#8 – Crystal Clear, Part 2

“I can’t believe I’ve been called to this meeting.” Kyle Rayner, known to most of the people of Earth as Green Lantern, shook his head slowly as he stared up at a panel of alien-looking shadows immersed in darkness. “She’s no danger to any of us. In fact, she’s a hero…just like me.”

“That does not concern us,” one of the shadows droned. “Our one concern is balance. What she saw was not meant for her eyes. And there is one new resident of your realm…a young female…who does not belong–”

“Yes, yes…you mentioned that.” Kyle folded his arms and looked defiantly at the panel seated above him. “What do you want me to do about it? Ask every one of billions of people if they belong on Earth?”

“This female is closer then you know, Kyle Rayner. She has abilities beyond that of the average creatures of your planet–”

“Oh, that really narrows it down–”

“–And she is close to the one who has seen what she should not.” The shadow’s voice sounded impatient with that last sentence. “The two are a source of Chaos in your realm, Kyle Rayner. The situation must be monitored closely.”

Kyle smiled mischievously, and nearly laughed. “Hmm…Watch Supergirl closely. Now that’s an assignment I can live with.”

If the shadows frowned at all behind the shroud of darkness, they did so at that moment. They were less then amused with Kyle’s comment. “Kyle Rayner, if Green Lanterns were not in such demand, we would strip you of your ring at this moment! You are the most disrespectful member we have seen in our eons of existence–”

“Yeah, yeah. Send me a memo, would you? I have to get home.” With those words, Kyle vanished in a blaze of green light, leaving the Guardians of Oa behind to fume quietly in the darkness.


Linda knew she was dreaming. After all, orbiting high above the reddish planet she remembered seeing below her the day before would be impossible. Even she couldn’t breathe in space, and she would most likely freeze to death before suffocating anyhow.

But she let herself enjoy the dream, as she coasted through the red planet’s thin atmosphere, feeling the cool moisture from the tops of pink clouds condense on her skin and slide along her arms and legs. It had been so long since she flew at such altitudes in real life…it seemed like an eternity.

Just when she was beginning to enjoy herself, her dream began to slip away. She felt a mixture of anger and frustration as she felt her mind waking from her deep sleep. She wanted to stay longer…

Her hearing began to tune into the sounds of her hotel room, and the faint sounds of Metropolis traffic outside as she felt a chill of cool air on her skin. She sighed to herself as she kept her eyes closed. The air conditioner probably went crazy in the room again – she knew that she would have to open her eyes now, and get out of bed for a moment to find the spare blanket in the closet.

Linda extended one leg to try and reach the edge of the bed as she started opening her eyes slowly. She frowned as she realized that she couldn’t seem to find the edge of the bed…or even the covers. Her eyes snapped open as she began to suspect something was wrong. She sat up quickly…and hit her head on something hard.

“Ow!” She twisted around quickly, getting a momentary glance of the bed below her, stripped of it’s covers, before crashing down to it head first, bouncing off of the mattress once and landing hard on the floor.

Her hands shaking, Linda reached for the lamp beside the bed and turned it on quickly. She sat up and began looking around the room. The bed was still next to her, its covers strewn on the floor around her. She looked up at the ceiling – there was a small dent where…she hit her head?

“What the…?” She slowly rose to her feet and looked up at the ceiling, staring, even dreaming a little at what caused the dent. She remembered hitting her head, and falling from…a smile creeped onto her face. “Could it be?”

Without another thought, Linda raced over to the backpack she left next to the closet and removed the white gloves, the tee-shirt, red boots, and blue skirt quickly. It didn’t take her long to put her costume on…and before she knew it, she was standing on the balcony outside her room, breathing the cool night air.

She glanced back into the room again, looking at the small dent in the ceiling, and took a deep breath. She could do it…she could fly. A quick look down to the hotel’s entrance ten floors below made her feel a little wary…but that dent in the ceiling gave her overwhelming confidence. There was only one way it could be there.

“Well…here goes.” Linda leapt off of the balcony, heading skyward, her right arm extended out ahead of her, fist leading the way. It felt wonderful, the cool air whipping through her hair again, to be free of the bounds of gravity. The joy of flying began to rush back to her…a feeling which had been too far out of reach for too long.

But then something changed. She was slowing down. The tethers of gravity once again took ahold of her…and she began falling. “Oh…no…no…”

Linda tumbled through the air, out of control, as she let the despair of the moment take control of her emotions. Her dream, the one thing she wanted most…torn away from her again. She began crying silently as she plummeted faster and faster toward the Earth…hoping for a moment that maybe this time, the fall might actually kill her. No…she had to dismiss such thoughts. She had to…

…Fly. She knew she must. Every fiber of her being began to fight the gravity pulling violently against her, trying to bring her crashing back to Earth. She remembered something Charlie told her once…’Don’t think, just do.’ And just as that thought crossed her mind…

…She realized that the Earth was moving away from her. Linda still felt herself falling…but she was falling away from the ground. She felt forces which would tear ordinary humans apart tugging at all of her limbs as the hotel became smaller and smaller. She gasped in wonder as she lights below her suddenly became a complete blur. And suddenly, she felt…nauseous.

Somehow, she instinctively found the balcony outside her hotel room in her rush to get safely to the bathroom. She made it just in time, lifting the seat of the toilet just as the remaining contents of her near-empty stomach emptied in an instant into the water. She flushed it down quickly, without even looking or taking a breath. Everything felt like such a rush.

Linda stumbled out of the bathroom and leaned her back against the wall around the corner, sliding down to the floor slowly. Suddenly everything seemed so foreign to her. She was just outside, flying…yet she found quickly that she was way out of practice. Her heart was still racing from excitement…she wanted to go back out and fly some more. But she was so tired. She crawled into bed slowly. It was time to sleep.
“Linda? Linda, wake up! It’s almost one o’clock!”

“Huh?” Linda opened her eyes quickly and looked up at Charlie. She was lying in bed, the covers pulled up to her chin. She had been sleeping so long, her entire body felt almost completely numb. She pulled her hands out from under the heavy blanket slowly, and rubbed her eyes. “Charlie…what are you doing in here?”

“I came to get you because you didn’t call…oh, excuse me.”

Linda watched Charlie retreat around the corner quickly as she sat up in bed. He seemed to be spooked by something…that’s when she spotted the white tee-shirt she was wearing last night carelessly tossed onto a chair at the foot of the bed. She was wearing only her undergarments under the covers. “Oh…I’m sorry. I was so tired last night after…Oh my God!”

Linda suddenly leapt out of bed, catching the robe which Charlie retrieved from behind the bathroom door and tossed to her. She paused to tie the robe’s belt around her waist, and quickly ran around the corner. “Charlie, I was flying last night!”

“In your underwear?”

“No, not in my underwear, Charlie. Come on!” She shoved Charlie lightly, trying not to laugh at the image his suggestion placed in her mind. “I was in my costume. It was wonderful, Charlie…I almost had forgotten what it’s like.”

“Linda…not to be rude but…could you…brush your teeth?” Charlie wrinkled his nose as Linda stood closer to him.

“I’m so sorry…I forgot that…oh, never mind.” Linda raced into the bathroom and grabbed her toothbrush.

“First you forget you’re in your underwear, then you forget to brush your teeth?” Charlie chuckled as he watched Linda hurriedly brush her teeth over the sink. “What’s going on?”

“I had an experience.” Linda spit out a mouthful of water and turned off the sink, wiping her face off on a towel as she headed out of the bathroom. “I dreamt that I could fly last night…and then I went outside and actually did it.”

Linda noticed Charlie looking away again before she looked down and then wrapped the robe around her more tightly. She frowned at him as she walked through the room to look for some clothing. “Could you um…wait in the kitchenette? I’d like to take a shower.”

“Sure, Linda. I’ll just raid the refrigerator while I’m waiting.”

She rolled her eyes and sighed as she watched Charlie head into the kitchenette and open the refrigerator. As she picked up an armful of clothing and headed toward the bathroom, she smiled to herself as she closed the door behind her. She knew that she flew last night…and she would prove it by doing so again.
“…right behind this door.” Lex Luthor unlocked a large steel door by placing his palm on a glass pad and typing in a code with his other hand. In the center of the door was a LexCorp logo. He didn’t seem the list bit afraid even as Vlad held a gun to his head.

“And you’re sure this weapon will kill Supergirl?”

“I call it Stardust. It’s a mold spore which grows inside the lungs…easily defeated, but deadly if not treated.” As the steel door slid open, Luthor stood aside and urged Vlad to go ahead.

Vlad slapped Luthor hard on the side of the side of his head, growling at him in a thick Russian accent. “Do I look stupid? You go first, it could be trap.”

Luthor sighed and walked through the doorway ahead of Vlad, walking quickly to stay a few paces ahead of him. Vlad discovered why an instant later – he ran right into some kind of invisible field which was now separating himself and Luthor. He immediately turned around, and ran into another invisible field – he was trapped.

“You’ll pay for this, you snake!” Vlad aimed the gun at Luthor, and fired two rounds. The bullets simply bounced off of the invisible field, landing on the floor at his feet.

“It’s a dampening force field,” Luthor explained. “It not only acts as a wall of energy, it cushions blows to it as well. When it’s completed, it’ll be extremely valuable in the mental health field.”

“You see, while the field prevents what’s inside from escaping–” Luthor picked up some sort of small device the size of a pager from a nearby steel countertop. He pointed it at Vlad, and pressed the button. A bolt of white energy immediately connected to Vlad, appearing and disappearing with the speed of lightning. “–It allows me to easily stun you from out here.”

“Is everything okay, Lex?” Mercy Graves entered the room quickly, carrying a heavy military style rifle and a knife on her belt. Two security men followed her into the room quickly, similarly armed. “We saw you taken into the building as a hostage, and–”

“Mercy, if there is one thing you can always be sure of, it’s that I’m never a hostage in my own building.”

She smiled and nodded, waving at the two guards to remove Vlad’s unconscious body. The two lifted Vlad off of the floor and left quickly. As soon as Mercy was sure the two had left, and the door slid shut, she removed her weapons and placed them on one of the steel counters next to her. “We were all worried about you, Lex. I was afraid that Superman had hauled you off to his fortress or something.”

Luthor smiled, walking closer to Mercy to shake her hand. It caught her a little off-guard, a man who was usually so bitter and stoic displaying friendship openly. “It’s good to be back, Mercy. Of all of the people here, I missed you most.”

Mercy stood frozen, her mouth hanging open from surprise, as Lex Luthor quietly left the room. As the door slid shut behind Luthor, she still found herself lacking words…and her head was swimming. If she didn’t believe it before, now she did…Luthor had changed.
“Can I go for a walk? I’m bored.”

Clark looked up from his desk slowly, a slight smile forming as he noticed that Kara still wore the jacket she left home with, in spite of the fact that it was much warmer since early morning. Much like himself, she was extremely tolerant of temperature changes. “This is a big building, Kara. Why don’t you explore it a little. And take the jacket off, it looks like you just got here.”

Kara smiled glancing over at Lois’ desk. She was out on assignment, having vanished the instant that a rumor began circulating that Lex Luthor had managed to escape from and detain one of his captors. Lois had been on her way to buy breakfast for herself and Kara when she got the call on her cell phone…and immediately detoured to drop Kara off at Clark’s desk. “I know how to get to Linda’s office. Can I go there?”

A deep sigh from Clark answered her question before he even said a word. She knew he wasn’t enthusiastic about her wandering around the city, given the potential for her to attract unwanted attention accidentally.

“I won’t do anything weird, I promise. I’ll just walk over there.”

Clark tapped on his desk twice, lost in thought for a moment, before reaching for his phone. “All right, Kara. But I’m going to call ahead first to make sure they know you’re coming.”

Kara rolled her eyes and slid into a chair at the other end of Clark’s desk, making sure he heard her sigh. As he began dialing his phone, she quickly picked up his steel letter opener, and began weaving it between her fingers as if it were nothing more then a plastic straw. She slid it off of the end of her fingers and smiled as she held it up to show Clark.

“Kara–” Clark sighed and snatched the letter opener from her, quickly stuffing it into his desk drawer as he placed his phone handset on the desk. He took a quick look around the room, leaning closer to Kara as he realized no one had seen what happened. “Don’t do that. Do you have any idea how dangerous it could be for someone to figure out–”

“I know, I know.” Kara dismissed Clark’s scolding with a wave of her hand and rose to her feet. “So…can I go?”

He nodded. “Yes, Charlie says you’re welcome to visit. Please try not to give him too much trouble.”

Clark watched as Kara gave him a quick smile and headed to the elevators quickly. He had a bad feeling about letting her walk around Metropolis alone, even if she was only walking a block. As soon as she was safely in the elevator, he lifted the handset again and took a deep breath as he looked at the letter opener in his open desk drawer. “Keep an eye on her, Charlie. I fear she may be looking for trouble…and I pray she never finds it.”
“I’m sorry, we have no leads yet.” Charlie sighed and leaned back in his new office chair as he looked across his desk at Emil Hamilton and the ‘essence’ who calls herself Sam. She looked and acted so closely to his former partner at LexCorp…he still couldn’t believe that she was almost entirely artificial. She was a testament to the work of the man Dr. Hamilton searched for – Tatsuo Takamura, inventor of the Pocket Protectors.

It worried Charlie a little bit that the Pocket Protectors – small personal security devices designed to increase safety – had to be taken off the market after a child watched his mother killed by one in a mall. If the same man designed Sam, did that mean the same fate awaited her? Or was it simply a manufacturing problem which caused a sound design to become dangerous?

Dr. Hamilton sighed. “I’m so sorry to hear that. If we don’t find him, Sam may be the last of her kind…and any research generated by the process of designing her will be forever lost.”

“Yes, well…” Charlie smiled and sat up, clasping his hands together in the center of the desk. “…I haven’t given up yet. In fact, Linda is out right now–”

As Charlie leaned back slightly in his chair, he couldn’t help but notice an orange glow coming from outside the window of his office. He turned slightly to fulfill his curiosity and look outside – and immediately noticed flames burning through the open fourth floor windows of a small six-story building across the street.

“Oh my God.” Charlie quickly reached for his telephone, dialing 911 as soon as he picked up the handset. But it was no use – the dispatch center had a recording indicating that all lines were busy. Luckily, it didn’t matter too much…the sound of sirens began to fill the streets quickly.

He looked outside again, noticing a teenager with blonde hair who stood on the sidewalk, staring straight up at the burning building, not moving or even coughing as thick clouds of smoke moved past her. It seemed like she was watching, or listening to something. He felt a moment of panic as he watched her remove her jacket and confidently stroll right into the building…but then he breathed a sigh of relief as he recognized Kara.

“Excuse me for a moment.” Charlie quickly raced around his desk and out of his office, heading straight for the stairway. He had no idea how quickly he managed to reach the first floor and run across the street, but it couldn’t have been long.

Unfortunately, as he attempted to cross the street toward the burning building, the heat and smoke drove him away. As he began coughing from breathing some of the smoke, he decided to retreat back to his office’s side of the street, and watch.

“Nobody’s in the building.”

Charlie’s heart began racing before he realized it was Kara’s voice who spoke to him from nearby. She was sitting on the trunk of a parked car only a few feet away. “How did you…I know I saw you go in there!”

Kara shrugged and bowed her head, avoiding Charlie’s gaze as if she were ashamed of something. “Takes some people longer to check then others. But I had to check…I couldn’t not know. I hope you’re not upset–”

“Upset?” Charlie hugged Kara across her shoulders quickly. “You’ve done a wonderful thing.”

“But…aren’t you worried about people finding out about me?”

“Seems to me,” Charlie said as he smiled at Kara, “I’m the only one who knows. But what’s important, Kara…is that you know what you did was right.”

“Right.” Kara laughed and slid off of the car trunk. “Try explaining that to Clark. He wants to keep me prisoner–”

“Clark is worried about you, Kara. If you walk around telling people who you are, you’ll gain enemies. Just look at Batman…he has more enemies then anyone.”

Kara folded her arms and frowned, looking up at Charlie with only her eyes. “That’s defective logic.”

The frown Charlie tried to give Kara dissolved quickly, giving way to a smile, and then a laugh. “You’re one smart teenager, aren’t you?”

He watched Kara return the smile as he pointed to his office building. Kara walked past him, and he followed her to the elevator. A minute later, the two entered the office suite Charlie had left only minutes earlier. He headed straight into his own office…but Kara froze as she stepped into the doorway, looking with fear at Sam, and then at Dr. Hamilton.

“What’s wrong?”

Kara looked at Charlie for a moment as if his question made no sense to her, before approaching Sam slowly. She reached out and poked Sam’s shoulder at arm’s length. “Are you…alive?”

Sam and Charlie both smiled at Kara’s question…but Dr. Hamilton looked perplexed. “She’s an ‘essence’, young lady. A living brain surrounded by an artificial body. But the question is…how did you know?”

“She–” Kara looked at Charlie again. She was almost afraid to explain, until he gave her an encouraging smile. “She…sounds different.”

“Sounds…?” Dr. Hamilton frowned and looked at Charlie. “Did she say that Sam sounds different?”

“She has excellent hearing.” Charlie smiled and nodded at Kara. She smiled in return.

“Very strange. I’ve taken audio readings on Sam.” Dr. Hamilton took a couple of steps toward Kara. “The only one who should be able to hear her is…”


Before Dr. Hamilton finished his sentence, Kara vanished from the room in a blur, leaving a wake of turbulence in the room, strong enough to toss most of the papers from Charlie’s desk into the air. Charlie laughed…but Dr. Hamilton was less then amused. He leaned over Charlie’s desk, and stared him straight in the eye.

“What’s going on here?” Dr. Hamilton’s voice was more serious then Charlie had ever heard before.

Charlie realized at that moment that as a scientist, someone with an innate need to explain what happens around him, it would be impossible to try and fool him. He took a deep breath, figuring that if Superman could trust his secrets with this man…

“Dr. Hamilton…can you keep a secret?”

Linda nearly dropped her backpack as she raced around the corner, heading toward her office. She had been occupied with thoughts of getting there before Dr. Hamilton left…until she noticed that the building across the street had two engines from the Metropolis Fire Department parked in front of it. She felt even more confused as she noticed Kara sitting on a the roof of a parked car, watching the firefighters work.

Kara didn’t even look as Linda approached her…but the movement of her eyes indicated that she knew Linda was there. Linda noticed that she looked a little depressed as she stared up at the top of the tall ladder the firefighters were using to fight the fire from above.

A light spray constantly rained down on the street as the wind blew back water sprayed from the fire hoses. It left small beads of water on the cars, and on Kara’s jacket. It felt refreshing to Linda, who had been walking around Metropolis all day attempting to gather information on Tatsuo Takamura…and coming up with nothing.

Linda easily hopped up on top of the roof of the car and sat next to Kara, watching the teen bow her head sadly. “What’s the matter?”

“Charlie is selling me out. Clark won’t let me leave his sight–” Kara sighed and looked up at Linda slowly. “Nobody likes me. I’m just…excess baggage. It’s like I don’t belong here, and everyone knows it.”

“I like you.” Linda gently put her arm across Kara’s shoulders, almost as if she were trying to shield the teen from an imaginary harsh wind. “I just can’t look after you because–”

“I don’t need looking after, Linda. I may be new to this city…to this planet…but I’m not stupid.”

“Hmm.” Linda looked down the street, toward the hotel where she and Charlie each had rooms until they found more permanent residence in Metropolis. They both learned within days that affordable housing was scarce inside the city…and it made Linda wonder just how much money Clark and Lois had to make to live there. “I may just have an idea…”

She interrupted herself as she suddenly noticed something out of the corner of her eye. A man she vaguely recognized was just standing behind the parked car, arms folded, as if he were listening to every word she and Kara were saying.

“Do you mind?” Linda turned around quickly, aiming an angry glance at the man standing behind the car. She almost followed her question with a couple of insults, before she recognized him. “Kyle Rayner? What are you doing here?”

He shrugged and held his arms out at his sides on dramatic fashion. “Can’t a man walk around on a public sidewalk without–”


He laughed as he leaned against the car, momentarily smiling as Kara turned around to give him a suspicious look. “Some very powerful associates of mine have taken an interest in you…and your little friend here. I’m supposed to keep an eye on you both.”

“You’ve got to be kidding me.” Linda shook her head and slid off of the car, realizing suddenly that she had to look up at Kyle now. “Is this one of your sick pranks? I’ve heard about the ones you pull at JLA meetings. Diana still hasn’t forgiven you for the last one.”

“That was a one-time prank. And I had no idea that material would stick to skin when frozen, I swear.”

“What material?” Kara slid off of the car, looking at Linda, and then at Kyle.

“Nothing,” Linda said quickly. “Never mind. I’d rather not relive the moment, if it’s all the same.”

Kara looked at Kyle, who shrugged, but gave her no other response. She rolled her eyes and sat down on the hood of the car, her expression telling both Kyle and Linda that she didn’t appreciate being left out of the conversation. “Fine. Whatever.”

Linda stared at Kyle, an obvious question hanging between them – obvious enough that he knew what it was, even if she didn’t speak it. Why were these ‘powerful associates’ interested in her? She watched him turn serious, and a little confused before he answered, as if he himself didn’t understand the answer.

“The Guardians…they said you’ve seen something not meant for your eyes. And that you and the kid are sources of Chaos.”

“You mean–” Linda glanced at Kara for a moment before lowering her voice to a near whisper. “That reddish orange planet?”

Kyle turned pale at Linda’s question…at which point she realized that he didn’t know! The Guardians must not have given him such detailed information. “What…reddish orange planet?”

Linda sighed and sat back down on the hood of the car next to Kara. She gave Kyle a half-hearted smile. “I supposed it’s too late to say ‘never mind’.”

“Oh, I’d say it’s much too late.” Kyle leaned against the car’s windshield, waiting impatiently for Linda to tell him more.

Closing her eyes for a moment, Linda’s memory rushed back to the vivid image of that planet. She was floating above it…and it didn’t seem real. It couldn’t have been real…but it felt like she was there. The cold of space intruding on the vehicle which held her aloft, the warmth of the planet’s star glaring against the side of her face. And the planet…it seemed so…alive.

“Sharon, Charlie, and I found this…cave hidden in Kansas somewhere. Inside it was this crystal wall, and some sort of control center. I touched the crystal, and it became a gateway–”

“A…gateway?” Kyle frowned as he kept his gaze fixed on Linda.

Linda laughed and shook her head. “I know. I wouldn’t believe it either if I hadn’t seen it myself.”

“No, that’s not it.” He shook his head slowly. “I believe it. In fact, it’s all too real.”
Jimmy Olsen stared, his tongue nearly hanging out of his mouth, as a tall blonde he had never seen before confidently strolled through the Daily Planet press room. She was dressed just as most other blondes walking along the streets of Metropolis below, in black jeans, a white shirt, and blue jacket – but there was something so familiar about her hair texture, her eyes…maybe even her face.

As she passed him, she rolled her eyes and sighed. Even that seemed so familiar to Jimmy – something about the way she presented herself, in how she seemed so strange and yet so normal.

The woman paused and glanced around the large room quickly, seeming to be perplexed by the sheer volume of activity, desks, and number of people walking back and forth. Yet she didn’t give up right away. Even her self-sufficiency felt familiar to Jimmy somehow.

“Excuse me.” She spoke in a steady, confident voice, as if she were some sort of royalty, confident that she commanded everything and everyone in her presence. “Could you inform Clark Kent that Karen would like to have a word with him?”

Jimmy nodded, but still found himself at a loss for words. He almost tripped over his own feet as he turned and headed into the newsroom, pointing himself directly at Clark’s desk. It was empty. “Nuts.”

He turned around and walked back slowly to face the blonde, Karen, preparing himself to disappoint her no matter how much he hated to. “Miss…he’s not at his desk. Would you like to leave a message, or wait?”

Karen lifted her hand, tapping her chin gently with her index finger as she pondered a question which, to her, was more complex then it appeared. She obviously went to a lot of trouble to come to the Daily Planet offices. “I’ll wait. I’d rather not travel all the way back here.”

“Drove up from Gotham City, did you?” Jimmy smiled as he tried to punctuate his comment with a dose of humor. But as soon as it left his mouth, his smile turned into one of desperation as he realized how stupid it sounded.

Surprisingly, Karen returned his look with a warm smile as she sat down in one of the chairs next to the newsroom entrance. “Something like that. Listen, uh–”

“Jimmy.” He held his hand out to shake hers, only to find his arm dangling between them awkwardly. He withdrew his handshake attempt quickly.

“Jimmy…could I please have a cup of water?”

“Sure.” He took a deep breath as he headed around the corner toward the water cooler, snatching a cup from the dispenser quickly. He felt confident now…the blonde knew his name, and maybe he could strike up a conversation as she waited for Clark. Maybe she might even get to know him…or even like him.

“Olsen! That water is meant for drinking, not irrigating crops!”

Jimmy instinctively cringed at the sound of Perry White’s voice, causing him to spill more water then had already overflowed from the cup he held as his mind wandered. “Oh…uh…sorry, chief.”

“Don’t call me chief!”

As usual, Jimmy didn’t hear Perry’s last phrase as he rushed back to the waiting room, full cup of water in hand. He paused for a moment as he passed Clark’s desk – he was back. A glance across the room to the entrance, and he realized that Karen was standing again – it was only a matter of moments before she spotted Clark as well. He sighed to himself – might as well face the inevitable, and just tell Clark he has a guest.

“Clark…someone named Karen is here to see you.”

“Uh-huh.” Clark looked up for a moment from his computer, quickly glancing at the waiting room. “Tell her I’ll be with her in a moment.”

Jimmy smiled to himself as he headed to the waiting room. If Clark was busy, it meant that he did indeed have some time to talk to Karen first. He was positively beaming as he entered the waiting room and handed Karen the cup of water. “Here you go. And I found Clark, he says he’ll be with you in a moment.”

“Thank you.” Karen stood quickly and took the cup of water, swallowing it’s contents in one gulp. She gripped Jimmy’s hand tightly, almost too tightly, and smiled at him. “Pleased to meet you, Jimmy.”

With those words, she simply walked into the stairway…and vanished. Jimmy turned pale as he walked back toward Clark’s desk – how would he explain to Clark that his guest had just disappeared?

But as he approached the desk of Clark Kent, he realized that explaining wouldn’t be a problem – Clark Kent was gone as well. “What is going on around here?”
“That’s a good question.” Superman stood on the roof of the Daily Planet building, staring past the large ball at Power Girl. She stood leaning against the large ball with her arms folded. “I’m not sure what you mean.”

“Kal, I found out where that kid came from. She’s not from this planet.”

He shrugged. “Neither am I.”

“That’s not what I meant, and you know it.” Power Girl unfolded her arms and walked closer to Kal, leaning against an antenna as she moved close to him. “You were bought up here from a young age, with Earth customs and traditions. These things are alien to her. How does she feel about killing, for instance?”

“Karen, we can’t just think the worst of every stranger who appears on our planet.” Superman sighed and looked over the edge of the roof to the street far below. “If there is one thing I’ve learned about people…of any planet…is that they want to be loved, and cared for. As long as we take care of Kara, she’ll fit in just fine.”

Power Girl frowned, a flash of anger appearing across her eyes momentarily before she rose to her full height in front of Superman, in an almost threatening manner. “That, Kal-El, is why this planet is doomed to be a victim of every disaster which comes along. Some ‘people’ out there don’t want caring. Some of them want us dead.”


“Look, Kal…I’m not saying it’s right, and we should train people to hate. But–” Power Girl sighed loudly and sat down on the edge of the roof, looking down at the street as if it were a pond, reflecting her image skyward. “–I dunno. I guess the idea of trying to look after a kid who can destroy the planet is rather…frightening to me.”

“If there is one thing ma and pa taught me–”

“Oh, no. Not that farm boy stuff again.” Power Girl lowered her face into her hands, shaking her head slowly.

Superman sighed and sat down next to Power Girl. “I may be a farm boy…but if not for that, I probably would not be the man I am today. Can you imagine me, or Kara being raised by someone like Lex Luthor?”

She rose her head slowly, looking across town at the LexCorp tower, which loomed over the city ominously. It was a constant reminder of who was ‘in charge’. While Gotham City was well-known for its useless government and law enforcement, few realized that Metropolis was much the same – only cleaner.

“I see your point.” Power Girl rose to her feet slowly, dusted herself off and turned to face Superman with a mischievous grin. “Oh…and by the way, I’ve learned something else interesting.”

Superman gave her a questioning, yet vaguely fearful look.

“Linda and Charlie have put Kara in a room in that hotel where they are staying.” Power Girl almost laughed as she noticed the look of shock on his face. She floated off of the roof of the Daily Planet, the wind tossing around her hair as she ascended toward the skies. “Good luck.”

Superman felt anger…followed quickly by a sense of regret. He remembered Kara’s reaction when he attempted to keep track of her at all times while he worked. He treated her more like a small child then a young woman with a mind of her own – he was much too protective.

And yet she remained so patient, as if she understood why she was treated that way. Still, it was clear that she wasn’t happy living with Lois and himself – because they were too busy to give her the attention she needed.

“I sure hope Linda knows what she’s getting into.”


#13 – Rhythm, Part 2

“You’d better run!”

A young man, perhaps seventeen years old, ran through the streets of Gotham City, gasping desperately for breath. He was being chased by four thugs, at least twice his size – they spotted him as he walked from his grandfather’s house to his parents’, only a block or two away. Worse yet, he dropped the inhaler he needed to treat his asthma…and he was quickly blacking out from lack of oxygen.

As he paused for a moment to try and catch his breath and regain his bearings, he felt something impact the side of his head, and shatter. His head throbbed, his left ear partially deaf now from the sound of glass exploding so close to him. He could feel blood running down his scalp, inducing another wave of panic – he picked himself up and began running again as he heard them approach slowly. They didn’t bother to run…they were waiting for him to tire out.

His original plan was to try and lose them through the neighborhood – but now, as he felt blood running down to his neck, he began to realize that these thugs were deadly serious. He needed to run home, where he would be safe…

“C’mere! We just wanna talk to you!”

The teen bit his lip to keep from crying as another bottle went flying past him. His breathing was extremely labored now, as he struggled to process oxygen in his constricted lungs. With every breath, his vision became peppered with tiny points of light, and the colors before him washed into darker shades of grey.

Just when he began to fear he wouldn’t make it, he let out a sigh of relief as he turned a corner and saw his home right in front of him. He let adrenaline flood into his blood stream, as he poured on the speed, trying to put as much space between him and the thugs as possible. He raced up the stairs to his front door, turning the doorknob quickly…

…But it was locked.

He could hear laughing behind him as he pounded on the door frantically. The laughing came closer, and closer…And a hot twinge of pain tore up his spine like a lightning strike. His mouth opened to scream, yet the sheer terror and agony of the moment took his voice away.

Another blow, this time to his shoulder. The thugs were all around him. His eyes widened in fear, as he found his voice and yelled as loudly as he could. His terrified screams, his cries of ‘help me’ into the darkness, echoed off of the surrounding buildings in futility.

The teen turned around just in time to see a steel baseball bat descending upon his head, closing his eyes just before the impact. He never felt the hit…his senses eluded him, even as he felt himself fall to the ground.

He remembered hearing thugs cheering, as their voices began to sound farther, and farther away. He remembered feeling a breeze as the door opened behind his immobilized body, and hearing his mother’s voice shriek ‘Dear God, no!’ into the night. He heard only her whispers, and her sobs…and he felt comforted, as the world slipped away gently into silence.
“What do we tell the press?”

The mayor of Gotham City sighed and leaned back in the plush, leather chair behind his office’s heavy polished wood desk. He rubbed his chin nervously, looking at his aide after several seconds of silence. “Why do we have to tell them anything?”

“Sir, the public is demanding to know what’s going on.” The aide leaned against the desk. His face showed apparent panic at the realization that his political future hung in the balance of the mayor’s re-election chances. “People are dying on the streets. They’re falling off of buildings…one was even found beaten to death.”

“He was an armed assassin.”

“But the fact remains, sir”, the aide continued, “The public is frightened. Either this…Batman has turned more dangerous, or we’ve got someone else out there–”

“Dammit, Rick!” The mayor stood quickly and shoved his aide aside. “You will not mention the Batman to the press! Do you hear me?”

“Y-Yes sir.” The aide stumbled, but regained his balance as his back met the wall behind him. “Th-then what should I tell them, sir?”

“Tell them–” A long pause dominated the conversation as the mayor leaned his palms against the back of his chair, staring across the room blankly as his mind tried to put a definite political spin on his thoughts. “Tell them that we have everything under control…and that Gotham’s finest are on the case.”
“Help! Help me, please!”

Batgirl ignored the man’s pleas as she sat on a narrow ledge, legs slightly crossed and dangling high above the street. The man hung upside down from a horizontal flagpole extending from the ledge a short distance away, swaying in the wind as only his shoelaces prevented him from plummeting to the concrete below.

The one thing which made this man a little different from the others which Batgirl had encountered was that he wasn’t an average Gotham criminal. He was a Gotham City Police Officer. He was a rookie who made the gave mistake of shooting at Batgirl to as she walked the narrow ledge, trying to maintain her balance.

He was attempting to scare her into coming down, barking an order at her to do so as he fired the shot – but she was less than understanding of his motivation as she used a cable launcher to suddenly hoist him up to the flagpole against his will. Before he knew it, she was hanging on to the pole with her arm and both legs, using her hands to tie his shoelaces together over the top of the pole.

“Please let me down. I have a family–”

“Family?” Batgirl leaned closer to the officer, holding out one gloved hand within his reach. At first, he didn’t understand, until she waved two fingers in his direction. It dawned on him that she wanted to see pictures. He slowly slipped his wallet out of his shirt pocket, nearly dropping it before Batgirl snatched it as it began to fall.

She opened the wallet, looking at a couple of the photos quickly, and then placed it on the ledge beside her. This time as her hand extended, she gripped the officer’s wrist tightly, sliding his shoes along the flagpole until she had enough leverage to pull him up to the ledge without allowing herself to be pulled down.

Batgirl sat down and watched the officer pull himself up onto the ledge and slide away from the street until his back touched the building’s stone facade. His hands gripped the ledge tightly, until his knuckles turned white, and he had a look of apparent fear in his eyes. She laughed at him softly as she reached for the wallet, handing it back to him with two fingers.

“Nervous?” As he nodded in response, she noticed that for the second time, the officer seemed a little stunned that her voice sounded so soft, so normal. She guess that it struck him as unusual for someone who fought crime on the streets of Gotham City to be so soft-spoken.

“I…I’m sorry I took a shot at you. I was terrified, with all of those urban myths about you going around. But now that I’ve met you…you’re nothing at all like Batman.”

Batgirl nodded and stood up quickly on the ledge, looking down to adjust one of the cable launchers attached to her belt. She noticed the officer becoming more nervous as he suspected that she was preparing to leave.

“Hey, wait…How do I get down?”

Without speaking another word, Batgirl snapped the cable launcher off of her belt and fired it upward, tugging on it to test its security once the projectile at the other end had landed and gripped some surface above. She pressed the device into the palm of the officer, and gave him a quick two-fingered salute…

…Then, as he watched, she held the edges of her cape with her gloved hands, spreading it out to its full width, and simply stepped off of the edge of the building. By the time he leaned forward gently to try and see where she had landed…she was gone.
Cassandra sat on Bruce’s desk in the bat cave, still wearing her costume with the exception of the mask, which was neatly folded beside her. If there was one thing Bruce repeated to her many times, it was that her costume was extremely valuable and she needed to take care of it.

She twirled a white tulip between her fingers. It was now wrinkled and drooping since it had been delivered a day earlier. She stared sideways at the computer screen at the end of the desk as Bruce leaned back in his chair beside her, typing with blinding speed at the keyboard in front of him. He was searching orders for local florists.

“Bingo.” Bruce paused and leaned toward the screen, pointing at one line on the screen. He sighed as he realized that the ‘from’ phone number and address on the screen was obviously fake – but he was even more intrigued that the name was listed as simply, ‘Robert’.

“Didn’t Robert try to destroy your building?” Cassandra continued twirling the small flower, staring at it as if lost in thought. It was clear she was only giving Bruce half of her attention.

Bruce suddenly stiffened in his chair, the hair on the back of his neck standing on end as he turned around slowly to look at Cassandra. “What did you say?”

She dropped the tulip to Bruce’s desk and looked up, giving her full attention. She looked at Bruce, then at the computer screen. “You said an employee named Robert–”

“Yes. There may just be a connection–” Bruce began typing at his computer quickly – a search of all instances of the name ‘Robert’ in both police records and his own. As the computer ran through its records, Cassandra suddenly reached over and turned off the monitor. Bruce stared at her as if to demand a reason for her behavior.

“There is.” Cassandra slid off of the counter, as she began carefully removing her costume gloves. “He was there when I was arrested.”

Bruce paused as he watched her removing her gloves for a second, a thought seemingly crossing his mind. His eyes seeming to give her a disapproving look, she instinctively stopped to wait for him to say something.

“Keep the gloves on, Cassandra. We may be going back out.”

Cassandra sighed and pulled at the base of her leather glove to tighten it against her fingers once again. The leather was rather cozy to wear outside where it was often cool and wet, but indoors it felt a little constricting. She wondered if Bruce felt the same way when in costume…then again, at the moment he still wore civilian clothing.

“Yes. An arrest report…for rape.” Bruce wheeled around abruptly, as his memory found instant recognition of the arrest report on the screen in front of him. This man named ‘Robert’ was released because he was assaulted during arrest…by a young woman with dark hair. A slight smile formed as he began to put all of the puzzle pieces together. This ‘Robert’ was the same man who had been on parole from a mental institution, attacked his therapist…and murdered a hotel clerk. “Interesting.”

Cassandra gave Bruce a questioning look. She wasn’t sure if he was about to laugh at her, or try and help her.

“This man, Cassandra, is a classic serial murderer profile. He behaves violently in general until he focuses on a subject. Then he channels all of his effort toward romancing the subject, and when he fails…he kills the subject.”

“Me?” Cassandra blinked twice and leaned against the counter to steady herself. She shook her head slowly…how could some total stranger have selected her as the focus of his insanity?

Then she remembered…the police station. The strange man who she had punched only an hour before her arrest walked right past her as she sat on a bench in the booking room. His eyes seemed…amused as he looked down at her. At first, she thought that it was simply someone who took pleasure in seeing her on the verge of being locked away. But looking back…it was much more. It was as if he were trying to assert power over her, emphasizing that he was free and she was not.

She shivered slightly as that look began to haunt her. She remembered seeing it three times – once before punching the man, once in the police station…and in an anonymous a pair of eyes which she could feel watching her as she left the station with Tim.

“We have to hit him first,” Bruce said.

His voice sounded more hushed, more calm…more emotionless. Cassandra knew at that moment that he was one step away from putting on that costume. While he still appeared to be Bruce Wayne, in every other way he was already Batman.

Cassandra sighed and began fidgeting with her mask as she patiently waited for Bruce to step into the next room and don his costume. It didn’t take long – while his costume was complex, he was well-practiced in putting it together. She looked down at her own leather costume, and wondered if Bruce knew how difficult it was to put on.

“What about Tim?” She watched Bruce cross the room in costume, and type something at his computer terminal. He didn’t respond right away – she began to think he was ignoring her on purpose. But just when she gave up on hearing a response, he finally spoke up.

“He will remain here and feed me data through a comm link.”

“Isn’t that Barbara’s–” Cassandra interrupted herself as Batman gave her one of those chilling looks. It was the kind of stare that cut through to her soul, and made enemies wish he would just kill them and get it over with. While she knew that the look was essentially just an expression of determination, it still frightened her a little…because she knew that at its core was the fact that Batman did not fear death.

Not another word was spoken as Cassandra slipped her mask on and quickly and silently slid into the passenger seat of the Batmobile. As Batman began driving toward Gotham City, he didn’t speak or even look over at the passenger side. But she could hear him breathing heavily – he was angry! As unlikely as it sounded, Bruce’s own feelings were driving Batman’s actions.

That was when it dawned on her as she stared at him, his eyes fixed on the road ahead, his breathing and posture indicating someone bent on revenge. Bruce was attempting to be protective. He was going after Robert as if he were a grieving family member, or her father…and there wasn’t a thing she could do to stop him.
“It’s a shame. A real shame.” Catwoman walked across the lobby of a building owned by Bruce Wayne – or at least by a company owned by him. The building was still closed to the public, as it had been severely damaged by fire, and a crime scene had been set up in the lobby.

Once the fire had been extinguished, police found the body of a well-known foreign assassin tucked away in a dark corner of the lobby, lying in a pool of his own blood. A deep red streak led from that point to the center of the lobby, causing investigators to conclude that he had been dragged into the corner to prevent him from being discovered right away. Only that same investigation remained open, as there were no witnesses or fingerprints, and the cameras in the lobby had been destroyed.

“And I thought I would be able to fight him one day. Too bad.” Catwoman had a single purpose in mind as she scoured the lobby – keeping her own trail cold. She knew that she had been in the building during the fire to loot offices upstairs of important information. To her, it seemed like victimless crime – rescue paperwork on the verge of destruction, and demand a premium for its return. But now, she was in danger of having a murder rap pinned on her. All it would take was one strand of hair.

Unlike during her usual excursions, stealth was required. If she were detected somehow while trying to destroy evidence in a crime scene…a murder rap would become more of a likelihood than a possibility. She kneeled down as she spotted a shape cut in the plaster of the ceiling above, behind one of the cameras. It looked like the corner of one of Batman’s wing toys.

“Hmm.” She looked around the room quickly, finally spotting a chair sitting behind the security desk. It was a rolling chair, but easy enough to balance on as she moved it under the part of the ceiling she spotted a moment ago, she easily stood on the chair, keeping her balance as she looked closer.

Catwoman smiled to herself as she stared up at the ceiling, shaking her head slowly. She remembered that the last time she was there, Batman was nowhere in the building – and he would never be sloppy enough to leave a mark behind. That means it had to be…

“Poor, poor Batgirl,” she whispered to herself as she carefully removed a knife from behind her belt. She reached up and chipped away more plaster, converting the bat-wing shaped cut in the ceiling into a simple-looking chip in the plaster. Her free hand caught the plaster chunk, slipping it carefully into a backpack she carried with her. Any dropped plaster would look like tampering.

Careful to push the chair exactly to the spot she found it, Catwoman headed out of the lobby quickly. As she made her way quickly to the exit, she paused and glanced backward, shuddering a little as she imagined that five and a half foot young woman in a costume murdering an armed assassin practically in an open, public place. She smiled to herself…the girl had potential.

“You owe me one, Batgirl.”
Batgirl clung to the passenger seat of the Batmobile as she watched Batman careen through the damp streets of Gotham City at dangerous speeds. Of course, it wasn’t the speed which bothered Batgirl – it was the fact that she sensed that he was out of control, reckless. She worried that he cared little for his own life at that moment…and consequently, was putting hers in danger.

She wanted nothing more to ask Batman to allow her to drive – only she knew he would simply ignore her, as if she were a bothersome temporary passenger in the Batmobile, rather than someone who he worked with daily. So she did the only thing she could – lean back, keep the seat belt on, and hope the tough shell of the Batmobile would protect her.

“A kid died today. A young man only a few years younger than you.”

Batgirl bit her lip and looked over at Batman. Now she understood why he had been in such a mood all day. He tended to take Gotham City crime personally, as if it somehow reflected on his abilities as Batman.

Batman glanced at Batgirl for a moment, his emotionless eyes hiding everything she knew that he felt. “He was killed right in front of his house. His mother had to watch him die.”

“Just like you.” Batgirl looked at Batman again – he seemed to pause as their gazes met across the car. An awkward silence filled several seconds, as Batman seemingly shuddered at Batgirl’s all-too-true assessment of how he felt.

“Yes.” Batman seemed to retain perfect control of his demeanor and voice as he replied…yet somehow, Batgirl could sense a little sadness in his response. “There is some similarity.”

More silence filled the car as Batman seemed to concentrate fully on driving. He stared straight ahead, both hands on the steering wheel. Only Batgirl noticed that the car seemed to be moving noticeably faster. The brakes suddenly locked as Batman tore into an alley and stopped the car abruptly. The canopy opened briefly, and he stepped out.

“Wait here.”

Batgirl reluctantly complied as the canopy closed behind him. She watched him walk quickly into the darkness ahead…but something about the way they had arrived at that destination bothered her. It was almost as if Batman had some other agenda, something he didn’t want her to be a part of. She couldn’t remember him mentioning an alley at any point before they left the cave.

She grabbed the remote control for the Batmobile, and opened the canopy, stepping out of the car silently. The canopy closed by itself as soon as she left the car, and she tapped the security arm button to raise its shielding as she headed into the alley.

As she silently walked into the alley, she spotted Batman standing in its center, looking down at the ground. He stood frozen, frowning, as if he were lost in unpleasant thoughts. In his hands he held a damp popcorn box from a nearby movie theater – it had been discarded in the alley. But the strangest part was that he seemed to be staring at it in an almost sentimental manner.

“I watched it happen, right in front of my eyes…” He didn’t even face her, raise his eyes, or move at all as he spoke. It seemed to Batgirl as if he were almost afraid to move, lest it give away his true feelings – and she guessed that while it would be an honest Bruce Wayne, it would be far out of character for Batman. “…and I still see it, today. Every time I enter a dark room, I see and hear it.”

Batgirl’s eyes widened as a powerful thought occurred to her. Bruce essentially lived alone in Wayne Manor. If not on the streets at night as Batman, he would sit each night in his large, dark home alone, remembering what had happened to his parents and fuming – and that would quickly drive him to insanity or drink. Being Batman was his way of dealing with it, of feeling like he was doing something about it…or to feel like no one in this world would have power over him, ever again.

She walked over to Batman slowly, taking the popcorn box from his hands and discarding it quickly. He gave her a somewhat threatening look…but she ignored it as she took his hand and began walking backwards toward the car. She was surprised that he followed…only once they were safely in the car, he simply sat behind the wheel, staring into the alley.

“It’s okay, you know.” Batgirl paused as Batman turned to look at her slowly. She removed her mask, staring into Batman’s cold-looking eyes with her own soft brown ones. She echoed his borderline threatening look with one of compassion, and caring. “It’s okay to cry.”
“Do you think Bruce is torturing Cassandra again?” Tim stood next to one of the windows in the library of Wayne Manor, one hand holding back the curtain as he looked outside.

Barbara glanced at Tim quickly, smiling as she gently placed the book she was reading in her lap. “It’s just eating you up, isn’t it?”

Tim gave her a confused look. “What is?”

“Being left behind, with no information on what they’re up to.” Barbara laughed softly as she leaned her chin on her palm, staring across the room at Tim. “I see you staring out the window, pacing around the room–”

“All right, all right. I get the point.” Tim sighed and walked over to one of the large chairs and settled into it noisily enough to almost seem like a protest. “Barbara–”


Tim sat up in the chair and leaned toward Barbara, pausing for a moment as if to collect his thoughts. “Do you think Cassandra might have killed her parents on purpose? Or that assassin?”

Barbara’s smile disappeared as she blinked twice from surprise at Tim’s question. “Tim…why would you ask such a question?”

“I dunno.” Tim leaned back and scratch his head, suddenly ashamed by his own questions. “It’s just that…it seems like she takes it all too well. Like it’s too easy for her. Frankly…that scares me.”

“I know what you mean.” Barbara paused for a few seconds, tapping her chin as she thought to herself. “Problem is…she’s living the kind of life where it’s okay to kill. Kind of like a soldier in battle. She’s becoming desensitized.”

Tim visibly shuddered as Barbara spoke, taking a few seconds to finally speak. “Isn’t that…a bad thing?”

She shook her head slowly. “Not necessarily. Men have come home from Vietnam after wiping out whole platoons, and gone on to become schoolteachers, businessmen…the point is, they recover from it. I think Cassandra’s sweet nature will keep her centered.”

“She’s so difficult to understand.” Tim laughed a little as he leaned back in his chair again. “She gives Bruce a hard time. But I think she genuinely cares about him.”

“Bruce knows that, Tim. He trusts her. If he didn’t–” Barbara quickly rolled her wheelchair across the room, heading toward the kitchen. “–he never would have brought her here.”
The usual customers of a small pub near downtown Gotham City came to the place every day to get away from their dreary lives. They came to sit in darkness, where no one would recognize them, and quietly drown their sorrows in waves after wave of alcohol. Their only objective was to allow the drink, darkness, and hypnotic music to numb their senses until they were barely aware of who or where they were.

But this night, a few of them found a reason to remain sober – to permanently rejoin reality – in the very place they came to hide from it. It was the night that their small, unassuming pub was graced by the presence of someone who none of them even expected to see in person – the Joker.

Everyone froze as he stood in the doorway of the pub, his white face and permanent smile spreading fear through the eyes of everyone present. He didn’t speak a word even as he almost politely tipped his hat to the bartender, who immediately dropped a bottle of whiskey in response.

His footsteps echoed loudly in the small room, even louder now that the CD which had been playing music came to an end – the bartender was too frozen by fear to change it – and slight gasps could be heard as Joker, followed closely by two henchmen dressed in purple, stopped at each table to look at its occupant.

The footsteps suddenly stopped as Joker stood over a table in the back, where a man sat, quietly drinking a beer. As the two henchmen walked around the table and surrounded the man, a few people quickly dashed for the exit, never to return – but Joker paid them no attention as he calmly sat down across the table and leaned back, grinning at the man as if he had something on his mind.

“That must be a good beer,” Joker finally said after several seconds of silence. “Oh, bartender?”

He suddenly pulled a gun out from under his jacket, firing two shots toward the bar. Two bottles of liquor shattered, and the mirror behind the bar collapsed. The terrified bartender hopped over the bar and raced for the exit, abandoning the bar in short order.

Joker laughed, waving his gun in an exaggerated gesture as he spoke – which frightened the few customers which were still left. “And people wonder why the restaurant business is going to hell.”

“What do you want?” The man seemed either courageous or stupid as he interrupted the Joker with an impatient question.

“Robert, Robert, Robert…” Joker stood and gave an exaggerated sigh as he ignored a few more customers who made a run for the exit. “It’s not about what I want. It’s about what you want…something that’s mine.”

Robert shook his head slowly, still seemingly unimpressed by the Joker. “I have no idea what you’re talking about. You’re nuts.”

“That,” Joker said as he leaned over the table, “From a man who slings insults at Gotham’s most dangerous man?”

Robert scoffed. “What are you going to do? Kill me?”

“No, no, no. I’m not a killer. I’m an artist.” Joker picked up a knife on Robert’s table, examining his reflection on one side of the steel blade. “All great art requires suffering. Suffering from which sweet death is a merciful release. I’ve suffered, Robert. Have you?”

“Is this supposed to frighten me?” Robert almost laughed as he took another sip of beer.

“No, it’s supposed to educate you.”

Joker slammed the knife point-first between Robert’s knuckle and the base of his middle finger. As Robert screamed in pain, and the remaining customers in the place squirmed and retreated low into their seats, Joker kept twisting the knife.

“That’s supposed to frighten you.” He held Robert’s severed middle finger in front of him, waving it tauntingly before his eyes. “Don’t be sad, Robert, you got what you wanted…to give me the finger.”

Joker began laughing loudly as he headed toward the front door, his two henchmen in tow. As he did, he paused to drop the severed finger into a woman’s drink next to the door. She screamed, but he paid no attention as he continued laughing. And then…he was gone.

The customers of the pub began to slowly emerge from their hiding places, each of them looking to the back of the place, to a table stained in blood. The man Joker called Robert sat there, crying and muttering to himself, trying as best as he could to bandage his hand with his napkin.

“Help me–,” he whispered in a barely audible voice as he stood and began stumbling toward the other customers. “Somebody…help me.”
“We’re too late.”

Batman looked at Batgirl momentarily as they stood atop a building, hiding in the darkness as they looked down upon a small pub across the street. Parked in front of the place were an ambulance and a police car. The ambulance began driving away, sirens blaring – meaning that Batman and Batgirl had already missed a chance to identify its passenger right away. The two officers remained inside, writing a report on what had happened.

“Enough distraction. Let’s go.”

Batgirl nodded and followed Batman’s cable launcher with her own, aiming carefully at some overhead power lines – a dangerous feat, but possible only as long as she kept her gloves on and didn’t allow herself to touch the ground and the steel cable itself at the same time.

It allowed for easy, unencumbered transportation from the commercial district into a small urban residential development nearby, one which contained a home that made the news yesterday…after a seventeen year old teen was murdered right in front of his own door.

As Batman landed atop a small apartment building on a corner, Batgirl was a little confused. It wasn’t like him to outright seek revenge. But as she looked down the street quickly, she started to understand…she recognized that neighborhood.

She reached into her belt and removed a small stainless steel chain with a Star of David at the end of it, dangling it in front of her own eyes. She remember the old man who handed it to her – given to her as a gift of gratitude, even friendship. She remembered the neighborhood clearly now…she had been there before, trying to stop white supremacists from preying on its older Jewish residents.

Batgirl smiled at Batman as she began to put it all together. As crime fighters, the two of them had to keep up on the neighborhoods they had been active in previously – otherwise the criminals just come right back. They must remain persistent, giving criminals little chance to regain a foothold. Criminals must always be made to live in fear.

“Wait here.”

By the time Batgirl found a voice to protest, Batman had already vanished off of the edge of the building. She found that more frustrating than an argument – she wouldn’t even have a chance to do anything except obey, because now he depended on her to remain in place.

She sighed and turned around, forcing herself to be content instead to wander the roof until he returned. If he returned. Her mind wandered for a moment, wondering how long she should wait before determining that he wasn’t coming back, either on purpose or otherwise. Then again, she knew that she was the most vulnerable of the two, as she was forced to remain in place while keeping it secure…

Batgirl sighed again. Her mind was running away with frivolous thoughts. Batman would simply run some reconnaissance, and return almost immediately. He always–

She jumped suddenly as she heard the door to the roof burst open suddenly. Light poured onto the roof from the now open stairway from below, stunning her eyes for a moment…yet she still managed to see three shadows appear. She could tell that two of them were armed.

“I never thought a bat could be so breathtaking,” The center shadow announced loudly, “Beautiful bat…may I have this dance?”

Batgirl began backing up toward the edge of the roof slowly, hoping not to startle either of the two armed men enough to fire their weapons. But there would be no such luck. She cringed as she watched both men level what appeared to be short rifles at her over their arms…and two loud snaps filled the air as one.

She nearly fell backwards as she felt two impacts, one on each arm. A quick gasp came from her as she felt the stinging pain of her skin being punctured, and she looked down to see just how badly she had been hit.

But those weren’t bullets…she started to feel dizzy as the two men approached her quickly. She wanted to fight them off…but her muscles simply would not react. Her knees buckled, nearly sending her tumbling to the ground, but the two men caught her and lifted her off of her feet.

The night started to seem darker as she was brought before the third man. He leaned forward, to examine her closer with his pasty white face…it was Joker! Batgirl tried to squirm away, but once again her own muscles and limbs failed her.

“Now, now…Why would you fear my friendly face?” Joker turned to his two henchmen waved quickly. “Get her into the car, quick. Before the bat returns.”

Batgirl fought for consciousness as long as she could, as the world began to fade from her grasp. As she was placed in the back seat of Joker’s bright purple car, she continued to struggle to keep her eyes open. The last thing she saw was a shadow atop one of the buildings as the car drove away.

She hoped it wasn’t a hallucination…as her senses slipped away from her, that image was the one thing she clung to for hope.



The Miracle Of Being

Sharon Holmes dusted herself off after falling through the rotten wooden boards of the floor above. Totally by accident, she found herself in a darkened concrete bunker which she had been searching the world for months to find.

It was a relic of World War II, a place rumored to have been a hiding place of none other then Adolph Hitler during the allied bombings of Germany. It was the hiding place of a man who refused to face those he terrorized, those he ordered the murder of. A place where he could hide from his own mortality, to prevent death from collecting it’s much owed dues.

“A coward’s bunker.”

“I’ll have to disagree with you there.”

The sound of the unknown deep voice set her heart racing. She ducked into a corner, pulling her two pistols out in the blink of an eye, aiming them at the source of the sound. “Who’s there?”

“I could ask you the same.” A tall, bald man wearing an expensive suit stepped out of a dark corner, as he lit a cigar and held it up in front of his face.

“Sharon. Sharon Holmes.” She stood up and started to approach the man slowly, pistols still drawn. “And I got here first.”

“You obviously have no idea who I am.”

Sharon nodded. “You’re Lex Luthor. But…you’re different somehow. And that amazon woman isn’t guarding you.”

Luthor laughed. “I’m from another Earth, Ms. Holmes. One where, I presume, you don’t exist.”

“And what, may I ask, are you doing here?”

“I’m here to…collect a few things.” Luthor tossed his cigar on the floor, causing it to roll toward Sharon. “A few designs of what you call the Third Reich. It will allow me to eliminate a few enemies back home.”

Sharon gasped a little as her eyes began to fix on Luthor. “You…You’re talking about…genocide!”

“Very perceptive.” Luthor nodded and turned to leave, just as Sharon looked down at the still-glowing cigar. Strangely, it was glowing brighter since it had been tossed to the ground. She suddenly realized why – it was an explosive!

Sharon looked around the room quickly, to see if the book she was looking for was there. It wasn’t – Luthor must have taken it before she arrived. She raced out of the room quickly, headed the same direction Luthor went – but she was forced to dive to the ground as she heard the explosive go off behind her.

Once the dust from the explosion settled, Sharon looked around quickly. Lex Luthor was nowhere to be found. But she knew, somehow, that he would present a big problem. She knew that she would have to find him. And she would have to find Linda Danvers.

Words were spoken, ancient words. They were spoken in a powerful, but soft voice by none other the Lex Luthor, as he explored the depths of knowledge in his newly acquired book. He sat in the center of one of the great mysteries of nearly every Earth across every probability – Stonehenge. It’s great suspended stones gave the place an aura of power. It was a place Lex Luthor felt at home. They were only words, but they carried so much upon them. The words carried over distances ordinary humans and metahumans alike would consider great – yet for a power so ancient…meant nothing.

Somewhere deep within the Colorado mountains of Otherverse Earth, in a newly constructed Fortress, a sobbing Kara Zor-El was being held tightly in Rogue’s arms as Rogue tried in futility to calm her. Kara had woken up suddenly during the night, shaking and uttering the name ‘Kal’ repeatedly. She then progressed to crying. Rogue tried her best to comfort her…but she seemed inconsolable, like she had just lost a part of herself. Even Kara didn’t knew what triggered her feelings. But she couldn’t shake them either. All she seemed to know was that she felt Kal…and he was in terrible danger.

Another Earth, at the Fantastic Four headquarters, in New York City. Dr. Strange had simply been talking to Reed Richards in his lab about a strange feeling he had when he was stricken. The look of fright and shock on Reed’s face echoed the one on Dr. Strange’s, as pain radiated through his chest. He gripped his shirt tightly and simply collapsed on the floor. His reactions faster then his thoughts, Reed simply took Dr. Strange to the infirmary and hooked him up to monitors. Reed hadn’t slept, or even given himself a break since that moment, as he stayed by the side of his longtime friend – yet Dr. Strange still hadn’t awakened. Sue Richards worried about her husband, as she watched him deteriorate alongside his friend…but she understood.

Late one night in a large hotel room in Metropolis, Linda Danvers felt a dark cloud hang over her, one that she could not explain or understand. She turned to sculpting to try and figure out what was plaguing her subconscious. The resulting form created by her hands both haunted and intrigued her. It was Superman, but his face looked different somehow – it looked twisted, angry…filled with hatred. She had to toss a sheet over it soon after she created it. Seeing it prevented her from sleeping.

Lara Night was about as far from the disturbance as one could get, living in northern Los Angeles – but she could feel it as if it were taking place inside in her own mind. She could feel something tearing through the cosmos like a tidal wave – it something ancient, powerful…something evil. It was a disturbance that brought such sadness to the universe, that even Gods would shed tears over it. She immediately sensed it’s source, which chilled her more then anything else. It came from Otherverse Earth. But then she felt something else. A distant voice crying out, a profound sadness. It wasn’t part of any of the other feelings Lara detected – it felt closer to her. It was Reed Richards.

“What’s the matter, Reed?”

Reed turned around in his chair at the sound of a soft, friendly voice he recognized – Lara’s. His hair was a mess, his eyesight fuzzy from lack of food, water, and sleep. He didn’t speak to answer Lara’s question – the tears forming in his eyes, and Dr. Strange’s unconscious form on an exam table answered the question for him.

“Oh–” Lara suddenly felt herself without words as she stood next to the exam table, and placed her hands gently on Dr. Strange’s chest. She closed her eyes, and remained motionless for several minutes before finally reopening them and turning to look at Reed.

“Is he…gone?” There was a sadness in Reed’s voice that struck Lara like an arrow through her heart.

“He’s–” Lara sighed and looked down at Dr. Strange’s body again. She had to phrase her answer carefully to give Reed hope. “His body is in perfect condition. But his metaphysical self–”

“Can’t find it’s way back?” Reed seemed to brighten up all of a sudden, as if all he needed was to have an active part in his friend’s recovery. “What can we do?”

“No, no–” Lara shook her head and looked at Reed sadly. “He doesn’t want to come back. He’s…searching for something.”

“Can…can he hear us?”

“I don’t know.” Lara shrugged. “If he could, he would know that I’m here…and that I have some of the answers he’s searching for.”

“I know you are here, Lara.” Dr. Strange suddenly opened his eyes and sat up straight. “As for the answers you have–”

“Stephen!” Reed raced over to the side of the exam table. “What happened to you? I was worried–”

Dr. Strange nodded and sat up on the edge of the exam table. “I had become separated from my physical self by a force not under my control.”

“How did you know I was here?” Lara held out a hand to help Dr. Strange to his feet, and then into a chair. He was still a little weak from being immobile for so long.

“I…felt you searching for me.” Dr. Strange took a deep breath as he sat down in the chair and blinked twice. He was a little dizzy, even after such light exertion. “I felt your presence, reaching out for my soul…to pull it back. I knew what you were doing, but I wasn’t ready to come back just yet.”

“You were on the brink of finding answers.” Lara shook her head. “But you were losing your will to live, Stephen.”

The look of shock on Reed’s face caused Dr. Strange to hang his head a little and nod. “It’s so easy to become lost in a quest. Sometimes I just…forget.”

Dr. Strange glanced back at Reed for a moment. Reed was once again fighting tears in his eyes, his hands shaking a little bit from the realization of how close he was to losing his friend…forever. “I’m sorry, Reed. Had I realized–”

“No matter, everything turned out well.” Lara stood up and looked at Reed. “Get some sleep, Reed. You need it. Stephen and I have some work to do.”

Reed nodded and slowly headed toward his quarters. As soon as he entered the hallway, he could see Sue standing in the doorway down the hall. “Reed? Is he okay?”

Reed only nodded silently as he approached Sue, who immediately hugged him tightly. “She heard you, didn’t she?”

He nodded again. “She did. How did you know?”

Sue smiled a little. “There are some things we’ll never completely understand, Reed. Lara is one of them.”

“Thank you, Sue.” Reed smiled and gave Sue a small peck on the cheek as the entered their quarters, holding hands. “Thank you for saving Stephen.”

“Mr. Danvers! Mr. Danvers!”

Sharon was out of breath when she reached Fred Danvers’ office at the Leesburg Police Department. Her hair was disheveled, and she looked like she had just returned from a war. In a way, she did – after her encounter in Germany, she headed straight for the last known location of Linda Danvers. Something strange had happened, and she knew Linda would be interested – only she discovered that she had no idea where Linda was.

“What’s the matter, Sharon?” Fred approached her from behind as she stopped to talk to Shauna. He had just gone for a cup of coffee, and recognized her distinctively British voice calling out his name.

“Something terrible has happened, Mr. Danvers! Lex Luthor has the the Ancient Book of Rai, and he’s planning to use it for genocide. I watched him take it while I was in Germany.”

“Germany? Are you nuts?” Shauna stood up to face Sharon. “He’s in Metropolis, he’s been on television three times today.”

“No, you don’t understand.” Sharon shook her head and sighed. “It’s not this Lex Luthor, it’s one from another Earth. He told me so.”

“Another Earth, huh?” Fred rubbed his chin and looked at Shauna. “Sounds like something my daughter might be interested in.”

Sharon nodded. “That’s why I came here. I need to find Charlie and Linda. But I don’t know where to look.”

“Have a seat, Sharon.” Fred picked up his telephone and began dialing. “Your prayers will be answered soon.”

“I do not believe in prayer.”

Lara laughed. “No, Dr. Strange, the other kind of ‘prey’. The kind that means death if we’re not careful. You’re still distracted aren’t you? You aren’t really paying attention.”

“I’m sorry, Lara.” Dr. Strange finally stood up on his own – the dizziness had finally subsided. “Something is haunting me.”

“What’s the matter?” Lara stepped closer to him. “This has to do with Rao, doesn’t it?”

Dr. Strange turned a little pale as he stared at Lara. “How–”

“I sensed something wrong with Kal-El. His soul is being corrupted by an ancient force.” Lara sat down on the edge of the exam table where Dr. Strange was lying earlier. “But souls are interlinked with their creator. So–”

“So Rao is being corrupted as well.” Dr. Strange nodded. “That explains what I sensed as well. What kind of force could corrupt a deity?”

“Trust me, Dr. Strange…you don’t want to know. I think it’s more important that we find out who’s responsible.”

Dr. Strange walked over to a window to look outside. “Corrupt Gods destroy things, Lara. It’s obvious someone wants something destroyed.”

“Otherverse Earth?”

He shook his head. “No…whoever is doing this is located on Otherverse Earth. Whoever it is wants control, not destruction. Order, rather then chaos.”

Lara gasped momentarily as a thought popped into her mind. “Lex Luthor. It has to be Lex Luthor.”

Dr. Strange nodded slowly. “Yes. Yes, that would make perfect sense. And if that’s true, we will have to stop him.”

“I’ll just have to kill him again, I guess.” Lara sighed and turned toward the door.

“Do not.” Dr. Strange grabbed Lara’s shoulder tightly and turned her around. “It’s very likely that the last brush with death you gave him is what clued him into this power, Lara. What you did exposed him to things no mortal man should know.”

“Are you suggesting he’s now immortal because of what I did?”

“Not at all.” Dr. Strange walked out of Reed’s lab, motioning Lara to follow. “But you’ve given him the tools to make himself immortal. You’ve taken away his fear of death.”

Karen and Carrie, known to most people as ‘The Twins’, sat across from each other in the living room of the large Fortress, hidden away in the Colorado mountains. They both sat with their arms folded tightly, chilled from the fear and worry they felt. Kara was crying again – she had been off and on for almost the entire day. They thought about calling Reed, but he had his hands full with Dr. Strange’s sudden health problems.

“Carrie…What if she’s dying? What if Dr. Strange is dying too?” Karen bit her lip and stood up to pace a little bit. “What if we’re all dying, because of this…place?”

“No…I refuse to believe that.” Carrie shook her head quickly. “There has to be someone who can help. Someone who knows about these things.”

Karen’s eyes suddenly brightened as a realization passed through her mind. “This has something to do with spiritual stuff, Carrie. Think about it! Kara can feel her cousin…Dr. Strange has fallen ill–”

“Spiritual.” Carrie leapt to her feet and snatched Karen’s arm to pull her along. They were both headed toward a room that both Kara and Rogue had asked them to stay out of – it contained a Projector like the one in Reed’s lab. It was installed in the Fortress in case the place had to be evacuated in an emergency – a big emergency, such as if the planet was on the verge of destruction. Carrie had her own interpretation of an emergency.

“Where are we going? Are we visiting Reed?”

“No.” Carrie raced around the room quickly, setting the controls for the machine as she had watched Reed do several times before. “Spiritual is the key, Karen. We have to find someone with a spiritual link.”

“Who?” Karen stared at Carrie, demanding an answer even as Carrie pulled her onto the machine’s platform alongside herself.

“Linda Danvers.”

“Can you work with him?”

Reed was still examining the body of Kal-El, lying on a purple metallic table in the center of a very alien-looking lab. The room was filled with such tables, a few containing other dead bodies covered by white sheets. Lara had transported Reed, Dr. Strange, and herself to the center of the lab, with a certain project in mind.

“No decomposition. Rigor mortis has barely set in.” Reed turned off the scope he had around his head and removed it quickly. “With a little time, we can probably restore his spirit as well.”

“I don’t like this.” Dr. Strange shook his head and looked around the room. “Where is this place?”

“Project Cadmus. It was rebuilt by Lex Luthor.”

Reed and Dr. Strange both turned to stare at Lara. Reed decided to speak first. “Did you say…Cadmus?”

Lara nodded. “Lex Luthor plans on resurrecting dead heroes of the past and future. He wants to use them to destroy his enemies. Starting with Kal-El and Diana Prince.”

“How do you know this?” Dr. Strange folded his arms and stared steadily at Lara, waiting for an answer.

“Look around you, Stephen.” Lara walked around the room slowly, pulling back a few of the white sheets. Kal-El, Diana Prince, Jean Grey, Reed Ri–”

Lara pushed the last white sheet back to it’s original location as she ignored the look of shock on Reed’s face. “Remember what I told you about Kal-El and Rao?”

Dr. Strange nodded, and grabbed Reed’s arm as he reached for that last white sheet. “No, Reed. It is better if you don’t–”

Reed shoved Dr. Strange’s arm aside, and pulled back the sheet. Lying on the steel table were his own frozen eyes, looking back at him. His hands shaking, he reached for yet another white sheet. As he pulled it back slowly, his worst fear met reality. “God, no–”

“Sue Storm.” Lara held Reed’s hand tightly to calm him. “You and Sue were never lovers in this reality. She didn’t live long enough.”

Lara suddenly pulled Reed behind her as she watched the arm of Kal-El’s body move, rising slowly. She knew that Reed might object to her acting as his protector – but Reed was far from a match for Kryptonian strength. Lara hoped she at least stood a chance against it. “We’re too late, Stephen.”

Dr. Strange nodded, uttering a single word under his breath which rendered him intangible – just before Kal-El’s body rose to it’s feet, and reached for him. Both Lara and Dr. Strange could tell that the body didn’t contain Kal-El’s soul – it was empty, being powered by a force which could only be referred to as life in the loosest of terms.

“It’s starting.” Lara took a couple of steps back, still holding Reed behind her, as the body of Diana Prince began to move as well. “Reed, Stephen…I think it’s time we left this place–”

She suddenly felt lucky that she had been alert, keeping her telekinetic shield strong – she felt a had blow from Kal-El to the side of her head. He was far from full strength, as his body had not fully recovered from reanimation – but it was strong enough, and he still had the ability to move across the room in the blink of an eye.

“Lara, look out!”

She ducked quickly at the sound of Reed’s voice, just barely getting her head out of the way of another fist – this one owned by Diana Prince.

“Hold onto my waist, Reed.” As Lara’s fingers began crackling with energy, Reed obeyed quickly – he knew enough about the laws of electricity and grounding to know that he was safer touching her then standing even a few inches away.

Lara felt Dr. Strange’s hand on her shoulder just as her fingers filled the room with high-voltage bolts of electricity, tearing holes through the stainless steel walls as they went. The bolts of electricity which connected with Kal and Diana caused their muscles to seize, collapsing them to the ground. The remaining bodies in the room were reduced to charcoal in seconds. Lara intended to make sure the rest of them were useless as zombies. She hoped she had succeeded.

“Time to go!”

Lara, Reed, and Dr. Strange vanished from Otherverse Earth in a flash of light just as Kal and Diana began returning to their feet. Lara had instantly transported them back to Reed’s lab back at Fantastic Four headquarters.

“This is a most serious situation.” Dr. Strange rubbed his chin and looked out the window. “Once Luthor is done conquering his own world…what’s to stop him from conquering ours? Or yours?”

“I had a dream a short time ago, Stephen.” Lara sighed and stood next to Dr. Strange at the window. “I dreamt that I had to destroy Otherverse Earth, that I was given no choice. It was…infected, and I had to prevent spread of the infection. Now I fear that may be closer to reality then I imagined.”

“Lara, destruction of life only…appears necessary sometimes.” Dr. Strange turned to stare at Lara, the look in his eyes an intense mixture of emotions. “But life is more precious then anything. Anything, Lara. First, do no harm. Once you learn that, you can understand the universe.”

Lara nodded silently as she stood next to Dr. Strange, staring out over the nearby city. It was full of life. And no doubt, there were hundreds of cities like it on Otherverse Earth, with millions of people. People who just wanted to live their lives in peace. It made Lara feel angry, to think that Lex Luthor wanted nothing more then to destroy that peace.

“That aught to get Superman’s attention.”

Carrie had just turned a large billboard atop a building in Metropolis upside down, as Karen sat on the small steel maintenance walkway below it. They were in the right city, but they had no idea where to find Linda Danvers. They knew who would – but they had to get his attention first.

Luckily, victory came easier then they thought. Carrie turned abruptly as an unfamiliar blonde woman in a white cut-off tee-shirt, white gloves, a blue skirt, and red laced boots tapped her on the shoulder. Yet her face was so familiar. “Linda? Is that you?”

Linda nodded quietly, though she was a little surprised that the two knew who she was. Then again, since they were wearing costumes and they managed to flip over a billboard, it wasn’t all that surprising. “Who are you two?”

“We’re Kara’s daughters, remember? I’m Carrie, this is Karen. Cool costume, by the way.”

“Thank you.” Linda paced around Carrie and Karen, noting their new costumes. “So, what brings you here from Otherverse?”

“Not a car, I can tell you that.” Carrie smiled mischievously as she spoke – she had been waiting a long time to tell that joke. Karen just rolled her eyes. “We need your help. Something’s wrong with Kara…and it has something to do with Kal-El.”

“I’m not sure I understand. Is she sick?”

Carrie looked at Karen for an answer – but Karen just shrugged. “We’re not sure. She’s just been…crying a lot.”

“Crying?” Linda bit her lip. She didn’t know Kara well, but by reputation she knew Kara to be fairly level-headed, strong. Kara was the last person she would expect to curl up and sob over something. “I’ll do my best to help.”

“Cool!” Carrie nudged Karen, and pulled her to her feet. “Let’s go!”

Linda and the twins stared at each other for several minutes as they each expected the other to make the next move. It was several seconds before Linda realized that something was wrong. “You do have a way to get us there, right?”

Carrie looked at Karen, who shrugged again. “I guess we figured…you would be able to solve that problem.”

“Oh, God.” Linda pinched her nose with a gloved hand and shook her head. “I’m sorry to break this to you two…I can’t do that anymore. You’re stuck here.”

“What are we supposed to do now?” Karen spoke up first this time, her eyes on Carrie. Carrie just stood still, hanging her head, blaming herself for what had happened. She knew that she was the one who had caused them to be stranded.

Linda sighed. “Let’s get you two indoors. I have a nice hotel room across the street, we can wait there until we figure out what to do.”

“Across the street?” Carrie looked at Karen. They both suddenly understood how Linda found them so quickly after they had turned the billboard upside down.

Carrie and Karen followed quickly as Linda jumped across to the rooftop of the building directly across the street and headed into the stairway. They walked two floors down, before Linda checked the hallway to make sure no one was there, motioning the twins to follow her to her room once the coast was clear.

“Here we are.” Linda closed the door behind her, tossing her gloves on a table next to the door as she entered the living room area of the three room suite. As she reached for a lamp next to the couch, a bright flash of light filled the room, causing her to jump. “What the–”

“Lara!” Carrie and Karen nearly mowed down Linda as they raced across the room to hug Lara Night, who had appeared seemingly out of nowhere. Linda had to laugh when she watched the twins hanging from Lara’s arms, hugging her tightly from both sides.

“Boy, are we glad to see you!” Carrie started first, talking quickly as Lara smiled at the energy the twins displayed at meeting her. “We came here to get Linda to help us, and–”

“And you can’t get back home.” Lara laughed a little. “That’s why I’m here. I know all about it.”

“We still need to bring Linda with us to help Kara.” Carrie looked over at Linda, who was putting her white gloves back on. She anticipated that she would be going, too. “See, Karen? We were never in danger…Lara looks after us.”

“Yeah, that’s me. Your personal bodyguard.” Lara smiled and offered one hand each to Carrie and Karen. As Linda held Carrie’s hand, she noticed a slight electrical charge fill the air in the room. It was only a second before she could see the room fading out of view.

“Hmm. Very interesting.” Lex Luthor sat in his office high atop LexCorp Towers, with only a desk lamp illuminating his office. In front of him was a single page news report about him being spotted in Germany, taking some kind of ancient book. Next to that, another report from LexCorp research, indicating elevated levels of certain kinds of particles which indicated that a gateway had been opened…either to or from someplace. And it happened twice. To Luthor that confirmed something he suspected for a long time – that there was a whole other Earth out there somewhere.

Luthor was patiently awaiting another report from his research department. Namely a report detailing the timeframe necessary for LexCorp to build a gateway of it’s own. He suspected that in any case with multiple realities, at least one of them would be a terrible war zone – and as a weapons dealer, potential for profit beyond his wildest dreams.

And then there was the issue of someone else using the name Lex Luthor. Someone who looked like him, by all accounts and descriptions. Luthor was a little intrigued by the idea – but instinctively, he knew that the other so-called Lex Luthor would have to go, if for no other reason then his intrusion on the Earth this Luthor called his own.

Luthor leaned back in his chair, tapping a couple of buttons on his phone. He knew that when he met this other Lex Luthor, he would no doubt be as intelligent – so Luthor decided to be prepared.


“I’m sending Mercy down in five minutes. I want you to introduce her to the most deadly weapons we currently have in prototype. And once you do, I will require five of each. How is that gateway coming along?”

“It’s coming along well, Mr. Luthor. It should be finished in a matter of hours.”

Luthor frowned and leaned forward. “That is unacceptable. What is taking you people so long?”

“I’m sorry, sir. We had a little snag with some government paperwork for the plutonium we need to use. The Nuclear Regulatory–”

“Forget about the paperwork.” Luthor stood up and leaned over his speakerphone. “If we wait for the government to approve this, we’ll all die of old age. Just finish it.”

“Yes, sir–”

Luthor cut off the man in mid-sentence and waved Mercy into the room as he spotted her standing in the doorway. “Mercy, I need you to go to research and make sure things are working. Feel free to use as much…incentive as you see fit.”

Mercy nodded quietly and turned to leave the room.

“Oh, and Mercy?”

“Yes, Lex?” Mercy turned around to face Luthor as she stood in a stream of light coming in through the partially opened door.

“Accept no substitutes.”

“Wow…What is this place?” Linda spun around a little bit as she glanced around at a compact living room area, complete with a large screen satellite television system. She spotted a few tall tinted windows, and headed toward them slowly.

“This is the Fortress.” Carrie grabbed Linda’s arm and pulled her toward one of the windows. She pointed down the steep mountainside below. “We’re in the Colorado mountains.”

Linda tapped one of the windows carefully. It felt like glass. “Can’t this shatter? Or be spotted from outside?”

“It’s camouflaged by a hologram outside.” Karen stepped between them and tapped on the glass. The mirrored outer layer of the window allows the image projection, and it’s protected against shattering by an electromagnetic field.”

Carrie rolled her eyes and nudged Linda. “She thinks she’s channeling Reed Richards sometimes.”

“Reed is the one who sent Lara to install them.” Rogue entered the room, followed by a Kara – who looked like she hadn’t slept or eaten much in days. “He did it for the twins. I guess he doesn’t care if Kara and I sit in a dark cave.”

“Mom, this is Lara.” Carrie squeezed in between Kara and Rogue, placing one hand on Kara’s shoulder. “She…helped us get back here.”

“Hello.” Kara only looked at Lara for a second before glancing at the floor. She seemed to be purposely avoiding Linda’s eyes as she crossed the room and sat down in one of the soft chairs.

“Could you guys…go to another room for a little while?” Linda looked around at everyone as she pulled another chair closer to Kara. “Kara and I need to talk.”

Rogue nodded as she herded the twins and Lara out of the living room quickly. As soon as they had left, Linda could tell that Kara had been holding back because of her daughters. But now that they were out of the room, tears began streaming down Kara’s face. She looked like she was mourning someone’s death.

“Kara…What’s wrong? Tell me.”

“I…felt Kal again last night. He was crying.” Kara paused for a second to wipe some tears from her face and take a deep breath to calm herself. “But not for himself. He was crying for me…for Carrie and Karen…for the entire planet. He was afraid, Linda. Afraid of what would happen to us.”

“Oh my God–” Linda stood up and began pacing a little bit. “My dad called me a short time ago. He said that a Lex Luthor impostor was spotted taking some kind of ancient book from Germany. The Ancient Book of Rai, it was called. It’s a book of the Ancient Arts, and has power over the dead.”

Linda’s last few words got Kara’s attention. She stood up now, too. “Lex Luthor is trying to bring Kal back to life for his own purposes, isn’t he? No wonder Kal was afraid. His worst fear is having to kill…Especially those he loves. We have to free him, Linda. We must.”

“I’m pretty much restricted to the physical world now, Kara–” Linda paused just long enough to watch sadness return to Kara’s eyes. It was almost as if her words, to Kara, sealed Kal’s doom. “–But I won’t let that stop me. I never do. I never will.”

“Thank you, Linda.” Kara turned around and hugged Linda tightly. “Just when things seem hopeless…You’ve given me hope.”

#5 – Essence Of Being

“Mr. Jonathan Kent?”

Jonathan looked over the tall, blonde woman standing on his stoop carefully. Her height and athletic build, as well as the fact that she was dressed in a leather jacket and black jeans, made her seem somewhat intimidating. Yet her smile seemed warm for someone known to work for Lex Luthor. “You’ve come to the right place. Please, come in. Excuse me for a moment while I tell Martha that we have company.”

As Jonathan left the room, Mercy Graves took a look around slowly as she stood in the silent living room, listening to a grandfather clock next to the entrance door tick out the seconds. She felt welcomed in such a place, in such a relaxing atmosphere…in a real home. Being an orphan herself, left to the streets, such comfort was a concept almost alien to her – but one she longed for regardless.

“Please, have a seat Ms.–”

“Graves. Call me Mercy, everyone else does.” Mercy sat down on the edge of the couch warily. It was comfortable enough, but seemed a little small to someone of her height.

“Would you like some coffee? Tea?”

“Water, please.” Mercy smiled again. She wasn’t used to being treated like an honored guest – most people she ‘paid a visit’ to either wanted to fight or run.

“What brings you to Smallville, Ms. Graves?” Jonathan returned quickly with two glasses of water and sat down in a plush chair next to the couch and leaned forward, placing the glasses on the small coffee table.

Mercy took a deep breath and sighed. She had been treated so nicely, she hated to bring up the real reason she had come. “I’m afraid I’m here on business, Mr. Kent. It’s about a young girl who was sighted here.”

“Yes, Kara.” Jonathan smiled as he picked up his glass of water to sip it slowly. “She’s such a sweet child. It’s a shame she doesn’t have a home or a family of her own–”

Mercy blinked hard and held out a hand to interrupt Jonathan. “I know all about her, Mr. Kent. I know she was found in Metropolis after falling from the sky. That she crashed through a concrete roadway, and a subway tunnel without being injured.”

Jonathan didn’t say a word, but the fear in his eyes was evident. Any effort to control his feelings vanished as the glass of water slipped from his fingers, smashing into dozens of pieces as it hit the corner of the coffee table. He began shaking his head slowly. “You’ve…come to take her, haven’t you?”

“No, I know she’s not here.” Mercy watched sadly as Jonathan’s eyes turned away from her to give a fearful glance to Martha, who stood in the doorway to the kitchen wringing her hands. His hands were shaking – he had never had one of Lex Luthor’s agents visit him, and he was fearful for his own life and his wife’s. “I’m not here to hurt anyone, Mr. Kent. I just want some information. A little help. That’s all.”

Jonathan swallowed hard and took a deep breath. “W-What kind of information?”

“How about where this teenager is right now?”

“I…I can’t tell you. I’m sorry, I made a promise.” Jonathan cringed a little as Mercy suddenly rose to her feet, standing over him as a towering presence.

“I’m sorry to have disturbed you, Mr. Kent. Mrs. Kent. I’ll let myself out.” Mercy turned to head outside slowly, noting that Jonathan still sat in his chair, almost paralyzed by fear. He was a brave man…but still human. He feared for his own life, and his wife’s. No matter how polite she tried to be, she would always wear Lex Luthor’s badge – and it would always bring fear with it.

Once outside, Mercy headed to her car and climbed in quickly. By the time she had closed the door and locked it, tears had forced their way out of her eyes. She had begun crying as the realization of just how lonely she was in the world overwhelmed her once again. Lex Luthor had given her a job, a career, and decent pay…but he had taken away everything else.


“Oh my God!” Linda held out her arms to greet with a hug someone she missed dearly, someone she hadn’t seen in months. Someone she fondly remembered cuddling with her on the couch when she stayed up late watching movies in her apartment in Leesburg. Someone loyal, sweet, and who always greeted her with a smile…Charlie’s dog, Rupert. “Where has he been all this time?”

“Your friend Cutter agreed to look after him until we were settled here.” Charlie took a small dog treat from his pocket, feeding it to the wagging Rupert quickly. “Looks like he did a good job.”

Linda laughed, tapping her palm in the couch to encourage Rupert to jump up. “Cutter has always been loyal and reliable. Well…mostly. Wait…this hotel doesn’t allow pets, does it?”

“Don’t worry about that.” Charlie smiled and sat down at one end of the couch. “I discussed it with the manager. He was very accommodating.”

“What did you do, blackmail him?”

Linda’s smile disappeared as her question was answered only with silence from Charlie. “No…say you didn’t–”

“There are certain perks that digging in people’s past can obtain, Linda.” Charlie smiled. “And the fact that I ran into him at a restaurant where he was having dinner with a mistress helped, too.”

She leaned over and rubbed Rupert’s head as she spoke jokingly into the dog’s ear. “This city is just full of sick people, isn’t it?”

“Careful, Linda.” Charlie stood up quickly as he heard the phone ring. “You’re beginning to sound like Buzz.”

Charlie talked on the phone only briefly, but listened for a long time. As he did, his face suddenly turned serious, then sad. He kept glancing at Linda, watching her face gradually turn to panic – but he decided to remain calm until he had finally hung up the phone.

“What’s wrong?”

“Linda–” Charlie paused and paced completely around the room, slowly, as if he were gathering all of his courage to tell her something. He then turned, and abruptly kicked the coffee table. “The Kents have been admitted to a hospital, Linda. There were these intruders–”

“Oh God…Was that Clark calling?”

Charlie shook his head slowly. “It was Mercy. She told me who was responsible. She told me that…that she would take care of it herself.”

“Maybe I should take care of it myself.”

“Not a good idea, Linda.” Charlie stood in front of Linda as she prepared to get up. “If we pick a fight with Lex Luthor in Metropolis, we could lose both our hotel rooms and our new office. We’re on his playground…and he makes the rules.”

“Nuts.” Linda picked up one of the couch pillows and hurled it across the hotel room. It disintegrated during the trip, as it was travelling much faster then it was designed to. “Can we trust Mercy?”

Charlie nodded. “I looked through the red folder she handed to me, Linda. It’s enough to send Luthor to jail, assuming he hasn’t paid off the local police and the FBI. I think she really wants to make things right.”
A loud crash filled the home of Clark and Lois, shattering the relative calm of classical music playing softly from the stereo. Lois had dropped a plate, as well as the small snack she had prepared herself – a surreal sight filled her eyes as soon as she entered the living room.

Kara was floating a couple of feet off the ground, her arms spread at her sides, spinning slowly like a top. At first, Lois didn’t understand what Kara was doing. But as she watched a few minutes more, she discovered that Kara was…dancing.

“You like this music?”

Lois regretted speaking almost immediately as she watched Kara suddenly react with shock, and tumble to the floor with a ‘thud’.

“I’m sorry.” Kara rose to her feet quickly and hung her head. “I didn’t mean to–”

“No, no…you were fine.” Lois smiled and handed Kara the newly-opened bottle of water she had been holding since she left the kitchen – it was the one item she hadn’t dropped. “Our home is your home, Kara. As long as you don’t punch holes in the walls or break windows, that is.”

Kara laughed quietly, yet nervously. “Ma and Pa were…hurt because of me. I don’t want you to be hurt, too.”

Lois’ smile disappeared to be replaced by a serious look. She stared unwaveringly into Kara’s blue eyes. “Nothing will happen to me, Kara. You’ll be safe. I promise.”

Another loud crash filled the apartment as a three men dressed in black, from head to toe, crashed through the plate glass door to the balcony. Their faces were covered by masks, and they carried sub-machine guns. Lois wondered why she hadn’t noticed the helicopter floating just outside the apartment – perhaps because in Metropolis, helicopters were not all that unusual.

“Don’t make promises you can’t keep”, one of the men said. He motioned for Lois to step away from Kara.

“Get the hell out of here!” Without hesitation, Lois lifted a small chair and hurled it at the man, forcing him to hold up his arm to defend himself. “You have no idea who you’re dealing with!”

“Oh…yeah. I’m really scared of a loudmouthed reporter.” The man aimed his sub-machine gun and motioned again for Lois to step aside. “You’re only human…don’t try to be a hero, unless you want to be a dead one.”

The front door to the apartment suddenly flew open with a crash, a tall blonde wearing sunglasses and a long black coat stepping through casually, keeping an automatic pistol trained on the men who had entered the apartment before her. Lois recognized her immediately – it was Mercy Graves.

“Stand down!” Mercy turned her head from side to side, looking at the three men before staring at the leader in the center.

“We don’t work for you”, he said, “We work for Mr. Luthor.”

Before any of the three had the time to even think, bullets began flying through the room – only none of the men fired a single shot. Just a few seconds had passed before the three men lay bleeding on the floor.

“What…?” Lois stood, frozen, as she watched Mercy strip all forms of identification from the three men and begin dragging them out onto the balcony. “What’s going on here?”

“They were sent to capture Kara.” Mercy turned quickly and smiled. “But I have other plans.”

“You…you killed them!”

“We all have our jobs to do, Lois.” Mercy looked outside at the helicopter once she dragged the last of the three dead men over to the broken glass door. “You’re a reporter…I’m a professional assassin.”

“Wait, wait–” Lois stepped in front of Mercy and held up her hands to stop her. “Those men were sent by your boss, Mercy. How are you going to cover for this?”

“Too easy. They failed to complete their mission, and they weren’t supposed to tell anyone they were sent by Luthor. I took care of the problem.”

Before Lois could reply, Mercy placed a hand on her shoulder and guided her toward the door. “Lois, I promise I’ll have this place cleaned up. Take Kara somewhere with you for an hour. That’s all I need.”

“What about…?”

“Don’t ask any questions you don’t want the answer to. Just go.” Without another word, Mercy raced out onto the balcony, leaping off of the railing and into the waiting helicopter. Lois could see her quickly knock the pilot unconscious and set the copter to hover by itself, spending the next minute or so loading in the other three dead men.

Lois simply shook her head and led Kara toward the front door. “Come on, Kara, we’ll go see Clark at work. Maybe he knows what’s going on.”

“I know.” Kara stopped and turned around. “They want to control me. But I won’t be controlled.”

“Atta girl.” Lois smiled and placed a hand on Kara’s shoulder as she closed the door behind her.
Samantha froze as she heard a knock on her hotel room door. She had been holed up in a hotel room in Metropolis, funded by an unlikely benefactor – Bruce Wayne – with strict orders that she was to remain out of public sight. She received the orders, as well as the hotel room, from an associate of his named Cassandra, who didn’t speak a single word as she handed Samantha the hotel room key enclosed in a letter.

But the letter also said that she was to have no visitors, and that her room would be protected by security. Since she didn’t order any room service, the knock at the door made her very nervous.

She crept to the door silently, peering out through the door’s peephole. No one was standing in front of the door, but the two security guards who were always outside the door were missing. Another, much louder, knock at the door caused her to jump back. Against her better judgement, she looked through the peephole again.

This time, nothing but darkness was visible. She heard a distant click, and a high-pitched whistling noise like a camera flash recharging. A blast of light tore through her eye with a jolt, right through the glass of the peephole. She fell onto her back.

Confusion filled Samantha as the sight in her left eye quickly returned. But something had happened to her – she was completely paralyzed. She watched helplessly as the door crashed open, as two men in black uniforms walked in and trained weapons on her. And following them was none other then Lex Luthor.

“I’ve missed you, Samantha. I believe you have something of mine.” Luthor kneeled down beside Samantha, reaching behind her neck. She wanted to stop him, to strangle him…but her limbs simply didn’t respond.

“Ah, this is it.”

Samantha felt a jarring, like something had been removed from her body somehow. Something essential. She knew her mind still worked, she felt her heart beating, and she was still breathing – and she could still see and hear. But she couldn’t feel anything, or move.

“Let me explain this all to you, Samantha.” Luthor stood up, handing a small circuit board to one of this two guards. “I created you, restored your life. You repaid me by turning on me, by stabbing me in the back, and running off. It’s time for me to reclaim that which I own.”

Luthor stood up and looked at his two security guards. “Load her up and take her to the site. We’ll store her underground as soon as I arrive – don’t even touch her until then.”

After a chorus of ‘Yes, sir’, the two men left carrying Samantha. Luthor looked around the hotel room briefly, laughing as he imagined Bruce Wayne trying to hide Samantha there. Bruce didn’t anticipate Luthor buying a share in every hotel in Metropolis in order to find her.

Luthor shook his head slowly as he left the room, closing the door behind him. “Sorry, Mr. Wayne. Better luck next time.”
Charlie looked up from behind his new desk in his new office as a familiar face leaned over him. As usual, Sharon Holmes was out of breath, and looked like she had braved the fires of hell to get to him. She leaned with one hand on his desk, tossing her backpack on the floor. “Hello, Sharon. What have you been up to?”

“Nice office.” Sharon took a deep breath to slow down her breathing. “I have some something important to tell you and Linda.”

“Sharon…couldn’t you have just taken the lift?”

“No, it’s much too slow.” Sharon took another deep breath and sat in one of the soft chairs in front of Charlie’s desk. “Lex Luthor has created an ‘essence’…but it must have failed. He and his staff just buried her outside Metropolis.”

“Wait, wait…an ‘essence’? What’s that?” Linda had just entered the room after stepping out for a moment to buy lunch. She sat down on the edge of Charlie’s desk, placing the bag she brought in next to her.

“It’s a living human brain grafted to an artificial body.” Sharon stood quickly and began removing some kind of papers from her backpack, handing them to Charlie and Linda. “These diagrams were stolen from Lexcorp, they detail an artificial body that’s grown with high-tech implants–”

“Like a cyborg?” Linda squinted at one of the diagrams, turning it upside down twice – but she still couldn’t understand it.

“No, cyborgs are built, not grown.” Sharon reached over Linda’s shoulder and pointed at something unintelligible on the diagram she held. “These are artificial humans. They’re grown. It would seem that Luthor has possession of all kinds of technologies from Metropolis’ upgrade…some that the authorities would not approve of.”

Charlie’s eyes suddenly widened as he turned around quickly to rifle through the file cabinet behind him. He pulled out a red folder and began to leaf through it quickly. “That’s it! That’s what this stuff is!”

“You mind?” Sharon held her hand out toward the red folder. Charlie shrugged and turned it around so she could see it. She began to leaf through it quickly, pausing once in a while to carefully read some of the papers. “Interesting. Very interesting.”

Linda leaned forward to catch a glimpse of whatever Sharon was looking at. “What is it?”

“These are all biotechnology. Viruses, bacteria, methods to integrate electronics with human and animal tissue.” Sharon turned to look at Charlie quickly. “This makes me so mad. Luthor’s keeping this technology to himself, when it could help so many people–”

A quick glare was cast in Charlie’s direction, Linda’s eyes piercing through him with a chill. “I told you. You should have let me deal with him, Charlie.”

Sharon stood up and handed the red folder back to Charlie. “That wouldn’t be a good idea. He hasn’t done anything illegal…anything you do to him will just seem like bullying.”

Linda sighed. “So what do you suggest?”

“We collect evidence.” Sharon snatched her backpack from the floor and waved a finger at Linda and Charlie. “Come along. We need to fetch this ‘essence’ and bring her back. If Luthor buried her…she most likely knows too much.”

Charlie sighed as he stood up and grabbed his jacket. Linda smiled as she watched him give her an exaggerated look of exasperation. “How do you find these people anyway, Charlie?”

“At least we don’t have to pay her.” Charlie shrugged as he followed Linda into the hallway and closed the door.
“He’ll pay for this.” Clark bowed his head as he stood in the entrance to the hospital room where his Ma and Pa slept silently. His hands were shaking from the rage he felt – this time, Luthor had gone too far. Innocents had been hurt, his apartment trashed – Luthor hit too close to home.

But in spite of his angry words and feelings he knew he could do nothing. Revenge would lead to discovery – Lex Luthor was a smart man, if Superman would come after him with a vengeance suddenly…he would no doubt make the link between the Man of Steel and Clark Kent.

“Ma, Pa…I’m so sorry.” Clark slid a chair from next to the wall and sat down between the two hospital beds, holding his Pa’s hand in his left and his Ma’s in his right. “I’m so sorry for all of this. I never meant for–”

Clark turned abruptly as he heard footsteps approaching quickly. He could smell a familiar scent from down the hall – Lois’ perfume. He stood quickly and headed out of the room.

“Lois? How did you find–”

“I work for a newspaper, remember?” Lois smiled and kissed Clark gently on the cheek. “How are they doing?”

Clark sighed as he looked at Kara for a moment. Kara seemed to have something on her mind – she turned to Lois, who shook her head ‘no’ – she felt it was better not to tell Clark what happened back home. “They’re not badly injured. They were just knocked unconscious.”

“Who did it?”

Lois and Clark both turned to look at Kara as she spoke those three words. A momentary fear passed between them as they shared a thought of Kara going out for revenge against those who hurt the Kents.

“Kara–” Clark placed a hand gently on Kara’s shoulder and smiled at her as best as he could. “How about if you just keep an eye on Lois for me, take her home and make sure she’s safe. I’ll take care of Ma and Pa. Is that okay?”

Kara nodded and smiled in return as she took Lois’ hand and headed back down the hall toward the elevators. Clark waved at Lois silently as she headed away from him.

As soon as Lois and Kara had entered the elevator, Clark hung his head and headed back into his Ma and Pa’s hospital room. He watched them sleep peacefully for a few minutes as he leaned against the opposite wall, sliding down until he was sitting on the floor.

An understanding began to enter his mind…the cold reality that he had become a victim. He had rescued hundreds, possibly thousands as Superman. But in all that time, he never really understood what it was like to be a victim. To see something horrifying happen to you, and have no hope of controlling or stopping it. To be able to only look at the past, and wish things had happened differently.

Clark squeezed his eyes closed, as all of the anger and frustration took the form of a single tear, which defied all of his attempts to stop it. It rolled down the side of his nose, hanging on the end before dropping to the floor. It was one more thing which was beyond his control.

He turned his head quickly, as his sensitive hearing swore it heard Lois sigh somewhere nearby. He knew he asked her to go home, and was a little annoyed that she stuck around to watch him. But in a way, he was glad she did. His frown turned into a sad smile as he sat watching his Ma and Pa. It warmed his heart to know that Lois loved him enough to ignore him.
“Damn it! You know how I hate being late for appointments, it reflects badly on me!”

Lex Luthor kicked the seat across from him in his limousine, hard. He turned to a female Lexcorp security officer sitting next to him – he couldn’t remember her name. He regretted sending Mercy out on a mission. Luthor scowled at the woman, but she didn’t react. “Driver! What the hell is going on? Why are we stopped?”

“Some kind of road construction, Mr. Luthor.”

“Road construction.” Luthor sighed angrily and looked out the window at a car stopped next to him. “Couldn’t you have gone around this mess?”

“I’m…I’m sorry, Mr. Luthor…but the court is right up the street.”

“In that case, I can walk faster.” Sounds of city traffic rushed into the limo as Luthor suddenly opened the door and stepped out, his security guard fumbling to catch up to him as he nearly slammed the door on her arm. “And by the way…you’re both fired.”

The security guard went limp against the seat, keeping her arms clear as Luthor slammed the door hard, leaving her behind. She bowed her head, trying her best to keep her feelings in check as she watched him walk away.

“Don’t sweat it, Maria. I’ve been fired by Mr. Luthor so many times…but I always get my job back.”

Maria shook her head slowly. “This is different, Leah. This is my dream job. I’ve been waiting for that amazon to move on to something else, so I could have a chance. Well…here it is, and I blew it.”

The limousine suddenly lurched, and both of the rear-view mirrors immediately shattered as the sound of a powerful blast echoed off of the buildings of Metropolis. Leah ducked below the front seat. Maria fell back on her training as a security guard – she kept her head low and drew her gun.

“Holy God, Maria…what was that?”

“I…I don’t know.” Maria opened the door quickly and climbed out, only to duck back into the car as a shower of broken glass from buildings around her rained down on top of the limousine. As she stepped out again, she could see a familiar form lying on the sidewalk only yards from the courthouse. A man with a very distinctive bald head. “Oh God…Mr. Luthor!”

Maria and Leah both raced from the limousine and kneeled down next to Luthor. He wasn’t injured too badly aside from a few cuts and bruises, but he had been knocked unconscious. Maria shook him gently to try and wake him. “He’s…not responding!”

“Let’s get him back to the office.” Leah shook her head to dismiss any thoughts of panic she might have. “We have more doctors there then most hospitals. I’ll call for an airlift.”

“Airlift?” Maria began carefully checking Luthor’s vital signs as she spoke. Normal pulse, normal breathing, not much bleeding. “We could get in so much trouble. We’re fired, we can’t just ask for a LexCorp airlift!”

“Lemme put it this way.” Leah reached into the limousine and typed a few commands on a small keypad in the center console. “He’ll owe us big time.”

Maria smiled weakly and nodded as the two of them lifted Luthor and placed him in the limousine. They had only a few minutes to wait before the airlift would come and raise the limo out of traffic, to transport it to Lexcorp as quickly as possible. They would be heroes…they hoped.
“This is easier then I thought. The dirt is still loose.” Sharon lifted yet another shovel full of dirt, tossing it aside almost casually. She was working hard to do so, but she seemed to be enjoying it. Charlie, however, was exactly the opposite. The two of them were digging what appeared to be an unmarked grave in a cemetery just outside of Metropolis – apparently, Luthor wanted to make this ‘special burial’ as low-profile as possible.

“I still don’t see why we couldn’t rent a bulldozer.” Charlie jammed the blade of his shovel into the ground and paused to take a short break. “She was obviously buried with one. And why aren’t you doing the digging, Linda? It’d be much easier for you.”

Linda smiled mischievously. “You two seem to be having so much fun, I didn’t want to put a damper on it.”

Charlie sighed and tugged at his shovel – but he didn’t get the chance to pull it from the ground. He ducked quickly to dodge Sharon’s shovel as she tossed it away and began digging quickly with her hands. “Found something?”

Sharon nodded and rose to her feet. “A welded steel casket. With a Lexcorp logo on top. Looks like this is a job for–”

A hand placed on Sharon’s shoulder interrupted her as Linda gently moved her aside and bent down toward the casket, gripping the welded edge of it’s lid tightly. Her fingers made subtle impressions in the solid steel as she pulled open the lid – a horrible screeching noise filled the cemetery as the metal gave way to a force well beyond it’s design.

Sharon took a couple of steps backwards and turned to Charlie. “Charlie…what in bloody hell is–”

Charlie turned to Sharon and smiled. “Are you sure you want the answer to that, Sharon?”

“I–” Sharon paused in thought for a few seconds before smiling herself and laughing. She shook her head slowly as she answered. “No, I suppose not.”

“I got her!” Linda struggled to pull the a heavy, limp human female dressed in a dark blue Lexcorp labeled jump suit from the steel casket. It was heavy, much heavier then any normal woman of that size would be. “Wow…these manufactured bodies are heavy! Are you sure she’s still alive?”

Sharon nodded as she grabbed one of the woman’s arms and helped Linda prop her up against a gravestone. “She’s still alive…in a sense. Her brain is still working, but her body has been shut down.”

“Oh my God…it’s Sam.” Charlie turned pale as soon as he saw the woman. He leaned over, trying to get a closer look at her. He seemed like he was a little sad to see her that way. “I didn’t know she was an essence.”

“Think about it, Charlie. How else could she have survived that lab accident?” Linda folded her arms tightly as a slight shiver ran through her. The thought of Lex Luthor building artificial bodies and killing employees to test them made her feel sick. “Sharon, can we re-activate her?”

“I’m sorry, I’m not a robotics expert.” Sharon shrugged and shook her head. “Maybe some scientists could help us–”

“Star Labs.” Charlie took one of Sam’s arms and tried to lift her. He couldn’t budge her. “Come on, we have to move quickly. If her brain is still alive, she’s probably trapped in an unspeakable sensory deprivation nightmare. Get the car, Linda.”

“We don’t need the car, I can–” Linda suddenly paused and sighed sadly. She could tell that Charlie knew what she was going to say, given the sympathetic look he gave her as the words came out. She had to remind herself that she couldn’t do that anymore – she couldn’t transport herself, or anyone else, anywhere. “Never mind. I’ll…um…get the car.”

“Linda–” Charlie grabbed Linda’s shoulder as she walked by quickly, turning her to face him. He looked deep into her eyes with a steady, reassuring gaze. “Don’t worry about it. You’re doing great.”

Linda smiled as she headed toward the car. She was glad that Charlie understood.

“Lex…We need to talk.”

Luthor sighed and turned away from the glare of light streaming into his bedroom from the hallway, the silhouette of a tall woman dressed in black jeans and an expensive leather jacket. Only one woman would dare enter his room while he slept, and wake him. The only person in the world he would allow to do so. “Not now, Mercy. I have a splitting headache…par for the course considering that part of a building fell on me. Go back to the office.”


He raised his hand above his eyes to shield out the pain-inducing light as he sat up in his bed, slowly. His frown telegraphed that was beginning to lose patience. “What do you mean, ‘no’?”

Mercy quickly grabbed a chair which stood against the wall, turning it around to sit backwards. “I watched a few of your…our…so-called ‘men’ attempt to abduct Lois Lane. They were sloppy, unprofessional–”

“Your point?”

“My point is–” Mercy leaned her elbows against the back of the chair, leaning forward to make sure he could see her eyes in the near darkness of the room. “You’ve become so obsessed with this ‘Kara’, you’re getting sloppy. You’re going to get busted, and I won’t let you take me down with you. I want no part of this.”

“Very well, Mercy.” Luthor stretched his arms and sighed. He reached for his robe and climbed out of bed slowly, holding onto one of the bedposts with one hand to steady himself as a wave of dizziness hit. “You know I’ve always trusted your judgement. From now on, Kara is your responsibility. Handle it however you see fit.”

“Thank you, Lex.” Mercy stood and returned the chair to it’s place against the wall and headed toward the door. Something bothered her – the little ‘meeting’ with Luthor went too easily. She turned around to face Luthor again. “So…what’s the catch?”

Luthor smiled, appreciating in his own way how Mercy knew him so well. “You work on your own time. If you let this interfere with your work for me, I will fire you.”

“Fair enough.” Mercy nodded and turned to leave the room, closing the door quietly behind her. As she headed down the hall, she made a mental note to herself to be more careful from now on. She knew that even as she left Luthor’s home, he was making calls – having her followed, even hiring someone to eliminate her. But that was his way.


Redemption, Part 3

It was an awesome sight.

Sure, it was unusual for a starship Captain to stand on the promenade deck of a ship to watch it dock at a space station – but this was a space station like no other. Deep Space Nine was of Cardassian design, which was more like old Earth stations – ships docked in space rather then in a protected space dock, attached to the station only by a relatively small metal tube.

Samantha Ross watched through several feet of layered transparent aluminum and glass as her ship, Galaxis, slowly approached the hulking, intimidating form of Deep Space Nine. It chilled her as she watched the approach – the station resembled a giant saucer with spikes protecting its top and bottom. The spikes were docking tubes, but they seemed a little terrifying nonetheless. Knowing Cardassians, it was designed that way on purpose.

“Captain, we’ll be docking in a minute or so.”

She smiled through the window and tapped her communicator to reply to her navigational officer’s message. She knew that Susan envied her a little, yet she couldn’t leave her post. Susan was stuck watching the docking on the artificial projection of the viewscreen. “Thank you, Susan. I’ll be on the bridge shortly.”

Time seemed to pass quickly as the ship drifted toward one of the spikes. It was strictly on thrusters now, moving at speeds which old Earth used to measure slow-moving land based vehicles, in kilometers per hour.

She began to look down as the top portion of the ship passed above the docking tube, and the ship slowed abruptly as Susan, on the bridge, made an attempt at her first live docking maneuver, something she never had to do before at the usual Starfleet starbases. Sam guessed that it made Susan a little nervous – but Susan was an excellent pilot of starships, even one as small as Galaxis. She would handle it well.

As if to counter Sam’s confident thoughts about Susan, the ship jarred suddenly, causing her to lose her footing for a moment. She leaned her hands against the inner glass layer of the window to regain her balance. Sam then returned to her own feet and straightened out her uniform, tapping her communicator again – it was time to join the crew in the docking area and enter Deep Space Nine.

“Susan, Terel…I’ll meet you below in one minute.”

Sam headed toward the turbolift, taking one last glance behind her at the towering docking tube, and the darkness of space. She was far from home, about to enter a station at the true frontier of space. Things were done differently here…and she could only hope it would be for the better.

Sam, Susan, and Terel stepped off of a rather primitive cable-drawn elevator which brought them from Galaxis to a small airlock on Deep Space nine. Rather then the sliding doors they were accustomed to from Starfleet technology, the airlock door resembled a giant cog with small strands of arc-shaped thick glass embedded between its spokes. It was secure all right, but had little aesthetic value.

The door ‘rolled’ open to reveal a strange looking man with a security team following him closely. Sam guessed that he was the security chief. She felt a lump form in her throat – if security was meeting them, it most likely meant that the Captain of Deep Space nine had already talked to Starfleet, and she was under arrest.

But that feeling changed quickly. She watched as a tall dark-skinned man with a clean-shaven head and a goatee stepped between the security personnel, a warm smile on his face.

“Captain Samantha Ross?”

His voice was deep, but soft, almost sounding as if he were about to read her a novel. Unable to come up with any words, she nodded in response.

“I’m Captain Benjamin Sisko, Deep Space Nine. Welcome…I’ve been looking forward to meeting you.”

Sam finally smiled as Captain Sisko shook her hand warmly, vigorously, as if he knew her well somehow. “Am I a legend around these parts?”

Captain Sisko’s boisterous laugh filled the small airlock. “Of sorts, yes. There are many people interested in you. Starfleet, Captain Picard, myself…and a Romulan assassin.”

“Starfleet?” Sam looked around at the security people surrounding herself and her crew, making the airlock seem more crowded then it already is. They didn’t seem the least bit nervous – yet their presence made her nervous. “Am I…under arrest?”

“No, no.” Captain Sisko continued smiling as he glanced at his security chief. “This is Odo, chief of security. They are here for your protection.”

Sam leaned close to Captain Sisko as the security team turned and headed to the outside of the airlock. “What’s wrong with Odo? He looks a little…strange.”

“He’s a shape shifter.” After reaching around Sam to shake Susan and then Terel’s hand, Sisko quickly led the three down a long corridor. “I’m going to place you in quarters away from the airlocks. No sense in giving your enemies easy access to–”

“Wait, wait.” Samantha suddenly stopped, prompting Captain Sisko to turn around and give her a concerned look. “How did I get all of these enemies all of a sudden?”

A big smile formed on Captain Sisko’s face as he indicated for Sam and her crew to enter yet another ancient elevator on Deep Space Nine. It had been updated, but was still driven by a cable rather then compressed air or magnetic propulsion as most Federation turbolifts were.

“We’ll just have to solve that mystery together.”

Samantha stood at the window of her quarters, a small bag with her belongings lying on a table behind her. She was looking outside at the stars, and the near constant traffic of trade and supply ships travelling back and forth to Deep Space Nine. It was a big station – and knowing that not all of the station’s quarters were on exterior walls, it made her feel a little special to be able to take in such a view.

Deep Space Nine was a station like no other in the Federation. It was a crossroads, much like Dodge City in old western movies. Dozens of races, beings with different philosophies, from different corners of the galaxy – they all came here, to this station. They didn’t always get along – but the fact remained that the station was a beacon of hope, a refuge for peace. A place where, with so many conflicting customs, fairness had to preside over law.

It was that ‘fairness’ which Samantha depended on. She was on trial once again – the Captain and crew of Deep Space Nine would decide her fate, whether she would be turned over to the Federation. And this time–

She cringed silently and closed her eyes as all that she had done since she turned herself in at the Starbase flooded back to her. She escaped custody, attacked an officer, stole Federation property, and destroyed another Federation ship. By this time, the charges against her had surely been elevated to treason – probably the only offense left in the Federation with a penalty of death.

The sound of the door chime suddenly snapped Samantha back to reality. She headed to the door quickly, guessing that it was one of her crew members – but then froze when she realized it could also easily be someone planning to kidnap, assault, or even assassinate her. Anything was possible on such a large station. “Who is it?”

“Captain Ross, I’m Security Chief Odo.”

Samantha exhaled deeply, feeling a little more relieved. He wasn’t one of her crew, but at least he answered to Captain Sisko – and he seemed like a very reasonable man. “Come on in.”

The door to her quarters slid open, revealing the security chief. She could see his reflection in the window she faced, as he stood perfectly straight, looking directly at Samantha as he took exactly two steps into the room and allowed the door to close before speaking. He seemed too official to Sam…which made her worry.

“Someone wishes to see you, Captain Ross.” Odo bowed his head slightly as he spoke to her, his body language telling her that it was more of a request then an order. She wondered no more why he was appointed Security Chief – his demeanor and polite phrasing were calming in spite of his gruff-sounding voice and strange appearance.

Sam finally turned around to face Odo, crossing the room to stand in front of the Security Chief bravely. “Who wishes to see me, Odo?”

Odo smiled slightly, seemingly amused by Sam’s question, letting out a slight chuckle as he prepared himself to surprise her. “Your father.”

Samantha carefully kept her enthusiasm in check as she walked into what Odo called the ‘V.I.P.’ section of Deep Space Nine. It looked a lot like an elaborate 20th century hotel lobby, a large round room with a high ceiling and skylights which contained comfortable couches and tables. Along the wall were a few doors painted in eye-pleasing designs. By the spacing of the doors, Samantha could tell that whatever rooms were behind them were huge, for a space station.

“This used to be the Gul’s living quarters”, Odo explained. “It was not well known until we took over this station that Gul’s often lived in such lavish surroundings.”

“What are they used for now?”

Odo smiled again. “Visiting dignitaries, diplomats. And Admirals who are important to honored guests.”

Sam smiled as Odo escorted her to one of the entrances off of the room, and tapped the call button on the wall next to the door. “I’m uh…honored.”


“It’s security chief Odo. Your daughter is here, Admiral.”

It took a almost a minute for Admiral Ross to reach his door – Samantha spent the time rocking on her heels nervously, her arms folded tightly as the door slid open. The last meeting she remembered having with him wasn’t on good terms. She had just turned herself in at Starbase One. Her dad met her at the door, upset because he didn’t get the chance to protect her.

It was the second time she stood up to him, after being upset about having to live in his shadow. The first time was just after she graduated the Academy. She asked for some independence…and he gave her command of a starship.

But now, she was returning to him as a failure. She had lost the greatest gift he had ever given her, and embarrassed him in front of his peers. His daughter, who he touted as a greater success then himself, had become a wanted criminal.

As Admiral Ross stepped through the doorway, she was prepared to have to argue with him, or at least explain herself. But she saw nothing except unconditional love in his eyes. The love a father has for his daughter. At that moment, she knew…no matter what happened, he would always stand behind her.



Samantha smiled a little as they stared at each other for a few more seconds. A realization was sinking in – that they understood each other so well, neither one had to explain what had happened to the other. They just…knew. Samantha stepped forward and hugged him tightly, the only kind of communication needed between them.

“You’re so much like your mother, Sam. I just can’t get over it.”

Sam laughed. “Dad, you say that every time we meet.”

“No, just every other time.” Admiral Ross glanced at Odo, to urge him to wait outside – but Odo, who studied human interaction for decades, had already anticipated it and turned to leave.

Samantha stared into her father’s eyes for a few seconds as she gathered her confidence. She had never asked him for anything since she joined the academy. She was determined to make it on her own. But now…she desperately needed his help. As she began to speak, injured pride tainted her voice with a little sadness. “What’s going to happen to me now, dad?”

Admiral Ross frowned and sat down on a plush chair next to the door of his quarters. “Samantha…I think you need to know something first. You need to know who your enemy is.”

“Yes?” Samantha grabbed another nearby chair, sitting across from her father. She sensed a seriousness in her voice which made her fear – but she knew she had to clear her mind and listen calmly.

“Samuel Cassius used to be my first officer. He was also my best friend. In fact, once you were born, I decided to name you after him, and appoint him as your godfather. He had a son, Christopher. You remember Chris, right?”

A smile formed on Samantha’s face as a name she hadn’t heard in years reached her ears. Since high school, she and Chris were thick as thieves – the right word too, considering how much trouble they both caused. They were soul mates, two people carved from the same mold.

The two even shared thoughts sometimes – which proved to be a problem when they considered dating for a time. They quickly clashed in a relationship, as they were suddenly unable to trust one another. That idea was quickly abandoned so they would remain friends.

But then, in their senior year in high school, tragety struck. Chris had always dreamed of joining Starfleet, of cruising among the stars in a ship, only returning home for special occasions. He was always an adventurer – and it was that nature which left him without the use of his legs. He tried surfing the rapids of Niagra Falls, as many his age did. Unfortunately, he was caught off-guard by a sudden surge in the water flow. He fell…and he was rescued. But by then, both of his legs had been shattered.

Samantha remembered crying when she found out. She tried to share Chris’ pain, to try and help soothe him. She tried talking to him about it. But his response was to push her away. He pushed nearly everyone away – and as he did, his father began to blame the world for what had happened. The Cassius family began to isolate itself.

That’s when Samantha decided to take Chris’ place. She walked into Starfleet headquarters one day, and used her blood relation to her father, a newly promoted Admiral, to sign up for the Academy. She would live Chris’ adventures, and allow him to live vicariously through her.

She thought that’s what he wanted…but he didn’t. When Chris heard of what Sam had done, he cursed at her, ordered her out of his house. She left crying…and since that day, the two never faced each other again.

“Yes, I remember Chris. But I don’t remember his dad.”

“That”, Sam’s father continued, “Is because you only met him briefly a couple of times. He was away from home as often as I was…but he didn’t retire until years after I did.”

“Wait a minute–” Samantha slid her chair closer to her dad’s, and leaned toward him. “You said that Admiral Cassius…had a son. Past tense. He died, didn’t he?”

A sad sigh and slow nod from her father told Samantha that she was correct. “After Chris died, his father became obsessed. He decided that you had something to do with Chris’ debilitating injury. He suggested that perhaps you egged Chris on in an effort to get into Starfleet Academy instead of him–”

“That’s crazy!” Sam stood and walked over to the large picture window at the other end of her father’s quarters. As she brushed her hair back out of nervous habit, she could see the reflection of her father approaching her in the window. “I would have loved to have Chris in the academy with me. We could have worked together–”

“–And possibly fallen in love, and decided to return home. That’s what Chris’ father feared most – that his son’s friendship with you would turn serious…and the career he dreamed about for his son would be ruined. So you see…Admiral Cassius has been fearing you for longer then you can imagine.”

“I never though that–” Samantha sighed and leaned her forehead against the inner glass surface of the window. Her eyes stared out into the darkness of space…yet she saw within herself rather then what was around her. She searched herself deeply, looking to see if maybe Admiral Cassius was right – but all she could see was Chris telling her of his dream to cruise the stars, and search for the unknown. Sam knew that she would be sad to see him go…but she always just knew that it was meant to be.

“What’ll happen to me know, dad?”

He took a deep breath and leaned against the edge of a heavy wooden table in the center of the room. “We’ll hold a trial here on the station in the morning, with Captain Sisko presiding over it. He’ll probably appoint me to the panel. Admiral Cassius will probably present evidence of what you’ve done in the past few days and ask for a summary judgement of law. And then–”

“I’m going to have to pay some penalty, aren’t I? I mean…I destroyed Federation property, stole a Starship and attacked another. And I did it all to save myself. I wasn’t even rescuing anyone, or saving the universe–”

Her father laughed, smiling as he placed a hand on her shoulder. “You really are new to this Captain thing, Samantha. A Captain’s first loyalty is to the ship, and it’s crew. Galaxis is safe, unharmed, and your crew is intact. Ben Sisko is a Captain at heart. If anyone understands why you did what you did, it’s him.”

“You always were an optimist, dad.” Samantha smiled and turned around, hugging him once again with one arm. “Come on, let’s go for a walk. It may be the last time we’ll be able to for a while.”

“What about the Romulan assassin rumored to be on the station?”

“Oh, that’s no rumor.” Sam laughed as she spoke. It brought a smile to her dad’s face. “I think he’s in Odo’s jail.”

“‘She’, Samantha.” Her dad opened the door for her, and followed her into the hallway. Odo still stood there, determined to follow the two and keep them safe. “The best Romulan assassins are women. They usually work to bond with their targets before they kill.”

“Wouldn’t it be funny if–” Sam suddenly turned pale and froze mid-sentence as she pictured her new First Officer, Susan Troy. She was friendly, fairly new…and she was Romulan. “Oh my God.”

Samantha was more nervous then she could ever remember as she tapped the ‘call’ button next to a friend’s quarters. She glanced behind her – Odo stood a few steps behind her, his hands clasped calmly behind his back. How he could remain so calm was beyond Sam’s comprehension…she was about to accuse her only close friend in Starfleet of being an assassin.

The door opened suddenly, and Susan Troy gave Sam a smile. Susan looked at Odo, for a moment, then back to Sam. Her smile vanished when she noticed the sad look in Sam’s eyes. “What’s wrong?”

“Are you a Romulan assassin?” Samantha cringed at her own question. She had an uncanny talent for saying tactless things on impulse. While that kind of honesty is valued among friends, Sam knew she would never make a suitable diplomat. Her question prompted a lot of nervousness from Susan – which bothered her a lot. But what bothered her more was the answer Susan gave her.

“I…I used to be.” Susan eyed Odo suspiciously. “Why? I mean…I’ve been in my quarters since we arrived at the station–”

“I know you have”, Odo interrupted in his calm, but gruff voice. “We have an unknown Romulan assassin aboard hired to kill both your Captain and her father. Unfortunately…you fit the profile. I’d like to come in and ask you a few questions.”

Susan looked terrified as Odo placed his imposing form in the doorway. She looked to Samantha for help. Sam took her hand gently and walked through the doorway ahead of her.

“I’ll be right here, Susan. Just tell Odo everything you know, and it’ll all be fine.”

“But…I didn’t do anything! Yes, I was approached for a ‘job’ on Starbase One. But I turned it down.”

Sam and Odo looked at each other. They were both shocked. “Go on”, Sam urged.

“But then”, Susan continued. She began to fidget nervously. “They told me they would get someone else if I didn’t cooperate. I asked who the target was. It was…you, Sam.”

Odo chuckled, almost laughed as he began to understand what had happened. “So you let them think you would assassinate Captain Ross to protect her from a real assassin.”

Susan nodded, and smiled at Samantha. “Clever, huh?”

“I don’t buy it.” Odo frowned and folded his arms. “It’s too easy an explanation…just the kind a real Romulan assassin would use to cover her tracks.”

“Odo!” Sam gave him a quick glare before turning her attention back to Susan. “I trust you, Susan. I did choose you as my First Officer…and I’ll stand by anything you tell me as true.”

Susan smiled at Sam…but quickly switched to a frown as she noticed that Odo still eyed her suspiciously. Odo stood quickly and left the room as Sam gave him a disapproving look. “I’m so sorry I wasn’t honest with you. I should never have–”

“And how would I have reacted to the news?” Samantha sat down in a chair across from Susan. “I think everything worked out for the best.”

“I…I guess you’re right.” Susan swept back some of her hair and looked at the floor momentarily. “I feel terrible about this. You had a hundred percent faith in me, yet I kept secrets from you.”

“It could have been worse.” Sam smiled and rose to head to the door, turning to give Susan an amused smile. “You could have been trying to kill me. Come on, let’s get something to eat.”

The two laughed at Samantha’s dark joke, as they headed toward the door. As inappropriate as it would have sounded to a stranger, between friends it was an excellent tension breaker – as well as reassurance to Susan that they were still friends.

But the laughter came to an end as the two stepped out into the hallway. Waiting outside were Odo, and a security team of five very large men. Sam turned pale as she glanced at Susan, who has suddenly grown fearful.

“What’s the meaning of this?” Samantha’s voice was angry, and hurt as she confronted Odo with her question. It bordered on a demand. Odo, however, didn’t seem the least bit afraid, or even at all affected by Sam’s tone of voice.

“I’m sorry, Captain,” Odo answered in his best sympathetic, yet still gravelly voice. “I must take Susan Troy into custody. It’s my duty as–”

“Hell, no!” Samantha took a sudden step toward Odo, a little surprised that his security team flinched as she did. She couldn’t picture herself as a threat to them. “Who authorized this? Captain Sisko?”

Odo shook his head slowly. “Aboard this station, I have full authority to detain any person I deem necessary for the safety of–”

Sam stepped in front of Odo, her hands on her hips as she leaned toward him. “Denied. As a Starfleet Captain, I have that authority. Go pick on someone else.”

“Enough of this.” Odo took in a deep breath, and just with a simple nod, urged his five security men forward.

Sam angrily shoved the first of the five men who approached her. She was trembling a little bit, part from anger, and part from worrying that the large man would simply break her in half – but she knew she had to appear brave if they were to take her seriously as a Captain. “I want to talk to Captain Sisko, now!”

As the security man closest to her reached for Susan and missed, Sam quickly slipped his phaser out of his belt. She stepped back, keeping Susan behind her, and aimed the phaser at Odo. He didn’t seem the least bit affected by it.

“This won’t help your trial, Captain,” Odo droned in his best monotone. “Give me the phaser, and we’ll discuss this.”

“No more discussion! I’m taking my crew, and my dad, and leaving this place.” Samantha breathed quickly between sentences. Her eyes were tearing from the frustration she felt, as she began to fear that there was no escape from Admiral Cassius and his kangaroo court. No matter what she did, he would find and prosecute her…unless she managed to run away. She silently wondered for a moment if the Vulcans would grant her asylum – while they were Federation members, they also valued neutrality.

Odo raised his chin momentarily to point toward Samantha. “Turn around.”

“What?” Samantha squinted at Odo, giving him a look which questioned his sanity. “Do you take me for an idiot? I’m not falling for–”

Sam wheeled around quickly as she felt something poke her in the back. She gasped audibly at what she saw.

Susan held a phaser in her hand, pointed at the back of Samantha’s head. She was trembling, and tears were streaming from her eyes. Her face was twisted with a mixture of sadness and anger…but she didn’t fire. It was as if she were fighting some sort of inner battle.

“Susan–” Sam took a step back, freezing when Susan moved suddenly. “Give me the phaser, Susan…please.”

Samantha was surprised when Susan simply turned the phaser around and began holding it out toward Sam. Susan’s hands were shaking…she was still fighting something. She was using every ounce of her willpower to force herself to hand the phaser to Samantha…but Sam was cautious, reaching for it slowly.

“Take it…please–,” Susan whispered in a barely audible, wavering voice.

Sensing the urgency in Susan’s voice, Sam suddenly rushed forward, snatching the phaser from her fingers. She could swear that Susan had pointed the weapon at herself before giving it up to Sam’s grasp. Samantha quickly reached around Susan to support her just before she lost her footing…and began crying.

With Odo and his security force following Sam walked Susan back to her quarters, gently lying Susan on her bed. She paused to see Susan curl into a ball, sobbing, as she stepped outside into the hallway.

Odo seemed to anticipate Samantha’s next request as soon as the door slid shut as he quickly barked an order at two of his security people. “No one enters or leaves this room except myself and Captain Ross. Is that clear?”

As the two guards nodded, Samantha followed Odo down the hall slowly. “Shouldn’t we call sickbay?”

“No.” Odo shook his head. “Unless you want Starfleet asking questions. If you care about Susan, we’ll have to do this silently.”

Sam stepped in front of Odo and turned around, forcing him to stop walking. “What happened?”

He looked both ways along the hallway before opening his office door and inviting Sam in. He closed the door behind them. “She was a subconsciously programmed assassin, and even she didn’t know it. I was going to put her into a cell until the trigger time passed, to keep both you and her safe–”

“Wait…in a cell?” Sam folded her arms and frowned.

Odo nodded. “It’s like a drug. The assassin needs time for the effect to wear off, where she can’t hurt anyone. She’ll be fine once she gets some sleep. And Captain–”


Giving her one of his strange, half smiles, Odo walked around to the other side of his desk and sat down, tapping his index fingers together. “You did an excellent job. You’re one of a rare breed…a Captain who genuinely cares for her crew.”

“Thank you.” Sam smiled at Odo and reached across the desk to shake his hand. “And Odo…I’m sorry I underestimated you.”

Odo chuckled. “If I were in your position, Captain, I probably would have done the same. Good luck at your hearing tomorrow. I look forward to seeing you there.”

Samantha laughed to herself as she left Odo’s office. As usual, it was difficult to tell if Odo’s last sentence was a friendly gesture, or a threat. Odds are…it was both.

Samantha dreaded seeing Admirals in full dress. The image itself didn’t upset her – rather it was what she associated it with that instilled fear in her. Since the time she was a small child, she dreaded seeing those uniforms. Whenever an Admiral came to the door of her childhood home, it meant her father was about to leave on an extended trip. The smell of starched fabric, the perfection of the seams, and the steel-like stiffness of the uniform – it all left a bad taste in her mouth.

Even during her time at the Academy, the only time she would see Admirals in full dress were during disciplinary hearings. Luckily, she was only directly involved in one…but she had been called to several to testify either on behalf or, or against, various members of her class.

It was always painful for her – while her own hearing resulted only in a reprimand on her record, she had watched others immediately discharged. She watched one young man walk down the halls of the Academy, his head bowed in shame and his eyes filled with unshed tears as two large security men escorted him to his quarters to gather his things.

He had stolen equipment from a lab to pursue his own hobbies in his quarters. After Samantha testified that she did see the equipment in his room, the Admirals unanimously agreed to order him dishonorably discharged, and that he was to be ejected from the Academy immediately and sent home.

Paul, his name was. Sam remembered him well. She was often assigned to work with him during classes and training. At one time, she almost dated him…but their personalities clashed almost immediately. They decided instead to remain simply friends for the good of their relationship and their training squad.

She didn’t want to testify against him – but the Admirals told her that she would have to, or the entire training squad would face disciplinary action. They all would have been expelled for the actions of the one. Sam suddenly felt the burden of all of her friends upon her…and broke down, telling the Admirals what they wanted to know. She still regretted doing so, as the image of Paul’s face, his shattered pride became forever etched in her memory.

As she sat in a large, impersonal conference room on Deep Space Nine that image haunted her. She sat in the open, in front of her a large steel table which those who would judge her would sit behind once they arrived. The rest of the room was empty – spectators and guests weren’t permitted for a hearing of this sort.

A shiver went through her as one other person finally entered the room – Captain Sisko. He entered the room and sat down in the center chair across the steel table from Samantha, leaning back as he clasped his hands together at the edge of the table. He looked so serious…but then, he gave her a warm, disarming smile.


Samantha nodded without making a sound, as if any noise she might make could count against her in the hearing. She was a stark contrast to the relaxed-looking Captain Sisko. She sat with her back perfectly straight, her hands in her lap, and her legs crossed below her knees. It was almost as if she were trying to melt into the background, refusing to even allow a wrinkle in her uniform give her away.

“Relax. This is not an inquisition. It’s just a hearing.”

Her only response to Sisko’s continued attempts to calm her was simply to smile nervously at him. She knew she wanted to say something, to ask for his help…or better still, to ask him to miraculously solve her problem. But she knew even that was beyond his ability. She figured would have to go through this essentially alone.

But as she watched Captain Sisko stare at her from across the table with his warm, friendly smile, she began searched deep within her and realized that of all of the people she could talk to, he probably would be the only one who would treat her with respect and caring. His smile, his relaxed pose and mannerisms were reassuring…which finally gave Sam the courage to speak. “Have you been through this too?”

“Samatha–” Captain Sisko tried to appear as informal as possible as he dropped his hands in his lap. “If I had returned to Earth for any extended period of time, I probably would have been tried for a list of infractions which would fill this station from wall to wall–”

“But…you didn’t face them,” Sam interrupted. “You’re still here.”

“Yes, I am, aren’t I?” Sisko gave her another warm, disarming smile, glancing through the glass of the rear door to the room momentarily as he saw someone approach. “It appears that you have more courage then I.”

Sam laughed a little, her nervous smile becoming a little more genuine. She knew it was just an attempt of his to calm her, to make her feel more comfortable. It worked, and she was grateful for that. Samantha even leaned back a little bit in her chair. “You have something planned, don’t you?”

Watching Captain Sisko suddenly lose his smile and lean forward, placing his hands back on the table, cued Samantha to the fact that the others were about to enter the room. She stiffened, sitting up straight again – but after her conversation with Sisko, she just couldn’t bring herself to feel as nervous as she did before…because now, she knew she had a friend in the room. She had someone to look out for her interests.

“Captain Ross…You know Captain Picard–” Captain Sisko indicated toward Picard as he entered the room confidently, sitting to Sisko’s left confidently, with a smile on his face. Sam started to feel a little better – the two seemed to be in such a good mood, it could only mean good things for her. Her confidence went even higher as she watched the next person enter the room – her father. “–And I assume you know Admiral Ross.”

Samantha was clearly smiling now as she leaned back a little in her chair once again. Three of the people in the room were on her side. When the next two entered the room, Admiral Cassius and Colonel Reece, she no longer feared them at all.

“We had a meeting with Starfleet.” Captain Picard began speaking immediately, his accented voice serious, yet his expression conveying that he brought good news. In her two meetings with him, Sam learned that was part of his mannerism. “They have agreed to drop all criminal charges against you.”

“What’s the catch?” Sam felt confident as she asked her question, believing that Picard would give her an honest and fair answer. She felt she had nothing to fear from him.

Picard smiled at Samantha’s question. He stood and straightened his uniform, preparing himself to speak as the senior officer presiding over the hearing. Normally, the highest-ranking officer would take that job, or failing that, the commanding officer. But being her father, Admiral Ross was disqualified – and she guessed that Captain Sisko had disqualified himself for some unknown reason. She made a note to to herself to ask about it later.

“Your incidents of insubordination will still be recorded on your record.” Picard walked around to the other side of the table slowly, leaning against it as he stood in front of Sam. “And you will cooperate with Captain Sisko in a continuing investigation you will be made aware of shortly.”

“And my ship?” Samantha’s smile disappeared at the sound of her own question. She looked at Picard, and then across the table at Captain Sisko. The question, in her mind, sounded more like she was begging – but it came out more like a demand.

Luckily, it seemed to amuse Captain Picard. He let out a chuckle. “It’s still your ship, Samantha. Try to keep it in one piece. Now if there are no more questions, I’d like to adjourn this hearing.”

Sam glanced around the room quickly. No one budged, or made a sound – but she did notice Admiral Cassius swallow hard once before Picard finally motioned toward Captain Sisko.

“Very well,” Picard said as he returned to the other side of the table, “Then this hearing is adjourned.”

As she watched Admiral Cassius stand and leave the room quickly, Samantha remained in her chair. Her heart was beating quickly – she couldn’t believe it was all over with. She was free. Her father smiled at her across the table, but he neither he nor Captain Sisko stood. As the door close again, and Picard returned to the table, Sam knew something else was going on – and that Colonel Reece was still in the room.

“Samantha…Colonel Reece is part of an internal investigations into Admiral Cassius’ activities.” Picard sat back down in his chair and slid it forward, leaning across the table toward Sam. “At this moment, Captain Sisko’s security officer, Odo, is taking Admiral Cassius into custody.”

“But we need to ask one favor of you, Samantha.” The sound of Captain Sisko’s deep voice filled the room, soothing Sam despite the edge of urgency it carried. “Admiral Cassius has assassins on this station. You, your father, and Susan are all targets. We will round them up in time, but we need the three of you off the station immediately…for your own safety.”

“We will inform you once the threat has been neutralized,” Captain Picard added. “Then, you will always be welcome as a guest on Deep Space Nine.”

“Thank you so much. All of you.” Samantha stood quickly and shook Colonel Reece’s hand first. “Thank you for stepping forward. I’ll always remember you.”

She leaned one arm across Admiral Ross’ shoulders, and gave him a light hug, ignoring the amused smiles from Picard and Sisko.

Her father smiled. “I know this has all been tough on you, Sam. But look at all of the people you’ve met…and all the places you’ve seen…all on your own. I’m very proud of you.”

“I know, dad. I know.”

Samantha felt a little sad as Galaxis slowly pulled away from Deep Space Nine. She felt like she was leaving nearly everyone she knew behind. Funny, since before she arrived, she barely knew them at all – and in fact, the idea of meeting them frightened her. It’s strange how heroes can seem so intimidating until you meet them in person.

But at least she knew that Susan, Terel, and her father were safe. The advantage to having a Starship of your own to command was control – as long as everyone she cared deeply about was aboard her ship, they were safe. Of course, it wouldn’t last, since Galaxis’ first stop was to drop off her father at home on Earth…as well as one other ‘guest’.

As it turned out, Susan Troy made an announcement shortly after boarding Galaxis – she told Samantha and Terel that she planned on returning to Earth and retiring from Starfleet. While she was rather young to be retiring, the emotional roller-coaster she went through trying to fight off the subconscious assassination instructions planted in her mind was enough to force her to take a look at her life.

“You’ll always be my closest friend,” Susan said, with tears in her eyes, “And I’ll miss you. I just think I need to take a job where I’m can’t possibly be dangerous to anyone.”

Sam laughed sadly at Susan’s little joke. She would be losing a friend and dedicated crew member as soon as they arrived at Earth. It was something she didn’t look forward to…but it was also something Sam anticipated. After all, at one point she herself contemplated giving up as well.

She sighed as she stood on the Promenade deck of Galaxis once again, watching Deep Space Nine grow smaller and farther away. It was in the past now, as Susan soon would be as well. The next time Galaxis left Earth, it would most likely have yet another brand-new crew. But Sam felt confident – she now knew, without a doubt, that she had what it would take to gain the respect of her new crew.

As Samantha watched Galaxis cruise into the cold, darkness of space, it reminded her of her future – dark, cold, unknown, confusing…but exciting to explore. From now on, with every journey she would begin anew, and enjoy what the Federation had given her along with her ship – independence.

Redemption, Part 2

A simple picture sitting on Samantha’s nightstand, brought her a sense of comfort, as well as a feeling of shame. It was a photo of her dad, in his Starfleet Admiral’s uniform. She loved him, but sometimes it seemed like he tried too hard to protect her.

She was on a large space station in orbit around Earth, sitting on her bed in full dress uniform, her hair tied up in a ponytail – not quite regulation, but close enough. She was waiting for ‘the call’ – any minute now, a board of Starfleet Admirals would finish discussing the preliminaries of her general court martial. They had already interviewed all witnesses the day before.

Samantha remembered the moment she stepped through the airlock on Starbase Six, her ship safely docked in it’s port. Her dad was there waiting for her, wearing a frown on his face. Sadness filled his eyes.

“You shouldn’t have come home. You should have waited”, he said, “Until I had things straightened out back home.”

“No.” Samantha shook her head slowly, defying her father’s wishes. She knew he was trying to protect her – but she was through being protected. She was a Captain now, a title which carried the responsibility of every one of her decisions. She would stand by them, and defend them herself. “I have to handle this myself, dad.”

He almost hugged her at that moment, before realizing that it was just the kind of thing that would upset her more. His daughter had grown up, and was fighting for her own independence. It was his responsibility as a father to let her fight for herself, no matter how afraid he was of her being hurt. Instead, he straightened his uniform, and extended a hand with a quick smile. “Good luck, Captain.”

Samantha remembered shaking her father’s hand and smiling in return, just as two Starfleet Security officers showed up to escort her, along with a single suitcase, to the quarters where she had spent the last two days sitting quietly and thinking. She had plenty of time to think, since she had been confined to those quarters since the moment she had arrived.

“Captain Ross?”

She sighed before walking over to the comm station on the wall next to the door. Samantha knew she could leave the comm station on auto-answer to avoid having to walk over to the panel, but she always thought of that as kind of a violation of her privacy. “Yes?”

“I’m Colonel Reece. I’ve been assigned to escort you to your hearing.”

“Yes…uh…sure.” Sam straightened out her uniform and tapped the door open button. The door slid open – for the first time in a full day, it wasn’t locked.

“Follow me, Captain Ross.”

Samantha followed Colonel Reece quickly as he led her toward the center of the station – that’s where the larger, more decorative conference rooms were, and where the hearings were being held. As she walked, she could feel eyes on her – the legend of what she had done spread through Starfleet like wildfire. They all knew her, some casting glances of contempt upon her as she passed. But she was focused on the task at hand – she couldn’t allow other people’s feelings to affect her performance during the hearing.

“This way, Captain Ross.” Colonel Reece opened the door to the conference room quickly, exposing Samantha to the harsh, bright fluorescent lighting of the room’s Titanium-steel decor. She cringed as she entered the room as the glare of it’s polished walls and table blinded her momentarily. Colonel Reece pulled out a painful-looking steel chair from under one side of the table, inviting Samantha to sit down. On the opposite side of the table were five serious-looking Admirals.

“Captain Ross, please sit.” The centermost grey-haired Admiral indicated toward the chair as he shuffled papers on the table in front of him. The tag on his uniform read ‘Adm S. Cassius’. “You are here today to face charges of…unauthorized use of classified Starfleet property, and replacing your crew with non-Starfleet personnel without authorization.”

“I…I believe I was justified–”

“Captain, we have regulations for a reason. We want our crews to be well-trained, prepared for any disaster.” Admiral Cassius leaned forward, as if to provide confidentiality, though it was plainly obvious that everyone in the room would hear him. “But more important is that we must maintain a Starfleet trained crew. One made up of people like us. Do you understand?”

“I’m not certain I do.” Samantha folded her arms and frowned. “You’re implying that Starfleet crews have to be human, aren’t you? Are you aware of how racist that sounds?”

“Watch your tongue, Captain!” Admiral Cassius stood suddenly, anger twisting his face. “This is a court martial, and I am your superior officer. You will address me with respect, obey me, and keep your petty opinions to yourself. Otherwise, you will rot in a Starfleet mining colony several light years from your home for the rest of your life.”

“I’m sorry, Admiral.” Samantha flashed a disarming smile and leaned forward a little. “Tell me…what are my chances here? Am I in serious trouble?”

Admiral Cassius sighed. “I’m afraid the law is clear here, Captain Ross. Like it or not, the law’s the law, and I’m sworn to uphold it. You’re looking at two to seven, unless you give up your position and face a dishonorable discharge. That is, if you can’t come up with some kind of extenuating circumstances.”

“I understand…I guess.” Sam bowed her head and sighed deeply, pausing for several seconds to think. She realized that she was trapped in a kangaroo court, and she had to escape. “Excuse me…do you mind if I use the restroom before we start?”

“I suppose so.” Admiral Cassius leaned back and tossed a folder full of papers aside. “Just make it quick. Colonel Reece, please keep an eye on her.”

“Yes, sir.”

Samantha walked out into the hallway quickly with Colonel Reece close behind. She headed straight for the women’s restroom, anticipating that Reece would wait outside – he did. Only as soon as she entered the restroom, she realized that the ventilation shaft was way too small for her to squeeze through, and the ceiling was solid rather then suspended.

She paced the room for a minute or so, trying to think of what she could do to slip past Colonel Reece. Then it came to her – she had the element of surprise! All she had to do was lure him into the restroom somehow.

It only took her a second to complete that idea – she took a deep breath, and screamed as loud as her lungs and voice would allow. Just as she predicted, Colonel Reece came running in, looking confused as he found her standing right in front of him with a smile on her face.

“What’s the meaning of–”

Colonel Reece didn’t even finish his sentence before Samantha slammed his head against a mirror above the sink, shattering it, and then shoved him head first into one of the restroom’s cubicles. She grabbed his phaser and slammed the door behind him to slow him down before quickly placing the phaser on her belt and racing out of the restroom. She kept running until she was somewhere on the station where there were no people whatsoever – the only problem was, she had no idea where that was.

“Reece? Where are you?” Admiral Cassius paced around the hallway outside the restrooms for several minutes before Colonel Reece managed to shake off his dizziness and confusion, and head out of the women’s restroom.

“Uh…right here sir. But Captain Ross has–”

“Escaped. You don’t have to tell me that, she’s been sighted all over the station.” Admiral Cassius rubbed his chin gently and squinted a moment, lost in thought, before turning to his security chief, who had just arrived. “I want security combing this station from end to end. Colonel, come with me, I have something important to tell you.”

“Yes, sir.” Colonel Reece nodded and followed Admiral Cassius back into the conference room – they were the only two people in the room, everyone else had left. As soon as he entered the room, the Admiral motioned for him to close the door. He complied quickly. “Combing the station, sir? I assume you mean to tell me why we’re treating Captain Ross like some kind of threat.”

Admiral Cassius frowned. “She is a threat, Colonel Reece. She appointed a Cardassian Gul as her security officer. Cardassian, for God’s sake! Imagine the kind of information she has access to…and yet she hasn’t shared any of it.”

“What if she doesn’t have any information?”

“She has information, all right.” Admiral Cassius let out a sigh as he sat down in one of the plush leather chairs in the conference room. “I’d be willing to bet on it. For some reason, she won’t tell us.”

Colonel Reece folded his arms and frowned. “Unfortunately, we just gave her good reason to fear telling us.”

“Wrong.” Admiral Cassius leaned forward. “Her next mission plan included a visit to Deep Space Nine, to deliver the C-711. I think she was also planning to…meet someone there. She’s deliberately keeping secrets.”

“Oh?” Colonel Reece raised an eyebrow. “You think she’s some kind of a traitor?”

“I’m sure of it.” Admiral Cassius removed a datapad from his pocket and slid it across the table. “So much so, that I am ordering you to locate her and keep a close eye on her. You will contact only me, giving me updates once every twelve hours.”

“Yes, sir.” Colonel Reece took the datapad and saluted quickly before leaving the conference room. As soon as he left and closed the door, Admiral Cassius leaned back and pressed an small button in the center of the table.

“It won’t be long now. We’ll find her…and when we do, Admiral Ross will be finished.”

“Who’s there?”

Samantha instinctively ducked behind a shipping container in what she thought was an empty cargo bay. Her hand was tightly wrapped around her phaser, as her heart sped up to the point where she could hear her heartbeat in her ears. As her mind began to slip slowly out of panic mode, she realized that she recognized the voice.

“Susan?” Sam poked her head over the top of the shipping container she hid behind – it was Susan Troy, all right. She recognized those pale green Romulan eyes anywhere. Only Sam was a little shocked that she had dyed her hair. “Blonde, Susan?”

Susan smiled and nodded. “I decided to experiment a little. I saw you run by the Watering Hole, so I followed you in here. What’s going on? Weren’t you on trial?”

“I’m so glad you’re here, Susan. Thinks have gone horribly wrong.” Sam stood up straight, and approached Susan carefully, eyeing the door the whole way. She lowered her voice, worried that someone outside might hear and come in. “It was more of a crucifixion then a trial. Someone has it in for me.”

“That sounds so…paranoid–” Susan laughed nervously, but suddenly turned serious as she noticed the fear in Samantha’s eyes. She lowered her voice as well, as she began to fear for her friend. “Sam…What’s going on?”

“I…I don’t really know.” Sam sighed loudly, her still lingering sense of panic causing her breath to waver. “I have to get off this station.”

“You know–” Susan smiled mischievously as a memory came back to her – on the way to the Watering Hole, she passed the dock. “–Galaxis is still here. And it’s not well guarded at the moment.”

Samantha shook her head. “Doesn’t matter. My picture’s all over the station, and the dock’s the most crowded area. Even the transporters are there. I can’t get near the ship without being caught.”

“Oh, I think you can.” Susan grabbed Sam’s wrist and suddenly pulled her toward the door. “It’s time for a real artist to go to work.”

“Turn this room upside down. I want anything we can use as evidence.”

Admiral Cassius clasped his hands behind his back and began pacing around the quarters Samantha Ross occupied only hours earlier as Security officers began tearing the entire place apart, even looking under the couch cushions and mattress.

She had left behind all of her luggage, clothing, and belongings, literally fleeing with just the clothing on her back. But the Admiral knew that would not be enough to cause her hardship. She had friends who would help her. That was the primary point of the detailed search of the station he had ordered – to find those friends and keep her away from them. The search of her quarters was to determine where she might head, or who she might contact.

He happened to walk past her nightstand in mid-thought, and found a picture in a frame, lying face down. Personal photos in quarters were against regulation, so it caught his attention immediately. He picked up the photo and looked at it quickly.

“How is Captain Ross related to Admiral Ross?”

“He’s her father, sir.” One of the Security officers spoke up immediately. “He sponsored her entry into the academy.”

“Hmm.” Admiral Cassius stared at the picture for a moment, rubbing his chin, before dropping it back on the table. “Send a security team to guard Admiral Ross, wherever he is. Let’s make sure his daughter can’t contact him.”

“Yes, sir.”

Admiral Cassius stood in Samantha’s former quarters for a few minutes, alone, as the room emptied of security personnel. He shook his head, wondering how a such a sweet young woman could become mixed up in something like this.

“Damned shame.” He shook his head slowly as he turned off the lights and closed the door behind him. “Truly, a damned shame.”

“Purple?” Samantha leaned forward to examine her hair more closely in Susan’s bathroom mirror. Susan stood behind her, smiling.

“I know. Isn’t it cool?” Susan brushed some of Samantha’s hair aside with her hand. “I’ve always wanted to dye my hair with funky colors.”


Susan nodded. “It’s one of a few colors that are against Starfleet regs. No one will recognize you, or even suspect.”

“Really?” Samantha smiled and turned to face Susan, following her as she headed out of the bathroom and into her quarters. “Then I should have no problem sneaking off of the station.”

Sam paused as she spotted Terel sitting in a deep chair in Susan’s quarters. He was smoking a cigar, something which was strictly forbidden aboard Starfleet vessels. “Terel…what are you doing?”

“If we’re going to break a few rules, Captain Ross…why not break a few more?” Terel sat up and turned to face Sam, his eyes widening as he got a good view of her. “Nice hair, Captain. I never thought you had it in you.”

Sam shook her head. “I’m in trouble now, Susan. Terel likes it.”

“May I suggest, Captain–”

“Don’t call me that, Terel”, Samantha interrupted, “Call me Samantha. If you walk around calling me ‘Captain’, it defeats the whole purpose of sneaking.”

“Point taken, Samantha.” Terel sat up, placing his cigar on the edge of a nearby glass table. “But I was going to suggest we formulate a plan. Purple hair or not, if we simply walk up to the dock as a group they’re bound to recognize us.”

Susan took advantage of Terel’s distraction, quickly throwing his cigar in the bathroom sink as he spoke. She ignored his exaggerated gasp. “Samantha’s the only one who has to sneak aboard, Terel. We aren’t restricted…yet.”

“Exactly.” Terel paused to point at Samantha. “Yet. Which is why we have to act quickly.”

Samantha sighed and sat down on the edge of the glass table. She didn’t like the idea of following Terel’s plan, especially because she outsmarted him so easily the last time he had one. “Okay…what do you suggest?”

“So why am I wearing this stupid baseball cap again?”

“Because it makes it harder to see your eyes”, Terel answered quickly, “And it makes you look–”

“Don’t say it!” Susan waved a finger at Terel, in mock anger, glaring at him as she spoke to Samantha. “He’s right, it does make your eyes harder to see.”

Samantha nodded silently, as if to dismiss the bickering between the two. She was nervous enough already – they were planning to sneak past armed Starfleet security officers. Samantha wasn’t defenseless, though the small phaser she carried on her belt beneath her untucked shirt would make things that much worse if she were caught.

The three shuffled along the deck above the docking station, looking down periodically to see a dozen security personnel just hanging around the gate. They knew she would be heading toward there.

Samantha turned to look at Terel and Susan, worry apparent in her eyes. “How are we going to get past them?”

“A distraction.” Susan pointed through the large reinforced glass window in front of them, toward a large passenger transport pulling up to the docking station slowly. “And here comes one now. There’ll be two or three dozen people crowding the docking station in a few minutes…and they all have to be scanned.”

The steel deck Samantha stood on jarred slightly as the massive transport ship gently bumped into its magnetic docking clamps, assuring an airtight connection. The ring of light around one airlock changed from red to green, seconds before the door slid open.

Just as Susan predicted, dozens of people began to stream into the docking area, packed in like sardines as they slowly began to line up at the narrow scanning checkpoints. It would take several minutes for the crowd to subside.

“Let’s go, quickly.” Susan tugged on Samantha’s shirt, and headed quickly down the stairway toward the docking station. She looked around as she went, noticing that Terel was missing.

Samantha was only seconds from the transport pad which would send her to Galaxis when all hell broke loose. She happened to glance at one of the Starfleet security officers for just a second – and just as she did, he somehow just knew she was looking at him. Their eyes met for only an instant, and the officer’s eyes widened with recognition.

“You! Stop!” The officer drew his phaser quickly and started shoving his way through the crowd, toward Samantha.

“Oh, nuts.” Susan hit a few buttons on the transporter system quickly, and practically dragged Samantha toward the transport pads. “Five second delay, we transport…the system locks. Go!”

“Five seconds?” Samantha’s eyes widened as the security officer stood in the doorway of the transport area, pointing a phaser at her. Samantha drew her phaser, taking advantage of the fact that the officer didn’t yet have a clear shot yet. “Too long–”

Phaser blasts and sparks began to fly across the transporter pad just as it began it’s telltale whine, charging to transport Samantha and Susan to Galaxis. Samantha fired toward the doorway in rapid succession, with the intention of preventing any of the security officers from accurately aiming at her.

It worked.

An instant later, Samantha and Susan appeared in the transporter room aboard Galaxis. Sam immediately raced over to the control panel and typed in her unlock command quickly. “Computer…raise shields.”

“In space dock?” Susan looked a little confused.

Sam nodded. “Otherwise, they’ll be able to transport aboard and take back the ship.”

“We can’t sir. She’s raised the shields.”

Admiral Cassius slammed his hand down on a console in the station’s command center. He had been called there as soon as a security alert was declared – and even before he had arrived, he knew why. “Keep the bay doors shut. Let’s get a few fighters scrambled, at least three–”

Colonel Reece cleared his throat loudly to interrupt. “We only have two available.”

“Fine, both of them.” Admiral Cassius stood next to the glass outside wall of the command center, looking down at the eerie glow coming from Galaxis in the dock below. She had her shields up, all right. “Launch the Excalibur with a full crew. She’s faster then Galaxis, Captain Ross won’t be able to outrun her…and since Captain Ross lacks a crew, she won’t be able to react as fast.”

With a quick salute, Colonel Reece raced down to the barracks to round up the crew of Excalibur.

Admiral Cassius tapped the glass inches from his face and smiled. “You’re just like your father, Captain Ross…He never made it, and neither will you.”

“It’s about time you two arrived.”

Samantha glared at Terel momentarily even as her fingers frantically typed commands at the engineering panel on the bridge of Galaxis. She tore the baseball cap from her head, throwing it to the floor in frustration – it was getting in the way. She glanced over at Susan, working quickly at several stations. “Terel, how about if you help instead of amusing yourself?”

“Everything’s online.” Susan turned to face Samantha as she headed over to her station at helm. She froze for a second as she looked at the viewscreen, turning her look of horror toward Samantha. “But the doors are still closed.”

“Just ram the doors.” Terel paused to look at Susan and Samantha as they both gave him angry looks. “You did say you wanted me to help…didn’t you? If you try to ram the doors, they’ll open them. They don’t want an explosion in space dock.”

Susan and Samantha looked at each other for a few seconds, before Samantha finally commented. “You know…that actually makes sense, Terel.”

Terel nodded and smiled. “I’m Cardassian. We’re known for devious tactics.”

Without a sound, Galaxis’ impulse engines slowly began to supply mobility. Thanks to Susan’s trained hand at the controls, the ship accelerated slowly, smoothly…rather then violently lurching into action. Samantha happened to look through the thick transparent aluminum skylight on the bridge – its inner liquid crystal layer charged to allow total translucency – to see the Excalibur nearby. It’s external lights were turning on in groups.

“We have company, guys.” Samantha looked at Susan just as she turned around and nodded. Terel headed straight for the weapons systems console.

The ship surged forward, toward the still-closed spacedock doors. Samantha started to feel a little nervous, they were dangerously close. She paced across the bridge twice before sitting down in the Captain’s chair, holding on tight to the armrests. She knew that they would either hit the doors…or be forced to take them out.


“Yes, Captain?” Terel turned to face Samantha from his weapons console.

Samantha let out a deep sigh to try and calm herself. In her Starfleet career so far, she had only broken small rules. Little things, like her hair length, or insubordinate behavior. But now…she had stolen a ship, and was about to attack a Federation spacedock.

She closed her eyes before executing her next order. “Fire.”

Galaxis shook from the explosion of two photon torpedoes slamming into the reinforced titanium allow spacedock doors. They were designed to repel attacks, but not from within spacedock – or at such close range. The huge doors simply blew apart from the impact.

As Galaxis sailed through the now-open doors, Samantha could hear debris hitting the ship, every hit sounding across the metallic hull, but causing little damage. Low-power shields weren’t designed to stop such small objects, as they could cause little damage to the ship.

“Galaxis is in pursuit.” Susan spoke without looking up from her console. She suddenly took a hard right turn, barely dodging a phaser blast.

Sam gripped the armrests on her chair tighter, as she felt the sudden g-forces. “Cloak the ship. They can’t hit us if they can’t see us.”

“I’m on it.” Susan began tapping her console quickly. “It’ll only buy time, though. They’ll detect our heat signature…and when we go to warp, we’ll have to drop the cloak and they’ll follow.”

Another hard turn, this time to the left, and a curse from Susan told Samantha that it took Excalibur only seconds to track them by heat signature. This time, the turn was too late – the bridge heaved violently as a photon torpedo impacted the underside of the ship.


“Sixty percent. We only had them partially powered.” Susan began tapping her panel furiously. “Boosting now…but that’ll cut our impulse power.”

“Terel–” Samantha paused, fidgeting with one of the small buttons on the armrest of her Captain’s chair. She didn’t want to fire on Excalibur – to do so would mean hurting innocent people. Once she did that, she would be seen as a rogue officer, and would have to work hard to prove she’s not. The finger she was using to poke at the small button stopped tapping as an idea came to her. She smiled at Terel briefly as he stared at her, waiting for her command.

“Susan, prepare us for maximum warp, and keep your finger over the button. Shut down impulse drive and shields.”

“Wh…What?” Susan typed the commands quickly, looking over her shoulder as she did to see what Susan was up to.

“Terel…signal our surrender, and keep a channel open.” Susan rose to her feet and straightened out her clothing, facing the screen to prepare herself to talk to the Captain of Excalibur with confidence.

Terel tapped his console a few times, smiling at Samantha the entire time. “I understand, Samantha. It’s the old hit and run, isn’t it?”

Samantha nodded, smiling briefly at Terel before turning her attention back to the viewscreen. Her face dropped momentarily, her confidence shaken for a moment as she realized who it was – Captain Jean-Luc Picard, of Enterprise.

“Captain Ross, I hear you’ve been causing a bit of trouble in this sector.” Captain Picard spoke with a smile, a disarming softness in his voice. Samantha couldn’t tell if he was dead serious, or if he just wanted to talk, to understand what she was doing.

With a nervous laugh, Samantha returned to her chair and sat down. “Captain Picard…I always hoped we’d meet one day. Just…under better circumstances.”

“I’ve spoken to the Captain of Excalibur”, Captain Picard continued in a soft voice as he returned to his chair as well, “We’ve come to an agreement. You will surrender command to me, and Galaxis will accompany Enterprise to Deep Space Nine.”

Samantha blinked twice quickly, her mouth hanging open briefly with surprise as Captain Picard’s words settled into her brain. Picard was taking her to Deep Space Nine? Did he know what was going on? She shook her head quickly to clear her thoughts. “Uh…sure. I can agree to that.”

“Very well, then. Oh, and Captain Ross?”


“I’ll be expecting you and your crew at dinner aboard Enterprise.” Picard smiled and signaled to someone behind him with his left hand. “Picard out.”

As soon as the viewscreen switched back to a dark view of space, Samantha turned to see Terel grinning with amusement. “What?”

“You’re quite a popular dinner companion, Captain.”

The door pad outside Captain Picard’s office chirped softly as Samantha tapped the ‘page’ button. She took a deep breath and waited for him to acknowledge her verbally before entering. She was breaking custom by arriving on Enterprise nearly an hour before dinner – and even more so by meeting with it’s Captain privately, without being announced first. Samantha hoped he wouldn’t mind – and something told her that he was eager to speak to her.


Samantha entered the doorway as soon as that single word was spoken by Picard. She headed straight to his desk, where he sat pondering something on a small computer screen. “Captain Picard…I’m sorry for intruding, but–”

“Please, have a seat.” Captain Picard turned the computer screen away from him, leaning his elbow on the table to stare at Samantha as she sat down. “Interesting choice of hair color.”

“Oh, that.” Samantha laughed nervously. “It was Susan Troy’s idea. Part of our escape plan.”

Picard nodded and laughed. “I had the pleasure of talking to your father recently. Seems he’s in a bit of trouble on Deep Space Nine. He thinks someone has it in for him…and I think he’s right.”

“So…what happens next?”

Captain Picard leaned back in his chair, staring across his desk at Samantha for several seconds before finally saying something. “What do you think happens next?”

“I just want to be safe again.” Samantha sighed deeply, yet held a steady gaze across Picard’s desk. “And I want my dad to be safe.”

She leaned forward, her face becoming more determined as she stared even more intently at Picard. “I want Galaxis to be mine again.”

“A woman after my own heart.” Picard smiled and laughed, before leaning forward as well. “I will have uniforms issued for you and your crew. Once we arrive at Deep Space Nine, we’ll discuss your…situation with Captain Sisko.”

“Will he be willing to help me? And what if Starfleet already contacted him?”

Picard smiled again, seeming amused by Sam’s question. “Captain Sisko was chosen for his position because he thinks for himself…an asset on a station located so far from Earth–”

“–So he won’t believe I’m an enemy until he hears my side first…right?”

A nod from Picard prompted a smile from Samantha. He stood quickly and reached across the desk to shake her hand. “I’ll look forward to seeing you and your crew at dinner.”

“Admiral, we have Enterprise and Galaxis in range.”

Dusting himself off as he rose from the Captain’s chair aboard Excalibur, Admiral Cassius stared at the viewscreen for a few seconds. “Lock photon torpedoes on to Galaxis. We’ll disable it first–”

Colonel Reece leaned over the console behind Admiral Cassius. “What if Enterprise fights us?”

Admiral Cassius laughed. “They won’t. Picard is an expert in diplomacy…and while he’s busy negotiating, we’ll already have captured Captain Ross. The law’s on our side, Colonel.”

“Maybe so, sir…but that might not matter in a moment.”

Turning to face the screen, Admiral Cassius’ face became paralyzed by fear. Coming right toward his ship was Galaxis, being led by four photon torpedoes…and he hadn’t even raised the shields. “Oh, my God.”

The bridge of Excalibur lurched and jarred violently, fire and sparks erupting from nearly every panel as Admiral Cassius found himself thrown against the panel behind the Captain’s chair. He bellowed in pain as he heard his arm snap loudly upon impact. “Damage…report!”

Colonel Reece returned to his feet quickly, trying his best to see the engineering panel through the smoke which was quickly filling the bridge.

“Warp engines, offline. Weapons offline. Life support offline. And…oh, hell.”

“What is it, Colonel?” Admiral Cassius returned to his feet painfully, settling into his chair with a wince. “She’s sheared us nearly in half, sir. Right at the neck. The saucer half is on backup power and life support. And sir…the Enterprise is requesting our surrender.”

The Admiral narrowed his eyes and frowned. “Damn that Picard. I outrank him…I do not surrender to him. Open a frequency to–”

As the words began to leave his mouth, the bridge of Excalibur went dark. Numbing cold immediately began pooling across the floor as one by one, each of the electronic panels joined the darkness.

“Uh, sir…we just lost backup power.”

“Oh, hell.”

“They’re disabled, Captain.”

Samantha didn’t answer as she stood in front of the viewscreen in her new Captain’s uniform courtesy of Captain Picard. She watched a broken Excalibur floating along in space. It made her sad to see such a sight – she knew just how much pride a Starfleet Captain had in her ship. It was like having a helpless child in your care, dependent on you for everything. And just like a child, it responded better to soft coaxing then to tyranny.


“Oh, sorry.” Samantha put on a smile and returned to her chair. “Let’s evacuate them, we don’t want them to freeze to death.

“I’ll bring us to transporter range.” Susan nodded and adjusted a few controls, moving Galaxis closer to the broken Excalibur. As soon as they entered transporter range, however, Susan’s face dropped. “Oh, no–”

“What is it, Susan?”

Almost in answer to Samantha’s question, a orange strip lit up along the ceiling of the bridge and began flashing. A loud, brief, alarm went off, followed by the computer announcing: ‘Intruder Alert’.

“They beamed over right after we lowered our shields.” Susan stood quickly as her panel went dark, followed by panels all over the bridge. “They’re in engineering. They’re re-routing controls. We can’t even call Enterprise for help.”

“Damn.” Samantha raced over to a small closet in the corner of the bridge, typing in a code quickly. As soon as the door opened, she tossed Terel and Susan some kind of silver reflective suits. “Put these on. They’re reflective fabric, it’ll protect us from phaser fire.”

By the time Samantha removed three phaser rifles from the closet, both Terel and Susan were already wearing the reflective clothing. Sam smiled, as she tossed them each a rifle. “Get behind something, and stay down. If they want us, they’ll have to come in through the door. As long as they can’t see us, we have the advantage…they’ll all be stunned unconscious before they know what hit them.”

The wait seemed agonizing as Samantha kneeled behind her Captain’s chair, phaser rifle aimed unsteadily at the door. She had been trained well for moments like these – yet her hands still shook, and her heart still was beating loudly.

She heard a loud creak as the door opened a sliver. She steadied herself, aiming the phaser rifle more carefully at the newly opened gap between the door and frame. Another loud creak, this time as the door was forcibly opened to its full width. Samantha almost pulled the trigger…but she was glad she hadn’t.

Standing in the doorway was Commander Data, from Enterprise. He was surveying the room, as if he knew someone was there. He paused as he caught Samantha’s slight movements as she hid low behind her chair.

“Captain Ross”, he said plainly, “Your ship is now secure.”

“Thank God.” Samantha rose slowly, followed by Terel and Susan, as they both removed their protective clothing. She glanced at the door again as she watched Picard’s first officer, Will Riker, enter the bridge.

“This ship’s much smaller then Enterprise.” He smiled and gave Samantha a quick salute. “Captain…we’re here to help. Any orders?”.

Samantha smiled. She knew she was far outclassed by crew members from the legendary Enterprise…but still, it felt good to be in command of her own ship again.

“Next stop…Deep Space Nine!”

Redemption, Part 1

“What the hell happened?”

Captain Samantha Ross wasn’t someone who often had to ask that question. At twenty-eight, she was a relatively new Captain, and one of the youngest in Starfleet history – but this was the second ship under her command. The first was destroyed in a battle a year after deployment.

But that was in the past. Now the Galaxis was her baby, the most compact and powerful ship the Federation had ever built. Though it’s designers would deny it, the ship was undoubtedly designed for combat, but easily fit into scientific and exploration missions as well. Either way, it had a lot of power. Sometimes too much. This was one of those times.

She slid out of her chair and walked forward toward the viewscreen slowly. The bridge was silent, even the comm station made no sound as Captain Ross stood only a short distance from the twelve foot high screen to stare at the orange-red planet looming large in front of her – a planet they tried to save by using low-power phasers to stabilize seismic activity. Twelve billion lives had come to an end just ten seconds ago. Ten seconds that Sam would give her life to get back.

“I asked a question.” Captain Ross turned to face her crew, her voice soft and patient, as she looked around the room at every one of her bridge crew. But even they could plainly see her tensed jaw and clenched fists, giving away the anger she felt. “I’d like an answer.”

“I think…um…we miscalculated.”

“I’m going to pretend I didn’t hear that, Commander.” Captain Ross sounded angry as she headed toward the turbolift quickly, plowing her way across the bridge as if there was nothing between her and those twin sliding doors. “I’ll be in my quarters. Page me when you have an answer.”

Captain Ross didn’t even remember the trip to her quarters, she was on personal auto-pilot until the moment the doors closed behind her. She knew what her crew thought of her, and why they refused to take her seriously in spite of her best efforts. Her career was a product of legacy rather then effort – she’d been promoted to Captain because her father was an Admiral.

But they didn’t realize that she cared about what she did – and every time one of them ignored an order of hers, or laughed behind her back…it hurt her deeply. She couldn’t tell them, however – Starfleet Captains were supposed to be practically emotionless…especially female ones.

Sam stood in front of one of the tall windows to look outside, catching a reflection of herself in the glass. She wasn’t very tall, and her soft brown colored eyes and hair were more of a liability then anything – the way she looked made her seem meek, almost timid, rather then a commanding or imposing presence. She was known to wear her hair long, below her shoulders – a blatant violation of regulations – but no one even reprimanded her for it. She was privileged, to be sure, because of her father’s position – but she took her work seriously. She enjoyed saving lives, and helping people.

She stared at her reflection, gently twisting the rank insignia attached to her collar. Sam could still remember the day she signed on to Starfleet, as a fighter pilot – her eighteenth birthday. She wanted to follow in her father’s footsteps – since day one, she wanted to have command of a starship just like he once did. But now that she had it…she never felt more lost or lonely in her entire life.

A gentle chirp from the comm system next to the door alerted Sam that someone was outside her room, paging her. She knew very well who it was, even before she opened the door – her First Officer, Nathan Phillips. She rolled her eyes as she walked over to the door to hit the open button – Nathan, like most of her nearly all-male crew, would look for any excuse to visit her quarters.

“What is it, Nathan?”

“We’ve completed our investigation.” Without even asking, Nathan entered her quarters and began pacing around the room. She could tell that he looked her over on the way in…he always did – and then, as usual, he nearly reached for her before she shrugged away from him. “You might want to come to the bridge for this one.”

“Why’s that?” Sam folded her arms, her expression telling Nathan that she wasn’t the least bit amused by his informality or his attempts at physical contact. It was a little ‘game’ they played now and then – Nathan would try, Sam would quickly reject him.

“Because we didn’t cause the deaths.” Nathan paused and turned to face Sam. His expression was now serious as well. “There’s someone else out there.”

“Sensor report?”

Captain Ross was all business as she entered the bridge once again, her First Officer following her close behind. She stood just ahead of her chair as her First Officer sat down. She enjoyed her work most during the rare times when her bridge crew worked like a well-oiled machine.

“Shadows, Captain. We’re detecting shadows.” The only other female crew member on the Galaxis answered Captain Ross – Ensign Susan Troy. It wasn’t even her real name. She was Romulan, a defector from the Empire, who voluntarily changed her name to keep them from detecting and reclaiming her. “They’re on the other side of the planet.”

“How many?” Captain Ross turned to give her tall, blond weapons and security officer, Commander Gene Kelley, a look that meant a possible threat was imminent. She remembered her first meeting with him, when she asked about his name. He never gave her an answer.

Ensign Troy turned pale as she turned around to meet Captain Ross’ gaze. “At least six.”

Captain Ross swallowed hard. That meant there were six unknown ships on the other side of the planet. Against one – the Galaxis. And the nearest backup was hours away. Not that she could call them – one subspace transmission could cause those six ships to go on the attack.

“Red alert. Raise the shields, and cloak the ship.” Captain Ross sat down in the Captain’s chair as the lights on the bridge dimmed to a level barely above darkness. A ring of red lit up around the bridge near the ceiling. The dimming of lights around the ship was necessary to provide a reliable cloak – otherwise, the enemy would detect an strong energy signature in spite of the cloak.

“I hate to remind you again, but the cloaking device you stole is illegal.”

“Shut up, Nathan. How many times are you going to tell me what I already know?”

Nathan smiled at Captain Ross’ comment as she turned to look at Ensign Troy again. The Galaxis was designed to work with a light crew – which meant each of the bridge crew took on dual duties more often then not. Ensign Troy’s duty was both Sensors and Helm.

“Take us around, Ensign. Slowly.” Captain Ross stared at the helm for a few seconds as Ensign Troy set the coordinates. Sam remembered her days at the helm of a small spacecraft all her own – a fighter. She trained for the war with the Dominion, but luckily, she never saw a single battle. The first…and last…time she’d seen a battle was when she was forced to self-destruct the Oceana, her previous command ship. “Low orbit, so they don’t see our heat signature.”

Captain Ross’ heart began beating faster as she watched the ship slowly moving over the horizon toward the other side of the planet. The ships on the other side were cloaked as well, which made her very nervous – it would simply be a matter of who detects who first. The only advantage the Galaxis had was that it could fire while cloaked – but she was unaware if the other ships had the same capability.

She looked around the bridge quickly. The other officers were combat hardened, they had each been assigned to ships that participated in the Dominion war. They had seen combat first hand. Compared to them, their Captain was an amateur – and her worst fear was that her inexperience would get them all killed.

“Captain…neutrino emissions.”

“Damn.” Captain Ross fidgeted a little bit. Neutrino emissions meant that the other ships knew something was out there. They were looking to identify shadows of their own. “Take us into the atmosphere, and dive at high speed. With any luck, they’ll think we’re an asteroid and–”

“Engineering to bridge.”

“Go head.” Captain Ross fidgeted more now. Any time Lieutenant Steve Corbin called from Engineering during a crisis, it was always something bad. He was an expert in physics, an aging University professor who decided he wanted to try his hand at real physics in space.

“The shields are drawing way too much power now that we’re inside the atmosphere. We can’t run them and the cloak at the same time.”

“Fine. Drop the shields. Without the cloak, we’re dead.” Captain Ross sighed as she leaned back in her chair and crossed her legs. It was more a sign of nervousness then relaxation. “It’ll just get a little hot in here, that’s all.”

“We have a reading, Captain.” Ensign Troy turned around quickly, a triumphant smile on her face. “Four Klingon warbirds, and two Cardassian battleships. All cloaked.”

“Let’s hover, Ensign. They’ll have difficulty scanning us through the atmosphere.” Captain Ross sighed nervously and looked at Nathan, wondering why he seemed so calm all the time. “Hail them. Ask for someone in command of their mission.”

“Here’s their answer, Captain.” Ensign Troy pointed at a bright dot on the screen, moving toward them quickly. It was a photon torpedo.

“Oh, hell. Shields, now!”

The photon torpedo collided with the ship with extreme violence, tossing every one of the bridge crew from their seats, and causing sparks to fly out of every panel on the bridge. Captain Ross checked the small panel next to her seat for an instant damage report – shields still holding, no damage other then scattered power outages…but they’d lost their cloak.

“We’re open to the world. No doubt they see us now.”

“Shut up, Nathan.” Captain Ross looked at the viewscreen – indeed, the six ships had seen them, and were moving to intercept quickly. “Bring everything we have online. Phasers, photon torpedoes…even the cannons.”

“The cannons?” Ensign Troy turned around quickly. “Those aren’t legal yet. They’re just on board for testing.”

“Neither is the C-711 in our shuttle bay, but we may use that too.” Captain Ross looked over at her First Officer to see him returning an angry look.

“You can’t use particle cannon. And the C-711 is for the eyes of the senior officers only, Sam. Are you trying to get busted?”

“No.” Captain Ross smiled. “I’m trying to be honest with my crew.”

Nathan stood up in front of Sam’s chair, and looked down at her. “Go ahead and hang yourself. I don’t want any part of it.”

Sam shrugged as she watched her First Officer storm off of the bridge toward the turbolift. She had better things to do at the moment then argue with him. “Hold your fire until they make the first move.”

“They’re hailing us, Captain.”

“On screen.” Captain Ross stood up and straightened her uniform as the image of a high-ranking Cardassian officer popped onto the screen. “What do you think you’re doing?”

“Avenging the death of my son. According to the laws of Cardassia, that’s my right. If you try to interfere, you will meet their fate as well.”

Captain Ross narrowed her eyes and sat back down. “I don’t buy it. You’re up to something else. You don’t need to kill billions just to–”

“My, my. You’re a beautiful young Captain.” The Cardassian smiled as he spoke, though Captain Ross knew he meant it as a distraction tactic. “I am Gul Terel. We can discuss this further – in greater detail – if you agree to dinner aboard my destroyer. If not…I’ll simply destroy your ship without another thought. It would be a shame for beauty such as yours to come to such a violent end so quickly.”

Captain Ross looked around at her bridge crew as they stared at her. They were pleading with their eyes for her to say no, to fight. “I’ll go, on one condition–”

“Oh, don’t worry. I won’t allow anyone to destroy your precious ship as long as you’re on mine. You have my word as a Cardassian.”

“Very well. I’ll be there in ten minutes.”

“…And right now she’s on a Cardassian ship. Do you think she’s a traitor?”

“Could be.” Nathan paced a little in his quarters, keeping one eye on Gene as he rubbed his chin. “She’s been acting erratically since we stepped on board. She runs to her quarters when she’s upset, tells her officers to ‘shut up’. She breaks regulations like they were mere suggestions.”

“Maybe that’s just because she’s young.”

Nathan laughed. “Even the legendary James Kirk didn’t break as many rules in his whole career as Sam did this morning. Dammit, Gene, don’t you understand? She’s either going to get us all killed or court martialed. I won’t go down with her.”

“So what are you suggesting we do, Nathan?” Gene fidgeted nervously with his hands, as he already anticipated where Nathan was headed. “She’s…the Captain. We follow her.”

“Not if we relieve her of command.” Nathan smiled. “All we have to do is ask the doctor to declare her unfit.”

“No.” Gene shook his head slowly. “Bill Chase is a friend of Sam’s. He’ll never go for it…and once we suggest it, we’ll be placing our own necks on the block.”

“We have no choice then.” Nathan opened a small closet in his quarters, pulling out two high-powered phaser rifles. “We’ll have to take the ship by force. Anyone who opposes us–”

“No killing, please.” Gene shook his head again. “Let’s just use our heads here. It shouldn’t be that hard to convince everyone that Sam is over her head.”

“You’re right, Gene. You’re right. Everyone here thinks she’s a joke. It won’t take much.”

“You’re kidding, right?” Sam squinted at the dress Gul Terel held up in front of her. She estimated that it would only cover a small portion of herself – she much preferred her uniform, even though the temperature inside the Cardassian ship felt like a hot day in August back in her home city of Phoenix, on Earth. “I’m not wearing that.”

“Suit yourself.” Gul Terel smiled, tossing aside the dress casually. “You’ll just be too hot. I like the way you look in your uniform just as well.”

“I won’t be hot. I grew up in a desert.” Sam sat down in an uncomfortable steel chair in front of a huge table in the Gul’s private entertainment room. She was a little surprised that Cardassians gave their Gul’s such lavish quarters on their ships. He had four rooms all to himself – he never had to leave if he didn’t want to. “Let’s make this short, Terel. Why did you feel the need to kill twelve billion to avenge your son?”

“Wouldn’t you rather eat first before engaging in…unpleasant conversation?” Gul Terel signaled a servant standing nearby to place a few dishes of food on the table. The woman was Bajoran – no doubt, the Cardassian Empire still bred families of Bajoran slaves back home. “Let’s spend a nice, quiet evening together, filled with intellectual conversation.”

“No!” Sam stood up and threw her plate at Gul Terel, who easily dodged it. “I’m not one of your damned conquests, nor one of your female indentured servants! You’d better come up with a good reason for what you’ve done, or I will return to my ship and make it my business to destroy yours!”

Gul Terel smiled. “Tell me, Samantha. Do you start off all of your negotiations with empty threats?”

“That’s Captain Ross to you.” Sam leaned forward across the table. “And I never…make empty threats.”

“Trying to seem more dangerous then you are.” Terel laughed out loud and stood up. “You would make an excellent Cardassian, Captain Ross. Very well…I’ll tell you what happened. I meant to wipe out only a single clan on the planet. The mistake I made was hiring Klingons to do the job. They get a little…carried away.”

“Klingons?” Sam shook her head slowly. “You’re lying, Gul Terel. You’re talking in circles to distract me.”

“I have photographic records of the whole incident, Captain Ross.” Gul Terel removed a small transparent memory crystal from his shirt pocket and tossed it on the table in front of her. “You humans are so fond of primitive civilizations that mimic Earth’s evolutionary path. But you fail to see the danger in the path you have taken.”

Sam examined the crystal carefully before placing it in her hip pocket. “Danger? What danger?”

“All it took was a couple of sloppily executed explosions on the part of the Klingons…and the two largest continents of the planet annihilated each other with a hail of hydrogen and atom bombs. It was beautiful in it’s simplicity and effectiveness.”

“Twelve billion, Gul Terel. Twelve billion.” Sam sighed and stood up straight. “This is the old Cardassian Empire all over again, isn’t it? The one that enslaved Bajor, destroyed whole planets, societies–”

“Sick societies.” Gul Terel sat down and poured himself a drink. “Face the facts, Captain Ross. Bajoran society was a backwards, superstitious, self destructive. Now they’re one of the leading societies of your precious Federation, with their own space station. Tell me…who do you credit for that?”

“Don’t you try and justify your destructiveness to me.” Sam pointed a finger inches from Gul Terel’s face. He seemed amused by it. “Don’t you dare. And I’ll tell you what will happen. You either turn over the Captain responsible for setting off your…plan of simplicity…or I will destroy all of your ships.”

Gul Terel laughed. “More empty threats from an inexperienced Captain.”

“Inexperience, maybe.” Sam removed a small hand phaser from her left hip pocket, quickly grabbing Gul Terel around the neck and dragging him out of his seat. “But not stupid. I’m hereby arresting you for war crimes against the Federation, Gul Terel. I think with you in my ship’s brig, you’ll be hoping as much as I do that my plan works.”

Sam tapped the Starfleet emblem on her shirt quickly. “Two to beam up.”

“You in here, Nathan?”

Nathan stepped out of a dark corner of Cargo Bay Two, and nodded at Gene. He tossed one of the two phaser rifles he held to Gene quickly. “She’s back on board?”

Gene nodded. “And she’s broken the law. She took Gul Terel hostage and tossed him in the brig. Now we have the grounds we need to throw Samatha in there with him.”

Nathan armed his phaser rifle and nodded at Gene. “Let’s go.”

Captain Ross stepped onto the bridge of the Galaxis to find everyone staring at her. She paid them no mind, knowing how fast rumors spread on the ship – she figured they knew about the capture and imprisonment of Gul Terel.

“Captain–” Ensign Troy spoke up first, as she indicated toward the viewscreen with her chin. “They’re demanding the immediate return of Gul Terel. They’ve given us ten minutes before they open fire.”

“They won’t.” Captain Ross sat down in her chair and crossed her legs. “Cardassian command structures are rigid. They won’t risk killing him.”

Ensign Troy shook her head. “You don’t understand, Captain. The Klingon Captain Korg is the one who made the demand.”

“Klingon?” Captain Ross bit her lip as she stared at the viewscreen for a few seconds. “Of course. They’re protecting their secrets. But that means they…plan to kill Gul Terel themselves–”

“Orders, Captain?”

Captain Ross looked around the bridge, suddenly realizing that only she and the Ensign were present. “Susan, where is the rest of the bridge crew?”

Ensign Troy shrugged. “I don’t know. They all just sort of wandered off.”

Sam sighed and stood up to head back toward the turbolift, intent on finding out where everyone went. “Oh, well that is really professional–”

As soon as Sam stood up, she saw the turbolift doors open. Nathan, Gene, and a handful of security personnel stepped out. They were all armed, and had their weapons trained on Samantha.

“Nathan? What’s the meaning of this?”

Nathan stepped forward, keeping his phaser rifle aimed at Sam. “I’m relieving you of command…Captain.”

“You’re not just doing this because I keep rejecting you…are you?”

Gene and the security personnel looked at Nathan for a second as his face began turning red. Nathan responded by jamming the phaser rifle against Sam’s ribs, hard. “Just move it, Samantha. Don’t give us any trouble.”

Samantha never forgot the training she took long ago in her early days of Starfleet. She’d taken advanced hand-to-hand combat courses, invaluable to a shorter woman like herself. Once she felt the pain of the phaser rifle against her ribs, it only took a second for her to recall her training. A flat palm to Nathan’s chin knocked him off balance, allowing her enough time to plow quickly through Gene and his security personnel. She rolled into the turbolift just before the doors closed, among scattered phaser blasts bouncing off of the walls.

“Shuttle bay, freight speed. Voice authorize.” The trip to the shuttle bay only took seconds at the much higher freight speed. Sam had to stick close to the floor to avoid being tossed around by the g-forces at that speed, but she knew she had very little time before Nathan and Gene on the bridge found out how to stop the turbolift. Luckily, they weren’t fast enough.

As Sam ran from the turbolift, she knew it was only a matter of minutes before Gene’s security personnel arrived. She headed straight for the one vehicle she had her mind on since she left the bridge, the one thing she would always be familiar with since her days at the Academy – inside the cockpit of a fighter. Or more specifically…the C-711.

It only took ten seconds for Samatha to climb into the cockpit and fire up the C-711’s engines. She was on her way out of the shuttle bay just as security personnel filled the area. By then they were too late – Samantha was on her way into space.

“She’s taken command of the shuttle bay doors, we can’t shut them down. She’s on her way out.”

“Damn it.” Nathan slammed his fist down on the console of the Captain’s chair as he sat down to watch the C-711 moving away from the Galaxis. “Tractor beam. Lock on a tractor beam.”

“Can’t lock on.” Gene turned from his station at helm to face Nathan. He took over the station after Ensign Troy refused to help, and was confined to her quarters. “She’s cloaking. And we’re receiving some kind of signal from her–”

“Signal? Oh, no–” Nathan stood up and started looking around as panels all over the bridge began going dark, followed by the overhead lights. The red alert signal light began flashing next. He raced over to the turbolift doors – they were sealed. “Contact security. Tell them to get us out of here!”

Gene tapped the Starfleet emblem on his uniform. It chirped twice, signalling that it was out of operation. “The comm system is down, Nathan. I knew we should have changed the command codes first.”

“Damn.” Nathan stood up quickly, tearing a panel off the wall, and then blasting through to a vent using his phaser rifle. “Let’s get to Engineering. And when we do, we’re blasting Samantha out of space.”

Samantha laughed to herself and leaned back as she aimed the cloaked C-711 at the Klingon ships projected on her heads-up display. The amazing new computer system in the experimental fighter automatically combined sensor data to be able to detect cloaked ships, displaying them in a two dimensional projection along the framed glass top of the cockpit. She could see them clearly – and the best part was, they didn’t know it.

As long as they were cloaked, their shields were down. They were unprotected and now visible – but they could neither see her nor fire through the C-711’s powerful shields.

She smiled to herself as she whipped past one of the Birds of Prey, very close. Thanks to the signal-suppressing circuitry of the C-711, they didn’t even notice her as she passed. She swung around again, flipping open the small plastic door which armed the phasers and particle cannons. She looked down at the three buttons next to her thumb. Blue was for automatic targeting, red for phasers, yellow for particle cannons.

Sam tapped the blue button once, targeting one of the Birds of Prey. As it began turning around abruptly, she realized that the weapons targeting system probably still used Lidar to find and range it’s target – she had now been detected.

One tap of the red button blasted the first Klingon Bird to bits, as it’s unshielded hull absorbed the full force of a close-range phaser blast. That was enough to prompt the rest of the Klingon ships to decloak and raise shields.

But they couldn’t fight what they couldn’t see – they began firing blindly to try and hit whatever attacked the first Klingon ship. Samantha had no problem steering around the badly aimed phaser blasts and seemingly slow photon torpedoes as the steering control of the C-711 responded instantly to her commands.

The second Klingon Bird blew to bits after three consecutive quick phaser blasts. The first two to weaken it’s shields, the third to penetrate it’s hull. Sam felt amazed at the power that the small fighter had – it seemed to have no problem taking on the much larger Klingon ships. She guessed that after the last two wars, the Federation wanted to create a new generation of fighters, ones that didn’t depend on antiquated Starship technology.

Her finger floated over the yellow button as she headed right at the third Bird of Prey. By then, the remaining two Klingon ships had improved their targeting – the little C-711’s shields were taking a lot of fire. But they seemed to hold, even as she moved closer. A quick tap of the yellow button jarred the entire ship as the most powerful weapon in it’s arsenal – the particle cannon – send a flickering beam of white light which immediately tore right through the center of both remaining Birds of Prey. They had stupidly chosen to line up for a directed attack.

“Oh…Wow.” Samantha looked down at the yellow button again, hovering her thumb over the red button instead for her next firing. She made a mental note to be more careful with it next time as she approached one of the two Cardassian battleships.

Unlike the Klingon ships, the Cardassians had a much more powerful armament. Sam found herself evading a sudden volley of photon torpedoes and powerful phaser bursts as she approached them quickly. Her thumb moved quickly back to the yellow button.

That’s when she discovered yet another feature of the particle beam – that holding down the yellow button and using slight movements of the steering stick had the effect of turning the particle cannons without effecting its regular steering function. She could effectively use it to cut vertically across one of the two Cardassian battleships rather then just poking holes in it.

She veered off suddenly, content that the first Cardassian ship was severely damaged, swinging in close above it and using the yellow button again to tear through the hull of the other Cardassian ship behind it.

Samantha smiled as she circled around once more, seeing fragments of four Klingon Birds of Prey and two severely damaged Cardassian battleships. She had done just as she threatened – she had done the impossible.

Now it was time to do one more impossible task…take back her ship.

The Galaxis’ shuttle bay was deserted as she took the C-711 in for a landing. All of the lights were out, just as Samantha ordered the computer to do as she left. She set the computer for a lockdown, allowing it only to be disabled by the sound of her own voice. She smiled to herself, imagining the faces of Nathan and Gene as the found themselves prisoners on the bridge.

Sam stepped out of the C-711 into the cargo bay, walking over to the control center quickly. She snatched a phaser she’d hidden from underneath the table which held the control center – just in case.

“Computer…end lockdown, except on the bridge and Engineering. Voice authorize.” The computer beeped twice before turning all of the lights and control panels in the cargo bay on. “Computer, transport me to the bridge.”

In a quick flash of light, the advanced transporters of Galaxis sent Samantha to a spot just ahead of the viewscreen on the completely darkened bridge. She held her phaser at the ready, but saw nothing unusual there except for a missing wall panel. She approached slowly, peeking into the hole – Nathan and Gene must have used the duct to escape the bridge, but they were long gone.

“Computer, enable Bridge. Voice authorize.” With those words and a couple of more beeps, the lights and panels of the bridge suddenly came to life. Feeling a little insecure with a gaping hole in the wall, Sam quickly used her phaser to weld the duct back together and secure the missing wall panel.

By process of elimination, she figured out that Nathan and Gene must be in Engineering. If they left the bridge, they did so to try to take control of the ship from engineering. She knew if they were there, they would try to interfere with everything she tried to do from the bridge – and since Gene was head of security, the personnel of the ship would no doubt follow his orders without question. Sam knew she would have to take control of the ship, and isolate herself to survive.

“Computer, lock down Engineering.”

The computer only beeped once after that command, followed by a warning. “Two crew members detected in Engineering. First Officer Phillips and Security Officer Kelley.”

“Computer, follow my last order, voice authorize. Restrict the bridge to me only, only. Notify me if the two crewmen leave Engineering.”

The computer beeped twice again, and then paused before making another sound. “First Officer Phillips and Security Officer Kelley remain in Engineering. Engineering locked down.”

Samantha sat down at the helm and smiled. She wasn’t accustomed to flying such a big ship by herself, but she knew she would have to. The only one she could depend on was herself…or so she thought.

“Would you like some help, Captain?”

Samantha turned around quickly, phaser in hand, as she found the source of the voice. It was Ensign Susan Troy, the only person who had been remotely loyal to her Captain through all of this. It was ironic that she was Romulan, a race known for it’s tendencies toward back-stabbing.

“I could use a good pilot.” Samantha smiled as she vacated the helm station for her Captain’s chair. “And a new First Officer.”

“Me?” Susan shook her head. “But…I’m just an Ensign. I’m not qualified–”

“You are now. Consider yourself promoted.” Sam stood up and shook Susan’s hand. “And as your first act as First Officer…Help me find those two mutineers and lock them up.”

Susan smiled and nodded as Samantha pulled open a weapons locker on the bridge and removed two phaser rifles. “Sam…I was in on what they were planning. They asked me to join them, but I refused. I couldn’t tell you about it. I…I was afraid. I’m sorry.”

“I understand, Susan.” Samantha motioned for Susan to follow her as she headed into the turbolift. “You did what you had to do to survive. But you’re here now when I need you. I’m grateful for that.”

“Where are we headed?”

“The brig.” Sam smiled at Susan’s apparent confusion with her answer. “If the security personnel are against us, we’ll need numbers. I may have some unlikely help down there.”

“Gul Terel…I need your help.” Samantha stood in front of the jail cell which held Gul Terel. He sat on a small bench, staring at Samantha, seemingly amused by what she just said.

“And why should I help you? You destroyed my fleet, and imprisoned me. It’s not my problem that you can’t keep command of your own ship.”

Sam laughed. “So you know about that already.”

“How could I not?” Gul Terel stood up and walked over to the forcefield at the from of the cell. “I could feel the air of mutiny from the moment I set foot on board. Let me guess…you want me to help you get your ship back. Which is where I ask…what’s in it for me?”

“Freedom. Trust.” Sam removed a small phaser from her belt, tapping the control pad next to the cell to drop the forcefield. “After you help me, I’ll send you home…with a story to tell.”

Gul Terel stepped out of his cell slowly, gingerly taking the phaser from Samantha’s hands. He stood, frozen, for a second or two before deciding that she was sincere. “Why would you trust me? I could turn on you and destroy your ship.”

“I know you can be a man of honor when you wish.” Sam glanced at Susan and urged her and Gul Terel back toward the turbo lift. “And we outnumber you two to one.”

Gul Terel laughed as he followed the two women into the turbo lift. “Why Captain…I had no idea you were so clever.”

Samantha entered Engineering slowly, just ahead of Gul Terel and Susan. Her phaser rifle was armed and ready, the small light mounted on it turned on to stream light through the darkness. Though she tried not to seem nervous, she couldn’t stop her hands from shaking – she had never been in close combat before. Sure she had been trained…but it was far from the same thing.

She turned to look at Susan and Gul Terel. They were both pictures of confidence – both of them had been in face to face combat situations before. Sam couldn’t help but smile in spite of herself – she was in command, but had the least experience.

Sam kept smiling until she felt a searing heat tear across her shoulder, like someone had heated a knife blade and sliced into the upper part of her arm. She screamed out in pain, dropping her phaser rifle just before dropping to her knees. She had been hit by phaser fire, and it was set to ‘kill’. Her two companions fired twice each before a barrage of phaser blasts began flying past them.

“Computer! CO2 release!” Sam turned to her two companions quickly as she took a deep breath. They did as well, just as ice cold compressed carbon dioxide gas began spewing from nozzles all over the room. The phaser fire diminished quickly until seconds later, silence prevailed. “Computer…Raise oxygen level.”

Those few words from her were enough to make her feel a little dizzy, as her lungs took in a little carbon dioxide as well. More cool jets of gas began filling the room, this time pure oxygen to filter out the carbon dioxide. “Lights.”

As the room suddenly filled with light, Samantha leapt to her feet with renewed confidence, phaser rifle in hand. She began to feel the rush of adrenaline within her as she turned her head back and forth, just daring anyone or anything to move. Someone did – and with a blast of coherent light from the weapon in her hands, that person lay still on the ground.

Samantha turned around to look at her two companions – they didn’t seem the least bit affected by what happened. But Sam, on the other hand…she began shaking as she approached the man she shot, who now lay collapsed against a wall. As she kneeled down to examine him, she recognized him immediately. It was Nathan…and he was dead.

A wave of sadness hit Samantha – she squeezed her eyes shut quickly to fight the flood of tears in her eyes. She couldn’t believe that she…killed. One pull of the trigger, and someone she knew – someone she talked to every day – lay dead against a cold steel bulkhead.

“It couldn’t be helped, Captain.” Susan placed a hand on Samantha’s shoulder to try to comfort her.

Samantha shrugged away Susan’s hand, looking at the floor as tears finally broke free from her eyes. “I’m his Captain too, Susan. It’s my job to make sure he gets home safely. But now he’s dead. I…failed.”

“I wouldn’t say that, Captain.” Gul Terel stood behind Samantha, hands clasped behind him as he spoke. “Look at me. A few hours ago we were adversaries fighting over a planet. Now here I am, Federation technology in my hands, fighting by your side. I’d say that’s a pretty successful day.”

Samantha sighed. “At least you’ll make it home alive.”

“I can’t go home.” Gul Terel walked around to face Sam as he continued, his expression turning serious. “If I do, I’ll certainly have to answer for what has happened today. I’ll be executed by my fellow Cardassians. But right now I’m alive…and if you’ll give me a second chance–”

“Terel–” Samantha shook her head and looked down at Nathan’s still form again. She knew what Gul Terel was hinting at – to see if she can find a place for him in the Federation. As Sam watched Susan handcuff the unconscious Security Officer, Gene Kelley, an idea dawned on her – she may have taken away one life today…but she had the opportunity to give another man a new life.

Samantha looked up at Gul Terel, giving him a weak smile as she wiped away her remaining tears on her sleeve. “I could use a new Security Officer.”

Terel smiled and bowed slightly. “And I’d be honored to accept that offer.”

Sam reached out and shook Terel’s hand quickly as her smile became more natural. “Don’t even think about leading mutiny against me.”

“I wouldn’t dream of it.” Terel followed as Captain Ross headed toward the bridge, followed by her new First Officer. “You really would make an excellent Cardassian.”

“So I’ve heard.”

Captain Samantha Ross brought her baby, the Galaxis, back to spaceport without a scratch. But it’s crew would never be the same. Thanks to her dad the Admiral, her new crew was accepted – but it took more then a little arguing and wrangling to make it happen. For some reason, her Romulan First Officer and Cardassian Security Officer weren’t trusted by Starfleet…but Samantha trusted them more then anyone else.

#7 – Crystal Clear, Part 1

A five foot six young woman, her blonde hair covered by a soft black suede hat, her eyes masked by the hat’s brim, froze with her arms at her sides. As Michael Jackson song ‘Smooth Criminal’ began playing on her CD player, she was acting as if she had been asked to audition for a video. Doing her best to sing along with the garbled lyrics of the song, she stayed on beat. Right on cue, she shed her hat, quickly sending it sailing across the hotel room like a frisbee.

She missed the coat rack, but she wouldn’t let that stop her enjoyment. The fact that she had no audience was a factor – she was free to let herself spin, imitating more lyrics as she casually swept the hat off the carpeted floor to put it back on her head. Unlike a video filming, there was no one to throw the hat back to her.

As she completed her second spin, she suddenly froze, her half hidden blue eyes fixed on a man who had just entered the room. She felt her face begin to heat with embarrassment. “How…how long have you been standing there, Charlie?”

Charlie smiled, obviously masking an urge to laugh as he walked closer to Linda. “Long enough to see that you can dance if you want to. You just don’t like people watching you.”

“Yeah, well…um–” Linda eyes looked up for a moment to notice that she still wore the black hat on her head. She quickly removed it, smiling sheepishly when she realized that it was hopeless to try and play innocent. “It’s your fault, Charlie. You left this hat here…I was staring at it thinking it was like the one in this video I saw, and–”

“–And you decided to play a little”, Charlie interrupted, picking up the hat and placing it on his head leaned a little forward – the same way Linda wore it earlier. “Everyone needs a little fun in their life.”

Linda laughed as she reached over and snatched the hat off of Charlie’s head. “So what brings you here…unannounced…without bothering to knock?”

Charlie gave Linda a mock frown. “I thought you were in a good mood, Linda. Which brings up a question…why? And what did you do to Lex Luthor?”

“Oh, I just gave him a little scare. It felt so good to let go of all of that anger.” Linda headed to the kitchenette to grab a bottle of water from the small refrigerator, pausing to give Charlie a questioning look as she opened the bottle. “Why do you ask?”

“Because Lex Luthor is missing. Don’t you watch the news?”

Linda dropped the bottle of water as she raced across the room and turned on the television. Just as Charlie described, all of the local networks had gone to 24-hour coverage of the police search for Lex Luthor. She began flipping through stations with the TV remote – one local station even interviewed a witness which said that Luthor’s last known contact was Supergirl. “Oh my God. They’re trying to pin this on me, aren’t they?”

“Linda–” Charlie took the remote away from Linda gently, tossing it onto the table next to the couch. He placed his hands on her shoulders, looking into her fearful eyes. “Tell me exactly what you did to Luthor.”

“I–” She tried to look away from Charlie for a moment as she felt her conscience eating away at her. She may not be responsible for his disappearance…but she did try to hurt him, on purpose. She bullied him with her power, her raw strength. “I…kind of choked him a little.”

Charlie exhaled loudly enough for Linda to hear as he blinked once. She couldn’t tell if it was from disappointment, or from relief. “Just don’t tell anyone else that, Linda. Ever.”

Linda nodded slowly as Charlie sat down on the couch, covering his forehead with his left palm. “I suppose you’re right…Clark would kill me.”

“Clark? He’d have to fight off a lynch mob first.” Charlie leaned toward Linda as she sat down on the couch as well. “Lex Luthor, whether loved or hated by the people in this town, is a hero…because he’s rich. People love to hate him. But if he’s hurt, people will band together against his enemies.”

“Meaning me.” Linda slumped down on the couch and frowned as she stared at yet another news report about the search for Lex Luthor. “I guess Supergirl should lay low for a while, huh?”

“Not at all.” Charlie shook his head as he lifted the TV remote and turned off the news. “In fact, you need to show yourself, let everyone know that Lex Luthor will be okay. If you give the people Supergirl to stand behind…they’ll follow you anywhere.”


Lex Luthor awoke to find himself in a darkened warehouse office. Sawdust covered the floor, as well as his clothing. He quickly found that his hands were cuffed together, and a chain attached them to an anchor in one of the office’s steel walls. The office had windows all around from waist level up, though Luthor couldn’t see much in the darkness.

His head spun as he tried to rise to his feet. The last memory he had has seeing yet another costumed hero enter his office. He was lifted by his throat, and felt himself losing consciousness. He was let go, only to land on his head on the floor and pass out. The next thing he remembered was…here.

Luthor squinted as the lights in the office turned on. A tall, thin, brown haired man wearing a long overcoat entered and slammed the glass and steel door behind him, making a loud crashing noise. He circled around Luthor several times before leaning toward him to speak.

“You know why you’re here, I hope”, he said. Luthor cleared his throat to speak, but words eluded him. Everything still seemed so surreal.

The man reached up to a shelf above and removed a wooden baseball bat, smiling calmly at Luthor as he stood over him. “I always wonder why these are called bats. They don’t have wings…they’re not blind. Hell, they don’t even bite.”

“Who are you?” Luthor stared at the man as he began to stare at him defiantly. He would not be shown as the weaker man, no matter what this man thought. He may be a prisoner, but he would not be controlled.

The man laughed, seemingly amused by Luthor’s threatening posture. “Well…I’m a man…holding a bat. I suppose you could call me Batman.”

Before Luthor had a chance to protest, the man brought the bat down upon his
arm with the force of all of his strength. Luthor felt something crack in his arm, he grit his teeth to bear the pain. But he would not cry out. In fact, he would seem even more confident, until the man’s resolve would break.

“You can’t kill me”, Luthor whispered barely loud enough for the man to hear, “I’m much more valuable alive.”

“That’s where you’re wrong”, the man replied with a smile as he paced around Luthor again, “I can kill you. Your life means nothing to me. Your death, on the other hand–”

Another strike with the bat left Luthor seeing stars as it struck him with a thud on his left shoulder blade, leaving pain radiating down his left side. He raised his head once more, looking at the man with one eye, still defiant.

“Your death means everything to me. You see…I’m an old associate of someone who’s life you…you vicious, sadistic monster…snuffed out without a second thought–”

Luthor almost cringed as the man raised the bat above his head, preparing to bring it down with enough force to break more bones. Yet something stopped him. A distant voice from outside the small warehouse office. Luthor breathed in relief as he heard the door of the office slam suddenly – someone else, possibly more reasonable, had arrived.

“Christopher, what the hell are you doing?” The voice had a hint of a Russian accent. Luthor didn’t recognize who it was, but he was grateful that it distracted ‘Christopher’ if only for a moment.

“Glad to see you too, boss. I’m just…softening up our guest a little. Giving him a little taste.”

“Now he bleeds all over the floor!” The man with the accent snatched the bat from Christopher, throwing it across the office angrily. “Get out of here, you loon! Go take care of your other assignments!”

“Hello, Mr. Luthor.” The man with the accent walked around across the office, kneeling down close to Luthor just as Christopher slammed the door behind him. The accented man had black hair, a black beard, and was wearing a long, dark overcoat over an expensive suit and shoes. “You probably don’t know me…but I believe you remember an associate of mine. You remember Vinnie, don’t you?”

Luthor’s eyes widened suddenly, his breathing began to speed up as the name brought about horror in his mind. If these people were associates of Vinnie’s, then he was no hostage – they were going to kill him out of revenge.

The man chuckled as he watched Luthor pale. He calmly lighted a cigarette and stuck it in his mouth. Luthor eyed the sawdust-covered floor, wondering it the man knew just how dangerous it was to smoke in that room.

“I’m called Vlad”, the man said as he tapped his cigarette, spilling a few red-hot ashes into the sawdust at his feet. “I’m sure you don’t know me…but you will. After all…my name is the last one you will hear.”

Vlad kneeled down, leaning forward. He smiled, and blew a cloud of cigarette smoke in Luthor’s face before flicking the cigarette into a corner behind him. “You know…it’s not good to smoke, Mr. Luthor. Especially in a place like this. It could cause a fire.”

As the man stood up and began heading out of the office, Luthor eyed a plume of smoke and a slight glow coming from the corner where the cigarette landed. He knew he was right now – that Vlad was going to kill him.

“What do you want, Vlad?” Luthor asked his question confidently. Every man had his price, especially criminal types. All he had to do was find the right one, hitting the right chord which would earn his release.

“Me?” Vlad gave Luthor a mocking look as he pointed at himself with his right hand. He turned around and walked closer to Luthor. “I want nothing. I need nothing.”

“Come, now.” Luthor forced a smile, trying to appear as confident as possible. Most of controlling other people is simply displaying enough confidence to shake another’s, to make the other party doubt just a little. “Every man has a dream, something he wants more then anything. I have resources. I can bring you that dream.”

Vlad stood up in front of Luthor, rubbing his beard slowly as he thought. The flames from his discarded cigarette were now crawling up one wall of the office, filling the room with thin smoke. “There is one thing, Mr. Luthor.”

“Name it. Anything.” Luthor eyed the flames wearily as they began to consume a table against the wall. He was running out of time.

“Just a moment.” Vlad opened the door to the office suddenly, unaware that he had just helped to feed the fire expanding at the opposite corner. The fire flared brightly as he stuck his head outside the office. “Chrisopher! Come in here, now!”

“Is there some problem, boss?” Christopher stood in the doorway, glancing at the fire, then at Vlad and Luthor.

“I need you do so something for me”, Vlad said, slowly.

Luthor cringed as the glass and steel walls of small office echoed five gunshots, amplifying the sounds as they filled the small room. Christopher just seemed to stand there for a moment, his eyes rolling back in his head, before his knees buckled and he fell to the floor.

Vlad then walked toward Luthor, causing him to hold his breath. He thought he would be next – but then Vlad suddenly put the gun back behind his belt and began to rifle through Luthor’s jacket, pulling out his wallet. He threw the wallet on top of Christopher’s now lifeless body.

“Now your friends will think you are dead. No tricks, Mr. Luthor. I own you now.” Vlad quickly removed Luthor’s handcuffs and grabbed his arm tightly, nearly dragging him out of the small office to a car parked in the middle of the warehouse. “Get in.”

Luthor opened the passenger door and climbed in, watching Vlad walk around the car to get in and start the car. He kept his eyes on Vlad the entire time, in the hopes of unnerving him to eventually allow his own escape. “You never told me what you wanted.”

Vlad put the car in drive and took off out of the warehouse quickly. Luthor didn’t understand why he was suddenly in such a hurry at first…until he watched the warehouse explode in a ball of flame behind them. Vlad stared straight ahead for several minutes, still not answering Luthor’s question, before he finally turned to face Luthor.

“I want that Supergirl dead.”

“Oh, nuts. I am so dead.”

Linda stared out the window of an empty conference room on the twelfth floor of the Daily Planet building, a denim backpack slung over one shoulder. She still wore civilian clothing, not wanting to attract too much attention as Supergirl just yet.

Outside were hundreds, possibly thousands of protesters shouting and holding signs. Police stood by on the sidewalk in front of the building, in full riot gear. They were protesting the fact that the press, including the Daily Planet, mentioned that Supergirl was the last to see the now missing Lex Luthor.

Linda turned around to give Charlie a fearful look. “I can’t go out there! It’ll be a massacre!”

“Relax, Linda.” Charlie leaned back in one of the conference room’s fake leather chairs, putting his feet on the large polished wooden table. “Clark just asked us to wait here. If he wants you to meet the protesters, he’ll make sure everyone is safe.”

“Send Supergirl to the…gas chamber?” Linda turned away from the window in disgust as she decided to stop reading the signs the protesters held. She threw her backpack onto the table and collapsed with a sigh into one of the chairs. “I am not going out there. Those people will tear me apart!”

Charlie smiled. “From what I heard, Linda, you’ve already survived a riot.”

Linda shook her head slowly as she looked across the table at Charlie. She thought to herself that he was either braver then herself, or suicidal. “I was much more powerful then, Charlie.”

“You know what, Linda?” Charlie slid his feet off the table and leaned closer to Linda. His smile suddenly vanished, replaced with a look of…pity? “I wasn’t worried about you before, but now…you shoot yourself down before you even give yourself a chance.”

“You…think I should go out there? Risk my life?”

Linda watched Charlie stand up and walk around the table slowly. He stood in front of the window, placing his hands on the glass as he watched the people below. “Linda, every day people put their trust in you. They trust that you, and any other heroes, will not hurt them, that you’ll treat them well…and with respect.”

Charlie turned around and stood behind Linda, placing his hands gently on her shoulders. “I think it’s time you gave those same people a chance to do the same for you. You need to trust them a little more.”

Linda took a deep breath, and rose to her feet. She glanced behind her, giving Charlie a lost look as she slid her denim backpack over one arm and headed toward the restroom slowly. She knew that Charlie was right…no matter how nervous she felt, she couldn’t hide forever.
Clark turned pale as he watched Supergirl step through the doorway into the Daily Planet’s newsroom. He frowned even more when he saw Charlie walk in behind her. He knew why Linda was in costume – a rather attention-grabbing white shirt with an S-logo, white gloves, red boots, and a blue skirt. It had to be because of one of Charlie’s little motivational speeches.

“What are you doing?” Clark raced over to Supergirl and whispered in a barely audible voice. “This is a newsroom, you’re putting me on the spot–”

Almost as if right on cue, a flash went off, causing Clark to cringe. Just as he had guessed, Jimmy Olsen came out of the woodwork to snap a photo. He frowned as he watched Jimmy snap several pictures, finally pausing long enough to ask Supergirl for a pose. “Enough, Jimmy, please. She came here to talk to me.”

“Yeah, right. You wish.” Jimmy walked away quickly, laughing out loud as he rewound the film in his camera.

“I’m going outside.” Supergirl folded her arms and looked up at Clark, feeling a little nervous. While in costume, Linda was supposed to be more powerful then who Clark pretended to be – a meek newspaper reporter – yet she still felt dwarfed in his presence. “I need to face this. I have to restore people’s faith in me…and convince them that I’m innocent.”

Clark looked across the room at Lois, who returned his gaze and smiled. They shared something in that look, something beyond words. He nodded once as he turned to Supergirl, lowering his voice to a near whisper. “All right. I’ll be watching, just in case.”

Supergirl nodded once and gave Charlie a long, sad look – almost as if she were heading to her own execution. She turned and headed toward the elevator slowly, a little surprised when Charlie followed her. “Are you sure you want to be standing next to me when I step outside?”

Charlie smiled and nodded. “Someone has to look after you, Linda.”

A smile creeped onto Supergirl’s face as thoughts of Charlie attempting to protect her began to touch her imagination. She knew he was kidding – it was more of an attempt to build her confidence then actual bravery. It worked, too.

As the elevator slowed and approached the lobby, Supergirl felt herself becoming more nervous – in fact, she jumped a little as the elevator car came to a stop. The doors slid open quickly, revealing the lobby, empty except for a single security guard at a desk.

Through the glass doors at the other end of the lobby, she could see people leaning their faces against the glass, their eyes visored by their hands. They were trying to get a look through the mirrored glass, to see why they were being denied access to the building by a locked door.

Supergirl looked behind her once more, trying to hide her feelings of nervousness from Charlie by giving him a weak smile. “No turning back now.”

Charlie stood next to the security guard’s desk and watched Linda take a deep breath and walk slowly, purposefully, toward the glass doors. Her pose as she walked was confident, an image betrayed only by the fear deep in her eyes as they reflected in the glass ahead of her.

The front door clicked loudly as Supergirl gave the push bar the slightest touch. The sound prompted the crowd to move away from the door, they anticipated someone’s exit from the building. The door swung open slowly as Supergirl stepped out onto the concrete sidewalk outside the Daily Planet.

Total silence.

Not a sound was made beyond the traffic on the street as the crowd of citizens, protesters, and reporters gathered outside the Daily Planet stared in disbelief. They didn’t expect Supergirl herself to show herself, to answer to the protests.

All at once, everyone present suddenly began shouting, flashes began to go off, and bright lights from television crews blinded Supergirl. She held a hand in front of her eyes to shield herself from the visual assault.

“One at a time”, Supergirl shouted in futility. No one was listening. “I can’t hear you all at once!”

Charlie stepped outside behind Supergirl, doing his best to avoid the rapidly shifting crowd. He yelled something toward the reporters which wasn’t heard in the confusion. They weren’t paying attention to him anyway. A raw egg, thrown somewhere from the crowd of protesters, hit Charlie in the eye, forcing him to retreat back into the building.

“Who threw that?” Supergirl stood on her toes, trying to get a better view of the protesters. She hoped that they were still civil enough to prevent their more militant or dangerous members from causing trouble. But as she watched a hurled can of peas travel toward her quickly, she realized that she was wrong. Supergirl had enough time to raise her hand to block the canned peas from pelting her, only to find herself beaned with a small can of corn instead.

A quick glance down the sidewalk told her that more even more canned goods were about to become projectiles – the Daily Planet’s food drive for the poor, stored in four drums next to the doors, had suddenly become ammunition for an angry crowd.

“Everyone just calm down. I’m here to answer…Hey!” Supergirl ducked as a third, and forth can barely missed her. “All right. That’s it!”

Charlie watched through the glass as Supergirl forceably waded into the angry crowd, shoving people as they began shoving her, trying to reach the outer edge of the crowd. Those were the people throwing the cans – and he couldn’t help but wonder if Supergirl was angrier about the fact that they were pelting her with the cans, or if it was because they had come from a food drive.

He suddenly ducked as one of the cans impacted one of the glass doors of the Daily Planet, causing the safety glass to break into millions of tiny beads, yet remain in place. He began to worry as he heard the noise outside escalate. People were screaming in terror.

He opened the door quickly to see the crowd running away from the Daily Planet building in fear. Supergirl had opened one of the fire hydrants, and was using her gloved hands to funnel the water toward the crowd, driving them away from the building. At the same time, the shrieking sounds of sirens filled the streets – the police were on their way, in force. Charlie stared in amazement at what he saw – Linda had managed to clear the street without injuring even one person, as the police would no doubt have to when making arrests.

“How’s your eye?” Supergirl suddenly shut off the flow of water and turned her attention to Charlie.

“Huh? Oh…it’s fine, I just rinsed it out.” Charlie smiled and looked around at the soaked, now near-empty street in front of the Daily Planet. Police cars now crowded the street, the officers wandering in confusion as they realized that there was no violent crowd to break up any longer.

Supergirl opened the door to the Daily Planet building ahead of Charlie and walked inside, shaking the water off of her gloves as she went. “Do you think Clark has a towel upstairs or something? I’m soaked.”

“You’ll sure gain a few extra male fans that way, Linda.”

Supergirl looked toward the security desk as she suddenly heard a female voice with a British accent. The security guard was gone…and in his place was a shorter woman in a red shirt, black jeans, and a black baseball cap with some sort of umpire image embroidered on it. Supergirl recognized her as Sharon Holmes, even though she hadn’t seen her in quite a while.

“How did you know…?”

Sharon tossed her a white towel from behind the counter as she put her feet up on the desk. The towel had a hotel logo embroidered on it. “Well…since Charlie’s hanging around you, it doesn’t take the world’s greatest detective to venture a guess.”

Supergirl began drying off her hands and clothing as best as she could with the towel. She wasn’t going to let the fact that Sharon figured out her identity bother her. Sharon seemed harmless. “What did you mean about my attracting extra male fans?”

Sharon shrugged, purposely glancing at Charlie and giving him a sly smile. “Some men have this obsession with soaked women. I never understood it. Do you understand it, Charlie?”

“I’m from London.” Charlie shrugged, returning Sharon’s smile. “With all of the rain, women are always soaked. Maybe it started in Arizona or somewhere that water is more exotic.”

“I love his sense of humor.” Sharon laughed out loud and slid out of the chair at the security desk, reaching into one of her pockets to remove something small and hold it in her palm. It was a small crystal. “What do you two make of this?”

“Oh, no–” Supergirl took a step back, staring at the crystal with a little panic in her eyes. “The last time we found one of those, it snowed endlessly! I don’t want to go through that again.”

Sharon laughed again. “Ah, the weather crystal…what pleasant memories. No…this is just a key, Linda.”

“A key to what?”

“I’m glad you asked.” Sharon slid out of the chair and headed toward the glass doors of the lobby. “Let’s find out…shall we?”
Clark Kent furiously typed at his terminal, trying to record the events he had just witnessed through the window of the Daily Planet building. He was a little impressed, even as Superman, as he watched Supergirl clear the angry mob from the street in front of the Planet without even a single casualty.

The reporter in him just had to record it for all of history, and to make sure that everyone in Metropolis would see her positive side by the time the next morning edition hit the stands. After all, since Lex Luthor’s mysterious disappearance, most people blamed Supergirl. She deserved a break.

He happened to glance up from his terminal for a second to see a smiling Kara, in blue jeans, leather jacket, and a blue shirt with his own ‘S’ logo on its front, looking back at him. “I thought I asked you to wait at home.”

Kara shrugged and sat down in a chair in front of his terminal. “I got bored. Go ahead and finish your article, I’ll just wait here quietly.”

Clark sighed loudly and continued typing, as he wondered where Lois went. She left the newsroom earlier without even saying anything beyond ‘See ya later, Smallville.’ That was two hours ago. He finally signed off his terminal and leaned back, looking at his watch, realizing why Kara came to visit him – it was almost 7 p.m.

“Looks like Lois is working late again.” Clark stretched and rose to his feet slowly, looking down at Kara. “Want to grab some dinner?”

“Sure.” Kara stood quickly, straightening her jacket as she led Clark toward the elevators and tapped the call button. She leaned against the wall and stared at him, noting that he seemed to be a little nervous around her. It suddenly occurred to her why – it was the shirt. She sighed. “I shouldn’t have bought this shirt. I’m sorry.”

“It’s fine, Kara. Don’t worry about it.”

Kara followed Clark out of the elevator in the lobby of the Daily Planet building. She paused at the empty-looking security guard’s desk as Clark walked ahead of her toward the glass exit doors. The security guard was on the floor, leaned up against the back wall, unconscious. “Is he going to be okay?”

Clark stopped and looked to see what Kara was talking about. He saw Kara standing on her toes, leaning over the edge of the security desk – which appeared empty. He raced over to the desk to see the security guard slumped on the floor behind it. “Oh, my God.”

“He’s just sleeping.” Kara vaulted over the desk effortlessly, landing lightly next to the security guard. She kneeled down and poked his shoulder, then shook him gently. His breathing responded, but he didn’t wake up. “I think someone clocked him.”

As he walked around the desk, Clark made a mental note to himself to talk to Linda about her teaching Kara slang. “We really should call an ambulance. He might have a concussion.”

“Hey! That phone is for emergencies only!” Just as Clark lifted the handset of the phone, the security guard suddenly woke up. He appeared to be angry as he quickly, yet unsteadily, rose to his feet. The guard looked at Clark as if he recognized him, then turned to look at Kara. “Who are you, and why the heck are you behind my desk?”

Kara stepped closer to the man, shaking her fist at him as she began fuming over the guard’s response. “You ungrateful son of–”

“Kara!” Clark grabbed her arm quickly and pulled her around to the front of the desk, noting that her natural strength gave him much more resistance to overcome then any ordinary human. He quickly herded her toward the exit, gently shoving her outside the doors before stopping. “Who taught you to talk to people that way? Linda?”

“No…Lois.” Kara bowed her head slightly and started slowly walking ahead of Clark. “I’m sorry…I lost my temper. He just–”

“I know what he did. Some people just behave that way.” Clark stopped at his car and tapped a button on its remote control, unlocking all of the doors. “Just move past it, Kara. Pretend he said nothing at all. Let his verbal blows slip right through you, as if he shouted them into the wind.”

Kara smiled as she opened the passenger side door to climb in. “Wow…No wonder you’re a reporter.”

Clark didn’t answer as he climbed into the driver’s side. He didn’t have to – his smile answered for him. Winning an award, or a special commendation for his work was one thing. But heartfelt praise from another was a lot more personal.


“We’re out in the middle of nowhere, Sharon.”

Charlie pulled over the car quickly after Sharon leaned between the front seats and shouted in a panic for him to do so. She was searching for something specific – though he wasn’t sure what, since she just told him ‘We’ll know when we see it.’

“Some people call it Kansas.” Sharon opened the back door of the car and stepped out onto the dusty road. She looked back and forth slowly, as if searching for something again. Then she raised her arm and pointed. “See that hill?”

Linda, now in her civilian clothing, climbed out of the passenger side and stood next to Sharon to see. She shrugged. “It’s a hill. So what?”

“So…beyond man-made structures, this area is supposed to be entirely flat.” Sharon swept her arm around to indicate the rest of the area. “See for yourself.”

“Hmm.” Charlie took the initiative, beginning to walking toward the hill first. As he approached, he noticed something else strange – that on the other side of the hill, the ground appeared to be carved away, leaving a shallow pit which led into some kind of entrance.

“I knew it.” Sharon raced past Charlie and leapt straight into the pit, removing a flashlight from her backpack quickly. She could see just inside an arch which appeared to be an entrance…where it had been sealed by solid rock. She dropped her backpack to the ground, and removed a bag full of small sticks of plastic explosive.

“Um…Sharon?” Linda approached Sharon slowly and folded her arms. “Could we please try not to blow up the entire state?”

“Relax, I know what I’m–” Sharon’s expression suddenly changed as she remembered the crystal she brought with her. She removed it from the pocket and pressed it into her palm, waving it in front of the solid rock blocking the entrance. Without a sound, the rock seemed to dissolve from existence, revealing a large underground cavern…which had it’s own light source. “Wow.”

Linda and Charlie followed Sharon into the cavern slowly. It was a large room, about the size of a movie theater, with the same type of slanted floor. A dim, orange light seemed to come from all around, just enough to aid in sight, but not to be bright. Near the opposite end of the room was a large dial with four indicators, and some kind of symbols carved into it. In it’s center was a slot. On the wall above the dial was a huge chunk of perfectly carved, perfectly smooth translucent crystal…about the size of a movie screen. It was polished enough that Linda, Charlie, and Sharon could vaguely see their own reflections.

“This is–” Linda paused in mid-thought, as she suddenly found herself without words. She gazed steadily into the smooth crystal as she walked toward it, before finally reaching out and touching it. “It’s cold. It feels cold.”

Sharon nodded and walked straight toward the dial, dropping the crystal into the slot in the center. She ran her finger along the edge of the dial, attempting to read the symbols carved into it. “These words are so familiar…but they make no sense. They have no structure.”

“That’s because they’re not words.” Charlie stepped in next to Sharon and moved two of the four indicators on the dial. “It’s a combination, like a padlock. Maybe this is some kind of giant safe.”

“Maybe the crystal is upside down.” Linda reached out quickly and snatched the crystal – but before she had a chance to even remove it, it began to glow brightly. She felt her skin tingle, and her hair begin to stand on end as electricity filled the room. And as she turned around, she noticed that the formerly clear, smooth chunk of crystal had turned cloudy, and waves seemed to travel within it as if stones were being dropped into a pond.

Sharon took a step closer to the large crystal window, reaching out to touch it’s surface again. It seemed soft, like a silk sheet, giving to her touch. Her fingers sent waves through the crystal’s surface. She smiled, her eyes telegraphing only a fraction of the excitement she felt at her discovery. “Tap the small crystal again, Linda.”

Linda nodded, reaching out with one finger to tap the small crystal again. She felt both nervous and thrilled, unsure what would happen…but prepared for whatever would.

As soon as her finger touched the tip of the small crystal on the dial, the huge crystal window on the wall behind her began giving off a soft white light of it’s own, filling the room with luminance. She watched Sharon poke a few fingers into the glowing screen – they disappeared into the formerly solid chunk, creating dozens of small waves.

“It’s some kind of gateway.”, Sharon whispered excitedly. “I’ve got to go through. This is everything I’ve wanted–”

“No, I’ll go.” Linda gently moved Sharon aside as she stepped over to the large crystal gateway. She felt chilled at her own words – yet she knew that of the three, she had the best chance of surviving whatever was on the other side. “I’ll just step through, and step back. If I don’t make it…don’t go in after me.”

Charlie nodded, placing a friendly yet firm hand on Sharon’s shoulder. He knew how much Sharon wanted to go…but he also knew that Linda was right. He wanted to make sure Sharon stayed until Linda made it back safely.

Linda stood in front of the wavering sea of intangible crystal before her as she blinked once and took a deep breath. She was frightened, to be sure…but if she didn’t step through, Sharon would be sure to do so – and it might kill her. Linda, at least, had a chance of surviving the trip.

“Here. Tie this around your waist.”

Sharon tossed Linda the end of a rope. Linda caught it and tied a double knot at her waist. She looked again toward her destination, once satisfied that both Sharon and Charlie were holding the other end of the rope. At least she would be able to find her way back.

It was time to stop stalling…and just go. Linda took one large step forward, her heart racing as the cold fluid which was formerly solid crystal surrounded her. It was like walking through a swimming pool. Fighting her urge to close her eyes against the cold, she stared steadily through the pale glowing fluid until her left hand felt a lack of resistance only a few inches ahead of her.

She bravely stepped through. It was cold…very, very cold. Darkness surrounded her, but she could see a powerful light source…a sun…spreading warmth over her. The air was breathable, but thin. Everywhere she looked, there was nothing around her…yet she felt as if she wasn’t alone.

Linda looked away from the light source, and gasped when she saw what she missed on her initial encounter. It was a planet, which looked much like Earth, but had a red-orange tint to it’s atmosphere. It was a living planet…and she was in some sort of vehicle, high above it.

She almost resisted when she felt the rope tugging against her waist. She wanted to see more, to explore, or at least to find out where she was. But then reality dawned on her – she owed it to Charlie and Sharon to return safely, as she promised. This place would have to be explored later.

As she tumbled back through the gateway, she took a deep breath of Earth’s rich atmosphere. It was so difficult to breathe on the other side of that gateway. She looked up at Charlie, and tried her best to slow her breathing long enough to speak.

“What happened?” Charlie did his best to prop Linda up as he led her to a large stone to sit down.

“Did you see anything?” Sharon sounded excited as she asked her question. She was considerably less helpful then Charlie, but Linda assumed it was because she was still preoccupied with her discovery.

“I saw everything, Sharon”, Linda said between deep breaths. “And it was beautiful.”


#3 – Learning Curve

Linda stood in the middle of an open field, in the middle of nowhere, Kansas – or to those who lived nearby, Smallville. The Kents had always been nice enough to lend their somewhat large farm to Clark, no questions asked. They just…understood that from time to time, he would bring strange guests for strange reasons.

But the Kents didn’t exactly ‘let things be’. They welcomed every one of Clark’s visitors with open arms, made each person feel like they’ve come home again, to a family they’ve never had.

Linda looked over at the blonde teenager Power Girl had found – the one they now called ‘Kara’ – as she sat cross-legged in the middle of the tall grass of the field, a book in her hands. Since she left the hospital, she hadn’t spoken a word – but she seemed very interested in Pa Kent’s book collection. She had done nothing but read since they arrived.

Ma Kent had given each of them a hug as soon as they arrived, starting with Clark, then Linda, and even Kara. Kara seemed to be happy for the attention, even though she had been rather withdrawn since. Linda guessed that it was because of her lack of memory of her past – that would be enough to depress anyone.

“What?” Linda looked down at herself as Superman stared at her with a raised eyebrow. She was dressed in her new costume – a white cut-off tee shirt with the S-logo, a blue skirt, red laced boots and white gloves. She no longer wore a blonde wig – she elected at one point to dye her hair blonde and grow it a little longer. It saved time when changing into the costume – and so far, no one seemed to notice. When not in her Supergirl persona, she just hid in plain sight – one of millions of blonde women wandering the streets of Metropolis.

“You know, I could ask Ma to sew you some–”

“No, absolutely not.” Linda shook her head. “If I replace this costume one day, I want to do it myself. For now, it’ll do just fine.”

Superman nodded. “Suit yourself. Are you ready?”

“To crash-land?” Linda laughed nervously. “What makes you think you can train me to fly?”

“Linda–” Superman sighed and folded his arms. “I didn’t know how to fly from birth. I had to learn. I crash-landed a few times, but I learned.”

“But I used to–”

Superman held out his hand to interrupt Linda, and shook his head. “You inherited that. It was artificial. The power you have now is different…and better. Once you learn how to use it, your power will seem even more natural then ever before.”

“Just remember to concentrate, Linda. I’ll be flying alongside you.”

Linda nodded and leapt skyward, launching herself high above the farmhouse and barn of the Kent’s farm. She began worrying that she might be hurt falling from so high up.

“You used too much power to leap.” Superman drifted up beside her gently. “But don’t worry, you can recover.”

“Recover? I’m going to fall as soon as I stop climbing!”

“No.” Superman looked into Linda’s eyes with a steadying, steely gaze. “You will not fall. You’ll feel the wind against your skin, and it will make you feel lighter. You’ll visualize a point ahead of you in the sky, and move toward it.”

“I can’t–”

“You can, and you will. You must concentrate.”

Linda took a deep breath and spread her arms out to her sides as she closed her eyes to visualize a point just ahead of her. She felt herself slowing to a stop – but she also felt the wind blowing through her hair. The freedom of flight…feelings of the sheer joy of it began flooding back to her. By the time she opened her eyes, she was breathing the cool misty air high above the Kents’ farm – and she wasn’t falling. “Oh my God…Clark–”

Superman nodded. “I told you, didn’t I? It’s like learning to swim. You have to learn to tread water first.”

“It…feels different then it used to. It feels like some kind of outside force is holding me here.” Linda smiled and started spinning slowly in the air. “Wow…this is so cool.”

“It will feel different, until you get used to it.”

Linda glanced over at Superman, a smile still on her face, as she watched him suddenly turn pale. But he wasn’t looking at Linda – he was looking past her. Linda turned her head to see what he was looking at. It was Kara, floating toward them, a mile above the Kents’ farm.

“Oh, my God.” Linda suddenly lost her concentration, and found herself falling quickly. Before Superman had a chance to yell clear instructions to her, she crashed through the roof of the barn, sending various farm animals running outside.

“Ma says dinner’s ready.” Those were the first words spoken by Kara. She spoke purposefully, slowly, as if she had to concentrate to form sentences in English – it must not have been her first language.

Superman was still floating, frozen, as he stared at Kara floating directly ahead of him. He then realized that he almost forgot about Linda – and raced down to the barn to make sure she wasn’t hurt.

“Linda? Are you all right? Are you hurt?”

“No…I’m fine.” Linda sat up, brushing brand-new hay from bales she landed on out of her hair. “Just let me die quietly of embarrassment, please.”

“Not just yet, Linda.” Superman offered her a hand, pulling her back to her feet. “We have to clean up and change. Dinner’s ready.”

“But what about–”

“Let it go for now. We’ll ask her about it when it’s appropriate.” Superman turned and left the barn, with Linda close behind. Before she had a chance to say another word, he interrupted her again. “And don’t worry about the barn, I’ll fix it.”

“Doesn’t the fact that we snuck in here invalidate any evidence we find?”

Lois Lane smiled and looked at Charlie as she stood in a darkened office at LexCorp. “That’s only for cops, Charlie. Reporters get information any way they can.”

“So…What am I doing here?”

“Because you know your way around here.” Lois snatched a file from an open file cabinet, and then pinched Charlie’s cheek. “And because I need a big strong man to back me up.”

Charlie frowned. He could tell that Lois was being sarcastic. “Very funny, Lois. Where did Linda and Clark go this morning? They seemed a little secretive.”

Lois turned and smiled at Charlie, seemingly amused that he would refer to Clark, a man with two identities, as ‘secretive’. “He took Linda to his parents’ farm, to teach her to fly.”

“To…what?” Charlie’s question was just slightly too loud, enough so to prompt Lois to quickly press her hand against his mouth.

“Keep it down, Charlie! You should know better.”

“Sorry.” Charlie paced around the room a little bit as confusion over what Lois meant started his mind going. “I thought Linda already could fly.”

“Clark says that she still can.” Lois finished taking files out of the file cabinet and closed it quickly. She then paused to tap the side of her head. “She just has a mental block or something, he says.”

Charlie followed Lois out into the hallway, toward the elevator. He was a little surprised that they had gone in and out of that office without encountering any security guards. “What do you think?”

“I think–” Lois paused in thought for a second, tapping her chin with a folder as they waited for the elevator. “Linda’s been through a lot lately. She needs her friends to help her through it all.”

Charlie and Lois both turned as the elevator doors opened. Their jaws dropped as they saw the two people they didn’t want to see in the building – Lex Luthor and Mercy Graves.

“Lois Lane and Charlie Lewis.” Luthor stepped out of the elevator and stood in front of the two of them. Mercy stayed close behind. “And stealing my files, no doubt. What will I do with the two of you?”

“You could let us go.” Lois smiled and nudged Charlie, who began snickering.

Luthor didn’t even crack a smile as he motioned for Mercy to move closer. “Escort these…people out of my building. And destroy that file.”

Mercy nodded and gently nudged Charlie and Lois into the elevator, snatching the folder from Lois as the elevator started it’s descent toward the lobby.

“Hey, I thought you liked me.” Charlie turned around and looked up at Mercy as she simply smiled and placed her finger in front of her mouth, indicating that Charlie should be quiet.

Lois laughed and folded her arms. “That’s what you get for trusting one of Luthor’s apes, Charlie.”

As soon as the elevator doors opened, Mercy put one hand on each of their shoulders and gently escorted them to the door – but it seemed a little unusual when she also walked them across the street, to Lois’ car. She continued to stand next to the car as Lois unlocked the door, and Charlie climbed into the passenger side.

“One more thing.” Mercy leaned into the window of the passenger side of the car.

“Let me guess.” Lois started up the car as she frowned at Mercy. “Don’t come back, right?”

Mercy ignored Lois’ comment as she dropped the yellow folder from Lex Luthor’s office in Charlie’s lap. She smiled at Charlie as he stared at her, a little confused.

“Why, Mercy?”

“Let’s just say that I’ve seen what Lex is capable of. I need a little insurance. I trust you, Charlie.” Mercy placed a hand on Charlie’s shoulder gently as her smile began to weaken. She then glanced over at Lois, noting the look of shock on her face. “Oh, and Lois…Apology accepted.”

Lois looked at the yellow folder in Charlie’s lap at least twice as she began driving toward the Daily Planet building. “What do you suppose this means, Charlie?”

Charlie shook his head a little. “I truly don’t know. I’m a little worried for Mercy. I hope she’ll be okay.”
“Clark, telephone!”

Clark slid his chair back slowly, as a smile creeped onto his face. He knew that the only person who would call him there would be Lois. “Um…Excuse me, please.”

As Clark walked into the next room, and Martha returned to the dining room, Linda couldn’t help but smile. Clark was still the polite farm boy, no matter how long he lived in the big city.

“Are you enjoying the potatoes, Kara dear?” Martha Kent smiled as she watched Kara wolfing down what Martha called ‘tomato potatoes’, a home-grown mixture of softened potatoes swimming in a thick tomato paste. They ended up having the appearance of rich red colored potatoes, but they tasted great.

Kara nodded as she paused to swallow. “Yes. They are good.”

Linda smiled a little as she watched Kara resume eating. She made a mental note to herself to teach Kara a little slang, so she didn’t seem so stiff.

“I…do not have these at home.”

Linda, Martha, and Jonathan all paused and stared at Kara at the same time. They all wondered if part of her memory was starting to return. And where exactly was ‘home’ for her?

“That was John Henry. He needed to talk with me urgently.” Clark announced his return to the dining room with that one phrase. He seemed a little pale as he spoke – he looked directly at Linda, as if it had something to do with her. “He asked me to speak with you as well, Linda.”

“Me?” Linda looked around the table to see everyone staring at her. “Why me?”

Clark leaned closer to Linda and whispered into her ear. “It involves a gateway opening from another plane. Someplace called…Otherverse Earth.”
“And that was my first clue that something was terribly wrong. After he told me that, we went back to Metropolis quickly, and I went to my hotel and changed into my costume. That’s when I noticed the billboard.”

Linda leaned forward on a rather uncomfortable couch, located in a living room hidden away deep inside the Colorado mountains. She was on an Earth which was nothing like her own – it was one were heroes like herself were safest hidden away from the world. It was a dangerous place known as Otherverse Earth. A place which made her very nervous.

As she wrapped her fingers tightly around a comforting warm mug of hot chocolate and took a sip, she looked around the room at people who had, until recently, been total strangers to her. A Kara Zor-El, who had somehow on this Earth survived what Superman often described as ‘The Crisis’. Another woman named Rogue who had somehow ended up with all of her DNA replaced with Kryptonian DNA. Teen-age twin daughters of Kara’s, named Carrie and Karen. And Lara Night, a young woman powerful enough to destroy planets, but secretive enough to make Batman jealous.

“My second clue that something was wrong–” Linda smiled and put her mug back on the table in front of the uncomfortable couch. “–was provided by an adventurer named Sharon Holmes who was waiting for me in the lobby of the hotel. She found a Lex Luthor – one not from my Earth – stealing something called the Ancient Book of Rai from a hidden underground bunker in Germany.”

“Ancient Book of Rai?” Lara raised an eyebrow and turned away from one of the tall, narrow glass windows she stared out of. “Are you sure?”

Linda nodded. “I remember that part very clearly.”

“That’s bad. Very bad.” Lara paced around the room a little, arms folded tightly. “The Ancient Book of Rai is used to bridge the worlds of the living and the dead. To raise the dead, make the living immortal…or cause the living to die with just words and a few drops of blood.”

Kara and the twins looked at each other upon hearing the last part of Lara’s words. Words and a few drops of blood. That meant Luthor was close to being able to eliminate them. Too close.

“Oh, don’t worry. He would need blood from a living Kryptonian.” Lara seemed to anticipate the question on Kara’s mind as she continued. “That’s very unlikely to happen. But he is using the book to raise dead metahumans, and possibly to make himself immortal.”

“Sharon said something about…genocide?” Linda stared sympathetically at Lara as she spoke. “Luthor mentioned something to her about eliminating enemies back home.”

“Genocide?” Lara sat down on the arm of the couch. Her eyes told everyone present that she didn’t know as much about the Ancient Book of Rai as she would have liked to. “I…I’m not sure I understand. Who would Luthor want to–”

“I think that means the rebels, and metas.” Kara spoke unsteadily. She seemed calm, but she still didn’t have total control of her emotions. “He probably plans to eliminate anyone who opposes him.”

“Metas?” Linda looked confused as she stared at Kara.

“Metahumans, Linda.” Kara smiled a little, remembering back to a time when she had to be taught the same. “People with abilities beyond those of ordinary humans. Luthor sees them as his biggest threat, because he can’t control them easily.”

Linda laughed a little. “He’s not all that different from Lex Luthor on my world.”

Kara stood up from her seat in a slightly more comfortable looking spot on the love seat next to Rogue. “But this time, rather then weapons or chemicals…Luthor plans on using meta zombies against us. The ultimate power, under his control.”

“Kal-El and Diana Prince are already under his control.” Lara looked around the room quickly, noting the looks of shock and fear on their faces. All of them except Linda, who looked confused again.

“Wonder Woman is dead?” Linda looked at Rogue – she didn’t seem to understand what she was asking. Kara seemed more occupied by what was going on outside. Linda shrugged it off, guessing that Diana hadn’t taken the name ‘Wonder Woman’ on Otherverse Earth.

“Now she’s un-dead.” Lara smiled at her own little joke, even though no one else seemed to. “Lex Luthor is the biggest problem, however. He will become immortal, join the order of the Underworld. He will basically become a demon.”

“Ugh.” Linda put her face in her hands and shook her head. “More demons. That’s all I need.”

“I think we’ll have to give priority to stopping the walking dead metas.” Kara was staring out the window as she spoke, two fingers of her left hand pressed against the glass.

“Why?” Linda stood up to head toward the window. She wanted to see what Kara was looking at.

“Because they’re coming this way.”

“Oh, hell.” Linda stood next to Kara, looking out through the tall glass windows. She began to worry – coming toward her quickly were the two most powerful superheroes she had ever known – and a quick inventory of everyone in in the room with her confirmed that she was by far the most vulnerable person present. She began to wonder why she was even there in the first place. She then realized that for the first time as Supergirl…she would have to depend on others to protect her.
“Another Lex Luthor, you say?” Lex Luthor leaned back in his chair, his elbows leaned on the chair’s arms, and his hands clasped together. He stared unwaveringly at a young British woman named Sharon Holmes sitting in front of his desk, in spite of the fact that she carried two pistols on a belt around her waist – he didn’t see her as a threat. She was bringing news which chilled him to his very core…yet he still remained perfectly calm.

Sharon nodded. “He’s from another…dimension or something–”

“Reality.” Luthor smiled a little, pleased with himself for correcting Sharon.

“Yes.” Sharon shifted in her seat a little, feeling uncomfortable as she noticed Mercy Graves towering over her from behind. “He stole a book called the Ancient Book of Rai.”

“I know all of this already.” Luthor leaned forward and placed his palms on his desk. “What I want to know is what this…other Lex Luthor can do with this book.”

Sharon took a deep breath as she looked behind her at Mercy – who stood perfectly still, except for her eyes. “It deals with the dead, Mr. Luthor. He can make himself immortal, and raise the dead under his command.”


“But there’s a terrible price to it, Mr. Luthor.” Sharon stood up suddenly and leaned over the desk, her raised voice indicating the urgency of her warning. “He’ll become a demon, his intentions will turn completely evil. Any good left in him will vanish…and he will have lost his free will to the whims of evil.”

“Rest assured, Miss Holmes. The last thing I would give up is control.” Luthor stood up and walked over to his office window, rubbing his chin as he pondered his next action. “But this…other Lex Luthor must not be permitted to freely roam any Earth he wants to. Mercy?”

“Yes, Lex?” The sound of Mercy’s voice made Sharon jump a little. It was soft enough, but it was also the first sound she made since Sharon arrived.

“Prepare the gateway. I have a mission for Miss Holmes.”

“A…Mission?” Sharon looked at Mercy, and then back at Luthor. They both seemed serious.

“You are an adventurer, are you not?” Luthor took a few steps toward Sharon, and leaned over her as she sat back down in the chair next to her.

“Yes.” Sharon nodded slowly, and stood up. “Yes, I am. What have you got in mind?”

“I’m going to send you to this…Otherverse. You will retrieve the Ancient Book of Rai, and bring it to me.”

“Bring it to you?” Sharon began to worry a little bit – this Lex Luthor could be corrupted just as easily as the other one. “But you just said–”

“Not that it should be any of your concern–” Luthor folded his arms and leaned closer to Sharon. “–I plan to destroy it. That kind of power should not be allowed to exist.”

“Because it can’t be totally under your control?”

Luthor frowned. “Feel free to jump to your own conclusions, Sharon. As long as you retrieve that book. And don’t even think about destroying the book before you return. My gateway is your only ride home.”

Sharon sighed as she watched Luthor and Mercy leave the room quickly, closing and locking the door behind them. She collapsed quietly into the chair again, as thoughts went swimming through her head. Thoughts of fear…that she would be stopping one Lex Luthor only to have a worse one on her hands.

“Oh, Sharon…What have you got yourself into this time?”
“Clark, what have we gotten ourselves into?”

Clark Kent bowed his head a little, as his eyes looked through the wall into the kitchen, where a teenager named Kara sat, eating a slice of lemon merengue pie. He deliberately avoided looking directly at his mom, as the guilt over what had happen began to set in. “I…honestly didn’t know, Ma. If I did, I never would have brought her here–”

“Nonsense.” Martha Kent put a hand on his shoulder, causing him to raise his head and finally look at her. “Any friend of yours, Clark…you know the rest.”

Clark sighed and gave Martha a worried look. “But she’s…you know…like me. You and Pa won’t be able to keep up with her now that you’re–”

“Old? You’re calling me old?” Martha smiled slowly as she watched Clark turn a little red from embarrassment.

“I just–”

“Clark, your Pa and I raised you. We raised Mae. One more isn’t going to kill us.” Martha placed a hand on her heart and smiled. “Raising kids comes from here, Clark. From the heart. You don’t have to be smart, or quick, or even young. Love is all you need.”

“You’re quoting the Beatles?” Clark raised an eyebrow and smiled.

Martha shrugged as she led Clark back toward the kitchen. “John Lennon had it right. Why tamper with something that works?”
“Stonehenge. How did I ever guess?”

Sharon Holmes stood, hands on her hips, as she kept her gaze fixed on a cloaked figure. He sat in the center of the circle of stones, a book on the ground in front of him. He didn’t even acknowledge her presence as he slowly whispered the words he saw on the pages before him. His lack of reaction made Sharon very nervous as she approached. She drew both of her pistols, careful to keep them aimed at the man’s back as she tiptoed toward him.

As soon as she was almost within his reach, he suddenly stopped whispering, prompting her to freeze. She stood, pistols steadily aimed as the man turned around so she could see his partially-cloaked face. It was Lex Luthor – but his face was pale, his eyes carrying a reddish orange glow, like they had fires burning behind them.

“My God…What have you done?” Her hands began shaking a little, she struggled to keep her guns trained on him as he lowered the hood of his cloak. His gaze felt heavy, like it was adding weight to the guns at the end of her arms.

She began backing away from him slowly as he approached, the Ancient Book of Rai in his hands. She could feel something from him, an energy – one of pure evil, and death. The scent of it filled the area. In a moment of panic as Luthor came closer, Sharon began firing both pistols at him.

It felt like only seconds before the clips in both of her weapons were empty. But Luthor still stood. As he stepped in front of her, she could feel darkness descending over her, suffocating her quickly. Her eyesight began to dim as she felt her legs buckle from beneath her. The last thing she would remember was Luthor lifting her off of the ground and carrying her away, before she lost consciousness.
Sharon awoke with a start lying on a cold stone floor inside a stone-walled cell. Her heart was beating quickly, and her clothing and the floor were both soaked. Though she was still groggy, she realized that someone had just thrown ice cold water on her.

“Wake up!”

She turned around slowly to see a tall dark-haired woman approach her slowly. The woman was dressed in some sort of military uniform, armed with a pistol, a long knife, and…a bucket. Her instinct told her that the tall woman was not someone friendly.

“I said–”

As she approached, the woman suddenly found herself cut off as Sharon’s boot tangled with one of her legs, causing her head to crash to the floor quickly. Sharon stood, and without hesitation snatched the woman’s gun and knife, pointing the barrel at her almost immediately. The woman tried to sit up in spite.

“No, no. Please don’t get up on my account.” Sharon circled around the woman for a second, checking briefly to make sure the door was still open – it was. “Where am I?”

“You’re in a Lexcorp owned facility hidden off the coast of Northern California. It’s called Pelican Island.” The woman sat up slowly and rubbed her head, noting that Sharon leveled the pistol toward her as she moved. “There’s no escape. No one has ever escaped from here. And even if you do, you won’t survive the radiation.”

“I don’t plan on escaping to the outside.” Sharon smiled as she heard the last word of the woman’s sentence – ‘radiation’. It meant that she and Lex Luthor must have been transported to the place rather then just walking or flying in. “Lex Luthor has a Gateway here. Where is it?”

The woman simply frowned, but didn’t answer. She didn’t need to – her change of expression answered for her – there was a Gateway. Only Sharon would have to search for it.

“Thanks for the update. Good night.” Sharon kicked the woman in the chin, hard, knocking her out cold, and raced out of the cell. She punched the button to close the cell door on her way out – no sense in having the woman go after her again when she woke up.

As Sharon headed out of the cell area and up a stairway, she saw just what she expected – Lex Luthor, blocking her access to the floor above. She drew the pistol from her belt, but then decided to toss it aside – it didn’t work so well for her the last time.

“Hand over the book, Luthor…and then get out of my way!” Sharon drew the knife from behind her belt, gripping it tightly as she slowly stepped toward Luthor. “I’m taking it home, and not even you can stop me!”

“Such arrogance.” Luthor gripped the book tightly and stepped toward Sharon, a threatening red glow forming in his hollow eyes. “Arrogance never succeeds, Sharon. It will only earn you your own demise.”

She gritted her teeth as she watched his dead, cold, hollow eyes light up like they were some sort of gate to hell. She then knew that had to take that book, for the safety of the universe – or die trying. “We’ll see who meets their demise.”

Sharon lunged forward, slicing Luthor’s throat open with her first swipe of the knife, and plunging it into his chest with the second pass. Just as she was about to make a third pass, she saw Luthor raise his hands – and she felt herself being thrown against the stone wall behind her, hard.

Even though she had the wind knocked out of her, she quickly shook off the dizziness and charged Luthor again, tackling him and slamming him against the opposite wall. Finally, he dropped the book.

She snatched the book quickly, and began running just as Luthor began producing bladed weapons out of nowhere, pelting her with them from time to time as she raced down the halls of the complex. Once in a while he would get ahead of her, and slam her against a wall – but she kept her death grip on the book, refusing to give it up to him no matter the odds against her.

Out of pure luck, she happened to find the room containing the Gateway. As soon as she did, she slammed the door behind her, quickly using what little she had left of her waning strength to push a large bookshelf in front of it. She knew that would only hold Luthor for a short time – so she worked quickly from memory to activate the Gateway. She paid close attention to the one the Lex Luthor on her Earth used, assuming that the Lex Luthor on this Earth would have one very similar – an assumption that paid off.

As a last step, before she jumped onto the Gateway’s platform, she tore a small box off of the side of the Gateway device – she remembered it to be a self-destruct device – and removed the plastic explosive material from it, squashing it into a bowl shape and placing it on the ground. She removed a small pack of matches from her belt, and lit one quickly. She then stepped on the Gateway platform, and tossed the match at the bowl with one hand, as she hit the red flashing activation button quickly with the book in her other hand.

Then she prayed. She didn’t even see the room fade from view – her eyes were closed as she felt fire licking at her exposed flesh. She suddenly felt chilled, and opened her eyes. She was back at Lexcorp, on her own Earth. In front of her was Lex Luthor’s bodyguard, Mercy Graves.

“Welcome back.” Mercy smiled as she held out her hand. “I’ll take that book.”

“Like hell you will.” Sharon charged Mercy, knocking her to the ground quickly. She didn’t stop running until she made it through the lobby of Lexcorp – and she continued running all the way down the street to the Daily Planet building. She knew she would be safe there…and she hoped she could find the man she met on the plane to England – Charlie Lewis.
Charlie nearly fell out of his chair when he turned around to see who tapped him on the shoulder as he sat next to Lois Lane’s desk at the Daily Planet – he recognized her immediately as Sharon Holmes.

Sharon’s hair was a tangled mess, her usual long ponytail undone, leaving her hair across her shoulders. Both of her pistols were missing, and on her belt she wore a bowie knife covered in dried blood. Various cuts, bruises, and burns covered nearly all of her exposed skin. And in her hands…some kind of an ancient book, partially burned.

“You’re hard enough to find, Charlie.” Sharon stood over him, holding the book out toward him. She was inviting him to take it.

“What’s this?” Charlie took it from her gently, trying to read the inscription on the cover.

“The Ancient Book of Rai.” Sharon leaned on one hand, place on the edge of Lois’ desk. “I ask you to do two things for me. Keep that book in a safe place, and find me someplace to stay for a while that’s rather…discreet.”

“Discreet?” Charlie stood up, noticing that Sharon seemed more injured then she let on. “Is someone after you?”

“Everyone is after me, Charlie.” Sharon smiled weakly. “Including two different Lex Luthors. One of them almost killed me.”

Charlie glanced at Lois, who waved both of her hands in front of herself and mouthed ‘Don’t ask’. He couldn’t help but smile at the fact that Lois and Linda were a lot alike in that behavior. “Are you trying to tell me you killed one of these Lex Luthors?”

Sharon shook her head. “No, he can’t be killed, he’s immortal now. I did do him quite a bit of damage. But that’s all a story for another time, Charlie. Right now I really could use a shower and a few hours’ sleep.”

“I understand.” Charlie nodded and picked up Lois’ telephone and began dialing. “I’ll get you a place at the hotel where Linda and I have rooms.”

Lois paused her work for a moment, and began staring at Sharon. “What happened to you, anyway? Did you cross a battlefield to get that book?”

“Practically, yes.” Sharon smiled and sat down in one of the chairs next to Lois’ desk. “I visited another Earth, a scary place. I was injured escaping from some kind of a Lexcorp prison there…I lost my pistols. There was a gateway to get me home in the same building, but I had to fight my way to it.”

Charlie gently took Sharon’s arm as he watched her stumble a little bit while she rose to her feet. “Come on, Sharon. That’s enough fighting for one day…Let’s get you some rest.”

“You’re just a saint, aren’t you?” Sharon smiled as she followed Charlie down to the street, where he quickly hailed a cab for her. “No wonder Linda likes you.”

Charlie didn’t answer as he helped Sharon into the cab, and told the driver where to take her. But his mind was busy in thought – did Sharon see something he didn’t? As the cab drove away, he quickly dismissed any passing thoughts he had about what Sharon said. After all, she had lost some blood, and was very tired. “I’m no saint…just someone who cares.”
A stiff, icy wind blew through the mountains outside the Fortress, tossing Linda’s hair and cape mercilessly, and causing her to squint to keep her eyeballs from freezing. She stood atop the mountain shivering – Lara, Kara, and Rogue stood in front of her, doing little to slow down the wind. The twins stood behind Linda – they were asked to stay there by Kara, just in case.

They were prepared for a battle as they all stood, watching, while a living-dead Kal-El and Diana Prince approached quickly. Kara insisted on standing ahead of everyone else, with Rogue beside her, at the ‘battlefront’. Lara stood directly behind them, intent on protecting Linda and the twins.

The dead Kal-El seemed to slow as he approached, eventually landing a good distance away, with Diana close behind him. He was walking toward Kara slowly, seemingly not in any hurry. Unlike the Kal-El Linda knew, this one’s eyes were dark, cold…they had no soul behind them.

“Leave this place…and do no harm!” Kara held a single palm in front of her, pointing in the two zombies’ direction, as if she were a crossing guard ordering pedestrians to stop trying to cross a busy street. Naturally, the two zombies paid her no mind as they approached.

As she watched the zombies walk toward her, she cringed a little bit, expecting to see an epic battle before her, one of flying fists, searing heat vision, blood, and broken bones. What she saw instead was purely surreal, even by her own standards.

Linda watched, stunned, as Lara stepped forward silently toward the zombies. They made no move to attack her, even as she gently placed one hand on each of their shoulders. The two zombies collapsed to the ground without a fight, all signs of life within them extinguished.

“What did you do?” After several minutes of silence, the first words were from Kara. After speaking, she turned abruptly to face Lara, standing only inches away from her.

“I sent them away.” Lara blinked, cancelling the slight glow her irises carried since she touched the two zombies. “They will rest now…but we must destroy their bodies to prevent Lex Luthor from raising them again. I can destroy Diana’s body, but you and Rogue must destroy Kal-El’s.”

Kara’s eyes suddenly filled with sadness, and then tears, as she looked at Rogue for a moment. She looked to Lara again, her head shaking slowly. “No, I…I can’t.”

“You must, for the safety of this world, Kara–” Lara suddenly paused when she noticed everyone staring at her, wide-eyed. She looked at her own hands – she was surrounded by some kind of an energy halo, and she guessed that her irises were glowing once again. Only this time, it was not under her control – some kind of force from another plane was causing it…a deity, perhaps?

“Oh, my Rao.” Kara turned to Rogue and Linda, standing behind her. They were hypnotized by the power, the beauty of the halo around Lara – it was beyond the bounds of imagination. “Do you see if too?”

Linda nodded and stepped forward toward the glow, which was now completely surrounding Lara. It grew larger until it finally separated from her form, moving in front of her. Linda’s hand reached out slowly to touch it. It felt warm, comforting…like a mother’s arms wrapped around a small child. She watched as the mist surrounded the stilled bodies of Kal-El and Diana Prince, enveloping them until they could no longer be seen.

“You’re right, Kara.” Lara stood perfectly still, speaking in a soft voice just above a whisper as the energy enveloping her spread to Kara, gently wrapping a few of it’s tentacles around her. Kara closed her eyes, letting the energy comfort her – relaxing her enough so she dropped to her knees slowly. “It is Rao…And Kal-El.”

Just as those words left Lara’s mouth, Kara could see a form taking shape in front of her. It was a man…it was Kal-El. She bowed her head a little, as tears began forming in her eyes.

“You display shame at my presence, Kara?” The ghostly form of Kal-El reached his hand under her chin, propping it up so he could see her eyes. “Always keep your head high. You are worthy, Kara. You were born to a proud heritage. You were once Supergirl.”

Kara nodded slowly and rose to her feet, looking down to notice that she was now wearing a costume she remembered well – the red skirt, blue top, and giant S-logo of Supergirl. She said nothing, but a single sniff from her indicated her desire to maintain control of her feelings, even as her eyes betrayed her by continuing to send tears.

“I wish I could have known you better, Kara. I wish I had more time…But now I must return home to Rao, to be with the others of Krypton.”

“No–” Kara shook her head as tears began streaming down her face quickly. “Don’t go, please. You’ve guided me for so long…I could feel that you were there.”

The ghostly Kal seemed to smile for a moment, as he gently place a misty hand on Kara’s shoulder. “I must go, Kara. My time in this realm has come to an end. My work is done. You and your daughters have carried on my legacy well. Now you have a new legacy…and in the end…your daughters will be the salvation of this Earth.”

“Kal–” Kara reached out for him as he began drifting away from her slowly. “I…I want to go with you.”

“No. You still have much to do here. I will always be with you, Kara, in your heart. I will always be there.”

The mist suddenly dissipated with a gust of icy wind, leaving Kara feeling chilled, and alone. Without a word, Rogue quickly held her tightly as she collapsed, sobbing uncontrollably. It was as if Kara were living through Kal’s death. In a way…she was.

“Leave us, please.” Rogue whispered those three words, prompting Lara to quickly lead Linda and the twins back inside the Fortress.

As darkness began to fall that night, Linda left for her home, even though she hadn’t seen Rogue or Kara since that moment. Lara left shortly afterward, once the twins convinced her that they would be perfectly safe by themselves.

Linda would learn later from the twins that Kara and Rogue didn’t come back for several hours – and once they did, they retired for the night without a word. No one knew what happened during those hours – it was something that would forever be a secret shared by Kara and Rogue. Karen insisted that they most likely spent the hours just talking, sharing – a few hours to strengthen the bond they had with each other. But somehow, Linda believed it was much more then that.

Once Linda arrived at her hotel room, she was tired from the whole experience she had – and yet she lay awake for hours, as her mind spun out of control. Everything she’d seen, everything she heard…she couldn’t help but believe that the universe would never be the same again.