Last Waltz With Luthor
It had been a month since Metropolis cops had seen the sight of a red, blue, and yellow-costumed figure flying high overhead, and those who were outside the Hall of Justice sent up a spontaneous cheer at the site.
"He's back!" hollered Sheridan, one of the prowl-car cops who had seen the Man of Steel on numerous occasions, and worked with him a few times. "Superman is back! I knew, it, Pelham! I knew they'd never keep him down!"
Pelham, a beefier cop than the young, mustached Sheridan, was about to reply. Then he took a closer look at the descending figure. "Hold it a minute, Sherry. Are you sure that's a Super...man?"
"Who else's is it s'posed to be?" interjected Callan, scanning the flying person. "Krypto the Superdog?"
Pelham pointed up. "Look there, Callan. Pretty far away, but look at the legs."
"Oh. Superman's wearin' shorts?"
"It ain't him," was all Pelham had the chance to say, before the Kryptonian came down to a neat two-point landing before them.
It was a young blonde woman in the familiar colors, but with short red hotpants, bare legs, and low-cut shoes.
Sheridan opened his mouth wide, closed it, and eyed her in appreciation. "Holy mother, aunt, ‘n' uncle. It's Supergirl!"
Kara smiled. "The very same. Hi, guys. I need to speak to the inspector in charge."
The three gingerly moved as close as they dared, hesitant to touch her. "I heard, uh, that you'd left Earth, Miss Supergirl. That you'd moved way out in space somewhere."
The Girl of Steel's expression sobered a bit. "I have, officer. But in times like these...I can be reached. Who's on duty?"
Pelham coughed. "Inspector Henderson, ma'am."
"Henderson? Isn't he usually on days?"
Callan said, "Usually, Miss Supergirl. But he's talking to some folks tonight...I think he'll see you."
She looked at the young cop curiously, then pushed off from the ground and flew inside the building, making occupants' jaws drop left and right. At the front desk she turned on her highest-watt smile. "Hi," she said to the desk sergeant. "The name is..."
The 40ish woman caught her breath and became professional. "I know who you are, ma'am," she said. "Hold on, let me call." Her finger stabbed a button on the intercom system.
"Yes?", came Inspector Bill Henderson's voice.
"Supergirl to see you, sir," said the desk sergeant.
"Send her right up," said Henderson. "And Bailey? Keep this under wraps."
"Yes, sir." Bailey turned to where Supergirl had been standing, but the blonde powerhouse was no longer there.
A trail of papers wafting in the wind in the direction of the stairs indicated where she had gone.
There were a few people on the eight flights of stairs between ground level and Henderson's office, but the blue-and-red blur was careful to detour around them, or fly over them. Nonetheless, a few policemen, lawyers, and suspects brought from or two questioning and lineups were bowled over on the steps. And, picking themselves up, they wondered to themselves and each other: is it really him?
Kara brought herself up to a halt, as neatly as the Flash, at Henderson's outer office. A secretary on duty gulped. "Uhhh," she said. "You're...um...can ya help me out here?"
"Supergirl," she said, tiring of repeating her name. No matter how she tried to avoid it, she still got stuck back in the role. "The inspector is expecting me."
"Go right in, miss," said the secretary, waving her through. "Oh, miss--"
"Do you know, I mean, have you got any idea where...you know..."
"No," she said. "But I'm hoping we can find out where he is."
She opened the door to Henderson's inner office and saw the Inspector talking with three others.
Instantly she recognized two of them: Lena and Val Thorul, her old friends and relatives of Luthor himself. The third she had never met, but, tracking through her yellow-sun-enhanced super-memory, she fit his appearance to a description Kal had given her of a man he'd encountered on several cases. Captain Strong.
"Blow me down," said the Captain, half in surprise and half in appreciation.
"Kara," said Lena, in grateful acceptance, rushing over to her to hug her.
Val Thorul grinned. "Hi, Supergirl. Geez, are we glad to see you! Even though Captain Strong's been mighty good to us, lately."
"Hello, Supergirl," said Inspector Henderson, getting up from his desk to shake hands with her. Kara freed one hand to shake, though Lena was still hugging her as if clinging to a lifeline. Whatever the woman had been through, it must have been harrowing, she guessed.
"It's all right, Lena, I'm here," said Kara, gently breaking the hug. "And it's good to see you, Val. You've grown some since I last saw you."
"You bet," said Val, proudly. "Best player on my whole soccer team, an' my powers are just as good as my kickin'."
The big sailor in greys clumped forward and stuck out his paw. Kara shook hands with him as well. "Ya should excuse my sayin' so," he said, "but that's the prettiest craft I ever saw flyin' under those colors. Pleased ta make yer acquaintance. Captain Horatio Strong, at yer service."
"Why, thank you, Captain," said Kara. "I've come here to help find Superman. I take it you're all involved in that effort in some way or another, or am I wrong?"
"No, this all hooks into the Superman case," said Henderson. "That's why I'm on late tonight. Mrs. Thorul and these two arrived in a prowl car about an hour ago. They'd been in a bar fight against some of Lex Luthor's old gang."
Supergirl pushed Lena away gently and stepped past Strong. "Then Lex is involved. I expected as much. What have we got on it, so far?"
Lena blurted out, "I saw a vision. Lex was in it, killing his wife, Ardora. Then he killed Superman. Both of them, with power from his warsuit. That's what brought us here, to Metropolis. And those four gangsters, they--"
"Kal? Dead?" Supergirl whirled so fast she almost knocked Lena down. "What do you mean? You saw Luthor killing Kal? Is this for real?"
"I, I don't know," said Lena, in a gasp. "That's just what it appeared to be. It was a vision of the future. How far into it, I can't say. But it doesn't make sense. For one thing, his wife, Ardora, is already dead, and Lex didn't kill her."
Kara nodded. "She died when the planet Lexor exploded." Supergirl was tense, trying to stave off the feeling that eight floors had dropped out from under her and she had lost her power of flight. "So if that part of the vision's wrong, the other might be, too."
"No," said Lena. "The vision has to be true. It's just that we can't interpret it correctly yet. It may have been someone who just looked like Ardora. Someone else who looked like Superman. Maybe androids, I don't know. Lex could create them."
"But we," said Supergirl, paused, and then said, "but we can't take that chance."
Henderson spoke up. "We sure as hell can't. Let Mrs. Thorul tell you the story."
Lex Luthor had closed the cylindrical chamber and had guided the three women with him out of the room, saying nothing to them. Starfire and Dr. Cyber were awed by his presence. Even Nasthalia Luthor was subdued.
Luthor led them past the fountained meeting room to a hall, and, as they walked, began to speak.
"We cannot escape the detection of the Kryptonian's friends forever," he said. "They have powers enough to stagger the imagination. But in our favor, we have my intellect, and its ability to create powers surpassing their own. They only require vessels in which to be placed."
Starfire spoke up. "Are you saying that you want us to--"
The great bullet head turned. Starfire looked at him. She shut up.
"Other men, other women, have gained the powers of the Kryptonian at times," said Luthor. "I, myself, have gained them on several occasions. In each occasion, we were thwarted, the powers lost. But the fact that it can be done is documented.
"This is what I propose to do: to create a corps of men and women who possess powers taken from the Kryptonian, and to make them into an army responsible only to myself. Do not imagine that you may use these powers against me. What has been given, can be withdrawn...instantly. Treason will be punished by immediate death. Do you understand?"
"Yeah, we understand," said Starfire.
Cyber said, "I comprehend, Luthor."
Finally, Nasthalia said, "Gotcha."
The greatest criminal intellect on Earth placed his palm to another door. It withdrew. He stepped beyond, into another chamber. There was another cylindrical cell, similar to the one they had seen before. There was also a glassed-in enclosure containing a metal chair, outfitted with several clamps and fittings. A large, long-barrelled, gunlike device, something not unlike an industrial laser, was pointing straight at it.
There was also a control panel behind a metal shield, with a quartz-glass window for observation.
Luthor turned to Starfire. "You and your sister have been chosen because of your criminal bent, your intellect, your success at administration, and your experience with those the world calls ‘super-heroes'." The distaste with which he pronounced the phrase was audible to all of them. "Yet, for all of that, you will be subordinate to me. There will be a high place for both of you, and for those who will come afterward, within the Empire of Luthor. But do not assume--ever--that the power you accept will give you the might to triumph over me. I have crushed the Kryptonian. I can crush any other adversary in similar fashion. Do you understand?"
"We do," said Cyber.
"As she said," added Starfire.
"You know it," said Nasty.
"Then you accept my terms? Power for servitude? Physical power, and power over those whom we shall rule? Decide now."
He faced them all, unyielding as a glacier.
Starfire drew a breath. "I accept," she said.
"I'll take a chance," said Cyber.
"You already know my answer," said Nasthalia.
Lex Luthor said, "Then two of you will receive the power." He pointed at Starfire. "Enter the chamber."
The woman with the starred eyepatch put a hand to her breast. "Really, don't I get a chance to get ready or anything? I mean--"
Without further words, Starfire stepped over to the glass enclosure. She opened the door into the small chamber, looked at the plastic and metal chair, hesitated, and, sensing Luthor's presence behind her, sat down.
She was giving up a lot by this act. Her independence, for one thing. The feeling of ultimate control.
But she would be gaining so much power in return. And, despite what Lex said, she had a feeling either she, or Cyber, or both of them together, could conceive a way of betraying him when the time was right to do so.
If this worked. If she survived the process. If only everything went as Luthor intended...
With metal-gloved fingers, Luthor strapped her into the chair, connected sensors and feed devices to her body, and warned, "Do not exert your power on these instruments afterward. It would cost me time and money to replace them. If you do, I will remove the powers from you forever."
"Oh, all right," she snapped. "Just give me the juice. I'm anxious to see if this works. If it does, the first one I want to try them out on..."
"Is Supergirl. Yes," said Lex Luthor. "I was counting on it."
Van-Ol was delivering the reading of the intro scene for Kal and Lyla. He looked like he'd been up all night, even more so than usual, because he had. But it worked, he figured, to his advantage. Better get a pitch from a guy who looks like he's been working. Let the buyers see your calluses.
"Special effects in the first part, wham, we show ‘em Krypton rotating on the screen in 3-D, there won't be a dry eye in the whole theater. Including mine. Up ahead, Kal meets his parents. We estab him as the guy with the secret, he gets the job as the extra for Space Explorers, we have him at work, hear a female voice, he turns, wham. It's Lyla Lerrol. He's never seen her before, but something clicks. He just keeps staring at her. Because he is, she looks back at him. There's a bit in him that keeps her looking. The guy in charge starts to give Kal the bum's rush, to get him back in line, but Lyla stops him. He asks her who she is and she shrugs." Van shrugged too. "She says, ‘Depends. Which movie have you seen me in?'
"Then he gets himself back together, and he's a bit more like Superman. He says, ‘My name is El. Kal-El. And you are?' She double-takes, says to the guy in charge, ‘Tro, watch this guy. He's the only one here who hasn't read the cast list on the first page.' Then Kal goes, ‘You're Lyla Lerrol,' just as she says, ‘I'm Lyla Lerrol', and Kal thinks it's a bit funny, and she thinks it's a bit stupid. Then Tro says, ‘Congratulations. Now you know who the most famous actress on the entire planet is. It's also your last day on the set, you moron.'
"But Lyla says, ‘No. No, wait. Tro, keep Tanth El on. I think he'll do okay.' He goes, ‘Tynth Lerrol, I've got five hundred guys in the casting office ready to wear a spacesuit in his place, 450 of whom are probably a lot smarter and a lot better actors than him.' She goes, ‘Trooo, that's it.' Crossed fingers. So Tro looks back at Kal and goes, ‘Get back on your mark, kid.' And he does. He looks at Lyla. She's walking away, got her back to him, all the script people and the camera crew and the techs starting to get in between. Cut back to him, tight on his face. He figures it's the last time he'll get to talk to her that close. Then...there's a shot of her looking at him over her shoulder. Not a lot in the look. But she holds it for a second, then turns away and goes back to her position.
"They signal for camera. She goes into her line. Then we cut back to Kal. He does his bit of business, but he's looking at her. And we know something's going to happen."
One of the board members said, "That's as far as you've gotten?"
Van looked up from his hand-held CompUnit. "Just as far as I've written. You all have the general outline I prepared for the script as a whole. There'll be a lot more, starting tonight. But that's a start."
One of the others said, "Not sure I like it. Why should we start the show with Kal-El on Earth? More effective if we do it from Lyla's perspective. Have it start on Krypton, with her in the early scenes."
Van said, "That's a way, Tynth Wans, but I don't believe it's the best way, sir. We've got Kara Zor-El lined up to play this part. She wants to do it like she's wanted to enlarge Kandor, to beat Jasmine in the ring, even worse. She'll be our big weapon. We can't drag her out too soon. Let the Jors and Jaras see her name on screen, then keep ‘em waiting for a few minutes before she comes out. I promise you, when she does, you won't be disappointed. You're gonna see Lyla Lerrol, in her."
"Big talk," said Ron-Dar, who was constantly flicking through stock prices on his CompUnit while keeping track of the proceedings. "Kara Zor-El is a name, true enough, Ol. But the only thing we've seen from her on the screen is an actioner and a docudrama. She's got to really act in this one, not just kick somebody's ass."
"Which brings up another point," said Gon-Nar, stroking his chin. "Tynth Zor-El is on Earth. Presumably to find Kal-El, for which we should all be grateful. But if she isn't here to do the job for us, or if she's going to chase off to that little planet in the middle of production, how can we commit to it?"
"How can you not commit to it?" said Van, excitedly. "Not only is this dramatic history, one of the cast has historical connection to one of the principals. She's also the biggest heroine on this planet. I've seen her do her Lyla Lerrol, and the part is within her reach. She convinced me."
"Easy to do," said Ne-Wans. "You're partners with her in it."
"Would I make the claim if I didn't think she could do it?" Van retorted. "If the film washes, I'm washed with it. All we're asking for is to be given the chance. The chance to give you the biggest film since the Enlargement, with the greatest Kryptonian of modern times, and the woman he loved...and the Destruction, as well. Tanthi, I believe in this picture. It's time for you to believe as well. Just keep the path open, that's all I ask."
There was silence, and a few looks around the dais, each of the board members communicating various degrees of skepticism to the other.
Then, on cue, a woman's face lit up the CompUnit screens before each of the men present.
Hylitha Ar-Rom, one of the surviving members of the holofilm dynasty, and still a major stockholder in the company, had been getting a feed of the meeting, as was their custom. She had personally intervened only a few times in company business. But everyone there knew her, and knew her clout.
She said, "Tanthi, I have heard Van-Ol's presentation. Let me voice my own opinion. If Kara Zor-El returns from Earth on schedule, if she will commit to work the film without interruption from that point on...I say, do it. It sounds like a good one to me."
Van-Ol was certain that the smell of his sweat just then would get him kicked out of most of the restaurants he frequented. But it was the sweat of relief, for once.
Se-Wans cleared his throat. "Impressive reccommendation. But, my boy, you still have to produce Kara to sell us."
"That's an indication, Tanth Wans, that you'll go with it?" asked Van, clasping both shaking hands behind his back.
"It's an indication that we're still interested."
Van-Ol let out a large sigh. "Thank you, tanthi. And thank you, Tynth Ar-Rom. I'll keep on it. And I'll try to keep track of the Kara situation, as much as I can."
"See that you do," said Wans. "Dismissed, Tanth Ol."
It was all Van could do to keep from thanking Rao verbally as he walked out of the room.
Sheol, it was enough to make him start believing in Rao again.
The spy satellite was painted almost absolute black, a hue of Luthor's own creation, as was the satellite itself. It zipped above the streets of Metropolis at about third story level, powered by small jet motors, and was controlled by the four who sat enconsced in Luthor's black van.
The device had been trained on the Hall of Justice. Henderson kept the shades drawn in his office, so there was no getting anything from that direction. But it circled the outside of the building, sending back shots of those who entered and exited.
"You're sure she's in there?" said Louto. "I mean, totally sure."
"Whaddya think?" shot back Wanda Nordo. "We both know the cops picked them up. Where else would they take her to but Henderson's?"
Pluto Statler said, "Plus we were listening to the police band radio. The car with ‘em in it--"
"--went straight to the Hall," finished Plato Statler. "She's gotta be there. With the kid."
"Maybe with the sailor, too," grated Louto. "I want another shot at Mister Squint-Eye."
"Hold it," said Wanda. "Hold it just a second." The picture being relayed back to the viewscreen in the back of Luthor's van showed a blonde woman in a knee-length brown dress. She was alone, walking out of the Hall of Justice, down the steps and past the cops, taking no note of the latter.
"Her," said Plato.
"Maybe her," said Pluto.
Louto said, "I don't get it. Where's the kid? She isn't with him."
"Maybe she's left him in protective custody," said Wanda. "How should I know? It's her, as far as I can tell. And the boss wants her."
"Yeah," said Plato. "The boss definitely wants her."
"He wants her so bad, he'd break one of our arms apiece if we lose her again," asserted Pluto.
The wrestler with the robot arm groused. "How I got linked up with you losers, I'll never know. Worse'n some of the punks I used to tag-team with. But you're right. If it even looks like her, and we lose her, the boss is gonna know."
"Let's get moving," said Wanda, and went to the driver's seat.
The van didn't need, or have, a key. She pressed her thumb to a control stud, and the engine, which never really stopped, revved to renewed activity. The van pulled out of the parking lot where it had been kept. At the entranceway, Wanda shoved a hundred-dollar bill at the attendant. "Keep it," she said.
"Geez, thanks," said the old man on duty, and was glad he didn't have to make change.
The black van wound its way through traffic, down the few blocks between it and the Hall of Justice. The persons inside it had seen the blonde woman enter the car rented by Lena Thorul, which had been brought to the Hall's parking area by officers after she had been taken to Henderson's office.
Driving down one of the city's main thoroughfares, the woman in the car was able to scan a good number of vehicles behind her. The black van following some four lengths behind might be the one described by Lena Thorul.
It was advantageous that Lena resembled Supergirl somewhat. That had allowed Kara to take Lena's place as a "jungle princess" once, to finish the latter's gig at a circus. Now it was luring Luthor's gang after her, and, hopefully, giving Henderson's men the chance to get Lena and Val to a safe house.
It was also possible that Luthor had prepared for Kara's imposture, as well. After all, he knew how much his sister looked like Supergirl.
Two traps had been laid, and both parties were stalking into one or the other.
Kara shifted her hands on the wheel, and kept driving.