Kara Zor-El pulled up in time to catch the donnybrook in space between Shyla Kor-Onn and Dr. Cyber. It was a pip of a fight. Cyber was coming into a mastery of her powers, but she didn’t have any more real experience with them than Shyla. And Shyla fought just as dirty as Cyber.
The villainess’s golden mask was long since battered away, and the grotesquely burned features of the woman beneath it showed clearly in the Earth-orbital light. Cyber was a dangerous woman. When Diana Prince had not been Wonder Woman, but a crack martial artist, the villainess had been an adept enough fighter to challenge even her. Thus, the fighting they did was mostly Asian-style from Cyber’s side and klurkor with a little horu-kanu thrown in from Shyla’s.
Blood was flowing in small, globular amounts from scratches, a bloody nose on Cyber, and a mouth smash on Shyla. This had gone on long enough. Kara sent herself forward.
Shyla, grappling with her foe’s arm, caught sight of her. She signed with her free hand for Kara to stay back.
Kara still came forward.
Shyla signalled even harder for her to stay where she was, and gave her a short burst of heat-vision in the face to emphasize it, just before Cyber threw her off and some distance into the void.
Mentally, Kara sighed, then brought herself up short. She held up five fingers, clearly in sight of Cyber. It conveyed the message: I’ll give her five more minutes with you, then I’m coming in.
At least, Kara hoped it conveyed that message. Cyber instead shot forward, ready to close with Supergirl. The heroine braced herself to return the impact.
A couple of instants before they would have made contact, a hand grabbed Cyber by the collar from behind and hauled her back, her feet flying up inches away from Kara’s face. What was visible of Cyber’s face indicated surprise. Supergirl had already seen Shyla flying at her from behind, and hoped she hadn’t given much away to Cyber with her expression.
Cyber tried a backstrike with her left arm, but Shyla snared it, scissored her from behind, and wrapped her other arm about Cyber’s neck. The two thrashed in the void, Shyla using her flight power to hold them more or less stationary, Cyber fighting to tear herself free. And limbs that could have crushed a granite statue to dust were contracting about Cyber’s body.
The half-masked woman was losing the fight, even with her skills. Shyla was managing to maintain the pressure. Kara thrust a fist upward, noting to herself that she was cheering on a woman who had once managed, of all things, to get her exiled to the Phantom Zone and had fought her with the strength of 20 Kryptonians.
Cyber fought back as valiantly as she was able, but Shyla had the determination and the advantage. Plus, though it couldn’t be verified by the two allies, there was another factor: even if Cyber won free, she knew she’d have to face Supergirl as well as Shyla. Starfire didn’t look like she was going to wake up anytime soon.
In the end, the body in Shyla’s grasp went limp. Kara came forward, cautiously, grasped Cyber’s wrist, and did a pulse reading. She was unconscious. Of course, Kara noted, someone with Kryptonian powers can learn to lower their pulse rate and heartbeat voluntarily to a standstill, and survive. But it takes months to master that technique, and Cyber hadn’t had her powers for even a week. She nodded to Shyla. The redhead carefully relaxed her grip, ready to tighten it again if Cyber came out of a fake. It wasn’t a fake, and Wonder Woman’s foe drifted in space, tethered by Shyla’s hands on her shoulders.
The ex-Zoner tried to catch her breath and then realized that in space she had no breath to catch. She looked at Supergirl, who had gone after the floating body of Starfire, expecting them both to rush to Superman’s aid.
Instead, Kara pulled up beside her, put her lips against her ear, and conveyed a message by speaking directly against her head. After it was received, Shyla looked at her with uncertainty, even bewilderment. Is that really what you want me to do?, her expression seemed to say.
Resolutely, Shyla gathered Starfire and Cyber under one arm apiece and, kicking upward like a swimmer seeking lower water, hurtled with her burdens towards the Earth. Specifically, she was bound for the arctic portion of it.
Supergirl didn’t waste time looking back at her. The procedure she’d described to Shyla was dangerous, but it was the best way to deal with the two superwomen.
As for herself, she had a Superman to save.
The Whiz Wagons dropped out of the skies over a farm outside the town of Bigville. Henderson had been on the dash phone talking to headquarters. He looked disgusted.
“Why here?” he said. “We were all over the area. We checked out this burg right after Smallville, and all the towns in between, and everything in between that. Why here?”
“Ya evidently missed something, matey,” said Captain Strong, vaulting out of the other Whiz Wagon. “Where’s Kid Swifty? We gots ta finds Superman. I ain’t lettin’ him furl sail while I’m on watch.”
Bigville was one of the other small towns in Smallville’s county, outside of Metropolis. Since the town founders had no military hero to name the town after (Smallville was named for Union Col. Jon H. Small), they simply did a riposte to their neighbor town when they named it. Once, Superboy had moved there with his parents, but not for long. It was hardly larger in area or population than Smallville, and neither had grown in the last decade.
The Guardian, already on the ground, adjusted the great golden shield on his arm. “Good question, Changeling,” he said to the green hamster on his shoulder. “Just where is your teammate?”
“Rrrrrighhhht heeeeerrrrre,” said a voice distorted by vibration. The allies of Superman looked in that direction, and saw a yellow-and-red blur firm into view with Val Thorul in hand. Val was still holding the can of Parasite. “I think I’ve found the problem.”
Lena Thorul was thankful she was wearing flat heels as she stepped out, hurried to Val’s side, and embraced him. “I want you out of this, now,” said Lena. “The heroes can do the fighting. You’ve done your job, Val, and you should be proud.”
“Aw, mom,” said Val. “We’ve done okay so far.”
“We’ve almost gotten kidnapped by your Uncle Lex’s goons, and Superman is still in danger, and we are not equipped to fight super-villains,” said Lena, sternly. “You will do as I say.”
“She’s right, kid,” said Steve Lombard, gently. “You showed us where to come. We’re grateful for that. But the rest of the show is up to us.”
“You haven’t got as much super-power as I’ve got, Mr. Lombard,” said Val, resentfully.
Silence for a beat. “No,” said Steve. “But you know what else you’ve got?”
“What?” The kid sounded suspicious.
“About twenty-five years more of life to live than I have,” Steve answered. “And we’re gonna make sure you do. Stay out of this one, Val. That’s an order.”
Jimmy, stretching his legs out several yards to test his Elastic Lad powers, looked on the assemblage. Most of them weren’t any better off than Steve. He, Kid Flash, Captain Strong, and Changeling had the only super-powers in the bunch, except for Val’s telekinetic power. Of the rest, he knew Lois was a competent fighter in klurkor, the Kryptonian martial art she’d learned in Kandor. The Guardian was one of the best hand-to-hand fighters this side of Batman. Henderson was a cop, and he was carrying heat. Steve Lombard was strong, but it had been a long time since he’d been an active athlete. And this was no football game. As for the Newsboys, he knew they could fight. He’d been with them on enough occasions, and they were about as tough as their Suicide Slum fathers.
Dan Reed didn’t belong there. God knew, he didn’t. He hoped they could keep him out of the fight. “Dan,” said Jimmy. “Why don’t you wait this one out? The rest of us–“
“Nothing doing, Jimmy,” said Dan, standing there in his Superman outfit. “I came from the man they’ve got trapped in there. I owe him. It’s time I paid him back.”
“You could get yourself killed paying him back,” said Jimmy, softly.
Dan nodded. Jimmy studied him for a second, and was struck by something. Until now, he’d never seen a nervous Superman.
Henderson was talking to the Metropolis P.D. on the Wagon’s cell phone. “That’s right, Bigville. Just where I told you. Notify the local sheriff’s department, but have them just keep people away from here. You got that, Frank? I want our task force out here, not some bunch of locals. Call Washington, tell them where we’re at, and see what they want to do. Oh, and make sure Gordon knows. He what?”
Lois Lane looked at him. “What’s wrong, Inspector?”
The policeman didn’t speak to her. “All right. All right, we’ll get back to you.” He thumbed off the call, then said, “Luthor just snatched Ardora. Right from a Gotham safe house.”
“Oh, lord,” muttered Lois. “As if we didn’t have trouble enough.” She looked up. “He’ll be here. If he isn’t already here.”
Henderson looked at her, but said nothing.
“So what’s the problem, Kid?” Gabby asked Kid Flash.
“There’s a dimensional interface barrier set up here,” said the swift Titan. “It’s undetectable to most, but I’m used to sensing vibrational irregularities, just like–just like Flash. That’s how we travel between dimensions, like when we go to Earth-Two. I’ve felt where the threshhold is, and I think I can tune in on it and make a gateway.”
“You’re saying that—Luthor’s hideout is in another dimension?” asked Tommy. “How is that possible?”
“It’s entirely creditable,” weighed in Big Words. “To evade detection, Luthor, who is certainly capable of transversing dimensional barriers, possibly brought into existence a pocket dimension and placed his operational facilities there. One could probe the entire area in this dimension and not know of it, if one wasn’t privy to it.”
“What he said,” mumbled Flippa-Dippa.
Lois Lane said, “Kid, do it. Superman’s dying while we’re out here playing debating society. Open the barrier.”
Kid Flash, in answer, ran down a dirt road to a spot twenty or so yards away, finishing before Lois said her last word. Then, as they watched, he stood still and began to vibrate his body. He became a blur, difficult to look upon. All of them were conscious of a change in air pressure, and of a background hum of noise just on the edge of their hearing. It grew in volume and made their teeth grate.
There was a pop of air and some unseen magician drew away a cloak of camouflage.
Before them was a small building with a large door in the front of it, looking somewhat like a garage. It was the unseen portal through which Luthor and his hirelings entered his Lair, obviously. Captain Strong strode up to it.
“Strong, wait,” said Jimmy. “There may be traps.”
“I’m countin’ on it,” said the sailor, and chewed a pinch of Sauncha. He took a deep breath as the strength stimulant took hold. Steve Lombard guessed that Strong was feeling a rush, and worried that the effects of the stuff, however it helped him, might not be healthy in the long run.
But for now, Captain Strong reached out, sank his hands into the metal of the door as if he was grasping a tinfoil pie plate, and wrenched upward. With a horrible sound, the large door tore in the middle and split, coming apart in two pieces. Strong bent both of them to the side, revealing a lift beyond. “Let’s get crackin’,” he said.
Lois Lane hung back a second. “Why wasn’t there anything to keep you from doing that?” she wondered. “Luthor’s had better security than that, always.”
That was when the ground underneath them started shaking.
An explosion of soil was followed by four figures emerging from a tunnel below: Wanda Nordo, Pluto and Plato Statler, and Louto Malono.
“Say hi to security,” said Wanda, and punched Captain Strong with the strength of Wonder Woman. He flew backward and crashed into a Whiz Wagon, bending one of the pods out of shape.
Jimmy Olsen sprang forward, distorting his elastic body into a giant sheet to cover and blind their foemen. He knew it wouldn’t hold them for long. He knew he could also count on a lot of body punishment in the process.
But they had to save Superman, somehow, even if they died doing it.
Shyla Kor-Onn touched down on tundra with her feet and left her charges on the snowcovered ground. Starfire groaned, groggily. Shyla pulled her up and slapped her lightly, several times. “Are you awake yet?” she asked.
“I think so,” allowed Starfire, slowly.
“Good.” Shyla clouted her in the face. Starfire went over backwards and lay still again. Kara had told her what to do. Even though it was dangerous, it would be, Shyla agreed, the most sensible course of action. So she flew over to the great golden key nearby which, ostensibly, pointed the way to a government airfield. Gingerly, she grasped it, feeling the weight of its tonnage.
Then she lifted it, flew off with it, and fitted it into the great keyhole in an even greater door in a mountain.
After turning it, she was able to throw open the huge door of Superman’s Fortress of Solitude.
For a second, Shyla stood, sniffing the air that came from within, looking with her regular and then her telescopic vision at the chambers beyond. She felt a twinge in her soul as she used her X-ray vision to penetrate chamber walls, and saw the exhibits, the tributes, the gathered fragments that represented Krypton.
The world that was had been her home, as well as Superman’s.
Then she sighed, flew back, grabbed up both Starfire and Cyber, and hauled them through the air into the Fortress. A germicidal spray from the walls covered them all as she flew inside. Several sensory devices within noted the IFF disc in her belt which Kara had loaned her, and did not take measures against her.
Once inside, she took the women to a chamber on the lowest level of the Fortress. It was lined with lead, for a good reason. This room was left out of the published diagrams, not alluded to in the models Superman had displayed, and not part of the tour given to guests who had come there blindfolded. She lay the women out on the carpeted floor, then went through the metal door, shut it behind her, and spun a great wheel to lock it with two huge bolts.
Shyla could observe the two women through a closed-circuit TV monitor over the control board without. The controls themselves were simple enough to operate, and were just as Kara had described them. Glancing at the monitor, she saw Cyber starting to stir.
She had no moral problem with what she was about to do.
At the touch of a button, a metal drawer extruded into the room, on servos. It was sheathed in lead and covered by a retractible lid. Cyber, getting woozily to her hands and knees, saw it and started towards it, slowly.
The Kryptonian woman touched another button. The lid over the drawer began to retract, and a good-sized chunk of ore metal came into sight. It glowed in the dim light of the isolation chamber.
Dr. Cyber had never seen it before, but could guess its import. She ran, stumbling, tripped over the prone body of Starfire, picked herself up, and sent herself crashing into the wall.
It responded with a metallic bong and dented inward just a bit, but did not give way.
Cyber hammered on the metal of the wall, without effect. Breathing heavily, desperately, she slid across to the door, battering it, kicking it, trying to use her borrowed-Krypton strength to force it open.
Nothing. In a few more seconds, she clasped her hurting hands under her armpits, and was still.
Wordlessly, Shyla Kor-Onn pressed another switch. The lid came over the glowing rock again, and the drawer soon retracted itself into the wall. Starfire still lay unconscious on the floor, oblivious to what had taken place. Cyber massaged her knuckles, trying to get the pain out of them.
Shyla touched another control that opened a P.A. system in the room. “In case you’re wondering, my name is Shyla,” she said. “I’m a friend of Supergirl’s, from Rokyn. I noticed you looked worried, from what I could see of your face, about that rock I just exposed you to. Don’t worry. If you were thinking it was deadly, it wasn’t. That kind of Kryptonite is colored green. Superman set up this room for these kind of occasions. The kind of K he uses here is colored gold, as I’m sure you noted. Gold Kryptonite doesn’t kill. It just takes away Kryptonian super-powers. Permanently.”
Cyber looked a bit deflated, and angered at the same time.
“I’m coming in there now, and I’m going to take both of you to a different lockup,” Shyla continued. “Then I have to get back to helping Kara. For your sake, you’d better hope that Superman is still alive when I get there.” She shut off the microphone, went to the door, and rotated the wheel again. The bolts retracted into the door. Shyla pulled it open easily, though it would have taken more than human strength to do so without servos.
Cyber, her half-mask showing her ruined face and her snarl, threw a punch at Shyla.
Shyla caught it in her hand and squeezed. Cyber gritted her teeth and went to her knees.
“I’m not like Kara, dear,” said Shyla. “I don’t mind doing this at all.”
After another second, she let up on the pressure. On the trip to the cell, Cyber didn’t give her any grief.
Supergirl knew where to find the Metropolis Irregulars by tuning in on a directional transmitter in the Whiz Wagons with her hearing. But she cursed herself for having taken so long with Starfire and Cyber as she scoped the scene out with her telescopic vision. She jackknifed in the orbital-space sky and planed downward, and knew that, to some degree, no matter what, she was going to be late.
She had seen the four Luthor creeps taking out the crew with few problems. They were each wielding some combination of powers drained from the Justice Leaguers or New Titans in captivity. True, the bad guys wielded their stolen abilities awkwardly, but they were on a level far above those of the defenders. Even Captain Strong had gone down, the last to do so. Louto had smashed him hard enough to leave a bleeding gash on the side of his face. Kara vowed to make him pay for that.
Now the only ones left standing were Lena, Val, and Dan Reed, who was trying to shield them both with his Superman-suited body. All of them knew the bluff wouldn’t work, but he was courageous enough to try it.
“I’m Superman’s clone,” he was saying (she lip-read his mouth as she flew in their direction). “Luthor himself created me. He gave me the powers of Superman. Back off. Don’t hurt these people.”
Pluto Statler said, “You ain’t had those powers for a long time, punk. We know.”
Plato Statler added, “We’re takin’ the kid and the woman with us. They’re the boss’s family. He wants ‘em along.”
“You won’t harm Val,” said Lena, nervously but defiantly. “No matter how many powers you have, I’ll kill the one who lays a hand on him.”
Wanda Nordo strode up, grabbed Dan Reed by the shoulder, and threw him aside. He tumbled on the ground, a piece of paper thrown aside by a hurricane. She faced Lena, hands on hips. “Got any predictions about this?”, she said. Then she grabbed Lena by the arm, and took Val by the other, and marched them toward the lift.
After a few steps, she faltered and cried out in pain. “What’re you doing?” she demanded.
Val was looking at her steadily, angrily. Kara could guess what he was doing. He was using his PK power to give Wanda the biggest brainpain of her life.
“Stop it, kid,” demanded Louto, his metal hand closing around the back of Lena Thorul’s neck. “Stop it right now.”
“You wouldn’t hurt her,” said Val, stubbornly. “She’s uncle Lex’s sister.”
“Kill her, maybe not,” said Louto. “He didn’t say nothing about not hurting her.”
The Statler brothers had Dan Reed in hand. “And this guy isn’t even family,” said Plato.
“Want to see what we can do with him?” asked Pluto.
Reluctantly, Val let his psi-probe fade. Wanda Nordo’s face eased from an expression of pain to one of rage. Without a word, she slapped Val on the side of the head. He cried out and fell to the ground. The Parasite-can went flying, hit the ground, rolled, but stayed sealed.
“NO!” Lena Thorul clawed at Wanda’s face. The villainess grabbed Wanda’s hand and began to squeeze it with the borrowed might of an Amazon. Lena, despite herself, cried out in pain.
It didn’t last very long.
She was abruptly torn from Wanda’s grasp by a blue-and-red thunderbolt that zeroed in on her jaw with a steel-hard fist that sent her sprawling. In another instant, Dan Reed was freed from the grasp of the Statler brothers and set down on the periphery, by the Whiz Wagons.
And another instant after that, in the midst of the four villains stood a woman in blue, red, and yellow, arms folded, looking out at them with a deadly calm.
“So you feel like using super-strength on a normal woman and her child,” said Supergirl. “I don’t have the slightest regret about what I’m about to do.”
She attacked before her foemen could manage to react.
Louto Marono had been the recipient of powers claimed by the Martian Manhunter, who, with Zatanna and Elongated Man, had tried and failed to challenge the power of the two Kryptonian-powered villainesses. Thus, when Supergirl smashed into his gut with her shoulder at flight speed, he was rocked, but not kayoed. When his breath came back to him, he smashed a human and a metal arm across Kara’s back. She winced. She could guess where his power had come from, and once she had tangled with a maddened J’onn J’onzz. It wasn’t an experience she cared to repeat.
With one hand she grabbed him under the chin. Then she turned her head, focusing her vision powers on a clump of grass across the road. In a second, it burst into flame. Louto struggled to hold her there, but couldn’t manage it. She carried them both over ground and held Louto close to the flames. He had absorbed J’onn J’onzz’s powers, true, but also the Martian’s deadly weakness.
The one-armed wrestler wasn’t prepared for this. As his strength slackened, he said, “Hey! Don’t these powers last longer than this?”
“‘Fraid not,” snapped Kara, and, remembering her foe’s profession, locked a sleeper hold on him and had him out within three seconds. “Nitey-nite.”
As she threw him aside, Kara noted the other three trying to converge on her. From a sidebag, Wanda was withdrawing a glowing length of rope. Wonder Woman’s magic lasso. The Statlers had their hands upraised. From Pluto’s hand there blasted a surge of stellar fire. It knocked Kara off her feet, momentarily, and in that moment a spray of crystal, Kole’s power, spurted from Plato’s hand and formed a hard, inches-thick shell around her.
“Good work, guys,” remarked Wanda. “Now, if I could ever get the hang of this darned lariat, maybe I could do some good with it.” She went over to try and loop the lasso over the crystallized Supergirl.
Before she could get within looping range, the crystal shattered into multiple shards, spattering her and the Statlers. Supergirl swept the dust of the crystal from herself with a quick whirling motion, then said, “Honestly. I really expected better from the likes of you.”
Then she flew at the Statlers and, one fist for each jaw, knocked them both out.
While she was turned, the magic lasso went over her head.
“Supergirl,” Wanda started. “I order you to...”
Kara grabbed the end of the lasso and yanked it out of her hands, pulling Wanda off her feet. The villainess landed face down in the dust, doing nothng for her dignity, cleanliness, or disposition. The Girl of Steel pulled the lasso off of herself, then wadded it up and stashed it in her cape pouch. “Got to be quicker than that in this league,” she said.
“Oh, I’ll manage,” said Wanda, getting to her feet. “I heard Wonder Woman gave you a tussle one time. Wonder how well she’d have done if she could do this?”
With that, Wanda’s arms stretched out from her body and wrapped themselves around Supergirl in a hideously comedic fashion. Kara flexed her arms, but Wanda’s arms contracted about her all the harder. Luthor hadn’t only given her Wonder Woman’s powers, she’d tapped into Elongated Man’s stretching power.
“Now sit tight while I try and remember how this works,” she said. “Lirgrepus, rouy sero...uh...serop...Damn!”
“You’ve got Zatanna’s magic, too?” asked Supergirl.
“Yeah,” admitted Wanda. “But I just can’t figure out how to say things backwards. Guess I’ll just have to crush you.”
Wanda looped the rest of her body around Kara’s and began to squeeze harder. Kara’s face reddened as the pressure increased. This, she thought, had gone on long enough. She stung Wanda’s face with a heat-vision burst. Luthor’s mistress cried out in pain. Flexing her own muscles, Supergirl managed to get enough leverage to counter-pressure the human python. To her credit, Wanda held tightly for another few seconds.
Then she sprang away like a burst truck tire, flopped onto the grass beside a fence, and regained her own shape. Supergirl sped over to her, pulled her to her feet by the front of her shirt, and said, “Think you can help me find Superman?”
“You’re crazy,” said Wanda Nordo.
“Don’t say I never gave you a chance,” said Supergirl. At the speed she employed, Wanda never saw the punch that turned out her lights. It sent her straight through the log fence and burned a path through a stretch of grass that lasted for thirty feet.
She didn’t take time to check Wanda for unconsciousness, and, at that point, didn’t give a damn whether she’d damaged her or not. The wench was breathing, but not moving, and that would have to be enough. Kara shot a glance at Dan Reed, Val, and Lena. They all looked scared. She didn’t blame them.
“I don’t have time to get you out of here,” she said. “Follow me. I’m going to help Superman.”
But by the time she said the last word, her hearing picked up on the sound of twin afterburners. She knew their sound too well.
Kara looked up, boosted her vision power briefly, and caught sight of Lex Luthor in the air. He was wearing his warsuit and holding Ardora in his arms. She looked even more frightened than the three on the ground.
Time for quick decision, she told herself.
Without delay, she flew into the lift, slammed both her feet down on the base of the elevator car, and drove it downward. It shot downward with great force, and she flew from the space where its doors had been, using her x-ray vision to check the Lair in which she found herself. In a second’s time, she found what she was looking for.
The chamber in which a host of silver tubular coffins were housed, including that of Kal.
She kept her super-hearing trained on the surface, vowing to smash upward and confront Luthor before he could harm the others. But if Superman could be freed quickly...if she could just get him free...
Supergirl smashed through the wall of the chamber where the heroes were held prisoner in their tubes. Each of them was lined in lead, but she could tell by her super-hearing which one held Kal’s distinctive heartbeat. It was as low as she’d ever heard it.
She grasped it, sunk her fingers physically into the metal of one end, and tore off the end of the tube with a squeal of rending metal.
From the opening, a mass of purple jelly poured. She damned herself for the time she was taking (Luthor was landing outside, she could hear it) and, knowing what the Parasite-gel would do to her, plunged her hand within, felt solidity, grasped the wet and matted hair her fingers found, and yanked.
The body of Superman, her cousin Kal-El, came out covered in purple. The force of her pull knocked them both to the floor.
Kal was still in his Superman costume, but it was soaked through and through by the residue of the Parasite. His eyes were closed. He did not appear to be breathing. He was very, very stiff.
Tears welled in her eyes.
“Oh, Kal,” she whispered. “Kal...”
Sounds from above. No more time to lose, dammit, no more time at all.
She felt the weakness in her right hand where she had sunk it into the purple mass, knew that she was a bit weakened by the Parasite-glop she had gotten on herself while freeing Kal. Nonetheless, she had a long way to go before she became powerless.
Laying Kal as gently as possible on the floor, she held her left fist upward, crouched, and launched herself at the ceiling. Her Kryptonian body pierced ferroconcrete, earth, and ground cover in a second’s time.
By the time she turned around, she took a blast of powerful plasma energy in the face and chest.
The power burst slammed her to the ground, knocked the breath out of her, and gave her confidence a quick kick in the posterior. Supergirl shook her head, pushed herself up, and looked up at the man who disgusted her more than anyone else on this planet.
Lex Luthor, unsmiling, stood some yards away with one arm holding Ardora and the other pointed at her, still crackling energy from the metal glove he wore.
Dan Reed, Lena, and Val were attempting to take cover behind one of the farm sheds, but they weren’t that far out of harm’s way. Lex had his mouth open and was saying something. Kara wasn’t listening.
With a grim expression on her face, she launched herself forward, running at super-speed. This had to be done quickly and precisely, and with as much force as she could manage.
One of her hands smashed hard into Luthor’s chestplate. The other grasped Ardora and tried to tear her loose from Luthor’s grip. Unfortunately, he was holding Ardora too firmly in the crook of one arm and Kara knew, instinctively, that the force necessary to tear her away would also rend her body.
Worse, her fist didn’t penetrate Luthor’s warsuit.
“Only one chance, Kryptonian,” Luthor said, with surprising gentleness. “Only one chance.”
He activated an internal relay and a new, differently-colored powerburst came from his fingers and was released full in Kara’s face.
The rayburst was colored green.
Supergirl cried out in pain as the Green K radiation tortured her, robbed her briefly of sight, drove daggers of agony into her brain. It had been a long while since she felt the pain of Kryptonite exposure. But it was something she could never forget.
Ardora screamed in horror, for herself and her newfound friend.
Lex Luthor continued to blast away at Supergirl, keeping the blasts focused on her exposed face, channeling all the energy-power of his suit into the effort. Supergirl stumbled against his body, knocking them all to the ground, slamming a palm against Luthor’s transparent helmet and cracking it a bit, digging her fingers into the chestplate of his suit and managing to penetrate it a bit, tearing furrows in the surface of the metal, dragging her hand downward, and all of that time taking the full force of the Kryptonite burst in the face.
Ardora was striking at Lex’s helmet with her hands and screaming at him, but it did as much good as throwing snowballs at an iceberg.
For Kal, Kara thought to herself. For Kal...
She was needed. Her cousin needed her. Ardora, Dan, Val, and Lena needed her. The whole world needed her.
That was the last thought she had before she lapsed into senselessness.
Lex Luthor kept up the powerburst for several seconds. Ardora screamed at him. “Stop it, Lex! Stop it! You will kill her!”
He kept it up for ten more seconds. She had not yet begun to turn green, but her color was visibly paler.
Then he shut off the feed to his gauntlet, and the green beams vanished. “She can still be of use,” he said. “More so than her cousin. More so than you, my faithless wife.”
Ardora looked at her husband and, seeing the blankness in his eyes, found it a great effort to breathe.
“You carry my son,” he said. “You knew she was of the enemy. That she was of the blood of the man who destroyed the Homeworld. And yet...this thing you have done.”
After several frightened breaths, Ardora said, “Because I have seen more than you have told me, Lex. Because I have seen things which are not as you have told me. I beg of you, leave the Kryptonian, leave this girl. I will be your wife again. I will love you as best I can. I will bear your child. I will...”
There was a yell of desperation from behind them. Lex Luthor turned, and Ardora’s eyes widened in even more fear.
Superman was running at them, his arms upraised to attack.
No, not Superman...just the Earthman who was pretending to be Superman, Ardora realized. She held up her arm, trying to warn him back. But the man was spurred by both fear and the desire to do something, anything against her husband, who had almost killed this girl. Who had almost killed the man from whom he was cloned.
And perhaps he was only trying to do what Superman would have done.
Lex let him get within reaching distance and, at that point, reached out a gauntlet, grasped Dan Reed by the face, and discharged a blast of energy into it.
There wasn’t even time for Dan Reed to scream. There was enough for Ardora to.
The husk of the clone of Superman burst into flame and fell to the ground, a blackened corpse. From their vantage point, Lena cried out and held Val to her chest, averting his eyes from the sight. It was too late to keep him from having seen it, though.
Lex Luthor, for a moment, looked sad.
Lena was paralyzed by a moment of horrific deja vu. As it had been in her vision, so it was in reality. She had seen a Superman being killed by Lex Luthor. But it had been this Superman, Dan Reed.
And what of Ardora, and her other vision?
“Val, run away,” she hissed.
“No,” he said, not in fear but in dedication, and held her more tightly.
“I said run!”
She shoved him away and sent him sprawling, but he would not run from her.
“Ardora, run!” she screamed, knowing her cry would give away her position. “He’s going to kill you too! I saw it in a vision! I’m a psychic!”
Still held by his powerful arm, the second wife of Lex Luthor looked at him in terror and, she had to admit, loathing. Lex’s eyes blazed in cold fury.
“Come out, Lena,” he called.
“I want all the family to be here for the ceremony,” he said. “That’s why I had you followed. That’s why you’re here. Come out.”
“Do you think you can run from me?” said Luthor. “Do you think you can outdistance my warsuit? Do you think you can withstand its power?”
Luthor grasped Ardora by the wrist and dragged her along. “I’m coming after you,” he said.
Lena Thorul emerged from behind the red-painted shed, trembling, fearful, but still defiant. “Let Val go,” she said. “You can take me, but you can’t take my son.”
A powerburst from his glove blasted ground near her feet. She jumped back against the shed, in terror.
Val came out from behind the shed. He looked at Lex Luthor, whom he had aided one time as a young child, with undisguised hatred.
“Better,” said Luthor. “Come with me.”
He turned, still dragging Ardora in one hand, walked to the sprawled figure of Supergirl, went to one knee, grasped her with his arm under her armpit, and hoisted her onto his shoulder. Then he looked back at Val and Lena.
Slowly, the two of them came forward. The lift, at Luthor’s control, came back to the surface. He herded Lena and Val into it, pushed Ardora roughly beside them, lay Supergirl on the floor of the car, and entered it himself. Then he sent the car downward, into his Lair.
Aboveground, the fallen heroes and villains lay where they were, and made no stir.
Especially not Dan Reed.
“The setbacks we have suffered are serious, but momentary,” said Lex Luthor, behind the three who walked before him through the hallways of his Lair. “I will have to quit this installation. But little has been lost. There is another Lair, to which I will return the Supergirl. Her power will replace that which has been lost.”
“You killed, Lex,” said Ardora, dully. “You murdered that man.”
“He’s murdered more than that,” said Lena. “He hasn’t killed often, but he has killed.”
Lex regarded his wife. “And this is such a great thing to you? Did you not know what I was doing to the Superman?”
Ardora’s hands trembled, though she clenched them into fists. “I thought he was an evil man. I thought you would not really kill him, just drain his power. Oh, Lex, Lex, how can you be so good and yet so evil? How can I...how can I still love you?”
“Don’t kill her, Lex,” she said. “Kill me, instead.”
“Shut up,” said Luthor, and pushed them into the last chamber. As he entered, he stopped stock-still.
Superman’s tube-chamber was torn apart, and Superman was nowhere to be found.
Luthor threw Supergirl on the floor and, in a sudden rage, kicked her in the ribs. She soared across the room, hit the wall, slid down it to the floor, and did not respond.
“He is gone,” he said. “She got to him before I could return, and he is GONE!”
“Thank God,” said Lena. “Please, Lex, just leave. Just go. You can escape from all of this. You don’t have to hurt anyone. Just let everyone go. That’s all I ask.”
“SILENCE!” Lex Luthor was quivering dangerously, and his gauntlets began to glow with deadly power.
It was at that moment that a yellow-and-red blur hit him from behind, drove him forward, and slammed him into the far wall, knocking him into equipment, power sources, and a whole bunch of other things which sparked and hissed and discharged electricity and other things about him.
“Come with me,” said Kid Flash, and had Lena and Val out of the building and on the surface in the time that it took to draw two breaths. He came back for Ardora and Kara, but ran into some interference.
The interference came in the form of two computerized blasters in the ceiling, which had finally tracked his path and sent two powerful and continuous emissions of power towards him. Wally West tried to avoid it, then, when avoidance was impossible, tried to withstand it. But it could not be done. The last thing he felt before the blackness was the impact with the wall, and his last thought was his decision to slack speed.
That kept him from injury, but not from unconsciousness.
Lex Luthor saw him, pulled him from the space on the floor where he had fallen, grasped him by the throat, and powered up his other gauntlet.
Then, in disgust, he threw the speedster to the floor. If he had to kill, there were more important ones to kill than this stupid young man.
A small green mouse watched from hiding, and waited.
With a shrug, Lex picked Supergirl off the floor, carried her to one of the few unoccupied tubes, and made to throw her in. He was not facing the mouse.
He did not see the mouse scurry from behind the console, morph into a rhino, and, in the crowded space available to him, charge forward and slam his great green horn into Luthor’s back. It sent him sprawling, and Kara fell from his hands, bounced off the tube and slumped to the floor.
“Damn!” He wasn’t hurt, but it did take him a moment to push his armored form from the floor and turn. The green rhino quickly decreased mass, morphed into a small green snake, and tried to slither quickly away.
He almost made it before Luthor blasted him.
Unconscious, the snake morphed back into Gar Logan, the Changeling.
“Oh, God,” groused Lex. “How many more children are they going to send against me?”
Resolutely, he started towards the fallen body of Kara Zor-El.
A second later, the roof fell into another part of the chamber, and a fist much harder than steel slammed into his chestplate.
Shyla Kor-Onn came forward, pounding at him, kicking at his warsuit, blasting away at him with twin beams of heat from her eyes. She didn’t say anything to him. She had no use for clever quips or for trading barbs with the enemy.
All she knew was that she was going to keep this baldheaded bastard away from Kara, and she’d never taken any oaths not to kill anyone. Her hands pounded away at him, and, with a mighty heave, she crashed them both through several more chambers, making a shambles of Luthor’s Lair.
They crashed to a halt by the fountain in his reception area. Luthor, seeing her descending fist, decided he had had enough and, with one hand, arrested her fist’s movement. With the other, he sent a full-power K-burst into her face. He guessed that the woman was Kryptonian, and her cry of pain confirmed it.
Shyla tried to pull away, but Lex held her, pushed her down on the ground, and covered her face with his green-glowing hand. She struggled, with enough strength to crack the flooring below them. He was channeling deadly power into her, and resolved not to stop until her skin turned green and her breath and heartbeat ceased.
There were only so many live Kryptonians one could put up with.
A familiar voice rang out in the carnage. “Lex, stop it! By the gods of my homeworld, stop it! You are killing her!”
Worse than that, a piece of pipe knocked out of one of the walls through which he had crashed was being wielded against him. It bonged harmlessly against his helmet, several times. But it did trigger more fury from him, and that was enough to make him turn for a second and look into the eyes of Ardora, and give a yell of anger that had no words in it.
His hand grasped her by one shoulder, and his other hand surged with power. “You stand against me, Ardora,” he whispered. “Forgive me. When I clone you again, things will be different. Very different.”
His hand began to descend towards her face.
How many people, he thought, are going to talk to me when I give them my back?
But he didn’t quite have time to turn around. A hand grasped his wrist, pulled it back, and threw him judo-style away, crashing into the fountain and spattering them all with water as the main structure of it collapsed away from them, under his weight.
Supergirl stood there. She was hardly at her peak. She fought to keep herself conscious, fought to keep her legs under her, fought to keep the pain she had endured from engulfing her, and mainly fought her body’s shut-down signals so that she could stand between her friends and Lex Luthor.
His hand glowed with Kryptonite power, and he tried to point it in her direction. “Not this time, Lex,” she said, with an effort, and half-fell, half-flew to him. She landed on top of him, grabbing his green-glowing hand with one of her own, and, with the other, stabbing her fingers at his armor.
“Damn you, Kryptonian,” rasped Lex Luthor. “Damn you beyond the seventh circle of Dante’s Hell!”
He sought to point the hand at her face or body for a K-blast, and even the residual radiation was paining her. With his other hand he grabbed her face and triggered a plasma-burst that rocked her head backwards sharply. But she still kept her other hand on his chestplate, and would not let loose, and would not stop using her strength to force her fingers downward.
The metal beneath her fingers began to bend.
Luthor blasted her again, tried to twist his captive hand around, but couldn’t manage it. Kara, racked with pain, grimaced and stabbed downward with her hand, until it sank completely into the metal of his suit and stopped with her fingernails touching his chest. Within his armor, Luthor flinched.
Then, with a movement of her shoulders, she tore downward.
Luthor frantically blasted her a third time, and she shouted in pain. But she would not stop her efforts. Inch by inch, her hand tore a great rent in the warsuit, sparks of energy flying out from it, burning her hand. The master scientist cried out in frustration, struggling to blast her again, struggling to bring his deadly green hand against her face, struggling to break free from her, but she straddled him and held him down to the floor.
Her hand tore the warsuit open at the belt, severing power cables with a great SPAK! of outburst. With that, the greenness of his hand faded, and the plasma burst from his other gauntlet sparked into uselessness.
The warsuit, deprived of power, shut down.
Kara looked at Lex’s hands, saw nothing was coming from them, and muttered, “Good.”
Then she slumped alongside him and lay dormant in the wetness of the shattered fountain.
Luthor looked up. Before him was Ardora, and Lena and Val were rushing in from one of the entrances. Lena was chasing Val, who seemed to be intent on being there for the last showdown. But both of them stopped short when they saw the scene.
It was finished. Almost all of it was finished. All but the crudest sort of vengeance.
The Kryptonian had balked him again. After all this time, the Kryptonian and his damnable cousin had balked him once again. But there was something to be salvaged, a small statement to be made.
The warsuit was built to be easily gotten out of in times of emergency. Lex threw a small mechanical switch in part of his torn chestplate, and was able to stand up, the suit falling away from him in two halves. He stood in his skintight suit of purple and green, and, as an afterthought, threw away his helmet. It bounced twice off the floor and rolled to a stop.
His eyes went to the pipe Ardora had used to strike him. “Lex, stop!” shouted Lena. But it was a bit too late.
With a swift motion he grasped the pipe, swung it overhead, and said, “Forgive me,” just before he began to bring it down towards Ardora’s head.
He was tackled from the side and brought down, the pipe falling from his hands.
Luthor twisted his head around to see which one of the Krypton bitches had managed the deed. But what he saw made him gasp in surprise. Even with what he knew, he had to gasp.
The person holding onto his legs, staring up at him with resolution and anger, his face still streaked with purple, his costume still soaked through with the stuff, his body weakened incredibly but still functional, was the one man he hated most in all the universe.
“It’s finished, Lex,” rasped Kal-El, almost as an old man would speak. “It’s...over. Surrender.”
“Never,” whispered Lex, and then, in a shout, declared, “NEVER!” He kicked out angrily at Superman, dislodging him, and damned himself for not killing him during the month and days he had him helpless, damned himself for trying to eke the last bit of power from his body for its usefulness.
He lurched over to the pipe, grasped it, thought for an instant of the irony of using so crude a device to kill his enemy, and once again, tried to swing down.
Kara lifted her head groggily from the pool of water in which she lay. Luthor’s shout had half-awakened her, and she struggled to see what was going on. Her head came up at the instant in which the pipe began swinging down towards Superman’s head.
Then Luthor faltered.
A look of shock spread over his face. The pipe’s trajectory changed as his arms grew weak. It fell, clanging to the ground, bouncing partially against Superman’s leg. Luthor clutched the wrist of one arm with his other hand. He trembled.
“Lex,” said Superman.
Luthor, registering terrible surprise, fell to his knees. Ardora screamed.
Kara pushed herself to one elbow and fought to get up, but knew, from the looks of things, she would be too late.
“Damn you,” Luthor said, looking not at Superman. “Damn you.”
And then he pitched forward, face down, flat on the floor of his lair.
Superman crawled over, turned him over with an effort, saw his foe’s eyes staring, unseeing. He grasped Lex Luthor’s wrist with one hand, held it for several seconds. With as much effort as he could manage, he struck Luthor’s chest, as a doctor will that of a cardiac arrest patient. He struck it again, and a third time. Then he sighed.
“That’s it,” he said. And, knowing he had to say it, he said it:
Ardora knelt by her husband’s head, placed his head in her lap, and, quietly at first, began to weep. Superman put out a hand to touch her arm. She slapped it away, and kept crying.
Lena, holding in her own emotion as best she could, went to his side, Val in tow. “Let him go, Superman,” she said. “My brother is...”
“I’m sorry, Lena,” he said.
“He doesn’t have to hate you anymore,” she finished. “He...oh, God...”
She held one of Lex’s hands, knelt beside him, and was silent. Val stood beside her, awkwardly, and looked at Superman. “I think Miss Kara needs some help,” he said.
Superman nodded, and Val helped him to his feet. “Thank you,” he said, and, like a man learning how to walk again, stumbled over to where Kara was sitting, still wet from the fountain’s waters.
“Shyla,” he said. “How is she?”
“She’ll be okay,” said Kara. “Her heartbeat is strong.”
“Kara,” he said. “Kara.”
Then both of them were in each other’s arms, on their knees, heads on each other’s shoulders, and they did not restrain their tears. They hugged each other as fiercely as their weakness would allow, and it turned out to be a strong enough hold indeed.
If there were barriers between them, they were forgotten. If there were distances of time and maturity and differing viewpoints, they were set aside. For now, they were cousins, kinsmen, blood-bonded, brethren in arms. They were together now, after too long a time apart, physically and otherwise.
And as kin loves kin, they loved each other dearly.
Shyla Kor-Onn roused herself from the well of sleep and opened her eyes, blinking. She looked and saw Kal and Kara embracing, Luthor’s relatives by his unmoving body, and the wreckage of a room that had once been the centerpiece of Luthor’s Lair.
She noted that she’d played a similar scene not long ago. Only that time, it had been Kara in dreamland, while she handled mop-up details against the Zoners.
To everyone in the room, none of whom was listening to her, she said, “I’ll be back in a moment. I’m going to check on the folks I saw outside.” She flew through the entrance and made her way to the lift.
There was bound to be a hell of a lot more to do.
“It’s been...so long in there,” said Superman, still holding Kara.
“I know,” she whispered. “I can’t imagine...great Rao, Kal. How did you survive?”
“I’m still not sure,” he said. “I just...didn’t want to give up. Luthor was out there. I had to survive so that I could stop him. But...that wasn’t all of it. There were people like Lois out there. And Jimmy, Bruce, Perry...all my friends. And you. Even though you were half a galaxy away. I knew I’d never see you again, if I gave up and died.
“But there was more to it than that. I’m Superman, Kara. And if I made a habit of giving up...well, I wouldn’t be much of a Superman, would I?”
She sighed. “All that matters is you’re safe, Kal. All that matters is, we saved your life.”
“Yes. For which, I’ll never stop thanking you. Never. But...” He nodded to the Luthor clan. “They need help, too, don’t they?”
“They do,” she agreed. “So do the Leaguers and the Titans. Shyla’s tending to your friends outside. The ones who came to save you. Probably also tending to the ones who hurt them. But we need to talk afterward, Kal.”
“My friends,” he said. He looked upward. Supergirl knew he was using his X-ray vision. “Holy sun and Mother Moon. Lois, Jimmy, Steve, the Guardian. All of them. They got hurt. For me, Kara. They got hurt.”
“There’s hardly any of us who wouldn’t put it on the line when you’re really in danger, Kal. You knew that already. And you know it now.”
“Yes,” he said. “And you know I’ll be there when any of you need me.”
“You always were.”
“Let’s help them,” he said indicating the Luthors.
“Kal. Are you...feeling better?”
He brushed some gel off his arm. “Not up to par yet, but I can walk. Once I get this Parasite stuff off me, I should recover.”
“We had to make a bargain to get the Parasite to help us, Kal,” she said. “We had to agree to get him a body again.”
“Then that’s what we’ll have to do,” he said.
With that, they went to the place where Luthor’s body was surrounded by his wife, sister, and nephew. Ardora was cradling his head in her lap, and crying. Lena was holding her shoulders and crying as well. Of all of them, only Val was dry-eyed. He knelt beside his uncle’s body and said nothing.
“Ardora, Lena, Val,” said Superman. “I’m sorry.”
“Go away,” said Ardora.
“We know, Superman,” said Lena. “Just leave us alone.”
“I didn’t cause his death,” Superman said. “If there was a way–“
“There wasn’t,” said Lena. “We know that. He was out to kill her, for God’s sake. Just–leave us be for awhile. He was my brother.”
Superman nodded. “I’ll be back.” To Val he said, “I could use a hand upstairs.”
Val looked at him. “I want to stay with my mother.”
“It’s not good for you to be here,” said Superman. “It’s not good for you to learn about death like this.”
“When am I s’posed to learn about it?” He looked at Superman defiantly.
Kara stepped over to them. “Val. Please, go with Superman. I’ll help Ardora and Lena.”
“No,” said Val.
She turned and flew to the tube chamber, to begin releasing the superheroes from their imprisonment. As she did, her mind flashed back to another time, in which Luthor had died by accident and she brought him back to life with a device built along Kryptonian lines.
It might be possible to restore his life in the next two minutes, if she could manage to put such a thing together again. There was probably enough stuff in Luthor’s labs from which she could cannibalize it.
He had almost killed Kal, this time. He had come very near to killing him with Virus X, another time. And there were–great Rao, there were so many other times when he had tried to kill her cousin, or even her, and had gotten too close to that goal all too often.
She also remembered Kal saying that Luthor just periodically had to break jail so he could destroy something, anything.
There were only so many times mercy could be shown.
Sometimes, it was a greater mercy to withhold it.
With an unpleasant chill in her heart, Supergirl began tearing the metallic tubes open.
Outside, Superman caught up with Shyla Kor-Onn, who had gotten most of their allies back on their feet and made sure that their four enemies were still off theirs. The Metropolis group was much the worse for wear, but the sight of Superman emerging from the lift galvanized them. Jimmy Olsen was the first to say it.
“Superman! Holy cow, it’s SUPERMAN!”
Before he knew it, his elasticized body elongated out and wrapped his old friend in an Elastic Lad hug. Superman hugged him back and smiled. “Yes, Jimmy. I’m back. And thank you very, very much.”
Lois Lane gaped, and, a second later, found herself running towards him like a track star. She grasped both of them and hugged them both tightly. “You’re back,” she said, her voice cracking. “You’re alive.”
“Yes, Lois,” he said. “And you’re probably the biggest reason why I am.”
She really hated herself for what happened next. As much of a tough-girl reporter that she tried to present herself, the kind of woman who had tracked down gangsters to get a story out of their capture, the woman who could bring down most attackers with her knowledge of klurkor, and the woman who had, some months back, told Clark Kent that it didn’t matter whether or not he was Superman, it was just too late, with all that and more, Lois Lane broke into tears.
But when Superman tried to comfort her, she said, “Shut up, you big lug. I’m just glad to see you back.”
The others were there by that time, Lombard, Henderson, the Newsboys, Captain Strong, and the Guardian. When they saw Lois crying, they hung back. Superman, holding her, said, “We’ll be all right, friends. Thanks to you. Thanks to all of you.”
Captain Strong reached out a hand, and Superman, still holding Lois, shook it. “It’s bonza to have ya back, matey. It’s mighty good.”
“It’s good to be back,” started Superman. “Especially–“ He stopped, catching sight of another figure strewn on the battlefield.
Lois knew, instinctively, what he had seen. He gently relinquished her. “Hey, what–“ started Gabby. The Guardian put a hand on his arm, gently silencing him.
Without a word, Superman trudged across the farmyard to the spot where a dead man lay in a costume like his own. He went to one knee beside it, then to both. Lois went beside him, holding his hand. He looked at her. “Dan Reed?”
She nodded. “Yes. Luthor killed him.”
“My cl–no. My brother,” said Superman. “One fathered by Luthor. And Luthor killed him.”
Lois paused a long moment. “And all that’ll happen to him is that he’ll go back to jail.”
“All that’ll happen, after all this, almost killing you a hundred times, almost conquering the world, is that he’ll go back to a nice, comfortable cell that he can break out of, anytime he wants, and–“
“Lois. Lex Luthor won’t be going anywhere.”
“What?” She looked at him, incredulous. “What are you saying?”
He said, quietly, “Lex and I, we’ve done a strange dance for thirty years or so. I’m not sure who was leading, most of the time. We always wondered how long the dance would last. Now, I know. Lex Luthor and I...we’ve just had our last waltz, Lois.”
“Oh,” she said.
There was too much information for her to process. So much that she wanted to say, being choked back by all the rest that she needed to say. Perhaps Kal was feeling the same way. It was impossible to tell for certain, but in the end, all she could do was be silent. And hold Kal’s hand.
He didn’t let go.
Inspector Henderson found a phone in the Whiz Wagon that was still functional and called the P.D., which redirected him to a field commander of the SWAT team. The cop in charge told him they were practically on top of them.
“Give us a few minutes,” said Henderson.
“It’s over? Already?”
“One, for certain,” said Henderson. He looked at Superman. “On second thought...I’m pretty sure it’s two.”
Within minutes, Superman contacted the White House on the phone, and the stand-down order was given to both American and Russian forces. Reagan and Gorbachev both proferred many thanks, and competed to see which could offer a Superman Day in gratitude. The Man of Steel declined.
The Justice Leaguers and New Titans were freed by Supergirl and Shyla, and gladly welcomed Superman back to the fold. All of them were grateful to the two Kryptonian women, and to the Metropolis Irregulars (by which name they would be known in the media reports of the event). When they were told of the death of Luthor, they reacted with the same stunned disbelief.
“I didn’t know he could die,” admitted Aquaman. “It seemed like he’d been there forever, that he’d be there after all of us.” He looked at Superman. “Like you.”
Kal looked uncomfortable. Lois Lane was still holding his hand. “We have a debt to repay,” he said, “and I can’t do it. Can some of you help?”
It turned out that the Parasite could not siphon off powers which were mechanical or contained in weapons, such as Green Lantern’s ring. Therefore, the four cronies of Luthor had to do without it. But Hal’s ring charge was spent, and he’d have to go back to Coast City to charge it. Zatanna had Kid Flash rush to Luthor’s auxiliary lair with a container, and brought back what part of the Parasite-gel that was stored there. They emptied it onto the floor of the tube chamber, and Zatanna, taking care not to touch the glop as she stood there, chanted the words:
“Etisarap leg eb lamron nam niaga.”
She claimed, as her father had before her, that reverse speech was just a concentration tool. Spells of all sorts were only agreements. The universe made the agreement with her, and as the heroes and heroines watched, the purple jelly spurted from the opened tubes, spattered onto the floor to unite with the mass that was already there, and writhed upward in a column. Before their eyes, it assumed man-shape, solidified, changed color, and resolved into the form of a naked man.
Maxwell Jensen looked down at himself in amazement. “I’m back,” he said. “I’m me. I’m free!”
“Uh...” said Kara.
“Nam eb dehtolc,” added Zatanna, and part of the flooring rose up to form itself into a fibrous three-piece suit for Jensen.
Jensen touched his chest, his thighs, his legs, his face. He shook his head in disbelief, and then grinned. “Oh, man, is it ever good to have a body again! I mean...you never know how much you miss the thing till you haven’t got it!”
Kara smiled. She hated to admit it–the Parasite had once tried to do her and Kal both in–but she was glad that even he got something out of the deal.
Max’s face turned a bit more sober. “Uh, Supes, I’m sorry about the thing. I really am.”
“Apology accepted, Max,” said Superman. “Neither of us really knew what he was in for, in the end.”
“Neither did Lex, I guess,” said Jensen. “Funny. It was his last great trap, I guess, and he ended up being the only one caught.”
Supergirl said, “Like the old proverb I learned on this world: ‘If you dig a trap, you’d best dig two / The one who’s getting trapped just might be you.’”
Superman said, “He wasn’t the only one trapped, Kara.”
“Don’t I know it,” she said. “Dan Reed. We never should have let him come with us.”
Jimmy Olsen said, “He had to. There wasn’t any way he could have stayed behind. He was Superman.”
Nobody said anything, for a long moment. Then Superman caught sight of one of the party quietly leaving the room, and looked on in empathy. “Be right back, Lois,” he said, and pushed his way gently through the throng.
He caught up to Steve Lombard before the latter had gotten very far down the hall. “Steve,” he said. “Wait.”
Lombard turned back to face him. “Why hasn’t anybody talked about Clark Kent?”
Superman strove not to do too much of a double-take. “You’re right,” he said. “He’s bound to be imprisoned at the other Lair. I’ll have Kara go fetch him. I’m still not recovered, I’m afraid.”
“That’s all right, I guess,” said Steve. He stood there, looking down the hall. “Everybody’s so glad to see you back, they forgot about what it took to get you here.”
“I haven’t,” said Superman.
“One guy died,” said Steve. “Clark’s been gone as long as you. The rest of us got the hell beaten out of ourselves by Luthor’s thugs. I didn’t know what this superhero thing was like, Superman. I don’t much like it.”
“I don’t blame you, Steve,” Superman replied.
“I thought I knew about life from being in football,” said Steve, leaning against a wall and massaging a hurt place on his temple. “I thought it was all about taking hits, playing through ‘em, givin’ it back. Like Life was a goalpost, or maybe Death was, and you just kept chargin’ till you got through ‘em. And if you were good enough, they threw girls and money at you while you were runnin’. For those of us who were lucky.”
Superman stood near him. “I remember, Steve. I used to love watching you play.”
He nodded. “You might think, Steve, that just because I can do what I do...because I am who I am, at least, most times other than today...I look down on people who can’t. That’s not the case. I can appreciate what human effort is like, what human excellence is, because I know my own limitations. And I have them, Steve. Mentally and physically. Just because a horse can run faster than a man, does it mean that men should stop racing? Just because only one man can win a contest, does it mean all other men should quit playing?”
“Of course not,” said Steve. “Even I know that. It’s all about the game.”
“And you played it well, Steve. I remember.”
“That’s the problem, Supes. All of it’s remembering. All of it’s in the past.”
“Is it?” He fixed Lombard with a serious look. “You risked your life to try and save me, Steve. The people you fought against were far deadlier than the Gotham Giants or the Central City Cruisers. The outcome was a lot more important, as well.”
“Yeah,” he said. “Saving you.”
“And stopping Luthor from conquering the world.”
“That, too,” said Steve. “Except we didn’t.”
“Oh. You think so?” asked Superman. “Do you think we could have found this place, without the help of Val, the Parasite, and Kid Flash? Do you think that it’s such a small thing, for you, who hasn’t even had the crime-fighting experience of even Jimmy or Lois, to put yourself in harm’s way like that, and fight beside people like the Guardian and Strong? Do you think, Steve, that nothing was risked by doing that? If so, you’d better talk to Dan Reed. I think he’d tell you something different.”
Steve Lombard didn’t answer.
“Even Clark Kent had his part to play in this,” said Superman. “He was captured while trying to find me. We’re best friends, Clark and I. Maybe–like you and I.”
“Me?” Steve was dumbfounded. “What’re you–I mean, me?”
“Who else would I be talking to?” asked Superman. “You worked to help save my life. If that doesn’t make you a friend of Superman, I don’t know anything that could.”
“I–“ Steve felt, at that moment, somewhat like he had when he’d gotten his Super Bowl ring so many years ago. Or like he had when he’d thrown the touchdown pass in high school that had gotten the team the state championship. Or–but there were too many points of comparison. All of them different, all of them the same. Someone saying to him, “We have accepted you. You have earned it.”
He wanted to cry, but somehow, he didn’t. Superman had his hand out. He shook it, firmly, and held on.
“It’s okay, Steve,” said Superman. “It’s okay.”
After a long moment, Steve looked down, rubbed his mouth, and said, “That’s only one of the reasons I was headed out.”
“Yeah. The Luthors. Miss Ardora isn’t doing so well, I don’t think. I don’t know about Lena or Val, either. I want to–make sure they’re okay.”
“I understand. I’ll come with you.”
“No,” said Steve. “I mean–no, not yet, Supes. I’m not—I’m not the guy Lex hated. Maybe I can do something that...”
“That I can’t,” said Superman. “You may be right, Steve. Go ahead.”
Steve turned away. “And Steve?”
He looked back. Superman said, “I don’t know about Morgan Edge. But I have a feeling that some network around these parts is going to need a sports commentator. You’re bound to have a higher profile after this. And if you need a hand, or a word on your behalf, I’ll be glad to lend one.”
After a second, Steve said, “Thanks, Superman. Thanks a lot. Y’know...I think I do know what Jimmy Olsen sees in you, after all.”
“No problem. Just don’t expect a secret signal watch.”
Steve Lombard grinned, punched him lightly in the arm, and walked down the hall.
Val was standing by himself. Ardora was still cradling Lex’s head in her lap, and Lena was trying to comfort her. “I remember him from when I was a little girl,” she was saying. “You wouldn’t believe what he was like back then. He was a good boy, a smart boy. He was my big brother. Once, he saved my life.”
“Excuse me, ladies,” said Steve. “I’m Steve Lombard. That’s not really important, now. Maybe I–“ He exhaled, looking at Ardora, Lena, Val, and what was left of Lex Luthor.
“Maybe you can tell me about him,” he said. “Maybe I can listen.”
When Kara came to stand quietly beside Kal and peek through the wall at them with her X-ray vision, they were still talking.
“I’m glad,” she said. “I’m glad he’s doing that, Kal.”
“We’re going to have to take him away from them,” said Superman, and she didn’t have to guess who he was talking about. “The coroners are on their way.”
“Before they get here, I want to speak with Val.”
“Just don’t disturb the women,” said Kal. “They’ve been through too much.”
“So have we, Kal,” she said.
As she walked in, Kara heard Ardora saying, “He was the savior of our entire planet. He alone created fertile land where once there was a desert. He gave us a new water supply. This is what he told me, and I do believe it, because Lena has told me it is true, as well. He was the husband of myself, and my other-self. He fathered both our children.”
They looked up at her entrance. She thought she saw a trace of anger in Ardora’s eyes, for a moment. “I’d like to speak with Val for a moment, if I might,” she said. “Alone.”
Without saying anything, Lena looked at Val. He finally shrugged and spoke. “It’s okay.”
Kara led Val to another part of the Lair, far out of earshot of the others, and closed a metal door behind them. Then she said, “If you can hear this, Kal, stop listening.”
Val said, “Think he’d listen in on us, Miss Kara?”
“I don’t think so,” she said. “But I want to make sure.”
He shifted on his sneakered feet. “What’d you want to talk about?”
“How do you feel about your uncle?”
“I don’t know,” he said. “I know why what happened had to happen. He was gonna kill Superman. He was gonna kill Miss Ardora.”
Kara nodded. “I wish it could have been different, myself. But if he kept down the path he chose, this sort of thing was going to happen. Or maybe Kal and I would have died before it did. The only one who could have kept him from going down that path was Lex, himself. And he didn’t.”
“No,” said Val. “He didn’t.”
After a pause, Kara quietly said, “Tell me why you killed him, Val.”
“Me!” He looked at her in awe. “Me?”
She nodded, arms folded on her chest. “You. Lex had a healthy heart. I know. Superman and I have had access to Lex’s prison medical records for years, his psychiatric exams as well. He wouldn’t have had a cardiac arrest just like that. Not so convieniently. I didn’t use my heat-vision on him. Neither did Shyla. Kal didn’t have any super-powers at the time. That leaves somebody else. Only one of us had psychokinetic powers, Val. Only one of us could have made his heart stop.
Val looked away.
After a long moment, without looking at her, he said, “I saw him kill the other Superman. I saw him try to kill Miss Ardora. I saw him–try to kill Superman.”
“Yes,” said Kara.
Val said, “I can’t say anything about it. I can’t tell Mom! I can’t!” He looked back at her, and his eyes were wild with fear. Kara had the impulse to gather him to her, to press his face against his chest and hug him.
But she resisted it.
“Val,” she said, “the act of killing is the gravest act of man. Both on Krypton, and on Earth. Once upon a time, Lex died, and I brought him back to life. This time...I didn’t do it. So we both have something to bear away from this one. We both have each other’s secret.
“Your action was basically justified. You kept him from killing Kal and Ardora. Maybe he would have killed you and Lena afterward. There’s no telling. If a cop had come in there with a gun, he probably would have used it on Lex, as well. He might have had to yell ‘Freeze!’ beforehand, and he’d have to face a review board afterward. But Lex was about to commit murder again. He’d already done it once, today. And you–saw it.”
Val’s eyes held torment and fear. She wished she could touch him, but didn’t dare.
“So you did what you had to do. You reached out with that PK power and stopped his heart. Lex Luthor is dead, now, and neither Kal nor I are responsible, except maybe in a secondary way. As I say, Val, you did what you had to do. For that, perhaps I should thank you.
“But it can’t take away the import of what you’ve done, Val. You have killed. You’re a young boy, and you’ve killed. What do you think I should do?”
He began to cry. “I didn’t wanna kill him.”
“I know,” she said. “I don’t think you had any choice. You did the best thing you could, given the circumstances. Does it make you feel bad?”
He nodded, the tears running down his face.
“That’s good, Val. That’s a very good thing. Because, this power you have–in a way, it’s not unlike the power Kal and I have. More power, by far, than a normal man or woman has. Used wrongly–quite deadly.
“That is why, Val, you have to be trained in the use of your power. You have something within you that’s as dangerous as a loaded gun, Val, and I can’t take it out of your hand. The only thing we can do is teach you how to use it.
“That’s what Kal did for me, when I was young and I came to this planet. That’s what I’m going to ask him to do for you. He’s not a PK user like you, but he does know about super-powers. And he’ll be there for you, Val. He will if I ask him to. Maybe even if I don’t.
“What I want you to do, Val, is make me a promise. I want you to promise not to kill, with your power. I think that you can be trained to use it in a different way, in a time of emergency. To restrain, maybe even to knock somebody unconscious. But I never want you to kill again. Because if you don’t promise, Val, I’ll have to go back and tell them what you did. And if you kill again, Val, trust me on this...Kal will find out.”
He sniveled. After a long pause, he said, “I promise.”
“Then I promise as well,” she said. “When you’re ready, we can go back.”
“I’m ready,” he said, still crying. “I’m ready.”
She gave him her hand, then, and he took it. Then she led him back to the place of mourning.
The authorities came in not long afterward and took custody of the bodies, placed the farm with the Lair underneath it under restrictive order, and took stock. While they were doing so, Superman declared he was going to retrieve Clark Kent, asked Zatanna to restore his powers, which she did, and flew away. Within half an hour, he was back, a familiar figure wrapped in his cape. He landed with his human burden, and unwrapped the cape.
“This is Clark,” said Superman. “I’ll be back with him in a few moments–that is, if Kara will come with us. But he wanted to see you all first, and I don’t blame him.” He smiled.
Kara didn’t have to use her X-ray vision on the man standing beside Superman. Even Lois knew that, whoever it was, it wasn’t Clark. She’d known him too long to be fooled by a disguise, even one as good as “Clark” wore.
“It’s great to see you, Clark,” she said, and pecked the cheek of the man who, underneath a lifelike mask, was Bruce Wayne.
“Glad you’re back, Mr. Kent,” said Jimmy, who had already guessed who it was, and shook his hand.
“Thanks, Jimmy,” said Bruce, in an uncanny imitation of Kal’s Clark Kent voice. He’d played the role so often, sometimes he felt it was his fourth identity. After Matches Malone, of course. “It’s good to be back.”
“I want Kara and I to confer with Clark in private,” Superman continued. “Then I’ll have to leave, and she’ll come back with him. Will that be all right?”
Inspector Henderson, who was directing operations, looked at him and said, “I’ll want to talk to Kent. And as soon as I can get you in my office, I want to talk to you, too.”
Bruce couldn’t resist adding something. “Lois. When I get back, I’ll want to talk to you. Alone. Can we do that?”
“Um,” said Lois. “Um, yeah, yes, Clark. I think I can manage that. Just what did you want to talk about?”
He smiled at her. “We’ll talk about it later.”
Kara shot a look at Superman. He nodded, almost imperceptibly. She gave him a stern look, and hoped he could read it as, You’d better know what you’re doing and you’d better mean it. He nodded again, and she said, “Guess we’d better get going then, Superman...Clark.”
Both of them took an arm apiece of Bruce’s. For the benefit of all, and possibly himself, Superman said, as he crouched, “Up, up–and away!”
The three of them were airborne.
“I wanted to be the first to tell her that, Bruce,” complained Kal.
He smiled wickedly at his old friend, ignoring Kara’s look. “Hey,
Clark...weren’t you listening? You already did.”
In not very many more minutes, Supergirl returned to the farm outside of Bigville with the real Clark Kent (at least, as real as Clark Kent ever was) in tow. Shyla Kor-Onn, looking on, thought of what a pain in the rear secret identities were. Then she remembered how it was when she played Xyla the caterer in Separatists’ Alley. Well, sometimes the things came in handy.
Wonder Woman had the four Luthor henchmen encircled with her Magic Lasso. Pent by its magic power, they gave no resistance. When Kid Flash returned with Green Lantern from his trip to Coast City, the Lantern used his ring to strip the powers from their bodies.
“They was nice when we had ‘em,” remarked Plato Statler.
“Shut up,” said his brother. After that, the cops took them away. Just before Wanda Nordo went into the police van, Kara stopped her.
“I know you were Lex’s lover,” she said.
Wanda gave her a hard look back. “Yeah. Just not his wife. What’s it to you?”
“I’m sorry,” said Kara.
“Spare me,” said Wanda, and the police bundled her into the van. As they were closing the door, she said, “Hey, wait a minute. I got something for Blondie.”
“Save it,” said one of the cops. “It can be held against you at the trial.”
“It’s all right, officer,” said Supergirl. “I’ll hear what she’s got to say.”
Wanda Nordo gave her a look of hatred. “Ardora’s pregnant. She’s gonna have a little baby Luthor. And y’know what? I hope the kid grows up to be just like his old man. I hope, when he grows up, that he comes back and kills you.”
Kara had nothing to say to that. She turned away, and the doors shut on the police van, and it motored off on its way to Metropolis State Prison.
Clark Kent was away from the gathering, with Lois Lane. Both of them had made their way to the middle of a field. He supposed that some of the others could see them, but he didn’t really care. Neither, at this point, did Lois. They gave the crowd their backs.
He stood there, with hands in pockets, and looked out on the land. “This field. It’s not so different from the one on the farm my dad used to have.”
She stood beside him, surveying it with him. “My dad has a farm, too,” she said. “You’re not the only country type around here, you know.”
“I know why Lex came here,” said Clark. “It’s like the place where he grew up, too.”
“I imagine it is,” said Lois.
“If he could have managed it, he’d probably have used his old place in Smallville,” said Clark. “But that would have been too risky. Great Rao. If he only could have stayed there, Lois. If only.”
“Guess we’re just three hayseeds who made good in the big city,” said Lois, crouching on her knees to look at the plowed furrows. “Or made bad. As the case may be.”
“He did good on Lexor,” said Clark. “Then he lost it all.”
“Don’t start recriminating yourself,” said Lois. “He was the one who chose to lure you there. He could have stayed there, lived with his first wife, and raised their son. I don’t think you would have disturbed him. Would you?”
“I don’t know. I know I wouldn’t have wanted to.”
“Mmm,” she said, rubbing a clod of dirt into mud grains in her hand.
Clark trudged a little further into the field. She followed him. “I’m glad you’re here,” he said. “I’m glad you came after me.”
“What else could I do?” she said.
“I’m glad you’re here with me tonight.”
“I suppose I should say I’m glad, too. All right, Clark, I’m glad.”
“Would you call me Kal, tonight?”
“All right. Kal. I’m glad. We’re both glad. I’m even glad that—I’m glad Lex is dead.”
“I’m not,”he said. “I always hoped that, someday, somehow, he’d let it all go. That he’d be the guy I knew when I first met him. But he chose his path. Like we all do. And I guess...I always knew it would end like this. I just wondered which of us would die first.”
“If it hadn’t been him first, Kal, and he was responsible, I don’t know what I would have done to him. I know what I wanted to do, when he gave you Virus X. He was just lucky you came back.”
“He was lucky,” said Kal. “So was I. But a man only has so much luck. So many chances. Every now and then, he’s got to make sure the chances he takes are right. As much as he can see that they’re right.”
She stood up. “I think I know where this conversation is headed. I probably did when your stand-in talked to me.”
“Do you feel good or bad about that?”
“I don’t know. I don’t know what to feel like, yet. I feel...oh, God, Kal. You’ve been gone for over a month. Abscence does make the heart grow fonder. Cliche, yeah, but it hurt like hell when you were gone. I’d turned you down earlier this year, and when you were gone, all I could think of was what I could do to get you back.”
“You mean, back from wherever I was?”
“I mean, back,” she said. “I mean...”
“Back, with me,” she said.
He looked at her for a long moment. The sun was beginning to go down behind them. The shadows were beginning to lengthen.
“We’ve spent too long, doing this thing, hiding from each other,” he said. “I hid behind my costume. I’ve been afraid, Lois. I lost my parents. I had to keep my real self secret, most of my life. It isn’t easy for me to open up. To anyone.”
“Jimmy knows, Kal.”
“What about Perry?”
“I don’t know. He doesn’t tell me.”
“Well, I trust him. I trust you, too. Lois.”
“Every minute I was in that glop, losing my powers, my life, my mind—I kept your face before me. I thought of you. I know how a soldier in the Hanoi Hilton must have felt, to some degree. Some of them built houses in their minds. Most of them thought of the wives or family they’d have to come back to. I thought of you.”
Her eyes were shining, but it might have been a trick of the setting sun.
“You told me, a few months ago, that it didn’t really matter if I was Clark or Superman. That it’d been too long, for both of us. But maybe we just needed a little time off?”
“Maybe we needed to know what it would really be like without each other, Clark. I don’t think I liked it. If you could tell me I’d feel like this, if you told me that three months ago, I wouldn’t have believed you. But I do, now.”
“I love you, Lois,” he said. “I’ve loved before, and lost the ones I loved. Lori Lemaris. Sally Selwyn. Somebody–-somebody on Krypton. Don’t ask. I almost married them all, and I lost them. Then you almost lost me. I can’t afford to lose another chance.”
“You’re not the only one who’s had chances,” she said. “Other men have wanted me to marry them. We both know. But I didn’t.” She looked up. “You know we can’t walk out of this field before we tell each other what we both want to hear. Kal. I love you, too.”
“You...well, it’s...it’s nice that you said ‘Kal.’”
“I meant it. I don’t love just Clark. And I don’t just love Superman, that big, super-powered, cementheaded goof. I love the one of you that matters. I love Kal.”
“I don’t have a ring on me,” he said. “But–“
“Damn it, yes! I will marry you. I’ll marry you. I’LL MARRY YOU, CLARK!”
The yell was loud enough to travel downwind to the assemblage at the farm. Kara’s face slowly split in a grin which she was sure must have made her look like the Joker. Shyla gave her a wise smile. Despite all that had happened today, Jimmy Olsen had to laugh. And Captain Strong thrust a fist in the air and said, “Way ta go, missy!”
A second later, they heard an even louder yell. “I’LL MARRY YOU, TOO, LOIS!”
Kara yelled back, “THANKS FOR LETTING US ALL KNOW, GUYS!”
Shyla said, “Before long, Kara, you’ve got to be getting home. I understand you’ve got a movie to make.”
“Yes,” she said, looking at the silhouette of Clark Kent hoisting Lois Lane in his arms. Then she looked at Shyla seriously. “But don’t tell him what it’s about.”
“I won’t,” said Shyla.
Van-Ol was used to hiding flop sweat, but it was taking too much of an effort to do so now. Nonetheless, he hoped the anxiety in his voice worked in his favor. But with the people he was facing, it was hard to tell.
“Tynth Ar-Rom, Tanth Wans, all of you, look,” he said, holding his portable computer with a memory full of script pages. “I’ve written you seven good movies, and, I’ll admit, a couple that didn’t get within breathing distance of the awards ceremony. But don’t give up on this picture. I’m convinced, this is one they’ll be talking about for ages. When we’re all thirty years older, if we make it past this meeting–“ He paused, but nobody laughed at his joke. “–Well, those of us who make it will be answering an interviewer’s every last little question about everything we did on it. It’ll be taught in vidclasses for generations to come. One of the great historical epics. Kal and Lyla. And you’ll be the ones to have made it happen. I promise you, Mother Moon, this is the script I’ve spent the most effort on in the last three or four pictures, at least.”
“One of which was a clunk,” Wans reminded him.
“Well, it took a long time to write that clunk, let me tell you,” said Van.
“Tanth Ol, I understand your effort,” said Hylitha Ar-Rom. “But to make this work, we need a star like Kara Zor-El. The public will connect her to the original story. If we don’t have her, for generations, they will ask us, ‘Why didn’t you get her?’” She paused. “And if we don’t have her, which it appears we don’t, the production schedule as it stands won’t let us shoot for another season. By which time both she and we, for better or worse, will have moved onto other projects. Tanth Ol, I am sorry. But, given the circumstances, I must rule against the project for now.”
Van stood there, with his mouth open and his computer unit useless in his hand.
“Do not think of this as a defeat,” she said. “Only as business. In another season, we’ll see what we can do with it. We’ll have other things for you to work on. And when Tynth Zor-El returns, we’ll have more for her to do. There’s always room for an action picture.”
He managed to say, “Is that your final decision, Tynth Ar-Rom?”
Hylitha said, “It is. Now, if there’s nothing else to deal with, I’d like to adjourn the meeting. Thank you, Tanth Ol.”
Van-Ol began to turn away. Well, it’d happened before. It always did, in show biz. He’d had great projects crumble like sandstone in his hands, and he’d seen things which even he wouldn’t have produced get red-skied by the bosses. But this was something Kara had wanted. And, he admitted, it was something he had wanted. Because he was beginning to feel something for her that he wasn’t sure he wanted to probe very deeply, or even feel around the edges.
Well, Sheol. What was done, was done. Crossed fingers. End of argument. He sighed.
The chamber door retracted, and a woman in red, blue, and yellow rushed in.
At the sight of her, Van dropped his Portable. He was numbly glad that he’d backed everything up at home.
Kara Zor-El. Looking very rushed, a bit sweaty, but still beautiful as Lorra the love-goddess, or as Kara, goddess of beauty, for whom she was named.
She was wearing her Supergirl outfit.
“Tanthi, Tyntho,” she said, catching her breath. “Many pardons. I’ve just gotten back, didn’t have a chance to change. Superman is safe. We’ve saved him.”
A second afterward, once the news had sunk in, the directors of Ar-Rom Studios broke out into applause. Even Van grinned. “Way to move, Kara,” he said.
“Now, I’m ready to get to work,” she said. “Are you still ready to do the movie? That is—if you can see me as Lyla Lerrol?”
The members of the board looked at each other. All but Hylitha Ar-Rom, who was looking at Kara Zor-El.
After a moment, Hylitha smiled. “Given the present circumstances, Tynth Zor-El,” she said, “I think we’ll give it a try.”
The board applauded again. Van was glad he hadn’t picked up his Portable. He’d only have dropped it again.
Kara smiled. “I’m ready to get to work. Hopefully in a better wardrobe. But I’ll have to ask for one week off.”
“And what would that be for, if I may?” asked Hylitha.
“Two weddings on Earth. One, of my sister-self. The other is my cousin Kal’s.”
Van-Ol wondered if the next thing she was going to announce would be that the universe would end on Thursday.
Hylitha finally said, “I think we can manage that.”
Louto, Pluto, Plato, and Wanda were separated and remanded to different prisons. Starfire and Cyber were taken from Superman’s Fortress and, with the acceptance of the courts, were taken by Wonder Woman to Earth-2. There they were taken to Transformation Island, the reformation place of that world’s Amazons. They wore Venus girdles which impelled their obedience to what the woman warriors called “loving authority”, and were given the chance to change their lives’ courses. It was agreed that, when the Amazons thought she had shown enough promise, Starfire would be subjected to their Purple Ray to see if it would regenerate her lost eye.
The last time anyone from the outside asked, she still had one eye.
Nasthalia Luthor was not found. She had gone to ground shortly after introducing Lex to the two villainesses, intending to come out if he managed to be successful this time. She stayed undercover, was fired in absentia from her job as vice president of the San Francisco TV station for which Linda Danvers used to work, and, when the authorities learned of her part in the plot, was the benefit of an APB issued to all law enforcement agencies.
But they didn’t find her. Kal and Kara both suspected that someday, they would.
Another tale, another time.
And so it was that Kara Zor-El, some weeks later, played bridesmaid at the wedding of Linda Danvers and Dick Malverne, which was attended by the Malverne parents, by Fred and Edna Danvers, by Clark Kent and Lois Lane, whose betrothal was a sidebar in most news coverage of the return of Superman and the death of Lex Luthor, and by a number of others, including Mrs. Hart. She had been the headmistress of Midvale Orphanage where they both met, and still remembered them after all this time. They remembered her as well, and made sure to invite her.
A week after that, Clark Kent and Lois Lane tied the knot in a ceremony attended by the Lane family, many relatives of the Kent family, Mr. and Mrs. Danvers, and a good number of super-heroes from three Earths, all in their civilian identities. The last category included a couple from Earth-Two, both of whom had changed their hair color to attend, both of whom were quite a bit older than the marrying couple, and both of whom were told, several times, that they looked a lot like the people getting married.
Clark Kent of Earth-Two usually smiled and changed the subject.
Lena and Val didn’t make the ceremony. Two who did were Steve Lombard and Ardora. She was living with the Thoruls. He came by to see her, to help somebody other than himself for a change. She fought to bear up, was glad she had found some friends with which to do it, and was glad Steve was there to help teach her about the confusing world outside. It had almost shaded into dating, but so far it was still too early.
Towards the end, Clark and Lois cut Kara out of the crowd. She wasn’t disguised as Linda Danvers, but she was wearing glasses and had done her hair differently to keep from looking so much like Supergirl. “I still can’t believe it’s happened,” said Clark. “I still keep thinking I’ll wake up, or that Lois will be a robot, or I will, or it’ll be a hoax, or somebody will tell me I’ve imagined the whole thing.”
Kara smiled. “Not a dream, robot, hoax, or imaginary story, Clark. It’s for real.”
“And if you’re a robot, Clark,” said Lois, “I’m going to dismantle you.”
“Not yet, dear, that comes after the ceremony.”
“I’m going to enjoy being dismantled,” she said. “Thank you, Kara. Thank you for everything.”
“You’re welcome for everything,” said Kara, who felt like she’d been saying that, or a variation on it, for a week. “Are you going to come see us on Rokyn soon?”
“Whenever we can,” said Clark. “We want to get married Kryptonian-style, too, in front of my relatives. Our relatives.” He paused. “Old Clark is so grateful for us. He’s glad that so many Kryptonians survived in this universe. All he has over in his is about four, besides him, and three of those were villains. I’m going to see if we can take him and his Lois with us, Kara.”
“That would be nice,” said Kara. “I’ll make that one, too.”
Lois had to say it. “Kara. Is there a chance that, sometime, we’ll be going to your wedding, too? I mean, are you seeing somebody?”
Silence. Lois said, “Oh, I’m sorry. I apologize, Kara. I shouldn’t have pried like that, I can’t stop being a newshen even at my own wedding, for Pete’s sake.”
“No, Lois, don’t worry,” said Kara. “There’s always a chance. And if anything pans out...you’ll be the first to know. I promise.”
“That’s good, Kara. That’s very, very good. Best of luck to you.”
“And to you, Lois, Kal. Good life. Now, I really have to go.”
Clark hugged her tightly, kissed her on the cheek, and let her go. Lois did the same. She turned, walked away, turned back to wave, and then left the church.
“She’s seeing somebody,” said Clark.
“You sure of that?”
“She’s either seeing somebody, or about to,” he said. “I know her.”
“Not as well as she knows you, I think,” she said. “Come on. Let’s go back inside.”
“So, when are you going to tell him about the movie?” asked Van-Ol, a day later.
Kara, barefoot and in lounging clothes, stretched out on her divan. “Not for awhile yet, Van. I’m not sure I want to, just yet. Maybe it’ll be a wedding present for them. When they come here to get married again, that is.”
“Okay. But you have to tell him. He’s your cousin.”
“Yeah,” she said.
“And he may know about it beforehand, if the news leaks,” said Van. “You said he watches our news feeds.”
“He does,” she agreed.
“So,” he said. “You want to go over these lines again, and see if you get ‘em right? Or do you feel like playing script doctor again?”
“‘What would you think of me,’” she said, “‘if you knew that you’re wearing the soul I’ve been looking for all my life to find?’”
“Oh, come on, KZ. That is not in my script. That’s Lyla’s line from Scarlet Song.”
She shrugged. “I know. But what was the line her leading man gave her after that?”
Van looked at her. Then he recited, “‘I’d say that one of us is probably crazier than the other. But I’m not sure which.’”
“Yeah,” said Kara, and smiled.
“Uh, KZ,” said Van, setting his Portable down carefully on the table. “I don’t know...that is, I’m not sure...”
“Don’t get your hopes up too much yet, VO,” she said. “But I think I like you, too.”
“You mean, you know I li–“
“Women can tell, Van.”
“Stop finishing my sentences.”
She kissed him. “Who wants to talk?”
“Holy sun and Mother Moon,” said Van. “Fade to black.”
Coming soon: The movie story.