convulsion of pain did much in Starfire's judgment to make up for all that had gone before.
Reorienting herself in space, Starfire grabbed one of Kara's arms in a controlling hold, then scissored her black-clad legs around Supergirl's neck. With both ankles locked, she exerted pressure. Unlike a scissors hold which normally goes about the head, Starfire was directly pressuring the neck.
She recalled, with some fondness, how she had used just this move to break the neck of a crime-chief who had thought she wasn't tough enough to handle a mob, years ago.
Supergirl struggled, but her struggles seemed futile. Starfire put all the considerable strength in her legs into the hold. It would be impossible to hear the snap of a neck in this space above the Earth, but her tactile senses were good enough for her to know when it happened.
In her estimation, it wasn't far away from happening.
Then a sharp, searing pain in her backside made her cry out, silently, and involuntarily loosen her grip.
It was just enough respite for Kara to thrust her head out from between Starfire's legs enough to bury her teeth in the villainess's calf.
If there had been air to carry the sound, anyone listening would have heard a whoop of pain from Starfire, who was whacking away at Supergirl's head with both hands and realizing, with regret, that she hadn't taken account of the way Kara's head had been pointed...or of the effects that a concentrated, full-power blast of heat vision can have on even the superhuman anatomy.
That was her last thought before a red boot loomed large in her vision, blotting out everything in the second before it kicked her.
The impact didn't put her away. But Kara, not taking chances, wouldn't have let up just then even if it had. She followed up with a knee to the jaw, a punch to the gut, another uppercut, a double klurkor chop to both sides of the neck, and a series of three roundhouse punches, two from the left, one from the right.
Starfire looked on, dazedly, and tried to raise two super-powered hands that seemed to have the mass of dwarf stars. This could not be happening. This was the little blonde wimp that she'd put down for the count with little more than judo, the first time they'd met. This was...
The girl in blue and red was backing up in space, then coming forward like a rocket sled.
The five knuckles that impacted on Starfire's jaw finished her conscious thinking for hours.
The black-costumed body of the woman in the eyepatch hurtled towards Earth, in equal and opposite reaction from the blow. With Starfire's flight power inoperable, she'd soon be picked up by gravity and crash-land on her mother planet. Supergirl hurtled forward, grabbed her by the leg, and stopped her. Letting a woman-sized meteor impact with Earth wouldn't do any good for the planet, or for whatever was underneath her.
She checked Starfire's glassy eyes, put an ear to her chest to check her heart rate, and was satisfied that her foe slept the sleep of those unlucky enough to run into a Kryptonian fist.
Kara activated her super-vision and caught sight of Shyla and Cyber, just beyond the curve of the rotating Earth. Their battle was still going on.
Towing Starfire by her leg, she lanced away at super-speed and hoped she'd be in time to lend a hand.
The safe house that Ardora had been taken to in Gotham City had remained hidden even from the likes of the Joker and Two-Face, who seemed to know most secrets of the Gotham police department even before the papers crossed Commissioner Gordon's desk. It was well-guarded, watched by plainclothesmen, and had a room inside which was built along the lines of a bank vault.
Thus, Sgt. Shirley Holmes, who had taken a lot of ribbing for her name and bent back a lot of fingers until the ribbing stopped, felt at least a modicum of safety as she sat with the woman from another world and had sandwiches. It wasn't the kind of fare Ardora was used to, but Shirley was glad she didn't turn her nose up at ham and cheese.
"So, you were saying that Lex Luthor is a hero on this world that you came from?" Aliens might be a fact of life--nobody could deny it, after Superboy appeared--but the policewoman still felt strange about talking to someone who was a clone of a woman from another planet.
"Oh, yes," said Ardora, cupping her hand tentatively about a glass of milk. "He made the deserts bloom, restored our lost machinery, united Lexor's people. But for his anger with the Kryptonian, he would still be among us. He--" Ardora sat the glass down and rubbed at her forehead. "Forgive me. But...my world...it is gone."
Shirley Holmes got up and went to Ardora, massaging her shoulders. She'd consoled enough grieving family members in her time, but it was usually from a gang shooting, an accident, or a botched robbery. This was the first time she'd had to comfort a lady who had lost a whole world.
"It's all right, honey," said Ms. Holmes, in a soothing voice. "You're safe now."
There was a terrible crack of rending wall material from the room beyond.
Ardora stiffened like a frightened rabbit. Shirley grabbed her and pulled her upright, upsetting the table, and hustled her to the door of the vault room. "It's Lex," gasped Ardora. "He has come for me!"
"Get in there and stay put," ordered Ms. Holmes. She shoved Ardora inside, made sure her legs and arms were out of the way, and swung the heavy metal door shut. Then she spun the great wheel on it to lock it securely. It was all they had, but it would have to be enough.
She grasped her gun from its holster and held it in the general direction of the door. Well, almost all, she amended.
The wall beside the door gave way and a man in purple and green armor walked through. He was bald and, as she could see through his transparent plastic helmet, very, very grim. She opened up on him, aiming for the helmet.
The slugs bounced off the plastic without effect. Luthor strode forward, his steps giving off loud thumps. She thrust herself between him and the vault door.
A metal-clad hand came up and a short burst of energy spewed forth from it.
Shirley Holmes's body danced with the force of a huge burst of static electricity. Enough to render her helpless, enough to send her to the floor, sprawled and losing her senses, but not enough to kill. Luthor had shown mercy.
She was lying facing the vault door. She saw Luthor in front of it, with his hands upon the wheel.
He pulled back and, with a terrible squeal and crunch of rending metal, pulled it out of its housing.
In the opening, Ardora was visible. Shirley could see her looking out at her husband with fear in her eyes, motionless.
"Hello, Ardora," she heard Lex Luthor say.
Then everything faded to black.