Alan Scott stepped into the castle that served as Kent Nelson’s headquarters. He walked up steps towards Kent Nelson’s study, well aware that the Shazam Wizard already knew of his presence.
Stepping through the library into the Shazam Wizard’s study, he found Kent Nelson there, appearing to be absorbed in the maps he stood over.
“What can I do for you, Alan? I’m not due to meet with you for another hour.”
“Kent, I have known you for quite some time,” Alan stepped to the far side of the maps, facing Kent, “and, before now, I have had very little reason to doubt you. But you have made plans for my universe and my future without consulting me. Why?”
“I am not your mother, Alan,” Kent stepped back from the table. “What I do, I do for more reasons than you can imagine. I am the Shazam Wizard for a series of sectors in space: the AV and IV sectors among them.”
“Kent,” Alan called his bluff, “if you are trying to impress me, it is not working.”
“All right,” Kent smiled. Standing straight and gesturing wide, with his hands spread open and apart he countered, “How about this…I truly want what is best for my champions, including you. Not best in the sense of easy life, but best in the sense of applying the right champions to the right challenges.”
“I can almost believe that.” Alan prompted: his tone still distrustful. “But why am I being targeted for work outside of my own universe?”
“Lyla is the champion AV needs at the moment,” Kent explained thoughtfully, “the next stages of the war against the Kayzik within this universe must be carried out by the Shantar, far from here. They will come to her for battle strategy. In the meantime, Earth needs to keep a low profile...our world isn’t the site of the next battle…or, shouldn’t be. Any attention we receive from the Kayzik at this point cannot be good…Of course, Linda can feel free do her bit with the Green Lantern Corps, because that work usually isn’t on Earth.”
“And why didn’t you tell me that?” Alan inquired. “You should have trusted me…instead you have planned AV Earth’s future and contingencies without my involvement.”
“You already know the answer,” Kent chided. Leaning back slightly, gazing directly as his old friend, he continued, “Faith had to make the case to you, well constructed, without gaps. You expected for her to have done her homework before she approached you. She knew that; she would have expected the same from you. If you had heard any part of her proposal from anyone else, you might have made a different decision.”
Standing back, Alan shifted his shoulders restlessly as he considered Kent’s words.
“So was this was a test for her?” Alan prompted, “or for me?”
“A little of both,” Kent conceded, “I did not know how you would respond…we’re both of the same generation, Alan. I don’t know how I would respond if a much-younger woman were to offer me employment…I know I wouldn’t go to work with almost any variant of Glorith, but there is an integrity issue there. ”
“And Faith,” Alan countered, “is a variant of Jennie-Lynn Hayden, daughter of my counterparts in many universes.”
His arms crossed, Alan restlessly paced the floor before continuing.
“We met the Earth-2 version during the Continuum Wars. I know that in their powered forms, Jennie-Lynn and Faith appear identical; but when unpowered, of course, Faith’s eyes remain green and her hair is pitch-black. But then, Linda is an even more different variant: although she shares Jennie-Lynn’s coloring and brown hair and brown eyes, her facial features reflect the Kyle family, not the Canton family.”
“Still,” Kent explained, his eyes following his friend’s movements, “despite the difference in their appearances, Linda is far closer to being Jade than Faith is.”
Abruptly, Alan’s pacing stopped.
“How so?” He queried.
“Linda and Jennie-Lynn are warm young women entrusted with great gifts of power,” Kent answered, “I do not mean to denigrate either. They both have done very well with that power. But the young Princess’s personality and intelligence is so atypical for who she is supposed to be…even before she ever had a title, she was already the Lady Veridian…Iris Grayson tagged her with the title first, and it stuck.”
“I won’t argue the point,” Alan stated, “but you are dancing around the truth…I need to hear it.”
“All right,” Kent explained, “nothing is as it seems to be…not between these two universes. Something very old, very ancient, and very deadly is coming into play here. And whatever it is, involves beings so far beyond our ken that we can’t even guess what their goals or effects upon us will be. But IV is the front line, not Alterverse.”
“And why me?” Alan questioned. “I am the leader in Alterverse, and now I am leaving behind the Lair and all who dwell there.”
“Because, Alan, this is all about you.” Kent sighed, straightening up and walking around the table towards Alan. “Whatever is going on has ties to the three of you…I have had some sense of it for some time, but, once I saw the sword, I knew we had entered dangerous territory.”
“Three of us?” Alan questioned, “sword?”
“The three generations…” Kent mused, “or at least that is how it worked out this time.”
“Linda, Faith, and I?” Alan suggested. “No...not Linda…Lannie.”
“Yes…” Kent agreed, “first-born daughter of power. Linda’s soul, I believe, is a new soul…a splinter of J’Dik Alar…who remains with the essence of Gaea elsewhere.” He gazed intently at Alan, “…but the three of you are ancient souls…you have some connection to the Prometheus of Alterverse and Mary to Athena. But your connections to Lannie and Faith are much older. You know them both too well, Alan…you know what they will do before they do it.”
“They are both biologically my children,” Alan explained, “blood is thicker than water.”
“But you raised neither of them,” Kent countered, “and Faith’s personality is a bit unusual…charming but unusual.”
“It would have to be,” Alan agreed, “to stand up to the responsibilities placed upon it. And don’t forget, Lannie has done extremely well, too. She wields quite a bit of power. I was surprised just how much influence she has over the Alliance.”
“I’m not,” Kent rebutted. “She is Faith’s closest friend and has been since almost the first moment she arose as the Seeker…Lannie is very much responsible for Faith’s sanity.”
Alan chuckled, conceding the point with a nod.
“I know she is the one who put the limits on the Princess’s duty hours. Burnout is always a danger in that kind of position. Faith DOES listen to her.”
“There are other pieces to this puzzle,” Kent remarked, “Donna Canton for one…the IV Troia. She and Faith have known each other before, but I don’t know what that tie was. And then there is one more clue that intrigues me.”
“Intrigues you?” Alan prompted, “let me guess…the Pendragon Sword.”
“Very much,” Kent agreed, “I want to know its history…and how it came into her hands. I’d like to know how anything on Earth could break that metal as well…shouldn’t have been broken…not even in battle.”
“Merlin put it into her hands,” Alan recalled, “and it reassembled at her touch, when she needed it most, in Neron’s domain.”
“Merlin may even believe that,” Kent chuckled, shaking his head, “it’s just not true…it couldn’t have been Uther Pendragon’s sword…or, if it was, it was planted on Earth a very long time ago.”
“Planted?” Alan questioned, stepping back once more.
“Do you know why that damned sword is so dangerous to a Kryptonian?” Kent hinted, leaning forth with a questioning gesture.
“Beyond the fact that it is a mystic artifact?” Alan suggested, “no, but I am sure you will tell me.”
“It’s made of a forged Kiranium ore alloy.” Kent snorted.
“Which is…” Alan asked impatiently, tapping his feet.
“Mined and forged exclusively on Krypton,” Kent explained. “It is an extremely dense alloy with some interesting anti-gravity properties.”
“Then someone went to a lot of trouble to put that sword in her hands,” Alan concluded, “we have allies in whatever battle we are facing.”
“I hope so,” Kent suggested, “but I do not know what battle we are fighting or what constitutes success.”
“Opening our transit route to IV,” Alan considered, “might be a good start. I have a Warlord to train.”
“Yes,” Kent smiled, “yes, you do. And I couldn’t think of a better man for the job.”
Helena Wayne, the reigning Batgirl of the Inheritors’ Universe, pulled back a chair, preparing to sit at her place at the makeshift Batcave breakfast table, nodding thanks as Alfred placed a plate of bacon and scrambled eggs in front of her.
“We almost caught Thomas last night.” She yawned, still waking up. She had worked almost until sunrise on their latest trap. It had sprung, not trapping him, but still closing down one of his operations.
“Miserable night…” She added to her companion, Karen Kent, Power Girl, as she took a bite of bacon. “I bet it is still raining.”
“Yes, it is.” Karen Kent agreed, sipping her coffee while scanning the city through the walls of the Batcave with her super-vision. “And I am on my way to Latveria…Hippolyta has asked me to join her as she leads the Amazon contingent to Doomstadt to meet with Dr. Doom.” She grimaced, “I will be the first to admit that I am no fan of Doom. But Hippolyta and Ramia are correct; once Mongul is removed from Earth, we need to have a structure in place to govern Earth. Either we do, or another tyrant will rise to take his place.”
“I’m sure Lex Luthor would volunteer,” Helena commented as she dove into Alfred’s expertly cooked eggs..
“Indeed,” Karen agreed, “he is already positioning himself. He doesn’t have enough sway to rule the world, but the Free Zone is too close to his territory.”
“And Gotham is in it…” Helena shook her head as she sipped her coffee. “…as much as I would wish otherwise. Sometimes I think it’s time to ditch Batgirl and bring back the Raven.”
“The Bat belongs in Gotham,” Karen stated plainly, “and Thomas isn’t it.”
“And Superman belongs in Metropolis,” Helena countered, “but that won’t happen for a while…if Sam ever comes back.”
“I was manipulated,” Karen rebuked. “I was not to blame for breaking up Sam and Faith.” Her eyes dropped for a moment to the mug of cooling coffee. Lifting her head, her strong gaze contrasted with her words of regret, “Worse, I could not be there for Sam when he needed me the most, because the manipulation was too recent.”
“I…I am sorry,” Helena apologized, “I did not mean that.”
“I know,” Karen agreed sadly, “but I miss Sam and, even more, I miss Scooter.” She swirled the contents of her mug for a moment, then continued, “Perhaps…perhaps I should go see Scooter.”
“Then go,” Helena prodded, “Earth-2 is just on the other side of the sun, you can make there easily enough.”
“You are wise when you choose to be,” Karen smiled wistfully, “and, fortunately for us, you usually do choose to be. Perhaps once I return from Doomstadt.”
“I’m looking forward to THAT story.” Helena smiled. “You’re an excellent observer of humanity when you choose to be and, fortunately for us, you usually do choose to be.”
“Touché!” Karen retorted as she pulled her cape onto her costume. Once near Doomstadt, she would revert to more typical Amazon gear…but she had to get there first. “Keep the light on for me!”
And Power Girl was gone.
“I will…” Helena knew that with only Amazon power, Karen should not have been able to hear her, but that with the power of Kara Zor-L, she did…
“We have about three minutes before they’ll admit us to the castle.” Cassie walked back towards her grandmother’s entourage. The entourage, twenty Amazons strong, all dressed in Amazon formal attire, wore golden armor and swords over their robes; the attire served two purposes: first to identify them and second to keep the Amazons warm in the Eastern European mountain winter. Karen had removed her Power Girl vestments in favor of more typical Amazon gear, including bracelets. The delegation had been kept small for many reasons…they did not want to raise the anxiety level of the city population, nor to provoke Dr. Doom’s defenses.
Still, they were a warrior people and followed strict protocols. Donna Troy Canton and Cassie Trevor would stand immediately behind the Queen during the discussions, leaving Karen, Thea, and the rest to attract less attention with their observations.
Hippolyta expected a great deal of attention to be focused on the sword that Donna now carried: Excalibur. Donna’s acquisition had not been kept a secret…which meant that she would receive the lion’s share of the attention from the populace during this visit. Karen would be considered just another member of the troop, especially in this guise, without Power Girl’s unique costume.
But Karen was atypical in more than just her powers. She had been a very active observer of mankind for many generations. And Hippolyta expected to learn much from her observations.
The small party approached the castle, on the lookout for the heroes of yesteryear rumored to be in residence. Hippolyta hoped especially to meet her friend Steve Rogers, the original Captain America of this world. They had fought together in World War II, but had not seen each other since the beginning of the meta war begun by Lex Luthor. If alive, she knew that the original Captain America would have aged somewhat and would now appear decades older than the Steve Rogers who served as the Inheritors’ reigning Green Lantern of Earth…even if the super-soldier formula had slowed his aging.
As they walked through the gates of the Castle Doom, the Amazon contingent observed the peasants in the market stalls around them. Never having lived in a democracy, the peasants knew nothing other than the heavy hand of Dr. Doom…the Amazons observed Doom’s security forces as they brutally removed an unsuspecting peasant from the market. Donna’s hand instinctively went for her sword…a warning glance from Hippolyta reminded her that this was not the Free Zone…it was Doom’s territory.
They marched in two columns behind the queen, stepping through the outer castle and in to the throne room, rebuffing the attempts of Doom’s underlings to remove their armor and swords.
The Amazon troop approached Dr. Doom in his throne room. If anything, Hippolyta considered it austere, with little attention paid to the intricacies of aesthetic architecture. Instead, it was dark, foreboding. While torches lined the walls, the only electric light shone in the area surrounding the throne, high above the audience hall.
As they entered, Doom’s underlings lined their path, coming far too close to the Amazons. Had this been any other place, Hippolyta would have considered pressing them back with her sword, but not here. Finally, they reached the foot of the throne. Hippolyta stepped forward, facing Dr. and Mrs. Doom. Susan Storm von Doom betrayed little reaction as Dr. Doom reacted to his guests.
“Doom grows bored…what do the Amazons of Themyscira have to say to entertain him?”
Kent floated with Lannie at the Rock’s portal to the Inheritors’ Earth. Alan, Mary Marvel, and Kara Gand floated nearby.
To the discerning eye, nothing seemed unusual about the area of space they all occupied…but that was just one more reason why it truly was unusual. Kent fired what appeared to be an energy pulse through the region they faced. It flared, traveled for fifty yards and vanished.
“It should not have done that…it should have immediately vanished.” Kent commented to Lannie. “That’s how I can tell there is a problem. Something is blocking the energy flows into your universe.”
“My universe…” Those words brought a smile to Lannie’s lips. “My home.” She vanished unexpectedly, startling Kent. Just as unexpectedly, she reappeared with a small golden object suspended above her hands. It resembled a golden disk, simply floating in space in front of them. “This was on the other side, Kent. It just fell into my hands.”
Kent’s eyes widened as he examined the object.
“The Inheritors’ Shazam Wizard created this spell.” He reported, scowling, his fingers tapping his chin. “Ingenious…it’s the same principle as jamming a door lock with pennies, to make sure that it can’t be opened…usually a harmless college prank.”
“But not this time,” Alan prompted, as he, Kara, and Mary floated closer.
“No…” Kent sent another energy blast into the portal. This time, it vanished. “That confirms it…the Portal is open. But we still don’t know why he closed it…robbing his champions of power.”
“But that power,” Mary emphasized, “should be returning to them now.”
“It should…I hope.” Kent scowled. “Will Batson never has learned what caused the Shazam Wizard to shut that connection off…the Wizard never told them.”
“Alan?” Mary gestured towards the portal. “Not that I don’t trust Kent, but…”
“Oh, right.” Alan placed an environmental shield around Mary. They flew together through the Portal, Alan slowly withdrawing life-support at Mary’s direction. As he withdrew the last his power, she remained Mary Marvel, even within the Inheritors’ universe.
“I’ve still got the power, Kent.” Mary informed. “That means the IV Marvel family should be powering up, doesn’t it?”
“I don’t know.” Kent replied. “YOU derive your power from this Rock of Eternity, which should reach you in any of the universes that intersect our Rock. But I don’t know what has happened to the IV Rock. Even as Dr. Fate, Will could not locate it…but then, part of the problem may have been that it could not communicate with our Rock.”
“I have an idea…” Lannie suggested sheepishly to Mary, “why don’t you, Kara, and I visit Mary and Freddie Freeman. That should be a hoot!”
“Sounds good to me!” Kara agreed.
“That is not a bad idea.” Kent rubbed his chin. “Just make sure…”
“…that Will knows what we’re up to.” Lannie, replied coolly, rolling her eyes. “Yes, Uncle Kent…we can think for ourselves…”
“Sorry, Kent,” Alan shrugged with a grin, “this time, you’re on your own.”
“Ugh.” Kent chuckled as Lannie flew back towards the Rock to retrieve Kara. “I’m not going to win this one, am I?”
“You really don’t want to.” Mary observed. “You enjoy the challenge too much.”
“Blame it on our family genetics…” Alan grinned. “Sorry, old man.”
“Old man?” Kent rolled his eyes. “I really can’t win. Probably just as well…while the ladies are off gallivanting around IV, I’ll need your help with this little golden spell…I need to look for clues. Then, I’ll demolish it once I’m done.”
“Miserable interview,” Hippolyta growled as they marched, leaving Doom’s customs agents far behind them. “I have never known him to react thusly…almost as if it isn’t him.”
“It isn’t.” Karen confirmed. “And we have problems.”
“What?” The march stopped as all eyes turned to Karen.
“Doom is a robot, Susan Von Doom is heavily drugged, and the Doom robot is being controlled by Doom’s daughter and, I would suspect, Cir-El.”
“Karen,” Hippolyta responded, “that is a bit much to swallow.”
“They weren’t intent on tight lead shielding in the castle…” Karen shrugged. “And I was watching the electric currents flowing in and out of Doom. I simply tracked where they went. I couldn’t see all that much else in the room originating the current, but it wasn’t well shielded…the lead shielding had been removed so that someone else could see out…and Cir-El and Ms. Doom were at the controls.”
“How do you know it was Cir-El?” Donna asked.
“Resembles Sam.” Karen replied. “Von Doom’s daughter wears the same armor Doctor Doom does…I couldn’t see any part of her face behind the mask’s lead shielding, but it is rumored to be scarred. And I could tell the two young women were a bit too pleased with themselves.”
“How so?” Donna asked.
Karen grinned wolfishly.
“It’s not often I’m called a doddering old fogey…”
“Next time out, you might want to drug your mother a little less.” Cir-El suggested to Victoria Von Doom. “She was a bit too noticeable to the Amazons. They were staring.”
“Your wisdom is exceeded only by your resourcefulness.” Victoria replied. “Doom shall consider it.”
“If our youth movement is to have any success,” Cir-El hinted, “we must remain undetected.”
“Castle Doom’s people tracked the Amazons to the border.” Victoria emphasized. “In that entire time, there was no conversation about Doom’s mother, but still, they may have held back on that conversation until they were out of range of the Castle’s listening posts.”
“Exactly.” Cir-El agreed with her ally. “Interesting…I know that I’ve seen the two Princesses before, but I keep thinking that I’ve seen one of the other Amazons before as well…I just can’t place her. Odd.”
“Tell Doom, Cir-El,” Victoria probed, “how many more like you are there in Smallville?”
“Most of my fellow Kryptonian hybrids did not grow up in Smallville, like I did.” Cir-El easily misled the daughter of Dr. Doom. “But there are several dozen of us beyond the traitorous Superboy. We will be ready when it comes time to take our place in the world. Most of us have not had the ingenuity and opportunity that you have, to end your father’s life and to make it appear that he is still in control of Castle Doom and all its heroes.”
“Doom simply learned the lessons of her father,” Victoria replied.
“And,” Cir-El flattered expertly, “put them to excellent use!”
Lightning flashed and thunder railed as Lannie led Kara and Mary through the air towards a small suburban house built on the side of a wooded hill, at the end of a street. An extremely rainy morning, Lannie counted on the weather to limit the chance of observation by the neighbors.
Tacoma, Washington remained firmly in the hands of Lex Luthor’s allies, which meant that it was relatively free of bloodshed from the ongoing wars. But it also meant that Luthor’s spies swarmed the vicinity, tracking any threats to his rule.
Still, Freddy and Mary Freeman had made the best of a bad situation, providing their children with a secure home. At the same time, the former Captain Marvel Jr. and Mary Marvel had continued to serve the meta resistance, hiding the occasional meta when it was necessary. Mary had been Samuel Clark Kent’s school nurse, hiding his true nature during the time he made his home in Tacoma. It had been Sam’s recollection of her that had led Will Batson to find them once more after he had claimed the mantle of Dr. Fate.
Lannie was no stranger to the Freeman family. Close to the Alterverse Mary Marvel, Lannie had volunteered to make the occasional trip to check on the Freemans for Will Batson. He looked in on them when he could, but that was not nearly as often as he would have liked.
As they approached the Freeman home, Lannie landed softly on the porch, drawing in her wings…realizing immediately that the lights were out and the door had been forced open. She turned to her companions, holding a vertical finger to her lips, requesting silence.
Kara and Mary obliged, with Kara scanning the house in an instant.
“No one left inside.” Kara observed, breaking the silence. “But they haven’t been gone long.”
“Ms. Kyle…is that you?” A voice spoke from the woods…a voice Lannie recognized immediately.
“Billy?” Lannie shifted from her powered form. “Yes, it’s me: Lannie Kyle.” She began walking towards his voice. “What happened?”
“Government men came…” The boy rushed to Lannie, “took Mom, Dad, everyone, away. Dad chased me out the back…told me not to come out until someone I recognized showed up. I’ve been good! I waited like he said…”
“You sure did.” Lannie assured warmly, reaching out for Billy. “You did the right thing and we’ll take it from here.”
“We?” Billy inquired before a flash of lightning illuminated Lannie’s companions. The lightning played over Superwoman’s features gently, leaving no doubt as to whose relative she had to be.
But the full brilliance of the lightning seemed to center on the Alterverse Mary Marvel, her appearance supernaturally fierce under the crackling lighting and thunder…almost a welcoming embrace.
“You…” Billy spotted Mary. “I thought my Mom was once you.”
“I’m her counterpart from another universe,” Mary assured, “I’ve been wanting to meet your mother…to get to the bottom of what happened to the Marvel Family here. But it seems we have a more pressing priority now.”
Lannie shifted back into her powered form…the angel floated in the air once more, her wings batting the air softly as she stared at Billy, seeing…
“I’ve got them…all the threads are still there, and pretty close together.”
“I’m sure we can get them out easily enough.” Kara related. “If Lannie can spot them, I can extract them.”
“I’ll be happy to provide the diversion.” Mary growled, with a predatory grin, the thunder as explosive as her mood. “If it’s Mary Marvel the authorities want: it’s Mary Marvel they’re going to get.”
“That woman was supposed to be Mary Marvel?” The guard captain watched over monitors as a drenched middle-aged woman, her husband, and three of their four children were dragged into the facility and isolated in separate cells.
“Apparently,” her lieutenant responded, “that’s the rumor, anyway…one of their neighbors said they spotted some strange things happening at their house. And their names came up on one of President Luthor’s hit lists, along with their faces…apparently he got this from the Batman’s files.” He displayed images of Freddie Freeman and Mary Bromfield of days gone by, comparing them to the people who had been hauled into the facility.
“They don’t look too much like the Marvel family,” the captain noted, “I guess they didn’t in their non-powered forms. And Fred Freeman is not that unusual a name…they were able to hide in plain sight for quite some time. Too bad we couldn’t catch her brother…we would have had the complete set to present to President Luthor.”
“Umm, Captain, we have a problem…” The lieutenant reported, pointing to a monitor. The Captain stared into the monitor, seeing a face out of the history books…a face that was supposed to be in one of her cells…a face now that appeared before the gates of the facility, with violent strikes of lightning illuminating her. She slowly floated into the air, arms crossed, inviting an attack.
“Stop her…” The captain sputtered as she tripped the alarms, “I don’t care what weapons you have to use, stop her…and remember: that isn’t the real Mary Marvel…we have Mary Marvel…”
“Fire!” The lieutenant commanded his men. “That isn’t Mary Marvel…it can’t be!”
Automatic weapons fire burst towards the woman. She floated in the air above her attackers, before diving towards them, causing them to scatter. As she landed, she picked an automatic rifle off the ground and tore it to scrap, smiling fiercely at the camera.
And then she was gone…
And then, the guard captain realized to her horror that the cells holding the Freeman family were empty.
She knew instantly that her career, if not her life, had ended.
Will and Linda Batson entertained an unlikely gathering: the Freemans and their brood, Kara Gand, Lannie Kyle, and Mary Batson Garrick of Alterverse. Ariella Batson was thrilled at the opportunity to spend time with her cousins in her own home…not having to hide who she was from the Freeman family’s neighbors.
“Very odd.” Will shook his head.
“Still, that’s what we now know.” Linda emphasized. “The Shazam Wizard did something that blocks the three of you from your powers. It doesn’t block her,” she gestured towards Mary Batson Garrick, “in any way, and it doesn’t block you from using the Shazam powers outside of this universe…but you can’t use them here. I can see it, but I can’t figure out how to undo it.”
“I was shut off from my powers for more than sixty years,” Mary Garrick related, “I can’t tell you how good it felt when they came back.”
“You’re…you’re,” Mary Freeman sputtered.
“I’m more than 80 years old.” Mary Garrick admitted. “I am the sole remaining member of the Marvel family in my universe. Billy and Freddy didn’t make it out of their teens. And I was a very old woman when my powers came back to me. Believe me, there is not a plastic surgeon alive that can compete with the power of my restored youth.” She grinned mischievously. “When you’re ready,” she assured Mary and Freddy, “we’ll take you out of here long enough to feel the lightning again.”
“Umm,” Mary Freeman replied, “thank you, I guess. I had always imagined growing old with Freddy, though…”
“As many times as you would like…” Mary Garrick gazed warmly. “As many times as you would like…”
Will Batson watched the interplay with a smile. He knew that the Freeman family could not return home…another place would have to be found for them…one where his nephews and nieces would be safer. And that thought, at least, pleased him.
But, he understood the other implications of the re-opened portal to the Rock of Eternity. It provided an alternate communications and transit path back to their Alterverse allies. It also provided him access to Kent Nelson’s extensive libraries.
He knew there was a dark side…unknown enemies might be able to find their way through the reopened portal…perhaps the same enemies that had incited the Shazam Wizard to close it. Still, it was Will’s goal to reclaim or rebuild the Rock of Eternity that belonged within the Inheritors’ Universe.
But now he knew he could not do it alone…whatever the challenges that would have to be faced were beyond even his capabilities, perhaps even beyond Kent’s. He could not help but to feel the gathering storm…dark lightning…a bone-chilling cold passed through him.
Faith sat perched upon the concrete wall of her balcony, her back against the wall of the castle, the mid-day sun offering more than enough light for her reading. A generic book on interstellar war strategies, it explained the peculiarities of fighting wars in true three-dimensional space, as opposed to fighting a ground battle or an aerial encounter. While she did not find it fascinating reading, it had been recommended as an elementary text for a strategist.
But the dry text quickly lost her attention; she knew she would have to request a tutor, someone who could present the substance of the material better than the author had. Of course, some of her disdain reflected her own experiences…while the book was written for the ground-bound, Faith spent a significant part of her life ignoring gravity.
She sighed, considering whether to walk to the coffee pot and refill her cup, then thought better of it. Her addiction to caffeine was solely in her mind, she knew that, but it helped ground her humanity, and she felt little guilt.
Deciding, instead, to brew tea, she walked towards the small kitchen area in her private quarters, taking out a tea bag and placing it in a mug. She poured water into the mug and heated it with a thought, allowing it to steep.
Her inner quarters: Faith’s retreat, a small living room, kitchen, two bedrooms, and separate facilities. The living room and the bedrooms opened onto small, separate balconies, while the kitchen was at the back. No one would enter her quarters while she was within…at least not without knocking…no one human at least.
“Good Day to you.” Faith greeted pointedly. She knew that what she sensed, the castle security systems most likely would not, and, most likely, her senses picked up the visitor because they were intended to. “Tea?”
“I am afraid this means of communications does not lend itself to such hospitality,” the energy duplicate of Ganthet, one of the Guardians of the Universe, appeared, floating in the air in front of her. “It does, however, offer unique advantages.”
“Certainly,” Faith acknowledged, vaporizing her tea bag and taking her first sip of tea. “I assume you are here about my latest transmission.”
“Your resignation from the Green Lantern Corps Reserves,” Ganthet acknowledged, “we had not requested it.”
“True,” Faith offered, “but my current occupation may be somewhat incompatible with the stated mission of the Corps, not to mention the treaty with Darkseid. And I am only a member of the Reserves, as is Kara Gand. This simply allows the Corps to save face, if there is ever a question.”
“It is not as if we could repossess your power ring,” Ganthet proffered, “and you have always had the choice of whether to participate with the Corps.”
“I have?” Faith pondered, “some times I admit that I do wonder.”
“I wonder if my life has been scripted for me, sometimes,” she mused, “by Ramia, by the Parallax Starheart, by you…”
“By me?” Ganthet suggested. “We have called on you often, I admit…”
“Korugar…” Faith recalled, “you knew what I was…you planned for me to assassinate Sinestro from the day you were forced to sign the treaty with Darkseid. You simply waited until my powers manifested and presented me with an untenable choice.”
“We had no other option at the time.” Ganthet rebutted, “we have acknowledged that…but in truth, we did not know all of what you were.”
“But you knew before you assigned me to rescue Ramia and Doiby.”
“I??” Ganthet challenged.
“Kara Gand was actually closer to the craft, despite Tomar Tu’s statement otherwise.” Faith informed without malice. “And she was a full-fledged member of the Corps…as a Daxamite, yellow radiation would not have phased her one bit.” She stepped away from the image of the Guardian, “…still, I have to wonder, just how many others have maneuvered me as well…Merlin…and more.”
“Miss Scott,” Ganthet emphasized, “you have been granted great power, and with that power comes great responsibility. And a desire on the part of your elders to ensure that power is used wisely and most effectively.”
“That I understand,” Faith agreed, turning back towards the image, “I am Green Lantern, born of Green Lantern, and I have done my best to be responsible for the use of that power.”
“You know that is not what I meant,” the guardian chided, “even we did not foresee your resolution of the conflict with the Cirelian bandits…nor how you would parlay that victory. That was…unexpected.”
“I’m afraid that I did little more than allow the experts to do their jobs,” Faith proffered, “which, I must admit, they did very well.”
“What you did, Miss Scott,” the Guardian countered, “was to choose and charter the right experts to do the right jobs and to clear the obstacles in their way. And you knew when to limit your own contribution as a superhero. Whether or not you choose to debate your effectiveness as a military leader, even you must admit the Emerald Fire that rages within you pales in comparison with your true power: the power you possess as leader of the Alliance armed forces.” He waited for her nodded acknowledgement. “But now, you dare to challenge a god and his highly trained troops.”
“One who has taken me off the board before,” Faith admitted, “I dare not underestimate his capabilities. Still, the die has been cast and the battle has been joined. We must defend ourselves or Darkseid will destroy us. It is that simple.”
“Indeed, it is.” Ganthet agreed. “And the Corps cannot aid you in your battles; it may only assist to preserve worlds under attack…those are the limits the treaty places upon us. And, while some of us argue that Darkseid has materially breached the treaty that binds us, we are not unanimous. But then neither are we unanimous in our view of how to treat your resignation.”
“My first loyalty must be to the lives I protect,” Faith acknowledged, sipping her tea again, “I am the Champion of Life, and that is not limited to life on Earth and Myrg.”
“And that is,” Ganthet added, “in my belief, the core of the Guardians’ true responsibility. Unfortunately, others of my kind have differing beliefs. They have their areas of authority as I have mine.”
“Ah…” Faith replied with a wry smile. “One of yours must be educating young women, who have the bad habit of biting off more than they can easily chew.”
“There is that,” Ganthet acknowledged, “but if the task were simple, it would not be yours.” He watched her smile widen. “You are Green Lantern born…most unusual…but you have earned the respect of the Corps and those you have aided over the last several years. Any attempt to disavow our ties to you would only demoralize your friends in the Corps and encourage our mutual adversaries.”
“I had considered their feelings,” Faith admitted, “but I was concerned about the Corps and your obligations under the treaty.”
“None of which apply to you while you do not act under our formal charter,” the Guardian replied, “I have researched the point…the only exception has…been terminated.”
“And I can assure you he is roasting very nicely in Hell,” Faith added with a slight smirk, “we recently had quite the visit.”
“Ah, yes, I would not doubt it.” A touch of merriment shone in Guardian’s eyes. “But back to the business at hand. Miss Scott, because I am your advisor, what to do with your resignation is, fortunately, solely my choice and not up for debate by either the Corps or my fellow Guardians. While I can accept your indefinite leave of absence, I choose not to accept your resignation. Good Day, Miss Scott…” He vanished with a polite nod.
Red streaks of light from the setting Myrg sun illuminated the sky before Alan landed with Cassie Trevor on the balcony of the Princess’ Great Room. The day had at least been a partial success; the pathway between the Rock of Eternity and the Inheritors’ Universe was at least open, even if the Marvel family had not recovered their powers. A pathway now existed between the Earths, one that the Kryptonians, both Donnas Troy, both Drs. Fate, the Alterverse Mary Marvel and Wonder Woman, and Steve Rogers, Linda Kyle, and he could use to transit. There might be a few others Kent could add to the list, including the Alterverse Star Sapphire and the Alterverse Mondra Lessis: Mon-L of Daxam.
As he landed, he realized that the ensemble that would provide the evening’s entertainment had arrived and was setting up for dinner. Cassie headed for her room, while he stopped to greet the ensemble briskly, but warmly, before proceeding to another corner of the room, where Lannie waited.
“Not everything we hoped for,” Alan admitted as he joined her, “we could have used the power of the IV Marvel family. Still, we accomplished a lot today.”
“Now,” Lannie suggested, “we need to introduce our friends to each other a bit more…and now that we have a direct Earth to Earth route, we need to figure out how to do some enticing.”
“Or,” Alan suggested, “we just let natural curiosity take over.”
“There is that…”
Duncan MacLeod walked down the cobblestone streets towards the apartment he shared with Donna Troy Canton. Donna had remained behind, working with Thea on one of her more difficult translations. His turn to cook, he had the evening’s groceries in hand and considered which bottle of wine would be best with his planned meal.
He sensed…something…watching him. Wary, he varied his route, walking away from the apartment. Carefully, he doubled back on his route, hoping to catch his pursuer.
He spotted nothing, but sensed yet another set of eyes pursuing him.
Debating whether to call Donna for backup, Duncan decided against it…no threat had been proven and he had no certainty there was one. Instead, he readied his sword, preparing to extract it at a moment’s notice.
And then he spotted a watcher on the street, across from the door to the apartment building. Dressed in clothing Duncan would have associated with a more rugged environment, a tall woman stood, leaning against the building across from his apartment. She wore the hat of an outdoorsman, which combined with her hair to hide her face.
Spotting him, she appeared to relax, and then stiffen, as she gazed beyond him.
And then she vanished.
“Aiming guns at passersby?” Duncan heard a voice so like Donna’s, yet obviously not. “Not a friendly thing to do…even my mother taught me better, and I grew up in the Outback.”
Duncan spotted the same woman again,, seeing only her back, the hat had fallen to her shoulders, her raven hair spilled free. The left hand held a very large man up against a building wall, a submachine gun at their feet. The other hand, she held a foot from the man’s throat. Intrigued, Duncan quickly marched towards the woman and her captive.
“Care to explain what this is all about?” The woman’s voice, too familiar, spoke once more with a noticeable Australian accent.
“Put me down!” The attacker challenged.
A single adamantium claw emerged from her right hand, nicking the right side of his neck as it extended past.
“That’s one.” She announced calmly. “Care to try for two?”
“Put me down while you can!” The attacker bluffed. “I’m not here alone!”
“Certainly you are!” A second adamantium claw emerged from her hand, nicking the left side of his neck as it extended past.
As Duncan stepped closer to the woman, her face came into full view…jarring him with unexpected familiarity, the voice adding to the deja vu.
“Shall we try for three?” The middle claw emerged from her hand, and extended to rest against the front of the attacker’s throat.
And then the attacker did the one thing neither Duncan nor his too-familiar rescuer expected, he fainted dead away.
“Friend of yours, Mr. MacLeod?” The antipodean image of Donna Troy asked as she withdrew her claws, allowing the man to slump to the ground. “Forget I said that…I doubt you or yours would be so easily frightened.” She released the man with distaste.
“And you are?” Duncan asked with natural curiosity, already suspecting the answer.
“Donna Troy, of course,” she smiled reaching out a hand in greeting. “Pleased to meet you. Your Oracle photograph does not do you justice.”
“Thank you…” Duncan bowed graciously, “and how is Alterverse?”
“Not nearly this crowded,” the Alterverse counterpart to the Inheritors’ Troia observed, scanning the street once more before her gaze returned to the Highlander. “Donna said you were cooking tonight. Shall we dispose of this one first?”
“Not a bad idea…”
“Only family tonight?” Alan asked Lannie as they walked back into the great room. The small ensemble prepared to begin the evening’s entertainment. A small buffet had been set up to one side of the ensemble; the round dining table stood between the ensemble and the balcony. As they walked towards the buffet table, Doiby, Ramia, and Faith entered from another door across the room. An animated discussion passed between the royal couple and their heir. Alan did not have to hear the rest to know that the two women shared a mutual disdain for one particular individual. He was quite glad he was not that individual.
“The Krellan Defense Minister and his entourage went home this morning,” Lannie attracted his attention, “so, this is just a family and friends evening…sans security details.”
As the royal party approached, Faith stepped away from the Empress and Doiby, walking towards the ensemble, greeting the musicians, and inviting them to begin their evening’s entertainment. A simple, but upbeat tune played for them as a maritime breeze blew through the room. Alan gazed at the table; reflecting Faith’s tastes, it was particularly solid, seating up to twenty without extensions. The chairs were built for comfort, each with arms and wheels. Indeed, the chairs could be adjusted and allowed for rocking…permitting the wary daughter of the mountain cat to burn off excess energy. More formal tables, chairs, and place settings were available for more formal occasions, but this meal was for friends and family, and comfort was the order of the day.
Cassie Trevor entered from the hallway, her hunger evident. Alan imagined she had just completed a quick, but grueling workout, stopping only for a shower. A friendly glance passed between Amazon Princess and Crown Princess, giving Cassie permission to aim for the buffet, with the rest of the gathering falling in behind her.
The conversations blended as they sat at the table, enjoying a friendly repast. Then a young military officer stepped into the room, signaling Lannie, who stepped away from the table, towards the young man, indicating that she would soon return. Alan turned to speak to the Empress, who had been seated beside him.
“I understand you will be touring the shipyards tomorrow,” Ramia informed Alan, “I have been told they are quite a sight.”
“Indeed,” Faith agreed from across the table, “the shipyards we will be touring tomorrow build Dreadnaught-class destroyers…the crown jewels of our fleet.”
“The Admiral seemed to think it was a good idea,” Alan smiled, sipping a glass of sweet wine.
“You have made quite an impression on him,” Ramia related, “I spoke to him this morning. His exact words were quote, ‘Mr. Scott gets it; I mean he really gets it,’ unquote. He doesn’t say that very often.”
“Dat’s quite a compliment,” Doiby concurred.
“He likes you better than me,” Cassie chuckled, “he ducks out of sight any time he sees me near a weapon.”
“Let’s not explain just why, tonight,” Lannie walked back towards them with a sly grin as the kitchen staff refreshed the buffet.
“Dat sounds like a good idea ‘ta me,” Doiby chuckled at Cassie, shaking his head as Lannie sat back down, casually resuming her meal. Alan watched Faith’s expression with great interest…the daughter of the mountain cat sensed something unusual in Lannie’s demeanor, but chose not to ask the obvious question. A quick, confirming glance passed between Alan and Faith.
“It is so interesting to watch the three of you,” Ramia remarked to Alan.
“The three of us?” Alan questioned with a smile.
“Certainly,” she suggested whimsically, “the three of you just had a conversation without saying a word…Lannie started it, Faith replied, and then you had the last word.”
“We are simply practicing for our next diplomatic encounter,” Faith teased wickedly.
“The Queen of Green has diplomatic encounters?” Cassie rebutted quickly.
“Sure,” Lannie teased, “any opponent who gets to walk away alive has, by definition, just had a diplomatic encounter.”
“And to think,” Faith rolled her eyes, “I actually begged Lannie to come to this universe…”
“Yes, yes, you did,” Lannie replied thoughtfully, standing. With a wise smile, she slowly stepped away from the table, stepping towards the back wall of the room, drawing everyone’s attention away from the balcony, “and I, too, have become a creature of the Huntress Wood… ‘but this is the Huntress Wood…”
“This is a place of magic…” Ramia heard a familiar man’s voice behind her and realized that something…big…had blocked the rays of the sun. “…This is where tragedy turns to triumph…” the deep male voice boomed, as Faith turned to see a very familiar face floating in the air, his gigantic size blocking the view of the horizon, two women floating beside him.
“Sam?” Faith whispered, before moving.
“…And this is where love grows.’” Sam finished as the emerald comet embraced him.
“Told ya she was fast,” Cassie drawled to Doiby, pointing to Sam Kent and the young woman firmly hugging his massive chest.
“The young lady with the suitcase is my cousin, Mary, aka Mary Marvel.” Alan began the introductions.
“Pleased to meet you.” Mary landed and bowed to the Empress and Doiby.
“Alan has spoken very highly of you. And of you, as well, Ms. Jor-El,” Ramia addressed the Alterverse Supergirl, “welcome, all!”
“You got big,” Doiby addressed the very tall Sam Kent…much closer to seven feet tall than six.
“Linda Kyle’s magic mushrooms.” Sam chuckled. “…not for the faint of heart…” He addressed Faith, still clinging to him, “you should try some.”
“Do I appear to be some kind of magic rabbit out of Alice in Wonderland?” Faith asked with pretended disdain.
“Frankly…” Sam retorted, “to my super-senses, yes!”
“Well, I never…” She replied with her nose in the air, ending her embrace and quickly transforming into a green rabbit, bounding away.
“I’ve missed that…” Sam chuckled so quietly that only Kira could hear.
Dinner and the evening’s entertainment long since over, the Royal couple and Cassie had made their exits. Sam and Faith chatted on the balcony of her quarters, while Lannie and Kira shared couches in one corner of the great room, and Alan and Mary sat at the great dining room table.
“Mary, this is just so big, I can’t even conceptualize it,” Alan expressed with frustration, “the Shantar Empire fleets are much larger, but they have been established for so long that I never gave any thought to their governance. This is an entirely different situation. The Alliance is trying to build cohesive fleets out of raw materials and organizations that don’t easily fit together. I’m surprised they’ve come this far.”
“I thought the Alliance fleet was particularly lethal,” Mary recalled, “and it’s done well against Darkseid.”
“It is,” Alan agreed, “and it has. And I’m not saying they haven’t made the right moves. But things get glitchy at times. The big problem is that we’re combining planetary fleets into a cohesive Alliance force…and that causes friction. Still, each time Darkseid terrorizes another world, it adds to the impetus to cooperate. Progress IS being made.”
“And tomorrow starts the grand tour of the ship yards?”
“Yes,” Alan agreed, “and following that, the fleet. We’ll probably leave around noon. Faith wants a heads-up on issues before we go.”
“I hope my coming along won’t cause a problem,” Mary prompted, “I’m an unknown to their security forces.”
“No…” Alan replied, “Lannie put your name in when we first started discussing the trip, just as soon as she realized we were going to blow open the route through the Rock of Eternity.”
“Young Miss Kyle seems to wield quite a bit of influence around here.” Mary chuckled. “I’ll have to keep that in mind.”
“Me, too!” Alan agreed. “So, how long will you be able to stay?”
“For the duration, I think.” Mary explained. “Now that I have a route to commute through, I’m better off here, where I don’t have to hide all the time. I’ve had enough of being overly subtle and our real battle is here. I’ll do the same as you…takes less time to travel from here to home than it did to get through New York at rush hour.”
“I remember that,” Alan chuckled, shaking his head. “Just wondering: has Kent told you any more than he has told me about why this universe is so important?”
“There are things he isn’t telling me, either.” Mary shrugged. “But he is certainly pointing resources here.”
“Kira?” Alan suggested.
“I don’t know.” Mary watched across the room. “She came because Sam and Donna both came. She still has the Birds of Prey in Alterverse, but she and Donna have both backed away from that team a bit.”
“Interesting…” Alan mused as he watched Kira and Lannie trying to bridge the universes now between them, Lannie twirling a glass of Katarian brandy in her hands.
“So, will you be staying?” Lannie prompted Kira.
“Probably not,” Kira answered, distracted, “maybe…I don’t know.”
“That doesn’t sound like the Supergirl I know…” Lannie nudged gently.
“It isn’t…” Kira admitted, “things are just not the same without you, Lannie.” She sighed softly, shaking her head. “I’m starting to feel old.”
“With a mother as youthful as yours?” Lannie prompted.
“I feel like the home-town girl watching all her friends go off to College,” Kira mused, “you, Sam, Donna…and even Hallie is rarely around any more.”
“Sam is staying, then?” Lannie asked, taking a sip from her glass.
“I think so.” Kira agreed. “I’ve seen it coming…Superboy has become young Superman. He has come to terms with his tragedy, for the most part. And now he wants to see his mother’s wish fulfilled…Mongul off of Earth and his allies out of the skies.”
“That is about to happen.” Lannie confirmed.
“I know.” Kira gazed around the room, and beyond. Lannie knew Kira’s X-Ray vision had engaged. There was no lead in this part of the castle to block her…no lead to endanger Karik Gand. “So this is how the other half lives…so many people on this world.”
“Plenty of room for you here, Kira,” Lannie suggested, “you could operate in the open here.”
“I don’t know…” Kira sighed. “My family is in Alterverse, even if my friends are all here.”
“Kira, tell me about Donna,” Lannie suggested, “why would she come here?”
“After you left,” Kira replied, “Donna became my closest friend. We’re not too far from the same age…she might be closer to Faith in age, but that’s not much of a gap. And while Donna can’t normally fly in outer space, she can do a pretty good job of keeping up with me.”
“I would imagine so…” Lannie chuckled, “and from what I recall, she has a killer sense of humor.”
“Yes…” Kira agreed. “Despite his grief, Sam liked her immediately. She spent quite a bit of time working with me to train him, but she’s always been a bit distant where he’s concerned. Of course, she’s an Aussie, so her habits are a bit different from the rest of the gang. Still, the two of us had a lot of fun together…chasing men, where we didn’t frighten them.”
“There’s a better selection, here.” Lannie mused, “a whole planet full of Daxamites, very few of whom are related to Kara Gand or, by extension, to you.”
“Or to Operation Red Herring,” Kira smiled.
“While Donna can be extremely funny, her wit can be more than a bit caustic at times…not that it ever bothered Sam: I think he enjoyed the challenge of sparring with her…and nobody ever came away really mad from those matches. So, I figured Donna saw Sam the same way I did…a younger brother I wish I’d had.”
“Sam is a pretty neat guy,” Lannie admitted.
“When Sam heard the portal was open,” Kira related, “he made the immediate decision to come home, knowing that he could now return to Alterverse under his own power if he wanted to. He needed to be able to approach Daxam in his own way, in his own time. I told him I would come along for moral support…although I’m not sure I’m doing any supporting. A quick fly-by of Daxam and he came here, instead.”
“I thought I knew Donna…” Kira replied. “I don’t know her at all,” she shook her head, “I told her that Sam was planning to head home…would be leaving within the next several hours and might not be coming back. ‘Well,’ she said without a bit of hesitation, ‘that’s it, then. Let’s hope their Oracle can stand another operative.’ And then she left to pack, said goodbye to her father, and sped off for your Earth through the Portal.”
“Our Donna Troy?” Lannie gasped with shock, “little Miss Independent did that? Isn’t he a bit young for her?”
“She is an immortal, Lannie.” Kira explained, “Age makes little difference in her eyes. The younger she finds them, the longer she can keep them,” she shrugged, “and Sam may live a very, very long time.”
“Still…Wow!” Lannie exclaimed, before an unbidden thought crossed her mind. “Kira, you know what’s really scary?”
“Nope…well, Linda on a really bad day, but…” Kira chuckled.
“When I first came to the Inheritors’ universe, I met Lois Lane Kent,” Lannie smiled wistfully, “and I came to know her. And I said to myself…she reminds me of someone…I thought of my cousin Lois Lane Luthor.”
“Alan’s wife was a Lane,” Kira recalled, “Lois Lane Luther and Anna Lane are related to you on that side.”
“Yes,” Lannie agreed, “but that wasn’t it…this Lois had a drier sense of humor…and then I realized…our Donna Troy…not the Inheritors’ version, ours.”
“So, you’re not surprised,” Kira realized, “I wish I had gotten to spend more time with Sam’s mother. My loss, it seems.”
“Everyone’s loss at this point.” Lannie agreed, looking down, before turning back to Kira. “Well, we’ll just have to keep quarters for you in both universes…it’s been done before!”
“I think,” Kira began to smile, “I think,” her smile widened to a grin, “I think I would like that.”
“Someone’s going to have to pick those adamantium claws out of Sam after their first fight.” Lannie chuckled. “Better you than me!”
“Donna went to find her counterpart this evening,” Kira recalled, her agitation fading, “In Paris, I think.”
“Drilling for information,” Lannie grinned, “scoping out the competition, getting the lay of the land. Nothing stops our girl when she sets her mind to something. I think the Kent farm is about to have a new Mistress.”
“She isn’t a great cook,” Kira mused, “good thing Sam has an indestructible stomach…”
“Isn’t it, though?” Lannie laughed honestly, making faces, as if attempting to eat a rubber tire. Kira attempted to keep her composure, failing badly. Then Lannie lifted up her glass. “To our girl, Donna Troy. You go, Girl!”
“She did WHOT?” An incredulous Faith Scott questioned Sam Kent. “You mean to tell me that after putting you off for an entire year, she simply pulled up stakes and headed for our Earth?”
“I wasn’t pushing the issue.” Sam protested, grinning, “and it was more both of us needing space than her putting me off.”
“Sam,” Faith countered, “this one sounds almost as bizarre as the last one…the emerald-skinned one…what was her name?”
“But don’t forget,” Sam retorted calmly, “we had help breaking up.”
“I know,” Faith agreed, “but it was overdue…unfortunately.” She sighed, “Sam, you have been away from home for an entire year, recovering from the loss of your parents. I am sorry, but the word ‘rebound’ keeps entering my mind.”
“Faith, our relationship had been over for some time before Red Herring. I had bounced off more than one wall before my mother’s stroke.” Sam emphasized, crossing his huge arms. “I do admit that for the first six months in Alterverse, I was on an emotional roller-coaster that would not quit. But even then, I was taking advantage of the situation…learning about Shantar tech. That was why I spent so much time off planet.”
“You always seemed to be there when I popped in,” Faith noted with surprise.
“If you were going to make the effort to cross universes to see me,” Sam assured her, “I was going to be there. You were extremely punctual and I wanted to be home when you came.”
“Sam,” Faith suggested, “you didn’t have to be there just because I was going to visit. You could have just left word, or…”
“No…” Sam smiled, “you have been too good a friend to me for far too long. Even when I most wanted to hate you, I just couldn’t.”
“I am grateful for that, but what…”
“Faith, you’ve been watching over me since I was ten years old,” Sam recalled warmly, “when my mother and I were on the run, you got us out of the hell-holes and into real homes, arranged chances for me to grow up in real communities…even got me a nifty Kryptonian to English translation text for my birthday…conned Ray Palmer into lifting it from Luthor’s museum.”
“How did you…” Faith asked with surprise, “how long have you…”
“It was all in our case file, Faith.” Sam replied gently. “I found the journal entries soon after we got to the Wood. And, all these many years later, even after I hurt you and forced our breakup: when I needed you the most, you were there, without fail. Even with an Empire on your hands. And knowing that you would be there got me through some really rough times.”
“Oh, Sam,” she shook her head sadly. He reached for her, embracing her gently.
“I just wish that Donna had not left for IV before I had the chance to tell her I was leaving,” Sam mused. “I wanted to be the one to tell her; she deserved to hear it from me. I wanted to reassure her that I would come back to see her. Of course, immediately after Kira and I passed through the Portal, I contacted Donna and apologized…still she seemed intent on heading to Paris this evening…I’ll find out why soon enough. ”
“Scoping out the competition, Sam,” Faith chuckled, her head against his chest, “and now she is with my cousin, Donna, learning that your green ghost has very muddy feet of clay.”
“We all glitch sometimes,” Sam chuckled back, “even you. And that is part of being human.”
“Seeing that neither of us exactly is…” Faith retorted with a smile, “but, I’ll take the compliment.” She stepped away from his embrace, jumping to sit on the concrete wall at the edge of the balcony. “From what little time I’ve spent with your Donna, I will admit I saw quite a bit of Lois in her. When she makes up her mind to do something, she does it…a bit single-minded at times, as are we all. I absolutely loved her sense of humor…also, her diction is divine, unlike so many others I know,” she winked at Sam.
“Sometimes she can seem just a bit rough about the edges,” Sam admitted, “but, that is part of her charm. And I have never seen a purer heart.”
“And that is what you deserve,” Faith gazed earnestly at him. “How is her father taking this?”
“When I heard that Donna had taken off, I went to see Logan,” Sam shook his head, “he just said ‘Good Luck kid, you’re in for one Hell of a ride.’” Sam chuckled, “oh well, at least I know I have Mama Cat in my corner, and that is no small thing.”
“Do not look to me for rescue,” she teased, blushing, “I do not have adamantium claws.”
“Fair enough,” Sam agreed, grinning as he changed the subject, “now tell me, where has our good friend, Karik Gand, hidden himself?”
“I hope he will be back tomorrow,” she replied earnestly, “he has been a bit busy with a natural disaster in an adjoining sector. Of course, this isn’t his sector, either.”
“He’s a very good man, Faith.” Sam emphasized, “Karik has let you do so much for me, without complaint, even escorting you to Daxam during Operation Red Herring.”
“Yes, he has.” Faith admitted, “although, what he sees in me, I sometimes question. But I do have this image of the two of us nestled on a couch on a cold winter’s evening, a dozen or so children at our feet.” She chuckled gently. “I do not know if Empire will ever grant me that opportunity, still, it is my dream, one that keeps me going through my dark moods.”
“I’m glad that you found him.” He gently assured her. Quiet for a moment, he seemed to simply peer around, but Faith knew that his super-sight had engaged…he gazed at the results of the reconstruction of the world he had helped to save. “Faith, I am a bit curious,” Sam suggested, changing the subject again, “have you looked at incorporating your super-powered allies into your battle plans? You seem to be attracting quite a force…Mary, Kira, Donna, me, and a few more to come. Even Hallie Jordan will pop in at some point…especially if word gets back about the meals at the palace.”
“Yet one more reason to feed my meta-human friends well,” Faith admitted, grinning. “I’m so glad Ramia and Doiby were here this evening. They both have been under quite a bit of strain. It always does Ramia good to get away from her security detail.” She stretched her neck, looking at the lights of the city behind her before turning back to him. “Will you be staying tomorrow?”
“I’ll be heading back to Earth tomorrow,” Sam explained, “I won’t be a stranger, though. But it’s time for Superman to show his face on Earth again…I want Lex Luthor to know I’m back.” A wicked grin crossed his features. “Perhaps a nice walk through the streets of Metropolis…”
Dinner long since through, the cleaned dishes had already dried in the kitchen and Duncan MacLeod had taken his leave. Hundreds of years of experience had taught Duncan the signals that indicated his presence was not necessary. With good humor, he had departed to find other adventures, leaving the two versions of Donna Troy alone together to discuss the events of the day, sitting in two of the chairs of their living room. The elder Donna led the conversation, with the younger adding her own sparkling repartee. But the Inheritors’ Donna Troy soon realized that she had not even come close to the reason for the visit.
“I want to help,” she explained, “but I am clearly not. Does this have something to do with Sam?”
“In a way,” her much-younger Alterverse counterpart agreed, answering earnestly, “more something that worries me…his ghosts.”
“Not so much,” the younger Donna explained, “more the one that lives…the green one who never seems too far away.”
Donna Canton picked up her wine, taking another sip of it.
“We are related,” she explained, “we are first cousins, although as far from kissing cousins as can be…she frequently angers me because she is so oblivious to what should be done. And some of that is my fault, I know…she has never been trained in some of the subtleties I feel she must know for the work she does. And I do not really know where I stand with her.”
“You dislike her,” the Alterverse Donna deduced.
“We mix like oil and water. It just happens, I think. But you are not me…in fact more like her in some ways, certainly in age, if nothing else.”
“’tis not a meaning I know how to interpret,” the younger Donna suggested.
“You sound more like her at times…it is the accent,” Donna Canton explained, “our family is British/Australian in its roots…you would fit right in. But I digress again. You have come to me for advice and I will try to give it.”
“Thank you…I am not sure of the questions, much less the answers.” The younger Donna sipped her own wine.
“Faith has loved Sam for a very long time now,” the elder Donna explained, “and for many years before they met. As part of Oracle Prime, she watched over him in his early years and then they met and eventually fell in love, or so they thought…so a lot of us thought. And then it all fell apart…the ravages of time and their changing roles in the universe shattering the illusion of a successful relationship. And, for a time, they went their separate ways…or tried to.”
“Tried to?” The younger Donna inquired.
“They are two of the more powerful beings in the galaxy…their paths cross frequently. And, truthfully, they still have shared goals and beliefs. And they like each other…but they don’t belong together.”
“But with so much in common, why couldn’t they simply work out their problems?”
“They did,” the elder Donna explained, “and they understand that a relationship between them will not work. They are close friends, who will always be there for each other. But, their relationship was not able to transform from its original form to one of a partnership. Faith’s maternal instincts are too strong for that. And those maternal instincts will shape what you can expect from Faith.”
“Knowing that would be most helpful,” the younger woman prompted warily.
“She will always do what is best for Sam, even if it is to her own detriment,” Donna Canton explained, “she is Mama Cat and Sam, for all his maturity, will always be one of her kittens. And, if she sees you are good for him, she will do her level best to protect your relationship.” She pressed back in her chair, thinking quietly. “Odd, I never thought I would be the one to say that about her.”
“’tis a bit of high praise,” the younger Donna agreed.
“Lannie is truly her closest friend and Karik Gand is a close second.” Donna Canton added, “her Dad: Ray Palmer, Sam, Barbara Gordon, Dawn Allen, and of course, the Empress and Doiby Dickles are very close to her as well. She was one of Lois Lane Kent’s bigger fans. And she is still getting to know our family, as am I.”
“Sam told me that story…” the younger Donna related, “the family of the Thorn. Very interesting origins to the family…not to mention the two swords...very impressive. We have run across neither of the Alterverse counterparts.”
“But you have had your own encounters with the supernatural and the gods, as I recall.” The elder Donna pondered, “Chyrra, your grandmother, was once an immortal Amazon, and I suspect she may have re-acquired some of that power. Your mother, Artemis Troy, seems to have aged little. And then there is the matter of dear Uncle Charlie and the goddess who keeps him…Hestia, is it? The goddess of home and hearth?” Her eyes widened with new understanding. I did not realize…when Sam entered Alterverse, he entered Hestia’s realm. Hestia’s responsibilities overlap those of Lorra of Krypton. And Hestia would do what she thought was best for Donna…
Still, you have not had an easy life, have you, young lady? Your mother runs a rather large chunk of Alterverse’s Australian resistance operations…and chose to hide your father’s identity from you and your birth from him…for which you have never forgiven her. Unlike me, the Amazons drafted you in your late teens…after Mary Marvel freed the lightning that granted you your power and your immortality and as you lay unconscious, Hephaestus placed the bracelets on your wrists and the lasso at your side. You even use a different name than I—Starlight. But then, Troy is your real name…and that of your mother and grandmother.
Yet you are also Wolverine’s daughter, with that Adamantium skeleton and his healing factor. I have never heard you accused of the berserker rage, but I’m sure it is within you somewhere.
“Donna?” The younger woman asked with earnest eyes.
“There is so much I do not know about this world. How does one dress? What are the important things to do or not do? I do not wish to embarrass, but I am so new here.”
Was I ever that innocent? That naive? Probably not…for almost my entire life I have had the apparatus of Queen Hippolyta behind me…teaching me before I had the opportunity to make mistakes. I owe Mother so much…so much was given to me…and not to so many others, who had to make their own way.
I wonder if I would have the courage to do what you have done…to leave everything I know behind to follow my heart…
“Fifty years from now,” Donna Canton replied, “a hundred years from now, it won’t matter who you embarrass in the coming days. But you’ll know that you had the courage to try, no matter how everything works out. If you make mistakes, you make mistakes; still, this world will be better because you made the attempt.”
“I thank you for that,” the younger Donna replied, watching her now-empty glass, her thoughts distant.
“Donna?” Donna Canton queried.
“’tis a fair question,” the younger woman’s smile drilled home just how the name ‘Starlight’ had been earned, “Kira introduced us, asking me to help her to teach him what we knew of the Martial Arts.” She gazed at her elder, remembering that very few people knew the true fate of Lois Lane Kent, and that Donna Canton was not one of them. “It was very soon after his mother’s strokes, and he was in a great deal of pain. Despite that, on the days he was on Earth, he was very easy to work with. On other days, Kira would take him on trips to other worlds, frequently Daxam. And she would regale me of the tales of the women throwing themselves at his feet. Sam, being Sam, was always a gentleman with them, but clearly not interested. Still, their reactions always amused Kira.” The young woman chuckled.
“Sam has always been a gentleman.” Donna Canton hinted.
“I wanted little to do with him at the beginning,” the younger woman explained, “I do not like to let people get too close…product of my upbringing, I am afraid, and poor Sam had issues of his own. Kira got to see the sparring back and forth between us, always harmless, but she did not see everything.” She stood up, staring out the window, “as time passed, we would chat…in the quiet times, usually after a workout or a lesson or during a break…when Sam would talk to me and to listen to me, and I mean really listen to me. Donna, I had never had that before, not really…not even with my closest friends.”
“Too few people ever do,” Donna Canton observed from her chair.
“As time went by, Martial Arts were not enough,” the younger woman confided, “and we decided to find new things to learn. We spent quite a bit of time together…Diana took the time to teach us the classics, the lessons of history. That gave us reason to spend time at the Rock of Eternity, learning in Kent’s library. Diana would stay and teach, but frequently found excuses to leave…granting us privacy in a place safe even from the Kryptonians’ senses…and I came to know Sam Kent—not Superboy, not just another male pursuer in a crowd of too many—but, simply, Sam…and Sam is a very kind person with a very gentle sense of humor.” She sighed, her eyes growing distant, “…someone who never threatened me, someone who never laughed at me for being a rough and uneducated girl from the Outback, someone who could always lead me to smile. And so, bit by bit, my guard began to come down and we became quite close…far closer than I would admit to Kira, or even to myself.”
Donna Canton listened to the young woman’s footsteps pacing the balcony.
“Sam could have left us some time ago,” the younger woman added, staring into her drink, then gazing back at her elder, “…oh how I came to dread that thought. If he had asked, Linda or Alan could have taken him through the Portal at any time…and he would have been gone from my life forever. I would have lost my dear, dear friend and no one would have been the wiser…no one but me would know how, how terribly much I had lost. And I knew that day would come…his universe would call for its Superman, and I had no right to keep him from answering that call.”
“That must have been very hard on you,” Donna Canton prompted, gently, “Lois Kent was an extremely brave woman, but the loss of Clark Kent devastated her and, as strong a woman as she was, she never fully recovered from the loss…and no one expected her to.”
“I wish…” the younger woman shook her head sadly, “I wish I had known her; I wish that I had the benefit of her knowledge of Sam. I might have been able to come to terms with the real reason he remained in our world as long as he did,” she continued with a wise smile. “His broken heart had mended quite some time ago; while things would never be the same in his life, Superboy had become Superman though the courage he showed dealing with his grief. But then, as soon as Kira revealed to him that the pathway opened through the Rock of Eternity, one that would allow him to travel between our worlds without assistance, he knew he could return easily to Alterverse and I knew he would make the decision to leave. And I had to face two unpleasant truths.”
“Two truths?” Donna Canton inquired, “Sam could return to Alterverse at any time. How was that a problem?”
“I…” the younger woman caught her breath, trembling, then shivering, “I knew then that I had deprived a universe of its Superman…he had stayed in my world only because of me and I had no right to that. But when I tried to envision my future without him, I could not.” She sighed deeply, shaking her head. “I knew he would come to see me before he left, would try to explain that he had to go back, and would promise to return to see me…but that was a parting I could not and would not bring myself to accept.”
“I envy you.” Donna Canton rose from her chair, stepping close to the younger woman, but remaining careful not to come too close. “I have the love of a very good man, whom I will have for many years, and I truly enjoy his company. He makes my heart sing. But your situation is so very different.”
“How so?” The younger woman’s guard relaxed, but she remained wary.
“You have found your soul-mate at such an early age,” Donna Canton explained, “a soul-mate with only one ghost, one you have no reason to fear. And you have the courage to face your fears, while never losing sight of your future. And I know one thing more.”
“Please tell me,” the younger woman requested as she stepped closer
“If Sam had left before today,” Donna Canton gazed with earnest eyes, “you still would have found a way to be with him, even if it had meant badgering Linda or Alan to bring you through the Portal. I see that in you. You are a very determined woman, Donna Troy, and you are wise in your goals. The rest will come in time.”
“Thank you,” her young companion replied gratefully, “you have done so much for me tonight.” With genuine affection, Donna Troy embraced her mentor. The elder Donna smiled and returned the hug before leaning back to face her young friend.
“And I,” Donna Canton assured warmly, “am so pleased to know that Sam Kent has such a bright future. You go, Girl! And don’t let anyone deny you what you have already earned.”
Finally alone, Donna Canton considered the last several years of her life, and the lives of those all around her.
I spent fifteen years on Themyscira before returning to the battle…returning after others had already paved the way…Dick, Ray, Babs, Selina, Faith, and Dawn. I wasn’t on the front lines—they were, alone, and for so long. And they are still the ones in harm’s way.
And now the rest of the next generation is rising…attracting allies: Lannie Kyle, Donna, Mary Marvel, the entire Gand Family.
And my own young counterpart has chosen Sam Kent, taking her place on the front lines.
And here I sit guarding a damned library…I’ll admit this has been a happy time, the time I have had with Duncan, but I have lost my relevance. I am a warrior, not a librarian.
Of course, I have been a bit of an isolate, licking my wounds after the flare-up with Duncan over Destiny. I am still not pleased with how that situation evolved…but these are people who risk everything for so many.
I have had so many second chances…surely, I can find it in me to offer one?
She thought once more of the young woman who had graced her evening.
You go, Girl! And don’t let anything, or anyone, stop you! She deftly tapped her comms.
“Oracle Prime, this is Troia,” she began.
“Donna!” Barbara Gordon’s excited voice called back, “I was just thinking of you!”
“Is this a good time?” Donna inquired. I have been away from home for too long. Home sweet dysfunctional home…
Metropolis had been the city of his parents, now it served as Lex Luthor’s capitol: the irony weighed heavily in young Superman’s thoughts. He would be in danger here, of that he had no doubt; Wally West and Karen Kent stood ready to retrieve him if he had, indeed, misjudged the threats to his existence. His entire trip to the city had been carefully choreographed with Oracle…despite the apparent spontaneity of his visit, almost every detail of his trip had been meticulously planned.
Sam knew Lex Luthor’s technology…his advanced studies with the Shantar providing key insights into how off-planet technology was likely to work. He knew instinctively the sounds of weapons that could fire Kryptonite at him. Realistically, he understood that a projectile approaching him at any real speed would simply bounce off…not having time to erode his invulnerability before it hit. Still, enough of it landing close to him could certainly do him in.
Not wishing to cause a real disruption to the populace, he waited until after lunch, before late afternoon traffic would begin, to fly down the streets and alight atop the steps of the Daily Planet. He knew that Lex Luthor’s arsenals would begin to respond immediately, but there would be other responses first.
“…sure looks like Superman to me…”
“Look at ‘im…don’t matter whether it’s possible or not…there he is!”
Sam smiled broadly, walking to the middle of the street…traffic already at a dead stop at his sighting, he greeted the pedestrians and the drivers of the cars, explaining who he was and that he had come to see the city of his father.
Super-hearing detected the transmissions of warnings between the civil authorities. Superman had dared to set foot in Metropolis…the intrusion could not be allowed.
Sam chuckled at the discussions he overheard. The refusals to fire into a crowd, the refusals to fire at a Superman…one who so strongly resembled the Superman of so long ago. But, finally, he heard an assault team assemble in their machinery, tanks with Kryptonite projectiles, and he prepared to leave before they could menace the crowd.
As he gazed towards the assault team, he observed the tanks rolling towards him from a dozen blocks away. It would take several more minutes before they would be close enough to fire and he would be long gone before they could.
But then his super-hearing picked up a growl…berserker rage…and the sound of adamantium claws ripping through gun barrels, through turrets at super-speed. The crews erupted from the vehicles, running in terror from a creature dressed in black, who quickly shredded their heavy-metal machinery as if it had the consistency of toilet paper.
Once satisfied, the creature simply left the shredded vehicles behind…flying ten blocks towards the young Superman, landing two blocks away, and marching towards him.
Amused, his eyes twinkling, Sam continued his conversations, wondering what Lex Luthor and his ilk would think of the day’s events.
And soon the crowd realized that creature was a woman, intent on Superman. Her gaze never wavered, focusing solely upon him. As she approached, the crowd, fearing the extended claws, parted to give her room to pass. They took her measure, a young, tall, stunningly attractive woman with long raven hair and a confident gait.
As soon as she stood before him, she withdrew her claws. She spoke first, her thick Australian accent leaving no doubt of her origin, her tone leaving no doubt of her intent.
“I realize…I realize that I may not be as sophisticated as some of the other girls you have met,” she began earnestly, “but I love you with all my heart.” Holding up a hand, she interrupted his response. “Let me finish, please, before I lose my bloody courage!” She accepted his warm smile and sparkling eyes as signal to continue, the crowd fading back, but not far. “Not Lex Luthor, nor Mongul, nor any other nasty this universe can dig up will ever keep you from me.” Stepping up to him, she placed her hands on his hips and looked up into his eyes. She felt his hands caress her shoulders, moving to support her back as she gathered the courage to speak once more. “And, if you will marry me, I will stay in your world with you and I swear I will do my best to make you happy for the rest of your life.”
…I'll be with him
on that midnight train to Smallville
I'd rather live in his world
than live without him in mine…
--apologies to Gladys Knight and the Pips
End—The First Darkseid/Veridian War, Part 2: Starlight
-- Story written and copyrighted (C) 2006 by Eldric
-- and may not be reprinted without permission.
-- Otherverse and Multiverse, as depicted in the Continuum Worlds,
-- are original creations of Dylan Clearbrook.
-- Alterverse and The Inheritors and their associated universes, as depicted in the
-- Continuum Worlds, are the original creations of Eldric.
-- The Realm and Shadowverse, as depicted in the Continuum Worlds,
-- are original creations of John P. and Jason G respectively.
-- Some characters in Continuum Worlds stories are original
-- creations of Dylan Clearbrook, Michael Liebhart,
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