Supergirl (Kara of Rokyn):

 Zoners, Part 4

 by DarkMark

 Zor-El had been tending the lawn by himself with a power cutter, the way he liked to do it.  It could be programmed to cut everything to a uniform length, and to sense and laser out foreign objects like weeds.  But just walking behind the thing on a sunny afternoon gave him a feeling of peace, and time to think.  It was as close as he ever got to feeling like a rustic.

 Allura bolted out the door and hollered so loud she drowned out the sounds of the cutter.

 "Zor!  Zor!  In here!  On the screen!  Now!"

 He knew that tone of voice of old.  Allura was usually unflappable.  When she screamed like that, it meant one thing:  Kara.

 Zor choked off the motor and hurried to her side.  "What's the matter, Allura?  What's happening?"

 "In here," said Allura, dragging him by the wrist.  "In here!"

 The holoscreen was on in the living room.

 It was showing a 3-D view of a building on the Ar-Rom movie studios, and they could see a ring of armed guards around the building.  A reporter's voice-over was commenting, "It has been confirmed that terrorists have kidnapped Miss Zor-El and have barricaded themselves within this building.  Now, guards, police, and militia are waiting for the next move.  At the present time, we can only do the same.

 "One guard has been confirmed killed by the terrorists, three others have been reported disabled.  There are conflicting reports from the technicians and other workers who were forced out of the building.  But the group seems to consist of four, perhaps five persons, one of whom is a woman, the others male.

 "Kara Zor-El was observed being taken into the building by the terrorists in what was reported to be a stunned condition.  No further confirmation of the identities..."

 A burst of flame blew out four windows on one side of the building.

 Allura screamed.


 Nightwing swirled his cape about his head, lying on the floor and hoping his partner was doing the same.  Their capes were flame-retardant.  But that was little protection against smoke, heat, or flying debris.

 He fumbled in his utility belt and pulled out a small, glistening plastic mask, which he fitted over his lower face.  It was a filter which would keep most of the smoke and fumes out of his lungs.  Batman himself had advised him on what things to keep in a utility belt, and he was damned glad he'd listened.

 The dark-costumed man chanced a look at the ceiling, lifting his cape.  The ceiling sprayers had been disabled to prevent any knockout gas from getting in.  Unfortunately, they were also the sources for fire-foam.  This was going to be a tough one.

 The tables of the lab room were sheets of flame.  Nightwing scuttled across the floor, wincing in pain as he put his gloved hands on heated areas.  He touched a tiny throat-mike in his mask to activate it.  "Bird!  Acknowledge!"

 Flamebird's voice came through his earphone.  He was coughing a bit, but the somewhat muffled sound confirmed that Ak-Var had donned his face-filter.  "I'm here, Wing.  Trying to get this guy out.  Need some help."

 "With you, Bird," Nightwing said, and dodged a piece of flaming ceiling.  He raised himself up and ran in a crouch, kicking aside debris.

 The smoke was getting bad.  He opened another belt compartment, took out a pair of plastic sensor lenses, and fitted them into place on his mask.  Flamebird's form, outlined as a heat-pattern, was discernible.  He was dragging a human form by the arms, but he was heading the wrong way, away from the office they had entered by.

 "Bird, hold it.  You're going the wrong way.  I've got you in sight.  Wait for me."

 "Got you, Wing," said Flamebird, coughing.  "Here, I'm getting my lenses on.  Should have thought of that before."

 Another small section of ceiling came down, heading for Nightwing.  He dodged, batted part of it away with his arm, but still felt the burning heat and grunted in pain.  A section of flaming chemicals on the floor separated him from Flamebird.  He unhooked his cape from his neck, flung it on the blazing tiles, and, with a great leap, hit it with both feet, did a somersault in the air, and came down just over the burning area on his toes.  Flamebird gaped in admiration.

 "This way," said Nightwing, taking one of Rol-Lor's arms and dragging him and Flamebird in the direction of the office adjacent to the lab.

 Another roar came from behind them.  Air was evidently getting to the flames.  Nightwing didn't dare look back.  Unprotected by his cape, he could feel the heat rise to a terrible degree.

 The two men manhandled their unconscious charge through the acid-cut portal, whose edges were now ablaze.  Luckily, inside the office, fire was minimal.  But that would change within seconds.

 The hole in the ceiling was too narrow for more than one man to go through comfortably at one time.  Nightwing cursed his own lack of foresight.  He gestured at Flamebird.  "Hit your jets and get through the hole.  I'll follow."

 "What about him?" asked Flamebird.

 "I'll follow with him.  Go!"

 With only a half-second of hesitation--which underscored his concern for Nightwing--Flamebird moved beneath the hole they had cut in the ceiling, activated his belt-jets, and rocketed through it.

 This next was going to take some doing.

 Nightwing loosened a silken line from about his waist, held just beneath his utility belt.  Then, straddling the head and chest of the still-stunned Rol-Lor, he looped the rope about his own legs and under Rol-Lor's armpits.  He glanced out at the doorway.  The fire was nearing the office.  No chance to go outside and see if a fallen section of ceiling out there had made a bigger hole for them to get through.

 It was the small hole in this ceiling, or no escape at all.

 Abandoning his charge hadn't occurred to Nightwing at all.

 Twisting his belt around so that the after-burners wouldn't send superheated air towards Rol-Lorr's body, Nightwing activated his jets.

 The two men shot into the air just as a hungry chunk of hell whooshed through the hole in the wall.

 Nightwing looked up.  He swore.  The angle was off, just that much.  He strove to twist himself to try and hit the hole rather than the ceiling...

 A red beam lanced in, chopping through a larger section of ceiling around the hole, enlarging it, and, thankfully, sending the cut section falling just inches away from Nightwing's shoulders.

 He soared through, clearing the building roof, Rol-Lor still safely tied to his legs.

 Flamebird was standing on the roof, still holding his laser-torch.  He was grinning.

 "Let's get the Sheol out of here," he said.


 "My baby, my baby, MY BABY," Allura shrieked.  She was trying to clutch the insubstantial hologram.  Zor-El grabbed her by the shoulders, hollered at her to stop it.

 The 'gram showed foamer tanks arriving, a few starting to pump white liquid into the inferno.  Men in white masks and cloaks emerged from the vehicles, cutting guns and force-rams in hand.

 Then the image of a man in red was seen popping out of the top of the building.  Within seconds, he was joined by another figure, all in black, with someone else trailing behind.  Then the two costumed men grabbed their human burden between them and jetted off the building top to the perimeter, where they landed near the foamers and the guardsmen.  They were lost from sight in the melee of humans.

 "Look, Allura," said Zor-El, pointing at the screen.  "Nightwing and Flamebird.  They got somebody out of the building.  They're getting things under control."

 "Was it Kara?  Did they get Kara out of the building?" shot Allura, still trying to touch the image and stanch its flames.  "Tell me, was it Kara?" she screamed.

 Zor-El looked at the 'gram.

 "Maybe," he lied.


 Within twenty minutes' time, the fire was out.

 When the foamer crew heard from the two heroes that nobody living appeared to be left in the building, three generators were quickly set up, a force-field was activated that cut off the air in the target area, and the blaze quickly died.

 Nobody on the force felt much like keeping Nightwing and Flamebird out of the picture, by then.  Rol-Lor was coming back to his senses, and awoke with a scream of terror.  "Where are they?  Where are they?" he yelled, bolting into the hands of two medics.  They slapped a tranquilizer patch on his neck, and Rol began to calm down, sucking in great breaths of air, still
somewhat tinged with smoke.

 A police detective was soon at his side, and Hi-Lor, ubiquitous as always, shoved through the press to stand beside him.  "Tanth Lorr, is it?  I'm from the detective bureau.  Can you identify the terrorists who kidnapped yourself and Kara Zor-El?"

 "Sheol with that," burst in Hi.  "Is Kara all right?  Did they hurt her?"

 Rol, a bit calmer, said, "What about my boy?  And Bar-Bann?  What about them, have you found them?"

 Detective Yort sighed inwardly.  "Sir, I understand how you feel.  Just let me ask the questions first, then I'll try to answer yours.  Now:  who were the terrorists who kidnapped you?"

 Rol-Lorr looked up with a ghost's gaze.

 "Zoners," he blurted.


 Ghi-Sonn III was in his office, knocking back anti-nausea medicine and wondering if he could mainline the stuff.  The R**damn tech building was burnt worse than his last ulcer.

 Nuke that.  What about Kara?  Rao, if she'd been hurt...he loved that little blonde.  Well, they all did, but that wasn't the point.  He'd burn that building twice just to make sure she was okay.

 Not quite, he told himself.  Once, and then the office areas over again.  He'd haggle over smoke damage to the rest.  One had to keep perspective, even in time of emergency.  Ah, gawds...

 He stabbed a button on his desk that carried his voice to every point in the studio compound.

 "Kin-Sol, get the hell up here.  Somebody, go check on Rol-Lorr's house.  Somebody else, get the hell in the building and see what you can find.  Especially...bodies.  Somebody find out how Yi-Koon and his men are doing.  To-Bin, come up here.  I want to yell at somebody."

 He heard To-Bin sigh, through the latter's pocketcom, and the chief aide and flunky replied, "I'll be right up, sir."


 Nightwing and Flamebird were among the first party to enter the building, since they knew where the Zoners had been.  By this time, they had heard from Rol-Lorr exactly who the perps had been.  They were both grim-faced, but Flamebird noticed that his senior partner was more tense-muscled than usual.  His answers to the cops, guards, and fire-fighters were monosyllables.

 Jax-Ur, Faora Hu-Ul, Zod and Va-Kox had just made it very personal.

 The building hadn't been totally devastated, thanks to the vacuum job.  But the area in which the Zoners had worked was practically gutted.

 Still, enough remained for the Dark Knight of New Kandor to make an important observation.  As they all streamed into the ruins of the lab, he made right for the remains of the long lab table at which Jax-Ur had done his job.

 One of the firemen swept the room with his gaze.  "No bodies.  Anywhere.  That's good."

 "Pull up those ceiling sections and look underneath," said a guard section chief.  "Four people came in.  We didn't see anybody come out."

 "You think they might be in hiding?" said Flamebird, impulsively, and then caught himself.  If they'd been in hiding when the vacuum was created, they were dead.

 Nightwing, standing at the table, brushed aside some fallen ceiling tiles and uncovered a charred, half-melted metal object.  He picked it up, gingerly.  It was still a little warm to the touch.  Two burned spots on the table area were all that were left of the incendiary bags that had started the blaze.

 "I think I know where they're hiding," said Nightwing.


 Kara Zor-El stood and stretched on the black-green grass lawn before the two houses.  She was getting tired of waiting for the two brothers to return.  On the other hand, they hadn't given any indication they were going to come back out.  She sighed.

 She began the journey up to the house into which Fat and Lean had gone.  At the least, she could see if Lean had managed to keep from throttling his sibling.  At the most, maybe she could convince them to come through with some real information.

 But with every step she took, she seemed to find more distance between herself and the houses.

 Kara increased her pace.  Didn't seem to make much difference.  She was still on a treadmill of odd-colored turf.  Yet, she had covered ground.  She knew she had.

 The blasted houses seemed to be changing perspective, subtly.  Like the old horror story,
"Canavan's Back Yard".  Joseph Payne Brennan.  The trash she used to read!  Now she was sure this had to be a dream.

 Well, if it was a dream, perhaps it was a lucid one, in which she could control her environiment.  What if she could imagine herself with her old super-powers?  Maybe a flying Supergirl could get somewhere a walking Kara couldn't.

 Before she could put this option into play, Kara saw the entire surroundings before her blur to white, like a film burning up in a projector.  She was awakening, at last!  Kara braced herself for what was to come next.

 The red potion she had drank must have had something to do with her acute perception of the transition from dream to wakefulness, she guessed.  Okay.  Faora Hu-Ul and Jax-Ur had been in front of her when she went out.  What was the next scene?

 A blip of darkness.  A bite of sound.  No, not quite sound.

 "ner's wearing off.  Watch her."  That was Jax-Ur's voice.  She felt the comfortable sensation of her material body, tensed her muscles, snapped open her eyes, and jumped to her feet.

 She cried out in surprise.  A grayish expanse stretched before her.  Miasma on miasma.

 But there were many others before her.  Over a hundred, to be certain.  And very close to her were Zod, Jax, and the smirking Faora.

 "Welcome to your home away from home, Kara", said Jax-Ur, telepathically.

 The Phantom Zone.


 Vakox had said little for the first hour of their journey.  Bar-Bann had said even less, but at least he wasn't catatonic.  That made Hal-Lorr feel a little better.

 The hovercraft had long passed the city limits, headed for one of the frontier areas.  Hal remembered what his father had said about the area northwest of town.

 A lot of Separatists had settled there.

 There was a political hassle that had started back when Hal was a little kid.  That was back when they all lived in a bottle in the big Fortress on Earth.

 He remembered when he and the Kandor Scouts had gone on an expedition to the very wall of the Bottle itself.  The city had put up a force-field that kept you away from the edge of the glass, but there was a platform you could go up to and stand on and reach out and touch the glass for a little while, with city guards looking at you from platforms above to make sure you didn't do anything funny.  Hal didn't think he could bust it--the bottle glass seemed to go on forever, and he could barely see shapes and colors beyond it--but they didn't want to take chances.

 Once he saw Superman leaning over the Bottle, when Hal was just 4 or 5, and he was scared as all hell.  He thought Superman was Rao himself.  Then his dad had explained about the Great Shrinking and Brainiac, and how Superman, the big giant, had come to save them all.  Superman, who could push planets around and fly faster than a ray-bolt, had fought Brainiac, taken the Kandor bottle away from him, and put it in his Fortress for safekeeping.  Hal thought that was something Rao himself would do, but Dad said no, that was just something Superman would do, because he was a good Kryptonian and cared about his people.

 Later, he had met Superman and his cousin Supergirl when they shrank themselves down as tiny as Kandorians and showed up for the Day of Truth ceremony.  He was scared to shake Superman's hand, but his dad had put Hal's hand in Superman's, and it felt like a normal hand.  Superman smiled, and Hal shook his hand.

 Hal got to meet Supergirl, too, and she was just a young teenager back then, but awfully pretty.  She shook his hand and, since she kind of guessed Hal had been spooked by Superman, ruffled his hair and asked his name.  He told her, and she said, "That's a nice name.  Mine is Kara.  Kara Zor-El.  I used to live in a town just like Kandor, with a big dome around it, kind of like your Bottle.  But there's nobody there anymore, and I had to leave, and come to this world.  And you know the thing I like about it the most?"

 "What, Tanthi Kara?" asked Hal, guessing the answer.

 Supergirl had smiled and said, "Kandor."

 He had smiled back, and his dad had shaken Kara's hand and said something, and the line had moved on.

 But sometimes, when he was at temple, and the priest was talking about Rao, Hal had envisioned their god as a man with long, flaming white hair and beard, a staff topped with a burning sun--and a Superman costume.

 At any rate, the Separatists had come to be because lots of Kandorians were sick and tired of being in the Bottle.  Hal didn't understand that, but then again, he'd never been as big as Superman back then, either.  The Separatists wanted to leave the bottle, maybe even smash it, and live in the outside world.  They might be really tiny compared to the people as big as Superman,
but, they argued, once they were out in the big world, they'd all gain powers like him, and it wouldn't matter how little they were.

 The Kandorists said, No, we wouldn't fit in the Big World, and we must wait for Superman to find a way to make us Big again.  They said the people should have faith in Superman, and most of them did.  The Separatists said that they'd given a lot of faith, and a lot of time, and he hadn't come through yet.  That sounded kind of blasphemous to Hal, even though he
didn't think of Superman as a god anymore.  Most people didn't like it much, either.

 There was a lot of rallies, a lot of speeches on the vids, and a lot of really tense people.  Even Nightwing and Flamebird had gotten into it, fighting some of the Separatist factions.  Bar's big sister was going to university back then, and when she started marching with a Separatist sympathizer group, Tanth Bann had cut off her tuition and made her come home.  After awhile, things seemed to calm down.  But the Separatists didn't all go away.

 Then came the day of the Great Enlargement.

 Of course, the kids all just called it the Day We Got Bigger, but it was the same thing.

 Hal wasn't sure what was happening at the time, but he had understood that Brainiac was involved, and that Superman and Supergirl were, too.  They took the Kandor Bottle to another planet as big as Krypton, circling a red sun just like Krypton's.  Then they used some sort of ray on the Bottle, and everything got bigger.

 Well, organic things did, anyway, like people and plants and pets and other animals and things made of wood and fiber, and food, too.  Other things, like buildings and such, started turning into dust.  Lots of people had to be dug out of dustpiles that had been big buildings, but not too many people had suffocated.

 Everybody got big.

 To Hal, it was like everything was getting smaller around him, except Mom, Dad, his pet Banth, and the meat patty he'd been eating.  They all stayed the same relative size.  But the Bottle busted up and fell into little shiny dusty pieces that sometimes got in your eyes and irritated them.  The air could still breathe it, but it smelled funny.

 And Hal's ears popped like hell, and he got sick to his stomach, and, just as the house started turning into a big dustpile, he bent over and puked.

 Dad dug him and Mom and Banth out...the dust didn't enlarge as much as they did, so it was pretty easy...and all of them, covered with dust, had looked up at the sky of a new world.

 They decided to call it Rokyn, which meant "Gift of Rao".

 Since Superman had enlarged the people, that made sense to Hal.  But he hoped he wasn't being blasphemous.

 In a way, the Separatists had won, though the Kandorists still held control.  It didn't matter much.  They had a whole world to work on, and they got to work at once on it.

 But there were some Separatists that had gotten a liking for staying apart from society.  They were nearly outlaws, even if they didn't do much more than hold a rally or two now and then, and the government was minded to keep an eye on them.

 Still, nobody in government or out was eager to throw a hundred or so people in jail back then, just over that.  After all, they were Kandorians.  And now they were Rokynians.  So the Separatists were kept at arm's length, but allowed to exist.  There was always a hassle with them come tax time.

 It was said that even the Rangers, the frontier police force of Rokyn, didn't like to go into
Separatists' Alley, that stretch of land some miles north of New Kandor.

 But Vakox had taken the hovercraft down, now, towards a small, rude town that Hal had never seen before.  And some very rough-looking men in weather-beaten uniforms, carrying weapons that looked nastier than stunners, were standing guard at the parking area they were dipping towards.  All of the guards had their eyes on the hovercraft.

 Vakox brought the craft in for a perfect landing.  As the guards walked up to the car, Vakox turned his head to look at the boys, and smiled for the first time since they'd seen him.

 "Here we are, boys," he said, jauntily.  "Separatists' Alley."


 Ghi-Sonn had been silent since telling Kin-Sol to spill what he knew.  Kin-Sol, with the air of a man headed towards the gallows, had reported his part in the affair:  that he had let in the car bearing the Zoners, but his suspicions had made him summon Yi-Koon and his men.

 The mogul said nothing as Kin-Sol's narrative ended.  The monitor chief waited, sweat staining his tunic.  Finally, he started to say, "Chief--"

 "Shut up, Kin," said Ghi-Sonn, without budging an inch.

 Kin-Sol subsided, and waited for the lion's jaws to close on his head.

 Ghi-Sonn finally spoke, but did not look at Kin-Sol.  "Kin, you let those murderers in."

 Kin-Sol said nothing.

 "And those murderers killed a guard, injured several others, kidnapped Tanthi Zor-El, and burned our tech building.  They did all that because you let them in."

 Kin-Sol said nothing.

 "But.  You were suspicious."

 Kin-Sol still said nothing.

 "And you sent in Yi-Koon and his men to check things out."

 Kin-Sol still said nothing.

 "And you also summoned the cops, the militia, the fire squad, and everybody else."

 Kin-Sol still held his peace.

 "And you have a wife and three kids to support."

 Kin-Sol looked up, hopefully.

 "I ought to fire you on the spot.  The newsies will visit you and they will make you a very famous man for the first time in your life, all because of your botchup.  Do you know that, Kin-Sol?  SHUT UP!"

 Kin-Sol, who had been opening his mouth, shut it.

 "You were a dumb son of a babootch.  But not a totally dumb son of a babootch.  That may be the thing that saves your ass.

 "Now go.  Get out of here.  Take a vacation.  I don't want to see you here again until this is wound up. Then I'll figure out what to do.  Damned if I know what to do about anything yet."

 Kin-Sol breathed easily.  He was about to open his mouth in gratitude.  Ghi-Sonn saw it.

 "SHUT UP!  You think I'm grateful?  You say one word to me before this thing is over, and you're blackballed in every company in which I have a friend.  Now go.  Don't show your face around here until she's found.  And you'd better hope she is found.  Go."

 Kin-Sol backed out, wondering if he should have bowed and touched his forehead to the ground on the way.


 Kara adopted a defensive stance out of pure habit.  She'd been in the Zone several times before, and knew that her altered body-form could not be harmed here.  The most they could do is push you around a bit, and she could push back.

 Still and all, it was an unpleasant thing to be among Krypton's Murderer's Row.  Especially if every one of them had a personal grudge against you.

 There was planetary land beneath them.  Probably the Zone world was another version of Earth, but an Earth that had never known people.  The Zoners had used their psi-powers to construct some cities, but usually got bored within a few years and tore them down.  So she had something to stand on, though she could also levitate.  Like a ghost, she did not breathe.  Thus,
space and sphere would be all the same to her, as it was to other Zoners.  She could leave the surface of this world, or she could stay.

 But if she left, she would be alone.

 That fact kept most of the Zoners together.  It also accounted for most of their recidivism.

 "So what's the drill, boys and girls?", sent Kara, in mind-speak.  "You looking for trouble, or just autographed photos?"

 Faora looked on her with a disdainful smile, but there was a touch of hunger in it, too.  "Oh, little one, grow up.  You're not wearing that stupid red and blue outfit anymore."

 "Doubt I'd need it against you," thought Kara, bravely.  But, inwardly, she twinged a bit at the thought of a face-off with Hu-Ul.  And Faora's mental laugh proved that the heroine hadn't been shielding her thoughts very well.

 Kru-El stepped up to confer with Zod.  "So far, everything seems to be on track," said one of the El family's black sheep.  "Now, Jax, it's time you let some others of us Out to take a hand.  You've done well, but the odds are still too great."

 Zod intruded, sharply.  "Respectfully, no, Kru.  You saw what happened last time when we tried a whole-Zone action on Earth.  Even with powers, the campaign failed.  We must learn from our defeats.  Where the large force fails, send in the small guerilla squad."

 "Zod is correct," said Jax.  "You've been a good ally, Kru, but this operational squad must be held to the minimum.  However, should one of us fall, you'll be among the first list of substitutes.  Now...if you please..."

 Kru-El subsided, but not before he took a grinning look at Supergirl.  "Now, little cousin...time for a new branch of the family to blossom.  And the other to wither."

 Kara blanched.  "Get lost, snake," she snapped.

 All of the others were familiar faces.  Ar-Ual, the villainess who had impersonated Wonder Woman.  Nam-Ek, whose forehead grew the Rondor horn that had healed Faora's burned visage.  The Great Gazor, who had tried to destroy a city of Krypton and had been thwarted by Jor-El.  Dr. Xadu, the Sleepmaster, whose experiment gone awry doomed his "volunteers" to perpetual slumber.  Ral-En, who tried, with his father, to rule Krypton with a hoax of super-powers.  Ras-Krom, the Superstitious.  Erndine Ze-Da.  Vor-Kil.  Kur-Dul.  So many more.  She knew all the names, but there was no need to go through the list.

 But there was one other.

 A youthful figure was shouldering his way through the press.  "Hello, Kara," he said, coming to stand before her.  "Glad to see you again...sorry it had to be here."

 "Good to see you, too, Mon-El," smiled Kara, and touched his shoulder.  "Do you know what's going on here?"

 "Oh, spare me," said Xadu in disgust.  "Don't you think we know how to shield our thoughts when we have to?"

 Mon-El faced the others, resolutely.  "Maybe not as well as you think, scumsack," he retorted.  "And don't think I won't tell her everything I know."

 "Which probably doesn't amount to much," said Faora, sauntering up to them.  "If we were both Out...I could teach you quite a lot, Super Scout.  If you were smart enough to learn, that is."  She tried to run a finger under his chin.  Mon-El slapped it away.

 "If I were out, I'd be dead in five minutes," snapped Mon-El.  "You know that."

 Faora affected a model's pose, casually.  "Oh, dear boy, that's how all my affairs ended.  But don't worry.  I doubt a coupling with you would last five minutes, anyway."

 Mon-El's eyes flashed fire, but he stood silent as the others laughed.  Kara took an angry step forward.  Mon-El snapped, "Forget it, Kara.  We can't hurt each other, remember?  All they ever do is egg you on."

 Kara reflected on her Legionnaire friend, and the solemnity in his 16-year-old face.  She had to keep her tongue still.  More than anything, she wanted to say to him, Mon-El, your exile will not be forever.  You will be released from this Zone, in 40 generations.  You will be cured of your leaden death-spell.  You will become a hero, and find love and friendship.  I will fight beside you.  I have fought beside you.  I can tell you of it.

 But, of course, she could not.  She dared not.  For how do you tell a boy, with good heart and strong arms and adolescent hormones on overdrive--or at least the memory of them--that he will have to spend a thousand years in a world of criminal ghosts?

 Then everyone's attention was drawn by a circle of light, coming nearer.

 Even the criminals jumped to their feet, like schoolchildren at a surprise visit from the principal.

 The light-circle was the sign of someone on the Outside looking In.

 It was a curious phenomenon, but the use of the Phantom Zone viewer also gave the Zoners a glimpse of the one viewing them.  For a moment, Kara's heart leaped up.  If only a friendly face was within that circle.  She found that she had grasped the hand of Mon-El.  He didn't seem to mind.

 Then the light-circle came nearer, and she saw the face of Va-Kox.  Her spirits sank back.  Well, that's par for the course today, thought Kara.

 "It certainly is," laughed Faora, and Kara realized she had not shielded well her thoughts.

 Jax-Ur stepped forward and took Kara by the arm.  "Come, my dear, you're wanted Outside," he said.  Mon-El bared his teeth in a grimace.

 "I won't go," she snapped, and drew her arm away.

 "Oh, I think you will," said General Zod, moving closer.  "Remember...Outside, you have a chance to escape or defeat us.  Inside, you're just another wraith.  And I doubt you'd much enjoy our conversations."

 "Frab your conversations!", answered Kara.  "I won't go!  I'm staying here till somebody on my side realizes where I am and gets me Out."

 "This is idiocy," broke in Jax-Ur.  "Give me a hand here, brethren.  Yes, Kara, it is true that we can't hurt each other.  But it's also true...that we can push each other around."

 With that, the host of Zoners got up and massed like a Greek phalanx.  It moved forward, towards Jax-Ur, Mon-El, Faora, Zod...and Kara.

 Mon-El had to let go of her hand.  "Kara...I'm sorry," he said.

 "I understand," said Kara.  She tried to levitate, but Jax-Ur grabbed her by the ankle.  The others latched on to her limbs and held her, dragging her to the Zone portal as the mass of Zoners pushed them forward.  Some feet away, Mon-El looked upon the sight and cursed.

 The light-circle glowed with activation.  The portal was opening.  Kara struggled, knowing it was futile, but unable to give up the effort.  The light closed in on them.

 Kru-El was the one to give the foursome the final shove through.

 "Have a nice trip," was the last thing she heard from Inside.  That, and the laughter.


 Only scant minutes later, another light-circle appeared.  The Master Executioner's face was visible to the Zoners.  So was that of the Drygur Moliom, on a vid-screen behind him, and the New Kandor Security Chief, and even Nightwing.

 After looking at a crowd of grinning Zoners, the Chief asked which of them wanted immediate release.

 Everyone telepathed individually that they'd take it.

 Then the Chief said that he'd give it to the first one who told him, accurately, where Kara Zor-El was.

 There were a lot of answers, most of them unprintable, quite a few creative, and all of them delivered with a smug sneer.

 In exasperation, the Chief sought out Mon-El on his viewer and asked him, "Where's she gone?"

 "Va-Kox got them out," he replied with a mental sigh.  "I don't know where."

 And after a few more seconds, the Zone-light winked out.

 next chapter