“Darn…he’s not home.”
Lara looked through the glass rear patio door of her friend Jason’s small home, staring at the small black dog barking at her. She smiled as the dog’s name came to her – “Behr.” Behr was the loud one…the other small black dog, Ernie, was the quiet one.
Her mind flashed back to the first of many visits to the home – the time when she stopped by to convince Jason that she was real. She wasn’t sure whether he would panic, go into denial, or accept it. But to Lara’s relief, he not only accepted it, he took it in stride as if he actually expected it somehow. At the time, she was glad he was so open-minded – but now, she hoped he was even more so.
She sat down on the small wooden bench on the deck behind the home, momentarily making faces at the barking Behr before pausing to formulate a plan. She knew she couldn’t just sit outside on the deck and wait – even though it was comfortable, and surrounded by an eight-foot fence, sooner or later someone would notice a costumed superhero sitting outside by herself.
As Lara sat quietly for a few minutes, she began to worry a little bit. What if she could never return home? What if her friends from Third Realm – Kara, Jillian, Kusanagi, and Michael – never saw her again? Would they assume she was dead, or would they be searching for her?
Lara sighed quietly and looked skyward for a moment, in the general direction of a universe which was, until a short time ago, her playground. But in truth, as some sort of mysterious human-alien hybrid, she was never really at home anywhere. It was her power to harness energy, her status as a Guardian which allowed her to travel from place to place – yet no place was truly a permanent home. Being immortal, it was her fate to be some sort of galactic nomad, or risk raising the suspicions of humans she lived among.
She shook off those depressing thoughts for a moment as she wondered if Jason was still at work. Lara stood and looked through the glass again in search of a clock. There was one – on a microwave oven – which indicated four-thirty. Lara paced around the deck twice, searching her memory. She remembered he showed her where he worked once…
“The red glass building!” Lara stood suddenly as she remembered where he worked. She had visited him there once, in civilian clothing – an incident which ended embarrassingly for both.
She looked skyward, intent on flying to Jason’s workplace. Only she remembered that she had no idea how to get there. The last time Lara visited what Jason called “the evil red building,” she had simply appeared outside it from her home Earth.
That’s when she decided to give her teleport power one more chance. While she knew she couldn’t teleport off of the planet, or to other realities, perhaps she would be able to transport from one place to another on a single planet.
She held her hands in front of her face, watching them turn translucent slowly – yet she felt no pain. It was working!
Jason Froikin cursed to himself and kicked an old computer as yet another one of those annoying blue error screens suddenly took possession of the machine. He was upset – after spending hours troubleshooting the machine, he had been able to fix it no more than the psychic in the movie “Poltergeist” was able to rid that house of its evil spirit. Luckily, no one could hear his curses through the closed door of the computer room.
Unfortunately, he forgot to lock that door.
“Jason, someone is at your desk looking for you.”
He looked up from his work for a moment to see a woman who worked in Accounts Payable standing in the doorway, the door partially open. “What else is new?”
The woman laughed. “She said it’s urgent. And she’s wearing…uh…a cape.”
“Huh?” Jason suddenly sat up and looked at the woman sideways. “A cape? Is she wearing red and blue?”
“No.” The woman shook her head. “Black.”
“Black?” He stood and walked past the woman standing in the doorway, as she stepped aside. “What the heck is she doing here?”
Jason took the long way around the fourth floor of the building to get to his desk. He wanted to see who was waiting for him at his desk before she spotted him. As he approached, he could see two black boots with white stripes resting on his desk. “Hi, Lara. What’s up?”
He frowned as he watched the guy in the cubicle next to his peek around the corner, confused. He just knew the guy was going to ask some stupid question.
“Who’re you supposed to be?” he asked Lara.
“I’m a figment of his imagination.” Lara indicated Jason with a tilt of her head. The guy shook his head and retreated to his desk, unable to come up with a response.
“Nice laptop.” Lara poked the trackpad on Jason’s PowerBook once, and pointed at the screen. “Is that Sharon Holmes on the desktop picture?”
Jason nodded. “ZiO drew that one. I colored it.”
“Nice. Is that ZiO on ICQ? Can I talk to him?”
He nodded again. “That’s him. He’s set to ‘busy’ right now, so he probably won’t answer. So what brings you here, anyway?”
Lara smiled and thought of a funny answer to that question…but shook her head instead. “Nah, too easy. I’m here because…I’m stuck here.”
“Stuck here? Did you get a flat tire? Should I call triple-A?”
“Triple-A?” Lara raised an eyebrow.
Jason shook his head. “Never mind, stupid joke. So why are you stuck here?”
“Well…” Lara leaned back in the chair and sighed. What had happened wouldn’t be easy to explain – hopefully, Jason would understand it anyway. “I was heading to Otherverse, and I…collided with someone. Some guy with blue skin.”
“Blue skin?” Jason tried his best to contain a smile as he motioned for Lara to continue.
“Yes,” she continued, after giving Jason a short glare. “I came crashing down in Whitewater Forest. I tried to leave again, but…it really hurt. I can no longer teleport myself off of this Earth. I’m stuck here.”
“Could be worse.” Jason frowned at the guy in the next cubicle again as his head poked around the corner. “You could have been in pajamas at the time.”
“The way people have stared at me since I got here, I feel like I am.” Lara laughed and pointed at the guy peeking around the corner. He immediately retreated again. “See?”
“Well…” Jason looked at his watch briefly before closing the laptop computer on his desk, stuffing it into a black computer bag on his desk. The bag looked rather heavy as he lifted it over his shoulder. “Time for me to go home anyway. I’ll meet you there, and we can talk more.”
“No way…I’m coming with you!” Lara stood quickly, shoving the rolling chair under the desk. “I am not getting lost again.”
“Californians drive a lot faster then people do here.” Lara glanced over at the speedometer in the center of the red Plymouth Neon’s dashboard. It read sixty-five miles per hour as they cruised along a boring stretch of concrete freeway. “You’d be left in the dust.”
“Yeah, but they don’t have those in California.” Jason pointed at a police car parked on the side of the road, the officer pointing a Lidar gun several cars back. “This city is speed trap central.”
Jason laughed and shook his head.
It took a half-hour for them to arrive at Jason’s home, after stopping along the way for Italian take-out food – cheese-covered breadsticks and veggie Calzones. As soon as Jason unlocked and opened the door, Lara had to laugh as the two dogs became torn between barking at her and smelling the bag holding the food. In the end, Ernie did most of the smelling, and Behr did most of the barking.
“Just pat her head,” Jason said as he began unpacking the food, “She’ll calm down.”
Lara watched with amusement as the twenty-pound black Schipperke seemed to make friends with her after a few scratches behind the ear. She had visited before, but not often enough to be familiar to the two dogs – and, she guessed, the costume probably made her harder for them to recognize.
As soon as the two dogs were fed and sent outside to the fenced-in yard for a short time, Jason finally moved the food to the dining room table to eat. The dogs sat patiently under the table, two small symbols of hope springing eternal, as they waited for someone to drop them a few scraps.
“Don’t feed them,” Jason admonished as he watched Lara hold a chunk of breadstick above Behr. “It encourages them to beg at the table. Besides, they’ll end up fighting over it.”
“Fine.” Lara placed the piece of bread back on her plate, only to sneak it across to the other side of her chair seconds later. Behr was grateful for it. Lara didn’t feel too guilty – she had caught Jason doing the same on an earlier visit. “So…what do we do about my being stuck here?”
Jason paused between bites to stare out the dining room window. “To tell you the truth…I still don’t understand why you’re stuck here.”
Lara smiled knowingly. “That’s the easy part. You see, traveling between dimensions is like driving one of those motorized jet skis-”
“More California references?”
“Why not?” Lara shrugged. “I’m from there. As I was saying…when you’re cruising along on a jet ski, you generate a wake. If another jet ski rider crosses that wake-”
“He’d fall off…right?”
Lara nodded. “Right. And if two jet skis collide…both riders fall off, and can be seriously hurt.
“But here’s the tricky part,” Lara continued as she leaned forward to use two fingers as a visual aid on the table. “Once the jet skis collide, the plastic shells crack…they take on water. They have to be repaired before they can run properly again.”
“So basically…you need to have your jet ski repaired.”
“Exactly.” Lara leaned back and folded her arms, as her smile slowly disappeared. “Only beyond the metaphor I just made up…I have no idea how to fix my problem. Unless-”
Lara stood and began pacing the room slowly. “What I’m about to tell you is going to sound like kind of a shock. Are you sure you’re ready?”
Jason leaned back and nodded.
“Before you started writing me as a fictional character, I existed as a spirit somewhere. We sort of…found each other. The same is true of most relationships between writers and complex characters of theirs. It’s like finding a kindred soul out in the void and adopting it.
“What that means,” Lara continued as she leaned against the table, “is that when you write about me, either you write what you sense is happening to me…or it happens to me as you write it.”
“But what if I sense it, and it doesn’t happen until I write it?” Jason smiled and leaned forward, as he began to get into the spirit of the dizzying conversation. “That makes more sense, the way the ideas come to me. I see it happen first, then I write it.”
Lara nodded. “That would mean that to characters like me, writers are virtually prophets…and your visions are directly from a God.”
“So all I have to do is write you a path back home.” Jason smiled as he stood to clean up the plates left on the table. “That sounds easy enough.”
“Almost easy enough.” Lara tapped a finger against her nose as she stared out the window, lost in thought. “But…remember the colliding jet skis? Someone else is stranded, too – the blue-skinned guy. I can’t go home until he’s saved as well. We have to find his writer too…a nearly impossible task.”
Jason smiled knowingly at the mention of the “blue-skinned guy” again. “Oh…I don’t think it’s so impossible.”
“Kian…that name sounds so familiar.”
Lara sat on the couch in Jason’s living room, leaned back to get a better view of the screen on his laptop computer, which was on the coffee table. “How do you know his name?”
Jason smiled. “After what you said about writers and fictional characters, it makes sense. Kian Roh is the only blue-skinned fictional character I can think of. My friend Dayna Abel is the one who writes his stories.”
“Oh, yeah…7 Stars, I remember that. It’s good.”
“Yeah, it is. But the new book is called Immortal.” Jason turned his attention back to the computer as the MSN Messenger software, slow as ever, came to life. “Bill Gates had better not mess with me today, or-”
Jason shrugged. “I’m glad you asked. Maybe, while you’re stuck here, you can visit his home and fry all of his electronics.”
“Nah, it’s not worth it…he’d just take it out on the public. It’s a vicious cycle.”
“I never thought of it that way.” Jason nearly jumped out of his seat when the telltale chat window chirp echoed loudly from the laptop speakers. His hunch paid off – Dayna was not only online, she had been waiting impatiently for him to show up. ‘Where have you been?’ the first line read. ‘I REALLY need to talk to you about something.’
‘Let me guess,’ Jason typed quickly, ‘Kian is over there?’
There was a short pause. ‘Okay, what have I told you about these brain leaks?’ was the reply.
Jason leaned back a little from the shock, his eyes widening noticeably as he paused to stare at that last line. Kian Roh…was real? He glanced over at Lara for a moment, remembering who he was just about to ask. Then again, Lara looked almost like a normal human – a blue-skinned young man, undeniably from another planet, was another matter.
Jason responded to Dayna’s last message quickly. ‘Guess who is visiting me?’
‘Are you and Kevin hosting a Supergirl convention at your house?’
‘Funny…but no,’ Jason responded, ‘Lara is visiting. And apparently, she ran into Kian on the way here.’
‘Oh, God,’ Dayna answered, ‘They’re going to lock us both up, aren’t they?’
‘Maybe…but wouldn’t they have to lock up Lara and Kian first?’ Jason smiled as he typed in that last line, and turned to look at Lara – but she just glared at him.
“I’d like to get home before you two are hauled away to the loony bin, if you don’t mind.” An amused smile from Lara made it clear that she was just joking.
‘Then she must have been the white light Kian said he ran into,’ Dayna typed. ‘I think the four of us need to get together here. Think you can handle a face-to-face meeting?’
Jason smiled. Another opportunity to abuse a movie quote from “Ghostbusters” made itself apparent. Lara, seeing the next phrase coming, rolled her eyes before he even finished typing it. ‘I think that would be extraordinarily dangerous.’
“Oh, that’s just great.” Lara sighed loudly and sat down on the bench behind Jason’s house. “You know Dayna’s address…but you have no idea where that is?”
Jason shrugged. “I’ve never been there. And the one time I went anywhere in Illinois, I spent the entire time completely lost. I do have an idea, however – I’ll think of someplace I do know, and you could teleport us there. Then we could get a cab to go the rest of the way.”
“I can do that?” Lara looked a little confused.
“Sure.” Jason smiled. “I thought of it in a dream. And since I first discovered you in a dream…”
“…you figured this would work too.” Lara stood quickly and held her left hand out to Jason. “All right, it’s worth a try. Worst that can happen is you’ll be burned to a crisp.”
“That’s not funny,” Jason said as the two suddenly disappeared from his backyard. He felt a heat run through his body…and in just a split second, his backyard had been replaced by manicured greenery in some kind of public park. And a thirty-foot arch made of marble.
“This isn’t Illinois, Jason. We’re in London!” Lara frowned as she pointed at traffic sailing down the left side of the road nearby. “How the heck did that happen?”
Jason shrugged. “Sorry, my mind was wandering. Let’s try it again.”
Lara nodded as she took Jason’s hand again. This time, they appeared in the parking lot of a Holiday Inn somewhere outside Chicago. Lara frowned as she stared at the tall glass building. “Why here?”
“I know someone who works here,” Jason answered, “He should be able to get us a cab.”
“Okay. And just so you know…”
“Know what?” Jason turned around quickly, worried that Lara was about to give him more bad news.
Lara motioned for Jason to keep walking. “This is the last time I ask you for help with navigation. You have less sense of direction then I do.”
Jason limped out of the taxicab as soon as it came to a stop outside a small yellow one-story house. He and Lara had just finished a long – and expensive – ride from the Holiday Inn. He pulled a small, crumpled piece of paper out of his pocket to check it again. “I hope this is the right house.”
“Yeah, well…” Lara said as she turned to watch the cab drive away quickly, “It better be. We just lost our ride.”
“I hope this isn’t a dangerous neighborhood.” Jason looked up and down the street quickly. “That cab left kind of quickly.”
“I wouldn’t worry about that.” Lara stiffened to stand taller, holding her arms out at her sides, taking a deep breath to give her next words more depth. “Ah pity the fool who messes with the ‘L’!”
Jason laughed out loud at Lara’s impression of Mr. T. “Sorry, Lara. It just doesn’t work for you.”
Both Jason and Lara jumped back as the front door of the house suddenly opened. A brunette of average height stood in the doorway as she looked at Lara’s costume carefully, then at Jason.
“What took you two so long?” She walked outside, followed by a blue-skinned young man several inches taller than her, with blonde hair and violet eyes.
Jason and Lara looked at each other, silently sharing a thought – they knew the guy with the blue skin had to be Kian, and the brunette must be Dayna. “Sorry, Dayna,” Jason apologized. “The cab ride took longer than we thought.”
“You took a cab? From Chicago?” she asked incredulously. “Why didn’t you just take the train to Geneva? The station’s only about ten minutes from here.”
Lara and Jason looked at each other. “I didn’t know there was a train,” Jason admitted, embarrassed.
“Obviously,” Lara said deprecatingly.
Dayna tried without much success to stifle a chuckle. “Well, it’s nice to see you in person, finally,” she said. “And you must be Lara Night.”
Lara shook Dayna’s hand. “It’s a pleasure,” she said. She noticed Kian standing off to the side uncomfortably. “And you must be the guy I ran into earlier.”
“Sorry about that,” Kian mumbled.
“Don’t worry about it,” Lara forgave him. “I’m just glad you’re okay.”
“Why don’t we all have a seat out here?” Dayna suggested, indicating the wicker chairs on the porch. “I think we need to have a talk.”