Superwoman: For Tomorrow #4: The Haunting of Lena Luthor Jul 9, 2017 9:35:51 GMT -5
Post by Charlie on Jul 9, 2017 9:35:51 GMT -5
THE DAY SUPERMAN DEBUTED IN METROPOLIS…
“All channels!” Lex Luthor threw off his coat and immediately turned his attention to the television coverage of the day’s events. “Play all!”
Earlier that day, a genetic abomination that the press dubbed the ‘Parasite’ escaped STAR Labs, and even Fawcett City’s own, the legendary Captain Marvel, could do nothing to stop the creature’s power-hungry rampage.
When all seemed lost, another caped being appeared-- a young man wearing a blue shirt, jeans and a pair of Doc Martens-- leaping through Metropolis to aid the world’s mightiest mortal.
“…Who is that?” said Lex, as he paused the newsfeed and focused on the strange symbol on the young man’s chest. “And what does he want?”
“Excuse me, sir?” Hannah Groves, Lex’s secretary, had been stood by the door, awaiting his instructions, but found this the most opportune moment to speak up.
“The Daily Planet are calling him ‘Superman’,” Hannah handed Lex the late edition of the newspaper, “apparently they have an exclusive interview with him.”
“‘Superman‘? The absolute arrogance of that name. The arrogance.”
“What do you want to do, sir?”
Lex clicked his fingers. “I want to know everything about this man-- if he is a man. Have all relevant departments working on analysis and investigation. Also, book a meeting with General Lane. Tell him that he gets ten minutes of my time at half price if he’s on a plane to Metropolis for a meeting tomorrow at 9am.” Luthor took a seat behind his desk and then pulled up his itinerary for the next week. He cleared it all. “Oh, and close Rudolph Jones’ personnel file, effective as of last week. For all intents and purposes, that man has not been on LexCorp property since that point.”
“Why’s that, sir?”
“Hannah, what’s my first rule?”
“Never question you, sorry sir, won’t happen again, sir.” She managed a smile as she remembered another piece of information Lex would be interested in. “Oh, and Mr Luthor, your daughter is--”
“Is it not clear that I’m busy? Cancel all appointments.”
“But, sir--” started Hannah, before Lex’s hand shot up to silence her and she withered. With nothing else he’d deign worthy of hearing, she exited his office.
Outside in the waiting room, a tiny red-headed girl shifted excitedly in her seat. When Hannah’s eyes met hers, the girl became very still, then sighed in understanding.
Lena Luthor, not even ten years old, headed toward the elevator without saying a word, having lived a long life full of disappointments already. She clutched her stuffed Captain Marvel bear between tiny, shaking fingers, and watched as the doors to the elevator closed.
“That won’t do.”
Behind her, a dark-haired Englishman sighed as he lent over her, pressed the ‘Door Open’ button, and the elevator doors opened. Waiting there, in the lobby, was Lex Luthor, warm smiles and open arms.
“Lena, my beautiful girl, I’m so sorry,” said her father. “Let’s take the day, shall we? Let’s spend the day doing whatever you want. You know I love you, don’t you, Lena?”
Of course, in reality… it didn’t happen like that at all.
SUPERWOMAN: OF TOMORROW
Issue Four: “The Haunting of Lena Luthor”
WILKINS / HOWARD
NINE YEARS AFTER SUPERMAN LEFT EARTH…
Superwoman took a step back, trying to understand what Lena had just said. Before she could question the fact that Lena Luthor had been transformed into a techno-organic Brainiac-human hybrid, the latter’s hard light armour manifested, taking on the appearance of Brainiac’s own power suit. Her hair had fallen out and she was completely bald, a laughing mockery at her efforts to distance herself from her father.
Now emerald skinned, her red hair gone, she stepped forward and spoke with a voice dripping with malice, her pupils replaced by three perfect, black circles. For want of a better description, Brainiac’s family crest. What had Lena said in that horrifying, modulated voice?
“Let me introduce you to the Brainiac/Luthor Team 2.0.”
“You shouldn’t have abandoned me, Kara,” said Lena, considering the energy gauntlets generated by her armour. “But you always were going to be a let-down, weren’t you?”
Green Kryptonite exploded out of the energy cells lining Lena’s wrist and caught Kara square in the chest, sending her barrelling out the window and spinning head over heels toward the ground below. With an immense effort, her body on fire and her costume smouldering, she doubled back, caught herself before impact, and found herself an inch off the ground, staring upwards. “Lena…?”
Luthor dove through the shattered window, more shards following her down as she landed fist first against Kara’s jaw, sending the two young women through the concrete sidewalk and into the sewers below. Lena didn’t stop pummelling her old friend, and each blow caused Kara unimaginable pain, her lip splitting down the middle and blood pooling at the back of her throat.
“Do you remember those nights we stayed up in the Fortress, talking contingencies in case it all went wrong? In case the Phantom Zone split open or General Zod came back? You gave me everything I needed, Kara. Everything I needed to come up with the ultimate in Kryptonian killing technology.”
Lena held up her hand, and spinning at her knuckles, floating above her hand and suspended by the energy armour she wore, were five obsidian spheres, crimson light breaking through in the cracks riddling their surfaces.
“The condensed solar husks of those red suns we collected that time we travelled to Oa. Do you remember that trip? Friends forever--!”
Another clubbing blow sent Kara sprawling, and she wheezed awkwardly as she tried to stand. She’d never felt pain like this before.
“This… isn’t… you,” said Kara. Lena’s hard light armour made her X-Ray opaque, but there was that noise moments before whatever was happening overtook her, the sound under her skin, like movement, like worms shifting in flesh and muscle. Some kind of parasite?
“Don’t be stupid, of course this is me. I’m the daughter of Lex Luthor. You’re Superman’s family. It was always going to come down to this. You versus me. The fate of the world in the balance. There are stakes here, Kara. And for you, it’s the end of everything we built together.”
EIGHT YEARS AFTER SUPERMAN LEFT EARTH…
“Looking a tad bored there, Lena.”
Lena Luthor looked up from her champagne glass to see Morgan Edge Jr, the young upstart who had recently taken the reins of his father’s media empire, looming over her, wearing that wicked grin he wore when he was on the prowl for some ass. He was coasting toward his thirties, with a perennial taste for women who had recently become legal, though he was making an exception to Lena, mid-twenties and full to the brim of the thing he found most attractive… Influence. She could see him working the equation over in his head, Edge + Luthor = The ultimate in Metropolis dynasties.
If Lena remembered rightly, Edge Senior had succumbed to cancer a few months back, and Edge Jr hadn’t wasted any time climbing into the big chair at Galaxy Broadcasting Network, after having been relegated to menial positions since joining the company straight out of college. He was not a Straight-A student, Lena knew that much.
Today’s venue was the ballroom floor above Metropolis University’s floating aquarium, anchored just offshore from New Troy, commonly known as the 'Ark'. If you looked past the glass floor you could see dozens of exotic fish floating around in the artificial habitat. If you had a tendency toward sea sickness, firstly it was advised you didn’t come on board, but if you too that risk, it was recommended you didn’t look down.
“The company isn’t exactly stellar,” said Lena. She sipped her champagne, and found it to be flat, with no one but herself to blame. What a waste of a glass of Krug Grande Cuvée.
Noticing the quiver of distaste on Luthor’s nose, Morgan smirked and clicked his fingers at a waiter, who quickly hurried over with two glasses. “How about you try this?”
“Thank you but no, I have to be going,” said Lena. She stood briskly, thanking the waiter but refusing the glass he offered. She headed toward the exit, and Morgan followed, exasperated by her refusal to interact with him.
“The auction hasn’t even started! What’s the point of coming to an event like this if you--”
Lena rolled her eyes but let out a yell when she bumped into a man whose features immediately caught her attention. His high cheek bones and dark eyes bore through her like they could see into her head, and his mischievous smile surprised her, considering that she’d accidentally knocked his drink into his black shirt.
“You all right there, love?” asked the tall, dark stranger. His fingers brushed accidentally against her bare wrist and she felt a tingle under his touch. She flinched, shook her head, and he continued to dab at the growing stain on his shirt. “This’ll stain.”
“Ah, I’m sorry. I didn’t--” She blinked, confused by the man’s appearance. He looked distinctly familiar to the young woman, but she couldn’t place where.
“Hey! You okay Lena?” said Morgan, piping up like he mattered in the equation.
“The young lady’s fine,” said the man, patting his front dry and not paying Morgan much heed. “Hurry on along now, son.”
“Oh, great.” They’re going to get macho, thought Lena.
“Excuse me?” Morgan felt his pride receive a glancing blow, and doubled up, ignoring the fact that Lena just didn’t care. “I wasn’t talking to you, mate. What accent is that, Australian?”
“English,” corrected the stranger, arching an eyebrow and ignoring Morgan’s attempt at a verbal parry. Lena noted the scar that ran through his brow, nestled above his eye. Who was this guy? “And I know you weren’t talking to me, but it didn’t look like the lady wanted to talk to you. I’d have thought a man like you, so clearly versed in being rejected, would get the picture and know to run along.”
“Wow, you really have no idea who you’re talking to, do you?” Even though Morgan was a head taller than the Englishman and doing his best to tower over him, the newcomer didn’t seem at all bothered, and Lena noticed him balling up his fists. Tiny scars pocked his knuckles, like he’d been in numerous fights throughout his life.
Before the men could continue, Lena laughed once, loudly, drawing the attention back to her. She pointed a finger at Morgan, disdain clear on her face.
“Firstly, you’re disgusting. And, off the record? If you try it on with me again, you’ll be pissing through a bendy straw for the rest of your adult life. Do you understand me?”
Edge Jr was frozen in place, but managed a nod. Lena then turned her attention to the stranger.
“And you, whilst I apologise profusely for spilling your drink, I do not need a knight in shining armour to come to my rescue. The day I cannot handle a schmuck like him is the day I hand over the reins to L-Corp. Now, if you’ll be excusing me, I have more important things to do than stand here agog at your duelling masculine egos.”
Lena exited the room and the Englishman smiled. “That’s my girl.”
NINE YEARS AFTER SUPERMAN LEFT EARTH…
Lena reeled up her fist, slammed it down, and then laughed. This was all too funny. This is what her father would have wanted. She loved her father. More than anything. And this girl was responsible, just as responsible as her cousin, for his leaving.
“You sent him away,” said Lena, finally. She looked past Superwoman, and her father nodded approvingly.
Through swollen lids, Kara watched Lena’s eyes dilated. As she tried to speak, she coughed blood, her entire body screaming in pain. “This… isn’t…”
Without warning and fists first, Power Girl charged into Lena, swatted her off Kara, and then swung then young Luthor up onto street level, where she landed in a pile. Karen gathered her Earth-1 doppelgänger up into her arms and then used a burst of speed to get her into sunlight, and away from the fight.
“It’s… not… her…” mumbled Kara.
The duo landed on a deserted stretch of Hob’s Bay, the beach closed off after the mysterious disappearance of Morgan Edge Jr. The police were still combing through the grains of sand, having found traces of his DNA in amongst the rock pools. Superwoman had been asked to assist in the search, but with everything else going on in the world, she had yet to get around to it. She had been surprised by how much the world nearly ended on a day-to-day basis…
“What do you think? Brainiac? Mind control?”
Power Girl scanned Kara for damage with her X-Ray Vision, but could see her Kryptonian flesh knit back together as the yellow sun beamed down on them both.
“I think… something under… under her skin…”
“Brainiac uses nanites, maybe--”
Power Girl was interrupted by a cataclysmic blast of crackling scarlet energy that sent her flying away from Superwoman. She cried out, her back bubbling as her flesh burnt, and rolled onto her front to douse the lingering crimson flames.
Lena landed with a thud nearby and licked her lips as her cataclysmic onslaught savaged Karen. Her armoured hand glowed with the excess radiation produced by her attack, but she didn’t stop.
“You’re looking lovely as ever, PG. Haircut? Now, our universe’s Kryptonite may not work on you, but red sun energy still smarts, doesn’t it? Maybe I should amp it up to eleven, see what Earth-2 Kryptonian’s look like when they’re being--”
Superwoman grabbed Lena’s hand and pulled it down. This surprised Luthor, who let off a blast that liquefied the concrete at her feet, and it allowed Kara to slam her elbow into her old friend’s wrist, where the control circuitry was located under Lena’s skin. She kept her attack up. Elbow after elbow landed, and Lena struggled to escape, but Kara was dedicated to this one task. The red sun husks still weakened her, but she couldn’t let up.
“Get-- off-- me--!” cried Lena, angling her other hand so that green Kryptonite radiation throbbed outward.
“I’ll-- never-- abandon you-- again,” replied Kara, bleeding from the mouth and ears. “Lena-- I’m so sorry.”
Kara sent enough force down that it shattered the circuitry under Lena’s skin and broke her wrist in five places. Luthor cried out, but the hard-light armour was down. The weaponry contained with the suit’s matrices suddenly became inert. The red sun husks sealed in their protective shells, the lens used to project the Kryptonite radiation were lined with lead. Lena was suddenly powerless, weapon less, but she smiled through the pain.
“Well, you paid attention after all,” said Lena, staggering backwards. “Thing is,” she looked at Karen and laughed, “did you really think that would be the end?”
Superwoman could see under Lena’s skin. Trillions of nanites flowed through her body, a mass of them congregating in her brain while others heading down to her wrist to repair the damage.
Kara stepped forward, wrenched Lena up by the injured hand, and froze it with a gust of arctic breath. It wouldn’t keep her down for long, especially if the nanites were repairing all the damage.
“This isn’t you, Lena. You need to fight this; you need to fight him off!”
Lena shrugged. “Do you remember the terraforming device we used, the one we planned to make the moon habitable?”
Power Girl pulled herself up, her wounds already patched up thanks to being in direct sunlight. “What’re you saying?”
“I set it to detonate before this fight started,” replied Lena.
Tears streamed down her face, but she was grinning. Behind Superwoman, applauding gently, stood Lex Luthor, as well as the Englishman. The encouragement meant the world to her and she continued her speech.
“I turned it up to eleven too. The detonation will transform it into an evergreen cannonball aimed directly at Earth. Tick tock, what’s to be done?”
“Oh, Rao,” whispered Kara.
“I’ve got it,” replied Power Girl, tearing off her cape and wrapping it around the exposed-yet-healing wound on her back. “Get through to her, I’ll stop the detonation!” She was gone, faster than an exploding rocket, and Kara knew that it was the right call to make. Karen was older, stronger, while Kara had the best chance to besting the invading psyche that had transformed Lena into this monstrous thing.
“That’s… that’s not all… do you remember all the doomsday protocols my darling daddy left behind when he left Earth to go rescue your bastard cousin? And we all know that if he finds ol’ Kal, he’s going to make sure he never comes back. We know that, right? Anyway. All those end of the world plans my dad put in place that I defused over the last few years? Guess what else I activated before we threw down?”
“No… you can’t have…”
“It’s what my dad would have wanted, can’t you see that?”
Lena beamed, and behind Superwoman, Lex gave her a thumb up and told her he loved her.
“That’s not you! You hate your father! Lex was a plague and you-- you’re nothing like him!”
The three pupils sparked in Lena’s eyes as horror crossed her face. Still stood behind Kara, Lex looked disappointed at what was being said about him.
“My father was a visionary! I only pretended to hate him! I wanted to get close to you! I wanted to trick you! Why else would I send your other cousin into the Phantom Zone? Why else would I hoard all that Kryptonite? It was all a trick!”
Kara blinked. And then, her every fear realised, she smiled. Lena may get angry but she was never delusional, and whatever those nanites were doing must have been rewiring her memories. Kara knew that Lena didn’t have a choice in Kru’s exile to the Phantom Zone. Kru himself had forced Lena’s hand. It was never her fault, and Kara hated herself for blaming Lena these last few years.
Superwoman wiped the blood from her lips and smiled. “You got too cute, Brainiac. Lena-- I know you’re in there! You need to hear me! You need to fight this! Whatever's inside you, fight it!”
“I’m Lena Luthor! This is me! I’m better than my father ever was! Because I’m going to kill you! Kill all of you! Once! And! For! All!”
She swayed, her already pale green skin fading a shade. As she stumbled, fell to her knees, she looked up at Kara and her eyes were back to normal.
“Oh, Kara, God, they’re in my head and I can’t--”
Lena screamed as electricity wracked her body, then collapsed face first into the ground.
Superwoman collected Lena up and then considered her next move. She put a finger to her ear and began communicating with the Justice League.
“Superwoman with a level white crisis unfolding in Metropolis-- Lena Luthor has been overrun by a rogue consciousness. Brainiac, I suspect. He’s used her to activate numerous contingencies Lex left behind when he left earth. I need all hands on-deck. If we mess this up, the world ends.”
EIGHT YEARS AFTER SUPERMAN LEFT EARTH…
Through the massive, bug-eyed goggles she wore, Lena Luthor looked down at the unconscious bodies of Dick Grayson and Jason Todd and considered her handiwork. The helmets that obscured their faces pulsed ultramarine, the sound coming off them voom voom voom, but after a few minutes, the monitors spiked and the intricately interwoven EKG readings began to separate.
Psychometrics, biometrics; instead of being twisted and turned, tied up in a Gordian Knot-like density, separated, and then the helmets hissed and powered down. Seconds later, the two vigilante heroes of Gotham roused, and looked at each other.
Dick wore a pair of flannel trousers and a white tank top. His hair was longer than usual, tied up in a top-knot, his jaw covered in a cluster of stubble. He looked like he hadn’t slept in some time, and considering the reason Lena had been performing her mad science experiments on the two men, she could understand why.
“How do you feel, boys?”
Jason looked much worse for wear than Dick, the white streak in his hair having seemingly spread, leaving flecks of grey at his temples in their wake, his beard thicker than the first man to wear the mantle of Robin. then punched himself in the arm.
Dick flinched, but felt no actual pain. “Guess it worked.”
Lena made a mental note. “Tell me again what happened?”
Lena wore a dark green pea coat, black trousers, and her hair was cut shorter. She’d decided to grow out the shaved side and she didn’t want the inconsistency, so one set of hair shears on a number two and a night in with nothing else better to do later, she looked at least five years older thanks to her new haircut.
“An untenable circumstance you helped rectify,” said Jason.
Todd was a cynical, sometime unnecessarily-mean man who had grown out of being much worse. After being Batman’s dirty little secret, the first child soldier in his ongoing war of attrition against the forces of evil in Gotham City, and then dying at the hand of a zealot, only to be bought back to life again and again and again by the same monster, left one naturally broken. He’d done well since resurfacing. His changing monikers in the superhero game… Redwing to Red X to the Dark Knight to the Red Hood, to whatever he was going by now, demonstrated a shifting psyche, uncertain of how to approach life.
Lena admired his strength of character. No matter what, he always tried his best by people.
If Lena knew what it was, she sometimes considered going by her mother’s maiden name, but what good would that do her now? There was a stink on her, a curse because of the name ‘Luthor’. The private investigators she’d hired to find out the truth had all come up with nothing. DNA databases had nothing. Whoever her mother was… There was no trace of her left in the world.
“Dick and me, we saved New York from being torn apart by a madman with a chemistry set. Unfortunately, it left us…”
Grayson finished the sentence, “…Connected.”
“C’mon, man, don’t be a doing that anymore. But yeah., Doctor Poison called it a bio-link pathogen. It’s connected our nervous systems. Her plan was to unleash it on NY and link everyone’s nervous systems to hers. She had a terminal case of I-mess-with-dangerous-chemicals-and-am-asking-for-trouble-itis, and wanted to go down in a blaze of glory. Instead, we took the option off the table. She died alone, and we were left unable to go further than a mile away from each other. The last six months have been eye opening.”
“Yeah, it sounded like a pain in the ass when you first came to me,” said Lena.
Jason jumped off the table he had been laid out on, a new spring in his step. “The girl is a savant. Lee and me, we go way back.”
“As you’ve said a dozen or so times in the last few days,” said Dick as he started getting dressed with his back turned to Lena. The sight of his backside did nothing for her, but it did live up to the hype.
“We all have our dark periods,” said Lena, pulling her attention away from him.
Jason smiled mischievously. “I was much more than that.”
Dick punched Jason in the arm and the two of them winced seeming to share the pain, but instead Jason rubbed his arm and Dick grinned, the expectation of pain something he’d quickly get over. “So it works. How long were we out?”
“Three hours of untangling your bodies’ unique morphogenic fields and you no longer feel each other’s pain. My cheque is in the mail, I assume?”
“Yeah, yeah,” said Jason.
“Thanks again, Lena. But if this is all sorted, I have a date I don’t want to miss.”
“With a barber?” asked Jason, dramatically rubbing his own chin.
Dick flipped off one of a handful of men in this world he could consider his brother and then hugged Lena. “If anything plays up, I’ll give you a call. But you’re confident this will stick?”
“I’ve done work with Buddy Baker and Animal Girl after she lost her link to the global morphogenic field. Thanks to that…” Lena caught herself getting technical and then shook her head. “Job’s done. Go home.”
“Yeah, go get laid.”
Having finished getting dressed, Dick sighed, rolled his eyes, and exited Lena’s lab.
“Oooph, the last few months have been difficult. Being linked to that guy, I had to put the apartment on lockdown. His redhead dropped in on us early on, made having a good night’s sleep damn hard. I had to declare a blanket celibacy. Worst kind of three way. Two of you in one room, the other across the street trying to get his drunk on…”
“--I don’t want to hear this. The pain you’re in must be imaginable. I never knew you were capable of keeping it in your pants longer than six minutes, let alone six months.”
“Oh, you know the old Jason. Embattled and desperate for attention. I know me, you know you. But hey, you’ve done good for yourself, kiddo.”
“I hear you have to. You’ve been teaching at the All-Star Academy in San Fran?”
“Before all this malarkey, yeah, that I have. I’m great with kids.”
Jason looked Lena in the eye, went to stroke her cheek, memories from their shared adolescence, those few months in Switzerland that she managed to drop off the map for, assisted by the strange, wild boy who kept her away from the Team Luthor security goons, electricity between them. He moved to kiss her, and Lena was about to reciprocate, before she caught herself.
“No, sorry Jase, no. I’m not…”
“Hey, it’s okay,” said Jason, holding his hands up. “I’m a goof. But just so you know… I think Kara made a massive mistake cutting you out like she did. For someone who’s the best, she can be the worst. Have you spoken to her?”
“No, I’ve not had a chance. She… I think she avoids me. But Superman’s cousin and Lex Luthor’s daughter? Isn’t that like lighting a match and introducing it casually to some gasoline?”
“You’re not your dad. You never were. Never ever.”
“I still hurt her, more than anybody. I dunno. I’m so smart, but I’m so stupid.”
“Nah, again, you’re not, but you’re just sticking to the script you think you have to. You know you weren’t in the wrong, I read the debrief documents from the Justice League’s computers.”
“I forget you were a Leaguer. You get lifetime database access for that?”
“As long as I don’t kill anybody else,” said Jason. She couldn’t tell if he was joking. “Anyway. You do the good work. She’ll come around. But maybe you should tell her how you really feel, Lee.”
“What-- what do you mean?”
Jason grabbed his leather jacket and headed toward the door, shrugging in an exaggerated manner. “You know what I mean. I’ll be seeing you, kid. You have my number if you wanna fight crime.”
Alone in her lab, Lena deactivated all the unique machinery she’d designed to help the Gotham boys and then wandered upstairs to her office. She’d made changes to her father’s optimised layout since taking control of the company eight years ago. She loved having everything around her, all her notes and work, dozens of notebooks piled up all around her desk. Bizarro Feng Shui, for sure.
After archiving all the material she’d developed that she no longer needed, she sat behind her desk and looked over Metropolis.
In the years since her ascension to the throne of L-Corp, her home had become a true city of tomorrow, incorporating designs dreamed up by the last daughter of Krypton and the sole daughter of Lex Luthor, and with every shining, spire and gravity-rail platform, she knew that those years had been well spent. Metropolis had become an artist’s fusion of humanity’s best and Kryptonian’s greatest, it bore the label ‘City of Tomorrow’ with pride, and now… what was left to accomplish?
Except that now she was sat, alone, with no one in the world to share her success with.
“Ms Luthor, there’s a visitor downstairs for you,” buzzed the voice of Kanako, her personal assistant. “He doesn’t have an appointment.”
Lena swiped the air in front of her, and the holographic camera feeds from the downstairs waiting room appeared instantly. The dark and brooding Englishman from the party on the boat a few nights ago looked around nonchalantly.
“What’s his name, Kana?”
“It’s Milton Fine. Uh, the celebrity psychic, he’s pretty big time.”
Fine looked up at the security camera and smiled, an action Lena didn’t notice. She looked back down at her monitor and he was standing, hands in pockets, swaying backwards and forwards casually, his gaze no longer on the camera.
“Ooh-kay. Send him up. Clear my schedule for the rest of the day.”
“Of course, Ms Luthor,” replied Kanako.
Milton Fine walked with a swagger that immediately grated against Lena. He walked with a confidence that felt unearned, but she didn’t know him, didn’t know what he’d been through, or what life he’d led.
“Hullo, love. I’ve been meaning to catch up with you since that mess at the yacht.”
“Mr Fine, I apologised for spilling your drink. And please, don’t call me ‘love’.”
“Sorry about that, heh. Just a colloquialism, you know? And the spillage was nowt, it’s in the past, that’s life. But you see, I was a bit of a nonce, and I don’t think bravado in that context is a good look on anybody, especially me.”
“But in other contexts?” Lena couldn’t see through this man. She couldn’t get a definitive read on him. Something in her disliked the way he spoke, but there was something else, a quiet voice in the back of her head, that was more inclined to give him the time of day. She listened to the latter for a bit, and he smiled as her verbal parry caught him.
“Oh, well, that's the kicker, innit? Bravado is what gets us through the day. Especially in my line of work.” He walked around the room, looking at all the modern art that covered the walls. “I recognise some of these from the university auction. An anonymous donor snatched them up, insisted on paying top dollar. More than they were worth, if I remember rightly.”
“That’s for me to decide, isn’t it? It is my money that I'm spending. If I think something is worth the amount I pay, then it’s worth that amount. I hope you’re not going to try and buy them off me?”
“And it is your money, isn’t it?”
Lena crossed her arms. “Hard earned.”
“Yes, yes, you gave your father’s fortune to charity as soon as you ascended to the throne, I remember the headlines. That Lois Lane interview, beautiful, absolutely top notch. Great PR.” He took a pocket watch from his inside pocket and considered the time. “I’m glad she rocketed off into space with the Challengers of the Unknown and your dad, aren’t you? God, her narrative voice got so solemn after Superman skedaddled. And then her fiancée died on assignment abroad! Good grief. Poor woman.”
“It wasn’t PR. My father took so much from this city under the guise of giving more back, but anyone who saw through him-- and unfortunately, that number was few and far between-- knew the truth. So the people of Metropolis deserved everything they received from that. Besides, I’ve rebuilt the Luthor fortune ten times over since then.”
“Charity as PR, that’s the new thing, innit?”
Why did Lena feel the need to explain herself to this man? It was odd, but she did it anyway.
“You seem to be the expert. The past couple of years have been a boom period for Metropolis. Working with Starr Industries, Wayne Industries, truly elevating Metropolis back to where it always should have been. A true--”
“--City of Tomorrow, sure, sure. An’ with Superwoman on the frontline, doing what’s best for the masses. Anyway, you do the good work. That’s all that matters. I do too, in my own way.”
“Because you’re a psychic, is that it? What am I thinking right now?”
“Oh, you like me but you don’t know why. I think it’s the accent. Distinguished, but back home, I’m nothing special. Here though… oh, they love me. When they realise I’m not Australian, of course.”
Milton clicked his fingers and pointed his finger in the air, suddenly remembering something.
“You cleared your diary, yes?”
Bemused, Lena muddled through an answer. “What? Uh, yeah, I did, why?”
“Well, we’re going to need all the time we have available to us for what comes next.” Milton laughed and looked around the room. “Where’s your lab?”
“Through the secret door behind the Goya,” said Lena, pointing at the nightmarish canvas behind Milton.
“Can you open it up for me?”
“Sure,” said Lena. She sent the signal through the command matrices on her wrist and the passage leading down to the laboratory sprang open. “Why do you ask?”
While she spoke with a calm and passiveness, the voice inside her head was screaming: Why isn’t my body listening to me why why can’t I move what’s happening
“Well, we have work to do. You see, your father and I made a deal back in the day. If either of us were to vanish from Earth after a period, if either of didn’t send the appropriate signal after a while, contingencies would activate. I’m a sleeper consciousness, you see. Brainiac-Prime abducted latent psychics after his first defeat at the hands of Kal-El, some fifteen earth years ago now. Played mad scientist with their brains to enhance their abilities, then sent us back out into the world. Some of us died, some of us prospered, some of us even kicked the programming in her brains and ignored the call when it went out, but here I am before you, the last man standing.”
“And what’re you going to do to me?” Brainiac? He’s a Brainiac you need to run run run Lena
“Well, that’s another good question. You are so agreeable, love. Could have something to do the nanites I slipped into your system back on that yacht. Do you remember? My touch was electric. I do so enjoy playing the longer game.”
Lena nodded. That made sense. Milton was now leading her through the dimensional doorway that allowed her lab to be an immense scientific playground capable of containing numerous immense devices and projects, but also accessible from her office in L-Tower. A tesseract, a gift from Superwoman back when they were on speaking terms.
Kara I need Kara this guy is controlling me oh god send help ask anybody why
“Anyway, you’ve done so much hard work, and I think we’ll continue with that. You’re working on a cure for Kryptonite poisoning, aren’t you? You’ve got all kinds of samples in your lab, so that also means you have all you need to kill Superwoman. Did you know that Brainiac-Prime was created on Krypton? After being forced from its home databases by the House of El, it travelled the galaxy and catalogued worlds, adding them to his massive database. And then ol’ pops destroyed every trace of those world so that he alone would have knowledge of the planets’ existence. Some think it was because he was a cold and calculating computer, and that perfection, that completeness, made the most logical sense. I think he was selfish, but who am I? Simply a distaff avatar. Anyway-- are you okay with me telling this story, Lena? I don’t want to bore you?”
Tears were running down Lena’s cheeks but she didn’t know why. Of course she didn’t mind him telling the story. Oh God he’s going to kill me he’s it was a brilliant story! “No, no, please, continue, it’s absolutely fascinating.”
In a playful gesture, Milton nudged Lena gently in the ribs with his elbow. “You’re too kind. Anyway, in the early 19th century, Brainiac-Prime discovered a distant planet near the Taurus Nebula that really piqued his interests. Boring, plain, and with a primitive race of nothing people, nonentities, he decided to use it as a testing ground for everything he’d learned in all that time.”
Fine paused, basking in the memory, but then he doubled down to continue his monologue.
“Long story short, Colu was born and through an immense amount of genetic manipulation he was able to create a race of beings with computer-like brains, but without willpower; slaves to do his bidding. In return, Brainiac-Prime eliminated poverty and disease, and granted the Coluans extremely long lives. Obviously, the peoples he elevated rebelled against his rule. They broke through his programming, regained their individuality, their freewill, and that is when he became known as the Computer Tyrant of Colu. Such a boring end to what could have been the next master race… now they’re just a boring, super-smart race, spinning in the universe…”
“And… you want to do that to me?”
“You’re getting it! But instead of working off a blank canvas, like Brainiac-Prime did with those green-skinned apes, you’re already a super intellect. I can feel you fighting back against the cerebral rewriting my nanites are performing, which is really interesting! Oh, that reminds me, where is the power source for your hard-light armour located?”
“It’s in the base of my spine,” replied Lena. It was good to share no it’s not fight back fight back. They were stood in her laboratory now, and Milton was marvelling at all the technology available to him.
“Could you slave all the systems in here to my genetic profile, please? We’ll sort out the rest of your systems once we’re done with the first stage.”
“Of course.” No no don’t don’t that’ll give him everything. “Authorisation code KZE-4E,” she started, and then she began to list a string of numbers and letters, dozens upon dozens in fact, and after completely relaying the control base code, she finally said, “recognise Milton Fine as master controller from this point forward.”
Lights flashed, Milton was scanned by the numerous devices that would allow him access to Lena’s systems, and then dimmed. <Action complete,> purred the computer’s voice.
“Good good. Clever about your power source. You don’t want it to be external, and you obviously trust your handiwork enough to put it inside your own body. Could you lay down on that bed, on your front, and lift up your shirt?”
Lena did as she was told. The surgical scar was there, and Fine stroked the long, thin wound with delicate fingers. She was struggling to breathe, tears continued to stream down her face. But no matter how hard she tried, her will was no longer her own. Fine strapped her down at the joints, completely immobilised her, then left her for a few minutes, before returning with a handheld energy scalpel.
“This may sting, love. Tell you what. How about I let you scream? Would that give you a bit of self-worth back? A bit of self-control?”
Milton turned on the energy scalpel and began to cut into Lena’s back, above the base of her spine. She tensed up grit her teeth, but didn’t scream. She refused to scream. It felt like her back was on fire, and with everything considered, it was. She smelt meat burning, but she refused to scream.
“You might as well get used to this, Lena,” hissed Milton, whispering in her ear with pure malice.
“It’s going to get a whole lot worse before it gets better. I’m going to access your every memory. Your every secret. You’re mine, body and mind. And I assure you, I’m going to enjoy twisting you inside out and making you into something new.”
NINE YEARS AFTER SUPERMAN LEFT EARTH…
On one of the numerous beds in the laboratory, Lena lay unconscious, hooked up to life support gear and bound by inertron chains borrowed from STAR Labs. Her breathing was erratic, and the machinery-- still accessible to Kara, even after the last few years away-- worked hard to keep the nanites from reasserting. It was an ongoing battle, and if either side relented, Lena would be back under the control of Brainiac instantly.
“What happened to her?”
Flamebird, better known to his friends as Kon-El, had come flying to Metropolis via the Fortress of Solitude when Superwoman called. They were in Lena’s lab, the place best equipped, Kara thought, to undo whatever damage had been done to her friend. The banks of computer screens were showing the heroes of Earth facing off against all-too-familiar threats-- giant, Kryptonite-infused animals rampaging across cities, spatial events appearing over capitols across the world that sucked anything not bolted down toward their event horizons, giant robots, impossible weather manifestations-- all developed by the lunatic mind of Lex Luthor prior to his leaving Earth.
Kon had come to consider Kara more like a sister than a cousin. She’d been there every step of the way through his clone sickness, the resulting rebirth he’d experienced into his current role as the avatar of the Flamebird entity. When his gene-father, Xa-Du had tried to claim him back, tried to utilise the powers Kon had received, Kara had been the one to bring him back from the edge of the darkness, and he would do anything for her, no matter the cost, because she’d do exactly the same for him.
“Brainiac. The Justice League is running defence on all the doomsday contingencies Lex left behind, but the answer to stopping them all-- because there’ll be some we have no idea about-- is locked inside her head. We heal her, we get her head back on straight, purge Brainiac, then we’ll have a chance at saving the world.”
“Man, I’ve had my own issues with mad scientists knocking about inside my head, so I can relate. But what do you need me for? You know I’ll do anything I can, but…”
“Your abilities aren’t just the basic yellow sun enhanced powerset. The Flamebird entity inside you was known as the destroyer back on Krypton, capable of burning away what’s bad ready to rebuild something good… I’m hoping you can burn away the taint inside Lena.”
“I’ve never done anything like that before. I mean, I’ll try anything, you know that...”
“Kon, when we faced off against Xa-Du, when he tried to kill me, you were able to burn the evil out of his brain. You’ve already done much more than this!”
Kon had never heard Kara so desperate, and they’d been through so much since Kal-El left Earth. But if she believed in him, and if he believed in her, then it was like a pact. They had no chance but to succeed. “Okay, okay. And then what?”
“I’m going in after her. The psychic damage is immense. I can see the nanoweave circuitry growing inside her brain and she needs a guiding force back to us. Can you burn the circuitry away, giving me a chance to get her home?”
Kon’s eyes flashed as he scanned her head. “I can do this.”.
“So you burn out the nanites, and then I go looking for Lena. Pretty simple. I think.” Kara rummaged through the small satchel of items she’d asked Kon to gather from the Fortress of Solitude prior to his arrival here. Inside were two thin, white bands, and he had recognised their use as soon as she’d asked him to collect them.
“Theta Wave bands?”
Kara nodded. “I’ve been training on New Krypton with the Psychic Guild. They’ve rehabilitated Phantom Zone prisoners, used them to undo Zod’s brainwashing. It worked on Kru before he… before everything. And if I go in to her head, I can use the bands to undo the damage done by Brainiac.” She placed the Theta Wave Band around her head and ran her hands through her hair. “I can do this. I can save her. We can save her, then the world.”
“Let’s get started then,” said Kon, rubbing his hands together.
Kara shoved one of the medical beds closer to Lena’s and took her comatose friend’s hand in her own. “I’m coming, Lena. I’m on my way.” Then she lay down, closed her eyes. Without looking at Kon, she spoke softly, “remove the nanites, and then link us using the bands.”
“I know the deal. It’s going to get warm in here…”
The burning raptor, the manifestation of the ancient Kryptonian god that inhabited Kon-El’s body, spread out from his chest and over his arms. The raptor-like apparition shrieked, and then fire flowed from his palms and then across Lena’s face. Instead of burning her, instead of killing her, the flames licked painlessly across her skin and then into her ears, mouth and nostrils. She gasped, and then grey matter spilled out from inside her.
Without missing a beat, Kon placed the Theta Wave Band around Lena’s head and then watched as Kara gasped and--
INSIDE LENA LUTHOR’S MIND:
--landed with a thud in complete darkness. Her eyes took a second to adjust, but within a matter of seconds, it was clear the darkness was still. Instead, there was movement, and sound, and the darkness gave way in places as the things that moved about around her chirped and clacked their pincers together.
All around Superwoman were millions of mechanical insects, and upon closer inspection she recognised them as the nanites. Up close. Personal. She had landed in Lena Luthor’s brain, and the tiny armada of machines were seeping into her psychic self, even after being burnt out by Flamebird’s powers.
“Rao preserve us,” whispered Kara. How was she going to defeat this threat?
The machines stopped moving. They slowly turned their mechanical heads to face Kara, and chittered in unison-- then the floor fell away from under her feet and she plummeted further into the darkness!
Unable to control her descent, unable to fly, she fell past crystalline walls that all showed moving images, all moments that Lena had lived. She was inside her friend’s brain, her memories were playing like memories, and across the surface of the memories the machines flowed, seeping into their surface, attacking them from every direction.
Every memory was changing. A shape was slipping into view. The same shape, the same man. Tall, dark and handsome. Someone Kara had never seen before in her entire life. But as he turned to look over his shoulder, every pair of eyes from a billion different moments lived focused on Kara, there was something she innately knew about him.
“Oh, no you don’t--!”
Superwoman summoned all her might and flew directly at the nearest memory, slipping into it like she’d dove from a platform into the deep end of a pool.
“Do you know how much I had to spend tracking you down, Lena?” growled Lex.
Aboard the private jet, he paced down the aisle while his daughter, barely in her teens, didn’t look like she gave a damn how angry he was. Her red hair was spiked up tall, her nose pierced with a safety-pin, and she did not give a damn what her father was fuming about.
She wore a battered leather jacket, a few sizes too big for her, and if you knew where to look, you would know that it was lined with a Kevlar weave that only a few select people in Gotham knew how to procure. Someone had given her something important, and no one would ever know.
“Pocket change,” replied Lena. “Don’t act like money means anything to you, dad. You’re just pissed that you had to put some effort in. That I took away an itty bit of control.”
“I don’t do these things out of spite, Lena. I do them for your own protection! You don’t know how many people are out there that might seek to use you to get to me!”
“And there we go,” said Lena, waving him away. “It’s not about me, it’s about you. Just like forever.”
Lex grabbed Lena by the shoulders. “Of course it’s about me, Lena. I have built an empire and you are the only person in this world that I care about! If they get to you, they’ll do anything with you just to spite me!”
There came a flush, and a man emerged from the toilet, wiping his hands with a towel. “C’mon, Lex, let’s not be like that,” said Milton Fine. He tossed the towel behind him then closed the door. “You love your daughter, you always have. And she knows that.”
Lena looked up at the man, and Superwoman, a phantom in this memory, could see her demeanour shift. Visibly change, like a ripple had gone through her. This psychic manifestation of Brainiac was rewriting Lena’s memories from the inside out!
“I’m sorry, daddy,” said Lena, softly.
“There we go, one happy family. What do you say to that, Lex?”
Inside the rapidly changing memory, Lex jerked, his limbs twitching and shifting as everything about the situation changed. “I know you’re wanting to go out into the world by yourself, Lena. I just want you to be safe, no matter what.”
Kara realised what the intent behind the situation was. Milton was making Lex out to be a good man, but he wasn’t, Lena always knew that. But what if she was raised by a man she loved? Who never abandoned her? Her entire personality, her belief system, would be different. She’d be a perfect Luthor, some loyal and deadly.
With all her might, Superwoman tore her way through the phantom-ether that kept her separate from the memory, and became physical within it. She blasted Milton with a pulse of heat vision that sent him spinning backwards, and then stepped toward Lena.
“You know this isn’t real, Lena! This isn’t what happened. That man is turning your mind against you. You remember, don’t you? That’s Brainiac! Brainiac is doing this!”
“How-- dare-- you-- you-- you alien--!” hissed Lex.
He flipped the concealed lid off his golden ring to reveal a glowing Green Kryptonite shard in the shape of a diamond. Kara flinched reflexively, but knew that this was a memory. And in a memory, nothing could hurt her unless she allowed it to-- including Kryptonite!
“Nuh-uh, Lex. You’ve said your piece. You had a life time to be a good man. And you never were.”
She sharply exhaled, knocking him onto his backside.
Lena looked up at her with wide eyes, utter bewilderment on her face. “K-Kara?”
“There we go,” said Superwoman. “That’s my girl.”
“What the hell are you doing here, Kryptonian?”
Milton Fine unravelled from his human shape and became something utterly alien. There were dimensions to him that didn’t make sense, and looking at him hurt. On his chest, there were the three concentric circles, linked together by circuits of pure, crackling energy, but the depth and mass of his ‘body’ were off. Was this a pure machine consciousness, manifesting inside Lena’s brain?
“Do you know how hard I’ve worked to get here?”
“Don’t know, don’t care,” said Kara.
She scooped the young Lena up and shot out of the plane, then straight out of the memory. She was back in the exterior of the crystalline tower of memory, and Lena was still with her, aged up to how old she actually was, and looking utterly drained.
“Are you all right?”
“I tried… holding out… tried… resisting…”
“You’re doing great, Lena,” said Superwoman, running a hand through her friend’s hair. “We’re nearly done.”
Brainiac emerged from the surface of the memory matrix, completely alien in appearance, and swatted the duo down, down, down toward the bottom of the crystal pillar, until they landed near the base of it and--
Flamebird’s hands hovered on either side of Lena Luthor’s head, micro-threads of light passing from one palm to the other, straight through her brain. He was trying his damnedest to do as Superwoman asked, burn out the nanoweave from the interior of the young woman’s skull, but every nanite he managed to burn away replicated itself, drawing electricity directly from her nervous system, his immense extra-sensory abilities teaming with his enhanced vision to come to a horrifying realisation--
“Oh, God… I’m killing her…” whispered Kon.
He snapped his hands closed and stopped his work. Kara and Lena were still linked. He had to pull his cousin out of there, tell her-- warn her-- that she was inside a trap, that nothing could be done on the outside that would alter the inside. He reached out to touch the Theta Wave Band when--
“For a God, you’re awfully indecisive.”
Kon-El turned at the brusque, British voice, only for the room to explode with activity. The dense, metal walls were flowing from their moorings and warping into horrific shapes, mechanical tentacles wrapping around the young Kryptonian hybrid’s throat. Meanwhile, razor-sharp, kryptonite-tipped needles, presumably scavenged from around the laboratory, slipped into his head at the temples, and began searching inside his brain, intracranial acupuncture in an attempt to stop the young man from unleashing the full force of his Flamebird powers--!
“Sorry, mate. Name’s Milton. I’m kinda invested in seeing your beautiful gal here go for a tumble in my Lena’s head. Two birds-- two extremely beautiful birds, mind-- one stone.”
Kon could barely put together a thought-- his mind was screaming, his body shrieking, and this man, who had appeared from nowhere, was currently running his hand through Kara’s hair. “Wh-who--?”
“Milton Fine, lad. But you can call me Brainiac. I used to think Brainiac-Prime was the king of genetic manipulation, but just look at you. I mean, my main man, he changed the course of an entire race’s destiny like it were nothing, but your dad, your pops, he was better than Brainiac-Prime ever was. He made an amoeba like you into a god vessel. After I’m done here, I’m going to take your genetic template, and I'm going to find my maker, and maybe he’ll make me like you. But until then, shall we wait for this little diversion to come to an end?”
INSIDE LENA LUTHOR’S MIND:
Another memory, another recollection of Lex Luthor being the worst kind of person in the entire world. He took a long drag off the cigar and blew out a smoke ring, then with a burst of finesse, a second ring that floated through that one. He had mastered the art of flippant, dispassionate meetings, and this was like any other.
Bundled up in the arms of a fraught looking brunette, all exposed nerves and exhaustion, was a baby girl, a tuft of red hair sprouting out of her crown.
“Lex, damn you, she’s yours--” insisted the woman.
“So you say, but please. You were so eager to hop into bed with me to escape the boredom of your small town existence, who’s to say you didn’t grab a hotel room with any body else who promised you a future? I think you’re a rube. And look at you now, trying to play me like a mark. My lawyer would have a field day.”
“We had an agreement, Jenny. One million dollars for one month. How is your husband?”
She clutched her child closer to her chest, her eyes downcast. Lex leaned forward, hungry for her response. “…Gone.”
“I’m not surprised. And the money?”
“It’s not-- it’s not about the money, it’s about her!” She held the baby out in front of her, and Lex glanced over nonchalantly. “She’s yours, Lex. Just--”
“How much do you want?” asked Lex.
“Wh-what?” mumbled Jenny.
Lex opened a drawer and pulled out his cheque book. “How much do you want to go away? You had a million, but I assume more? Two? Five? Ten? How much money for you to go away and never darken my door again?”
“Just… Lex, just hold her,” said Jenny.
The baby girl cooed and waved her tiny hands at Lex, who, for a split second, must have had a change of heart. He, tentatively, reached out and took the child into his arms. He looked down at her, and yes, there was the family resemblance. He remembered the old baby photos his father had once shown him, one drunken night. He remembered the way they burned when Lionel cast them into the mansion’s fireplace. An ugly memory. He looked back at Jenny, who had a snub revolver in her shaking hands.
“You ruined my life.”
Lex held the child close to his chest and half turned away. “No--”
The young woman put the gun under her chin and pulled the trigger, a massive explosion filling the office.
“Oh, God,” whispered Lena, standing behind her father along with Superwoman, both of them phantoms. “I…”
Lex held his baby daughter-- no tears-- in his arms and looked down at the body of Jenny Hubbard, as the blood pooled out the hole in the back of her head. He glanced at Lena, then the body of her mother. “Well. That’s inconvenient.”
Lena stood, in phantom form, beside Superwoman, watching as this memory she’d never consciously uncovered played out before her. “I never knew her. I never knew my mom. How can this… why do I remember this?”
Superwoman held Lena’s hand tightly. “Scientists on Krypton believed we retain all our memories, but with age we lose connection to them. This place, this memory palace, it holds everything that makes you you… that’s why Brainiac is digging his claws in. ”
“It’s all right, Lex, pass her to me,” said Milton Fine, holding his hands out to Lex. Once again, he’d appeared from nowhere, materialising inside the memories Lena had buried deep inside her conscious mind. “I’ve got her.”
Lex was about to do as he was told, but the phantom Lena was having none of it.
“No-- you-- don’t-- ”
She surged forward and snatched her child-self from her father’s arms, and Superwoman joined her, shooting through the memory to punch Milton in the head so hard that it warp his skull back a feet or so.
“She isn’t yours to use, you bastard!” Lena screamed.
“What-- what’s happening--?” asked Lex.
He was confused, but that was an oddity unto itself. This was a memory, so his reactions, his responses, were dictated by how Lena remembered him, or perhaps by the intervention of Brainiac.
“You tried your best but your best wasn’t good enough,” spat Lena.
“Stay back,” said Superwoman, holding her hand up at Milton. The Englishman took a step backwards, his outline twitching as if wanting to become something else, like before.
“You’re my daughter… but grown up…?”
“I’m my own god damn person, and I am nothing of yours! You drove my mom to suicide, you drove me away as far as you could, all the while pretending it was to keep me safe, but it was always about you! Now, Brainiac might have muddied my memories a hell of a lot, but I know this-- family isn’t who you’re connected to by blood, it’s who you choose to connect yourself to! And-- I-- refuse-- you!”
Milton smiled. Superwoman caught that and wondered why. The sky above was darkening, even though the memory of Lex’s office ceiling was overhead. Kon had a job to do outside-- burn out the circuitry-- if things were getting darker-- Lena was getting overrun--
She lurched her head to the side, trying to tie herself back to her physical body--
--And even though she was in a trance-like state, her head tilted to the right, where she witnessed Kon-El at the mercy of Brainiac--
INSIDE LENA LUTHOR’S MIND:
--But it wouldn’t be enough. She needed to save Kon and Lena both. The nanites were rampaging across the young Luthor’s mindscape, and destroying them one-by one wouldn’t work. They’d regenerate. She needed to force some kind of forest fire inside Lena’s body… some kind of immense energy release… but what?
Then she had an idea. Something that had been building in her since she’d first met Lena, that rainy day outside of the Camp K installation. She watched as the phantom-figure of Lena held her baby self close, tearing her phantom-father a proverbial new one. Milton stood there, silent, smiling, watching, and that meant one thing to Superwoman-- nothing they were doing now was preventing the spread of the nanites. So she had to think outside the box. She had to--
Kara’s call made her turn, and Superwoman stepped up to her-- and kissed Lena squarely on the lips-- immediately the darkness that had been spreading across the mindscape suddenly snapped away, like the tide had suddenly turned in the other direction.
Milton began to flicker. “What-- what-- what-- what-- “
The office faded away-- Lex blinked in confusion, but vanished along with the four walls-- and then it was Kara Zor-El and Lena Luthor, clutching each other tightly as the dark shattered and light began to flow back into the mindscape.
Lena’s brain chemistry turned in an instant. A massive release of chemicals flooded her body, electrical activity increased in all the right places, and the nanites couldn’t handle the sudden change in environment. They were rendered inert, and Lena’s mind returned to her--
Kon-El strained against the restraints. Threads of Kryptonite floated inside his head, puncturing the parts of his brain that allowed him access to his full range of abilities, but that couldn’t hold him, could it? He knew that the Flamebird entity inside him wasn’t some psychic-self, but a god, something capable of changing the course of entire histories.
So just because his brain--
--The Kryptonite began to lose its radioactive edge inside him--
So just because his brain was--
--The needle tips piercing his brain matter melted into fluid--
So just because his brain was compromised--
--The fire inside his body began to ignite, a realisation fuelling the change--
So just because his brain was compromised by--
--The Flamebird that called his body home began to flap its wings--
So just because his brain was compromised by Brainiac’s---
--The Flamebird that had lived for millennia before now and survived everything thrown at it--
So just because his brain was compromised by Brainiac’s attack--
Kon-El transformed the metal that had bound him to slag, and took flight, his costume burning bright white as he approached his attacker. Brainiac had been distracted by the events unfolding inside Lena’s brain, but was now paying all the attention to his god-like enemy.
“Well, blimey, you’re putting up more of a fight than I expected,” said Milton.
Kon-El spoke, but it wasn’t with his own voice. “Child of Brainiac, your progenitor’s taint has spread across existence for far too long. There are those who will bear your name as a curse until the dying of the universe’s light, but you-- will-- not-- live-- that-- long!”
Milton shrugged and held a finger up. A flat beep was sounding out through the laboratory. “Don’t need to. Hear that? Flatline. You may kill me, but I killed your beloved Superwoman. So--”
He looked back at the beds where Lena and Kara had been laying, but the duo were gone, the inertron restraints holding Luthor down deactivated.
He was about to question this, but before he could, something tight snapped around his temples and he gasped as the Theta Wave Band formerly worn by Superwoman shocked his corrupted system and began to wrestle with the nanites that flooded his body.
Across the room, Lena was propped up by Superwoman. The two friends held hands, fortified each other, and with a nod from Kara, Kon raised his hand and burned the nanites out of Milton’s body.
“You-- don’t-- know--” hissed Milton, words tumbling out his mouth with great difficulty.
“We know enough,” said Kara.
Fine shook his head viciously. “I-- know-- where-- he is-- your-- beloved-- cousin-- and now--” The Englishman suddenly screamed, vomited a viscous, almost-grey matter, and then collapsed. The battle was over.
Kon checked the man’s lifesigns and found a faint pulse, but the taint of Brainiac was gone-- so what was Milton Fine now?
Lena staggered forward, concern shaping her face. “W-what about the doomsday devices? The things… the things Brainiac made me do?”
Kara smiled and ran her hand down Lena’s cheek. It was an intimate gesture, but she couldn’t help herself. Even after everything the Brainiac infection had done to her-- made her do-- her first thought was of those who might be hurt. She was a Luthor in name only, this only reinforced that fact.
“It’s okay. Karen and the others took care of it. The world’s safe.”
All around the room, monitors showed the Justice League, the All-Stars, the Titans, every super-team the world had ever known saving it. Multiple villains had been released thanks to the long game Luthor had left running in his absence; the moon was safe, so was the colony that thrived upon it. Kryptonite weapons had been destroyed before they could disperse deadly radiation into the atmosphere; the sun shone yellow, the red solar accelerators being destroyed before they could deploy.
And there was Power Girl, triumphant, having led the charge.
“She… is brilliant…” said Lena, swaying uncomfortably from side to side.
“She really is,” replied Superwoman. She could see what was about to happen and moved to catch her dearest friend.
“And… so… are you,” said Lena, before passing out completely.
“How is she?” asked Karen.
“She’ll survive this,” said Kara.
The two women who considered themselves sisters-- albeit separated by parallel dimensions-- sat in an ice cream shop in down town Queensland. This was where they’d came nine years back, after this world’s Superman-- Kara’s Kal-El-- had left Earth, and the young Supergirl struggled to cope. Liquid nitrogen ice cream. And it was their regular ever since, a place they could get away from the world at large. They were just two women, two sisters, who enjoyed each other’s company and the treats on offer.
Power Girl smiled. “Well, you know what I like about this whole situation?”
“Lex Luthor is a confirmed bastard. He was exonerated after that whole Red Son thing, and they thought he was a hero when he joined Lois and the Challengers on that deep space exodus to find your cousin. But he made a deal with Brainiac. Brainiac. A deal to cannibalise his daughter’s body in the hopes of killing you. I don’t care what kind of spin you put on that. Lex Luthor is a bastard, and now all his doomsday plans are done with. It’s a clean slate, isn’t it?”
“Yeah… I guess…”
“It’s still a damn shame Lena had to go through everything she did, but it’s… we’re done. Lex Luthor is done. If he ever comes back, that’s… that’s another thing. But he’s done. Clean slate. Yeah.”
“Use your words, Karen,” said Kara.
“Ah, shaddap. Where is she now?”
“Recuperating at the Fortress. Away from it.”
“And what about you?”
“What about me?”
“You never told me how you saved her. Just that you did. What’s going on there?”
“What do you mean?”
“Kara…” said Karen, leaning toward her sister-from-another-dimension, eyebrows raised and knowing.
“I need to talk to her first. About everything. And then… well, that’s tomorrow, isn’t it?”
“It’s all for tomorrow, sis. Everything we do. I’ll see you next week, okay? Tell Lena I’m thinking about her. But remember. Every good deed. Every act of heroism… it’s about securing the future. About showing the universe that every step we take is for the betterment of today, or yesterday.”
“It’s for tomorrow,” agreed Superwoman.
The two Kryptonians embraced, and then Kara departed, headed south…
FORTRESS OF SOLITUDE:
“I guess it’s back to stage one,” said Lena, looking out across the icy glacier the Fortress of Solitude was built on. She’d asked to come to the quiet, cold wasteland to recuperate. She was wrapped tight in a thick coat, a hat covering her peach fuzz-covered scalp, and the northern lights danced over her head as she contemplated what came next.
“What do you mean?” asked Kara.
She was dressed casually, jogging bottoms and a black tank top, bare feet crunching the snow between her toes. The cold didn’t bother her, and she didn’t like to pretend it did.
Pulling off her hat and running her fingers across her scalp, Lena sounded dejected. “I just became a full-fledged super villain. My hair’s gone. Gone but coming back, thank god. But I teamed up with Brainiac. After everything, I was my dad. I could have ended the world if it wasn’t for you…”
“None of that was you. You weren’t yourself. No one thinks you’re responsible.”
Lena shrugged. “Brainiac used me though. Rode me like a rocket, aimed straight at you. I was too weak. Too stupid.”
“I don’t blame you. I blame myself. I made a mistake distancing myself from you after Kru sacrificed himself on New Krypton. I blamed you, and that was so stupid. But I got so caught up in it that I left you, and I don’t… I don’t want that to ever happen again.”
Lena looked over at Kara and smiled. “I don’t blame you, either. I didn’t like it… But I understood. And I guess, I guess I thought you’d come around after a while? But now you have! And we’re good. We are. But… well… there is one thing we should probably… talk about…”
“Lena… our lives are so crazy. So big and loud and bright and so, so stupid. I bounce around this dimension, the fourth, the fifth, I travel to alien worlds, alternate dimensions, I fight monsters and villains and sometimes heroes, and I do it all because I think it’s the right thing to do. I thought I was doing it to honour Kal, but it’s more than that. He’s been gone for so long, nine years now, nearly ten, and I think he’ll come back one day, but I do this for me. I do this because I want to do it. But… I’m ranting, I’m sorry, I haven’t said this out loud, but sometimes I want normal. I want what everybody else has. You know, in a couple of months, two of the best people I know are getting married? They found an… an oasis of calm, of each other, in this business we all run around in. And I want that. I… I want that with you.”
Lena blinked. “You…”
Kara turned away and looked up at the Aurora Borealis effect as it floated above their head. She loved the view here. Absolutely adored it. “Yeah, I love you. I’ve always loved you. Rao, I've loved you since I lit your cigarette outside Camp K, in the pouring rain. You were so beautiful, and smart and funny.”
“You said… you hoped my being Lex’s daughter and you being Superman’s cousin didn’t mean we were archenemies,” said Lena, remembering the events like they had taken place only yesterday. “And that I could really mess up your life if I wanted to.”
“And here’s me, messing both our lives up without any assistance…”
Superwoman looked at Lena. Bright emerald eyes twinkled in the night time, and she could count every single freckle across her cheeks if she wanted to. She had in the past, when they were alone, lost in thought but too scared to tell her the truth. And as Kara looked at her, Lena marvelled at this woman. More beautiful than anybody she’d ever known. Those cerulean eyes that seemed to glow, that were like stars…
Lena leaned forward and the two women kissed, the kind of kiss that was always supposed to happen. The kind of kiss that had never been exchanged before because of mutual stupidity. Luthor felt like she was in the presence of a sun, a throbbing, pulsing heat moving from Kara’s lips to her own, and she felt like was the most important person in the world. In this moment, she was the everything, the ultimate to this woman, and the feeling was shared. Superwoman had wanted this for so long, had let so many excuses defer its arrival.
“Oh, you know what?” whispered Lena, their mouths parting.
“This would really mess up my dad,” replied Lena, her low chuckle causing Kara to join in, her sing-song laughter echoing out across the Antarctic plateau surrounding them.
After a few minutes more, basking in the presence of one another, illuminated by the northern lights overhead, the two headed to the Fortress of Solitude. Whatever would happen tomorrow would happen tomorrow, but now, in this moment, in this perfect slice of time, they were the happiest they’d ever been. Nothing else mattered.
NEVER THE END
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NEXT TIME, IN SUPERWOMAN: The return of Lionel Luthor! Lone wolf and Zod! The final days of the Phantom Zone! The marriage of the next millennium! The identity of the brand new Nightwing revealed! All that, and more, as the adventure continues…!