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.”
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.
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.”