Last Waltz With Luthor
"There it is, Kara," said Green Lantern, pointing. "Good old Terra, in sight."
Kara shifted on her knees and used her telescopic vision. It was so fine to experience super-powers again, especially the super-senses. They were so convienient.
She picked out some familiar landmarks. First, Midvale, where her parents still lived. Then Metropolis. Then Gotham City. Finally, Chicago. She didn't use her x-ray vision to see within the houses yet. That would wait till after she was on Earth herself, and could investigate things directly.
"My second home," said Kara. "Thirteen years I spent there."
Hal said, "I always wondered if you enjoyed living with us. On our planet."
"Oh, sure, Hal. I liked Earth just fine. But I like Rokyn better, now. Hope you understand."
"Where do you want me to let you off? Chicago? Metropolis? We could even put you up in our guest room, at Coast City."
She smiled at him. "That's sweet, Hal. But I'm going to drop load at my folks' place. In Midvale. I'll start in on the search big-time tomorrow. How do I get in touch with the JLA? I'll need to see what ground you folks have covered."
Green Lantern said, "To tell the truth, Kara, I'm not sure what ground we haven't covered. I used my ring, Wally covered the whole globe with his super-speed, Diana used all the Amazons' scientific gismos on Paradise Island, Hawkman used his Absorbascon, Arthur contacted every fish in the ocean. Even the Phantom Stranger didn't turn anything up."
Kara said, "Maybe you were looking for the wrong guy."
Hal turned, a questioning look on his face.
"Have you been looking for Lex Luthor?", said Kara.
Nasthalia Luthor smiled as she continued the telling of the life story of cousin Lex. Now Starfire and Dr. Cyber knew she had them by the short and curlies, and they'd be a lot less eager to interrupt or make smart-aleck remarks.
"Okay. So Lex and Superboy were enemies, now. Lex wasn't in trouble with the law yet, but that wouldn't take long. Lex tried to kill Blue Boy and his stupid dog with some living-Kryptonite thingies he'd created, and got close as dammit to doing it. It took one of those Legion kids to save Supes's backside in that one."
"Did he take Lex to jail after that?", asked Starfire.
Nasthalia looked at her. "No. Believe it or not, he was still willing to give Lex another chance. He just wrecked his equipment and gave him a warning. It was more like, ‘Three strikes and you're out.' But Lex was never much into baseball. So he pulled another job, when that Robin kid was visiting from the future. That was the third strike.
"After that, Superboy up and took him to jail, pushed charges against him, and got him sentenced to reform school. I guess it was a bad idea for Lex to involve the dog in that Kryptonite caper. The kid liked that dog.
"Lex's folks, Jules and Arlene, didn't want to think their brilliant sonnyboy was capable of stuff like that. At first, I think they believed Lex when he told them it was all a frame, that the Superkid was jealous of him. But when he got released on a good-behavior bit, and went back after Superboy again, they knew the stories were true. And the yokels in Smallville were making it too hot for the Luthors to live there anymore."
Nasthalia paused before the next part. It was one of the most painful portions of Lex's history, and it still made her feel bad, as hard as she was, to have to tell it.
"So...Jules Luthor tells Lex, get out of here, you're no longer my son. Lex was totally--I mean, totally--he was actually crying. So was Arlene. Lena was sent to the Kents that night. They were about the only family in Smallville that hadn't soured on Jules and Arlene. Lex was begging his dad not to turn him out, said he'd straighten up, all of that stuff. But Jules looked Lex square in the eye and said, ‘Answer me this. If we take you back, will you give up your war against Superboy? Will you give up that insane grudge you've got against him, and leave him alone?'
"At first, Lex was about to say, ‘Sure, Dad, anything, just don't kick me out of here.' But he looked up at Jules, and knew that his dad would know it was a lie. He had that hate for Superboy down deep. Way down deep. I don't even think Lex could have gotten it out of him if he'd wanted to, by then.
"So he just looked at the carpet. He didn't say anything. Finally, Jules said, ‘All right, then, Lex.' He told him...that he had ruined the family's reputation, that he had tarnished the family name, that no one would ever remember the Luthors as anything but the family of the kid who tried to kill Superboy. He told him that, after they took him to reform school the next day, they were leaving Smallville, they were changing their name, and he would never see them again unless he gave up his hate for Superboy.
"And Lex knew, right then, that he'd never see them again. He'd never see his own parents again. All because of Superboy. If there was ever a thing that put the final nail in, that was it. He told me that, at that moment, he knew he had to kill Superboy. If it took him till the last day of his life, if it cost him his own life in the process...he had to get the kid."
Starfire nodded, slightly. She wasn't smiling, this time.
"Lex finally turned on his parents, then. He said that Superboy had gotten to them, too. He said that they should just go ahead and adopt Superboy, if they cared about Supes more than they did him. He said that maybe they really weren't his parents, after all. They were so dumb, and he was so smart. Arlene was yelling at Lex by then, telling him to stop it, telling him that he was still her son, but Lex said it wasn't true.
"And Jules hit him.
"It was an open-handed slap, not a punch. But it knocked Lex off his feet, made the inside of his mouth bleed a little bit, and bashed him up against an old grandfather clock in the front room. Both of them were looking at each other, not saying a damn word, and sure as hell not smiling. Arlene was trying to go to Lex, but Jules got her by the arm and held her back. He finally said, ‘Go to your room, Lex. Whether you go on the run tonight, or we take you to reform school tomorrow, makes no difference to me.'"
"The bastard," said Cyber, softly, through her mask.
"So what did he do?" asked Starfire, fascinated.
"What could he do?" said Nasthalia. "He went to his room, packed a couple of grips, and went to bed. I don't know if any of them slept that night. I think Arlene might have come up to his room that night, and maybe had a talk with Lex. I'm not sure of that, but Lex told me that, no matter what, he never hated his mother. And he didn't think his mother ever hated him.
"But his dad ruled his mother. So, the next morning, Jules got up, made sure Lex got out of bed, and a couple of cops came calling. All five of them went down to the courthouse. The judge handed down Lex's sentence. He got sent to Soames Reform School. Except for the times he got paroled, or the times he escaped, up until age 22, that was Lex's home."
"What about Lena?" asked Starfire. "What about his parents?"
Nasthalia sighed, lacing her fingers together. "Seemed like Lex got his revenge on them, whether he wanted to or not. His folks and his sister went to Cardiff, changed their name to Thorul. Wasn't much of a disguise, but what the hell. Jules got a job selling insurance. Arlene got into serious depression. She went into counselling, and they were even thinking about electroshock therapy for her. Lena wanted to know where Lex was, and they told her that he'd died in an accident. They also said she should never mention Lex again, or tell that her last name had ever been Luthor. If she did, she got spanked.
"Then, not a year after they moved, Jules was driving Arlene to a shrink session, maybe not paying as much attention as he shoulda been, because he ran a red light and got hit by a trucker who'd been doing one too many whites. Plowed right into their car and didn't let it loose for half a block. By the time they cut them out of the wreck, Jules and Arlene were dead.
"Lena went into an orphanage, got adopted, but kept her last name. But losing Arlene and Jules gave her a complex, I'm pretty sure. She blocked out any memory of Lex, and maybe most memories of her folks. She may be a psychic, but she didn't have any idea that Lex was her brother until years after she was an adult. Lex couldn't bring himself to go see her again, even if he could find her. He blamed all of that on Superboy, of course. If the kid hadn't done this, or if the kid hadn't done that, things would have turned out all right."
"Maybe," said Starfire, "he was right to do that."
Nasthalia nodded. "Maybe he was. Maybe he was, at that."
At any rate, with Luthor still possibly listening, thought Cyber, it was a more discretionary policy to make statements in that vein. "Go ahead, honey," she said to Nasthalia. "But first, what about you?"
Nasthalia smiled briefly. "My folks didn't want to change their name, either, but nobody seemed to much like a family named Luthor. It was kind of like being called Capone, or Hitler. So we changed our names to Latham. Dad had wanted to be Arlene's shrink, since he was a psychiatrist too, but Jules insisted on taking Arlene to someone outside the family. Anyway, Cardiff was a long ways from Scarsdale. But if Jules had moved there instead of to Cardiff, and he'd been taking Arlene to Dad, they both might be alive today.
"But what the hell. You can't go back in time and get Jesus off the cross, or get Oswald out of that book depository. I mean, Lex found that out when he accidentally kept Superkid from saving Abe Lincoln...don't ask me about that right now.
"I guess I got a little of what Lex was infected with, genetically. Not any of the science stuff, but--" She smirked. "You know how straights are, and how straight life is. Soooo boring. I found out about guys, cycles, drugs, and privelage in short order. Got off drugs. Got myself a real cycle gang while I was in college, Nasty's Nasties. Dad ‘n' Mom didn't approve, but I didn't give a damn as long as they kept the money coming. Then they cut it off."
"What happened then?" asked Cyber.
Nasthalia studied her nails. "I'll get to that later. I'm not finished with ‘This Is Your Life, Lex Luthor' yet. Okay?"
Neither of the other two said anything.
"So. Lex generally stayed clear of Superkid while the kid was in college. That is, up until the kid's senior year. He had to be going to Metropolis U., because he shifted his base of operations there from Smallville. But Lex was saving it all up for a big blast near the kid's graduation, and he almost pulled it off, too. 36 satellites all around the world, with rays that could have wiped out all life on Earth. He gave himself temporary super-powers, and he baited the kid into a fight he televised all over the world. It looked like he'd won, like he'd finally killed Superboy. I remember my parents and me watching that, and they acted like they did when they heard Kennedy had gotten shot.
"Except that the kid was just bluffing, to decoy Lex into shutting down his satellites. Then he nabs Lex, because the satellites were transmitting the super-powers to him, and without them...no powers. He told Lex to call him ‘Superman' from then on, and that's when the papers and TV stopped calling him Superboy. Supes took him back to jail, but this time it wasn't to Soames...he took him to Metropolis State Prison."
Cyber said, "Look, not to be disrespectful--" She nodded in the direction of the laser projector. "--Especially to you, Mr. Luthor--but I really do have to go to the ladies'. And when I get back, can we cut to the chase? Just the high points?"
"I was planning on doing that anyway," said Nasty. "Go, honey, warm the seat. I'll wait till you get back."
As Dr. Cyber left, Starfire leaned closer to Nasthalia. "While she's out, let me ask you a question."
"Why did your cousin choose us? We've never associated with him. We've never fought Superman. My sister has never even fought Supergirl. There must be over a thousand persons in our line of work, some even with super-powers. Why us?"
Nasthalia sat back and crossed her legs. "Because you're sisters. Because you, specifically, gave Supergirl a lot of trouble once. And he's going to need somebody to take care of Supergirl."
Starfire smiled. "And when will we learn about that?"
"After the story," said Nasthalia. She grinned, and knew how Scheherezade felt in the midst of her 1001 tales.
Captain Strong had pulled up a chair, wrung the hands of both Inspector
Henderson and Morgan Edge, and introduced himself.
"The name is Strong, mateys. Captain Horatio Strong. I was in the South Seas on business and didn't hear about me old pal bein' lost until last week. Oncet I heard it, I says to me wife Olivia, I says, ‘Honey, Superman wouldn't let me down, if'n the sail was't on the other boat. Now I gots ta helps find him, or pay back the swab what done him dirty.' An' I hops a plane with a big bag of Sauncha ‘round me neck, and another few in me duffel, an' here I is. ‘Druther've sailed, but planes is faster, blast ‘em."
"Um, Mr. Strong," said Henderson, "are you aware that the entire Justice League of America has been working on this case at least as long as we have? None of us have made a breakthrough yet. With all due respect--"
Strong cracked his knuckles. "With all due respect, Inspector, you swabs downtown just don't know how t'make a breakthrough. Given the proper persuasion, why, you kin have the baddest bad guys in town readin' ya the log of what they've done since kiddie school. Ya just gotta persuade ‘em!"
Edge snapped, "That sort of persuasion, Mr. Strong, can land you in jail for assault. This isn't some island bar you're in here. It's Metropolis."
"I agree, Mr. Strong," said Henderson. "We don't condone Wild West tactics in this city. We can find Superman, and do it the right way, through the proper channels."
The old sailor filled his pipe with tobacco from a pouch in his pocket which was not laced with sauncha, lit it with a match which he struck on the sole of his shoe, and puffed a few smoke-puffs before answering. "And, Mr. Inspector, what has been the results'a yer proper channels, so far?"
"Well, not much, exactly, but--"
"‘Not much, exactly,' Inspector. Just my point. Answer me this. Are ya more worried about gettin' back Superman, or more worried that y'might let this whoever-done-him-dirty thru yer fingers on a technamawhatsit?"
Henderson folded his arms. "That, sir, is an insult to the Metropolis Police Department."
"Dash me brains out with a swingin' jib, it is not!" said Strong. "I ain't worried about the swab what done it. Well, maybe a little, mind ya. What I'm worried about is gettin' back Superman, or findin' what happened to ‘im. Once we get ‘im back, if'n we can, he oughtta be able to take care of the guy what done it, won't he?"
Henderson and Edge looked at each other. Morgan answered, "Well, hypothetically, I suppose he might be able to."
"Hyponotically, my foot! Superman kin take care'a any swab, his army, an' a navy t'boot. That is, ‘long as somebody hasn't broadsided ‘im from behind with Kryptonite or sumpin'. Has ya asked that Luthor swab any questions about the case, yet?"
Henderson said, "Luthor's gone, too. Escaped jail months ago. We haven't found his gang members, either."
Strong slammed an open hand down on his chair arm and made the floor tremble. "Then ‘at's your man. Luthor's the swab y'gotta be lookin' fer. Has ya spoken with any bad ‘uns what associated with him in the past? He's gotta have sailed with more'n the crew what signs with him now."
Edge silently muttered prayers learned years ago from his Yiddish mama and asked for patience.
"Mr. Strong, we've questioned past associates of Luthor, and several underworld figures. Nobody admits to knowing anything about Superman's abduction," said Henderson, tiredly.
Strong nodded. "Admitted to it, no. Know somethin' about it...betcha 20-1 odds I kin dig up somebody who does. Wouldja be willin' to take what information I coulds dig up?"
Henderson said, "Any information acquired under duress is inapplicable in a court of law, Mr. Strong. Assault on any person without provocation is a crime, even if the assaultee has a record. It can get the perpetrator a stiff jail sentence. He might not see his wife for twenty to fifty years, depending. Even criminals have rights."
"Don'ts I know it," said Strong. "But innocent peoples have rights, too. And lefts." He stood up. "S'been a pleasure speakin' with ya, gents. I'll be seein' ya later." The sailor got up and walked to the door.
"Mr. Strong," called Henderson. "I meant what I said. Don't make me come after you."
Strong looked at him, one hand on the doorknob. "If'n you don'ts pick up yer feet, matey, ya won'ts be able to come after me." Then he opened the door, left, and shut it behind him.
Edge shook his head. "What do you make of that guy?" he asked Henderson.
Henderson said, "A loose cannon. I've read some of your papers' stories on him. An old sailor who found this weird ‘sauncha' seaweed that gives him super-strength when he eats it. I have a feeling he's going to give us trouble."
"Maybe," said Edge, tenting his fingers. "But somehow, just possibly, he might end up making trouble just where it needs to be made."
When Dr. Cyber returned from the restroom, she noticed the sly grin
on the other two's lips, and figured they'd been telling tales about her,
or that at least Starfire had been told something juicy she didn't know
yet. She didn't like that, but decided she'd wait before twisting
it out of the Luthor bitch, if she ended up having to.
"Okay, I'm ready," she said.
"Good," said Nasty. "Okay, where was I? Oh, yeah, the big college-days fight. Well, after that, fighting Superman was a pretty normal gig for Lex. He'd gotten life a long time ago, but with a chance of parole, because he hadn't killed anybody yet. Not that he hadn't tried, lots of times, with Superman. But with the brain he had, the government was always hoping he'd go straight, or at least straight enough to work for them. And Supes always was hoping Lex would somehow see the light, turn his brain to goody-goody stuff, and let bygones be bygones. Brain of steel, y'know.
"He met Supergirl for the first time when he got killed, believe it or not. Lex was being chased by her after a job, and tried to hit her with a death-ray that had Kryptonite in it. Only thing was, he was trying to drive at the same time, went off the road, and hit himself with his own ray. And he died."
"Died?" said Starfire.
"Clinically dead, yes," said Nasthalia, not smiling. "But Supergirl, out of the goodness of her widdle heart, went off and came back with some kind of radiation cocoon that brought Lex back to life. As soon as he woke up, he showed her his gratitude by grabbing a tommy gun from one of the cops and opening up on her. She shrugged off the bullets like they were jelly beans. I honestly think he hated her for bringing him back. When he was dead, he didn't have to worry about beating his head against a wall called Superman anymore. Now that he was alive again, he had to go ahead and try and kill Supes again and again, and he'd have to do something about Blondie, too. Plus the fact that it was Supes's cousin that'd brought him back to life. That really, really rankled him."
"Wonder Woman might do the same for me, if I died," said Cyber. "But I hope she wouldn't count on my gratitude."
"There's other important parts of Lex's life, like the time he almost killed Superman with Virus X," Nasthalia went on. "But let's gloss over all that. Let me tell you about Lexor, and about Lex's wife, Ardora. That's important."
Starfire said, "His wife? I didn't know Lex Luthor was married."
"He used to be," said Nasty, meaningfully.
The twin sisters waited for the story to begin again.
"Okay. There was a planet out in space somewhere, trust me on this, whose name was Lexor. I don't know what they called it originally, but they ended up naming it after Lex. It was under a red sun, and Lex discovered it and challenged Superguy to a fight on it, ‘cause he doesn't have powers under a red sun. It was a tough fight, too. He even gave Superman a black eye." All three women smiled at that, though Cyber's was hidden behind her mask. "Supes won the fight, but Lex got away. Then he saw how everyone on the planet was having problems with getting water, ‘cause it was pretty much a desert world, and he did something about that. He got their water pumping away, but it wasn't enough. Even so, the people on that planet thought he was a big hero. So after another fight with Superman, where he could have really killed Supes if he wanted to, he gave up on the grounds that Supes do something to help the water situation. They went out in space, where Superman got his powers back, and Big Blue sent big chunks of ice from another world down to that planet, and it took care of the water shortage. The folks down there gave Lex all the credit, and that's why they named the place Lexor."
"Charming," said Starfire. She caught herself looking at the ray-projector as soon as she'd said it. Luckily, it was pointed another way.
"Well, it was charming to Lex," said Nasty. "Just think, a whole world where he's a hero. And Superman was the villain there. He came back to Lexor whenever he could break jail and build a spaceship, and did nice things for the people there, and got made their king, whether he was on-planet or off it.
"He also met a woman. Lex told me she was beautiful. Her name was Ardora. They got married. Superman'd always come and nab him and bring him back to Earth, but they stayed married, and got together whenever he could come back to Lexor."
Quietly, Cyber asked, "So what happened to the woman? And what happened to the planet?"
Nasthalia said, "That's the hardest part to tell, and the saddest. It didn't happen that long ago. The woman, the planet--they're both dead."
Starfire asked, "Did Superman have anything to do with it?"
Nasty said, "A lot."
Kara had left Green Lantern's bubble shortly after they entered Earth's atmosphere, waving goodbye to him with her fingers while still holding a suitcase in that hand. Her Kryptonian clothes, on Earth, were as invulnerable as she was. She didn't have to worry about air friction. She did, however, make sure that her IFF identifier was on in her belt, so that the nations who tracked the skies with radar would know she was the Girl of Steel, and not an enemy missle.
And it felt so great being Supergirl again. Even if she didn't have on the outfit, yet.
The girl from Rokyn plunged through the air, which grew denser and more breathable with every second. A harmless corona of heat formed redly about her. She looked to her side with telescopic vision and caught sight of Hal, almost matching her speed, coming in over Coast City. She hoped that Carol Ferris had saved dinner for him.
It was already night over America, but she knew just where to go. Not Metropolis. That would come tomorrow.
Tonight, she was headed for Midvale, and her foster mother and dad.
Kara hated the fact that she wasn't able to warn Fred and Edna Danvers ahead of time of her arrival. But she trusted they'd be glad enough to see her, anyway. Without a gravity-reduction device, they'd never be able to visit her on Rokyn. So far, they hadn't been to her new world. Maybe she could persuade them to do so, after this was done, with some grav-belts from the Fortress.
Irregardless, she hadn't seen the Danverses in months. They were the people who had taken her in and given her a new family when she thought her natural parents were long dead. They had loved her, and she had loved them back.
Now it was time to show them that their crazy wayward Kryptonian foster-kid still loved them best, after her real parents, and in a different way than she loved Kal.
She soared down with speed that made her invisible, entered Midvale's airspace, and landed at a roadside park just outside of town, after checking first to make certain no one was within sight. There she slipped her special comb and a mirror out of an outer compartment of the suitcase which Green Lantern had not created for her. Using her infra-red vision to see her reflection clearly in the glass, she passed the comb through her hair repeatedly, until its special secretions had dyed her hair brown.
Now she was Linda Danvers.
It was 8:45, and Mom and Dad would still be up. She didn't want to use her X-ray vision to see if they were in the house--that felt like cheating, somehow--but she did see her parents' car parked outside the place, with her telescopic vision. There was another car parked along the curb not far from it, but far enough, possibly, to be a neighbor's vehicle.
Well, even if they had company, Fred and Edna would know well enough not to call her "Kara" when she stepped through the door.
It was time for a homecoming.
She put the comb and mirror back in the suitcase pocket, lifted it and the other grip, pushed off the ground, and flew into Midvale at super-speed. No one could see her passage, but a few folk still out on the streets felt the passage of a mighty wind.
Linda landed in an alley a block away, cushioned the fall with her mighty legs, and emerged from the alley with her two bags in hand, walking only as fast as a normal girl would walk.
She proceeded down the block to the house that she knew so well, in which the lights were on and she heard two familiar voices talking. Linda also thought she heard a third person within, but wasn't sure. She listened for another few seconds, but the third person didn't say anything more.
Shrugging mentally, she figured she would deal with things as they presented themselves.
At the front fence gate, she put down her burdens, lifted the latch, opened the gate door, picked up her bags, went inside, kicked it shut behind her, and lowered the latch again with her super-breath.
Her Kryptonian clothing wasn't too far-out from a regular pantsuit on Earth, but she hoped nobody would try to read the labels on it.
Linda's low-heeled shoes clacked on the sidewalk up to the house. She stepped onto the porch, set her bags down again, looked about her at the familiar sights, and finally brought herself to ring the doorbell.
A few seconds later, Fred Danvers opened the door and stuck his head out.
"Hello, Dad," she said, smiling.
"Linda?" Fred looked like he had seen the Fifth Beast of the Apocalypse. "Linda?"
She tried to hide her astonishment. "Why, yes, Dad, it's me. Who else would it be?"
Two other sets of footsteps came up behind Fred, as he swung the door wider. Her mother came into view. "Fred, what's...oh, dear Lord. Is it...are you Linda?"
"Mom, it's me. I'm Linda. What's wrong? I thought you'd be glad to see me..."
Then the third person in the house appeared, just to the left of Mrs. Danvers.
Linda's jaw dropped in awe and, dimly, comprehension. So did the jaw of the other person in the doorway.
The other person...
...who was also Linda Lee Danvers.