#48: Seventy Two Hours, Part 1 (of 3) Nov 20, 2018 12:44:07 GMT -5
Post by Charlie on Nov 20, 2018 12:44:07 GMT -5
THE FORTRESS OF SOLITUDE, ANTARCTICA
Deep inside the belly of the Fortress of Solitude, Kara Zor-El tentatively walked up the stairs leading to the departure platform. “How long until they arrive?” she asked, looking down.
“A few minutes, if that,” came Kal-El’s reply, as he followed, carrying her conspicuously light suitcase.
She looked up and saw fragments of crystal reflect her concerned expression back at herself, but she knew that it was just nerves-- there wasn’t anything to be worried about. The air was full of static, which her cousin informed her was perfectly normal, but it caused her hair to begin to drift upwards of its own accord, undoing any sense of style she’d tried to impart upon it prior to her exodus.
“When their Time Sphere is about to arrive, the air fills with this kind of distortion” Superman said, grinning. He held up his hand and noted the thin hairs on the back of his hands rise. “I’ve always loved it. It’s like reality is anticipating the change. Like a cosmic drumroll.”
Kara shivered, and rubbed her shoulders. “Feels weird. I don’t know if I like it…”
“Are you okay? Feeling a bit nervous?” asked Kal.
She managed a faint smile. “Oh, I don’t know… it’s something new and different, which is exciting in a way, but… I’m already a stranger here… and… I don’t want to feel like a stranger somewhere else, too.”
Clark nodded, placing her luggage down beside them and resting his hands on his young cousin’s shoulders in as comforting a gesture as he could manage. “When I was a kid, and I was beginning to manifest my powers, it was like a whole new world opened to me… but at the same time, that meant my old world began to close off from me. When Garth, Imra and Rokk appeared on Bannerman Road after school one day, all bright costumes and warm smiles, the three of them flying around without a care in the world, it was like… it was like I finally had people like me to talk to. Who understood me. And all of a sudden, I wasn’t so alone.”
Kara sighed. “I know what you’re saying, Kal… but it’s… it’s the future. I’m barely used to the present…”
Kaleidoscopic lightning fluctuated from inside the invisible folds of reality as they became visible, and a shape began to materialise-- the Legion of Super-Heroes’ Time Sphere was beginning to solidify in the present day!
Meanwhile, Superman squeezed his young cousin’s shoulder and said, “Give it a shot. I think you’ll be surprised by how much fun you’re going to have. And if you want to come home, all you have to do is ask. The Legion will do the rest.”
The Time Sphere finally manifested completely, and inside the futuristic time machine Kal could see Brainiac 5, Lightning Lad and Saturn Girl. The latter pair waved enthusiastically, while the former glanced up from the controls and gave a curt nod.
Never change, Brainy, thought Superman.
“Is that… a Brainiac?” asked Kara.
The Man of Steel wore a comforting expression on his face. He replied, “Only the best one. And by that, I mean he’s not evil. Condescending at the worst of times, but not evil.”
“Uh… I’m not so sure about this,” she said. Her heart rate increased audibly, and Kal regretted not telling her about Brainiac 5’s presence, considering her experience with the Collector of World’s in her own timeline…
“Querl isn’t so bad once you get to know him!” exclaimed Saturn Girl cheerfully, as she stepped out of the time ship.
“C’mon, that’s not saying much,” retorted Lightning Lad, following close after her.
“You haven’t changed one bit,” said Superman, embracing the pair of them tightly.
“ooof, Sprock, did you get stronger?” asked Lightning Lad, feigning being winded.
“He’s just happy to see us,” said Saturn Girl, before adding, “But, wow, yes, he’s stronger.”
“I’m always happy to see you. Kara, this is Garth and Imra, two of my oldest friends.”
Imra smiled and waved. “Rokk would have been here, but he’s leading the security detail for Mister Brande’s diplomatic envoy to New Tortuga.”
“They don’t care about the details, Im! Sufficed to say, Cos is off playing space pirates and we got the better assignment.” Garth looked over to Kara. “Hello, Supergirl. Excited to see the 31st century?”
“Sure, I guess,” said Kara. She wasn’t convincing.
“We need to get moving. I’m reading a tachyon crest headed toward this timeframe. I don’t want to be here when it hits,” said Brainiac 5, popping his head out of the Time Sphere.
Kal-El may not have been a scientist specialising in temporal mechanics, but he enough for his innate sense of concern to spike. “Brainy, if that’s the case, are you sure it’s safe to travel?”
“Yeah, Brainy--?” repeated Supergirl.
The Coluan genius exhaled exasperatedly. “Would I be offering to ferry your cousin from one end of the timeline to another if I wasn’t?”
Garth grinned and took Kara’s suitcase from Kal. “You heard the man! Toot toot, all aboard the Time Sphere, next stop, the year 3009!” He leaned over to Imra. “'Toot toot', that’s a topical 21st century idiom, right?”
With Saturn Girl laughing and shaking her head, Supergirl followed the pair of Legionaries into the Time Sphere, and then waved at Superman meekly as Brainiac 5 worked the controls. Kal returned the gesture with a broad smile, and then felt the air energise as the time vessel faded from view.
The four of them had vanished, travelled from their current timeline into one located a thousand years into the future, and leaving the Fortress of Solitude hanging in an eerie silence-- that was only broken when the kaleidoscopic lightning returned with a vengeance!
“What in God’s na--?” started Superman, but he was interrupted when time and space abruptly folded in on itself, and then, with the air suddenly smoking, there was an explosion of concussive energy that sent him flying backwards-- though he caught himself before he smashed through the crystal shards that made up this section of the Fortress of Solitude’s interior.
“That smarted…” He mumbled, before he saw what now occupied the departure platform.
A ship, clearly Kryptonian in design, but filled with an energy matrix that obscured the interior. Before he could question what it was, or the situation he now found himself in because of it, a door hissed open and white vapor poured out…
“Ooph, I wasn’t expecting that… she... she really needs to work on her definition of ‘plain-sailing’…” came a familiar voice from inside the ship.
“Hello? Who’s in there?” Kal asked. He squinted, focusing his vision, but the tachyon aura around the ship caused his attempts to peer through the thick veil to fail. But even as he tried, the roiling mist cleared as a woman emerged, clad in a familiar yet different costume.
Superman’s brow creased. “What in…?”
Kara Zor-El, clearly older, her hair shorter and her eyes bright and full of life, rushed over to her cousin and embraced him, lifting him off his feet.
“Kara… what happened to you?” he asked.
She beamed, and said, “Well, do I have one heck of a story to tell you…!”
Issue Forty-Eight: “Seventy-Two Hours”
Part One (of Three): “Loose Ends”
WILKINS / IBARRA
(This story takes place before Superman #1)
Kelex buzzed around the older Kara Zor-El, taking readings and analysing her cellular structure. She was stood on a circular platform, lights drifting down from the scanner array above her head, and she was currently enjoying the way the shafts of light were reflecting on the helper droid’s golden chassis.
“It’s just so we’re sure, Kara,” Kal said, checking over the crystalline control strut that relayed information directly to him. “The number of visitors I get claiming to be someone from my past, present or future… Batman tells me I’m too trusting, and I’ve been bitten in the backside before.”
“Don’t worry, Kal. I get it,” she replied, closing her eyes and enjoying the sensation of light dancing across her skin. He considered her face, the slight smile on her lips, and hoped that this was his cousin, because she looked so happy, and that’s all he ever wanted for his younger cousin.
Kelex’s thin, oblong head swivelled around and faced the Man of Steel, and in his high-pitched, mechanical voice, said, <<Bzzt all analyses return the same conclusion, sir. This is Kara Zor-El, though the tachyon particles infusing her cells suggest she has travelled from at least ten years in the future to the present.>> His head swivelled back to face the Woman of Steel, and he added, <<Welcome back to our present, mistress Kara.>>
Kara stroked the underside of Kelex’s head, what might have been considered his cheek, and replied, “Thank you, old friend.”
Kal breathed a sigh of relief. “You’ll have to explain this all to me, Kara. You were headed to the future with the Legion--”
She floated off the platform and headed toward her cousin. “Now, before you start to worry, I don’t get stranded in the 31st Century for that long. I’m from the future, sure, but I get back from my time with the Legion lickety-split, and life goes on. I’m from, by our estimation, nearly twelve years into the future. It gets fuzzy, because of the nature of our lives, but yeah, I’m twenty-eight, but last time you saw me I was sixteen.”
“And your birthday…” started Kal. It was another test, and by her smirk, she could clearly tell.
“…Is on Monday. At least, that’s my Kryptonian birth date extrapolated to the Gregorian calendar. We both know the anniversary of my arrival to Earth is February 6th, right? Listen, the Fortress has been running all kinds of tests since I landed, so you know I’m not a clone, a shape-shifter, or even a parallel universe version of your cousin-- or evil-- hey, have you met Ultragirl yet? Or even Ultraman?”
He shook his head. It did nothing to stop his mind from spinning. “Ultra--? No, I can’t say that I have…”
She held up her hands in surrender. “I’m blowing your mind. I’m sorry! I’m just excited. It’s… well. It’s been a while since I last saw you. Saw your properly, I mean. It’s a long story.”
“And you probably shouldn’t tell me the details… time travel and altering the timelines…”
She gave him a quick smile. “You’ve hung out with Rip Hunter too? She always gives me that line.”
Kal pursed his lips, then said, “Kara… why are you here?”
“That can wait! First, I want to get out of here. I only have seventy-two hours in this timeframe before my younger self returns from the 31st century. Time travel to this era from the future has become increasingly difficult, so that’s why I had to wait until my past-self left before I could arrive. Usually, it would be fine, but in this instance, we needed as much help as we could get to stick the landing.”
“‘We’?” asked Superman.
“I’ll explain everything, I promise. But first, can we get some air? The Fortress is all well and good, but I want to see the sky.”
With no reason to argue, and the Fortress of Solitude confirming this strange visitor’s identity, the pair exited the crystalline alien palace and headed up into the skies, moving north until they were over the Indian Ocean. They travelled in silence, Kal watching Kara smile and laugh as she skimmed her hand across the ocean and marvelled at the sights before her.
She finally broke the silence, saying, “It feels different. Ten years removed, and the ambient radiation in the air isn’t what it is in the future. Different satellite transmissions, different background noise… it’s like the past is a whole new song that I never got to hear when I was younger.”
“You’re listening to the background noise? All of it?” Kal asked.
“Not actively, but I can hear the reverberations… like white noise. My powers are slightly different to the way yours are now. They developed in… hmm, well. It’s another--”
“--Long story?” offered Superman.
“Exactly. We had different childhoods, different frames of reference. My abilities are not predicated on an upbringing in Smallville, unlike your own. That’s not an insult, but an evolutionary tweak that our Kryptonian genetics offer under the light of a yellow sun.”
“Kara, the Fortress confirmed what my eyes-- my senses-- have already told me. I know you’re you, but the thing is… time travel and our type don’t go hand in hand easily. Usually we do this kind of thing to prevent some great disaster, to save the day in the past before the world ends in the future. Are you sure you’re not here because we have an apocalypse incoming?”
“I promise. I’m allowing myself a slither of selfishness, and I hope you won’t hold it against me.”
Superman smiled warmly. “All we do, all we fight for, and you choose to spend your spare time with family? It’s good to know that the values I hoped to share with you in my present have followed through to yours.”
“Though it does seem somewhat frivolous to travel backwards in time to hang out with your cousin.”
She laughed. “Never change. Race you to the Daily Planet?”
The pair blitzed across the skies, and within a matter of seconds had arrived in Metropolis, navigating some four thousand miles in the time it took some drivers to manoeuvre out their garages. Superwoman did a quick lap of the Daily Planet’s globe, landing on the roof of the metropolitan newspaper’s headquarters as Superman caught up with her.
“You’re fast,” he said.
“You let me win,” she replied, chuckling.
He watched her expression, and then shrugged, “I have no idea what you mean.”
Kara rolled her eyes, then looked out across the city. “Lorra, this city doesn’t change, does it?” She exhaled, let the world in, and as Kal watched, he saw her expression change-- her forehead furrowed with confusion-- “Wait," she said, "do you hear that?”
Superman stepped forward, listened intently. “Nothing stands out. What am I listening for?”
“There’s… some kind of interference. From over there,” she pointed toward the Business District, and her cousin’s eyes followed. “It’s like… oh, Rao. No.”
“What’s wrong, Kara?”
“Brainiac,” she whispered.
When Krypton and her denizens perished thanks to the machinations of General Zod-- if you didn’t know the centuries-spanning legend of Superman-- you might have thought that would be the end of it.
Long dead, her population wary of interstellar travel and therefore never having really explored the depths of space surrounding them, billions died deep in the void, and that… should have been that.
But deep within the Phantom Zone, Kryptonian criminals and monsters lurked… protected from the apocalyptic end of their home world by their imprisonment in the ghost dimension, but with nowhere to go. Nowhere to hide. What could they do, but wait? Wait for an opportunity to make their escape…
…And for some, it came. The cruel General Zod, his beloved Faora and the corrupted Kru-El found a crack in the membranes of reality and made their exit from the confines of the Phantom Zone, then attempted to exert their will on Earth… but Superman stood victorious against the odds, and that… should have been that.
But deep within the Phantom Zone, there was a beast, genetically engineered for one thing and one thing alone. When Krypton died, its sole purpose was nearly rendered moot, but then… rocketing from the doomed world… there was a survivor… a legend waiting to be born…
And the phantom beast couldn’t help but track the survivor across the dark aeons of space… an instinct-driven journey that would take decades… and when it found the survivor…
…Who knew what would happen?
OVER THE METROPOLIS BUSINESS DISTRICT:
“What do you know of Brainiac?” Superwoman asked, her eyes slits as she surveyed the skyline, searching for something she hadn’t explained to her cousin.
Superman thought back, “I’ve faced versions of him since I was a young man. Each time, he’s wearing a different body. Organic. Cybernetic. Each time, monstrous. He had ties to Krypton, but I’ve never been able to get any answers from him. He likes to keep his secrets close to his chest.”
“Avatars. We’ve never met the true Brainiac. I’ve heard mention of him… some kind of… ‘Brainiac Prime’. Every version we’ve seen is some facet of the original… they all want to gather information, and… there… it’s over there!”
“That’s the Galaxy Communications Building,” said Superman.
She thought hard on that. “Galaxy… Morgan Edge, right?”
“Yes. He’s been on a tear recently. Getting his hooks into the twenty-four-hour media cycle, with a definite mad on for the superhero community,” he replied. “A year or so ago, his building was attacked…* I never did find out the reason behind it, but he had more ammunition to continue his crusade against me. There was a Superwoman then as well... the details are foggy...”
*Adventure Comics #11
“Another Superwoman? That’s a weird coincidence. But in a couple of years’ time, Morgan Edge vanishes from the city-- the planet-- without a trace. I think we’re about to find out why. His entire building is emitting some kind of… distortion effect. I can hear it, playing with the localised electronic signals, replacing whatever’s underneath with… whatever he wants us to hear.”
“You’re losing me,” said Superman.
“You know how I was telling you my powers are different? I can hear electronic signals on a much higher frequency that you can. My senses are sharper, but I don’t throw as mean a right hook as you. For everything I gain, there are some things I lose. Anyway, there’s something absolutely alien about whatever that signal is masking.”
“So, Brainiac?” offered Superman.
“I think so. Listen, Kal, when I was a little girl, I heard stories about Brainiac on Krypton. For decades, he was the planet’s administrative program. They called it a ‘Brain interactive AI construct’. But I later discovered… in the future I mean… that it was all a deception. I discovered that the system’s creator-- and our ancestor-- Im-El was corrupted by Brainiac and worn like a skin-suit by that monster so he could insert himself behind the scenes of Krypton. It took his sons Pir and Yu, decades later, to save the world from his malignant influence…”
“I didn’t know…” Kal admitted.
“There’s so much we don’t know about that sociopathic monster. Shall we try to get some answers today?”
Superman nodded. Thoughts rushed through his mind, but he dismissed them-- he was with his cousin, after all. They leaped forward-- and landed inside the board room of Galaxy Communications, where Morgan Edge was currently holding court with his senior staff.
“What is the meaning of this?” bellowed the CEO.
Superwoman beamed. “Oh, wow. That really is impressive.”
Superman could see her squinting ever so slightly in Edge’s direction-- what could she see that he couldn’t? He cleared his throat, “I’m sorry for interrupting what I’m sure was a very important meeting, but we have reason to believe that an alien presence has--”
“Alien presence?! You’re the only alien presence I can see! That we can all see!” declared Morgan, interrupting the Man of Tomorrow mid-sentence.
“Uh, Mister Edge, should we--?” started Josh Coyle, one of the senior producers.
“Yes! Get a film crew in here! I’m sick to death of these so-called super’heroes’ running around like they own the world! I’m being harassed! Last time something like this happened, dozens died! In this very building!”
“I won’t let that happen again,” said Superman.
“That suit of yours is really state-of-the-art, bleeding edge, Morgan,” said Superwoman, taking a step forward. “If I didn’t know to look deeper, I would think that you were a perfectly normal human being, albeit with high blood pressure and what appears to be an over-active sweat gland… all very in-keeping with the CEO of a right-wing news corporation.”
“Wh-what are you going on about?” said Morgan, as Coyle beckoned a camera crew into the room.
Cindy Miles, WGBS’ on-the-spot reporter, had her hair quickly prepared as the crew started rolling. Superman’s ears picked up hurried chatter downstairs in the newsroom, where the news was about to cut to the camera feed being relayed from the boardroom.
Superwoman wasn’t deterred by anything, though. She continued forward, saying in a calm voice, “This entire building is setup like an antenna. You’re beaming information out in the form of broadcasts, but there’s a carrier wave drawing information in, and whoever built it is smart enough to hide their work. But my eyes are a little bit different from my cousin’s, and a little bit different from everybody else’s on this planet. I can see right through you… Brainiac.”
Edge threw his hands up in the air. “Brainiac? Who the hell are you to say that? Superman, take your clearly insane female friend here and get the hell out of my building! I’ll get a restraining order out against you! Against all you caped freaks!” He arched his neck toward the open boardroom doors. “Laura! Hey! Someone find Laura Conway! Get her to call Captain Sawyer! This time, Superman’s gone too far!”
“Rude,” said Superwoman. “I mean, at least my name-calling is accurate…”
Cindy held her microphone up to Kara’s mouth. “Miss, excuse me, miss-- are you saying that Morgan Edge, CEO of Galaxy Broadcasting, is actually Brainiac in disguise?”
Morgan slammed his hand down on the meeting table. “Cindy, don’t ask such a ridiculous--”
Kara leaned forward toward Miles’ microphone. “Why, yes. Yes, I am.”
“Do you have evidence to prove that?” The journalist asked. “And on top of that, just who are you?”
“I’m Superwoman. And evidence? How’s this?”
She breathed in, then stuck two fingers between her lips and whistled at a pitch that none of the humans gathered could hear, though Superman felt the hairs on the back of his neck rise up, and Morgan Edge cried out as sparks flew from his mouth, and smoke blew from his ears.
He collapsed backwards, twitching uncontrollably, and then the entire building began to rumble.
“What did you do?” Superman asked.
“Blew out his command circuits, forced his consciousness out of his body, and into--”
<This Does Not Compute--> bellowed a voice across the building’s intercom.
A massive, skeletal face pushed out of the wall directly in front of the gathered men and women, with three signature discs embedded across its forehead.
<This Should Not Be Possible-- What Are You?-- Kirlian Bafflers And Ambient Sensory Displacement Engines Were Fully Operational-- What Are You?>
“Hello, Brainiac. I’m Superwoman. I’m from the future. And you? You deserve everything that’s about to come your way,” said Superwoman, cracking her knuckles.
The face shuddered, crackling, mechanical rage spread across its features. <You Have No Concept Of What You Have Done Here!>
Superman smiled. “I mean, I think we have some concept.”
Cindy looked at Josh, who looked at the cameraman, who was levelling his camera on Superman as they all listened to the grating, tinny voice booming out of the wall and throughout the structure, and then, a split-second later, all of Galaxy’s employees were stood out on the streets surrounding the building, the Els working in tandem to clear any possible innocent life from the line of fire.
Cindy was hurriedly talking into the camera that was still rolling, as they beamed their story out across the airwaves. “…It has just been revealed that Galaxy Broadcasting CEO Morgan Edge in fact the alien terrorist Brainiac… as soon as we have more information, we will share it with you, but Superman and his ally, ‘Superwoman’, are currently confronting the threat as we speak…”
“I feel like we should have discussed a plan before we jumped into this situation,” said Superman, looking up at ap Galaxy Communications Building as it shook violently.
Sirens began to blare as the Metropolis Special Crimes Unit approached, but the pair of Kryptonians were already floating upward, heading back to the danger they'd uncovered.
Superwoman bobbed her head from side to side as she considered his point, “I’m sorry. Brainiac did something really nasty to somebody I care greatly for, and it made me a bit trigger happy when it comes to his appearances. You’re completely right, though. I’m kind of winging it. That’s not me. Not usually, I mean.”
“Seems like I’m just as bad. Let’s knock this on the head.”
“And punch it in the face?” asked Superwoman.
“When have I ever been able to say no to my favourite cousin?”
The pair dove back into the building, and Superman followed Superwoman as the face that had formed moments before rippled across the walls and into the ceiling, until it ended up in Edge’s office, where a body was hastily being constructed from stray parts that appeared out the floor, the walls, the desk… wet chunks of metallic substances were melding with fleshy slabs of meat, combining into what the pair assumed to be a new host avatar for Brainiac!
“Well, that’s disgusting,” said Superwoman.
Superman tilted his head. “What, in all the time you’ve been doing this, you’ve never seen a robot build himself a new body from the inside out?”
“Umm… no?” she replied.
<This Was Only Ever Intended To Be A Mission Of Mass Intelligence Gathering--> croaked the newly formed mouth of Brainiac, speaking in a staccato electronic modulation. <The Subtle Collection Of <<Error>> All Earth’s Data, And Then This Unit Would Have Left Without My Presence Having Ever Been Detected.>
“Explains why Edge vanished without a trace in the future,” mused Superwoman.
“Then why the crusade against the superhero community?” pushed Superman.
There was a pause, and the new body Brainiac was building began to glitch and twitch, human components beginning to be placed where robotic parts should be, like it was torn between two templates. <Because-- Morgan Edge-- <<Error>>-- Whose Identity This Unit Usurped-- Despised You-- With Every Fibre Of His Finite Being-->
“Rao, I get it,” said Superwoman.
Superman gave her a look. “You do?”
“Yes-- he’s absolutely bonkers! Look at him! He doesn’t know if he’s coming or going!”
“Brainiac, you need to stand down. I don’t know what’s going on with you, but--”
<This Unit Will Not who are you to tell me what to do? I’m Morgan Edge! I’m <<Error>> There Is An <<Error>> The Civil War Is Still Ongoing The Prime Is Required The Prime you won’t get away with this, you won’t-- <<Error!!>>>
The body Brainiac had reconstructed was a patchwork of skeletal monster and seething Morgan Edge, sparks flying from his chattering mouth and his eyes spinning in their sockets-- it was an unholy sight that made no sense to the pair of Kryptonians, but it was clear something was building to a crescendo--
“Oh, boy,” whispered Superman.
“Absolutely bonkers,” repeated Superwoman.
“--Whoa! The walls just became energized, there’s a massive build-up--” said Superman, his eyes flashing.
“--I see it! We need to get clear! The entire building just became a massive bomb!”
“The civilians--” started Superman.
Superwoman agreed. “--Get the foundations--”
“--Then we can--” he added.
“--Yes! Go go go--!”
Within a matter of seconds, they’d yanked the entirety of the Galaxy Communications Building from its moorings on the streets of Metropolis and lifted it up into the air. Waves of energy warped the air around the structure, and as soon as it was disconnected, alien technology was exposed beneath the concrete! The pair flew-- up, up and away-- into the skies, through the atmosphere, and into space, where they threw the GCB away from the Earth and toward the sun, where it detonated harmlessly away from the planet.
The duo nodded at each other, and then headed back to Metropolis. As they neared the crime scene, Kara said, “Look, I’m a stranger in this time, no one really knows me, so do you mind if you talk to the authorities? I’m just a distraction, the facts are the facts and I think we just cleared something up in a big way. That’s a win in my book.”
“What are you going to do?” he asked.
“I told you I was here for a reason. Meet me in Smallville in two hours?”
“You’re going to see Ma?” Clark said, his taking on a hushed tone so nobody nearby could overhear.
“Yes, and I’ll explain everything. Don’t worry! She’s seen so much, and she’ll see a whole lot more. Who do you think taught you to take everything in your stride?”
“I mean… that much makes sense. I’ll give her a call though, just let her know you’re coming. And who you are,” he replied.
“If you insist. And when we settle down to dinner, I’ll explain everything. I promise.”
Superman gave a nod, before asking, “Are you sure you’re okay?”
“We just kicked Brainiac in the teeth! Of course I’m okay!” she replied, beaming as she exited the scene.
NEW YORK CITY:
Karen Starr had another name, one she barely used anymore.
Kara Zor-L to be precise, the Last Daughter of a Krypton that died a parallel world away… in Reality-2. But through a cosmic twist of fate, she’d been marooned on this world-- Earth-1-- and her vibrational signature had shifted so that she couldn’t remain in the universe that was her home*.
*As of Justice Society of America #7-12 & Annual #1, "Crisis on Two Earths!"
It had been years since she’d been anybody but Power Girl, but she’d been a Supergirl once, raised by her cousin, raised to be a hero…
She tried not to think about it.
She did good work on this world, as part of the Justice Society of America and by herself, and Power Girl was something to be proud of, an identity she’d built from the ground up. But still, she saw parts of her life unfolding in different ways on this world, and then there was the fact there was that other Supergirl, the one whose life was so much like her own…
She had been sat on her bed, legs folded in a meditative stance, when the soft voice came from her open window. She looked over and saw her reflection-- except, not. Shorter hair, and a costume so unlike her own and more like…
“…Supergirl?” she said, before shaking her head, and correcting herself. “No, it’s Superwoman, isn’t it?” She jumped off her bed and opened the window wider to accommodate her visitor’s entrance. “I saw the WGBS feed, you helped take down Brainiac in Metropolis an hour ago. What’s your story?”
“Usual deal. Time travel, visiting old haunts, seeing friends, family,” replied Superwoman, as she climbed inside.
“Whoa. You… look a hell of a lot like me,” said Karen, taking in her visitor.
“Well… I am you, in my own distinct way. You’re Kara Zor-L and I’m Kara Zor-El. Except, Reality-2 spins a decade faster, so the Kara Zor-El of the present day is sixteen, and you’re twenty-six… I’m from ten years into the future, give or take, I’m twenty-eight… okay, so I’m from twelve years into the future. I need to be more specific with this whole thing.”
“I mean, my birthday is on Monday…” said Karen. “Twenty-seven…” she added, with a groan.
“Same… and that’s why I’m here,” said Kara. “Twenty-nine… don’t remind me…”
Karen allowed herself a giggle, then said, “I think you probably need to turn the clock back a bit more than you have already, because my mind is already blown and I’m barely keeping up with you as is.”
Kara grinned. “I’m organising a dinner, and I happen to know you have no plans tonight."
"How's that?" asked Karen.
Superwoman smiled, and almost laughing, replied, "I asked you. Twelve years in the future. Thing is, Karen... you're kinda my biggest, bestest sister where-- when-- I come from. And it wouldn't be right to have a family get together without my fave."
Karen blinked. Earth-2 may not have been readily accessible, but this woman in front of her, spitting image that she was, exuded the kind of familial aura that she'd sensed when meeting the Kal-L of that world, whom she'd only seen sporadically since their discovery of each other's existence. He'd thought her lost, she'd lost her memories of her life before Earth-1, but just being in each other's presence... there was an energy to that, and she could feel that again, radiating between this 'Superwoman' and herself.
And it felt good.
"Well?" said Superwoman.
Karen swallowed. “Kara… that really does depend..." She paused, then said, "What’re we eating?”
This may be the past, but Kara Zor-El was warmed by the fact that somethings-- like her relationship with her ‘older sister’ from another universe-- didn’t change.
“So she’s your cousin… but from the future?” said Lois Lane, incredulously.
“…Well, yeah,” said Clark, as the pair walked up the drive toward Kent Farm. “When you put the emphasis on it like that, it does sound kind of crazy.”
It was the early evening, and they’d flown from Metropolis to Smallville slow enough to enjoy the trip, but fast and subtle enough to avoid detection by any number of the tracking systems that might wonder what a blip on the radar the shape of a man was doing zipping from state to state.
“And that’s not absolutely crazy to you?”
“I mean, it’s a Friday night,” he replied. “Pretty much like any other. Wednesdays are usually worse…”
She laughed, and said, “I will never get over how crazy your life is, and how easy you accept that fact.”
He placed an arm around her shoulders, and said, “I have so many stories to tell you. Like when Red Robin journeyed from twenty years in the future to help prevent the end of the world in his timeline*, or when the Shrike travelled from ten years in the future to… help prevent the end of the world in his timeline**.”
*Justice League #35-37
**Justice League #45
“But doesn’t causality… and the butterfly effect… and all that, I don’t know, ‘time science’… mean that doing one might prevent the other from ever happening, and then cause something else, something worse, from happening instead?”
“And you wonder why I accept these things, and don’t try to think too hard about them,” he replied. “Oh, and Red Robin and the Shrike were the same person a decade apart and neither mentioned the other. That’s another thing.”
Lois rolled her eyes. “The same person. Right. Okay, I’m going to quickly move on from that headache. Did she say why she travelled back to our time?”
“No, she’s been a bit cagey about that bit, but I think that’s why we’re here. I can hear her in the farmhouse, she’s with Ma… oh, and Kon is inside… and… huh.”
“Nothing’s wrong, it’s just I can hear Power Girl. I sometimes… hmm. I sometimes forget she’s my cousin from a parallel universe. I should include her more in my life.”
“Don’t get introspective, you lug. All you can do is what you do moving forward. Let’s head in and say hey!”
The couple entered, and Martha Kent welcomed them with open arms. “Clark! Lois! Today has been an absolute revelation! Your cousin was telling me all about the future, and I have to say, I’m looking forward to seeing it myself.”
“You told her about the future?” said Clark, looking over at Kara.
“Maybe a bit,” replied Kara, shouting from the kitchen.
Martha laughed. “Oh, don’t give her that look, Clark. She can probably feel you staring daggers through the wall! She’s a grown woman and she knows what’s she’s doing.”
“Yeah, Supes. She knows what she’s doing,” chirped up Kon-El, sat on the coach and drinking a soda while cartoons played on the muted television.
Clark shrugged and held up his hands. “Sorry, sorry. Guess I’m just stuck in my ways.”
He surveyed the scene. Kon was right at home, while Kara and Karen were zipping around the kitchen, making dinner. Lois and Martha were chatting, catching up since the last time they’d spent time together, and Clark… Clark was happy. This was his family. Stretched from one point of the timeline to another and spread across two realities, sure, but family none the less. When was the last time they were together? For the sake of being together?
“So, what’s for dinner?” he asked.
At superspeed and with a pair of deft, culinary hands, Kara and Karen had rustled up a feast, and it was yet another sign that the former was who she said she was-- Martha wouldn’t trust her kitchen to just anybody, after all.
“How are things in New York, Karen?” asked Martha, taking a sip from her glass of wine.
“Oh, you know. The Justice Society keeps me busy, and I don’t have much time for anything else,” she replied.
“That’s a terrible shame,” said Martha.
And untrue, Kara knew. She had spent ten years with Karen in her life, as a mentor, a sister, and she knew her like she knew herself. There was a time, and she’d been through it herself, when she didn’t want a life beyond what she had, because that would mean opening herself up to the world.
“All work and no play…” said Kon.
“Don’t talk with your mouth full, Conner,” said Martha.
He swallowed and wiped his mouth, “Sorry, Ma.”
“You’ll find the time, Karen. I know that much,” said Kara.
“Hey now, I know you’re being a bit of a spoil sport for the rest of the room, but you needn’t worry about me. I don’t need to know my future to put my best foot forward,” said Power Girl.
“So, why are you here?” Lois asked, pointing her fork in Superwoman’s general direction.
Kara shrugged. “It’s my birthday on Monday. This is… this is a present to myself. I wanted to see you, here, now, in this timeframe. Kal… Lois… all of you.”
“…Because I’m not around in yours?” said Clark.
She shook her head. With a sigh, she said, “I know I must come off as a broken record, but it is a long story. We did the science before I departed for this timeline, and nothing I do can-- or will-- change what happens next. Kal, put simply you have to go away for a while. A long while. To save the universe. Not today, not tomorrow, but in a while, you have to go away, and I wanted to see you before that happens.”
“…And I’m gone for ten years?”
“…What?” murmured Lois.
Wordlessly, Martha reached across the table and placed her hand over her soon-to-be daughter-in-law’s.
Kara continued, “Thereabouts, yes. And I’m sorry I can’t do anything about that.”
Clark leaned forward. “And I save it? The universe, I mean?”
“Uh, are you sure we should be having this conversation?” asked Power Girl.
“I kinda wanna know more,” said Kon. “Who’s he fighting?”
Kara replied, “I can’t go into details about that. But of course you save the day-- you’re Superman, for crying out loud. And it’s not just the universe. It’s the whole damn multiverse. Excuse my language, Ma.”
“Oh, I think you’re excused, given the circumstances,” murmured Martha.
Clark returned his backside to his seat. “Good, then it’s not for nothing.”
Kara's eyes were wide like saucers, glistening almost with tears as she heard the sense of overt, tangible good that her cousin projected. She said, “…You really think that, don’t you? Rao, you never change. I love you, Kal. For everything you ever did for me, and for the universe-- the multiverse-- I love you. You’re the best cousin I could have ever asked for. I don’t say it enough when I’m young, because… well, I’m not happy. That changes. But after everything, you must see it, I’m clearly not happy. Krypton. The jungle planet we never got round to naming before the Planetary Conglomerate demolished it*. Two homes, gone. Everything I’d ever known. And sure, I’ve been on Earth for two years by now, but… it did a number on me. Your patience… your infinite reserves of patience, and everything you’ve done to support me, they build me back up again. You’re a beacon, and it lit the way for me to find myself, to become… this.”
*Action Comics #24-30
He smiled, “Kara… you don’t know how much that means to me. I’m always so scared… scared that I can’t be the family to you that you need. And to… oh, man.”
She laughed and stood, rushing around the table so she was beside her cousin. “No no no, don’t cry. You’ll set me off! Let me tell you what I’ve done. I’m in a relationship in the future… and she…” She paused, clearly unsure of what their reaction would be, but when they just kept listening to her, Clark’s gaze steady and without judgement, she continued, “She helped me map a series of events stemming from this timeline. I know every single thing you do tomorrow. Every disaster you avert. Every crisis-- and there's nothing you should worry about, by the way-- I know what’s coming. And it took her months. I didn’t even know until she showed me. She’s the absolute best. You’ll love her. Anyway. Tomorrow… I’m giving you the day off.”
It was Clark’s turn to be incredulous. “…What?”
Power Girl grinned, “This I have to hear.”
Kara ignored her. “You do so much, and I want to give something back to you. I can’t… replace you. But I can stand in for a day. Let you do whatever you want to do with Lois. There’s… there’s dark times ahead. And there’s light at the end of them, but I want… I want to give you some light now, so you have that to hold onto when the dark times arrive.”
“I don’t know what to say…” Clark said.
“Probably ‘thanks’,” said Superboy.
“You don’t have to say anything. From 6am tomorrow until 6am Sunday morning. 24 hours. That’s yours without a care in the world. I’ve got this. And before you fall over yourself, know that I’ve been doing this longer than you have. Two years of Supergirl under my belt, a few more to come, and then ten years of Superwoman. I don’t mean to brag… but I’m really good at this. Let me prove that to you.”
“You don’t have anything to prove to me, Kara,” said Clark. He smiled and looked over at Lois, who was still processing what Kara had said. He didn’t mention it, because he didn’t want to embarrass his cousin-from-the-future, but he had noticed a subtle spike in her heart rate when she mentioned her girlfriend, and he didn’t think it was because she was worried he would be judgemental. It was the rat-a-tat-tat of someone hiding something, and he didn’t know exactly what it was… or why she’d feel the need to hide something from him… but he had to trust that she had her reasons.
“That doesn’t stop me from wanting to prove it,” Kara replied.
“Do you need a hand with it?” Power Girl asked.
“No, I’ve got this. Anything Superman was going to do, I’m going to do. We invented a whole new field of science to make this go without a hitch, that’s how serious I am about all this. So, let’s eat up, enjoy the evening, and then you can plan your Saturday. A day off. No strings attached.”
TO BE CONTINUED!
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