Kara was armed for battle. With the head of Ar-Rom studios, that is.
Ghi-Sonn III had given her thirty minutes, and she was backstopped by Nar-Es, her agent, trainer, and general factotum. She was wearing a green shortsleeved blouse and shorts, finishing the ensemble with a pair of semitransparent emerald shoes. She'd gotten her hairdresser and makeup man out of the sack at 5:30 a.m. for an emergency session, and paid them double. Thankfully, they hadn't overdone it. But when she was pitching a project, she needed to look her best.
Her real ammo, though, was a vidcube, a file folder with photos and printouts, and her story.
Ghi was looking through the set of photos. They were equally divided between shots of Lyla Lerrol and Superman. There were numerous shots from the picture both had worked on, and she managed to get some stills of the few scenes in which Lyla and Kal were together.
"It's the biggest love story anybody's ever seen on this planet," Kara pointed out. "Superman and the woman every guy on Krypton was in love with, almost 40 years ago. We've got that played out against the background of the Destruction. Remember, he thinks he's going to be blown up along with the rest of them all. So this, Ghi, is the one time he can let himself fall in love, with the most beautiful woman on Krypton. And this is the first time, maybe, that she ever really finds love."
The studio head was still studying the pictures, saying nothing.
"But after they've fallen in love, and they're about to be married, wham...Kal gets into that prop rocket, and it really takes off with him in it. He gets out beyond the red sun, and he's Superman again. He has to make the choice. And by the time he's made it, everyone in that theater's going to be wondering if he didn't make the wrong choice. Including his persona, on screen. We cut back to Lyla, who's just lost the love of her life. We flashforward to her, just before the blowup. And the bit is: she knows."
Ghi looked up. "She knows?"
Kara nodded, eagerly. "She knows, because Kal has finally broken down and told her. By the time it happens, she's scared, but brave, and she knows that, no matter what, the man she loves is going to survive it all. She faces it, tells Kal goodbye in absentia...and then it happens."
She paused for a moment, trying to hit the drama of it just right.
"Then we have a very short bit of Jor-El's rocket landing on Earth with Kal as a baby, and the Kents finding it. We flash-forward to years later, and Kal comes back to work as Clark Kent. He's internalizing it all, wants to cry, doesn't dare, can't open up to anybody at all. But he's got to go on. And while his boss is talking to him, he sneaks a look with his super-vision at the area where Krypton used to be. From that time on, you know he'll never think of Krypton in the same way again. Ever."
Nar had kept fairly silent during the presentation, his hands laced over his stomach and his feet propped up on a stool. He finally spoke: "Sheol, I'd go see it. That's just my opinion, of course."
Ghi didn't look at him, but he did look at Kara. "This'd be a real stretch for you, Karaish. You did the action stuff superb. You haven't done the serious stuff yet. And we're not talking about a subject nobody knows here. This is Lyla Lerrol."
Kara didn't flinch. "You've seen some of the tapes I brought from Earth, my work on Secret Hearts and those two movies. I can do more than just action pics. Plus, as if I had to bring it up, there's my connection to Kal. If I play Lyla, don't you think they're going to want to come see it, to see how I'd treat the character?"
"I haven't said if I'd let you play the character, Kara," Ghi said. "What I want to see is this: someone who can convince me they're the most beautiful actress in the world, the kind of girl who had never thrown a klurkor chop in her life. Someone I could fall in love with, like I did when I watched an old movie when I was 12. Plus we've gotta get somebody we could sell as Kal, as Superman." He pointed at her. "And don't tell me you'd get your cousin from Earth to come play himself. I wouldn't like that."
She said, softly, "I don't even want him to know about it till after it's done."
"If it's done," he said. "If. However. Let me talk to the board. While I'm doing that, I want you to talk to Van-Ol this afternoon at the scripting department. See if you could get his bunch to script a trial scene."
"Well, I'd like to try scripting it myself," said Kara, gathering her bravery for one major thrust. She waited.
He tented his fingers. "You talk to Van. He'll talk to me." He paused. "Your idea's an idea. But I'm not sold yet. Show me you can do it, make me believe in you, get somebody for Superman, make me believe in him...maybe. But we'll see. Thank you, Kara, and your thirty minutes are up."
Kara drew a heavy breath, stood up, smiled, and shook his hand. "Thanks, Tanth Sonn. Let me know what time the appointment is with Van."
He shook her hand, and held it a moment longer, looking into her eyes. "The idea, Karaish. It's a possibility. But it's like I said. Goodbye."
She nodded, and gently withdrew her hand. Nar-Es stepped up, pumped Ghi-Sonn's hand, and said, "I've got to let you know, chief, that this is the best movie idea I've heard in a long time. A long time. And I've gone to a lot of movies. Six in the last year. Two were even yours."
"The voice of the informed public," said Ghi-Sonn. "Thanks, Es. Goodbye."
Jimmy Olsen was talking with Bruce Wayne at Wayne Enterprises, on the phone. They were using euphemisms, code words and phrases worked out long ago, or just making points obliquely that would fool anybody who happened to be tapping the line.
"We don't know where Mr. Smith is," said Jimmy, leaned in close to the phone. "Or where his friend, the TV guy, is. But you've got the resources. You can call in some markers."
Bruce, bare-chested, clad only in lounging pants, was just out of his private shower. "Any particular people, Jim? I've passed it along to some of our friends."
Jimmy mulled the phrase. "Some of our friends" meant the Justice League. "Some of my friends" would mean the Outsiders. He took a deep breath, and said, "Lois asked me to have you get hold of his relative, the one who cares the most about him."
The millionaire, alone in a darkened room with his cell phone, knew the word's import. "Cares" was code for "Kara". "You know she's out of town, Jim," he murmured.
"Yeah. I know."
"You want us to call Larry and send him out of town."
"That's what we'd like, Bruce. And bring her back here to see us."
Bruce paced the room. "He's got a big event coming soon. But this is something we all agree needs taking care of."
"Does it ever, Bruce."
Bruce's beeper went off on the night table nearby. "Just a second, Jim." He checked the beeper screen. Lucius Fox wanted him to know the meeting was only five minutes away. He punched back in a will-be-there response.
Into the phone, he said, "I'll make the call, Jim. I've got to go."
"Will you let me know how it goes, Bruce?"
"If she comes, she comes. That's how you'll know."
"Thanks very much, Bruce. I appreciate it."
"Thank you, Jim. Bye." Bruce thumbed off the phone and, within 30 seconds, was dressed. He had almost a lifetime of practice changing clothes quickly.
Years ago, he had confided his secret identity to Jimmy Olsen. Now, he could pretty well guess that Jim had figured out Kal's civilian i.d., too. Well, once they had the big guy back from wherever he was, he'd ask Supes if he wanted the information wiped from Jimmy's brain. For his part, he hoped Kal would say no.
On the way down in the elevator, Bruce Wayne dialed another number on his cell phone.
"Ferris Aircraft," said a receptionist.
"Hal Jordan, please," said Wayne. "Tell him Bruce needs to talk with him."
Val Thorul was eleven years old, already the best soccer whiz in sixth grade, and that was without using his psychokinetic powers.
He had been born the son of a psychic, Lena Luthor, and an FBI agent, the late Jeff Colby. He had manifested the power to push solid objects around with his mind. Val thought that was neat.
So did his uncle Lex, who learned about Val's powers when Val was four years old. Lex had gotten Val to use his PK power to break him out of jail, and to help him commit a few crimes. He also got Val to use his power against Supergirl, when she came to nab them.
It all turned out all right, Val thought, with uncle Lex, who turned out to be a really mean guy, back in jail, and Supergirl speaking up in Val's behalf so that nothing bad happened to himself or Mom.
Enough bad had happened since then, thought Val as he surged forward, guiding the soccer ball as he imagined Pele` himself would. First off, Dad had died. Then Mom had that brain operation. For some time after that, she didn't have much power to see ahead anymore. But it had been coming back since last fall, when Mom had gone out to Vegas with some of her girlfriends and come back with a bundle.
He thought Supergirl might not like that, but if you were just regular people, you had to get by somehow.
Roger Stiles, that big black-haired bruiser from the south side of town, was coming at him like a tank in tennis shoes. If Roger slammed into him, he could count on a bloody nose and a lost goal, and Val wasn't at all sure which was worse.
So, he silently hoped God was looking the other way just then, and that Mom wasn't looking too closely, and he thought very hard about an invisible rope around Roger's ankles.
Just like that, Roger tripped over his own clumsy size-whatevers and went face-first into the dew-covered grass.
The kids let up a cheer and Val kicked the ball into the goal.
Except for the PK thing, Val imagined that was just how Pele would have done it.
The coach of the Smurfs, his team, was there afterward to shake his hand. But the coach looked a bit sad, and took him aside. "Val, you did a great job," he said, "but I think your mother's got some news for you."
Val looked at him quizzically. "Like what, Mr. Henders?"
"Well, she's more qualified to tell you," said the coach, and took him over to the place near the bleachers where Mom was standing.
Lena Thorul was standing there, in a brown knee-length dress and a purple sweater. Her face had grown more lined over the years than she would have liked. "Hello, Val," she said.
"Hi, Mom. What's up?" Here he had expected a hero's welcome, after winning the match. Heck, maybe they'd even ask him to retire his number, like the football players did. But Mom didn't look like she had soccer on her mind at all.
"You may have to miss a few matches, honey," she said. "We're going to Metropolis."
In Metropolis, hell was popping in the First National Bank of Tokyo.
The people of that city and many other great American cities had grudgingly gotten used to the encroachment of a foreign bank on their soil, even one from a nation which had outperformed her in many ways at business. But foreign-owned or not, a bank was a bank, and robbers liked to hit them.
There were three of them, in ski-masks, windbreakers, and gloves, toting Uzis, and one guard had already been wounded. Almost everyone on the bank floor had frozen.
The ringleader of the terrorists put an amplifying microphone to his mouth. "We can do this one of two ways," he said. "You don't turn in an alarm, you give us the money, we get out, that's it. Nobody else gets shot, if you don't screw up. The other way, you turn in an alarm, we shoot a few of you, we take hostages for when the cops come. Got it? Now let's do this easy. All of you out here on the floor, up against the wall."
With very little murmuring, the customers and employees who weren't behind the teller's cages scurried to the walls. All but one nearly bald gentleman, who was still counting the money from a cashed check in front of one very frightened teller. Miss Hashimoto, the teller, said, "Sir, you must leave the area. There are men. With guns."
"Hmph," said the man, still clad in blue jeans, a blue work shirt, and waffle-stompers. "How many men, and how many guns?"
"Three, I think," said Miss Hashimoto, in a quavering voice. "Of each."
The man reached for a small cloth sack hung by a cord about his neck, which had been concealed behind his shirt.
The ringleader of the robbing party stepped behind him, casually laid his hand on the man's shoulder, and spun him around. He levelled his Uzi at the man's eyes. "Grampa, you gone deaf, or you no speakee English?"
Miss Hashimoto tried not to faint, and prayed Buddha would spare her the sight of this kindly old sailor gent being torn apart by bullets not four feet away from her.
The man gave little away by his expression. He dipped into the cloth sack, took a pinch of brownish substance, and was about to put it in his mouth.
"What's that?" rapped the man with the Uzi. He thought, idly, that the old man might for some reason be carrying a marijuana stash, but nobody'd be dumb enough to keep it in a bag around his neck, and nobody he knew of chewed weed.
"Calms me down," said the old sailor. "Have a chaw?"
"Outta my way," the gunman snarled, and pushed him down. He filled Miss Hashimoto's vision. She tried not to look at the gun. She tried to remember how to make her hands reach for money.
Neither of them saw the old man on the floor put the vegetable matter in his mouth, chew quickly, and swallow.
The two others were covering the people against the walls. One faced towards the front door, the other faced the teller's cages. The latter got to see what was happening.
He could have sworn that, after the old man chewed whatever wacky-backy he had in the pouch, his arms were getting bigger. For an instant, he flashed on an old cartoon, then told himself, Naw, couldn't be.
The old man jumped backwards, in an arc, soaring straight over the barrier between the terrorist and the tellers. The other tellers, drop-jawed, followed him with their eyes. He plunked down, catlike, on his feet right behind Miss Hashimoto, yanked her to the side with one arm, and sent his other arm straight at the cage bars in front of the Uzi-wielder.
His arm smashed a hole through the cage bars. His hand reached out for the Uzi and crushed the front of it.
"Betcha don't even have your deposit slip," he rumbled, and yanked forward.
The terrorist's masked face banged hard into the cage bars. He yelped in pain. He let go of his Uzi.
The sailor shoved hard, and the would-be robber went back like a cannonball. He struck a desk, went over it ass-over-teakettle, and crumpled like old laundry on the other side.
The other two were stunned by the sight, and the old sailor was already in motion.
He made another tremendous leap, almost touching the ceiling, and came down beside one of the two remaining gunmen. This had to be done quickly, or not at all, he knew. The man had the Uzi out and was ready to fire, even though he was startled as hell.
The captain's two fists came up simultaneously and caught him under the chin.
Without uttering a sound, the crook hurtled upward ten feet and came down hard, collecting a busted jaw and a concussion when he hit the marble flooring. His weapon did not go off. The sailor judged he was lucky. By the time the crook's body hit the floor, the old man was in motion again.
The last terrorist couldn't believe what he was seeing.
The old sailor in the blue jeans was doing an incredible series of somersaults and leaps, covering the ground between them in less than five seconds. That should have been enough time for the terrorist to react, but he was an out-of-towner. He wasn't used to super-powered people.
It finally came to him who he was facing, or at least it was a logical assumption, given the evidence. His finger slacked on the trigger. It wouldn't do him any good, and if he shot one of the proles, he'd only get worked over worse.
"You're Superman," he gasped, as the sailor lit on his feet before him.
"Nope," said the captain, and smashed the Uzi out of the man's grip with one swipe of his right hand. He crushed it with one stamp of his hiking boot. Then he stepped, none too gently, on the crook's foot with his other foot.
His fists tattooed the crook's face in a rotary motion. When the emergency room personnel would finally get the mask off the robber's head, they would be treated to the sight of the most scientifically applied set of facial bruises they'd ever seen. The terrorist would be slurping his meals for a good while afterward.
But for now, the sailor wound things up by lifting his foot off the gunman's brogans, contemplating him for a moment, and then leaning in and blowing on him.
The man went over backwards and lay still.
The captain turned towards the people lining the bank's walls and said, "‘S all right, folks. Ya can call up the cops now."
Shun Hidiyaki, the vice-president of the bank, bustled forward, blinking, his eyes alternating between the fallen terrorist and the mighty gaijin ronin. "Sir," he said, forming the only question he knew how to ask just then, "who are you?"
The sailor squared his shoulders. "Strong. Captain Horatio Strong. I just furled sail in this port ‘cause I heard my old pal Superman's been shanghaied. Ya wouldn't have seen him, wouldja, matey?"
Mr. Hidiyaki swallowed and said, "Sir, until you told me your name, I would have said that I was seeing him."
Kara and Van-Ol, the scripter guy, were over at his place, the one which overlooked the Great Plains River. He'd done good work on several different projects for Ghi-Sonn, from a shockumentary on Jax-Ur to a comedy about a kid who disrupts a city's computer control system to a romantic adventure set in the old Scarlet Jungle. To his credit, he'd only made one pass at her, and had the sense to not push it when rebuffed. He wore an off-white-and-red lounging suit. She was still in green. They sat across from each other on the sofa, rummaging through a box of old movie mags with still holos of Lyla Lerrol, and every now and then calling up a holoscreen on their computer's entertainment system and paying for a feed of some scenes from her movies.
Kara studied the way the woman moved, listened closely to her voice, and well understood how Kal could fall in love with her.
She also began to realize how much it must have cost him, in the bank of his emotions.
"You see that bit?" said Van. "She's a master of understatement. Just the slightest motion, doing it all with body language. You can tell she's going to throw this guy over for that one, play them against each other."
Kara said, "Probably had experience from life. Think she had as many lovers as they say, Van?"
He shrugged. "Some of the old timers claim to have had her, but I doubt a lot of that. She must have had her choice. Don't know how many she chose. But--" He left it hanging in the air.
"Go ahead and tell me," said Kara, leaning back against the sofa arm.
"But," said Van, "she was a contradiction. Intensely passionate, yet few guys made change with her, as such things go. She always wanted somebody to want her for more than just what they saw. She settled for sex, but wanted love, and never believed that anybody who wanted her loved her. At least, not enough."
Kara said, quietly, "But Kal made her believe."
"Apparently so, KZ."
"Call me Kara," she said. Wow, she thought, I've never really thought of Kal from the perspective of a woman who could want him. "If he could make her believe in his love--no wonder he's called Superman."
"Yeah, but we won't call him that, in the movie," said Van, holding up one of the few surviving stills to show Kal and Lyla together in a film scene. "We'll never call him Superman. Just Kal-El, or Kal. Leave that all implied. He's on Krypton, he'll go by his Krypt name."
She appraised Van, a thin, 5' 7" guy in his late twenties with brown hair, a long nose, and five o' clock shadow. "So what about Lyla? Think she's within reach?"
He looked at her. "Show me."
Kara looked back evenly at him. Then she closed her eyes, getting into character.
In a way, it was not unlike the process she went through for years, when she mentally morphed into Linda Danvers on Earth. She'd been a creditable actress on an American soap opera. She'd done good work in her few film projects so far on Rokyn. Kara set aside the few twinges of hesitation and began to step into the soul of Lyla Lerrol.
When she opened her eyes, she could see Van looking at her with a different sort of interest. And maybe a little awe.
Lyla, through Kara, said to him, in a quote from her Scarlet Song, "‘What would you think of me if you knew--'"
The chime rang softly, indicating someone at the door. "Frab," said Van.
Kara held on, still maintaining Lyla in her mind. Van stood up, said, "Door scan."
The picture on the holoscreen showed a man in a uniform known throughout the galaxy. Kara recognized the man who wore it.
"A Green Lantern," said Van.
"My Green Lantern," said Kara.
It was obvious that he was using his ring to reduce the pull of Rokyn's heavy gravity on him, or he wouldn't be able to stand up. The scanner image showed that he was doing something else with his ring, too, because he had his fist pointed straight at the door and the ring was glowing.
Then he stepped closer, his image filling the whole screen, and after that the scanner just showed the normal area beyond the front door.
Hal Jordan, the Green Lantern of Earth, stepped through the solid matter of the door and was not affected by the defensive devices of Van's up-to-date home. He walked to the den in which his power ring had indicated Supergirl and the house's owner were found.
Van and Kara were both on their feet by the time he saw them. "Excuse me for coming in this way," he said. "This is where your parents told me I could find you, Supergirl."
"What in Sheol is this all about?" said Van, who had only heard of Green Lanterns in news reports when Kandor was in a bottle.
"Hal, what's going on?" said Kara, stepping up to the green-and-black-clad man from Earth.
"I've been asked to convey you back to Earth, Supergirl," said the Green Lantern. "We've got time to stop by your home and get your uniform and whatever else you require. But we think you'll be able to help us on an important matter."
She said, "What important matter? Hal, I don't do super-hero stuff anymore."
He sighed, briefly. "Superman has been missing for a month. We need you to help in the search."
Kara dropped her jaw. Van was about to say something, but Hal cut him off. "We'd appreciate it if you wouldn't reveal this to anyone," he confided. "It's hard enough to keep a lid on it as it is."
She made her decision.
"Let's go, Hal," she said. "Brief me on the way."
Luthor was dying.
The red hair on his head was shot through with grey. His weight had dropped to a mere fraction of what it had been before the cancer got to him. His face showed the pain. Even the advanced radiation therapy he himself had devised had done little to stave off his body's rebellion against itself.
He was lying, dying, in a prison hospital bed.
The other patients in his ward had been incapacitated by the man who stood before him now. The man in the strange armor. The man whose face he recognized, through the transparent helmet.
"Is that what you wear now?" he rasped.
Silently, the man nodded.
"I know why you're here," said Luthor.
The other stood silent.
"My Superman is gone," said the old villain, with a wheeze and a racking cough. "Yours is the only one left. His, girl, Power Girl, still here. You'll get her, later?"
A slight nod from the other.
"Good. That's good. Now. Do it. What you, came for."
The old Luthor stretched himself out in the bed and felt as much at peace as he had felt for the last month.
His visitor moved forward and gently placed armored hands on his body. Energies radiated from his palms.
Old Luthor's body smouldered, burned, and disintegrated within three seconds. The old man struggled to pass with a smile.
There was not much left but a burned bed when the armored man was done. He was glad the helmet protected him from the stench.
The armored man stepped back from the mess. His face was stone. At best, he had only a half-minute before the guards arrived. He touched a control device on his chestplate.
A vibratory device began to phase him out of Earth-Two. The guards pushed in through the door just in time to see a purple-and-green blur fading away, and to see the horrible remains of what had been a bed and a man.
The interloper passed back into the Earth-One universe, having done his duty by his older brother-self. He shed no tears. After the deaths of his wife and son, there were all too few to spare.
And Lex Luthor wondered if he would cry, at last, when he finally killed Superman.