#50: Seventy Two Hours, Part 3 (of 3) Mar 5, 2019 12:38:53 GMT -5
Post by Charlie on Mar 5, 2019 12:38:53 GMT -5
The following takes place before Justice League #75 and Superman #1
CORTINA D'AMPEZZO, SWITZERLAND:
Try telling Lena Luthor what to do.
Go on, give it a shot.
She was the daughter of Lex Luthor of all people, and even the self-declared King of Metropolis couldn't control her.
That was kind of the point, and one she relished. Ever since she was a little girl, she'd bounced from one boarding school to another, barely staying a term, living under aliases, living fakes lives one after other, all to keep her safe and out of the cross-hairs of anyone who might want to spite her father through her.
Nowadays, she only saw her father when he made the time. Not when she wanted to. Never then. And even though her dad was a bit of a bastard, he was still her dad, and that meant it still hurt when he wasn't there for her. So, when she could, she ran. She had an army of LexCorp-employed bodyguards all keeping an eye on her, all charged by her father-- throughout her life-- to make sure she was safe.
And she'd relished ducking out on them. Thoroughly enjoyed making them look really bad at their jobs. She was always testing, poking, prodding, putting that prodigious Luthor intelligence and cunning to the test against the men charged with keeping her safe. A few years ago, she'd met a madman called Jason, and over the course of a month, he'd taught her all sorts of devious tricks to use to cause trouble for her bodyguards.
Except, this time, in Switzerland, she hadn't had a chance to even try to run away. She'd been picked up by a security team from the boarding school in the mountains and ushered into the back of a car. The driver hadn't said anything, but her minder had explained that it was time for a change of scenery due to 'security reasons'. That was an hour ago, and the small convoy they were travelling in hadn't stopped since they’d left the school.
"...Also, your father wanted me to tell you that he's impressed by your grades this semester," said Turk Mandala, the broadest man she'd ever shared a car ride with. Her minder's s cheeks were pocked with scars, and even though he hadn't told her, Lena could tell you the specific type of lupus that caused the damage-- discoid lupus erythematosus. It was also the reason he was bald, but what use was that kind of information to him? He was clearly in his mid-forties, the DLE was clearly in remission, and he had other things to concern himself about.
"Well, that's a lie," said Lena.
Turk didn't blink. This slip of a girl, dressed in black, her red hair bleached and dyed as dark as it could possibly go without falling out, had always leaned toward the oppositionally defiant end of the disorder spectrum, and those big eyes of hers, pure green as you like and capable of staring straight into your of soul, had long since lost their ability to make him lose track of his line of thought.
"Why do you say that?" he asked, his clipped, Afrikaans accent bringing a smile to the young girl's face.
"Knowing my father, he is more likely very disappointed in my grades. I have been sending him a message through them over the last three semesters, after all," she replied.
Turk leaned forward. Her little bouts of madness always amused him. "How so?"
She leaned back and shrugged. "I created a code cypher using degrees of percentages on the top end of the range. Each test I've taken over the last three semesters has been part of a message I've directed at my father."
"Do you think he received your message?" asked Turk.
"We're moving to a new school, somewhere far from here, aren't we? I think he got my message loud and clear," said Lena.
"...If you don't mind me asking, Ms Luthor... what was the message?"
"Ah, you'll like this," she shuffled forward on her seat, as far forward as her seatbelt would allow, and said, "L-E-X I-F Y-O-U U-N-D-E-R-S-T-A-N-D T-H-I-S T-H-E-N G-O F-U-C--"
Before she could finish, their car was struck side on by something at such a high speed that it caused their vehicle it to spin uncontrollably with them inside. "--Kkkkkk!!" Lena cried out, snapped back into her seat violently.
Turk grimaced as he was thrown back in his seat as the car spun, but he kept one eye on Lena, who-- for the first time since meeting her-- looked legitimately concerned. There was a sound, like air being shot out of a pressured container, and then an explosion of noise and chaos as the back of the armoured car was suddenly crushed by the weight of the armoured car that had once been behind them in the convoy.
Turk immediately drew his weapon and unbuckled his seat belt. He checked on Lena, made sure she was okay, and then looked past her to the driver. "Sit-rep!" he barked.
The driver spun around, "We're surrounded on all sides, sir! Some kind of pow--" His head dissolved following the same pressurised sound, and the glass next to him crumbled to nothing. Turk wanted to swear, but not in front of the client, he told himself.
There were noises above their heads, by their sides, and the bodyguard knew, without a shadow of a doubt, that they were surrounded. He reached for his briefcase, where his panic button was situated, but then a hand smashed through the reinforced glass and pointed an accusing finger at his hand-- the pressurised sound rang out inside the cab of the car, and Turk's hand dissolved into a red mist.
He didn't scream. He didn't want to scare Lena. He aimed his gun at the arm and managed to fire off a few shots to where he assumed the torso would be. The bullets were a proprietary LexCorp design, and not available for purchase. The rounds were extremely dense and contained a more powerful charge to allow for higher muzzle velocity. Armour piercing plus, and more than capable of taking out a metahuman attacker. The tips of the bullets were semi-depleted Kryptonite, deadly to an alien, but not radioactive enough to irradiate your holster.
The armoured attacker cried out as his armour crumpled inward, and then went quiet when the back of his chest opened up, so you could see all the way through. With his stub of an arm, Turk bundled Lena up, and said, "Follow my lead, move fast, keep your head down."
He kicked the door behind them open, and the pair were met by the cold mountain air. And nine more armoured attackers. They all pointed their fingers at Turk, who released Lena and backed away from her. He grimaced, and said to her, "Don't look."
Lena jammed her eyes closed, and the sound of pressurised air being released into the atmosphere filled her ears angrily. Moments later, she could taste copper and salt on the air as the winds changed direction. And she knew that Turk Mandala was dead.
Issue Fifty: “Seventy-Two Hours”
Part Three (of Three): “World Enough and Time”
Written by HoM
Covers by IBARRA / R. FLINCHUM / M. FLINCHUM
Covers by IBARRA / R. FLINCHUM / M. FLINCHUM
SOMEWHERE IN SECTOR 4303, DEEP SPACE:
"...So, you think we're ready?"
Kara smiled warmly, regarding the binary suns that rose across the alien landscape they'd journeyed to hours prior. "More than ready. We've mapped events as far back as they can go. Found the quiet times when it would be most suitable. The perfect unity of human and Kryptonian ingenuity, a map of time going back decades..."
"I can think of better human / Kryptonian unities..." replied Lena, squeezing the love of her life's hand.
Kara almost blushed but instead rolled her eyes. "Just because it's our second anniversary, doesn't mean you have to turn everything into an innuendo... and man, that was such a reach…"
"Then you've clearly not spent enough time on Earth," replied Lena.
She leaned over and pecked a kiss on Kara's cheek, then rested her head on the heroine's shoulder. They'd travelled from Earth via Boom Tube, deep into the wilds of Sector 4303, where a recent Green Lantern Corps survey team had reported 'the most beautiful sunsets, and that's coming from me of all people'. Kara had heard this directly from Guy Gardner, who, upon discovering the world, had promptly journeyed there with his wife, Tora Olafsdotter-Gardner, and their two children, Sigrid and Freydís, for one of their many intergalactic family holidays.
The abolishing of the so-called 'Forbidden Sectors' in recent years had opened up a whole universe of possibilities, and while there still lurked threats that might snap and bite if given the opportunity, the Green Lantern Corps had successfully cleared over eight-hundred previously hostile segments of space.
The couple had travelled far and were currently staying in the log cabin Gardner had built for his family, one of many 'holiday homes' he'd established across the galaxy. Kara half-suspected he was planning on introducing some kind of intergalactic Airbnb concept for the superhero set, and this was him trying it out. She'd have to ask Kyle Rayner at the next Justice League meeting, as he always had some insight into his Blue Lantern brother-in-light.
Lena continued, "But I think this is nice. Find a quiet slither of time in your cousin's life, before he leaves Earth for a decade, and give him and Lois a holiday. Y’know… I always figured the timeline was like an ocean. I spoke to Rip about it, and she agreed with my whole take on the matter… when something goes down, something loud and, uh, splashy, there are going to be waves. Of course there are going to be waves. But look at what happened last year. After all that, all the turbulence, and all we went through, once it settled, once the timeline, y’know, calmed, it’s all clear skies and even seas and we only vaguely remember the details. Same’ll happen with Clark and Lois. Their memories will be hazy of you, but they’ll just have a warm feeling in their tummies. We've mapped all the causality, all the potential problems, and even Rip thinks it's sound, and you know what she's like."
"She's a stickler for the rules, that one," said Kara.
"But she owes you, so she's giving you a pass," said Lena.
"Oh, I don't see it like that!" exclaimed Kara.
"Of course you don't, because you're nice, but I'm mean and that's the way it is. Then again, every superhero on the planet-- across the multiverse!-- owes you at least one by now. Not that you'd ever call them in. But then again, the act of asking is..." Lena paused, and her brow creased with confusion. She placed a hand on her stomach and shivered as something shuddered up inside her. "Ow."
"What's wrong?" asked Kara, swivelling to hold onto Lena's forearm.
"I don't know. I suddenly don't-- oh. Oh, no."
With one horrid, wrenching, full-body shudder, Lena vomited blood directly into Kara's face, and then abruptly fell forward into the Woman of Steel's arms, seizing up as her body was wracked by some unseen malady.
"Lena! Lena!" Kara cried out in horror, her X-Ray Vision scanning her lover's body-- and what she saw throughout her shocked the Woman of Tomorrow to the very core.
OVER THE NORWEGIAN SEA:
She had to time it perfectly. Due to the insight provided to her in the future, she knew the exact genetic moment to intervene, and that meant holding back until the moment presented itself. She’d rushed through an entire day’s worth of crises. Twisted the timeline into knots to get here. And in a matter of minutes, she’d need to intervene, do something more complicated and more dangerous than anything she’d done this day.
But until then--
<Superwoman. We need to talk.>
She recognised the voice as it yanked her from her reverie. She’d always been in awe of it growing up in the business. She knew this man. Even without a loudspeaker, it caused a shiver down her spine. He was projecting it sub-audibly, for Kryptonian ears only. Whatever this conversation was about to be about… it was between them and them alone.
“Batman,” she said, turning to face the Batplane as it hovered nearby. She hadn’t heard it approach. Running silent, as stealthy as he could manage, and boy could he manage it.
<You sent Superman away and said you’d cover for him. He asked me to keep an eye on you. Just in case.>
“As any good boy scout should,” she replied.
<I’ve tracked your progress. You’ve done good work. Saved countless lives across the world. But I noticed an odd pattern. Instead of reacting to a crisis when it took place, as Superman would, you’ve been arriving early. Pre-empting. Cutting off threats before they could escalate.>
“What can I say? I was eager,” she replied. He knew. Of course he knew. Of all the people in this timeframe, if anyone could figure out what she was doing, or catch some scent, it would be him.
<Or there’s something else. Some other reason you’re here. Some other reason you had to remove Superman from the board. Why are you really here, ‘Superwoman’?>
Brow furrowed, Kara looked toward the Batplane and tried to peer inside with her vision. “I heard that you know. The emphasis on my name.” She couldn’t see through the hull of the vessel; the materials somehow X-Ray opaque. And again, of course, if there was anybody who could develop technology capable of obfuscating the enhanced senses of a Kryptonian, it would be him. The Batman or Lex Luthor. She sighed, and said, “You don’t think I’m me?”
<I think Superman tries to see the best in all people. I think you pushed all the right buttons to make him leave the planet happily. But he’s not stupid. And I’m not so trusting.>
“Can this wait? I have somewhere I need to be soon. I don’t want to be held up by whatever this misunderstanding is,” said Kara.
<No. I think you need to return to the Hall of Justice with me. I’ve already alerted the League. You need to answer a few questions before we continue to allow you unfettered access to this world. Wonder Woman’s lasso is ready for you.>
Kara was floating in front of the jet, her hands open and pleading, “Batman--Bruce-- this is all a misunderstanding. I’m not the enemy. But I really can’t be held up at this point.”
<And why’s that? Why are you really here?>
“I’m here to save lives! Why else would I have travelled so far?” she asked.
<I don’t know, but the lasso will uncover the truth. If you’re telling the truth, then I’ll owe you an apology. But if you’re lying… we’ll deal with that however we need to.>
Glancing toward Switzerland, Kara grimaced, well aware that the clock was ticking. She set her jaw, made her decision, then turned back to the Batplane. “I don’t have time for this…”
MEDICAL GUILD, NEW KRYPTON:
"...Best describe her condition as a system-wide, catastrophic, physiological failure," explained Doctor Pieter Cross, the Justice Society's Doctor Midnite. "If it plays a role in keeping her alive, it's no longer intact."
"I... I saw the damage," replied Kara. If she closed her eyes, she could see the ragged ruin of Lena's heart, the blackened masses that had once been her lungs. Her kidneys are basically liquid. Her internal organs had been ravaged, and the question on everybody's lips? "What could have caused something like that?"
Kara had activated the Boom Tube as soon as she saw what had become of her girlfriend's insides. Instead of returning to Earth, she headed to New Krypton, knowing that the technology in the Medicine Guild's towers would have a better chance of stabilising Lena's condition, but when the doctors went about their work-- aligning deep body crystal matrices and phantom extraction rays-- what they discovered was mind-boggling.
The consultations had begun within hours. Doctors from across the universe all coming to the aid of the super-heroine who had done so much for countless races throughout the galaxy. Familiar faces to some, strangers to others, but they all had a patient to save. What they found was staggering.
With a nod from Cross to Plo-Ix, one of New Krypton's premier medical minds, a holographic representation of the comatose Lena Luthor appeared in front of the group. Kara looked away at first. Lena looked so small, and she could see the shape of the damage done to her organs within the hologram.
Pieter pointed to the projection of Lena's chest cavity, where her heart should have been, and gestured toward the bundles of bright threads that were running throughout her body. "And the only thing keeping her alive is the hard-light nervous system wired into her body via her implants. She's basically a cadaver kept alive by a state-of-the-art computer program."
"Good God," whispered Power Girl, squeezing Superwoman's shoulder as she felt Kara nearly falter. As soon as Karen had heard what happened, she'd travelled to New Krypton to be with her Earth-1 "sister", and when the call for help went out, she'd even journeyed home to Earth-2 to converse with the medical minds over there, hoping that the alternate dimension might have some insight into what could have caused this-- and what could reverse it.
Plo-Ix shook her head. "Simply put, her genetic structure appears to have self-destructed. I have never seen anything like this in all my time. Even an exploration of Krypton's universe-wide archives shows no record of anything even resembling this malady."
"Could it have been some kind of... infection? Something from the planet we were on?" asked Kara. She cursed herself, realising that it might have been her excitement that led to their situation, her eagerness to share something interstellar and wonderful with her human companion. If that was the case, she'd never forgive herself...
"I sent a contingent of Lanterns to that world as soon as word of your situation reached us," replied Soranik Natu, Chief Doctor of the Green Lantern Corps. "A full forensic sweep confirmed that the planet is all clear. We performed deep scans on every part of that sector before giving the go-ahead to open it up to the rest of the universe. Whatever caused this, it's not due to the planet."
Natasha Irons cleared her throat. Karen had come to her after the news of Lena's armour keeping her alive had come out. She was an expert in this field, but this had her stumped. "The worst thing... the only thing keeping her alive is her suit's systems. The doctors have tried regenerating her damaged tissue, but every attempt is deflected by the suit's defences. I've interfaced with the suit's OS, and the only way we can begin to operate is if we deactivate the suit. But then she'd die. Instantly."
"If we do that... if we do the prep, if... if we deactivate the suit and then immediately begin work, then we can... we can..." started Kara.
"Her brain is dead. Her heart is gristle. Her internal organs are basically non-existent at this stage," said Soranik. "She's kept alive by the suit. She basically is the suit right now."
"Kara... there's nothing we can do," said Pieter.
Power Girl's forehead creased. If it were her, if she was in this situation, that news might have broken her. But her younger double, stood there, taking all this in, simply shuddered once, and her head slumped forward. "Kara. If there's anything we can do..." said Karen.
"There's nothing any of you can do," replied Kara.
"But about her armour..." said Natasha.
"It gets worse?" asked Kara.
"The subcutaneous batteries powering the suit are working on overdrive to keep its systems active. It's never had to do anything like this before, and so power use is at an all-time high. We can keep exposing her to sunlight-- the batteries are rechargeable if exposed to solar rays-- but at some point, they will fail, and then... it's over."
After a moment, Kara replied, "...She's dead."
"Kara..." said Karen.
"She's dead, and we don't even know what did this to her. I can't live with that. And she wouldn't if it happened to me. I need to know. I know it's asking a lot of you all... but..."
"We won't rest until we know who-- or what-- did this to her," said Plo-Ix. "None of us would be here today if it weren't for you. New Krypton wouldn't be in existence if it weren't for you both. You have our vow, Kara Zor-El. We won't rest."
"And... what about you?" asked Karen.
"I have work to do," said Kara.
SOMEWHERE IN SWITZERLAND:
Whoever these armoured murderers were, they'd promptly shoved a bag over Lena's head and took to the air. In her school uniform and so high up, she was bitingly cold, but a few minutes later, they landed and transferred to a van that travelled approximately forty-seven miles deeper into the Swiss mountain range. The route they travelled was smooth to begin with before the car's suspension began to take a beating. They'd gone off-road.
At the end of the journey, Lena was yanked out of the van and taken inside a building that caused her every footfall to echo out, and for the clunking footsteps of the armoured kidnappers to radiate outwards. She didn't say anything. Jason had told her that. Don't give them anything, not your fear, your hope, nothing. They'll do the talking soon enough, and that's when you can begin to formulate your escape plan. And if all that fails? Go for their dicks. Make them pay for every drop of blood they spilt while taking you away from the life you were supposed to be living.
"Take that off, my boys," growled a ragged voice.
Whoever the order had been given to, he did as he was told. The black bag was pulled off Lena's head, and light began to stab back into her eyes. Her wrists were bound behind her back, so she couldn't rub at her eyes to clear them any faster, but her kidnappers were patient, and when she finished blinking away blindness, the ragged-voiced man became visible.
"Hello, Lena. I have to admit, you're not what I expected," he said.
The leader of the group-- he was clearly the leader because he sat on a big chair in the middle of the room, surrounded by dozens of his armoured servants-- wore a purple hood that covered his face, but he was very clearly an elderly man. Even though she couldn't see his eyes behind the white cloth lens on his mask, Lena could feel them beating down on her, picking her apart optically. It was not a nice feeling.
The tunic that covered his haggard body was a darker shade of burgundy, and he had a cape that matched the colour of his mask hanging loosely off his back. The entire outfit might have fit once, but that must have been decades ago, and he hadn't had it replaced since. He gripped a thin cane with both hands, long fingernails trailing down from the tips of his twig-like fingers. At the top of the cane was a metal topper in the shape of a skull.
"Am I not? Well, #### you, how's that?" she replied, curtly.
"Ha! So precious," he said, his body shaking as he laughed. If Lena could push him over-- one hard shove-- she thought she could break every bone in his body. Shaking his head, as if to dismiss his own amusement, he asked, "Do you know who I am?"
"Some kind of mask pervert? Some kind of freak Batman beats up on a regular basis?" she offered.
He wagged his gnarled finger in her direction. "Such little respect. I am Demo. I'm an old family acquaintance of the Luthors. And I want what's owed to me."
"Oh, great," murmured Lena. Her father's history of bad decisions struck again.
Demo nodded as he beckoned one of his armoured servants forward, and he accepted the arm offered to him. He took a tentative, hobbling step forward, and the armoured man flanking him slowly escorted him down the steps from his throne. "Oh, yes. Promises were made. Returns with interest promised. I shouldn't have been surprised by the lack of follow through, of course. The Luthor name has never been the most valued in our line of business for the longest time. Now, I have you. And I think debts are due to be called in, don't you?"
"You think my father would give you anything for me? He doesn't give a damn about me! He doesn't give a flying ####! He'd rather kill me himself than let you have the pleasure!" she laughed, even though it broke her heart. Jason had told her if she had to give them anything, make sure it was something that would take away whatever they wanted too.
Demo broke into a fit of hysterics, laughing as loud as his fragile frame could manage without breaking all his ribs. The armoured servants looked at each other, almost nervously, and Demo beckoned one of them forward, who swiftly carried an oxygen tank forward. Demo tugged his cloth mask up, revealing a mottled face, with scabby lips and an unkempt smattering of grey, tufting facial hair scattered about his chin, and placed an oxygen mask over his lips. Still giggling, he took huge, sucking breaths from the tank, and then, once he'd settled, said, "I'm not talking about your father, my dear, though I can see why you’d think that. Oh, no. I'm talking about your grandfather, Lena! I’m talking about Lionel Luthor!”
THE SANCTUARY, SOMEWHERE ON THE BORDER OF ECUADOR AND PERU:
Kon-El, better known to the world as Flamebird, arrived in Kara’s secluded Sanctuary, deep within the Cordillera del Cóndor mountains, near the border of Ecuador and Peru. She'd relocated here after the destruction of the Fortress of Solitude during the tumultuous events of last year that rendered it a pile of ash, her monuments to the Krypton of bygone ages lost in the depths of the Phantom Zone.
He missed the cold. There was something about being the pyro-telekinetic host of one of Krypton's oldest celestial beings that appreciated the snowy wastelands of Antarctica. Being in the Andes was just heat upon heat, but if there was one thing he appreciated, it was the variety of birds that he had shared the skies with coming in.
Kara had been off the grid for weeks. Power Girl had picked up the slack, but there was something disheartening about the lack of Superwoman in the skies. She hadn't even visited Lena on New Krypton, but...
Kon shook his head and landed in front of the sealed door of the Sanctuary. He waved his hand in front of the lock, so it acknowledged his presence, then pushed out the Theta Wave instruction of 'Open Sesame' in Kryptonese that triggered the opening mechanism. The large door, secreted in the mountainside, growled open, and he stepped inside.
<Welcome to the Sanctuary, Kon of the House of El,> came a booming voice, <Kara Zor-El is currently in the temporal research laboratory.>
If the Fortress of Solitude was a monument to the past-- to old Krypton and then later Clark Kent's life and experiences-- adopted by Superwoman in her cousin's absence from the world and universe-at-large, then the Sanctuary was designed to be a monument to the future. Science experiments were running constantly, monitored by Kelex and his legion of support droids, and usually visitors would have been allowed access to peruse the vast archives of civilisations that Kara had gathered, but ever since her return to Earth and what happened to Lena, it had been closed off to only her most trusted confidantes-- and even they knew to give her space.
Kon found Kara working in one of the vast lab spaces. The great thing about being a superhero with a background in super-science and a long-term girlfriend who shared that interest means you had access to all kinds of technology, and being able to make spaces bigger on the inside than the outside was just one of them. Various tesseract laboratories were set up throughout the Sanctuary, and it was in these that the most dangerous work could be done.
He stepped through the threshold of the temporal research laboratory and saw Kara superspeed working away on some vast device that was changing dimensions as she adjusted her design every other second or so.
"Kara!" he called out. If she heard him, she didn't pay him any heed. Instead, the looming monolith of a device she was building suddenly vanished and all the individual components were laid out on the floor. She hesitated, turned to look at him, and then turned away. "Kara. Please."
"Kon, I'm busy. I have work to do," she said.
He shook his head, "I’ve just returned from New Krypton. Plo said you weren't answering comms. I came directly--"
"I said I'm busy, Kon. I don't have the time," she replied.
Through rising anger, gritted teeth and clenched fists, Kon snapped, "Dammit, Kara-- she's dead! Lena's dead. She died this morning."
Kara took a breath and slowly exhaled. "You... you don't think I know that? That I couldn't feel it, whole galaxies away?"
He walked toward her, his hands moving up and down pleadingly. "This... this fugue you're in, it's not right. You shouldn't be cooped up in the Sanctuary, you should have been there. You should be doing something. You've... what is it you've done? Have you given up? Quit? I can't believe that."
"We don't quit. We never give up," Kara said.
"Then what? What are you doing?" he asked. "Please, Kara. I want to understand. I do! But I'm supposed to be the thick-headed one. I'm the one who's supposed to be... communicative and stroppy. And you-- you're supposed to be patient and wise and... and the whole world has flipped upside down and I don't know what to do! I couldn't even... I couldn't even help! With all the power I have at my fingertips and the Flamebird couldn't help me bring her back. I just... explain it to me, please."
Kara turned to face her cousin and said, with a level of determination and grit he'd never seen in her before, "I'm going to go back. I'm going to stop this from ever happening."
"You're... what?" he said.
"I figured it out, Kon. I know what happened. First, I found a sample of Lena's genetic structure in our apartment, one untouched by the genetic destruction that killed her. I compared the two and found an outlier. I found the cause. Years ago, someone placed a DNA bomb into her system that took on the appearance of her nominal genetic structure, and when it triggered last month, that's what killed her. But... no, triggered isn't the right word. It reached a level of degradation after not being triggered that caused it to set off, accidentally even, and that's what caused the damage. That's what killed her."
Kon blinked, barely comprehending. "...DNA bomb? Degradation? What--? Who--?" he stuttered.
She nodded, continuing, "Knowing what to look for, I tracked the degradation of the DNA bomb back. I know when it was inserted into her system. I know the exact date-- the exact time-- over a decade ago, and I have the means to go back. To prevent it from ever being inserted into her system. I'm going to fix this. I'm going to--"
"You can't be serious," interrupted Kon.
"I have never been more serious about anything in my entire life," she replied.
"You're talking about changing the timeline for personal gain, Kara. That goes against everything we've ever fought for. The changes could be catastrophic! The ripple effect could change everything! You have to accept it, Kara. She's dead. And nothing can bring her back."
"I'm not talking about bringing her back. I'm talking about it never happening in the first place," she said.
"I don't... I don't think I can let you do this," he said.
"Let me? She's the love of my life, Kon! She's everything to me! And I already wasted years not understanding that! Years! I didn't know myself, didn't know what my heart wanted, and then I blamed her for... for... for something that wasn't her fault, and I let it get in the way for years! Years that we could have had together, just... wasted. Do you really think I'm going to let something as stupid as death get in the way of that? Do you really think that if it's within my power to stop this from ever happening, I wouldn't see it through to the end?"
"Kara... I..." Kon hesitated. Then he looked up at his cousin, his mentor, and said, "What can I do to help?"
OVER THE NORWEGIAN SEA:
Kara exhaled, pursing her lips and letting out a low, pulsing whistle that, if you listened to it closely, sounded like someone trying to connect to the internet in the nineties. Buzzing and clicking in a language that no human could understand, but the machine heart of the Batplane?
It was time to show Batman just one of the many abilities that Superwoman had discovered since she took on her new superhero identity. She spoke directly to the Batplane’s computer, and then a split second later, the cockpit of the jet shot open, revealing--
--An empty pilot’s seat.
“…Rao be damned,” she whispered.
Where was Batman? None the less, the seat ejected at her wireless verbal instruction, her ability to interact with computers using her solar charged vocal folds. Had he sent a drone to confront her? The jet floated in place, hovering high above the Norwegian sea, but there was no pilot and no sign of--
<I know what you’re thinking,> said Batman. His voice was no longer coming from the Batplane but seemed to emanate from all around Kara, putting her on edge as she struggled to locate its true source.
“Are you a bat-psychic now?” she asked, her eyes darting around. She didn’t like feeling powerless, and as if he was suddenly some sort of bat-psychic, instead of a verbal response from Batman, the air around her reverberated with crimson light and suddenly she felt her vast abilities fade!
“Red… sunlight?” whispered Kara. But it had been the middle of the day mere moments ago, and the sunlight was yellow and not debilitating to Kryptonians… how had the atmosphere changed? She tried to fly away, but the reverberation clung to her skin and refused to let her escape.
<You can’t escape this. You need to stand down and come with me. You’re expected at the Hall.>
“I don’t have time for this!” shouted Kara. Even with that being true, she was beginning to think. Put together parts of a larger jigsaw. He was somewhere nearby. His words betrayed that. And what was causing her to lose her powers?
Escape. She was caught by a bat-something and he said she couldn’t escape, but how could that be true? Early on in her career as Superwoman, Batman himself had taught her that there was no such thing as an inescapable trap. All she had to do was figure out the construction and shape of the trap she was caught up in and then figure out the best route of escape. All lessons she’d learned from this very man, in honour of the friendship he had with her cousin.
She could tell she was losing speed, as her efforts to evade the red light were becoming slower and slower. Was there some kind of energy field or snare? She had scanned above their heads before the encounter escalated, and there were no satellites, no array that was projecting the trap down on her head.
“Oh,” she said, something clicking into place. She squinted, and what was left of her X-Ray Vision saw something hanging in the air around her. Tiny microscopic cubes that were emitting scarlet light that stabbed daggers into her cells, causing the yellow sunlight stored inside them to pour out. Her X-Ray Vision puttered out to the normal range, so with one last gasp of superpowered breath, shouted, “Out!”
The red aura around her snapped off, and her powers returned to the fore.
On the underside of the hovering Batplane, a small ring of sparks scattered outward from seemingly nowhere. As Superwoman watched, a wrist-mounted control rig became visible and then moments later Batman decloaked from the device outward as it shorted out. He was wearing a bulky black costume with a yellow insignia across the chest, and the cowl he wore covered his mouth completely. Underneath the arms were yellow winged membranes-- for flight?
“Damn,” murmured Batman.
“I didn’t expect the feedback to short-out the control circuitry, but it’s a happy accident.” Superwoman had him by the throat before he could move. “Interesting suit there. I can see the matrices under the surface. You’ve stripped out a lot of armour to make room for the technology, so don’t squirm, I don’t want to hurt you.”
“H-how kind,” he replied, teeth grinding together.
One hand gripping Superwoman’s forearm as she held him fast, the Dark Knight reached for his utility belt, but she snatched it away and pitched it upwards, so it landed in the empty cockpit.
She continued, “Lots of full-spectrum sensors attached to a really interesting meta-material I don’t think I’ve seen before. Let me guess… the suit senses what’s being used to detect it, across the full electromagnetic spectrum, and then reacts accordingly? Sometimes I wonder why Kal values your friendship so much. You’re so sinister. But you’re a good man, Bruce Wayne.” She yanked his mask off, revealing his face to the skies. “And you’ve always done right by me.”
“Then come in, talk to us. Prove you are who you say you are,” he said.
“You know who I am, and I have somewhere else to be. You’ve held me up long enough,” she replied.
Superwoman flew upwards and dropped Batman in the empty cockpit of the Batplane.
“I’ll finish what I’m here to do, then I’ll pay a visit to the Hall of Justice. We all have secrets, Bruce. You know that. Sometimes, you must respect that others keep them for the same reason that you do. To keep people safe.”
Without any further fanfare, Superwoman turned sharply and vanished from sight, leaving Batman defeated in the gutted cockpit of his plane, contemplating her words.
THE SANCTUARY, SOMEWHERE ON THE BORDER OF ECUADOR AND PERU:
"I cannot condone what you're planning, Kara," said Rip Hunter.
In this incarnation, Rip was a lithe Korean woman in her early twenties, but there was the same mad-genius twinkle behind her eyes that every version of Rip Hunter had, the one that made it obvious that whatever stranger emerged from her Time Sphere was the Rip Hunter. It had become abundantly clear that prolonged exposure to raw temporal energy led to certain idiosyncrasies, and the fact that Rip's entire physiology changed from one visit to the next was an accepted one to the people she interacted with in the superhero community.
"And I'm sure you won't be the first person to say that to me..." Kara replied.
The pair were in the temporal lab of the Sanctuary, as the Woman of Steel worked on the Kryptonian rocket she was retrofitting with temporal travel engines taken from a crashed Legion Time Sphere that she had in her care. Kon-El and Natasha Irons were checking over the tensile strength of the crystalline weaving that would protect the pilot module but couldn't help but overhear the conversation being had by the two women across the room.
"...Besides, I have to do this. There's too much at stake," replied Superwoman.
Rip ran her hands through her hair frantically, barely able to contain her incredulity. "At stake? For who? For you?! She's one woman, Kara! One! So many lives have been lost across existence! Trillions! It's not a linear progression of one life equals one death, the timestream is an ocean, and every action within it causes ripples to ride out, and you can't capture those ripples and put them back, once they exist, they exist! And I've seen the time you intend to travel back to! I know what happens! You're not just going back to save one life, you're going back to save dozens! hundreds! That's not what we agreed when you said you wanted to give Superman the day off! I broke all the rules for you for even entertaining the idea! And now you want to push them even farther than before!"
"Are you saying that the world won't be a better place if I do this?" asked Superwoman.
"You-- the--I don't know!-- all I know is that you're breaking all the laws of the Linear Men, and that won't go without repercussion!" shouted Rip.
"What are they going to do? Take the love of my life from me? Try and stop me? I'd like to see you try," she said.
Rip sighed. "For every action, there has to be an equal and opposite reaction."
Kara shook her head. "And I'll meet whatever comes head-on, with my friends by my side. Nothing is going to scare me off, Rip. She's my entire world. My everything. So, unless you're going to offer me a lift in your Time Sphere-- which I know you won't-- I think we're done here."
"I could stop you, Kara. Right here. Right now. I could stop you," said Rip, quietly.
"I know you could. I know what you are. What you do. And the fact you've not done that yet is a testament to our friendship. We've been through a lot, and I appreciate everything you've done for me since we first met."
"Gods... I just... okay, listen to me carefully. You have to understand... that point in time... the temporal debris that litters the timeline, it makes travel to that era next to impossible. There's a period I can't even access-- some sort of temporal dam has been erected that none of us Linear Men can figure out and travelling past it on either side could spell disaster. I've not managed to enter it in my past lives, nor my future incarnations. It's a blind spot, and it's terrifying."
Superwoman cocked her head. "Are you telling me that something I set out to do is impossible?"
Rip opened her mouth to reply but then realized what the mad-genius twinkle in Kara's eyes meant.
"...What I'm saying is, that point in time you're travelling to, it's more dangerous than the earlier point you intended to travel to originally. So, please understand, the only way this will be possible is if you didn't exist in that time period. Then and only then can you be fully anchored in the timeline." Rip paced about on the spot for a moment, and then headed for the exit to the tesseract, to where the Time Sphere she'd used to get here was parked. "That's all I can do. Everything else is on you."
Kara glanced down at her hand, where she kept her Legion flight ring. She couldn't be in two time periods at the same time? "I know just the guys."
SOMEWHERE IN SWITZERLAND:
Lena had never met her grandfather. All she knew of him was from news-clippings, gossip sites, old tabloid trash from back in the day, because her father never mentioned him, and if she ever asked after her grandma and granddad, he found a way to shut down the conversation and leave the room promptly.
For so much of her life, it felt like everyone apart from her knew things about the Luthor family-- and she was getting tired of it. She had read the Daily Planet's exposes on his questionable business practices, she had to live through his time off the grid as a so-called 'supervillain', and she had to experience his 'born again good guy' routine when that was all revealed to have been caused by some kind of mind-controlling alien presence.
That was all bull crap though. She'd seen her father in the quiet moments when you really experience the truth of a person. She knew he wasn't nice. She knew he wasn't a good person. But that didn't change the fact that she had no idea what this freak of nature in front of her was talking about, because "I've never even met Lionel Luthor!" she snapped.
"Doesn't matter. I plaster your name and face in all the right places, and that squirrelly bastard will come crawling. Everyone thinks he's dead, but I know the truth. I read the reports from the rags saying Lex was implicated in his father's disappearance... but he was cleared. And I assure you, if Lionel was murdered, he'd have set something in motion to make sure his killer got what was coming to him, even if it was his dearly, devoted son."
"Uhm, do you even read the papers? Lex bought LuthorCorp out from under his dad! Left him penniless! It was a whole thing!"
"He didn't take everything from your grandfather, Lena. There were things Lionel was involved in that your father never knew about. Things that led to our meeting, all those decades ago."
"Yeah? Like creepy old bug#### bastard club?" she offered. Defiance was something she could put on like a pair of shoes or cool leather jacket, it was something she could project with authority, but this creepy man, with his creepy army of armoured soldiers, were beginning to needle at her. She wished Turk was here. She wished he was alive.
"You do make me laugh, little girl. I always wanted a daughter, but all I ended up with were these thick-headed boys, no option but to accept the hand I was dealt." Demo looked around at the room, then tapped the head of the sentinel stood beside him. "They're bred for obedience, my lads. Fast growing protoplasmic goo poured into armoured shells. The suits were designed by the best and brightest Nazi scientists. The computer chips in their fleshy heads act as brains, pre-programmed with the directive to do whatever I tell them to do. Not even human. D/E/M/O/N.”
"I’m, uh, sorry that freaky-deeky Nazi science didn’t give you everything you wanted in your kids," said Lena, shuffling up to her feet. "But my grandfather is dead. I think my dad killed him. But what do I know?"
Demo kept his distance but leaned forward on his cane. "You're an odd one. You're so scared, but you refuse to show it. I think that's admirable." While he was propped up by one of the armoured servants, he held up his cane and pointed it at Lena. "Do you know what a DNA bomb is?"
"...Is it a bomb made of DNA?" she replied.
"...Well, effectively, yes. Heh heh. We designed them back in the good old days. One of your grandfather's ideas. He was always more of a dreamer, and I, the vehicle for those dreams to come true. We were explorers, in our own way. Veritas. Do you know what that means?"
"Veritas? The Roman goddess of truth?" she answered, tentatively.
Demo nodded enthusiastically. "Yes, yes, exactly that. We were exploring the world, searching for truth. Lionel was interested in extra-terrestrial truth, but I was focused on the world around us, making sense of it, building something from nothing, and becoming more. Intra-terrestrial. We were Veritas. Our little society. Just two parts of a much larger machine, but Veritas, none the less. Boys, hold her."
Lena spun around in place, surprised by the speed the armoured servants moved, but she was immediately held fast by them, and then held aloft by her biceps. Their grips hurt, her feet couldn't touch the ground, and within seconds, she was wholly immobilised, unable to kick, punch or bite her way out of the circumstances she found herself within. One man held her face forward so she couldn't look away from Demo, another grabbed her ankles.
“You won’t remember this talk. I’ll wipe it from your mind using something I stole from General Immortus back in the day. I wonder if he wonders where it ended up… you’ll be wiped clean of all these pesky memories, out in the world not knowing you’re my hostage. And if Lionel decides to not show up? I’ll let you wind down all the way to zero, and then ‘poof’, you’ll go off and die horribly. Never knowing.”
Demo held up his cane and then twisted the skull topper, causing a long syringe to swivel out from the base. He handed it to one of his boys, and that armoured servant took several steps forward and levelled it at her carotid artery. She could smell the chemicals that lurked inside it, ready to be plunged into her neck.
"So, a DNA bomb. An insurance policy of your grandfather's imagining. I'm going to inject you with this special concoction, and away you go. As I said, I have no wanting to keep you here, Lena. No wanting to care for a child while your grandfather ruminates on my offer. he either shows his face, or you die. Either way, if I don't get my answer, you'll die eventually, and I’ll be happy--"
Without warning, the syringe melted into slag and Demo jumped out of his skin and into the arms of one of his boys.
Lena couldn't see what had caused the syringe to melt, but she sighed in relief. Then her head was free-- her feet touched the floor-- her arms were suddenly her own. The temperature dropped in her immediate area, and she could see her breath become visible as she exhaled in a panicked rush. The D/EM/O/N troops released her as a sheen of frost covered their metal armaments, and they awkwardly swatted at the spreading cold that was engulfing them. Within a matter of seconds, they were frozen solid, locked in their armour even as muffled sounds could be heard within the blocks of ice, emanating from their suits.
"You mastered the art of cloning, and instead of doing something worthwhile, you grew an army and programmed them to be monsters…" came an angry, feminine voice.
Lena spun around and saw Superwoman emerge from the shadows. "...Whoa."
“…Shall I show you why that was a mistake?” asked the Woman of Tomorrow.
THE FAR FUTURE
LEGION OF SUPERHEROES CLUBHOUSE, METROPOLIS:
“…You’re travelling back in time, and you want us to do what?” said Livewire, leaning across the large table toward their visitor, who stood on the chronal-projection pad that linked their time with the distant past. Garth Ranzz scratched his ginger beard, seemingly baffled by her statement.
Back in her present day, Superwoman was illuminated from below on a similar looking pad, her entire body engulfed with light and beamed into the 31st century. She smiled and looked across the room, admiring the sight of the Legion of Superheroes, dear friends with whom she’d been through so much. Her physical body was situated deep within the Sanctuary, but for all intents and purposes, she was meeting with the heroes of the future, and she desperately needed a favour.
“Contact your past selves, and request they bring forward their invitation to my younger counterpart to join them in their timeline,” she reiterated.
“Why would we do that, Kara?” asked Brainiac 5.1, his brow netted with concern.
The Coluan known as Querl Dox had his elbows on the large table before him, his latticed fingers tucked under his emerald chin. Unlike his younger self, he had three white circles dotted across his forehead in the configuration his ancient ancestor had made infamous, but they were a badge of his intelligence, having formed when Querl ascended to the designation Brainiac 5.1 some time ago.
In fact, the Legion of Superheroes of this timeline were all adults, having long grown out of their original codenames and identities, and ascended to something new and different, and to Superwoman, undeniably exciting. She placed her palms together, and looking to Brainiac replied, “I’ve consulted with experts, and I’ve been told that travelling to the point I intend to visit is dangerous.”
Querl nodded slowly. “The temporal storm. Yes, we’ve detected it, and your… consultant’s assessment that having your past self absent from the timeline would make your journey safe is indeed correct. But why do you need to go back that far, Kara?”
“Why the interrogation, Brainy?” asked Livewire, he glanced around at the other members of the Legion gathered around the table.
Saturn Woman had her hand clasped around Garth’s, and she smiled as she read his thoughts before he could get them out.
The Legon of Superheroes current chairman, Cosmos, had been sat silently at the head of the Legion’s table, taking everything in, while the others listened intently. Rokk Krinn had been through hell and back as part of the Legion, but his steadfast determination was a form of gravity that held the team together in a sympathetic and strong orbit, and he’d been voted into the role numerous times since he helped found the team with Garth and Imra Ranzz, all those years ago.
Meanwhile, Apparition was next to Ultra Dragon, Infinite Girl was in a singular form next to her husband Matter-Eater Man and her wife, Shrinking Violet, while Dreamer and Starman whispered to each other, keeping an eye on Brainiac as he spoke.
Blok, Colonel Marvel, Colossus, Dawnstar, Earth Woman, Elemental, Gates, Gossamer, Invisible Man, Monstress, Queen Projectra, Sensei, Sunman and Umbra rounded out the group, but Superwoman was well aware that this wasn’t the entire roster, and that they’d gathered expressly to hear her speak from the past.
“Crossing one’s timeline isn’t to be encouraged, Livewire,” replied Brainiac.
“But we all know we’re going to do whatever she asks,” said Livewire. Saturn Woman sighed. Her husband always did and said whatever came into his head, whatever the result.
“But the damage such an act could do might be the cause of the temporal storm that prevents us looking into the past at that specific period of time,” said Brainiac.
“I’m not going to stay long enough to be the cause,” replied Superwoman.
“You might not have a choice in the matter, Kara,” said Starman.
She pursed her lips, unsure for a moment. “Thom, I need a day. Maybe a tiny bit longer. I just need a few days, and then I’ll be home. My past self was always going to spend some time in the future, that’s a given. I just need it to be that weekend instead of a month later.”
“Frak, I’ll say it. I’ll say what we always say. We’ll vote,” said Ultra Dragon.
“That’s all I can ask, thank you,” said Kara.
Brainiac shook his head vehemently. “That’s not a good idea. I’m telling you, crossing the timeline…”
“All those in favour, green. All those again, red,” said Apparition.
Superwoman closed her eyes and exhaled. When she opened them, twenty greens were present on the wall behind the team, and five reds.
“Well, the ‘ayes’ have it,” said Cosmos.
“Democracy in action,” said Livewire.
“I want my objection noted in the official record,” said Brainiac.
“Whoa, I guess we know which way Querl voted then,” said Ultra Dragon.
“Noted, Brainiac, by both myself and the official record,” said Cosmos.
“Thank you, Rokk. Now, I’ll go contact my younger self. He’ll take some convincing, but I’ll make sure he allows Supergirl’s journey to the future to go ahead sooner rather than later,” said Brainiac.
“Thank you, Querl,” said Superwoman.
“But on one condition,” said Brainiac.
“Querl--!” started Livewire.
Brainiac held up his hand. “You have three days. Seventy-two hours. That was the originally planned window for Supergirl’s journey to the future-- our past. That’s the time you have to do whatever you intend to do. Any longer, and we’ll have to come to retrieve you.”
Rokk shook his head. “I don’t agree at all with--”
“I accept,” said Superwoman. “And like you say, any longer, you come and get me, because I don’t want to outstay my welcome. Agreed?”
“Yes. Thank you,” said Brainiac 5.1, exiting hastily, followed shortly by Cosmos.
While the others began to stand, Saturn Woman made a beeline toward Kara. “It’s been a while, Kara. You never visit.”
Superwoman gave her a sheepish smile. “My own timeline keeps me busy enough. This trip to the past… it’s to help Kal, you know? Lena and I had it planned for ages. It’s not… well… you know.”
Imra shook her head and held up a hand to cut the Woman of Tomorrow off. “Thoughts don’t transmit via temporal-hologram, so I can’t read your mind. And I don’t want to. But whatever you’re doing… I know you’re doing it for the right reasons. Just… don’t lie, okay? Else Brainiac is right, and you know I’ve always hated it when he’s right.”
“I… I get it,” said Kara.
“Okay. Be safe. Always be safe. And when you’re done, Dacey, Dorrit, Garridan and Graym miss their Aunt Kara, okay? Come visit.”
“I will. I promise,” said Superwoman.
Imra blew her friend a kiss and Kara caught it, before terminating the cross-time-projector. She took a step off the pad and felt her knees buckle. She fell to the floor sobbing, the enormity of everything she was endeavouring to do hitting her like a freight train. But she couldn’t stop now, could she?
SOMEWHERE IN SWITZERLAND:
Superwoman had heard enough. She melted the DNA bomb filled syringe, then freed Lena. She scanned the armoured soldiers’ physiologies to confirm something Demo had ranted about earlier-- their bodily structure was mostly opaque; protoplasm instead of flesh, muscle and bone; large, fist sized computer chips inside their heads.
She heard Lena murmur “whoa” and tried not to smile.
“Who in the blazes are you?” croaked Demo.
“What’s it look like? I’m Superwoman,” she replied, balled fists propped up on her hips, the S-insignia on her chest proudly displayed.
“Boys!” bellowed Demo, and then every single armoured member of D/E/M/O/N descended on the scene from the various tunnels and doorways scattered about the main chamber. They were utterly surrounded. “Sic ‘em!”
Ignoring Demo’s histrionics, and even as she swatted at the marauding attackers, Kara stepped in front of Lena and smiled, asking in a calm voice, “Are you all right?”
“I think I am now?” replied the young Luthor, unsure but something inside her hardening her resolve.
“I won’t let anything happen to you,” said Kara.
Well aware of how dire his situation suddenly looked, Demo was already scrabbling to escape, while his cloned soldiers were pouring toward the two women. But even with their numbers and their armour and their artificially installed aggression, they were no match for the Woman of Tomorrow.
“I don’t want to hurt you,” said Kara. Even as she tried to keep the villains away, she was trying to find the right frequency to interact with the circuits in their heads. She kept letting out barely audible whistles, flitting through the frequencies that might interact with their machine brains, but to no avail. How lo-fi were these things?
“Look out--!” screamed Lena.
One of the armoured attackers punched Kara so hard in the cheek that his mechanized gauntlet bent and shattered on impact. The attack did no damage to the Kryptonian heroine’s face in return. She just smiled, but her brow furrowed at the sight of his grey, pocked skin. These things were designed for nothing but carnage, and an unbearable sadness weighed down her heart.
Kon-El, her ‘cousin’, the clone fusion of two disparate Kryptonian beings-- the eternally hopeful Superman and the cruel and devious Professor Xa-Du-- could have ended up like these creatures if it wasn’t for the opportunities given to him, and his own personal evolution. She’d fought clone-beings before, and the results were always the same. Sadness. Disappointment. But with the hordes surging toward her, there was no more time for reflection. She had to act!
THE WATCHTOWER, ORBITING THE MOON:
"Kara, I know the last few weeks have been difficult, but I appreciate you joining us today, even if it is via holographic link," said Wonder Woman, settling into her seat.
Cassie Sandsmark-El hadn't long been a member of the team, but ever since joining the Justice League in the aftermath of the last great crisis, she'd made one hell of an impression, and had recently been voted to the position of chairperson of the group. Every time she thought she'd reached the top of the mountain, the clouds parted and there was somewhere higher for her to ascend, and she'd be damned if she wouldn't live up to Diana's example and not aspire to the best woman she could hope to be.
"And again, Kara, we're all so sorry for your loss," said Kyle Rayner, solemnly.
The rest of the team looked over Superwoman's chair, where a holographic representation of her sat. She smiled at Kyle's gesture, gave him a nod, and then looked to Wonder Woman. "If I could be there, I would be, but I'm in the middle of a sensitive experiment at the Sanctuary, so I daren't leave right now. But I did think it worth informing you of what I've been doing since Lena died," she said.
Who else was present? Wally West, aka the Flash. Traci Thirteen, aka Doctor Fate. Billy and Courtney Whitmore-Batson, aka Captain Marvel and Starwoman. Natasha Irons, aka Steel (the second, but who was counting?). Flamebird should have been there too, but he'd been working on a secret project with Superwoman for a few weeks now, and even his wife, Cassie, had no clue about its nature.
The Woman of Tomorrow took a breath, before getting into the meat of the proceedings. "I won't waste your time. As you are all aware, before Lena... died... we were working on a special project for my cousin. His departure from Earth was so abrupt that he didn't get to truly spend time with his fiancée before he had to leave to save the universe. Y'know. Standard Superman stuff. We had successfully mapped over two decades of the timeline and found the best slither of time to travel back to, so as to effectively... give him the day off. An uneventful day, when nothing major happened, but that would still be protected by myself in his absence. Using the Legion Omnicron entrusted to me during my teen years, and an array of technology from countless cultures, with support from various scientific minds at the top of their field, we had a map, and all we had to do was take a trip."
"I don't like this," murmured Wally, leaning over to Kyle.
"Yeah, I bet your Flash sense is tingling as much as my Lantern sense," Kyle replied.
"And then my world ended. Lena died, and my world ended. So, with that in mind, I’ve decided to change the parameters of the journey a little bit," continued Superwoman.
Wally grimaced. "Yup, there it is. What do you mean, Kara? What are you going to do?"
"I know when Lena was infected with the DNA bomb that took her life. I'm going to make sure that never happens," said Kara.
"That's not what we agreed to when you initially proposed this day trip of yours," said Wonder Woman.
"I don't think we're going to get a say," said Traci Thirteen, shaking her head. The Helm of Nabu was sat on the desk in front of her, and she caught her reflection in it for a moment. She was surprised by the calm look on her face. Then again, this was Superwoman they were talking to... if anybody could pull off something at high-stakes as this, it had to be her, right?
"I'll be damned if that's the case," said Wonder Woman. Thoughts raced through her head-- had Kon been involved in this? And he hadn't told her? He was always thick-headed, but she had thought him past that kind of behaviour nowadays. She shook her head, and said, "We won't let you do this, Kara. The results could be catastrophic!"
"Hey, let's all just take a minute--" said Steel.
"Where are you, Kara?" asked Starwoman, interrupting her colleague.
Captain Marvel nodded. "Yeah, it's not really fair throwing this our way without doing it face-to-face. If we can talk it out, then maybe we'll understand where you're coming from?"
Leaning back in her chair, Doctor Fate crossed her arms then looked toward Steel. The pair had dated once, years ago, and had both been major players in Superwoman's life since her ascension to the role. Their break-up had been amicable, and both had found love after each other, but they still shared an unspoken bond, and they both knew that whatever Kara Zor-El had planned, she wasn't going to let it go anyway but the direction she wanted.
"I'm afraid that's not possible. I've done the math. We've checked it multiple times. I know what I'm doing. Besides, when all is said and done, when I'm back, it'll be like the last few weeks never happened. We'll have never had this conversation, and I won't have had to go to the extents I have," said Kara.
Green Lantern said, "We can't condone this, Kara. You need to stand down. Are you at the Sanctuary? We can be there in seconds."
"Less," added the Flash.
"You can't condone this? This is just a Theta download of my consciousness, uploaded to the Watchtower via a holographic link. I already left an hour ago. You're just sat in the severed branch of a timeline that will cease to exist when I complete my mission."
The transmission ended, and the Justice League were astounded by the turn of events. "She couldn't have--" said Wonder Woman, springing from her chair.
"She could. And did," said Doctor Fate, putting on her helmet.
Captain Marvel shook his head vehemently. "We have to head to the Sanctuary. Together, we can undo whatever it is she's--#"
With the casual wave of a magically-charged hand, Doctor Fate froze the Justice Leaguers mid-sentence, mid-movement, mid-action, caught in a moment of time she'd harnessed using her immense mystical might.
All of them, that was, apart from Steel. The armoured genius sighed, and then backed away from the meeting table. "You really think she'll pull it off?" asked Natasha.
Doctor Fate nodded once. "Of course she will. I bet she already has. Besides, I looked over her calculations, reinforced the temporal shielding with all the spells I could think of-- and some I couldn't (thanks Hector)-- and now it's all on her. And I never bet against Kara Zor-El."
Natasha pressed a button on her helmet, and the face-plate retracted. She smiled, and said, "I was there when Rip dropped in and did her and tried to read the temporal riot act..."
"How was that?" asked Traci.
"Aw-kward," replied Natasha.
SOMEWHERE IN SWITZERLAND:
“I need you to keep your head down,” said Kara, as she backed Lena up behind her, keeping their attackers in front of them. “And cover your ears.”
“Yeah? Just those two things? And then what? Who even are you?” asked Lena.
“You won’t even remember,” replied Kara, wearing a gentle smile. “This’ll all seem like a dream when it’s over.”
Another one of the armoured men cracked Superwoman in the back of the head, but the blow found no purchase. His fist slid across her hair, and when it was about to skid off to the side, Superwoman grabbed his wrist and then allowed his momentum to carry him backwards, sending him flying into an outcropping of his brothers, knocking them all over like she was playing a game of human bowling.
“I… ####... I don’t think I wanna forget you,” said Lena, her voice a breathy exhale.
When the pair retreated as close to the far wall as possible, the cavernous bunker wall now touching Lena’s back, Kara extended her hands directly in front of her, toward the now cautious attackers that had them cornered, unsure of what the Kryptonian was planning.
“Remember. Head down, ears covered,” said Superwoman.
Lena did as she was told, but couldn’t help but watched Kara, in one huge clapping motion, slammed her open palms together with such force that the armoured men were scattered, no matter how hard they tried to stay on their feet, spinning all ankles and shins over their own heads at the catastrophic force of Kara’s casually powerful attack.
With their opponents downed, Kara looked back at Lena, and said, “You okay?”
“I… I think so. But who are you? Did… did my father sent you?” she asked.
“No, and neither did Superman. I wasn’t kidding before. You won’t remember this. The timeline is like an ocean, and when someone does something loud and splashy, there are waves, but once it settles, it’s all clear skies and even seas.”
“That sounds ridiculous,” replied Lena.
“You would say that,” said Kara, remembering her Lena, the one over a decade in the making, the one who said those words to her before their lives exploded on an alien world. She smiled again and then turned back to the D/E/M/O/N foot soldiers, who were still dazed from the compact hurricane she’d turned on them. “I need to finish this up.”
Lo-fi. 1940s tech. Different wavelengths. Bandwidths. Demo was still visible to her X-Ray Vision, scrabbling down stairwells and through secret passages, his ancient bones creaking and his muscles grinding with each pained, rushing movement. With the D/E/M/O/N sentries beginning to stand, and well aware she could tear them all apart in a matter of seconds, she instead tried something different.
She let out one final whistle, low and grinding, and finally managed to find the right tune that sang a calming song of serenity into the minds of her opponents. They suddenly froze, confused by the sound, and then staggered backwards.
“Wh-what are you doing?” asked Lena.
Superwoman strained as she whistled, and Luthor watched as the D/E/M/O/N troops toppled onto their backsides, staring at their hands awkwardly. They were caught in a contemplative, existential fugue, utterly baffled by the new voice in their heads, one inducing calm as it washed over them.
It was hard to maintain the right frequency because the archaic computers in their heads were somehow fighting back against her, but she stepped forward, increased the volume she was transmitting, appreciating the divergence of her Kryptonian powerset from her cousin’s.
He was stronger, sure; but she was faster, and could do things he never dreamed possible. And then suddenly the voice inside their heads barking orders in German suddenly fizzled out, and the D/E/M/O/N troops were awash in silence, and Kara could take a step back, leaning precariously against the wall as she wiped the sweat from her brow.
She sighed and then looked down at Lena. “A mentor of mine once shared something with me. Words her mother once imparted on her, words that her entire culture and society were based upon. She said, ‘Don’t raise your hand at all until you’ve first extended it’. Or as my cousin once said, ‘With all the gifts we’ve been blessed with, why should violence ever be the answer?’”
“But they wanted to kill us,” said Lena.
“Why should their actions dictate mine?” asked Kara.
Lena ran her hands across her pale face. “My d-dad, he would’ve… he would’ve killed them. Hurt them first. But killed them mostly.”
“And what would you have done?” said Superwoman, crouching beside her, placing a hand on the young woman’s shoulder.
“I… I think I had him on the ropes,” said Lena, lowering her hands to reveal a smirk on her ruby red lips, “my verbal jousting was particularly sharp today.”
“That’s the spirit,” said Kara. The young woman was putting on a brave face, and she could see through her façade just the same as she could over ten years into the future. Lena’s heart was racing, but she was alive, unmolested by DNA bombs or mad scientists and protoplasmic hordes. “I need to capture Demo before he escapes, but you’re safe now. Stay here, and I’ll be right back.”
“Wh-what about them?” asked Lena, gesturing to the D/E/M/O/N troops.
“They’ve got a lot more on their minds than you right now. Besides, I’ll keep my ears open,” said Superwoman. She gave Lena one more smile and then careened through the walls of the structure, ending up in front of Demo within seconds. He was halfway into a speedboat that floated on a vast underground river, presumably some secret exit designed in case of these kinds of emergencies. She neutralised the boat’s engine with a flash of heat vision, then said. “Going somewhere?”
“Y-you’re very beautiful,” said Demo. He held one hand up in surrender, and with the other slowly removed his mask. His greying face was severely lined with age, cracked lips taut straight as he tried not to smile, heavy bags under near-cataracted eyes. After taking in Superwoman one last time, he sighed, closed his eyes and violently exploded.
Taken aback, Superwoman floated backwards, wiping the red mist from her face. And at that moment, the Justice League arrived on the scene, exploding through the roof of the cavernous complex, ready for action.
THE SANCTUARY, SOMEWHERE ON THE BORDER OF ECUADOR AND PERU:
Power Girl floated outside the entrance to the Sanctuary. Kara had asked her to hold the line for her while she was gone, and while Superwoman was confident that when her work was done everything that had happened since Lena's untimely death would be erased, there was still a three-day window that the Justice League could undo everything Kara had set out to do. Doctor Fate had agreed to take the Justice League out of the equation, and the Sanctuary was deadlock sealed, but there were members of the community, if word got out, that could figure out a way in.
Just above all the ambient sounds of the mountain range, a soft buzzing whispered in Karen's ear as the Sanctuary's computers reported, <Perimeter defences Z3-C13 neutralized.>
Karen's eyes widened. That was nearly 80% of the defensive line built to keep unwanted visitors away from the Sanctuary. Nothing lethal, of course, but a solid deterrent for anyone who might have ideas about their station when it came to be being welcome this close to a Kryptonian mountain stronghold. She scanned the immediate area with her X-Ray Vision but could see nothing. Except-- what was that?-- some kind of distortion in the air? A glimmering of-- wait-- she shifted her vision down a range and realized that clouds of chaff hung in the air, effectively bouncing her extrasensory visual abilities back at her.
So, she couldn't see whoever it was trying to sneak toward the entrance--
<Perimeter defences C12-B13 neutralized,> buzzed the Sanctuary computers.
--Okay, so she couldn't see the intruder, but he was getting closer. She shot a glance toward where C12-B13 were situated but could only see the neural janglers ineffectually sprawled across the ground, the stasis nets misfired in their barrels, the phantom collectors holding nothing in their crystal surface-- whoever this was, they were good, and seemed able to anticipate every trap they'd set since establishing the Sanctuary here. If he couldn't see them, she'd try something else-- she concentrated, focused on any out of the ordinary noise, filtering out the ambient noise of the mountains, the skies, the nearby animal life. She focused and focused and then--
The explosive shrieking noise that screamed out from all directions caused her to cry out and fall to her knees--Stupid! she cursed herself, because this was bound to happen, and she'd been lulled into a false sense of security, of superiority, and whoever it was out there anticipated her actions just as they had anticipated the traps, and now she was in agony, her brain on fire, so she had to--
There was a flash of light behind her-- she saw her shadow loom large-- so she spun around and fired a burst of heat vision for the source, shattering the lens. The direction from which she turned was suddenly emitting light too-- she looked back, and then realised she was caught in a circle of light, all burning red, and then she realised what it was she was being exposed to-- red solar radiation! She cast an arc of heat vision outward, shattering all the lenses one after the other in a circle, then jumped up, trying to get some separation from whoever it was on the ground attacking her. If it was daytime, she'd have fully recovered now, but the exposure to red sunlight and her current nocturnal situation meant a recharge would come slower. Starlight was something, but it was nothing like that of the sun.
There was another noise, and she dodged a grenade that had been fired from the ground. She exhaled, blowing away the fragments of chaff still hanging in the air, and then looked down through the treeline to see a freestanding grenade launcher-- which certainly hadn't been there moments ago. She turned back to where the grenade exploded harmlessly in the sky and saw the payload radiate outward-- Green Kryptonite!
She smiled when there was an odd noise in the vicinity-- and a second rocket grenade shot toward her from another location. She caught it before it impacted her chest, then clawed through the casing and pulled out the handful of Green Kryptonite inside. Discarding the weapon before it exploded, she cleared her throat and said, "Guess you're not so smart. I'm not from around here. This crap doesn't work on me. You'll have to try harder."
Green Kryptonite hurt like hell where she came from, but that was a different dimension-- named Reality-2, or Earth-2 if you wanted to be planet-specific-- so if you exposed her to the Green Kryptonite of Earth-1, it did nothing. She could have chomped down on it like it were a snack if she was so inclined, but whoever was attacking the Sanctuary seemed to have it out for Kryptonians-- just not ones like her.
<Warning! Perimeter defences B12-A2 neutralized,> buzzed the Sanctuary computers.
That meant there were just two defences left. The front door-- defence A1-- and Power Girl herself-- A0. How had this attacker gotten so far, without even being spotted? Then she remembered the odd noise she'd heard before the second grenade had been fired. The air becoming ionized. That was a tell-tale sign of teleportation, and that meant whoever was invading the Sanctuary didn't necessarily have to be on-sight. Grenade launchers were dropping in, firing off their rockets, and no one had to be manning them. Tiny teleportation interference inside the perimeter defence system could trigger them prematurely or disable them entirely. But only someone who had a hand in their design could know where to strike, and that meant--
Another rocket grenade flew toward her. She grabbed it, and shouted, "What did I just say?"
When it exploded in her hand, she cried out. Fragments of Green Kryptonite embedded themselves in her invulnerable skin-- which should have been impossible! She spun heel overhead and plummeted to the ground, landing hard on the rocky outcroppings near the entrance of the Sanctuary. It hurt to breathe. It hurt to move. But how was that possible? How was--?
Her vision blurred, and she felt the burn of red light on her skin as more lamps appeared around her. When she went to fire off a last-ditch burst of heat vision, a helmet was clamped around her head, and she suddenly could only see in black and white, and she couldn't manage to get a charge up. Her hands were bound behind her back, and the Kryptonite sapped her will and her ability to power out. She was locked down, nearly powerless, and then the shape appeared in front of her, stepping out from where he'd applied the restraints.
"I'm sorry it came to this, Karen. But I can't let this happen," said Batman. If you could see Tim Wayne's face under that mask, he might look saddened by this turn of events, but instead, he had a job to do, and that meant ignoring his emotions at this moment and continuing with the task at hand. He pulled out a scanner from his belt and waved it over Karen's body. When a full image was taken, he pressed a button on his glove, and all the fragments of Kryptonite that had lodged into Power Girl's body were teleported out of her, removing the toxic, radioactive sting that riddled her body. She was still powerless thanks to the red sunlight, but at least the alien poison filling her body was extracted.
"Y-you... you had... Kryptonite… from Earth-2?" mumbled the restrained Power Girl.
The Dark Knight cocked his head to the side, almost bemused. "Why wouldn’t I? I'm Batman.”
<Warning-- warning-- perimeter defence A0 neutralized,> buzzed the Sanctuary computers.
"Deactivate warning system," ordered Batman, turning toward the door. He pressed a button on his utility belt, and there was a shimmer about his body-- and then waved his hand in front of the Sanctuary door. He sent out the Theta instruction of 'Open Sesame', and the portal ground open, allowing him access.
<Welcome to the Sanctuary, Kara of the House of Zor-L,> came a booming voice, <Kara Zor-El is no longer on the premises.>
Tim would have smiled if he was the smug kind. He'd taken a clone of Power Girl’s Kirilian aura and mapped it over his own, meaning the Sanctuary would give him access to the depths of itself. With that, he could do what he needed to undo all the potential damage Kara could do to the timeline. All he needed to do was reach the temporal research laboratory in the tesseract vaults, and then--
"C'mon, Tim. You know I can't let you do this," said Kon-El, floating up from the ground, phasing through the surface to reveal himself. His entire aura was rippling with the power of the Flamebird entity he held inside him, and he didn't look happy. Not angry, mind. Just sad. Resigned to the situation.
"Hhh. You’re reading my mind now?" asked Batman, taking a step back to evaluate the situation.
"You know it goes deeper than that. You know everything about me, I know everything about you. We're brothers."
"Then why did you come to me with this? I suspected Kara was up to something crazy when she asked for the Justice League to gather at the Watchtower after going to ground after Lena's death-- I had to see Doctor Fate and Steel betray the others over the security systems-- if we're brothers, then why didn't you tell me this is what she was doing?"
Kon smiled ruefully. "Because she's family as well. And so's Lena. Heh. After everything, for me to consider a Luthor family... isn't that a sign of how far we've come?"
Batman was running scenarios through his head. The ones he never wanted to run. "You need to let me undo this, Kon. I hacked Steel's copy of the time-rocket's schematics. I know there's a recall signal that can pull Kara back home. Prevent her from ever reaching the past. Just... let me pass."
"You know I can't do that, Tim. This will work. She'll save Lena, and everyone else, and come home. And then we'll never be in this situation. You won't have filled Power Girl with Green K to get here. We won't be about to throw down."
"I read the time map Kara and Lena built. I know what happens on the day she's going back. If she undoes all of that... it's more than saving Lena. It's changing the course of history," said Batman.
Flamebird drifted to the ground and powered down. He held out a hand to his best friend, "And we'll be here to deal with the repercussions if there are any. But I won't betray her. Not now. Not after everything. Besides, I un-tethered the temporal research tesseract before I came up here and wiped the database so the only way to find it would be manually. You'll never be able to locate it again in time. Three days. And she'll be back. Are we really going to fight?"
Damn. Un-latched from the Sanctuary, there were millions of potential tesseract locations that the temporal research laboratory could be amongst now. That was the whole idea. A database cataloguing each tesseract location, and a physical bridge that linked it to the Sanctuary, so anyone could access it. You could rotate options when you needed them, eject dangerous experiments into the ether and watch entropy dissolve it into nothingness. If Kon had un-tethered it and deleted the database, it would take days to locate it again, because that would mean rebuilding the database from previous versions, and the legwork... the brainwork...
Other questions filled Batman's head. Could Tim take down Kon? If the Kryptonian hybrid were still Superboy, maybe. Now that he was Flamebird? It would have been like fighting a god. And he'd succeeded at that once or twice in his lifetime, even before he donned the mantle of the Bat. But this wasn't just any old god. This was his best friend. His brother.
Resigned to their circumstances, Tim unlatched his mask and discarded it. He took Kon's hand and shook it once. "Three days. Then the timeline gets overwritten. Then this never happened."
"And Karen won't be mega pissed with you for beating her up," said Kon.
"I'm sure she'll understand..."
"Y'know, I'm kinda surprised you didn't palm some kind of anti-Flamebird gizmo into that handshake," said Kon.
"Oh, that? I didn't bring it with me," said Tim, allowing himself a smile.
Except he had. He'd always anticipated it might come down to this. The weapon designed to take down his best friend was in his back pocket. A fragment of Phantom Zone crystal imbued with the energies of Cythonna, Kryptonian Goddess of Ice, and the only being that could potentially counter the abilities of the Flamebird entity. And there the fragment would stay, nestled between various other contingency plans, for when it was really needed... not to be wasted on a moment such as this.
Kon watched Tim for a moment, and nearly said something, but then shook his head. "We should go release Power Girl."
"Yeah. And you can convince her not to throw me into the sun..."
SOMEWHERE IN SWITZERLAND:
“This… isn’t what it looks like?” offered Superwoman, shaking off the layer of blood that splattered her when he’d blown himself up. “And I appreciate… it looks really bad.”
The Justice League were above her and looking invariably in shock and horror-- and in Batman’s case, grim dissatisfaction-- at the sight of the blood-drenched Woman of Tomorrow, who finished cleaning herself before anything further could be said. Wonder Woman was flanked by the Justice League-- Aquaman, Batman, Cyborg, the Engineer, Firestorm, Hawkman, Mera, Mister Miracle-- and none of them looked impressed at the scene they’d stumbled into.
“We don’t want to fight you, Superwoman. We received a strange summons to be here and after your confrontation with Batman earlier, we had to take it seriously,” said Wonder Woman.
Like a hesitant student wanting to contribute in class, the Engineer tentatively held up her hand and added, “I saw what happened when we got close. I mean, I sent a nano-camera ahead, so, yeah, I showed everybody what happened before we broke through the ceiling-- we know you didn’t blow up that guy, is what I’m trying to say.” She shrugged. “Big fan.”
“But after your tête-à-tête with Batman, you understand where we’re coming from, right?” said Mister Miracle.
Superwoman nodded slowly, then in a gesture of passivity, her hands held up palm forward, she said, “Of course. And this is as shocking to me as it is to you. But I couldn’t afford to be held up by you, Batman. I said as much earlier, and I stand by it now, especially.”
“Then tell us… what happened here?” asked Wonder Woman. “The truth. Please.”
“A young woman was kidnapped. The results would have been catastrophic. I prevented that from coming to pass,” said Superwoman.
“You’re leaving something out,” said Batman, who had changed into another costume since their confrontation earlier, this one black with white lines etched around an emerald symbol on his chest. She assumed this was some sort of anti-Kryptonian suit but didn’t want to take a guess as to what armaments it had at its disposal.
“…The young woman I rescued is Lena Luthor,” she said.
“How does that even work?” asked Firestorm.
“It’s a long story,” said Superwoman.
“Then I suggest you start telling it. We want the truth, Superwoman,” said Batman.
“A young woman is sat back there, having experienced a severe trauma that would have led to her untimely death. I prevented it, and now she needs medical attention. I’m not here to put your paranoia at ease, Batman. I’m here to help people.”
She turned, and a thin rope lashed around her wrist. The rest of the Justice League turned to see Batman, the line gripped tightly in his hand, a grim expression on his face. “You’ll answer our questions.”
Superwoman sighed. She was about to say something witty when nearby an explosion rocked the cavern, and a Boom Tube formed from which a refreshed and breezy Superman emerged.
“Hey, folks. I just had the--”
The Man of Steel’s eyes widened at the sight of Batman gripping a line that was lashed to Superwoman’s wrist. The rest of the team looked poised for a fight, and the floor and dockside were stained red with Demo’s blood.
“--Did I miss something important?”
Before anything else could be said, Superwoman whispered something so quiet that only Superman could hear, then severed the line around her wrist with a bead of heat vision. She vanished immediately at superspeed, leaving the Justice League alone in the cavern, the waters below rushing past.
“Where did she go? Cyborg-- track her!” ordered Batman.
“Belay that,” said Superman, holding up his hand.
“What do you mean? She’s gone rogue, Superman. She needs to be contained,” barked the Dark Knight.
“That’s my family you’re talking about. Diana, see to Lena. The threat posed by the armoured soldiers has been neutralised, but they’ll need the kind of care S.T.A.R. can offer. I need to fly.”
“Where are you going?” asked Wonder Woman.
“To say goodbye to my cousin,” he replied, before heading south, to the Fortress of Solitude as Kara’s words echoed in his head.
“I’ll explain everything but they won’t believe me and there are some things I have to keep close to my chest-- but I’ll tell you. I thought I’d have longer but it’s obvious I don’t. Look after Lena. Diana’s probably better for that than Bruce, because he’s clearly in one of his moods. Meet me at the Fortress. I’ll explain everything. I promise. And then I’ll go home.”
THE FAR FUTURE
LEGION OF SUPERHEROES CLUBHOUSE, METROPOLIS:
“Okay, this is getting crazy,” said Livewire. “Not like, bad, but like, umm, crazy.”
Cosmos, Brainiac 5.1, Livewire and Saturn Woman were sat in front of a time viewer, a device capable of piercing the veil of time, and they had directed its nano-chronoal scope at wherever Superwoman’s unique solar-temporal signature resided. They’d followed her exploits from the morning (the contemporary timeframe she was flying about in) until the afternoon (again, the same contemporary timeline), making sure her actions were on the up and up, and had watched as events had degenerated to the point of the Justice League’s arrival.
“I told you we shouldn’t have done this,” said Brainiac 5.1.
“We’re monitoring her actions, Brainy. We’re keeping an eye on her,” said Saturn Woman.
Garth threw his hands up in the air. “And grife, Querl! Superwoman is one of our greatest allies! Who do we call when everything goes to sprock? Who always answer the call, no matter what? I don’t understand why you can’t cut her some frakking slack!”
“Garth, please, language,” said Imra.
Brainiac sighed. “The timeline is fragile. Her actions in the 21st century could have repercussions into the far future. The 31st century, for example. Our time. I don’t understand why this is so difficult for you to comprehend.”
“We’re mitigating the damage from here, Querl, and we are trusting her, Garth,” said Rokk.
“By anonymously alerting the Justice League to her location? By giving Kal a mental nudge to go see what’s going on as soon as he arrived? C’mon…” said Livewire.
“She’s powering up the time ship,” said Imra, gesturing toward the scope, where they could see Kara re-activate the vessel she used to arrive in the timeline.
“And Superman’s just arrived,” said Rokk, as the Man of Steel landed outside the open door of the Fortress of Solitude, snow breezing past him.
Querl sighed heavily. “The damage could already be done. We’re aware of the temporal storm that takes place in the near future of that timeframe. An entire year, inaccessible, something going on beyond any of our temporal sciences. I’ve tried contacting the Linear Men but I get nothing from Vanishing Point. We could journey back to investigate ourselves, but then we could cause the storm. I simply don’t know.”
“You gave her seventy-two hours,” said Garth.
“I had to do something. I just hope-- ‘hope’, sprock, you people have rubbed off on me-- I hope we’ve not contributed to the damage,” said Brainiac.
“Turn that off,” said Rokk, as he floated up from his seat. “Let them have this. I think we’re done.”
Garth shuffled up and picked up the remote. “Yeah, it was getting boring anyway.” He turned off the vast monitor, and the foursome headed outside. “Anyone hungry?”
THE FORTRESS OF SOLITUDE, ANTARCTICA:
“What happened, Kara? I left this morning, and everything was fine, but Lois and I come back and you’re facing off against the Justice League?” said Superman, tentatively approaching his cousin. “That’s a bit of a concern.”
Yesterday, he’d been so excited to know her, to know that in the future all his fears were for nothing, and she ended up this strong, vibrant woman, but now, having walked in on the sight of Superwoman facing off against the Justice League, he doubted himself. Had he been duped? He wasn’t naïve enough to let her walk around unchecked-- that’s why he snuck word to Batman the night before-- but that was a precaution in case she needed assistance, not because he thought she wasn’t who she said she was. But what did he actually know? Who was this woman to him?
“I, uh, I may have lied about my reasons for being here,” said Superwoman, embarrassedly. She stopped working the controls of the time-rocket and turned to face him, stepping down from the podium the vessel had landed on the day prior. “But that doesn’t mean I’m a bad guy.”
He sighed. “So, you weren’t here to give me the day off? I suspected as much, but I gave you leeway because you’re family. I just didn’t expect you to start a fight with my friends. Just don’t ask me to pick sides…”
“Hey, I didn’t start that fight, Bruce did, or at least, he tried to,” she countered.
Clark shook his head. “I can believe that, but still. Why are you here? The truth now. Like you promised.” He looked past her, toward the time-rocket that buzzed and shuddered as it continued to power up.
Now it was her turn to sigh. She unfurled her fingers, then closed them into fists, before letting them slip to her sides resignedly. “That guy who blew himself up? He did something to Lena in my timeline. Poisoned her. Inserted a bomb in her DNA that went off in my present. She died in my arms, and I couldn’t do anything. I had to prevent that from happening.”
Clark blinked. “Lena… Lena Luthor is your girlfriend? In the future?”
She nodded once. “She’s the love of my life, Kal. My everything. I had to do this,” said Kara.
Clark opened his mouth but then faltered. He scratched the back of his head, and then took a step back so he could sit down on one of the platforms nearby. “Okay.”
“…Okay?” she repeated.
Looking down as the hairs on the back of his palm began to prick up as the time-rocket’s engines revved, he said, “I don’t agree with your methods, but Bruce is known for jumping to conclusions. It’s what kept him alive all these years. But… Lena is your girlfriend. Huh.”
“Is it a problem?” she asked.
“I have a better question,” he said, looking up at her, “Are you happy together?”
“Would I have travelled back in time for anything less than true love?”
He laughed, despite himself, despite the increasingly loud noise of the time-rocket powering up behind Kara. The air was full of variegated static, just as it had been when the Legion had visited two days ago to collect the present-day version of Supergirl. Time energies were coalescing in the immediate area. Soon it would be time for her to leave.
Without looking away from her, Clark smirked and said, “I would do anything within my power to turn back the clock if something happened to Lois. I don’t know what I’d do if I lost her. I’d probably travel back in time too if it came down to it. I’d make my way across the multiverse until we were reunited.”
“You’d do what was right, Kal. Always. Forever and always. I’d cross entire worlds and the breadth of time to save the love of my life, and you’d do the same. Everything I’ve done these last forty-eight hours… it was all for her. I said… I told you I’d have seventy-two. I promised the Legion I’d be home in seventy-two hours. But I saved her, Kal. I did what I set out to do. I think it’s best I go home. Best I see if all this changed anything.”
“I hope your world is whole when you get back,” said Clark. He stood back up and walked toward his cousin, taking her into his arms and holding her tight. “I’m sorry we didn’t get to spend more time together. Just know that I’m proud of the woman you’ve become. I’m proud of you now and I’m proud of you in the future.”
“Listen: When I’m gone, you won’t remember all the details of my visit. That’s just the way of time travel,” she gripped his arms and spoke quietly into his chest, even as the time-rocket roared and flashed blue light behind her, “But I hope you remember that I love you and that you’re my hero.”
She released her cousin, and stepped backwards, into the waiting cockpit of the time-rocket. Clark gave her a wave and said, “Safe travels.”
“I love you, Kal,” said Superwoman.
“And I love you too,” replied Superman.
Temporal energies lashed out harmlessly from the now roaring time-engine, and Kara whispered “Like a cosmic drumroll,” as the rocket’s doors closed around her. Then the entire vessel was surrounded in a field of blue lightning, and it simply vanished, a quiet pop punctuating the disappearance.
“I won’t forget you,” whispered Clark.
THE SANCTUARY, SOMEWHERE ON THE BORDER OF ECUADOR AND PERU:
Without warning, Kara landed with a start in the belly of her Sanctuary, the time-vessel she’d rode dissolving upon arrival. She had half-expected that to happen, because the nature of time travel meant that if she went back to prevent something from happening, if everything went to plan and she was successful, that meant she prevented her present self ever needing to build a time machine, which was paradoxical and confusing, and hopefully Rip Hunter would be around at some point to explain some of the finer points, but if she landed and the time-rocket was gone, that meant she was successful, didn’t it? That meant--
“What are you doing down there on one knee?” asked Lena Luthor, hands on her hips, looking down from another platform high above the space that had previously housed Kara’s time travel workshop. “You’re not going to propose, are you? I’ve not interrupted a practice session, have I? How to get down on one knee?”
A grin on her face, Kara shot upwards, bundled Lena into her arms, and spun the love of her life around, even as the memories of her actions in the past faded, and new memories reintegrated as the timeline solidified. It was as if she’d never needed to travel back-- all was right with her present, and Lena was in her arms, and she was kissing her passionately, spinning slowly as they headed passed the various floors of the Sanctuary.
“Wh-whoa whoa whoa,” whispered Lena, gently moving her mouth away from Kara’s, “What’s got into you?”
“I just missed you,” replied Kara. “I really, really missed you.”
ONE DAY LATER
THE FORTRESS OF SOLITUDE, ANTARCTICA:
ONE DAY LATER
THE FORTRESS OF SOLITUDE, ANTARCTICA:
Deep inside the belly of the Fortress of Solitude, Lois Lane leaned into her fiancé’s hefty shoulder as he held her close, and asked, “What’s the holdup?”
“No hold up, you’re just impatient,” replied Clark, grinning. He gave her a squeeze.
The air was full of static, which he informed her was perfectly normal, but it caused her hair to begin to drift upwards of its own accord, which was fine because it’s not like she was remotely vain or anything.
“When the Legion’s Time Sphere is about to arrive, the air fills with this kind of distortion. I’ve always loved it. It’s like reality is anticipating the change…”
“…Like a cosmic drumroll. Yeah, you’ve said before. You’re repeating yourself, Clark. That always happens when you’re excited,” said Lois.
“She travelled to the 31st century to be with the Legion of Superheroes for the weekend, and then a future version of herself travelled back to fill the gap. What can I say? I’m excited to see our Kara.”
“We had one hell of a vacation, I’ll give her that,” said Lois.
“Heck, I’m still healing from the ringer you put me through on our last stop,” he replied, a cheeky twinkle in his eyes as he faked a groan of discomfort and backache.
“I’m saying nothing,” she said, rolling her eyes.
“Oh, can you hear that?” said Clark, his ears piquing as the air pressure in the Fortress changed. “They’re here!” he exclaimed.
Kaleidoscopic lightning fluctuated from inside the invisible folds of reality as they somehow became visible, and a shape began to materialise-- the Legion of Super-Heroes’ Time Sphere was beginning to solidify in the present day!
“About time,” murmured Lois.
The Time Sphere finally manifested completely, and the door sprang open and out flew Supergirl, beaming brightly. “Kal! Lois!” She gathered them up and gave them a hug. “Oh, wow, I had the best time, but I missed you!”
“And we missed you,” said Lois, returning the gesture. “You sure look like you’ve had a good time. Is that a tan?”
“After we rescued Mister Brande from the star pirates of New Tortuga, Ultra Boy took us solar sailing and then we visited-- oh, I have so much to tell you!”
Lightning Lad popped his head out of the Time Sphere and gave Superman a thumbs up. “She was the best, Kal. We have to head off to make sure we don’t get caught in the temporal storm a year up, but we’ll see you soon, okay?”
“Thanks for having her, Garth. Send my regards to the others,” replied Superman.
Lois’ brow furrowed as she looked passed the others into the Time Sphere, and then looked over to Clark. “Hey, is that a Brainiac riding shotgun?”
ONE DAY LATER
SOMEWHERE ON NEW KRYPTON:
ONE DAY LATER
SOMEWHERE ON NEW KRYPTON:
“…So, that’s my story. I went back in time, I changed something massive, and after I got back… everything seems to be okay in the present,” said Kara.
She held up her hand so that her fingers blocked the glow of the crimson sun that beamed down on the surface of the planet. She remembered what it was like in the early days of this relatively new world when the sun was yellow and granted her people powers like those Kara had manifested on the Earth.
When Solaris neared defeat a few years ago, in a last-ditch effort to murder Superwoman the tyrant sun sapped energy from the system’s sun and caused it to cool rapidly. Kara prevented the star from going out, but it was permanently rendered red, and it lost millions of years’ worth of future. New Krypton was safe, and the Science Guild monitored the celestial body’s health, and they were confident they had a billion years or so before the star died. They’d find a new solar system long before then. Kryptonians had a way of surviving even the most apocalyptic of ends.
Regardless, her body had absorbed enough red sun energy that her powers were nearly gone. She enjoyed these quiet moments when her powers were depleted and all she experienced was what was around her. Back on Earth, with a yellow sun and an entire world of action and motion and noise, there were always distractions, but here, on the edge of the planet’s civilisation, in the fields with the long grass and the rushing rivers, there was a serenity, and she loved it.
“I remember enough.”
“I thought you might. They probably only remember a few sparse details in their present. That I was there. That I did what I did. But the whys? The wherefores? Fading. Time is like an ocean…”
“…Clear skies and even seas.”
She smiled. “Exactly.”
Stood a few metres in front of her, foot resting on the wooden fence he’d built to delineate the Kryptonian farm he now called home, Clark Kent scratched his beard and hooked his thumbs into his dungarees. He looked shaggier than he had ten years or so in the past. He’d put a bit of weight on around the middle under Krypton’s red sun, but he was still strong. Still a Superman. His glasses were tucked into the nook of his shirt’s collar, and he smiled as Kara took a step toward him. His skin was tanned and weathered, lines under his eyes that would fade if he were to ever step into the light of a yellow sun. But he looked good. Stately.
“I remember being so very proud of you. And knowing that the world… the universe… would be in safe hands should it come down to it. I didn’t remember you saying I’d vanish for ten years, of course. If I had, it might not have come about the same way. Time is like an ocean… the ripples eventually end.”
“And you came back. You’re more than made up for missing those ten years,” said Kara.
Clark chuckled and looked toward his house, built by hand near the edge of the Xeno River. If you followed it on from here, you’d eventually end up at the crystal-clear waters of Lake Trom. On the porch, Lois was sat working on her latest intergalactic news story, while Lena amused herself by talking nonsense to the bundle of energy that was the two-year-old son of Lois and Clark-- Jon Kent.
“Speaking of… I think my son probably wants some ice cream. You did bring the ice cream?” he said.
“I had to stop Lena eating it last night, but you bet I got the ice cream,” replied Kara.
As the pair laughed together and headed toward the house, Clark leaned over to his cousin, and asked, “So, you ever going to pop the question? I have to admit; married life was the best thing that ever happened to me.”
Kara simply smiled and patted her trouser pocket, where something box-shaped was tucked away. “What do you think?”
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