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Crashing to Earth: When Alien Bioweapons, Freshman Parties and the Justice League Collide

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I write it as a labor of love.  I have been writing since I learned to read but it wasn't until 2 weeks ago I got brave enough to post.  Everything I post to AO3 will be free of charge as it is derivative fanfic.  When I get to self publishing, that may/may not change.

If you're desperate to show your financial gratitude, you can toss me coin for a coffee/candy bar/parking meter at my Ko-Fi here:  http://ko-fi.com/alephthirteen

The first arc of the story is up, our Kara has left her pod and left the comfort of the shire.  We're diving into the hero's journey now.

Stay tuned for the rest of "Crashing To Earth", my lovelies!


 

 

Argo City, Tower of the House of El

 

The pod’s engine hums to life, a faint silvery glow coming from deep within the coils. Zor-El laughs at the ceiling, wiping his forehead with his sleeve. To think his classmates used to laugh at him for his interest in gravity-fields and vintage spacecraft. They laughed.

His brother is still at the med-center with his wife and their newborn nephew. Leave it to Jor-El and his wife to have a natural childbirth…even when he was a boy he had to do everything his own way.

Zor-El hasn’t seen his own wife in two days. Alura insisted on staying in the Tower of Justice as long as she could to write the emergency declarations. As far as he knows, only six people believe Krypton has hours to live and each one is doing everything they can to save the legacy. Kara is too young to help and Kal-El should spend every instant he can with Lara.

“Kolex, diagnostic on the propulsion core.”

No response.

“Kolex, diagnostic on the propulsion core.”

Instead of Kolex's voice, a strange recording plays.  It carries the tell-tale reverb of something passed through the universal translator.

 

 

Aye, aye, Captain. Is there anything else we can do? “

Cross your fingers. Kirk out. Death, destruction, disease, horror. That's what war is all about, Anan. That's what makes it a thing to be avoided. You've made it neat and painless. So neat and painless, you've had no reason to stop it. And you've had it for five hundred years. Since it seems to be the only way I can save my crew and my ship, I'm going to end it for you, one way or another.“

“Kolex?”

“Is Kara all right?” he asks Kolex. Since Kara is his favorite topic, that should get Kolex’s attention. He doesn’t answer but a powerful hand grips his shoulder.

Zor-El whips around, holding the cutting torch tight. It’s not exactly a weapon but on full power it’s close enough. Instead of an intruder, he finds Kolex, his lift-jets wobbling and his head jerking back and forth. He seems to be suffering a software crash.

“Kolex. Is Kara hurt?”

Kolex tilts his head down. He looks ridiculous, mostly because Kara insisted on putting the actor’s mask on the robot. Something her friend found at one of the archeological digs, thousands of cycles older than Argo city. Kara was right. Putting a clay mask on a robot is hilarious.

“Kara is unharmed. She is asleep. Her biorhythms are within healthy ranges, although I am detecting rapid changes in her circulatory and endocri-”

“Stop!” Zor-El shouts. “That’s normal for her now.”

He remembers when she was nothing more than a squealing mess in her mother’s arms, still sticky with fluid from the birthing machines. The reminder that his little girl is becoming a woman hurts bad enough. With it comes the reminder that he won’t be there to help her. Krypton has hours left, perhaps two days.

Whatever life brings her, he will not be there to guide her through it.

He can only pray that Rao’s light protects her and perhaps one day someone on that far-off world lights her soul on fire, as Alura did the moment they met.

“Father Rao, let her have that. Guide her towards love,” he prays. “She is a child, innocent of her fathers’ sin.”

Kolex has stopped twitching but he hasn’t performed the diagnostic. This the first time in decades where Kolex has not replied.  Zor-El taps Kolex's sensor housing.

“Kolex, explain your failure to run a diagnostic.”

“My apologies. I believe the quantum uplink to central command was contaminated.”

“Why?”

“Lady Kara had requested I perform a scan of broadcast signals from Earth. We re-tasked an idle satellite from the colonization period. Due to some difficulties with the cadence and pacing of the creature in the recording, the translator mainframes were over taxed, which caused my incorrect reply. I am tracking 528 other broadcasts but Kara had asked to replay that one earlier today while she was studying."

He chuckles, putting his free hand on Kolex’s shoulder. Leave it to his little girl to find out about the top-secret evacuation and ‘appropriate’ ancient space hardware to spy on the planet he selected for her. Leave it to her robot to spoil her and distract her when she should be studying.

Calling up his wrist computer, he types up an order for the city’s central computer. Kara will need Kolex, especially if she doesn’t have her parents. She will need a friend with her and unlike her parents, Kolex can be condensed into a processing core and power supply no bigger than Kara’s fist. His body is not what makes him Kara’s friend: it’s ten cycles and thousands of hours she spent tinkering and reprogramming and more than a few pranks they played.

Kolex will go with her, whether he likes it or not.

Telling him out loud would risk a mutiny from Kolex – or a tantrum, given Kara’s sloppy programming – and it would mean Kolex’s last recording of him is a forced shutdown: a reminder of his servitude. After twenty cycles together in this lab, that wouldn’t be fair. Machine or no, Kolex has been his right hand since the day he joined the Science Guild. It will be kinder to let central control do it by remote override.

“So she had you distract her from her studies?”

“Yes, sir.”

“Sounds like something she would do.”

Kolex goes completely still, the way he does when all his processors are overworked.

“Lady Kara did do it, sir. Therefore, your hypothesis is already proved. I fail to see how your conjecture adds to our knowledge.”

Zor-El sighs and waves the unlit torch at the other pods.

“Just go check the other pods, please. I need to see if they can be salvaged.”

“Of course.”

Four more pods sit in the makeshift hanger. He doubts that more than two of them can be repaired, given the damage they took over centuries in storage. Even if he does repair another he can’t imagine convincing Alura to go without him and he’s not about to leave her here to burn. If they cannot share escape, they will share death.

He goes over his checklist.

Kara has an escape pod with a working faster-than-light drive. A data crystal, survival canister and outpost kit are already in the cargo casket.

He has dinner on the table for his wife, in case she comes home before it’s all over.

Which means the lab downstairs is all that needs dealing with.

He puts his hand over the scanner, bracing himself for the prick of the stylus. As soon as the scan completes, the laser cauterizer seals the wound. One by one, six massive locks discharge their magnets and roll into their sockets. The blast door swings aside and he follows a trail of emergency lights into the depth of the bunker. Each step brings back a memory of some awful project, hideous creature or lethal prototype he created. A thousand things he can never atone for.

 

(Ninety seconds after the destruction of Krypton)

 

Three memories roll inside Kara’s mind, over and over.

Her mother kissing her cheek before shoving her into the pod.

Her father’s smile as he took his wife’s arm.

Her own scream as the explosion killed them.

She can’t breathe. Every time she tries, her throat seizes up. The cockpit around her is blurry and her arms feel heavy. Something slices into the side of her neck and she feels a chill spread through her body.

With a gasp, Kara draws the deepest breath she can, the frigid air from the oxygen tanks scraping across her aching throat. In the corner of her eye, she sees the med-probe retract, sizzling as it burns off a pinkish stain. It must have directly oxygenated her blood.

She wonders where her father even found this pod. It’s ancient. The onboard intelligence is only capable of obstacle evasion and navigation and the hull bears dozens of welds and seams where her father and Kolex repaired holes or spliced in better parts.

She hadn’t even thought of Kolex. Another voice she will never hear again.

“He’s gone too,” she sniffles. “Goodbye, Kolex.”

“Lady Kara?”

She turns her head, sending a flash of pain down her left side. Probably the drugs from the medical system. According to the life support panel, it had to inject a paralytic. Kara supposes she did try to claw her way out.

“What?” she sputters. “Kolex! You’re alive?”

“No. I am a machine.”

Kara snorts. Kolex is easily the funniest robot she ever met.

“I mean, you’re with me?”

“Correct. Your father instructed central command to shut me down and detach my core from my chassis. It appears I am in the cargo casket behind you.”

Kara sighs. At least she will have someone to talk to.

“Can you do something about this mess of a computer?”

“Stand by,” he replies. His voice isn’t right though. Too flat, too hard. Probably coming from a micro-speaker rather than the verbal interface system of the chassis.

“Sensors online. Communications online. Navigation locked out. Your father’s orders.”

“Can I see?” she croaks. “Krypton, I mean.”

“As you wish.”

The monitor on the left panel lights up, showing the cloud of rubble and superheated ore that was once her home. The right panel shows ejecta and debris raining down on Daxam. Another arm of debris is snaking towards Rao, dropping highly enriched fuel crystals into the stars’ outer layers. Projected on the cockpit glass is a recording from her father. The room he recorded it in is one she’s never seen before but the shaking of the walls tell her it was recorded not long before the explosion.

 

 

I wish that we could go with you. There’s no time to fix another pod. Your cousin will be safe, I know it. You-”

You are the best of us, Kara, my little star. I don’t know if any others will survive but I cannot imagine a better woman to tell our story. To tell Krypton’s story. The planet we’re sending you to-“

Kara wishes he would have let her help. Did he really think ‘the best’ would never find out about his little plan? If he would have told her where the pods were locked up, she would have been there day and night trying to repair them.

“Kolex, skip any description of Earth.”

 

 

“…and Krypton is gone now. According to our simulations Rao itself will go nova after it absorbs the exotic matter in the debris. But the light will shine down on Earth for many years. When you look up from Earth, think of Rao’s glow as your mother and me, watching over you.”

Remember us, Kara.“

 


 

Deep Space | Unknown Vessels

 

Four black specks cast their tiny shadows over methane storms that dwarf planets. Cables unspool from some hidden mechanism, dumping electrical waste into the planet’s outer atmosphere. Small, still and silent, the vessels are unseen by the passing refugee flotilla.

The vessel tailing the rag-tag fleet is an old heavy cruiser from the wars centuries ago, the Flames of Kandor. Kryptonian cadets are taught about every battle that ship ever fought. Pilots and commanders drill against the Flames and only graduate when they can destroy her in every conceivable engagement.

Four computers debate their next move. Three of them may be submerged and hidden below the gas but they see through each other’s eyes and they think as one.

[Alert: Unidentified spacecraft in vicinity.]

[Analysis: Ships are of Daxamite design. Charging defense fields.]

[Analysis Update: Distress calls from Krypton playing on all channels.]

[Conjecture: Daxamite attack on Krypton.]

[Action: Attack and evade.]

A swarm of missiles breaks the upper clouds and strike Flames’ largest engine, shattering the heat shield. Superheated debris slices into maneuvering thrusters, hull plating and finally fuel lines. Explosions tear the ship apart, hurling jagged scraps of plating into the nearest civilian vessels.

Three hundred years after the bombardment of Kandor, the dead are avenged.

The attackers warp out as soon as they clear the clouds, leaving a trail of plasma among the debris and frozen corpses.


Deep Space | Kara Zor-El

Kara rubs her face with the back of her fist. Tiny flecks of blood smear across the dry and cracking skin of her hand.

All that from the crying? She supposes it would explain her parched throat and itchy face. If she can’t get a handle on her emotions, Kolex will probably sedate her and forcibly rehydrate her while she sleeps.

“Kolex, are there any other messages? Other survivors?”

“Stand by, my lady.”

The pod is not silent, which is terrifying. It hums and clicks and wheezes, betraying the age of the systems. The cruise ship that she and her aunt took to Starhaven was silent because everything was flawlessly maintained and every bit of floor was carpeted.

Astra would be alive! Kara realizes, feeling warmth in her chest for the first time in days. Her aunt is serving a life sentence for terrorism in Fort Rozz but all the prison barges are administered by other species in other systems. Unless something happened, she is alive.

“I have detected no new signals, only automated beacons.”

“Thank you,” she croaks.

She sucks in a breath, hoping she won’t break down again.

“Lady Kara? If it would improve your emotional state, I can play a message I received from your mother.”

“Please.”

It’s probably the same goodbye she’s heard a thousand times but even so, it is her mother’s voice. She takes a deep breath, forcing her sobs down so she can focus on her mother’s last words.

Except it isn’t the message her mother recorded from Kara’s bedroom. This was recorded in her office and her mother is in her adjudicator's robes.

Kara jerks her head up, tears forgotten. This is something she hasn’t heard before.

 

 

Children of Krypton, I address you as Alura of El, High Adjudicator and as the last member House Ina and House Zenn. By the time this transmission reaches the network, Krypton will be destroyed and Rao will be dying. Billions will be dead.”

Greed destroyed us and it destroyed Krypton. Greed that went unchecked because of the arrogance of the Great Houses.”

As head of council by default, I hereby discontinue the guild system. I hereby discontinue the Seat of the Nameless and implore the Nameless to create Houses as they see fit. The council votes from Great Houses without surviving members will be reapportioned.”

I hereby vacate the sentences of any Kryptonian inmates in our custody. I hereby cancel all debts, private and public, to any entity based on Krypton.”

We are all equals now: colonist and Argonite, high-born and nameless, criminal and adjudicator. If we cannot better ourselves and deal fairly with one another, we will die out."

Survivors from Krypton itself will be few. The council has designated the following rendezvous points for survivors. Any refugees will arrive there. Treat them as you would your family, I beg of you.”

We are all Rao’s children and we will not vanish so easily. The void has taken Krypton and it will soon take Rao. But it has not taken our people. We will endure. May Rao’s light shine through you.”

Her mother reaches out to turn the recording device and Kara reaches towards the projection, desperate to touch her one last time. Before her fingers can brush the hologram, it cuts out. It must have been filmed until the very last moment. Her mother died filming that, pleading for help from rim-rats and Nameless who she never would have looked at in Argo.

“Kolex! Astra’s been pardoned! We can go find her!”

She doesn’t even have to think about it.

“Set course for Vhoc’s Gate Prison.”

Rao’s Shadow, what system is that in?

“Davarr system,” Kolex adds.

“What would I do without you?” Kara sniffs.

“Die of thirst, apparently. Setting course now.”

The navigation computer boots up and starts to plot a new course but shuts back down.

“What happened?”

“Our course is still hardware-locked, Lady Kara. It cannot be changed without partially disassembling the propulsion system and performing repairs. Which would need to be done from outside the hull.”

Kara drums her fingers on the controls.

“Something which I will not allow you to attempt, young lady.”

He used a recording of her mother’s voice for ‘young lady’ because he knew it would stop Kara.

“We’re not going to a rendezvous, are we?”

“No. We are course-locked for Earth.”

“Whose orders?”

“Your father’s. My hypothesis is that your mother was merely concerned about Earth’s habitability, not the possibility of reunion with survivors. Kara?”

Even through these awful speakers, Kara can hear Kolex’s sadness. It may be only software to emulate emotion for the comfort of living things but it works. She feels better with him here than she would alone.

“Additional orders from your father were just executed. There is an auto-surgery suite in the pod which has just activated and medical procedures are being streamed into it. They are encrypted and am performing them but I do not know their purpose. Please forgive me.”

Kara screams. Not from the sting of the injector in her neck but because this is her father doing this. One last experiment? One last project that he ‘couldn’t talk about’ for the Military Guild?

“Nothing to forgive, Kolex. This wasn’t you.”

As her vision spins and fades, she sees four flashes of pale blue light, two to each side of the cockpit. Starships leaving warp. They’re not much larger than hers. Their hulls are flat black and their engine vents are tiny slits.

Before she can hail the newcomers, the sedative takes her.

 


July 14 2002, Earth | Mari McCabe (“Vixen”)

Geosynchronous orbit, 1500 kilometers over Metropolis

The Justice League’s “Lighthouse” Space Station

 

The control panel is beeping faintly but he doesn’t notice. Batman is asleep. The fight last night took everything he had and between the bruises, the blow to the head...it was too much. He is slumped over the keyboard, snoring into his mask.

A woman strolls past his post, bare feet moving across the steel plating without so much as a rustle. The only sound she makes is a contented moaning sound as she pops another cookie into her mouth. This is a hug in food form.

You are something else, Ma Kent.

“These are fricking amazing,” she mumbles.

“Hey Bats, you ever try these?”

He doesn’t answer. He is sprawled against the control panel while the monitor above him blinks ‘signals detected’ over and over. His cape is snagged on the chair’s hinge and the spines on his armored gloves are digging into his face.

“Bats?”

She pulls a phone from her jeans and snaps a photo. She considers streaming it but that’s probably not a good idea. Revealing too much about this place would get someone killed and she can’t count on the bad guys to focus on the joke instead of analyzing the equipment in the background.

He needs to wake up and do his job. A good old-fashioned roar to the face should do it.

She breathes deep and stills her mind as the spectral forms of various beasts swirl around her. All the creatures that ever walked the earth.

Perfect, Vixen decides. A tigress. She feels the cold as her alter ego goes plunging through the Siberian snows in pursuit of a wounded elk. Her lips darken and curl into a smirk even as fur spreads across her face and her hands sprout claws.

At least this time she avoided growing the tail. Grandmother was right, practice helps.

She clears her throat, bends down beside Batman and roars as loud as she can.

Her deals with the joke about as well as she expected, swinging blindly at her before he’s really awake. She intercepts the blow with ease, curling her fingers around his fist so that her newly-grown claws almost touch his skin.

“Asleep at the post, eh?”

“No, Vixen. I was meditating.”

“Ancient technique from Nanda Prabat, I’m sure. Mistakes happen, Bruce.”

“Don’t call me that.”

“Really? I mean, it’s not like Batman falls asleep on lookout duty. So that had to be Bruce Wayne. Anyway...”

She sets her plate down on the console.

“Saved you a couple of cookies. We animal fetishists have to stick together.”

The tiniest smile flickers crosses his lips. Amazing. How many times has he actually smiled while suited up?

“Just eat it. Even you are not paranoid enough to reject Martha Kent’s snickerdoodles.”

Vixen walks off. Her still-enhanced ears catch Bruce muttering something appreciative so she puts a little extra sway in her step.

As she starts up the ladder, it his. The tension starts deep in her belly, coiling tight. Before long it feels like her skin is buzzing. One of the guards passes her and just the smell of sweat on the man’s uniform creates a sharp throb between her legs.

Not good, she realizes. This is the problem with channeling big cats.

She’s not sure she could break the link now if she wanted to. Her mind is as much the tigress’ as her own and the tigress has only one goal: find an equally powerful creature and fuck it senseless.

“Hawkgirl better be off duty,” Vixen mutters.

She would rather not traumatize some rookie sentry and the last time she went out while channeling an animal in heat, she did something stupid in public and hurt someone she loves. There were some very uncomfortable de-briefs the next day. Not to mention an apology to Kendra.

Vixen sprints up the stairway to the sleeping quarters and throws her shoulder against the bunk room door.

Thank the ancestors.

Kendra is alone, her freckled face halfway hidden behind a spy novel. Her wings droop behind her and the smell of peppermint oil is thick in the air. A hairbrush sits on the bedside table with curly strands of red hair trapped in it and a few dozen dull gray feathers are in the trash can.

She doesn't look up until a growl escapes Mari’s throat. Lifting her gaze, Kendra swallows hard. She reaches for the hem of her sweatshirt but before she can start, Mari’s clawed fingers hook into the fabric and she slashes down, ripping it open.

“I want to hear what happened, Mari,” Kendra chuckles. “after.”

As herself or as “Vixen” or maybe the tigress, Mari lunges at her mate and spins her around, pressing her against the cabin wall.  Her tongue traces between Kendra's shoulder-blades up to the base of her skull, wide and strong and sandpaper rough.

"Uhh," Kendra groans.  "Surprised I didn’t lose any feathers just from that."

“I trust you. But careful with those claws, baby.”

Mari braces herself on her elbow so that she can run the smooth side of her claws along Kendra’s scalp. Using the back of her fist Mari presses upwards between Kendra's thighs.  Sucking in a sharp breath, Kendra goes on tiptoe to lessen the blaze she just felt.

“Too much?”

“Y-y-yes,” Kendra pants. “I mean no! Just do it slower. Slower, like that.”

“Ease up, darling. I’ll take care of you.”

Kendra relaxes, letting her weight push Mari’s fist into her mound. Her hips have a mind of their own, rolling back and forth to get more. More is all she can think about. More velvet-furred skin dragging along her clit. More hot breath on her neck. More snarls and hisses in her ear. More of Mari’s powerful body pinning her to the cold steel of the wall.

“Come for me,” Mari huffs in her ear.

It’s too much. Lightning gathers in between her legs before exploding up her spine. All the air leaves her lungs in a scream and she sags into Mari’s arms. Time doesn’t pass any more and the universe is gone. All that exists is the places they’re touching.

Kendra laughs as Mari presses wet kisses down her bare back.

“Shh, shh, shh,” Mari coos. “I wont drop you, Kendra.”

The link is fading. The claws that had been ghosting across Kendra's scalp are shrinking back and the fingers between her legs are smooth now. Her shoulders ache and her left wing is numb from being jammed up against the wall.

“Ready to stand?”

After checking that she can still work her toes, Kendra nods.

“Mari, what the hell did you do? Not that I’m complaining.”

Chapter Text


July 14, 2002 , Earth | Alex Danvers

The coast of Virginia

 

Alex paddles out past the buoy and turns back towards shore. The next wave is coming. She glances over at Vicki. She’s standing on her board, if it can be called that. It’s more like fancy wobbling.

Shit, Alex realizes. I pushed her too hard.

“I’m scared!”

“Don’t be! You’re too pretty to die!” Alex teases.

Vicki flattens herself against the board and shakes her head. So maybe surfing isn’t her thing. They can do something else for the rest of the week, something Vicki actually likes.

Alex shoots her a thumbs up and gets into a crouch as she sees the swell building. Thunder rolls across a clear sky. The next thing she knows, she’s treading water and bleeding from her nose. Poking it gently, she decides it isn’t broken. She hauls herself up onto her board and looks around.

Something hit the outcropping at the edge of the cove and hit it hard. It looks like the rock was melted on impact, leaving a groove of molten rock reaching from the top of the cliff-face to the water.

“Alex!” Vicki screams, pointing at the rocks.

A small silver craft is disappearing below the water, leaving behind a cloud of steam. Before it goes under Alex gets a glimpse of the pilot and it’s a freaking kid, maybe fourteen or fifteen and clearly unconscious. At least Alex thinks it’s a plane but it must be cutting-edge tech. It has no wings and it hit a rock face with enough speed that the friction melted granite.

Cutting the cord on her ankle, she dives under. Air bubbles rise from three narrow cuts in the fuselage and sparks are crawling over the back half of the airplane. It settles on the sandy bottom, surrounded by a few wisps of seaweed.

She reaches the cockpit and thumps on the glass, trying to wake the pilot. Scrabbling at the edges of the glass, she feels for a latch or a handle or something.

Then the glass is gone. Dissolved. As she reaches for the harness, it decays into black grit. Getting her arms under the girl’s, Alex tugs her out of the seat and starts toward the surface. Her vision is starting to blacken. She’s been down here too long.

The last thing she remembers is hoping that this girl can swim.

 

Alex retches out a mouthful of seawater and gulps air until her lungs are sore. The girl from the plane is motionless beside her. She’s not breathing but her skin isn’t blue, which is good. They’re floating somehow, which is weird because unconscious people can’t swim and this girl isn’t moving. She should have been like a rock around Alex’s ankle but somehow she kept them afloat when they were both passed out.

She isn’t sure she can make it all the way to the shore but there’s a small pocket of sand along the cliff face and dragging this kid along is easier than she thought. It’s like she doesn’t even weigh anything. Alex gets her onto the sand and crouches over her chest, trying to remember what her mom told her about CPR.

Turns out none of that matters when the patient’s chest is like concrete.

“Fuck,” Alex grumbles. “What am I going to do?”

Vicki is nowhere to be seen, so hopefully she has gone to get help.

The kid turns her head and groans, spitting out seawater.

“Hey there,” Alex sighs. “Glad you’re not dead.”

The reply is most definitely not in English.

She starts to get off the girl but before she can, she is thrown off into the sand. The girl shouts something, maybe a name, before diving into the water.

I hope she has a radio. Emergency blanket would be nice too.

Almost everything hurts. Alex’s wrist is sprained and she aches from her back to her knees from being thrown into the gravel. Reaching up to her hair, she presses her fingers onto her scalp and rubs.

No bruises and nowhere tender. So no concussion. Probably.

The girl is back, this time holding a large black suitcase with a symbol etched into it. Alex didn’t see her approach. She was just there when she looked up. Weird. What’s weirder is that she’s hovering a good eight inches off the ground.

Alex must have hit her head harder than she thought.

A loud crack rolls in from the ocean and reverberates throughout the tiny cove. Alex looks up and sees a small, blue-and-red streak headed right for her. As it slows down it becomes apparent that it is Superman. Hovering over the bay, he looks around.

There is another, softer crack and he is beside them.

“Was that a sonic boom?” Alex groans, cupping the sides of her head. “If it was, why?”

“Sorry.”

The girl locks eyes with Superman and he looks her over. For some reason, he steps back. Her eyes narrow and she says something in that same weird language. To Alex, it sounds like music. Like a duet. Every syllable seems to have two tones going on at once: high and low or low and high.

Tears in her eyes, the girl strokes his face and then reaches out to the "S" badge on his chest. He crosses his arms over the badge like he was protecting it. He hangs his head.

“I don’t understand you,” he whispers.

Alex has had it.

“Someone tell me what the sparkly hell is going on!” she yells.

“This is my cousin,” he mumbles. “Older cousin. Her name is Kara.”

Alex opens her mouth to reply, stalls and shuts her mouth. Then tries again.

“Well,” she finally manages to say. “That’s complicated.”

He turns towards Alex, crouching down on the sand in front of her.

“Can you watch her for me?” he asks.

Sure. Just ask me to protect an unbreakable alien I can’t even talk to. No big!

“I babysat for a few days last year.”

He grins and gives her a peck on the cheek. Her first kiss. On the cheek and more like family than anything...except Alex is seventeen and he's famous.  she isn’t quite sure what to do with that.

“Good enough.  Thanks for watching her.  I think I have to go commit treason.”

“Sure.  Wait! Treason?” she calls after him.

“If I end up in jail, I will kill you,” she mutters.

Another crack and he’s gone. As quiet finally settles across the water, the girl she rescued collapses beside Alex, sobbing. She wraps her arms around Alex, gripping hard. Not enough to crack her ribs but close. Alex will have hand-prints tomorrow.

She hadn’t really taken a close look before. Kara is really pretty but she looks nothing like her cousin. Supes is famous for his baby blues, his square jaw and his slicked-back hair. He’s basically a male model, with the product being the 1950’s.

Kara has golden eyes, has milk-chocolate skin and gray hair so pale and shiny it looks like jewelry.

Obviously some time dilation if she’s older than him. Black hole or relativity?

If she’s his cousin, maybe his family was biracial?

Were there even “races” on Krypton?

Or did his family marry into multiple species?

Is she two different kinds of alien?

“So many questions!” Alex whispers to the girl. “Just wait until you learn English.”

Golden eyes filled with tears stare back at her before Kara buries her face in Alex’s wetsuit. Alex feels like she just kicked a puppy and stole a ballon from a baby.

“Shh, hey. Look at me. It’ll be fine.”

Alex sighs.

“And you don’t have a clue what I’m saying. Let’s just hold each other.”

They do and the longer that Kara holds Alex, the slower her breathing gets. The more she breathes rather than sobs. The squeak of tires on asphalt breaks Alex out of her stupor. A lime green minivan just sped into the parking lot. Her mom hops out of the driver’s seat and throws the back open, motioning frantically for Alex.

Kara doesn’t react at all when Alex lowers her into the water. Whatever is bothering her is bad. Her small hands keep their death-grip on her suitcase.

As soon as Alex’s feet hit the sand, her mom rushes over.

“Give her to me, Alex.”

When she doesn’t answer, her mom slaps Alex on the shoulder. Her mother never hits her, not even halfheartedly like that, but maybe she needed her attention.

“Alex! We have to go, babygirl. She’s not safe here.”

Alex swallows hard.

“Right. I’ll get her bag, I guess.”

Her mom takes the still-limp girl in her arms and lays her in the back seat, tucking her under a fluffy pink blanket. Alex gets into the passenger seat. Her mother pulls out so fast it throws Alex's head up against the window.

“Ow.”

Her mom’s face softens.

“Sorry, Alex. I didn’t mean to. I’m just stressed.”

Alex snorts.

“Superman just told me to watch over his cousin and then said he was going to commit treason. I know a big fucking deal when I see one, mom.”

“Language, young lady!”

Eliza thumps Alex’s headrest with her hand.

“You must switch off all computers. It is imperative to Lady Kara’s safety.”

“Shit!” her mom squeaks, slamming on the brakes.

It came from somewhere in the back seat, a computerized male voice. Her eyes flick sideways at her daughter.

“Tsk, Tsk.”

“Don’t even say it, young lady.”

“Wouldn’t dream of it, Eliza.”

It bugs her mom when she uses her name. Chances are that it will be “Alexandra Elaine Danvers” for the next week. Alex flips her cell phone over, pulls the battery out and tosses it over her shoulder into the seat. She takes the SIM card out and cracks it in half. Her mother scowls at her.

“I know, it’s expensive. But that chip is how they know which phone it is, Mom.”

“Good thought. But no more spy movies for you, young lady.”

“Better do mine too,” her mom asks, handing her phone over.

“We’re adopting her, aren’t we?”

“I don’t know, sweetie.”

Alex rolls her eyes.

“Uh-huh. The last time I saw that look on your face was when I brought that kitten home. The cat who still lives with us. Who you bought ‘birthday’ presents for last week. You really telling me you’re going to let my kid sister out of your sight?”

Eliza huffs.

“I’m pretty sure that’s why he grabbed me. He knows I’m a sap.”

“Supes? How do you even know him?”

“He took an intro astronomy class with your dad. Almost flunked it, too.”

Alex snickers.

“An actual alien from outer space failing astronomy?”

Her mom sighs.

“It’s like biology is for you, I suppose. He probably learned advanced concepts as a boy, so he kept giving the wrong answers because the textbook had it simplified. He wanted extra credit so your dad made him assist me in the lab. It was mostly me driving him nuts with questions and him letting me run tests on skin and hair samples.”

“Really? Hair and skin samples? Please tell me you didn’t put any of the hair in a scrapbook, Mom.”

Staring at the rear-view mirror, Alex sees Superman standing on the beach with his back to them. Soldiers are crawling all over the place as he points out different things. He is systematically pointing them every single direction except down the road her mother is currently speeding down.

Her mom looks at the mirror. She must think the same thing because her knuckles go white on the steering wheel.

“Slow down, mom. I don’t think we want to get pulled over.”

No one says a word the rest of the drive.

 


 

August 10 2002 | Alex Danvers

Midvale, Maryland

Danvers Household

 

Alex’s alarm belts out the Star Wars theme. Getting up would be easier if she’d slept more than half an hour. She hates the world.

Looking over at the other bed, she sees perfect-hair, perfect-skin Kara wide awake and watching her. She is wearing Buffy the Vampire Slayer pajamas and pink bunny slippers. As far as their mom knows, Kara just likes Buffy’s clothes. Certainly Alex would not be so wicked as to watch and rewatch a horror show with her traumatized kid sister. She definitely would not have carefully shown Kara half a dozen horror, action and science fiction shows where the people kicking ass are women. Kara’s reaction to Alien was priceless. When the alien first came on, Kara reached towards the screen like she was going to pet it or something. Definitely a story there.

“Hello, sis,” Alex manages, smacking her lips.

Salim, rahki,” Kara replies. “What you said, but that’s galactic standard.”

Alex scoffs. “I knew that.”

“No you didn’t,” Kara giggles. In the dim light her eyes glitter with reflected light which is another thing Alex finds deeply unfair.

Her offer to ‘keep the boys away’ was not entirely for Kara’s benefit. It’s the only way Alex is going to be getting a date.

“You’ve taught me standard.”

“No, I taught you the street version. Half of what you know is curses. Standard was created for trade agreements so...”

“No good curses?” Alex offers.

Kara nods.

“If you see an alien, warn me,” Alex mutters. “I don’t want to accidentally tell someone to fuck their uncles goldfish or something.”

Kara laughs until she is short of breath and the bottle of water by her bed freezes solid. She growls in frustration. Alex tosses a pillow at her, which Kara blocks effortlessly. The pillow wavers in mid-air and a pair of socks on the floor rise towards it.

That is new.

“You just broke gravity,” Alex whispers.

Kara’s lip quivers and the pillow and sock flop onto the floor. Whatever amazingness was happening was broken when she started to cry.

Crap, Alex thinks. She thinks I’m mad.

“Which is amazing! Why don’t you wait until we get back home to do it again?”

“A-All right,” Kara sniffs.

Alex pushes herself up on aching arms. She snags a pair of jeans and a top from ‘Clothes Mountain’ and sniffs them. This must have been the clean side of the pile. Sleep is something she should try to do more often. Maybe it will be easier tonight once she and Kara have survived a day of school.

Kara’s giggling follows her all the way down the hall to the bathroom. At least Alex can do makeup half-asleep after all the sneaking out she and Vicki did this summer.

“Girls! School!” Eliza bellows.

There’s a whoosh and a crackling sound behind her. That was probably Kara going downstairs, this time without a pocket-sized sonic boom. Alex turns the dial on the heater grate so that it goes quiet.

“She’s getting ready, Eliza.”

“Alex should have already been awake,” their mother grumbles.

“She was worried about me being safe at school. I don’t think she slept. She’s tired.”

Wow. Kara backing her up with mom? That’s new and different. Maybe sophomore year won’t suck as much as she thought.

“Alex loves you, Kara. Even if she has trouble showing it.”

“She shows it, Eliza. She’s just weird sometimes.”

“Hmm. That’ll have to be good enough.”

Ringing vote of confidence there.

A month ago Kara would not speak or even open her eyes. Nothing but sobbing and whispering in her native language. Not speaking and not looking made language-teaching a royal pain in the ass. Teaching her English was Alex’s job. Turned out that playing charades was the key. The first time she actually told a joke that made Kara laugh, it felt like a standing ovation at the opera. Alex still feels a little flutter of pride when Kara laughs.

Glancing at the mirror, Alex flicks her fingers through her hair. It will have to do. She fiddles with the choker Vicki gave her at the start of summer, making sure it’s fastened. The weird metal bracelet Kara gave her is way too big and bumps against her wrist bones. She can’t take it off. The last time she did, Kara burst into tears and disappeared. Alex had to get her to float back down while standing on the roof wrapped in a blanket. The whole thing meant getting screamed at by mom and dad about Kara using her powers outside.

As Alex walks down stairs, the railing is still flickering with tiny arcs of blue energy, a side effect of Kara moving at top speed. When their dad gets back from this business trip, Alex has a thousand questions to ask him about how Kara’s powers work.

Hurrying downstairs, Alex grabs a pancake off the tray and stuffs it into her mouth. No time for syrup so she’s really glad it was blueberry.

“See? Plenty of time.”

Her mom rolls her eyes.

“I know you’re trying, babygirl.”

Eliza pulls her into a hug and kisses her forehead.

“It won’t be perfect, not on the first day. Just keep her safe.”

Alex stands up straight and salutes, a second pancake dangling from her lips.

Eliza waves her hands at the door. “Go! Both of you clowns.”


August 10  2002 | Kara Danvers

Midvale, Maryland

Midvale Unified High School

 

Alex’s history books were wrong. School is hell. War can’t possibly be this bad. The boys keep trying to touch her and the girls keep making faces at her. The girls make the same face Alex made when Eliza asked her to fix the bathroom sink and they found that hairy thing in the pipe.

Just when Kara thought it could not be worse, she found out that Alex is two years ahead and has classes in a different building. Eliza had told probably her but she forgot.

Not ‘Eliza’. Mom told me, Kara reminds herself. Her birth mother is dead. All she is doing now is hurting Eliza’s feelings. She is being unfair to an innocent woman who cares for her, which would no doubt horrify Alura.

Rao,” she whispers. “Take your daughter Alura into your light to rest with her husband, her mother, her foremothers and all those who find peace with you. Tell her that I am safe and that I love her.”

“Out of the way, loser.”

A large boy in a red jacket interrupts her prayer by shoving her out of the way, slamming her into the lockers before she can react. People are staring at her now. Kara wiggles her fingers and a terrible sound echoes around the hallway, cutting past every trick Alex taught her to block out noise.

She tries again and recognizes the sound – tearing metal. Luckily for her, everyone else is covering their ears. Looking sideways, she sees that she was thrown into the locker hard enough to bend it around her. Which would not have happened to something softer, like a human girl.

Rao’s shadow.” She revealed herself already and it’s not fourth period yet. At least her hearing lets her curse without anyone else knowing.

The nurse comes jogging down the hallway, followed by the principal.

“Don’t move, sweetie.”

“I’m okay,” Kara insists.

“No you’re not. That ape could have killed you!” the nurse grumbles.

She looks over her shoulder at the principal. The way her eyes narrow and her face goes still reminds Kara of seeing her aunt giving orders to her soldiers.

“Get those football players on a leash, Mr. Jensen.”

His face gets red and opens his mouth to say something, but the nurse cuts him off.

“Or someday you’ll be explaining to the press when some poor girl dies.”

She turns back to Kara and smooths her hair out of her face. The nurse is a big, round woman and her grip on Kara’s wrist is powerful, for a human.

“Pulse is fine. Did you hit your head?”

Kara groans in ‘pain’ the way Alex taught her.

“Course you did. Wait here, I’ll get Fred.”

She finds out that a “Fred” is actually just a man. The janitor, which is like a non-robot servant. It seems odd to Kara that humans do such unimportant things now that they have machines. He's nice to her though. He has gray hair, which Alex says means he’s old.

He has some sort of huge scissors in his hand, with handles as long as his arm. Memories of mono-molecule blades cutting into her body and laying graft tissue rise in her mind and Kara fights the urge to scream.

“Plenty of space at the edge, Fred. Do not cut her,” the nurse growls.

“Yes, ma’am.”

Fred tips his hat to the nurse and starts cutting Kara out of the locker.

 

 

Nurse Simmons likes to talk about her grandchildren, Kara learns. She likes it more than breathing. Based on her practice with Alex, Kara knows roughly how often she should pretend to breathe in different situations. Simmons isn’t breathing very often, especially for a woman her age.

“Can I go, please?”

Simmons shakes her head.

“Not until I get you a tetanus booster. Rules and all that. Your parents aren’t anti-vaccination, are they?”

Kara snorts. Thank Rao it was a question that Alex coached her on. Sooner or later, someone is going to ask her something and she’s not going to have an answer ready.

“They’re both scientists, so they’re smart. Of course they’re not anti-vaxxers.”

Simmons chuckles.

“I think I like you, little lady.”

She pulls out the syringe, glancing to Kara like she was expecting something.

“Brave girl,” she teases. “Lots of kids hate needles.”

“I…” Kara pauses. “Had lots of surgeries when I was small.”

Simmons starts swabbing down the area. Kara’s finger is mashing the button on the pager Eliza gave her. She needs Alex’s help to figure out what to do when Simmons realizes that she can’t pierce her skin.

[Kolex! Help!]

[If I may, Lady Kara. It might be possible to disrupt your body’s defense mechanism temporarily and in a small area.]

[Do it.]

The muscles in her right arm spasm.

[Done.]

[Kolex, I want you to speak to me more often. Daily. You’re all I have left of Krypton. I would rather have you, despite the risk of radio emissions. Do I make myself clear?]

[Very. Shall I simulate a game of tic-tac-toe?]

Before she can answer, fuzzy green lines appear in her vision and Kolex starts playing, tracking her eye movements to place her pieces.

It takes Simmons tapping on her forehead to get her back.

“Which arm, sweetie?”

“Use the right arm, please.”

The needle sinks in without difficulty. Whatever Kolex did to her skin heightened her senses at the same time. She can feel the flat steel of the needle’s shaft scraping along the muscle fibers in her arm. The dull buzz of the school that she had tuned out is now a wall of noise. Worst of all, even with the glasses on she is assaulted by colors she has not seen before and a blinding reflection almost every surface.

“All done.”

Simmons swivels her chair around to get a band-aid. She turns back to Kara with a raised eyebrow.

“Huh. Tough little lady.”

“Totally. That’s me. I mean, how would I even bleed? There’s no extra space for blood…I’m too tiny!”

Alex appears at the door in her gym outfit, panting.

“You all right, sis?”

Kara sniffs, opening her arms to Alex.

“It’s all right. Come here, you.”

With the hug, Alex’s lips are right next to her ear.

“Football player?”

Kara nods.

“Which one?” Alex demands.

 


August 11 2002 | Alex Danvers

Midvale, Maryland

Midvale Unified High School

 

Alex clenches and unclenches her fist. Her knuckles are still sore and she had to cover up the black eye. The school is down a star linebacker and that’s something they can’t fix. It took six hours of internet research to figure out how to hurt him badly enough to get him off the team without ruining his entire life. She didn’t have a plan until well after three in the morning.  Lucky for her, a guy like that will always agree to meet a girl at four in the morning in a gas station parking lot.

He has five bruised tendons in his left knee, five in his right and hairline crack in his left femur and his jaw. Even when it heals he won’t be playing as well as he did before. He never saw her face but he heard her voice and she made sure to wear lots of perfume. All he knows he got clobbered by a girl. No way he’ll admit to that.

“Danvers, K to the office.”

Hearing her last name makes Alex seize up. She was ready to hear her name called. A crime was committed, after all. Kara? Kara hasn’t started making eye contact yet and she keeps folding herself into corners to be out of the way so there’s no way she got into trouble.

She has a free half period and its lunchtime. Maybe she should picnic in the club room. She doubts the chess team will care and from there, she can see the whole office.

As usual, the club room is full of students. Knitting, chess, electronics, some crazy-complicated board game with plastic robots and spaceships. It’s the room nerds go to so that they can be safe and so that the office is ten feet away if a bully comes by. She’s spent more time in this room herself than she would ever admit.

“Hey, Alex.”

Larry Engels waves at her. He’s playing a game of chess with a small blonde with tight French braid in her hair. Alex hasn’t met her before.

“Hi, Larry. How goes?”

“Well, I think she’s about to re-enact the Viking conquest of England.”

The girls head snaps up. Larry wiggles backwards in his seat. It is a very intense stare, Alex supposes.

“What?” Larry chuckles. “Your name is Lagherta, for pity’s sake. Prominent tenth-century warlord? Appears in English texts describing the early raids? Queen of Sweden?”

He looks up at Alex for help.

“You’re on your own for this one.”

The new girl snorts.

“Fine,” she huffs, moving her queen. “Checkmate.”

She spins on her stool and holds her hand out to Alex.

“Lagherta Svaine. Call me Gertie.”

“Alex Danvers. Uh, call me Alex? Okay…” Alex wheezes. “Thinking I understand Vikings better now. Quite the handshake.”

Larry folds up the board and heads to class. Gertie pulls a chair up next to Alex.

“Is this the lunch-eating club?” She asks, accent much clearer now.

“Of course,” Alex teases, handing over an orange. “Do you not have those in Sweden?”

“No,” Gertie sighs. “We eat outside, in the snow. Tree bark, mostly.”

Alex rolls her eyes.

“I’m American, not stupid,” she huffs.

“Well, tree bark is awful. The girls aren’t as pretty, either,” Gertie murmurs.

Gertie tucks her Alex's behind her ear, leaving a strange buzz on her earlobe and a hot feeling in her cheeks. Alex’s cheeks darken and she dips her head.

“Yikes.”

Gertie pulls back.

“I’m sorry. I thought you were gay. I didn’t mean to!”

Alex feels like an asshole.

“I’m not gay,” Alex blurts out. “Gertie, don’t worry. I I was just surprised. Not used to getting attention from anybody, boy or girl.”

Gertie wrings her hands.

“Sorry I bothered you.”

“You didn’t. And I promise I’m not some puritan who’s going to hand you over to the Inquisition or something. Even if I am an American.”

They finish Alex’s lunch in silence.

“I don’t understand why you’re worried. Is it serious if your sister is sent to the office?”

Alex sighs.

“My sister isn’t…” she stalls. “Her skin is darker than mine. ‘Black’.”

Gertie snickers at the air quotes.

“Ah. And I presume discipline is worse for students with darker skin?”

Alex nods.

“Sometimes things that should be handled by teachers get reported to the police. I’m also pretty sure my sister didn’t do anything wrong.”

“That fuss in the hallway yesterday?” Gertie suggests.

“She got shoved, not the other way around. She did everything right.”

“Yes but I hear the nurse made a fool of the principal. And isn’t this ‘football’ game happening tomorrow?”

This time it is Alex’s turn to laugh at the air quotes.

“Yes. And the player who attacked my sister has to sit out the game, so we are going to lose unless there’s a hurricane or something.”

Gertie taps her fingers on the windowsill.

“I have noticed that Americans care a great deal about this football nonsense.”

That’s when it clicks in Alex’s brain.

The principal works for the school board, the school board is up for election and the fans in the town are damned lunatics. He would do anything to boost the football team.

“Gertie,” Alex asks.

“Hmm?”

“During first period, were there police dogs in your wing of the building?”

Gertie nods, making a loose golden curl dance across her forehead.

“Which is where Kara’s locker is. Fuck.”

“Oh, that? We have fucking in Sweden too,” Gertie chortles.

Alex leaps out of her chair and storms across the hall. The secretary sputters something at her but she walks right past. A pair of police officers are in the principal’s office along with a trembling, weeping Kara. A third officer steps in front of Alex.

“Let me in. Unless you’ve already contacted our mom and gotten permission to interrogate her?”

The officer practically dives out of her way. Alex throws his door open hard enough that it bounces against the wall.

“Alex!” Kara squeaks. “I’m sorry! I didn’t—I don’t even know what’s going on!”

There’s a fat zip-loc bag on the principal’s desk, filled with weed.

“Found this in her locker,” the police officer explains. “The principal said her grades have been slipping for a year.”

“Uh-huh. A year? She started yesterday, asshole!”

Both cops start moving toward Alex.

“Not you guys, I’m talking to him.”

“I don’t suppose that the fact that my sister is black matters here?”

Both the cops shift uneasily and look away.

“Or maybe the fact that attacking her got the starting linebacker suspended before the game? The game that you need to win if you want that donation from the booster club. Little bit of motive there,” Alex snarls.

“I don’t suppose that would have anything to do with this sudden realization you had about the contents of my sisters locker. Which you just so happen to have a key to. Did you find her fingerprints?”

Good luck finding Kara’s prints with her flinch reflex. It will be a challenge to calm Kara down enough to let them ink her fingers. Her body likes to keep a couple millimeters between between her skin and anything else.

“I don’t like your tone, young lady!”

“Which isn’t an answer, Mister Jensen.”

“There was an assault?” One of the cops asks.

Alex turns.

“Yes, sir. Rather, yes ma’am.”

She’s so pissed she had not even realized the cop was a woman.

“Robert Tolson. He weighs two-twenty, she only weighs a hundred if she’s got her backpack on. He threw her into the locker hard enough to dent it. Concussion. She had to get a tetanus shot. Let me guess. That was never reported but this was?”

Alex leaves out the part where she and a length of PVC piping put him in traction.

The cop frowns, her eyes swinging back toward Principal Jensen.

“Assaults are supposed to be reported. No exceptions.”

“Typical small town bullshit!” Alex shouts. “Worried you’ll lose the game? Grab some drugs, throw them in a locker to get rid of the black girl. Get the football player back. Guy who runs the car dealership buys a new practice field, maybe throws in a new car for you.”

“Officers, I’m going to reach into my pocket now. Very slowly.”

Alex goes for her wallet and pulls out a business card. The nuclear option.

It’s jet black with engraved silver lettering. She slides it over to the principal. Both the officers stand up much straighter. They’ve heard of the law firm, like every cop in the country. People who hire this firm win and anyone who looks funny at one of their clients risks a blizzard of lawsuits. The founding partner -- Donna Troy -- is a high-fashion giantess who appears equally often in legal quarterlies, Vogue photoshoots and tabloids.  A sun-yellow Mazerati rolls up to the Oscars every year and Troy climbs out into a barrage of paparazzi, dressed to kill and towering over whatever swooning actor or actress is on her arm.

When Principal Jensen sees the words ‘Donna Troy, Esq.’ the blood leaves his face.

Their mom doesn’t know Alex has this card but when a flying woman with a epic good hair, a sword and magic rope lands in the backyard and offers something to help Kara, Alex is not one to say no. Her keeping this secret can be a thing Eliza is mad at when they’re all safe at home.

“Kara, do not say another word. We are calling your lawyer. Then mom.”

Tias,” Kara whispers. “Tias, a-rahki.”

Vymi,” Alex replies. “Anytime, sister.”

Alex grabs the principal’s desk phone and starts dialing. It only rings twice before the receptionist picks up. Alex puts it on speaker.

“Troy, Cale and Sinclair, how may I direct your call?”

Alex breathes deep, trying to sound as grown-up as possible.

“I need to speak to Donna Troy, immediately. My sister has been arrested. She is a minor and the police did not get permission to interrogate.”

“That is unfortunate,” the receptionist replies. There’s a whimper but whether it was from the cops or the principal Alex isn’t sure.

“She is with a client right now. You are?”

“Alexandra Danvers. Please tell Ms Troy that her sister gave me this card and did so in person. You can bill it to account 1219.”

“Gladly, madam. I’ll let her know as soon as she’s out of the meeting. In the meantime, tell your sister to say nothing and get names and badge numbers of everyone involved. Can I get a call back number for you?”

Alex rattles off her mother’s cell phone number and hangs up. She puts one hand on Kara’s shoulder and taps the card with her other hand.

“Your move, principal.”

Principal Jensen is white as a sheet. The star of their debate team and top of class is looking at him like a rabid animal.  Alex looks like she wants to rip his throat open with her teeth. She made him look like an idiot in front of the cops and then name-dropped the founder of the most vicious law firm in New York. A name which she got through family connections has an account with. Whoever gave her that card is willing to burn millions of dollars on this case.

He has never been this surprised in thirty years of teaching. He mutters something but all she catches is ‘Alex’.

Kara straightens a little under Alex’s hand. She must have liked what she heard.

Chapter Text

August 16 , 2002 | Kara Danvers

Midvale, Maryland

Danvers Household

 

Eliza has her arm around Kara. Ever since the police visited school, she has kept Kara very close. Kara once had a pet talaq that acted this way but only during molting season when it needed her body heat.

She just wants a hug, Kara reminds herself.

“I’m all right, Eliz—mom.”

“I don’t think you’ve called me that before,” Eliza whispers.

“Seemed important,” Kara admits. “For you to hear it. I’ll try to do it more.”

She shifts under Eliza’s arm, putting her head in her mom’s lap and throwing her legs over the armrest. Kara hasn’t been allowed to go back to school. She got suspended while the school district ‘looked into it’. None of them trust the principal not to try anything and according to Alex, all anyone talks about is the football game and Kara ‘ruining it’. Alex had to explain several Earth slurs to Kara this week and those were just the ones that came in the mail.

Alex comes in the front door, shaking her umbrella.

“It’s a mess out there. But…” she teases, shaking a red shopping bag with black lettering and the outline of Wonder Woman’s sword on it.

Kara wiggles in excitement. Alex says it looks like a kitten getting ready to pounce.

“That new ice cream place was open.”

“Elysian Creamery?” Kara asks, getting up so quick that she shakes the floor. “Yes!”

Their mom rolls her eyes.

“Did you know they sell homework?” Alex blurts out, rubbing the back of her head. “It’s really similar to your school homework, which I definitely remembered.”

Kara smiles. Alex’s heart rate is up and her skin is warmer than usual. She’s lying about the homework but something smells really good, so she wasn’t lying about the ice cream.

Eliza looks at Alex, mouths the word ‘phone’ and nods towards the hall.

“Thank you, Alex.”

“It’s all good. And next time I will remember before I leave.”

“Mom?” Kara asks. “Alex?”

“Can I show you something after dinner?”

Eliza pulls Kara close and kisses her hair.

“Sure.”

Alex crosses her arms.

“Is this that thing you were building in the garage?”

Every morning this week Alex has complained to her about to the smell of solder or the whir of the electric screwdriver. When she came downstairs, Kara had to use superspeed to get it all under the tarp in time.

“Maybe?” Kara squeaks. “It’s sort of the next model after that?”

“Will it electrocute me?”

“No. It will not definitely do that.”

Alex goes to the sink and wrings her jacket out. When she comes back, Kara and her mom have each cracked open an ice cream. The one left on Alex’s seat is the ‘Tartarus’ Depths Dark Chocolate Coffee’ flavor which is really all she can expect. She did leave Kara and a pint of ‘Persephone’s Gaze Peppermint’ unattended, after all.

Kara is disappointed. Alex should know her better by now.

Eliza turns off the lights and sits back down, putting one arm over each daughter.

“Let’s just sit here and listen to the storm for a while, girls.”

“And eat ice cream,” Kara mumbles past the spoon in her mouth.

“Yes. Also that.”

The storm is coming hard from the east, tiny stinging drops that drum against the windows. It sounds a little bit like a gum ball machine, Kara decides. Lots of small things rattling together.

The phone in Eliza’s office is ringing. She opens one eye and looks at her office before sinking back into the cushions.

“Hell with it. Too comfy. They can leave a message.”

“You swear more than you used to,” Alex notices.

“Happens when you take in a cute alien,” Eliza yawns. “Lots of paperwork. Holes in the roof. Locks for the attic windows. Barrels of pancake mix. Tiring. Perfect, but tiring.”

Eliza slips away, wrapped in a throw blanket with a daughter under each arm.

Alex leans over towards Kara.

“Asleep?” She whispers.

“Yeah,” Kara replies, slipping out and tucking Eliza in.

Kara grabs her hand and hurries towards the garage. Alex makes a startled grunt.

“Wrist bones!” she reminds Kara.

“Right. Sorry. I just wanted to let you pick first.”

Throwing the tarp back, Kara groans. Under it is a serious of steel tubes with heavy electrical cabling and hydraulic pistons. It looks a bit like a four-armed person with no legs and blowtorches on three of the four hands. Everything leads to a shiny black sphere in the middle. The wires don’t go inside, they just touch the surface.

“So…the frame is a lost cause.”

“Frame?”

“Remember when I told you about Kolex?”

Alex nods.

“Robot butler?”

“Butler, tutor, guard, nurse, best friend, partner in crime. One time, we spread twellin seeds in my dad’s lab when he was testing levitation suits for high-rise maintenance crews. They’re tiny, perfectly round, hard seeds. He fell down and Kolex had to catch him. I was grounded for three days. You’d call that about five months.”

Alex leans against the door.

“Sounds like a good friend. You said he got turned into some sort of implant while you were in your pod. So that’s a new body for Kolex?”

Kara shakes her head.

“It’s not even close to good enough. If I had more precision tools, I could build a crude prototype. Once I had that, the prototype could help me improve it generation by generation. There are parts we can’t make on Earth without Kolex to help. Ugh! I just need to get started!” She grumbles, kicking a piece of sheet metal.

Alex rolls her eyes.

“As cool as a not-robot is, I’m guessing that isn’t what you wanted to show me.”

“Oh! Right.”

When she realized no one ever uses the boat on the trailer in the corner of the garage, Kara hid all her projects under it. She lifts it up and grabs the tool box.

“You just tucked that crate under an eight-ton boat like it was your mattress? Of course you did,” Alex mutters. “Side note? Don’t look under my mattress.”

Kara giggles.

“I think Nala Zenn would have loved to meet you. She was my second favorite aunt. Great-aunt. Secret’s safe with me.”

Alex sticks her tongue out.

“So,” Kara asks, opening the box. “Black or red?”

Inside are two discs of coil wire the size of Kara’s hand, pulsing with a faint light.

“Are those?” Alex asks.

“Yep. Two exact copies of Kolex’s hardware. Used up all of my computational crystal from the survival kit and most of the nanotube casing too.”

“What do they do,” Alex asks, eyes wide.

Kara pulls her braid aside. A circular blue mark the size of a quarter flickers on her skin like a neon sign. Five half-circular marks spin within the outer ring.

“Kolex?” Kara asks. “Explain to Alex and assign whichever one she picks.”

“Understood. Greetings, Lady Alex. Those are communications and analysis devices based on Military Guild recording kits, designed for implantation in the outer layers of skin. Three computer cores with eight quantum vibrators each, linked with optical mesh. They communicate with the host via bone conduction and pressure sensors and can project onto the optical nerve. They carry a sensor suite for sound, visible light, infrared and ultraviolet along with atmosphere composition. Electrical charge is maintained via thermal, photoelectric and kinetic collectors. The outer casing is a three-layer tungtsen and car-“

Kara snaps her fingers.

“Did you just mute him?”

“That sounds like an advertisement, not a proper summary. He’s been rambling lately,” Kara sighs. “I think he misses having a body.”

“So these are ‘tattoos’ that are really computers that are probably more a million times more powerful than anything humans have ever built…and you want me to have one?”

Kara scuffs her feet on the cement.

“They’re cool-looking!” Kara exclaims. “And I want to know I can always talk to you if we don’t have a phone nearby.”

Alex throws her arms around her.

“I was teasing. This is awesome. I think you’re off the hook for Christmas.”

“Black or red?”

“Ooh! Black, please.”

Kara lifts the black one out of the box, peeling the anti-contaminant gel off.

“Where do you want it?”

Alex blushes.

“It’ll be visible at all times, right? Whether or not it is lit up?”

Kara nods.

“Remember how you said you looked under my mattress?”

“So like the photo in that magazine?”

“Yeah.”

“I hate you so much right now,” Kara mutters. “All right. Lift your shirt. Might as well get this over with so I can drink until I forget.”

“Human booze doesn’t work on you, rem-“

Alex bites her fist to silence the scream.

“Guess I deserved that.”

“Oh! Did I forget to tell you that these enter the skin through laser incision? Whoops! Probably should wear sports bras for a while. Hold everything as still as possible. The circuitry takes a couple days to link up with nerves and muscle groups nearby.”

“What do you know about bras?” Alex grumbles. “Your whole body ignores physics.”

“I know that I have to wear one to fit in, bras come in different colors and are much more convenient than pretending to be a member of a different species so that the government never finds out I exist.”

Alex swallows.

“Yeah. I bet they are. Sorry, sis.”

Kara shrugs.

[Greetings, Lady Alex.]

She heard that but not through her ears. The ache in her scalp alone is enough to prove that was the implant.

“Kara!” Alex screams. “Get back here! You didn’t say you turned it on!”

A trail of flickering static leads straight out the garage door. It’s far too late to chase her down now. She owes Kara a pillow to the face.

 


 

August 16 , 2002 | Alex Danvers

Alex is too excited to move. She has an alien supercomputer implanted her brain – or her breasts at any rate – and gradually growing into her body.  All because her sister wanted to say thanks for protecting her from the skeezy principal framing her for a felony.

Which is Big Sister 101.

This was really sweet of Kara.

“Hello?” Alex says into thin air.

[If you prefer, you can communicate non-verbally.]

[How?] Alex asks.

[Simple. Move your mouth but don’t exhale. Over time, I will learn to read the muscle movements better. Eventually, I will read patterns the signals your facial nerves receive and it will require only thinking about speaking.]

Alex snorts.

[Simple, right. You sound like Kara. Your voice, I mean.]

[It is typical for us to have traces of our creator in our patterns. Speech patterns, inflections, so on. They often fade over time.]

[Creator? Like mother?]

[More like a clone, as you understand it. I was branched from Kolex’s hardware, who has been implanted in Kara for many of your years. So her brain has influenced his circuitry and functions. Does that make sense, Lady Alex?]

[Please don’t call me ‘Lady’. It feels…weird.]

[Alex, though? Despite your documentation?]

[Yes, please. What do I call you? I’m not calling you ‘servant’. I would rather have you be a friend, especially if you’re in my head.]

[Echo?]

She thinks for a minute. It sounds pretty but it isn’t a name people use so no one will think she’s talking to herself. If she gets one of those cell phone ear-pieces it would look one hundred percent normal.

[Echo sounds good. But it should be what you want.]

[I think I like Echo.]

Alex slumps against the door. Her head is pounding. No doubt a side effect of being the first human ever to have a super-computer shoved under their skin. Kara wouldn’t have done this if it was dangerous.

[This really hurts, Echo. How long does it last?]

[A few hours. First time neurological synchronization can be difficult, even for Kryptonians. The farther the host deviates from that biochemistry, the more painful it can be.]

Alex groans.

[So it couldn’t be worse? I’m as far from Kryttonian as you get.]

[Actually, it would be far worse for a Helgrammite, Morae or even a Thessalian. Their bodies operate quite differently on a chemical and mechanical level. Human and Kryptonian anatomy and biochemistry are strangely similar. Kara has some unique cellular structures and her bone structures, muscle and nerve sheathing is quite different from yours. Her muscles still operate on chemical reactions based on electrical signals from her brain, transmitted on nerves. Her skeleton is near-identical to humans, minus vestigial tail bones and so on. Her organs have analogous organs in your body and vice versa. It is a matter of scale and efficiency.]

[She can fly! That’s more than scale.]

[Yes. Kara’s skin takes in and expels energy, primarily as heat and electricity. She is exceptionally well-suited metabolically to a system with a yellow star and thus higher than average light radiation. In her case, many centuries of genetic upgrades and selective breeding by one of Krypton’s wealthiest families also played a role.]

Alex reminds herself to ask Kara later about being a god-damned space princess and not telling her. Maybe she has something she can pawn so Alex can finally get a car.

[Krypton’s star wasn’t yellow?]

[What you would call a red dwarf. The uranium level in the crust was far higher than Earth’s and the planet’s orbit was closer than Venus is in this system. Solar radiation on the surface was also much higher so Kryptonian life evolved to capture, process and expel radiation and radioactive particles. In times of hardship, it is a partial food source.]

Alex sighs. Echo could no doubt tell her anything she wanted about Krypton but right now all she can think about is that it feels like red-hot wires are being shoved into her skull.

[Shall I use a neural pulse to relieve the pain?] Echo offers.

[You could have done that at any time, couldn’t you?]

[Yes. Lady Kara made me promise to do at least one prank.]

[Never do one like that again.]

Whatever Echo did, it really works. Alex can walk if she’s careful but she’s mostly numb from the neck down. Before she lets go of the wall, Alex slaps the garage door button. No way is someone stealing her sister’s sort-of-robot until they can finish it.

Maybe she and Kara can get it running for Halloween.


 


 


 

October 24, 2002 | Eliza Danvers

Midvale, Maryland

Danvers Household

 

Eliza hears a popping sound behind her, accompanied by a flash of light. She thumps Kolex on the ‘head’ with her spatula. It leaves a smear of pancake batter on the teal-and-silvertrim that Kara chose.

Three days, she tells herself. Three days since the girls booted this thing up and I think the rest of my hair has already gone gray.

“Please don’t do that,” she wheezes. “I don’t want to have a heart attack.”

“Apologies, Lady Danvers. In the future, I will appear at a more distant point and announce my approach using auditory cues.”

Being addressed like a queen is something she can get used to.

“Sounds good. What is it, Kolex?”

“I believe you have a phone call coming.”

Sure enough, the phone is ringing.

Eliza starts past but Kolex puts his hand — four metal fingers — on her shoulder.

“Be careful, please. The phone call is coming from a source that is masked. It has high encryption…by this planet’s standards.”

“Please,” Eliza moans. “No. Not that.”

Jeremiah never told her what exactly was happening but the job offer came two weeks after they took in Kara. Eliza told him it was suspicious as hell but he couldn’t help himself. If he got sweet Kara mixed up with some spooky agency, divorce will be the least of his problems.

“Play it directly, Kolex.”

“Hello?”

“Mrs. Danvers, my name is Cameron Chase. I’m the FBI agent that was assigned to your husband’s disappearance. I just got the case this morning.”

“Disappearance?” Eliza snaps. “He disappeared?”

“Yes. Were you not-“

The sound of glass shattering on the other end of the line startles Eliza.

“Sorry. I have a rule: whenever someone fucks me over, I smash one of my shot glasses on the floor. I have a feeling this is one of those times.”

Eliza sniffs. It was funny but laughing isn’t something she can do right now.

“No one told you he was missing, I take it?”

“No, they said he was on assignment with the NIS. He had to stay on-site because the anomaly was visible for a short time. Something about an observatory in Peru. We’re both professors. Truth is that he has disappeared into his work before…just usually while here at the house. Eleven weeks isn’t even a record.”

“So you didn’t even know there was a case?”

“No.”

“Jesus motherfucking Christ,” Chase snarls. “Sorry, Mrs. Danvers.”

“Jewish,” Eliza replies. “So no harm done.”

“Ah. Right. Ma’am, I don’t know how to tell you this but your husband is dead.”

“What?”

“We found him thirteen days ago. Multiple gunshot wounds from a high-caliber rifle. I was told that while in Peru he was recruited by a drug cartel but that really felt like a reach for an astrophysicist. Given that this was referred to me using a DC phone number that it says was the Drug Enforcement Agency, but is actually disconnected, I’m starting to think this file is one hundred percent bullshit.”

“Thirteen days?”

“Yes. According to this, they told you the next day. Clearly not.”

“What else can you tell me?” Eliza croaks.

Agent Chase sighs.

“That’s most of it, actually. We found some shell casings near his body that do not match his wounds. It might be that he was also armed and returned fire. His wallet was present with his ID, some cash and a picture of you and your daughter.”

“Daughter?”

Daughter, singular. Eliza tells herself. That’s something. Jeremiah must have already been suspicious if he didn’t take a photo that had Kara in it. We must have taken hundreds those first couple of weeks.

“Yes. Reddish hair? No offense to him but she has your eyes.”

Eliza sniffs.

“Alex. Our only child. They were really close.”

“I bet she needs her mom, then. Don’t worry about arrangements. I was contacted by a law firm who will take care of the body. I’ll make sure you get him back.”

“Which law firm, if I may ask?”

“Troy, Cale and Sinclair,” Chase replies. “He had really good life insurance, I take it?”

“All of our insurance is shit, actually. University policy. We’ve just made some good friends the last few years. Call me if you learn anything new?”

“Yes ma’am. This case is staying on my desk until I solve it. I don’t like being lied to,” Chase mutters. “Or lying to people. And I hate hurting families.”

Eliza glances at Kolex draws a finger across her throat. He ends the call.

That’s where Kara finds her hours later, curled up and sobbing.

 


 

 

(3 YEARS LATER)

 

 


 

August 30 , 2005 | Winn Schott

National City University

National City, California

Honors Dorms, Lobby and Room 713

 

 

Winn has class in an hour and he needs to get this stuff into his room.

Shit shit shit, I’m going to be late.

“Hold the elevator!” He shouts, dragging three giant suitcases behind him. It is quite literally everything he owns. The foster home wouldn’t even let him rent a storage unit for it. They had already cashed the last check from the state.

Just before the doors seal, a hand shoots out and claps over the rubber seal on the top part of the door. The doors slide back and stay back.

Blocked the safety sensors, Winn realizes. Smart one.

There’s only one person in the elevator but she has seven bags with her, each the size of his. She puts her phone in her pocket and gives him a mile-wide smile.

“Need a hand?”

“Yep,” he grunts. “About four hands, actually.”

“Can do!” she chortles, stepping out of the elevator.

"I'm Kara."

Winn is not sure how to deal with the fact this woman exists.

It’s like someone blended the cutest parts of all the Disney princesses – at least if Disney had the balls to have black girls be princesses – and put them through bespoke artisanal puberty while making sure they competed in the Olympics for a well-rounded life.

Her eyes are big and golden, drawing his focus up to her ebony face even though she’s a foot taller than he is. She’s long-limbed, big-hipped and broad-shouldered and those acid-washed jeans hang around her like they're glad for the invite.

Hard to say if she wore the shirt to show off her abs or her breasts.  

Despite the tight shirt, he doesn’t see any bra outline. The fact that she doesn’t need one to achieve that must have made her high school classmates really mad.  

That must be her ‘show off my boobs’ shirt.

She flicks some lint of off her hand her triceps jump out.  The shirt rides up giving a peek at the bands of muscle underneath.  

Turns out the was the ‘show off my abs’ shirt after all.

A thick braid of curly silver hair falls all the way down her back, tied off in three places with blue ribbons.

Have to ask her where she gets it straightened and dyed. That is awesome work.

If Winn was straight, he would be making a huge ass of himself.

Instead he resigns himself to losing any man not four thousand percent gay to those nugget-of-gold eyes. If he’s really lucky, she’s gay. If not she’s straight in for a world of trouble walking around with no makeup and looking that ripped in a white muscle shirt.

“Won’t it close?”

“Nope,” She chortles. “Neat huh? It pauses for six minutes and fifteen seconds after a safety error like that.”

Winn cannot believe it. She’s a gear-head. Clearly, God is testing both his gayness and his patience.

“I drove here. Got in real early and had to hang out in the lobby so I was maybe a little bored last night. I learned a lot about the elevators, the fire alarm. Oh! Did you know that the heating system actual-“

Winn waves his free hand in front of her to make her stop talking.

“I get it! Engineering major. Which is great, I really agree. But I think little old me is going to lose an arm here if I keep trying to hold this up.”

“Uh, journalism, psych and sociology actually. But I appreciate the vote of confidence!”

She grabs his heaviest bag and heads towards the elevator. She doesn’t even grunt when she hoists it. Towering over him — in flats! — she struts towards the elevator, hair bouncing behind her.

She manages to get all their stuff in at once. This whole thing is surreal. It’s sort of America’s Next Top Model meets the World Championships of Tetris , he decides.

“Engineering. Winn Schott.”

“Danvers,” she purrs. “Kara Danvers.”

They look at each other, saying nothing. Once they start, they end up cackling all the way up to seventh floor.

“Seventh. You too?”

She leans close so she can whisper to him or so that her head is near his head, down here at sea level. One or the other.

“I actually signed up for the mixed-gender suites. The pilot program with the giant disclaimer and like nine billion questions.”

“Me, too. Huh.”

“Huh,” she agrees. “Jinx! You already said that.”

She grabs her phone, glances at it and then at him.

“Wait as second. Are you ‘GaysForTheWinn’?”

His username sounds ridiculous when she says it.

“Guilty? Besides. KDlang? You’re one to talk!”

“Yeah,” Kara sighs. “My sister did that account for me. My initials, or that was her excuse. Then she enlisted in the Army and I didn’t want to touch it. I’m going to make her change it when she gets back, you see.”

“What’s wrong with KDlang?” she asks.

“Thing is, well, ah…”

Winn rubs the back of his head. Speaking of Disney princesses, is she really that innocent? Here he is, a white male and a gay, having to explain to this dark-skinned specimen with a butch style that queer women are going to be sniffing around her based on internet handle alone.

What the hell is wrong with my Tuesdays lately? It’s gone all Twilight Zone.

The elevator doors bails him out before he has to start mansplaining lesbian folk-rock from the 1990s. The moment the door dings, she takes his bags.

“Really, it’s fine,” he protests.

“No. Roommates don’t let roommates break their arms.”

Nine trips.  He counted. She made the bare minimum number of trips to move who knows how many pounds of stuff to the other end of the building.  No breathers, just a quick stretch before grabbing each pair of bags.

“Where do you work out? Inside a black hole?”

Kara freezes. He’s not sure what it was but he knows he said the wrong thing. Winn has gotten very good at knowing when he said the wrong thing. He used to get beat black and blue by his father when he said the wrong thing. Now he just loses friends.

“Kara? You all right?”

“Zoned out for a minute there,” she replies. “I think it’s California. It’s really messing with my brain.”

“How so?”

“Clear weather, cool air, lots of sun. I wanna curl up in a sunbeam and take a nap. Like a kitten!”

That does it. He is definitely warning her about the risks of calling herself ‘a kitten’ and using ‘KDlang’ on Twitter and wearing muscle shirts. At this point, he would be a bad friend not to. Her phone alarm goes off and the ringtone is the red alert sound from Star Trek. Because of course it is. She’s all of his wildest dreams. Tragic that she’s female.

“And I’m ready late for class,” she sighs. “Dang.”

“Yeah,” Winn sighs. “Me too. I might as well set up the total loser mobile over here.”

He unzips the largest suitcase--the one with his computer in it, he has priorities--and wriggles behind the desk on his side to start running cables. He can’t really see her through the crack but she just keeps talking.

“I’m sure it’s not that bad, Winn. Lots of women like sharp dressers.”

“Ooh!  And you’re really polite,” she adds, counting on her fingers. “No boob-staring, which is always nice. No leaning too close on ‘accident’. Five out of five, would be trapped in elevator again.”

“Two desks,” Kara observes. “So why three beds?”

“Have a friend over?” Winn suggests.

“It’s a much bigger bed, though. Admitting defeat? Realizing that it’s the 21st century and college students fuck each other?”

He jerks his head up into the desk so fast he knocks himself out.

 

Winn comes back to the world with blurry vision and an ice pack on his head. Kara must have put him in his bed and taken his glasses off. She also built a wall around his bed with their combined suitcases. Despite being made of a dozen bags of various colors, sizes and brands, it does not wobble. He would have to stand on tiptoe to see over them.

She walled off his bed for a little privacy, using luggage like LEGOs and it looks solid.

She built that for fun? College of Engineering recruiters really screwed the pooch, he thinks. That or her high school physics teacher was a total pervert.

“I love the way you’ve done your hair, Kara. It’s better all springy and bushy. I can lose my hand in it.”

There’s a startled yelp.

“Right there,” hisses a female voice. A voice that is obviously not Kara’s voice.

“Can you put your hand in my-uhhh!”

Whatever she asked Kara for she got because the voice is no longer making whole words.

“Is that good?” Kara coos.

New rule of the universe. Kara needs to stop acting like the human embodiment of cotton candy if she’s going to be having sex in our room.

Winn was just retroactively scarred as a child.

“Fucking unreal,” her date pants. “I can’t believe I scored a Daxamite.”

There’s a silence so total that even Winn knows that something is wrong.

“Get off me,” Kara snarls. “Now.”

“Babe,” her playmate sputters. “It was a compliment, Kara. It just kind of fell out.”

“Get out of my room! But first, give me your phone.”

“What? Why?”

“Clearly it’s so I can take my number out.”

“No! Please. I’m sorry, Kara.”

“It’s…that’s not who I am. Not what I am,” Kara hisses.

She sounds pissed. Winn makes a mental note. Daxamites bad, do not call her one.

“But,” her date sputters. “That thing you did…”

Nope!  Winn absolutely does not need more than that.

“Fuck me,” the girl mumbles. “You’re not Daxamite. But only a Daxamite could do that. That would mean you would hav-” she rambles before stopping suddenly.

“Bless the Black! You’re a Kryptonian?”

Daxamites and Kryptonians? Bless the Black? Are these metal bands? Feel like I heard some of this before.

Winn isn’t sure if he’s glad for the suitcases or not. Whoever this girl is, he will be stuck with a the talk with Kara when this is over. It might be easier if the other girl knew he was here.

“And since you’re suddenly looking at me like you just peeled me off your shoe, you didn’t grow up a rim-rat or a duster. Which means you’re a-”

Rim-rat? Duster? I need a whole binder for this ‘Weird Kara Shit’.

Next thing he knows, a mostly naked woman with tiny turquoise scales and a bunch of tentacle-ish things on her head hits his suitcase wall. Wisps of white flame lick across her skin, scorching the carpet and Kara’s shirt but Kara doesn’t seem to even feel it.

“Don’t say it,” Kara warns, just above a growl. “Not here.”

It looks like Kara had grabbed her date by the shirt and threw her into the suitcases. Kara seems just as shocked as Winn when she realizes she did this. She turns away, hanging her head.

“Sorry!” Kara blurts, lip trembling. “Shouldn’t have touched you like that. What I just did was very wrong, Emilia. I’m not going to hurt you. Go. Just go.”

“S’okay, babe. Probably should have skipped the rim-rat. I knew you weren’t like them,” she nods her head towards Winn. “But I didn’t ask where you were from and I should have. It kind of knocked me on my ass when I realized.”

Emilia laces her hand through her hair-tentacles.

“Just…damn! Think what I could have had!”

Kara tries to laugh but it’s more of a sniffle.

“It’s a tragedy, I know. Ugh! Stop being all funny and half-naked and tempting me and just leave. Be safe, Emilia.”

The blue woman with tentacle hair — Tuesdays! — pulls her rather scandalous top back on and wriggles into black leggings.  She puts her hand on the inside knob of the door and looks back at Kara.

“I think I’m going to regret that one word the rest of my life, Kara. I hope someone meets you and spends the rest of their life thanking the Black. Take care of her...human man in a sweater whose name I don’t know.”

“It’s Winn...Emilia the space lady with the light-myself-on-fire reflex.”

“Plasma. Winn, I’m serious. She’s very special, this one.”

Emilia breathes deep and then the air around her turns into that white fire and she disappears. The dorm room door opens itself and invisible feet press into the carpet.

“Don’t know why she cloaked,” Kara mutters. “She was perfectly decent.”

Winn chokes.

“Um, Kara…because having a shirt on maybe isn’t enough for her not to get looks?”

Kara flops down onto her bed.

“What is it going to take to get you not to tell anyone? I mean, you saw that, right?”

“Alien girl clam-jamming herself? Yep.”

He makes a hard pop at the end of ‘yep’.

“No, not her. Me. I’m an alien too, Winn. A Kryptonian and, even more important, I grew up on the homeworld. Almost all of us are dead now.”

“Kryptonian...” he muses. “Isn’t that what Superman always says he is?”

Kara arches an eyebrow.

“Oh. Oh! Yeah, that tracks,” he agrees. “It explains the muscles, for one thing.”

“You basically have my life in your hands now. There are people who grab aliens, torture them and cut them up. There’s like, bounties for different species. For someone like me it’s ‘win the lottery’ money. And there’s not a damn thing I could do to stop you.”

“Superman is pretty tough.”

Kara’s face tightens.

“So am I but I don’t kill people so I really couldn’t stop you, now could I?”

She thinks I would kill let someone kill her? For money?

“Kara, I really haven’t had any friends. Like ever. So you’re the first chance I’ve had. We met four hours ago and already you think I’m a monster?”

“What? “No.”

He sighs.

“So there’s your answer. Only monsters get their friends killed. Besides, I’m one of like ten people who know about aliens now, aren’t I?”

She holds up both hands, drops one, and then wiggles four fingers.

“With you, it’s four. Far as I know. So…what are your thoughts on bribery?” she pleads, batting her eyelashes.

Winn puts his eyeglasses back on the bedside table. He is not built for rough work. His head is pounding.

“Bribe me with your story?”

Kara’s face lights right back up.

“Oh, I can do that. Actually,” she sighs, kicking her feet back and forth against her bedframe.

“I would like to. I don’t get to tell my story, much. Just not sure about telling it here.”

Winn sits up and knocks a few of the suitcases over so he can actually see all of her. Seems like the sort of thing a good friend should do.

“Worried about spies?” He asks.

“Little bit worried, yeah. Public university and I have no idea how deep it goes, who funds it or who in government is in on this.”

She sighs.

“Kolex, activate your chassis. I need a scan of the room. Is there anything broadcasting in here on any frequency?”

“At once, Lady Kara.”

Somehow, the tattoo on her neck is moving and glowing and also talking and…Winn’s brain is going at full speed, pinballing from one bit of Kara-adjacent weird to the next.

His roomie is nice to scrawny guys who can’t even move their own shit.

His roomie is scared and maybe a little broken.

His roomie is stupid hot.

His rommie is stupid buff.

His roomie is gay or maybe bi.

His roomie is an alien.

“And now a robot just pops out of your suitcases and assembles itself!” Winn hollers. “In mid-air! Because of course it does!”

His roomie has a shiny blue robot floating around the room checking things.

“How…is…your…life…so…much…more…awesome?” He growls.

“Feel better?” Kara teases.

“Actually, yeah. A little.”

“If I’m telling my tragic backstory, we’re getting takeout,” she decides. “Like, all the takeout. Thai sound good?”

Before he can answer, his stomach growls its agreement.

“Right.”

The moment he goes for his backpack, she points a finger at him. For all he knows, it shoots death rays or opens a portal to a universe of killer shrimp.

“I’m buying. You had to hear my messy breakup, so I owe you.”

A four armed robot with thrusters instead of legs floats over to him and scans him with some sort of white light, back and forth, back and forth.

“The room is clean, Lady Kara. Three well-concealed video cameras were located and disintegrated. The male human is not a clone or decoy.”

The robot thumps his shoulder with a metal fist.

“Don’t hurt her feelings, squishy. You have to sleep and I don’t.”

Some sort of triple-nozzle blowtorches pop out of all four robot arms and ignite.

Did her robot just give me the shovel talk?

“Kolex, be polite. His name is Winn. Add him to my safety protocols both on campus and in this room. Secondary protocols, at least for now.”

“Um, thanks?” He replies. “What’s secondary protocols mean?”

Kara doesn’t look up. Must be a big takeout order.

“That just means that if he isn’t sure if he can save both of us, he’ll protect me. Not sure that anything here can take Kolex on but I sort of have to live. Not personal. Maybe when I know you better or I can build more like him.”

There was something about ‘not many left’, Winn reminds himself. Don’t want her failing her comic mission because of her idiot roommate.

“Was Emilia more than a hookup?” He asks.

“Yes,” Kara sniffs. “High school sweetheart. Together five months last week. Emilia was the only other one I’ve met so far. I'm so lucky that she was into women. This was the first time we’d had sex because, y’know, secret identities and small towns don’t mix,” she mumbles. “And then she says all that.”

Winn nods.

“I have no idea what that stuff meant but it sounded mean.”

“Pad Thai, peanut tofu?” She suggests.

“How about peanut chicken?” He asks. “I’m more into the cock.”

Kara laughs so hard she drops her phone.

“God, Winn! That was awful! So...you’re not funny but you are gay. That helps. I don’t have to worry about being,” she waves her arms wildly. “Whatever the hell that was. Is that being pansexual?”

“She looked pretty femme to me,” Winn teases. “That was straight lezzing. Well, I mean, not straight but...”

Kara’s body pillow smacks him across the chest.

“Thessalians. Genderless species,” she adds. “They all look like, well, that.”

Did she just lick her lips? Blue girl was her type, I guess.

“If she’s non-conforming it’s pan,” Winn agrees. ”But I think we need a new letter. I feel like that ‘plus’ at the end doesn’t cover it in your case.”

Kara chews her lip.

“An asterisk, then. Because it looks like a star. And you’re okay with aliens? And here I am just assuming you’re human. Not nice to assume.”

“Are you kidding? I’m nerdgasming over here. So many questions! How many moons did your planet have? Did you use spaceships or gate thingies? Wormholes? Time travel? Is it actually quiet in space or did Star Wars get one thing right? Did you have energy swords?”

“Not on me,” she replies. “Might have the parts to build one, I suppose.”

“Argh!” Winn shouts. “You tease!”

“Yeah, I am. But I got us Thai for brunch so shush.”

First day is going pretty good, Winn decides. Met the roomie, came to an understanding about the gay thing, made a friend. Discovered that aliens are FUCKING REAL.

College, schmollege. Winn’s pretty sure that this is the first day of his life.

Chapter Text


 

August 21st, 2005 | Alex Danvers

Fort Benning, Georgia

Home of the US Army’s 75th Ranger Regiment

(0200 hours)

 

Alex feels like shit. All of her muscles hurt. Her legs hurt. Her back hurts. The muscles inside her arteries that move the blood hurt, she’s pretty sure.

“Hot showers,” Alex whispers, hands outstretched to the nearly-scalding spray. “To the victor go the spoils.”

It’s a medical miracle she was vertical when she made it back to camp. All that mattered was that she was vertical. She finished three days of hell with Megan and Susan and seventy-one of the ninety-seven men they started with. Now she just needs to know if she passed the scoring. By her count, fourteen men who made lewd gestures at her for months tapped out somewhere along the way.

If she’s lucky, Alex is one of the first three women allowed into the unit. It beats being satellite technician in that huge base in Baghdad. It was surreal reading and transmitting casualty reports in a place where the mess hall had a salad bar.

Grabbing the brush, she attacks her skin. Shaving her head was the best tip she got. Mud falls off her in clumps. The old fashioned alarm clock she set by the door hasn’t even gone off when she reaches for the towel.

“Already taking Army showers, Danvers?” Megan teases.

“Try it. I’m clean and I had twenty-three seconds to think.”

Megan walks past her, making sure to bump into Alex’s banged up shoulder. The more banged up one, anyway. She keeps acting like the most important thing is looking good on the cover of Time once she passes.

Diva like her in every school, Alex reminds herself.

Alex makes it back to her bunk without encountering any more mean girls. She glances at her cell phone. She hasn’t spoken to Kara in more than a year. Maybe she should reach out. Not knowing what Kara is up to is like an itch in the middle of her back. She can’t get it to go away, not without help.

Cell phone is probably logged, maybe compromised. Bare minimum, I get laughed at for calling mommy.

“Echo?” She whispers.

[Why are we whispering? There are no intelligent life-forms in sixty meters!]

[Please contact Kara.]

Before Alex can even take a breath, she hears the sounds of cars honking, plates clinking and people chattering. Kara must have really pounced to answer that fast. Echo is fast and so is Kolex but it still takes time to steal a signal, encrypt a tunnel and route it.

“Alex, oh my god! I’m so glad you called!” Kara squeals.

“Winn, this is my sister!”

“Right, she enlisted, you said?”

It’s a man’s voice but compared to the men around here, he might as well be a TV set on mute. He’s either deeply shy or he’s afraid of Kara and she can’t even imagine someone being afraid of Kara.

Heaven help me, it’s the first day of college and Kara already picked up a stray.

“You should call your sister more often,” Kara complains.

“Um, Iraq?” Alex reminds her. “Also, we were not speaking before I left.”

“I wasn’t angry! I was scared for you!” Kara sputters. “It’s not like me, Alex. You’re my sister and you know I support you but I worry. Unlike me, you can’t just…”

She trails off but she can hear the guy in the background snickering.

“Kara,” Alex snarls. “Did you tell him?”

“No?”

“I’m going to kill him,” Alex declares. “Messily. Give me his name and address.”

“Eww. No. Besides,” Kara sniffs. “Winn was really nice to me.”

Alex can see it: her sister with her hands on her hips, feet planted, shoulders squared, tall and muscular and somehow still not intimidating. Turned into a gooey mess by a passing chipmunk or something.

“Um, Alex? Sir?”

Alex snorts.

“Sir? Now I want to kill him a tiny bit less.”

Winn says something she can’t make out.

“I sort of ruined Kara’s sexy-times with this nice…creature…and then I knew too much and she was really afraid I would out her and she would get hurt.”

“I had to break up with Emilia today, Alex. Like kick her out of bed in the act. He was there for me after.”

Someone taking care of Kara is not someone Alex is going to attack. Without cause.

“Kara! I don’t want to hear anything about my sister having sex but I want to hear what happened, when you’re ready.”

“Ugh,” Alex groans. “Now I have to be nice to him even though he knows too much.”

Deep breath. In, Out. In, Out. She reminds herself. Count backwards from thirty in Kryptontese. Right. Let’s try it again, this time from fifty.

Alex blows out a long breath and tries to remain calm.

“All right. Safety question. Why was he still in the room, Kara?”

“Oh!”

She can imagine Winn’s hand shooting up like an eager first-grader.

“I can explain that. I was wiring up our computers and hit my head on the desk when Sunshine Sparkles there dropped the F-bomb. Knocked myself out cold. I think she wanted to make sure I stayed alive. Anyway, she was worried so I just sort of offered to help hide it? Which is really hard because I mean, I get not wanting to be outed.”

He got real quiet there, Alex notes. Gay? Maybe he was bullied?

She has heard that hollowed-out sound in Kara’s voice. It broke her heart.

“But there is all this stuff that’s real now and I cannot tell anyone else about it. The make-believe stuff I dreamed of when I was a kid actually happens! This is like not telling people I’m room-mates with Jesus and her pet unicorn!”

Alex sighs.

“Figures she would find the only person who can ramble like she can.”

“Told you she’d like you,” Kara teases.

“I didn’t say that. Visual mode, Kara. Now.”

Echo throws up an image of Winn in front of her, keeping her own sensors angled so that neither of he nor Kara knows she is wearing a towel because she has nothing else that is not caked in mud.

Despite turning projecting all her worst fears on him and repeating the process for good measure Alex can only see a small, curly haired guy in a bow tie and something akin to one of Mr. Rogers’ sweater vests. They’re at a frozen yogurt place with a pile of dishes behind them.

Winn waves at her.

“Hi!”

He turns to Kara, looking disappointed.

“It’s just like, I don’t know...normal video chat. If it’s from a cybernetic implant, how is it on your phone, anyway?”

“Because you’re in public, dipshit! She can’t just bust out a hologram!”

“Oh, right.”

Alex pushes her fingers into her scalp and rubs. Hard.

“I swear to God, Kara. If I don’t get placed tomorrow because I’m losing my shit worrying about you…” she warns. “I…uh. I’ll think of something!”

“She has real trouble threatening me,” Kara tells Winn, elbowing him. “Think she likes me. Wait? Placed? So you ran the course?”

At this point, Echo decides to butt in.

“She did and she will pass.”

“Kara, there’s another voice.” Winn mumbles. “Girlfriend?”

“Her implant, silly. Alex is straight.”

Not that the guys off-base can tell. Is it the buzz cut or the muscles? Alex wonders.

“Alex completed the mechanical with the fourth highest score, highest in medic, highest in language and intelligence and was within the 98th percentile for females on the physical. She tied for top-performing female candidate and was in the 81st percentile of the male candidates. One hundred and eleven percent of minimum, if averaged across the board.”

“You don’t know any of that that,” Alex grumbles.

Echo scoffs.

“I do. Assembly of mechanical objects. First aid. Language translation. Speed. Distance. Lifting an object in Earth’s gravity. Assisting other soldiers with the same under clear guidelines. The Army may call it what they like but the entire course is quantifiable. And I measured it carefully. Unless the test is scored falsely, you will pass. With ‘flying colors’, whatever that is.”

“Echo, we’ve discussed this. It’s slang.”

“Winn, Echo. Echo, Winn.”

“Hail and well met, little hobbit.”

“Your sister’s implant is sassy,” Winn stage-whispers to Kara.

Alex can feel a headache coming on.

“So…yeah,” Kara tells Winn. “I think my sister is special forces now. Certified badass instead of just unofficial badass.”

“Hope so,” Alex huffs. “Otherwise I just got a lot of crazy bruises that the government spent almost a million dollars giving me. Look, sis. I love you, but I need to crash. When I actually know, I’ll reach out to mom, all right?”

“Me too!” Kara squeals.

“Fine. I’ll tell you too.”

Kara puts out her tongue and Alex responds in kind.

“Night, Alex!” Winn calls.

Alex flops into the bunk and screams Kryptonian curses into the pillow. If this Winn guy isn’t on the level, at least now she knows a lot of ways to kill him.

 

0615 hours

The colonel who supervised training is marching up and down the line, hands wrapped around a sheet of paper.

“Attention!”

Alex snaps to.

“According to this some of you are not useless. If I read your name, step forward and sound off like you mean it. If I don’t read your name, don’t say a fucking word.

“Able company, step forward!”

“Atkins!”

“Sir!”

“Benson!”

“Sir!”

“Cortez!”

“Sir!”

“Emerson!”

Alex’s stomach clenches and her ears start to ring. The shame is a physical thing. It feels like slime spattered on her cheeks.

“Sir!”

So it goes, down the alphabet. It’s agony, listening to all these men who beat her.

“Able company, fall out!”

“Whiskey company, step forward!”

“Move, woman!” Vasquez growls.

Alex completely forgot that she, Megan and Susan were assigned to Whiskey company. Probably just in case someone needed a hint that it was an all-woman barracks. The base seemed to have a lot of trouble adjusting to women being present. Most of the time, Alex felt sorry for them. Much of it was just an extreme lack of planning.

“Danvers!”

“Sir, yes sir!”

“Vasquez!”

“Sir, yes sir!”

Megan Johansen is standing between them, seething. Six months of jokes and snippy comments and hair critiques and workout ‘tips’ from Megan vanish the instant her name is passed over. The buzz is instant and Alex can feel it in her toes.

“Some real congratulations are in order, ladies. You apparently have bigger balls than any of these morons,” the colonel grumbles, pointing to the men left standing.

He offers his hand to Alex and she takes it.

“What you did, stepping forward for this, took courage. You two just made US Army history. Ladies, welcome to the 75th Ranger Regiment.”

“Thank you, sir.”

A small crowd of off-duty personnel has gathered. They salute Alex and Susan.

“Whiskey company, fall out!”

Someone hands the colonel another sheet of paper.

“Danvers, grab your gear and report to building forty-eight.”

Alex sprints to her bunk and starts packing, shoving the trinkets she brought from home into the inside webbing, grabbing fatigues and toiletries at random and finally slamming the locker shut.

[Echo, contact mom and Kara. Tell them I passed.]

[Right away. Also, I told you so.]

Building forty-eight turns out to be a shoebox-sized prefab just inside the perimeter with a desk, a filing cabinet and three folding chairs. Someone threw it together in a hurry. It cwould pass for an office as long as no one got too close. The sentry locks the door behind her. Behind the desk is a blonde woman in a gray pinstriped suit and an indigo silk blouse. Her hair is pulled into a tight bun and her eyes lock on and track Alex from the door.

It feels like being studied with a microscope. It takes everything Alex has do to keep going closer.

“Danvers, is it? Have a seat.”

“Thank you, ma’am.”

Pulling a file folder from her desk drawer, the mystery woman slides it across to Alex.

“Do you know what this is?”

Fuckfuckfuck. This is bad!

Once when Alex was home sick, Kara showed her a puzzle game on her phone. The prize was $1,000 for anyone who matched the glyphs. It seemed sort of like Galactic Standard but it was way too messy for that, so they chalked it up to chance.

The prize paid off Kara’s first car.

“Online puzzle game,” Alex replies. “looks like a high score for ‘SisterGrimm’?”

“Hmm. You’re not the worst liar I ever met,” the blonde replies, leaning back in her chair. “Hardly the best liar either. We can work on that.”

Alex’ steely-eyed tormentor is unimpressed. She taps the printout again.

“This was placed online three years ago as part of a CIA project. It is written in a language we knew nine words of. There were parts of other words but back then, we don’t know even what a whole word should look like. This is a language we believe hostiles may be using to communicate.”

“I’m curious how you know it. This is a language that does not occur anywhere on Earth except for a piece of wreckage we found fourteen years ago in New Mexico. Dust storm uncovered it from the middle of the White Sands range. This was etched on a piece of plating that survived four hydrogen bombs sitting less than a hundred meters from ground zero.”

Alex whistles. The engineer in her can appreciate that. The alien’s big sister in her worries about how big that ship must have been and how many died when it went down.

“The guys at Langley just about jizzed their pants when you translated the rest. We identified eighty-seven new words and got partials for fifty-one others. If you hadn't already been in ROTC, they would have black-bagged you. Fortunately for me, you were already in our system. My system.”

She reaches across the desk.

“General Shay Mitchell. You work for me now. I run a project out of Joint Special Operations Command, reporting only to the Secretary of Defense. You will remain attached to the 75th but on loan assignment as my attaché. The press will think I’m tutoring the next generation or some shit or some shit like that, which will be your a cover. I’m not wasting fire team leaders on desk jobs.”

“You will be working with whoever I tell you to: SEALs, other Rangers, Delta, NATO members on occasion. Marine Corps after I get some proof they’ve had their rabies shots.”

Right. So just drop a greenhorn in with the legends, Alex thinks. The ones they make movies about.

Mitchell pulls out a bottle of scotch and a shot glass.

“Based on your scores, that shouldn’t be an issue.”

On one hand, Alex really should be warning Kara, screaming at her to cut ties, forget Alex’s name and run and never look back. That’s what is best for Kara. On the other hand, here is a flag officer telling Alex she was hand-picked for a job that top operators dream of and never get. Whatever this is, SEAL Team Six only visits it but Alex gets to live there.

If she heard that, Kara would probably want Alex shake this woman’s hand and agree.

What would Kara do if she were me ?

“It would be an honor, ma’am.”

“Glad to hear it. Consider this your language test. I assume you were being modest when you were lying and you can actually read it. What does that say?”

“Well, let’s see. It’s a shipping manifest. Some light alloys, prefab shelters, emergency rations, medications and…well, that’s...well.” Alex gulps, forcing the color back out of her cheeks. “Several hundred doses worth of a compound commonly used in the treatment of sexually transmitted diseases for people who are not from Earth.”

Mitchell’s lip curls upward for just a moment before she schools her expression. She throws one back then refills the shot glass.

“You’re serious?”

“Yes. That,” Alex waves her hand at the printout.

“Is written in a trade language. To enable different species to communicate about prices, products, terms and so on. If I had to guess from the quantities compared to the prices they got paid for moving it, this was a private freighter on a relief run when it went down. I can write it all out in English, if you like?”

I’ll feed her this and she won’t be as curious about the rest.

Mitchell toss a reporter’s notepad across the table and reaches into her desk, pulling out another shot glass and waving it temptingly at Alex.

“Take me a couple minutes. There’s a lot of gross Tamarean slang on here,” Alex mutters. "Which makes sense, given the cargo."

Mitchell raises an eyebrow.

Alex hadn’t realized she said the species out loud until it was too late.

“Fuck!”

“So, what’s a Tamarean? Is it an alien?” Mitchell whispers, leaning close.

“Aliens are an urban legend,” Alex replies.

“Superman claims otherwise.”

“And eighty-two percent of people don’t believe him when he says it. With good reason. He’s the only one we’ve ever seen. I cannot stress this enough but Superman wears his underwear outside his tights. Which is stupid. He is not astrophysicist material, ma’am.”

“True,” Mitchell replies while tracing her finger along the rim of the bottle.

“Well? Is a Tamarean a kind of alien or not?”

“Yes.”

“What do you know about them?”

“Plenty. System of origin, physical capabilities, political factions, alliances with others. Notable persons, including some who may have emigrated here.”

Who I may need to get a phone number for so I can warn them.

Mitchell waves her shot glass at the paper.

“On the pad, all of it.”

Alex drops the pen back on to the pad.

“No. I cannot do that, ma’am.”

“It was an order, Danvers.”

“I understand that. Revealing that much information would indirectly reveal the source of the information which would place at least three American citizens in danger, one of them a baby girl. If a bad actor gets that and moves on it, innocents die. Innocents who are for lack of a better phrase, ordinary people.”

Mitchell hasn’t torn her head off, so there’s still time for Alex to salvage this.

“And I swore to defend the country and the Constitution. In terms of intel like this I can assure you have a lot more than anyone else you’ll find. Unique connections.”

Alex pauses.

“If I give you everything and it leaks, people die. If I keep it all, no one dies but nothing gets fixed either. Reading you in as quick as we safely can is the best thing.”

The drumming of Mitchell’s fingers on the formica sounds like thunder as they stare each other down. Thirty seconds ago, this could have been her dream career. Now it’s a toss-up whether she ends up discharged and at court-martial or with a bag over her head in Gitmo. Or worse, someone tortures Kara’s name out of her.

“You’re willing to give up a lot to bury that intel. This sounds like it is personal, Danvers.”

“It is. I will die protecting that information, General. If that’s what it takes.”

Mitchell barks out a laugh. For such a high officer, she has almost no filter and a weirdly casual way of talking to subordinates.

“Don’t exactly lack for courage, do you?”

She pours another shot glass and slides this one across to Alex.

“You don’t trust me. I get it. Why would you, at this point? These enemies you mentioned. Humans, I assume? Off the books operations or private security?”

“Mad scientists, biological weapons testing, live dissections, and plain old terrorists. Human supremacists.”

“Well,” Mitchell grouches. “That’s a cheerful mix. I can imagine people wanting to militarize it but… I suppose I should have expected hate groups as well. Fair point.”

“Sort of like the KKK except they hate aliens and black people. At least I would be surprised if they don’t hate black people. I suspect some of these groups – the labs at least – are government sponsored but most are private. The private ones scare me more. Victims who you can claim don’t matter, profit motive as the only guidance and no one in Congress to kill the funding? Bad mix.”

Mitchell acts like this was something she had been wondering about herself.

“Sounds like there’s no love lost between you and them. You’re angry. I can work with that. I just so happen to have no adult supervision and access to the best toys and the meanest bastards we have. No Tamareans, fine. So what can you tell me about the bad guys?”

Alex snatches the pen and starts scribbling down names, addresses, dates...anything her brain can grasp from memories. She’s always tried to keep an eye on those who are looking for Kara and Echo gives her an inroad on all but the tightest computer networks.

“I can give us a running start, maybe hit some secondary targets. If we keep the ball rolling and climb the food chain, it might be enough to get every last one of them killed.”

Mitchell slaps her palms on the desk, a nasty grin across her face. Alex sees a silver mass hanging on her right side in what looks like a carbon-fiber holster.

“I’ll take that deal. All your shit is outside?”

“Yes, ma’am.”

Mitchell walks over to the door and bangs on it. The instant the sentry opens it, she claps her hand over his mouth, pulls her weapon fires into his torso. Raw voltage dances across his body armor and he hits the deck, convulsing and twitching. Her suit jacket seems to dissipate the charge that reaches her. Mitchell brushes her hair out of her eyes.

“Whew! Nothing personal, soldier. When he wakes up it’s going to feel like the morning after three-day bender. He’s not going to remember this.”

“Is that a ray gun, ma’am?”

“Real beauty, isn’t it?”

She flourishes the silvery weapon, all curves and sleek lines. Mitchell balances it on one finger before twirling it like a Wild West gunslinger and dropping it back into her holster.

“Close-range sidearm. Royally fucks up the nervous system of anything smaller than an elephant. No more lethal than a taser. Unless you turn it up. Standard issue. If you’re in.”

“Hell yes, I’m in.”

The one thing Kara never let her do was play with ray guns.

“Grab my purse, will you? Thermite grenade in the inside pocket. Splash the scotch around and leave the grenade on the desk.”

Alex drags the sentry outside and sets the timer. Across the yard, a spotless Blackhawk with one-way glass and no running lights is touching down. Not the standard Army paint job.

“Last chance, Danvers!” Mitchell yells. “Down the rabbit hole or not?”

Alex pauses. Kara needs to know something’s up and Eliza deserves to know why her daughter dropped off the face of the Earth.

[Echo, tell mom and Kara I got a really cool assignment but I’ll be off the grid. Tell them not to worry. Quietly.]

[Sending text only, using the entangled particles.]

“Got your six, ma’am.”

Mitchell bangs her hand on the door and it slides open. A much larger version of the gun Mitchell used is tucked inside the door on a hydraulic mount and a pair of tactical vests sit on the front bench, crisscrossed with what look like hydraulic pistons. Some sort of fiber bodysuit is folded beside each along with a dozen more pistons and canisters. To Alex, it looks like a partially assembled exoskeleton. Body armor which the eggheads supposedly needed ten years to finish and field-test.

One vest is marked ‘Danvers, A.’ and one ‘Vasquez, S.’ A female soldier is on the other bench with a bag over her head. Her wrists are zip-tied and her knee is bouncing.

“Long time no see, Vasquez,” Alex snarks. “Speak freely, Private.”

It’s always best to start with that. It gives Vasquez more flexibility which is helpful for a woman with zero chill and not much of a filter. It also gives Alex access to brilliant tactical instincts along with Susan’s truly frightening aggression.

“Hiya, Danvers. What are you in for?”

“Crossword puzzle.”

“Assaulting a superior officer, though in my defense he was not in uniform.”

Mitchell looks from Alex to Vasquez and back again. Vasquez should have been ma’am-ing and sergeant-ing and saluting to Alex left and right.

“You know each other, then?”

Susan nods through the bag on her head. Mitchell leans over from her bench.

“She dropped on my best man while he was wearing a jury-rigged disguise. No hesitation, no mercy. She even account for the extra limbs. Mostly. Nine blows.”

Sounds like Susan, Alex thinks. Give her something no one has ever punched before and some brass knuckles and she’s in heaven.

“Costume?” Vasquez sputters. “I nearly broke my wrist. How was I supposed to know it wasn’t just a big-ass bug?”

Mitchell puts her head in her hands.

“You weren’t, Private. You were supposed to react naturally to a hostile alien of unknown type. That was the whole point.”

Chapter Text


November 8th, 2005 | Kara Danvers

National City University

Sigma Phi Fraternity house

 

Kara whips around the dance floor, scanning the room as she spins and hoping her size will keep the boys at arm’s length. As far as these people know she’s a pretty girl in a yellow sundress with a clutch and a bluetooth headset. The bluetooth links to Winn, Kolex and her newest robot offspring--Kleenex--and the clutch contains a roll of nanotube-weave fabric that can deflect a meteor strike from whoever she wraps in it.

On Kara, practical still looks good.

Winn helped her make a ‘friendship’bracelet' that can hold a dozen micro-drones which will buzz room to room after she deploys them. Nothing will happen here that Kleenex cannot see. Letting him handle the monitoring makes it feel much less voyeuristic.

“Whole place smells like Coors Lite,” she complains. “Not so sure my liver can handle the fumes.”

[Lady Kara, there are only three compounds on this planet that could harm you if ingested. Large enough stockpiles do not yet exist.]

"Kolex the joke-killer strikes again,” she sighs.

“Where’s the punchbowl, Winn?”

“Ten meters off your three o’clock. Stairway. Next to the bite-sized brunette.”

Sure enough, a woman with shiny black curls is standing by the punch bowl. The guy in front of her has blocked her by leaning on the wall while they chat. If not for the wall at her back, she would slide right onto the floor.

“I could’ve found the staircase without the brunette, Winn.”

“Sure about that? You’ve been grouchy.”

[Kolex, I want a medical assessment on her. Use all the sensors.]

There’s a pinch in her neck as long-unused devices power up and re-orient.

[No physical injuries. Circulation in the capillaries and posture suggests extreme intoxication. If we get closer, I can estimate blood alcohol levels.]

A red-headed guy with lots of meat on his frame and a lopsided grin reaches for Kara’s waist. He has freckles but they’re only a shade darker than the redness on his cheeks from the booze. Too bad he’s drunk because she certainly wouldn’t throw a teddy bear like him out of the booth if he came up to her at Starbucks.

“You are gorgeous. I’m Mike.

“Little old me?” she drawls. “Don’t know about gorgeous but thanks. Problem is,” she says while carefully detaching his hands from his waist before she ruffles his hair. “I’m a big girl and you're way too drunk to dance. I might knock you over.”

“Yeah,” he realizes, trying to shake the fog from his head. “You got a point. Maybe another time.”

“If we’re lucky. Good night, Mike.”

No one else makes a pass as she beelines to the punch. She takes one of the miniature drones off the bracelet Winn made and sets it on the rim of the punch bowl. The camouflage field engages and it rolls in like it were any other ice cube.

She dropped the others at the doorway and the top of the stairs.

Winn whoops in her ear.

“You are the all seeing ruler of Sigma Phi. Defender of maidens! Master of the realm! First of her name!”

No more Game of Thrones binges for Winn.

“Two hundred eighty-ninth, I think.”

She stops to think. Erok-El and Shalaur-Zod… Palar El-Zod and Kolo-Zenn…

“No, two hundred and eighty-fifth in my father’s house. My mothers house did a better job of continuity of leadership. There I am only the ninety-first.”

Winn sputters. He really needs to quit chugging Diet Coke when he’s backing her up.

“So you are a space princess! I knew it!”

Kara rolls her eyes even though she knows that Winn can’t see it.

“Check the feeds for the drone swarm and route all the data to Kleenex for monitoring.”

“You built another, somehow even more amazing robot and you are calling it that?”

“It’s not better than Kolex. Just more specialized for security monitoring and patrol work. I called it that because it monitors horny men. It was either that, Penthouse or Hand Lotion.”

“Fine! Fine! Not going to push this. Won’t give you any more ideas.”

Now to get out of here and take four hours of hot showers.

She is almost to the door when she hears it. The other voices fade away into a dull buzz as she focuses on the conversation by the punch bowl.

“I think I need to go home and crash, Bob.”

“It’s Jack. Don’t worry. You can crash upstairs.”

“Beat me with a mangy talaq,” Kara groans. “Winn, is that the brunette?”

“It is. Miss Sultry and Wobbly is trying to leave and Spray Tan there doesn’t seem to want to let her.”

Kara turns around. Trying to stay to the edge of the dance floor isn’t fully successful. One girl bumps into her while she’s busy puking in a trash can and one of the upperclassmen of Sigma Phi tries to intercept her.

“You all right?”

His eyes sweeps Kara head to toe but he doesn’t linger anywhere. He’s checking her over, not checking her out. Making sure she’s all right. Poor bastard. His job is to take care of the guests and keep something vaguely resembling order. The problem is that he’s out-numbered, out-muscled and out-horndogged by his brothers.

“Move, dude.”

She checks him with her shoulder and he falls backwards over the couch.

“Whoa! Can I hire you for next time?” he calls after her.

[Kolex, student records hack. I need a name.]

[The inebriated female in the corner?]

[Yes.]

[Stand by. Question for you: can I be Blue Beetle whenever we play this game?]

He’s begging. Kara has spent enough time listening to tell.

Kara laughs.

“Sounds good, old friend.”

[Corrine Elizabeth Alberts. Business and Marketing. GPA and class schedule?]

“Corrine!” Kara calls, jumping up and waving. “You did come!”

Glassy brown eyes turn to Kara. Even swimming in shitty booze, those are eyes Kara could fall in to and drown. Her brow furrows, creating a positively lickable crease.

Please be straight, please be straight, please be straight, Kara wishes.

“Yeah,” she slurs. “I came. This is Jack. He’s kinda cute. Maybe. See, we were drinking. We maybe also had a couple drinks.”

“Great!”

Kara grabs the plastic cup from her and downs it in one go. She tosses the cup and Jack and it bounces off his head.

Free throw, two points.

“That’s fucking awful, dude. What is that? Grain alcohol, canned orange juice and monkey jizz?”

[No primate genetic material, Lady Kara. No illegal pharmaceuticals. However, it was approximately one hundred and sixty proof. Her blood alcohol is at least point one nine nine. Given her small and easily-handled body, that is dangerous for her health.]

[Listen to me, Blue Beetle. There will be no wing-roboting, no matchmaking. Not now. This is serious. She isn’t safe.]

“All right,” Kara sighs, putting her arm under Corrine. She’s too drunk to cooperate at all. It’s like carrying a cocktail dress full of silly putty.

“Back to the dorm, you hot mess you. Going to douse you in Gatorade and sprinkle some aspirin in your mouth.”

Jack puts his other arm out, blocking Kara off.

“She’s my date, not yours. You wanna dyke out? Try the art building,” he growls. “Or just go out and find some bangers.”

Jack had to get racial? I was going to let him off for the dyke bit, too.

Winn must have taken the whole Snickers bar down the wrong tube, judging by the sputtering in her earpiece. Kara’s arm tightens around Corrine.

An anticipatory hiss travels around the mostly-white room and a huge guy with a shaved head and a leggy companion twirls his date around and tucks his chin on her shoulder. They both shoot Kara a look that says asks if she’s going to take that lying down. Better than she dishes out than a human. Worst case for Kara is some cop empties his gun into her, only to find out he’s wasting the city’s money. Kara has fisted her right hand so tight she can feel her nails despite her unbreakable skin.

“Easy, Kara.”

“Winn, I love you. You’re like my kooky uncle. But you don’t get to tell me what have to put up with. Especially not about this.”

“Right. Sorry.”

Kara turns her attention back to Jack who squares himself and crosses his arms.

“Fine. Sake of argument, she’s your date. So if I were to ask you to both tell me her last name on the count of three, that’d be no trouble.”

The chaperon from before is four paces away with his cell phone in his hand, knuckles white around the glass.

“One. Two. Three.”

“Smith!” Jack shouts.

“Err,” Corrine mumbles. She really is trashed. “Alberts.”

“Smith? Dude? Really? Works the best statistically, I suppose.” Kara tilts her head at Corrine. “The lady wins. Move along.”

Nothing.

“I said move. Move...your...hand.”

Winn is in her ear again.

“Please, please, please remember that it is wrong to kill people, Kara.”

Kara reaches up to her ear and mutes her headset.

While hunched over to carry Corrine, she can’t look Jack in the eye. What she can do is kick off her shoes and push her fist into his chest.

“Jack, you’re going to back off. I’m going to walk away. Your standards president over there is going to walk you upstairs and lock you in while you sober up.”

“Or what?”

Kara sucker punches him. While he’s coughing, she strikes his shoulder and drives her knee into his groin. She pushes up with her knee while tightening her grip around his collarbone and pressing down. He screams in pain but doesn’t hit the floor. In a squeeze like this, he’s not going anywhere.

She looks down at Jack’s contorted face and smirks.

“Or this. This is where I keep squeezing from both sides and I’m either going break some bones or do nasty soft-tissue damage to your dick. Maybe both. I hear that broken bones heal better.”

“Crazy bull dyke ni-”

That time, it was Corrine. Corrine swung a forty of whiskey into his head and she did it like a boss. Kara see that the bottle is mostly full. He slides out of Kara’s grip and crashes into a beer pong table.

She is staring at Corrine and is just as floored as everyone else.

“Damn, Corrine. I feel safer.”

“I hurt my hand,” Corrine whines.

“Just a sprain, I bet. We’ll get it checked. Cover your ears, Corrine.”

It’s sad but adorable, the way she struggles to find both her ears at the same time. The standards president gapes at Kara, shaking his head no with his hands folded as if I prayer. She waves her Bluetooth around.

“Listen up, you assholes! I’m going to call campus police about an attempted rape. Oh, and that line of ecstasy on the mirror over there. Which means they’re going to rip this place apart for drugs. I swear to God, if this place is not fucking spotless and if there is any girl upstairs who isn’t sober as a judge...you will regret it. I will find a way to ruin you.”

She taps the earpiece.

“Siri, call anonymous tip line.”

A peal of evil-villain laughter answers before Winn turns the microphone at his end back on and uses the voice program he wrote so that he sounds like Siri.

 

After leaving her tip, Kara hoists Corrine and starts towards the front door.

“Hey!” a woman shouts. “You’re a hero! Who are you?”

Chants of “Hero name, hero name, hero name!” fill the room.

Rao’s shadow. Do I need a superhero name now?

“Uh, Batgirl?” Kara mumbles. “No. That’s taken. Fratgirl? Way too specific.”

“Black Knight,” Winn suggests. “Solid vigilante ring to it, works with your face for undercover work or with like, black pajamas and a ski mask on patrol.”

“Thanks. I’ll take it,” she whispers back. “You get dibs on a suit if I ever make one.”

“Ooh, it would work even better with a suit.”

“No boob armor, Winn.”

“I was thinking something sexier, something more you. Plate armor and giant sword. Accessorize with a shield and winged eyeshadow.”

The visual gives her the boost she needed. She looks over her shoulder towards the dance floor.

“I am the Black Knight! I will be watching.”

 

After snagging her backpack from the bushes and changing, Kara feels like herself. Maybe even like a hero. The denim jacket smells like the woods outside Midvale, which brings back a thousand hugs from Eliza. The cargo jeans are hardly fetching but they do give her space for three cans of mace, sixteen zip-ties, four actual sets of handcuffs and a cheap plastic ‘taser’. She and Kolex hacked it together based on the power transfer coils for the weaponry on a Flamebird-class frigate.

As long as she keeps it on zero, no one will be the wiser.

The hand-me-down combat boots from Alex are what makes her feel righteous.

Corrine’s dorm room is on the sixth floor and the elevator is out. Kara stops twice to let her puke into a trash can. Without her student ID number and Kolex’s crack of the housing administration database, they would really be in trouble.

Kara brings her hand up and raps three times. The door dents slightly and the whiteboard falls off, cracking on the floor.

“Crap,” Kara mutters. She didn’t think she’d be so buzzed from dealing with Jack.

The door opens a sliver. It’s dark inside but Kara can make out eyes and some kind of mud-based face masque.

“This one yours?” Kara jokes. ”Found her sliding off the wall at Sigma Phi.”

“That’s mine, yeah. Need help getting her in?”

“Just need the door opened.”

The door swings open and Corrine’s roommate reaches out to help.

“Top bunk?”

“Yeah. Need a hand?”

Kara hoists Corrine up and slides her onto the mattress before pulling the sheet up to her chin.

“Right. Never mind that, yeah, you’re good.”

Was that a whistle?

“Jesus,” the roommate whispers.

Kara taps her ear piece.

“Winn, sign off.”

The creak of his desk chair can be heard, along with a frantic tapping of keys.

“Uh, right. Signing off. You kids have fun!”

Jackass.

Kara turns around and gets her first good look. The light over the study desk casts a dim pool of yellow light on to some papers and a laptop. Corrine’s roommate is leaning on the desk. She’s deliciously plump with a razor-sharp cheekbones and short dreadlocks. In the shine of the lamp, her hand looks like polished mahogany. She looks Kara up and down, then does it again. Then she locks eyes with Kara and just stares. Waiting for Kara to look away.

“What's a Winn?"

"A friend of mine. He likes me to stay on the phone when I’m out at night. Buddy system, what can you do? I’m Kara. Sorry to interrupt.”

“I’m Nadia. And you didn’t. Anyone who feels like playing gentlewoman for my trashed room-mate can stop by.”

Something about the way Nadia smirks makes Kara’s brain flash back to Emilia’s hips swaying as they walked the beach in Midvale in the middle of the night.

Bad Kara! She scolds herself. Humans are not safe with you!

The problem is that part of her brain that sets rules for using her powers is no longer in charge. What is in charge is the part of her brain that makes her shiver whenever Nadia looks at her.

“This happen a lot?”

“Corrine getting trashed? Or gentlewomen coming in my room?” Nadia teases.

Nadia’s voice is lower than it was before and Kara thinks maybe she got closer. Unless the room got smaller. Her mud masque smells really good. It smells like lavender.

“Either? Both?”

“Connie gets trashed on the reg but most people wouldn’t rescue some random chick from a frat party. You’re one of the good ones, Kara.”

“Thanks!”

Nadia smooths out her bathrobe.

“You single?” she asks.

“Sorry, what?”

She is hitting on me! Play it cool, Kara reminds herself. Act cute. No rambling.

“Are you single, Kara? Is there someone waiting to appreciate all of that,” Nadia asks, drawing an hourglass with her fingers. “when you get home?”

“I’m single.”

Nadia rolls her eyes.

“Christ. How dumb is your roommate, anyway? She should have gone in for that freshman lesbian experimentation the instant she saw you.”

“It’s a guy. He’s pretty smart. Just that he’s gayer than he is smart.”

“Ah, the mysterious ‘Winn’ I suppose.”

“Bingo,” Kara replies.

“So, he won’t mind?”

Kara shakes her head. Nadia steps closer.

“That’s good. Because I’d really like to kiss you.”

Everything smells like lavender now and Nadia’s hands are fisted tight in her jacket and Kara can’t really come up with an excuse. She could scoop Nadia up and curl all the way around her if she wanted to. Grab her, hold her close and just be for a while. No legacy, no fear of dissection tables, no pressure. Just a woman in her arms.

“This isn’t just because of Corrine? You don’t have to thank me.”

“No talking about Corrine,” Nadia purrs, putting a finger to Kara’s lips. “please. This isn’t about her.”

“Would you like to kiss me, Kara?”

Nadia puts a finger on Kara’s chin, lifting to expose Kara’s throat.

“Yes,” she manages, swallowing a lump in her throat.

“Good,” Nadia replies, lashing Kara’s collarbone with her tongue.

Kara seizes Nadia, grabbing her ass and lifting her off the floor. Nadia gasps.

“Gotcha, fun-size!”

“All right, I’ll admit. I was not expecting that."

Her hands slither under Kara’s jacket and nails dig into her biceps. A delicious moan from Nadia has Kara tightening her grip and frantically tugging at the sash on the bathrobe. She finally finds it and yanks. It’s too dark to see much but Kara sees sweat-kissed skin and she runs her palms over plump breasts and stiff nipples. Her hands glide downward, finding prickling tufts of hair and slippery skin.

Nadia puts her feet on Kara’s boots and goes on tiptoe, sucking on Kara’s jugular.

“You’re still wearing clothes, Kara. I don’t like it.”

“Tonight is all about you.”

Kara’s finger slips in without her even meaning to. Did I hurt her? Nadia stares up, her pupils blown and lips puffy. Her mud masque has started to run.

“Fuck,” Nadia hisses. “I need it, need you. Don’t care how.”

One step forward pins Nadia up against the wall, her legs clamped around Kara’s hips and Kara’s hand spanning the back her neck. It starts slow. Nadia bears down hard on the fingers teasing and circling inside her while Kara pushes with her hips, keeping a distance. She wraps her arms around Kara‘s neck. Each flick of the fingers and grind of the hips peels away another layer until Nadia’s breathing is reduced to shudders and gasps.

Kara stills her hand and she starts nipping at Nadia’s face anywhere she can. Chin, jaw, earlobe, cheekbone. All are delicious.

“Let me come!” Nadia snarls.

Kara laughs at seeing the feral gleam in her lover’s eyes. Cupping Nadia’s mound in her palm, she squeezes with her palm and resumes her thrusts with gusto. She feels teeth clamped hard on her shoulder and Nadia’s breath tickling her neck.

Nadia’s head falls back when she goes over the edge.

“Kara!”

“Shh,” Kara whispers. “Breathe. Enjoy it.”

It takes ages for Nadia to ease off. Kara threads her clean hand into perfumed dreadlocks and rubs the scalp underneath, slowly circling.

“That...was...amazing,” Nadia pants. ”but I don’t have anything left. Sorry.”

Kara pulls Nadia as close as she can, breathing deep and filling her lungs with the scent.

“You should be tired. That’s sort of the point,” Kara whispers, kissing her forehead.

The question is all over Nadia’s face: what about you?

“I...” Kara sighs. “Receiving is harder. It’s fun but I worry I’m going to hurt you.”

“Huh. I guess it makes sense. You’re literally twice the woman,” she teases, tracing a muscle on Kara’s shoulder with her tongue. She grabs and squeezes and tickles all across Kara’s back and abs. “Scratch that. I think I could fit all three of my high school crushes in here. God, woman. What did they feed you?”

“You’re still going to have to take your clothes off,” she whispers. “to sleep with me. I’d like you to. I want you to stay.”

“My life is so awful,” Kara moans. “A beautiful woman wants me to sleep naked in her bed. Woe! Alas! I die! Exit, stage left!”

“Yeah, yeah, yeah. And I didn't get to go down on you. Life isn't fair."

Nadia glances at the bunk bed.

“No way I can cram you in that with me. I’m going to go grab the sheets.”

Kara shucks her jacket off while Nadia fusses with the bedsheets. This is much harder than it should be since she has to look at Nadia bent over the bed, her heart-shaped ass upraised and juices shining on her thighs. The temptation to lean forward and take a quick slurp is very real. Miraculously, Kara manages to focus long enough get her belt off and throws her pants into the corner. They clatter and clink with all the various gear in the pockets. Nadia spins around at the noise.

“It's, uh, safety stuff? Like for jogging,” Kara explains.

She slides her boxers off only to get stuck in her T-shirt when it snags in her bra straps.  She might be able to pass off ripping the shirt in half as a non-super-strength feat but she's fairly certain that would have an undesirable effect on Nadia's self control and communication skills.

The last scion of the House of El, defeated by underwear!

“Nadia? Little help?”

Nadia doesn't answer, so Kara cheats, using her senses to peek through the cotton. She hadn’t been doing this because she wanted to see Nadia in natural light, not in infrared and ultraviolet and electromagnetism and a thousand other things Kara could see. That would be a beauty she might relish could but never describe properly. Nadia reaches out with trembling fingers to help pull the shirt off, after which she seems unable to get her eyes all the way up to Kara’s face. Kara lays the sheet down and crooks a finger. Nadia wastes no time snuggling into the crook of her neck and laying her legs over Kara’s torso.

“You’re really warm. It’s like cuddling a mug of hot chocolate," she murmurs, resting her cheek on Kara's abs.

Nadia lifts herself up. It takes Kara a moment to realize that she thought anyone would ever be offended by the word chocolate--she really needs to get to know Kara!--or double meanings.

She sees my skin and I see hers and we think something completely different. She has baggage I don’t understand, Kara reminds herself. I'll never really fake it.

Ever since Alex introduced her to the only black family in Midvale -- the Williams – to help her learn to navigate that part of herself, Kara has hated it. Hated the way she has to avoid and make herself small and cooperative. Shrink herself. She hated that part of her disguise more than anything else but Eliza insisted. She needed to fit in culturally and act as though she understood it.

“The band or the drink? Kidding! You’re fine, Nads. I know what you meant. Partial to hot chocolate myself.”

“Nads? Really? Like one hour anniversary so it’s pet names.”

“If I sleep with a girl, we do pet names. There are rules, Nads. I look forward to hearing mine. And it’s good that I’m warm,” Kara yawns. “You won’t freeze overnight.”

Chapter Text


 

December 8 th , 20 05 | Barbara Gordon (“Batgirl”)

National City University

Sheridan Hall Clocktower

 

Crouched on the clocktower, Batgirl scans the darkened quad. The new night-vision gear is great. The contrast is good and the software can actually replicate the image in color. This mean she’s already seen five things she cannot unsee for the rest of her life.

“Would rather have not known your face tattoo was puke green, kid.”

This mission is off. It feels like she’s being pranked either by Bruce or by Kate. None of them like it when a new vigilante pops out of the woodwork. Sending someone to check is just procedure. What’s worrisome is that Bruce and Kate were both there to give her the assignment and Kate looked embarrassed. One thing Barbara has learned as Batgirl is that Kate Kane the billionaire socialite, distilled badass, out lesbian and closeted vampire--the paleness is a getting to be a bit much--does not embarrass easily.

She certainly does not blush as red as her hair because of some rookie cape, breakup or no breakup. Something else is at work here.

All the team knows is that the vigilante is female, between five eight and six foot three and powerful. Despite using what looks like store-bought gear she’s managed to take out four armed muggers at once. According to a giddy article in the student paper, the combined weight was seven hundred eighty-one pounds and she hung them by their ankles from the same lamp-post. The campus ended up replacing the bent-up pole the next week.

For her part, Barbara is more worried about the pattern involved. It’s been months and all of her work was stopping crime on or near campus, exclusively violent crimes and mostly crimes against women. Two gas stations got robbed by men who turned out to be armed with a fork and a troll doll, respectively. One bank got hit by a guy bluffing his way in with wires stuck into a hardback novel. No sightings of this “Black Knight” for thefts.

If a girl gets in a tiff with her ex-boyfriend and his cronies, five men end up in the hospital, two of them with broken legs. Drunk husband shows up at a domestic violence shelter and the police find him chained to the front of a garbage truck, bruised from the waist up. It’s a miracle that there has been only one concussion so far.

This cape does not stop property crimes and protects women more often than men. This could be a problem if it becomes a revenge fantasy or once the media gets it.

Bruce is convinced she has powers and aims at carving out a turf and earning goodwill before the reveal and subsequent crime spree. He's usually right about Gotham’s supervillians but that’s a truly lousy rule of thumb for anything else. No man that paranoid, however functional, is a fount of wisdom.

He sent her with a sliver of Kryptonite so she could ‘see if it works’ on Black Knight. It’s worth the risk, he insisted. Nearly five years and Bruce still lives in fear of the radar screen on the Lighthouse the day he fell asleep on the job.

If it does work, she kills a fairly harmless cape who was a non-hostile alien. If it does nothing or if she misses, either a pissed off Kryptonian will turn her into paste or a pissed off woman twice her size will turn her into paste.

Not great options.

“This is probably just a women’s studies major with no hobbies and way too many self-defense classes,” Barbara tells herself.

“Batgirl! Hi! Waffle cone?” someone calls from behind her.

Batgirl spins, swinging to block any possible attack. Instead she feels her gauntlet cracking against the girl’s open-palmed block. Fifty thousand dollars in state-of-the-art body armor shattered like an egg falling onto concrete. How her own hand is intact she has no idea.

Black Knight is standing, scratch that, floating to her left. She’s wearing a nylon running jacket and black cargo pants. She is holding a fat ice cream cone out and happily slurping on her own. Whatever ski mask she wears was pulled up for snacking purposes, revealing dark skin and hot pink lip gloss.

“Well, that was rude. I mean, I did announce myself. Just for that I should eat both of them but I’m not evil. I offer snacks, I deliver snacks. Enjoy!”

“Elysian Creamery’s new flavor. Medusa’s Stony Mint.”

Bruce is going to love this report. “Powerful metahuman who broke the bat-armor in one swing. Irritatingly perky at four in the morning and brought me ice cream. She seemed nice.”

How did she know I like mint chip?

Hearing that fluffy chatter through a voice scrambler is the weirdest thing Batgirl has ever had to deal with. It’s far more surreal than breaking up the Riddler-Joker-Two Face brawl at Arkham last May.

The difference between her and Bruce is that she will take the ice cream without latex gloves or waiting on a toxicology screen. His idea of acceptable risk is ‘no risk whatsoever’ no matter how trivial the question.

“Nice up here, isn’t it?”

“Yeah,” Batgirl agrees. “Nice breeze.”

“Really good mint chip, right?”

Orgasmic. But I’m not going to admit it quite yet.

“Your hand all right?”

She flexes it, curling and uncurling each finger separately.

“Yeah, I think so.”

“Good. Just don’t try and beat up your roof buddy next time.”

“My what now?”

“We’re just a couple of girls hanging out on a roof. Having a laugh. Watching for crimes. Hence, we are roof buddies.”

Batgirl snorts.

“Clearly the all-black wardrobe isn’t the source of Bruce’s anger problem.”

“Totally unrelated. Sorry...but who’s Bruce?”

“Fuck!”

Digitally scrambled giggles ring across the quad.

“I already knew. Besides,” she teases, clapping a hand on Batgirl’s shoulder.

It feels like she could put the force of a punch-press behind it but Black Knight is playing nice. Holding back the raw power she clearly has.

“I think people are just at ease around me. Like this lady on the bus who I sat next to just told me all about her divorce. Bawling! Wants me to come to her book club, a total stranger. She let it all out and gave me her card after. I never saw her before in my life. Haven’t seen her since. Really? Can you imagine me in the suburbs at a book club? Find out next Wednesday, I guess. Shoot! I have to remember to buy cheese.”

Black Knight cocks her head to the left like she was listening to something.

“Purse-snatcher. I got to run but I’ll leave you my number. Borrow a pen from that utility belt of yours?”

She whips out a notepad and before Batgirl can react, pulls the Kryptonite stiletto from the sheath on her belt. It slashes right through the notepad and into her hand. The hissing green ore shatters into crumbs.

Black Knight stares blankly at her ruined notepad and torn gloves.

“Crap. That was definitely not a pen! One second.”

She disappears, leaving a mid-air trail of blue lightning. She returns as quick as she came, holding a gel pen and a pad of sticky notes.

“Ran to the book store,” she mumbles, holding the pen cap in her teeth.

It is now quite clear why Kate sent her on this. This kid is funny and badass and has no chill, three qualities that Maggie Sawyer had in spades. Chances are that a heartbroken Kate would have jumped her bones in thirty seconds. Rebound fling is not a good look for the ‘Crimson Angel’ who terrorizes everything in Gotham, no matter how big its balls or lack thereof.

“Toodles!”

She presses the sticky note into Batgirl’s chest plate and disappears, leaving another contrail of electricity. Tapping her earpiece, Batgirl waits for the secure handshake. Which was supposed to be a two-beep tone but has been replaced with Sir Mix-A-Lot. Again.

Terrific.

Apparently no one can keep Damian in line if she’s not there.

“Alfred, it’s Batgirl.”

“Lovely to hear from you, Miss Gordon. How are the palm trees and the sea breezes treating you?”

Every time she speaks to Alfred, it’s like her dad is still alive. It’s like he is clapping her on the back at softball with her mom in the stands cheering her on. He holds together the sanity of six other kids and even the Dark Knight himself, probably the least well-adjusted of the bunch.

It's easier for her. She had a mom once upon a time and her dad was her rock until he passed. Barbara started this Batgirl thing full time as and adult. Damian and Cass were abused and went straight to being Batbrats with nothing in between.

“Just great,” she replies, unable to stop the smile. “We should catch up when I get back. Right now, could I get a word with the big guy?”

Alfred sighs.

“Master Wayne is in his blanket fort downstairs. One moment.”

She’s not sure how long ago it was when Alfred stopped taking the Batcave, Batcomputer and Batmobile seriously but he clearly gave up on it before she met him.

“What do you need?” Batman growls.

“You do realize the whole scary voice thing is for the bad guys, right? Anyway. I found Black Knight. She’s harmless.”

“I need more than that.”

“She approached me undetected and announced herself standing on my left. I was startled and couldn’t see her except in periphery, so I tried a right hook. She deflected it, which completely cracked the gauntlet but didn’t injure me at all. This something she did bare-handed. Then she handed me an ice cream cone and welcomed me to her city. Left me a contact number.”

“How did she approach?”

“Flying,” Barbara replies.

Bruce Wayne cursing under his breath is one of the sweetest joys in her life.

“Important detail to leave out,” he growls.

“Actually, what I noticed most is that she’s fast. I think close to Barry Allen fast. When she flies, it leaves a contrail that looks similar to his. Supersenses are a strong possibility because she is off dealing with some crime I could not hear even with the directional mikes. She’s using a face mask and a voice modulator, which makes sense if she’s a student here. When she lifted her mask for the ice cream, I found out she’s African American.”

“Quite frankly, I applaud her for she is doing everything she can to foil the police. They barely tolerate you and you’re a rich white guy. That would be a bad way to test whether or not she’s bulletproof.”

“Anything else? Did you-”

“Try the dagger?” she interjects.

“I’m sorry, Bruce. There wasn’t a natural place in the flow of conversation to stab her in the back. Since you asked…when she went to write her number, she thought the knife was a pen, pulled it out and accidentally jammed it through the notepad into into her hand. It broke like glass. She flew off to the bookstore to buy a pen and paper, so it clearly did not affect her.”

Bruce lets out a long sigh. One he had been holding for months, apparently.

“So not one of our stray Kryptonians then.”

“Afraid not. Crazy thought! Have we ever just asked Clark what was in the crashed pod? He is your oldest and best friend.”

“Why should I believe his answer?"

It’s moments like this where her opinion of Selina Kyle rises from ‘vodka aunt’ and ‘bad influence on the Batbrats’ all the way to ‘physical manifestation of patience’. Because she loves that man, issues and all. Selina Kyle must be an emotional masochist.

“The flight back is first class, right?”

“It is.”

“Great. Bye now!”

Barbara lets the crunching of her waffle cone drown out his retort.


December 9, 2005 | Kara Danvers

National City University

Honors Dorm, Room 713

 

Kara’s stomach heaves and she empties what little was left into the toilet.

“Easy. I got you, friend,” Winn murmurs, holding her hair and rubbing her back.

She sags onto the tiles. Something is caught in her throat. She slams her fist into her diaphragm. Coughing and hacking, she finally manages to expel it. A chip of glowing green rock the size of her fingernail skitters across the bathroom floor. Kryptonite.

“Should have washed my hands before my bedtime snack,” she grumbles.

With the sun from the window, she feels her strength growing by the second.

“Worst experiment ever,” Kara groans. “But you were right. For some weird reason, Supes and I work differently.”

Winn nods, rubbing his almost-stubble. She would tease him but that is three weeks of careful work on his part. His boyfriend’s orders.

“Maybe, maybe not. Didn’t you say you have missing time from your pod?”

“Sure, why?”

Winn sits down beside her.

“Sake of argument. My little girl is going to a distant planet with an indigenous population of intelligent life which could threaten her now or in the future. I, Winnslow Schott Jr., crazed genius, am an ethically suspect scientist who has created various gizmos and biological weapons that were later banned by the government. I have been censured by the Academy of Argo twice but I keep getting funded. Who is funding me? Why are they funding me? What are they funding?”

Kara doesn’t like where this is going. Not at all.

“What wouldn’t you do to help your little girl survive?” she asks. “Would you trade a lifetime of surgery-themed nightmares for making her much, much harder to kill?”

Winn claps his hands.

“Exactly! I can’t imagine many parents who wouldn’t make that trade,” he admits.

“Kolex? Search my father’s files for any research on creating innate resistance to hard radiation, White Sand exposure or neutron leakage.”

“What’s White Sand?” winn asks.

Kara mouths back ‘explain later’.

Rather than answering through the tattoo, Kolex lets himself in, lowers the lid and lifts Kara up onto the toilet. He steadies her with his upper arms and wipes her forehead with a damp washcloth using the lower pair.

“Stand by. One file found.”

“Can you access it?”

“Yes, a file from the Military Guild’s quarantined archives. Memory downloads from implants, schematics and procedures and project logs. But your father attached a warning. It reads: ‘Kara, my little star, my kind girl. Please leave this be. If you open this, you will uncover secrets better left covered. You will relieve the darkest period of our history. Our worst instincts. Our most shameful atrocities.’ Having read that to you, I can now access the file.

“Hell of a terms and conditions,” Winn mutters.

“Kolex, spool the entire file to our neural link.”

“Done.”

“Kara,” Winn warns. “Think about this!”

“Play it.”

Centuries of memories batter Kara’s brain.

Battlefields slick with gore and prison camps stretching to the horizon. Fortresses shattering as monstrous figures pound them with their fists. She sees gloved hands deflect blows, crush limbs and rip organs from living things. Kara sees the faces of the dying as their blood spatters on her skin. She sees warships torn in half by armored figures in suits bearing an insignia written in Kryptonese. Kara feels shrapnel bounce off her skin. A city kneels in fear of a solitary black-armored, black-caped soldier hovering above them. The soldier touches down and beckons to a throne, calling Kara to sit.

Over and over the word ‘Sovereign’ thunders in her ears and that three-sided glyph blazes above it all. A voice speaks to her through what seems to be a liquid-filled glass tube.

You are a Destroyer. You are the Fist of Krypton. You serve the Empire. Awaken.

"Father! No!" she screams.

 

 

Winn is slapping her over and over to wake her up. She started to come to a few seconds ago but watching him very carefully slap her so as not to shatter his hands is funny as hell. Kara really needs a laugh right now.

“I’m up, I’m up. Geez!”

Winn grabs her shoulders and tries to shake her, succeeding only in shaking himself.

“Do not do that! Ever!” He shouts.

“My bestie cannot go bonkers downloading data from mad scientists straight into her brain! You’re my friend,” he sobs. “You can’t die. I won’t let you.”

“Bring it in, Winn. Hug time.”

“Thanks,” he sniffs. “Get your answer?”

“Yeah,” she murmurs. “I’m a war crime.”

Winn cuffs the back of her head.

“Bitch, please. You are not a war crime. Unless you’re breaking someone’s bone at that very moment you’re as criminal a puppy carrying a butterfly on its nose. If it’s to stop a puppy-napping in progress then even the bone breaking is adorable.”

Kara sighs.

“Except for the fact I am, Winn. Me existing is a violation of galactic law.”

Winn offers her a bottle of water from the cabinet.

“It’s story time, isn’t it? I can tell.”

Kara drains the bottle and slouches back onto the tiles. She stares at the ceiling.

“There was a period about forty thousand years back when Krypton expanded rapidly into space. In a matter of decades, thousands of worlds colonized, acquired or simply captured. Our military patrolled two-thirds of the Milky Way and we were making overtures to a crazy-powerful race in Andromeda. The Kryptonian Imperium, they called it. Lasted for several thousand years before collapsing. After that the reforms it was the Republic of Krypton, the democracy that we had when I left.”

“We were unstoppable. The Tamareans, the Martians, the Rakni-Xinda, the Helgramittes, and even the Oans tried to push us back. In one battle, Oa sent tens of thousands of Green Lanterns to sterilize Krypton. All the Lanterns were butchered before they even made atmosphere by a force of a few hundred soldiers.”

“The Thessalians sat it out, became a client state. Started up some resort planets for us, exchanged stress relief for our military for technology and protection. Played to their strengths. The whole sex tourism, retail therapy and economic intermediary approach put them in the best place post-war so they stayed with it.”

Winn takes a long draw of his own water.

“How did you do it? I’m guessing you didn’t master the Force or something.”

“Super-soldiers. On paper, they were Project Sovereign. When deployed their handlers called them Destroyers and they were the backbone of our power. Our enemies called them Worldkillers because that is what they did.”

“Analytical, emotionless, never hesitated to kill. They could move and fight in deep space buck naked if they had to. Just one of them could conquer and enforce Kryptonian Imperium law on a planet like Earth. No question.”

“If Supes went up against one – an amateur versus trained soldier with the enhancements – it would be like a poodle taking on a pit bull.  Yes, both are technically dogs and yes, the poodle is brave as hell but that's only going to end one way.”

Winn shivers.

“These were robots?” he asks. “Cyborgs?”

She shakes her head.

“More like mass-produced Frankensteins. The baseline was Kryptonians hybridized with aliens and completely synthetic species created from scratch for the project. Implanted symbiont gave them entirely new abilities and increased durability by splitting off duplicate organs and bones. Vastly increased the energy intake and output of the skin. Stabilized the quantum offloading in the muscles and increased its capacity exponentially,” she adds, ticking off the changes on her fingers.

“Dermal armor enriched with exotic particles. Regions in the brain surgically stimulated to enable them to visually comprehend faster-than-light and stay oriented in zero gravity. Weaponized immune systems that modified attacking pathogens. If it made them more powerful or quicker-healing, or faster or meaner, we did it.”

“We grew them to adult size and implanted whole libraries of tactics into their brains. Break glass for a weapon of mass destruction with feet. There are stories ofsoldiers – not ships – flying from the surface of Rao to annihilate enemy fleets in other star systems.”

“Sounds bad. What stopped you?”

Kara shrugs.

“According to the histories, a team of Blue and Purple Lanterns infiltrated Kryptonopolis and Argo City working their way up in the Imperial Citadel. Over time, they worked psychological operations on key government officials.”

“Green Lanterns are enforcers. They take orders via subliminal cues in the rings. They use force of Will to power their rings, though not always their own. That’s the only kind of Lantern you know here on Earth. Blue Lanterns stand for Hope, Purple Lanterns stand for Love. Those corps are small in numbers but they act on their own initiative.”

“They softened the people in charge, made them regret their actions. We gave up colonies, paid reparations and fell into the role of peacekeepers and researchers. Treaties were signed. Worldkillers were banned and all surviving specimens were killed. I remember reading that they marched right into the disintegration chambers without a complaint. I asked my teachers why and they explained they that Worldkillers themselves be killed just as easily as they killed others. Because to them, orders are all life was and those were their orders.”

Winn whistles.

So glad that modern Kryptonians are more about denim jackets and wearing Nadia around campus like a scarf.”

Hearing her girlfriend's name draws more of the poison from her thoughts. Kara kisses the top of Winn’s head.

“You’re a good man, Winn.”

“What about all this scares you so much?” Winn asks. “Sounds like it was bad but more of a ‘never forget’ than a ‘smoke rises from Mount Doom’ situation.”

"If I were going to worry about my buddy Kara, I'd be more worried what happened if you got a bit too thirsty. You do remember the looks from Pride March, right?"

He waggles his fingers teasingly in her face and she snaps her teeth.

“I remember someone doing rainbow plaid facepaint on his cheeks.”

“It matched my sweater! You carpet munchers do not get to tease about plaid! It’s like...a rule,” he huffs.

“You’re thinking of flannel, Winn.”

He huffs.

“Greg thought it was okay. He liked it.”

Greg did like it. He really did. That morning after might be the only time she has seen Winn wearing a rumpled shirt and looking a mess.

"I seem to recall several volleyball players and three professors," he continues, talking right through her hand when she clamps it over his mouth.

"It was all over their faces. 'Great and terrible as the dawn! All shall love her, and despair!’ They were this close to kneeling. Nadia was holding her can of mace, Kara."

"If I go back to traumatic memories, will you cut that out?" she begs.

He shrugs. “We can find out.”

“At the end of the memories I saw, there was a Military Guild scientist programming a Worldkiller with trigger words. The poor things were born brainwashed. I could tell by the uniform and the lab gear it was ancient tech. But the voice was my father’s. At the very least, he knows the trigger word sequence to give Worldkillers orders. That information was supposed to have been destroyed.”

Kara looks at her hands, surprised not to find them caked with blood.

“Remember anything else?” Winn asks. “Besides the vision.”

“Yeah. When I was in the pod, right before the surgery suite put me under some ships warped in and joined mine. Stealth ships, I guess. Black paint, no view-ports, no curved surfaces. Kryptonian because I recognized the design of the maneuvering thrusters. I was a spaceship nerd as a kid,” she explains.

“That was very uncool back home. Dorky. Like being say, a vinyl collector or a typewriter aficionado would be here.”

“Now I feel judged for at least two reasons,” Winn grumbles.

“I would come in and out of consciousness and they would still be there, two on each side. Like they were guarding me. They were on the small side but they moved quick.”

“I thought Krypton scrapped their starships a while back? That’s why the evacuation was a disaster. Nothing was actually on hand.”

“More like we contracted them out but yes. I came here in a wreck my dad bought from in a museum and it was a mess, picked apart for museum souvenirs. The last six one-person ships we could find. These were spotless. Which means they were waiting somewhere or stored on purpose. They had to be old.”

Kara digs for anything else she can remember.

“No, not just old. Ancient. The sublight drive exhaust was dark blue, not green or white. We haven’t used excitation beams that worked that wavelength for centuries before we stopped making our own which we did thousands of years ago. Better thrust and range but it requires a way more costly type of fuel.”

Kara sucks in a breath.

“The sort of fuel a galaxy-spanning empire could mine, extract and distribute. Any war that big, stuff gets lost, records go missing. Stuff that's supposed to be scrapped isn't.”

“Ghoooooost ships! Wooooo!” Winn teases.

“This isn’t funny. So those ships were Imperium leftovers or maybe illegally retained. Remotely signaled by my dad and sent to my location. Each one was big enough for a cryogenic casket. There could be four more of these monsters out there, besides just me.”

Winn pulls her closer, like Kara was his personal safety blanket.

“Did they come to Earth?”

“Probably. Why else would they follow me across multiple systems? This sucks.”

Winn leaps up, pacing the bathroom and waving his arms. If he wasn’t so well dressed, Kara would really be getting a street preacher vibe off this.

“Kara! We’re looking at this all wrong. Your dad sent these. So they’re not going to hurt you. They are here to serve you. You can probably control them if you ever meet one.”

“I don’t want to be a slave owner!” Kara shouts, leaping to her feet. “Remember the day we met? How much the word Daxamite pissed me off’?”

“Daxam was our first colony. Closer than Mars is to Earth. We're practically the same species but I will never answer to Daxamite," she snarls, eyes wild. "They are scum. Even at our worst, our most vicious, we were were free men and women. Daxam still has slavery!”

She takes a step towards Winn, fists clenched.

“The Wordkillers weren’t free,” he reminds her. Kara stops short, feeling like Winn just struck her. “Brainwashed.”

He had put a hand on her chest to stop her getting closer. Which means he’s got his palm all over her left breast, in an accidental and not very skillful grope.

“You really don’t deal with breasts much, do you?” Kara snarks. She lifts her eyebrows and glances down. Winn face goes four shades of red and he lets go.

“Whoops. All I’m saying, Kara, is that these things are here to make Earth safer for you. To protect daddy’s little girl. So all we have to do is make them safe for everyone else too. Keep them from going all ‘bow before Queen Kara Zor-El’ on us.”

“Winn, I don’t think… I appreciate the thought but It’s not that simple. I don’t even know how to find them!” she rambles. “I...I...I… This is a really bad idea!”

Winn folds his arms and waits her out.

“I’m right about this, Kara. We can do it. So. Do you remember those code words?”

“Winn!”

He ducks the empty water bottle and heads back to his computer to let her cool off.

Chapter Text

March 10, 2006 | Ymala “Emilia” Tyala

National City

Abandoned School

 

Too expensive and toxic to demolish and too big to con someone into buying, Marion Crane Junior High sits wrapped in a coffin of plastic and siding. The perfect place for squatters, so long as the squatters aren’t human and can handle asbestos and fumes from the refinery just upwind. Emilia’s “apartment” was once a shop classroom.

She found it on a map of National City when she arrived and asked Kara to help her blast a tunnel into the basement so she could come and go.

Kara, I miss you and I hate you and I love you. How is does that happen? Emilia took her starved libido out on the town when Kara booted her and ended up discovering a tiny, well hidden colony of off-worlders in the city.

Including a singles bar run by a very flirty Rokklion with an eye for women with badges.

Emilia’s place is never tidy but it is at least sanitary . Now it’s a wreck. Three large pizza boxes lie crumpled on the plywood slab she uses as a table, cheese smeared on the floor. There will be mice and cockroaches to vaporize tomorrow.

Clothes and scraps thereof hang from the ceiling fan and the lockers and upturned desks. Kyn and Nakka are twined together on the couch and Tam is between her thighs. It’s rare to find a Coluan with interest in sex, let alone interest in whatever bizarre situation Kyn, Nakka and Tam have invited her to. This happiness and the flashes of jealousy and all this complicated wanting will take some adjusting to but Emilia thinks that maybe she’s finally home.

Kyn and Nakka are lost in sleep with their fingers splayed on each other’s faces. Quite the picture. Kyn’s crystalline flesh flickers with as computations and energy pulses as background processes pass through him. He’s on his back with Nakka’s shiny, lemon-yellow frame draped over him and his limp cock laying along his thigh.

Nakka’s host is napping but her symbionts are not. They convulse all along her back and her legs, fruitlessly trying to draw in genetic material from the coupling they experienced along with her. Genetic material that constructs like Coluans do not have.

When she stuffed her panties in Kyn’s bag and strutted out of the men’s room Emilia was praying someone would notice the mess on her stockings but no one did until they got back to her table. Nakka’s nostrils flared and the game was on. As she explained shortly thereafter in the ladies’ room, Kyn hadn’t left anything for them to see. It was hard to follow along the crash course in Coluan-fucking with Nakka’s fist inside her.

All the orgasm, none of the cleanup.

The sex was intense. Last night she brought three lovers home and only one still has the energy to deal with her. He may be groggy but Tam is conscious. Neither of them moved after they wore each other out but he doesn’t have joints to sprain and his body is more than big enough to keep her upright and protect her knees Just like when he dozed off, one pair of hands cups her breasts while the other cradles her hip-bones.

“You listened,” she teases.

“Anyone with four arms,” Tam drones, doing a nasal imitation of her voice “will keep two hands on my body at all times.”

“Yeah, pet, I listened.”

Whoever sold him the language training package on landing seems to have collected exclusively trashy samples. He always sounds like an mohawked punk, an agitated and unhinged painter or a spy-movie villain. All that changes is whether he’s speaking English, French or Russian at the time. Nakka’s smoky tones work especially well with Russian.

Her ‘ dosveydana ’ before the goodbye kiss was probably half the reason they did a second date.

Emilia reaches behind her back and Tam tracks her every move. She swallows, drawing in a nervous breath. It feels like being hunted and she loves it. His big, featureless black eyes give no clues except for the angle of his eyelids. His body is green like summer grass, hot and sleek and damp below her. His symbionts wriggle in his chest, slithering past each other with the ridges of their scales stretching his skin and tickling hers. They are hardening and reshaping his muscles in hopes of escaping the grip of her thighs.

The swarm inside him seems far less willing to wait for more than their host is.

“By the Black,” she husks. “I love the way it feels, your body fighting itself. Fighting for me. Now. You...are going to hold very still.”

She pulls the warp-knife from a pocket she had sewed into the back of her bra and charges it with energy. The bra probably a goner. It was tangled around her middle while she was pawed and pressed and stroked by powerful hands and plucked and tickled by immaculately manicured metallic fingers. In their haste last night, Emilia had forgotten to do more than jerk her pants down and lift her shirt before attacking. The scraps of cotton hanging off her now are all that’s left.

She flicks her wrist – hard – and the knife sails past Tam’s head. It skewers an orange in the “kitchen” she tossed together before date night.

Tam grins, showing three rows of teeth. She arches down and takes his fleshy lips in her teeth. His hips jerk upward, his cock twitching. He’s soft now but still in her to the hilt and even soft it’s still fat.

“Where have you been my whole life?” Emilia teases.

“Prime,” he yawns.

“Eating, sleeping, not working. Failing my duty to enhance the gene pool and serve my people. Getting chewed out by my hatch mates. Being exiled with that tart,” he glances at Nakka. “and regretting the fact that nothing there has an ass...”

He squeezes.

“Remotely like yours.”

“What about Nakka? I’d take a bite of that.”

And I have. And I loved it. And I can’t wait to sink my teeth in her again.

“That’s all slink, love, not bounce. Slink .”

“Flatterer.”

Emilia flicks her hand and the knife tilts upward before gliding back to her hand, skimming well above the filthy carpet. Juice slides down the blade, turning into mist as it splashes against the vibrating alloy. She takes the grip and relaxes her focus, draining the maelstrom of force and motion and heat from the weapon back into herself.

“Ta-da! Breakfast?”

“Gladly,” he replies, lifting the orange off the knife with the pad of one long, wide finger. A twinge between her legs reminds her how good that one finger made her feel up against the wall in the hallway.

“I should get some too,” she sighs.

Climbing off Tam and getting to her feet was exactly as irritating as she thought it would be.

She considers going to her bag for her inhibitor but decides against it. Life seethes in her belly, Rakni-Xinda and Thessalian genes battering at each other in hopes that something in the rubble will click. That something will grow. Maybe it will, maybe it won’t but if Emilia is going to be a mother, she could do far worse than this. Her mother seemed to enjoy a raising large, boisterous Rakni-Xinda brood...or three. The baby pictures she left with had to stay in her landing pod. She has helicopter parents with eighteen other children and centuries of ‘big days’ to be proud of. Human data storage devices won’t cut it.

So for the first time in nine centuries, three planets and dozens of lovers, Emilia skips it.

I should probably call home. She what my mom is up to, see how many new nieces and nephews I have. I’m sure Kolla will want to tell me about each damn one.

“Oh,” Emilia sighs. “Wow. I just need a minute. That was fun.

“Bouncing on the balls of her feet, she stretches left and right to try to wake her soggy, depleted muscles. It’s no good. She’s spent.

“You,” Tam reminds her, cupping her one big hand around her hip. “Need to take care of yourself. Get some charge in you. You’re not tidy enough to have sanded before we got here...there would be dirty dishes.”

Emilia chews her lip. He’s right. She has not called her dealer in months and her supply ran out two weeks back. She knows what going without feels like – she has more than she cares to admit – and it is not something she should repeat.

“Fine. But just so I can do more singularity tricks during pillow talk.”

“Not complaining,” purrs a very lethargic-looking Nakka.

Nakka lifts her head partway and it turns out her skin bears a faint print of hundreds of tiny cubes. Bedhead from laying on Kyn’s torso all night.

“Morning, sunshine.”

“She’s perky and looks fresh-fucked and,” an ragged growl leaves Nakka’s throat. “smells delicious and I’m too tired to move. I hate it.”

“We’re going decaf, Tam. Fucking her is too much work but I don’t care. I’ll have to go through caffeine withdrawal and clit withdrawal at the same time,” Nakka grumbles. “Once I get my sleep sorted out I can keep up with you better.”

“I’m sure you can, luscious. I do seem to recall you carrying me over here and dropping me on Tam’s lap.”

Somewhere in the other room, her phone rings. Emilia makes a fist, creating a small implosion in the doorway. Her phone flies into the gap where the air used to be along with fast food wrappers and magazines. She leans forward to catch it.

“Why get out of bed?”

She opens the back and switches SIM cards to the one she uses as a burner.

“Let’s see. White Sand dealers in the National City area,” she mumbles, tapping at the keys. “No appointment needed.”

“I’m kidding! There’s only one. And it looks like he sent me a text.”

She whistles and turns the phone to Tam. Tons and tons of refined White Sand in self-contained casks. It must be the complete haul from siphoning a recent crash. She would have to live a very long time to use all of it.

“That is a lot of sand. Why is he selling so much at that price?”

Emilia shrugs.

“You see any starports on this rock? Wrecks don’t need fuel and there’s nothing taking off so...nothing on Earth to burn that in but me. Nakka, be a dear and hand me that roll?”

Nakka looks past Kyn’s arm and sees a roll of bills.

“This one?” she asks, holding up a small coil of hundreds.

“Easy there! No, the tens. I like you guys and I’m thinking I really want to spend forever having all your adorable parasite babies but I’m not spending that much on the second date.”

Nakka grabs the next roll of cash, blurs over and kisses Emilia’s cheek. She scraped her fingers up Emilia’s neck and through the tender spots between the crests and was back in the blankets before Emilia could so much as smile. She sinks back into the blankets and wraps around Kyn with a contented hiss

Black preserve me, Emilia thinks. She has no bones. No corners. No hard places. It gives her ideas. Paper.  She needs paper, pencils and maybe a protractor.

“Come back soon, love. I want to find out about these Human Belgian Waffles,” Nakka reminds her.

Emilia is starting to think Nakka's fondness for breakfast foods is a romantic competitor.

“Just Belgian. They’re all humans so they just call themselves Belgians. It’s one of their smaller nation states.”

“Oh. That makes more sense if there’s no meat. Do you know how to make them?”

Emilia pretends she has to think about it.

“I once made some decent ones over a campfire made of chairs with a deserter from the battle of Waterloo. This,” she gestures at her jury-rigged stove and its propane tank. “Will be art.”



March 10, 2006 | Kara Danvers

Dark Side of “Ganymede”, Jupiter’s Largest Moon

44 light-minutes from Earth


Kara drifts. She just vaporized a comet with a marble-sized lump of iron she brought from home. After the clusterfuck that was her chemical engineering midterm, it felt good. Not her fault that Earth is short so many elements. Her formula would have made an even better plastic.

The vacuum is cold on her skin but even with the faceplate off, it is not painful. The dark is soothing and the silence is bliss. Solar wind dances along her cheeks, leaving a blush of energy and radiation in her skin. Jupiter roils behind her and the sun blazes in the distance, but here...this is calm.

It reminds her of a verse she heard while praying with Emilia in Eliza’s back yard.

The Black is a womb. The Black is the first womb and the last. Through the Black, fire and ash quickens rock. Rock quickens life. Life quickens our hearts with passion and through this we are given love and beauty and wisdom. We pass away, until only fire and ash remains.

“Winn?” she calls. “I’m ready.”

“Can I say that this is really cool? My bestie is in space, no ship, no suit, no helmet-”

“Two things: I like this shirt so it counts as a suit. And I am keeping a layer of air so I can talk.”

“-she can somehow just move in space like the ships in Star Trek. Her muscles just hand all the excess stress over to a black hole somewhere and say deal with it...she just blew up a comet with the flick of the wrist. Ka-Pow! Breathing is just, like, a fashion choice for her. Have I mentioned that this is cool?”

“Winn! Focus!”

“Sorry. Remember the drill. Three jumps-”

“Shifts, Winn. I’m not jumping. I’m shifting where I am without moving and it’s important that I conceptualize it that way. This is real. When I come out, the bubble snaps hard. A nything I carry with me on the outside explodes in the opposite direction with all force it built up on the way.  I could cook you, California and most of the Pacific if I fly through a radiation storm and drop out within line of sight.”

“Right. The moon as shield, got it. With great power comes great responsibility. Hey! You’re like a comic book superhero!” he teases.

She will never admit that he got her hooked on X-Men and its not her fault that She-Hulk’s swagger reminds her just a smidge of her mom’s way of walking into a courtroom. Then there is the tiny issue of Mystique’s striking resemblance to a Thessalian. Blue scaly woman with at-will disguises? Please! She has some questions for Jack Kirby about where and when he sowed his wild oats. They may share an ex-girlfriend.

Winn taps some keys and mumbles something to himself.

“Four shifts and one stretch in normal space from earth to the moon. Moon, planet, star, moon. Easy cruise to home. Keep the moon between yourself and Earth when you stop. Time to beat: 44 minutes to the sun, 62 minutes round trip to the moon. Fifty one hours, forty-nine minutes for the Moon-to-Earth sprint.”

“Time to beat?”

“Speed of light, woman! Well, that and Apollo 11. Keep up with the class!”

Kara chuckles. “All right, all right, keep your argyle on down there.”

Kolex lays out her path, drawing a thin green line that bends four times: behind Io, around Jupiter, around the Sun and back to Earth just over the crest of the lunar surface. With luck she will have five minutes before Earth-rise.

“You’ve checked the numbers, Winn?”

“You know me.”

[He did an admirable job, Lady Kara. It was amusing to watch him struggle.]

[Kolex, let’s do this.]

“Three, two, one!”

The thunk of Winn’s NERF dart hitting the wall is all she needed to hear.

Astra taught her this, or at least explained the idea. Think of a thrown knife, her aunt’s voice tells her. You cut past your surroundings, you cut past your fears, your doubts. See yourself as a knife hitting its target. See your target, not your path. See it? Good. Strike, Kara!

Back then, their lessons only amounted to a half-meter stutter, exploding the swimming pool onto the ceiling and breaking her wrist. Her mother forbade it and her father conspired with Astra to continue the lessons.

This is for you, Astra.

Kara tilts forward and pushes out, bringing her legs in tight to her chest and reaching her hand out as if to grab Io in her palm. A brilliant flash of white light with blue smears leaves her blinking and rubbing her eyes.

Gaynemede is gone. Io looms before her.

“Kara! Kara! Please be all right!”

“Woohoo!” she hollers. “Winn! I did it. I feel...floaty. But I did it.”

She hears the scratch of the record and he puts on Elton John’s Rocketman because it’s impossible for her to get back there and stop him in time.

“Spread your wings, Kara.”

After three stumbles to clear Io, it starts to click. She skims the storms of Jupiter before angling up out of orbit, trailing her fingertips through the jealous rage of what could have been a star, if only it had more mass. King of Gods, largest the planets and still restless. Fitting that something so big and blustering and yet so failed would be called Jupiter.

Shifting to the sun – no, leaping there, Winn is right – is easy.

Sol is the biggest landmark in the sky. Tendrils of fire millions of degrees above their surroundings lash out at Kara, like some monster who rages at this arrogant creature, this living thing that would touch its body with her bare hands. This invader who belongs to a dead rival instead of among her children.

With all the energy flooding her skin, she should feel great but this hurts. Kara can feel herself twitching, her muscles cramping up.

“Winn?” She calls. “Problem!”

[Any form of radio will be useless here, Lady Kara. Too much interference. Switching to entangled particles.]

The problem with quantum entanglement communication, she soon decides, is that it’s just crappy quality .

“Kar...ar...” he asks, unintelligible. “Al..righ..up..re?”

[Kolex, can you clear this up somehow? I need his brain.]

[I will try. As for his brain, that is unfortunate. Humans seem very covetous of their skulls and their contents. Uptight.]

[You know what I mean, you clown!]

“Kara! Are you all right?”

Not even close. She hasn’t felt this way in decades. The Kryptonite chip was irritating but this is agony. Her limbs are jerky and she has trouble focusing her attention. Her brain won’t stay focused where she wants it to. This is what Winn acts like when he’s not slept for days and had nine cups before a test.

“No,” she moans. “not okay.”

“Kara? You sound...off,” he replies. It’s not like there’s a word in English for him to use. Spacesick? Sunsick? Warp-drive fever? No good candidates.

“What’s wrong?”

“My muscles are cramping, I can’t keep my head on straight and I’m cold, Winn. It’s like … a fever? Been a long time since I had one.”

“Hmm,” Winn replies, tapping his pen on the desk.

“This would be strenuous, yes? For a Kryptonian who hadn’t practiced? But you made it sound easy.”

“There is a reason we used starships, Winn. The Military Guild practiced this with infantry but it was ceremonial, really. Not practical. I’m not even sure this would work in a low energy environment like a red dwarf system. So how did the Worldkillers do it? They went hand-to-hand with Daxamite dreadnoughts and jumped between systems on the regular. But for launch, they only had Rao to work with.”

“Alternate fuel source!” they realize at the exact same instant.

“So let’s assume your extra-sexy Worldkiller bits are kicking in,” he suggests. “but not on purpose. It’s because you’re scared. Say you’re a human but you just did something like a marathon but it’s your first time. You’re body is dehydrated and your nerve cells are low on calcium. Your body has run out of stuff you need to think straight and fire your muscles. You go into electrolytic shock.”

“In my case, energy shock. My cells are entangling all over the place, dumping the waste before it hurts me. My skin is shielding me from a star trying to cook me and somehow it doesn’t even feel hot . Self-preservation is operating with the Worldkiller grafts but metabolism is not. Yet.”

“I’m not taking it in fast enough to replace it and I can’t just make myself because this whole mess was a reflex thing.”

“Yep,” Winn agrees with his little pop at the end.

“Winn! I need fuel,” Kara squeals. “Like, ten extra-large pizzas when I get back but also literally. I need starship fuel!”

“Oh fuck. Kara, you would need something with crazy energy to mass ratio. Something that cannot possibly occur naturally. Something fancy. But you are in a star system filled with cavemen. We’re fresh out of fuel depots.”

Kara twirls in place, waving her arms through the burning hydrogen. It wafts toward her, drawn in by her skin. She focuses on a target – herself – and claps her hands together. The blaze around her bunches up into a sphere between her palms for a split second until the warp field breaks.

The swimming pool back home shouldn’t have exploded like that. I should have jumped out of it. Something built up and then broke. In order for there to be feedback, there had to be a loop. I just need to stop before I explode the pool.

“Winn.”

“Y-y-yeah?” he asks. He sounds really worried for her. He’s probably kicking himself for suggesting the faster-than-light thing for a trial run.

“I’m going to go make some. I need to find enough uranium in an asteroid to go supercritical three times with about fifty kilotons each.”

“M’kay. Not following yet but...caveman over here. What I can tell you is you’re looking for about 50 kilograms of pure Uranium-238. Uranium-235 will work but takes a lot more if it’s not enriched. Which takes a centrifuge.”

Kara looks out to the gap between Mars and Jupiter. There are more than a few rocks large enough on the far side of the belt. Sooner or later, one of them will be uranium bearing.

“So I need uranium, a running start, time to build up some speed and another asteroid just like it. I tee them up, detonate the first one, plow into the second and third and gather it all in close. Stretch my field around myself enough to carry the whole mess and then clamp down. Fly into the second asteroid as fast as I can sub-lightspeed and do a hard stop. When I get to zero motion, I collapse the warp bubble.  I’ll have maybe half a cubic meter of low-grade White Sand for a split second.”

“That’s what White Sand is?” he sputters. “I figured it was a drug.”

“Nah. Just the agreed upon slang for small white crystals with a mindfuckingly high energy potential. Homebrew won’t be stable like the processors over Argo made but it will still work.”

“Still need to enrich the uranium and shape it,” he reminds her. “Which is not even getting in to the space curvature slash elecromagnetic wackiness needed to bottle up an atomic blast.”

Kara flips the bird at the sun. Nice try , toasty. But I’m going home.

“I think I did that last part accidentally when I was eight. As for the centrifuge? Pfft. All that does is make it easier to start off. I can hit things really hard. Like you said, Ka-Pow!”

Winn laughs.

“That’s true,” he agrees, cracking another can of soda. “You got this.”


 

March 10, 2006 | Alex Danveurs

Department of Extraterrestrial Operations Headquarters AKA “The Anvil”

Continental United States



Alex strains over her head, reaching for the plasma cut-off switch. The glassy orange panel lights up for a split second when she makes contact but a sharp ache in her shoulder reminds her of her limits.

“Right. Human arms bend the wrong way,” Alex mutters.

“Result, Danvers?” General Mitchell asks.

“Tell engineering that we need to reroute control eight-eight,” she replies. “Unless one of our teams wants to get boiled off into gas in an emergency. Sixty-one, forty-two and eighteen we can skip. Nine, six and one-hundred-twelve need to be on the main panel. Since these were defanged by the dealer, the whole right-hand panel is free game. That was weapons. Let’s re-use it.”

I’m going to be dreaming about Helgrammite symbols for weeks. At least the scrapper detoxed them first. No chlorine smell.

“Can we even move it, Danvers? The last four crews that went in there came back with nothing. We can cut the alloy but we can’t touch the power lines. Let alone the engines.”

She switches her radio off so that she doesn’t accidentally talk to herself and give Echo away.

[Echo?]

[Mono-molecular blade to cut the sheathing and a laser capable of two-megawatt pulses of at least three nanoseconds to reseal it. The lines can be restarted by four hundred thousand amps, hydrogen-three and a heating element at sixty thousand Kelvin. I would appreciate if you let me guide the engine overhaul. I do not wish to see my favorite human reduced to electrons.]

Alex toggles her radio back on.

“Yes, ma’am. Just put me in a room with Jenkins and we can build one. Give us a wish-list of repair tools. By purpose.”

Mitchell swears at some nearby underling and Alex manages to catch ‘horseshit’, ‘up-jumped’ and ‘rat-fucker’. Vasquez’s barking laugh can be heard over the comms.

“Stow it, Operative! One of these days, Danvers, I’m going to figure out your secret,” Mitchell promises. “This isn’t just book-learning. Saw a crash while surfing my ass . My office, four minutes.”

[Alex is in trouble…]

[Not another word, you overgrown heating coil!]

Alex taps on the cargo door controls.

“Stand by, opening cargo door. Have a pleasant and prosperous life, Alex Danvers of the Department of Extraterrestrial Operations. Give our regards to your liege-lords and go in peace. May your line prosper in service to scion of Erok-El the Wise, the Shield of Argo, Hero of the Battle of Klymar Gate, Breaker of Dax-.”

Two bolts from her sidearm is enough to shut down the computer. Betrayed by an overly formal trading computer. That’s one way to blow her cover.

She knows for a fact that her radio was still on.

[So, Echo. Seeing as how I don’t have the house sigil tattooed on my forehead, tell me again me how no one can detect you?]

[It...it hides me from Earth tech. But i seems that I have some work to do on that front, Alex.]

“After that stunt, make it one minute, Danvers.”

Vasquez falls in beside her the instant her boots hit the hanger floor.

“Having fun, Suz?” Alex snaps. “Seeing the smart girl taken down a notch?”

A sharp rap in the ribs from Vasquez’s baton gets Alex’s attention.

“You think that’s it?” Vasquez asks, her face split by a toothy smirk. “No. I can’t wait to hear your explanation! Sometime soon, at Stomper’s, shots on me. Besides...”

Vasquez breaks into a jog beside her as they move towards the ops center.

“I could never hate you. You’re the second-baddest bitch in barracks twelve. Hoo-rah!”

“Hoo-rah!” Alex barks back.  “Don’t ever change, Suz.“

If Vasquez isn’t scared, how bad could it be?

None of the four sentries usually posted at the general’s door are present. Alex has no idea what to make of that. She raps sharply on the door.

“Enter. Vasquez, watch the door. I don’t care if God wants in. Make him take a number. If its’s the president, make him take a higher number.”

Vasquez sets up on the right side of the door, one hand on her radio and one on her sidearm.

Mitchell is behind the desk, leaning back in her chair with her hands behind her head. Which would explain the lack of sentries. With soldiers at the door there would be some minimum standard of decorum.

Alex gives her best salute and waits, forcing herself to breathe. Mitchell pulls a bottle of Johnny Walker Black from the drawer along with two tumblers.

“Drink? It’s not poisoned. So,” Mitchell begins, rubbing her hands together. “How do you know Superman?”

“Beg pardon?”

“If Lois Lane’s interview is to be believed, his birth name was Kal-El. From what we know, family name comes after the hyphen. El. He hasn’t shared much with us. But we weren’t just grabbing around trying to find our own asses before you got here, Danvers.”

“Ma’am, at this time I surrender myself to the military police. Under the Third Geneva Convention, Part II, Articles 13 and 16, it is unlawful for a member of the armed services to torture prisoners of war. I also invoke my rights under the Fifth Amendment should I be tried in civilian court.”

Mitchell sits there, fists clenched. Not moving a muscle. Finally she blows out a long breath, schooling her temper.

“For god’s sake, Danvers. Calm down, sit down and drink the damn whiskey. That is a direct order from your superior officer.”

“Ma’am.”

Alex takes the drink and drops into the chair opposite Mitchell.

Mitchell re-opens her desk and takes a framed photo out.

“This is mutually assured destruction, Danvers. I don’t know why you think I will hurt whoever it is you are protecting and I can’t seem to reach you. Which is my failure as a commander. So I am going to give you leverage to hurt me. Maybe that will help us move forward.”

She turns the photo around.

Mitchell and another woman are framed by a trellis of white roses, nose to nose in what may be the most sickeningly adorable wedding photo Alex has ever seen. Mitchell has never looked so nervous since Alex met her. Maybe because that’s not General Mitchell, who puts whisky in her desk first thing when they move bases, swears just to fill space in her sentences and keeps her grandfather's Colt 1911 with its notches from Omaha beach next to her phone.  That’s Shay Mitchell, whoever exactly that is, putting everything at risk for someone who she really cares about.

“Not what you were expecting, Danvers?”

“You are trusting me with that? You cou-”

“Be dishonorably discharged. I am violating Don’t Ask Don’t Tell. I am giving you the ammunition to end a twenty-eight year career. You could topple the highest-ranking woman in the Army just by mentioning that photo’s existence.”

Mitchell doesn’t look afraid, for some reason. Alex gulps. Because she knows I won’t do it. She trusts me just like I have not trusted her.

“What’s her name?” Alex asks, voice thick.

“Cameron Chase. She works at the FBI. That was taken in Vermont. Happiest day of my life and no one can ever know. Not like our vows would mean anything to a judge. She is still Chase and I’m still Mitchell.”

Alex tips her glass back at Mitchell – no, she decides, for it’s Shay – and smiles.

“I hope that changes some day. My parents never looked that mushy with each other...and I certainly can’t complain about my childhood. Cameron is a lucky woman.”

Shay laughs.

“Funny you say that. Vasquez made a comment about her ass.”

Alex sputters a glass of sixty-year-old whisky all over her mechanic’s suit.

“Was that last week? When she had a black eye?”

Shay clicks her tongue and tips her glass towards Alex.

“Right. Vasquez let you get a free shot. So you...”

Shay slides the photo back in the desk.

“Show that only to important personnel who I would trust with my life? Show that only to good soldiers who I cannot afford to lose if this agency is to succeed? Yes and yes.”

“It’s a pawn sacrifice,” Alex realizes. “draw out the knight.”

“You did pay attention in my social engineering training, didn’t you? I needed to give you something big to get your attention before you committed seppuku. So...my secret is named Chase.”

Alex sighs.

“And mine is named Kara. Kara Zor-El and now Kara Danvers.”

Mitchell hums.

“Sister, huh?  She was on my list of possibilities. We knew it wasn’t your mother, your father is dead. But your sister has a suspicious high school transcript to say the least. If you deduct her one failed class – gym – she has a four point GPA. While juggling three academic competitions and a painting extracurricular. Now why might she fail gym and only gym?”

Alex blushes. She had begged Kara to either ace gym or throw another class.

“She was still mastering her puny human act, ma’am. Her pride in her classwork wouldn’t let her fail a class unless passing would actually risk human life. I advised her to fail at least one test in math just to spite us for our apparently piss-poor excuse for calculus.”

“Kara is your secret weapon. Kryptonian, clearly. High-ranked too, judging by the curtsy the cargo pod gave you. It addressed you as a noblewoman. According to the cultural summary Superman’s robot gave us, most houses could not do that for their client families. Down here, only the Queen of England can knight someone.”

Alex chuckles.

“Honestly, I didn’t even know that sort of anointing was a thing until ten minutes ago.”

“But you knew she was high-ranking. To be quite honest, most of what I know about the history of the House of El is that their coat of arms looks like an S.”

Color rises in Alex cheeks.

“They have a bit more to be proud of than just their penmanship, ma’am. The exploits that pod was listing are just the start of a bloodline that goes back to our last ice age...of which my sister is the last member. Kal has never formally been inducted and his pod's data core is basically shot.  I’m afraid he knows next to nothing.”

“Why not?” Mitchell asks, tucking the bottle back in the drawer. “I need to be sober for this, I think. Superman is apparently much less important than we have been assuming.”

“He left as an infant and she left when she was fourteen,” Alex replies. ”She was supposed to start an enclave here, raise him and decide if they wanted to contact humanity. Due to a near-miss with a black hole, she got delayed by twenty-four years.”

“So he was raised in Kansas. Kara was raised in a Citadel in Argo City, which was a financial and research hub. She had just blown away the Science Guild exams and would have taken her father’s fellowship at the university the next orbital cycle if the planet hadn’t died. Her mother was chair of their highest criminal court and her aunt was once the most experienced commander active in their military.”

“So he has some goodbye video his parents sent and she lived it for half her life,” Mitchell realizes.

She looks impressed, which Alex finds unnerving more than anything.

The General’s ideas of impressive has meant close-range fights with a half-dozen injured Xinda cut off from their host, retrieving a drunk and belligerent Helgrammite from the middle of a crowded a road club in Texas and talking a heartbroken Thessalian out of killing herself with a black hole in downtown New York City. That was in the last five weeks.

“Danvers, this is everything we need right now. You grew up with an alien whose privilege meant that she was well-educated, well-connected, well-traveled. Which means that you are the only one here who has dealt with an alien socially. Small talk. Heard stories about their worlds. Heard their rumors, their legends, their prejudices. Our people meet them only as arresting officers or if we screw up as hostile combatants.”

This bothers Mitchell, it seems to Alex. Just keeping the public in the dark is not enough for her. She wants to do something more profound than damage control.

“No war in human history has ever been won without friendlies on the other side. Traitors, sympathizers, informants, propagandists. Hell, no police department functions without that sort of thing. Right now, we don’t have that. The best we have is the aliens we turn loose and quite frankly I don’t blame them for not wanting to be on payroll. I want a proposal from you by 0900 tomorrow on how we begin to develop friendly non-human assets.”

“Besides my sister?”

“Obviously. I won’t ask you to betray her.”

“Understood. I’ll start with Shaan and see what I can get.”

“I’ll assume that was a proper name and take your word for it.”

“Thessalian suicide attempt last Friday,” Alex offers. “When I explained the potential size of the singularity she was staring into, she was horrified. She meant to kill herself, not kick off something that could gobble up the eastern seaboard. I think she’ll do us, or at least do me, a favor.”

“Excellent work today, soldier. I thank you for your courage just now. Dismissed.”

Mitchell stands and salutes. Alex returns it.

“Please send that rabid animal you call a best friend on your way out. I want to tune up our close quarters combat guidelines.”

 


June 11, 2006 | Alex Danvers

Crayford, Texas

 

On the hill at the edge of the subdivision, Vasquez sips from her lemonade, dark eyes hidden behind blue-tinted aviators.

Alex keeps one hand on the sunglasses she rigged up, a truly hideous thrift store pair with acid-green, scalloped frames. They were perfect for the projection lenses and camera array she and Echo cooked up. The borrowed rocking chair creaks pleasantly on the painted slats.

On the street, her ‘dead’ minivan sits with the hood propped open. She told the old lady who owns this house it would take four hours for a tow truck. Because this is a town of four hundred that preaches Southern hospitality on the billboard at city limits, she was practically adopted on the spot.

Down the hill from the cafe and one door from Alex is an elementary school.

Children play in the baking Texas sun, watched over by a flock of four teachers. All of them female, all of them young, all of them well turned out.

“This makes sense,” Vasquez admits. “If I were an alien, I’d pick those teachers too.”

“Hot for teacher, eh Vasquez?” Reynolds asks from across the table.

“You’d tap that, Reynolds. Don’t lie.”

Whatever bond Reynolds and Vasquez have developed, it’s deep. He seems willing to protect Vasquez’s dirty little secret no matter how much she pesters, mocks and insults him. The only question is how Reynolds found out about Vasquez’s ex-wife. Alex spent six months of nagging just to get her middle name and they were best friends by then.

When she did share the story with Alex last night, it was a classic: booze, matching tattoos and a pre-enlistment blowout which somehow collided with a bridal shower in the hallway of Caeser’s Palace. Vasquez ended up with the maid of honor and the male stripper although she claims they gave him the boot right off. Considering how stupid the marriage was Alex was surprised to hear Vasquez call the divorce the part that ‘made us best friends’.

It turned that Gay Vasquez has a lot more stories to tell than Angry Vasquez does and they’re much funnier. Alex is glad she and Susan can talk about all of it now that Shay and Vasquez and Alex are all equally screwed if the Army finds out their secret wife, ex-wife and alien sister, respectively.

“Which one?”

“Why pick?” Vasquez shoots back.

Reynolds and Vasquez are newlyweds house-hunting for the purposes of this op so their playful bickering only adds flourish to the cover. Their married cover is a small bit of Alex’s revenge for that sucker punch during PT yesterday morning. The fake baby bump Vasquez is wearing is the real revenge.

Alex will probably be given the widest berth out of pity, a lost out-of-towner with car trouble and no cell phone. It really only required unburying her Maryland accent and sprinkling in some real – and faked – east-coast idioms.

“Cut the chatter ladies,” Alex snaps. “you too, Vasquez.”

“Understood. Any hits?” Vasquez asks.

“Not sure,” Alex admits. “Nothing on infrared even looks weird. I’ve got four teachers, thirty kids, all of them either human or too good at faking it for it to matter. You sure this is the school?”

“I trust my contact’s approach,” Vasquez replies. “and the approach led us straight here. Besides, this West Texas. Hotter than the devil’s asscrack and I would know. There is no infrared here. It’s all just white.”

“Or green,” Reynolds adds. “What? Depends on the rifle, depends on the scope.”

Pham Demos has been given very explicit orders not to say anything. As the fucking new guy he has not earned the right to talk and been told as much before they left. Which is why Alex chuckles very unprofessionally when he does suddenly speak. No other rookie ever took that 'official FNG protocol' seriously and certainly not for six hours.

“Think I have something, ma’am. Ma’ams.”

“Explain yourself, Demos...or I extend FNG for the rest of your tour.”

“Red floral print, by the gate in the fence. She’s passing something through the fence.”

They all started identifying the teachers by their clothes hours ago. It’s the only identifier that really works with four twenty or thirty-something women, blondes or bottle-blond and all with long hair cuts. Vasquez claimed it was called the ‘Christian’ hairstyle and the raw pain in her voice in at that moment made Alex feel like she needs to hug Vasquez, ideally once a day. She will first have to find out if non-violent physical contact with Vasquez is possible.

Alex taps her sunglasses, magnifying the area in question.

“To whom? There’s no one on the other side.”

“Then were are those rolled-up papers going?” Demos asks. “I buzzed the fence line with the drone. Looks like maybe math homework? Lot of numbers. At least fifty sheets so far.”

Sure enough, every few seconds another roll of printouts leaves the woman’s oversized purse only to be pulled slowly out of her hand and vanish into thin air inch-by-inch. The papers are being passed into something or someone with a cloaking system.

“Not bad, kid. Your FNG status is temporarily revoked. Keep the drone on that area. Danvers out. Demos, rally on the van in two. Reynolds and Vasquez, ready up.”

She taps the earpiece of the sunglasses three times.

“Anvil Leader, this is Bloodhound Actual. Checking in.”

“Go for Anvil,” the operator replies. “We read you five-by-five.”

“We have located non-human activity at an elementary school. Site three. We are moving to follow target and going radio silent for fifteen.”

“Understood.”

Alex reaches into her pocket and grabs the switch she rigged into the van. Cranking it back and forth twice, she hears the thump of the capacitor discharging under the hood. The engine sputters and then roars back to life.

The little old lady whose porch she is borrowing cracks open the front door.

“Oh good, dearie. You got it.”

“Yes,” Alex replies, finishing the drizzle left in her sweet tea. She wiggles the key fob. “Turns out I just needed to keep pushing the button for an hour. You were very kind.”

She reaches into her pocket for some cash.

“Oh no, I couldn’t possibly. Thank you for your service.”

Her earpiece tells Alex that Vasquez has switched channels and radioed her.

“Grandma just made you,” she warns Alex. “Not sure I like that.”

[Echo?]

[Grandma is not an alien.]

[That’s a good start.]

“I’m flattered, ma’am but-”

The old woman laughs.

“These eyes don’t lie. My dear Robert was a Navy man. Thirty-eight years in. He had a way of standing, tall and straight. Real still and nervous, like a cat in a rocking chair factory. Did it even when he was retired. Did it till the day he died. He stood exactly the same way you do.”

Three beeps indicate a change of channel on in her radio. Vasquez’s voice is in her ear almost a full octave lower than usual.

“Oh, hell no!” Vasquez grumbles. “Navy? No, you could eat the whole fucking Navy for fucking breakfast. Alex...I do not care if she is nine hundred years old and in a wheelchair. You are Army, Alex. Salty, hard, and ice cold. You will not put up with that kind of disrespect.”

Pride. Rage. Being proud of the rage. Nice to know Vasquez hasn’t been pod-personed.

“Thank you for your hospitality,” Alex tells the old woman, tucking the twenty under the glass. “but in the Army, they teach us to take care of our neighbors.”

“Fair enough, young lady.”

She waves from her porch as Alex pulls out.

Collecting the team from the cafe takes longer than it should because a preacher has cornered Vasquez to pray over her for using ‘the devil’s language’ and Reynolds is desperately looking for an exit route. Several passersby seem to have joined in, fearing for Vasquez’s unborn child. Alex hands Vasquez her sidearm the moment she climbs in.

“Should’ve had that on me,” Vasquez grumbles.

The prosthetic baby bump she was wearing hits the floor hard enough to crack in half. Looks like Vasquez really did play volleyball in college.

“Don’t lie. You would have zapped a hole in his Bible,” Alex teases.

“Exactly! Bolt of lightning from Heaven! Make him keep his prayer hands to himself. Men like him in towns like this are why they invented therapy,” she grumbles.

The air-conditioning makes waiting much more pleasant. After recess, they move the drone over the school building so that all access can be tracked.

Demos is hunched over the laptop, watching the drone’s feed. He is completely unruffled by the chumminess of the rest of the team, neither rising to the bait nor shrinking back. It remains to be seen if Demos has a personality but he does have skills and a quiet professionalism.

At least in the field. No one has yet survived the Charge of The Miller Light Brigade without making a fool of themselves to Alex, Vasquez or both.

He’ll do for now, Alex decides.

“Bloodhound, this is Anvil.”

Alex gestures for the radio and Demos hands it over.

“Go for Bloodhound Actual.”

“Update on site three.”

“We have located non-human activity at an elementary school. Some kind of camouflage system being used to smuggle papers through the fence.”

There’s a click on the other end.

“Bloodhound, this is Anvil Actual. Do you believe the documents being smuggled were a threat?” General Mitchell asks.

“No ma’am. They appeared to be math homework...strange as it sounds.”

“Operative Vasquez, how credible do you believe your tip is?”

“Very, ma’am. This confirms it. Operative Danvers concurs that the chemicals being stolen are a match for nutrients needed for Helgrammites. Stolen food plus under-the-table homework equals underground school which matches the tip. They’re running scared but want to make sure things seem normal.”

“If children are involved, Rakni-Xinda are a possibility,” Demos adds.

Alex turns and looks at him like he just grew a second head.

“Elaborate your theory, Corporal Demos,” Mitchell demands. “Quickly.”

Much to his credit, he doesn’t react audibly to the dressing down but he did hesitate before reaching for the switch on his radio. Maybe he is ready to leave the Army, Alex decides. He wanted to be called ‘operative’.

“According to Operative Danver’s rather...” he pauses. “...deep briefing packet, Helgrammites need significant chlorine and fluorine in their diet for life. However Rakni-Xinda need also extensive exposure to toxins and diseases to train their immune systems, but only when they’re young. In large doses, chlorine is toxic.”

If a pin dropped in the van right now, they would all dive for cover.

“Operative Danvers?” Mitchell finally asks.

“He’s correct. That quantity of chlorine would set a Helgrammite adult up for five years. Excessive to steal so much at once.  On the other hand, a brood of infant Rakni-Xinda would be able to use that up in a matter of weeks. Two shipments have been hit this year.”

“Very well. Proceed with the raid. But walk soft,” Mitchell warns them. “I want good news.”

The school bell rings and children pour out of the door into the arms of mothers and older siblings and in one case, a taxi. Red Floral Print gets into her car moments after the bus pulls away, much to the irritation of her colleagues.

“Follow her, Reynolds. Fifty meters minimum. Demos, buzz her with the drone. Get plates, VIN on the vehicle. Circle it and get three hundred and sixty degree imaging.”

“Aye-aye.”

The road they take is long and bumpy, leading out of the town into the scrub brush. Over the next hour they learn that the target's Volkswagen needs three dents removed, was made in Mexico City and has a bikini-shaped air freshener in the back window.

“She’s pulling off, right...there.”

Alex looks over at the tablet.

“Good catch, Demos. Two in one day. We’ll make a man out of you yet.”

“Is that a plus or a minus in this unit?” he asks.

Vasquez coughs, stares out the window, then just starts guffawing.

“Oh yeah,” she finally wheezes. “He’s one of us.”

They park a quarter-mile back behind the rise of the hill. Vasquez leads Demos through a gear check, reminding him no fewer than four times that his frame’s hydraulic gauge is upside-down. When he finally gets it seated, she rewards him with a thump on the back of the neck.

“That goes into the red, pull the cord for the explosive bolts. Better to fight with no help than have the suit fighting you.”

Alex cracks open the weapons crate in the back. It’s better than Christmas, enough to take out a column of enemy armor.  But she needs to somehow raid a remote farmhouse in a friendly manner.

“Flashers and stunners,” Alex decides.

“Demos, you haven’t had your cherry popped yet. Look sharp.”

She tosses a flasher at his feet. It lets out a deafening bang combined with a searing flash of light. He hadn’t turned on his countermeasures yet, as she had feared.

“Take sixty seconds and get your head on,” she tells him. “Don’t pick it up. Until that thing resets, it’s like licking a downed power line.”

“Everybody gets three of those.” She hands out the flashers. “Bring them back if humanly possible. Reusable grenades aren’t cheap.”

“Two of these beauties.”

At least Demos seems to recognize the arc pistols.

“You’ve trained on these?” she tells Demos.

“Not qualified yet. Six hours on the range, ma’am.”

That’s just perfect. One man isn't even qualified on the weapon.  This is going to be a clusterfuck.

“Good. You know not to try and put bullets in it then. Electrical discharge on line of sight. On minimum setting, effective up to thirty meters. On maximum, they’re effective up two hundred. It shoots straight , you understand? The charge follows a laser. So don’t aim it like you would a firearm. There are no moving parts so if it jams, stow it and grab the other. I will diagnose any gremlins back at base.”

“Why not have it on maximum all the time, then?” he asks.

Smart kid.

“Same reason Captain Kirk didn’t set phasers to kill,” Reynolds replies, checking the snaps on his holster. “No need to be a murdering asshole right off the bat.”

“Non lethal use, close range only. Can do, ma'am.”

Alex pulls out the two largest guns in the crate. Each has an oversized barrel wreathed with humming electrodes and broken into three sections by shock absorbers. She doubts she will need to shoot down any Chinese satellites today but Alex likes options. Demos cocks an eyebrow.

"Railguns, Corporal. Three-ounce steel slugs moving with a muzzle velocity measured in kilometers per second.. Just in case something nasty is waiting. Believe me when I tell you that you do not want to try fire one of these before you’ve worked it into your physical training.”

“Vasq!” she calls, tossing the second one.

Vasquez grabs it by the strap and slings it over her back.

Back to back with one soldier facing each compass point, they move a few feet at a time.

The farm seems unused and the tractor is nothing but rust propped up by flat tires. Six fat cows graze on the top of the hill without any feed troughs or ranching gear in sight. The farmhouse is freshly painted but missing more than half the windows. Hastily installed power lines lead to the wooden barn. Six barrels of chemicals are stacked along the wall with a protective mask hung on the wall and tongs on top of each.

They make use of a concrete shed a hundred feet from the barn to take a breather.

“Speak your mind,” Alex whispers. “I want opinions.”

With just Vasquez and Reynolds, she always gets ideas for dealing with at least two kinds of nasty surprises. Hopefully with Demos, she can get even more.

“Don’t like it,” Reynolds mutters. “Lot of power, chemical barrels, middle of nowhere. Republican congressional district. Reminds me of every skinhead’s bomb shop I ever saw. We sure this is aliens? Looks like basic terrorism to me.”

“You’re not FBI anymore,” Alex reminds him. “and God have mercy on any skinhead who meets me.”

“Reynolds,” Vasquez begins. “I grew up a town just like this and I can tell you this is kind of setup would not even be a two on the inbred hick shit-o-meter. No cross painted on the barn. No bearded mouth-breathers on guard duty. No women in white nightgowns. No water tank to baptize people in. That preacher in town...if this were that sort of shit he would be running it, no question. If he’s not out here, we’re fine.”

Demos points at the barrels.

“Six tongs. One mask. Why?”

Alex takes another look at the tongs.

“You were right. Rakni-Xinda. The hosts could fit in the barrels and someone could help them immerse a symbiont in the chemicals with the tongs. Cut, expose, heal, rinse, repeat. Clamping the tongs on the barrels would keep the symbiont exposed without being hands on. One person could help multiple hosts at once.”

“That’s good, right?” Demos asks.

“For them, yeah. The host is smart but it’s slower and weaker without a swarm bonded to it and the swarm may be tough as nails but it can’t do anything too fancy without vocal cords or hands. Take care of your body, it takes care of you.”

“We move up,” she decides. “Quick and quiet.”

The distinctive ‘zing’ of an arc pistol draws Alex’s attention. A rattlesnake is writhing on the ground two feet behind her, a patch of scales melted solid by the voltage.

Reynolds holsters his weapon.

“No offense, Danvers but I’m not sucking anything out of any wounds.”

“Noted.”

Demos and Reynolds move up to the tractor with Alex covering them. Vasquez follows before moving to the edge of the barn. She puts her free hand on the railgun and nods to Alex.

Here goes. Tugging her vest so it hangs straight and brushing her shoulders, Alex knocks on the door. With no one answering and finding it unlocked, she pushes it open. At her feet, a dark cloud of purple smoke gathers before disappearing, leaving only a perfectly spherical crater in the dirt.

“Singularity trap. Pretty cool,” Alex tells the empty barn. “Like to meet the girl who did that. White sand trigger or just a big lump of carbon?”

“Who are you?” calls a female voice that seems to come from all sides at once.

“A friend, I hope. Saw you guys sneaking some homework from the school. Me and my pals thought it would be nice to have a talk. See if we can get you a better building.”

“You think this is funny?” the voice coughs.

“Actually, no. I saw six tanks for treating immature symbionts out back and enough cows for a couples week’s food, two months tops. The fact that you’re using a trap rather than being in my face tells me you’re scared, or hurt, and that’s OK. It’s why I’m here.”

“She’s not CADMUS,” a little boy whines. “She seems nice.”

“Shut it, Voll. We don’t know who she is. Could be a trap. Teacher isn’t here and she told me to keep you safe.”

“She’s not CADMUS and you’re hurt,” the boy sniffs. “I’m cold and you’re hurt. We need a grownup to help us.”

“I’m not sure what a CADMUS is,” Alex calls out. “But I can tell you that I already don’t like them. I’m going to reach in my pocket now. You’ll need to drop the micro-singularities to see it.”

Alex reaches into a thigh pocket and pulls out a stack of fabric patches. Each one bears the mark of a different mercenary company or crime syndicate and each is stained in the blood of the man who wore it. She flicks them out into the straw like playing cards.

“I took these off men I killed. Men who were hurting innocents. Innocents like you. Helgrammites and K’Hund and Rakni-Xinda and Coluan and Thes-”

Before Alex can blink, she is facing a purple-skinned Thessalian girl with one hand held out to keep Alex back and a singularity quickly forming in the other. Her scales are damp and dewy and she’s favoring her right leg. A thin stream of coppery fluid is gradually staining her blue jeans.

She has a fever and from the looks of it, an open wound.

“Don’t you dare!” the girl snarls. “You do not get to talk about my people, not after what you did to my mother.”

Alex puts her hands on her head.

“I’m going to turn around and get on my knees. So I’m trusting you not to kill me. In my backpack, at the bottom, you’ll find a hidden pocket. There’s a bottle of refined white sand. Not much, but it should help you until I can get you to a hospital. Wrapped around the bottom of the vial is a picture. Look at the picture and I think you’ll understand me a bit better.”

“Go on, take it.”

She hears a rustling of feet on the straw and feels a momentary tug on her backpack straps. The gas sealing the white sand canister crackles as it snap-freezes the moisture in the air. The straw around Alex’s knees drifts upwards as the sand spreads through the poor girl’s body, giving her a momentary rush and taking gravity and any loose objects up with it. The sound of paper rustling hopefully means she’s unfolded the photo, not crumpled it.

“Hope the sand helped. See that? That’s me, my sister and my sister’s first girlfriend. Her name is Emilia. She’s like you, except she’s a bit older.”

“Maybe you’re telling me the truth. Maybe you’re not. Get up, don’t turn around. Move.”

Alex lets the kid march her outside, feeling the ever-present tug of a micro-singularity pulling at the hairs on the back of her neck. As soon as they’re through the door, Demos and Reynolds train their arc pistols on the girl and Vasquez shifts her other hand to the railgun. Offering a white sand pick-me-up may have been a mistake. If this girl knows her stuff and keeps herself wound this tight, she could just deflect the slug away from her with a barrier.

“Don’t,” Alex tells them. “We’re just talking, right?”

“Right,” the girl sighs. “You can turn around now.”

The kid leans up against the barn, her legs shaking. It’s hard to gauge – knowing that Emilia was nine hundred and four but looked mid-twenties – but Alex thinks this is a teenager. Her legs and arms are long but rather skinny, she is clumsy, and her neural crests are much skinnier and more flexible than any Thessalian she’s met. The tips are flopping around when she moves her head. Somehow she doesn't seem fully cooked compared to Emilia.

“Our teacher’s dead. The woman who came today was CADMUS, so I killed her. Didn’t tell the others. Had to keep them calm. The disguise was good, probably surgical, and they had the face down pat. But the impostor had no implants. Had to be them.  I heard her turning down an offer for fifty million night before last."

"Fifty million?"

"To buy us," the kid explains, eyes on her sneakers. "Like slaves. I know it happens sometimes. Daxamite princes will pay a lot for someone like me. Just never thought it would be me."

Starting to get why Daxamites aren't popular. Starting to get why ‘nigger’ hardly bothers Kara but Daxamite makes her see red.

“What kind of implants?” Alex asks.

She hopes that no previously-unheard-of terrorist group has access to cybernetics. She’s the only person in the DEO who knows they’re even possible. Echo is still just her little secret.

“About yea big, silicone, bounce when you slap ‘em?” the girl mumbles, rubbing her neck. “Our actual teacher had them.”

So a kindergarten teacher with breast implants. Vasquez was not exaggerating about rural Texas’s weirdness.

“Oh.”

“Yeah, oh. I mean, I know what breasts feel like and these were not the same.  Never with her!” the girl sputters. “She was our teacher. I mean, what the density feels like at a distance. Gravity-wise. I’m young...I certainly wouldn’t know wha-”

So that’s what it looks like when a Thessalian is embarrassed, Alex realizes. Every scale from her neck up is pressed together. There’s a reflection from the sun in her scales, with no seams left to break up the pattern.

“Easy there,” Alex chuckles. “Don’t be embarrassed. You did see the photo, right?”

“Right. You should have that back. Guessing it’s private.”

She hands it back, once more neatly folded.

“The way she acted felt wrong and I was worried that she wasn’t our teacher. I had to get Tak away from her first, so I offered to help make dinner while she rested. Teacher never let me cook, said we needed to focus on learning. That’s how I knew. Once we were alone in the kitchen, I killed her. I’m the oldest. It was my job.”

It was my job. Just like that. The same tone of voice I've heard Marines with ten years of awful in their head use after a mission. She's a goddamned infant with centuries and centuries left to live and they've given her nightmares that will tear her apart, assuming I can get her leg wound patched and she actually lives through the week.

“Wow, kid. That’s awful. Are you sure your actual teacher is dead?”

“Pretty sure, yeah. How else would someone else take her place?”

Gee, kid...because maybe killing a human is too much for them. That would be wrong! Why kill her when they can knock her out and stuff her in a closet and come kill all these kids while she’s out. One of the nastiest things this job has taught her is that even the monsters who cut up aliens pride themselves on their morals, whether that be an aversion to hurting humans or to dissecting live specimens or to theft or to double-parking.

“Demos,” Alex calls over her shoulder. “Take Reynolds and search.  Get the FBI in here to help. Report it as a murder, terrorist kidnapping, drug kingpin’s wife, whatever gets us bodies in suits.  Go hit that town until candy falls out.  If she isn’t there, I want you to start hitting the rest of Texas. We find her.  No excuses.”

“Aye-aye.”

“How many others are there?” Alex asks.

The girl rubs her injured leg briskly. It must be going numb on her.

“You need a doctor and funnily enough, I am a doctor. That’s not going to heal out here in the dirt. I want to take you with me but I need to know how many I’m moving and who they are, so I can do it safely.”

“Ten total. Me, Tak...she's Coluan, about my age. Shy.  K'hunds, twin boys. One Helgrammite. Voll, he’s ten. Absolute brat. The littlest ones are the Rakni-Xinda. All female, five of them, genetically identical. Gorgeous eyes. They say identical females are real blessing for the brood.”

Alex smiles.

“From one soul, the waters gave us five.”

The girl nods.

“Yeah. I guess you've heard the blessings.”

“Met an alien or two. I mean,” Alex jokes, “I usually just call them raxxies when I run into them at the mall.”

“Huh. Yeah. My friend back home used to prefer that. Prefers, I guess. She got away. Always said Rakni-Xinda was all stuffy.”

Alex leans into her radio.

“Vasquez!”

Vasquez hurries over after gingerly detaching a crimson-skinned Rakni-Xinda girl from her railgun. She is tiny enough that her four arms were not an advantage over Vasquez beefy hands.

“The safety was on,” Vasquez assures Alex. “and the interlock.”

“That’s good. We need,” she begins. “Four Chinooks for this. I want immersion tanks for all and the Helgrammite tank needs more support equipment.”

“On it, ma’am.”

The raxxie girl is back at Vasquez’s feet now, having moved like a striking cobra. Alex thought she was still by the door. Four little arms are outstretched. A cherry-red face with a fang grin and a massive, shiny and just unfair pair of black eyes, all working a world-class pout.

Kara would be proud of the kid.

“Up! Up!” she demands. “Piggy-back!”

Alex looks at Vasquez, who is waiting for orders from Alex while also clearly hoping to give the kid whatever she wants in life.  Indefinitely.

“You heard the girl. That was an order.”

Vasquez unclips her grenade belt and sets the railgun on the tractor’s hood.

“You want to hold this for me?” she asks, brandishing what appears to be a plushy version of the monster from Alien.

“Birdie!” the girl squeals, grabbing the toy.

"What's the deal with those, anyway?" Alex mutters, nodding at the stuffed animal.

"Off-worlders seem to always want to pet them. I've been trying to get my sister to explain for ten years."

“They’re called Klixen. Native species on Rak Prime,” the Thessalian tells Alex. “Popular pets all over. Purebreds are pricey but the feral captures are exported in bulk for off-worlders. The real ones have these skin-flap things and in lower gravity, like Earth, they can fly. Crazy smart as animals go, crazy loyal. Kind of silly how the movie made them look all slimy and gross. Rattle is the tidiest pet I’ve ever had. Can I bring him, please? He’s the only living thing I have from before. When I was with my parents.”

No, I’m even more of a monster than the bad guys…

“I want you to bring him. I can see what the fuss is about."

Her teenage, shellshocked, fever-delirious new friend actually smiles. Alex is going to help this girl and then she and Vasquez are going to find whatever pompous ass-hole names his torture shed CADMUS and show him what it’s really like to live in a motherfucking Greek tragedy. Railgun round to the balls should get things rolling.

"Birdie makes sense. Like a parrot. But why Rattle?” Alex asks.

“Dunno. I was little. The better question is why not?”

“You know what? Never mind.” Alex replies, holding her hands up in surrender.

Alex looks back to Vasquez and her fan club.

“This is a radio. I’m going to use this and we’re going to get a ride somewhere nice.”

"Ra-d-io!"

God help us all if Vasquez adopts her. The last thing the world needs is an extraterrestrial apex predator with insane reflexes, accelerated healing, lots of teeth and worst of all her mommy Vasquez’s favorite hobbies.

No, Alex corrects herself. The last thing we need is her adopting all five.

Alex doesn’t pray much. She should, she always loved her mother’s challah and the peace of temple.  It was hard to believe in the miracle of Passover with Kara across the table from her, the only surviving daughter of thirty billion. Where was God when Krypton needed him? Did they really mean so little?

From the moment Vasquez calls Anvil to the moment she hears 'approaching the LZ' from her radio, she prays.


Mitchell meets them at the hanger with most of the ground crew and half of operations. Everyone must have wanted to see their first officially non-combat sortie. She somehow looms above them, even though two of the mechanics have half a foot on her. Perhaps just the fact that she’s wearing a three-piece suit holding a clipboard while people around her are wearing mechanic’s suits and fatigues and sidearms.

She takes in the alien children, still dripping antibiotic fluid and wearing medical wetsuits, three alien pets of two different species and a pile of books, trinkets and random gizmos either from ‘back home’ or near and dear to the little ones. Demos and Reynolds are helping the Thessalian limp inside. After much needling, she told Alex her name was Tyana Ktenno. Alex hopes Kara hasn’t completely fallen out with Emilia because she doesn’t know shit about the tangled love nest that is Thessalian politics but she feels like Ktenno came up when they were girls.

Vasquez managed to locate the schoolteacher alive, in Austin. All based on a tip from someone at the school who knew her. She split off to black-bag her and bring her here. Cool and collected as Demos was earnest as Reynolds baby blues are, when it came to tough cases it was Vasquez turned out to be the best at hitting things until candy came out. People who were holding out looked at her and they just wanted to help. Strangely enough.

“Danvers,” Mitchell hollers over the thump of still-spinning blades. “I see you’ve turned my base into a damned circus!”

“Friendly aliens as ordered, general!”

“Teacher lady!”

Two of the raxxie girls break past their handlers, beelining for Mitchell and grabbing her legs. She takes it with real humor, considering the gawking that everyone else is engaged in at all those ruby-red fingers clinging to their CO’s pant legs.

Mitchell even rubs one of their hairless heads.  her face demands an explanation from Alex. No words needed.

“They see anyone in dress clothes, they assume schoolteacher!” Alex calls out.

Mitchell laughs.

“I suppose they’ll be needing one, won’t they?”

As Tyana limps by them with Reynold’s help, Mitchell takes one look at the kid before pointing to Alex and turns to her second in command.

“Prep the sickbay and get someone to help the doc.”

As Alex is handing off her armor and helmet to a orderly, Mitchell leans in close.

“Save her life.  Show her that humans can be good,” Mitchell orders.  “No pressure, Danvers.”

 


March 12 th , 2006 | Winn Schott

Mojave Desert

Thirty-six miles south-southeast of National City


Winn, Nadia and Greg huddle close over the topographical map and hold Nadia’s cell phone up to light it. The look she’s been giving Winn all night has probably taken some years of his life. If Kara was a normal human lesbian, she would have called Nadia for help not Winn, but Winn knew about Kara being an alien and Nadia doesn’t. That and only Winn’s cell phone was tied to Kolex’s entangled particle communicator.

He hopes she doesn’t think Kara is cheating on her.

“Ten miles down that gulch,” Winn decides.

“Why am I here?” Greg asks. “She has a car.”

Because I would faint if you weren’t here with me, Winn thinks. Because things that scare me don’t scare me if we do them together. Because every day I want to lie down in bed and just give up and not care. So I put a reminder in my phone to call you so I don’t get to sleep in.

Nope, he definitely can’t say all that to this man he’s only been dating exclusively for three months. Mushy proclamations of a life made worth living are probably best handled at home with coffee, not out here with the cactuses...cacti.  Whatever.

“Because your boyfriend is a sharp dresser but he and I can’t haul Kara out of a chair, let alone help her if she’s hurt,” Nadia reminds Greg. “We need muscles and he only brought gayness so we need gay muscles too.”

“It’s not because I like you,” Nadia assures him. “I’m super pissed about the dreads. Those are exclusive shit. Reserved for black girl magic. Just not gonna hit you if Kara’s here.”

Greg chortles, self-consciously brushing his sandy blonde dreadlocks back.

“Good. I was worried we were becoming friends or something!” he jokes.

This is right on the edge and it could go either way. They could become a two-person comedy routine or there could be angry shouting.

“She loves you ,” Greg reminds her. “Winn is just easier to get a hold of sometimes. The man has like three cell phones.”

“One! And...that’s fair. Technically I have three things on me that receive texts.”

“Kara should think of me first,” Nadia sniffs. “She should know I would do anything . Know that I love her.”

“She does. We’ll pick her drunk ass up or whatever and It’ll be fine.”

“Shut up!”

“Fine!”

“By the Black,” Winn groans. “Would you two can it! Kara needs our help!”

“Sorry.” “Yeah, sorry.”

“By the Black?” Nadia asks, nudging Winn.

“Kara’s ex used to say it. She sort of worshipped the stars. It stuck in my brain and I say weird things when I’m scared.”

Nadia squeezes his hand.

“Me too. And for what it’s worth, I know she’s just your friend. You’re like an eight out of six on the Kinsey scale, bro. Elton John would want some pussy if he saw that girl.”

Winn snickers.  “Pretty sure that’s not how it works.” He spins around and points at Greg.

“No jokes! We have a rule!”

Greg grins. “For the purposes of me being bi, Kara does not exist.”

Winn nods.

“She should be here soon,” he sighs, looking at his stopwatch.

Kara being stranded in space sleeping off her transformation bender has made for the longest and scariest three days of Winn’s life.

He offered to let her crash in the dorm but she was not budging until she had a terabytes worth of data from her and Kolex testing her powers. She seemed terrified that she would slip up and hurt someone even though Winn hasn’t heard of that happening in the time he’s known her. The difference between what sloppy Kara could do and what sloppy Kara with mutant superpowers can do is big but it’s still smaller than the gap between what Winn can do and what she can do. He’s just not about to tell her that she was already crazy dangerous if she didn’t pay attention. He wants his bestie back, whether or not she is now theoretically a danger to the Earth’s structural integrity. Maybe it’s selfish.

The idea was for Kara to touch down in the desert and walk over to them. That way she could hit as hard as she needed to and still come walk up to her girl looking normal.

A orange fireball streaks across the night sky, plunging towards the next hill.

“Fuck me stupid,” Winn whispers. “This was not the plan.”

The impact knocks them all off their feet and when he looks up, Kara is there.

“Naked alien!” he shouts before he can stop himself.

Kara is hovering over the sand, bare from head to toe and wrapped in a corona of pure heat. The sand under her is sizzling in to glass as she passes over it. Her stance is wobbly though. Winn has seen her fly enough to know what it looks like when she’s struggling. Having ruled out all forms of alcohol available on campus in the Saint Patrick’s Day Experiment he knows that this isn’t Kara being drunk.

Something else is taking away her control.

“Whoa,” she mumbles stupidly. ”I’m buzzed.  That was a lot to deal with. I think I need a moment. Sorry if I scared you, Nadia.”

Greg is opening and closing his mouth repeatedly.

Winn is really wishing he could be drunk.

Nadia is broken. Nadia cannot find words. Nadia cannot apparently, even make her own hands work. She’s still holding the beer bottle she had even after the impact cracked it. A few trickles of blood are seeping from her hand.

“Kara?” she murmurs. “You look different.”

“Yeah, sweetie. Obviously, I wanted to be less dramatic tonight but I missed my landing spot and kinda outed myself, as an alien I mean. I wanted more of a ‘good to be here’ and less ‘surprise! I’m an alien’ and more hugging you, less floating over here afraid to get close.”

“Oh,” Nadia replies, more of an exhalation than a word.

“Yeah, it’s...” Kara sighs. “Something I want to tell everybody but usually don’t get to.”

“Is this why you don’t let me touch you?” Nadia asks, her voice cracking. “I’m good at it, I promise. Or if I’m not I can lea-”

“No!  You are perfect, Nadia. I’m strong, too strong. I would never forgive myself if I hurt you.”

“Greg’s stronger than Winn,” Nadia reminds Kara. “That doesn’t make Winn afraid to touch Greg. I don’t want to have you and not get to touch you, Kara. That’s not fair to me.”

Fuck this, Winn decides. I’m taking cover.

“Kara, so glad you’re alive. Greg and I are going to get in the car and listen to some music. You two,” he tells Nadia and Kara. “should sort this out. If you need it, we can toss the tent out the window to you.”

“Remember how stupidly in love with each other you are,” he mutters. “One two three, go.”

 


 June 12, 2006 | Kara Danvers

Mojave Desert

Thirty-six miles south-southeast of National City


Nadia might not forbid Kara to get dressed but she is not encouraging it and Kara always likes the way Nadia looks at her. Even more so now, after Nadia saw the rest of her.

“So, I’m going to take a leap and say you’re that vigilante who’s got all the horndogs from Greek Row too scared to talk to a nun without breathalyzing her.”

Kara nods.

“I was just setting up a monitoring system when I saw Corrine getting assaulted. Something snapped and I attacked the guy. Broke his collarbone, it turned out. Then when...when I saw you, I thought...” Kara trails off. “Lots of things, clearly. Mostly about my feelings for you. But after that I realized that everyone in danger has someone wanting them to come home safe. So partly Corrine but mostly that someone so amazing was waiting up worrying about her.”

“Ta-da!” Kara whispers. “Origin story.”

“Do you think of hurting people when you’re fighting?”

“Sort of have to.”

“Do you think about hurting people when you have sex?” Nadia finally asks.

“What? Never. No. It,” Kara sighs. “Ugh. I have problems explaining this.”

She sighs.

“I lost everyone when I was little. Like everyone, my whole city, whole planet actually. They died and I saw it happen. So I’m pretty messed up. There are always pieces of me missing or not fitting the way they do for everybody else. I only feel whole when I am with you, Nadia. This body,” Kara sighs, flexing her hands.

“Freaks me out. What it can do, how dangerous it is. It only feels completely mine and makes sense to me when I’m touching you.”

One of Nadia’s tears is running down into Kara’s lap and disappearing between her thighs. Nadia’s eyes are following it, jealous of the drop of water and the trail it is blazing through her folds.

“Could we try it?” Nadia whispers. “My fingers. My mouth. Anything you feel safe with. You know I feel good when we’re together. But I don’t know if you feel anything .”

“I don’t want to hurt you.”

“This isn’t only about you, Kara! Sex is two people. A relationship, which I want to think we have, is two people who talk about important shit like this.”

“Ouch. Anyone ever tell you that you’re smart?”

“You. Every other day,” Nadia chortles.

“Not enough. Have to double it.”

“It’s just,” Nadia sighs. “So you’re an alien which means you’re strong and you have all these powers. Which I am not super thrilled about the whole thing and I am not going with you to ComicCon no matter how sexy you are. But alien powers are not what scares you. Hurting me is.”

Kara shrugs.

“That’s the simple version.”

“Then you’re an ass, Kara. Newsflash. Anytime two people get in bed, someone can get hurt a thousand different ways. Anytime a woman my size gets in bed with someone so much bigger and stronger than her, man or woman, she is placing her life in someone else’s hands.”

“Any girl as buff as you could hurt me. Powers or not. Big strong people fuck each other every day all over the world and someone could die each time but they don’t. Because they don’t want to hurt each other, they want to love each other. They choose. Meaning your excuse is crap.”

Nadia slides out from Kara’s grip and splashes the last of her water bottle over her hands.  Kara finds the fact that she had a bar of motel soap ready to go in her pocket is somewhat suspicious.  

I suppose she didn’t need a condom in her wallet.

“I’m going to make you come, Kara. You’re going to let me make you feel good, you’re going to trust me to know what I can handle and to show you how good you make me feel.  Trust me enough to let me have sex with you. Or we’re done.”

“Are we done? Is that too much for you to trust me, Kara?”

“No,” Kara sniffles. She wipes her tears off her mouth, looking the exact opposite of sexy. “It’s not too much. We’re not done. Think...think I love you, Nads.”

Nadia taps the inside of Kara’s feet.

“So spread ‘em. I’m going to make sure you scare each and every living thing in California that has ears.”

Kara complies.

“No more waiting,” Nadia whispers. “No more excuses from you.”

She puts her tongue on Kara’s skin and nothing else matters. Nadia’s small hands knead Kara’s inner thighs and her thumb presses slowly, circling. Any fantasies about how good this might be come true and disappear into what it actually is and then Nadia’s lips do something while wrapped around her clit and there’s a feeling that is so perfect, so bright…Kara is sure it can’t be real.

The orange-pink haze of dawn licking at the edge of the horizon finally pulls them apart.

“I’m getting cold and someone could see us in the light,” Nadia sighs. “So of course you look exactly as fresh as after the first one. Which is kinda scary but also damn . Guess my spring break is booked, eh Kara?”

Kara Danvers is not here. Kara Zor-El is not here. Her mind is drifting at the edge of the universe in its first moments, when it was still the size of her hand, saying thank you for the events that led to Nadia.

It isn’t until Nadia bites her ear that she gathers her senses.

The rescue crew left town in a panic so the clothes they brought Kara turn out to be all men’s clothes and from a farm store. Kara doesn’t mind and Nadia definitely does not mind watching her get them on.

Greg is very busily engaged with the radio when Kara finally gets in the car. Winn is snoozing on the steering wheel when the fun started and he didn’t wake up which was a pretty clever plan on his part. Nadia doesn’t even pretend to clean up, wearing her wet chin and throat as a badge of honor. Nor did she feel like putting her underwear back on, Kara realizes when reflexively she checks the coat pocket for her dorm keys.

“We’re good, Winn.” Nadia declares.

“Winn!” she shouts, smacking his seat.

“Yes ma’am, driving now ma’am. Not pissing off the scary black lady.”

Kara snorts.

“He means you.”

“Wait, what? She’s...well, big! And that’s without the hidden features.”

“Kara is a kitten playing with a balloon inside a snow globe,” Winn sighs. “A really big kitten, but the point stands! She’s so nice to me as a roomie that it makes me feel a bit guilty whenever Greg pops a boner around her...and I should get to be jealous.   He’s supposed to be mine!”

“Dude, not cool,” Greg whines.

“Nadia? You’re like, all passionate and righteous and protesty and marchy and believe in stuff. I’m embarrassed when you go to some important protest and freeze your butt off and I didn’t know it was even a thing people worried about.”

“Just drive,” Nadia replies, lips curled tight at the corners to conceal the actual grin behind them. “Drive before I start to get used to seeing your lily-white ass.”

She tilts her head smugly to Kara.

“You’re nice too, Kara.”

“Yes,” Kara replies, rebooted from her most recent orgasm by Nadia’s voice.

“Nice. That was,” she wets her lips. “very nice.”

“You’re blushing,” Nadia giggles. “Jesus. It really was your first time, wasn’t it?”

“Sooooo...Winn. Do I rule the universe now? Because you said she’s the biggest fish out there and not to brag but hell yes to brag, she is oozing right now.”

“Kinda gross,” he grumbles.

“Winn. Lesbian’s car you’re driving. My car.  So if I want a girl getting wet in my back seat, there’s going to be a girl getting wet in my back seat. You and Greg going to have to carry her inside...then I’m gonna make her email all her profs…you’re going to vanish and we’re going to just...mmm!” Nadia squeals, squirming in her seat.”

Kara doesn’t even want to say anything. The stupid, smug, giddy face Nadia keeps making is the best thing she’s seen all night and tonight had some pretty good things.

Winn flicks the radio on and finds some classic rock. His fingers keep time with the turn signal as they wait for an opening on the highway.

“Ask your girl about the universe thing. Not ruling it out. You’ll have to put some food in her, though. She gets tired and dopey after badassing around campus unless she gets something greasy. This was badassing around more than just campus.”

Kara yawns.

“I can order something. Phone me, Winn.”

He hands it back.

Kara taps at the button for X-Treme Jumbo and hits the ‘add’ button until the counter cooperates with her.

“Really?”

“How many, Nads?” Winn asks.

Kara throws her arm around Nadia, tugs her close and sniffs her hair.

“No pet names for Winn. She is Na-d-ia to you.”

“Twelve, Winn.”

“Yeah, that tracks,” Winn teases, looking up at them in the rear-view. “I figure the rest of us can put a dent in two.”

Kara keeps poking at the order button but nothing happens. Her brow is furrowed, making a little crinkle right between her eyes.

“Winn! You phone is busted. I can’t make the flat thing make someone bring us food,” Kara whines. “Earth is so primitive.”

“Let me see, you big lump,” Nadia snickers.

“Winn! Your card is declined.”

“Crap. Uh, the thing is…”

Greg turns around to face them from the passenger seat.

“The thing is he’s maxed out his card feeding that bottomless pit.”

Rao’s shadow ,” Kara grumbles. “Winn! I told you to tell me when I was being a bad friend.”

“What fresh cultural context is this?” Nadia demands.  “Was that an alien curse word?”

“Kryptonese.  Teach you.”

“Kolex, get Winn some money.”

“Understood. Total?”

“Ha!” Nadia exclaims. “I told you that tattoo talked. You were all ‘Nadia’s seeing things! Can’t trust a word she says.’ and my girls tattoo is fully glowing and talking.”

Kolex projects a small blue sphere which flickers like a sine wave when he talks.

“And shooting lasers through her clothes,” Nadia mumbles. “Hi there.”

“My projection is not laser-based. It is harmless, I assure you. I am Kolex. Nice to meet you properly, Lady Nadia.”

“Lady?”

“You are associated with Lady Kara of House El in an emotional arrangement analogous to early Kryptonian marriage custom. Therefore you are a Lady of House of El by common law.”

“Uh,” Winn mumbles. “So, yeah. The tattoo talks. Supercomputer. Cameras. The usual.”

“Cameras?” Nadia snaps, glaring at the projected sphere.

“Lady Kara’s control over my access to her surroundings is complete. If at any time she asks me to, I cease all recording and I merely monitor her vital signs. I must confess, Nadia, I know you more as numbers than as a person. Heart-rate, respiration, hormone levels, sleep quality. She almost always in privacy mode with you. I have only nine minutes of face-to-face footage of you. Including this.”

Nadia swallows her next question.  She has spent more than nine minutes around Kara since the night they met.  She thinks she remembers spending nine minutes in one go screaming her lungs out while impaled on Kara’s hand.

“Keeping you to myself,” Kara explains, eyelids drooping.

“Greg, tell me how much I owe your dumb boyfriend so my robot can focus on making my girlfriend say more smart things in her voice,” Kara whines. “S’cute. Her voice s’nice and m’sleepy.”

Greg sighs.

“The card is maxed and the limit is $1500.”

“All of it, Kolex.”

“Sent,” Kolex replies.

“So, did he just...make money?” Nadia asks.

“I did not. I have access to a small sum of money for electronic investing purposes and based on Lady Kara’s guidelines, I have being researching something called Bitcoin.”

“Hoo boy,” Winn mumbles. “There goes the market, here comes the barter system.”

Nadia’s brow wrinkles even when half-unconscious, Kara pulls her up to kiss it.

“That’s that anarchist currency right, where you mine with a computer or something and then it’s all digital?”

“Correct, Lady Nadia. Cryptocurrency. As I am the second-most powerful computing network on this planet, I have a distinct edge. Lady Kara, I would like to focus on this funding source.”

“Do it,” Kara groans, shifting to get comfortable. “Your reports on the stock market always make my brain hurt. Do the crypto-thingy, seventy-thirty split favoring accumulation. Sell the stocks and just maybe email me if the stock market catches fire? So I don’t look stupid when someone asks.”

“Done. Traditional investments will sell once profitable. Algorithm tuned for short-term reward and offloaded to background processors. Cryptographic investments prioritized. Desired yield per day?”

Winn is frantically shaking his head and mouthing ‘please no’, presumably hoping Kolex won’t torpedo his own scheme.

“Which is the most powerful?” Nadia asks. “I mean, aren’t you a sci-fi supergizmo?”

“There is currently an AI of immense scale on this planet but it is in hibernation mode. Its power is such that I can detect it by the disruption it causes in nearby systems. Since it has not made itself known, I can only surmise it is inactive at this time. But I am active and I am many times more powerful than this ‘internet’ you have.”

“But no cat videos on you,” Winn reminds Kolex. “Shameful.”

Kara groans, rubbing her forehead.

“Ugh. Godsphere tech lying around...sounds like something my father would play with when he was told not to. Kolex, make a note.”

“Quote. To me: Hi, me! Did you remember to find the talaq- fucking Apokoliptan supercomputer yet? No? So go try again before some supervillian gets their mitts on it. Thanks, me!  End quote. Set to remind daily.”

“Set.”

“Nadia,” Kara yawns. “I am so in love with you but I am also so tired. I think I broke my brain.”

“That’s what happens when you break the speed of light!” Winn teases in sing-song.

“Can you make Winn’s flat thing bring us food in like ten hours? And can you stay in my room with me...sleep with me?  Just sleep?”

“Yeah,” Nadia replies. “I can do that.”

Chapter Text


March 13, 2006  | Nadia Talbert
National City
Noonan’s Cafe

 

Kara is hunched over her cell phone, blinking back tears.  Twenty texts from Emilia’s phone that she didn’t see while she was busy playing around in space.

Even in that flash of rage, Kara she could not bring herself to remove her number from Emilia’s contacts.  Instead she changed her number to ‘In Case of Emergency’ so that there would always be someone to call for a woman who cannot reach out to the police or the hospitals.  Apparently when Emilia went missing, her current partners picked up her phone and tried to do exactly that, only to find Kara out of contact.

The most recent text reads ‘Coming to you.  Leave phone on. You owe our family.’ and it terrifies Kara.  

Not only did Emilia find someone but they see like her family and now...she’s gone.  

Never came home from a shopping trip that she and Kara made together half a dozen times.  A trip Kara would have gladly backed her up on any time she felt nervous making it, even now.

Kara knew that Jok’ak -- her white sand dealer -- had nothing to do with the abduction by the time her feet hit the floor of his apartment along with the debris from the hole she made in his roof.  He threw himself at her feet, eyes squeezed shut and palms on the floor.

He was so scared of her it flashed Kara back to the Worldkiller memories she received from the files her father left.

Emilia was not especially careful around strangers but she didn’t need to be.  She could feed a mugger his own bullets on a gravity slingshot or rip an attacker's crotch apart at an atomic level.  W hoever took her waited until after she got the shipment and left almost all of it behind.  Meaning she was fed and at full strength and they didn't want the sand. This was someone new and they wanted her healthy, which is terrifying.  

“Four days, she’s been missing for four days.  First time I fail someone as Black Knight and it’s my ex-girlfriend and she’s dead.“

Nadia rubs Kara’s back, trying to think of what to say.  Rather than saying any of the idiotic or jealous or mean things she’s thinking of, she puts her cheek on Kara’s shoulder-blades.  She reaches around and Kara nuzzles into her open palm.

“There is nothing in the girlfriend handbook about this,” Kara reminds Nadia.  “You’re allowed not to like Emilia.”

“Oh hush,” Nadia replies, letting the tense sinew of Kara’s back press into her cheek and pushing fresh tears aside with her thumb.  “I’m just floored. You were mad as hell, you dumped without letting her apologize or explain herself...and then you basically promised to be there if she ever needed you?”

“She was a good person.  She deserved to be safe. Didn’t do her any good,” Kara sobs.

“Kara...she is alive somewhere and deep down, you know it.  You will save her. You are a badass. You told me this morning that you punched an asteroid into a bigger asteroid until it made a black hole because you were hungry .  You are going to do this, you hear me?”

“Teensy one.  Only lasted four nanoseconds,” Kara mumbles.

“Kara!  Listen to yourself!”  Nadia snaps. “You’re spiraling.  You need to not do that.”

“There is quite literally no one stronger for Emilia to have in her corner.  So woman up. Believe that you are going to do this and go do it. We will find her and you are going to ride to her rescue.  You will come astride a pale horse and the wicked will look upon you and be afraid.”

Kara gulps in a breath and eases up slightly.

“I just turned into my mother, didn’t I?” Nadia asks either Kara or herself.  “I didn’t mean to say it that way, my brain just did.”

“Give a pseudo-Biblical pep talk?   You did, Nads, and it worked I feel a little bit better.”

Nadia smiles and hopes Kara can feel it on the skin of her back.

“I try and I try and I try...and still happens.  Think they have pills for it?”

“For being smart and wanting to help people and remembering lots of stories you memorized when you were small?  Well, smaller anyway.”

Nadia pinches Kara’s thigh.

“Don’t think that smart is treatable, sorry.  I know your mom is stupid intense sometimes, Nads, but as preachers go a gay girl could do a lot worse for a pastor and besides she’s your mom.  She has to love you. It’s a rule.”

“Where’s that rule?” Nadia asks.  “I know plenty of moms who break it.”

“Eliza said it.  So it is a rule of Earth momming...I have a list.  What was it? Your mom stopped speaking to you forever and cracked after two weeks?  Your best friend, thanks for making me referee that argument, by the way,” Kara grumps.  “Says that Leviticus has not been spoken of since at her pulpit. Like, any of it. Doesn’t she push Ruth 1-15 and 16 at every engaged couple she meets?”

Nadia sighs.

“Yes and makes sure to tell me.  She’s really angling to do my wedding.”

The waitress taps a fork against the other side of the table.

“You need to leave soon, sweetie.  Sweeties. We’re closing in ten minutes for a private event.”

Kara slides her ID out on the table.

“Danvers or maybe just Alex?  If that’s it, it’s my sister. She rented out the place?” Kara scoffs, looking around at the tables and counter and the brownie rack the red chair for reading the used romance novels.  Hardly a threatening location.

“That seems a bit much.”

“No, honey,” the waitress sneers,  “what’s a bit much was the FBI agent who gave me a phone interview before I could come in for my shift.  Your sister has some nerve.”

Josie nearly always gets their table and her Tennessee drawl is usually honeyed, not acidic.  Alex might want to make an apology lest some boiling beverage be ‘spilled’.

“Yeah,” Kara snorts, “classic Alex.”

Nadia takes a fifty from Kara’s billfold and hands it to the server.

“Her big sis takes the overprotective bit really seriously.  FBI agent. She made Kara take tactical driving classes before she got her license,” Nadia whispers.

The waitress puts her hand on her hip.  “Aw honey, now I feel bad. Glad that ain’t my sister,” she mutters.  “I’ll get y’all some more coffee then.”

“Thanks, Josie.  You’re good people.  The best in fact.”

“I am, aren’t I?  Humble, too.”

Kara waits for Josie to disappear into the tiny bakery slash kitchen in back.

“Solid bluff, Nads.”

“See?  I’m getting it!”

Nadia’s phone lights up and says ‘Sweater Vest’ over and over in a computerized voice.  She lifts it for a moment.

“Winn and Greg will be here in five minutes, right aft-”

Nadia is interrupted by the ring of the bell over the door.

“Kara!” Alex calls out.

“Alex,” Kara croaks, reaching out for a hug.

Alex sweeps pasts Nadia, a blur of leather jacket and gasoline-scented denim.  Something smacks Nadia in the side of the head and in the corner of her eye, Nadia can see a holstered gun and instinct kicks in:  white woman, gun, law enforcement, danger. Then Alex kisses Kara’s forehead and whispers a thank you to Nadia in what sounds like Kryptonese.  The tension doesn't go away but it dies back faster than it has in Nadia’s entire life.

Nadia starts to pull back and Alex shakes her head, adjusting the hug to bring her inside as well.

“She’s hurt and it’s because I dumped her and I only dumped her because I was mad and I was only mad because she didn’t know I was Kryptonian and so she thought Daxamite was a complement an-”

“Shh, shh, shh.  Hey. It’s all right.  We’ll get her back.”

“Guessing you know?” Alex asks Nadia.  “Course you do. She’s been dating you and can’t lie to save her life.  How’d you find out?”

“Rescue mission.  Just last night.”

“Really?” Alex deadpans.  “Seems unlikely that she needs rescue.”

She didn’t threaten to kill me like she does Winn every other time she sees him, Nadia observes.   Maybe she’s mellowing out?

“Alex?  I, um, found out some nasty shit about what happened to me in my pod during my missing time.  Needed some answers about what it meant. I went on a trip to space Alex! And it was mostly awesome except for like five minutes where I thought I was going to die and fall into the sun and I fixed that but then I had to wait and cool off before I could land.”

Nadia watches Alex as two dark red eyebrows arch so high it’s like they’re trying to escape into her hair.  She decides to pre-empt whatever Alex was going to ask.

“All true, Alex.  Winn and Greg were there and it was a good thing because without three of us we never would have gotten her up the stairs into bed.  She was exhausted.”

Alex takes the chair on the other side of Kara and listens as Kara recounts the story of her three days in space, discovering her new powers and tiptoes around fixing her and Nadia’s relationship wrinkle...in the least exciting way possible.

“Oh boy,” Alex jokes.  “You were not excited about that story and I’m pretty sure it was exciting.  We need to hear that story again when Emilia’s safe.  I’ll bring popcorn.”

Winn and Greg swing in beside Nadia not long after, followed to the table by Josie who takes their orders and disappears.  She’s staying in the kitchen with music turned up, probably as part of whatever arrangement there was.

The bell on the door jingles again and in strolls a short woman with cinnamon brown skin and muscle definition like Kara’s and a gelled, spiky haircut.

Beside her--guided by a hand on the small of the back--towers a slender female creature which appears to have escaped the Louvre’s sculpture gardens.  If the milky skin, glass-cutting jawline and hand-spun red hair weren’t clues enough, she is wearing a slouchy dress that seems to be little more than a fancy linen shawl and hiding her face with a straw hat and massive turtle-shell sunglasses.  She removes her shades and folds them with three nimble flicks of her long fingers before tucking them into the collar of her dress.

The dark skinned woman beside her isn’t sneering or bragging or anything but with a creature like that beside her it’s completely unnecessary.

Kara stands up to greet them, dumping an unprepared Nadia into the chair she vacated.

“I’m Kara.  Nice to meet you in person, Susan.  Alex told me good things.”

“Ugh.  Please, no.  Vasquez or Suz, if you really have to.”

“Suz it is,” Kara decides.  

For a moment Nadia worries that Kara and Vasquez are going to get into some kind of masculine-of-center pissing contest but they don’t.  It wouldn’t last long. Pound for pound they’re equally fierce but Vasquez is no taller than Nadia herself and Kara has at least fifteen more inches of muscle and glimmering braids to work with.

“Clarice,” the mystery masterpiece tells Kara, hand outstretched.

Kara lifts Clarice’s hand, waits and after getting a small nod, kisses it.  

“Charmed.  We were just about to order.”

She turns back towards the table and looks at Nadia, makes a ‘wow’ shape with her mouth and blows a kiss that no one but Nadia could possibly see.  The jealousy Nadia feels bubbling under her skin alchemizes the instant Kara does this, turning into something far more delicious and dangerous that she will have to purge herself of the moment she can get Kara alone.

Clarice settles in beside Vasquez and Greg and Winn grab nearby chairs and bring them to the table, purposely keeping themselves at the edges.  Kara is nestled between Nadia and Alex.

“Before anyone says anything else, is everyone here read in?” Alex asks.

Vasquez, Clarice and Kara immediately nod.  Winn soon follows. Greg tilts his head sideways like the stoner version of a golden retriever.  Everyone seems to be looking at her.

Read in?  What sort of white people corporate-speak nonsense is that?

“What does that mean?” Nadia finally asks.

“It means going through the correct process for acquiring top-secret information,” Alex replies.  “Which includes rules about when and where you may listen to, or speak about it and with whom. Apparently you and Greg have not been read in.”

Alex opens the satchel beside her and pulls out three fat stacks of paper, handing one to Kara, one to Greg and one to Nadia.

“Read in, like brought in the room while something secret was read,” Nadia thinks out loud.  “It’s clunky. You really should call it dealt in, like poker. Dealing in stakeholders. That I would have gotten right away.”

Alex looks at Nadia.  She then turns and whispers something to Vasquez, who merely rolls her eyes behind her sunglasses.

“That one is smart, Danvers.  You should put your recruiting cap on.”

“That’ll be a hard no,” Nadia replies before Alex can start.  “Maybe you’re soldiers and you have a code of honor and high ideals and you live that shit or maybe you’re the nicest cops ever...but you are still armed people dealing with a vulnerable community from a position of power.  Not how I want to spend my life.”

Alex raises a finger as if to lecture Nadia then quickly drops it and closes her mouth.  Kara snickers. Winn’s mind is clearly blown by Alex backing down and Greg is too lost reading his packet to react.

“Can I steal her?” Clarice asks.  “What? It’s a small school. I need a civics teacher.”

“Tell me what it says,” Nadia tells Alex, pushing the paper back across.  “Once you do that, I’ll read it and see if you’re lying.”

“Your last girlfriend was not this blunt,” Alex complains to her sister.  “Or suspicious.”

“She didn’t take things seriously either.  So point Nadia on that one.”

“Won’t argue with that.  Can’t have my baby sister dating some slacker,” Alex chuckles.  

“These agreements say three things:  that you acknowledge first hand knowledge of the existence of alien life on Earth, that you stipulate you have done nothing to or on behalf of an alien that would constitute a violent crime if done to a human being and that you will keep the existence of our project secret until and unless you are told otherwise.”

“Both Greg’s and Kara’s include business contracts.”

Nadia looks up from the first page of her agreement.

“Not mine?”

“I think that is called prostitution,” Alex replies.  “If you were profiting from aliens while having sex with one.”

“I-she loves me!” Nadia begins, struggling for the right words.  “Just knowing she’s an alien?” she sputters. “That’s not how it would be…”

“You’re jerking me around!” she realizes.  “That can’t possibly be a real thing that lawyers told you to say.”

Alex smiles into the rim of her coffee.

“No, it wasn’t.  But you’re corrupting my baby sister’s innocence.  I can’t stop you, she’s a big girl...I’m certainly not going to pay you for the privilege.”

Kara is flipping through hers in a blur of paper.

“Looks legit.  You typoed three things on page thirty-eight, nine and page forty.  A space, a semicolon and the word Krypton, which...I’m hurt. It’s on the periodic table, Alex!  Even if you don’t love your sister any more,” Kara moans, lip quivering.

Alex’s face looks like someone just stabbed her in the heart with a rusty spoon and then ripped the whole thing out.

“Easy to spell-check,” she teases, dropping the act.  “Want me to read yours, Nads? If you trust me,” Kara adds.

“On this and anything else,” she replies, pushing her contract over.

Alex throws her hands up.

“Go to brunch with Kara and her friends, they said!  Get everyone on the same page, they said! Bond with the girlfriend, they said!  Do I have a mock me sign on my back, Vasquez?”

Vasquez leans over.

“No.  You’re clear.”

Greg raises his hand.

“Um, Alex? This is a lot of money.”

She shrugs.

“We have unassigned funds.  Let’s just say I saved us on our used spaceship budget.  You can take that to the venture capitalists and get started with your pickup line app or whatever that is.”

“What’s the catch?” Greg asks.

“The catch is if I ever find you said anything about Kara in public that included a word that starts with A, a whistleblower will get a phone call from me.  They will report that your company was founded on stolen government money and you’ll be unable to prove to Congress that it wasn’t.”

“She’s awesome,” Winn points out.  “Altruistic, too. Amusing, uh, let’s see...I’m not going to speak out of turn but I imagine Nadia would use the world animalistic?”

At long last Alex starts laughing along.

“Fine!  You know what I mean though, right Greg?”

Greg nods, pen in hand.  He signs his name and hands it back to Alex.

“Done.  And it is not a pickup-line app,” he whines.  “It’s a conversation starter.”

Nadia wiggles her phone.

“It’s actually kind of fun.  It’s called Flattyr and it compares photos to famous art and makes a photo of you as the painting.  Clarice, can I take a picture of you over by the bookcase there?”

“Sure.”

Clarice follows Nadia over where she proceeds to throw one of the blankets over a bookshelf and move a stack of Harlequins aside.

“Stand here.  One hand in your lap, right about there.  Palm towards me. Yup. Good. Now, tilt your head to the left.  Exactly. Hair down. Shake it a little. Rawr! The camera loves you,” Nadia teases.

“Hold it...there.  Come on back.”

She walks back to the table followed by a very baffled Clarice and her very frisky scarlet mane.  Nadia chews her lip and concentrates on her work.

“Jaw is here.  Hands here and here.  Eyes there. Knee here.  Greg, where’s the advanced filter button?  I have a painting in mind.”

“Uh, upper left on the current build.”

“Ah.  Thanks.  Got it.”

“Ta-da!”

She holds her phone out to Clarice.  

On the screen is a retelling of Birth of Venus with Clarice as the goddess of beauty, rising lazily from the waters, skin incandescent and hair rippling behind her as the zephyrs and nymphs alike fawn over.  

In this version, a used armchair stands in for a clamshell and a well-loved afghan blanket replaces the servant hurrying over to cover the goddess up.  Whatever geekery Greg set up behind the scenes preserved the frigid blue of Clarice’s eyes, the shine of her hair, the downward slope of her shoulder and and the sharp lines of her face even while it made some educated guesses as to how Boticelli would have rendered her bare skin.

“Venus at Coffee, I’ll call it.

“M-m-me?  That’s me?” Clarice whispers.  She turns the photo to Vasquez, eyes watery.

“Beauty on the halfshell,” Vasquez agrees, pressing a kiss to Clarice’s shoulder.  “Neat trick.”

“I mean, I sort of had the thought when you walked in,” Nadia admits.  “This woman looks like someone people would paint!”

“May I?” Greg asks.  He leans over Clarice’s shoulder before getting an okay but Vasquez or Clarice don’t seem especially bothered.  He tends to come across so eager and nerdy that his rudeness is more tolerable.

“This is way better than our usual result, Nadia.  Our testers get something this good one time in twenty, tops.  How’d you do it?”

Nadia steals one of Kara’s cookies and gets a look that probably could burn her alive.  Too bad she’s too cute to kill.  She shrugs.

“Dude.  I’m charming," Nadia scoffs.  "I worked with the model. Have you tried having like, boyfriends do it for their girlfriends and so on?  Someone who admires the subject? I have one of Kara as basically every black woman ever painted respectfully by white men.  So like, I have five. You need to get your shit together for non-Western art styles, by the way.”

Greg looks back to the phone.

“We just hired someone for that.   We haven’t done enough couples testing, clearly.  This is...wow. This belongs in our hall of fame.”

He pulls out his own phone and taps something.

“Cha-ching.  You now have store credit for prints and framed copies.  Amazing work, Nadia.”

“Thanks.  How did you two meet, anyway?” she asks, waving a chocolate-dipped biscotti between Vasquez and Clarice.

“I’m her ex-wife,” Clarice explains.

Apparently, that was not what anyone but Vasquez was expecting to hear.  Not even Alex took that in stride.

“That Clarice, huh?” Alex teases.

Vasquez blushes.

“I need to hear how this happened!” Kara squeals.

“Vegas.  Got separated from a bachelorette party, wandering drunk in the hotel hallway, walk in to what I assumed was a brick wall.  A short wall,” Clarice teases.

“Said brick wall looks up at me and says something about how beautiful I am, using words which I will not repeat here.  I’d never been with a woman but something made me curious. Long story short, we talked, we kissed, we had a lot of fun, we sobered up, we had way too much fun, I limp up to the altar and Elvis pronounces us schoolteacher and soldier.”

Nadia licks her fingers clean.

“So you’ve left the Army then?  Because I hate to break it to you, Vasquez but this isn’t an ‘ex’ anything and your hand on her back may not be telling but her eyes are definitely asking.  Even the straights would catch it. Is it an exception or something? You must be this tall to ride this coaster and this gay to hunt aliens?”

Vasquez chokes on her tea.  Alex looks at her sputtering friend and giggles, girlish and high and sounding ridiculous.  It startles Nadia so much that she worries...does Alex not get to laugh?

“It’s...a risk we’re taking. Top secret,” Vasquez teases.  “But no, I’m still in the service and tragically for dykes on bikes everywhere, Alex is not gay.  I suppose the Honda might be.”

“Ducati,” Alex growls.

“My mistake.  Easy, easy. See, Nadia?  Like I said, tragic. Anyway.  Me and Clarice had to break up when real life found us but we’re were friends after and then a couple days ago, the base needed someone for the elementary school.  I knew a teacher.”

“Top secret, right.  So. Schoolteacher. That’s some real shit, Clarice,” Nadia says, suddenly much more quiet and soft than before.  “That’s how the world gets saved, you know?”

Clarice nods.  Her face is lit up with the mention of kids or teaching or something adorable that some small, sticky-fingered monster said to her.

“Just between us…who’s your cutest student?  Who’s your best student? Who are you proudest of how hard they’re trying?” Nadia demands, leaning low over the table like she wants to pounce on the answers when they appear.

“That,” Clarice replies icily.  “Would violate my student’s academic privacy and unlike the military, we take that kind of thing seriously.  I have students aged two through fourteen and the school is three rooms located on base. Next.”

They sit and talk and needle and tease for hours and no one scares another word of information out of Clarice even as Alex and Vasquez each tell a dozen half-redacted stories of hand-to-hand takedowns and stun-gun misunderstandings and rampaging alien pets.

Greg and Winn drift off around lunch and the sun is low when four figures appear and a man knock on the locked door.  Alex and Vasquez both tense up.

“Reynolds?” Alex asks some hidden radio.

“They’re here to talk to your sister.”

“It’s Emilia’s friends,” Kara explains, going over to let them in.  “Out of towners who can’t blend in like me…and they just lost someone they love.  So be nice.”

Two men and a woman follow her back to the table, two of them wearing baggy trench coats and bowler hats as if it wasn’t the most obvious disguise ever.

“This is Nakka,” she tells everybody, doing her best game-show hostess impression while introducing a svelte woman hidden in a baggy trench coat.

“Tam,” she shows off a tall, broad-shouldered man loosely wrapped in in what must be the largest commercially available trench coat.

Kara snaps her fingers, trying to get the name and smiling at a well dressed man with immaculate hands and rimmed glasses.

“Kyn.”

“Thank you!  This is Kyn. They are Emilia’s new--” Kara stumbles.  “Lovers?”

“She did say something about wanting to spend her life having our adorable parasite babies, so I think there might be love,” Nakka agrees.

Kyn is wearing a teal silk shirt, immaculately pressed slacks and a white blazer in what might as well be a ‘gay art dealer’ cosplay and his skin seems more metallic than it is merely pale but nothing jumps out.  

Which must be why he got to skip the trench coat.

When Nakka crooks her finger at Josie to whisper her order, Nadia sees a flicker of static and a glimpse of claws and a four-fingered right hand.  Peeking through the collar of the trenchcoat, she sees another right hand inside the coat, this one with unpainted skin so yellow that it stands out even in the shadow.

“...and two wing baskets.  Got it, darling. I’ll just go pass these through the window.  I’m off in thirty so I’ll get all your food to you then I’m going to split.”

“Sounds good,” Alex replies, slides a black credit card across the table.  “All on this. And thank you. I know this was difficult.”

Josie reads back the horrifyingly meaty order and heads back to the kitchen.  Either Josie didn’t notice the weirdness or hear Kara’s rambling about black holes or she is going for the Nobel Prize in Waitressing because she did not so much as blink.

“This is a coffee shop,” Alex says, glaring at Kara.  “Why, pray thee tell, do they serve burgers and roasted chicken and endless pasta bowls?”

Kara slides down in her seat.

“Because I told them that there’s a pub next door with great food and they could have like a little window where they passed orders and money through?  Then I helped them install said window, put in a cash box and printed said menus,” she admits.

Alex snorts.

“At least you followed through.”

Alex leans forward and pulls a badge out of her pocket.  It reads ‘DEO Field Operative’ in big letters at the top and has the words US Army at the bottom next to Alex’s name.

“I want to help you find Emilia and I know Kara does.  Let me help, please. I understand that I’m government and so you might not trust me,” Alex sighs.

“Why not?” Nakka demands.  “Did you hurt our Emilia?”

“No.”

“So your only problem is that your human and you think I have a problem with that?  Nah. I mean, not everybody can be an smoking hot alien monster,” Nakka sniffs, lifting her chin.  “As for being with the government? Pobody’s nerfect.”

Alex blinks.  Vasquez grins.  Clarice laughs like a wind chime…Kara guffaws like a madwoman.  

“We will get her back for you,” Kara says, her fists clenched tight.  The mention of Emilia makes her leg bounce and the floor creaks under it.

Nakka nods her thanks, reaching in to her coat pocket.

“If you need her genetics, this should have it.  It was still in its case that morning and the cleaning cycle was late....I don’t think she used it.  But the stasis field means there would be skin cells, live ones. Possibly blood.”

Alex’s jaw drops.

“Is that a...Thessalian Mitosis Inhibitor?” she mumbles, awed.  “I’ve heard about these.”

“If I told you it’s the fabled Key to the the Vanishing Gate, you’d believe me, wouldn’t you?” Nakka teases.

“What’s that?” Nadia asks Kara.

“That,” Kara points at the device in Nakka’s hand.  “Is a contraceptive for Emilia’s species. Ironically enough called a TMI.  It sends an electrical pulse up the lady parts and prevents the body from starting to split off a new clone of itself.  Alex is an alien biology nerd. She did college two years early, med school and then went into the Army instead of residency.  I think she wants to be the first human doctor for aliens.”

“I actually did a bullet removal on a teenager the other week,” Alex mumbles, not turning from whatever she was looking at with Nakka.  “Thessalian. Smart ass but she’s doing well.”

Nadia whistles.

“She really is a nerd, she rattled that off but is not paying any attention to us.  So what’s a Vanishing Gate?”

“A part of space that leads to a very bad place with very bad aliens ruling it.  There was a huge explosion billions of years ago just to seal it up, messed up the whole area.  Planets just fall apart all of a sudden, stars go cold too quickly.”

“Stuff that can happen but shouldn’t happen that often and definitely shouldn't happen all in the same place at the same time.  The place is just wrong.”

“My aunt did a patrol guarding the outer edge.  Every race’s navy takes a turn watching it. It was the only time where she left I was afraid she wouldn’t come back.”

Nadia mimes scratching something out.

“So...something there requires my girl’s favorite aunt to keep inside.  Taking it off the vacation board then.”

“I’m going to make a phone call,” Kara decides.  She pushes her chair back.

“Call in a Batfavor.”




 

March 13, 2006  | Lena Luthor

Private Office, LuthorCorp Mineral Facility
Euro-Asian Landmass

 

Fingers trembling on the inside doorknob, Lena shudders out a breath.  No matter how disgraceful it is for a Luthor to seek help, she knows that Lex will keep their mother distracted for her.  He’s been doing it for six years now.

“I am not my mother.  I am not Lex. I am myself.  I am the leader of my life,” she repeats to herself.

She reaches into her pocket for her cell phone and dials.

“Doctor Hamilton?  Sorry to do this session by phone.”

“Lena, with you I’m glad when it sounds like you’ve slept and eaten.”

Lena scoffs.

“Eating is the only thing I do right now that isn’t evil.”

“It might feel evil, to you.  It may not seem that way to others.  If any of what you’ve told me in my office is true, there will be some who see it as heroic.”

Lena inhales sharply.

“Yes.  You’re right.  I seem to forget that.”

The doctors mellow, grandmotherly voice centers Lena even as the sterile concrete floor and vague whiff of antiseptic remind her where she is: a butcher's shop of her mother and brother’s making.

“You don’t forget it, Lena.  You’re afraid. Your mother is your abuser and one of your triggers, as we’ve discussed.  Your brother…” the doctor pauses.

“Lex complicated for you.  Based on my work for your family I would say he’s egotistical, unpredictable, highly motivated, and sub-diagnosably manic at times but that is what the public and his employees experience.  I’ve never seen any indication that his presence is harmful for you. He’s not a trigger but he may be in a sense a secondary trigger in that you relax around him. That’s normal and healthy for siblings.  Except when mother is present and takes advantage. Your good mood means she too has more access to that vulnerability you have. Vulnerability you need to allow yourself, might I add.”

“So why do I feel like I’m slipping, doctor?  Becoming him...or worse, my mother?”

Doctor Hamilton sighs.

“Again, you’re more relaxed.   Lex doesn’t judge you or mock your ideas like some men in STEM would mock a female colleague.  At least from what I hear from you. So you suggest something ‘crazy’ to him...”

In her head, Lena can see the good doctor’s hands making air quotes around crazy.

“...and he asks you to tell him more and you’re deeper in the idea.  Lena, your intelligence and drive means your ideas are rough, or incomplete, or ambitious.  Perhaps you are missing some safety steps. Perhaps there are legislative hurdles. And yes, some of the ones you’ve shared scare me.  But with him you feel free to discuss. What happens is that you worry that the being excited by the freedom to discuss it means you would be excited to do it.”

“I suppose I do get carried away,” Lena sighs.  “Speaking of, I only have twenty five more minutes before my own appointment.  Can I ask you some questions about my work? I need a...medical ethics compass from someone not tied to my family.”

“If I can answer, I will.”

 

Lena steps out of the office with a stiff-necked nod to her brother and he responds with a grin that Lillian would chastise even her golden boy for.  The mask falls over her face moments before her mother opens the door.

“Lena.  So glad you could join us at work,” Lillian drones.  “We have two K’Hunds to dissect--twins--and one Helgrammite I finished up. I am euthanizing that thing later today.”

“I’m not a doctor, mother.  I’m an engineer.”

Twin studies?  Finished up? That thing?  Is she listening to herself?  

“Your office wall claims otherwise.  What is doctoring but engineering with a knife instead of a wrench?  Specialties are for more limited minds than ours, foster daughter. I’m sure Lex can fritter away his man hours putting you to use somewhere.”

Lillian leaves without a word, without asking either of her children how they feel about the fact that she is killing a living creature because its injuries from her scalpel mean it is too damaged to be of further use.

“What are we doing here, Lex?  I’ve counted twelve death-penalty offenses since I started.”

“Saving the world, Lenny, saving the world.  Trying to keep our sanity while doing it.”

“You seem less than thrilled by that.”

“Mother’s methods are wasteful.  Her approach is overeager, sloppy, and dare I say cold-hearted,” he says with a shrug.

“Like she is?”

Lena is rewarded with a booming laugh.

“Yes, I suppose that explains it.”

Lex leans against the table, big hands folded over the front of his slacks, shirtsleeves up and a smirk none of his bed-warmers have ever seen.  Only his ‘favorite sister’ sees him this genuine, he assures her and she believes it. It would be hard for genuine emotion to exist in more than one place for either of them without Lillian detecting it.

“How would you do it, Lex?” she asks.  “Perfect world…snap your fingers. What is your ideal way of taking the tools we need to be equals with the aliens?”

“Isn’t it obvious?  Buy low, sell high, fake the check,” he jokes.  “I don’t think we can trust sales or handouts. If they have a reason to hide or hold back or squirrel things away in the ice, that gives them the chance.  We take it.”

She knows the wisecrack about the ice is all about Superman...it has nothing to do with humanity or its future or LuthorCorp’s bottom line.  That universe revolves only around Lex’s feelings towards his former best friend.

Lex sighs.

“Kill one of each kind, tear down one of each ship, learn everything about them.  Use it, better the human race. Take my soul with me and have the knowledge that I did as little violence as I could to get as much as I could.  You?”

A businessman’s approach to mortal sin, Lena supposes.  

“Make them want to share it all.  Earn their trust. Trust but verify.”

Lex holds up a finger and taps her nose.  Grinning.

“You, my sweet sister, are ambitious.  More than I’m willing to be. I have faith that the golden cities of the future will have a statue of you.”

“Unlikely,” she scoffs.

Faith?  Lena has no faith left in God.  Lillian took that when a child’s pleas to make the pain stop went unanswered.  Yet it religion touches her somehow. She still hears Latin when she closes her eyes, still feels her mother bouncing her on her knees while praying the rosary.  Sometimes at night she has dreams of a green-eyed woman looking down tearfully at what must be an infant Lena over the curve of her own breast, praying over her in Gaelic.  A partial memory turned dream, or so Lena hopes. Hope that once upon a time, someone may have looked at her as a mother and done so with unalloyed joy.

Perhaps four years with a poor Irishwoman -- an office temp Lionel fucked once -- a woman whose name she has not been able to find, left enough scraps of humanity on Lena to save her.  

She can hope.

“This is exciting,” Lex begins.  “Lenny, I have someone for you to meet.  Remember that time when you were all over the moon about quantum entanglement?  Someone I need you to meet...just got her in yesterday.”

“I was thirteen, Lex.  Pimples and French braids and…” she shudders.  “Stretch marks. I mistook soulmates for science.  It sounded romantic.”

“Nonsense.  Your mother gave you many gifts, Lena and that snowy skin of yours is highest among them.  Besides, you knew it was actual science. Actual theory.”

He leads her into a cell in the facility she has never seen before.  Huge metal shackles hang on the wall and a figure can be seen in the dark.  Asleep or perhaps merely exhausted. Head hung and limbs slack in the restraints.

“Lets see,” he mutters, grabbing the chart.  

“Emilia, according to her fake ID.  Real feisty. Put down three of our men.  Snapped their necks without even getting close.  X-rays suggest their spines imploded .  Even after getting hit with four cattle prods and a 50ccs of fentanyl, she tackled Mercy to the ground.  Nearly killed her with some kind of ultrasonic attack. Microfractures in both body armor and ribs.. Otis pulled one of his hostage taker ‘I have a bomb’ bluffs and she came willingly at that point.”

“My foolish, foolish Otis,” Lex sighs.  “Whatever will happen when you try to bluff someone with something resembling a spine?”

Far more dangerous than our usual prisoner.  Is he putting me here to get me killed? She wonders.   Does he know?  

She decides that if Lex wanted her dead he would probably have Mercy do it.  Poison. No doubt in a closet after a re-enactment of one of Lena’s more questionable teenage escapades with one of their household maids.  Something sweet to keep the lamb calm and take the sting of the knife away.

“Where did you find her?” Lena asks.

“Buying something called ‘White Sand’ off the docks in San Diego.  Intercepted a text from her dealer. Fuel of some kind. That’s my guess.  Sets off a geiger counter and each pellet is wrapped in a shell we haven’t cracked yet.  We kept one canister and left the others. She was buying over seven tons of it.”

“Ta-da!” he declares, throwing a switch right out of a 1930s rendition of Frankenstein.  

When she sees the size of the circuits involved, the oversized device makes more sense.

The lights come on with a zapping sound, accompanied by the hum and ozone whiff of raw amps being poured into the electromagnets.  A woman with robins’ egg blue skin hangs from the shackles, naked, blindfolded and wriggling against the large and apparently electromagnetically bottled shackles.  She is surrounded by the shattered, warped and crumpled glass of hundreds of test tubes. A large smear of red blood on the floor and a drizzle of her coppery blood mixed with it suggests one of the intake specialist Lillian uses as cannon fodder to sedate the captives may have been especially unlucky this time.

“Remarkable, isn’t it?  She looks like a human playing dress-up,” Lex jokes.

“Yes,” Lena manages to get out.  “Quite something.”

Lena wonders how early she would have to leave tonight to be in London by dawn, in that shabby little brothel with that doe-eyed architecture major under her...Amanda...that’s the name.  Trade a scrap of her obscene wealth for the obscene fantasy that she can be loved.

Maybe she could pay extra and chat about Amanda’s portfolio.

“Is this your idea of matchmaking, Lex?  You know I prefer at least the principle of consent, potential alimony-seekers notwithstanding.”

He puts his hand over his heart.  “You wound me, sweet sister.”

“I bring you here--against mothers recommendation may I add--because after the capture, one of our prods exploded.  Mercy’s. This one disarmed her, wrecked the prod. Deformed the metal, crystallized the lithium in the battery. The prod was in our labs Tokyo.   The battery was in a chemical plant in Ohio. They began to melt less than one thousandth of a nanosecond apart. I know, I know!” he exclaims. “Spooky action at a distance.”

“Sounds ridiculous but instruments don’t lie.  It happened faster than we could have transmitted a signal over dedicated fiber.  Much faster.”

“Can you imagine, Lex?  That kind of power. Communications, rapid prototyping, information security...maybe even mass transit could be revolutionized.  What sort of equipment do we think was she using?”

“Implanted technology, I suppose.  Military issue hardware, to be sure.  She was wearing a Nine Inch Nails shirt and track pants when we picked her up.  Wallet with some business cards, a picture of her and two other women, no keys, no cash.  Her skin is barely permeable to X-rays, when we do radioactive dyes, her blood vessels block it.”

Lena shuffles the information in her head, visualizing a deck of cards.  Buying fuel in dumpy clothes first thing in the morning. Killing at a distance with implosion.   Shredding body armor and flesh with a touch. Impossible to X-ray. Willing to take on a dozen ex-military thugs and the Graves twins without a weapon.

Black holes small and unstable enough to fizzle after consuming a bit of matter.  Has to be. And she wasn’t using equipment...that fuel was her food which means she’s radiation-hardened.  I’ll bet my plea deal on it. Lex, once again you are blinded by your mechanical mind. Not everything has to be a machine.

“You’ve made your case.  I’ll work with her,” Lena tells him.  “Go talk salesman at someone else. I imagine Defense Secretary Rumsfeld would welcome your flattery.”

“For you, Lenny, anything.  Even speaking to that...toad.”

“Glass?” she asks.

“One way, except for at the far side.”

“Good.  See if you can get me a keyboard.  Something she can type on. Nothing fancy.  Electric typewriters would be best, actually.”

Lex cocks an eyebrow.  

“Tactile stimulation grounds the mind or so Doctor Hamilton tells me.  My patients tell me more when they are in a good frame.”

He nods.  “You are too sweet for this wicked world, Lena.  Will do. You girls have fun.”

He leaves, locking the door behind him.   Lena steps up to the one-way part of the glass and toggles the mike.

“What is your name?”

“Emilia.”

I will think of you as alien so that if--when--my mother kills you, I feel less connected.

“No surname?”

“No idea.  What’s your surname?  Might it be on the mailbox out front?  Asking for a friend.”

Lena forces a frown to fight the laugh she was feeling rise up her throat.

“Given our relative situations and prospective lifespans, I can tell you.  Luthor.”

“Ah, yes.  Luthor. I don’t know an alien who doesn’t look over their shoulder when they pass your buildings.  So I am a victim of the lover’s spat between a titan of industry and the Man of Steel in all his bespandexed glory.  As epitaphs go, I’ve heard of worse.”

This time, Lena cannot fight back the laugh.  She will play it off later as derision when her mother receives the footage and challenges her.  Just in case, she goes over to the computer and plugs in the scrambler the government techs gave her.  She can edit the footage before posting it and still meet her mother’s nightly inspection.

“You are part of the fairer sex,” her captive observes.  “If I am not mistaken and I so rarely am about fairness, women, or sex.  So you are not Lex. Lillian? No. Voice is too young. I’m not seeing any wrinkles or a sadistic glamazon in my head.  Lena.”

“Your ears are good, I see.”

Lena jots that down.  She always starts with an assessment of the alien’s senses, its way of seeing the world.  For all her mother’s gleeful slicing and her brothers mind games and tear-downs of their technology, she suspects she has things more dangerous than either of them.  Weapons don’t win wars alone. Sun Tzu didn’t preach knowing your enemy because he lacked air support.

“My ears are just holes in the side of my head, actually.  Glad you think they’re cute.”

“Still, you are blindfolded and you correctly detected my gender.  I am told I have an unappealing voice. Mannish, even.”

“Mommy doesn’t tell you you’re beautiful?” the alien sneers.

“Age?” Lena hisses, trying to get this turned back around.

“Nine hundred and four.”

“Age?”

The alien chooses to sing rather than answering.

“In fourteen ninety two, Columbus sailed the ocean blue.  In fourteen ninety three, my mothers said farewell to me. In fourteen ninety four, I sailed across stars galore.  In fourteen ninety five, on Earth I did arrive. In fourteen ninety six, I found myself betwixt. In fourteen ninety seven, I found myself some heaven.  In fourteen ninety eight, before I a girl laid prostrate. In fourteen ninety nine, I invented the sixty ni-”

“Stop!” Lena shouts.  “I’ll take your word for it for now.”

Lena has the sinking feeling her captive can keep up this on the fly, poorly paced raunchiness through either the modern day or the end of Lena’s sanity.  Whichever comes first.

“Mothers, you said.”

“Hmm.  One like me and one all slick and wriggly.  Tell me, Lena Luthor of the Park Avenue Luthors, have you heard of a Rakni-Xinda?”

Lena flicks her eyes over the tablet she carries, scrolling through the top level notes.  That is a new species.

“Tell me more.”

“I would like to, I really would, but I’m afraid my nieces and nephews would never forgive their old aunty.  I’m the only pureblood Thessalian they know...it would break all their little hearts if I got mother in trouble.”

“So you’re a...Thessalian, then.  What is the name of your home planet?  Thess?” Lena guesses, trying to use a lisp similar to their short-lived Daxamite captive.  

The accent this woman has is similar, although it has an entirely different effect on Lena with a female voice.  The rolling consonants and sharply clicked vowels are far more affecting this way and with the sing-song and the raunchy jokes...sweet and sour both, like bad fruit.

Perhaps I’m too gay to torture people.  My lawyer will be so relieved!

“Hmm...not good enough friends yet.  I am from Mickey Mouse, in the Disney system.  I still don’t get why someone would go around calling themselves Earthling or Kryptonian.  Why not just say 822 Walnut Street, Keys Under the Doormat, Sleeps Alone rather than calling yourself Lena?”

Her captive laughs.  All in all, she seems eerily confident.

“I mean, someone might start a torture camp!  For humans this time! Why make it easy for them?  Now, Lena Luthor, let me ask you a question. Sometime very soon, this place will be torn apart by, at minimum, two Rakni-Xinda who will probably have skipped meals for the purpose, a Coluan and…” she imitates a drumroll with a roll of the tongue.

“Probably a Kryptonian.  When she’s angry, my friend makes Jawline, Dimples and the American Way look like a clown having a slap-fight with his shadow.  Can you give me a single reason why I should ask them to leave Lena Luthor alive, with her heart in her ribs and her eyes not ripped from their sockets?  Why should I waste one breath begging her for your life?”

Her captive turns her head, left and right, like she were switching ears to track a sound.

“You’re bluffing,” Lena snaps though the rising inflection means even she doubts it.

“Am I?  Or is there a six-inch blade found at the scene of my kidnapping with my breakfast on it?  Laying there buzzing and pulsing with a faint blue light? Short-short-short. Long-long-long.  Short-short-short. S-O-S and look! Now I’m adding Lena Luthor.”

Lena swallows, her throat closing.  The alien is tapping her thumb and forefinger together, something she wasn’t doing before.  It stands to reason that if things she attacks have quantum entanglements as a side effect that she might have household implements that she can control.  Spookily. At a distance. Anywhere in the universe.

Capturing her was like Troy hauling the horse inside the gates.  Only this horse might be able to crush the king’s skull from the dungeon while shackled to the wall and play the lyre in Athens at the same time.

“I could ask them to kill you first, right now, and they’d hear it.  Though it would be a shame…especially the eyes.  Truly marvelous, your eyes. It’s subtle but once you see it, you really want to stare.  Somehow you have the bluest eyes I’ve ever seen and the greenest and both in the same face.”

Lena’s blood chills.  She is not being bluffed or stalled.  She is being worked, anxiety by anxiety.  This alien detected her mild heterochromia through a blindfold tested for complete blockage of light and three layers of one-way glass.  She was not photographed for that article in Forbes, only interviewed. The only reason Lillian doesn’t know she’s a lesbian is she has successfully avoided photographs for nine years with Lex’s help.

“How do you know that?” Lena demands.

Her captive-turned-tormenter tilts her head downward, exposing more of those backwards curving.   What are they....tentacles? Glands? Muscles? Sensory organs, Lena realizes.

“Shh.   Need to listen.  The lights. Cold white?  Silvery white not yellow white?” the alien asks.

“Yes.”

“Blue and green it is.  Since you so asked...I can feel it.  Light bends in space and green light ever so slightly less than blue.  Right in front of me are two big, luscious, frightened eyes and one reflects light which bent just slightly less than the other.”

Lena inhales quickly, forcing herself to ground in her body.

“That would also be how I know you must have the most spectacularly succulent breasts.  Dense but then pillowy closer to the cherries on top. Wow. Quite the underwire! Just a couple of mouthfuls of whipped cream...sad that I’m spoken for.”

“I will come back,” Lena promises.  “When you’re in a more cooperative mood.”

She reaches for the door handle and it crumples in on itself with a shriek of metal.  Turning only her head, Lena sees the alien’s balled fist.

“Oh dear, did the lock on door just collapse under its own weight?  Shame. I suppose it’s for the best, we’re just getting to know each other.  Why stop now?”

Lena walks over to the unblocked part of the glass.

“If I were to give you latitude and longitude, would that be reason enough?  I think we might be on the same side here,” Lena whispers.

“A double agent?  Twice as criminal, twice as sexy.  Lena, my pet, you’re such a sneaky little minx.  I’m listening.”

Lena breathes deep, tries to remember one of her mother’s Gaelic prayers, and tries not to think about how bad a syringe of post-coital cyanide from Mercy would hurt.



March 13, 2006  | Kate Kane (“Batwoman”)

Batwoman’s Current Location

 

Kate cards her fingers through her damp hair and pushes off from the shower wall.  The bruise on her back is painful but will probably be short-lived. Under the ocean of tattoos she wears -- old German runes and Kabbalah and symbols from old grimoires the Vatican stashes away -- no one can really see it.  

Grundy hits hard but not after his fingers and tibia are shattered.  The guards at Arkham were more than willing to take a roll of Benjamins and give her a go so she could blow off some steam and so that their nastiest inmate would be softened up.  The aspirin will kick in soon.

Her phone just keeps wringing.  She fumbles on the shelf outside the shower and grabs it.

The five part medley of an incoming Justice League communication greets her.  The Marine Corps Band playing first bars of America the Beautiful. A lilting Greek song in a succulent accent.  A blast of Metallica -- creative, Bruce! -- that makes her wince. The screech of a hawk. A lion’s brassy roar.

“Kane Investments, Customer Support.”

“It’s Barbara.  Got someone for you.  Didn’t feel fair giving her to Bruce.  She’s on FaceTime so...are you wearing clothes?”

“I will be.  Thirty seconds.”

Barbara snickers.

“She still there, you sly dog?”

“No.  Still in the nunnery, I’m afraid.”

“Kate.  You need to shake this.  Beating up Grundy for funsies is bad for you.  I think there might be someone for you...maybe a little black box on your coffee table?  You know Barda. Sharpened steel on the outside, strawberry bubblegum inside and to her friends.  Probably doing her nails in bed, listening to to Justin Timberlake and complaining to the parademons that you didn’t circle ‘like you’ on the note.”

Kate swallows, thinking of the small black box with its pitted shell, worn grooves and the face of Darkseid scratched off its plating.  She actually keeps it in the toy drawer now which is a fantastically pathetic thing to do.

“Just transfer whoever it is,” Kate groans.

“Done.  Just...be gentle.  They’ve been through a lot.”

Kate has a hunch who this is.  She licks her teeth, hoping that there’s nothing in them.  The image of a crimson-edged bat with blood dripping from its wings disappears.  In its place is a cozy-looking coffee shop with a bookshelf of romances divide into ‘cis-het’, ‘queer’, ‘paranormal’ and ‘period pieces’ as the backdrop for a quite dark-skinned woman who seems to be holding the phone wrong.  All that Kate can see are broad hands and ropy muscles that look hard as goddamned steel cables. Plum-purple skin, juicy on the tongue with a hard pit underneath.

Kate feels like her ovaries just detonated and there’s a profound urge to drop the towel.

Need to get laid, she decides.

“Uh, phone’s at a bad angle, kid.”

“Oops!”

It swings up to show a round face dominated by gold irises.  A nose that somehow blends the eagle-like slant of Julius Caesar with a facial tic that give it the harmlessness of a baby rabbit.  Lips that are either kiss-bruised or just that sexy shade of purple to begin with.  

Black Knight, if Barbara’s sketch of the lower half of her face was anything like accurate.

 

“That’s better,” Kate manages.  

“So...yeah.  I’m the Black Knight, campus celebrity and honorary member of Tri-Delta and Kappa Delta.  Bailed a couple of sisters out of dumpster fire dates and scrapes with the wrong kind of guy.  Wow. I sound really arrogant now. You probably figured out who I am. Cute neck tat, by the way.”

Kate rubs the black and hot pink Star of David nervously.  The triangles were all filled in using the red to white to red stripes of the lesbian flag and two interlinked distaffs sit in the center.  

It’s a favorite, mostly because Maggie has its counterpart -- a flourished cross outlined in the same colors with the distaffs in place of Jesus -- on her back spanning the whole width and from her shoulderblades almost to her ass.  It ends right above a pair of dips that Kate would do jello shots out of...and has.

“Thanks.  Listen. I have a date,” Kate lies.  “So I have to keep this short.”

“Oh!  Sure. Bet she’s a real cutie,” Black Knight teases with a click of the tongue.  “Friend of mine went missing from the docks five days ago. Well, ex-girlfriend but we didn’t like hate each other afterwards and I don’t want her getting hurt.  I need some help finding her.”

“Sure,” Kate agrees before the non-lizard parts of her brain can weigh in.

“You sure?  Don’t want to deprive some nice Jewish girl.”

“She’s not Jewish.  She’s...hard to say.  Atheistic Satanist is close-ish.  Make your own way, be ambitious, all that. Frankly alien religions make about as much sense to me as serving a pretzel cold.”

“Ah,” Black Knight says with a wink.  “Cold pretzels are just meshuggah .  Nudge, nudge, say no more.  So you should fit right in with my team.  We’ve got four aliens, if you count me, and two token humans.  We even have a token straight.”

“Excuse me!  I am a soldier, not a diversity hire!”

“That’s my sister,” Black Knight explains.  “Thinks she’s a badass.”

“I am!”

“Where’d she serve?” Kate asks.

Her dad would clobber her if she didn’t ask.  West Point gave her three things: respect for soldiers, dishonorable discharge paperwork and a burning hatred of the religious right’s hold on government.  

“Iraq, ten months.  Came back early for the first class of Ranger testing.  Passed it with my sister from another mister. Her buddy, Vasquez.”

“She single?” Kate asks, only semi-ironically.

“She swears she’s our token straight,” Black Knight sighs.  “Poor thing.”

It hangs unspoken between them.  The lady who doth protest her straightness the loudest often be the gayest.

“Poor thing,” Kate agrees.  “Let me put you on hold. Two minutes.  Then I can give you an ETA.”

She dials Alfred.

“Mr. Pennyworth, how quick can the jet make it to California?”

“With young Master Al-Ghul’s last round of modifications?  Three hours, I believe. If you would do an old man a favor, might you and Barbara put the fear of god into him again?  Taking his edits off of Master Wayne’s Wikipedia article is,” Alfred sighs. “Not my professional strength.”

“Gladly.  Can you ask Tim to load the bike?  The one I use in the field. Crime scene kit and my toybox.  Armor and medkit is already with me.”

“Of course, miss Kane.  Anything else?”

“Yeah, actually.  Macallan ‘18, some prime ribs, flatware and glasses.  Want to celebrate a case well solved.”

“Macallan ‘18, excellent choice.  Chilled?”

“God, no.  I’m not an animal, Alfred.”

“Of course.”

“I have to go, my contact is on hold.”

“Of course.  Safe travels and happy hunting.”

Kate switches back to Black Knight who seems to have developed some form of boneless growth around her neck that strongly resembles an amorous mixed race woman with dreadlocks who is busily rubbing her cheek on Black Knight’s neck.

“She back?” Black Knight’s girlfriend asks.

“Kate?”

“I’m here.”

“You there, she here, she mine,” the girl warns Kate.

“Solid copy...whoever you are.  Black Knight? Give me six hours and I will be there, loaded for bear with a forensic kit.”

“Sounds good!  Glad to have you on the team.”

Six hours.  That gives her two hours to go through her vibrators one at a time and one hour to scream into the void and see if Big Barda answers.  Maybe if she actually has a date lined up when she lands, this won’t be so depressing.



 

The green light spinning at the end of the ramp calls to her.  Kate hits the button. The ramp drops as the jet swoops low over the harbor, kicking spray up into the cargo bay.  The autopilot has lined her up with a shabby-looking pier and a shabbier looking warehouse. The scene of the crime.

Kate twists the throttle and the Harley’s engine snarls under its armored shell.   Attagirl.   She releases the brake, savoring the kick of acceleration and the air rushing by her cowl and yanking on her wig.  

The polymer tires bite the asphalt with a grinding sound -- not the squeal of the rubber ones -- and she eases off the throttle, dipping between dockworkers and a transit cop who dives out of her way.

Black Knight looks up.  She has switched her street clothes for all black armor that looks like segmented plates with some kind of flexible, slowly undulating bodysuit under it.  Suddenly her team is not scattered all over the yard. They are collected in a tight circle in the corner, blue sparks fading around them. Half of them look bewildered and one small man in a green sweater is dry heaving.

Kate spins to a stop, leaving a crescent skid mark and coming close enough to the warehouse wall to touch it.  She kills the engine and engages the sentry mode. Two computer-controlled cannons pop out of the cargo pocket and sweep the area.  No one steals her baby and anyone who ignores the warnings and tries again gets nine millimeters worth of depleted uranium to the forehead.  Bruce can hate guns all he likes...he doesn’t have anything to protect even half as sentimental as Veronica.

“Nice entrance,” sweater guy murmurs.

He starts clapping and soon everyone but the two soldiers -- they’re obvious -- joins.

Kate dismounts and bows, feeling a bit giddy among this ragtag crew.

“Me, my sister alex, Vasquez, my pet geek Winn and the aliens are Kyn, Tam and Nakka.  The last three are an item, committed poly relationship. Emilia was theirs and possibly pregnant, so they’re pretty strung out.”

“I would be too,” Kate admits, squeezing her eyes tight against the image of a bruised and bleeding Maggie in some hellhole. It’s unpleasant even if Maggie with a baby bump calls up flickers of laughing toddlers, Italian lullabies and a warmth that instantly fills Kate’s chest.

Children.  Kate wanting them, Maggie afraid she would turn out to be her hateful, homophobic father or her smothering Catholic mom.  The exact issue that broke them.

She shakes it away.   Long gone.

“What do we have?” she asks Black Knight.

“Kidnapping in broad daylight.  We think mercenaries. It was four days before I could be contacted because I was,” Black Knight pauses.  “Out of the country.”

I’ll just bet you were.

“But Emilia’s folks came by here first and they have excellent noses.  At least a dozen human scents. We found some shell casings behind the crates,” sweater guy explains.  “And bleach where blood was cleaned up, human and alien.”

“Bullet type?” Kate aks.

Sweater guy taps some kind of armored tablet he’s carrying.

“Not exactly a fighter but if I’m reading this, 5.56mm by 45mm, 7.62x by 45 mm ‘R’ whatever that is and some buckshot.”

Kate hums.

“You sure about the ‘R’ on that?”

“Pretty sure, yeah.  Our computer is literally out of this world and he had a robot cut it out of the pavement and do the matching.”

Kate sighs.  Crime scene robot sounds like a nice way to keep her hands blood and guts-free when working a murder.  She has to have one. Maybe if she’s a really good girl, Black Knight will give her one as a thank-you.

“Private military contractors, I imagine.  Hard to see any government forces using a mix of NATO and Soviet ammunition types.  That’s the eastner bloc’s seven-mil rifle bullet. Mercs are weird...they have favorite guns and some of them like to show off.”

One of the soldiers nods, the sister.  Alex is a lanky redhead with a gelled haircut that looks a lot like early Elvis Presley and looks far too gay to be street legal.

“It’s not ours.  Not military anyway.   Our CO,” she gestures between her and her war buddy.  “Reports to the secretary directly. She has a lot of pull and she made the rounds of the other special ops branches.”

“Lets operate on that assumption then,” Kate agrees.

She mounts the nearest stack of crates with a leap and a swing around a retaining girder that were both much fancier than needed.  

“What are you looking for?” Black Knight hollers up at her.

“Bread crumb trail,” Kate replies. “You said forensics found evidence of cleanup.  So our best bet is something the victim dropped in the fight. If we’re really lucky it was deliberate and will give us a clue.”

“Kill the lights, would you?”

Black Knight holds up her hand like she were making a knife-handed strike and walks over to the power box.  The moment she touches her fingers to the box, it starts to glow and is soon nothing but a mass of slag on the floor.  She kneels down and touches it again, this time freezing it into a blob.

That’s one way.

“Showing off for the pretty girl?” Black Knight’s girlfriend teases.

“It’s permanent.  Never know if something else might be in here using the power.”

Kate shoots her a finger gun.

“That...is some Batman thinking right there.  Never assume you know something about the scene unless you did it yourself.”

“She knows Batman,” sweater guy all but squeals.

Kate looks around, taking in each crate individually.  The place is clearly abandoned and perhaps mob-owned. The crates are stacked inefficiently, like children’s blocks, and one group of them seems to have a crevice in the middle where something could be hidden.

“There,” she points.  “Those crates make a wall with a gap.  Something could be hiding.”

She drops, letting her cape carry her on to the rim.  The air in the gap reeks and she toggles her filters on. Slumped against the far crate is a dead merc, covered with flies.  He’s got a broken neck with bone sticking out and in the front of his helmet is a weird-looking knife which keeps buzzing with some kind of electrical charge.  Whatever it is, it’s not normal because it went straight through the helmet leaving some kind of glassy cracks at the edges. It was either very hot or vibrating very hard or both.

Kate climbs back out of the gap and looks back at the team, hand on her cocked hip.  

“So, I’m guessing you didn’t notice the dead guy with the glowing blue knife in his head?”

Black Knight smacks her forehead and her armor rings like a gong.

“It’s my first crime scene!”

She flies up and the down, landing beside Kate with a crack of air.

“That’s Emilia’s knife. The victim’s.”

Kate squeezes her shoulder.

“Looks like she stabbed him and then tossed him up here in the chaos.  The angle of the neck break,” Kate observes, pointing. “The back of his head hit.  His buddies forgot to look for the body. Told you, kid. Bread crumbs.”

A four-armed robot with a torso the size of a Buick and a head studded with camera lenses appears, hovering behind Black Knight.  Kate swings on reflex and it catches her fist with metal fingers, pops a blowtorch out of the shaft of its arm and wiggles it back and forth as if to say ‘naughty girl’ with the white-hot flame.

“Good god!  Warn a girl, next time.”

“Right.  Sorry. Kleenex, Batwoman.  Batwoman, Kleenex.” she says, and the robot offers a metal hand.  Kate shakes it.

“Kleenex, analyze the pulses.”

“Kleenex.  Really?”

Black Knight shrugs.

“Campus patrol bot and monitoring system for my war on boys behaving badly.  Hand Lotion, Kleenex or Penthouse. Rolled a dice and divided by two.”

Either none of her sensors penetrated the cloaking or Scotty beamed it here.  

Kate needs a drink.

“Done, Black Knight.  It is a two-hundred and five letter message in Morse code followed by latitude and longitude.”

“Transcribe and project.”

SOS
PRISONER
LUTHORS
UNDERGROUND FACILITY
LENA LUTHOR PRESENT DO NOT HARM
EYEBALL RELAYS THE FOLLOWING
BIRDSEED IN PARK
TRASH CAN AT WEST EDGE
OR
MOTHER BEGGING WITH TODDLER
CHIRP CHIRP NEED YELLOW BIRD

Black Knight’s sister mounts the crate beside her and looks at the projection.   

“Luthors,” she snarls.  “This must be this CADMUS group that has all the aliens hunkered.  I caught them trying to buy alien children from a school teacher who was sheltering them.  Fifty million, which means they’re well funded. The Luthors could do that.”

Kate points at the next line.

“Then why tell us not to harm Lena Luthor?”

“Double agent, maybe?  Embedded informant for the government or law enforcement?  My CO has an ally with the FBI. She can run that through them, see if maybe it is an informant.”

Black Knight nods.

“Kleenex?  What is the latitude and longitude?”

“Stand by.  Transcribing grid to Earth geography.  According to the CIA’s satellite imagery that is a remote region of Iran with multiple western companies allowed by the government in order to maintain oil rigs.  Including LuthorCorp Mineral. They run several machine shops and there is a thermally irregular space in the complex which might indicate underground bunkers.”

“Crap,” Alex hisses.  “Iran is not friends with the US Army.  Also? Please tell your robot to stop cracking CIA computers.”

“True that,” Kate replies.  “Iran isn’t exactly friendly.”

She crosses her arms and leans against the support beam.

“But don’t Rangers lead the way?”

Alex’s lip curls up and her eyes gleam.

“We do.  I’ll make a call.  See if I can’t get some permission.  And Black Knight? Do not do this without me.  In fact, stay back. Lex Luthor hates … ” she stalls.

“It’s all right, sis, telling Batwoman is fine.  I think Batgirl might already suspect anyhow.”

“He’s not a big fan of Kryptonians and all our indications suggest that only the DEO even knows you exist, let alone as Black Knight.  You fly through that roof and chances are he’s in the wind.”

“Bring her back, Alex.”

“Damn straight.”

Alex throws her hand out towards Kate.

“A pleasure.”

Kate grabs her at the elbow.

“Anything for a woman in uniform.”

Tires screech outside and car doors slam.

“Police!  On the ground!”

“Problem?” Black Knight asks.

“Not sure.  I called in the homicide but we’re supposed to have a liason.  Prevent friendly fire and misunderstandings like this.”

Alex pulls out a hardened cell phone and scrolls through some notes.

“Says it is a…Maggie Sawyer?  Transfer from Gotham PD who runs some sort of team to try and keep aliens alive but off the radar.”

Nope!

Kate leaps from the crate.  

“That’s my exit cue, Black Knight.  Call me! We should do lunch. Steaks and scotch.  Bring your girl.”

Despite her best efforts, Kate has to walk by Maggie on the way out.  

“Batwoman.”

“Sawyer.”

“Hey,” Maggie says, reaching out with a hand still wearing a pale spot from where their engagement rings were.

“Take care of yourself.”

“Will do.  You too.”

She walks into the warehouse and hollers up at the top of the crates.

“Hey, Danvers!  Wanna tell me why you’re in my city with a half-dozen aliens?  You got a thing for me?”

Kate turns on her cowl’s rear camera and sees a blush crawl all the way up Danvers' neck and face.  Danvers gives a goofy grin and hops down off the crate. Her eyes travel Maggie more than a straight girl’s should before locking in on her face.

It’s understandable.  Those dimples could unlock any girl’s latent gayness.




 

 

March 19, 2006   | Sara Lance (“Black Canary”/”White Canary”)

Waverider

Captain’s Cabin

 

Sara rubs her thumb over the note.

Reserved for the girlfriend of Sara Lance.

She sniffs, wiping her snot-covered mouth.

“Captain Lance?” Gideon asks.

“I miss Ava,” she sobs.

“I...can understand.  If you would let an old computer give you advice, miss Lance?”

“Can’t make things any worse.”

“Ava is most likely processing.  The revelations of her status as a clone and Rip’s treatment of her would be traumatizing to anyone, even such a singular woman.  If her behaviors and various surveys on behavior of women such as herself is any indication, I calculate a 68.2% chance she will contact you and seek reconciliation in the next six months.”

Sara laughs weakly.

“Processing?  You been watching L Word without me?”

“No.  I have been reading psychology and relationship books so that I may better assist.”

Sara relaxes as much as she can which turns out to mean leaving the fetal position.

“Would you like me to play some music, Captain?”

Sara works her jaw.  She needs to get this out of her system.

“Gideon, synthesize an antidote to the lotus blossom serum.  Take us to the edge of the temporal zone. Broadcast depth.”

“Of course, though I confess I am not sure why you would want to neutralize the lotus blossom serum.  You have made great strides controlling the Lazarus Pit’s bloodlust.”

Sara looks up at her gear locker.  

“Because, Gideon.  I need to distract myself and right now, I am so mad at myself for not trying to make Ava stay that I could kill someone.  I’d rather it be someone who deserves it, not Mick just because he forgot to do dishes.”

“I...I see.  Shall I scan for mention of your League alias?”

“Yes, on any Earth where I am active.”

The deck tilts as Gideon makes a swooping maneuver to bring them to the edge of the temporal zone.

“Done.  Shall I display them now?”

“Yes, please.  Focus on revenge contracts and sort by victim.”

“Stand by.”

The synthesizer by the desk flickers and a dose of antidote appears next to a glass of scotch.  Gideon knows her well.

“Captain Lance?  If I may make a suggestion, it appears that your counterpart on Earth-38 is a CIA asset operating in the middle east on a per contact basis.  She was recruited out of the League as a double agent. There are three contacts to her pending currently, one of them urgent. A rescue mission.”

I have a goody-two-shoes-me on Earth-38?  That’s scarier than the vampire-me that tried to eat Mick last month.

“Really?” Sara asks, righting herself on the edge of the bed.

“Really,” Gideon deadpans.  “She is on a mission in Afghanistan now...however it appears that in this timeline, she goes missing during it and does not reappear for five, nine or twenty two years depending on timeline branching.”

Sara wiggles her toes on the bare steel of the floor.

“Is her alias Black Canary or White Canary?”

“Neither.  This Sara Lance has yet to go through her teenage rebellion to vigilante phase,” Gideon teases.  “She goes by The Canary as well as her codenames Yellow Bird and Ta-er al-Sahfer.”

“Print me a new Black Canary uniform.  Two tantos, katana, pack of knives, wrist crossbows  Add League Robes with shawl and a headscarf. Vials of diluted digitoxin and taipan snake venom.”

“Under way.  Ninety minutes.”

Sara toggles her earpiece.

“Jax?”

“Yo,” he replies.  The sounds of electronic zapping and creaking cushions can be heard.

“Whatcha doing?” she teases.

“Zari and I are just getting some couch time in.”

“By which he means I am slaughtering him in this new video game from future Earth-20.”

Sara laughs.

“Glad you’re getting along.  Find the pause button and meet me on the bridge in fifteen.  You too Zari. We’re going to do something naughty which involves me playing hooky.  I need Jax on the controls and Zari to help me with my accent. Martin can be adult supervision.”

“On our way,” Jax replies.  “Hey!”

“Backstab kill.  It is totally legit,” Zari teases.

Sara downs the antidote first, sipping the scotch while the red tinges the light and her ears fill with the mutterings of insane ghosts.



 

“Let me get this straight,” Jax begins, leaning on Gideon’s bridge console.  “You took the antidote to your no-murder sauce on purpose and made like fifty poisoned throwing knives.  You want us to drop you on an Earth we’ve never been to rescue a woman from an alien concentration camp?  Drop you Iran and leave you?”

“Because you’re in a bad mood?”

“That’s the fifty-cent tour of it,” Sara admits.

Jax facepalms.

“You remember how they don’t like queers--or women-in Iran?”

Sara shrugs.  “I’m fluent, I'm literally a ninja, I'm sneaky and Zari can brush me up on street Farsi.”

“I can”, Zari agrees, followed by another mouthful of trail mix.

Jax facepalms.

“Ah!  You’re killing me here, girl!”

Stein has been rolling his brandy snifter the whole time.

“What kind of concentration camp?” Stein asks.

“Concentration camp for aliens.”

“Are aliens not well-liked on Earth-38?  I would think such advanced civilizations would be a blessing to encounter.”

“Officially they aren’t a real thing.  I guess someone is taking advantage of that and getting their evil on.  This place is under FBI investigation and I’m being asked to rescue an alien and check on the snitch.”

“Extraterrestrial life on Earth, living among us but completely in secret.” Stein marvels.

“Astonishing,” Sara, Jax and Zari say in unison.

“Quite.”

“What about other-you?” Zari asks.

“On assignment and according to Gideon about to drop off the map.  I have five years minimum to play impostor if I feel like it. If we meet, I guess she’ll kill me.  She sounds like a better person than I ever was. You game?”

Jax and Zari nod and Stein says nothing.  Exactly what she was expecting.

“You get killed, I’m going to be really mad at you,” Jax grumbles.

“You get killed, I am going to use my totem to play pinball with your dead body,” Zari threatens.  “Charlie is going to go to your funeral and swap caskets so she can pop out.”

The waver in Zari’s voice suggests that what would really happen is it would break her heart.  

Note to self, do not get dead.

“I am surrounded by children,” Stein complains.

Charlie rolls in, ripped jeans and dreadlocked undercut and and mostly-empty gin bottle.  She has a swagger  that makes Zari’s eyes bulge slightly with each step.

Did she shapeshift herself a buttlift?   Sara wonders.   Sure did.  Among other things.  One day with her powers back and it’s magic plastic surgery?  Lucky Zari.

“Oi!  Boss lady!  Some people just go out and have a shag when they’re hurting.  Ya ever try it?”

She throws her arms out and Sara leans in for a thump on the back.

“Not my style.  Saving myself for marriage.”

“Saving yourself for a bloody Iron Woman lookalike.”

“Mrs. Thatcher was quite attractive when she was younger,” Stein points out.

“Don’t get dead, yeah?” Charlie asks.

“If I did, who would you steal liquor from?”




 

March 19, 2006   | Sara Lance (“Black Canary”/”White Canary”)

LuthorCorp Facility

Northwest Iran

 

Sara drops from the railing to straddle the doorframe over the guard post’s exit.  The leather soles of her slippers catch the concrete without a squeak. Three-man post, she learned when casing the joint.

“I’m going to go get a smoke.  Back in ten.”

“Keep an eye out for that Luthor chick.  Keeps wandering the hallways crying. Don’t need the boss-woman to know that.”

A man steps out of the door below her.  Sara drops, clamping her thighs around his head.  His screams are muffled and he staggers around, trying to shake her.  She grabs his skull and thrusts to the left with her hips. There’s a crunch and he drops like a puppet with its strings cut.

The red tint bleeding off the overhead lights grows stronger.  Whispers tickle her ears and teeth press on her cheeks. The ghosts in the Pit like this side of her.

She draws the tanto daggers and rolls her wrists, testing the balance.  League blacksmiths have nothing on Gideon. Retreating into the deepest shadow and dragging the body with her, she waits.  

“You hear that?” one of his buddies asks.

“Yeah.  Follow me.”

They come out with guns drawn, sweeping the room with the laser sights.

She comes up from her crouch, putting one knife in each man’s chin, at the soft spot between the two halves of the jaw.  Eleven inches of pointed steel drive up, up, up and in to the underside of the brain.

“No one ever looks down first thing,” Sara sighs.  “Because you never take the short girl seriously.” She flicks the blood from her knives.

The red sizzles, her vision tunnels and the spirits shriek gleefully.

Room 43, the note at the information drop said.

It’s on the lowest level.  Flattening herself against the wall, she checks the locked door.  A small, wire-reinforced window shows giant wrist and ankle shackles with a blue-skinned naked woman hanging from them.  Must be the alien.

The alien lifts its head and despite the blindfold it feels like it’s looking straight at her.  Sara puts her finger to her lips. She sees it hold up three fingers and start curling them back.  The door is ripped from its hinges with a shriek of torn steel.

“How do I get you out?”

“Coolant line, up there.  Should take the magnets out.”

One slash of the katana takes it clean off the mount.  The shackles slack and the alien drops to the floor, landing clumsily.  It rips the blindfold off and Sara is staring into a pair of purple eyes with S-shaped pupils like a snake.

“I’m Emilia.”

“Sara  Where the informant?”

The alien nods to the other side of the glass.  A woman in a purple blouse and a black skirt is dozing in an office chair.  A blouse which really should have unbuttoned itself given its contents and her sleeping that bad angle.

“Cover your face,” Emilia tells Sara.  “I’ll get the glass.”

She wraps her fist in white flame and strikes the pane, leaving a quickly spreading web of cracks.  The glass shatters into a wall of square chunks which dangle in mid-air for a few heartbeats.

“After you.”

Sara gets her arm under the woman’s shoulder.  She starts to stir.

“Upsy daisy, princess.”

Two eyes, one blue with green streaks and one green with blue streaks, snap open and fix Sara with a glare that would make Ra's Al-Ghul pause.

“Who are you?”

Sara unwinds her headscarf and puffs her sweaty hair out of her eyes.

“Sara Lance,” she replies with a grin.  “I’m here to rescue you.”

“Aren’t you a little short for a stormtrooper?”




 

March 19, 2006  | Kara Danvers

National City

Ingridson Boutique and Jewelry

 

Kara’s fingers tap through the coat hangers.  These dresses are cute but none of them will work on Nadia.  White, red, green...purple? Maybe. Seems like a stretch.

Is gold too much ask for?   She sighs.   Silver would be a close second.

It’s like the fashion world has no idea how amazing Kara’s girl looks in gold or silver.  Green and purple are a waste of her natural colors and white--it’s not bad, Kara supposes--but it feels like an insult to Nadia’s pride to put her in something white and call it the prettiest one.

The dressing curtain opens with a clatter of the beads on the bar.  There before her in a red-and-silver striped velvet something, is Nadia.  Kara feels her throat tightening.  Alex or Winn would know what that cut is called or what type of fabric it is.  It looks good is what it is. It clings to Nadia’s body from the metal collar downward, spreading out in the front to cup her breasts while exposing her back.  As it passes her hips, it fades into a ruffled, bouncy skirt.

“Well?”  Nadia demands.  “Whatcha think?”

“Hmm.  Little twirl?” Kara suggests. “Stop.  There.”

She puts her hand on Nadia’s stomach and guides her to a straighter posture.

“I like it.  Bit brazen up top but really, when it comes to your ass, it’s positively bland.”

“I look good!” Nadia grumps, flicking her eyes to the full length mirror.  “It’s flattering.”

“Exactly.  You look good, not ‘I would eat that apple even if the witch told me it was poisoned’ which is how your ass looks when it’s flattered.”

Kara gets a peck on the cheek which was the entire point.

“I hate this,” Nadia groans.  “Stupid clam-jamming graduation and job offer.“

“I hate it too,” Kara admits.

“Can’t I just be a dropout?” Nadia whines.  “Wait until you graduate...live on your couch, come to work with you?  Hang out under your desk?”

“I’d never get anything written,” Kara jokes.  “We have almost a year, Nadia. And for my part?  I’m twice the person I was when I met you. I’m a better person and that’s all you, babe.”

A tear rolls down Nadia’s cheek and Kara leans in to kiss it away.

“Not in the store, this is a family establishment.”

“Clerk?” Kara whispers.

“Random asshat.”

“Ah.  They’re only 2d6 hit points.  Bet I can take ‘em!”

“Kara, that does it.  No more Winn for a month.”

“Now now, your warlock was... nummy and I for one think Winn’s campaign is gayer than a tree full of monkeys.”

“This is expensive,” Nadia reminds Kara.  “You sure?”

“I got you, babe.  Winn sent me a text alert.  Apparently the last deposit Kolex made led to an IRS hearing in Congress.  Taxes will suck horse ass this year but I can spoil my girl. Which is the important bit.  Go change back and let’s go check out.”

At the end of the counter is a display of necklaces.  Kara lifts one, feeling the chain glide through her fingers.  The small ruby in the center isn’t what draws her eye. It’s what the triangular frame could hold.  The sigil of the House of El with Nadia and Kara’s names engraved above it. She has enough ruined computation crystal from her last attempt to make Kolex’s little brother to forge a small amount of artificial Rao’s Eye and Aqyte and with professional help, it would look really good.

The salesgirl is bent over behind the counter, probably messing with the safe.  She stands up and gives a startled yelp when she sees Kara.

“Sorry, miss.  I didn’t see or hear you come up.”

“It’s all right,” Kara replies.  “I’m told I should wear a bell.”

“She really should,” Nadia agrees, frowning down at something on her phone.  “On a little red collar, like a cat.”

She is not walking one more inch than she has to in these ridiculous fuck-me-boots now that she’s confident she will be fucked.  Perks of casual flying.

“See something you like?”

“Yes, this.  Can you do it with a custom arrangement?  I have some unique stones.”

“We can.  It takes eight weeks and a deposit.”

“How much?”

“Two fifty for the deposit.  Price depends on the piece.”

Kara reaches into her jacket pocket, counts five bills with her hand and hands them to the clerk.

“Thank you.  Phone number?”

Nadia is still lost in her phone.  Kara thinks she might get away with this entirely.  She scribbles her phone number down on the sales girl’s business card.

“Got it.  I’ll put you in touch with our jeweler and you can describe what you need.”

She opens the cash register, grabs a marker and starts swiping it on the bills.  Nadia looks over, raises her eyebrow and puts her phone away.

“You do that to everybody?  Or just her?”

Freezing up and casting her eyes down, the sales girl caps the marker and sets it aside.

“Both.  I have to do it for all bills over $20 but I could have waited.  I see how it looks now. And I’m sorry.”

Nadia taps her finger on the edge of the display case.

“First step is admitting you have a problem.  Just don’t do it in front of the customer if you want to have repeat business.  Or do but make sure to do it to Whitey McCalifornia over there,’ Nadia jokes, nodding towards a woman with a grass juice smoothie, yoga pants and a chunky glass necklace.

“Maybe mix it up?  Tuesdays do it after the shift, Wednesdays do everybody,” Kara jokes.

“That,” the salesgirl replies, brandishing the capped marker.  “Is a good idea.”

The line slowly winds up to the register and Kara lays the bag with Nadia’s dresses over the counter.

“Check or credit?”

“Cash,” Kara replies.

“Why do you do that,” Nadia mutters.  

“It’s fun and it works everywhere.  Plus it looks classy when I have to bribe the greeter.”

Nadia clicks her tongue.  “Fair point. It was a bit James Bond at the restaurant.”

The cashier sees the folded stack of bills and raises an eyebrow.

“Let me get my manager, ma’am.  He has to handle all cash sums that large.”

The manager turns out to be a tremendously dull and unpleasant man who probably spoils bananas just by walking into the room.  He doesn’t even reply when Nadia asks him about his angry swiping of the anti-counterfeit marker, repeated looks at Kara or his glancing at the bills in front of the light.

The salesgirl at jewelry waves goodbye.  Kara loops her arm through Nadia’s as they leave and puts the bags under her other.

“I got you something too.  It’s not as generous,” Nadia sighs.  “But it’s more me. Can’t give it to you now, though.  My dorm room.”

“Oh.  Do I need to be wearing or not wearing anything specific?  Do I need to wax?”

Nadia rolls her eyes.

“Ew.  Your dirty mind, I swear.  I do things for you besides sex,” she teases.  “It’s sort of handmade and it involves other people and moving parts to arrange it.  Tomorrow at eleven in the morning, okay?”

“Spine tingling.  I can’t wait.”

Nadia holds out her hand when they get to the parking garage.

“Keys.”

“Why?”

“Because you drive like someone who can’t get hurt, sees and hears things nobody else can and who can outrun bullets.  I realize that you know you won’t crash but I keep seeing my life flash before my eyes. It’s terrifying.”

Kara huffs.

“Fine.  Starting to regret upgrading your car.”

“No you’re not.  She who builds things for fun and goes to the mat for her exes cannot really complain about her girlfriend letting her tear down her car and build God only knows what wackiness into it for safety purposes.”

“No,” Kara agrees.  “I really can’t.”

It had been fifteen years--more if she counts her time in the pod--since she got to play with an omegahedron power supply, inertial dampeners, kinetic buffers or promethium-titanium-liquid crystal composites.  The look on Nadia’s face when she brought her uncle’s old hot-rod back with a gleaming new coat of cherry red, nanotube-hardened paint was everything Kara hoped for. It was worth the hassle of dragging her outpost kit out of Eliza’s garage and setting the Sunstone up on the beach to the south.  As the fractal expanded, she prioritized the machining system so that she could do Nadia’s car.

Another week or two and she’ll have her own cozy little mad scientist slash superhero lair as a bonus.  Winn can probably come up with a good name.

Nada starts up her ‘Chevrolet’ and it gives a throaty purr.  One hundred percent fake, of course--it doesn't even need wheels now--but it was a good way to blend in.  Uncle Jackson would probably approve, God rest him.

One thing Kara would not budge on is updating the computer.  She managed to create something that resembles the Best Buy catalog nearly button for button.  The crazy fancy one with the voice interface but it at least looks like Earth tech. No one need know.

“Greetings, Nadia.  Destination?”

“Sheridan Residence Hall.”

“Projecting route.  Recommend taking Highway 308.  The 402 Freeway is badly congested.  Display on windscreen?”

“Yes, please.”

Nada tilts the mirror, checks both her signals and shoots a look at Kara.

“Belt in, missy.”

Kara often forgets.  There’s something to Nadia’s point about her and cars.

“Yes, mistress,” Kara husks.

“Oh, you are in so much trouble when we get back.”

“Radio?” Kara asks.

Nadia nods.

Kara scans through the channels. Nadia chuckles at her self-commentary as she hunts through the stations.   “Folk rock? Nope, that had some redneck ballads the other day.” Kara taps the buttons. “Latin?”

Nadia shrugs.  Kara tries again.

“Ugh!  What is that?  A recording of dying Scandinavian weasels?”

Nadia snickers.  “Disgustingly specific image, thanks.  Just go to KJUS already. That or the latin one.”

Kara drops to the bottom of the FM band where the campus-based channel is broadcast.

“...you are listening to KJUS, the only radio station in this old railroad town that stands for justice.  Radio for the downtrodden, the overcaffeinated, the have-nots of the new world order. Up next is some Rage Against the Machine to start the hour off with an on-the-nose band name.  Try not to think about Keanu Reeves, okay? It’s a really good song,” the DJ insists.

Nadia taps her fingers on the wheel.  Kara jerks her head back and forth to the bass.

“They killed Dr. King when he spoke out on Vietnam,” Nadia sings along, perhaps a bit more solemnly than the grunge band intended.

“Give the power to the have nots!” she and Kara croon.  “Then came the shot!”

The mile-posts whiz by until the radio volume rapidly lowers and when it does, they can hear the wailing of sirens behind them.  

“Attention.  Law enforcement.  Attention,” the computer intones.

“Driving while black,” Nadia mutters.

“Suppose it was inevitable.  We got some good points in with the sales girl,” Kara reminds her.  “Can’t have a good run of luck all night.”

“Law enforcement vehicle identified.  San Diego County Sheriff’s Department, car number 1-2-8.  Charging passive defenses.”

“Really, Kara?”

“What?  No one shoots my girl.  It’s safe,” she insists.  “It’s just...an energy shield and a really, really big taser.”

“And?”

“Uh, a medical robot to make sure you get back in okay?”

“And?”

“Cloaking device?”

“And?”

“Flight system and autopilot?”

“Oh my god,” Nadia laughs.  “You are so whipped!”

“And?

“Emergency transmatter beacon to beam you to my hideout?”

“And?”

“Surveillance drone that can map out the cops’ position to the nanometer, records at super high speed and can force the broadcast of it to every TV in town?”

“Okay,” Nadia chuckles.  “I get the overall idea. That last one’s clever.  Put ‘em on notice. If you think about it, every black persons’ car needs an alien-made recording and protest drone.”

Nadia blows out all the air in her lungs before drawing it all back in.  She cranks the ignition.

“Powering down.  Muting voice control.  Primitive automobile emulation mode engaged.”

Nadia shoots her another look.  Kara shrugs.

“I’m getting out with you,” Kara insists.  “I’ll just tell them first.”

“Thanks, baby.  I...I guess I never will get used to this.”

“You never should.”

[Kolex.  Search legal databases for any relevant cases and cross-reference by events.]

[Stand by.  Six cases. Displaying now]

A series of pale green Kryptonian glyphs appear in Kara’s eyes, listing the translated names and summaries of legal cases in California and the US Supreme Court.  Kara can still read her native language a couple hundred words a minute faster.

[Stick with me, friend.  I need to keep calm.]

[Always, Lady Kara.]

“Officer, what is the reason you pulled me over?” Nadia asks, voice flat.

“Routine check.  Tail-light’s out.  License and registration.”

Nadia hands it over.  The officer’s eyes go from her, to the car, to the student ID in her wallet right behind the driver’s license.  Kara can see his thought process. In his mind, the car is too nice, she doesn't deserve it and there’s no way she could afford it legally.

“Step out of the vehicle.”

[Tail-light is intact.]

[No shit, Kolex.  He didn’t hit it with an antimatter torpedo!]

Kara does not like this one bit.  This is just the sheriff playing with his food.

[Kolex, fire up all the fabbers.  Maximum priority.  Begin readying equipment for projects Flamebird, Crystal Mountain and Panopticon.  Boot up the Scion and test it.]

[Already begun.]

“I’m getting out too, officer.  I’ll do it slowly,” Kara assures him.

“You can keep your fat ass in the car,” he snarls.

“Is that an order?  Are you going on record that you are giving her an order as an officer of the law?” Nadia asks.  “If so, it can be recorded in court and I can be asked about the wording.”

[Kitten v. California, 1981] comes up on Kolex’s display.

And you worded it like an utter asshole, Kara realizes.   She’s amazing.  Cool as ice but not bending any further than she has to.

“Fine, get out!” he barks at Kara.

Kara gets out, realizing as she works the door handle that her fingers are shaking.

“Up against the car,” the officer tells Nadia.  

Kara feels her skin heating up.  She puts her hand on the back her neck where the energy can go into her skin rather than the car’s defenses.  Until she can get control of her temper, at least.

“Hansen!” he barks at his partner, looking at Kara.  “Check her.”

A much younger, rather nervous looking deputy approaches Kara.  He doesn’t say anything to her and seems not to want to make eye contact with his partner.

That just can’t be good.  He would rather not be doing this, I think.

Kara forces it back as the officer pats his way up her legs.  Forces back the flames consuming Argo City while she could only watch helplessly as everything she knew died.  Forces back the betrayal that was her father’s final orders to Kolex. Forces back the deaths of thirty-one billion because of a few stubborn officials and cascade failure in mining shafts.  Forces back the surge she felt saving Corrine, how good it felt seeing Jack’s fear.

She forces back the ancient monster lurking inside her body, shrieking in her ear to rise, begging her to rule these vermin as the goddess she is.  The Destroyer of a long-fallen empire, ready to burn this world should it threaten her.

The officer frisking Kara stops, patting her jacket’s outer pocket.  He pulls out the remaining bills and Kara regrets not bringing her debit card.

“She’s my girlfriend,” Kara explains.  “Shopping for anniversary presents. They’re in the backseat.  Receipt in my back pocket.”

The officer glances at the cash, pats Kara’s back pocket gingerly for the crinkle of a receipt and looks in the back seat.

“She’s clean,” he tells his partner.

The young man steps away from Kara and then takes several paces back from the car.

“You all right, baby?” she asks Nadia.

Nadia shakes her head, eyes squeezed tight and tears forming.

[Kolex?]

[His search of Nadia has continued far too long, particularly in…]

Kolex seems not to want to tell Kara.

[Kolex?]

[...in areas a gentleman should not touch a lady.]

“Officer,” Kara says, fighting the Worldkiller personality for control of every single brain cell.

“Please stop raping my girlfriend with your hand and let us go.”

The older deputy’s head snaps up, tearing his eyes from whatever part of Nadia he was ogling.

“What did you say?”

“I said that you’ve checked us, she’s crying, I can’t see where your hand is besides down low and I haven’t been able to for three minutes.”

“I have a receipt for everything in the back seat and she can verify title for the car.  So you can Mirandize us and take us somewhere with other officers as witnesses or we can leave.  What you can’t do is touch her without her clear consent and permission .  Just because you can pull us over for.”

Kara glances at the bumper.

“A set of not broken and brightly lit tail-lights,” she adds.  “Does not mean you can treat my woman like a piece of goddamned meat because of the color of her skin.”

There it is, Kara realizes.  The whole question is how badly she wants to protect Nadia’s dignity versus how badly he wants to be the man with the gun who’s in charge.

“Back away from the car,” the deputy growls at Kara.  His hand shifts to his side, no doubt resting on his gun.

“Ten paces.  Do it slow, hands on your head.  Turn around and get on your knees.”

Kara steps back from the car, each pace she takes exaggerated for the drone’s benefit.

“Harry,” his partner warns him, stepping in close and probably too quiet for Nadia to catch.  "Don't."

“You’ve been through a lot today.  Let’s just go get a burger, we take it easy this shift and I can drive you home to sober up.  Huh?”

[Badge number on that one, Kolex.  He’s the weak link here.]

[Recorded and searched.  Officer Jacob Hansen. Three years.  One excessive force complaint, later invalidated by defendant plea agreement.  No uses of his service weapon on record.]

[The other one?]

[Nineteen years.  Three uses of service weapon.  Seven excessive force complaints, two invalidations.]

Great, Kara thinks.   Good cop, awful cop.

[Time to deploy Crystal Mountain?]

[Sixteen minutes for campus, ninety for city-wide.]

[Begin deploying, starting downtown.  Scion?]

[Tested and aligned.  Flight time to your position, ninety-four seconds at subsonic speed.  Point three-five seconds at top atmospheric cruise speed.]

[Flamebird?]

[Fabricated and stress-tested.  Barrier fields inside the weapons are stable and kinetic feedback systems are at one hundred percent.  Generator cores are spun up. Fully functional. Attaching the kit to Scion now.]

Kara breathes a sigh of relief.

[Lock transmat beacon on Nadia, target it to my dorm room.  Contact Alex and Eliza. Stand by to deploy Scion and Flamebird but do not drop camouflage on the facility.  Yet.]

[Kolex, if you detect his weapon chambering a round, transmat Nadia home and deploy Scion.  Top speed, weapons hot, set the armor to attach to me right after impact.]

The glyphs for ‘service’ and ‘honor’ appears in Kara’s vision.

“Can we go,” Nadia asks.  “Please?”

“Kara didn’t do anything,” she sobs.

"I won't back you up on this," the deputy warns his partner.

“Yeah, fine.  You two!  Get out of my sight.”

Kara blows out a long breath from now-sore lungs.  She had no idea she was holding it.  She didn't know holding her breath could hurt.

Neither she or Nadia move until the cruiser’s lights fade into the blackness.  Then Nadia slumps to the ground with a choked sob.

“Why did you do that, Kara?  He could have shot you. He could have shot me.  You may be bulletproof but you could have been found out.”

Kara sinks to the ground next to Nadia.

“Because it was right.  Because I would burn a thousand secret identities rather than let him treat you like that and act like it’s okay.”

“Take me home,” Nadia moans.  “and hold me.”

“Kolex,” Kara sighs.  “Two persons and a vehicle.  Initiate transmat.”

 

 

The dorm room materializes around them and Nadia bolts for the bathroom and starts retching loudly.  Winn looks blearily up from his pillow, probably woken by the flash.

“Uh, hi, Kara.  You...are not okay, are you?”

“Pulled over,” Kara sighs.  “Officer groped Nadia. She is pretty torn up.”

“I’m guessing you said something to him,” Winn yawns.

“Little bit, yeah.”

“You kill him?”

“What?  No!”

Winn sighs.

“Great.  I can make you some tea then,” he declares, getting out of bed in honest-to-god full length silk pajamas.  

Winn’s grandfather’s gold-rimmed glasses are in a lucite case by the bed--his only family heirloom--and a dog eared novel with a sticker from the book store is tucked under them.

“Winn, you are the best secretly gay grandfather a girl could ask for.”

“I try, buddy, I try.”

Nadia staggers out of the bathroom, wiping her mouth on her hand.

“Sorry about the transmat, Nadia.  First couple of times, it can make you queasy.  I just figured it was an instant, safe way home,” Kara admits.

“Smart call.  And I wasn’t barfing because of that .”

“Oh.”

“Yeah.  Oh.”

“Where’s the car?”

“Parking itself in the garage downstairs.  It transmatted to the woods near the rec center where it can drive back without anyone noticing it doesn't have anyone in it.”

“Nice!” Winn calls from the mini-kitchen.

He brings Nadia tea first.

“Decaf,” he assures her with a peck on the cheek.

“Thanks,” she murmurs, jokingly pushing him away.  “Not sure I can sleep but thanks.”

His sweet-old-man routine has grown on her as much as it did Kara.

“Nadia, would you feel okay if I took a walk?  I need to get outside before I these feelings out.  Maybe yell at a few trees.”

Nadia chews her lip.

“Go.  I’m safe here.  Do whatever and come back and hold me until morning.”

 


 

March 19, 2006  | The People of National City

National City, California

CatCo Plaza


A giant trio of screens in the center of the plaza is displaying serene images of waterfalls with a small band of news headlines scrolling across the bottom.  People are milling around and children are napping in strollers. A live band is playing in the performance space.

All the TVs switch off at once, replaced by the civil defense logo.  Moments later, an armored figure appears in front of a collage of images.

“People of National City, you may know me as Black Knight.  If you are seeing this, you are watching a broadcast television in the National City Area.  Greetings. I am here tonight to tell you a story.”

“Less than one hour ago, I was driving home with the woman I love when we were pulled over by the police for no greater crime than the color of our skin.  While the police verified that yes, the cash I had on me roughly corresponded to the presents I bought her for our anniversary and yes, in fact, the broken taillight they pulled us over for was completely fine…”

In a poorly-managed early warning bunker in the desert, Kara is doing everything she can to keep this message civil.

Shoppers and passersby have begun to gather, snapping photos with their phones.

“...one officer, a San Diego County Deputy named Harrold Flynt, saw fit to put his hand on my partner’s genitals under the pretense of a pat-down.  I challenged him on that behavior and he let us go. So imagine my surprise when I get home and check my phone and find that this boy...”

All of the images on screen change to a young boy, laughing at a playground, eating ice cream with his friends.

“...whose name is Stevie Nichols, was shot by the same deputy outside his home.  The officer told National City police who arrived that he thought this…”

Kara switches the image to the blood-stained drumstick found on the boy’s body.

“...was a gun.  My girlfriend is at home, vomiting in fear because this man...”

She switches it to a mugshot Kolex found of Deputy Flynt from a hushed-up DUI last year.

“...had his feelings hurt because she said no and I backed her up.”

“Far more importantly, a boy is dead.  Stevie was fourteen and he died at the scene.  For those of you lucky enough to be listening to this while white, let me tell you what I think happened.  Flynt felt that my girlfriend's body belonged to him, that her body was his to defile, to humiliate, to rape. A crime that so many black women have suffered at the hands of white men for four centuries in this country.”

“While we went home afraid and shaking, he went about his shift and found the first young black man he could find out at night doing anything remotely suspicious. In this case chatting with a friend after putting out the garbage.  He took it out on Stevie.”

“A mother lost her baby boy and the man who took that life has less than a one in fifty chance of being charged with a crime, let alone convicted.”

Kara sighs.

“So.  At this very moment a series of camera-equipped drones are fanning out over National City, covering all public streets, right of way, parks, and trails with 24-7 coverage of high resolution footage which will be available all times at this internet address.”

The address AndJusticeForAll.org flashes on screen.  One of the drones decloaks and does a loop-de-loop for the crowd.

“Any inappropriate images will be pixelated in real-time by a computer but faces will remain visible at all times.  Consider this an experiment. What will the police do when there is nowhere, nowhere at all, left to hide their sins?  Will they improve? Will they keep each other honest, as Flynt’s partner was clearly trying to do when I met him? Or will they chase me down just because that is easier and simpler and more familiar?”

“Goodnight and God Bless.”

Kara turns away from the camera before thinking better of it.  She turns back to the camera.

“One more thing.  My real name…”

She removes her helmet and shakes out her hair, which she had Kolex braid and dye black.  Only a pair of tinted contact lenses and horn-rimmed glasses she grabbed at a drug store now separate Kara Danvers from Kara Zor-El and at the moment, she could care less.

Her armor powers up and the sigil fills the breastplate, glowing bright in the half-darkened broadcast shack.

“Is Kara Zor-El and I come from the planet Krypton.  I am the eldest member of the family and as such, I outrank Kal-El, who you all know as Superman.  I cared for him when he was only an infant and I love him more than anyone else in this world but perhaps his wife and children.  So before you dismiss this as the ramblings of some radical, some woman...take a good look at his favorite saying.”

“Truth, Justice, and the American Way.”

“Ask yourselves...was what happened to Stevie really justice?

The signal cuts out.

 


 

That Very Moment

Around the world

 

Alex Danvers spits out a mouthful of pasta and lets out a stream of breathless profanity.

 

In a cabin in Vermont, General Shay Mitchell’s phone rings on her bedside table and her wife shakes her.

 

A giant man-shark hybrid drops from the sky and into a backyard pool.  

“Sorry!” calls the alien carrying it.  

“Flash, look sharp!”  “Green Arrow, behind you!“  “Wonder Wo-never mind. He’s down.”

“What the hell, Supes?” all three of them holler at the clouds.

 

The White House switchboard starts ringing off the hook.

 

A woman in Chicago sets down her novel, looks at the TV, and texts her husband.

 

A reporter named Lois Lane turns her youngest daughter towards the television while she washes the dishes.

“Look at your cousin Kara!  See how brave and stupid she is?”

She reaches for the remote and shuts it off.

“Not bad, Short Stack.  Not bad at all. Smallville is going to fuckin’ love this one.  Yes sweetie, mommy said a bad word. Strong women do that sometimes because no one has the right to censor them.  Yes we do!  Yes we do!”

Arms outstretched towards her mother, Lara Kent-Lane babbles happily.

“Ma-ma!” Lara squeals.

Her older sister Alura spits out part of a cookie, pointing at the baby.

“It talks?”

 

Chapter Text

 Time-Dilated Space | Anyr’Vathara ("The Crimson Hammer" in Apokoliptian)

Skeleton of An Omega Titan

"Mercy and Charity" - The Palace of the Courtesans of the Three-Fold Path

 

 

Anyr stares at the crystal panels of the main display where the skull of the dead titan looms in front of the ship’s prow.  In the center of its massive forehead is a gash cracked into the bone by the weapon of a creature older and more powerful than this cosmos.  A pair of blue dwarf stars slowly swirl around the crack in the bone like small fish cleaning a leviathan’s corpse.

“Take us in, slow and steady.”

The parademon at the helm screeches his assent, clacking his bony mandibles.

She sighs.

“No, Tok, you can’t come with me.  Nothing there for you,” she chuckles.  “And you tend to spook the pretty ones.  Last time you just drank and made sad noises at all the Helgrammite girls, remember?”

His wings rattle on his carapace and he growls, turning back to the controls.

The spotlights on the Deathblow’s outer hull sweep the surface of the skull as Tok rolls her hull nimbly to the side in to match the angle of the crack.

Bone made of dust from neutron stars flashes past the viewport as the ship clears the sides.  Narrowly. Any bigger and she couldn’t get in.

Inside the skull, light glitters and sparkles in every direction, painting the braincase’s jet-black inner lining with white and yellow light.  In the center of the space hangs the pale remnants of the beast’s crystalline heart, decorated with an ocean gaudy teal lights and studded with a ring of landing pads around the middle.  

Tok slows as he passes Daxamite and Coluan warships, raxxie trading leviathans and helg cargo haulers bearing the logos of galaxy-spanning corporations.   Deathblow dwarfs them all.  Nothing remotely compares save for a golden-and-scarlet Thessalian dreadnought orbiting high over the station with her cooling fins deployed and even she could lay lengthwise across the central hull with half the width to spare.

The crew of the Golden Sister must have earned some shore leave.

Anyr rubs the scar in her skinsuit.

For such a backwater cesspool, Earth is always more trouble than it is worth.

She lifts her hand of the armrest of her throne and the control rod she had made out of the skull of the last bounty hunter her family dared send.  Pompous little Thessalian cunt named Shetala who thought a black hole to the guts would be enough to kill her. It’s been a long time since that fight but bad first impressions outlast planets, Anyr has learned.  The second-to-last bounty hunter's skull and spine decorate the other side of the sprawling couch.

She jerks her glove back over the wound.  Her armored alter ego needs to feed and do it soon or that burn will be permanent and Shadow so likes to keep her softer inner scales pretty.  As for Anyr’s own hand, it’s suffered far worse tortures at the hands of father dearest.

Hopefully old Prospecta still keeps a cube of Shadow’s favorite meat on ice.

“First mate Tor-Vonn, you have the ship.  No one is to follow me for at least two rotations.   I will have a cache of tokens sent up when I’ve had my fill.  Any man among us breaks Prospecta’s laws and he dies on my knives before her feet.   Slowly and in exquisite pain.  Do I make myself perfectly clear?”

The rakish Daxamite nods his head and gives her a smirk that flashes snow-white teeth and takes the smaller chair which sits in front of hers.  

No one...no one...except her takes her throne on this ship.

Two rotations is three times as long as she’s spent here since she’s known him and he knows it.

“Perfectly.  I await those tokens with baited breath, might I add.  We’ll keep the ship steady and strong for you, empress.”

Empress.  Like the sound of that.

Most of the planets and starports they’ve raided paid up or chose to fight and were taught their manners.  Some provided her titles, mockingly, in hopes of lightening their tribute.

The independent colony they just hit in Davarr declared her “Empress and Protector” after Deathblow slagged a flotilla of Daxamite slavers who arrived posing as prospectors.   Slaughtering any crew foolish enough to try to double-orbit with her own is just helping out the process of evolution, she told him.  Apparently the colonial president was deadly serious and she is to report for a gala marking the re-opening of parliament in a few months.

She checks the cinch of the blood-dyed trophy sash around her waist, sheathes her favorite blades on her thighs and brushes back Shadow’s long mane of jointed scales.

As she walks towards the hangar bays, criminals of every race in the stars bow and dip and curtsey such as their anatomy allows.

Outside that bridge--no, anywhere outside her own head--she is The Crimson Hammer.  

“Milady,” purrs a Kryptonian female with a scandalously modified officer’s tunic.  That is one of her raiders, Tilnyr, if she remembers right. A born killer too cruel to give up the life on her emperor's command and too passionate to spend a night alone.

“Crimson Hammer,” hisses a Helgrammite sentry with pitted scales.

Thessalian triplets guard the door, violet skinned and cold-eyed.  The Tolak sisters are leaning against the plating with a hand on their rifles and another idly splayed across their uniforms, just below the ammo belts.  It’s not shyness that makes them cover their mounds with their palms, it’s to hint at what bliss lurks just under their uniforms to whoever might join them after their rotation.

“My liege.”

“My liege.”

“Radiant and fearsome as ever, my liege.”

Her private cutter--a Coluan-built lovely with a slender outline and knife-sharp forward hull--sits front and center.   Foehammer’s glassy hull shifts, a ripple moving up the spine as the cubes making it up course with lightning as she thinks about something.

"Hello again, my old friend."

Surrounding it are the parademon’s swarm fighters, two full squadrons of Helgrammite corvettes with hardened ramming prows and in the shadows by the repair shop, pair of ultra-heavy Helg freighters that Haaj, her chief engineer, rigged as artillery and troop transports. Each one was rebuilt with neutron-layered armor, hundreds of singularity emitters, missile tubes and plasma turrets hidden in the bow along with ten massive engines each.  Heavily fortified colonies have begged surrender at the sight of those monsters entering high orbit with fangs bared. More than one convoy has regretted letting the “Hammer’s Spikes” fall in with their escorts.

Haaj has always had a knack for repurposing his kind’s commercial ships into well disguised instruments of death and fear.  It’s why she pays him so much.

The belly of Foehammer yawns open, plating rolling out of her way and a ramp of dark plates descending to the deck.

She takes in the throne at the front by the controls, a mountain of Thessalian silk cushions, a  rotating chamber of chilled liquors and sweetest of all, a weapon rack with all her most exotic and vicious children neatly clipped to their cradles.  

Home.  This small, wall-less space may lack for privacy and for majesty compared to her quarters on the Deathblow but not for comfort.  It will always be her first and favorite home.

Turquoise raises his scaly blue head from the perch and shrieks a greeting, heated gas pouring from his throat and blazing on contact with oxygen.  He drops off the petrified corpse of the gnarled ashwood sapling behind her throne and flaps over to alight on Anyr’s shoulder before curling around her neck like a scaly, fire-breathing scarf.

“Pretty boy,” Anyr teases, scratching the spines between his wings.

“Shall we go have some fun?”

He roars his loudest, ringing of every hard surface in the cockpit.

“Crimson Hammer to tower.  I am spinning up and leaving.”

This is her nation.  Thieves, trickers, seductresses, rakes, killers and lunatics all...yet even so it is not their place to tell her what to do.  The control tower knows it. Clearance is for her soldiers.

“As you will, Empress.  May you sail glittering stars on easy winds.”

Foehammer sorts her hull crystals, pulling back the spars that had held her to the deck.  She clears the mouth of the hangar and enters a tight dive towards the landing platforms.  

Anyr has half a light-year left to travel and far less patience than that.  

This bloodlust that grew and grew on the battlefield before settling between her legs as a ball of seething and searing emptiness will not wait to be slaked.  The dead weight in her mind--this curious sense of despair--may kill her before long.

[Jump.]

[As you wish, Anyr.]

Privileged by their long friendship Foehammer has been allowed to learn her true name.  Anyr has more fingers than confidants but this ships Logic Engine is among them.

[Anyr?  How very irreverent, old friend.]

[I learn from the best.]

The pad appears below them in a flash of blue and a burst of hard radiation bombards the deck crew and plating alike.

They’ll live.  After all, Prospecta employs no weaklings.

The greeter at the other side of the airlock is a human, of all things, a tawny-skinned droplet of fleshy curves and dusky lips.

“Welcome to Mercy and Charity,” she says with a flourished quarter bow.  “We pride ourselves on being a house of ill repute but with an immaculate reputation.”

“Anything new on offer?” Anyr asks.

She will be very surprised if any of the myriad whores, concubines, cock-swingers and sluts wandering this place’s halls catch her eye but she might as well ask.  Something in her gut tells her where she will end up: the citadel itself, standing before Prospecta’s chamber door with shaking hands and her heart pounding.

“We have added humans and a few Oans since last you were here.”

Anyr’s hand drift to her thigh, fingers curling in the air over the hilt.  She doesn’t like being recognized by strangers. If this whelp tries anything, she won’t live long enough to realize that Anyr moved.  A pity to spill blood in Prospecta’s house but not unheard of.

“We have a sketch of all our most frequent and respected visitors,” the girl explains, sliding a stone tablet with Anyr’s face on it across her podium.

She knows who carved it.  No one but Prospecta ever praised her eyes or the scar above them.  Anyr closes the clasp on the sheath and relaxes her hand.

“Truth be told,” Anyr jokes, “I’m not sure I could forgive myself if I fucked an Oan, rebel or otherwise.  What if the Guardians' ego is contagious?”

The girl chortles.

“Terrifying thought.  You have discerning taste.”

You have no idea, little one.

“Get me to citadel,” Anyr decides, flipping a ten-solar coin towards the podium.

“You would have had it for a smile.  Transmat or a floater?”

It has been too long since she hung under a floater, in that bubble of anesthetic, dark, senseless calm that they somehow secrete.

“Do you have a fast one?  I would like to be there by morning.”

“Several,” the girl replies, tilting her head towards a vat filled with several of the slick-skinned beasts slowly flapping their fleshy wings.

“That’ll do.  When I leave, I will be needing a cache of tokens for my crew.  A half million should do.”

The girl raises her eyebrow but to her credit says nothing.  No one with a desire to live would claim to be able to afford that if they couldn’t.  Prospecta has millions of subjects here and none of them are meaningless.  Workers settle here, desparate for the life but safe knowing her corps of guards will protect them from cheats, rude clients and those who cannot keep their hands to themselves.  She charges her customers accordingly.

Drink and flesh and song...the only thing a pirate thinks about when their blood is up after a fight.

“Excellent.  I will have a chest ready.”

Anyr approaches the vat and reaches through the membrane to pet the nearest creature.

“Hello, beautiful.  Do you know the way?”

A long, mournful bellow replies.

“Good.”

Anyr dives into the tank.  Her coat leaves a slick of grime, soot and blood at the surface.  The distilled suffering of hundreds of men who thought to kill her during the last raid.

She can wash when she arrives, perhaps share the water with this new acolyte that Prospecta’s last message teased her about.

The floater curls around her, hundreds of fleshy tendrils cocooning her under the beast’s fragrant belly.  The sedative rich fluid slowly fills the sack while its wings beat against the solar wind as it soars. Anyr lets herself pretend that the soft flesh wrapped around her is her mother’s arms and that the drowsy dark surrounding her is a tomb.  No more nightmares. No more rage.

One day soon, Mother.  I will make it right.

She is lulled to sleep within a few heartbeats.

 

 

Anyr comes to on a couch outside the citadel’s inner walls.  A nude Thessalian is crouching on the back of the couch, watching her curiously.  She acts like a bird, watching some curious beast she has never seen. The shiny slit between her legs, tensed-up scales on her breasts and the widened curve of her serpentine pupils suggest that what is really going on is she’s trying to get another customer before the buzz from the last one fades.

“Hello, gorgeous.”

“Hello,” the whore purrs.  “Tall dark and scaly .  I’ve never seen a scale-suit before.  They’re really rare. I wonder do...do those scales open where it counts?  What would those scales would feel like clamped around my cheeks while I sucked you dry?”

She opens her palm and raises an eyebrow.

Above average pitch.

The bag of titanium-plated tokens hanging on Anyr’s belt somehow feels much too heavy.  All she would have to do is place one in this one’s hand and pull her onto the couch...maybe two or three.  The lady knows how to wield her still-blown eyes and freshly-used body.

Anyr holds up two fingers and the whore shakes her head, holding up four.  At Prospecta’s current rate, that’s enough to buy a used freighter.

“Black,” the Thessalian whispers.  

Black....not silver or red.  Pricey.

“Four black coins.  Quality, huh?”

A proud grin splits her new friend’s face.

Anyr jingles four tokens into her palm and hands them over.

“Do not...move...a muscle,” she growls at the whore.  That’s what she is. Sex on two legs. Practical, unashamed, dirty-talking.  Neither ceremony nor pretense. Pure and honest.

Anyr pulls the scarf from its loop on her belt and loops it around the girl’s throat before pulling it away.

“Lift your hand.  No, not the one with the coins,” she scolds.  “I know the law. You don’t like it, just drop the coins and I’ll double your fee and walk away.”

The girl lifts her other arm.  “Put your arm inside the scarf.”  She complies and Anyr twists the fabric into a knot around the girl's upraised arm and around her head at the eyes like a loose blindfold.  She throws the other around a nearby lamp post and weights it with one of her knives.

“Too tight?”

“No.”

Anyr leans close, pulling the blindfold down.

“That scarf was given to me by my father when I came of age.  His name is Darkseid. It was white as snow when I got it. Every speck of color is one drop of blood, the last drop the victim ever shed.  Every bit of color is a fighter that I respected or a general I defeated.”

“Do you think I’m boasting?  Tell me the truth. No penalty except for lying.  Might give your crests a nip for that.”

“No,” the whore realizes.  “You’re not.”

“Smart lady.  Then he betrayed my mother.  That last bit of white at the corner?”

The Thessalian’s eyes track up to one untainted fringe in a speckled sea of crimson, copper, emerald, indigo and black stains.

“That is where I will dip it in his blood.”

Her plaything shivers and Anyr’s fingers tiptoe up her ribs and flick her stiff nipples.

“But I would never hurt one like you.  Here’s I think what will happen. I will rub you down until you’re nice and calm.  Then I will run my fingers,” she threatens, dragging the broad nails of the scalesuit across the ridges surrounding the spine.  “Down.”

Anyr cups the whore’s mound and flicks the swollen, soaked lips.  A moan rises in her captive’s slender throat and she clamps her hand over the mouth to catch it.

“And the other hand goes....all the way up.”

She flicks the tip of one of the crests and the whore squeezes her thighs together.  Hard.

“I’ll put my fingers inside you and under those pretty little crests of yours and rub.  Slowly, slowly, slowly, until you’re hoarse from screaming.”

“Then I’ll pull my scarf off and walk away.  Sound good?”

“Y-y-yes,” the whore stammers, head slumping as far as the scarf allows.

Anyr tightens the knot on the blindfold. “I think so too.” She starts her feast with thumbs on the ridges at the base of the spine, where the the backbone juts out and makes a mountain range of bony knobs and springy flesh.  She presses firmly and drags up to the edge of the next band of muscles. A faint sheen of white sand stains her fingers, milked from under the skin.

“Too much?” she whispers.

The whore laughs.

“After I finished off a Coluan?  Then got in trouble with you?  No.    Harder .  I might be sore tomorrow otherwise.”

“Your wish,” Anyr breathes, adding more fingers and leaning in to it.  “Is my command.”

Anyr may kill for thrill, business and or sheer boredom but she’s not one to reject a massage from either side of the bargain.  She strokes the lowest band of muscle one, two, three more times until she feels the locking of the whore’s knees ease and her arms relax in Anyr’s grip.

“That good?”

“I want to keep you chained to my bed,” her playmate groans.  “Roll over and slide under your hands whenever I have a bad day.”

“So it was good?”

“Yes.”

“Eight bands to go,” Anyr whispers.

She gives the next muscle two quick, hard sweeps of her fingers and is rewarded with a sucking gulp, the sound of a woman desperate for air.  By the time she reaches the last three bands along the shoulder blades, she’s massaging a stream of water more than a living being.  The whore’s body is slack, hanging with nothing but the scarf looped over a lamppost to support her weight.

“Black preserve me…” she rasps.  “Enough.”

Anyr loops an arm around the whore’s breasts and pulls her close with a flex of sinew and a scrape of scales.

“You sure?  Once I start, you’re not going to be able to talk.”

“Don’t care.”

Slipping two fingers in is effortless once Anyr follows the slick trail of droplets that reach her playmate’s knees.  The whore bears down and smooth muscles cinch tight, nearly stopping Anyr’s invasion entirely.

“Mmm.  I thought you were going to push me?” comes a taunting whisper.

Anyr scissors one finger back and one forward, knowing that she found a tender spot on the closer side when knees buckle and she has to catch the scarf before knees hit stone.  She turns her hand so she can focus on it and a strangled yelp escapes the whore’s lips and juices drip onto her palm. Anyr pulls her hand out and licks her reward off her fingers.

“I will.  I just don’t want to cause you pain.”

“Another.  Now!”

Anyr laughs and complies with a single thrust that takes her in to the knuckles.  She curls and rubs and pumps her fingers and the whore’s plump ass wriggles against her pants, smearing her shine on the leather.  Every instinct is to get closer, to follow the crooked fingers that beckon so pleasantly.

“Ready for more?”

The tips of the crests flex, beckoning to her tongue.  

“I’ll marry you if you do it right now,” the whore jokes.  “Kill you if you don’t.”

“Tsk-tsk-tsk.  So rude.”

Anyr takes the tip of the crest in her teeth.  No pressure, just the presence and scrape of teeth on the scales.  

“I can do rough.”

“Can you?” Anyr laughs.

“Hmm.  But not from you.  You’re too sweet.”

Something I am rarely accused of.

“Slow.  Drag it out.  Lift me and crown me until I can’t stand and leave me on the couch.”

A lash of the tongue loosens the crest and its neighbors twitch.  Anyr wets her fingers and shimmies them under, trying to be gentle as wisp of smoke.  The tougher skin on the crest’s underside contracts gleefully and the tender, sticky mess of raw nerves shivers on the top of the skull.  She moves her fingers in lazy, tiny circles.

Anyr takes the tip of another crest in her teeth and squeezes. Every muscle the whore has tenses and she lets out a scream.  A ripple rises up each band of muscle on the back and slick muscle cinches almost painfully on Anyr’s fingers while a splash of juices runs down her hand and wrist.  

The whore sags, coins spilling from her palm and clanging on the pavement.  

Anyr unwinds the scarf and catches the girl.

“Was that too much?” she asks.

No answer.  She checks the vitals.  Pulse. Strong and racing.  Breathing. Ragged but deep.

Anyr falls back on to the stones, more ashamed than she has ever been after killing someone.  No one has dropped their coins or rejected them -- and thus rejected her -- after the fact. Not once in decades she must have spent on this station over the eons...a few days at a time.

She toggles her communicator.

“Tar-Vonn.  I need the Tolak sisters to my position.  Now.”

“I will order them to myself.  If someone asks?” he hints.

If someone asks why they’re allowed here and no one else.

“If someone asks, tell them I want three tongues in me on the double.  That’s your problem.”

“I’ll come up with something more colorful.  They’re on their way.”

“Thank you.”

“Don’t worry, I won’t tell anyone you said that.”

Ass.  I’ll get him for that.

Anyr shuts off the communicator, squeezing the button so hard the casing whines.

It feels like eternity before she hears the transmat field growing behind her.  The whore squints against the blazing white of the flash but doesn’t open her eyes.

“What do you need, your grace?” Jala asks, slinging her rifle across her back dropping to her knees beside Anyr.  Her sisters take up positions to either side, scanning the courtyard with their targeting visors.

“I think I hurt her.”

“No,” the whore rasps, running her tongue over her puffy lips.  “I loved the fear...being a killer's plaything. It was intense. I passed out. I didn’t think that would happen or I would have added a rule for it to our little game.”

“You dropped the coins.”

“You try holding onto a fistful of coins when you pass out.”

She laughs and soon Anyr is laughing too.  Jala smacks Anyr on the shoulder.

“She’s good, no?” she asks the whore, jerking her head at Anyr.  “Perk of the job. It used to be, at least.”

“What’s your name, gem?” the whore asks Jala.

Gem...guess our Thessalian has a fetish for the purple ones.

“Jala Tolak.  What’s yours?”

“Lyra.”

Jala looks pleadingly at Anyr.

“Ask her, not me.  Lyra, these three are my best snipers and medics.  Jala, Mirn, and Sashi Tolak. No one else I trust more to get me out of a bad spot.  Can they walk you home?”

Lyra pushes herself up halfway.

“Wives or sisters?” she asks, glancing between the three.  The tattoos on her face flex adorably as she crinkles her brow.

“Sisters.  We’re pirates,” Jala jokes.  “We do naughty things. But we’re close.  We do them together.”

“They can walk me home as long as they give me a bath when we get there.  Thirty tokens.”

“For a bath?”

Lyra rolls her eyes.

“Yes. Absolutely.  It will be quite the bath.”

Anyr hands twelve tokens each to the Tolak sisters and adds eight for her fare.  Tipping is well deserved in Lyra’s case.

Lyra wobbles to her feet and Jala helps her steady herself.

“Well, ladies?” Lyra asks.

"I'm in," Jala decides.  "You two?"

"You kidding?  You take point and I will fight you if you want rear guard," Sashi jokes.  "Nicer view."

 

[ INCOMING TRANSMISSION:  CODEX ---
Due to their asexual reproductive system which makes inbreeding impossible and a long history of extremely tight-knit multiple partner families, the incest taboo lacks a biological imperative and nudity in close proximity to similar-age members is rarely  avoidable except for the upper class. As such, the incest taboo is less strong in Thessalian culture. It remains but it is comparable to an extremely embarrassing fetish as opposed to an actual pathology needing intervention and treatment.

--- Dr. Tanka Vox-Queryl  ]

 

Anyr takes the remaining steps to the Sanctum at a jog.  The door guards start to shift closer to each other but she whips off her left glove and brandishes her burned palm.  Weapons lowered and smiles wide, they step aside for her.

“Is that a burn from the Infinity Wall?  Never thought I’d see that on someone living,” one mutters to his friend.

“Worse.  Burn from sticking her hand on the other side,” his comrade replies, getting a low whistle.  “Story is that her worship told her to do it. Crimson Hammer’s a bit tougher than you, Drack.”

A smile tugs upward at her lips before Anyr steps inside.  Always nice to be known and feared.

Thumping Thessalian singularity percussion and mellow Rakni-Xinda chorals tickle her ears, one band playing on each side.  She sighs and takes the flute of Rak’s Salt ale from the server. Smoky, salty and more than a slight dose of neurotoxin. Someone must have radioed the staff because that’s not a common beverage, especially as a favorite.

“Welcome back, Crimson Hammer.”

“Glad to be back,” she grins, placing the drained flute back in the server’s hand.

Like she always does, Anyr walks the edges of the room to take in the show.

On the lower platform near the Thessalian band is a huge tank of oxygenated liquid, a dozen couples of various species are writhing around a bubble in the center.  They thrust and arch and entwine in hopes of enticing the Thessalian in the center to pick them. Nothing more than animal instinct...all these couples competing for the honor of a desirable mate.  She turns her white-scaled head this way and that before kicking off towards what looks like a middle aged human couple. Plunging her hands through the bubble, she drags the wife in face first, never taking her lips off her.   Grabbing the husband’s hand, she pulls him in too, forces his head into his wife’s lap and pulls the wife’s face in between her own legs. The crowd claps and one by one, the losing competitors finish each other and swim away.

On the platform nearest the bar is a trio of raxxie dancers, male and females, strutting and beckoning and preening their assets, making full use of their abundance of long and powerful fingers.

Prospecta’s office is still at the back and her chambers probably are too.

Anyr settles in to a lavish waiting area more suited to a galactic conglomerate than a pleasure palace.  Keeping her company are two humans: a tall, broad shouldered female with long dark blonde hair cast back over her suit jacket and a fidgety, dark skinned male who seems at turns terrified and aroused by her.

Having not yet had the pleasure of meeting a human who was not a criminal, a Nazi or a zombie from some trash-hole universe’s Earth, she takes a seat near them.

“One dance, boss.  Take your mind off.”

“Gary,” the woman practically growls.  “We’re here to get information on a case, nothing more.”

“Rip isn’t getting any farther away while you sit here miserable, Director Sharpe.  She would give you that information quite happily,” he suggests, pointing to a snappily dressed, golden-skinned raxxie leaning against the bar with all four of her hands behind her head.

“Go wait on the ship, now.”

The fidgety male human leaves.

“I’m not cheating on Sara, we’re just on a break.  I’m not cheating on Sara, we’re just on a break. I’m not che-”

That woman needs to either demand whatever information she came here to purchase and leave or take whatever the raxxie offers.

Anyr has heard enough of that looping failure of willpower so she gets up and moves to the bar.  

“Hey,” sniffles the woman beside her.

“Hey.”

“I’m Melsha.”

“Crimson Hammer.”

Her companion laughs sourly.

“Your mother must have really wanted you to go into the Military Guild,” she mutters, draining what is apparently one of far too many Tamarean Fireballs.  “Give you a name like that.”

“Let me guess…you’re a...Kryptonian,” Anyr decides.  “I know that because you smell amazing.   Like the moment after a lightning storm.”

Her drinking companion turns her head, causing a halo of golden curls to bounce around her shoulders and back.  Blue eyes like cold oceans meet Anyr’s own.

“Apokoliptian?” she asks.  “That’s a sssh-scha-scale suit,” she slurs.  “And you’re wearing it,” she observes stupidly.

“Yeah,” Anyr admits after downing another Rak Salt. “Not my favorite thing about myself, truth be told.”

“What’s your favorite thing?”

“Piracy.  Adventure.  Angering my father.  Coming to a place like this with money and things stolen from said piracy.  Meeting pretty girls.”

“Huh,” Melsha mumbles, her eyebrows making an adorable crease.  “I like it quiet. Simple. Good meal at home with my husband Mon.  I used to be a singer.”

“Used to be?  Lose your voice?”

“No,” she sighs.  “No one left to sing for.  I was Entertainer’s Guild. I was a freighter brat but I sent a sample in and I was good so House Ina-Zenn brought me into their honor guard’s band.”

“Singing for the War Queens of Juru Valley?” Anyr teases.  “The galaxy is filled with nastier, dirtier and meaner work than that, cutie.”

“It was good work.  After a while, they took me in formally and shared my singing with other houses.  House El. House Zod. That’s a tense room for a hymnal.”

A flicker of mirth lights her eyes, just for an instant, and Anyr feels much better about her deeds since she randomly selected a barstool.

“I once did a vocalist’s competition between the two and I won but Zod picked me for their champion so I actually felt bad about it.  I was actually here on vacation. I had a lot of it. General Astra authorized it before her arrest. So...I just found out about Krypton.”

“Fire and Stone,” Anyr mutters.  “You didn’t know because time passes slower here.”

"To Krypton!" Melsha lifts her drink, a fresh Fireball that she really has no business holding.

“No news but what people bring with them and I didn’t think to ask.  Know anything about what happened.?”

“It was forty years ago.  More.  Bits and pieces. Mining disaster.  There’s rumors about some kind of conspiracy by the Guardians but zero proof and people don’t generally round up Green Lanterns to start breaking fingers.  Not without more than a hunch. No idea whether it’s true.”

“Any survivors?”

“Officially?  Not from the planet.  Couple freighters that turned away.  Patrol ships that fled before the star went nova.  Daxamites grabbed everything that flew and formed a refugee flotilla.  It got clobbered a couple systems later but the survivors stuck together.  Looking for a new planet, I guess.”

“Vhoc’s rotting hole!” Melsha hollers.  “They’re alive but we’re all gone?”

“Not all.  Funny thing about pirates.  We spend a lot of time on barstools.  We hear things. Three nights ago I heard a couple of mercs talking about a contract for a revenge killing.  Apparently the King of Daxam thinks his son’s ship was attacked by Kryptonian vessels fleeing the disaster.”

“Thought there weren’t any.”

“No one’s sure.  Small ships could have slipped out at the last minute.  The contract was on Kara Zor-El and her cousin so and it was for twenty million solar crowns.  Someone thinks she’s alive and will buy a star system for whoever kills her.”

“You take the contract?”

“I’m a pirate, not a hired killer.  I don’t take contracts, either. I do what I want, when and where I want.  Who I want, if they’re in the mood. Thinking of tagging along just to hunt them down.  My crew hasn’t smelled vacuum-frozen blood in a while. They get cranky without a space battle.”

“Let your crew have some fun.  Make sure they don’t make it to her.  She’s good--Kara is--kind. Even to rim-rats like me.  I remember singing for the House of El’s celebration of her birth.  Gorgeous little girl. She was twelve cycles and I was almost seventeen.   Never been so jealous of another woman’s good looks. Her skin was dark, nearly purple--like Agyte dust--and her hair was amazing.  Like a river of melted platinum.”

“If it’s true, go to Earth and look her up.  See if you can re-enter her service.”

“Earth?  Which one?  I get here and I learn there’s a universe that succumbed to every terrible problem I can imagine and a new terrible problem for every universe still standing.”

“Earth-38.  If you want passage, it could be arranged.  Say, four hundred solars?”

Melsha works her jaw back and forth, her blue eyes fixed on something far, far away.

“Let me think about it.  Maybe my husband can talk me into it.  Which berth?”

“None of them, you'll need to take a pod.  Deathblow a stolen Starbreaker so she’s a big girl.  Too big to fit.  Black and red.  Don’t look for Darkseid’s face though.  I painted over it with a black star, warhammer and a two claw marks.  Can’t miss it.”

“Thanks.  I should probably get back to Monny.  He worries when I drink when I’m sad.”

One of Prospecta’s guards comes up behind Anyr and taps gently on the shoulder.

“Her Worship will see you now.”

“Lead the way to paradise,” Anyr replies, dropping off the stool.

She suspect that she’ll be on her knees with her tongue out the instant she sees Prospecta but there are far, far worse things to lust after and nothing more amazing, unique or powerful in the multiverse or beyond it.  

I would spend my life collared on a chain as long as she held the other end.  

Goddesses are hard to come by and far harder to get in her bed.

The guard leads her up the rear stairway towards the private offices and five more fall in behind her.  They wear stenciled outlines of the titan’s dead heart on their breastplates with the crossed staves superimposed.  These are Prospecta’s personal guard, her best.

One day they might be working the floors as courtesans and keeping the peace the next.  Not much escapes them because they know what a threat looks like from either side of a token.

“I’ll behave myself,” Anyr jokes.  “Pirate’s honor.”

“You behaving yourself is something I believe when I see it,” the sturdy Helgrammite next to her scoffs, his mandibles flapping.  “But this isn’t because of you. Her Worship has an...unruly visitor at the moment.”

“Can I kill it?” Aynr coos.  “I give good murder.”

The raxxie woman leading the squad groans, sounding more like a rattle than anything against all those teeth.

“Hammer, I had just managed to forget how bad your jokes are. so thanks for that  Just have a seat and follow her worship’s lead, please.”

“With pleasure.”

They push open the offices doors.  

There she is, Anyr thinks, her head less empty and her blood warming up in her veins.  Soothing just to lay eyes on her.

Prospecta is slouched on one of her obscenely pillowed chairs, her bare feet cupping the shoulder-blades of a spectrally pale blonde crouched naked between her legs.  Her goddess’ silk robes are pulled down over her playmate's face and neck but the hair swishes slightly and the most tender-sounding suckling and moaning reaches Anyr’s ears.  

Even with such a distraction, a grin splits Prospecta’s obsidian lips when she sees Anyr.

A kiss is blown her way and Anyr catches it, pretends to swallow it and returns the favor. Prospecta laughs and it is music and the babbling of a mountain stream and brings memories of the sound of every happy thing Anyr still remembers.

“My newest and best pupil,” Prospecta declares, puffing up proudly.  “Serah.  You’ll love her. She’s nearly done with her rites. I was hoping you might do her the honor.”

Golden hands lit from within reach out and grab the girls head through the silks of her robes and pushes her away.  A small whine of disappointment comes from under the skirt.

“That is my best client.  The Crimson Hammer herself.  I think you will get along qui-”

A truly rude sucking noise between her legs delays Prospecta’s formal introductions for the time being.  Clearly the ‘best pupil’ did well because she enjoys her studies.

“Best indeed,” she purrs, leaning back.

“Before the pleasure,” she sighs, fixing the twin white infernos of her eyes on Anyr.  “The business. You have it?”

Anyr reaches into her leathers’ front pocket and pulls out a crude stone amulet that shivers and shudders and glows with a purple heat from within.

“Love,” Prospecta observes.  “You found the derivation for the Love Equation?”

“Anything for you, my friend.”

“Where?”

“Peace of the Black orphanage, as it turned out.  It was on the Thessalian-Daxamite border and it cared mostly for slave raid orphans, I think.  There was a Coluan monk there, recent initiate. He had been desperate to reach a little boy. Fell into a trance, nearly killed himself thinking about it, solved it.  I offered him both payment and protection for giving me the amulet. He didn't reply.  He didn’t even look up. He picked up a sobbing thessi girl and shushed her. Walked away.”

Prospecta’s lips curl slowly into a smirk.  She holds out her palm for the amulet and Anyr lays it down, managing to kiss the tips of three fingers before Prospecta pulls back with a laugh.

“Love for a child.  Nothing simpler or fiercer.   I’m not surprised you found it there.  I think he had what he needed and the amulet was a trinket to him.  Not everyone is so bold and brave as you or me. If he dies because he gave it up, he dies and I suspect he is long since at peace with it.”

Snapping the chain at each end, Prospecta places the stone on her tongue and swallows it.  The white flames of her eyes flash crimson for an instant before turning the dark violet of a Thessalian bruise-rose.  They remain that succulent color that keeps calling to Anyr’s lips.

Prospecta must must have the other six derivations, the entire Life Equation.  Anyr brought her four others. 

The fire of her eyes never shifted back as they always did before.

“You were carrying that on your person?” Prospecta asks.  

She smacks her lips loudly and reaches for the nearest flute of wine.

Anyr nods. “Where?”

Anyr pats the pocket.

“You poor thing!  I know how you get when you think of me and that you want more than a night or two with me.  You’ve spent weeks with the glory, the madness and the emptiness of love no more than a finger’s length from your sex?” Prospecta teases.  “Surprised you didn’t come in here with a cart full of wildflowers and your still-beating heart in your hand.”

That explains the despair and the hollowness.  Anyr realizes.   It was a gift for her and I want her to..lno.  That’s all. I want her. With me, near me.

Pirate in love.  No way that ends in anything but humiliation, she warns herself.

“Help me deal with this moron next door and we can spend as long as you like deciding what’s next for us.”

Anyr’s heart stops for at least five beats.  “I like the sound of ‘us’,” she murmurs.

Prospecta starts to stand, grimaces and hisses in pain.  Anyr lunges towards her, a hand on a knife and her mind reaching out for Splitter, beckoning the warhammer from the polluted dimension it slumbers in.

“No,” Prospecta hisses.  “It’s fine.”

She looks down at the lump of her pupils head under her dress.

“I told you, Serah,” she chuckles.  “Fangs never go in above the hemline.”

A snarl answers but the pupil relents and lifts the skirts to stand.  Prospecta rips her sleeve and binds a tight blindfold around the acolyte's eyes before she can turn to look at Anyr.

“Serah, this is The Crimson Hammer.  But her name is Anyr which is the color of a red flower on Apokolips.  No one but me, you, Yrael and her partner may call her that.  You may not look at her until the ceremony ends.  Is that clear?”

“Yes, mistress.”

“Turn around, then.  Let her look at you. Learn her face and her scent.”

Serah’s hands reach out, fingers spread wide.  Anyr steps closer and leans in so that her face is in reach.

“Learn everything.   Remember the legend of Ejan, Path Mother of Need?”

“Sculpted her lover in a lightless cave.  When she saw the sun, she wept for she thought her creation was her lover returned to her.”

Prospecta presses a kiss to the base of the girl’s neck.

“Yes.  The first path.  You must know her like that.   The second path...you must never deny her comfort or kindness, even when you deny her your body or your smile.  Denial of kindness breeds contempt.  You can cleanse each other of anger and even grief but not that.  You can do nothing if you desert each other.”

“Syln, Path Mother of Solace.”

“Yes, my pupil.  My hungry, playful little star.”

Serah looks up at Anyr with still-covered eyes and speaks like the last proverb was a wedding vow.

“The third and final path.  And I must share my weakness with her and she must share hers with me, so that our mingling strengthens us.  That our love may reduce us to shapeless flame, that it be the anvil on which we are tempered, the spark that fires our home's hearth and and the scourge with which we are branded.”

“Yes,” Prospecta whispers.  “As we learned from Shaal, Path Father of Bliss.”

Serah smiles.  Her fingers dance on Anyr’s face, tapping at Shadow’s scales.

“I like her face.  I don’t understand, though.  Scaly. No scars. You told me stories!  What this one felt like on your tongue, what legendary feat earned her this tiny nick!  You promised me a beautiful giantess with hero’s epic written in battle scars and claw marks from the unholy beasts she slew, 'bravery written out in flesh', you said.  Those were your words.”

Aynr swallows.   Is that how Prospecta sees my scars?  My burns?  The nicks that never filled? Fires and Stones! I thought she found them amusing...a joke since she could have the purest, cleanest thing she desires.  

Anyr takes a moment to let her eyes travel the acolytes body.  She reaches out, fingertips pausing at the sides of the ribs before getting a quick nod.  Anyr travels lightly but she wants to feel it all and Serah seems to agree.

Like this one, lean and salt-pale with a golden halo of silk.  

A web of blue veins under her cold skin, marbling her breasts like sculptor’s stone.  Nipples like droplets of frozen wine. A field of spun starlight between her legs hiding a gash that’s...brilliant scarlet and frigid.  Looks like a splash of bright blood on driven snow.

Prospecta has her.  Lives with her. Why would she want me?

“That is armor, Serah.  Anyr wears a monstrous beast over her skin like you or I would wear a gown.  They are one now and so long as one lives, both do.  It’s why she is always whole when she drags her bloodied carcass back to me,” Prospecta jokes.

Anyr would probably have struck her brains out with her hammer a half a dozen times if not for the call of Prospecta’s hands washing her wounds as they lazed about.

“I want to know what she feels like, under.  Bare.  Pushing me into the silks. Would you like that, Anyr?”

“I would, Serah.  Very much,” she replies, throat tight with anticipation.  “But I want your mistress to watch us.”

“Mmm,” Serah purrs.  “She won’t be my mistress by then, not anymore.  I’ll be an initiate and not a student.”

“She’ll still be gorgeous,” Anyr replies.

“Of course!  I did not say that I did not want her watching!  Let her join us when the jealousy is too great.  Would you honor me with a drop of your blood?” she pleads.  “So that I may enjoy its scent and its taste and I may always find my way back to your bed?”

Pale woman with cold skin, no heartbeat and a taste for blood.   She’s not from Earth.

She’s from Blood Earth, the one where the heroes are just pickier vampires than the rest of them.  Which one is that? 43? Too damn many of them…hard to keep track. Maybe I should go out and cull the sickest ones.

“Would that excite you, my little vampire?” Anyr asks.  “A forbidden thrill, like standing here in the bright glare of a white sun?  A feat of bravery...about which I am most curious.”

The acolyte wets her lips with a cherry red tongue.

“It would thrill me,” Serah breathes.  

“I have known only Her Worship’s blood since she lifted me from final death.  Yrael would prefer I not drink him. With Her Worship, I have strength I’ve never felt coursing through me, her light blazing bright as dawn in my veins, and I am unburnt.  The thirst obeys my whims now.”

Prospecta cups her students cheek tenderly--perhaps sadly?--and strokes her cheekbone with her thumb.

“Lazarus Pit,” she sighs.  “This little animal angered one of her counterparts and got a staff of yew through the heart.  Dragged herself for miles to reach the pit in Madrid, the one the Moorish chapter of the League kept.”

“It appears,” Prospecta adds with a grin, “That a resurrection pit has the most amazing and flattering effects on a woman who was already twice dead!  By the time I found her floating at the bottom, the pit was thick black slime.  All of its magic was spent but she was no longer sunken or gaunt. She was this, soft, springy, incandescent beauty you see before you.”

“She spelled my name wrong,” Serah sniffs, chin lifted high.  “It’s spelled S-e-r-a-h as it was in the old languages. Not S-a-r-a!  Even though she called truce, she did not allow me the courtesy of draining her wounded man, the one that burned me.  The ill-mannered cunt!  Worse, she was short.   The moonlight blessed me.  It makes us long and graceful.”

Anyr laughs, lowering her forehead to touch Serah’s.  

“Love, I certainly prefer your long,” she lifts one of Serah’s arms, dragging her tongue along the inside from elbow to palm.  “Graceful body.”

“Serah, at the back of my head there’s a large, gnarled scale under the others.  Strike it sharply and Shadow will sleep and slide off me. I’ll give you that drink,” she promises.  

She pushes gently and Serah quickly takes to her knees.  Anyr guides her sideways, pressing Serah’s closed lips to the inside of her thigh.

“From right there.”

Serah breathes deep, puffing the blindfold out with a huff, taking in whatever scent might pass the scales.  Her fangs burst out from her jaw with a click.

“Wait, my pretty one,” Prospecta chides.  “Plenty of time to play after we send that boor away.  Our love might need her armor a moment longer.”

“Steppenwolf,” she whispers to Anyr.  

“Be ready.  He’s been moaning and bleating in the parlor for days.  Mother this and mother that and threatening and complaining and...without Serah in my lap throughout the negotiations, I might have gone mad!  See if a few cutting words from his elders send him packing, shall we?”

Splitter leaps from between the tainted stars of his cosmos and lands at her feet, the massive head dropping to the floor with a crack of thunder and the handle soaring towards her shoulders.  Anyr rolls her hands around the grips and hefts the warhammer onto her shoulder.

“Let’s teach him some manners.”

Prospecta smiles, all bright teeth and a firestorm in her eyes.  “Right this way.”

A long hallway with several sets of ornate armored doors separates Prospecta’s living quarters from where she entertains visitors so that she can invite some lout in, excuse herself and disappear to her bed without a care.

“I brought you a gift,” Serah whispers.  

“Did you?”

“Mmm.  Revenge for your newest scar.  Prospecta heard the story and sent me to find a gift.  I killed the flying bitch who gave you it and the puffed up oaf she called husband.”

Ubergirl and the further...father...fletcher...Furher!  That’s the term. That needle dicked moron with the bow.  What are they called on that lumpy shit of an Earth?  Nazis? She destroyed their entire government just to make a good impression on me?

Anyr fists her hand in Serah’s mane and pulls back.  

“No easy feat.  You wouldn't lie, would you?”

“Not until I’m already in your bed,” Serah groans.  “Then I would. Lie, kill, steal, cheat, torture...whatever it took to keep you under the silks.”

“I’m a pirate, love.  I live on a warship.  With me, you sleep under leathers, not silks.”

Unless I decide to keep you out of sight in my little nest on Foehammer.

“Mmm,” Serah licks her lips.  “Leathers it is. I do not lie.”

“My fangs are sharp and wicked.  Carved of ancient magic.  I’ve hunted more men in the moonlight than they kill in their camps.  The wife still needed sleep, like any other bird.  She was a screamer but at least her husband died with some dignity.  I brought you her breastplate and two heads, cleaned and crowned. A crown of arrowpoints for a dead man’s skull.”

“You know how to spoil a woman,” Anyr jokes.  “I will have to find a place to hang them.”

A pleasant decision for another day.  First I must dispense with my fathers least-useful ward without breaking any of that sumptuous furniture.

Steppenwolf stands at the end of a balcony, scowling out across the city’s skyline.  Four parademons stand beside him--elites--and he was accompanied a bent-over priest with his eyes scoured out and a strip of black cloth binding the wound.

“Nephew,” Anyr teases.  “It has been years.”

“Your ‘Mother’ would be so disappointed in you.  Such a view,” she pouts her lips. “And you still act so sad!”

“Eldest or not, I will not speak to traitors like you.”

The parademons to either side of him his and turn their heads his way, misshapen noses twitching in the air.

Why someone would breed parademons so ugly--or brainless--escapes her.  The ones born on the Deathblow are smart, agile, sleek.  They take orders better than half her crew.

As opposed to unkempt beasts savaging anything bearing the scent of fear.

“I’d rather we didn’t talk.  Traitor is the second-best thing I am.  I want you to leave is what I want.”

Anyr rest her chin on Splitter’s hilt, batting her eyes.

“You’re afraid,” she laughs. “Because you fail every time.”

“Orphan boy with a face even your Mother Boxes can’t love.  You’re afraid that you won’t find whatever scrap of madness the vision told you was here.  That you will fail a third time and fresh from your defeat at the hands of that flying brick, the metal-skirted tease and her friends, no less! Perhaps the Earth is simply too advanced for you, baby brother. Small she may be but the locals do seem to be unusually vicious.”

He growls.

“Don't, Steppenwolf.  Don’t think it. Your back is to me and your hands on the railing.  My hands are on my weapon. You’ve already lost. Go before I find an open spot on my scarf and take another trophy.  Darken this palace’s doors again and I will chase you down, powder your skull and clean my boots with your horns.”

Serah whispers something in Prospecta’s ear.

“How wicked!  How delicious.  Let’s do that,” she agrees.

Prospecta snaps her fingers five times.  Four parademons and a dark priest are instantly replaced by some soft-looking shiny material.  It can’t be stone because the lights from the candles seem enough to melt it.

Food.  Some delicacy Serah likes, Anyr supposes.   Something sweet, most likely.

Serah strikes like a viper, moving faster than Anyr can follow from the corner of her eye.  She plunges four pairs of curving, gleaming fangs into the statue’s neck and guzzles some orange liquid within.

Steppenwolf raises his axe to cut her down but with another snap of Prospecta’s fingers, he finds himself swinging a piece of hollow glass filled with water and rosy pink bubbles.  Serah blurs again and takes the dull side of the head in between her fangs, biting hard.

The weapon shatters and perfumed water soaks onto the carpet and drips from the balcony.

“How?” Steppenwolf bellows.  “What power is this?”

“She,” Anyr blows a kiss at Prospecta.

“Possesses the Life Equation and wields it as only the gods can.  A gift I bought her. Go home and tell father his war is over and we won.  He need only say his prayers and await my justice.“

Serah pushes the priest-shaped statue aside and pulls one of the parademon shaped ones into her arms.  Fangs flashing, she cracks through the shell of whatever-that-is and drinks again before pulling back, a mess of milky red-and-white cream on her chin.

“Take that one with you,” she grumbles at Steppenwolf.  “He was dark chocolate orange. Bleh.”

He drags the leaking thing away and Prospecta snaps her fingers just after the guards close the doors.  A pained shrieking can be heard followed by a crack of bone and silence. It seems the transformation is reversible but the scars remain.

“Milk chocolate cherry fondue parademon?” Serah mumbles with her mouth full while holding the transformed corpse out.  “It’s like drinking a kiss. Share it with me. S’really good!”

Serah looks like a spoilt child with a face smeared in sweets, a sticky and stained blindfold around her face and a grin.  Anyr snorts. Then chuckles. Then laugh so hard and fast her hands are sore from clinging to the warhammer lest she fall down.

“Chocolate?  Have not heard of it.  You find the strangest things to feed me, Prossi.”

“And I enjoy the surprise on your face every time, Anni.  Chocolate is a delicacy on many of the Earths.  Serah introduced me.  Often exchanged between lovers and sometimes eaten in baths filled with perfumed bubbles,” she explains.

She nods to the pile of glass shards and fragrant dampness that was once one of the most feared weapons in the cosmos.

“Sneaky lady,” Anyr teases.

“I felt I should destroy him with the trappings of love, since you brought that to me.”

Anyr kneels down beside Serah and reaches up behind her head.  She raps her fist on Shadow’s tiny skull and feels her slacken and slither down, the burn on her right hand sticking before their flesh peels apart.

“Brave beast,” Prospecta coos, opening her desk's chilled cabinet and setting a frozen cube of raw meat on the floor.  “Come here and let me feed you. Get your strength back.”

Shadow coils around it and starts to feed.  

“You noticed?”

“Of course.  I always check you for wounds, Anni.  You seem unable to avoid them!”

Dropping her own silks, Prospecta kneels with them, nude and resplendent.  Her golden skin casts a honeyed glow on the chocolate shell. Veins of black diamond snake below the surface, pumping whatever impossibility she is made of from her heart to her head and her hands and back again.  Her nipples, generous and firm, stand out like fat black gemstones.

They feed on the sweet, hot-tasting treat as a pack of animals.  Passing over each other, nipping and pretending to growl.

Serah’s blindfold is soaked with cream and droplets hang from her nose.  She throws cream on Anyr’s face and blurs forward to lick her cheeks clean.  Anyr’s thickest scar--a crescent mark on her left bicep--brushes across the side of Serah’s breast, making her shiver.  Diamond dust beads on Prospecta’s skin as she flushes with arousal and some of it smears on Anyr’s hands and Serah’s back.

“No more,” Serah demands, panting.

“We can eat later.  The ceremony, my mistress.  May we do it now?”

Prospecta laughs, falling back to the cushioned carpet.

“We may, but I’m not getting up!”

She spreads her legs, sucks the sugary sin from her fingers and plunges them into her slit.

“Do you know the customs, Anni?”

“Bits and pieces.  I wasn’t here for Yrael’s ascension.”

“That fact is distracting me from a positively lovely bit of voyeurism,” she grumbles.

“You will speak to Serah, judge whether you feel she is worthy of the title. She will kneel and ask your blessing.  If given, you will give her your offer. It must be at least a day, either dusk to dusk or dawn to dawn. If she accepts, place the medallion…”

Prossi flicks her fingers in a familiar motion that Anyr has never seen but most definitely felt and enjoyed.  A lockbox on the desk opens and a short, black chain necklace with a triangular charm on it floats into the room.

“...on her neck and take her to bed.  It is her reward, so do with her just as you said.  Should she wish to refuse, she removes the necklace and places it on your neck .   As her sponsor and mistress, I must give my blessings and conditions to the union.”

She breathes deep, considering her words.

“Should this vow be freely accepted…  I, Prospecta, Queen of the Three-Fold Path, do abdicate my crown and release Mercy and Charity to my successor who I name as Kyiak, wombed in Armali and Rak amongst cold seas and warm leaves, long may she lead our sisterhood through need, solace, and bliss.”

“I anoint myself and my former ward, Serah, wombed in Earth under death and shadow and moonlight, as freemaidens.  Will be path-tutored but free to love as we would, paid by no one and pledged to no place.”

Prospecta casts her watery eyes up at Anyr.   She’s tired, Anyr realizes.

“And I would plead that Anyr, wombed in Apokolips under fire and sulfur, take myself and my pupils as lovers as she has in the past.  So that we may roam the stars with her.”

She wants something new and for whatever fire-blasted, stone-fucked reason, she loves me.  She wants to spend the rest of my life, maybe even the rest of hers, with me.

“Do you accept, Anyr?”

“I-I do,” Anyr chokes.  “You will want for nothing, fear nothing, never be far from my side.  I love you, Prospecta. I think...I always have.”

“I think I even love Serah, which frightens me.  I fell for her faster than she can strike with her fangs,” she teases.

Prospecta nods.  “The best love sometimes is like a knife in the back.  Confusion, shock and a bit of shame that you never saw it coming.”

Serah waits patiently on her knees even as tears roll from under the blindfold.

“Do you accept, Serah?”

“I do,” she replies, voice cracking.  “All of it.  All of it would make me happy.”

More than she expected?

“It is done,” Prospecta sighs, her fingers resuming their flicks and her head falling back to stare at the silk-hooded lamps.  “Give her an offer, promise her to uphold her wishes and give her the necklace. Be quick about it, Anni. I’ve been seething since you too laid eyes on each other.”

Anni.  Fire and Stone, I love that sound.  A name only my lovers know.

“Serah,” she begins, unwinding the blindfold slowly.  Pale blue eyes and a freckled face turn up to meet her gaze.  A ghostly purple birthmark on the underside of her jaw begs for a love-bite on the other side to make it symmetrical.

“I...I’m not very good with ceremony,” Anyr admits. “Or poetry...or really anything other than killing people who don’t want to die, stealing things, and fucking people who want to fuck me.”

“That last one’s the important bit,” Prospecta grumbles, moving her hand faster.

“Serah, I want to pick you up, put you in the silks over there and take you apart bit by bit.  I want you coming up to meet me as we move together, then I want to flip you over and make you scream into the pillows.  And then I want to hold you and kiss you anywhere I can.”

“Don’t mind me,” Prospecta complains.  “No one else is here but you two.”

Serah giggles and the universe is good for a moment.  Someone that dark, weaned on blood and death with memories full of terror, can still smile and laugh like that.

“We will get to you, Prossi.”

“Assuming Prossi hasn’t shoved my head between her legs, we will rest and in the morning, I will put my head between your legs and she will have her way with me.  Prossi will fuck me from behind and I will fuck you, trapped between you and her, telling you how beautiful you are whenever I remember to breathe. Then you can return the favor and grind my face into her slit until I scream.”

“I accept,” Prossi and Serah say half a heartbeat apart.

Prossi’s hand is dancing between her legs, trying desperately to relieve herself.

She has never seen Prossi act this starved before.  Not an hour ago Serah’s tongue was inside her, slow and gentle like a cub nursing at the teat and already she is cranky and impatient.  

Perhaps it is the vow, the dropping of her mask, the uncertainty of the whole mess.

Anni smiles as she clasps the necklace behind Serah’s head.

“Do you like toys?” she whispers to Serah, who nods eagerly.

She grabs one of the many scepters that ring Splitter’s shaft--symbolic proof of her dominion over some rock or another--and twists it off.  She tosses it in her hand, checking the rod’s heft and texture.

Perfect.  Smooth and straight but the bands of inscription give it some spice.  Metal like this and even I’ll be walking funny in the morning. Any longer and it’d be awkward with no curve and any thicker and it’d be uncomfortable.  Wonder what the people of...Maraii’s Blessing...would think knowing I used the crown they gave me as a dildo? Weren’t they the fanatic hermits in the rim?

Wicked. Disrespectful.  Exactly what Anni needs to remember who she is.  

Serah’s eyes take in the rod and nods her head eagerly, her pupils already blown.

“It’s got blood on it,” she whispers, voice thick and licking her lips.

“Which is unacceptable,” Anni quips.  “You already ate...all...that...chocolate!”

Serah pouts and it’s powerful stuff.  Downturned blue eyes and puckered pink lips.  Like a disappointed blood-sucking baby bird.

Holding it over her branded palm, she lets the maelstrom beyond the Infinity Wall rise up in her memory...focusing on the pain as her skin sizzled against something unreal and chaos itself drove its teeth into her.

Anni manages to conjure a white flame and she rubs the shaft with it, searing anything and everything away and leaving only glowing orange metal.  She drops it into one of Prossi’s oil jars by the bed where it boils off the some of the slippery contents with a cloud of spicy steam.

“Clean as can be.  For later. Get off your knees, come here and lie back.”

Serah blurs over, denying Anni a look at her.  One moment there was a still-dazed initiate kneeling on the floor and the next a woman under her.

“No.  New rule,” she growls, rolling them over so Serah is on top before pinching Serah’s right nipple in a powerful but not yet painful grip.  

Serah gasps and lunges nips almost angrily while trying to use her speed to get her tongue in Anni’s mouth.

“Nothing we do, any of us do, with our powers makes it less sexy.  No skipping things with powers, no speed, no being made of the stone-fucking magic of the universe or whatever makes Prossi so...Prossi.  We should enjoy everything about each other, not use one thing to hide something else.  At least I think so.”

“That means you get up, twirl that juicy, powdered-sugar ass of yours around, walk back over there, nice and slow, then walk back nice and slow.  Please?”

Serah chortles her assent and Anni pushes her away with a playful shove.

“Go on, silly.”

The long walk Serah takes back to the bed is five paces of agony as her narrow hips roll with each step take and her small breasts shiver ever so slightly.  She bends down to put her palms on the sheets and after laying face down, somehow wriggles up the bed in a way that Anni can’t handle in her current state.

She rolls over and Anni mounts her, sliding her thigh between Serah’s and pressing up until she finds trembling, slippery skin.  A little cool to the touch...but also not the eerie, icy smoothness of everything else Serah.

“Inside, your not as cold,” Anni murmurs.

“Of course not!” Serah replies.  “You’re making me hot. Please tell me you’re not  going to break out some instruments or something?”

Anni lunges, her feet finding only partial purchase on the floor.  It’s still enough to press Serah back into the mattress and leave a chilly stain spreading on the bedsheets.

“Funny joke.”

Serah groans and not from the thrust it seems.

Power play?  I can do that.

Anni curls down and hair falls around her face.  Serah spits out a strand that made it into her mouth and then pulls another in with her tongue, crunching on the tip.

“Your hair.  S’good,” she decides, words muffled.

And her thing is jokes.

Fingernails drag up Anni’s sides and dance circles around her breasts, tormenting her, never close enough to be more than a tickle.  Getting her back for the surprise earlier.

“Suck,” Anni orders and Serah arches up to meet her, wrapping her lips around a nipple.  The outlines of the fangs can be felt pressing through the lips but nothing more. A tongue dances along the mound of her breast before lashing the nipple.  Smooth. Icy. Fast.

Praying that she can support them with one hand, Anni cups the back of Serah’s head and pulls her in.  Serah hisses like a cat but whether in warning or agreement, Anni can’t tell.

“Don’t stop.  Yes. More. S-s-softer!” Anni pleads.

Serah had given it her all and not broken the skin, sucking hard and entombing a mouthful of flesh between the points of fangs and the unnerving feel of her cold tongue.

It was everything ...Anni simply wasn’t ready and dropping them both with Serah falling headfirst would be less than romantic.

“Oh, sweetling,” Anni whispers when Serah falls into a rhythm of scrapes of the tongue and long, fluttering suckles.  “Thank you.”

She is released with a wet popping sound and Anni wants to scream.

“Ride me hard, Anni.”

Serah puts her mouth back where it belongs and clamps her leg around Anni’s waist.  Driving down hard, Anni is met by a equally needy but totally sloppy effort each time.  Again and again she tries but they’re too worked up to click. Near miss after near miss, never finding a fit.

So they roll and tumble and tease each other for their uselessness until finally Serah bows upward off the bed while Anni hangs over her, trying to catch her breath.  Her soaked mound glides over Anni’s and she puts her foot down on the floor like a ballerina en pointe.    Her swollen lips drag over Anni’s and her clit, puffy and stiff with need, traces Anni's engorged slit from tip to tip.  Serah holds her pose and then pushes back, moving up instead of down.

“Like this?” she asks.

“Yes,” Anni moans.

Eyes squinted shut and trembling, Anni cannot bring herself to move.  Each jeerk of Serah’s hips ends with a jolt and a sizzle of fire up her spine.  Fingertips brush her lips and she takes the invasion gladly, slicking them and coughing when they withdraw.  Another three fingers follow and Anni coughs back her gag, wheezing for a thousand reasons and just the one: Serah.

Freshly-slickened fingers roll and pluck her nipples and Serah rises into her, over and over and over while Anni struggles not to collapse.

“Let go.  You’re safe here,” she whispers.

Safe.  That does it.  That carries her over the edge and Anni shatters, broken, screaming.  Serah rides her through it, holding her cheeks and staring into her eyes.  Glazed over and arctic blue--deep and deadly--Serah’s eyes catch and hold hers.

“You’re safe with me.”

Held up by her now-useless arms, Anni sinks.

“You really needed to hear that, huh,” Serah murmurs, lips pressed up on her sweaty cheek.

It wasn’t a question.

”Thank you,” Anni moans.

She cries, her tears falling on icy skin where they gradually slow and freeze.

“Come here,” Serah demands, patting her breasts.  “Lie down. Rest.”

Anni nuzzles Serah’s nipple with her cheek and settles in.  She wants to say something, something about how right having them--even Yrael, the scoundrel--in her life will be but can’t manage it.  

She wails, each haggard, sore breath letting out carnage and terror.  She is a blubbering, salt-streaked mess pillowed on fragrant flesh and her wits are long before sleep takes her.

 

Haze.  Everything around Anni’s head is a haze of blurry darkness and it’s comfortable and cool and soft and she licks her lips to clear the taste of sleep.  In doing so, her tongue grazes a nipple and last night gradually hardens into real memories in her mind.

She opens her eyes, forcing them to focus.

“Marvelous,” Serah breathes, looking up at Prossi from her nest.  “She was scary at the start but so brave at the end. I’m glad she let herself relax.”

“I wanted to clap,” Prossi admits.  “You both gave each other exactly what you needed even though neither of you--my stubborn friend--were able to say it in so many words.  She needed to be weak without fearing a knife in the back and you needed to feel beautiful and leave the monster in your past.  That thing died in the Lazarus Pit.”

“Clap?” Serah laughs.  “You had lashed your hands to a serving table!   You were dragging it around the room because you could barely reach yourself!”

“Yes.  Which is why I did not clap.  A bit of light self-bondage to spice things up while I passed the time.”

Serah scoffs.  “Brilliant plan.”

“I made it work,” Prossi reminds her.

Prossi looks down.

“You need more sleep, Anni my love.  It has only been a few hours.”

“I--I promised,” Anni reminds her, realizing how tired she is.

“I also found out you saved some grieving woman’s sanity at the bar and fucked poor Lyra into a puddle.  You did that just to calm your nerves before seeing me, so learn not to over-promise.  Lyra sends her love, by the way. I expect many a marvelous orgasm while I lounge on that hideously grim couch on your ship’s bridge,” she jokes.  “For now, my tired warrior, just rest.”

Prossi shakes her head sadly.  

“I asked too much of you, took advantage.  Asked you to deal with your family--I know how they hurt you--when you came here in need and only came here for me.”

Serah tries, and fails, to kiss Anni’s head without dislodging her head from her breasts.  She rests her palms on Anni’s head and holds her in place.

“Prossi, would you kindly hand me that rod?”

Leaning over and removing the oil-drenched spar of metal is enough to make Anni shudder.  This is no doubt going somewhere terrifying and yet still delicious.

“This one?” she asks, juggling it as it attempts to escape her grip with a splash of twelli berry oil.

“That one,” Serah replies, smirk baring a glimpse of her upper fangs.

“Would you trust me...” she murmurs, kissing Anni’s palm. “...to put this inside you while you sleep?  I suspect you will wake up much more interested in a repeat.”

Anni eyes the rod again with a completely different frame of mind.  It would be delicious but it would be delicious agony the instant she regained her wits.

“No. But the smallest ones are near the bottom...use those.  Clean one in a candle, put it in warm.  Fuck me with it while I sleep if you like,” she offers.  “I trust both of you. I’m serious. You’re so gentle, Serah. And I could use the pleasant dreams.”

Her communicator warbles somewhere in the pile of their clothes.

“Stone-fucking, fire-blasted shit-licking blob of Daxamite slime,” she snarls.  “What does Tol want?”

Prossi returns with the communicator.

“It's not him.  I think Tol-Vann knows where his cock will end up if he pushes you.”

“Helgrammite’s showers as a towel rod,” Anni grumbles.  “Hand towels only.”

Serah laughs into her hand and Anni's entire world bounces delightfully.

“Not him, it’s Silver.”

“Fuck ‘im,” she coughs.  “We’re busy.”

“Be kind.  He cares.  He’s a couple days out but he’s making sure you’re all right,” Prossi scolds her.  “Though kindness is not among the reasons I find him so fuckable, as it happens.”

“Is he the...” Serah pauses.  She makes a motion of gathering some small animal into her palm and stroking it while she is cooing at it.

Which is maddening for many reasons but primarily two.  Because it’s entrancing seeing Serah so playful and it makes Anni seethe with jealousy seeing her lover praise Silver while naked in her arms.

“Yes,” Prossi snickers.  “The nice one.”

“That’s the difference between you and I, Prossi.  Well, one of two.”

“I’m prettier,” Anni begins.  Prossi slaps her with a pillow.  “and you fuck Silver for his looks .  Total madwoman, this one.”

“Ha, ha.  Pretty bold for a woman who might just wake up wrapped in scarves.  Upside down. With me eating breakfast off her back.”

“We who are about to be furniture,” Anni declares, saluting more sharply than she ever did while a soldier.  “Salute you.”

 

Chapter Text

Chapter in progress. Please pardon the ink stains.


 

Time-Dilated Space | Vol’sha or Mithian (“Filth” in Monitor-speak & "Silver" in Apokoliptian)


The ”Seeker”, warship of the pirate group called Black Star

 

Mithian’s eyes crack open and he takes in the dark cabin, sliding one hand under the pillow to his sidearm.

Never hurts to check.

Junat stirs behind him, stretching all her arms over her head.  She’s lanky, easily a head taller than the next-largest raxxie on board.  Her toes wriggle in the open air and her palms press flat against the bulkhead.

“Hmm.  Morning skipper.”

Smile tugging at his face, Mith turns his head and gives her a peck.

“Morning, killer,” he teases.

He lifts his head to look past her to Yrael.

“Yrael?”

Junat giggles.

“Not here.  He’s probably taken that lance he woke up with and bent Coll over the console.  Unless it’s Shin. Shin was making eyes last night but I think that was just to make Coll feel inadequate.  Which is just stupid. Coll can spear me anytime and he knows that.”

“So picky,” Mith teases.

“You know me boss, I only take top-shelf cock.  And I don’t sleep outside command crew.”

“Uh-huh.  What about Falair?”

“What?” Jun laughs.  “She’s our best pilot.  Besides, a slit’s a slit.  They’re all top shelf.  Love the way she acts when I lift her crests.  Sometimes before I can get my fingers in she goes off like a damned nuke.”

Not arguing, Mith thinks.   Falair is the most whole soldier among us and maybe that’s the fact that she goes straight from her cockpit into someone's arms.

“You’re sweet on Yrael, boss.  Why don’t you act on it? I don’t think I ever see you calmer than when you kiss him.  I can vouch for his skills, any way you can imagine.”

Because I ran away.  Because if it happens again, I would never forgive myself.

“I ran away from my old life because of a boy.  We never really did anything, either.  Barely fumbled each other’s pants off before we got caught.  He killed himself the next day, because his family found out.”

“Fucking Yrael isn’t going to kill anyone you love, Silver.  You know that.”

He taps his head and then his gut.

“Knowing is different than knowing, Jun.”

“I know,” Jun sighs.

She blurs out of bed and over to the gun rack.  Wriggling into her jumpsuit, she straps no fewer than six guns to her back, her thighs and hanging off their straps.

“You realize that you’re on the gunner station for the ship’s guns, right?” he teases.

“Need to look my best,” she shrugs.

“Just...think about it, please?  I see the way you look at him. You were almost done and I suggested you could fuck him after me and next thing I know I’m drowning in mattress.”

Mith laughs.

“Glad I could amuse.”

“You always do.”

She bumps her boot against a small shape snoring by the door.

“Get up, Shin.”

Shin lifts her head, the glassy surface of her face flickering and sorting itself.

“Junat?”

“Got it in one.”

Silver sits on the side of the bed and waves his hand at her little nest of leathers and underclothes.

“Why are you sleeping on my clothes on the floor?  You’re not a Klixen, dear.”

“Because your jacket smells nice,” Shin yawns.  “I was going to join you but...Jun gets grouchy.  And I could hear Coll getting pounded if I stayed near the door.  It was hot .”

Silver laughs.  He leans over to the intercom by the bedside.

“Helmswoman, take us in.  Bring us over the Deathblow and sync up our systems.  I want us ready to attach as soon as we clear the titan’s skull.”

“Aye-aye.  You sound relaxed this morning, boss.”

He laughs.

“Thanks.”

He lets go of the button and points at Jun and then at Shin.

“Shin, come over here.  I can’t have you all frustrated over there.  Jun, do you have your kit handy?”

“You want me to sculpt her?  While you’re fucking her?”

He shrugs.

“Why not?”

Jun nods.

“Just...move slow.  Too fast and I won’t be able to capture the scene.”

“Hear that Shin?  We’re going to have to take it slow.”

Shin climbs on to the bed, nestling herself beside him.  Her small, cool fingers run through his stubble and flick at the earlobe.

“Like the way you feel, Silver.  Everything about you is just cozy.  Your face,” she drags her nails over his jaw.

“Your body,” she trails her hand down his chest and the wispy gray hair.

Her small hands wraps around his cock, fingertips brushing.  She taps his balls twice, gently but quickly and something in his brain shivers.

“Your cock.  Your balls. I swear I could fall asleep on this thing.”

“High praise,” he grumbles.

“After!” she insists.  “When it’s soft, it’s still so thick and...cozy having it in me.”

 

 

Silver is well and truly used.  Junat took him half the night and Shin--the trickster--made sure she got him for the morning.

Merely the roll of Shin’s hips as they enter the bridge reveals what they have been up to.  

Coll greets him from the systems console where a mosaic of displays and indicators fill the panel.

“Skipper.”

Yrael is--as usual--being a pest.  His lean body is draped upside down in the command chair and he has perched a field ration on his shaven chest.

“These are actually really good!” he chortles.

He spots Silver and shakes crumbs from his fingers before spanking them on his trousers.

Thank the Black he was wearing something.

He cocks an eyebrow and blows kisses at Silver.

“Hello, handsome.”

“Good morning, Yrael.”

“It is, isn’t it?  The birds are singing--wherever the nearest birds are--and there’s company and hot food and hot flesh.”

If nothing else, Yrael is straightforward.  He fucks people and tells jokes. He does it extremely well so he never wraps it in anything more poetic.

“Tash, morning.”

The newest crewmember is their helmswoman, Tasha.  She took one look up at the Seeker from the surface of the hellhole colony she lived on and made sure to stow away on it and to do so with enough information to barter about the defenses that she had a place.  Silver felt sorry for her. He’s felt sorry for all of his crew, at some point. That’s why they’re here.

It’s why there’s so few.  Eleven now, with Faela as lead pilot.

Crimson Hammer always teases him about running a pirate ship as an orphanage but he cannot imagine doing it her way.  Thousands of crew...too many to worry about. He prefers the swarming parademons who live and eat and breed and die all with equal glee.  Perhaps that’s because Anni was raised in an army and he was raised in an up-jumped orgy. Maybe it never really left either of them.

Tash is staring at the forward display as the Deathblow draws ever closer and the crystalline heart that houses the pleasure palace obscures all else.  

Nothing.

“Tash,” Silver asks.  “You all right?”

She reaches up and squeezes his hand where it rests on her shoulder.

“I’m good.  It’s a glorious view.”

Silver hums.

“It is.  Have we made contact?”

“Sure have, skipper.  Tal-Vonn says the Hammer is still ashore and she wants you to join them.  Tokens on the docking ring for anyone in the crew.”

Tash nods, working her jaw back and forth.

“I think I’ll go.  Ma wanted some pictures.”

Silver chuckles.

“She’s lucky to have a daughter like you.”

The jury-rigged shard of Thought Engine that jammed between his shoulder blades warms up.

[Mith?]

[Anni.  How are you?]

[Upside down.  Covered in berries.  Eating more berries out of Serah while Prossi does the last of the paperwork.]

[Sounds relaxing.]

[Very.  How did people talk before implants like this?]

[Maybe they stopped tonguing the woman they were with?]

[Horrifying.] Anni replies

[Your bridge or mine, Anni?]

[Mine.  Bring Yrael.  Maybe Junat could run the Seeker?]

Silver scratches his chin.  The logical choice would be Junat, she’s a fighter and she’s reckless sometimes but unlike Faela or even Coll, she’s creative.  In a bad fight, creative can balance out a lot of reckless.

“Junat, you’re in command. I’m going to relocate to the Deathblow .  If we split the ships, you take Seeker and keep her safe.”

“Can do.”

“Yrael?  Our presence is requested.”

Yrael lifts his head from where it had been lolling near the floor.

“Great.  Can we reverse gravity for a moment?  Sort of stuck.”

The whole bridge laughs.

Chapter Text


April 3, 2006 | Kara Danvers

National City, California

National City University

Sheridan Residence Hall, Room 619

 

“Room 619,” Kara sighs. “Where it all began.”

She lifts her hands to knock and finds that she can’t.

Because the dents are still here. Almost ten months and the dent in the door has never been fixed. Three small, round craters in the cheap wood-like substance it was made of remain, proof of the Black Knight’s first escort mission.

The first time a woman approached Kara. The first time someone praised Kara’s looks or wanted her before they knew anything about her. The first time she was lusted after and that...she’s pretty sure that Nadia has changed everything.

Nadia jerks the door open and grab’s Kara’s hand.

“Get those Tits of Steel in here,” she teases. She uses the remote to turn her music up so that only she can Kara can hear.

“Play it cool. I put the fear of God and Alex into ‘em. They can be trusted.”

“How much did you tell them?” Kara asks.

“Alien. Badass. Nice. I love you. Dealing with some identity stuff because of your dad,” she says, ticking off fingers.

Oh, is that all? So they know I’m an alien, I’m powerful, and that I’m a fucking Worldkiller? So that’s not something that will give Alex nine heart attacks when she finds out.

“Glad you told them you loved me.”

Three of Nadia’s friends are here--Mason, Jack and Fatima--all perched on beds and chairs and the side of the desk. They barely fit before and with Kara’s bulk added, the room is...intimate to say the least.

“Mason! Hi,” she waves. “Thanks for joining us filthy students in the degree mines. Wait! What sorcery is that? How do you pick these things? Where the blazes do you shop?” Kara demands.

Mason smiles, their cheeks pinking up.

Last time Kara saw them was at a faculty dance where Mason was escorting their closeted partner as her 'boyfriend' and was rocking a blazer, pompadour, slacks and bowtie. Their friends know it’s the same person but half of campus is probably wondering where the dapper little fellow went and where this lithe and beglittered and besandaled fairy princess came from.

Hell, Kara thinks. That's probably how a professor snuck into the upperclassmen dorms without it being weird.

“Thrift stores, mostly. Church ones have the best prices...sucks to have to femme it up just to shop but,” they laugh, swishing the sky blue cotton sundress. “Works.”

“I’ll say. You and me, hot stuff, need to do some suspenders, jacket and shirt hunting. I’ll bring the spears. Bring some wolves so we can get the scent.”

“You are so weird.” Mason laughs. “Jenna says hi.”

Kara bends down, sticking her neck out so she can see better. Sure enough, Fatima is keeping to the shadows at the back of the bunk bed. She pulled her headscarf higher so that she’s little more than a pair of gold and green eyes under a bolt of black silk with silver inscriptions.

She is being far more shy than usual and Kara doesn’t like it.

Is she afraid of me now?

As-salāmu ʿalaykum,” Kara offers, beckoning. “We’re friends, Fatima. Remember? Promise I’m the same person I was yesterday, same person I was a month ago.”

[ As-salāmu ʿalaykum -- Arabic greeting translating to: “peace be upon you”.]

[Thank you Kolex but, I know what I said.]

“The Quran,” Fatima mumbles. “Says that the jinn tried to defy Allah and go to the stars but were turned back by shooting stars and angels.”

Kara is starting to understand. It’s not that Kara is a bad person but that her being an alien from the stars shakes something else Fatima believes in. Her faith is one of a handful of things that Fatima can rely on as she navigates a campus stacked with post-9/11 bigots.

“Pretty sure that’s why I fell to Earth. The edge is ways out but,” Kara mimes walking into a wall. “Sproing! Next thing I know Alex is pulling me out of the water.”

Fatima snickers.

Shalom aleichem, Kara. Thank you for not overreacting. I...I’ve been trying to take it in but...I was being a really judgy bitch just now.”

[ Shalom aleichem --Hebrew greeting translating to: “may you be well”.]

[Kolex...] Kara warns, her tattoo blazing on her skin.

[Eliza taught me Hebrew and me learning it meant everything to her. So I swear to G-D if you keep being this naughty, it’s diagnostic mode for a month.]

Nadia claps her hands.

“And peace unto me and Jack and may Dionysus smile on Mason. If we’re done solving religious strife?” she hints.

Jack waves at Kara from under a blanket on the top bunk. The glow of a laptop screen can be seen and it sounds like something made of foil is rustling around under there. He’s the funniest guy Kara knows but Rao’s breath is he an odd duck sometimes.

“So…” Kara wonders aloud. “What exactly is this?”

“This,” Nadia declares, grin and eyes both one step back from insanity. “Is the perfect birthday present for my girl. You will see.”

“Anniversary, Kara reminds her. And...stuff happened, so it’s fine.”

Stuff happened turned out to mean Eliza grounding her for the rest of Kryptonian day--almost four weeks with no Nadia, no Black Knight and especially no TV appearances--after the police tossed her dorm room the next day. There was a press conference with the mayor and the governor climbing over each other to shake Kara’s hand and a very sheepish looking Attorney General of the United States trying not to be seen. Alex had to offer up spending her next shore leave in Midvale to get Eliza to let Kara go.

She still hasn’t seen Alex since the broadcast.

“Nope! I bribed Alex. Someone’s getting something that goes bang! as a thank you,” Nadia jokes. “She’ll love it.”

Earth birthday? No, we decided that’s July 5th. First day I woke up on Earth. Oh, Rao!

Nadia leans in and kisses Kara. Fatima sighs. Mason wolf-whistles.

"Happy actual birthday, baby. Happy birth minute in three-two-one! What is it, fifty one?"

“Yes,” Kara whispers, her tears now dotting the carpet.

"You did the calendar, the thrust dilation in transit, you even accounted for the galactic rotation," she murmurs. "Thank you."

"I helped with the math!” Jack calls out.

"It's not getting you laid," Mason reminds him.

They hop off the bed and curtsy.

“Springtime!” Mason sings, holding their hand out like an opera singer. “Behold the lovely springtime!”

“Somehow I always I knew you were a spring baby.”

Kara flops into a chair, misses it completely and hits the carpet.

“You guys are too much,” she sniffles. “Thanks.”

“Oh, my dear Kara,” Fatima coos, voice like honey and her face hooded by shadow...calling to mind some desert cat waiting to pounce. “We’re not even to the gift yet.”

Nadia whips a towel off her corkboard where she pins up her assignments.

"Ta-Da!"

“A.B.L.E. - Allies for a Better Life for Extraterrestrials,” Kara reads. “It sounds awesome! But what is this?”

Nadia isn’t one for half-baked.

“Well, I talked Jack out of Americans because Allies makes it natural if it takes off globally,” Nadia mutters. “I mean, Americans? Pff. If this thing stays in America only, it doesn't do much good, now do-”

“Nadia!” Kara laughs, clapping her hands. “Reboot and try again.”

Activism is the thing that breaks Nadia’s brain. She rambles on about activism just like Kara does about food, dogs, cats, cuddly guys and curvy girls. Protest action is sort of Nadia’s Kryptonite.

“Right. I got carried away! So when we got your blue back,” she jokes.

“Got her blue?” Fatima asks.

“Kara’s ex from way back. Emilia. Got kidnapped and Kara helped save her. Smoking hot blue-skinned alien,” Mason whispers.

“Kara!” Mason calls out. “Is it still gay enough if they’re all female?”

“They’re not, actually. They’re all...neither from your point of view. They give birth but it’s cloning. Female doesn’t really track for thessies like it does on Earth. They just answer to she because it’s four sentences shorter and more flattering than explaining.”

Mason squeals.

“A whole planet of femme-leaning non-binaries? My loves! My spirit animals! Gimme! Gimme the next ticket!”

Nadia whistles, loud and sharp.

“Focus! Trying to impress my girl, here.”

“Thank you,” Fatima exhales. “I was not sure what to make of that planet. So many good questions! My imam would probably short circuit,” she jokes.

“Nadia, tell Kara. You two heathens, shush. Let her do this.”

“Yes, ma’am,” Mason and Jack reply.

“Thanks, Fatima. Anyway,” Nadia starts, dragging the ‘n’ in ‘any’ out for twenty seconds.

“I thought about her whole sitch and her family having to raise their adorable clone-slash-parasite babies in a shithole because the can’t get IDs or leases because they’re not human. Not cool. Giving humans a bad reputation. Don't want Earth to be like, Space Hickville. We need a human--at least to start--pressure group to get in people's faces, fix the laws, get some legal recognition. We also need a straight-up charity to help these refugees. I doubt anyone else will.”

“So we did! I can do point on lobbying and handcuffing myself to chairs in offices and fucking up politician's schedules. They always get sick of me eventually.”

“Can't imagine why,” Fatima laughs. "Nadia rounded us up and thus..."

“...ABLE was born. Jack volunteered to do websites, social media, keep an eye on the dark web for mentions of activity, that sort of thing. I volunteered to help learn about and explain alien culture and religions to people, which is pretty selfish of me because this is theology major catnip, right here.”

Viva la revolution!” Jack calls from under the blanket.

“I volunteered to help any aliens who want help with identity crises, questions about passing or not passing, clothing and disguises,” Mason adds.

“Give them a native’s eye. Help them look like they want to look when they’re out with all us hairless ape types.”

Give Mason three hours, a closet, some raxxie bimbo in a tube top and hotpants and they could fake being George Bush, Kara thinks.

Gives her some great ideas for next year’s April fools...or State of the Union.

“We just need a spokeswoman, poster child and advocate for the LGBTQA angle,” Nadia sighs.

Vhoc’s rotting hole! She trapped me.

“Mason could handle the queer bits,” Kara stammers. “Jack’s not bad with a manifesto and people don’t listen to Fatima but they need to learn to listen to her and...and...crap.“

Nadia giggles into her own hand.

“Ladies, gents...fashion-forward gender chameleons,” Nadia teases Mason.

“I give you ABLE's first president, Kara Zor-El Danvers!”

A ripple of applause spreads through the room. Kara’s cheeks darken.

“Just Zor-El, please. My mom’s only safe if no one knows my Earth name.”

“Good point!” Jack calls from the blanket. “Ix-nay on the evreal-ray of her ame-nay. I’ll find-replace it out of the minutes and set up an alert for Kara and Alex if it crops up on the intertubes.”

“Thought she had a sister,” Mason whispers to Fatima.

“She does. But people are afraid of Alex not the other way around.”

Kara walks over to the corkboard and strokes her fingers over policies and mission statements for the various tasks, all of it in Mason’s awesome cursive and in color-coded pens for Nadia, Mason, Jack and Fatima.

“So,” Nadia asks, her voice suddenly seeming quite small. “What did I miss? There must be something that you can see needing fixing that I don’t see.”

“This is everything, you guys. I feel sort of bad just buying you dresses,” she tells Nadia. “This could bring folks out of hiding. It will save live, let them get IDs, work under their own names. It’s a huge gift to thousands...and me.”

“Our first alien President,” Mason suggests. “Maybe someday.”

Kara nods.

“Maybe not that someday. The oldest colonies I’ve heard about are Durlan, Maeshar and Rokkillion. Maeshars are like the Cirque de Soleil dancers dressed as the Little Mermaid using only seashells and body paint except somehow even flashier and bendier than that. Plus the Oval Office would need a big-ass humidifier.”

“Rokkillions can mind read with a handshake so they could work a crowd for sure. Most of the ones I’ve met here on Earth are people persons. People aliens? Whatever.”

“Durlans are probably the most likely. They are shapeshifters. Scary good ones. They could pretend to be the Oval Office coffee table when it got to be too much. No joke. The colony here is veterans from their civil war--the losers--and they’ve been here for centuries. They live quite a while but still...some have to be some native-borns.”

“What was the war about?” Fatima asks.

“Warrior cult took over the government. Other religions and atheism were outlawed on penalty of death. Short little war,” Kara sighs. “Hard to win against crazy. The survivors settled here. Mixed in with locals. Africa, west China and Chile, mostly. Desert climates.”

“But some of them might have moved to the US,” Kara realizes. “I had never even thought of it. And that’s the original American story, isn’t it? Pilgrims to worship as they like and eat turkey and pretend they didn’t burn witches and kill natives?”

Nadia chuckles.

“Down, girl. Let’s put electing atheist shapeshifters or gymnast mermaids as president on the ten-year plan,” she jokes.

“First female President,” Mason adds through a bite of Snickers.

“What? She-He-They-It totally should be female. If you can look like anything you want, shoot for the moon. Break history in four places, not just one or two. Bonus points for a MILFy disguise, huge bonus points if they’re female identifying.”

“I can think of one thing you missed,” Kara decides. “Marker me.”

Nadia slaps one into her hand. Kara looks the sheet with masking tape on it. She peels it off and sure enough it reads ‘Kara’ on the top in black sharpie.

It’s blank.

“Field work.”

“Search and rescue teams, safe-house networks, smugglers, that sort of thing. Basically we need our own army.”

“Army? Why?” Nadia asks. It sounds like she may not want the answer. “Thought we were trying to reduce violence?”

“Aliens don’t land here like parking a car, not that I’ve ever heard. They crash or ditch their ships in the ocean. If they have time, maybe strip the ships them for parts or shelter. Sometimes the freighter they’re booking passage on kicks them out in a landing pod.”

“Meaning that they sometimes miss their spot or have no control where they touch down. They end up in the middle of where-the-Hell-ever and the locals don’t like it. People think alien and they think me or Kal, flying around all unstoppable with all the neat toys. But most are your usual immigrants: vulnerable. Looking for work or safety.”

“Old people, women, children, single parents, orphans. Only maybe a dozen species I know of have a combat edge against humans with guns and there are hundreds of species out there, guys. In this galaxy. Hundreds more in other galaxies and we’re starting to get communications from them.”

Kara shivers.

“I have a sister in the Army. When she can, she sends me stuff. I’ve seen photos of Maeshar bodies hanging on harpoons and Rakni-Xinda symbiont skulls on poacher’s necklaces. Thessalians starved of white sand until they’re weak enough to be used in the sex trade.”

Thanks, Alex! I totally needed more nightmares.

“Someone on our side needs to go in, grab them from the crash, and leave,” Kara decides. “I bet most aliens who end up dead or in bad places do some because of shitty luck in first couple hours.”

“I can put a message out thataway,” Kara offers, pointing at the ceiling.

“Suggest safe zones and explain how to signal for help. I can do a lot to keep people safe but after the video, I can’t go missing for days on end. Besides...we need friendly humans riding to their rescue often as possible.”

Nadia looks up at the board.

“She’s right. We need people who can get them to safe houses and move them. But we’re asking for people to get shot at for a five-person student club they’ve never heard of. That sales pitch will fail, hard.”

“Maybe not,” Fatima suggests. “Wouldn’t some of the refugees have trade goods? There must be some who have things in their pockets that we can’t even imagine. I’m not saying we charge a fee...”

Nadia stops glaring at Fatima.

“But it would be tempting if I were a Colombian rebel...I’d take a ray gun in exchange for giving a ride to a safe house. We put out the word to groups like that. Standing offer. They help us, we give them something shiny.”

“And what about when they double cross us or hurt the people they’re carrying?” Nadia asks. “Because that will be a given. Why take one ray gun as payment when you can start killing the hostages and we have to give you fifty, or two hundred, or a thousand?”

Kara can feel her skin heating up. The carpet fibers under her hand are starting to bubble and melt with an acrid stink.

“Death from above.”

“They meet me, in armor, as Black Knight and I give a demonstration. If they screw up, I come back and do it again for real. Kolex can build more drones so I can monitor as many places as I want. We tell them they’re being watched, maybe decloak a drone in the middle of their camp as proof.

“So if they fuck us over or end up with some tech they shouldn’t, I will be able to find out. I go in… Depending on what I find? Maybe the Colombian government wakes up the next day and finds they won the war. The rebel camps are ash and the aliens are safe with us.”

“Brilliant!” Jack calls out. “Tech for trade and Kara is our enforcer. The Prime Directive never worked on Star Trek anyway. People greedy but Kara scary. Carrot. Stick.”

“Your roommate has a realpolitk sort of lump in her blankets,” Fatima jokes. “Truly it is proof of other life in the universe.”

“Keep telling Corrine to wash them,” Nadia sighs.

“It could work,” she agrees. “Maybe we get some believers after a while, people who rescue aliens because it’s right.”

“I hope we do,” Kara sighs.

“Everyone comfortable with this?” Nadia asks.

“Kara’s right about the rescue part but that’s a lot messier...puts us in bed with criminals, weirdos, maybe terrorist groups,” Nadia worries.

“I say we do this and we do all of it. Everybody helps everybody stay up to date and we back each other up. If you don’t want to join that’s fine, you’re still our friend, but please leave while we plan.”

“Raise your right ha-”

“If I may?” Kara asks. “There’s a religion called Peace of the Black. They worship the universe and the stars, which give planets and planets give life. It’s sort of like how pagan and shamanic religions worship places and animals they depend on. Very widespread and very, very chill to others. They run a lot of orphanages and food tables. They have a saying--‘May the Black protect us all’--that they use to bless ships leaving port and babies and so on.”

Kara holds her hand out, palm up, in the center of the room.

“Nadia, I’m with you. May the Black protect us all.”

Nadia adds her hand.

“May the Black protect us all.”

Mason lifts an eyebrow.

“I can still pray and do sacrifices to Dio and get smashed on solstice?”

“I’ll bring alien booze if you want,” Kara promises. “We can make an idol for your apartment out of synthetic diamond.”

They slap their hand down.

“Hell, yeah. May the Black protect us all. Ooh! Can I hit on slash bang hot aliens?”

“No.”

“C’mon. I’ll use protection. Let me hit on at least one!”

They roll their hips and start making thrusting motions at...the closet door. Either it’s a joke or they figured anything else would have been rude, seeing as how there’s someone for every compass point in the tiny room.

Kara remembers one of Mason’s best queer culture jokes requiring a ball of yarn, push pins and a sleepless night to untangle but that one was fucking hilarious when she finally got it.

“Okay, that’s a lie…probably hit on at least two. Get a spare for the missus,” Mason jokes. “But I will be a gentleperson and use protection. Please, Kara!”

“Ugh. Fine!"

Kara looks over to where Fatima is on the bunk bed, flat against the wall, paralyzed by indecision.

“There is no god but Allah and Muhammad is his prophet,” Fatima whispers.

She takes a deep breath.

“Fatima, I don't want you to say the prayer,” Kara assures her. “I know what that would be asking. You don’t have to touch us if you don’t want to.”

She offers her other palm and Fatima’s tiny hand disappears in Kara’s fingers when she squeezes.

"Thanks, Fatima."

“You're welcome. I agree with the idea, that’s for sure.”

“Jack?”

Jack doesn’t leave his blanket lump.

“I am so in. But I think I have the flu,” he explains, faking a sneeze.

“He actually does, I think. He looked awful when he first came,” Fatima recalls. “Went straight under the blankets.”

“Anyone else worried about what might happen if a genetically engineered and weaponized alien who probably has a genetically engineered and weaponized immune system was exposed to the flu?” Mason asks.

“I’m no biologist--oh, wait, yes I am!--but Kara needs to scoot before some zany blood cell of hers gets the flu virus, rebuilds it, spits it back out and starts the zombie apocalypse.”

Nadia tries to light Mason on fire with a scowl, lack of superpowers be damned. Kara laughs.

“Mason’s right, Nads. In fact, pretty soon Mason and I should sit down and go over what I know about the mods. I need to leave, or Jack does and he’s sick so I’ll go. At least until Jack’s better.”

"Jack can stay for two hours," Nadia grumbles. "Then all you morons leave and we resume this tomorrow via chat. Because if my pussy doesn't get some alone time with Kara's pussy and today...think it's going to chew off my fucking leg."

"My brains," Fatima groans. "They did not need that mental image."

“That’s the difference between you and me,” Mason jokes. “I’m just seeing dancing brooms from Fantasia...except way more clitoral and way gayer.”

“You’re all crazy!” Fatima shouts, having popped her headphones in before Mason started talking.

Kara reaches for the door and before she gets the handle, Nadia bites her earlobe and when she lets go she traces the entire edge with her tongue.

“Damn,” Mason whispers.

“Two hours,” Nadia purrs in Kara’s ear. “Be back here and don’t get dressed up on my account.”

 


April 3, 2006 | Alex Danvers

National City, California

National City University

Honors Dorm, Room 713

 

Alex sighs, swigging again from the bottle of Jack. Half gone. It should hurt less soon.

I can’t believe my first words were ‘How could you?’. She backed me up when Eliza lost her shit about me enlisting. I backed her up with the principal and half the horndogs in the school. She needed me to back her up with Eliza on this and I didn’t.

When did we end up on opposite sides?

She has been a shitty soldier, shitty friend and extremely shitty sister and daughter for almost five weeks and it is killing her. So she has blown out her credit cards, drank herself sick and come here to...apologize? Seems like a bad plan but she only remembers bits of making it.

At least she still has enough brains left to break into a dorm.

Kara is flying up the stairs with her usual stomping jog. Here goes.

She must not have looked up before she was at the door because she plows right into Alex. The floor is hard and her head hurts now but the carpet feels cold which is good.

“Ow.”

“Alex,” Kara mumbles. “You good? Hit your head?”

“Floor’s nice. S’cold.”

“Okay,” Kara laughs. “Gimme the booze.”

“You hit your head. What’s the date? Who’s president?”

“Tuesday? Drunk. And it’s whatsit...wrinkly. Ears. Talks funny. Cowboy hat,” Alex mutters, tapping her finger on the carpet. “Mr. Mouseface!”

“Ha!. That’s great, so I’ll give you that one. Enough booze. Gimme.”

“No,” Alex pouts. “You’ll waste it. Doesn’t work. B’sides...I’m a bad sister.”

She can hear herself slurring. That’s probably really bad. The med school classes she thinks she took said that’s bad.

“You are the best sister on the motherfucking planet, Alex!” Kara shouts.

A woman almost jumps out of her skin two doors down. She does drop one of her grocery bags. She’s mousy little thing and even drunk Alex can tell she’s from a conservative Mormon family, probably in Utah. Salt Lake Soccer Club sweatshirt, knee-length dress, hair that’s never been cut, only brushed. The whole bit.

It’s important I noticed that because that all means stuff.

“Sorry Elly,” Kara groans. “I…I’m just worried for her.”

Elly. Try and remember that name.

“Not sure I’ve ever heard that word used as a good thing,” Elly replies. “But in this case, she does seem to need a kick in the caboose.”

Ha! Vasquez candrop F-bombs and they’re like fireworks. Like the 1812 Overture. We should have a band! Ooh! Kara can fly for us!

But no sad music, Alex decides.

“If one of you starts ‘golly’ and ‘darning’ and ‘my word’,” Alex groans. “I’m fucking leaving.”

“Golly, Alex. You’re looking really goshdarned down in the dumps right now,” Kara says.

Loudly. Which hurts.

”I’m sure Clark could bring one of our nieces over, lickety-split. Oh my word, how that always cheers you right up.”

“That sentence hurt my soul, Kara. Clark Kent has never done one that awful.”

“I have more. So better get off the floor and come in. Winn gives good tea.”

Kara unlocks her door and waves at Alex.

“Up.”

“No.”

“Alex! What are you, twelve?”

“No. You weren’t adopted yet.”

“Clearly. Because this would be funny if I had any memories of it before.”

“Need a hand?” Elly asks. “Not with the booze. That’s your problem. But maybe someone lifting her under the other arm?”

Kara sighs.

“Nope. I’m good.”

She taps Alex’s tummy with her hand and…

Now everything is weird!

Alex sees her hair floating up above her head and the nice cold floor is gone. Kara bends down and gives her boots a shove.

The world seems fuzzy now. Which is easier...less thinking.

“A floating my sister I go, la-la! To keep her safe, la-la!”

“I knew you were an angel,” Alex hears Elly whisper.

“Shh,” Kara warns her. “Guardian Angel...just for her. It’s a secret.”

The door locks behind Kara. Why is that so loud?

“Did you just levitate her inside?” Winn groans. “In broad daylight...with your top secret warp powers that even Superman doesn’t have?”

“No? No. No I did not.”

“Kara, try again. Alex is still floating.”

“Yeah, I know. It’s probably the gentlest way to get her up on the bed. I left her insides like thirty percent gravity so she wouldn’t barf. She’s really wrecked because she thinks I hate her. So I feel bad.”

“You don’t?”

Kara puts four fingers under Alex and guides her over to the bed.

“No I don’t hate you, silly. Nothing you could do would make me not your sister. So...down you go.”

Two fingers on the forehead and the blankets reach up to hug Alex...or she falls down into them. One or the other. Feels good.

“Kara? I don’t hate you either.”

Alex’s forehead is kissed and the world is really blurry and complicated but it felt like love so it was Kara.

“Kolex, synthesize 500cc of nanite medparticles and blood-safe raw material for them. Tune for blocking ethanol alcohol and metabolic byproducts but give me 10cc of them as serotonin reuptake inhibitors and 5cc sedative. Sterile hypo with the injector tuned for the human carotid. Transmat from the…”

Serotonin. I know what that is! Makes you happy. Or makes you sad? Anyway...I’m very smart, Alex reminds herself.

Kara stops talking.

“Zion?” Winn suggest. “Nice name for the refugees. You did kind of pull a Moses to get here. Babe in a basket on a river...”

“Yeah but that’s way too pretentious. Fortress is taken.”

Esholo qalir, Alex slurs.

[Peace Home, Galactic Standard. You didn’t conjugate but you do have a .138 blood alcohol right now. Very good, Alex.]

“Kara, there’s a voice in my head!”

“I know, sweetie. That’s Echo, remember? Your friend? She’s really smart and she helps you. Plus she’s actually in your left boob.”

“Maggie will like that,” Alex decides. "She likes boobs."

It’s important that Maggie like things.

“Maggie has pretty things...hands...butt...hands...boobs...uhh,” Alex groans. “mouth...face...neck...tummy.”

She waves her hands around. Maggie being pretty is important and she needs to explain it right!

“Kara! She’s so pretty! Maggie smiles at me. That’s nice.”

Winn leans over to Kara and whispers something she can’t hear and it was really loud and it hurts. Kara puts a finger on his lips.

“Mael’thoran,” Kara tells Winn.

“We’ll do that. It means ‘a holy place’ in Ajatkar but not exactly that because it’s a religious rite too so it’s a noun-verb. Nerb? Voun?”

“Wow. Ajatkar takes me back! Pre-standard langauge that was still common in parts of the Juru Valley, near my aunt’s estate. Dates back to pre-Rao worship days and--fun fact--polytheist abbots and abbesses helped teach me the language.”

“Holy Place...let me think.”

“Sanctuary!” Kara squeals.

“Kara! Stop. S’really loud. Hurts.”

“Sorry, Alex.”

“Sanctuary. Love it,” Winn whispers. “Sounds a bit Elvish, too.”

“I guess? Anyhow, it’s a good name. Please synthesize the hypo and transmat it from Sanctuary, Kolex.”

“Already done. Transmatting now.”

Something round appears in Kara’s hand. It came with a light and that light was really bright and it hurt.

“Ow!”

“Real tough, soldier. You’ll thank me in like, twenty minutes.”

 


April 3, 2006 | Kara Danvers

National City, California

National City University

Honors Dorm, Room 713 & Sheridan Residence Hall, Room 619

 

 

“Ten minutes!” Kolex warns Kara.

“Shit,” she hisses.

“Winn!” she calls, leaning out of the bathroom. “Make sure Alex is okay, yeah? She should stay here and I’ll be back ASAP. I already promised Nadia we could...catch up.”

He snickers.

“Did you now? Feeding our primitive human libidos, huh?”

Kara rubs the back of her head.

“Not sure your guys are so primitive, Winn. If your body made it easy to get everything else done fast, and Greg wanted to, how much time would you devote to sex?”

He sips his tea.

“A least a couple hours a day, I suppose.”

“Bingo,” Kara replies, fluffing her hair with a shake. “I can get my homework, meals, classes and everything crammed in ten hours and I need between three and no hours a night, depending on the last night. That’s nine hours left and I would gladly spend them in bed with her. Hell...If I thought she’d love me if I did it, I’d probably rob a shit-ton of banks, buy an island, lay in canned goods and never put clothes on.”

“Sex is fun,” Winn observes. “I can’t see why any intelligent animal wouldn’t want as much as it could get.”

“See? My horniness is proof of intelligent life in the universe!” Kara snarks. “Kolex, deactivate heating element and retrieve ultrasonic probes.”

Kolex pulls back, blow torches receding back into the sockets from her hair and back into the sockets in his chassis. A few dozen small spheres drop out of Kara’s hair. He releases a swarm of nanites onto the counter which flash forge an optically perfect, three inch mirror for Kara.

Face clean. No makeup. Moisturized. Hair...floaty. She’ll like it.

“Great volume. Thanks, Kolex!”

She kisses his ‘head’ on the largest camera lens.

“How do I look?” she asks Winn.

Winn looks her up and down, twirls his finger to tell her to turn around. Then smiles.

“Like a million bucks worth of sexy in ten bucks worth of dumpy clothes,” he jokes. “Another million of jewelry...I mean hair.”

Kara laughs.

“Perfect. I think she wants to get right into it. Actually, we both do.”

“Bet she does,” Winn chuckles before putting his mouth back on his soda straw so as not to make too big of a fool of himself.

 

 

“Kara,” Nadia gulps. “Never...ever...piss off your mother again.”

“It was hard, just class and dorm, no visiting you, no friends. No...”

Kara slides her hand up Nadia’s thigh and grabs a fistful of paradise. Nadia wails and Kara is rewarded with a few stuttering thrusts of Nadia’s hips and a fresh splash of juices into Kara’s palm. She glides her tongue up Nadia’s body from navel to chin, feeling the occasional thrash of an aftershock travel across Nadia’s skin.

“Shh. Last one for a while. You need a break, Nads. I can tell.”

“It was scary,” Nadia finally whispers. “Not knowing if you were all right.”

Nadia takes several breaths before talking again.

“I mean, I knew you were alive and not injured and all--I watch the news and Alex would have told me--but were you all right? That was a huge, scary, crazy thing you did and you basically did it for me and then everything went shit-side-up before we could talk to each other.”

Kara sighs.

“Why did you even do it? You’re in college! Why did you let her ground you?” Nadia teases.

“Eliza,” Kara begins, booping Nadia’s nose with a fingertip.

“...is really wise. She’s the wisest person I know. Somehow she knows what the best approach is even if the whole problem isn’t clear yet. Her hunches could like, write advice books.”

“So if Eliza says she’s afraid for me and disappointed in me that I was so impulsive...she’s probably on to something.”

“Dawww...mommy’s girl!”

Kara snorts.

“I guess. When I first landed, she was super hard on Alex about every little thing. Acted like if I was late for school, the government would grab me and pow! It’d be alien dissection documentaries on the SyFy channel.”

“That’s not fair to Alex.”

“It wasn’t. Or, it was and it wasn’t really. She pushed like crazy but Alex stepped up the first day and I think Eliza knew she had it in her to do it. She let Alex get an apartment the day she turned eighteen--Alex cracked after six weeks--just so she could experience it. When I asked because I was curious...I didn’t want to live alone!”

Kara stares at the bottom of Corrine’s bunk. They somehow managed to get both of themselves in here and Nadia’s theory was correct. A naked woman Kara’s size and a naked woman Nadia’s size cannot fit in a stingy student bed together without the tender spot--pussy, tits, butt, hands, lips--being pushed up against another at all times. Even laying here together is a dozen little accidental teases every time they move.

Which she noticed Nadia has been ruthless in taking advantage of.

“Eliza just said that Alex had done so much for me and never complained. So if Alex wanted to find out what living alone was like, it was fair to let her try. Turned out she was keeping track of Alex’s efforts the whole time. She saw and she was glad. Eliza doesn't always think before she acts though. Like when Alex told us she was enlisting, I was actually in the room. Eliza lost it. I stopped her when she reached for her phone and reminded Eliza how many times Alex dropped dates, hanging out with friends, movie nights, lost friends...just for me.”

“What happened?”

“Nothing. Eliza stopped cold, handed me her phone and told me to text Alex that we were both proud of her and that we loved her and that we reserved the right to worry about her.”

Nadia giggles.

“She felt the need to stipulate that? To demand the right to worry?”

Kara shrugs.

“Pretty sure the only Jewish mothers left are the wise ones with big smarts and bigger worries. Because if their great-great-grandmother wasn’t a worrier...she never lived to have kids.”

Nadia groans.

“Cheerful thought. That went downhill fast. Sorry about that, Kara.”

“For the actions of lunatic Christians ranging from 33 AD to today? Not your doing. Maybe like, you can apologize for that one time when you ruined Channkuah.”

“Excuse me! Alex asked for the best takeout in Midvale and everyone...the dude at the hardware store...the weird skater kid...Yelp!...everyone said it was Pete’s.”

“It was lobster and crab Tuesdays, Nadia.”

“I…” Nadia begins. “I really didn’t think it through, I guess. Wanted to impress your family. Was Alex pranking me?”

“Maybe. You and I got about nine awesome meals out of it, if I recall.”

“Yeah, we did. Which reminds me. Why aren’t you Jewish? You learned all this stuff, prayers, a whole new language, you had a bat mitzvah but you don’t see yourself as Jewish.”

Kara looks at Nadia, completely stumped.

“Hard to explain, I guess. I liked learning languages, it was easy somehow. Unlike chemistry or physics because in my head, I was hearing lectures in Midvale just a month after being yanked out of my bed by my birth mom while studying for a CPM--chemical, physical, mechanical--design competition. There was a prize! Science was hard because I kept giving answers I knew in my bones were right and getting them marked wrong.”

“Language? History? Culture? That’s easy. It’s like candy. I want more of it, to know more about Earth. Part of why I didn’t do engineering, or chemistry, or computer science when I got here is that I’d be good at it but it would itch knowing how much more I could do but I might get caught.”

“You’re dodging the question,” Nadia sighs.

“I never really thought about why I stayed with Rao. Worship of Rao was...this will sound really weird to you, I bet. By the time I was born, it was more logic than faith. It was a polytheistic religion for a long time, there was also a death god named Vhoc who was like a zombie corpse of a different god and a beautiful resurrection goddess the legends called Flamebird. They had this really fucked up, cyclical love affair in the poems and murals. Epic love, epic fuck, epic fight, kill each other, mourn, rise...repeat. Some of the really, really old texts have a goddess of love and knowledge called Ktharra...right up until Krypton died, cults for all of them persisted.”

“Oh?” Nadia teases. “Ktharra? Did I do it right?

“Try and say it as two words at the same time: ka-th real quick and ar-ra slower with a rolled ‘r’ sound. Keep the 't' quiet. Two words at once, in the same mouth...t sounds crazy but if you talk fast and keep your voice soft, it’s possible. Humans tend to make a click in the middle when they speak Kryptonese because you need to inhale again to get the longer words out. Your stressed consonants are to die for. Sort of like a Kandorian lisp but an Argonite sniff too.””

“Kath. Arra. Kath-arrrra,” she trills.

Close, Kara thinks. I’m going to gush just hearing her practice.

Ktharra,” Nadia repeats. “Better?”

“Beautiful.”

“I thought so too. It sounded a lot more like your name the way you say it.”

Kara clicks her tongue. “Give the woman a prize.”

“So yeah, my mom thought I needed to be named Venus and Minerva at the same time. But ‘ele’ means star. Star, Nadia. In a star-worshiping culture, that’s the surname we gave ourselves. House of Stars. It’s fair to say the House of El has never lacked for ego.”

“So it was many gods and then over time, Father Rao became the god. Flamebird was a parable for bravery and forgiveness and Vhoc was a tale to scare children. But at the same time we were learning all this stuff and science was growing really rapidly. Three centuries from gunpowder to early spaceflight. So it sort of fused.”

“We didn’t worship Rao just because we were afraid of lightning or what happened after we die. We knew--logically--that everything in our lives, including us, came from that star and some cloud of crap floating around it billions of years ago. We were grateful.”

“So it just stayed. We kept blessing things in Rao’s Light and cursing things as Rao’s Shadow--let’s be real, it’s creepy as fuck spending a sixteen-Earth-day long night on the cold side of the planet--because we learned it as kids and as adults it still made sense, just made a different kind of sense.”

Nadia’s hand wanders and then she does something so bendy that Kara’s not sure is possible for animals with bones to do that.

“Answer the question,” she demands, dragging her tongue once across Kara’s clit.

Uhh,” Kara groans. “To talk I have to be able to speak,” Kara jokes.

“Well, guess I have to stop then. Unless you want a reward?”

“So...I think it’s becau-holy fuck, Nadia! Because I thought if I did, then mayb-that’s good! People would have a chance to meet one. It’s why I als-Nadia! talk about other alien religions. So that they’re repre-fuckfuckfuck! I love you! represented here on Earth. So that we can lea-right there, don’t stop don’t stop pleasepleaseplease...Nadia!””

“Good girl,” Nadia coos, kissing Kara’s clit. “You made her answer.”

“So that we can learn about each other,” Kara wheezes.

“So not funny,” Kara complains. “But that was so good.”

Nadia slides up Kara’s body, dragging skin on skin. Aftershocks hit each time Kara inhales or Nadia’s fingernails brush her skin.

“Anyway.”

“Anyway, Nadia? You just sex-tortured an answer out of me and now you what...want to talk about the weather?”

“My job offer changed.”

“Good news?” Kara asks. Vhoc’s rotting hole! This is scary!

“Yeah. Then can take me on in May, not December.”

“Do you want to go?”

“Asks the woman to whom I have literally begged to run away with her and let her keep me on a leash, naked under her desk,” Nadia teases. “Want? Not really. Or I guess...do I want to leave you? Hell, no. Is this a job I am stupid lucky to have? Yes. Do I want to help these kids and these families? Hell, yes.”

“You should, Nadia. I’m sure submissive-desk-nympho Nadia is awesome but that’s...that’s who I met that night when I brought Corrine back. True-believer Nadia is who I walked to class with the next morning. I got to meet save-the-world Nadia that day and the next day and every day since. Again this morning. I like her much, much more. I’m not going to take save-the-world Nadia away from the world, or her own dreams.”

“We could do long distance,” Nadia suggests.

“I’m afraid we can’t.”

“Why not?” Nadia moans. “I wouldn’t cheat! You wouldn’t, would you?”

“No, no, no,” Kara laughs. “You and me literally, physically, logistically cannot be in a long-distance relationship. Impossible. People do long distance because they have to. I could fly back every night, make you dinner and crawl into bed and for me, it would just be like...like two hours of sexy commuting.”

“But that’s not fair to you.”

“Not awful but no, not fair. At least not entirely. To either of us.”

Kara nuzzles her cheek against the top of Nadia’s head and brings her in tighter inside the crook of her arm.

“I’ve got something for you. A goodbye gift, something I made to remember me with. If you want, I can bring it now.”

Nadia grabs both of Kara’s hands and squeezes tight.

“Yes, please. I can’t have this conversation twice,” she whispers. “I just can’t. Can’t say goodbye to you twice.”

[Kolex, transmat the locket and the kit into my coat pocket.]

[Done.]

Kara reaches over to the chair and fumbles with her coat. She loops the chain into her hand and lifts it into the light of the lamp. She had the jeweler set in the glyph’s outline first. She used the Rao’s Eye she made. It came out wonderfully, hard and glittering, crimson as the last blaze of sunset. The velvety indigo darkness of the Agyte fills in the gaps within the border.

He demanded to know what stone the Rao’s Eye was was and how she cut it. When he saw the second stone, he wanted Kara to be a supplier.

Some things are too precious to explain.

“This,” Kara says, holding it in front of Nadia’s teary eyes.

“Is my sigil in Rao’s Eye--it’s the red one--and Agyte which is dark blue. One stone each, hand-chiseled. These are the only stones like them in the universe. On the back…”

She turns it.

“Nadia & Ktharra,” Nadia reads.

“Mmm-hmm. Our names, in our mother tongues.”

“That’s for you.”

She hangs it on Nadia’s outstretched neck.

Kara slides--rather, she crashes--off the bed and gets up on her knees.

“Oof. Ruined the romance, there.”

“You didn’t,” Nadia whispers, “You couldn’t possibly ruin it after that.”

“This one is more for me,” she sighs, getting the medical kit from her pocket.

She taps the canister where a small bit of meat glows a faint crimson and thrashes to some fast, unseen tempo.

“This is a little bit of muscle from the top part of my heart. I would like you to let me put this,” Kara pleads.

She kisses her fingertips and presses them to Nadia’s chest, just under her right breast.

“In here. Under the skin, near your heart.”

“Why?”

“Because of the way my muscles work, any part of a muscle is always reaching out to all the others. Vibrating, twitching, warming up… They all do it together at the same instant anywhere in the universe. Quantum entanglement. Einstein called it spooky action at a distance.”

“Not quite selling the open heart surgery, Kara.”

“Any time your heart is pounding, Nadia, I’ll feel a little flutter in my chest. Any time my heart is pounding, you will feel it inside you.”

“Literally giving me a piece of your heart?”

“Yes,” Kara sniffles. “So for the rest of our lives, our hearts will never beat completely alone, ever again.”

“Do it. Do it and stay with me tonight. I don’t care how much it hurts. Let me watch you, please. I want to pray while you do it.”

“Local anesthesia will let you do that but Nadia? It’ll hurt more.”

“Love hurts sometimes, Kara.”

Nadia’s hiss of pain interrupts her prayers. That moment is terrifying for Kara but it is Nadia’s sobs, mixed with Kara’s tears, that make the night painful and seemingly endless and make dawn feel like a death sentence.

 


BONUS SCENE


April 3, 2006 | Brother Michael

Church of Adam’s Sons

Somewhere in rural America

The devil screams when Michael puts his prod into its belly. This thing that would pretend to be a woman. That would sit among their pews, play with their children, speak to his wife, break bread with them.

This filth that burst into Hellfire when cornered, reducing their holy place to ash.

“Repent your sins. Harlot. Sodomite. Apostate.”

It lifts its hideous head to face him.

“If a man strikes your left cheek, offer him your right.”

He jams the prod in again. The power--lightning from heaven--dances across the creatures wet nightgown and it shrieks all the louder. Molten blood splashes the floor under it. A few drops but even so it is white hot and blinding as it slowly melts the concrete. It laughs, turning its monstrous head to him, its snake eyes flashing and some demonic madness wriggling under its skin.

“Leave, you piece of shit. Leave me be or your God will strike you down. You’ve already violated his law.”

He raises the prod again but he can’t reach. Some wicked force is holding him back. The creatures shackled hand is upraised now and he can get no closer. The prod is gradually bending, turning into a knot.

It grins, nodding down at the puddle.

“If a woman has her filth, take her out from the village into the desert. Release me and give me passage to the desert, or face his wrath. Let...me...go.”

Brother Michael shudders, looking at the hideous blood on the floor. He cannot release this beast back amongst the townspeople but God’s law was broken and he must atone. He pounds on the cell door and Brother Charles appears, pulling back the slot.

“Fetch the Reverend, boy. We must pray over this room.”

“Yes, Brother Michael.”

He turns back to the creature. Two serpents have burst forth from its skin. It is as if they are made with hellfire itself, not flesh, with a dozen eyes and six jaws, each jawbone and tooth black as coal. They hiss and wave their jaws at him, slithering up her arms to the shackles. Some sort of filth is spit on the shackles and they bubble, dripping to the ground as filthy green slime.

The creature stalks towards him, scoured-out eye staring at him, dead and bloody. The pit of Hell. Seizing him by the arms, it pulls its face close.

“Eye for an eye.”

Fresh devilry! Another serpent bursts through the creature’s nightgown, just above the beast’s wicked breasts.

It coils and lunges. Jaws straddle his eye socket and a ring of razor-sharp teeth extend from deep in its maw and cut through his eye. The serpent withdraws with a mouthful of slime.

“Tooth for a tooth,” the laughs, showing its many-fanged mouth half empty.

It strikes his jaw and he doubles over, spitting dozens of teeth to the floor.

“A life for a life. I saw what you did to that poor girl.”

One by one, his bones break. Legs, arms, ribs. He feels his head aching and his backbone making tiny popping sounds. A crack like a rifle shot rings off the walls but he can no longer hear it.

The record turntable they used to torture her is still in the corner of the room with a stack of line dancing, folk, disco and gospel music beside it.

“Pixie, Trixie, Glimmer!” the creature calls. “Come home.”

Three serpents slither up her legs, Pixie and Trixie tucking themselves in the orifices in her back and Glimmer wriggling towards the the gap in her collarbone.

“Give me a kiss, Glimmer. Mwah!”

Glimmer hisses happily and ducks her head.

Isosceles walks to the turntable, flips through the stack of records and finds the one she needs. How fortunate that these animals had this one. She hopes her little trick worked.

The needle scratches.

I need a hero!

Holding on for a hero till the end of the night!

She’s gotta be strong and she’s gotta be fast and she’s gotta be fresh for the fight!

The fires of the womb that birthed her clothe Issa’s skin with a billion degrees heat--the imprisoned rage of a dying star--and her exit vaporizes the steel ceiling as she takes off.

She needs a bottle of Rak’s Sting--moonshine will do--and a half dozen humans to fuck senseless. Maybe her Friday night can still be saved.

She needs a vacation.


 

April 3, 2006 | Isosceles (alias), Khorra (“The Forgotten One” or “Harlot of the Heavens”)

The Pit Stop Roadhouse

Northeast Texas

An hour later, Issa stumbles into a honky-tonk up the road, skin sugar-white, lips blood red and golden hair falling past her ass, nightgown torn off at mid-thigh. Two cowgirls turn their heads like dogs tracking a treat and a quartet of rough looking men playing pool miss the table for three shots in a row.

“Hey guys!” Issa calls. “Wanna party?”

Yes, she thinks. This will do. The night is young and they are in my service. This one looks so needy! Worship me, girl! Worship she who even God could not cage!

“On your knees,” she snarls at one of the cowgirls. A tap on the forehead and the woman thuds to the floor, tears streaming down her cheeks. With a smile, the worshiper yanks the cotton aside and start drinking from Issa’s slit like a woman dying of thirst.

The men groan and whine like dogs. They wanted to be first.

The barkeep complains about the public show but then a snap of the fingers silences him under a pile of toppled-over liquor bottles. He spends the night battered and bruised and soaked in tequila and gutrot whisky.


 April 3, 2006 | Diana Prince (“Wonder Woman”)

Church of Adam’s Sons

Somewhere in rural America

 

 

The bunker the signal came from is empty. Through it strides a warrior woman with a right hand coated in blood, sinew and flecks of bone. The point of her still-clean sword drags behind her, sending sparks up from the concrete. Her tears roll across her armor and onto the floor.

The last survivor is a man with one hip shattered and one leg ripped clean of thigh muscle and desperately drags himself away from her.

A golden rope--wreathed in crimson fire, clothed in divine wrath--strikes his back like a whip.

Kara Zor-El may never know of this...the child has suffered enough. She should never have to take a life. Hopefully the jammer worked.

“I am Diana, Princess of Themyscira, Goddess of War, and humble servant of women.”

“You have wronged my weakest sisters. So you live and die," the steel of her sword sings as she lifts it from the concrete. "On my mercy."

Swordpoint over his heart, she drops the rope on his chest.

"Bind your hands, Philip of Man's World. Before you answer, know that the Lasso of Hestia compels you to tell me the truth.”

“God wil--” he snarls. “It burns!” he shrieks. “God will stri-No! Mercy!" "Your filthy who-ahhh!"

"God will judge me for my sins. What Prophet Thompson made us do...that could never be holy work.”

“Good. You’re learning. Where did you sell the slaves?”

“Bl-blo-blonde woman took some. She was sixty, maybe? Fancy clothes. Met her in the woods. Stack of cash like I’d never seen. She didn’t want the girls. Just the monsters.”

"The others...none of our boy’s balls have dropped so we didn’t need wives. Sold em to the usual men. Compound up north and the ones in Texas. Bunch to Los Angeles. One of them...they made us cut symbols all over her...but they paid a lot."

“Thank you. Hera’s mercy to you. Your wounds will heal. Live long, Jacob, so that you may say a great many prayers.”

Diana reaches to her ear.

“Bruce. I found the bunker. It’s empty.”

“Do I want to know exactly how big a lie that is, Diana?”

“You do not. Joker is still alive and has escaped three times. My worst enemies are gone.”

“Make the call...find Constantine. When you do, light a fire on the rocks on the beach at Crete.”

“I understand needing some time,” he begins. “But to go home?”

“Necessary. I must pray. Something escaped this place. Something I cannot even imagine facing on the battlefield. The presence I feel--it is terrifying--wholly unlike what I felt with Steppenwolf or when I faced Ares or when I faced Hades or Circe. When I focus on it, it shifts and suddenly it is something new, something worse.”

“It must be an avatar for something terrifying, something that doesn’t belong. The hallway feels polluted just because it was dragged down it. I sense things that cannot be combined. A hundred creatures and one. A beast from the black before the world began. A specter of magic. A traveler from the stars. SoI must see what wisdom I can glean from our Patrons and avenge its tormentors. Before it does.”

“With luck, it will tire of Earth and will leave us.”

“And if it doesn’t?” Bruce growls.

“I don’t know Bruce, I truly don’t. There’s no contingency for this.”

Chapter Text

April 4, 2006 | Kara Danvers

National City, California

National City University

Honors Dorm, Room 713

 

Kara watches as Alex gradually stirs on Kara’s bed. How rarely does she get to wake up slowly, she wonders.

Luckily for sleeping arrangements, Alex brought her shore-leave duffle which must be the one she takes on her little ‘adventures’ in the back-country because it had enough guns in it to wipe out all land mammals and enough camping shit in it to build a town in Texas. Just add tumbleweeds.

Kara had to take a sleeping bag but it had been a while since she got a chance to sleep-fly so that was actually a plus. Kolex is hovering beside Kara, turning her bag like a magic carpet-wrapped shish kabob.

"Kolex," Kara groans. "Cut it out. Stupid robot. Stupid...hilarious...loyal...uh...you're basically my dog, aren't you?"

Kolex nods his sensor housing and proceeds to project a huge mastiff with his camouflage field.

"Woof!"

Kara reaches to pat his housing again instead finds herself petting sleek fur, albeit slightly electrically charged fur.

"You make a woof noise, you don't say 'woof'. Work on it. Kudos on the look though and...wait!" Kara pats the mastiff's head and plays with its ears.

"This projection is solid! And...flexy! And...way wider than your chassis! Wow! Kolex! Who’s a good boy? Who finished the nanite shell system for the disguise generator? You did! You did!"

Alex laughs from the bed.

“Hey, sunshine,” Alex croaks, a weak smile on her face. “Ugh! My mouth tastes like a roadkilled donkey's asscrack.”

“You have a toothbrush calling your name, you know.”

“Great. I think I forgot one, so thanks for hitting the drugstore.”

I bought it months ago, Alex. Because I miss our midterm and final’s week sleepovers...even with the zipline and climbing spike removal I do after.

Alex throws her legs over the edge of the bed, slowly, carefully, like she expects to collapse or vomit at any moment.

“Wait. I was drunk as hell. Like maybe you should have taken me to a hospital. So why aren't I nauseous? Why doesn’t my head hurt?”

“Because I am the best little sister ever?” Kara suggests in Kryptonese. “Because sisters take care of each other and I didn’t want you in pain, Alex.”

“I maybe...uh...well...I might have broken the rules on doing crazy science on humans. What happened was Greg got Winn smashed once. Had to take him to the hospital. It was an accident because it turns out he basically can’t be in the same room as alcohol an-”

“I heard that!” Winn shouts from the mini kitchen on his side.

“I felt bad seeing him like that. So I invented a blocker...blocks what’s not already metabolized, anyhow. Nanites designed to break up ethanol alcohol molecules and isolate byproducts. It’s really nice that human blood is so iron rich, by the way. Makes it easy to repopulate a nanite swarm. In your case I had Kolex toss in a short half-life antidepressant. Should wear off in three days.” Kara explains.

Alex comes back in with a toothbrush in her mouth, toothpaste drizzle on her chin, wide eyed and her jaw slack. The toothbrush falls out and Kolex intercepts it with his lower arms before it hits.

“I’m sorry, what the hell did you just say? Hangover blocker? Whatever it does, it works. Because I don’t feel great but this the morning after is three drinks, not three quarters of a bottle of Jack. I am a docto-“

“Never finished a residency!” Kara teases.

“I fucking murdered the boards and then, oh, I don’t know...joined the army!” Alex shouts.

“Keeps a girl busy. Anyway. Point is I understand what you just said...which makes it scarier. You just invented something that could save lives all over this campus--any campus--or in every bar in America. Why isn’t it in every first aid kit at Walgreen's?”

Kara shrugs.

“Yeah, I guess it could be usefu-"

"You guess? Alcohol poisoning kills people, Kara! Drunk drivers kill people! You just invented the fucking antivenom to booze! Buddy too drunk to drive? Hit him with that cocktail. Out like a light and safe until morning."

Kara wrings her hands, eyes fixed on her bunny slippers.

"I know. And I want to use Kryptonian tech to help...but I can't yet. Need a corporate sponsor to hide behind, some tech company that it would look plausible coming from. You taught me that, Alex. How to make it look ordinary.”

Alex sighs. “I did teach you how to keep a low profile. Did a pretty good job, too, if we ignore supervillian monologues on eme-”

A pillow hits Alex in the face.

“Not funny,” Kara snaps, her strength not sufficient to keep her smile back.

“If I start dropping meds and self-driving flying cars and green power cores and ocean clearing drones out there just because I can or think it will help...people are going to start looking for the source.”

The hypo sits on the bedside table, buzzing on the wood. Alex reaches down.

“Hot to the touch,” she observes.

“What?" Kara asks. "Right. Forgot. The hypo is self-sterilizing. The glass is stupid tough so it just uses a sustained neutron bombardment from the power core. Nothing with DNA, amino acids or complex carbon-nitrogen-hydrogen molecules can handle that sort of abuse. Then it scrapes the remainders into a hazard tank at the back. Kolex thinks we can get three hundred uses minimum before it needs a new micro-omegahedron core.”

Alex breathes deeply, pinching the bridge of her nose.

“Of course it is self-sterilizing and self-recharging,” Alex sighs.

“And Kara? Take credit for things. As soon as we figure out how to get this stuff out there, you are going to save millions of lives a year just in hospitals. That other stuff you mentioned can save the fucking planet. You could stop us from wrecking our world. Prevent another species from committing eco-suicide. Prevent another Krypton. Hell, the hypo alone is a life saver and cost-saver. When you invent awesome things, you need to feel awesome.”

Kara blushes. "But I didn't earn it, Alex. It's the science version of being born rich."

“So I didn't invent that. I have training in engineering, sure. I'm good with Kryptonian prototyping machines, I get that. Dad and I used to tear down spaceship wrecks for warp drive parts as like, daddy-daughter bonding day. My outpost kit contained a full schematic database for the fabricators...every production-ready design to build a camp, a city, roads, factories, power plants, a starport… Basic colony stuff.“

“Plus they added military schematics on my mother's authority with the Council and there's some creepy as fuck classified stuff my dad added. If I can get minerals, describe it to Kolex and an existing design is in there or is close, we can hack something together. I actually started a notepad of stuff I want to try.”

“Not that exciting really.”

Alex snorts.

“Uh-huh. Was that device in your outpost kit? That exact device? That exact medicine?”

“No.”

“Uh-huh. So you invented it. And how many other people on the planet are qualified to tell Kolex what you needed? To even visualize it in enough detail? Is there a single human who could?”

“One. Two...maybe? I read an article in WIRED about how inventions work and how engineers think. Maxwell Lord is a maybe. But if he doesn't get on Wonder Woman's good side again...dead men file no patents. But I’m positive Lena Luthor could ace this sort of thing if we gave her the LEGO kit, so to speak. She has the right sort of mind. She starts with words, she said in the interview. She describes what it should do and then looks for how and only then thinks about parts.”

Kara stops talking and stares at her wall calendar with a weird look on her face.

“Shit. Job fair in twenty all the way across town.”

Kara looks at her feet.

“Sorry.  I’m supposed to be boosting your confidence, Alex. I wasn’t the sad, pouting drunk last night.”

Alex sighs, running her hands through her sweaty hair.

“Honestly, Kara? Hearing that you didn’t hate me was big. I was really pissed at myself for landing on you so hard and after that we didn’t talk so I thought you were avoiding me. I assumed the worst.”

“I wasn't avoiding you. I was mad at myself, I suppose for breaking my cover after all your work. Actually mostly I was doing yoga and Shavo-Tahiko meditation to calm the fuck down after what happened to Nadia and to figure out what I need to do next. I can’t be Kal, Alex. That’s not what I know. Not easy to be a girl scout when you’ve watched your species nearly go extinct and ended up on a planet where like three people loved me, all strangers. Strangers at first. With the Worldkiller grafts in me, I can never be as good a person as as he is.”

Alex is drumming her fingers on a thigh-holstered weapon she doesn’t realize she isn’t carrying.

“No. You’ll be better. Kal has trouble getting rough, no matter how bad it is. He's bulletproof and he was raised by the nicest woman alive. So he never has to think like humans do: would the world be better, safer, without that person in it? Last week he airlifted supplies to a Somali refugee camp and then set up a wall to keep rebels out. Any army in the world would have followed up an airlift with a carpet bombing run on the rebels.”

Winn comes in with tea for them both, oatmeal for Alex and toast, steak and eggs for both himself and Kara.

“You said that Krypton’s enemies called them Worldkillers. Your army didn’t,” he reminds her through a mouthful of crumbs.

“Yeah, so?”

“So...maybe don’t think of yourself as something that enemy soldiers named it. Sure, Destroyer isn’t super fluffy. Sovereign is just eh and it might scare the government. Wasn’t one of the others Fist?”

“Fist of the Empire, Winn.”

He shrugs.

“Doesn’t have to be. It could be Fist of Justice, Kara.”

Alex jabs her oatmeal spoon in his direction.

“What he said. I don’t call myself imperialist running-dog scum just because the North Koreans call our soldiers that. Words matter...especially what you use for yourself. It sinks in and if it's bad, messes you up. Think about it.”

“Will do,” Kara promises.

She disappears in a burst of superspeed and comes back dressed for a job fair, her clothes still crackling with static.

“So, Alex...whatcha think?”

“I think at least it’s not denim but it’s for sure odd. Tweed jacket and wool slacks? Suspenders? Bowler hat...really? At least it’s business-ish. Enough you won’t get kicked out. Maybe consider getting a suit?”

Winn pumps his fist at the ceiling.

“Truth! Jacked girls all need to own suits...them’s the rules,” he declares. "That and backless dresses. Workout selfies with hand, arm, back or shoulder are basically sexting for a couple lezzies I know from GSA."

“Huh. I did not know that, Winn. Kolex? Play back Alex’s last twenty minutes before she fell asleep. Winn, don’t let her leave until I can talk to her about it. Kolex, don’t let her kill Winn to escape.”

“Understood, Lady Kara. Barrier field generator programmed to contain Alex and Winn prioritized in defense protocol.”

"I don't get it, Kara."

Kolex starts playing the recording of Alex’s drunk, sappy, effusive praise of Maggie’s various attributes and how her smile makes Alex feel.

“Bye now!”

“Kara! Get your ass back here!” Alex demands.

Unfortunately, Kara has already zipped out the window and is halfway to CatCo Plaza.

 


 

April 4, 2006 | Alex Danvers

National City, California

National City University

Honors Dorm, Room 713

 

Alex is still shell-shocked from the recording of herself. Nothing she can do about it now but pretend it didn't happen, throw pretending in a box and send it down a river in Egypt.

"Winn," she asks. "Was Kara for real with all that stuff? Those designs she has?"

Winn is in the middle of some suspiciously amazing video game, wearing a helmet, gloves with glowing sensor patches and a harness. On screen is a two-sided projection of some medieval city with enough grimy peasants, silk-clad elves and sleepy-looking dragons perching on roofs to make Tolkien piss himself.

Vasquez and Alex like to play Call of Duty now and again, show those mouth-breathing teenagers how it's done. This is not just prettier...or more complicated. It's insane. Someone in the background is sawing a log and some woman is throwing a bucket of holy yuck that's disgusting into the street. Knights go by on patrol, having a dozen different conversations in a made-up language.

"Winn!" she interrupts, tapping his shoulder.

"Gah! Die, foul orc!"

Alex lifts her arm to block his swing and Winn connects hard with her forearm. Unprepared, he topples backwards on to the bed. He whips the helmet off and looks a little green around the gills.

"Answer me, human!" she bellows.

"Sorry, Alex."

"I was mostly teasing. Orc, huh?"

"Anything grabs me in real life, the code adds it to the game and randomizes whether it's a friendly or a surprise attack. Anyway. Missed the question."

"Kara was just rattling off all that tech she has access to. Is that for real?"

He nods.

"One night, I asked her some stuff about NASA and if she could help them get to Mars. Next thing I know, she's showing me the build process for a heavy freighter, escort ships and estimates of mineral cost. That's where she's stuck...raw material. Omegahedrons take five times their weight in uranium minimum and require artificial neutron matter for the shielding. White sand takes ten times its weight and a three-particle thick layer of neutron matter. Both takes forever to cook, sustained singularities to compress and the waste product is so dense she’s been dumping it in deep ocean trenches. Neither is safe to refine in atmosphere...or gravity.”

“Computers like Kolex need palladium, iridium, refined silver, carbon dust, liquid nitrogen to cool the core during bootstrap. They need lasers to scrub the vacuum chamber for temperature insulation of the quantum bits. The basic stuff--like the uber taser we built--that's easy. Her suit was...doable.”

“Big numbers or powerful or important stuff takes fancy materials that are hard for her to get. She tried just buying it but that lasted like two months...shell companies with that kind of scratch draw attention.”

“Where is she getting this stuff? Pretty sure the Army would lose its shit if massive transfers of uranium were happening. I would hear about it.”

“I think she's been mining asteroids? Dunno....not like people count how many of them go missing each year. Kara disappears for a while and then comes back with a stupid grin and like, paella, tacos, a straw hat and a bunch of margaritas?"

Nadia’s car, Alex realizes. Must have taken weeks of strenuous hand labor just for the metals to put in the parts to put in the car. In vacuum. Cold and alone.

Alex’s brain isn’t ready for duty just yet. This is too much. She should have paid more attention, helped Kara, done this with her sister.

"Huh? Mexican food?”

"Oh, her secret base is in the Baja desert. Right on the coast. Not far from Tijuana. That's where she would drop stuff off, no question."

Alex pinches her nose hard enough to give herself a nosebleed and takes deep, forced breaths before replying.

"Why do I not know my sister has been hoarding rare minerals in her supervillian hideout? Winn...is she also hoarding shark tanks, East German femme fatales and white cats?"

Winn smiles.

"Platinum blonde femme fatales for sure. She's not a cat gay...or a shark gay. At least not yet."

Alex chuckles, stuffing more Kleenex in her nose.

“How bo I hep her wid dis?” she asks. “She shob nob haf to do dis awone.”

“Dunno. Get her some more hands to help? Get her permission from the authorities?” Winn suggests, rubbing the back of his head.

“Talk her into taking up some tier-one attendants and constructor drones? She wants to avoid breaking any laws or being seen so she’s been going up with like, a couple duffle bags per trip since she can beat radar. Doing this past lunar orbit where there’s no claim. Also I think she’s the Justice League space station. Maybe just Batman though. Last week she told me she dropped six dozen eggs above it in the gravity well, timed to impact his bunkroom’s porthole when it was rotating by.”

Alex laughs so hard she dislodges the bloody Kleenex.

“I think she needs her big sis on this, Alex. To tell her it’s okay and to hold her hand. The government scares the hell out of her...and I don’t blame her. What’s the likelihood that the DEO is the only government agency working on aliens? For every good cop, there’s a bad cop.”

Alex nods.

“I’ll bo it. Neeb to bake a pone cald.”

Winn laughs.

“Howsabout an email, Alex? Wait for the swelling to go down.”

“Goob poind. Do dat insteab.”

She bends over her duffel, fishes past the booze and---crap! should have left the guns on base!--and finally finds her DEO-spec phone. Flicking the toggle for the scrambler, she scrolls through a list of code names.

 


 

Blacksmith,

This is White Knight. I found out Tinkerbell has been holding out on us. Serious gear. Enough to give us Land-Atmo-LowOrbit combat supremacy. Request permission to bring Tinkerbell in from the cold.

For security, request the following.

  • Request that Vigilante takes a look at Lena Luthor and LuthorCorp. Background checks, threat assessment, site scrub, full personnel audits. Recommend CIA, NSA, FBI and implanted assets if possible. Luthor has a file on the Luthor/Cadmus investigation under informant alias “Eyeball”.
  • Blacksmith meets with White Knight and Tinkerbell in a SCIF facility. No additional personnel. Tinkerbell reads in Blacksmith.
  • Tinkerbell voluntarily offers limited, non-lethal field support, prioritizing medical, exfil assist, quick response force and air space denial.
  • Armed security detail on Tinkerbell / White Knight's listed next of kin. Plainclothes. US Marshalls / FBI tac-team / United States Secret Service preferred. Tinkerbell can provide off-the-record financials.

For chain of command, request the following

  • Tinkerbell meets ChiefStaffArmy, ChiefStaffAirForce, ChiefNavOps, CmdSgtMjrMarineCorps and IntelDir to outline force coordination and RoEs.
  • Tinkerbell meets AttyGen and IntelDir, DirFBI to discuss legal.
  • Tinkerbell denies meeting SecDef if possible. Keep full extent of capabilities in-house.
  • Tinkerbell denies meeting POTUS. Do only if required. Recommend against. Did not vote for. Does not like. Tinkerbell highly likely to offend POTUS. POTUS guaranteed to offend Tinkerbell and US Secret Service not equipped.

For implementation, request the following

  • Tinkerbell meets with and trains Gentleman, Badger and Ice on the revised tactical gear. DEO-1 replicates training to other teams.
  • Tinkerbell meets with Tailor, Headset, Paperclip and Bleeder to discuss med bay/weapons/vehicles/intel gear.
  • Pending recon on LuthorCorp, contact for negotiations.
  • Tinkerbell meets DARPA to discuss research.

 

White Knight

(auth Alpha-India-Tango-Six-Niner-Omaha)

 


 

“If I ask who you’re emailing, you have to kill me, right?”

“Yes, Winn. I would. I’ll try to make it painless though. And really minty. See, there’s this thing you can do with two packs bubblegum, a knife hand to the neck and a strike to the solar plexus…” Alex replies.

“Y’know, I’m good. Gonna kill some more orcs. If you need me, use that bell thingy. It sends a message to the headset rather than ripping my brain and inner ears out of a fun reality and into this boring one. ”

He points to a clicker remote on Kara’s desk. A smirk flickers on Alex’s face.

“Hey, Winn. You got another setup?”

“Huh?”

“Oh, yeah. In the closet. It’s sized for Kara but...just tap the chest harness three times and it’ll compress to your size.”

Alex sets her phone on the table and slides into the bodysuit and then drops into a sparkling, fairy-infested, dragon-riding wonderland. Where only the Elven princesses will talk to her for some weird reason.

She doesn’t see the email for hours.

 


 

White Knight

 

Permission granted for all. Pieces in motion now. Vigilante has been contacted offline. That channel is confirmed secure.

Do not, I repeat, do NOT contact Luthor until Vigilante clears her.

Be advised that I have your six, White Knight. Tinkerbell is our comrade-in-arms. No one left behind.

 

Blacksmith

(auth Charlie-Two-Quebec-Yankee-Four-Zulu)

 


 

Alex is roused by a ‘intruder alert’ pop up on her headset. She surveys the battlefield where orcs and men and elephant-sized rats lie dead, or dying or injured. Beside her stands a small man, gnome-sized, dressed to the nines, holding a small crossbow and an unlit cannonball-type bomb in the other hand.

She pulls her greatsword free of the rat and wipes guts and blood off on the fur.

“This is where we part, my crafty friend.”

“As thee wish. If only they listened when you stood at the gates. But, as I said before, milady...no man has ever breached these walls.”

The grin the gnome gives her is all Winn.

 

 

Alex pulls the headset off, grateful for her short haircut and less excited about how the sweat and hair gel mix. Whoever it was, they let themselves in to the darkened suite.

“I’m armed,” Alex calls out.

It’s not technically true but it’s close. She’s stalled a charging raxxie long enough to make it to her weapon. Two paces in pitch black is nothing.

“Hmm. I would be disappointed if you weren’t,” purrs a woman’s voice.

“May I turn on the light?”

Alex has her arc pistol in hand and her thumb is on the power control. If heavy stun doesn’t drop the intruder, she’ll put a hole in them, the wall behind them and quite possibly the belltower across the quad.

The lights click on.

“Alex? You look good.”

“Uh, thanks Emilia. You look...damp.”

Emilia laughs that same quick, tittering laugh that made Kara’s knees weak in high school. As the big sister of the aggrieved party, Alex is less than impressed. She drops the gun back in her bag.

“My body is secreting a liquid environment to keep it old school for my fishy ass. Side effect of my condition,” she jokes.

Patting her middle, Emilia calls Alex’s attention to the baby bump.

“You’re pregnant! That’s great!”

Emila beams...not smiles, not smirks, not that flirty little pout she used on Kara. This is like staring at the noonday son. Her jelly-dampened crests are drooping at the tips, her eyes are shiny and pupils half-blown. A living body in a state of happy balance -- and no doubt happy hormones -- that looks good on her.

“I tend to think so. Is Kara in? I want to say thank you in person for the rescue. I brought some chocolates, cards and a gift.”

Alex shakes her head.

“Job fair at CatCo. Some sort of trial-by-fire thing where they all get tossed off the deep end and do the job for a day. If the Queen of All Media deems them worthy, they’re hired. Freaked even Kara out.  Winn’s going for the second part -- IT staff start after reporters -- so maybe he could give you a ride.”

“Job fair? Really?” Emilia laughs.

“She’s what...a sophomore?”

Alex’s cheeks darken.

“She has...uh...been taking night classes at Stanford.  Engineering, math, art, philosophy, music.  General education requirements and some personal interests. Had the transcript mailed on Monday. The registrar will flip I’m sure, but she graduates in April, I think, after the last half-semester. Because Stanford isn’t in the UC system...”

Emila chuckles. “No one could catch her taking a lethal course load. Kara couldn’t resist, could she? Thought she had a new girlfriend. Nadia? Sounds like a nice little lady.”

“She does...or did. Nadia has a good job lined up back home in Georgia and they could take her now. She was a junior when they met. Said their goodbyes yesterday, I think.”

Emilia frowns.

“She had a girl.  So then why was she studying all night?”

Alex shrugs.

“Woman only sleeps if she feels like it. Maybe Kara would just set her laptop on Nadia’s butt and do homework when she stayed the night?”

“Can you give me directions to CatCo? Maybe I’ll buy her a coffee when the fair is over.”

Alex coughs.

“Uh, you’re blue and like, covered in…” Alex sniffs. “Citrusy-smoky smelling jello…you would stand out. Can you even do a microsingulary net right now?”

“Eating and sanding for two. Kicks in with the whole ‘rawr! must protect young!’ instinct. I could probably hide this building if I felt like it. But honestly I was going to do a big ass hat and a maternity dress four sizes too big.”

Alex holds out her phone with the address pulled up on it.

“Thanks, Alex. By the way, nice phone...operative.”

“What did you say?”

“It’s cool. Nakka told me about you helping her out. My lips are sealed.”

“Kara’s busy for like...six more hours,” Alex reminds Nadia. “Either tag along with Winn or use the five-ten bus.”

“Could I, uh, get some advice?”

“Ooh!” Nadia squeals.

“Boy trouble? No… You're blushing and dopey-looking but scared and you primitives don't get it how the universe works. So it’s girl trouble. Ha!  I knew it.  Kara owes me a fifty.”

Alex is opening and closing her mouth stupidly, trying to find a word or two.  She finally stops when she hears about the bet.

“Excuse me?”

“We had a bet. I bet you were, she bet you weren’t. I think Kara suspected but wanted to be respectful and not bet on her closeted sister.”

Emilia leans back in Kara’s desk chair.

“Alex, sweet confused child...” she coos.

“I’ve been ripping bodices open, sliding hip-beads off and unwinding saris since the court of Elizabeth the First. I’ve ravished women in closets--literal closets--and under the altar in the chapel the morning of their wedding day, in their husband’s offices, on the forest floor of the Congo, in a temple on the Ganges, in the snow in the Yukon. And only two of those women admitted they were gay when we met.”

“Nine times,” Emilia sighs. “Nine times I’ve married a woman, Black take the laws.  Married or sworn to keep her and her heart, her sanity and her children whole in a shit marriage to some cock-swinger.  In sight of whatever gods and trusted friends and secret-keepers she had. For better or for worse, til death do we part. The vows are what hurt the worst, every time. Looking into her eyes and promising her that but knowing that I would be the one parting at her death.”

“That’s...I’m sorry,” Alex finally manages, unsure what else to possibly say.

“Don’t be. Earth has been a blessing for me. Here I have been a widow thirteen times over but not once have I regretted loving the man or woman who was growing old beside me. It’s why I sought aliens, like Kara and now Nakka, Tam and Kin. My family. So that we could grow old, or not, together.”

Emilia sighs.

“Point is, you could not ask for a better spirit guide about human women who won’t yet admit they’re lesbians.”

Alex paces the room in a crooked loop, hands pulling at her sweaty, gel-slicked hair.

“So there’s this girl.”

“Cradle-robber,” Emilia jokes. “Pervert,” she adds with a hiss.

Alex chuckles.

“Fine. Right. Woman. Her name is Maggie Sawyer and she’s a police detective here in National City. I work with her when we need to interact with local police. She’s…” Alex pauses.

“Funny. Cute. About five-foot-nothing so...she overdoes it. Struts into a crime scene like she is walking into a singles bar. Acts like  she will break a six-foot two, five hundred pound alien perp in half and crack walnuts with his skull. Then the moment he’s locked up she turns to me and smiles. Make a joke. Accuses me of letting aliens loose just so we can flirt. Walks away too slowly and with too much swaying.”

“God, Emillia. Her smile. White teeth an-she’s dark skinne-” Alex babbles. “Her skin is amazing. Those teeth and the dimples. She looks at me and suddenly I have one IQ point...all I know is that I want to kiss her and have her kiss me. It might be the dimples. The dimples are a distraction,” Alex admits.

“I’ve never felt this way. With boyfriends, I … sort of wondered what the fuss was about.”

Emila nods, her scaly fingers tented.

“Thought experiment, Alex. Take Maggie in your mind. Make her male…hard, I know. She sounds like Marilyn Monroe made out of caramel, the way you talk about her. You’re back in school, in Midvale. You’re in the club room, playing chess. A sprinter walks by. Little guy from the track team. Great smile. Finds an excuse to laugh whenever you meet. The one who always teased you...said you came to meets just to distract him.”

“Would you date him?

“Yes,” Alex croaks, her throat closing.

The sheer enormity of how deeply fucked she is has become clear to Alex.

She’s having trouble not telling Emilia and if she was dating Maggie, she’d probably be shouting it in the armory, given how stupid she’s acting. She would probably break into the White House and shove a rolled up copy of the Don’t Ask Don’t Tell order down George Bush's throat if Maggie asked nicely.

“Ka-pow. There’s the answer.” Emilia replies, tilting forward in the chari. “You were overthinking it. It’s Maggie that you love and her being a woman is only a part of her.”

“What do I do? I’m a soldier, Emilia. I would get discharged, lose a job that I’m pretty sure is my life’s work, lose my pension, my healthcare, everything.”

“And since it’s a gag order, you can’t exactly find friends to confide in,” Emilia sighs.

Well, that I would have, Alex realizes. Put that in the plus column.

“Do you live on base?”

“Two days a week, three tops. Sometimes not. When we’re planning an op, I stay there seven days a week. My commanding officer wants me out with the civvies, keeping an ear to the ground.”

Emilia clicks her tongue.

“Don’t try it on base, not under these rules. I remember how cramped military life was.”

“What?” Alex blurts out. “I didn’t know that about you.”

“More than a century before I came to Earth. Two hundred eighteen years in a mercenary company out of Starhaven called Black Nebula. Thessalian armies are pretty informal. We did our own thing: hit Daxamite shipping, ran bounties, kidnapped, ransomed, the usual. When the motherworld needed us, we showed up and fell in with the regular army...just as they expected us to.”

“But this isn’t about me. So you have five days then, usually more, out in the world, with her. Secret love, Alex, is one of the sweetest and most terrifying things. Stolen kisses, both your hearts pounding with the fear of getting caught. Ducking into alleys and graveyards and empty churches for a quick feel...or more.”

“I would have to hide it.”

“Well,” Emilia exclaims, throwing her hands up. “I guess it’s doomed then. Not like you’re a secret agent who sneaks around for a living and whose sister once built a flying, self driving, bulletproof car for her girlfriend. Which must make road sex so much easier. I have to see if I can beg Kara for the minivan version.”

Oh. Yeah. Hiding it is only a ‘how’ part of the relationship, not a ‘whether’.

“Talk to Kara, Alex. When she’s done giggling, hopping around and screaming, she’ll help with the secrecy.”

“Then?”

“Talk to Maggie. Probably make a fool of yourself but if you do, laugh it off. Make her laugh. You can get away with a lot if the other person knows you were nervous because they matter to you. If it gets serious, check with Kara. I think she knows Maggie’s ex-fiance. Hopefully they can give you some tips on what not to do.”

“I should go, Alex. I hope that helped.”

“Very helpful, thanks.”

“Oh, and Alex? Don’t talk to strangers about Maggie when you’re not wearing a bra. Don’t know what daydreams you’re having but those cherries could cut glass right now.”

Alex groans and Emilia snickers her way down the hall.

 


 

April 4, 2006 | Kara Danvers

National City, California

CatClo Plaza

The Outdoor Arts Plaza AKA “Seashell”

Cat Grant stands on an elevated platform over a sea of interns. With her still posture, sharp gray eyes and her designer jewelry twinkling in the midday sun, Kara can see why ‘Queen’ stuck to her so early in her career.

A personal assistant with curly blonde hair hands Cat a microphone.

“My name is Cat Grant. I began my career even lower than all of you. As an unpaid intern at the Daily Planet. One night, a vice president took his hand on my ass and joked that I should write for their gossip magazine sex column. An insult...but an insult with a byline.”

She grins, all teeth and tightly-drawn pride.

“Now he is four lawsuits and two divorces poorer. And that…” she gestures to CatCo Tower. “..and that,” she gestures to the small outdoor stadium full of soccer brats. “...and that, that and that, are mine.” She points to the ‘town square’ of giant TVs and internet terminals, the fleet of news vans, the helipad on the garage, and the stage she stands on.

“Now,” she begins, unclipping the mike and walking a straight line across the stage, back and forth like a general reviewing troops.

“Some of you think that means you can do all these things. That a couple visits to the orthodontist and a hundred dollar shirt and daddy paying for Stanford and a nice car, mean you have what it takes. You don’t, I promise you. You are not the next breakout success.”

She points to a man wearing a white polo with a winning smile and a bluetooth headset.

“You don’t because you cannot possibly have the mindset to succeed. I did not, not when I was your age, still gooey with the afterbirth after graduating from Bryn Mawr.”

Some of the women in the crowd laugh, most of the men make grossed-out faces.

“The woman I was then is dead but at least that poor woman had scraps of me...ambition, drive, keen fashion sense,” she jokes, waving the microphone at her blue and gold number.

“I piled the scraps of her together and through sweat and tears and years of work, I made new parts. New skills, new resilience, new ways of looking at things.”

“That let me see new opportunities, pitch ideas to my bosses in new ways, take new risks.  Here I stand.  Yes, I know, I have a best selling autobiography and my own section on TMZ,” she jokes waving her microphone lazily.

“But that’s all bullshit. This is the Cat Grant story. Ten sentences. Ready?”

Kara can hear the squeak of a food cart a hundred yards off and for a change, all the humans around her can too.

“I started. I failed. I recovered. I failed again. I recovered again. I gambled and I won. I used up six of my nine lives building this place, growing in to the woman standing here. In my world, journalists work and uncover and we behave ourselves and we save the world and ourselves by doing it. That is my expectation and I am Queen of All Media, so my word...is law.”

“Miss Tessmacher will be assigning you each a ten minute slot to pitch me a story. You will have three hours to find it, two to write it and one to proof, edit and submit it. Digital, print or video. If you’re masochist, try for all three.  If I find you worthy of the honor of being in my presence, it will be because that story will be one-hundred-percent ready for use on our platforms. If that’s the case, you will have a job on graduation.”

“People call me harsh. Both my dress code and perfectionism has been compared to the terrible reign of Steve Jobs. It’s not because I’m a bitch...well...not only because.”

Every woman in the audience laughed, Kara is sure of it.

“It’s because the only way to be ready for this job is to jump into the ocean and learn to swim.”

Cat passes the mike back to her assistant.

Kara has every intention to cheat on this test. She has superspeed, supersenses, the best computer cores that can exist in normal space and new revision of her camera drone that she disguised as a sharpie marker and tucked behind her ear.

The only problem is if nothing happens or if I write it up wrong. So basically, everything is still a problem.

[Kolex. Monitor Twitter and photo posting sites. If something is getting attention, point me at it.]

[Yes, Lady Kara. Operation Ice Cream in progress.]

[What?]

[Ice cream is something that needs a scoop.]

Kara snorts.

[Decent joke.  You're improving.]

“Danvers, Kara!” calls the intercom.

Kara jogs over to the table where miss Grant sits, head down in contracts, copy and photo layouts.

“I'm your ten-thirty, miss Grant."

Cat Grant doesn’t even glance up.

“Tell me why I should be talking to you. Your outfit is disgraceful. Those suspenders and slacks look like you were deemed too frumpy to fight in World War One. So, ten-thirty...why should I talk to you instead of sending you, your suspenders, fossilized slacks and tweed back where you came from to be in the background of a newspaper picture about a lynching?”

So maybe the men’s clothing and Mason’s old-school idea was a mistake, Kara decides. Thought vintage was in.

“Ahem,” Kara coughs. “Look up.”

Cat lifts her head, finally able to see Kara’s face, hands and hair. Billionaire or not, she blushes.

“Well. Shit. As a reporter I should remember my own advice. Take in the whole scene before editorializing,” she huffs, tossing her pen down.

“I don't often apologize to people, but here I am making a point of it. What I said was wrong and I'm sorry."

"But my overall point about your outfit stands. You tower above every man in the line behind you and from what little I can see, if you dressed like a sane person, you could walk into any room, anywhere and draw the attention of everyone there.”

“So unless this is accidental, unless you were attacked and those clothes were forced upon you, your are committing deliberate assault on my eye health, my sanity, and defiling the strength, grace and sacred power of the female form.”

So she’s maybe a smidge bi-curious?

Kara blows out a long breath.

“Apology accepted. The insult was much cooler the second time. Lyrical, in fact.”

The tiniest flicker of amusement tugs at the right side of Cat’s mouth.

“Pitch a story, woman.”

[Four minutes, thirty seconds remaining.]

[Thank you, Kolex.]

“I have two. Aliens and police brutality.”

“National Enquirer is in Los Angeles, dear. Next!”

Kara lays out the photos Emilia gave her. Cat’s eyebrow goes up.

“Aliens. Aliens living here in National City, in poverty, suffering, because our government would rather deny their existence than have the debate about their rights.”

“There is a squatter’s camp of aliens in an old middle school on 12th and Reagan. Children, mothers, couples, living in complete filth because they lack identification. They live in a building with asbestos and air toxicity that exceeds EPA guidelines for a toxic waste dump. Because if they go outside, they can be shot down like animals. Zero consequences. Murder laws do not apply. Animal cruelty laws do not apply. Open season, even more than black people.”

Cat picks her pen back up and rapidly taps it on a stack of paper, sometimes lifting it and twirling it between her fingers while she thinks. It’s clearly a nervous tic that she’s redirected into something more stylish.

“I can’t let you do the police brutality angle. You haven’t earned that yet -- too close to an editorial -- and I can’t having a black woman doing a police brutality stor-”

Kara opens her mouth to complain, catches herself and ends up making a gulping sound. Cat’s upraised forefinger was enough to stop her cold. Cat mouth curls closer to a smile.

“Unless I know she is a goddamned man-eating shark...unless I know her writing skills, tenacity, judgement and grasp of the subject are such that the piece is so brutal the Grand Wizard of the KKK will find himself begging for mercy at her feet.”

“But if you want to waste your time on aliens, do it. Take my new photographer,” Cat says, nodding to the fleet of vans.

“If you’re right, then CatCo scoops every outlet in human history and if that’s the case I want good photos. And…” Cat flips through her notes and finds Kara's resume.

“Korrine, apparently. Korrine. if you are wasting my time or pranking me, you will not only not get this job, you will not get any job at any of my companies or their subsidiaries. Clear?”

“Crystal, ma’am. See you at,” Kara checks her watch. “Five-thirty.”

“Miss Tessmacher!” Cat bellows.

Tessmacher appears after sprint from a nearby table, wobbling to get her balance back.

Girl needs to wear flats with a boss like that, Kara thinks.

“Send Jimmy Olsen with this one.”

“Of course, miss Grant.”

Tessmacher directed Kara over to the news vans where a huge black man is busily rifling through memory cards, sitting near a stack of cameras, lenses, bags and lights.

“Mr. Olsen?”

“Call me Jimmy. Kara, right?”

“Yes, that’s me.”

He looks up.

“Damn, girl. I thought one of the 49ers linebackers was coming to sack me.”

For some reason, his teasing doesn’t bother Kara. Usually she hates it when men comment on her size and her muscles. Jimmy just seems...amused. Like he’s glad there’s one other person his size in the room.

Hopping off the truck, he holds out his hand, huge grin on his face.

“Quite the grip,” he jokes.

He’s clearly not used to dealing with women or maybe people close to his own height, because he keeps catching himself trying to look down only to snap back up and resume eye contact. Like he keeps expecting to have to look down to look at her face.

“Jimmy, my face is up here. As far off the ground as yours. Unless you’re wearing five inch heels?”

She lifts her foot and wiggles her workman’s boots. He laughs, the sound booming around the metal paneling inside the van.

“Get in. Where is this place?”

He starts the van up.

“Marion Crane Middle School. Condemned building on 12th and Reagan.”

“Isn’t that closed for asbestos?”

“Covered in sheeting, yeah. But my source knows of a tunnel into the squatters camp. Also the fumes from the refinery upwind get trapped in the sheeting and build up. Means that the air’s pretty nasty. Chlorine, carbon dioxide, carbon monoxide...the works.”

“Poison building, And we’re looking for aliens. Cat finally snapped and asked you to kill me?” he jokes.

She reaches into her bag and holds out a gas mask.

“Military surplus. I have a buddy who’s active. She helped me replace and check the filters. It’s actually why the aliens chose the building. This species can deal with that atmosphere but it means no one human can take their stuff. Four or five species, actually.”

“Species? They’re not Kryptonians? I mean, I knew they existed--Clark fights a monster every week or so--but not that any aliens lived here besides you two.”

“Oh, Jimmy, Jimmy, Jimmy. This is going to blow your fucking mind!”

Kara laughs for five blocks straight.

“I needed that. So you’re that Jimmy. I should have realized, I mean, anyone who’s his best friend wouldn’t be like some tiny, shy person. Still...his descriptions of you had me looking for someone a bit mor-”

“White?” Jimmy demands.

“No, not really. I was going to say I was seeing someone more...timid? Maybe that’s just how he sees it because he keeps saving you.”

“Unfair,” Jimmy complains. “Not my fault I have to duck when he and Lois drag me to Iraq to do combat photography. He’s bulletproof and him being there is her bulletproof vest.”

“You’re right, Jimmy. Our perspective affects our way of describing the world...and I’ve only ever heard of you from his perspective. Were all just living inside our own skulls, trying to figure out what’s really outside our eyeballs.”

“Ew...but you’re right. Kal always said you were the smart one.”

“Damn right I am,” Kara huffs. “Pretty one, too.”

“Speaking of smart, you should make sure that the camera you pick has a glass lens that is not coated. Chlorine-sodium-hydrogen compounds in the air might have a bleaching effect. That might eat plastic or soft coating but isn’t going to be able to eat glass.

“So how’s Lois?”

“She’s good,” Jimmy chuckles. “Alura’s...six and two sixths? She makes sure we’re all very precise. I’m sure she’s terrorizing the entire school by now. Lara’s just starting to talk in sentences which is going to be fun given her mom’s potty mouth.”

“Alura?” Kara asks, her voice a trembling whisper.

“You didn’t know? Alura and Lara. Your mom and his. Lois’ idea I’m pretty sure.”

Kara blinks stupidly at the windshield, tears spotting her shirt.

“I think I was so busy baby-talking and sneaking them cookies saying how cute they were...it never came up. I’m just Kay-Kay to them and they're so cute!” she squeals. “I get distracted.”

“Lois will love that. I’ll have to tell her right now,” he jokes, grabbing his phone.

Kara whips it out of his hand, fiddles with it and hands it back. Jimmy tries to unlock it and fails, five times in a row.

“You should’ve run the security patch. It just let me keep trying.”

She reaches over and uses her thumbprint to unlock it.

“That’s…” he stops to think. “Ten thousand combinations? And you just...course you did.”

Kara laughs.

“I know, right? Cell phone companies are so not prepared for superpowers!”

“Take a left,” she instructs, pointing at the fence around the parking lot.

“Mask on. Let’s go meet the new kids on the block.”

 


 April 4, 2006 | Kara Danvers

National City, California

CatClo Plaza

The Outdoor Arts Plaza AKA “Seashell”

 

Kara plops down on the back of the van’s floor beside Jimmy. He still looks broken after talking to, sitting with, and taking pictures of the squatters. He flips through photos of communal trash piles, rag-wrapped bits of sharp metal where lockers broke loose, desks used to reinforce the roof. He turns to one of Emilia’s pride and joy: that stupid propane stove that she is clever enough to not kill herself with. Barely.

Good waffles, though.

“It’s rough, huh?” she asks, patting him on the back. “They deserve better.”

“I had no idea.”

She sighs.

“You know what’s funny? I had the same sort of ‘oh shit’ moment about a week after I landed. There’s this great family in Midvale--the Williams--who Alex somehow convinced to teach me how to behave as a black woman in this country. On Krypton, this…”

She waves at her body.

“Just meant that I inherited the best of all the good looks from my mother, my aunt, Laita-El, Shala Ina-Zod and Konna Ina-Zenn in the genetic constructors and birthing matrix. It wasn’t a color, it was a heritage...reminded people of some of my most gorgeous grandmothers and great-aunts.”

“So I had to be taught how to act 'black'.  I had to be taught what that was.  The Williams are great. I think I’m basically the honorary oldest sister. No idea why they never asked where I’m actually from.”

“Really? You had to have training?”

“I had to have training to act like I need to breathe on this planet. So yeah, I had to be coached how to act submissive to police or not stand up to mall cops and not put things in my pocket before buying them. For years I didn’t get it...at all. Felt like an imposter. I would fly or take the bus so I hardly got behind a wheel, let alone got pulled over. Then Nadia and I get pulled over together and...”

Jimmy laughs. “You snapped. Clarke saved a plane to come out, you basically declared war on the police. Which, I will not lie, made me yell at my TV like it was the Chiefs winning the Superbowl. Lucy was pissed at me.”

“Lucy, as in Lucy Lane?”

He pulls out his phone and shows off a couple’s selfie.

“Clarke got the tall sister, you got the hot one with the snazzy uniform. Congrats.”

Jimmy laughs.

“So...you used to date Emilia, who has like, snaky brain ropes on her head. And the girl you just broke up with had dreadlocks, judging by your phone background. Is that your thing? A dreadlock kink?”

She offers a fist bump and he gladly takes it.

“Nicely done. You’re learning how to tease me. But...no. Luck of the draw. Since Nadia and I cut it off, she demanded I do online dating.  I’ve been on the dating apps and so far, I’ve only hit on guys. Without ‘locks.”

“Guys?” he asks, cracking another Coke.

Kara swigs hers.

“Yeah. I’m pan. Lot of the aliens I know are, especially if they date outside their species. If you, Jimmy, realized were willing to fuck a woman of another species, the idea of fucking a human man tends to get less weird fast. The idea of a being with a transwoman would probably just stop registering. I do know some straight aliens and some gay-only aliens, but the switch hitters usually are into way more variety than just basic bitches and gym rats.”

“You look human,” he reminds her. “Even with the hair and the curves and the muscles, you could be human. Just one in a million with perfect genes except for going gray early...”

Kara sighs.

“Kryptonians are the only species that looks that way. Anyone else who looks fully human is either a shapeshifter, a Coluan wearing expert-level makeup, or someone wearing a disguise kit.

“A what?”

“It’s sort of like a hologram, except touchable. Lets you hide whatever you actually in a human-looking shell. They’re not cheap but if you need one to get a job...it can be worth it.”

Jimmy nods.

“So, if you wanted to, you would be the only kind of alien with the option of a husband, two point five kids and a dog and none of them ever knowing?”

Kara shivers.

“Exactly. Like Clark, I suppose. It’s why I would never have that. I’m not sure if Clark and Lois have had the talk yet but when she ages and he doesn’t...they’re going to need an excuse.”

“Wow. Are you always this heavy? I feel like I fell asleep and woke up in an ethics class.”

Kara laughs.

“Nah. Usually I’m more of a laugh. Just...focused, I guess. Want to impress miss Grant. Photo me, brother.”

Jimmy’s oversized laugh fills the van. He kicks out the memory card and puts it in her hand.

“Back in a jif.”

Kara disappears into the van to type up her story. He waits for her to come back despite having a thousand other things he’s probably supposed to be doing. Because he wants to be friends or wants to ask her something or just--poor boy--wants to make sure she’s safe.

Sweet guy. Guess I know what Lucy saw in him.

She comes back with a portable printer and her huge, steel-cased laptop, the keys still cherry red from the friction.

“That’s...a custom model isn’t it?” he jokes.

Kara laughs.

“What? I type fast! Stands out less than carrying an undisguised workstation-class intelligence. Plus,” she smiles, tapping a switch.

Four compartments open, two on each side.

“Transmat beacon for emergency evac,” she explains, holding out the buzzing white rod.

“Medical omni-tool. Scalpel, forceps, bandage extruder, the whole bit.”

He scoops up the paperback-sized brick of cold blue metal.

“So it just like…”

“Forge an eggbeater,” Kara commands.

A transparent gray spike rises out of the device before swelling and splitting off into a pair of eggbeater blades. Kara snaps them off.

“Neat, huh?”

“Those two?”

Shadowside pistol. Officer’s sidearm. Packs a punch but...mostly for show.  In case someone needs to see a gun to catch on.”

She picks up a balled up wad of fabric and tosses it to him.

“Oof,” he grunts, letting it fall onto the concrete. “That’s like a barbell, except it’s the size of a baseball.”

“Armored cloth. Two particle thick layer of neutron star matter in a carbon nanotube and composite alloy weave. Energized by micro-omegahedrons to help support its weight and anchor to surfaces. Weighs a lot but it takes up to a thirty kiloton blast on the surface. As far as I’ve tested, anyway. Enough to get three adults under it and heavy enough to keep them there but not heavy enough to crush them.”

“I have five of those blankets in my main kit. In case I ever need to do like, a hostage rescue.”

“Main kit?”

Kara raises a keyfob and clicks it.

A massive, all black motorcycle chirps at the parking meter. Both the front and rear wheels are sunk into pyramids-shaped metal housings and the seat has a three-fold piece of metal accordion-ed and clamped against the passenger side.

The sedan next to it is actually shorter from nose to tail lights and only slightly wider. It also can’t break orbit or do zero-to-Mars in 54 seconds.

“My ride. I call her Rook. Like the big, black, smart bird. African relative of the raven.”

“What,” he laughs. “Your suit? So is that a Transformer?”

Kara holds up the key fob, pointing to a key sunk in the back with the sigil on it.

“Just a ride. Built her myself. But...I push this and the armor transmats on to my body from the storage compartments there. Suit up time is 670 nanoseconds. Currently.”

“Uh-huh. And transmat. That’s the beam-me-up thing that gives Clarke the willies?”

Kara rolls her eyes.

“Clarke never had to write a term paper on the ‘safety improvements to the entanglement bridge and matter lathe array in the last five years’,” she drones, mimicking her old teacher.

“And the scariest part,” Kara jokes, reaching into her shoulder bag. “The big guns.”

“That’s a roll of pennies.”

“Correction. It is five rolls of pennies. And pennies are copper and the most dangerous IEDs used by terrorists are just explosives used to throw shaped charges of molten copper.  I’ve got a good throwing arm.”

“I don’t do the heat vision thing like Clark does...why does he use his eyes?” she demands. “Sounds painful. Tell him to see me. I’ll get that straightened out.”

She pulls one out of the roll, holding it between thumb and forefinger. It melts and drips into her palm where the slag instantly cools and her body takes the excess back in.

“So that’s ammo?”

“Boom! Long as I have some pocket change, I’m good to go.”

Jimmy snorts.

“Because someone is going to successfully steal your purse?” He teases.

“Eh. Style points, I guess. Ooh, there’s Winn.”

“What’s a Winn?” Jimmy asks.

Before Kara can answer, a roar splits the air. A squat alien with ridged green skin on his bald head is lifting a cop car with one hand and holding a white-hot axe in the other. He feints like he was going to throw the car into the fountain. The crowd screams and ducks away.

“Human filth! Surrender the one you call Black Knight to me and I will make your deaths quick, if not painless. Get on your knees!” he bellows.

“Excuse me!” calls a voice over the loudspeakers. Cat Grant just appeared on every TV in the plaza, broadcasting from what must be her office.

“I am Queen here! No one bows to anyone else! If you’re going to be at a private event, you need to check in. Table’s over there.”

With that, Cat pokes the off button with the pen she was brandishing at the camera. The screens go black.

“Oh my god,” Kara laughs. “I have got to work with that woman.”

“Right after I drop him. Fucking Thursdays,” Kara groans.

“Want me to…” Jimmy suggests, tapping his watch, the one Clark gave him.

“That’s sweet but...I got this,” Kara assures him. “Just...watch my bike, ‘kay?”

[Blue Beetle, tell Winn to take cover and to use the barrier harness we designed. Summon Kleenex for search and rescue and Koncave and Konvex for damage control. And email Winn my story as well, please.]

[Done, done and done. About time the little bothers earned their keep.]

[Do I detect jealousy, Blue Beetle?]

[Never!]

“Yo! Scaly green guy!” Kara bellows, tossing a decorative rock at him. He turns his massive head to track her.

“Females do not speak unless spoken to,” he growls.

“Women!” she jokes. “We’re super bad at being told what to do!”

Palming a dozen pennies and rolling the molten blob in her hand into slivers, she waits for him to turn his weapon towards her. She throws hard and a spray of superheated metal tears into his skin and flattens as it goes.  The bone, muscle and nerves beneath are smashed and and when the force reaches the other side and the scales, the arm explodes.

His weapon drops to the ground along with the bottom two-thirds of the arm holding it.

“Shooter!” someone hollers. The entire crowd scrambles for cover, assuming some crazy person with an assault rifle just showed up.

Fuck…had not thought of that angle.  It’s time. Wish I’d dressed in something handmade. This stuff will be ruined.

Kara clicks the keyfob and launches herself towards him at the same instant. The bodysuit and face mask appears with a flash of light, the barrier fabric shaping itself to her skin and cinching tight. The inner plates and the mechanical layer perched atop them follow. Finally the outer plates appear, interlocked and overcharged with excess energy from the transmat. She keeps the helmet visor set on transparent.

With Scion cocooning her, Flamebird and its sheath click into place on her back. She draws the sword and levels it at his neck. The diamond-shaped tip hums with kinetic barrier fields.

Hovering beside him she can now see into the car and see more than just the heat of still-living bodies. Both men are bleeding from head wounds from broken glass.

“You good, officers?”

Both nod.

“Let the nice policemen go,” Kara growls. “This is you and me.”

“Though I would like to know why you’re here. Don’t recall pissing off any Klingon cosplayers lately.”

Someone in the crowd sniggers.

“I,” he bellows. “Am the mighty Vartox, Chief of Clan Urgal.”

“Clan Urgal is gone. The last one...Jilyr, was it? She married outside the clan,” Kara hollers. “Can see why.”

Let them hear.   Superman never sasses.  Time to set myself apart.

“You,” he laughs. “You know your history! You are the one I seek.”

“I can deal with that. Drop the car.”

He complies. Kara swings her blade and catches the flat side under the suspension long enough to break the fall. The cruiser slams into the ground and pops its tires.

Vartox slams into her from behind, driving her into the concrete.

Cheap shot but I should have seen it coming.  Need to stop negotiating. Should have just taken the car. As she hops back on her feet, she sees him taking up his weapon with his remaining hand.

He stalks over to her, sneering.

If he’s going to give me time, I’ll take it.

[Blue Beetle, analyze weapon.]

[Valeronian fire-axe. Generates temperatures up to four million degrees and contains an outer layer of N-th metal, which can penetrate your suit...and skin. Custom-forged by males as a rite of passage into adulthood. He marks it with his name once forged. If allowed to breed, the wives' names are also inscribed.]

[Only one name.]

[Precisely. He may be attempting to prove his worth by killing you. However the weapon has a weakness: it contains a potentially critical mass of plutonium in the shaft to power the heating element and stabilize the N-th Metal. Stored in three separate chambers. Highlighting.]

[Estimated yield?]

[Fifteen kilotons.]

Kolex activates the heads-up and puts triangular marks on the weapon at three evenly-spaced points, barely two feet apart.

[And I can punch uranium into exploding...which is less frisky.  Great.]

[Removing one at a time ensures lack of critical mass. Recommend not breaking it over your knee, Lady Kara.]

[Put on some tunes, Blue Beetle. Let’s give the folks a show.]

[Highway to the Danger Zone? Really?]

[You are over fifty.]

Vartox swings down and Kara rolls to the side, bringing her boot up into his kneecap. The bellow of pain is nice but the crunch is quieter than she’d hoped. Must be tougher than your average Valeronian because of all the brains and charm he didn’t get.

Kara pushes off and bounces to her feet, balling her fists. He swings his stump at her, spraying her with awfulness.

[Blue Beetle, is that…]

[Sentencing tattoo, yes. It appears he was imprisoned, but not yet pardoned, from Kryptonian Custody. Specifically…]

Kara remembers seeing Astra’s face, hard as stone, as the guards blazed the marks into her bicep. Seeing her mother’s tears drop silently into her robes because she couldn’t show emotion while sentencing her twin sister.

“Be strong, little one. Become everything I dreamed you are. This is not your end...or even mine. Perhaps your grandchildren can come fetch me.”

Sixty cycles. Four-hundred-forty-two years on Earth. But not life…not for a woman like her, in her prime. There was a chance. Astra’s admission of guilt saved her that and made her soldier’s sentences little more than symbolic. Leniency she received for surrendering honorably along with her testimony detailing her and Non’s plot.

[Vhoc’s Gate prison.]

[Yes, Lady Kara.]

“So...nice ink,” Kara sneers.

Vartox charges again, swinging for her neck.

First lesson of sword fighting, little one. If you need to use your blade to stop his, you’ve already made a mistake. Metal breaks. Your wits, Astra had told her, never do.

Kara ducks the swing, albeit more narrowly than she’d like. She grabs a chunk of concrete, crushes it and throws it into his eyes. He coughs and sputters. Swinging her legs out to topple him, she soars up and dives, dropping an elbow strike on his nose--that crunch was awesome!--and speeds over to where Flamebird landed and yanks it from the asphalt.

He staggers to his feet with blood streaming from his nose only to find Flamebird’s tip held a hair’s breadth from his left eye.

“Yield, Vartox. I would rather not kill the last of a line.”

“If I yield to a female…” he snarls.

“You live. You live to find out. Who knows?” she shrugs.

“Maybe there’s a human woman with a pitiful mate and you’re somehow a step up.”

[Blue Beetle, traffic scan. Military frequencies first.]

[Police units en route, six minutes out. DEO-2 strike team is four minutes out by helicopter.]

“How did you escape Vhoc’s Gate?” Kara demands.

Vartox laughs.

“I did not. It is a pirate kingdom now, run by the inmates.”

No, no, no!

Kara can’t bear to think it but she knows her aunt Astra would not allow that kind of thing. If Vhoc’s Gate is some hellhole, someone has to fight and kill Astra before they could make it that way.

“I have no more use for you, unmated,” Kara sighs.

She angles her sword to try to drive him back with it. “Kneel!”

Something collides with her side--hard--and pain blazes up her ribcage. Alarms warble inside her helmet. She looks down and sees a shard from his axe gripped in his bloody fist, still white-hot. One end is buried in his palm, one between her ribs. The coating of N-th metal is cooling and sloughing off, but it was there long enough to do its job.

“Fighting him would have been an honor. You...were just exercise.”

The injury is minor, she reminds herself. Muscle and a nick on a rib. Nothing else hurts. Alex could close it with three stitches.

The monster inside her disagrees. It has been threatened.

Tension seethes through her muscles, they’re so clenched so hard she’s afraid they’ll tear off the bone. Heat builds on her skin, triggering every vent in her suit at once.

[Blue Beetle! I cannot turn into a Worldkiller right now! We need to activate the behavioral lock! Options! Which control programs have we not tried?]

[Twenty-two, fourteen, and six.]

[We don’t have a binary pulsar handy! And six isn’t safe here! Humans break easy!]

[Twenty-two it is.]

All seventeen of the control word sequences play over and over and over, recorded in Kara’s own voice. The same ones her father repeated in the recording. The same ones warlords once used to make their pet monster’s hearts beat, lungs expand, and wake them up before slaughter.

Kara cannot think, she can only feel. Rage.

The world around her becomes a masterpiece painting.  Still and glorious.

This is far more than the slow-down she has felt before. The water in the fountain has not only slowed its motion and her senses are not only sharpened. The buzz of light and sound and heat and pressure on her skin she lives in is no longer a buzz. It’s an orchestra...with notes and tempo and...meaning. She can make out the melody of vibrations of the electron shells in the nearest hydrogen atoms. The radio signals from the news vans bounce like a handful of colorful rubber bands were tossed at nearby buildings. The sting of cosmic ray particles strike her back in precisely five places.

Kolex’s pulse snaps her out of it with a single instant of tremendous pain.

[Lady Kara!]

Kara. That name. I know it, she finally realizes. It’s...almost my name.

You are Ktharra, daughter of Zor-El and Alura-El, Scion of Erok-El, last of the Great House’s bloodlines. You will take your place as the Fist of Krypton. You will rebuild the Empire, exceeding its former glory and taking what is yours, striding the universe in fire and ash. You shall be its first and last Empress, ever-living, unquestioned, feared by all.

[Lady Kara!  Do you remain...you?]

[Yes. No. Mostly.  We’re having a little chat, the subconscious engrams and me. It’s...feisty but sort of one-track, you know? But thanks to your little recording and the zap, I’ll be fine. Thanks for…]

[For hurting you? I have never wanted to do something less, my Lady...my friend.]

[Were the Valeronians...]

[Yes. Extremely non-compliant. Multiple suicide bombings. They were nearly annihilated by a Destroyer team sent during the Imperial period.]

[Good. Ought to make him think before he stabs.]

Kara puts her hand around Vartox’s throat. Something in his eyes changes. Like he’s seeing something he recognizes. A stream of what must be piss is spattering the cement below him.

“You...should...not...have...done...that,” she pants.

“You live because your blood would disgust me more than your stench.”

Too much, I wonder?

She grabs his intact arm and twirls as fast as she can, gathering momentum as Vartox spins around her. She releases him and he vanishes into the sky with a cry of pain and a sonic boom.

Though she never learned it in class, she knows Vartox has sixteen minutes. She remembers that now. He can survive for sixteen minutes in full vacuum before...before something she wishes she didn’t remember happens to his insides.

She glances at the target on her visor inner edge and triggers her radio.

“DEO-2, I am a friendly civilian asset of alien origin. Hostile is off the field and headed to impact the moon. I am standing down.”

“You are not allowed on this channel! But, uh, copy that.”

“Everyone all right?” she hollers.

A cheer rises through the crowd, even some who were hunkered behind tables and fallen broadcast gear. One man is stuck under a car so she speeds over, throws it off him and holds out her hand.

“Who are you?” he asks as he gets his weight on his good leg.

“I…”

“Supergirl!” a boy calls out. “See? The S! Just like Superman. Except she’s Supergirl!”

Kara kicks off and gives the boy a loop-de-loop for making her laugh before dropping between some billboards. The armor transmats back to its containers inside of Rook where some repair gel will hopefully suffice to repair it in time.

[Kolex, was the sigil lighting on the entire time?]

[It was. You removed the lighting entirely and worked transparent casing into the propulsion and defense field coils to create the pattern, remember?]

[No. And...I want you to kick my ass if you find me not doing proper lab logging in the future.]

[Of course.]

“Winn, you all right?”

“All right?” he shouts. “Are you kidding? I just got a job.”

“Do tell.”

“So, when you started fighting him I thought...hmm. This could be hell on a server rack. I threw that mesh we bought for the teardown bench over the server I was working on. When you guys started your sword-fight, some kind of magnetic pulse cooked all the others.  All except mine.  The website is still up.”

“Apparently the guy who would have been my boss didn’t think of that kind of protection made sense for the gear.  How often does an EMP happen, he said.  Cat’s head cybersecurity person was pretty interested in how a thirty-dollar stack of mesh blankets protected the gear."

“I’m so happy for you.”

“Happy for me?” he laughs.  “Pull up the listings, since you and I have the only non-baked phones here.”

Kara pulls up the ‘Careers’ page and promptly drops her phone, which triggers its kinetic barrier and bounces back into her hand. She could swear the buzzing of the fields was her phone laughing at her.

“I’m...the new assistant to Cat Grant?”

“You’re supposed to be in her office in like, ten minutes.”

“Gotta go, thanks!”

She triggers her secure radio.

“DEO-2, keep an eye on his axe. It has enough material to go Hiroshima on you if it gets broken. And please retrieve the alien’s arm. It can be reattached and heal with full functionality if done in the next nine hours. That should leverage him into giving some information.”

“Uh...Yes ma’am. Command has instructed me to defer to you in this matter and give you the callsign Tinkerbell.”

“Ugh. We’ll...leave it at that for now. Give me a location to lock him up at and I’ll have him there and drooling in the dirt in nine minutes.”

Latitude and longitude numbers come over the radio and Kolex translates them into a location...which is apparently a former silver mine in Arizona.

[Kolex, I need a warp-path from here, to the crater Vortax just made in the moon, to DEO custody that doesn’t microwave anybody. Max time is eight minutes.]

[Calculated. You can do it in under four.]

Kara vanishes with a crack and a blast of wind, not caring one bit that her bowler hat dropped into a puddle.

 

 

Kara brushes the last moon dust off her jacket sleeves and strides--trying hard not to strut--down the hall towards Cat’s office.

“Korrine, so glad you could join us. I’m even gladder to see that you...burned that terrible thing that was on your head.”

“It blew away.”

Cat’s mouth twitches in another one of her blink-and-you-miss-it smiles.

“Well, seeing as how I can’t trust you to dress yourself…” she stares at Kara’s pocket, where no doubt the candy bar she grabbed downstairs is poking out now.

“...or behave like an adult and seeing how your article was trash but at least it was printable trash, clearly I cannot let you out of my sight.”

“Glad to be on the team.”

Cat hums.

“We’ll see. Now, I need a latte. Cinnamon, almond milk, no sugar. And you need to find me one between here and Maintenance in the basement. Because my chief of facilities needs to get his ass up here. I’ll be damned if this place is knocked down for more than a day because of an attack by the physical manifestation of medieval gender roles.”

“Funny thing. The moment I posted your article, we had a concert schedule request in the plaza three months from now. Never heard of them but apparently it’s selling out. Must be some underground band for posers.”

Kara’s pen dashes across the notepad.

“Latte on the double. Cinnamon-plus, almond milk-plus, sugar-minus. Find it in the basement. Facilities guy gets his ass up here. Damn the torpedoes, the show must go on. Did I get all that right?” Kara asks after reading it back.

This time Cat’s mouth stays in a smile.

“Cheekier than I prefer...but accurate. At least you’ve got some nerve, little one. We’ll see if that works out to your benefit or not. Chop-chop, Kara.”

"One more thing. I need an interview with this Black Knight. Can I get your phone number?

Now it's Cheshire Cat Grant smiling at her.

"Why me?"

"Honey, how many six-foot-plus black women with a fitness magazine physique and having a legendary good hair day do you think were in that square?"

 


 

April 4, 2006 | Kara Danvers

National City, California

National City University

Honors Dorm, Room 713

 

Kara swipes her keycard, yawning for the first time in she can't remember how many months. She's exhausted but it's for all the best reasons. Cat was on her every moment, either berating her for a mistake or looking at something, nodding once and telling her she had an hour to do it. Kara learned the dance...anything that Cat had to speak about was something not good enough. Anything good enough was something that was no longer her problem and she had other things to deal with.

Bit scary that she knows I'm...Black Knight...Supergirl? No, those don't feel quite right...

"Alex?" Kara whispers.

She looks around the room. Alex isn't here but the light is on in the mini-kitchen on her side.

On the table is a thoroughly destroyed box of chocolates and six shiny gray eggs the size of basketballs. Most of the shells are still stiff and hard but of them is already cracked and judging by the trail of wrappers and cherry creme leading back into the eggshell, the hatchling had its birthday snack.

The note on the desk reads: 

 

 


My sweet Kara,

 

Sorry I had to run before we could link up. I wanted to thank you for saving my life--and the baby's--and invite you to its birthing ceremony. Which is in Hawaii because it's a warm ocean. And there’s prayers. It’s a thing? I feel like this mom business will have a learning curve but Nakka's going to get me through it. She wants you there. We all do.

I hope the chocolate doesn't melt before you get home. I know you miss your homeworld so I put out some feelers. Apparently there is one pet breeder who sells pygmy galata here on Earth and his best queen just had a clutch. Big one.  Strong ones have tough eggs, he said.  

We kept there because they’re good with kids. You should probably invite some friends over before they hatch unless you want all six of them to imprint on you!

 

All my love,

Emilia


 

 "In here, Kara."

Kara pushes the kitchen door open and sees Alex staring dumbly into a cup of coffee.  Five hardboiled eggs sit in front of her.  Perched on her head is a winged lizard with gleaming black scales and a fringe of dark red spines behind its head. Leaving Alex's head to hang--wobbly on its new wings--in front of Kara's face, it hisses angrily, spreads its spines wide and sprays a few droplets of liquid that sputter into sparks.

"Hi, Alex. Sorry I'm late."

"Heard from Winn that you got the job."

"Yeah, that's why I was late," Kara laughs.

"So."

"So...yeah."

Kara throws her arms around Alex. The passenger on Alex's head nips Kara and whines when its teeth glance off.

"I love you so much, Alex. I always will. You can count on me. Never think I hate you, ever. Understood, soldier?"

"Yes, ma'am."

"OK. So why so glum then? The galata seems to like you."

"The dragon's fine. She's a sweetheart."

Alex tosses a hard-boiled egg from the stack up in the air.  The dragon-nymph takes wing and, snags the egg and proceeds to ravage it.  Flapping mightily to carry the extra weight, she throws her head side-to-side in mid-air before gulpin down the chunks while hovering over the general vicinity of the sink.

Training starts early for Alex's dragon.

It then blinks back and nestles its tiny claws in Alex's hair, rattling its neck scales and drooping its chin on to her forehead.  It wasn’t about to waste a nanosecond it would have spent flying down when it could be cuddling.

"Just...I think I'm...I think I like women.  Sexually."

"That's not the worst thing, Alex. I kind of enjoy it, myself."

"It's really not," Alex agrees. "For a civilian."

"Yeah, that bit's not ideal. Maggie?"

"Might have something to do with Maggie," Alex replies.

"See! A smile."

"So what's the next thing we need to do to move being in love with Maggie from sad to happy?"

"Dunno. We need to meet in secret. Maybe you could come up with some kind of escape route? Transmat beacon."

"I can do better. I'll loan you a control system and two beacons for now and spike down some endpoints wherever you want your date nights. Sky's the limit. Anywhere in the world."

"Loan me, why loan?"

"Because I figured out how to build a one-person spaceship from scratch using only what I had or could make here and sold the design to a dealer. He's going to trade me the first unit for any ship I want."

"Oh."

"And he has a Coluan research cruiser with working cloaking device," Kara teases. "And...and I cannot believe I'm saying this. A mint condition Rao's Sword class infiltrator. From the shipyards at Argo, built thousands of years before the shutdown. Those were prototypes. We only built I think ten. Small and flashy and they did some unbelievable tricks but stupid expensive and impractical...entirely different tool chain to build them."

"Well, that's nice," Alex mumbles.

"Either of those ships would let you pick up Maggie from high orbit with a transmat, fly anywhere in the world for dinner and not a single device on Earth or one I can build, could see you coming or going."

"Wow. But you should take the Infiltrator, Kara."

"Pfft. It's OK. You need a ship more."

"Exactly. A ship. Not some treasured example of Krypton's glory days. Doesn't this guy take money? Or do I have to invent a new photon torpedo?"

Kara pours herself the rest of the coffee.

"Course he takes money. It would just take like, ten more examples of my single-seater to pay for the Coluan one and that will take me a year."

"Alone, maybe. I want to help. The DEO wants to help you."

"Is that why the soldiers at the fight gave me a callsign?"

"What? You were in a fight? What fight?" Alex yells.

Alex leaps to her feet. The dragon-nymph on her head leaps off, spits some more drops of napalm at Kara and then blinks up to the top of the refrigerator where it lifts its head and gives a squeaky roar.

"Easy there, Gertrude," Alex sighs.

 


 

April 4, 2006  | Cat Grant

National City, California

CatCo Plaza

CatCo Tower

 

There’s someone rapping -- politely -- on Cat’s office window.  Seventy-one stories over the street. Still, if they won’t bother to announce themselves, they will have to wait.

“If that’s Clark Kent, please do come in.  I’ll slip into something more comfortable. I know things that Lois never will ,” Cat husks.  “Promise I won’t tell if you won’t.”

Something thumps against the glass, cracking it.

“Oh, for Heaven’s sake, Kal!  She was joking.

Cat looks up, then snickers, then laughs like she hasn’t in years.

Kara--her wet-behind-the ears assistant--is holding a red-faced Man of Steel up by the scruff of his cape.  He’s conscious but apparently he’s deathly monogamous because he seems more or less catatonic.  Without Kara’s help, he’d probably be on the pavement by now.

She locks eyes with Cat, shrugs and sets him down on the balcony outside the bullpen.

“Miss Grant,” he finally coughs.  “Funny as always, I see.”

She hums.

“May I presume, Korrine, that you brought the puppy of steel up here for a reason?”

“Yes, actually.  I did. I will give you an interview--answer any question except for the name of my human family--and you can print it.  Kal can participate in the interview as well. On one condition.”

Cat chews her lip.

“Name it.”

Kara grins.

“Funny, because it’s about the name.  You may have noticed a little boy calling me Supergirl.  Knowing how you like an organically-branded product and knowing how you like to be first, I assume you were about to blow Twitter up with that?”

Cat huffs.

“Apparently my secret methods are not so secret.”

“Don’t call her -- me, rather -- Supergirl.”

“What’s so bad about girl?” Cat demands, hands on her hips.  “I’m a girl, and I’m powerful and rich a-”

Kara’s hand shoots up.

“All true.  You also donate to that ‘like a girl’ ad campaign.’  However, if you’ll notice,” she ruffles Superman’s hair.

“I’m a bit more earth tones than my cousin, color-wise.”

Cat snorts.

“You mean you’re not the mathematical definition of white corn-fed masculinity?”

Kara clicks her tongue and shoots finger guns at Cat.

“Exactly.  And black men in this country get called ‘boy’ by racists every single day.  They can be seventy years old, pillar of the community, minister, doesn’t matter.  Not ‘sir’ or ‘hey you’ or ‘hi’.  Just ‘boy’ so as to keep him small, keep him diminished.  Less.  I can personally vouch for it happening to women as well.”

Cat sighs.

“So you want me to re-do an ad campaign I stayed up until....” she glances at her Rolex.  “Almost five for? Because I’m a white woman and you’re a black...I must say, woman seems almost inadequate to describe you.”

Down Kitty, she reminds herself.   This is professional and she's not some crew-cut Smith alumna at a sorority dance.

“Yes, if you want that interview.  I won’t answer questions, not addressed to Supergirl.”

“Superwoman, then.”

Kara exhales, loudly.  Somehow, it’s her assistant again, despite the glowing armor and the fact that she’s hovering a foot off the ground with her cape whipping behind her right shoulder.  She has her helmet off and she’s pulled her hair into a hasty, waist-length braid of springy silver curls that catches the moonlight.

“Thank you.  That’s exactly what I was going to suggest, actually.”

“Oh my, I was so nervous!   I mean, you’re my boss, well, other me’s boss and your really awesome and technically it's not even my first day of work and here I am mak-”

“Stop!” Cat demands.

“We’ll forget about the insubordination.  If you are done word-vomiting, we can interview.  Just plunk him on the couch...without breaking it.”

“First off.  Cousins?”

“I hate you,” Kal groans.

“Yeah but I’m older and first in succession.  So shush, baby cousin.”

 


BONUS SCENE


 

April 4, 2006  | “The Butcher”

Vhoc’s Gate Prison, Davarr System
Geosynchronous Polar Orbit over Davarr IV

(2,328 light years from Earth)


A twitchy little man with a strangely square head and six eyes approaches the throne.

“Your grace,” he squeaks.  “Word from our scouts. Vortax’s tracker has gone dark.”

A woman with short black hair streaked with one snow-white lock lifts her head to stare him down, her hands red-hot on the makeshift throne’s metal surface.  A scuffed but intact gray bodysuit clings to her and an insignia once sat in the center of it.

“He has failed?”

“Yes, your worship.  Disarmed before he struck a blow and the target--the female--managed to break him even after being wounded with his axe. Our--your--scouts report that she was wearing a suit of powered armor and wielding some kind of energized blade.”

“A pity about Vortax.  Fendra, kill this one.”

Before the man can react, a fist plunges through his torso, spraying blue blood all over the wall.  The woman who swung it places her boot on the body and kicks, sliding it onto the floor.

“Was that necessary?”

“Have you read his file, Fendra?  No? Be glad. Vhoc’s rotting hole ...it was awful.  That was me letting him do the galaxy a favor before we got justice for his victims.”

Fendra spits on the corpse.

“What else, Fendra?  Any news from the other cell blocks?”

“None, General Ina-Zenn.  We have been unable to make progress except for in the Coluan wing and...” she sighs.  

“No point in establishing a presence there,” her commander agrees.  “So we have six cells, ample food, a few weapons and nothing else. The rioters took the only ships.”

“Our hackers have managed to start the engines.  We may be able to reposition so that we are in the light of the white dwarf, not the red giant.  At that point, the prison and probably the system, is yours for the taking.”

“At least my niece is doing well for herself.  Vartox was a moron but a predictable one. The fact that she beat him is not a surprise.  The fact that it was so one-sided,” Astra sighs. “Is a relief. She paid attention when she was a girl, it seems.”

“She could not have had a better mentor, Gene...Astra.”

“Better,” Astra teases.  “Fen, my dear...you really must stop calling me by my rank when we’re alone.”

She raises her hand to the clasps on the back of her uniform.

“It would be so unethical for an officer to seduce her subordinates.  Wouldn’t it?”

“Unethical, yes,” Fendra gulps.  “But I want it.”

A muscular, well-marked expanse of skin is exposed when Astra begins unclasping her suit.  A dozen scars, faint but real. All of them earned together, side-by-side. Fendra has those scar's mates on her body, plus a handful that Astra managed to avoid.

”As do I,” Astra purrs, her golden eyes gleaming in the dim light.  “Come here, my darling.”

Fendra crashes into her for a kiss that’s all crashing teeth and tongue and nipping each others lips and and a white-knuckled grip on whatever part of each other they can grab.  

Astra realizes that she should have done this twenty cycles ago.  Resigned her post, renounced her unfaithful husband and taken up Fendra instead.  Someone she has fought and bled with, someone who has scrubbed and cauterized her wounds, someone she has eaten fossilized rations beside.  Someone who she spent three weeks in a prefab shelter on a frozen and muddy moon with both their uniforms in tatters and no liquid water to bathe in.  Tired and bruised and musky with the battle's sweat, she and Fen rutted like animals.  It was the moment when the tryst was sparked, although it never bloomed until this place.

She and Fendra worked and fought and stayed so close together that Astra supposes they really stopped being separate bodies after a few cycles serving together.

Took my heart long enough to catch up.

Chapter Text

OVER THE WIRE:  Breaking News From CatCo Worldwide

 


 

“We are coming to you live from National City Harbor with some amazing images.  Superwoman has just taken an oil tanker that had broken loose from its moorings and run aground and carried it onto land where the spill can be safely dealt with.  Here are exclusive images of the hero some are calling the Woman of Tomorrow lifting what I’m told is a hundred-thousand-ton ship up onto the tarmac at National City Airport where she was met by EPA crews.  This is Amanda Tolson, CatCo Eight News. Stay safe, National City!”

 


 

“Heartwarming images from National City’s Crane Park today, where Superwoman assisted a little girl in retrieving ‘Fluffy’, her pet boa constrictor, from a busy street.  I have Jenna here with me, along with her parents.”

“What was it like meeting Superwoman, Jemma?”

“She was nice!  She hugged me! I don’t think she liked Fluffy. She was ‘fraid of her.”

“You’re a funny little girl, Jemma.  High five?"

"Pleasure to meet you. This is Hank Werthers for CatCo Eight News.  Up next--are our scaly friends Superwoman’s Kryptonite? Our panel discusses on Talk of the Town.  Back to you, Amanda.”

 


 

“Colonel, would you say these reports are accurate?  That there are no weapons of mass destruction in Iraq?”

“Ma’am, I’m not at liber-”

“Your own soldiers, accompanied by Superman, swept hundreds of sites in one night.  None of them contained fissile material or chemical weapons, according to either the Man of Steel or the footage of embedded reporters.  In fact, six of the ‘priority sites’ Mr. Rumsfeld cited before the congressional hearings last month simply do not exist. They were fabricated.”

“Would you care to comment?”

“No ma’am, I cannot comment.  As a soldier, I cannot comment positively or negatively on my civilian superiors.”

“Very well.  Thank you for your service.  Reporting live from Iraq through our friends at CatCo, I am Lois Lane of the Daily Planet.”

 


 

 "You're watching CatCo Worldwide.  Just moments ago, we saw former President George W. Bush leaving the White House for the final time.  After a month of continual anti-war protests in cities around the nation, the president has resigned. Talk of impeachment had reached a fever pitch, spurred by a scathing expose in the Daily Planet."

"In the coming days, the House and Senate will debate the possibility of formal censure and possible impeachment for Vice President Cheney over both his role in the no-bid contract process at Halliburton and his own role in fabricating evidence for the invasion of Iraq."

"For 'Inside the Beltway', this is Siobhan Smythe."

 


 

 "In what one senator called 'a grand act of statesmanship', Speaker John Boehner of Ohio has resigned from office.  His spokeswoman cited the need for the nation to heal and the need to prevent any appearance of impropriety. We now turn to CatCo's legal analyst, Veronica Cale of Troy, Cale and Sinclair in New York.  Veronica, what does this mean for the line of succession?"

"Simply that  the ball is up in the air.  The next in line would be the president pro tempore of the Senate."

"Who is that?"

"Typically the vice president but with Mr. Cheney now out of office, Mr. Boehner resigning and Democrats in control, the decision would fall to the majority party in the Senate.  With all the changes of the last few days, I would imagine the Democratic party is thinking extremely carefully about who they want to fill that role. It seems likely that whoever takes the job will finish out this presidential term and be up for election in 2008."

"It’s a historic opportunity: a Democratic administration but potentially for ten years, not eight.  Whoever takes office could run and win twice on their own merits, serving nearly ten years total.  Similar to what would have happened had President Lyndon Johnson ran in '68 and won re-election after six years in office."

"Thank you, Veronica.  For CatCo Media,  this is Siobahn Smythe. You're watching Voice of the People."

 


 

“I’m reporting from above the 402 Freeway where a dangerous act of terrorism by the armored criminal known as Reactron was foiled by a joint effort of both Superman and Superwoman.  Despite having escaped Superman’s reach on four occasions, Reactron, who we know now is Ben Krull, proved unable to withstand a lengthy mid-air brawl with the Maid of Might.  Krull was taken into custody by the Man of Steel who had been summoned by the Justice League to assist.  He will be returned to Metropolis for prosecution.”

“Superman’s deferential posture and unwillingness to enter the fray today has set pundits tongue’s wagging.  Speculation abounds as to the exact nature of Superwoman’s relationship with Superman, who CatCo’s own CEO--Cat Grant--reports are quote ‘family by blood’ and also ‘definitively not a romantic couple’.”

“For CatCo Eight, this is Hank Werthers in the Cat Copter.”

 


“Madame Senator?  You don’t see that every day.  Talk about girl power, eh?”

Her newest staffer--Kelsey, a farm fresh Kansas girl who graduated Bryn Mawr last month--points out the middle TV, which they always keep tuned to actual news, as opposed to C-Span on the left or Fox on the right.

The senator is a finely aged woman with a swarthy complexion and a bun of black-and-silver hair.  She looks up, her dark eyes fixing the screen with an eagle's stare, cold and unblinking.  Like she could change the events on the other end of the camera with a glare.  Her lips tighten.

  

 

A shot from a helicopter shows a swarm of police vans with sirens blaring as they approach the glass pyramid of the Louvre.  Dozens of black-clad men lie face down on the pavement.  A pile of wrecked and melted rifles and rocket launchers is stacked like wood for a bonfire.  Brass casings sit in piles, scattered wherever the men stood when they opened fire on their attackers.

Circling above the prisoners are two fearsome armored women.  One is encased head-to-toe in shiny black plates with a short black cape fluttering in the breeze.  A massive sword in her hands crackles with pale blue lightning. The other wears an ancient brass breastplate and armored skirt to the knee.  She has slung her shield slung over her back and a blazing golden rope is coiled in her hand.

The camera pans down to the reporter.

“My name is Evangeline Corimer, CatCo France.  I’m here at the Louvre where two hours ago, an attempted art robbery by a large and well-armed force of mercenaries was foiled by a lightning-fast response by Wonder Woman and a surprise assist from the American superhero they are calling Superwoman.”

The reporter’s freckled face darkens as the image appears on screen... Wonder Woman kissing Superwoman’s cheek amid the smoking wrecks of the robber's armored vehicles.

“The internet is already exploding with an image called the Kiss Seen ‘Round the World.  Peck on the cheek?  Parisian hospitality?  Kiss for luck?  A glimpse into something more?  The world demands an answer but both pairs of lips are sealed."

"Furthermore--and I say this with some disbelief--I interviewed Diana, Princess of Themyscira, Wonder Woman and self-proclaimed Goddess of War this afternoon about this and other topics. This is a direct quote: 'My bedroom is not the world's business’.   From the city of love, this is CatCo France.”

 

“Christ on a motherfucking cracker,” the senator groans. “The most talked-about alien on the planet doing that right in the middle of pushing the amnesty bill...cue the 'god hates alien fags' signs in the Bible Belt.  It’s a messaging nightmare!"

She clicks the TV off and throws the remote in her wastebasket.

“Kelsey? Clear my schedule and bring me the scotch.  All of it.  Three glasses.  And get Chris in here too. We’re doing our Friday night poker game a couple days early.”

“I know, right?”  Kelsey laughs, picking the remote out of the trash. “Fucking unfair, the way some girls get all the girls.”

Someone’s getting sure of herself, the senator thinks.  Kissing other women?  

No, no, no. This will not do...question is how to punish a damned Amazon.  Subbing is practically in their blood. Spanking? No...never know when she likes it.  Crop?  Not a fan of that thing...shame to mark up that skin.  Hmm.  Couple of hours tied to a chair with a vibe between her legs should do.


 

Chapter Text

July 5, 2006  | Lena Luthor

National City, California
Lex’s Bachelor Pad (now FBI-vetted Safehouse)



A newspaper with the words 'Lex Luthor on trial!' sits atop the piano.  

The last words of a Gaelic prayer drop from Lena’s lips.  

“Come back, Lex.  The world needs you.  I need you.”

A week ago, she would not have dreamed of betraying Lex.  Not even a shot across the bow. Three counts of medical research violations and one of embezzlement.  He can beat those in his sleep.

Then Lena saw her -- an alien, unreal, terrifying, physically flawless -- holding her opponent’s severed arm and hovering over a frightened crowd.  Then yielding...not demanding love or fealty or worship, as Lex seems to fear. Diving to the nearest wounded man, freeing him and helping him to his feet. Doing a trick in mid air to make a little boy laugh.  Trash talking the chauvinist pig she was fighting. Stopping cold when the brute taunted her...with family pain. Lena could tell that fear for a loved one stopped the woman’s assault.

No camera captured a face.  She was far too fast. The armor was no metal bikini but it was fitted and not so blocky that Lena can’t dream about what sort of physique would need that to wrap around it.

The problem with witness protection, Lena supposes.   Is the lack of casual sex with juicy blondes with Yorkshire accents.

Lena strokes the ivory of the keys.  Some majestic beast died just so her fingers could touch something smooth.  The least she can do is honor the memory of that bull elephant.

She hopes she remembers the late-night piano lessons Mercy gave her.  A wicked, forbidden gift given when Lena could not sleep.

It is dark, still.  Before dawn. An hour made for regret and melancholy.  So she flips through the ancient, waterlogged and worn songbook she bought in a bookstore near MIT.   One Hundred Songs of Sadness and Glory from Ireland.

Lena sings.

 

 

 

 

There were two sisters of county Clare

Oh, the wind and rain

One was dark and the other was fair

Oh, the dreadful wind and rain

And they both had a love of the miller's son

Oh, the wind and rain

But he was fond of the fairer one

Oh, the dreadful wind and rain

So she pushed her into the river to dro-

 

Lena’s hands seize up and her throat closes.  She cannot speak another word. She has no idea how long she sobs for, only that it is mid-morning now and that the pages of the song book are now crusty with  dried tears.

“Do not make me do this, Lex.  Don’t make me hurt you just to save the world.  Please.”

There’s a knock on the inside of the doorway.

“You all right, mouse?” Mercy asks.

Lena shakes her head.

“All right, then.”

Mercy’s hand slides into her coat and curls around her most prized possession, that Israeli-made monster of a pistol.  She doesn’t draw it. She’s just waiting in case of trouble.

“Irish people don’t feel better after singing, you moron.  It’s genetic. Close the book of sad songs and step away from the piano.”

Lena’s lips twitch upward, just for a moment.

“You’re probably right.”

“I’m always right.  It’s why you’re still alive.”

Lena gets to her feet, smoothing her skirt.

“Why are you dressed for the boardroom?” Mercy groans.  “You could be in sweatpants or in your underwear in bed.  House arrest, remember?”

“Conference call,” Lena sighs.  “Lex is compromised and Lillian’s in the wind.  It’s my chance.”

Mercy stalks towards Lena, dark eyes flashing.

“Your brother rescued that company.  He bui-”

Lena holds up one finger and the Luthor’s best hired killer stops in her tracks.

“I’m guessing he also sent you here to serve as my bodyguard, yes?  Unless you fought your way out of the infirmary?”

Mercy nods.

“Which means you are serving me, not Lex.  Now I hope--I pray--he will see the horror in mother’s dreams of ethnic cleansing and give up his hate for Superman but if he cannot, someone will drag the Luthor name...my name...out of the filth.  That someone will be me.”

“Kneel, Mercy.”

“Beg pardon?”

Lena sneers.

“My old friend, you are the most heartless, cold, amoral human being I have ever met.  I know you well enough to know that your moral compass is little more than a wind vane.  You mold your conscience to the services you perform.”

“One time I thought that if Lex wanted me dead, he would have you seduce me and then poison me.  Kill me despite the fact you have known since I was four. I suspected you would feel no regret, except perhaps for the lack of a round two.  Would I be wrong?”

Mercy doesn’t reply.  She doesn’t even look hurt.

“You have always expertly, meticulously implemented the orders of your employer and been willing to do any task that we needed.  Now you are in my employ. So my morality, my worldview, my winds of change, are yours. Turn into the wind, stop fighting, and follow me.”

“And the bit about being on my knees?  Not really my type, mouse. Too young. Too...soft.”

Lena snorts.

“Missing your favorite parts, I know.”

“You are on your knees because you are a servant.  A knight if you will. Swear to me that you will put my safety, my priorities, above Lillian and Lex.  That you will do the things I need you to without needless cruelty. That you will keep me safe in the most legal, gentle, non-confrontational manner you can.”

“Swear to be my soldier.  I suspect you’ll find my orders less...messy...than Lex’s.  Just in case you have need of your soul later in life.”

Mercy smiles and hands over her pistol.

“Safety’s on,” she assures Lena.

Lena taps the holster to one shoulder and then the other.

“Rise.”

They look into each other’s eyes for a long, solemn moment.  Then break into laughter. Lena points at Mercy, tries to say some taunt out loud and dissolves into laughter.

“Where’s Otis?” Lena finally asks.

That untrained pitbull has been equal parts lifesaver and troublemaker since Lena can remember.  The fact that he’s alive despite taking exactly nothing seriously is testament to his size, his talents and his protective twin sister.  Those extra eleven minutes gave Mercy a substantial gap in big-sister wisdom.

“Punching bag in the sparring room.  Keeps him out of trouble,” Mercy explains.

Lena rolls her eyes.

“Let me know if I need to buy another one.  I hear sometimes puppies chew things up when they’re cooped up inside.”

“Speaking of cooped up,” Mercy teases, pulling out a cell phone.  “The bureau says you’re allowed to go outside and have a cell phone.  Someone is going to put on something less...schoolteacher-y...and finish this profile.”

She puts the phone in Lena’s hand.

“Raya?”

“Mmm.  App for rich people to date.  I’ve already set it for women only and put in some best guesses.  Just put on something cuter, show off that cheesecake, give yourself a bio and let’s get going.”

Lena was wrong.

Mercy is a traitor after all.

 




July 5, 2006  | Kara Danvers

National City, California

Loft Apartment, Converted Warehouse



Kara throws her hair back and beams at Logan, lips puffy and pupils blown out wide.

“Mmm, darlin’.  God didn’t know there were angels like you or he wouldn't have made it sin.”

The drawl really must work when he and Jacob are doing assless chaps.  Bit of authenticity.

He pulls his fingers out of her and drags them up, leaving a shiny trail up her belly.  Kara snatches his fingers and sucks the juices off them before tossing his hand back into his own lap.

Logan’s partner Jacob is watching over he edge of his newspaper.

“Get it out of your system, sweetie?”

Logan throws his head back and groans.

“Does she look like someone you only want to see once?”

“We have our rules, my love.”

“Yes,” Logan sighs.  “We do.”

“They are that I let you have some...fun...once a month and no repeat playmates.”

Kara rolls her head lazily to look at Logan.

“As one-offs go, that was good.  I was trembling like a damn teenager.  Been so long since I did something with only my hands.  Something that simple. We forget how scary that first time is...good scary...as we get older.”

She grabs the washcloth from the bedside and wipes her hands clean.

Logan grins.

“If you don’t mind my asking, why di-”

“Why didn’t I want anything inside anywhere?” Kara jokes.

He nods.

“Want a gumball?” she asks, pulling one out of her clutch.

“I'm good.  Also I'm not following, Kara.”

She slides the gumball into her slit without resistance.  For someone so close to gay, Logan’s large, work-roughened fingers did amazing things to her.

Kara leans over to give him the good-bye kiss, clenching hard as she does.  She pulls back and places the smashed gumball-- juices and all--in his hands. It’s half the size it was before.

“That’s why.  I never do that sort of with one night stands because I don’t have the trust built up to really relax and I don’t want to hurt anybody...”

A dumbfounded Logan stares at the gumball and then back at Kara.  Jacob looks at Kara and at his boyfriend.

“I somehow became gayer and my balls retracted at the same time,” he mutters.  “Thanks for not breaking his dick.”

“Welcome.  You two,” Kara says, waving her finger between Jacob and Logan.  “Have something amazing. When they get this whole gay marriage thing going, there will be hell to pay if I found out someone beat you to the courthouse.”

Logan’s eyes go wide, hopeful, pleading.  Jacob ducks his head and rubs his salt and pepper beard nervously.

She pulls the door shut, closing off the image of Jacob climbing onto Logan’s lap.



The drizzle outside feels like a bad omen after a hundred days without so much as a cloud.  For a solar-powered creature like herself, Southern California is a workout, steroids and an euphoric all at once.

She looks at her phone and sees a message from Cat Grant.  She decides to cut through the riverside hiking trail for a little privacy. 

 

 

 

 

 

Queen of All Media

Classes today?

Yes, Miss Grant.

To be expected...I want you to phone in when you have a gap.

I have some arrangements for the Tribune reorg I need you to make.

You need to meet your editor but that could be on campus.


Kara promptly walks into a tree.

 

 

 

 

Queen of All Media

Korrine?
Korrine???
Korrine!
Kara?
My editor?

Yes, Kara.

I don’t hire assistants for things that voicemail, caterers or professional event planners could handle for me.

Make no mistake, I will demand great things.

I will make you put out trash fires, enforce my policies, and save businesses.

Because I hire assistants for things that matter.

And I shudder to think what a party you planned would look like.

Cowboy hats and denim tuxes on the servers, I’m sure.

I have a three-hour break in the afternoon, Miss Grant.

That will have to do.

Meet Snapper at the Starbucks on 34th and Columbia, right outside campus.  And Kara?

Yes, Miss Grant?

Snapper is intense...and extremely blunt.

But he is the third-best investigative journalist on the planet after myself and Lois Lane.

Thank you for this chance.

See if you’re still thanking me after you meet him!

I sent you two links.

I expect you to open and use both by the end of the day.

Kara pumps her fist and cheers so loudly that a flock of pigeons take wing.  Cat may have flubbed the name but that job role sounds like actual fun.

Kara is a half-mile down the trail and still floating on air when her phone rings again.  The contact is 'ABLE Company" after Alex’s suggestion.

Nadia, Mason, Jack and Fatima appear on screen.  Alex’s icon is in the lower-left, camera and microphone icons crossed out.  There was much argument but finally the rest of them agreed that having someone listen in who could keep them from running headfirst into the US Military would be useful.

“Hi, everybody.”

“Hi there, tall dark and jacked,” Nadia teases.  “You either just had the mother of all orgasms--in a public park--or got good news.”

“Good work news, yeah.  Miss Grant is going to let me write online stories for something called…”

She checks the link on her phone.

“Savage.com?”

Mason coughs on their chai and Jenna’s slender hand enters the frame to rub their back.

“Savage.com?  So just the most vicious site on the web?  They’re small but they are mean. That’s the one that busted three of the last four gay megachurch pastors, Kara.  After they got the head of Blackwater called in to Congress.”

“Oh.  Wow. This should be interesting,” Kara mumbles.

“Truth,” Jack agrees.  When not turtled in a blanket, he wears a floppy hat and in this case, he seems to have lined it with tinfoil.  A poster on the wall behind him has a newspaper photo of JFK’s assassination and reads ‘there was a second shooter’ while his coffee cup says ‘keep watching the skies!’ with a flying saucer.

He’s owned that mug since before he met Kara.

Fatima smiles at Kara.

“Thank you for sending those poets to me last week.  High Durlan is so musical in those old chants. Anyone who likes harp music will want to read my article about their religion.”

“Three hits on the dark web, Kara.  Four on the boring web. No sign that anyone broke your cover although we’re seeing neo-Nazi websites start linking to you.  Probably just garden variety awful but...keep sharp.”

Mason shudders.  Alex turns her camera on but not her mic  She panned it down so Kara can see her cleaning her railgun and caressing one of its steel slugs.  Alex whips out a sharpie and writes 'addressed to skinhead' on the shell and puts an arrow on it showing which end goes forward.

Kara rolls her eyes.

Fatima puts her head in her hands.

“Didn’t you fight a war about that?” she groans.  “And your nation fought against the Nazis? And the Nazis lost?”

“Far as Wikipedia knows,” Jack mutters. “They’re like cockroaches.”

“Hey!” Mason shouts.  “Cockroaches are hard to kill but they’re not evil!”

“Of course,” Fatima smirks.  “My apologies.”

“Jack.  Anything I need to know about the dark web hits?”

He drums his pen on his keyboard for a moment.

“Pretty sure the first three are utter crap.  There’s one that discusses a wreck somewhere off South America.  Big one. If your cheat sheet is accurate, it’s probably an ultra-heavy freighter.  Three kilometers long, three-quarters of a kilometer wide. Big brick with a tapered front judging by sonar.”

“Helgrammite,” Kara sighs.  “They actually live in hives when they’re in their own enclaves and like to keep the floor-plans of their buildings and ships square or hexagonal.  Sort of their comfort zone. So the ships end up that shape because it is most efficient.”

“Location?”

“Sent.”

Kara hums while she thinks.

“That’s shallow water.  Any ship that big is going to be more or less intact, ocean floor or not.  Keep me posted. I need to do some prep but maybe we can beat the salvagers to it.  Move her here.”

“Mason?”

“Dress up is going great.  Jenna and I have had to custom sew some things but that’s actually a really sweet rainy day thing to do with my gal.  I sent a list of materials we might need.”

Kara scrolls through it.

“What’s this one that says ‘cannot fucking burn it’ supposed to mean?”

Mason’s cheeks darken.

“Uh, there were two aliens...solars they called themselves who were I think made of fire.  Shy. Haven’t gotten names. They looked like stars with feet. Flames sort of twisting and jutting out from their bodies.  Male and female...but I get the feeling they shape change. I put some of that flame-retardant mesh on them and the female panicked when a bird hit the window.  The mesh boiled. Not melted. Boiled.”

“Solars?  Huh. Never heard of them.”

“They said something about...Triangulum?  Was that it, hon?” Mason asks Jenna.

Kara drops her phone.  The barrier field and the micro-thrusters that fly it back to her hand were a great idea, she has learned.

“Sorry.  Triangulum as in galaxy ?  That’s huge. We should be really nice to them.  Any civilization that starts sending people across dark space is no lightweight.  We have like a hundred known cases of Thessalians going across to Andromeda and it’s closer.  Way closer. So this big deal, discovering the New World type stuff. Let's not be the Natives at Plymouth Rock.”

Mason laughs.

“Well, since I can’t make them not naked and they can’t leave the house, pretty easy to be nice.”

Jenna leans into the frame.

“Kara, sweetie?  If you know of any other species that sees sex as something you do as a thank you for letting them crash or making them dinner...warn me?”

“I’ll...yes.  Fair point, Jenna.  I don’t know of any but I’ll check the archives.”

“Anything else?”

Alex sends her a private message via Echo.

[We recovered about six dozen aliens from the crashes in Texas, Wyoming and the one in Scotland.  Royal Air Force wasn’t thrilled but we did it. They have nothing and some of them are on the run from slavers or bounty hunters.  I’m lobbying to get permission to bring them to Sanctuary.]

[Anytime, Alex.  Heads-up me if you get it.  I can do a fly-with once you take off.]

[Will do.]

“Nah, we’re good,” Nadia sighs.

“You all right, Nads?”

“I...I think so?”

Mason rolls their eyes.

“What she means is that the woman putting her up is the gayest southern belle there ever was and I guaran-fucking-tee that her guy friend is a beard.  Nadia, you know damn well that Annabelle just wants that Original Flavor Pussy...”

Nadia chokes on air.

“I was worried you were going to make a color joke.  I guess...I guess that’s better.”

Mason bows.

“I am but a vessel through which the gayness of the universe speaks.  Bye, bitches!” Mason calls out.

“I need to hear about that date, Jack!” Kara reminds him.

“Will do.  Peace out.”

“Be well, Kara.”

“Goodbye for now, Nadia.”

Fatima dips her head to Kara and signs off.





Kara pulls up the second link Cat sent her and it’s a dating app.  Something meant for the CEO crowd, not college students. The bio reads ‘no employee of mine will defile herself with Tinder’ and Cat is listed at her sponsor.  Cat has already had someone harvest Kara’s Instagram feed for the gallery. She also filled her place of work and a surprisingly important-sounding job title. Kara hadn’t ever bothered to look it up.

“Could be fun,” Kara decides.  She sets the gender preferences, taps in some of her hobbies and posts a picture of herself posing suggestively with the remaining dragon eggs.  The income slider seems a bit crass but after checking with Kolex, she sets it based on his investment wizardry.

By the time she makes it to her nine-thirty class, she has three notifications.




July 7, 2006  | Cat Grant

National City, California

CatCo Plaza, CatCo Tower



"Get out of my sight Morgan," Cat snarls.  "Before security removes you and blacklists you."

Morgan Edge flashes that slick, palm-greasing grin of his and Cat lifts her phone.

"Ten seconds."

"You'll reconsider," Morgan brags.  "Sooner or later. Seems like mothers never stay full-time long."

Cat punches the button.

"Security, please escort Morgan Edge from my office.  If he ever sets foot on one of my properties again, report him for trespassing.  Have IT block any email coming from him, his lawyers or subsidiaries. Repeat that back to me."

"Exactly. Do it now.  Thank you."

Cat slings the phone around by its cord and clicks it back into place.

"Did I make myself clear that time?" she growls.  "Or do I need to hit you in the balls with my Pulitzer?"

She reaches for the solid-brass statue on the shelf behind her desk.  Morgan goes a bit green, now that she's threatened something he cares about.  

He strolls off, though he makes a point of stopping at her assistant's desk.  Ed immediately slaps the photo of his wife and kids face down, as if to protect innocents from Edge.  He pushes the button on his desk and Cat's office doors lock with a pleasant thump.

"Almost makes up for the street urchin haircut," Cat grumbles.  "I'll fix you later, Ed."

As Morgan Edge drifts desk to desk, no doubt introducing himself as 'your new boss', Cat feels the rage slowly drip away from her brain.

Ed turns on their private intercom.  

"Anything I can get you, boss?"

His baritone is less grating for some reason.

"Unless it's my son, someone with scotch or a triple cheeseburger, they don't get in here.  Clear?"

"Done and done."

Cat turns off her end and blows out a long, exhausted breath.  Morgan Edge wouldn't have been so bold except for the fact that all but two of her print publications are bleeding money.  Cat is not about to let ink on the page go the way of the dinosaur but it seems people only want to read celebrity trash, fashion and sex tips.

Kara texts her.  Which is not acceptable.  Kara has been given tasks and has no reason to consult her.

 

 

 

 

 

Korrine

I picked up Carter. Hope that's OK?

Whether or not you're fired depends on the following: what time is it?

Two-thirty.

Then you're fired.

Mom, be nice to Kara! She's funny and we took a nice walk.

He grabbed my phone. I knew Carter was smart but he is faster than I expected.



As if her little boy actually moved quicker than the Woman of Steel.  Praise of her son is Cat's last remaining weak point and Kara knows it.

 

 

 

 

Korrine

Why did you pick him up more than an hour early?

NC Public Schools website said the magnet programs only do half-days in the quarter term.

Death sentence rescinded.

Truly her majesty's mercy knows no bounds!

Little scamp did it again! #FutureNinja



Cat pushes the button for her blinds so she can cry silently.  Her son--her sweet, shy, timid boy--was waiting after school because she was too busy comparing dicks with Morgan Edge.  Kara rescued him--which will make it hard to be tough on her--though how she got the school to agree is a scary question.

After composing herself she opens the blinds again to see Carter waving at her, Kara settling in to the desk across from Ed's and Edge standing at her office door with his checkbook in hand.

Cat grabs her phone and calls Kara.

"Kara, get that slimeball out of my sight and out of my building.  Drop him off the balcony, kill him with the glowy-eye-thingy...don't care."

"On it."

Kara rolls up her shirtsleeves--she's dressed like a professional, albeit a male professional and wearing it the gayest possible way--and wraps one big hand around the back of Edge's neck.  Lifting him off the ground by the scruff of the neck, she proceeds to walk off with the city's wealthiest man kicking and squirming like a poorly behaved puppy. She disappears around the all-glass walls of the bullpen and doesn’t come right back, suggesting she’s actually going to carry him down to street level.

Carter seems to have pulled a loose chair over sit with near Kara’s desk and is covering his mouth and laughing.  Cat gets up and goes to him. She kneels down beside him and taps his shoulder.

He doesn’t like to be touched suddenly and Cat will be damned if she is not going to use that to teach her little boy about consent.

“Hug?” she asks.

“Sure, mom.”

With her arms around him and her eyes shut tight, there are a few heartbeats where Cat is  simply happy. Her mother’s voice falls silent in memory. Three ex-husbands vanish like smoke. The nightmares that have dogged her since college are nothing but dreams.

Because here is her child and Carter is good and smart and Cat would give everything to create a better path in life than she had.

“Thank you for being safe,” she whispers.

“Welcome.  I was with Ms. Zor-El so it’s fine.  She kept me safe.”

Cat laughs softly.

“You know that’s a secret, right Carter?  Like how Joan and Tim from down the stre-”

“I know, Mom.  It would hurt people if I told.  Besides, I just guessed it.”

Well, that's one use of adulterous neighbors...guess that talk sunk in.

“So smart,” Cat grumps.  “You’re going to be tricky in a couple years.”

For now, let him be almost twelve.  Let me have another fourteen months before he’s a teenager.

“She’s really pretty,” he observes.

Cat opens one eye and looks at Carter’s face.  No flicker of pubescent need, not a single particle of the lustful ooze that is Morgan Edge.  Still her sweet little man and hopefully she can steer Carter to safer waters before he becomes anything like that troll.

“Observation,” he explains.  “Other people kept coming up to her.”

“So smart,” she grumps.

Cat finally lets go and sees Kara standing by her desk, spanking her hands.

“That man,” Kara sighs.  “Is not my favorite person.”

Cat mouths ‘thank you’ back to her.

“Hand sanitize me, Ed.”

Ed tosses the bottle underhand and Kara snatches it.

“You should have Kara write for the science magazine, mom!”

Cat’s eyebrow goes up.

“Oh?  Why’s that honey?”

Kara suddenly finds the ceiling incredibly interesting and Cat sees her counting tiles.

“Because when I wasn’t talking, she talked about Casimir effect and Hawking radiation and all this Einstein stuff and…” Carter stops, trying to remember something.  

“Superconductors, nano-materials and electro-reactive crystals,” Kara fills in.

“Uh-huh,” Cat mutters.  “I know some of those were real words."

“It's neat," Carter mumbles.  "She knew about the stuff my science teacher says is too advanced and Kara thought it was okay to tell me.”

“Is this true, Kara?”

“I’m a journalism major,” Kara stiffly replies.

“Not the question, young lady.  If I were to hand you a science article for CatCo Tomorrow, could you check the sources and proof it?”

“Yes.”

“Any article?” Cat demands.  "Any topic?"

Kara swallows.  Her face pleads with Cat not to ask it though they both know the answer.

“Snapper would probably be happy to get rid of me,” she jokes.  “I think he was mad at me for not being scared of him when he got mad at me.”

Cat clicks her tongue.

“No.  Stay with Savage.  I’ll talk about putting some wires between it and Tomorrow.  Maybe we need a climate change slash environmental threat column.”

Something in Kara’s stance and face shift.  Cat could swear she saw a flash of red light in Kara's pupils.

“It would be my pleasure,” Kara replies, her voice no doubt more of a growl than she meant.

The first glimpse of real journalistic traits I’ve seen from her...a taste for blood.

Kara seems ready to go and Cat momentarily wonders if she’s lit a fuse.  If Kara’s interview is correct--and she doubted none of it--Cat just asked the sole survivor of an environmental apocalypse to relieve it all.

That was a bad idea.  Edge got further under my skin than I thought.

“Ed, make a note.  I want to review any hiring, firing or organization decisions I make on days when I meet with...undesirables...the next day.  Make sure I do things with a clear head.”

“Carter, I can't remember.  Did I remember to call the service dog place?”

He shakes his head.

It is at that moment that two fucking dragons appear over Kara’s desk in a flash of light, carrying a slowly cracking egg between them.  One is white and much smaller and one is golden, except for an iridescent crimson that flashes or fades depending on the angle of the light.  Each wears a sleek coat of small triangular scales and has a series of bony spines behind its head.

“Vhoc!  Flamebird!  Shoo!” Kara groans, waving her hands at the beasts which rise playfully up and snap their teeth.  Flapping mightily they lower the egg to Kara's desk and let go.

“Go back home,” she demands.  “Naughty dragons. Don’t bring eggs out when they haven’t hatched.”

The entire bullpen is still and silent as a tomb.

Ed is pouring his coffee onto his memo pad.

Jack from art is staring, eyes like dinner plates.

Maura from entertainment is snickering and has turned her tablet around to film this whole thing.

Winn--the lawn gnome that IT assigned to secure her accounts--simply keeps typing like this is completely normal.

Figure out what his deal is.  He's too small and meek to be a superhero.

“Fine,” Kara finally grumbles.  "No boiled eggs for you two tonight."

“What are those?” Carter asks.

“Dragons.  Little ones.  Like toy poodles.”

“I can see that,” Carter deadpans.

“Strange lizards from another planet?” Kara attempts.

“Try again,” Cat teases.

“Fine.  They’re called pygmy galata and they were bred down from much larger riding animals.  Sometimes people played…” Kara pauses.

“...soccer, I guess, with the big ones.  The sport was called Gala-Sheve which was basically like saying horseball.  Then people wanted them as pets so...”

Cat stares at the beasts perched on Kara’s shoulders, one to each shoulder and their tails wound loosely around her neck.

“How big do they get?”

Kara blinks at Cat.

“Never more than thirty pounds.  But...roughly five feet, two of it tail.  Wingspan of ten feet, but they prefer keeping them tucked back.  About two feet at the shoulder. So long and light and lots of tail.”

“Diet?”

“Meat.  There’s a supplement that they need.  Not locally sourced. Helps with their flying and their...ability.”

“Ability?”

“Err...they sort of warped here from my dorm room.  Because they are very naughty!” Kara teases, waving her finger at the smaller, silver one.  Vhoc, she called it? A narrow, snake like tongue darts out and tickles her finger.

“Disposition?” Cat demands.

Kara smiles.

“So sweet.  So lazy,” she teases.  The golden one huffs and drapes her head off Kara’s shoulder.  "This trick is neat.”

“Because teleporting dragons weren’t?” Carter exclaims.

“They’re actually able to sense...” Kara pauses.  “Flamebird? Can you crawl down into mommy’s hand?”

The gold-and-red one hisses--like a dislodged cat--but proceeds to unwind her tail and crawl down Kara’s arm.

“Are you nervous, Carter?” Kara asks.

“A little.”

“It’s all right,” Kara assures him.  “They’re smart. They’re like the you of the pet world.  She knows to be nice. Just give her a little pet on the top of the head, all right?”

He does and a pattern of white splotches ripples outward from where his thumb made contact.  Flamebird scurries back up Kara's arm.

“They can read tension in the muscles and skin cues to tell how they’re people are feeling.  They can change colors like a chameleon. So that flicker was like a mood ring. I guess she thinks that nervous Carter should be a white inkblot test.”

“Sixth sense for human feelings?  Are you lying to me?” Cat demands.

This is far more than any service dog center could possibly offer.

“I’m not.”

“And that egg…”

Kara grins.

“Hours from hatching, tops.  They’re sort of like geese. In nearly all cases the first person that they see and especially the first person who feeds them is who they imprint on.”

Cat nods.

“Ed, have legal call me.  I need a school law consult.  Kara, I need that food supplement and I need to send you shopping...give me any other details you know about these beasts.  Carter, you know that talk we had about dogs? How important it was to treat them like living things?”

He nods, sporting the biggest grin she’s seen in years.  The sort of grin she worried she wouldn’t see when the specialist first used the words autism spectrum.

“Kara, how much?”

Kara shakes her head.

“These are gifts.  It’s important that money doesn’t change hands.  Tradition.”

Kara rubs the back of her neck.

“But...I might trade for some advice on making stuff up?  Clearly I can't count on the other parts of my life not to just show up.”

Cat chuckles.

“Carter, go into my office with the egg.  There's some beef jerky in my desk. Kara, follow me. We’ll see if I can’t save you from yourself.”

Kara falls in behind her as they head towards the conference room.  As they walk, her dragons go back to acting like cuddly scarves.

At least gold and silver work well with dark-skinned women,  Cat supposes.  

“At least aliens are a thing now,” Kara jokes.  "There are aliens and people know about it. So I can be an alien but just not an important alien."

“Good spin is telling the important parts of the truth,” Cat agrees.



July 7, 2006  | Lena Luthor

National City, California

Whitecliff Hotel



(6:05pm)



Lena stalks out of the room she rented for the conference call and slips a handful of hundred-dollar bills into the bus boy’s pocket.

“Tell the manager I’m sorry.  For the lamp…and the vase.”

Otis is leaning against the doorframe in the hall with all the subtlety he possesses.  It essentially screams ‘important person inside’ but a man his size and wearing an obvious bulletproof vest standing at a doorway might mark her but certainly doesn’t invite trouble.  If it did, that’s what Mercy, her garrote and the shadow of the bathroom doorway was for.

“Call not go well, boss?”  Otis asks.

Lena schools her temper and sucks in a long breath that whistled through her teeth more than she hoped.

“It went fine.”

“If you say so.”

Tactically speaking, it could hardly have gone better.  

She had just enough shares and Lex’s arrest shook the stock market just enough that all but two of Lillian’s old allies are off the board now.   All it took was a reminder that they couldn’t get rid of her. That and a threat that as Tech Officer and head of R&D, she could drop all their product lines and set LuthorCorp to researching alien sex toys, human repellent sprays and bullet proof vests with four arm holes.

Lena showed them the corresponding proposals and said they had two hours to decide.  

Their horror was something she could practically smell over the phone line and she rid herself of Pericelli, Windsor, Clarkson, Kalisko and even Ingrid Chapel...who had better turn out to be the daughter of an escaped Nazi and an Argentine woman or else she owes Mercy five hundred.  She snapped up their shares at a depressed price. It only cost her a few hundred million and listening to a non-stop barrage of slurs in three languages.

Perhaps it was best that both of her dates were disasters.  She walked into the room with a good froth of anger and it would have been hard to keep her courage up without it.

“Mercy,” Lena says into empty air and her lapel mic.  “I’m going to the bar.”

“Copy that.  I’ll swap with Otis.  I’m more subtle.”

“I’m hurt, sis.”

“Otis, I swear…  Remember spring vacation, 1992?  This time you will need two slings.”

Otis huffs.

One of these days, Lena is going to get a detailed list of all the incidents of hand-to-hand combat, improvised explosive pranks and other sibling rivalry that created the two-person army that is the Graves Twins.  Surely the movie rights are worth something.

Mercy is nowhere to be seen by the time Lena makes it to the bar which is a comfort.  If Lena can’t see her, neither can her mother’s thugs or anyone else.

There are no more than a dozen patrons, at least four of whom are pairings of businessmen hundreds of miles from their wives and women paid hundreds of dollars an hour.  A clean shaven blond man is tending bar.

 

 


At a dimly lit rear table, a coiffed, pampered, plucked and possibly plasticked woman in a power suit is trying and failing to dazzle her date, who finally straightens out her dress and sighs, looking around like she is about to leave.

Lena’s eyes meet the strangers and the stranger smiles at her.  Lena’s heart stops.

She counts seconds in the gap, trying to remember the warning signs of a heart attack.  No pain in her left arm. No dizziness. Yet. Her brain just doesn’t feel like breathing or having a heartbeat is a priority right now.  She snaps back with a gasp and the other woman walks away from the standard-issue business lesbian she was with.

She puts a stack of cash down -- covering their bill most likely -- and leaves her date blinking, scowling and stabbing a text into her phone.

Lena can feel every person here staring at her.  She knows that if she moves, they’ll laugh. If she looks up, they’ll laugh. If she runs, they’ll never stop laughing.

“Boss.  Bar. Have a drink,” Mercy commands.

Lena forces herself to the bar, overriding every instinct screaming to flee.  No one laughed after all.

“Scotch.  Ardberg. Three fingers.  Neat.”

“ID?” the bartender asks.

“Really?” Lena hisses.  

He does have every right to ask.  It wasn’t that long ago that Lex took her on a twenty first birthday blowout in Monaco that involved copious alcohol, a friend’s borrowed yacht and Lex leading her belowdecks blindfolded and into a swarm of hands.  Hands which belonged to barely dressed French and Italian women with voices like silk and eyes like chocolate.

Women that Lex swore all just happened to be gay when she limped up to the deck the next morning. Far as she ever found out, they were all simply looking for fun.  

Lex has tolerated her use of brothels but swears she could do better...that Lena could woo any woman alive.

That was just before I graduated MIT, she thinks.  Three years ago.

I must look fifty by now.  I think I lost ten years per hour on that call.

“Pretty young woman plus liquor equals ID.”

She slides her ID across.

“Thought so.  Darling...you are way too gorgeous not to get carded.  It’d be insulting. Lena Luthor, huh?”

“Yes, what of it?”

“Pretty name.  Irish?”

Lena blinks stupidly at him.  Russian is a more common first guess.

“Childhood friend named Lena.  About your age...maybe it was a popular baby name over there.  She’s also got the whole green-eyed fairy princess look going. Red hair in her case.”

A smirk tugs at Lena’s mouth.

“I’ll let you live then.”

“Sounds good.  Jack.”

“Lena, as we’ve discussed.”

Jack flashes a grin that probably works wonders on depressed straight girls.  He puts the glass down with a neat click, twirls the scotch bottle like an old west gunslinger and slides the result to her.

Fifty dollars of liquid fire slides down Lena’s throat.  Jack’s eyebrow--golden blond, like his hair--shoots up.

“Oh my.  I think you drink for free tonight, Lena.  Just...drink something weaker. Got a favorite beer type?  Bottle? Tap?”

“Stout.”

“Guinness?”

She snorts.

“I am already making an ass of myself, might as well embarrass my ancestors.”

She adds three bottles of Guinness to the three fingers of scotch in her belly and is just about to start a fourth when a hand takes the bottle from her.  

Lena swallows.

The hand sliding the bottle away is dark as the beer itself.  Unpainted nails and a firm grip. Clearly a hitman and given the size, someone who could put Otis in the dirt in seconds.   

Fear seeping in quickly, Lena thinks of her taser in her purse.  Her purse which she left in the room like a fucking moron.

Lena looks up.   At the speed she was drinking, the booze really hasn’t set in yet.  Meaning this creature in front of her is not only female and unfairly gorgeous...she is real.

The hand that stole her beer is now resting on the bar beside her own.   A shimmering green dress--closer to a drape than fitted fabric--hangs off her shoulders and exposes all of her arms.  Arms which look soft and inviting until a sudden noise startles her drinking buddy and she covers Lena’s hand with her own.  The musculature underneath reveals itself in an instant and vanishes almost as fast, giving her a glimpse of cords and grooves and hard slopes that Lena suspects she could break the beer bottle on.

Lena has always preferred bedmates more muscular than herself. Her shame fades at the idea something so fit could want something so flabby , even for one night.  It papers over the shame about her stubbornly soft, fleshy, apparently un-slimmable body.

Probably should work on that fear in therapy, Lena decides.  Sounds like the kind of thing that I should work on.

The woman’s eyes--God in Heaven, they’re like gold coins--capture Lena’s own.   

She asks something but Lena can’t process the sounds yet.  She’s too busy wondering how hard and how long she would have to kiss those lips before they darkened another shade of purple.  What that tongue would feel like lashing against her own rather than shaping words.

The woman says something again and laughs--without hesitation, without fear--when Lena doesn’t answer.  She is unreserved and she laughs and smiles and means it. She never learned to wear a mask. Whatever life she led up to now it must have been as far away from Lillian Luthor as it can get.

“Bad night?”

“Dating fails,” Lena sighs.

“Me too.  Barkeep? I’m reimbursing the lady for this.”

Jack nods and takes the bill.

“You don’t have to,” Lena replies, starting to hear the mushy edges of her words.

“I want to.”

“Why?” Lena demands.  “Do you want something?  How much do you want? Who sent you?”

The woman blinks and stares at Lena.

“Uh...do I need to want something?  I just want to make sure the drop-dead gorgeous woman at the bar doesn’t drink herself into trouble.”

“Gorgeous?” Lena snorts.  “Do you even know who I am?”

Lena pushes with her own gaze but those golden eyes don’t flinch or narrow or retreat.

“Does it matter?  You seem to need a friendly face right now.  Pretty sure who you are doesn’t change the fact that you’re human and all humans need love.  The gorgeous thing is non-negotiable. I know what I see.”

There it is.  She’s over here trying to rescue me from myself because...she’s attracted to me.

“What if I said I was, under no conditions, going to sleep with you?”

Those already kiss-bruised lips curl into a smile.

“I would wonder what terrible things I did in a past life to lose that opportunity.  But I’d still be here,” she replies.

She drains Lena’s beer in three pulls.

“Making sure you’re all right.”

Fuck!  Lena, you useless piece of shit!  She’s nice. Genuinely. Because she’s not part of your fucked-up world.  She’s being nice to you because she likes you! Quit making a fool of yourself.  Try to become what she thinks you already are.

Somehow the voice in Lena’s head was simultaneously Lillian at her most cruel and Lex at his most coaxing, like the night he talked her out of the lab rather than let her work herself to death after a breakup.

“Let’s try this again.  I’m Kara Zor-El.”

“Zor-El?”

“Mmm-hmm.  I’m an alien,” she hisses, bending close so only Lena can hear.

The side effect of the privacy the whisper afforded was a gust of hot, moist air on Lena’s ear and neck and Lena’s nose brushing up against a loose curl of silvery hair  scented with tulip oil.  Lena hears herself mewling when they part and no matter how disappointed she is in her own behavior, she relished the tease.

“I’m Lena Luthor.”

“Wow.”

“Yes, I’m sorry that I’m not who you th-”

“Amazing!  The Lena Luthor?  The scary smart woman with nineteen patents before you could vote, a controlling share in a Fortune 100 company and...this will sound horny but the most unbelievable eyes.”

“No, the Lena Luthor whose family hates aliens.”

The lips curl into a frown this time--they look delectable and Lena is fairly sure has not eaten in weeks--but the frown fades quickly.

“Pff.  Details.  I haven't met them but you seem like a nice person.”

“Do you like dancing?”

Lena shakes her head.

“I know how...sort of had to to be the rich girl at parties...but I’ve never found anyone I like dancing with.”

“Have you ever danced with me?”

“Well, no, obviously.”

“Some scientist you are,” Kara teases.  “That is what we call an untested hypothesis.”

She offers her hand to Lena.  There’s no thought involved...only a chance to touch someone who genuinely doesn’t care that she’s a Luthor.  Who wants to touch her despite--perhaps because--of her name and its built-in pain. Because this one--Kara--is good and is offering comfort expecting nothing.  

Kara cannot possibly be something Lena deserves and yet Kara seems to be difficult to get rid of with self loathing, derision or prickliness.  Lena has no tools left.

“There’s no dance floor,” Lena complains.

“Best not break anything then.”

“Can I come closer?” Lena pleads.

“Of course.”

She wants to press her head into the woman’s chest and forget.  Put her ear at the juncture of collarbone and ribs and close her eyes and just listen to a heartbeat.

“Would you like me to just hold you and we can sort of sway?” Kara asks.

“Yes, please.”

Kara’s heartbeat is steady and fast, like the wheels of a freight train clacking over the gaps between the rails.  Her hand on Lena’s back is powerful and the one cradling her own hand is smooth as silk.

“Would you like to talk about what happened?” Kara finally asks.

“Not really.” Lena sniffles.

“Can I keep holding you?  I want to.”

“Don’t you have someone better to be with?” Lena croaks.

“Seems unlikely.  You’re the most amazing woman I’ve met for at least…”

Kara’s finger on her back taps, one, two, three times.

“...four reasons.  Though I counted each eye separately.  You have the most amazing eyes. I almost missed it but once I look, I can't see anything else.  Green-blue, blue-green. Like clockwise and counterclockwise..." Kara breathes. "Are you sure you’re real?  I’m pretty sure that the most gorgeous green-eyed girl and the most gorgeous blue-eyed girl are traditionally two different girls.”

“Don’t think it would hurt like this if I wasn’t real,” Lena admits.

“Hope this is helping,” Kara replies.

“Yes.  It really is.  It makes the pain...quieter.”

"I know what that can be like," Kara admits.  "When your own brain hates you."

Lena clings tighter to her and her tense grip on Kara’s dress shifts, causing her hand to slide into the oversized sleeve and brush straight across the muscles wrapping her ribs and the side of a breast.

“Sorry,” Lena mumbles.

“Please,” Kara laughs.

For Lena that laugh is like the scotch going down her throat, rough and warm and bad for her keeping wits about her.  

“Don’t be. I told you I am attracted to you, didn’t I?”

“You did,” Lena sighs, a smile forming on her own face.

“Just...next time let's do it on purpose so I can enjoy it too.”

“That’s fair,” Lena sighs.

“So...what do you want?  It seems like you’re not paparazzi, or shaking me down for money or some killer my mother hired.”

“People are trying to kill you?” Kara growls.

“Family problem.  My mother is a sociopath who cuts up aliens and my brother…”

Lena doesn’t know how to explain this.

“Lex is the smartest man my cousin ever met...and was once both Clark and Superman’s best friend.  I can assure you the regret is mutual.”

“You’re her?” Lena asks, feeling the alcohol more with each passing moment.

“Her who?” Kara teases.

“Superwoman.”

“Hmm.  So hard to say.  If I were, surely I wouldn’t be flashing it around to someone named Luthor.  Would a Super be dancing with a Luthor?”

“No,” Lena realizes.  “We’re too dangerous.”

Kara hums.

“Perhaps.  But. Kara Zor-El might want to dance with Lena Luthor all night.  And tomorrow night. And any night we can, for as long as we can.“

“You really don’t see that as a problem?”

“I do not.  I see a gorgeous woman who has been hurt by people who judge her without knowing her and who write awful things about her online.  A woman with eyes like the heart of a secret forest and skin like driven snow and li-”

Lena lunges, throwing herself madly into the kiss.  She couldn’t let her finish that sentence. Kara groans, pulling Lena close with muscular arms and cupping the back of her head in both hands.  Lena digs all her fingers into a braid made of molten silver that feels like satin between her fingers. Her eyes--no doubt positively manic--stare into Kara’s and plead for this to be real.

Kara gently pushes her away and Lena whines, jerking her head upwards to try and regain contact.

“Lena.  Stop.”

Lena whines pathetically, trying to yank Kara back using her hair.

“I loved it.  But your lips were turning blue.”

Lena is about to call bullshit when Kara holds up a compact mirror and shows Lena her reflection: mascara streaking her cheeks and her lipstick smeared from lips to chin too cheek.  In places, her lips were wiped clean and sure enough, they’re gradually pinking up from a dull bluish tint.

“Did I…” Lena pauses.  

Kiss you without consent?  Yes, Lena, you moron. You did.

“Hurt you?” she asks instead.

Kara laughs.

“No, no, no.  I...I’ve never been kissed like that.  I’ve had some wild kisses in the past but that was...that was sacred , Lena.  I’m not kidding. You were giving everything in to that kiss because you wanted to.  Abandon. Ecstasy. Transcendence. A spiritual experience. For me at least."

“You were kissing me like the single most important thing you ever would do with your life, was kiss me.”

Lena looks up at Kara and lets herself feel...lets herself admit it.

“In that moment, it was.  People don’t just sit next to me for no reason.  They want my money or a business contact or they want to torture me about my brother or my mother.  Once I convinced myself you really were being nice, I had to convince myself you were real. When it hit me, that you really wanted to dance...that you really wanted me, I sort of lost my mind.”

“People aren’t much good, if they don’t accept a woman for who she is rather than whatever stuff she has.”

“Stuff?”

“Money.  Nice cars.  Patents.”

“Did you mean it?  About tomorrow night and...maybe a relationship?”

“Are you asking me to be your trophy wife?  Lie around on your couch with nothing but a robe on waiting for you to come home?”

“No, of course not.”  

“Well that’s a shame.  I was hoping you were. Beats working all day and then...that's good eating.”

Lena giggles...something she probably hasn’t done since she was thirteen.

“God that’s a sexy laugh,” Kara husks.

“Quit making me laugh,” Lena demands, slapping Kara.  “Ow!”

“No way in Hell, gorgeous.  Clearly someone needs to be making you laugh.”

There’s a commotion at the bar behind them.

“Turn it up,” someone demands.

Lena turns to look at the television and Kara does too, never releasing her hand.

“This is CatoCo Worldwide.  We have received reports of what appears to be military aircraft attacking a civilian jetliner over Arizona.  The jetliner seems to be losing altitude and the two jets following it have repeatedly fired at the engines. The jetliner itself seems to be from Virgin Airways, a British carrier.”

“Oh my god,” Lena murmurs.  “Those poor people.”

“I have to go, Lena.  Can we please, please, please, see each other again?”

“I want that too.”

She's not sure whether she meant ‘that’ as yes to a second date or Kara screaming her name or Kara holding her and stroking her hair as Lena gives her last breath in this life.

“The dark-haired woman in the gray suit by the door can give you my contact info.”

“Bodyguard?”

“Yeah.  Mercy Graves.”

“Good.  If people are going to be trying to kill you, I’d rather you have someone with a crazy big gun and really mean eyes on your side.”

“Why do you have to go, though, Kara?”

“Lena, love, look down.”

Lena’s heels are a solid three inches off the hardwood.  She squeaks in surprise and clings tighter to Kara's neck and doing so accidentally reveals a perfectly circular tattoo glowing neon-sign blue.  The tattoo darkens and fades back into the skin, leaving the ‘S’ of Superman’s logo behind.

No, Lena reminds herself.  The sigil of the House of El.  Kara Zor-El. Zor-El...Married name?  If so, this 'Zor' is not getting his or her wife back.

“So you have to go be a hero.  Be safe, Kara. You promised a second date and I don’t deal well with failure.”

“I will be there, grá mo chroí.”

Love of my heart.

Three words said without hesitation, pronounced with no accent or flaw and somehow outlining an entire life they could spend together.  Kara must actually speak Gaeilge because no aid, no phone app, no recording, could be that accurate...and she knows for a fact Kara was not raised in County Wicklow.  She ambushed Lena with it just to reassure her and fluff up Lena's confidence.

The roiling, seething heat Lena has felt gathering since Kara made eye contact turns into something jagged and wild that cannot wait.  Waiting will hurt too much.

“How fast can you fly?” Lena demands.

“Fast.  Why?”

“Because I need you before you go.  I’ll hurry. Put your hand over my mouth.”

Clearly confused, Kara complies.  Lena hooks her leg over Kara’s hips, fidgeting until she can get around her skirt to press her lace-covered mound against silk and stone.  Panting into Kara’s hand, she rolls her hips back and forth, faster and faster, dragging that damn silk dress over her clit.

“You’re amazing Lena.  Beautiful and brave. A bit crazy for doing this here.  But I love that too. Take what you want. Don't be shy."

"Come for me,” Kara purrs.

Kara pulls her close and does something fucking impossible with the muscles of her back that should violate the laws of physics. More importantly it clenches her abs and crushes their breasts together at the same time.  Lena is rubbing off on diamond-hard ridges of muscle wrapped in soaked silk and her breasts mash against Kara's smaller and firmer globes. If only she could get her hands in Kara's dress without giving away the game. Lena needs to know what those feel like in her hands.

Lena is careening to the edge quicker than she imagined she could.   Everything she is wearing must be ruined. She can feel her sodden panties sticking to the inside of her skirt.  The stain on her skirt must be beyond scandalous. This is behavior a whore would find unseemly.

Lena...does...not...fucking...care.  

Kara’s smile and her eyes taking in Lena’s face and her arms like steel girders keeping Lena aloft tell her that this is not wrong.  It’s right.

“Come for me, Lena.”

She does and Kara’s hand over her mouth is not enough to fully contain her scream.  Jack looks up, winks, and busies himself polishing glasses.

“Can you stand?  I need to go.”

“Mercy can help me if I fall.  Go. But come back to me,” Lena begs.  "Soon."

“I certainly have something to look forward to, don’t I?”





 


 

July 7, 2006  | Alex Danvers

Omaha, Nebraska

Offutt Air Force Base

 

(1615 hours / 4:15 pm)

 

The mechanic slides out from under the aircraft’s engine.  A woman of fifty who brandishes a wrench like she’s scolding a child, she stares Alex down and pats the just-pained hull fondly.

“I want this back, young lady.  Been working on her for twenty years now.  She’s got some history. Reagan flew her to the fall of the Berlin Wall, you know.”

“I’ll make sure.”

“I’m no fan of that neon light crap you installed on the top deck, either.”

Alex smiles.  If she didn’t deal with foul mouthed and grouchy enlisted personnel every day, she would lose her mind.

She sees movement in the corner of her eye and spins to greet to the general.

“General Gilbert, thank you for allowing us this aircraft.”

He looks at the long, white fuselage.

“You’re buying us a new one, so I can’t complain.  If this boss of yours wants to spend any more money, get her on the horn.  I have some ideas.”

Alex laughs.

“I’m sure you do and I imagine that you’ll be pleasantly surprised with what we’re cooking up.”

She goes to attention and salutes—Air Force even though he knows she’s Army—and he returns it and turns to his orderly.

“Clear the hanger.  No one not in black pajamas gets in or out.”

“Sir.”

Alex waits as the mechanics and flight crews leave.  She is alone with an EF-2 now, a piece of hardware she respects even though its ancient.  This aircraft was built to be the last bastion in a nuclear war. To keep the president alive no matter how bad it got.

That makes it a natural choice for a survivable ride that can be painted to look like an ordinary airliner.  

“Paperclip, how we looking?”

“That whizbang fabric Tinkerbell gave us is installed inside the cabin, cockpit and cargo area.  The countermeasures suite is booted up. Ready as she’s going to get until I can get her back to Anvil.”

Alex nods.

“I’ll be co-pilot.”

Paperclip scoffs.

“Ma’am, I qualified on the Blackhawks after ten hours with you.  This is a goddamned airliner. We can handle it.”

“Gentleman, Ice, this is White Knight, load the passengers.  Straightjacket, make sure you’re not seen.”

“Hoo-ahh, boss.  No one gets in those doors.”

Vasquez tosses a chemical flare from her perch at the balcony, then two more.  Each of the doors to the hanger is now well lit with a red glow. Anyone coming in will face a wall of nothing in their night-vision while Vasquez guns them down.

He and Demos start loading the refugees, six or seven at a time.  

Alex slings her railgun out of sight on her back.  She kneels down so she will be eye level with the little ones.

Hajatn.” <Greetings.>  She tells a small Coluan girl clinging to a Helgrammite’s ragged clothes.  Clearly an orphan, she’s never let go. Her caretaker reaches down and strokes her with green-shelled claws.

“Esholo, vis qak shyr.”  <Peace, many-eyed-one.>  Alex tells the mother.

She can’t smile...half of these folks will see that as a growl.  All eight of the Helgramittes compound eyes blink slowly and she clacks her claws together in a three-stage gesture.

[Echo?]

[Open palm gesture.  Sign of truce.]

A quartet of Thessian girls—aunt, niece and two pre-teens they took in—approach, looking apprehensively at an aircraft that looks so much like the one they fled in the Scottish hills.

“Hajatn-ata shul tas, uvu salim.”   <Greeting you honors me, water-sister.>

All four give Alex a low, flourished dip of the arm.  

[That’s a new one.  Echo?]

[It means ‘sweet’ or ‘cherished'.]

[Kiss on the cheek, got it.]

So it goes, Alex greeting and accepting tiny gifts and offering appropriate food for most of an hour.  The last half-dozen are boarding now, a race Alex has never seen. They look like a star’s fire given shape and are wearing only jewelry.  It would be indecent except for the sheer brightness obscures their features.

Reynolds helping them wrestle some odd piece of machinery into the cargo bay.

“Solid diplomacy boss,” Vasquez radios.  “But the drone just went down and last I got was some fuckery on the perimeter.”

“Air Force?”

“Negative.  Black SUVs, ski masks and AK-47s.”

“Fuck,” Alex hisses.

“Paperclip, spin her up.  Gentleman, get everyone inside.  Ice! Anyone but me and Straightjacket come up this ramp, shoot to kill.”

“Straightjacket, do your thing.  Watch my six.”

The faint whine of a railgun coming to full charge comes from Vasquez’s sandbag and ceramic lined snipers nest.

[Echo...I need some help.  Keep your sensors up and set on maximum range and if you get any communications, archive, analyze and upload to your relay at Anvil.]

[Shall I begin hormone management?]

[Do it. Adrenaline and cortisol spike and back me off when we’re safe.]

The door behind the machine shop is the first to be breached.  Alex sends a railgun round through the opening before they can spread out.  Four men are torn in half and a shards of spine and ribs scatter around the resulting mess.

Alex flicks the lever with her right hand and the next shell slides in.  Arc pistol fire from Demos drops three more.

[Alex, I have intercepted a distress call.  They appear to be using 4096-bit ciphers last used by the CIA in 2003.]

[Meaning its an off-the-books thing.  Fuck!]

[Fuck is accurate.]

“Paperclip?  ETA to takeoff?”

“Two minutes.  Everybody inside!”

“Straightjacket, ditch the cover.  I’ve got you!”

Vasquez vaults over the railing, the pistons on her exoskeleton hissing as she leaps from this cover to that, kicking off each time and scattering crates and barrels behind her.  Alex keeps up her barrage in the doorway, holding back anyone smart enough to live and killing the handful stupid enough to try and enter.

Something explodes behind her and sends Alex flying.  Shards of hot metal pepper her right side.

“Alex!” Vasquez yells.

Her railgun barks three times.  Concrete shards kicked up from the rounds hitting tarmac spray the newly breached doorway.

Vasquez is on her in seconds, snagging the lift ring on her vest.  Alex turns—groggy—and fires her railgun wildly in the direction of the problem.

“Ice!”

Demos sprints to Vasquez and slings Alex over his shoulder.  Vasquez yanks the pin on Demos grenade belt and rips it off him, hurling it at the machine shop.  She takes her own and throws it at the other door. Reynolds helps Demos haul her inside.

“Bye-bye,” Vasquez sneers.  The belts go off and two bursts of fifty-thousand degree heat incinerate everything for thirty yards.

Reynolds drops Alex into a seat and kneels next to her, ripping open his medkit.

“Shrapnel,” Alex coughs.  “No internal organs hit.”

“How do you fucking know that?” Demos demands, white as a sheet.

“Reynolds, pull the hydraulics and the bodysuit and cut open my vest.”

[Echo, show yourself.]

“Greetings.  I am a class five artificial intelligence, sensor net and recon kit embedded in Operative Danver's body.  I monitor her vital signs and tissues I can assure you, none of her organs were compromised.”

“Fuck boss,” Vasquez laughs.  “You get all the toys.”

“Birthday present,” Alex coughs.

Good thing that everyone on DEO-1 knows who Kara is.

“My birthday’s coming up,” Demos mentions.

“We’ll see,” Alex coughs.

“Get me to the cockpit.”

[Echo, dose me.  Non-drowsy but get me vertical.]

[Neural pulse initiated.]

Reynolds drops Alex into the co-pilot's seat and straps her in best he can while avoiding the wounds.  The hanger doors are yawning open to reveal another pack of men with heavy machine guns.

Paperclip throws the throttles to the redline and drops the brakes.

Men and guns and body armor are reduced to spatter and sludge by the turbines blades.

“Hits?” Alex asks.

“Nothing to worry about.  That new paint is really something.”

“Get us in the air.  I’ll deal with the tower.”

“Copy that, White Knight.”

[Echo, patch me in.]

“Offutt Control, this is White Knight.  We are under attack.  Blue-on-blue. We have friendly wounded and enemy KIA at hanger India Niner.  We are under way and taxiing. I need a runway now.”

“Unknown aircraft, you are not cleared for takeoff.”

“Airman!  Shut up and get her what she needs,” snarls the general.

“Yes sir.  Unknown aircraft, you are cleared for runway twelve.  Base security are en route to I-9.”

“Negative,” Alex coughs.  “These guys are the real deal.  They’ll tear through your guys. Send special forces if you have them.  If you don’t, blow the damn thing up from a distance. We softened ‘em up with explosives so the hangar is wrecked anyway.”

“My men are good,” the general reminds Alex.

“And we’re the best and we’re using gear you don’t have and they nearly killed me.”

“Pull the guys back and have them set up a thousand yards back,” the general orders.  “Put a fast mover up and have it circle the base. Anything sticks its head out, level the area.”

“White Knight, the skies are yours.  Scramble four from Bulldog,” he barks at a subordinate.  “I want them flying that bird out.”

“Recommend against that, sir.  These men were using American encryption gear.  Can’t trust that they don’t have pilots on the payroll too.”

“Thank you for the warning, White Knight.  I will break some heads and clean house at our end.”

Paperclip grabs the overhead mic.

“Everybody hold on!  This is going to be steep.”

She yanks back the yoke and the 747 leaps into the air.

“Offutt control, this is Paperclip.  Echo Foxtrot Three Five is changing call-signs to Starlight One and we are going dark.”

“Solid copy, Starlight One.  Godspeed.”

Paperclip looks over to Alex.

“You look like Hell, White Knight.”

“I’ll manage.  Got something in me for the pain.  What can I do, Paperclip?”

“Just watch the engine panel and the radar.  There and there. And if you’re going to be bleeding all over my aircraft, call me Joan.”

“Ahh,” Alex muses.  “Hence the ‘Jett’ callsign.  I’m Alex. I must say, Joan…I loved your second album.”

“Lucky you’re wounded,” Joan mutters.  “I can’t kick your ass.”

 

(1755 hours / 5:55pm)

 

Alex manages to make her wound look pretty enough to show off and she goes back through the aircraft to check on their charges.  Sixty-two alien refugees she is responsible for and now some crooked part of a spy agency is taking shots at them.

Three high-school aged raxxie girls have set up in the presidential office and raided the liquor and cigar stash there.  One of them has grabbed a roll of toilet paper and is writing executive orders to her friends who stand with stacks of fresh sheets.

The Coluan girl has somehow interfaced with the TV and started showing a bootlegged copy of Little Nemo that she had in her brain.  She crawls onto her Helgrammite friend’s lap and buries her tiny face in exoskeletal plates as slushy, half frozen tears fall from her face.

As she passes them, the Thessalian and her niece flag Alex down.  They pull aside their borrowed shirts to reveal tattoos in some high-tech paint.  The tats look like black clouds with slowly-changing crimson lightning inside them.

“Black Nebula.  Syndicate mercenaries.  Assault and boarding,” the aunt says, indicting her niece.  “Sniper and demolition,” she says, tapping her own chest.

“You need us, say the word and we’ll grab our kit.”

“Black being merciful,” Alex hopes.  “It won’t get that bad. You are with my people now and you shouldn’t have to fight.”

She makes the rounds twice more, making sure that everyone has blankets and food and pillows and that no one is so scared it’s life threatening.

[Echo, let Kara know.]

[She is currently in hard-privacy mode.  I will post the message but Kolex may not be able to share it.]

[Keep it on repeat, Echo.  And keep me posted. Also…thank you.]

[It was my pleasure.  You’re my best friend Alex.  Of course I saved your life. That fight made my circuits misfire like crazy...is that being scared?]

[I guess that's like being startled, yeah.  You good, buddy?]

[I can reboot, Alex.  Dreamless, restful sleep on command.  I'll be fine.]

[Lucky bitch.]

[I have my tricks!]

Alex goes back up to the cockpit and slides into the chair beside Joan.

“Where are we?”

“Just passing over Houston.  You sure you want this airstrip?” Joan asks.  “Safer at Anvil instead of the middle of nowhere.  Will Mexico even let us over the border?”

Alex chews the inside of her cheek.

“Swing wide.  Come at it from international waters.  The facility can cover us once we’re within eighty klicks.”

“What the blazes is this facility?” Joan demands.

Fuck it.  She knows Kara exists.  I’ll just shove the NDA down her throat later.  

“You ever hear of Superman?”

“Sure.”

“My sister is his nerdier, older, meaner cousin.  This is her vacation home.  Safest place to put these folks.”

Joan whistles.

“Roger that, landing on the flying saucer it is.”

 

(1815 hours / 6:15pm)

 

“The fuck is that?” Alex asks, pointing to the radar.

Four dots are closing in fast behind them.

“Interceptors,” Joan replies.  “And this thing is too fat to get away.”

Alex lifts her wounded arm and taps at the tablet strapped to her suit’s pistons.

“Scramblers up.  Flares will auto-deploy if they fire.  Can you take us low enough to lose them?”

Joan shakes her head.

“Any decent radar is look-down, shoot-down.  There’s no such thing as low enough.”

“Keep us high, then.  That gives us some time if they knock out an engine.”

“What?  Thought you coated this whole thing with your magic paint?” Joan demands.

“There wasn’t time to coat the inside of the engines,” Alex coughs.

[Alex, if I may?  I have a suggestion.]

[Yes?]

[I have two monitoring drones at my disposal in one of Kara’s recommended landing zones.  I can have them tail us and broadcast this to news channels. We can also program the hull to appear to be civilian airline livery.  A government response to such an act of terrorism is likely.]

[Do it.  How about Virgin Airways?]

[International pressure.  Wise.]

Alex prays her sister is at home channel surfing.

 


 

July 7, 2006  | Kara Danvers

National City, California

Whitecliff Hotel

 

(6:05pm)

 

The last time Kara felt this lost was when her pod’s maneuvering thrusters frizzed out and she spent weeks staring at the inside of a nebula as it tumbled past.  She has forgotten how to talk to pretty girls or more specifically, she cannot find a way to start a conversation from absolutely nothing.

So she’s been eating and making eyes and wiping salad dressing off Mandy’s cheek.

“So you work in tech?” Kara asks.

This is the woman this site said was 9/10 a good match?

Mandy shakes her head.

“Finance.  Corporate restructuring and takeovers.”

So, you’re a vulture picking over people’s failed companies for scraps.

“God, I could never date someone in tech,” Mandy jokes.  “All those undercuts and and hoodies? Blech. I need a little style, like you, not some butch with autism who lucked out with an app.”

So basically you wouldn’t approve of my friends and I wouldn’t approve of your job.  Solid start, here.

[Kolex, please search tips for ending a bad date quickly.]

[Stand by.]

“Media, though.  I can respect that.  Online media, right? You must be doing good to make six figures right out of the gate.”

“Yeah.  Savage.com actually.  Headhunted.”

“Well, at least it’s liberal.”

Kara smiles.

How can it be I spent my childhood with princes and princesses and mad scientists and governors and some of the the snottiest, most spoiled people on Krypton and this woman’s ego is too much?

“Mandy, I don’t think this will work.”

The disappointment crosses Mandy’s face immediately.  Kara had felt Mandy’s foot running up and down Kara’s leg all night.  Attraction abounds...it seems they just would have to gag each other in and out of the bedroom just for civility.  Until Mandy started talking, Kara would have considered it.

“Why not?” Mandy demands.

“Because,” Kara sighs.  “I think maybe you hate everyone I know.  My only friends here in town are a gay startup founder and programmer and a gay IT guy.  One is on the spectrum but Greg would never, in a million years, have blundered into those insults you just did.  I write for a science blog. Nerdy as fuck. And this...”

She waves her hands at the sleeveless green dress that she borrowed from Vasquez’s sweetheart.  It oozes class, like everything Clarice has but it’s also slouchy enough that Kara doesn’t look like a bodybuilder in it.

“...is something I borrowed from a friend.  I’m usually blue jeans, denim jacket and a T-shirt.  Maybe a red or purple T-shirt if I’m feeling fancy. So I’m one of those butchy nerds you could never be with.”

Mandy opens her mouth to protest.

“Mandy, honey.  I’m black. I know what people say when they’re trying to back off things they ‘didn’t mean’ but actually meant.  I’ll save you the trouble. I’m sure all your best friends are butchy nerds.”

“I hope you find someone who is exactly who you need, though.  Everyone deserves that, Mandy.”

Kara reaches out to pat Mandy’s hand but she jerks it back.

Not the sort to like being touched unless she gets something out of it.

[Kolex, calculate the bill.]

[One hundred eleven dollars and fifty three cents.]

Kara crooks her finger at one of the waitstaff and places six twenties on the table and two in the man’s pocket.  

A pair of noises has been bugging her all night.  

The whine of a radio with the volume turned all the way down and the squeak of tiny oiled springs.  The springs holding the bullets in a clip. A noise she learned to recognize as Black Knight.

Taken together in a pace like this, those usually mean a bodyguard for someone important.

Kara looks up, trying to figure out where it’s coming from.

Why am I breathing?  Why is my heart going so fast?

Kara tries to move her chest slowly rather than breathe whenever possible.  Somehow not taking in air reminds her of space and the inky calm.  Now she can’t stop breathing.  Years spent learning to control her body here on Earth blasted away.

Kara is nothing special now, just a woman gasping for air...at the sight of her.

A woman with a tousled black mane and skin the color of cane sugar—no less tempting for the tongue—looked up from her misery drinking at the bar when Kara stood up.

Straight into Kara’s eyes.  

They hold the gaze for a long time before the stranger ducks away and hunches her shoulders in, trying to shrink out of sight.  She looks miserable and an empty tumbler and three Guinness bottles sit in front of her.

[She is on the app, Kara.]

[Really, Kolex?]

[You viewed her profile this morning.  Lena Luthor.]

[That Lena Luthor?]

[Yes, Lady Kara.  It appears that…] Kolex is searching for a phrase.

It appears that Sara Lance’s tall tales did not do her justice.

[Kolex, go to hard privacy mode.  No one but me in my head. Not even you.]

[If you wish.]

Kara moves through the room, putting a gentle hand on a waitresses shoulder so that she doesn’t get in her way.

The bartender—Jack, was it?—is handing Lena another drink.  Kara crosses the remaining paces almost at a jog and takes the beer before Lena can.

She’s gorgeous...and rich...and sad...and way out of my league.  But I have to have her. Don’t ramble don’t ramble don’t ramble…

“Bad night?”

Lena looks up, dazed but not drunk.  She must have been knocking them back too fast to let them sink in.

“Dating fails,” Lena replies.

Sweet woodsmoke and chilly winds and a mournful fiddler’s reel slide into Kara’s ears.  Her voice…I need to hear it again.  But happy.

“Me too.”

Kara takes this beer for the team.

Lena says something else but Kara is struggling to put meaning to it.  Lena’s trembling, ruby-red lips and her watery eyes mean far more than whatever words she is making in that sad, hopeless tone of voice.

A chair scrapes behind them and Kara tenses, covering Lena’s hand with her own.  It was instinct. Protect mate. Find shelter. Reach out for comfort.

Lena’s eyes trace her arm as Kara relaxes and a different instinct seems to be on Lena’s mind.  She demands to know what Kara wants, what kind of scam she is pulling.

When Kara tells her the truth, she resists and swears never to sleep with Kara.

Ouch.

When she reminds Lena that even without that she would want to be here, close, being a comfort…Lena looks broken.  Like that is something she was never given before.

Those eyes are wet with tears now, tears Lena feels she needs to hide.  Kara takes one escaped tear with her thumb and presses it to her own lips.

Dance.  Kara needs to dance.  Needs to know how this ethereal creature feels in her arms.  She needs to stare into those eyes, green and blue and just slightly different from each other.  

Aren’t mismatched eyes supposed to be a sign of witchcraft? Kara wonders.  Or was that a sign of faeries?  Does her hair smell like an enchanted forest?  It looks like one. Pale skin, red lips? Vampire?  I can deal with that.

“Do you like dancing?”

Lena shakes her head.

“I know how...sort of had to to be the rich girl at parties...but I’ve never found anyone I like dancing with.”

“Have you ever danced with me?”

“Well, no, obviously.”

“Some scientist you are,” Kara teases.  “That is what we call an untested hypothesis.”

A wicked smirk — pride, maybe a challenge — crosses Lena’s face and Kara knows she struck a chord.

Science is the quickest way to this girl’s heart, Kara realizes.  Try and remember that.

A few seconds in, it becomes clear that Lena only wants to be held.  She snuggles her head against Kara’s chest. Her ear is over Kara’s heart and her now-untied hair falls sloppily across them both.  Those distractingly sharp cheekbones brush the top of Kara’s breasts.

“Don’t you have someone better to be with?” Lena asks.

Knowing a self-loathing comment like that was coming didn’t make it hurt any less...someone has taken this brilliant, lovely woman and worn her down.  Kara does not know their name but for the first time, she swears to kill a human being in cold blood.

Kara and Lena spar with Kara talking about how much she wants to be here, Lena swearing she’s absolute trash unworthy of love.  It all seems to have to do with her last name, not Lena herself.

At some point Lena’s hand ends up under Kara’s dress and scrapes her breast.  What are words? Kara dimly remembers words. Right now she doesn’t remember what they were for.  It’s taking everything she has not to lay Lena out on the bar, rip her skirt open, claim her mouth with a kiss and prove just how loveable Lena is.

Lena worries.  Kara laughs and it makes Lena laugh.

Words are not so important right now, only Lena's reactions matter.

When the topic of Lex comes up, Kara takes the leap.

“Lex is the smartest man my cousin ever met...and was once both Clark and Superman’s best friend.  I can assure you the regret is mutual.”

“You’re her?” Lena asks, feeling the alcohol more with each passing moment.

“Her who?” Kara teases.

“Superwoman.”

“Hmm.  So hard to say.  If I were, surely I wouldn’t be flashing it around to someone named Luthor.  Would a Super be dancing with a Luthor?”

“No,” Lena realizes.  “We’re too dangerous.”

Kara wants to laugh but Lena is far too fragile right now.  Lena is a fawn in the middle of the dark woods. Small and lovely and terrified.  Ready to bolt.  She’s the farthest thing from dangerous.

It looks like the alcohol is setting in Lena’s brain which means time is short for Kara to say all these mushy things she feels.  That she never wants to let Lena cry alone or be alone, that she she wants to wake up and stare into those eyes every morning, that she wants to rock their chocolate skinned, emerald eyed and silver haired babies to bed every night.   That she wants to retire with Lena and be a cat lady.

“Perhaps.  But maybe Kara Zor-El might want to dance with Lena Luthor all night.  And tomorrow night. And any night we can, for as long as we can.“

The rambling comes back with a vengeance when Kara talks about how beautiful she thinks Lena is.  Something in Lena snaps and she lunges, lips smashing in to Kara’s, her tongue rimming the inside of Kara’s lips until she yields for Lena's tongue and her hands buried in Kara’s hair.  Lena kisses recklessly, maniacally, uncaring about the lipstick she’s smearing on Kara’s face or the tears running down her face or the wheezing breaths she’s making.  

This is the last kiss before war, it is the first kiss of the blushing bride, the kiss of a lover returning from afar, the kiss of an angel and of a devil and one that casts a witches’ spell.  

It is all those special kisses that only happen once each.

Let this be forever.  Let the universe end right now, Kara wishes.

Finally she has to push Lena away before she drowns herself.  

Lena’s mouth tries to follow Kara’s as she pushes firmly to get a tiny bit distance between them.  Her chest is heaving and her lips are swollen. Those magical green eyes are almost black now, pupils blown and watery with tears.

Happy tears for a change.

“Did I…” Lena asks, voice choked.  “...hurt you?”

Kara has to remember how to make words again fast or she’s not going to be able to reassure Lena before assumptions are made and feelings are hurt.

Her account of the kiss makes Lena not only smile but let herself keep the smile, rather than burying it in some awful training she got in finishing school.

“No, no, no.  I...I’ve never been kissed like that.  I’ve had some wild kisses in the past but that was...that was sacred, Lena.  I’m not kidding. You were giving everything in to that kiss because you wanted to.  Abandon. Ecstasy. Transcendence. A spiritual experience. For me at least."

“You were kissing me like the single most important thing you ever would do with your life was kiss me.”

Lena looks up at Kara and this time, does not hesitate to feel.

“In that moment, it was.  People don’t just sit next to me for no reason.  They want my money or a business contact or they want to torture me about my brother or my mother.  Once I convinced myself you really were being nice, I had to convince myself you were real. When it hit me, that you really wanted to dance...that you really wanted me, I sort of lost my mind.”

How many humans can I rip apart before it’s tacky?  Hopefully a larger number than the ones who have hurt her feelings.

“People aren’t much good, if they don’t accept a woman for who she is rather than whatever stuff she has.”

“Stuff?”

“Money.  Nice cars.  Patents.”

“Did you mean it?  About dancing tomorrow night and...maybe a relationship?” Lena pleads.

Her voice is so small, so sad, so soft, that Kara wonders if someone without superhearing could even make it out.

“Are you asking me to be your trophy wife?  Lie around on your couch with nothing but a robe on waiting for you to come home?”

“No, of course not.”  

Crap.

“Well that’s a shame.  I was hoping you were. Beats working all day and then...that's good eating.”

Lena giggles—actually giggles—the way beautiful women should when something makes them happy.  Perhaps, Rao be merciful, some part of that fantasy appealed to Lena as much as it did to Kara.

“God that’s a sexy laugh.”

“Quit making me laugh,” Lena demands, slapping Kara.

She wiggles her fingers and makes a face.

“Ow.”

That’ll teach her to try to make me stop being nice to her.

“No way in Hell, gorgeous.  Clearly someone needs to be making you laugh.”

There’s growing chatter at the bar behind them

“Turn it up,” someone demands.

Kara turns to look at the television and Lena stays with her, turning without breaking eye contact.

“This is CatoCo Worldwide.  We have received reports of what appears to be military aircraft attacking a civilian jetliner over Arizona.  The jetliner seems to be losing altitude and the two jets following it have repeatedly fired at the engines. The jetliner itself seems to be from Virgin Airways, a British carrier.”

“Oh my god,” Lena murmurs.  “Those poor people.”

Vhoc’s rotting hole!  This better be important...if the Air Force clam-jammed me for nothing we’re going to go back to four branches of the military.

At least Lena already knows I’m Superwoman.

“I have to go, Lena.  Can we please, please, please, see each other again?”

“I want that too,” Lena replies.  “The dark-haired woman in the gray suit by the door can give you my contact info.”

“Bodyguard?”

“Yeah.  Mercy.”

Mercy Graves?  Lex’s right hand woman never leaves his detail...maybe Lex still does love his sister.

“Good.  If people are going to be trying to kill you, I’d rather you have someone with a crazy big gun and really mean eyes on your side.”

[Kolex, your access is restored.]

[Prepare a phalanx of tier-one assault chassis with full stealth kit.  Endurance design. Include self repair and ammo and fuel restock. Heavy weapons across all categories.  Key them to Lena’s biometrics. Maximum compute capacity but bodyguard protocol only. Lethal force preauthorized in any case where her life is at risk.]

[Fabbers warming up.  Six hours for the first two.]

Kara rubs her thumb along Lena’s cheek, leaving an invisible layer of circuits and plastic.

[Target the transmat on that marker.  The instant they’re done transmat them to her but they stay  in stealth mode.]

[Of course, Lady Kara.]

Six hours, Mercy Graves. I’m trusting you with her safety for six more hours.

“Why do you have to go, though, Kara?”

“Lena, love, look down.”

They’re floating.

Like in Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Kara thinks.  Willow actually had real game.

Lena squeaks in surprise and clings tighter to Kara's neck and fumbles with her dress.  Kara tilts her neck, hoping Lena will keep digging.

[Kolex, display the sigil and then go dark.]

Lena’s eyes go wide.  She finally believes it.  Believes Kara came up to her and revealed herself and her feelings simply because because she felt like it.  

Lena chews her lip.

“So you have to go be a hero.  Be safe, Kara. You promised a second date and I don’t deal well with failure.”

Tutoring, don’t fail me know, Kara hopes.

“I will be there, grá mo chroí.”

<Love of my heart.>

“How fast can you fly?” Lena demands.

“Fast.  Why?”

“Because I need you before you go.  I’ll hurry. Put your hand over my mouth.”

Kara’s pronunciation was either hilariously bad or perfect because Lena is whining and clamping her legs around Kara and trying to grind out a quick orgasm on Kara’s abs.

So relaxed Lena is lots of fun!

Kara covers her mouth--the lady asked nicely--and holds as still and stiff as she can to offer Lena as much firmness and friction as the ridiculous position allows.

Lena’s breath is soaking Kara’s palm and her hips are finally finding a rhythm of quick, short strokes.

“You’re amazing Lena.  Beautiful and brave. A bit crazy for doing this here.  But I love that too. Take what you want. Don't be shy."

"Come for me,” Kara purrs.

Kara tries one of her old exercises from Shavo-Tahiko, tensing her back and her belly.  

“Come for me, Lena.”

Moments later Lena presses into her and screams into her hand, tears taking the rest of her mascara away.

“Can you stand?  I need to go.”

“Mercy can help me if I fall.  Go. But come back to me,” Lena begs.  “Soon.”

Wouldn’t want to promise something I can’t deliver.  Too many people have lied to her already.

[Kolex, what’s the latest scan from the listening post?]

[No ships in system.]

“I’ll be back.  I certainly have something to look forward to, don’t I?”

 

  


 

July 7, 2006  | Kara Danvers

Southeast California

62,000 feet altitude / Five times the speed of sound

 

Shockwaves whip past Kara’s face and her cape thrashes over her shoulder in a vortex of supersonic air.

[Kolex, status.]

[Am I not Blue Beetle?]

[Fine!]

[The aircraft is a Boeing 747 with major modifications.  The drones you deployed report it deploying chaff and flares to defeat incoming missiles.  Cannon fire to the fuselage and wings has had no effect.]

[So they started firing at the engines.]

[Correct.]

[Attacking craft?]

[They are F-22 Raptors. Markings consistent with the 422nd Combat Squadron out of Alaska.]

American jets.  Firing on a British airliner that...somehow has defenses?  Armor? Precisely none of that is good.

[That’s a hell of a detour.]

[This is their target.  They are approaching bingo fuel but keeping up pursuit.]

Kolex watches too many movies with Alex.

[Bingo fuel?]

[Fifty percent.  Minimum fuel needed to return to base.]

[Do I have anyone in the Air Force who owes me a favor?  I do this and I’m declaring war on the United States.]

[Negative. You have provided direct assistance to the USS John F. Kennedy but she is in the Sea of Hormuz.]

[Put me through.]

“Captain Markus?  This is Blue Angel.  Need a favor.”

“Glad to.  Stop a meltdown with your bare hands and you can ask anything you like.”

“Is there any good reason why some Air Force fighter would be shooting at an airliner over Arizona?  Big one. Hundreds of passengers. That’s terrorism, right?”

“Sure as hell sounds like it.  Ensign! Get me PacComm. Figure out what those damned missile-heads are up to!”

“Keep me posted, Captain.  Got some hard choices to make.”

“Moment of your time, Blue Angel?” the captain asks.  “Something I’ve learned is that the flag doesn’t make the soldier.  Her courage does. Whole ship’s rooting for you...no matter what.”

“Solid copy.”

[Blue Beetle?  Where is Alex?]

[Stand by.  It appears you have thirty seven encrypted messages from Alex, all sent via Echo using entangled particles.]

[What?  Play all, half volume, overlap summary mode.]

“Kara, where the fu-“

“We’re on an Air Force passenger jet, trying to get to Sanct-“

“Sixty two refuge-“

“Taking fire.  Three engin-”

“Fuckfuckfuck!  Engine four is stalled!”

“-ck!  This hurts.”

Alex is hurt.

[Put me through.]

“Alex, I’m here!’” Kara screams into the helmet.  “Please be alive.”

“Kara?”

“You’re alive,” Kara croaks.

She happy-cries into the inside of her visor.

Install an interior defogger before next run.

“No thanks to your timing.  Next time, call your big sister before she gets a chest full of shrapnel.”

“I will, big sister.  You always have Plan S.”

“Think you can get these assholes away from us?”

“They’re Air Force, Alex.  I can’t just kill them!”

“They’re traitors…I think paid off by the CIA.  Same guys who shot me.”

[Blue Beetle, disable Scion’s propulsion core.  Redirect that power to the plating. Put the suit in react-only mode.  I’m doing this one manual.]

Alex is hurt.  It’s time for the monster to play.

Kara begins whispering the control words to herself.  

Vhoc, whose gaze brings death…”

“Rao, whose power is unending...”

“Flamebird, from whom courage flows…”

“Ktharra, who burns away our souls, lovely as dawn, patient as death, deep as madness…”

Crimson fire lights her eyes and in a universe where nothing but her seems to be moving, Kara locks her eyes on the pilot of the nearest jet.

 

 

Kara ends her jump in the middle of the cockpit, throwing her arms out and shrieking a battle cry dredged from the wartime memories of the Destroyer inside her.  

The carbon fiber of the armor and the silicon in the chips and the oxygen and hydrogen and nitrogen in the pilots body are gone.  Erased. Bones were smashed to splinters and then to crumbs and then molecules and finally into primitive particles forever buried in a crumple in the fabric of space.

The two halves of the aircraft tumble towards the desert, engine sputtering to a stop without the front half.

The radio chatter from the other jets is projected inside her headset.

“Fuck!  Boxer is toast!”

“Dozer, Thug, kill whatever that was.”

An alert inside her visor informs Kara that she has been painted with radar.

“That’s right, you murdering sons of bitches,” Kara snarls.  “Hit me with everything you have.”

Missiles drop from dark shapes in the distance and head straight for her.

[On impact, mask my signature.]

The world stops around Kara as the first missile approaches and the hormone spike from the Destroyer graft washes through her.  The casing around the warhead separates with explosive bolts, revealing a cylinder studded with square protrusions.  An explosion tears the missile apart and flings a spray of hardened steel into Kara’s face. Two more follow it in the next split second.

Time starts back up.

Scion’s barriers held.  The outer plating of the suit wobbles and waves like a mis-tuned antique television and Kara is invisible.

[You are invisible to radar, thermal, laser scans and human eyesight, my lady.]

“Tombstone leader, direct hit.  Bandit splashed.”

“Yee-haw!  Finally popped your cherry, Dozer!”

[Kara, long range scans indicate another six jets of the same configuration approaching at six o’clock high.  Two hundred miles.]

“Someone really wants you dead, Alex!”

“I’m told I’m irritating!”

“Six more jets incoming.  I dealt with the first one.  Right now, they think I’m dead. I...I’m not a big fan of killing people.”

“We could use some prisoners,” Alex suggests with a pained hiss.

“Great idea.”

Kara turns straight towards the lead aircraft and pulls alongside him, keeping to the underside of the wing.

[Antenna is located on the starboard side of the nose cone.]

[Thanks, Blue Beetle.]

“Can’t have you warning anybody.”

Kara plunges her superheated fist into the avionics bay, snapping the radio antenna and buckling the plating.

She puts her foot on the engine intake and swings over the jet like riding a bull.  She smashes the cockpit glass, backhands the pilot and fumbles for the ejector seat lever.  The rocket motor smashes the ejection seat into her chin.

"Ow.”

“One of them is out of his jet and I gave him a little smack.  Unconscious.”

“Rinse and repeat, Tinkerbell.  The more the better. They crack quicker if they think their buddies will.”

“The Navy calls me Blue Angel.”

Vasquez’s barking laughter can be heard.

“That is so much better!” she crows.  “We’re calling her that.”

[Lady Kara, the remaining two jets are closing with the aircraft.]

Kara plows into the next jet with far less subtlety, letting the airframe shatter against her crossed arms, ripping the seat loose and pulling the cord.

The last jet accelerates, spraying the remaining engine with cannon fire.

Alex swears over the comm and another voice in the cockpit with her gets on the radio.

“Mayday, mayday, mayday!”

“Anvil Base, this is Paperclip.  We have suffered total engine loss and are going down.”

[Lady Kara, I have twenty new laser scan contacts approaching at speed.  No radar signature. Unknown outline and extremely fast.]

“Alex, did you call for backup?”

“No.  Can’t trust them.”

A pair of shiny charcoal gray craft swoop past Kara, come to a full stop in a burst of green thruster exhaust and then spin around, zeroing in on the remaining Raptor and tearing it apart it with three white lances of...something.  Firing that weapon seemed to bring them to a complete stop so it must have had massive recoil.

The aircraft pull up alongside Kara and each dip their wings to her.  One of the pilots flips up her visor and gives Kara a thumbs up. Their wings run from the cockpit to the engine and swoop down before bending inwards at a sharp angle, meaning the whole aircraft has a triangular outline.

That looks a lot more like a space fighter than an atmospheric one.  Those are plasma thrusters and I’m pretty sure that was a railgun.  But they're Earthbuilt...the welding screams it.

“Unidentified aircraft, you are interfering with a JSOC operation,” Alex warns them.

“We got you, Blue Angel.  Someone told us you could use a hand.  Call me Hothead. This is Dagger squadron out of Miramar.  The slowpokes behind me are Hammer. Haven’t gotten a chance to fire these babies before.  That’s quite a kick.”

[It’s good, Alex.  They’re Navy. I asked for a favor from an aircraft carrier and I guess the captain told his friends.  These things are way more advanced than the Air Force jets...they went past me, spun in place and railgunned the last jet. You need to get in touch with these guys.  Compare notes.]

[Blue Beetle, transmit the coordinates of the incoming fighters to our new friends.]

“Nice ride!” Kara calls out.

“Got it used!  Can you believe these used to be drapes?”

“Those guys have friends.  I’m pushing their location and speed to you now.”

“Dagger three through eight, get those bastards out of my sky.  Hammer squadron, stay here with the big one. Slipknot, stay on me and Blue Angel.”

“Solid copy, Hothead,” a gravely male voice replies.

Six long flares of green flame light the darkened sky as the fighters move to intercept the crooked jets.  

“Alex, what do you need?”

“Paperclip?”

“I need lift.  I can keep her level and get her down as long as I can keep air over the wings.  How do you feel about a water landing?”

[Separate the outer layers of armor, reboot propulsion and put Scion under the tail.  I’ll take the midsection. Use a resonance scan to check structure before lifting.]

[Understood, Lady Kara.]

Kara feels the outer layers of armor transmat away and slides herself under the plane’s belly at the midpoint between the wings.  She puts her arms out wide and gets the plane on her back.

“Ready to provide lift.”

Alex long, hissing exhalation is clearly pained and that makes Kara’s heart skip.

“How bad, Alex?”

“Not bad.  Just hit the meat.  Why weren't you answering my calls?”

“Think I met the love of my life!”

Alex laughs.

“Who is she?”

“Her initials are LL.”

“Fuck!  You don’t do anything the easy way, do you?”

“If you two are done?" Paperclip demands.  "National City Harbor is twenty miles out.”

[Blue Beetle, launch a transmat beacon on a short range probe.  Prime it in flight and point it at the landing site. The instant the plane doors open I want these folks to have an escape route to Sanctuary.]

 


 BONUS SCENES



July 7, 2006  | Lillian Luthor

Northwest Iran

LuthorCorp Mineral Facility

 


(6:30pm Pacific Time)

 

Lillian’s phone rings.

The contact name is ‘moron’ so she grabs it without hesitation.

“Boss lady?”

“Fuck’s sake, Otis.  Use my name.”

“Mrs. Luthor.”

“Yes.  What?” she demands.

“Found that other freak.  The chick.”

“Where?”

“Kissing your daughter.”

“Otis…” Lillian breathes, her voice like the skin of a frozen corpse.  “Listen to me very, very carefully. Write this down.”

This is Lena’s last chance.  I’ll give her a second but not a third.

 


 

July 8, 2006  | Lena Luthor

National City, California

Watercliff Hotel, Room 201

 

Lena wakes slowly.  Everything hurts and everything is too bright even with the blackout curtains someone put up.

“Hello, sunshine.”

She cracks one eye and sees Mercy with her jacket open, hand on her pistol grip and an unusually emotional expression on her face.  Given that Lena only knows about Mercy having feelings in the abstract, she can’t read it.

“Hello, Mercy.  Ugh. I got drunk, didn’t I?”

“You did, especially after you fucked that Kara woman in public.  Lucky for you that you descend from a bunch alcohol-proof barbarians.”

“Anything else?  Did I black out?”

“Don’t think so.  Kara gave me her number and I manage to tag her profile before your phone locked.  The dating app has been going nuts. Your phone vibrated right off the table.”

Lena smiles.

“Kara was…”

Mercy’s dark eyes flick up to meet Lena’s.

“I’ve known you since you were a pup, mouse.  That was something I’ve never seen before. I can keep you breathing but that’s not living.  You looked normal when you were with Kara.  Like any other twenty four year old gay woman with blue balls.”

Lena tosses a pillow at Mercy who intercepts it with a combat knife.

“Time is it?” Lena croaks.

“Eleven.  And before you panic, you have nothing scheduled.  I asked that new assistant you hired...Jess?...to wait until Monday.”

Lena licks her damp, foul-tasting lips.

“Television, please.  CatCo or MSNBC and keep it muted.  I want to take it easy.”

Lena rubs her legs together, feeling the ghost of dampness that remains from one real-world  orgasm and a night of dreams that featured Kara and herself and not a stitch of clothing.

And let my sticky thighs dry before I move.

Mercy complies and even turns down the brightness.

“Guess he finally did it,” Mercy mutters.  “Too public for my tastes. No tactical purpose.”

Lena looks up and sees the headline.

 

 

 

 


BREAKING NEWS:  SUPERMAN DEAD? BOMBINGS AND MISSILES SHAKE METROPOLIS!

 

“Subtitles,” Lena rasps.  “And a glass of water.”

The silent television tells a story of a dozen well-timed bombings across Metropolis, mostly at LuthorCorp facilities and a barrage of Kryptonite-tipped missiles hidden at each site that fired at the Man of Steel as he swooped in to rescue the stranded and unbury the dead.  

Six times.  Six times Lex hit that man with the one thing he fears, the one thing that can kill him...and Superman persisted.  He kept going even as the footage makes clear how wounded he was: veins on his forehead bulging with green filth, eyes sunken and skin sallow and flaking.

It’s abundantly clear that without Superwoman’s arrival, he would have been dead.  Even without most of her armor--only a black bodysuit and face mask--she somehow strode through the toxic clouds and the blasts from dozens of warheads without injury.

Superwoman--no, Kara, the woman Lena loves--put her life at risk to save her family from Lena’s family.

She was on the scene for one hundred and thirty four seconds, the anchor says.  When she took to the air with her cousin’s limp body in her arms, every last missile launcher was slag and she had cut holes in the ruins for rescuers to enter.  Half the windows downtown were broken from her supersonic criss-crossing of the city.

Fires burned and toxic gas hung over offices and plants and a Luthor Foundation after school program that would have been packed with children and staff two hours later.  

Then she hears something that makes Lena’s stomach turn.

Thirty three dead.  So far.

“Why, Lex?  Why do that when you could have just let it be?” Lena whispers.

Lena flops her hand on the bedside table and grabs her phone.  She goes into Raya, opens messaging and scrolls down an ocean of emojis and links---probably to cute animal videos if the emojis are an indication--and sappy pick-up lines to the place where she can type.

I think I've gone full U-Haul for this girl.

 

 

 

 

Kara

I love you, Kara Zor-El. I am so sorry my brother hurt you.

I understand if you never want to see me again.

I deserve that. And more.

But I hope that I could treat you to a second date.

If you’ll have me?

 

The ellipsis of a pending text message has never hurt so much.  It feels like someone is peeling Lena’s heart with a knife to see if it's worth letting her live.

 

 

 

 

Kara

 OMG! BABE!  U BACK!

 

“Text talk?” Lena scoffs.  "Peasant." 

 

 

 

 

Kara

Need u so much, Lena.  Had a shit nite and shittier today.

I luv u + I need 2 be held.

Baby cuz is safe but I can’t watch this.

6:15 tmrw nite, CatCo Plaza. 

B ready 2 dance!

Fav ice cream!

Gimme da name!

 


 

July 8, 2006  | Maggie Sawyer

Austria

 

Maggie has a hot woman spread open before her, wet, tangy flesh in her mouth and on her tongue and the birds are chirping and life is good.  She is ready to shoot that fucking cell phone.  

“Alex,” Maggie mumbles, voice distorted by Alex’s clit pinched in her lips.  “Make that stop.”

Alex reaches up with a rubbery arm--still got it, Sawyer!--and tosses her phone into the cooler they brought.

Maggie told herself and her lady that Alex needed twenty four hours of continual training in eating pussy, four hours between switch-offs and she is damn close to making it reality.  Why Alex believed that crap is beside the point. She took her up on the offer.  Maggie's vision is blurry and her eyes ache from not sleeping and her legs might not work right now but she only has twenty eight minutes to go.  Alex offered an ‘encore' when time was up and Maggie expects to drop like a rock before the second orgasm.

When she’s passed out in Alex’ arms...then they can cuddle.

“Maggie,” Alex pants.  “Like that, just like that.  Please. I’m close.”

Maggie can’t do anything without breaking off and Alex’s desperate scrabbling in the sleeping bag is too fucking perfect to disrupt.  If only she could reach a nipple or something that would push Alex over the edge.

 

 

Alex’s tongue is doing something in her ear and Maggie cannot stay still.  She wriggles and writhes and tries to escape the tickling but Alex holds her tight with those damn long arms of hers and those hands...Maggie feels like a baby antelope pinned down by a lioness.

Lioness with the gayest fucking mane ever.

“Morning, baby.”

“Morning.”

“Time is it?”

“Late afternoon.”

“S’nice.  I pass out?”

Alex nods, smug grin on her face.

“Thought so.”

“Can I ask you for some advice on being gay?”

“Uh, you’re pretty goddamn gay, babe...ask my pleasantly bruised lady-bits.”

Alex snorts.

“I mean romantic advice.  For my sister. I’m shit at dates.”

“No you’re not.  Think you melted my vag.  Can’t walk. Don’t care.”

“Dates with clothes on, then.”

Maggie yawns.

“That’s something we can work on.  What’s Little Danvers need?”

“Speakerphone?”

“Fine.”

“Alex?”

“Yeah.  Her and me.”

“Hiya, Maggie!  You sound...out of it.  Did you smoke a ton of weed or somethin-”

Maggie rolls her eyes.

“Ohmygod!  Alex, I’m so happy for you!

“Back to the question, please Little Danvers.  You’re killing the snuggles.”

“Right.  So I met this amazing woman and we both had really shitty days.  Me saving Alex’s lif-”

“Thanks for that,” Maggie interrupts.

“Totally welcome.  So that and my cousin being attacke-”

“What?” Alex roars.

“Kal’s fine.  Once I realized that there was Kryptonite on the field, I bopped over to help him out.  He’s at the fortress for decon and treatment by the bots.”

“Kara…” Alex snarls.

“Alex, I’m somehow immune.  If I ingest Bad K...that's when it gets me.  As in I get bad food poisoning. But one of the Bats had a Kryptonite knife and I accidentally stabbed myself with it trying to write a note.  Didn’t break the skin.”

“How?” Maggie wonders.  “That stuff is supposed to be dangerous.  An ounce of that goes for more than a ton of cocaine on the black market...and how do you know the street name for it?” 

"Plead the fifth!" Kara whimpers.

“It is,  Alex.  But more to Kal.  It’s just contaminated fuel that stuck to the hull of starships involved in search and rescue post-explosion.  Me knowing that makes it easier for me to play it safe.  Doesn’t put out dangerous doses at distance. It has to touch us. Alex...whatever surgery my dad made my pod do to me?”

“Yeah, Kara?  You never really talked about it.”

“It was deep, Alex.  New organs.  Double layer skull, extra spine and arm and leg bones running parallel to my old ones.  Stripped my skin and put down dermal armor under the replacement skin.  Implanted three different parasites...that I know of.”

“Dad thought it would be funny to mix my body with the frozen remains of this kind of artificial soldier we used as brainwashed shock troopers during our evil domination phase.  Burned a shit-ton of training, wartime memories and probably some bonus PTSD in to my brain along with a new personality.”

“Bigger, stronger, faster, crazier, gayer?” Maggie asks.

“Yeah," Kara sighs.  "First four, at least.”

Alex is rubbing her temples and dropped her phone so Maggie places it on Alex’ sweaty, fragrant abs.

“That’s something we should talk about.  How long have you known?”

“Year-ish?”

“What the donkey-fucking hell do you mean...a year?” Alex hollers.  “You’re supposed to tell me these things.”

“You mean like ‘hi, sis...turns out I’m a weapon of mass destruction that is banned by galactic law and no big but I have a sociopathic second personality now’ sort of telling you things?  I didn’t know how. It was too scary.”

Maggie groans.

“Little Danvers, if you don’t get to the date question I am going to fuck your sister to embarrass you and make you get off the phone.”

Kara giggles.

“Sorry.  Got sidetracked.  So...there’s this girl.  Lena Luthor. Rich, gorgeous and I’m pretty sure abused by her family.  And with her brother in trouble, people are dumping that hate on her.  She thinks I hate her because of what her brother did but I don’t. I want...I want everything with her, Alex.  So much it hurts.”

“I need to get her a gift.  Ooh!  I have a couple of those one-seater starships left and I’m pretty sure I can get a star map cooked up of House of El’s holdings.  I could give her a star system! Do you think she’d like a binary red or a triple white dwarf? The red has an oceanic moon but no life.   Great views.  The whites have a small jungle planet and and lovely gas gia-.”

“Kara!” Alex shouts.  “She’s a human. She’s probably not expecting you to bequeath the literal heavens on the second date.”

“Doesn’t mean she doesn’t deserve it,” Kara sniffs.

“You’ve got it bad, Little Danvers,” Maggie teases.

“I know and I love it.”

“Just get her something that you think she will think is special,” Maggie suggests.  “Little help, babe? I don’t know anything about Little Luthor.”

“She’s adopted, right?” Alex asks.

“Yeah.  Doesn’t know her birth mothers name.  Wants to but she can’t dig it up.”

“I’ll send you that portion of her FBI file.  Help with that might be something she would think is really sweet.”

“Great!” Maggie hollers.

“Bye-bye, Little Danvers!”

Maggie slides down the sleeping bag and into a cocoon of fleece and Alex’s skin and scent and wet heat.  She hooks her hands around Alex’ hip bones, takes in a lungful of musk and plunges her tongue inside.

“Fuuuuuck!  Maggie! My sister is still on the damn phone!”

“Fuck ‘er,” Maggie grumbles.  “I’m doing this.”

Alex’s cell phone bonks the top of Maggie’s head through the sleeping bag.

“Ow.”

 

Chapter Text

 


  

 

 

"Know what the New York Time called this picture?  'The Broken Family.'    Superwoman carrying the body of a man she has known since infancy.  Her last living relative.  The last remaining member of her species.  A man is dead, JacobKilled by a one-percenter on an ego trip!"

"My clien-"

"Come on, fu-"

The television bleeps.

 

 

"-ing give it up.  You're a public relations hack, not a defense lawyer.   So spin this.  Tell me why should Superwoman have to bury her cousin while Lex Luthor what?  Drinks in Monaco with supermodels?"

"It's a free country.  Lex has not been charged, let alone convicted of a crime.  Just because some foreign bureaucrat in the Hague wants him doesn't mean he has to appear."

"It's also a country without kings, Jacob.  Your client seems to think he is one."

Kara lifts off and flies over to the television mounted on the Fortress' wall.  How exactly satellite TV got installed here is a story she wants to hear.

Alura sniffles in her arms.  This being in her arms--her cousin's firstborn and carrying her mother's name--is more than Kara can process.  How is Kara supposed to teach them their house's heritage when she can hardly think just from looking at that face? 

Because Lois asked me and Lois Lane is not a woman to disappoint.  

"Is my daddy dead?"

"No, sweetie.  He's just sick."

"How do you know?"

"Alura, honey?" 

"Yes, aunty?"

Sure, kid.  Just break my heart with one word.

"Close your eyes.  Open your ears."

Alura scrunches her little face up and Kara almost forgets how to float.

Creature, if I let you free...if you walk my mind...will you aid me in protecting her?   Speak now and promise me your strength to protect her or I will purge you, even at the cost of my own life.

Scion of El, we are not named Creature.  We are named Ferocity and we accept.

Another thousand battles of awful bloom in memory like ink sinking into water.  She chokes back vomit at the idea that something in her was once the body that did those things.

"At least I got what I needed," Kara sighs.

Replicating the wavelength, heat and ultraviolet characteristics of sunlight is a cinch now.  All I had to do is let a lunatic share my head forever.

Kara tucks curly black hair--almost like Clark's--behind one of Alura's ears.

"S'warm," Alura murmurs.  "Tickles."

"It's yellow sunlight, honey.  Just yellow-ier and sunlighti-ier."

"Those aren't words, aunty.  Mama would have taught me if they were."

No argument there.  Lois is a one woman battle of the sexes.

"Listen close."

"I hear..." Alura pauses. "I hear mama swearing at the man with the cigar voice."

Kara tries to keep her laughter quiet.

"She works for him."

C'mon kid, I just put ten years worth of sunlight exposure into my fingertip.  Girl up and use those supersenses.  Because aunty Kara needs a nap now.

"I hear...aunty Alex making macaroni and cheese."

Thousand yards away.  Solid start.

"What else?"

"I hear his heartbeat!" Alura squeals.  "And mama's and the baby's and Alex's and yours.  Yours is...really loud!"

Kara kisses her forehead.

"Because those are the most important people in your life.  So make sure you can always hear their heartbeats.  When you're scared, hearing that will make you brave."

Alura opens her eyes and stares right into Kara's.  Two little eyes bluer and deeper than the arctic ocean Kara carried them over.

Oh boy.  Those are Kal's baby blues but at Lois' power level.

"Aunty Alex said you have a date."

"I do.  Her name is Lena."

"The bad man's sister."

"She is."

"Is she bad?"

"Alura...are you as bad as your baby sister?"

"No."

"See?  Everyone's different."

"Does that mean the baby is bad enough that she has to go to the Hauge thingy?  Like the bad man does?"

Kara laughs.

"Good question.  Your mother's daughter indeed."

 


 

 

 

 

"This is Siobhan Smythe for CatCo Worldwide with breaking news.  I am standing on the steps of the US Capitol Building where I am told that the senate has nominated Barack Obama, a state senator who is running unopposed for US Senator for the state of Illinois, to serve as president pro tempore of the senate.  The governor of Illinois says his office is ready to appoint Mr. Obama should the criminal proceedings against Senator Ryan continue.  If that course continues, with the pro tempore slot filled and speaker Boehner planning to resign, Mr. Obama will become the 44th president of the united states.  This ends a succession battle that has lasted 117 days and put both parties under intense scrutiny."

"Many Democrats in the congress, particularly the House, are praising speaker Boehner for resigning when the chain of succession reached him.  Other in the political class claim this is merely a ploy to curry favor but the fact remains that the Republicans could have held the presidency if Boehner had ignored the calls for his resignation."

"Though virtually unheard of outside his home state Mr. Oba-"

 

A swarthy and long-fingered hand reaches out to the bedside table, seizes the remote and shuts the TV off.  The polished and engraved steel of a pair of armored bracers flickers in the moonlight.  A smaller and paler hand reaches out from under the blankets and peels the remote from her fingers.

"Get back under here."

"Yes, my love.  Did you hear?"

"Hmm.  It's a start.  He hasn't one any elections yet...but if he does, maybe."

"There is no maybe.  I know war.  I know strategy.  This is a crack in the walls.  So your time will come, mi amor."


 

 

"So this is Earth, huh?"

Lysene kicks off from the last step of the shuttles ramp and lets gravity carry her into the sand.  Her gig bag is slung over her shoulder.  Six hundred kilos of gear and seventy more of white sand.  Myne and Ki are already dirtside and checking their wrist computers for information.

"Pick you back up in six days, yeah?" the pilot calls.

"Give us two days and we'll confirm.  Play it by ear, stiff."

"Stiff?" the helgie laughs, mandibles clacking.

"Haven't heard that one in a while."

"We're classy like that!"

The shuttle warps out on an arc perpendicular to the surface.  The agent that hired them had the humans leave a cell phone on a rock right here.  Blinking green lights generally mean the same thing anywhere in the galaxy.

"Hello?"

"CatCo Events, this is Trish.  Are you calling to schedule or to ask about a show?"

Human women's voices are...delicious.  Lysene decides.

"We're the band.  Calling to confirm for the Seashell on July 9th."

Hopefully those words were all in the right language and calendar system.  Because that's all the card gave her.  

"I see...it looks like that is," the voice at the other end mixes with the clacking of...physical keys?

Black preserve me...this place is primitive.

"That is a group called 'Death and Fucking Love Poems'.  Listed as 'gravity punk / dance' on the ad.  Whatever that is.  Is that you?"

"That's us."

"Do you need any help with gear or lodging?"

Lysene looks at her bandmates.  

We need a couple bodies in bed.

"Depends.  Are you offering?" she purrs.

"Never know.  We'll have to see what some front row tickets get you."

Lysene makes a kissy sound after the line goes dead.  She turns over the card for the agency that hired her.

Long time since I've seen a Kryptonian sigil on a piece of actual paper.

 


 

 

 

A model zips a black mesh bodysuit up to her neck and puts on an oversized spherical helmet right out of Jules Verne.  The scene around her flashes and she's a robot with a shotgun and it flashes again and she's a samurai sharpening her blade.

"Explosions you can feel," the narrator purrs.

"Scenery you can touch."

"Characters you can fall in love with."

"Worlds you create with the power of your voice.  No limits, no scripts, no ratings.  Only your imagination."

"This isn't a game.  This isn't gear.  This isn't just the future of gaming.  This is the endgame."

"We are Galaxy Games and this is the Gestalt Series. The most immersive virtual reality environment ever created and unprecedented computing power..."

The woman takes off the helmet, unzips the suit and slides it under her couch next to a gleaming black rectangle.

"...all in your home.  No subscriptions, no internet needed.  Full control.  Gestalt.  In stores now."

 

Winn's finger hovers over the 'post' button.

"Kolex, you sure she's OK with this?"

"Lady Kara has authorized it and I am working on a dedicated production facility."

"Right.  Breaking the internet...now."

He hits post, sits back and spends all night watching the counter on the online store soar.

Video games from a culture a quarter million years more advanced.  Ought to be enough to zap my student loans.

 


  

Alex picks up her cell phone.  The contact listed is 'homewrecker'.  She breathes deep, swallows a bunch of questions she has no business asking and accepts the call.

"Go for Danvers."

"It's Lena."

"Lena, hi!"

Alex sputters, trying to think about how happy Kara sounded and not about how every second of military training she has is telling her Lena might be a threat.  Because if Lena is a threat then a few million pages of FBI file on her family didn't do anybody any good.

"It's all right." Lena chortles.

"I'm dating your baby sister.  We can...grow into each other."

"Right," Alex sighs.  "Thanks for that."

'I wonder if I could give a report on my brother?"

"Were you not truthful with the FBI?"

Lena scoffs.

"I prefer Kara to prison.  I told them everything.  This is information I want to give to a soldier not a lawyer.  The sort of information a soldier could use."

"I can be free in an hour."

 


 

Father Shelley reaches for his collar, tugging it loose.  The window is open and a cold rainy wind blows in.  He reaches out to close it.

Kara grabs his hand and kicks in his left knee.

"Father...you have sinned."

She lifts him up and slams him into his desk, shattering his glasses.

"This the right one, Sister?"

The nun in the shadows by the bookcase nods.

"Yes.  That's the one the boys complain about."

Kara puts her hand on the back of his head and pushes harder.  He can't even turn his eyes right now without further pain.

"Happy to help.  Can you have the information when I leave?"

"For someone who cares for our children, anything."

"Who would I be if I didn't?  Thank you.  I know that file is confidential.  I swear to you the only thing I want it for is the happiness of the girl in it.  She's an amazing woman."

[Blue Beetle?]

[Contacting the Ministry of Justice...]

"Hello?"

"Yes.  I need to report someone abusing a child."

 

 

Chapter Text

SciFi Sapphic Jam  (Requires Spotify)

 

Maggie gunfight scene --

"Mystery" by Indigo Girls:    https://open.spotify.com/track/3yiWZkEYp6tiq2iQseb6LA?si=HTHTyCljQtGNn-eFVCz9jQ

"She's a Bad Mama Jama" by Carl Carlton:     https://open.spotify.com/track/7KEguG3CDoestm50v6XET5?si=zWXKO2A9RiKEd3hsnkWlCQ

 

Kara and Lena stand up to Lillian --

"Power of Two" by Indigo Girls:     https://open.spotify.com/track/4peEqwtnP8CoTZRFkDUqnC?si=MBkuOmmoQ5aCsFqfLtNEKA

 

Lena's ancestors and their comrades --

1916 Commemorative Concert by the Wolfe Tones

 

 

Sam recalls the one that got away -

“I Still Love You” by Jennifer Hudson    https://open.spotify.com/track/01NOf0kshWKd3SCm1nTuGb?si=GAx739s7RKWto1Zfnb7gWQ

 

Kara explodes when exposed to  ice cream -

“Cherry Bomb” by The Runaways:   https://open.spotify.com/track/7cdnq45E9aP2XDStHg5vd7?si=zDE4XKdrQ62aZrpLmOgfrA

 

Kara goes after despots -

“Don’t Give a Damn About My Reputation”  by Joan Jett & The Blackhearts    https://open.spotify.com/track/0hdqh5GuLFdfmbUhpgwGQj?si=hCTBASTVShOluZAzhB8t9Q

 


 

July 10, 2006 | Maggie Sawyer

National City, California

National City Police Department, Central Station (Precinct 18)

Floor Six, Serious Crimes / Vice / Homicide

 

The bullpen is in fine form today: loud, unpleasant and smells of men from thirty feet.

Maggie stiffens her arm and tightens her grip on the perp--human for a change of pace--a bit of pain for him to hide how motherfucking exhausted she is after the double shift.

It can’t be good that an armed robbery with no alien guns in it is like comfort food now, Maggie realizes.

“Geez!” he whines. “I’m coming with, already.”

“Hitchcock,” Maggie shouts, grinning big. “You’re back. Process this wise-ass for me? Old times sake?”

Officer Hitchcock finishes whatever note she was busy writing with a swish of the pen and stands up, another beat cop sliding into place behind her. Elaine Hitchcock is a mountain of a woman, freckles and pale skin jacketing a six-foot steel core made of workouts, clean eating, drinking Maggie under the table and more than a splash of ‘fuck off’. Her ancestors must be the reason for all the jokes about Scotsmen being giant axe-swinging barbarians and the reason for all the jokes about redheaded women being crazed sex weasels.

Sadly--or maybe luckily--for the gay girls of the city, she’s seems to be straight. Maggie likes herself some hard cheesecake much as the next girl but...Elaine is more than she's willing to bite off.

Elaine just got back from an extended vacation visiting her mother’s family on an honest-to-God sheep farm outside Glasgow. Maggie was promised a tour of accents and description of the horrifying foodstuffs she barraged Instagram with.

Elaine rolls her eyes at Maggie. “Sure thing, princess.”

She clamps a big hand on the man’s shoulder and squeezes--hard--before he can make a wisecrack about Maggie.

“Not a cocksucking word, you scrawny little cunt.”

Guess she really made the most of that trip back home...I practically needed subtitles.

Jack Green is leaning against the coffee machine, he’s wearing artistically damaged jeans, a black button down and that ridiculous gelled up-do of gray hair. He’s shooting her his trademark grin...one so slippery could peel paint on a used car. A grin that’s probably put dozens of women on their back in the last thirty years. A grin that his wife should consider cheating even though she knows Jack ends up with her each night.

He makes a line for Maggie and thumps her on the back. She starts up to rabbit punch him but smacks him on the shoulder with it instead. It’s their little game.

“Maggie! You’re still not dead,” he laughs.

“You’re still old. I’m still not straight.”

She hisses in pain when his hug brushes against one of her not-yet-finished bruises from the takedown.

“Oh, sorry.”

“S’fine, Jack. Had it checked already. Just need to wait for the aspirin.”

Jack clucks his tongue at her.

“You’re a detective now, kid. Let the pups do the biting, huh? They need the practice.”

He nods towards Hitchcock.

“If I let Hitchcock do my takedowns, none of the perps would live long enough to learn anything, let alone go to jail.”

Jack slides a hot cup of coffee into her hand, snags the spraycan of whipped cream and dolls it up. He hands her a cinnamon packet and she dumps it in.

“Just like at Starbucks,” he jokes. “As for Hitchcock, you’re not wrong. We’ll save her for Judgement Day. Got some goodies for you in the fish tank.”

Human perps go in the tank, weird perps go in fish tanks. At least they had a lingo when I got here.

“What you got?” Maggie asks.

He leads her towards the far corner of the building where four large interrogation rooms were built way the hell away from anything but the bathrooms. It was a contracting error but it turned out to be fate because it only took one hushed-up call to the city engineer to re-fit the emergency exit and National City Police Department had a space they could use for non-human perps with access to the station for backup but no passersby.

Can’t believe they hadn’t thought of setting this up the moment they got an alien or metahuman perp. Of course, if they give me any more men, we’re going to have to get bunk-bed desks.

“Pufferfish, couple guppies, tuna, angelfish. XY, XX plus XY, XX and XY, going down the line. Drunk and disorderly, aggravated assault, reporting a flasher and fuck knows with the last guy.”

“Turn on the vent and let bug-boy dry out. Ask the fight club twins...wait...are they related?” Maggie asks.

Helgie, two raxxies, blue thessie...what's an angelfish? Maggie wonders. 

“Brother and sister, yeah. How’d you know?”

“Tight-knit bunch. Ask them if they hit people with four arms or if they actually bit or clawed anybody. If there was no biting, get me in and I’ll work the DA. Ask the lady if she wants a lady cop to take her statement about the man in the trenchcoat.”

“And the angelfish?”

Angelfish is a new one. Kryptonian? Did we decide on one for that?

“What’s his deal?” Maggie asks.

“Silk shirt. Accent. Claims he’s an angel. Has a business card from LAPD but the voicemail didn’t have a name on the box.”

“Angel like praise Jesus and pass the Bible?”

Jack nods.

“Crazy?”

“Not chewing on the walls but...never know. See for yourself. He’s in three, behind the fancy glass your fairy godmother installed.”

“The adjustable stuff? Please tell me you don’t fuck your wife in there,” Maggie groans.

“What wife? Oh. Sharon!” Jack laughs.

“No. I may not know better than to show my lady around the office…”

Maggie shudders.

“...but I do know better than to do anything involving dicks in any space that Maggie Sawyer willed into being.”

Maggie slurps the foam off her coffee with a curl of the tongue she usually reserves for doing other things. For doing things with red hair, hazel eyes and tits hard as apples.

“Good man. I’ll see what he is up to.”

“10-4, shortcake.”

Maggie snorts as Jack ducks into their cubby-hole office they carved into the largest interrogation room. She pulls her personal phone out and sees a text from ‘unknown’ that Alex uses to mask her phone calls from the Bible-jizzers who set Pentagon policy.

 

 

[AD changed to ADS]

ADS: Having a good day? Thinking of you!

You had to do that, Danvers? Maggie wonders, squeezing out a tear. Alex Danvers-Sawyer?

Attached is selfie of Alex framed by a shadow--the bottom curve of her breasts--down to the thigh holster, shirt lifted to show off a flash of sweaty abs. Smoke is rising from the arc-pistols’ emitters and a scorecard from the firing range is held at the edge of the frame .

 

 

ADS: See what you make me do?

Real sorry, yeah. Ninety-four of a hundred with thirty two of fifty shots dead-on. On an off day...six hours of sleep after we fucked each other stupid. Four of which she was freaking out about her sister.

Maggie goes into her phone and fixes her handle to match.

 

 

[MS changed to MSD]

MSD: Not so great. Them abs...them boobs...dangerous woman. You’re killing me here, Danvers. There’s always a line for the ladies!

ADS: See ya round, Sawyer. Tonight. By the docks. Upstairs apartment with light on.

MSD: I’ve seen this movie. Bathtub plus ice equals one half the kidneys?

ADS: Bathtub plus bubbles plus home cooked dinner equals I love you.

That. That is why I date grownups now. I tell her I had a bad morning and she’s going to make me dinner…it’s sweet. Almost explains why some people think kids are a good idea.

She shoulders the door open and finds herself looking at a thirty-something man with a stubbled chin, honey blonde hair scarcely paler than the whiskers and a jawline so hard it’s almost good enough to belong to a gay woman. He’s wearing designer slacks and a crimson silk shirt, three buttons loosened and has his feet up on the not-exactly-spotless table.

He’s treating the legs of thousand dollar pants as casually as I treat the sweats I wear when I’m painting or cleaning.

“Detective!” he gushes, holding his hand out. "Lucifer Morningstar."

“She’s gay, you moron,” calls a female voice from the corner nearest the door on their side.

There’s a dark space. Must have busted a light fixture.

“Gay and..." The woman sniffs. "Seasoned. Smoked and rubbed with secret herbs and spices.”

That, Maggie thinks, is one voice in a million.

She feels like a strip of oiled leather was just dragged between her legs.

“Who’s there?” Maggie demands, flexing her fingers in case she has to reach.

“I like her, Lucy. Doesn’t fuck around, goes right for her weapon. Gets to the point. So, cop lady...when we’re done here, mind if I do a line off your nipples?”

Maggie blinks stupidly at the darkened corner.

“I...what?”

“Maze, I think she’s a believer. In the rules.”

“Yes,” Maggie sputters. “Well, that and I will never betray my girlfriend.”

The man at the table claps his hands together, his smile somehow even more blinding. He holds his hands out as if to say ‘See how good I did?’ and show Maggie off to the studio audience.

“Ruth 1-16. Ruth was one of the good ones. Took her prophecy in stride, acted like a damned adult. Naomi…” he sighs. “Naomi could barely get off her knees when Ruth was around.”

“So you’re an angel, huh? Act like you were there when the Bible was written? That’s your whole bit? The whole routine? Nothing left?” Maggie demands.

“Her,” Maggie points at the shadow. “Her act I believed.”

“I do want to fuck you,” the woman in shadow growls. “Continually. Eternally.”

“That’s the difference. Believable motivation!”

Maggie’s entire eighth-grade drama class seems to have come back in one breath, probably as a coping mechanism.

This is scary as hell.

“I was there,” the man mutters, his eyes dropping from Maggie’s face. “I wouldn’t recommend it. Every miracle has a curse. The version you read in church just depended on who won.”

The door behind her swings open, smacking the edge into Maggie.

A blonde woman with a ponytail pokes her head in. She’s wearing a green turtleneck sweater and has a badge and a semiautomatic on her belt.

“Sorry. Uh...”

“Detective Maggie Sawyer, NCPD.”

Maggie offers her hand without looking, without taking her eyes of the weirdos.

“Detective Rebekah Grimson, LAPD. Call me Grimson.”

Grimson shakes Maggies hand.

“These your lunatics? They had a civilian informant card.”

Rebekah puffs out a breath, jiggling a lock of hair.

“Yeah. They’re my lunatics. What’d they do? Lucifer...I swear to God.”

“Please don’t,” he shivers.

Maggie looks at her notepad.

“Apparently they stuffed every cucumber in a movie executive’s pantry with artificial estrogen...which...why? Gagged him, set up a camera, let’s see, says there was a stripper a riding crop and something about three rabbits and…”

Maggie flips some more pages.

“Jesus! Fuck! What is the matter with you people?” Maggie hollers.

“Did he press charges?” Grimson asks.

“If you were a hotshot producer who--allegedly--got chemically castrated by way of a parade of ruptured cucumber dildos, on camera, while bunnies hopped all over you...would you want to talk about it?”

Grimson snorts.

“Suppose not. So why are they here?”

“What’s so weird about here?”

“I’ve been a cop since I was nineteen. I know what a hushed up task force looks like.”

“This is where we lock up aliens. You don’t have those in LA?”

“With my luck we do...but it’s someone else’s problem.”

“I specialize in alien crime, caped weirdos, people in bat-shaped hats. If you don’t have it yet, you will. Aliens are everywhere. They just don’t usually cause trouble.”

Maggie whips a card out and offers it.

“Your higher-ups need any tips if little green men end up in cuffs, I’m your woman. Ask my bosses here or in Gotham.”

“Thanks. All right, you handsome devils. Let the nice lady go back to work.”

The woman in shadow strolls out.

Maze, Maggie realizes. Whoever that is.

Her skin is paper white and her hair the most elaborate set of dyed braids Maggie has ever seen. Black, red, black, not one strand crossed over. The braid is laid down across her right side. She’s wearing tight leather pants, a bustier with polished chains running around each band and a motorcycle jacket. A pair of Chinese style dragons are embroidered in the leather with some metallic layer on top. Green and Blue. They wind from the calves of her pants up to the bustier and their clashing jaws draw attention to the valley of her cleavage. Flames emblazon the entirety of her jacket, orange and yellow and shot through with wisps of smoke where the leather was not altered. The half-unzipped jacket hints at hard shapes on her hips--weapons the arresting officer missed?--and her motions are those of someone who practiced for years.

Right now the vibe those move give off is fifty-fifty between pole dancing and kung-fu.

“Lady’s feelings were hurt so she asked me for a favor,” Maze shrugs. “I do great favors.”

She pauses beside Maggie, her breath hot on the cheek. Unusually hot. Fireplace and bearskin rug hot, not steamy home-cooked meal.

“Bolivian. Quality shit. Little spiral around the nipple. Put some on my tongue and slide it into your mouth. Let that soak in first, ping pong around your brain. Breathe you in, fill my lungs with you and finish the last grains with my tongue. Pop you like a cork,” she breathes.

“You have not lived…”

Maggie waves her hands to keep Maze, that hot breath, and the surprisingly tactile fantasy back.

“No thanks.”

“Thanks for the assist, Grimson.”

“Thanks for housing the peanut gallery, Sawyer.”

As she leads them off, Grimson playfully smacks Lucifer and then Maze on the back of the head with her notepad. Maze’s tongue zips out like a striking snake and slowly rims the back of Grimson's ear.

Maggie reaches for her radio.

“You good Jack?”

“Peachy.”

“I need to take five. Angelfish was...look, I need five minutes. Intense. Especially the woman he had with him.”

“What woman? It was just him.”

I'm losing my mind! Guess I need ten.

 

 

A brain flattening quiet has set in over the bullpen by noon. With twenty cops in the room, a suspicious lack of fresh crimes and a dwindling supply of actionable leads, nerves are running high and superstitious talk abounds.

Please not my radio, please not my radio, please not my radio…

“This is dispatch. We have shots fired at National City Savings and Loan. Hostages taken. Units are on site and SWAT units are twenty out. Reports of heavy weapons. Code 07-08-1947.”

Date of the Roswell Crash.

“Fuck!” Maggie hollers into a quiet room.

She toggles her radio.

“Go for Zorro.”

“Zorro, we need you and Slick on site ASAP.”

“10-4, Dispatch. Sawyer, B-934112. Show me going.”

She lets go of the button.

“Green! Get your ass out here!”

Maggie reaches under her bulletproof vest to scratch a pesky itch back there that she won’t get to scratch for hours -- if she’s lucky -- but if she’s dead it won’t really matter. She’s had it ever since Alex touched up the back tattoo that she got while she was engaged to Kate. The sensation of Alex licking the blood off like some kind of Lesbian Vampire Elvis was worth all the pain and the embarrassment that she let an amateur tattoo her while she was smashed.

[Greetings, Maggie!]

“What the fucking hell?” Maggie whispers, whipping her head around like a grade-A lunatic.

[I am your artificial intelligence implant. Please cease sudden head movement and speaking without an audience. Humans read it as ‘crazy’.]

“This has to do with Alex’s offer to ‘touch up my ink’ when I was smashed last Thursday, right?” she whispers.

[Yes. You agreed. Playing recording.]

“Hells ya, babe! Whoo! Gimme that metal shit! Make me a robolezzie!”

[Shall I continue playback?]

“No. I was drunk.”

[Very well. I am initiating medical monitoring and streaming all my sensor data in real time to Alex’s implant.]

“Echo?”

[Yes. Hers is named Echo. Kara’s is named Kolex. The intelligence is shared with the robot.]

“Why are you activated?”

[A situation threatening to your physical safety arose. I was programmed by Kara Zor-El to prevent any lethal harm coming to the humans in her family. It is in my code as the “Cute but Fragile” protocol.]

She thinks I’m family?

Maggie feels a tap on the shoulder and narrowly avoids slugging Jack. Because he ducked.

“Whoa! Ready to roll?” he asks.

“Sorry. Twitchy. I fucking hate ray gun fights.”

“You and me both, woman.”

As they zip jackets marked ‘police’ over their bulletproof vests, applause rings throughout the bullpen. Most of those people have no fucking clue what this is other than the precinct captain doesn’t like these calls and these two go out when they come in.

No reason to tell the other guys that these vests might as well be tissue paper to some of the weapons I’m seeing.

[Kara offers assistance but she will wait for your signal.]

“You drive, Jack.”

He opens the door on his side and Maggie just slings herself in the open window. Jack peels out, sirens blaring and speeds down the Crane Expressway towards the banking district.

[I am advised to inform you that four transmat beacons were placed in your jacket when Kara washed it for you. These can provide you with four sidearms, sent two at a time and keyed to your biometrics. The jacket itself was configured with an expandable internal lining of mil-spec infantry armor from Krypton. I can deploy it if desired but it weighs approximately fifty pounds.]

Take some serious workouts to be able to move in that.

“Why would I want that?”

[Because criminals have rocket launchers and alien criminals have ray guns and rocket launchers. This stops both.]

“Do it as soon as I get out.”

“Who you talking to?” Jack demands.

“Fairy godmother’s little helper.”

“I’ve been a good boy,” Jack reminds her.

“Bullshit. But you’ve been good enough.”

[Reconfiguring one sidearm to either your or Jack’s biometrics. Agreed? Displaying weapon use summary and basic information.]

“Yes. Can you send that stuff now?”

[Thirty seconds.]

“Jack, put your sunglasses on and do not fucking crash this car.”

“Why? What’s the bi-holyfuckingshit!”

Maggie tugs her jacket open and looks at the navy blue bodysuit under it.

“Tell fairy godmother I like it. Police blue, markings, detective bars, badge number. Nice touch.”

“Your wearing a catsuit, Sawyer. Not your style.”

“Fuck you, Green. Be nice or fairy godmother won’t make you one.”

She checks the holsters sewn inside the leather and finds three identical pistols that weren’t there a moment ago. One has a larger grip.

Must be Jack’s.

The fourth weapon is in her lap. It is a strange, a triangular-barreled gizmo with a series of hydraulic pistons at the back and spinning dynamos with blue LEDs running the length of the barrel. The stock and grip are hot to the touch but the barrel feels cold. Three different openings on the outside suggest that it actually chambers three rounds at once.

[What’s that?]

[Railgun based on a design stolen from a Lockheed Martin / LuthorCorp Dynamics project. Three chambers charged at any time, reload time one point one seconds. Be advised: it is not legal for non-DEO staff to possess and carry openly. Yours has been equipped with a cloaking system activated by the domino mask button on the top barrel.]

“So reload is longer than an old service revolver.”

[Correct. Vastly more powerful however. Mode 1 - Spread of flathead micro-rounds at variable velocity for semi-lethal knockdown up to breaching and demolition. Mode 2 - solid metallic for armor piercing and anti-vehicle. Mode 3 - Concussive shells filled with a medparticle anesthetic gas for crowd control. Select with the lever by the trigger. Additional ammo can be machined from scrap metal and kitchen chemicals with the kit Kara had delivered to your apartment.]

“Sexy!” Maggie purrs, turning her new toy over to get a better look at it.

“We’re here,” Jack tells her.

“For you, buddy.”

Maggie puts the larger pistol in his hand.

“I love it! It is a…” he prompts.

“Mother of all tasers, friend in the Seattle borrowed us half dozen from a truck headed to the test range. Long range, shoots straight, calculates voltage on the fly, no wires. Computerized as fuck. It won’t fire a lethal shot unless it detects someone sighting you with a firearm and can't stun them, so don’t bother trying any Rambo shit. Copy?”

“10-4, Shortcake.”

“And that?” he demands, pointing at the rifle.

“I’m allowed to do Rambo shit.”

Maggie kicks the door open and sprints to the nearest cover. A white-faced young man is hunkered behind his shot-up patrol car. His shot-up and partially melted patrol car.

“You in charge?” she asks.

“Sarge is but he’s hit. Paramedics are seeing to him.”

“Detective Sawyer.”

“Guess you’re in charge, ma’am.”

[Facemask clipped to inside of jacket.]

Maggie reaches back, removes it and closes the two piece bubble of glass around her head. Something inside it projects her heartbeat and breathing along with the ammo remaining, names and ranks in blue for the nearest cops and red and green triangles for perps and hostages.

“Whoa! Amazing. Tiny little thing: fucks with my hair.”

[Verified. Design revision requested. Notifying fairy godmother...]

She turns back to the young patrolman.

“Kid, what’s your name?”

“Michaels.”

“Michaels, this is Jack Green. My partner. Stick to him like glue and you’re going home tonight. Promise.”

“Y-y-yes, ma’am.”

Maggie pats his shoulder.

“Everyone gets scared kid. Hold it in, do your job and lose your shit after is my advice.”

Michaels nods.

“Here goes fucking nothing. Alex, baby, I love you.”

[Relaying to Alex.]

So the computer implant I didn’t agree to while sober isn’t that bad.

Maggie circles around to the other side of the car and slides across the hot metal of the hood. The instant she does, three blasts of puke-green something hit her, throwing her back. She takes a moment to get her bearings and sees herself sunk six inches into the concrete.

“Didn’t feel a goddamned thing. Tossed like a pinball but I didn’t get hurt.”

[Kinetic compensation is not possible at this scale. Suit is inert armor with no power source so it was formulated to solidify into a hard shell when struck with outside energy.]

[Targets at ten, one and four o’clock.]

Maggie hops back onto her feet.

“This is the National City Police Department. Drop your weapons and come out with your hands up. Do not, I repeat, do not attempt to escape.”

A hairless guy the size of three bodybuilders with a pig-like face and one red eye and one cyborg eye burst out the front of the bank, taking both doors of the hinges.

K’Hund. I need to thank Kara for that Alien-opeida thing.

“I did warn you,” Maggie chuckles.

The arc-pistol jumps in her hand and lets out a long blue line of energy. Seven hundred and eighty pounds of alien thug crash to the pavement, cracking the decorative tiles as his inertia carries him forward. He skids to a stop right in front of her. Maggie steps onto the creature’s massive back and proceeds forwards, keeping to a low crouch.

“Throw down your weapons!” she bellows.

One by one, weird-as-shit alien rifles are tossed through windows and thrown over upturned vehicles or out from behind potted plants.

[Recommend use of three concussive rounds. Here, here, and here. I can load them with sedatives optimized for K’Hund biology. Human blood binds more strongly to oxygen, K’Hund blood more strongly carbon dioxide. So effects on humans will be minor.]

“It’s a plan…” Maggie stops. “Can I call you flannel?”

[I think Lady Kara would be surprised if you didn’t.]

“Do it, Flannel.”

Maggie holsters the pistol--feels badass slinging it around!--and draws the rifle. She toggles it to the right setting and two of the chambers kick out their shells. She reaches to the clips on the sides of the stock and grabs fresh ones with the right configuration. Some magnetic mumbo-jumbo grabs them from her hand and they float into position.

She turns her eyes to look a blinking target inside her visor that reads ‘radio’.

“Go for dispatch.”

“This is Zorro. Suspects disarmed. We need three wagons--the big ones--and a full team from Science Division on site.”

“10-4, Zorro.”

The first shot kicks back hard and Maggie realizes she’s trusting Kara’s wizardry and those shock absorbers not to let the gun go right through and out the back of her ribcage. She lines up the second, fixes her footwork and tries again.

Better.

The third shot is easy. Gas wafts through the buildings and the thumps of K'Hund passing out can be heard.

“Hey!” she realizes. “I did get Alex something for our date.”

She nudges the lead thug with her boot.

“Ugly fucker though.”

 


July 10, 2006  | Kara Danvers

National City, California

LuthorCorp West Offices  / L-Tech Solutions construction site

101st Floor, CEO, CFO and CTO offices

 

A small and sharp eyed Asian woman looks up the instant Kara steps off the elevator.  The stare follows the whole way to the waiting area chairs. Kara wonders for a moment if this lady has supersenses because she feels very judged right now.

Never has a person wearing a speckled gray skirt, librarian sweater and horn rimmed glasses been so intimidating.  

Finally she looks back to her screen but her eyes go back to Kara every few seconds.

“Jessica?”

“Yes,” the assistant replies.  “You?”

“Kara Danvers.”

The assistant flinches.

“I’m sorry, ma’am.  One of my duties is encouraging people to leave if they do not have appointments and those miss Luthor does not want to see.”

“Ah.  Hence the librarian eyes of doom?”

Jess’s lips twitch.

“Yes.”

“So...should I go?” Kara jokes.

“No.  She had me clear the schedule for you, which...for a moment I thought she was an impostor!  You should get in there the moment that door opens, comfort and support her. Oh, and take her lunch in with you.”

Kara looks at the Big Belly Burger bag on the table.

“Should I reheat it?”

“If you would be so kind, yes.”

“Consider it done.”

“You always feed your boss?  Miss Grant tends to remember to eat.”

Jess sighs.

“This must be strictly confidential, Ms. Zor-El.”

“Of course.”

“Miss Luthor is many things; brilliant, insightful, driven, moral, deeply ashamed of her family's actions.  She is not,” Jess sighs.

“Good at taking care of herself?” Kara suggests.

“Yes.”

Kara sighs, slouching in the chair and throwing her legs out halfway across the walkway.

“I noticed.  I’ll train her yet.”

Jess’ smile becomes positively wicked.

“Is that the only thing you’ll be training her on?  Because I have a list. Lena,” Jess pauses. “I’m oldest of six, two boys, four girls.  All three of sisters are doctors, lawyers, professors.  Crazy smart but genius and madness, you know? Keeping Lena from losing her mind feels...natural.”

“You’re a very good person, Jessica Haung.”

“Lena.  She…” Kara pauses.  “She’s amazing and gorgeous but most important I see someone in her that can understand someone in me.  And those someones both need someone to understand them or they’ll go bonkers and take her and me with them.”

Jess’ fingers lift from the keys and she sips from her water bottle.

“That was somehow the most vague and most accurate sentence I’ve heard all day.”

“Well, I can’t be pretty, wise and clear.  Pobody’s nerfect.”

“Too true.”

A sound catches Kara’s ears.  Lena’s voice but it’s an enraged, pained snarl.  The sound an injured cat makes when cornered by a sadistic child.

“I said no.  Get out, mother.”

“This is my company, foster daughter.”

Ouch.  Foster has never sounded so awful.

“Lex signed it over to me.  Every last patent. Every last brick.  Call it a parting gift to the only person he loved about who loved him back.”

“We’ll see.”

“Will we?  What crime has Lex committed to make a signed, notarized and witnessed filing in the State of California invalid?  You do hire such clever attorneys for him, after all.”

Lillian makes some quiet, frustrated sounds while trying and failing to cook up a comeback.

“Is Lillian someone Lena wanted to see?” Kara asks.

Jess shakes her head.

“All I needed.  Hang on to the burgers.  I don’t want to get them mashed.”

Kara hops up, rolls up her sleeves and puts her hands on the office doors.

“What are yo-”

She throws them open.

“Oh my god,” Jess chortles behind Kara.

Lena is staring down a middle aged woman with mostly grayed blonde hair and a face full of tiny, well hidden lines.  The look in Lena’s eyes proves that some awful mistreatment of her daughter exists for each laugh line and crow’s foot.

“She bothering you?” Kara asks.

Lena nods quickly, shaking two tears loose.

“We are doing business.  Business which is none of your concern, filth.”

“It is my duty to expel you from her house if you are here uninvited and causing my shak’utan such anguish.”

< "Soul’s light" | Ajatkar | ancient language common in the Juru Valley since tribal era of "War Queens" and among traditionalist members of House Ina-Zenn.>

“Lovely language, Kara,” Lena chortles.  “Hard. Assertive. A bit of an Arabic feel.  What is it?”

Kara shrugs. “It’s...Kryptonian.”  Kara watches Lillian’s face go still and her eyes twitch up a tiny fraction of a degree.

Good fucking luck translating that.  You and your wonderboy may have learned enough to embarrass yourself giving a villain's monologue in Kryptohavli but the old colony probes only contained message discs in standard.  I got five more local flavors where that came from.

“Ready for our date, gra mo chroi ?” < "Love of my heart" | Galiege | Ireland>

“As soon as security gets here.”

“No need,” Kara grins.

“Get your hands off me!”  Lillian shrieks.

“My hands aren’t on you yet, you twisted, child beating bitch.  But when they are, you’ll know it.”

Lillian flinches when she realizes she panicked before Kara moved.  She reaches for something in her pocket and Kara levels her white-hot index finger at Lillian’s shoulder joint.  

“Put it down or I burn off whichever arm you used to beat Lena with.”

“Both,” Lena whispers.  At some point she stepped behind Kara and hid her face in the back of Kara’s shirt.  

“She liked to keep things symmetrical.”

“Both arms it is.”

Lillian’s fingers stop moving in her suit jacket but her mask remains.  She’s not afraid or not any more afraid than she was before.

“People who beat children violate the laws of nature,” Kara snarls.  

“Evolution is the universal constant of living things! Parent nurtures child, over and over into eternity. Lena is your child!” she bellows.

Kara puts her face close enough that Lillian can feel the spittle from her rant.

“There are planets where you would be hung up five rotations on a shock cord for striking your children’s skin.  Either you pass out from the voltage and wake up in jail or you make it five days and they cut you down and hose your own filth off you.  I would happily sit there with a jumbo popcorn, Lillian. Just to watch you writhe.”

“Those planets have very few childhood trauma counselors,” Kara swoons.  “And the kids get good grades. Smart kids are precious to them. You have smart kids!  You’d love it! I could drop you on one of them before sundown.”

“Sixty two light years to Jylani VI.  Religious commune. Lena’s word and a single scar would be enough,” Kara glances at her watch. “Have you there by four thirty.  Just hold your breath.”

“You’re bluffing.  Not even Kal could do that.  When’s the funeral, by the way?”

Kara’s breathing is reduced to a growl.

“He can’t but I can.  My father was my planet’s answer to Lex Luthor--except he had some ethical discipline--and he wanted to make certain his baby girl could handle herself.”

“Torturing those convicted of no crimes?” Lillian tsk-tsks.  “You’re a monster and you just admitted it to the world.”

The upper-right part of her glasses is covered in some reflective material.  

“Camera lens, huh?”

Ferocity’s rage is simmering in her mind, bringing her closer and closer to not caring about greasing that lens with Lillian’s guts.

“I’m not a monster, Lillian.  I am many things. The last of my mother’s line.  I am my cousin’s only blood kin. I am a sister, daughter, aunt...and I am a cousin.  Even now. He may be miffed at you when he wakes up…”

“And since I’ve been caring for my nieces--gorgeous, kind, smart little girls--while their father fights for his life.  So I will not give a flying fuck about stopping him if he goes after you.”

Kara leans in close to the camera.

“Retire from evil in the next few years, Lillian...before those girl’s powers finish developing. If you don’t, I will hunt you down.  Fight you standing shoulder to shoulder with them and Kal...four on one.  Make stopping you a family affair.” Kara breathes.

Lillian’s whispered ‘fuck’ would be inaudible to most but her camera must have caught it.

“The reason I don’t like you is that I am the sole survivor of a city, a people, a planet who were destroyed by short-sighted egotists like yourself who only cared about profit and their pride.  A few hundred people like you killed thirty billion despite repeated warnings.”

“You have no idea the enemy you made when you hurt her!” Kara shouts, pointing at Lena.

“Kal’s muscles may be bigger but if you think I’m weaker, you’re wrong. I have training he does not.  I am less gentle with criminals than he is. I learned our sacred texts and our first principles while at the breast of the greatest legal mind of her generation.  I am the beloved niece of the most decorated combat commander Krypton had seen in eleven thousand years and she taught me to fight.  I was trained as a scientist by a team of the best minds in Argo City, the capital of the Kryptonian Republic.”

“And…”

Kara spins around, pulling Lena’s lips to hers and burying Lena in her arms.  Lena whimpers and whines and puts her fluttering fingers around Kara’s biceps.  Kara turns her head to speak over her shoulder at Lillian, leaving a wide-eyed and bruise-lipped Lena gasping for breath.

“...and I love that woman so much I will make her whole and undo the awful things you did to her.  Which means peace with, here and now. It means spilling no blood in her house. I will gladly slit your throat anon.”

[Kolex, can you fudge the nastiest bits?]

[Death threats now...unclear.]

Lillian’s outline starts to glow, brighter and brighter.  Kara lunges and then thinks better of it. The grafts can probably save her from getting her bits and Lillian’s mixed -- she’s far denser -- but she’d prefer not to get splinched.

Fuck.  How did she get transmat?

[Kolex?  Conjecture.]

[The scout ship discovered in Antarctica six years ago.  All transmat beacons in the inventory were present at last check.  But one could have been lifted before the Army took inventory. Transit speed was slow.  The system is low on power and most likely lacks a hub.]

“She got everything she wanted, like always.” Lena sighs.

“She got bits and pieces.  She didn’t deny beating you, which won’t help her image.”

“You threatened her, Kara.  If you don’t think she can have that all over the internet by the end of the day, you’re naive.  Beautiful, but naive.”

“Kolex, replay the footage.”

Lena watches intently.  Kara’s wisecrack about the popcorn is noise, as is her threat to slit Lillian’s throat.  A layer of static permeates to make the futzes believable.

“You...hacked her camera?”

“Miniaturized devices tend to have weaker security.  She could get in front of the cameras and say otherwise but my street cred is higher.”

“Slit her throat anon?  Was that a Shakespeare in Love reference?” Lena snickers.

“Hey!  It had crossdressing Gwyneth Paltrow.  Super gay. Wait here, babe.”

“Was pretty gay,” Lena reminds herself as Kara goes back to Jess.

Kara returns with the Big Belly Burger, unwraps one and offers it in her cupped hands.  It slowly heats up until it is steaming and the meat is pleasantly sizzling.

“Someone missed her lunch.”

“Someone,” Lena scoffed.  “Was rudely interrupted by her personal Satan.”

“Go on.”

“What...just out of your hand?”

“Why wouldn’t I want you eating out of the palm of my hand?”

Lena eats the burger with only her mouth, slowly and agonizingly, and then plucks the french fries out of Kara’s hands one by one before licking the salt off.

“Should we christen your couch?” Kara asks.  “Or would you prefer the desk?”

“Trying to be a respectable businesswoman here,” Lena complains.  “Shower at my place.”


They flopped down onto this couch hours ago and they haven’t said five words since.  Kara cannot believe how wonderful it is just holding Lena.

“I’m sorry I ruined our date, Kara.”

“No such thing.  You’re here.”

“Weren’t those tickets expensive?  And how do you have so much money on a intern’s salary?”

“I own a powerful computer and there’s cryptocurrency markets.”

Lena snorts.

“Cheater.”

“Oh?  Being born into a hundred twenty billion wasn’t?”

“Point,” Lena admits.

“Do you have that change of clothes on you?” Kara asks.

“Office closet.  Why?”

“I had tickets for each show.  Today, tomorrow, the whole run.  I had Alex take ours.”

“How?”

“I hired the band.  Rather, I tipped off the band that Earth had gone through first contact.  Thessalian punk group. Imagine Joan Jett as backup singer. Bonnie Tyler on drums and a lesbian alien version of Tom Jones doing lead vocals.  Black holes for snare drums and twelve hundred years of trashed hotel rooms and passed-out groupies.”

“Wow.  How many member changes?”

“One.  Settled down with a couple of her groupies.  A small harem. Desert moon, underground mansion.  No one wears pants. Nice place.”

Lena hoists herself off the couch...on the third try.

“Looked difficult.”

“I’m tired, Kara. It happens to us flawed beings. To us sweaty, ugly, imperfect mortals. If you want something el-”

“Get back here,” Kara sighs, speeding forward and pulling Lena into her lap.

“I will never mock you. I want you to try and understand that. If I criticize you--ever--it will be from love and hope we can both improve and you’ll know it. I was joking because I hoped you might laugh. I won't tease you until I’ve loved you enough and gotten you enough help for you to enjoy it.”

“Hair smells amazing,” Kara adds.

“Peppermint oil.”

“Mmm.”

Kara slides her hand under Lena’s skirt at the waist. Lena tilts her head back and latches her teeth on a pulse point.

“The other night, did my skin detect...mayhaps...a woman just as the universe made her?”

Sure enough, Kara’s fingers are sliding through a field of wet velvet right now. Finding Lena’s warm cleft, Kara hooks her fingertip back and keeps her palm down. Faint pressure against Lena’s mound as her finger traces lazy curlicues against her lover’s inner walls. Pressing the hidden treasure of the clit from both sides...

“Cinnamon oil for that,” Lena chokes. “And entirely too much time.”

“Presentation is an important part of fine dining,” Kara muses.

“And these?

Kara’s free hand slides up the sleeve of Lena’s ribcage.

“Marvelous. Fluffy as the rest of it. Makes tickling all the more fun.”

“Why do you think I never have been seen in a s-sl-sle-sleeveless dress?” Lena gasps.  She is having real trouble not laughing. ”Shaving my legs is en-enough,” she stutters.

She’s short of breath, better take it easy and let her recover.

“Being a hairy lesbian was a rebellion I could have and Lillian would never know.  Is it okay if I don’t shave them?”

Kara laughs.

“I’m pretty sure there is recent--current, in fact--evidence that I find you sexy.”

Kara curls her fingers inside Lena--finding some new marvel of slickness and heat and woman--and Lena’s heels stab a the floor and both her hands clench on Kara’s free hand.

“And here I thought only those of us who need a plasma torch for a trim were that bold.”

“Kara!” Lena hisses, arching her back up towards the ceiling.

“Did…” Kara marvels.  “Did you just come from talking about toolchain engineering ?”

“Your finger helped,” Lena gulps.  “And I like smart women.”

“Would you rather stay in?” Kara offers.

“Yes.  Sorry I’m not more fu-”

“No sorrying.  I offered. Boop.”  

She taps Lena’s nose just to make those enchanted eyes narrow in irritation.

“So we can sit here and rest.  If you like, we can do the ice cream part.  It’s an all night place.”

“Which one?”

“Elysian Creamery.  I got hooked as a kid.”

“Vegan?” Lena asks.

“Two thirds of the menu can be.  Didn’t you just...”

“Yes.  From a cow a service selected from a fair-trade, free range ranch and provided by a service that makes sure only that meat is in any order I place.  I drive electric to counter the carbon.”

“Some supervillian you are.”

Lena laughs.

“Always was a disappointment.”

“You were close to Lex, weren’t you?”

“Still am, I guess.  Or would like to be. I know how that must sound.”

“He’s part of you, Lena.  Just like my dad is part of me.  When I was bragging to Lillian, I was giving my dad too much credit.  Repeated ethical censures. He almost got his license yanked twice. It’s why the university was putting so much into my training, getting ready to take me as a tenured fellow at fifteen.  To get him off the stationary but keep our name. By the end it was all black projects for the military...some pretty nasty. Like the surgery he put me through.”

“Which is why you can do things Kal-El can’t?”

“Exactly.  So smart! Boop.”  Kara taps the tip of that milky nose one more time.

“Stop that.”

“I will not!  You’re too cute.  It makes you smile in a way you can’t stop.  You don’t have to smile Lena. But if you feel like it, make sure to smile.”

“Give me some time to detox from the stress and we can go out.  What time is it?”

“Late.  Somewhere in the fuck-it-I’m-cuddling-Lena part of the night.  When you’re ready, I have something for you.”

“Oh?”

“A gift.  Emotional gift.  My sister talked me out of giving either Virago or Sappho’s Jewels.  On the second date.”

“I’m sorry,” Lena laughs.  “What?”

“The two nearest star systems I own.  I prefer Sappho’s Jewels. Triple white dwarf system.  One planet has a jungle moon with no intelligent life, a rainy climate and dawn so bright that it lights up the leaves like an angel in a painting.  I had the astronomy union reserve those names when the telescopes find them. They now have the telescopes to do it so I expect obedience.”

“You were going to give me star systems?”

“And transportation, supplies and seed crops and building materials...”

“What if I do go supervillian?

Kara shrugs.

“Easy.  Then I give that trophy wife slash sub thing a try.”

“You’re terrible,” Lena complains.

Kara has freed one hand far enough to reach the file folder.

“But I know you won’t.  Which ruins all my potential leashed-to-your desk kinks.”

“How do you know?  I may not be her daughter but I am Lionel’s son.”

“My darling, you are so much more,” Kara purrs.

She pulls the files out and cracks the airmail wax on the envelope.

“Ashford, Ireland?” Lena wonders.  “Are these?”

“Adoption papers, mothers last address, the photos that neighbors could find in a hurry.”

“I love you,” Lena sniffles.  “No one does things like this for me.  They never have.”

“I found out why you were so hell-bent on doing the right thing and informing on your mother.  It’s in your blood, Lena.”

“Lena Margaret Luthor...meet Lena Ciara Connelly, your name at birth.  The real you. this is your great-great-grandmother’s gravestone.”

Lena all but leaps off Kara’s lap.  

“This is…” Lena gasps.  “Glasnevin Cemetery.”

“Yes.  Resting place of patriots, holy men, malcontents and soiled doves from the laundries.  That’s me laying a wreath at the grave of Constance Markievicz, suffragette, revolutionary, noblewoman, politician...your ancestor.”

“That’s impossible,” Lena sniffles.  “I would have found that.”

“Constance’s daughter Maeve,” Kara explains, changing to some newspaper clippings.  

“Maeve....was a bit of a cougar.  Had a roll with a some young dandy in Dublin in 1940.  Twins, boy and girl. The Fitzgraces after Maeve's sister's family.  Turns out the female twin was a player like her mom. She had a kid in 1961.  Helen. The result of Helen was…you.”

Kara slides the last picture out: Polaroid of a woman in a simple gray dress with a curtain of black ringlets pulled up, cradling an infant girl.  Helen's green eyes blaze across decades, oceans and fading of old ink. They’re standing in front of a simple cottage with robin’s egg blue window shutters and a shabby garden wall that ends at the banks of a small river.

"When she was nineteen, she was a temp working for Dublin Clerical Services which did business wit-”

“LuthorCorp Europe in Dublin,” Lena whispers.  “This is her. Kara, this is her. How?”

Kara blushes.  “Spent every moment I could on it since the morning after we met. I...begged some nuns and, well, maybe I helped them clean out some abusive priests.”

“You beat up a priest to get this?”

Kara holds up four fingers.

“Oh my god,” Lena snickers.  “Four? So you’re the evil one!”

“Lena.  If you ever, for any reason doubt that you’re good...if you ever wonder why every cell in your body screams to do the right thing...it’s because you were born to a chain of headstrong women.  Women who did just that.”

“Freedom fighters, love children, bastards, activists, troublemakers.  Mother to daughter to daughter, to daughter...to you. Constance was like you, Lena.  Just less stylish. A rich woman who could have had it easy but she believed in things.  So she put her life on the line. Put on men’s clothing, took a rifle to a city park and held it for six days against the British army.”

“That’s why you do what’s right even when it’s scary.  Because it is in your blood. You were born to people who risked everything for what was right.”

“The cottage, Lena?”

“Yes?”

“It’s still there.  I visited it. Someday I want to hold your children on those front steps.  Have it simple. Wife, kids...maybe a pet.”

Lena turns over to straddle Kara and just look into her eyes. Neither Kara nor Lena find more words until after dawn. Only kisses and fingertips on faces pass between them.



July 10, 2006  | Alex Danvers

DEO Forward Operating Base, West Coast, Site Three (Codenamed “Gold Nugget 3”)

Firing Range

 

The stock of the SCAR nestles comfortably into Alex’s shoulder.  Holographic targets pop up.

Human mercs.  She flicks it back to semi automatic.  Six rounds, four center mass hits and one headshot.  The holographs vanish.

K’Hund.   Her right hand aches for the arc pistol but this exercise is doing it old school.  

She lines up on the cybernetic eye and fires four times, forcing the sights down against the recoil.  The computer agrees that the last two rounds went out the back of the implant into the brain. She leaps to the side before the hologram can ‘hit her’ with its remaining forward motion.

Something comes at her out of nowhere with a blizzard of dripping stingers and spiny jaws spread wide.  Alex rolls sideways and swings the rifle like it’s a baseball bat. She wedges the body of the gun between the jaws, draws her knife and slashes out the nearest two eyes.  The beast bellows in pain and rounds on her, swinging with four arms and eight stingers. She slides under it--a stinger snagging her shoulder--and puts the knife in a weak joint in the carapace, hooking it in and yanking back hard.

Fatty brown sludge sprays from the wound and the surprise attack is over.

“Danvers!” Vasquez bellows.

“You good?”

“Of cour-” Alex begins.

She looks over to the body beside her and shakes real, reeking, steaming Helgrammite ichor off her hands.

“Fuck!  That one was real?”

Vasquez approaches the still twitching Helgrammite, levels her railgun at the wound and sets it to spread-fire.  She puts one blast into the torso, one into the head and one into the abdomen.

“Not my favorite thing,” Vasquez sighs.  “Having to kill them.”

“You didn’t notice the smell?” she asks.  “Ugh. They smell nice when they’re not bleeding.”

She rips open her medkit and offers Alex an antivenom hypo.

“Kind of in the zone,” Alex admits.

She shoves the hypo into the artery nearest the wound and shoots it all in.

“I’ll say.  Look on the bright side, Danvers.  Now we’ve both gotten a hand to hand kill on one of those,” Vasquez teases.

“What happened?”

“Prisoner broke out of the police van they were bringing him in.”

“Shit.  Were there any casualties?”

“Cops got some claw swipes...one of them was smart and took an arc pistol shot.  Kept their heads down. One of our guys got thrown into a girder. Doc wants you to check with Blue Angel before she operates.  His spine is cracked and he is fine now but…”

“But make sure we have all possible tools before cutting.  Will do.”

Vasquez holds out her hand.

“Get off your ass, Danvers.  Got some K’Hund gangbangers coming in.  You’ve had better luck appealing to ‘their sense of honor’.”  Vasquez puffs her chest out and looks down her nose when she says ‘honor’.

“Gang members?  That’s...not good.”

Vasquez nods.  “National City PD has been chasing a rumor that humans are providing alien weapons to alien and human criminals.”

“That’s got to be more CADMUS bullshit,” Alex sighs.  “Turn the public opinion.”

“That sounds like them.  Smoking hot little Latin number wants to do the handoff.”

The idea of seeing Maggie--even here, where the closet door must be closed tight--is exhilarating.  Alex brushes her bodysuit to get the clumps of dust off and follows Vasquez.

Maggie is leaning against an NCPD van while one of the DEO medics.  

Crystal, Alex thinks,  From Dallas.  Put her on medic duty until she stops creaming her panties when she looks at the guns.  If she fucks up that wound treatment, I’ll give her a year of sentry duty at the Alaska station.

A million years of human instinct scream at Alex.

Run to your mate!  She’s hurt! Be sure she’s safe!  Comfort her! Claim her as yours!

Training and regulation fight back and they’re not going to win. Not for long.

“‘Tis only a flesh wound,” Maggie cracks.

“Someone,” Maggie snarls, turning to face a group of Vegas PD guys in SWAT gear.  “Clearly didn’t read the guidelines on non-human restraints.”

Six guys in body armor with submachine guns wince and shuffle because Maggie is right and their stupidity could have killed everyone here.

“Whoa there, Sawyer.  Easy on the death eyes.  I think my dick just shriveled,” Alex jokes.  

“What happened to the prisoner?” Maggie asks.

Alex nods.  “Attacked me when I was unarmed.  I had to kill it.”

When she hears that and looks at Alex’s bandage, Maggie’s brown eyes change.  An murderous look that’s comforting and sexy as hell and much too gay for the situation.  Maggie is more than willing to claim her mate, it would seem.

“I’m fine, thanks for asking.” Alex jokes.

“You guys,” she tells the Vegas cops.  “Will need to get me in touch with your higher-ups.  We’re legit. So we do a deposition and an inquiry after a kill, same as any of you.”

“Who cares?” one whines.  “It’s dead.”

He is dead and it’s because he broke loose from your van while mentally unstable.  I’m the one that had to kill him and I’m the one who will have to explain that to his relatives after I’m the one stuck trying to find them.”

“Which is why I’m so pissed off!”

“I’m not signing anything until the proper steps are taken. So unless you help me, the story is that the perp disappeared from your van and ended up dead in a ditch outside Vegas with some nine-millimeter slugs consistent with your service weapon. I’m fine if the whole thing gets pinned on you. It was your fuck-up that got him killed.”

“Shut your mouth, Peretti.  Of course, ma’am. Will do,” one of the men assures Alex.

Took them long enough to figure out who was the man in charge.

“If I hadn’t had the new kit,” Maggie growls. “You idiots would all be dead.  Zinged it. Hope I slowed it--him, apparently--down for you?”

Alex shrugs.  “Wasn’t thinking straight, that’s for sure.”

Maggie fondly pats an arc pistol holstered on her thigh.  

No, Alex realizes.   Not an arc pistol.  Just looks like one.  

Looking closer, recognizes a Talaq’s Claw sidearm like the one Kara made for herself and Alex.  Kryptonian infantry pistol--hand cannon, more like--with a filter crystal slotted on the end of the barrel to make it behave like an arc.  Forged in navy blue alloy with the NCPD seal and Maggie’s badge number stenciled on the barrel.

Kara must really want to be a sister-in-law.

“All right, now that that dumbfuckery is handled...what do National City’s finest bring me?”

“K’Hund gangbangers.  Call themselves The Rhinos.  Packing these spiny-looking black rifles that shot green…” Maggie shrugs.  “Shot beams of green fuck only knows at us. Melted half a cruiser. Our science guys kept two for tear-down.  Rest are in a crate.

“Sucks to be them,” Maggie sirks.  “They brought ray guns to a me fight.  All alive and still nice and dopey with knockout gas.“

“Call it an early present for Yom Kippur,” Maggie jokes.  “That a thing?”

Maggies dimples say it’s a joke but her eye contact tells Alex she genuinely wants to know.

“No,” Alex chuckles.  “Wardrobe changes, unplugging, no sex.  Fasting. Then food the next day. Of course food...there’s always food.  Prayer, repentance and forgiving others. Temple.”

“Soooo…” Maggie muses.  “One day of Lent but with even frumpier clothes, even less sex and then mandatory church and confessional?”

Alex wobbles her hand back and forth.  “Eh. You’re not right and you’re not all wrong either...”

“Sounds like high-speed Catholicism,” she jokes.  

Come with, me, please.  Alex prays.  Let me show you Midvale.  Let me show you to Larry Engels and have him tut-tut and say I finally got my head out of my ass and found a good one.  Let aunt Sarah tell you to stand up straight and make a wisecrack about your hips. Let break the fast with you and have Kara distract Eliza so I can follow it up with soaking the sheets of my childhood bed.

“Huh.  I should probably learn more about it.  Maybe grab a brochure from Steinman.”

Damn, she’s good.  She just offered to come with me without even acting like she was talking to me.

Vasquez comes up behind Alex and hisses in her ear.

“Danvers, the instant she smiled at you, you pulled the pin.  If you do not toss that grenade and get to cover, you are going to go up in a blast of rainbows and pink triangles,” she warns.

Alex leans into her shoulder radio and flicks it on.

“Jailer, take them to interrogation four and get HQ to dispatch transport to Anvil.”

Maggie flashes one more blast of dimples, turns on her heel and climbs back into the NCPD prisoner van.

“Stay classy, Danvers!” she hollers.

“Don’t get dead, Sawyer!”

[We still on, baby?]

[Echo...is that?]

[Yes.  Maggie's implant has fired up.  It is referring to itself as Flannel.  That was a direct relay of Maggie’s message.]

[Flannel?  Sounds like they bonded quick...]

[Tell her that I wouldn’t miss it for anything.]

Alex is glad it’s not Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell, Don’t Grin Like a Crazy Person because she spends the rest of the day doing that last one.

 


 

July 11, 2006  | Kara Danvers

National City, California

LuthorCorp West Offices  / L-Tech Solutions construction site

101st Floor, CEO, CFO and CTO offices

 

“Hey,” someone Kara can’t see whispers.  “Wake up, new blood.”

Kara cracks one eye open.  It’s morning now, which is perfect.  Lena slept on Kara’s lap all night so she won’t be sore and Kara got Lena all night which is...amazing.  

Lena makes a whining noise and snuggles closer but doesn’t wake.

In front of Kara stands a tall woman with coppery-brown skin, midnight eyes and plump lips like chocolate dipped orange slices.  The silk blouse and charcoal pantsuit she wears must have been custom made because she clearly was. Everything about her is a display of power--lazy, confident, bored--from the slow motions of her slender limbs to the cocksure smirk of her lips to the tilt of her head.  Looks like a supermodel tied a tiger to the bed, fucked it to a paste and Sam is the resulting lovechild: lithe and languid and yet intense at the same time.  All the lazy posture and careless slouching is made up for by an intense gaze and the mind behind it.

She’s got at least two inches on Kara and those heels are modest, nothing like the stilts Lena was wearing.

“M’Kara.” she yawns.

“Sam Arias.”

“Sam, huh?”

“Problem with that?”

Kara laughs.

“No. Look where my hand is.”

Sam’s eyes follow Kara’s hand as far as they can -- to where it sinks below Lena’s skirt -- her cheeks darken and those dark lips curl upwards.

“A masculine nickname is no problem, Sam.”

Sam chews on her lips.  Kara is jealous of those incisors.

Why am I this thirsty?  I literally have a bird in hand right now.  Got the bird’s feathers in hand at any rate.

It’s Sam, Kara realizes.   Something unusual about her.

The floor is no longer flat; it slants towards Sam now and gravity seems messed up too.  Like Kara is having to fight to stay down. To not leave Lena and end up in Sam’s arms.

No.  I want to go to her and take Lena with me   Have to talk about this when Lena wakes up.

“You’re…” Kara yawns, probably sounding like a moron and a half.  “You’re Lena’s college buddy, right? The badass who worked her way through the Ivy League with a toddler?”

“Grad school buddy.  Ex, too. Her only ex.  Because I think she gave up.  We bonded over being adopted and having awful mothers...hers is present, mine is not.”

“After we ended it, she somehow thought she deserved nothing.  Wasn’t my view. Hell, I still wanted to be with her. Daydream about it.  Even now.”

“I think...” Sam sighs.  

“I think she is so afraid of herself and her family’s mental health history that she took all her dreams of family and put them into Ruby.  When we didn’t work out, Lena decided that all doors were closed and she was too hideous to be a mother.”

“Lillian,” Kara snarls.

“Lillian certainly is that bitch.  I saw your video takedown on my phones ‘recommended’ page.  Damn. You broke the ice-queen’s face! She was trying so hard not to look scared!  When you dipped Lee for that kiss...Lillians face! I spat coffee. Looked like she clenched so hard she made a diamond.”

“Back to good things,” Kara grumbles.  “Ruby?”

“My daughter.  She’s nine.”

“How?  I mean, besides the obvious.”

“Got knocked up at a mixer with Harvard folks in undergrad.  Took the boy and not the girl. Felt like a moron for about the first trimester,” Sam recalls.

“Now…” she sighs.  “Wouldn’t trade the little brat for anything.  At least it was a scholarship boy so Rubes got smart genes rather than rich asshat genes.”

Kara smiles.

"Your ovaries have good taste."

“They really do,” Sam agrees.  “Even if we’ve kind of got an love-hate thing going.  Abusive relationship. Dumb and Dumber down there can't seem to keep it in their pants.”

"Ovocytes," Kara corrects her. “Not pants.  That’s…” she yawns. “What eggs pop out of. Feel like I need a nap after all that sleep.”

"A hot scientist type, eh?  Is this casual?” Sam asks.

“Oh, no.  My people…” Kara sighs.  “There’s marriage or paring for life and there’s the Comfort Guild.  Unless there’s a red light, silk drapes and coins in the dish...it’s forever.”

“Your people?” Sam begins.  “Oh. My. God. You’re her!”

Sam proceeds to do a little happy dance around the office that would no doubt embarrass her daughter into a coma.

“Shh. Shush. Stop!” Kara demands.  “Sleeping beauty.”

“Fine.” Sam grumps.  

“Rubes is going to explode.  She’s a big fan. The only thing I spoiled her with when I got this job was Superwoman everything.”

“Fan?” Kara mumbles.  “I have fans?”

Sam looks at Kara, shakes her head and says nothing.

Lena shifts again, silken and untamed hair going everywhere including down the collar of Kara’s shirt which is almost enough to make Kara throw Sam out of the room.

“How is she?” Sam asks.

“Bad.  Lillian was cutting her open when I barged in.  I…” Kara sighs.

She nods at the table where the neatly-stacked research on Lena’s family is.

“I dig up some hints about what the real Lena is.  What’s under all that doubt Lillian burned in.”

Sam tiptoes through the pages.

“Wow.  I tried, when we were together.  But...guess it was a job for Superwoman.”

“I should probably get back to paying for all this,” Sam sighs.  “I’m the CFO.”

“The what now?”

“Chief Financial Officer.”

“Oh.  Sounds like an important job.”

“It’s funny.  I mean, back home, my family was rich.  Ridiculously so but...there was a bottom to the system and that bottom was still enough.  People got food, shelter, access to training. Universal basic income, I guess it’s called here.”

“So...this whole thing,” Kara motions at the spartan decor which no doubt cost four times more than Eliza’s whole house.  “Kind of freaks me out. I keep looking for a public information kiosk or transit pod or a meal delivery canister because my brain tells me that immense wealth means that somewhere nearby is public assistance.”

“Communist,” Sam scoffs.  “But...L-Corp is going to be better than most companies that way.  Anyway...I have a really good job. Yay favoritism!”

“Yay insanely qualified woman,” Lena corrects.  “Who would have been first in the pool even if I never met you.  There’s no one else I could trust to do this with me.”

“How long were you awake?”

Lena kisses Kara’s neck because she’d have to move to get her face.

“Most of it.  Hi, Sammy.”

“Hi, Lee.  Sleep well?  So all these years, the secret was not the weighted blankets or the security light--just call it a night light--it was security fisting?” she teases.

Lena’s cheeks go redder than her lipstick.

“Please move your hand, Kara.” she groans.

“Sam, Lena...I want it noted that I disagree vehemently with this plan.”

“Noted.”  “So do I.”  Sam and Lena reply so quickly that Kara’s not sure who said which.  Both of them are snickering--naturally--like old friends who laugh at each others joke when they so much as think them.  

So no clues there.

Kara complies, slower than she needs to.  Lena’s hips jerk and her eyes glaze over each time a knuckle slides out.  Kara’s sodden, well warmed hand shivers now that it’s back in open air.

“No sense wasting it,” Kara decides, sucking her fingers clean one by one.

“That does it!” Sam exclaims, throwing her hands up.  “Either I get a pity fuck or you two leave.”

“She is your best friend, Lena.”

“What happened to ‘pairing for life’?”

“We do!  Once we make a promise like that, we keep it.  We stay coupled. But if my summers in Kansas taught me anything, a ‘couple’ ranges from two to four.”

Sam is guffawing into her hand.

“You’re going to kill her, Kara.  Stop. She’s going to have like...a blood clot from blushing.”

“No pity fucks,” Lena insists.

“Date night, take two it is.”

“What?  Kara, no.  I have stuff to do.”

Sam slides her fingers into a pocket and gets her cell phone.  It seems small in her hands.

“Why doesn’t she use a big people phone?” Kara hisses.

“Look again,” Lena replies.

Oh, Kara thinks.   Sam just has hands long as she is.

“Whoa.”

“Exactly,” Lena jokes.  “Tall dark and handsome, every part of her.”

Sam makes a kissy face.

“Hi,” she tells the person on the other end.  “This is Sam Arias, L-Tech.”

“No, no, not LuthorCorp...yes, I’m sure.  Fix your files! We already fixed the side of the building.  Do you want this contract or not? CEO’s office. Today, tomorrow...let’s see.  Yours until Tuesday. All yours if you can get here in,” Sam turns her wrist to check her smartwatch.

“Two hours.  As long as we get the discount for filling your scheduling gap.  Total? Uh-huh. Sounds good. We’ll take it. Bye.”

She jabs her finger at Lena.

“You are not allowed in your office for the next five days.  If I can’t force you to take a vacation, I’ll have National City Department of Building and Safety do it.”

“And you,” Sam declares, pointing at Kara.  “Take care of her. Make her want to take vacations in the future so I don’t have to like...start a nuclear meltdown to get my best friend to go home.”

Sam stops on her way out, looking back at them.

“And Kara, thank you.  Thank you for making her feel things again.”

 

 

“These are everywhere,” Lena chuckles, looking down at her phone.  “Wait… 4,000 locations in ‘Man’s World’ alone? What kind of slogan is that?”

“Amazonian, obviously.”

“Right,” Lena scoffs.  “Wonder Woman is...womaning all four thousand shops?”

“Says right on the front page that she’s Chairwoman and it all goes to her charity.  The boss sets the tone.”

Kara pushes the door open and the bell dings merrily.

“After you, Otis.”

He lumbers in, managing to not push on the pull door.  Which is a start.

“A word, Mercy?” Kara asks.

Mercy looks at Lena and she nods.

“Otis seem less...loud and clanky than usual?”

Mercy gives Otis exactly the sort of look Kara had hoped for...focused, suspicious, cold.  Like a knife chipped out of obsidian.

“He is harder to notice, yeah.  Which is Otis not being Otis, for some reason  Thanks, Kara.”

“We all want her safe.”

Mercy follows Lena, rubbing her fingers curiously on the ‘safe place’ sticker.

“No such thing,” Mercy sighs.  “Not completely. Just varying degrees of danger.”

Kara tsk-tsks.

“One, you need a more positive outlook.  Two, that indicates a place that will take in abused kids and domestic violence victims.”

“Oh,” Mercy mutters.  “And that works? What stops the abuser?”

Kara shrugs.

“Ooh!  Fun fact:  not one dollar has ever been stolen from these shops.  Only retail place in America can claim that. So...they’re doing something right safety wise.”

Kara sidles up to the counter, eyes darting across 24 kinds of delicious, sugar-and-fat laced paradise.  Elysian Creamery has one flavor slot for every titan and god of Greek myth. Currently no fewer than three flavors are ‘Artemis’ something which is pretty chill.  Last month it was five.

The clerk is a short, broad-shouldered brick of a woman with a rosy, round face. She wears a logo-ed hoodie for the freezer in back.  Even with the hoodie, her outline shows both a generosity of curves and muscle. She looks like she eats here often and weight lifts out to compensate.

“What’s good for first timer?” Lena asks the clerk.

“What do you like? Fruity ones have the pink circles, sweeter or chocolaty ones are black circles, gold is for savory like peanut butter or coffee or cinnamon.”

“Thanks, I’ll need a minute.”

“Your usual, Ms. Zor-El?”

“What?” Lena hisses.

“Got it legally changed.  Well, fixed the false records and got a new ID. Keeps my family out of it.”

“Not that!  The fact that you have a usual at an ice cream store across the street from my office.  You stalking me?”

Kara wiggles a frequent customer card.

“She has a loyalty club profile on the web page,” the clerk explains.

“Huh,” Lena muses.  “That’s a neat trick.”

“You need to get out more,” Kara and Mercy say at the same instant.

“Pizza Hut has favorite orders…” They both add.

Mercy looks confused.  Kara looks like someone just handed her a balloon and cotton candy.

"Neat!" Kara squeals.  "Do it again. Say something and I'll try to say it at the exact same time."

"I will not," Mercy snaps.

“Yeah, but can you use the vegan ones?  Give me two extra scoops and two spoons, in a sharing bowl.  Please and thanks.”

“Sounds like a sweet first date,” the clerk chortles.

“You're punny.  Should try hang-up comedy."

Lena groans.  Mercy makes some sound that is not a normal laugh but also would not terrify her enemies.  Must be her laugh.

Mercy freaking Graves laughed at my joke.

"Oh and this one,” Kara indicates Lena.

“Is a...VIP so one of her security people needs to check the food.  Nothing personal. Mercy...if you’d be so kind?”

“I don’t meet many VIPs here,” the clerk muses.

She bows.

“Milady.”

Lena snorts.

“More a matter of having money and crazy people trying to kill me on the regular.”

“That’s sad.  I hope that changes for you.  I’ll go get started.”

Mercy follows after her...strangely tense for someone tailing an ice cream store employee.

“What the blazes was that,” Lena asks no one in particular.  “Why does she care?”

She sounds genuinely puzzled.

“Because people other than Lillian Luthor think death threats and emotional abuse are bad and they don’t want them happening, even to strangers.”

“Oh.”

Merciful Rao. I need to be careful with Lena. It’s like she’s from another planet...where meeting a normal, decent person feels strange.

“What’s your usual?”

“Strawberry, Peanut Butter, Honey Vanilla, chocolate drizzle.  Reminds me of a sandwich I made when I was a kid...plus chocolate,”  Kara licks her lips. “That all right?”

“Save me from deciding.  The anxiety was kicking in standing here holding up the line.  None of this is rabbit food and I usually eat rabbit food,” she whispers back.  "Yesterday was cheat day for July."

“Why, pray tell?”

“Uh, I’m fat,” Lena says, like it is the most obvious thing in the world.

“No.  You’re you.  Not many people can or should look like me.  As to whether your curves are cheesecake, frozen yogurt or whipped cream...my tongue will be the judge of that, Lena.”

Lena’s back wiggles nervously under Kara’s hand.

When the clerk returns with their dish--shaped like an old Greek warship--Lena’s eyebrow arches.

“That is a lot of ice cream.”

“It’s not that bad.  The vegan stuff is even lower in calories.  Whatever you don’t want, I’ll eat. Believe me.”  

She leans close.  “Never take a Kryptonian somewhere that’s all you can eat.”

“Why?”  

“Because I need ten to thirty thousand calories to keep this,” Kara gestures at her body  “Working. The cells that process sunlight and the ones that do the quantum entangling are especially lipid-hungry.”

“Wait!" Lena demands.  "Quantum entanglement...organically?  As a anatomical system like, say, my lymph nodes?”

Kara nods.

“It was a one in a million thing during our dark ages. Legends where some guy would get hit with boiling oil and shrug it off because some tree four feet away just caught fire. Later when we proved it was real, we started enhancing it with genetic engineering.  Under a yellow sun, our skin takes in way more energy to support the process. Works even better.”

Lena stare out the window at cars whizzing by.

“I always wondered how Superman could just stop in midair.  Zero motion after high speed with no counter-thrust. Or how he can walk through an apartment fire and pick up someone's lost checkbook without singing it seconds later.  The reason you seem to cheat basic physics is you expel your entropy and inertia? Dump it somewhere else?” Lena asks.

“Cha-ching. Exactly. Lots of little places, actually. Nearby pockets of unusually dense, hot or entropy rich space or matter. As cells die and are replaced, the old cell is consumed but the material never entangles exactly the same way again.”

“The new ones entangle elsewhere,” Lena realizes.  “Fresh entropy sinks.”

“If you weren’t so lovely you simply must be the Queen of the Winter Faeries, I’d swear you were a scientist.  C’mon. Ice cream’s getting soft.”

“Heaven forbid,” Lena teases, leaning over the ice cream so as not to spill any on her dress.

Her strapless dress in velvet red fabric with an amazing neckline that doesn’t show her breasts directly but makes it clear what the scoop of the neckline is defined by.  

Apparently she keeps clothes suitable for visiting a state dinner in her closet at work? That or they’re for time travel. Time-lesbianing. Maybe seducing Elizabeth the First?  Rao, that dress...

Kara lets her right hand--the one under the table--go white hot to prevent her from melting the ice cream, bowl and table.

Mercy stands casually by the bathrooms, pretending to talk on her cell phone.  Otis is somewhere.

Kara doubts anyone else hears it.

“Foolish boy… You have bared steel to an Amazon...sheath thy weapon and remove thy hand from me or I will take thy hand.”

Kara giggles.

No robberies of any stores makes a lot more sense.

The ringing sound of a steel blade being pulled from its scabbard catches Kara’s attention.

“Mercy,” Kara hisses.  “Might want to keep Otis from getting cut open.”

“It is lunchtime already?” she grumbles, hurrying to rescue her brother.

The table is groaning under Kara’s hands now, steel creaking and the glass top powdering under her fingers.

Vhoc’s rotting hole ,” she groans, clutching her head.  “Lena...something’s wrong. I think I’ve been poisoned.”

“What?”

Kara thinks back.

“Mercy checked the food but the server dropped the spoons.  Who handed us the new spoons?”

“Otis.”

“Lena, it had to be him.  This is definitely Kryptonite but not...normal," Kara hisses.

"Hurts. It’s been tampered with. Someone figured out that I can’t be stuck with a knife, so they put it in my food.”

Kara flips over her spoon and Lena’s.

“Red dust.  Glowing red dust,” Lena notices.  “Why is it on mine?”

“Because Otis is the dumbest traitor ever. I have to go, babe. This is...not good. Something’s messing with my self control and my temper.  I need to work this out away from people. Especially the most important person in the world.”

She thumbs some ice cream off the edge of Lena’s lip.

“I’ll update you in a couple hours.”

“Go,” Lena whispers.  “But come back. I need you in my life.”

“Each time I hear that, I like it more,” Kara sighs.

She tosses money on the table and sprints outside, taking to the air and breaking the sound barrier immediately.

This is going to hurt.




 

BONUS SCENE:


 

July 13, 2006 | Kara Danvers

North Korea

 

“Ow.”

Kara looks around. She is tied to a chair with what seems to be ship anchor chain. She could break it but with this ache in her back, arms and legs, she’d rather not. Three huge cylinders are in the room with her.

Cylinders with fins. She can feel the faint sizzle of radiation on her skin. Unlike normally, the radiation hurts.

Sloppy work. I should not be able to feel gamma if they do their jobs.

[Kolex, what did thet hit me with?]

[Ten-kiloton primer for a hydrogen bomb. Detonated on the surface as you approached. Due to your Worldkiller, excuse me...due to your Destroyer grafts, your inner layers of skin were not penetrated.]

[Why not?]

[Neutron matter and exotic matter weave. Six layers total. Each neutron layer is ten particles thick and each pair sandwiches a one-millimeter layer of exotic matter.  A crystalline layer of neg-energy and neg-mass...similar to warp drive excitation fluid.]

“Cool!”

[However your outer layers are fully enervated and feel pain.  Your eyes, mouth and mucous membranes are not nearly as hardened.  The damage was severe and healing it depleted you. You fainted.]

[Explains why it hurts. Prognosis?]

[You were imbalanced by the synthetic Kryptonite and your body’s defenses were overtaxed. Additionally you were already exhausted from the raids in Russia, Congo and the camps here. You will need to take in yellow sun radiation, in quantity, very soon or you will lose your powers. Given the tissue damage and metabolic strain, you could die of exhaustion as well.]

[That’s...bad.]

[Extremely.  I would miss you.]

[Temporarily lose my powers?]

[Unless they kill you, you would regain them. If you survive, the Earth does still have a yellow sun and even under rock…]

He doesn’t seem to want to share it.

[Kolex?]

[Rock erodes. You will not age, you do not need to breathe and if motionless, you consume almost no food...heat and background radiation would suffice.  Though you would go into coma. Eventually this mountain will blow to dust and uncover you, exposing your skin to sunlight. But your family, your human family...would all be dead.]

[Plan A can fuck right off.]

[It truly can.] Kolex replies.

[Where was I when I collapsed?]

[Clean room. Trying to gather up the remaining critical masses and unfinished bomb cores.  You were muttering about 'toddlers with grown up toys' while you did so.]

[Uh-huh. So this thing in my hands...that they seem to have tried to saw out?]

[Ten-kiloton trigger with the explosives removed. Hard burn from the plutonium is why your hands hurt. If you were to...smash...it would detonate.]

[Secondary hydrogen bomb explosions with the Larry, Moe and Curly here?]

[Correct. The mountain would be vaporized. If you are not destroyed, you will have access to sunlight.]

“Well,” Kara laughs. “That’s handy.”

 


 

July 13, 2006 | Lena Luthor

National City, California

LuthorCorp West / L-Tech Solutions construction site.

105th floor, Lena Luthor’s Apartment

 

Lena has been staring in disbelief at her bedroom television for eighteen hours. So much is happening that the station has yet to put the headlines on loop, so she took notes. Mercy has been here the whole time. Otis is tied to a chair in the basement while Metallica on headphones deprives him of sleep.  Mercy is sitting beside her on the bed as Lena reviews, looking over her shoulder.

Flotilla of refugee ships approaching Aphrodite's Veil in the Aegean Sea. Chechens and Congolese women and children. Seeking asylum on Themyscira? Can men even set foot there? Kara wouldn’t dump them there if it endangered them. Even as manic as she looked, she was gentle with them.

“Huh,” Lena mutters. A lower-class word Lillian would hit her for using. “Is that island part of an archipelago?”

The wall around Gaza built up four times as tall and ten times as thick with all the border points sealed.  Heavily armored boat-docks installed on the Palestinian side. She piled up raw sand and rock and glassed it. Israelis are going to have trouble making raids now and Palestinians have access to the world by sea.

“Well…it’s an idea,” Mercy admits. “I’m guessing the President will be pissed but both sides have a harder time killing each other now and food can get in.”

“True,” Lena sighs. “An experiment.”

The concentration camps for Chechen queers are empty. Burned to the ground. Have to give her a kiss for that when she gets back.

Mercy points at the TV.  “Something new”

 

 

“Shocking images from North Korea where the government claims to have captured Superwoman and is planning to execute her unless the US recognizes it as the sole nuclear power in the world and surrenders unconditionally. These...gruesome images were broadcast minutes ago although they may have been shot earlier.”

Kara is tied to a chair, skin of her hands sliced and peeled back in a dozen places.  No bone can be seen and she seems able to hold on to whatever that thing she's protecting is.  A buzz-saw with a blade worn to a nubbin can be seen in the background. Three massive bombs--nuclear bombs with hastily painted fallout symbols--surround her chair.

“American lackey! What is your name?”

“Welcome to Lackety Split, where you can get a sundae quick as you please.  May I take your order?”

 

“Oh dear,” Lena laughs. “Leave it to her to find that the right time for a dad joke.”

Please be alive, please be alive, please be alive.

Lena has been making full use of the Gaelic translation of the rosary she looked up.  Maybe her birth mother had the right idea...distract herself from things she cannot possibly control.

 

 

“You have violated the glorious borders of the People’s Republic. You have stolen our children and butchered and eaten their flesh.”

 

“Baby-eating feels like a stretch,” Mercy mutters. “She looked like she was going to apologize to the spider she moved out of your office.”

 

“You have indoctrinated our people away from Juche and turned them against the glorious leader.”

“Not sorry about breaking open your death camps,” Kara shrugs.

She has something basketball-sized in her hands.

“Wait! Glorious leader? Was he the little dude with the shitty haircut? Look...if he hadn’t been squirming so damned much, I wouldn’t have nicked him with the trimmers.”

“For crimes against our glorious nation, we sentence you to death. Our army is far beyond the falsely calibrated and rusted American imperial murder toys. They cannot kill you. Only the glorious nati-”

“Shut up already!” Kara groans.

“SUPERWOMAN MAD! SHE SMASH!”

She crushes whatever was between her hands and the signal goes dead.

 

The anchor comes back and the look of shock and fear seems genuine.

“Worrisome and puzzling images from North Korea, broadcast six minutes ago. Is Superwoman alive? Has she suffered a mental breakdown? What do we make of her sudden attempt to reshape regimes in four countries? Please stay on this channel for breaking news.”

 

Lena drops the rosary. Mercy drops the glass of water she had.

“Think she?” Lena asks, forcing each word past a throat full of knives.

“If she was doing a suicide run, the joke seem off brand for her,” Mercy decides, threading her fingers through her hair.

“I would hope she would be saying goodbye to me,” Lena sniffles. “Telling me she loved me.  If she knew it was the end.”

“She would," Mercy assures Lena.  

“Rule one of killing someone: if you don't see a body, maybe they’re not dead.  Rule two: if you don't see them coming towards you, maybe they’re not alive. Rule three: find out which it is.”

"I'll take it from someone with expertise," Lena teases.

Mercy hums and clicks her tongue and paces the room.  She pulls out her phone.

“Arias? Can you get me Vrox? I need someone on the science side.”

Sam says something on the other end.

“Yeah. I need her to speak to Mineral and Aerospace. Lena’s living room. Make sure they bring their laptops and sat-phones. Yeah. I’m scared for her too. Both of them.”

Tensor-Nine 'Tatiana' Vrox comes in with a ridiculous, LED-spangled gaming laptop, three binders and a cup of coffee.  Their first non-human hire, top R&D whiz and the hire Lena's proudest of. Usually a Lillian-grade ice queen...except not evil and with lime-green skin made of alloy and synthetic diamond.

Hard to read the cues on someone with no body fluids...  Lena supposes. But was she crying all night?

Lena knows that she adored Superwoman as did most of L-Tech's small but growing corp of off-the-books alien employees.  Their secret employee lounge has posters and fantasy Justice League betting pools which all ended up as 'Superwoman vs' and some amalgamation of other heroes.

Vrox crouches down beside Lena.

“How can I help, Lena?”

“Hop up," Lena offers, patting the bed.  "This is me asking as a friend."

Vrox kicks off her heels and lays on the ridiculously oversize bed, propped up on her elbows and looking over her laptop screen.

"What's the thought, boss lady?"

"If she survived that...I'm guessing she needed a change of scenery, sunlight and rest.  In that order. If she could still fly…”

Lena snaps her fingers.

“Is Lex’s old spy satellite still up?”

Vrox nods. “Air Force keeps offering to shoot it down. Think they want to test a new toy.”

“Point it at the place where the sun rises over the Earth. Track the daylight side of the planet.”

Vrox taps some keys.   “Re-positioned! Not much juice left in the thrusters.  This will be the last hurrah.”

Mercy puts her hand on Lena’s shoulder.

“Penny for your thoughts, mouse.”

“Best case," Lena rasps, forcing herself to breathe.

"She survived and escaped and was strong enough to do it flying. If she was telling me the truth in the ice cream place...sunlight supports all her other abilities. Brightest sunlight near Earth would be high orbit and no one could bother her there if she was weakened. The ISS sees “dawn” every ninety minutes. So if she made it there to recharge and we watch orbit where it's sunny, we limit our maximum wait time. Shortest wait and looking in the place where we would see the best possible news.”

See if my heart can even handle ten minutes.

“Kara was telling you the truth, mouse. Thirty seconds from smearing caramel sauce on your tits eating a scoop out of your cunt, but telling the truth.”

“That,” Vrox mutters, looking up from her laptop. “...is both the most pornographic thing and most Romeo and Juliet thing I can imagine. Humans seem to prefer difficult and conflicted sexual encounters over simpler and more enjoyable ones.  Why?”

"We're inefficient like that," Mercy sighs.

Yeah, let’s not do that. Romeo and Juliet die at the end.

Lena doesn't even realize she's touching her lips until she pulls back fingers covered in tear-diluted lipstick.

Vrox puts the image up on screen.

“What’s that?” Mercy asks, walking nose-to-nose with the TV. “There, just below the line of sunlight.”

Vrox taps some keys.

“Apparently, it is a cloud of space debris that got melted together by an explosion. Which is not what usually happens to space debris.”

Lena’s phone rings. Her heart leaps into her throat.

“H-h-hello?”

“Hi!”

“Hello,” Lena croaks.

“Lena, honey, I am so sorry I didn’t get back to you yet.  I need to let this wear off or I could hurt you...unintentionally.  I need to hug you so bad and I need to be tip-top on control for your ribs’ sake.”

“So, turns out space is really cold and after the bombs I’m naked.  Oh. I'm dizzy from all the heat and light...my friend calls it 'sundrunk'.  Makes it hard to hold on to the air bubble we're talking in. But to be fair I was basically a rage monster the last day and a half so I wasn’t planning.   I can’t just warp back to your bedroom..."

Usually she could?   Just pop in...hover over me in the moonlight and slither under the covers?    Never has one momentary thought in Lena's brain had such a lasting effect between her legs.  

"...because I’m above the Van Allen Belt and Star Trek did not cover the dangers of particle radiation bursts when you drop out near a life-bearing world.”

“Idea!  Is Lena Luthor there? She’s really smart. Maybe she can help figure out where to go without killing anybody or flying down slow, which would probably end up with my Superbits in the tabloids.”

“Ocean trench,” Vrox suggests. “Deep one. There’s one off South America. If you can target there you’ll cook a few fish but the wat-”

“The water will block the rest of it! Whoever you are, you just made my morning workout so much simpler!”

Vrox blinks at her laptop. Or rather, the colony of nanite-wrapped computer processors that is Vrox sort themselves in such a way as to mimic the act of blinking.

“Workout? That is significantly beyond healthy exertion for Kryptonians. Kara should find other hobbies.”

Lena laughs.

“I love you, Kara Zor-El.  I miss you. I’m mad as hell but I love you.”

“I love you, Lena Luthor. You have every right to be mad. I can explain when I get back...please know I would have stayed if I could be sure you were safe. Can you meet me on the beach? Maybe bring a towel or hit Winn up for my clothes? Say...west coast of Honduras?”

“Will you be naked?”

“Yes.”

“Will you be lethally radioactive?”

“No,” Kara replies immediately. “Might be lethally sexy...sunbaths are catnip for my skin.”

Lena laughs.

Moonlight.  Tropical Birds.  Kara rising out of the waves dripping wet.  Walking onto the beach like...

“I will come alone!" Lena blurts out.

"Need at least ten hours by chopper.  Probably fourteen.”

"Sounds great, Lena.  Do you own a swimsuit?  It's lovely down there."

"No," Lena admits.  "Would not dare be seen in it."

"Perfect," Kara whispers.  "Even better."

And now we're all the way to foreplay by telephone, Lena worries.   Mercy would run to a toy store, I'm sure but wonder how much of a raise I will need to get that helicopter pilot?

A huge all-black robot materializes behind Mercy who--to her great credit--puts three rounds into the thing before it does anything. It was clearly meant to look and act human because it actually rubs its eyes to clear the flattened slugs out.

"Whatthefuckisthat?" Mercy demands.

"Infiltration and combat android," Kara confesses, in one of her rising inflected statements that sounds like a question.  Lena can imagine her rubbing her neck nervously. "I put six of them on guard duty. They were to stay cloaked until it was important."

"Owie," the robot intones.  "That one is mean."

Kara programmed that thing, all right.

"Kara..." Mercy pants.  "Clue me in. I can't work with tools, or soldiers, robots, or robot soldiers...that I can't see.  When a team is not in sync on body-watch, it is is bad fucking news. Ask Otis..."

"Right. I should get us all on the same page with my first-day-anniversary presents.  For those guys I have to look at what the protocols allow. I may have to pull and rebuild the circuits. Right now they're wired as fanatics...only Lena matters to them.  For now, Mercy, just assume that they will get in your face if you act in ways that might look threatening on say, security cameras. Play it safe."

Anniversary of first day?  That's sweet! I guess Kara did offer to spend her life with me after thirty minutes.  Guess she wasn't lying about the for-life culture she's from...must have been a romantic place.

"Fifi, give Lena her present. Play nicely with Mercy!"

Fifi?  Dare I wonder what the others are named?

"Yes, Lady Kara."

The robot reaches into its--uniform? jumpsuit?--and retrieves something which it offers in its hand.  Then another. Then another. Finally it has laid half a dozen gizmos in Lena's lap. Three metal rods the size of Lena's forearm, two sets of stacked rings the size of a large earring and one the size of a postage stamp. Each of them blindingly white and glowing. A small sphere of similar material but with dark black etchings on it that move on its snow-white casing.

"Those," Vrox explains, not looking up.  "Are transmat arrays, a transmat power and control hub and a biometric-lock signal booster."

She lifts her gaze from her laptop. "Luxury ones. Kandoori school of design, not Argonite.  More curves, fewer control glyphs, no chunky edges. Extravagant waste of translucent promethium alloys just so it makes pretty lights and has swoopy lettering.  Someone's pussy-whipped."

"Your point being..." Kara chortles.

Lena turns her face away from the mirror before she can see herself blush.

"Who are you, anyhow?"

"Tatiana Vrox, Lena's new R&D team lead."

"Tatiana.  Good call. It's much less of a mouthful than those mathematical aliases your registries use.  May I presume you are of the Colu Prime Vroxes?"

"The same."

"Charmed," Kara drawls.  "Ktharra Zor-El, House of El.  Of the supernova debris cloud Els."

"Hey, Lena?" she stage-whispers.  "She tell you she was basically a empress?"

Vrox tries to disappear behind her laptop.

"Yeah," Kara whispers.  "Colu is a pure meritocracy.  The more the family contributes, the higher they rank and the more resources they can access.  Tati is smart and her ideas are useful to the Continuity...boom! Increased access to ships, resources, living quarters, travel."

"I have to keep earning it rather than going to Harvard or Academy of Argo because daddy did.  Once humans or Kryptonians build an actual meritocracy...then you can analyze my culture," Vrox complains.  

Kara laughs.

"Never let this one manage cute employees.  The Vroxes are notorious. Smartest people you'll ever meet but also sex junkies and party animals.  Nymphomaniac supercomputers. Our home planets are 22,000 light years apart and I've heard of their parties since I was six."

"You're thinking of my sisters or my dad," Vrox deadpans. "I'm more of a sex wizard.  And I don't drink."

"You're non-organic, Tati.  Why would you drink?" Kara teases.

"Op-op-op!" Tati interrupts.  "Beside the point. Not drinking alcohol that wouldn't affect me is a moral virtue, Kara.  Leaves more for others. And it's not a sex addiction unless it affects my performance at work."

Lena doesn't like this.  Tati is her friend--she thinks, only the second time having friends--and they get along well but she is on payroll and this is getting raunchy fast.

"I'm...going to go now, Kara.  Before this becomes an HR issue by sheer volume of innuendo."

Vrox shrinks back behind her screen.

"Sorry, boss."

Lena mouths 'her fault too' at Vrox and nods at her phone.

"And before me or my staff make a bigger fool of ourselves."

"Aw, babe!  No!" Kara whines.  "This is the funniest conference call in...ever."

"I'm hanging up now, Kara!" Lena snaps.

Lena disconnects before something can weaken her resolve.

"Mad at her, huh mouse?"

"Less so by the minute.  But I needed to sort of channel it if I wanted to actually get motivated to get out of bed.  I...I could have laid here all day, just soaking in the endorphins from knowing she's alive.  I thought she was dead, Mercy. She's alive and recovering from whatever my mother's poison did to her.  Laughing and and talking to me and it was like we were girlfriends chatting over a lunch break."

Vrox rolls her eyes.

"Solar energy is a key element of her metabolism.  Kara seems to have extreme fixation on you, sexually, romantically and economically. These gifts took enough exotic minerals to create that they would represent a dowry to some Great Houses.  You are having lunch with your girlfriend. Or more accurately, sugar momma was having lunch while making you squirm."

Lena coughs.

"You picked up a lot for someone who landed a month ago.  Always surprise me, Vrox. Just when I think you're all business..."

"You find out I exist in an analog sense?  I'm actually having a barbecue Friday. Bring your Kryptonian.  Hear about what my twin Tanka and I did in that dance club last Tuesday?"

"It was...wow.”

"...should I worry?" Mercy asks.

"No one involved will complain and no one involved was one of her students, so no.  The story will float around. This is a small town, somehow."

"Think it's time Kara and I call ourselves girlfriends?" Lena asks Mercy.

"As your chief of security, I'll allow it.  You can call yourselves girlfriends."

Chapter Text

 


 

Lena has been staring at a one-line email she meant to write for two hours now.  Mercy insisted she work from her penthouse -- new construction -- while her people checked and rechecked her office.  Lex's old office.  Still...she can usually handle it.

She doesn't usually have something like dinner with her girlfriend to look forward to though.

She also typically does not have to ride a wave of nearly painful arousal that borders on orgasm when her old habit of bouncing her leg resurfaces.

When the box transmitted into the middle of her bedroom, Lena was curious.  Inside were six perfectly spherical balls, three each of two sizes and empty cradles for six more.  The card simply read 'your half, love Kara'.  Never one to waste an opportunity for investigation, Lena decided to take one of them downstairs and examine it into the lab.  Three overheated industrial lasers later, she learned that they are apparently metal and mathematically perfectly round and impervious to everything she has access to and according to Mercy, meant for Lena's private enjoyment.

How Mercy knew what a ben wah ball is will be discussed next time Mercy's relief team shows up and they can go drinking together.  The look of abject horror on Lena's face must have been priceless.

So here Lena sits, desperately trying to work while looking forward to dinner with Kara while three flawless spheres of metal beyond human imagining spread her and rub her whenever she moves and clink against each other--sometimes audibly!--in her depths.  She can only pray they are made of god-only-knows because Kara is wearing the other three at this very moment.

"This is hell, Mercy.  I haven't gotten anything done."

"Hell? Quite the opposite. Your eyes prove that.  As does the fact that you are red, cheeks to shirt collar...and probably beyond."

"That," Lena scoffs, shifting slightly to adjust the computer screen.

"...is not the point," she gasps.

Moving was a mistake.  Kara, this is not fair!  I am flesh, weak, human flesh and just the smell of you torments me.  Now you have to add wearing these at work all day?

If anyone else is present when she shows up for dinner, Lena may take Lillian's view on the usefulness of murder.

The intercom comes on.

"Yes, Jess?"

Lena hoped she kept her desperation out of her voice but Jess is nothing if not observant.  She strongly recommended slacks today and never explained why.  It became clear around noon when her panties all but dissolved and only Lena's slacks stood between gravity and a deeply embarrassing investor meeting.

"National City Police Department.  SWAT team, in fact.  They need to speak with you."

"Send them in."

Mercy is on her feet, back straight and hands visible but near enough to her gun that no cop is going to beat her to the draw.  Otis rambles in from the nearby filing area where Mercy had him on shit duty filing accounting reports.  Keeping him an unlawful prisoner forever was never a good option.

"Miss Luthor?"

The officer in charge is a short, dark-skinned woman wearing a tiny gold crucifix which she has laid outside her bulletproof vest.  She has a presence and physicality that easily matches Mercy's.

"Yes, officer, how may I help you?"

"Detective.  Detective Maggie Sawyer and I'm here at the request of the FBI.  Miss Graves, please step aside."

The officer reaches behind her back, retrieves her handcuffs and motions for Lena to back away.

"Otis Graves, you are under under arrest for violating Export Administration Regulations.  You have the right to remain silent.  Anything you sa-"

Lena sees it and the officer sees it and Mercy sees it but none of them can do anything.  Otis has pulled what looks like a plastic explosive charge from behind his back and is holding up the trigger.

Dead man's trigger.  Son of a bitch.

"Sorry, miss Luthor.  Boss lady says you need to die."

Otis' head explodes in a spray of bone and blood and brains that coats the window behind Lena and half of Lena's shirt.  Mercy dives for the trigger, catches it and clamps it down.

"Drop the weapon!" Sawyer barks.

Mercy holds her beloved Ingram out--still smoking--and lets go of the grip.

"Officers, I have no intention of hurting anyone.  But before I can let that go, someone needs to duct tape it closed and you need the bomb squad up here."

Sawyer turns to the SWAT guys and starts barking orders.

"Mercy Graves, you are under arrest for manslaughter."

"Makes sense," Mercy chuckles.

She just killed her brother.  To save me.  Least I can do is have her taken care of.

"Detective...Sawyer, correct?"

Maggie nods.

"If you would be so kind, place Ms. Graves on suicide watch.  She has no family.  And she just had to kill her twin brother in the heat of the moment."

"And Mercy will say nothing until my attorneys arrive.  Do I make myself clear?"

"Thank you," Mercy whispers.

Lena gives a tiny nod, one only someone who survived Lillian would even see.

"Fifi," Lena says into thin air.  She's never sure where they are.  "Please uncloak and assist the detectives with bomb disposal."

Fifi and five more of her kin: Mitzi, Gigi, Bambi, Jackie and Jonnie all appear in the corners of the room.  Fifi and Mitzi are on either side of Lena's makeshift desk.  Each has a six plasma emitters extended from their arms trained on what is left of Otis Graves.

"Apologies for the shock officers.  These are my other bodyguards.  Apparently Superwoman would rather no harm befalls to her arch-nemesis."

Detective Sawyer's lip twitches into a quickly-suppressed smirk.

"That would look suspicious.  Stand down boys.  No poking the robot bear."

 

 


 

 

“Thank you, Jessica. I’m here in the Aegean Sea on the lead ship in a flotilla of refugee vessels that is steaming--you heard that right--steaming towards a little X on a map. This old girl was pulled from a scrapyard in the Caspian, welded up and tossed into the water by Superwoman. She may be showing her years,”

The anchor laughs, patting the ship’s railing fondly.

“But she’s been able to get eleven hundred and ninety three souls safely from the north coast of Africa to…”

 

The signal cuts out.

 

 

 

“That was recorded by Vicki Vale, a correspondent from the Gotham Tribune who records some of MSNBC and CatCo’s international pieces. She went missing, along with the ship she was on.“

“I’m Rachel Maddow, guest-hosting Strange New World for CatCo worldwide. Okay, so guest hosting is an exaggeration. I had a chance to talk about Wonder Woman and get paid for it so basically I hung around the studio begging until they gave up.”

“I have with me Dr. James Halpern, author of World History of a World that Wasn’t: Lessons for Our Daughters from Themyscira, Bana-Mighdall, Akaluu and the Maidenlands. Jim, you’re an expert on Amazonian cultu-.’

A small gray-haired fellow with horn rimmed glasses and a thin-lipped smirk holds up a hand.

“Don’t tell Wonder Woman that...I have a family.”

The audience erupts in laughter.

“Smart man,” Rachel quips.

“Vicki Vale’s ship went missing and then one by one, all the ships went missing. Simple question: what happened?”

Jim smiles.

“Those people--I confess, I’m jealous--just crossed Aphrodite’s Veil. A barrier of magic put in place by the Olympian gods prior to their defeat. Any ship, aircraft, or person who crosses it alive has been judged worthy of love and happiness by Aphrodite, Athena and Hestia and anointed by the Goddess’ mark, as the Amazonians call it.”

“What does that mean, for those of our audience not yet living in a magical feminist utopia?”

“They’re safe. From the drawings I’ve seen--Wonder Woman’s memories of her home--that place is paradise, as best we can conceive it. Turquoise seas, emerald jungles, rich black soil in the farmland. Sunshine and soaking rain in the fields and snow on the mountain peaks. No storms. No floods.”

“And no men.”

“No men on Themyscira itself but their scholars know that at least twelve other islands were created--those can be seen with a handheld telescope--one for the chosen of each Olympian god or goddess. There are likely many more created by more minor gods for their champions. But due to abundance, peace and the safety a culture of trained warriors give them, the Amazons never felt a burning desire to expand their borders within the Veil. Their island was enough.”

“So any men landing on Themysciran soil will be thrown back -- literally -- into the ocean. But as Bana-Mighdall and Akaluu show us, Amazons as a people--as a race--are not monolithic. Bana-Mighdall is a genderstate, like Themyscira is. Merely hidden in the deserts of Iran instead of in the Greek seas. No men. Walls to keep us out. I’m told the queen is fond of Xerxes--her tomcat--but no human males. In both those cases, the original Amazons chose to supplement their ranks with children, keeping only the girls. Those children were fathered by outside men during raids on the high seas. Sailors will...forgive a great deal if it’s coming from a pretty woman.”

The audience laughs again.

“The Maidenlands are a long band of hills and coastal cliffs running from Sweden to the Russian coastline far to the north. The only barrier that protects them is vicious blizzards and the fact that the border patrols are made up of Valkyries. Men supplicate themselves at the border with feats of strength and courage. Some are taken in and released years later. Any male children are sent away at maturity but some return and as far as we know, are welcomed.  Traders do go in and out though they are sworn to secrecy about what they see within the borders.  We know next to nothing besides what we learn when a shieldmaiden hunting party chases down a threat outside the border.”

“Excuse me...Valkyries?”

“For all intents and purposes, yes. Female warriors of Nordic ancestry and superhuman strength, training their entire lives, centuries in most cases, for battle. It seems that when the goddess Hera chose to make warriors out of the souls of women raped and murdered in ancient wars, she was not the only goddess to do so, or she shared her brainstorm.”

“Based on runic carvings at the border, Frigga, Freya and Sigyn of Norse religions are worshiped in the Maidenlands.  Ishtar, the Babylonian goddess of sex and death is worshiped in Bana-Mighdall and an unnamed snake-goddess is widely worshiped in Akaluu. She is typically painted or carved as a white cobra coiled around Akaluu, striking at the world beyond. We don’t have a textual record of Akaluuan traditions so we presume it is an ancient goddess of the area to whom all other references died out.”

“Akaluu sits--or rather hides--on the border of Kenya, Uganda and Tanzania and it is a dual-gendered state. Only women may bear arms or hold the higher elected offices.  Men are taken as adults or accepted as orphan boys. Every man is legally bound to provide labor in a household of his choosing, whether as a husband, platonic companion or simply as a servant. The typical family unit is two or more women and one man--two men in a large and wealthy family--who father children if the women are interested, care for them and practice whatever trade they know.  Whether the relationship is sexual or not, he defers to the women of the house and is nurturer, teacher, cook, cleaner...things we see as women’s work.”

“Given the potential fertility of one man versus several women and with a dedicated live-in caregiver, large families are common in households which have biological children. He contributes economically with his non-domestic labor but his job, his sacred role as it is taught in their religion, is ‘hearth-lighter’ because he fathers children, the only task they cannot do for themselves, and cares for the home they share.”

“It is quite frankly, an inversion of Western gender norms as we had them a hundred and fifty years ago...or have them now in small town Alabama where I grew up.”

The audience chuckles. Rachel’s smile broadens.

“So, let me get this straight. A jungle paradise filled with beautiful women and a live-in manservant provided by the state to cook and clean? How soon can me and my wife get passports?”

“Ask Wonder Woman....” the professor chuckles.

“...and don’t buy a return ticket. When a fish or a dolphin swims in, it gets stuck. This is why the oceanic life in the area is so different and so much richer than ours. A whale that escaped a whaling ship into Amazonian waters is forever safe and the magic that makes the islands so fertile extends to the seas. In fact, Wonder Woman is the only living being of any kind that has ever crossed that barrier both ways at will. It appears the Olympian gods broke their own rules to allow her that after her defeat of Ares...she tells me she travels back for winter solstice each year."

"The pantheons which founded Bana-Mighdall and Akaluu have similar restrictions.”

“As lovely as this background is, professor, back to the refugees?”

Jim clears his throat.

“Of course. For our purposes, those people are gone. I suspect they will be given lands to settle on any uninhabited island, the men and boys will be sternly lectured on their manners and Themyscira will continue on as it always has. Any women or girls are welcome settle on Themyscira itself and given the nature of the Chechen refugees, I’m sure some of the female inmates of the camps will do so.  If some wish to leave later on, they will leave...though given the way time flows or does not flow there, it may be centuries for us before they leave and a few years from from their perspective.”

He tents his fingers and smiles.

“Exactly how much were you paying Vicki Vale? Because it has to be worth leaving paradise and living forever or you may never get that footage,” the professor teases.

Someone comes into the studio and whispers in Rachel's ear.

“Ladies and gentlemen, I’m told we have new footage from Ms Vale, which, drumroll please…”

“...was apparently found in a box floating on an empty rowboat outside the Veil.  Along with her press badge.  I guess you were right, professor.”

 


 

Kara looks around her apartment -- her place! -- and sighs.

Boxes of unopened knick-knacks and paperback novels from Midvale are stacked high in the corner with a bag of snacks from Eliza on top. Alex’s combat boots are by the doorway and she -- and Maggie -- are napping on the couch in a tangle of exhausted limbs and sweaty hair.  Winn took the next door apartment and James loaned his camera so they could take photos for posterity.

They wouldn’t let Kara do all the heavy lifting, for some stupid reason.  Winn insisted, moving what he could manage.  Alex and Maggie really put a lot of work in and now that Kara thinks about it, did so in minimal clothing--tank tops and yoga pants.

Was all that...foreplay?  If so, they failed because they are out cold.  My couch is going to reek of lesbian by the time Lena gets here...hope she doesn't get territorial.

Some unoccupied part of her brain decides that now, with company present, would be a good time to fantasize about what could have happened in Honduras. When Kara got out of the water, Lena was standing in the wind with her hair and her half-open kimono whipping around in the balmy air. Any thoughts of a torrid session on the beach evaporated when Lena’s eyes--wild as the jungles behind them--met Kara’s. Much as Lena protested her readiness, the red stains and chapped skin of her face told a different story.

She collapsed into Kara’s arms, sobbing, and they actually took the helicopter back just so Lena could sleep on the way.

Kara got the apartment when she joined the dating app--in case someone asked about ‘her place’--but hadn't done more than throw in a bed until she met Lena. What a difference a week makes. She has not only moved in what feels like half of Eliza’s house--all of the game room downstairs--she has for some dumb reason tried to bake a pie and make Lena dinner.

Which is a terrible idea for someone with a different idea of how fast time goes and how hot boiling water is than the person writing the recipes had. Three pep talks and two fire extinguisher batteries later, Alex and Eliza teamed up on her to explain cooking as chemistry.

That worked.

"Kara!" Winn shouts. "Phone!"

"Easy easy easy!" Kara babbles, somehow managing to juggle the pie long enough to get it on the counter in one piece.

I got moved in to my apartment. Lena's coming over for dinner! I cooked and no one died! This is awesome!

"Earth to Krypton!" Winn shouts.

He's holding up her cell phone with a shit-eating grin on his face.

"Right, sorry!"

She superspeeds over to grab the phone. It just says 'blocked number'.

"Hello, this is Kara Zor-El."

"Hello. My name is Barack Obama. I need to speak to you, in person."

Kara's phone falls from her hand and skitters across the kitchen floor. She hears the click of a shutter and looks at Winn who is snapping pictures of her no doubt ridiculous face.

"Ahh! Kolex! Call him back!"

 


 

 

“Mr. Lord,” Lillian demands. “Where are you going?”

I almost made it out, at least.

“I have a business to run.”

“Your business is with CADMUS now.”

“Is it? Because I didn’t see the part of the contract that included slave collars.”

Lillian motions to two of her goons. They train their weapons on Max’s forehead.

“The whole 1980s Bond villain look doesn’t suit you, Mrs. Luthor. I would talk to your son, if I were you. He’s a practical man with distinct goals in mind. You’re a zealot with nothing but your own hate calling the shots.  That's why he actually made an attempt.”

“Bold words for a man with a gun to his head.”

“You shoot me and six days from now, my lawyer will unload fifty billion in stock at opening bell and thirty billion more at closing, crashing the entire market. Someone is going to look into why that happened and they are going to discover you were the last person I spoke with…” he warns her.

Lillian scowls.

“Leave him,” she tells her men. “He’s a coward.”

His bodyguard opens the Range Rover’s doors.

“No, Lillian. I’m a rational man. You told me that Superwoman was a threat and that Red-K could prove it...that in her heart of hearts she was a butcher, a false god demanding worship. At the time, I shared your concerns.”

“The Red-K failed, Max. Nothing more.”

Max laughs.

“Just because it differs from your notions, doesn’t mean you can discount the evidence. You could see it under her veins in the photos. She fought differently. More brutally. Her inhibitions were reduced. But she did nothing that was a threat to me, my business, my home, or anyone not wearing a military uniform. Hypothesis disproved. Frankly, I’m not interested in repeating an experiment that might make her see me as a threat...or draw any more attention from she-who-wields-the lasso.  I've been given a second chance to live and that means staying in the good graces of goddesses and alien women.”

“I think it’s time I moved on to other projects.  Goodbye, Lillian. Shall I tell Lena you said hello?”

Lillian fumes as he rolls the window up.

His assistant Harry is in the middle seat and Cassie is beside him, her hands folded in her lap. The little slot on her left wrist is open and a fiber-optic cable snakes out of where a human would have an artery. The military-type laptop perched on the bench next to Jacob is a blur of windows opening, YouTube videos and newspaper articles and eBooks and a hundred other things being gobbled into Cassie’s brain while she ‘sleeps’.

“Ah, Lillian. To think you thought your son was the pinnacle of human development,” he scoffs.  "But it's not all about bloodlines, or genes, or even biology."

“I missed you, my darling," he sighs, stroking Cassie’s cheek.

 

 

Chapter Text

 

July 14, 2006  | Lena Luthor

National City, California

Harbor and Third Streets, Starsea Lofts

Kara’s Apartment

 

The doorway to Kara’s apartment is terrifying.  White paint on a heavy steel door with a massive deadbolt--the building was once a tool and die companies warehouse--and a little smiley face rendered in plastic flowers.

I am the daughter of a sociopath and the sister of a megalomaniac mad scientist.  Today alone I’ve had fifteen hundred death threats on Twitter and one actual attempt on my life...and this fucking door scares me.  

“Are you out there, Fifi?”

A painting on the wall removes itself, dips twice as if nodding and hangs itself back up.

“Better than nothing,” Lena sighs.

She reaches up to knock and before she can the deadbolt slides from the other side and Kara appears.  Dressed as casually as Lena has ever seen her: blue jeans and a loose button-down men’s shirt. No makeup.  Huge smile. Nothing but a jeweled river of hair marking her as feminine and even that offset by the cropped sides.

“Breathe,” Lena scolds herself.

“Please do.  I want you to feel welcome,” Kara admits.  “My family sort of showed up over here and it would be rude to kick them four hours after they moved me in.  Will you keep me safe?” Kara pleads. “They can be intense. ”

“I doubt that,” Lena snorts.  “But I can handle anything when it comes to family.”

“Not like, supervillian intense.  Like friendly puppies who won’t leave you alone intense.”

“I heard that!” Alex calls out.

“From what I’ve heard Little Danvers say about Lena...woof! woof!” Maggie teases.

Kara gathers Lena up and half guides, half carries her inside.

“Take your shoes off, please.”

“Of course, I’m sure they’re fil-”

“Lena, stop.  Look down.”

Kara wiggles her bare toes and glances to five other pairs of shoes, two of which cannot possibly be hers: a pair of kitten heels and sky-high leather boots.  The military issue boots painted in black-and-gray camo must be Alex’s.

“I thought it was just us,” Lena hisses. “That’s why you had me stuff these fucking torture devices in my cunt all day.”

Kara catches her giggle in her mouth.

“Oh dear!  I just sent those so you had them.  Not that you would wear them at work all day,” she chortles.  “You all right?”

“Yes and no.  I’ve never been so fucking wet in my life...so yes.  You have people here and I’m not straddling your face making you beg...so no.”

Kara blushes--how? how does her skin get any darker?--and reaches into a nearby kitchen drawer.  She holds out a small rod of a clearly alien design and metal and a nine-volt battery.

“This stylus will attract titanium-promethium alloy to it.  Think electromagnet.”

Lena arches an eyebrow.

“I think not, you whore,” Lena growls, fisting her hand in Kara’s mane and dragging her out of sight around the corner.  “You go put yours in.  When I’ve had my way with you, you’ll put them back in tomorrow morning.”

She puts her teeth on Kara’s pulse point and presses down, relishing the pressure she can apply without hurting her.  Kara whines. Whether from the dirty talk, the domination or the suckle Lena doesn’t know and certainly doesn’t care right now.

“Yes, m-m-ma’am,” Kara finally manages.

“Go.”

“We’ll take turns being in charge,” Kara reminds Lena, voice low and eyes fixed on Lena’s.  

No anger to her tone.  It’s not a challenge, just a promise.  A reminder. Sometimes Lena needs to be pulled apart and laid bare, cradled and cupped and stroked and warmed from within.  Sometimes she needs to throw the other woman on the bed and suck and bite and ride until neither of them are breathing. Until she only remembers how to scream and only remembers Lena’s name.

It makes sense that in an actual relationship, it would vary. Lena supposes.  

She makes a note to buy some books on how normal, undamaged people interact, have friends, fall in love, have sex and so on.  Shameful as it is, she needs to learn the concepts before she can do them right.

Trial and error will not do, not if error costs me her.

“Two powerful women, taking and giving,” Kara promises.  “So that neither of us forgets how precious we are or how sexy and strong we are.  Because no one will ever make you ashamed of you again. So long as I breathe.”

A flash of crimson behind Kara’s eyes--nothing like Superman’s famous heat vision--makes Lena shiver.  Because Kara isn’t Kryptonian like he is, not the polished steel of a statue, a farmboy’s imagining of a shining world he never knew.

This is Kara the exiled princess, the girl who was sent to defend her bloodline from the inhabitants of an entire planet at the age of thirteen.  Her lovely body torn apart with blades and saws and fire and then reforged with the guts of ancient monsters, their hides pitted with defeat and their fangs stained by victory.

If she is evil--if the Worldkiller takes her over--then I suppose we’re made for each other.

“I love you because you’re a good person,” Kara sighs.  “But the fact that you’re so fierce...so brilliant...a true equal.”

She brushes her cheek past Lena’s to whisper.

“Is an incredible turn-on.”

Another crimson shadow falls across Kara’s eyes and then Lena is staring back into golden irises and half-blown pupils.  This dark goddess called her equal? An irresistible creature with equally irresistible might. Pride and fear course through Lena in equal measure and the resulting full body shudder finally puts her over the top, one of the balls pressing just the right bundle of nerves for just long enough.

Kara must have seen it coming because her hand is cupped over Lena’s mouth before the cry comes out and the other arm is behind her back, hard as stone.  Holding Lena up even when her own bones turn to mush.

Kara plants kisses all over Lena’s cheeks, catching every last tear.

“Shh.  Lena, darling.  Did that help?” Kara asks.

Her eyes sweep Lena’s face like she hopes to find something else she can kiss.

“Shh?  Shh?” Lena demands. “I just embarrassed myself in front of your family.”

“No, you didn’t.  They heard nothing.  I told them you had been through a lot--emotional abuse--and you were shy.  They probably just think you needed a moment.”

Lena opens her mouth to protest that she was not abused...Luthors do not get abused...only to realize that is something Lillian would want her to say.

“Thank you.”

Kara shrugs.

“You’re my woman.  Got to take care of you.”

Just like that?  Like it was the most ordinary fucking thing to cover up for me with her family?

Lena is more afraid than ever.  This relationship is deepening fast, veering far outside anything she’s ever experienced.  What she had with Sam was tender but it wasn’t this. Since then her relationships with women have been sex: her taking them and them enjoying it.  Any contentment came from the hook up or the call girl moaning into her mouth.

Lena’s abstract pride in a technical skill.

Even scarier than Kara is her family.  A sort of people she’s never encountered before.  Simple. They seem to think she deserves all this kindness--why? just because she was born?--no matter her last name or her family’s crimes.  They want to care for her, claim her, make her one of their own.

Is this what Ruby feels like all the time?   It would explain the little shit’s good mood and terrible poker face.

“Lena, take a moment if you need to,” Kara offers, rubbing her shoulders.  “My mom sort of ambushed us. Just showed up, so any amount of time you need, take.  Alex and I can just talk to her. She’ll love you.”

“How can you know that?” Lena demands.

“Because you’re a human being and more than that, you’re someone who needs love.  That’s kind of Eliza’s thing,” Kara explains, tapping her own chest. “Giving simple, honest, unconditional love to people who’ve never had it before.  Me and now you.”

Lena’s not sure how long she stands in the hallway, blinking stupidly at a stretch of blank wall.  Eventually a handkerchief--plain blue linen--is offered to her by a metal hand that disappears into thin air at the wrist.

“Thank you, Fifi.”

“Mitzi, actually.”

“Of course,” Lena laughs.  “How many of you are there here?”

“Fifi and me.  The others are guarding your house, office and your car.  Two, one, one.”

“Long as they don’t change the radio,” Lena jokes.

“I will give them that instruction and have it changed back.”

Taking four deep breaths, Lena steps into the apartment.

Alex and her--girlfriend, apparently--are cuddled on the couch.  Lena had only spoken to Alex on the phone and now she’s faced with the reality:  a thin, toned woman with quick and intense hazel eyes, red hair swept across one side of her head in a near-triangular shape.  If she hadn’t known Alex was a soldier, the muscle definition and the ever-alert posture would give it away. Lena is struck for a moment--awed, really--at Alex’s bravery.  From what she’s heard she’s rising quick in the ranks and occupying a choice posting. Yet here she is--extremely gay--with her civilian girlfriend in her lap and a ear-to-ear grin.

Guess I know what Alex would sacrifice everything for, besides Kara.

Said girlfriend being Detective Maggie Sawyer, the detective who always seems to be the one on duty when Lena or her people are involved.  Lena needs to ask why that is.

Maggie is cuddled up against Alex--perhaps melted into her--and red cheeked.  It seems Maggie may be coping with a bad arrest with alcohol.

“Thought I recognized a voice, detective.”

Maggie hoists a glass of red wine in salute.

Half asleep in an armchair is a small man with a bow tie, an immaculately pressed shirt and slacks.  As fashion aware as Lex--easily--merely tending more towards youth minister than CEO. A set of gold-rimmed eyeglasses sits next to him in a lucite case that probably would stop a rifle round.  Strangely old-school and unfashionable eyewear for a man as stylish as he is yet clearly important to him.

Sentimental value.  Probably an heirloom.

“I take it you’re Winn?”

“She’s my favorite!  Kara, did you hear that?  She didn’t ask ‘What’s a Winn?’.  What is a Winn?  Winn is a who, not a what.  Turns out a Winn is me,” he jokes.

“Thanks, Miss Luthor.  Big fan of your work...gadgets and gizmos and general badassery in tech.”

“Why thank you, and it’s Lena, please.”

“Of course.   We should do lunch.  I have some ideas.”

“Oh?”

It’s more polite than inquiring what he can offer her that she can’t build or buy for herself.

“Ever hear of Gestalt Games?” he asks, cracking open an eye.  “Ow. Stupid light. Stupid migraines. Anyway. That’s me and Kara.  And it’s just the tip of the iceberg.”

Kara hurries over wearing goddamned oven mitts and draws the shades.  

“I thought you were just napping. I could have closed them, Winn.”

“Thought maybe you wanted a solar boost for when you’re alone with your girl.”

“Wait.  You mean tha-”

“If it looks like it’s a thousand years of computer tech beyond ours…”  Winn teases, “It’s because it is computer tech from a culture that’s been making AIs for a quarter million years.