Last Waltz With Luthor
Van-Ol was dictating a new page of script by the mind-link into his CompUnit for the third time when the doorchime rang. Damn. Just when he'd gotten it right, just when he'd finally made Kal-El's character believable in this scene, the damnable doorchime...
"I'm not in," he said aloud to the computer that controlled the door. He knew the caller wouldn't believe it, but it'd make the house keep the door locked. If it was one of his bosses, they knew an alert word that would cause the house computer to let him know.
But, despite all that cutting-edge Rokynian technology, the door was schussing open. He heard it from his room, and he grabbed for a stunner near his desk. He wondered if he should hide, or if he had time to.
What the hell...
He went into the hall, sidled down the wall, stunner held just as he'd seen movie heroes do it (especially in the ones he'd written). Audacity won the day. It had to.
By the time Van reached the corner of the hall opening onto the front room, he felt that some housebreaker had to be waiting just around it. Blinking back sweat from his forehead, he leaped into the room with a "Hah!". He was holding the stunner in both hands. He swung it to cover the room.
No one was there.
Van-Ol's face fell a bit. Somebody opened his door and he couldn't even find them. That, or his door control was malfunctioning. If it was a fan, or some kid trying to break into the scripting business, he was going to buy a force-field fence and hire a guard.
A voice came from beyond the door.
"I'm out here, Tanth Ol. You can put your stunner on hold and talk to me about Kara Zor-El."
It was a woman's voice. Not one that he was familiar with. Could be one of her old enemies, or just a fan. He wasn't sure which was the most dangerous. "Suppose you come in and show yourself first," he called. The stunner, pointedly, was not on hold.
"Okay," she said.
He prepared to loose a blast at the level of her torso.
Instead, something the approximate dimensions of a woman, whose hair, he noted almost subconsciously, was red, barrelled in just between the level of his ankles and his knees. The stun-blast, fired shakily, went way over her body. An instant after that, she had borne him to the carpet and wrenched the stunner out of his hand.
He was looking up into the face of a very competent female. There was no fury in her gaze, but he did perceive quite a bit of pique.
"My name's Shyla," she said. "I'm a friend of Kara's. I heard she went off-planet. I also heard you know something about it."
Van-Ol gulped. "You sure you're her friend?"
"I kept somebody from killing her last time around," confirmed Shyla Kor-Onn. "Can't get much friendlier than that."
At least, he thought he was awake. Within this darkness, it was hard to tell, even for him, whether he slept or wakened.
The fluid about him sapped his powers. The container was lined with lead, so that his vision could not penetrate. There were clamps about his limbs and body that he could not break in his weakened state.
He even tried a super-shout, raising his face above the fluid. But what came out was hardly better than a normal man's best effort. It was probably not even audible above the container.
Were his eyes open or closed? He could detect a slight change in the darkness when they were closed. He opened and closed them again. That much, at least, he could detect.
Perhaps that was a friend to him, now, making his heart beat a bit faster, making his glands pump more adrenaline. Perhaps it would allow him the might to break these bonds and free himself.
How long had it been? He knew that he had been in suspended animation for a time. But he had wakened, in this place, sometime ago. He had resisted then, he resisted now, and it did absolutely no good.
The world needed him. He needed his freedom.
He needed light, sound, touch, all the sensations that feed the brain. He wanted to be among his friends, to punish his foes.
He wanted Lois Lane to show her face to him.
He wanted to pay Luthor back for this latest indignity.
Except that he felt the powers still draining from his body. There were such a massive array of them, and at such an intensity, that it would take much longer for him to become totally powerless.
Then, possibly, he would die.
He strained against the metal bonds for some time, tried to use his heat vision against them, tried to vibrate through their solidity like the Flash would have.
But nothing sufficed.
A short time after that, Superman went to sleep.
Or perhaps he only rested.
He couldn't tell which, himself.
The black van was still following her. Kara had to let herself be captured, but not too obviously. It would be hard enough to convince them of her cover story as it was.
She was driving near a commercially zoned area near the freeway. A host of fast-food places beckoned, and she felt like eating. Maybe she'd have time to. On Earth, she didn't put on much weight. On Rokyn, she had to watch her diet.
Determinedly, she pulled into a Denny's parking lot, parked, got out, and went inside. Kara hoped that the patrons wouldn't recognize her. After all, she wasn't wearing her Supergirl outfit. Nobody was ahead of her, but she still sat down on a bench outside the dining area with the PLEASE WAIT TO BE SERVED sign in front.
It wasn't thirty seconds later that Wanda Nordo pushed the door open. Kara feigned apprehension.
The woman came and sat beside her. "I really ought to change your face for what you pulled on us back there."
Kara said nothing, looking at her hands in her lap.
"Well?" asked Wanda. "Ready to come with us?"
"I want something to eat first," she said, imitating Lena Thorul's voice.
"Make it a takeout, and order fast," said Wanda. "Or I'll have the boys come in and wreck the place." She paused. "Where's the kid and Barnacle Bill?"
"I left Val with Captain Strong," she said, truthfully. "I didn't want him involved in this. Lex wants me, after all. His sister."
"Lex wants you both. Where is he now, in the Hall of Justice?"
"We'll get him." Wanda looked up. "Here comes the waitress. If you try warning her, I'll have Louto break her arm."
On impulse, Supergirl said, "What have you done with Superman?"
Wanda gave her the hardest look she'd ever seen.
"You'll find out," she said.
Inspector Henderson didn't like having to talk with the Justice League. It was bad enough having to take hand-me-downs from Superman, even though he liked the big lug. Guys like Batman, Green Lantern, and Hawkman always seemed alien to him, like having to cooperate with the FBI or some downstate podunk p.d. But he had to admit they were the best guns he had in this case. Even though he had a couple of plainclothes guys in an unmarked car trailing Wanda Nordo's van.
The phoneline was connected to a comlink in the Justice League satellite, and he was speaking with Aquaman. "Apparently they've made the pickup," he said. "Heading generally southwest on the Interstate. Transmitter is still functional."
"Doubt it'll be for long," said the Sea King. "This is Lex Luthor, after all."
Henderson suppressed an urge to tell Aquaman where to go, and it wouldn't be Atlantis. "Of course it's Lex Luthor. Outside of Superman, I've had the most experience dealing with Old Baldy than anyone. I've got men tailing their vehicle. What can you give me?"
Aquaman's voice said, "I'm the only one on duty at the moment. But I've put through messages to the other Leaguers. Hoping to get confirmation from some of them before too long. They want to find Superman even more than you do, but they have--we have--private lives."
"Don't I know it," groused Henderson. Lena, Val, and Captain Strong looked concerned.
"Pickin' up anything on her, ma'am?" asked Strong, looking at Lena Thorul.
She shook her head. "It's not like something I can turn on or off. The visions tend to come of their own accord. Sorry, Captain."
To Val, Strong said, "And you, young'un. I don't s'pose you can see where she's at right now, can ya?"
Val said, "No, sir, Mr. Strong. I do PK, that's kind of pushing things with my mind. But I don't do far-seeing or anything like that. Just the PK."
The big sailor got up, looked at the screen on the PC at Henderson's desk. It showed a lighted dot on a map-grid area, which was the location of the transmitter Kara was wearing.
"We has got to go there ourselves," said Strong. "If'n they're stuff enough to take out Superman, they can take out Miss Kara, too. Your boyos probably won't be a challenges for ‘em."
Henderson said, "Strong, Metro's finest can hold their own against anything this side of a Russian nuclear assault. We may need help from the JLA if Luthor's capabilities are now parahuman. But if he's just got Superman in a garden-variety Kryptonite trap, then I can assure you, we'll spring the Big Guy and bust Luthor in a matter of hours."
Strong looked grim. "I thinks not," he said. "Somebody what can fight with sharks ain't gonna have much problem with catfishes. I wants to go down there. If'n the guys in the suits don't show up on time, I kin help. Me and my sauncha."
Val wanted to say something, but Lena touched his shoulder and he subsided.
Henderson sat up. "Mr. Strong. What have I told you about the Metropolis Police Department's stand on vigilantism? We don't allow it--"
"Ya blamed well allow it in the case of Supes an' anybody who shows up here in a costume!"
"Superman is a deputized agent of the police. He has legitimate recognition. You don't, Mr. Strong."
"Baloney!" The old sailor crashed his fists down on Henderson's desk and almost cracked the top of it. "I'm a United States citizen, an' all citizens o' this country has got the rights to make citizens' arrests. Furthermore, we has the Constitutional right to bear arms, and these two arms I'm bearin' are the only ones I'll need. There ain't no way I'm gonna stay outta this fight, for you nor nobody else."
Henderson stood nose to nose with him. "How'd you like to spend the rest of the night in a cell, Strong? For obstructing justice, that is."
Lena stepped between them. "Inspector, Captain, please, stop it. We've got to work together on this thing, not tear each other apart in the process. Captain, he has a point about the legitimacy of our actions. But, Inspector, don't you see? Captain Strong has superhuman power whenever he eats that seaweed of his, and we may need power like his on our side. I'm sure of it."
Neither of the two men said a thing until the light on the computer screen suddenly flicked out.
Strong said, "Now, matey, would ya want to revise yer position?"
Henderson said nothing for a moment, then said, "You're coming with me, Strong. And we're playing this by the book."
Kara had eaten a French dip with Wanda sipping coffee and staring at her. Little conversation passed between them. She tried to draw Wanda out about Superman, but got nowhere. She hoped she was faking nervousness well enough.
Finally, Luthor's moll saw that "Lena" was finished. "Pay the tab," she ordered. "Then let's go."
Kara signalled for the waitress to come. The next bit of acting had to be convincing. But she hadn't been on a TV soap for a season and made two movies for nothing. The girl, a brown-haired 22-year-old in a uniform, came up with a pasted-on smile that made Kara feel sorry for her.
At the same time, Kara did her best to flash the girl a look of terror.
The waitress responded with a look of surprise.
Wanda responded with a hand on Kara's wrist and a very, very hard look.
Kara let the look of fear fade and faked, she hoped obviously, a smile. "Everything was great, dear." She handed across a twenty-dollar bill of Lena Thorul's money.
"Something wrong, miss?" The waitress emphasized the "wrong".
"No, no, everything's fine. Just fine," said Kara. "Got to be going."
"We certainly do," said Wanda, rising as Kara did.
The two women walked away from the table. "Just a minute," protested the waitress. "You haven't got your change yet."
"Keep it," said Wanda, seeming to herd Kara out before her.
The waitress stared after them a second, holding the bill in her hand. She looked at it. It bore no penned message, no "Help me! I'm being kidnapped!". She thought about going to the door and seeing if she could eyeball the vehicle in which the two women were leaving. At the least, she could maybe memorize the liscence plate number.
But it wouldn't be a good idea to do that until she was sure both were inside the car, van, or whatever. So she waited another few seconds.
By the time she got outside, she managed to see a black van quickly peeling into traffic. It was not at an angle in which she could see the plates.
Fingering the bill, the waitress hoped she wouldn't be seeing the picture of the woman who had paid her on a TV newscast sometime soon. If she did, she hoped it wouldn't be accompanied by an announcement that she was no longer alive.
Once she was inside the van, Kara's suspicions were confirmed. Louto, the black-masked ex-wrestler with the mechanical arm. Pluto and Plato Statler, the twins. All of them, like Wanda, associates of Lex Luthor. She had met them all once, while helping Kal on a case against their boss.
Now, all that remained was to learn where Luthor himself was, to find out how Kal was trapped, and to liberate him and capture Lex.
(She forced herself to admit it)
...if Kal was dead, to avenge him and to capture Lex.
"Is this her?" asked Pluto, with a hint of suspicion.
"Not sure it's her?" asked Plato, a beat later.
Wanda looked irritated. "It looks like her to me. Sounds like her to me. I was there when you were, at the bar. Think you can see better than me? Of course it's her."
Louto's metal hand clenched and unclenched, in a manner Kara felt would impress someone who wasn't strong enough to crush it to dust. "Looks like her. But if it is her, where's her kid?"
Kara looked at Louto Marono defiantly. "You think I'd jeopardize my own son anymore in this thing? If you believe that...well, let me say that you're a lot dumber than you look. And that's going some."
"Watch it, honey," said Wanda. The van was already in motion, had been for some moments. Kara drew breath, wondering about her next move. She scoured the truck with her X-ray vision. No Kryptonite on board, nor any conspicuous lead-shielded places where some could be stored. Except, maybe, the battery. And that had lead in it, anyway.
A light was on at a spot in the dash, without a label under it. Pluto Statler was the first to notice. "A transmitter," he said.
"On her," said Plato, pointing at Kara.
Wanda looked at Kara and snapped, "I expected as much. But it won't do you much good...the signal's been cut off ever since you came in here. Just sit tight. Lex wants to get you there intact. But he doesn't mind us keeping you in line, if we have to."
"Lex," said Kara. "Then my...brother...is behind this, after all?"
"No," said Louto, sarcastically. "He just hired us all out to the Joker."
She sighed and tried to compose herself, holding Lena Thorul's purse in her lap. "Can you tell me...can you tell me if he has Superman with him?"
"Maybe you can ask him yourself," said Wanda. She flipped a switch beside a speaker on the dash. "This is Outbound calling in. Repeat, this is outbound. We have her."
A familiar voice came over the speaker. Involuntarily, Kara took a deep breath. Even here, she could recognize the tones of Lex Luthor.
"Have her say something," he said.
Wanda and the others looked at her. She appeared defiant. Then Louto's hand grasped her wrist and tightened. "Ouch!" yelled Kara, and hoped she sounded convincing. "Lex! Get this guy to let go of me!"
There was a silence on the other end for a moment. Then Luthor's voice came back. "This is not her. Do not bring her to me. Out."
The transmission ceased. Wanda, Plato, Pluto, and Louto looked at each other and at the blonde woman sitting in the front seat. They were too far from an exit to get off. But Pluto had a gun drawn and pointed at her. Plato asked, "If you aren't her, who are you?"
Kara glared at him. "I get it. Luthor used a voiceprint machine to verify me. And I didn't verify."
Wanda's eyes widened. "Your voice. It isn't hers. You're..."
Kara shook off Louto's metal hand, seemingly without an effort. Then she reached down, and, to the dismay of all concerned, pushed her hands straight through the metal floor of the van and grasped a sturdy part of its framework.
Then she used her flying power.
The others in the van noticed that the view through the polarized windshield was changing. Instead of seeing cars in front of them, and distant buildings and twenty-foot-tall gas-station signs, they were beginning to see nothing but sky.
There was no humming noise of tires meeting road. Also, their balance sense told them that the floor was not at the same angle to the ground as it had been before.
The girl they had taken for Lena Thorul was lifting the van, and them in it, right into the air.
"Supergirl," said Wanda, at last. "She's Supergirl!"
"But Supergirl's gone!" protested Pluto.
"She left Earth!" agreed Plato.
Louto gulped. He'd been the one squeezing her wrist, before she freed herself. "Don't use the gun, you idiots. If it's her, the ricochets could kill us."
Kara smiled at them, a tad nastily.
"Where are you taking us?" asked Wanda, and the look of anxiety on her face was worth all that Kara had been through that day, in her opinion.
"Depends," said Kara. "Does Lex have Superman?"
The bad men and woman were silent for a moment. Kara suspended her flight power for a second and let the van drop a few feet, with a lurch. The four crooks whumped against the walls and floor of the van before Kara kicked in her gravity-defying ability to buoy the vehicle up again. She could only imagine what motorists below thought of seeing a flying black van overhead.
"We don't know," gasped Louto. "Haven't seen the boss in weeks. We were taking you to a pickup point."
"Where Lex would have picked me up, if I'd have been Lena," said Kara. "Has he told you anything about what he's been working on?"
Wanda was first to respond. "No. Not a thing. Honest, you've got to believe us."
Kara snapped, "I don't have to do a solitary thing. But I can tell by your heart rate you're not lying."
Pluto and Plato gaped, in unison. "You can hear that good?", asked Plato.
"Even better, when I have to. Lex may have cut off the transmission, but I can see radio waves. I know what direction they came from. I'm going after him."
Pluto Statler said, "Then...what do you intend to do to us?"
"Something like this," said Kara, and began to descend with the van. The foursome were silent, until she gave a wrench and turned the whole thing upside down. They shouted, tried to grab for things to hold onto, but the Girl of Steel kept her place and her composure.
The van touched asphalt on its roof. The framework gave a little, even though she sat it down as gently as possible.
Wanda, lying on her stomach with Louto's left foot near her head, looked through the windshield and saw part of a car. It was black and white with a bronze star on the door. "Oh, no," she said, several times.
Kara smashed her arm against the door on the driver's side and casually knocked it off its hinges. The door skidded for several yards on the ground. She got out of the van, then went back in three more times, yanking out Wanda, Louto, and then Pluto and Plato together. Some cops were already running up to the van.
"Morning, officers," said Kara, briefly. She turned towards Louto. He wondered what she was planning, numbly.
A few seconds later, his metal arm fell from his shoulder, severed by tightly-focused heat vision.
"Couldn't have you using that against the cops," said Kara. To the policemen, she said, "Officers, these guys are confederates of Lex Luthor. Book ‘em for kidnapping."
"Kidnapping who?" asked a sergeant, in awe.
"Me," she replied. "I'll explain later."
With that, she crouched, sprang upward, and hurtled into the sky.
"My God," said another cop. "Is that really...you know? I thought she was gone."
"I guess she's back," said the sergeant, looking at her receding figure. Then he turned to the four crooks before him. "Come on, all of you. If she wants you booked, that's good enough for me."
He already had his Police Special drawn. Resignedly, Wanda and her cronies filed into the station house. Lex could probably get them out later, anyway. Provided he cared enough to.
And every one of them silently cursed Supergirl, most eloquently.
Being able to see the waves of energy sent by radio transmitters, being able to remember their paths through super-memory, and being able to track them with flight and super-speed were talents Kara Zor-El was particularly glad to claim that day. The signals had been relayed, true enough, but she could follow their remembered path to the relay point and track them back from there, in seconds.
Theoretically, she was only seconds away from a confrontation with Lex Luthor. She didn't know that she welcomed it. The bald guy always had several cards stuffed up his sleeve, and if he had the power to capture Superman, he wasn't going to be an easy mark.
She sighed, and wondered when she could put all this behind her again. Fighting bad guys wasn't what she wanted to do with her life. She wanted to get back to work on Rokyn, as an actress, in her movie. Provided they bought the idea. Well, the best way to do that was wrap this one up quickly. However quickly that might be.
She heard the two newcomers before she saw them, but only a second or two before. The noise of two flying bodies was unmistakeable to her ears.
Kara barely had time to use her telescopic vision on the incomers. She recognized one of them. The eyepatch was a dead giveaway. The other woman, she didn't know.
She had time to wonder briefly how both women got the power of flight at such a great rate.
Then she heard Starfire say, "Hello again, Supergirl."
That was just before both of them hit her.