by Immortalwildcat, Brian K. Asbury and Starsky Hutch 76
It was nearing midnight as the heat of the summer day dissipated and a light dew settled over the ground. As a lone figure hovered above, he noted how it added to the luster of the smooth, unbroken plain below. “Dammit! Played for a sucker!”
Not just you, Ronald. Not just us. Everybody. Superman himself believed that Chicago was the target, and we happened to be in that area already at the time of the attack.
“You know, Professor, you’ve told me that, Superman has told me that, J’onn has told me that. It doesn’t make it any easier to take.” Firestorm turned in place, taking in the bleak, desolate vista below.
The crater stretched for miles in each direction. Directly below him, the ground, buildings, and everything else caught in the blast had been fused into a dark, glasslike strata dozens of feet deep. Two miles away from the center of the blast this gave way to rubble — the remains of homes, factories, shopping malls, and schools. This was all that remained of the city of Syracuse, New York, a city that had been used as a show of power by the alien invaders. (*)
[(*) Editor’s note: See DC Universe: Invasion, Book 2, Chapter 1: Warworld.]
Ronald, even if we had been here, this was not a bomb that was dropped — it was an energy weapon fired from Warworld. I’m not sure there is anything we could have done to stop it. In his mind, Ronnie Raymond heard the mental voice of Professor Martin Stein, the other half of Firestorm’s composite personality.
“We could have tried, Prof. That’s all I’d ask — the chance to try to save all those people.”
I understand. I lost several friends — colleagues who worked at Syracuse University.
“Speaking of which, I guess we’d better get on home. Didn’t you say something about a meeting in the morning?” Firestorm twisted in the air and started moving southward.
Yes, the faculty and staff at Vandermeer University are meeting to discuss changes to the upcoming academic year. I assume these changes are arising out of the invasion as well.
“Yeah, I think we’re going to be feeling the effects of this one for a long time.”
Three weary figures, the last remaining members of the team known as the Paladins, trooped through the massive oaken doors of Wordenshire Castle in England. “May I take your helmet, sir?” asked the butler, Chivers.
Peregrine Redhawk removed the slightly soiled helmet of the knight and passed it to the balding, slightly stooped servant. “Thanks, Chivers. Is the Earl in the hall?”
“In the library, sir,” said Chivers. “Mr. Reilly is with him. Shall I bring tea?”
“That would be nice, Chivers,” said the golden-haired Dorcas Leigh, AKA Godiva. “What I’d really appreciate, though, is a long, hot bath.”
“I’ll run the bathtub for you after I bring you your tea, madam.”
Without a further word, the three returnees made their way to the castle library. As they entered, a well-dressed gray-haired man leaped to his feet. “You’re back! Any news?”
Godiva shook her head. “None, I’m afraid. Hello, Percy, Rod. Excuse me, but I’m absolutely whacked!” She slumped down in an armchair.
“We all are,” said David Sheldrake, the youthful Squire, finding a chair of his own.
Percy Sheldrake, David’s uncle and the present Earl of Wordenshire, adjusted the position of his wheelchair to face them more easily. “All three of you have every right to be exhausted,” he said. “When was the last time any of you had any real rest, between hunting down packs of alien stragglers and trying to find our vanished comrades? (*) It’s a wonder any of you can stand.”
[(*) Editor’s note: See DC Universe: Invasion, Book 2, Chapter 6: Pulse.]
Rod Reilly walked up to the Knight, who was still standing. “You’ve no news at all? No clues whatsoever as to what happened to them? After all this time?”
Perry put a friendly hand on the aging American’s shoulder. “We’ve done everything we can, my friend. There’s been no word of any kind about Becca or any of the others.”
“But they can’t have just vanished! They can’t!” exclaimed the distraught Reilly. He turned to Godiva as Chivers entered with the tea. “You saw it happen! Tell me again what you saw!”
“We’ve been through this before, Rod,” she replied. She sighed. “OK. We’d come up with a plan to disable the entire alien fleet attacking London. Firebrand — your granddaughter, Becca — was going to generate a massive electromagnetic pulse, which Rhea — Lodestone — was going to direct against the aliens. While she built up the power necessary, Perry and David went back to the shuttle to warn the RAF defenders to keep away so they wouldn’t be caught in the blast, while the rest of us protected Rhea and Becca. Unfortunately, an enormous alien mothership then showed up, and it fired at the same time we did.
“What happened then is uncertain. There was one almighty discharge of energy. The alien ships were knocked out, as we planned, and mostly came down in the English Channel. But there was some sort of feedback. I was farthest away, and luckily all it did to me was knock me down. When my vision cleared, though, all of the others had disappeared without a trace, except for the newcomer, Prominence. His battle armor was fried, with him still inside. We got him to hospital, but he was in a coma.”
“Which he never came out of, so far as we know,” said the Knight. “Edward Stacker’s intelligence spooks pulled strings to get him transferred out of the hospital we took him to. We still don’t know whether he’s alive, in a coma or what — or even where he is. If he saw what happened, we’re never going to know about it. We don’t even know who he was under that mask.”
“But…” said Reilly. “But he’s been seen. Since. Prominence. It was in the papers — he caught a bunch of aliens trying to sneak aboard a ship at Dover.”
“It wasn’t the same man,” said David. “We met him. Stacker gave the suit to somebody else. He swore to us he didn’t know what had become of the other one.”
“He’s lying! He must know!”
“Even if he is lying, we’ve no way to get him to talk,” said Godiva. “We’re supposed to be the good guys — we can’t just beat the truth out of him.”
“And even if we did,” added the Knight, accepting a cup of tea from the bustling Chivers, “I really do doubt that he could tell us anything of use.” He fixed Reilly with a serious gaze. “Look, it’s hard to say this, but there’s a real possibility that Becca and the other Paladins — and Lionheart, who was with them — may be dead.”
“I’ll believe that when I see the bodies,” snorted Reilly. “People don’t just evaporate without leaving a trace. You said it yourself at the time — it’s more likely that the energy discharge transported them somewhere.”
“But where?” Percy said. “Perry’s got a point, Rod. Even if they were teleported somewhere, it could have been to the bottom of the ocean or to outer space for all we know. If they were anywhere on Earth, they’d surely have found a way by now to let us know they’re alive.”
Reilly rounded on Godiva. “That’s not good enough. Your friends — the Global Guardians. They include mystic types, right? Surely one of them can detect where they went?”
Godiva sighed. “We’ve been working with the Guardians a lot during the last few weeks, Rod, clearing out the last of the alien invaders — both here in Britain and all over the rest of Europe. I’ve spoken to Tuatara and Jack O’Lantern and others who have mystical resources, and none of them have been able to locate our missing friends. There’s a possibility that Doctor Mist might have more success, but he’s been tied up in Africa all through this affair. He hasn’t yet returned.”
Reilly looked angrily at each of them in turn. “Then you’re giving up? That’s it?”
“We’re not giving up, Rod,” said Percy. “But we’re running out of options.”
“Then I’ll find some options of my own!” cried Reilly. He stormed out of the room.
Perry made to go after him, but Percy held up his hand. “Let him go,” he said. “Who knows? He might find a way to succeed where we’ve failed.”
“I don’t see how,” said David.
“We also have a few things to discuss among ourselves,” said Percy, his face grim.
“What do you mean?” his nephew asked.
“Such as, with just the three of you left, is it worth continuing as the Paladins?” said Percy. “We have to face the unpleasant prospect, my friends, that this might be the end of the road for our team!”
Zor-El and Alura watched from their patio as a spacecraft touched down outside their window. “They’re here,” Zor-El said.
“I’ll go tell our illustrious guest. He’ll be happy to hear that they’ve arrived.”
Zor-El watched as Superman stepped out of the spacecraft carrying a small, blonde, golden-skinned child. He was followed by Superwoman.
“Gran’pa!” Jasma said excitedly.
“Hello, Jasma!” he said happily.
“She looks more like Kara every time I see her,” Alura said, walking outside to join them. She was followed by a distinguished-looking, middle-aged black man.
A teenage black girl in a Green Lantern uniform suddenly ran out of the spacecraft and grabbed him in a bear hug. “Valura!” he said, so happy he was practically in tears as he hugged her back. “I’m so glad you’re back.”
“I told you I would be all right,” said Valura Tur-Thol.
“I’m your father. It’s my job to worry,” laughed Tur-Thol, a broad grin spreading across his gray-bearded face.
Superman handed Jasma off to Zor-El. He and his wife stared lovingly at their granddaughter, making cooing noises to her as they headed inside.
“Better watch out they don’t try to keep her,” Superwoman joked.
“I’m sure they’d like to,” Superman said. “But they want to honor Salkor and Kara’s wishes where she’s concerned, as well as let Jasma grow up knowing the full use of her powers.”
Superwoman pulled back her cowl, since there was no need to worry about a secret identity on Rokyn. Kristin Wells shook out her long mane of red hair and said, “Well, Mr. Kent, you do realize since you’ve got full-time babysitters for the rest of the day. I expect you to show me around this other world of yours.”
“That’s a responsibility I’d be happy to accept, Miss Wells,” Superman said, pulling her closer to him for a kiss. “In fact, I’d be delighted.”
Alura looked down at the sleeping child in her arms. “I swear, Zor, if it weren’t for the shade of her skin, I’d believe I was holding Kara again.”
“I know,” he agreed. “it’s almost eerie. It’s like Rao has delivered her back to us.” He almost regretted saying those words. Alura often had a hard time dealing with Kara’s death. At times, she had tried to seek substitutes in Lesla-Lar and Lydia-7, unaware even as she did it. (*) Alura looked up at him sadly. “Are we doing the right thing? Letting her stay with Kal on Earth? I’m so frightened. If the same thing were to happen to her that happened to our Kara… her mother…”
[(*) Editor’s note: See World of New Krypton: Supergirl and Valor: Homecoming.]
“That’s why I think she should stay with him,” Zor said. “I’ve asked myself so many times why Kal lived when she died.”
“Because she saved him,” Alura said. “Her sacrifice…”
“But he took everything she did and more, but he lived,” Zor-El said. “And it’s not the first time he’d been in a near-death situation, but he always comes back.”
Alura looked down sadly. “I love our nephew. I’m not going to begrudge him his survival.”
“I wouldn’t ask you to,” Zor-El said. “I’m talking about the difference between them — as well as what they both had in common. They both had that spirit — my brother had it, too. So did our father. That damnable spirit that drives them and always puts them in harm’s way.”
Alura looked up at him with sad eyes. “Then why in Rao’s name–?”
“Because Kal is still alive. And he had his whole life to develop his powers and learn how to use them. Maybe that makes all the difference. And if it does, I don’t want to risk not letting her have that. Not if she turns out to be as much like Kara inside as she is outside.”
“You’re right,” Alura said, looking down at her granddaughter. “It’s just so hard.” A tear rolled down one cheek and landed on the sleeping child’s face.
“Of course it is,” Zor-El said, reaching down to wipe away the tear. “It’s the parents’ job to drive themselves mad with worry. Since Kara and Salkor are not here to do it, we have to do it for them.”
A twenty-something blond man in a red turtleneck with the Presidential seal on it stepped forward and sang, “Don’t asks me why… I’m just the ruling guy.”
A blonde girl in a miniskirt and go-go boots sang, “He’s prez now, outta sight.”
“A teenage prez. That’s a fright,” a middle-aged actor sang.
“I’m prez now every day,” the blond boy sang. “Don’t ask me why; but I’m here to stay! I’m the ruling head, on Capitol Hill I’ll be starring… when I’m not following the Grateful Dead, darling!”
“Forget what Smiley says,” the blonde girl sang. “You don’t need to beware now that he’s prez!”
The blonde boy ran up to her and sang energetically, “I’ll be here, baby, there, mama, everywhere daddy, daddy, ’cause I’m–”
They broke into wild dance moves as the chorus of dancers in ’60s attire leaped and danced around them in a chorus of, “Prez! Prez! Prez! Prez! Prez!” as a light show began playing to the beat of the psychedelic music.
“Flow it, show it; let everyone know it, ’cause I am Prez!” he sang.
The blonde girl sang back, “Sing it in the breeze and get caught in the trees. Send them hear it overseas. In all principalities, let them sing their jubilees…”
“For the magic, for the miracle, the wonder that I am the elected Prez!” the blond boy in the red presidential turtleneck sang back.
The chorus returned, singing, “Prez! Prez! Prez! Prez! Prez!” Everyone danced wildly as the light show picked up.
The music stopped, and everyone quit dancing and looked to the director. “Bravo!” he said, clapping. “Wonderful! Now that’s what I call a dress rehearsal, people! When we open tomorrow, I don’t think we have a thing to worry about. Our reviews are going to be better than ever!”
As Lydia Lee began to walk backstage to go to her dressing room to change out of her 1960s retro miniskirt and go-go boots, she was stopped by Claudia, one of the dancers. “Lydia!” she said, pausing to pull off the enormous afro wig and shake out her hair. “A bunch of us are going out for drinks and maybe a little dancing.”
“You’ve been dancing all day,” Lydia laughed. “You’re not tired?”
“You’re one to talk,” Claudia smirked. “You haven’t even broken a sweat! You know, Richard’s coming. I think he likes you.”
“I thought he was gay,” Lydia said.
“No,” Claudia said. “Very straight. Not every song-and-dance man on Broadway is gay. Didn’t you see the way he was looking at you when he was singing to you?”
“I thought he was just passionate about his art,” Lydia said.
“Ha!” Claudia laughed. “Passionate about you, maybe.”
“Sure,” Lydia said, trying to sound nonchalant now that her curiosity was up. “It beats spending another evening watching pay-per-view in my hotel room.”
“You mean you still haven’t found a place?” Claudia asked.
“Yeah, you’d think finding a good apartment in New York would be easy,” Lydia said, smirking at her.
“OK,” Claudia said. “I get you. I’m glad you’re coming. That way I can tell you about this lead I got on a rent-controlled place in the Village.”
The two of them walked toward the dressing rooms, and as they talked, Lydia had the feeling once again that things were really starting to look up. She was just starting to feel like she was coming into her own, that she was no longer merely walking in the original Supergirl’s shoes.