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CHALLENGE: Submitted as part of the Epic Proportions challenge.
ARCHIVING: Only with the permission of the author.
Arthur Curry pulled himself out of the water, his skin itching a little as his body shifted back to its oxygen-breathing form. His lungs, clear of water, filled with air, causing his body to resume its less-than-aqudynamic "human" form. The membranes retracted from his eyes and his hair extended out of his body. It had just been a light swim (he'd only averaged thirty knots), but he'd still felt the need to shed most of his humanity. Ever since Luthor's torture, that urge had become more and more frequent.
Footsteps sounded off the wharf he was climbing. Dropping his luminescent pallor in favor of a golden tan, AC swung his legs over the top of the ladder he was climbing. The man was taken aback.
"Arthur Curry?" the man asked in a somewhat bland tone. He was a slender man, not scarecrow thin, but not far from it either. His cadaverous face was genially inoffensive, capped by a receding hairline, hair closely cropped to his skull.
"Yeah, that's me. Who wants to know?"
The man reached into the inside pocket of his suit jacket, showed AC a badge in his wallet, then returned his wallet to his pocket. Acquiescing to the beachfront weather, he proceeded to take off his jacket and hang it off a piling. His button-down shirt was a crisp white.
"Special Agent Lawrence Driver, FBI. I'd like to ask you a few questions."
AC sat down on one of the wharf's many empty benches and began drying himself with a towel he'd laid out for himself before his swim. "Should I have an attorney present?"
Driver shook his head. "It isn't that kind of questioning. There are just a few confusing matters I hoped you could clear up."
AC ran the towel over his face, mopping up all stray drops of water. "Shoot."
"Do you know a man named Clark Kent?"
"Yeah, Kansas farmboy."
"Oliver Queen? Diana Prince? Bruce Wayne?"
AC began pulling his Doc Martins on. "Look, what's this all about?"
"Do you know any of the individuals I've specified?" Driver insisted, the congeniality dropping from his voice.
"No, but I've heard of the Wayne kid. What of it?"
Driver shook his head. "Nothing. Just following a lead. Thank you for your time, Mr. Curry."
The agent extended his hand for a shake. AC wiped his hand dry and shook Driver's, up and down for a moment before he noticed that the other man's hand was as cold as the grave.
"You sick or something?"
Driver said nothing. Just held on. Suddenly, AC felt pain, so sharp and overwhelming that it took him a moment to realize it was in his palm as if his hand had been lit on fire, pain, up and down his spine, behind his eyes, down his legs, forcing him to his knees, making him cry out but all that came was black bile dripping over his lips.
The agent stared at him, emotionless, as smoke billowed out of their skin contact. AC tried to pry the agent's hand from his own, but Driver's grip was stronger than steel. More bile filled AC's lungs, streaming down from his nostrils and forcing its way out of his mouth. With a final rattling gurgle, AC died.
Driver finally released his hand. It fell next to AC, the fingers bent in ways fingers were never meant to bend. With an almost dismissive motion, Driver kicked the young man off the wharf and into the sea.
AC sunk for a moment before floating back up to the surface, belly-up.
Clark stopped speeding just outside the Daily Planet building, using one of the full-length phone booths almost unique to Metropolis as his stopping point. If anyone had been paying attention, they would have seen a man suddenly appear in the phone booth as if by magic. Clark made a mental note of how handy the innocuous booths were as he briskly walked to and into the Planet.
"Chloe, what's so important that I couldn't hear about it over the phone?" Clark asked as soon as he found the reporter. Around them, the newsroom was in low ebb, the quiet between morning and evening editions.
Chloe looked up from her computer, sans the usual it's Clark smile. "Arthur Curry is dead."
For a moment a wave of memories rolled over Kent. Like everyone he'd helped, AC was fixed in his memory. The fight at Crater Lake, the love affair with Lois, their joint sabotage of Lex's experiment. AC was a good guy, a guy who fought for what he believed in he didn't deserve to die.
"How?" Clark asked, still trying to process the death.
"Official reports have it as a drowning, but I hacked the coroner's report and it says that there are electrical burns on the inside of his body. That was before the government swooped in and impounded the body."
"And ten gets you twenty that the corpse will end up in Section 33.1," Clark replied bitterly. "Any leads?"
"Nope. I'll keep you posted."
"I'm gonna run down there, see if a Zoner was involved."
Chloe nodded. "He seemed like a nice guy. You two were pals?"
"Never really got a chance to know him," Clark said distantly.
Two miles into Mae Oatwell's cornfields, the world split open. The tear took the shape of a sphere weeping lightning. One stray bolt flash-fried an ear of corn, turning it into blackened popcorn before the second passed. The sphere stood there for a moment, at the center of the maelstrom of wind and electricity. Then it shifted, a ripple running over its reflective skin, and finally collapsed. It left an upside-down dome of removed earth in its wake as well as one passenger.
The passenger stood, wobbly, from her crouch. The wind blew against her face and for once it didn't smell like ashes. Instinctively, she obeyed her training. Counted her fingers and toes. Checked all five senses. Appraisingly ran her hands over her face, ears, breasts, ribs, legs. She was intact, scars and all. Some had theorized that time would in some way reverse for her. Yet her hair was still dyed raven-black. So much for the theoretical.
Another breeze worried at her, the night air chilling her to the bone and snuffing out the few small fires that had been started by the Temporal Displacement Field. Wrapping her arms around her chest, the time traveler went in search of clothes.
Clark sat in the loft at the barn, lazily focusing his heatvision on a busted spade-head until it melted and then cooling it with his superbreath. As his face was bathed in turn by the warmth of the molten glow and the chill of the cooled metal, the Kryptonian pondered the events of the day. The trip to Miami hadn't yielded any suspects, nor could he find any Luthorcorp involvement. Then there was the matter of Lana
Clark shut his eyes. No. Not one more thought about them. Best of happiness to Lex and Lana, but not a second's thought.
There were two main possibilities in Arthur's death. Either it was because of his vigilantism or something to do with Section 33.1. Either way, there was one man who probably knew something.
Clark would have to go see Oliver Queen.
The time traveler kept away from the roads, preferring to walk between the corn rows. It had been a while, but she managed to work her way to the Kent farm. On the way, she found a clothesline. The only bottoms she could find were a pair of men's boxers. The overalls covered those up, though, and a black T-shirt completed the ensemble. She wouldn't start any fashion trends, but she wouldn't stand out and that was more important. A lucky break: A pair of muddy boots had been left on the porch. She put them on and disappeared into the night.
The Kent farm was miles away.
"Arthur Curry?" Ollie repeated when Clark asked him. He was working a heavy punching bag, its chain crackling and snapping to keep up. "Yeah, I've had an eye on him. I know what you're thinking and no, it wasn't round-the-clock surveillance. I have no more idea how he died than you do."
Clark rested one hand on the bag, which Ollie's punches were now no longer able to budge. "I named AC to you a few weeks back, remember? You asked me if there were any others like us "
"Like you," Ollie corrected.
"How secure is that list?"
Ollie stopped his punching. "What do you take me for, Clark? It's all triple-encrypted, and uses codenames."
"Green Arrow, obviously. Aquaman, Cyborg, Impulse "
"Alphabetical order " Clark rubbed his chin. "Ollie, where's Cyborg?"
The time traveler stopped on the driveway to the Kent place, the gravel crunching underfoot. She knocked on the door. Someone answered.
"Mrs. Kent, perhaps I should, ah, reintroduce myself. I'm Chloe Sullivan and I'm back to save the future."
Chloe stared at the mirror. Her reflection's chest was covered with a lacy red bra that didn't so much leave things to the imagination as provide detailed directions. It looked absurd.
"I just don't feel sexy," she said, casting the bra aside. "Maybe I'm just not a sexy person."
Lois smirked and handed her a periwinkle bra to try on. "Hon, there are three girls in this room who disagree with you and right now it looks like two of them are a bit cold."
Chloe quirked an eyebrow before trying on the new bra. The loft of the Talon was deserted, a comfortable silence having eased into the space since Lois had handed the downstairs store off for the evening.
"What," Lois goaded, "don't tell me you're feeling inadequate just because Lana Lang is making like she's the most eligible bachelorette in the tristate area."
"I am not jealous of Lana. She's my friend. Just because she had both Clark and Lex wrapped around her pinky finger "
"Actually, I think she may have Lex on her ring finger."
"Thanks for reminding me."
"Let's change the subject. How're things with Jimmy?"
Chloe sighed, brow furrowing in consternation. Which made her reflection really sexy, she thought sarcastically. "Like a martini with ice: on the rocks." She signaled her approval of the new bra to Lois with a nod. Her cousin began doing her up. "He's just so clingy. He wants so bad to make it work "
"Chloe, you know just because he's your cherry-popping daddy, doesn't mean you have to spend the rest of your life with him. Nice choice on the bra, by the way. Who's a porn star? Who's a porn star?"
"You are," Chloe replied humorlessly.
"Only on the internet."
Chloe's phone rang. The blonde picked it up, nestling it against her shoulder as she began to wrap her sarong top.
"Hello, Chloe Sullivan's phone."
"Hello, this is Chloe Sullivan's future. I'm calling you from Mrs. Kent's phone. Come on down to the farm. We have a lot to talk about."
Chloe, through a reeling mind, heard a dial tone. She wouldn't know what to say if the line was open. Chloe had always heard that talking to yourself was normal. It was when you answered that you were in trouble.
Vic Stone calmly stood up from the couch as soon as he heard the doorbell. He still lived in Metropolis, a small apartment by Hob's Bay. The furniture went together only because it came with the room. Still, the place was warm in the winter and cool in the summer; for what Vic paid, that was enough.
He opened the door.
"Victor, I think you may be in trouble," Clark said.
"I'll leave you two alone for a minute," Martha said, biting back the kitschy urge to say 'you one', as she ushered Chloe into the living room.
The woman seated in Martha's wicker chair looked like Chloe, but aged ten years. Her eyes looked even older. Her hair was dyed black and cut boyishly short, near shorn. An indented old scar stretched above one eye from brow to temple. More scars criss-crossed her muscular arms.
"Oh wow," the woman said when she looked up at Chloe. "It's like looking in a mirror "
"Only not," Chloe finished. She leaned in to examine herself, closer. The future Chloe had a weathered, rugged quality to her skin. Her nose had changed shape a little, as if it had been broken (perhaps repeatedly) and healed. Chloe mused that people always thought they could be Captain America if their parents were murdered, if they spent ten years sweeping floors for Mr. Miyagi, if they participated in a top secret military experiment this was a Chloe who had actually done it.
"I guess it's a common want to go back in time and tell yourself then what you know now. But I can't think of anything to say," the future Chloe said. Her voice was somber and deep, rich. It wasn't a breathy voice by any means, but it still struck Chloe as sexy, a kind of dangerous, tough sexy. She could like growing up to be this woman.
"Do you "
"Remember this encounter from your point of view? No."
Just then, Martha walked into the room carrying a tea tray. "Would you like some coffee, Chloe?" she asked, resisting the urge to pluralize 'Chloe'.
"Black," both women said.
"Okay, this could get a little confusing," the younger Chloe said.
"Call me Sully. Everyone does," the older Chloe said. "And I think it's time you learn what we're up against."
"So, Curry's dead?" Vic said, crossing his legs. "Tragic, but what does it have to do with me?"
Clark paced around the room, trying to keep his speed to a dull crawl. "I have a hunch that someone might be killing off people with special abilities. I thought I'd warn you to watch your back."
"And I was the first on your list? You haven't warned anyone else?"
"I was guessing that the killer is working on an alphabetical basis."
"But wouldn't the next in alphabetical order be Batman?"
Vic stood up. "I want to show you something." He pressed on the inside of his elbow, revealing a cleverly hidden seam. The skin slid off like a glove, revealing the metal endoskeleton within. "Upgrades." The mechanical forearm transformed into a futuristic cannon.
Clark grimaced. "Neat, if a little gross. Who's Batman?"
"Doesn't matter. You won't live to meet him."
Cyborg pointed the sonic cannon at Clark. A sharp, all-compassing noise pierced Clark's eardrums. He fell to his knees as the sound overwhelmed him. It pounded against his sinuses, hammered against his temple, rattled his teeth. Clark felt something chilly caressing his cheek and realized it was the blood trickling out his ear.
"Vic " he managed to get out through gritted teeth.
Cyborg shook his head, keeping the cannon focused on target.
"You were supposed to go last," Vic said. "But I don't think it will make any difference if I kill you right now."
An arrow impaled Cyborg's arm, short-circuiting the sonic cannon. Clark saw sparks fly. His aural world dissolved from the shrill noise to a mute haze.
"You and what arm?" Green Arrow asked, one of his namesakes absurdly wobbling in the arm he had shisk-kabobbed.
As if in answer, Cyborg swung his other arm at Ollie. His wrist telescoped out until his hand was around Green Arrow's throat. Arrow went for the crossbow holstered at his waist, but Cyborg cracked his elongated wrist like a whip, throwing the crossbow from his hands. The whipping motion also sent Ollie to the ground. Cyborg snapped his wrist again and Ollie thudded against the ceiling, coming back down in a hail of plaster.
Clark jumped Vic from behind, wrapping one arm around his neck and the other under his armpit in a classic chokehold. It would've put Victor out like a light if the man were entirely human. He wasn't, though. The same experiment that had saved his life had also increased his strength, speed, and flexibility.
His cannon arm rotated in its socket until Cyborg was able to drive it backwards and elbow Clark in the ribs. Each hit tested Clark's legendary endurance, knocking the breath out of his lungs bit by bit. Clark wrestled Vic backwards, trying to avoid Vic's thrashing headbutt attempts. Just as the need for fresh air became maddeningly immediate, Clark pivoted on his hip and threw Cyborg out the window. Vic didn't make a sound all the way down.
Clark looked out the window to see Vic five stories down, prone atop a totaled car. He looked back just in time to see Ollie brushing past him, arrow in one hand, bow in the other.
"You remember my EMP arrow," Green Arrow said as he fired said arrow straight down into Cyborg's body. The man jerked and spasmed atop the car before falling dead still.
"Think you can carry him to Queen Labs?" Ollie asked Clark.
Clark wiped a spot of blood from his ear. "Yeah."
Sully ate ravenously, ripping the meat off the bone with her fingers and taking as few bites as possible before gulping the whole thing down. She paused only to lick her fingers before moving on to the next course.
"Sorry," she said when she notice Martha and Chloe's identical stares of horrified fascination. "Back home, we don't get many home-cooked meals other than rat. Thanks for dinner, Mrs. Kent."
"Any time," Martha replied, dumbstruck.
"On to business then. I presume you've run into the Brain Interactive Construct."
"Milton Fine," Chloe said.
"One of his earlier faces. In my time stream, he hacked into Lexcorp "
"You mean Luthorcorp."
Sully nodded. "For now. Brainiac stupid nickname merges his consciousness with an experimental AI called Skynet. Hijacking the national missile defense codes, it launches a first strike against the Middle East."
"Why?" Martha asked, not following.
"Mutually assured destruction," Chloe said.
Sully nodded again. "After their capital is nuked, Quran retaliates. The Justice League is able to stop most of the missiles, but enough get through. After the dust settles, people are rounded up and put in concentration camps, worked to death building Terminators. With the help of the League, some start to fight back. Heroes. Connors, Rodriguez, Loken. In the end, Skynet falls. But not before sending back several Terminator units to rewrite history. One of them has arrived here. A T-M100, a Terminator designed to combat metahumans. It'll hunt down every one of the League while they're still young and inexperienced... and kill them."
"You sure those things will hold him?" Clark asked, picturing the results of Vic breaking free from his chains.
The laboratory was one of Ollie's most secretive, more of a bunker than anything else. It was concealed in an old skid row apartment complex, under Suicide Slums. Clark wondered how much of Kansas' real estate was taken up by secret laboratories. At least twenty percent, probably.
Ollie tapped one of the links. "They use these things to moor cruise liners. It'll hold until my techies can figure out what's wrong with him."
Clark looked away as men in clean suits began to cut away Vic's scalp, then unscrew his skull casing.
"Before he attacked me, Vic mentioned someone called Batman. Any ideas on that?"
Ollie snapped his fingers repeatedly, obviously fetching a loose memory. "Batman. Yeah, an urban legend from up near Gotham. Supposedly he preys on the criminal underworld. Personally, I think it's a crock. My agents couldn't turn up hide or hair."
"Even so, Cyborg threatened him. Maybe it's time I introduce myself."
Sully's first step towards saving the world had been the least obvious. She'd ordered Martha to gather up all the winter clothing in the house. While Sully made do with one of Jonathan's old coats, Chloe used one of Martha's. To that they layered on sweaters and scarfs. They were stuffing everything wearable into the trunk of Chloe's Beetle when Chloe said:
"So, uh what can you tell me about my future that won't blow up the world?"
"Depends. What do you want to know?"
"Do Jimmy and I "
"No," Sully said flatly.
"No because of the nuclear holocaust or "
Chloe looked over at the horizon. The sun was nearly down, one of those patented Kansas sunsets, painting the world in orange and purple. Sully noticed her watching it and turned to stare as well. She sighed in appreciation. Chloe, for no reason she could say, put an arm around Sully.
"Dust kicked up by the explosions," Sully explained. "They don't make sunsets like they used to." She wiped something that might have been a tear from her eye.
"Can you " Chloe pulled her arm away. "Can you tell me anything more? About the Jimmy thing?"
Sully slammed the trunk shut. "You discover something about yourself that takes him out of the running in the boyfriend sweepstakes."
"Does it have something to do with me being a meteor freak? Because I've been worrying about that and if I'm going to suddenly manifest some weirdo power and kill him while we're "
Sully pounded on the trunk again, silencing her younger doppelganger. Chloe hadn't realized how scared she was until she'd started talking about it.
"Chloe," Sully said gently, "we're a lesbian."
Lana had entered the Talon to find it on downtime. Bob Mendez was the night-shifter responsible for helping Smallvilleins get their late-night caffeine buzz. Lana told him to keep the change for a dollar and made herself a latte. He wiped down the counters, occasionally sparing a nervous glance to Lana's ever-present bodyguards, who watched him like hawks.
"Lana, thank God, I need to talk to you." Lana turned to see Chloe coming in through the front door.
"Alright, calm down," Lana said softly. "What's so important?"
Chloe suddenly seemed to notice the security team. "Not in front of the Lexcorp goon squad. This is personal."
Lana nodded and told the bodyguard to wait where they were. She flowed Chloe up into the theater's projection room. There were still some film reels scattered around them from the Smallville Cinema Appreciation Society's Thursday screening.
"Alright, we're alone. What do you need to tell me?"
Chloe closed the door behind her. She stared at Lana for a moment, then ran a hand over the other woman's face. She paused with her finger against Lana's pulse and didn't change her facial expression when a hypodermic needle jutted out of her fingertip to unleash a tranquilizer into Lana's bloodstream. Lana didn't have time to do more than open her mouth before the drug overtook her. Chloe guided Lana gently to the floor before taking her shape.
The real Chloe only remained silent five minutes into the car ride. Then Sully turned on the headlights and the tiny motion seemed to wake her up. She started talking and couldn't stop.
"You were joking about the lesbian thing, right?"
"Well you must have made a mistake. I like boys."
"I love Jimmy."
"Then you have nothing to worry about."
"I have sex! With men!"
"Not for long."
They reached the caves, parked the car, ducked under the hole in the security fence where the tree had fallen (in 2002. Lex's security at the height of its game).
"You must be from some sort of alternate universe or something," Chloe said.
Sully, at the cave entrance, looked over her shoulder. "Chloe, I know this is scary right now. But you get used to it."
Chloe followed her into the cave. "At least tell me who the woman is that I'm happy with."
"Actually, I was still working on that when I left."
"It's good to know that even in my lesbian, post-apocalyptic future, some things never change."
Sully stopped to manfully clap Chloe's back.
Lana remained as still as possible in the limo's backseat as it sped towards Luthor manor. The Terminator had had very little time to study its current form's body language and mannerisms before acquisition. To the guards, Lana seemed unusually non-communicative. They would make no note of it.
Luthor Manor was just as imposing as the historical floor plans had indicated. Lana was ushered in, politely thanking everyone in her way.
Lex was in his study, a black V-neck sweater his only concession to the cold. The point was rendered almost moot by the roaring fire in the fireplace. It gutted for a moment in the Terminator's presence.
"Lana," Lex said contentedly as he closed his laptop. "I had thought you wouldn't be back in tonight."
"I remembered what I was missing." Lana gestured for the guards to leave. After a nod from Lex, they did. Lana sat down on Lex's desk. "Give us a kiss, dear."
Lex thought nothing of the way Lana put her hands to his head, holding him in place, when they kissed. Then he felt the tip of her tongue grow cold, tasting of something metallic. Something sharp stung him in the back of his throat. Just before everything went black, he opened his eyes to see himself pulling away. The other him was reeling in a tongue with a syringe at the end, cold eyes glowing bright-red.
The Terminator dragged Lex to the couch, where it shrouded his form with a blanket. It ran one hand over its father's bald pate before covering him. Then it went to the door.
"Miss Lang is having a rest," the Terminator said in Lex's voice. The guards nodded. "See that she isn't disturbed. And call me a car. I think it's about time I tour some projects."
Clark thought he knew big-city life. But Metropolis was positively idyllic compared to Gotham. The entire city seemed to breathe with malignancy and everyone walked with their heads down, even the police. Clark felt woefully out of place in his red jacket and blue shirt. Everyone else wore dark, muted colors not quite funeral garb, but not too far away from it either.
Ollie had put in some hours in Gotham, chasing a Star City crook on getaway in both senses of the word. Queen said that the best sources of information was the Scar Bar, just on the north side of the Sprang Bridge. Before going there, Clark ditched his clothes for a more Gotham look. Baseball cap, brown jacket. The pants he figured he could get away with. Thankfully he hadn't worn shorts.
The Scar Bar lived down to its name. Watered-down drinks, grimy surfaces, thuggish clientele, and every other true crime cliché. Clark figured that the reason they became clichés was because they were true. He picked up a few stories about "the Batman" from his superhearing; they sounded like they would be better-suited for around a campfire. He saddled up to the bar and ordered a drink. The bartender didn't card him. Clark doubted the Alcoholic Beverage Commission would listen to a complaint.
"Clark, what are you doing here?" a scandalized voice demanded.
Clark (and the rest of the bar) turned to see would-be reporter Lois Lane, dressed in something Clark probably couldn't pronounce. It involved garters, hooks, and lots of skin. Wary of the sudden attention, she dragged Clark into a dark corner of the bar.
"Working your way through college?" Clark quipped.
"Try being a good reporter. Degrading as it is, men are more likely to talk to my tits than my face."
"And why would you want to listen to anything said to your cleavage?"
"It's for an article I'm writing. 'Batman: Man or Monster'."
"Judging by the name, I'm leaning towards man." Clark looked around. "Just out of curiosity, anyone know anything?"
"I've already canvassed the room. Nada." Lois suddenly looked at Clark in a new light. "Maybe you can help. The guy I'm looking for is supposed to be the Dark Knight, right? And no knight can resist a damsel in distress."
"You're a damsel?" Clark couldn't help but ask. It was too late. Lois was already dragging him out the backdoor.
"Say, you never told me why you were in here."
Clark gave his most winning smile. "I was thirsty."
Teleporting to the Arctic made Chloe's innards feel like they were meant to be outnards. Judging by her counterpart's queasy expression, that would never change. Objectively, Chloe knew the winter clothing helped, but subjectively, the moment the teleportation ended she went from nauseous to frozen. The two women were immediately joined at the hip, trying to conserve their body heat as they stumbled towards the Fortress of Solitude.
"Not that I'm generally the sort to dwell on self-doubt," Chloe yelled over the storm's noise. "But what are we doing here?"
"One of the Brainiac devices was holding Martha and Lois hostage when a Kryptonian defense system deactivated it. The nanites that made up its core should still be in the plane. Once we got our hands on those, we should be able to reverse-engineer them. Then we can find and deactivate Fine before he starts the attacks."
"Wait, what about the Terminator? How is this going to stop it?"
"It isn't. I'm not here to save the Justice League. I'm here to save the world."
Gotham was worse after dark. And worse even than that in a back alley behind a dive bar. Clark didn't want to think of what he was smelling. Lois didn't seem to mind. If she did, she covered it up well. Clark envied her. He was so transparent.
"Alright, Smallville, just pretend to attack me."
Clark blinked. "Attack you."
"Yeah. Just " She bent over and ripped the nylon over one leg. "You know. Pretend you're 'attacking' me."
Clark blinked again. "I'm not sure I'm comfortable with that. In fact, I'm definitely sure I'm not comfortable with that."
"Clark, quit being such a baby about this." Lois pulled off one shoulder strap and struggled to find a good level for where it should fall on her upper arm. "Didn't you ever role-play with Lana, during those five minutes when you had a sex life?"
"No. And how did you know about that?"
"She doesn't seem like the type of girl anyway. And Chloe told me."
Chloe can keep me being an alien superfreak secret, but she can't not gossip about my love life. Great. "Look, Lois, there must be some other way we can go about this."
Lois grabbed Clark's hands and repositioned them around her throat. "And here I thought you were interested in journalism. A good reporter does whatever it takes to get a story. Even pretend-strangle his friend." She cleared her throat. "Help! Rape!" she shouted.
"Actually, I hear you're supposed to shout fire."
"Help! Fire! Fire!"
"And anyway, how are you screaming if I'm supposed to be choking you?"
Something dark and metal clanged against Clark's head, rebounding off his skull and landing on the ground. Clark rubbed his head and picked it up. It was a boomerang. Shaped like a bat.
"Let. Her. Go."
The crash had ripped the plane open along the fuselage, like a gutted animal carcass. The women passed an amputated wing, sticking out of the snow like a totem pole, before taking what shelter they could in the half-buried plane.
"What do you mean you're not going to try to save them?" Chloe asked. "That's your mission, isn't it?"
"They're superheroes," Sully answered evenly. "They can take care of themselves. This is a much greater opportunity. Stop the war from ever happening."
"Sully, Arthur Curry is already dead. How many others are going to die"
"How many others are going to die when a couple nuclear warheads detonate in major cities?" Sully shot back. "This is about the greater good here. Now, are you onboard or not?"
Chloe sighed and ran her hands over her face. "Alright. But we have to tell Clark what we know as soon as "
"As soon as there's something to know," Sully promised. "Now come on. We're very close."
Schuster Cobb looked up from his clipboard to see the boss. Not his boss or his boss' boss. The Boss, the head honcho, the big man. Lex Luthor. He tried to straighten up the cluttered room, but quickly gave up.
"Sir, umm "
"Schuster Cobb, project lead on One-Man Army Corps, correct?"
Schuster nodded, petrified aside from that one tiny motion.
"Good. What is the operational status of the OMAC?"
Turning his head to the OMAC armor-unit, Schuster tried to recall his last update. "The hardware is fully functional, but the software still has some kinks to work through. We should be able to proceed to a field test soon--"
"How about right now?" Lex placed his hand over a keyboard. The computer screen filled with strange symbols and the OMAC came online with a start. Schuster jumped backwards as it took a step forwards, breaking through the glass case around it.
"W-what are you doing?"
Lex twitched his hand; another burst of code filled the screen. The Terminator, even when acting out-of-character, retained some of the 'personality.' "Programming it. All it needs is a list of targets. And while records are spotty, I can't imagine many people in Gotham are wearing bat costumes."
Clark grimaced inwardly at the thought that he was now expected to carry out a serious conversation with a man dressed as a human bat. And he had thought Ollie was bad.
"I said let her go," the Batman growled, his voice deep and angry. He was a young man, just a little older than Clark. Clark used a touch of X-ray vision to get past the cowl. The face was comely enough, familiar even, but he couldn't place it.
"Look, this isn't what it looks like," Clark tried to explain.
"It never is," Batman said before throwing a punch.
Despite his superspeed, it took Clark by surprise in more ways than one. The punch rattled against his neck. It didn't hurt him, but it hurt. "Oww!"
Batman pulled his hand back, staring at it as if it had betrayed him. It was throbbing in pain.
The two superheroes looked at each other before Lois shoved a pocket tape recorder in Batman's face. "Lois Lane, Metropolis Inquisitor. Batman, do you condone the use of vigilantism to solve social problems?"
Batman glared at her. "I have real crimes to attend to. Perhaps you and your boyfriend should find a hotel room to avoid future misunderstandings."
"Boyfriend!?" "He is not "
Clark pushed past Lois. "Listen to me. You're in danger!"
Batman's eyes narrowed. "Is that a threat?"
"No! God, are you always like this?"
"Not always. Sometimes I get angry."
Lois pushed the tape recorder even closer to Batman's face, until it was pressing up against his cheek. "Batman, you've been romantically linked to the thief known as Catwoman. Is there any truth to those rumors?"
Batman grabbed the tape recorder from her and crushed it in his gloved hand. "Go. Away." He turned his head towards Clark. "That goes double for you."
"Hey, Dracula, haven't you ever heard of freedom of the press!?"
Batman glanced at her, annoyed, then pressed two conjoined fingers to the side of her neck. Lois collapsed silently into Clark's arms.
"You knocked her out, just by touching her!" Clark exclaimed.
"What of it?"
"Can you teach me how to do that?"
A high-pitched whine filled the ear. Both Clark and Batman cocked their heads to better listen to it.
"Jet engine?" Clark asked.
"Too close. It must be some sort of "
The earth shook. The heroes stumbled, fighting their way to sure footing as they realized what had happened. Something, someone, had crash-landed at the mouth of the alley. As they watched, it uncurled from its kneeling position, drawing up to a height that was easily seven feet. It was black and metallic, the face dominated by a single Art-Deco eye, the scalp covered by a mohawk-like deformity.
"Friends of yours?" Batman asked.
Clark trained his X-ray vision on it. The components were Luthorcorp.
"As a matter of fact "
Two shoulder-mounted Gatling guns focused on them. Clark shifted Lois to one arm and with the other yanked Batman behind him by the cape. Batman looked at him as if he had just smelled something disgusting (and it was Clark) for the split-second they passed. He sheltered the humans behind his body as the guns opened up, bullets shredding the back of his new jacket. He would've felt worse about it if he liked the jacket.
As soon as the barrage stopped, Batman looked over Clark's shoulder to see his back. The cloth hung off his muscular back in tatters, around sooty but unbroken skin.
"What the hell?"
"The last half a decade of my life in a nutshell," Clark replied before shoving Lois into Batman's arms. "Get her out of here. I'll take Robo-L.A.-cop."
Batman consented with a curt nod, slinging Lois over his shoulder and moving out. It wasn't til they were moving that Clark saw Lois had been hit, a ragged and copiously-bleeding wound in her shoulder. Before he could respond, Batman turned the corner and the two were gone in a wisp of cape. Clark set his teeth and turned to the OMAC, taking off his jacket.
The robot had evidently reloaded, as it let loose with another stream of bullets. Clark stood stock-still as the bullets ricocheted off him, turning a number of nearby garbage cans into Swiss cheese. Once the guns clicked empty, Clark took a step forward, cocking his fist.
The OMAC flew backwards, legs windmilling as it tried to get traction on ground that simply wasn't there. The abrupt upward motion was stopped when it collided with a water tower, exploding it. The OMAC landed along with several thousand gallons of water atop a rooftop. The OMAC scanned the area to find its target leaping towards it, ragged clothing fluttering in the wind.
Clark hit the ground running and came at the OMAC, holding his arm out to clothesline the robot, but the OMAC grabbed his arm and redirected him through the struts of the decapitated water tower. Clark went down, skidding through the spilled water. He came up to see the OMAC prepping a rocket launcher from its arm. Clark barely had enough time to shift into superspeed before the missile was upon him. He slapped it aside, sending it hurling into the stratosphere.
Even as the OMAC loaded another missile, Clark let loose with his heatvision. The chest of the OMAC glowed red as it dripped open, rivets of molten metal running down its body and pooling at its feet. As soon as he could see through the robot, Clark stepped forward, planted his fingers on either side of the hole, and exerted. The OMAC was ripped in half.
Lex pulled his hand away from the computer as the screen went dead. He turned to Schuster, who suddenly remembered to close his mouth.
"Well, it was nice while it lasted." Lex extended his hand for a shake. "Pleasure working with you."
Sully scooped up a small pile of dead nanites from the pilot's seat and dumped it into her pocket.
"Alright, good. Halfway home," Sully said. "Chloe, this is where you come in. I need you to talk to the Fortress AI."
"Whatever. We need its help to reconstruct Brainiac's systems. And 'Jor-El' knows you, doesn't he?"
"I think he's tried to kill me a few times."
Batman stared at the woman lying on the gurney in the Batcave's medical center. She was attractive enough, in a stripper sort of way. A reporter, wasn't she? In the Batcave. Lois Lane. He Googled the name. A few articles, most centering on the kind of international shenanigans that wouldn't make the five o'clock news, but well-written. She could be a problem.
Alfred finished dressing her wound and looked disdainfully at the handcuff that bolted her to the table. "Is that quite necessary, Master Bruce?"
"No names around her."
"Right. Of course then. Batman. It is quite necessary to keep a hostage, Batman?"
"You didn't see what the kid could do. This one's a friend of his. I can use that."
Alfred sighed with the faint consternation of the elderly in the presence of the youthful. "Shall I make up the guest bedroom, sir?"
Clark grabbed a fresh shirt at superspeed, leaving a fiver on the counter. He probably overpaid. Lois was gone. Batman was gone. He had the familiar and uneasy feeling that he was in the middle of a war
Scanning the neighborhood again brought no results. Aside from some fresh tires tracks that disappeared after a quarter mile, nothing. Dejected, he threw his head back. Somewhere in the night sky, the light from Krypton's red sun was still reaching Earth after all these years. Except where a billboard with Bruce Wayne's face was blocking the sky.
Clark recognized the face.
"I'm sorry, gentlemen," Bruce was saying to the Wayne Enterprises board of directors as they walked down one of the seemingly endless hallways that made up Wayne Tower. "But I can't approve of a cost-cutting measure that takes jobs out of Gotham."
"Mr. Wayne, we have a duty to our shareholders," the CFO argued. He had two children, one wife, and three ex-wives in Gotham.
"And we have a responsibility to our employees. The answer is no. I won't hear anymore on the"
Bruce opened the door to his office to find Clark Kent standing in front of his desk.
"Wayne, we need to talk.
Bruce closed the door on the board of directors. "I don't know how you got in here, but you're welcome to leave the way you came in before security gets here."
If Clark wasn't already sure about the face, the glint of recognition in Bruce's eyes and the hard edge in his voice convinced. As the industrialist picked up his phone, Clark put his forefingers above his head in parody of Batman's horned cowl.
Bruce hung up the phone. "I hope you're happy. People are going to think you're my gay lover now."
In a blur, Clark was against him, hand clenched around his throat. "Seeing as we both know each others' secrets, let's not play coy. Where's Lois?"
"Safe. If you don't take your hands off me, that could change."
Clark threw Bruce down on the office's sofa. "Where. Is. She?"
"Give me your word to stay out of Gotham," Bruce said coolly, fixing his tie. "Then go to the state line and photograph yourself there. I'll deliver your reporter back to you and then the both of you can be on your way."
Fuming, Clark ran his hands through his hair. "What the hell is wrong with you? I came here to warn you and you act like I'm honing in on your turf or something!"
"Are my terms acceptable or not?"
Clark's lips became thin white lines. "What makes you think I'll keep my word?"
Bruce chuckled humorlessly. "Come on, hayseed. Who do you think you're fooling?
Clark set his jaw and pulled out a cell phone from his pocket. "I'll camera-phone you the picture. What's your number?"
The door to the Fortress yawned open, revealing the crystalline interior. It shined blindingly when struck by sunlight, but as soon as the door closed behind Chloe and Sully, an ambient light replaced the glare. A stark, harsh light, but manageable.
"Chloe Sullivan." The Fortress faintly rumbled with Jor-El's long-dead voice. "Why have you brought an outsider into this hallowed refuge of Krypton?"
Chloe was speechless until Sully thumped her on the back, knocking her forward a step.
"We came here because someone is trying to kill your son," Chloe said, meekly.
"Oh?" Jor-El's voice had a trace of simulated amusement. "I imagine they'll have a hard time of that."
Lex stood in the Kryptonite storeroom. It was really meteor rock, this far back in the timeline. All shapes, sizes, and colors; all behind transparent lead. The Terminator was bleached green in the malign, radioactive glow.
It was Superman's turn to fall.
In a sumptuously human gesture, Lex breathed in the ambience before turning to his assistant, Miles.
"Has the team been prepped?"
"All fueled up and ready to go, sir," the assistant reported, clicking through his electronic clipboard. "Arming the K-bomb will take a while longer. And we still have to select a test site."
"I already have one in mind."
Clark photographed himself standing by a "Now Leaving New Jersey" sign. Within a moment, his phone rang.
"Don't try to move, I'm tracking you on GPS. Stay on the line; your girl's on the way."
"She is not my"
The line went dead, but there was no dial tone.
Clark sighed and waited, the phone nestled against his ear, his hands in his pockets, feeling powerless.
"Kal-El could very well be powerless against such a foe," Jor-El concurred after they explained the situation. "But that still doesn't explain why I should help you prevent the Brain Interactive Construct's attempt at genocide."
"You son of a"
Chloe clamped a hand over her future self's mouth. "Jor-El," she placated, launching into the formal diction favored by Kryptonian society, "for all your wisdom, might you not have overlooked something?"
"If Fine's plan works, the human population will lessen drastically and technological progress will be similarly set back. Your son may survive, but the empire he rules will be one of dust and smoke."
There was a pregnant pause. Sully pulled Chloe's hand from her mouth, but hung onto it.
"You raise a good point," Jor-El said and Sully squeezed Chloe's hand, "for a human."
A black sedan pulled up thirty minutes later. Clark stood up straighter when it slowed to a stop in front of him. The backdoor opened and Lois was shoved out. Bruce had gambled correctly that Clark wouldn't risk a confrontation with Lois in the area, for fear of revealing his secret or worse. The sedan sped away while Clark ran to Lois as fast as human legs could've carried him.
He undid her bonds and took the blindfold from her eyes and saw her broad smile when she took off her gag. Then she surprised them both by throwing her arms around him. He turned the embrace and felt her face against his chest for a moment before she pulled away.
"Get your meat hooks off me, Smallville," she sniffled. "You know I can't stand to see a grown man cry."
"Did they hurt you?"
"No, but I got in a lot of zingers that I'm sure damaged their egos."
"You show that Batman who's boss."
Lois's eyes lit up. "'I Was Kidnapped By Batman'. No, better: 'I Spent The Night With Batman,' an exclusive by Lois Lane."
"I don't suppose I get to share the byline," Clark quipped.
"Did you spend the night with Batman? Then no."
They walked to Lois's car, parked beside the sign. Lois unlocked it; the keys were in her pocket.
"Hey, Clark, how'd you get my car all the way out here?"
"Hot-wired it. Mind giving me a ride home, Metropolis?"
For once, Lois let Clark drive. She herself stretched out in the backseat, talking to Clark about the experience (he had a feeling she missed her pocket recorder at that minute). No wonder she was tired. According to her, she had stayed up all night, trying to escape. She got close a few times, too, but there was always a freaky little kid blocking her.
Lois fell asleep muttering something about Clark being full of stars, although he didn't know it. Then her words fell into nonsense. Clark looked at her in the rear-view mirror before turning his attention back to the road. If he didn't watch it, he could actually start to worry about her full-time.
His phone rang. Clark answered it before it could wake Lois (really, that weird protective feeling had to go).
"Clark, it'ssorry if the reception is spotty, I'm calling from theSolitude."
"Chloe, you're at the Fortress? Don't you know how dangerous that is?"
There was a long burst of static. "have much timeextremely importantcoordinates are 54 degrees North and 66 degrees West."
"You're breaking up. What's at the coordinates?"
"island! Fine is trying toexplain it to you in personthe caves."
"You'll meet me at the caves? Fine is involved?"
"Yes! You have to hurry, wehas a bomb."
Before he could speak, the connection broke. Clark stared at his phone as if it had personally betrayed him before dialing Bruce's number.
"I was expecting a call from you," Bruce said, picking up on the first ring. "After this call, the number will be discontinued."
"Listen, I don't know if you care, but someone sent that robot to kill us."
"Kill you, maybe. That's your problem."
"And I think the same person has a bomb at 54 degrees North, 66 degrees West."
"Nowhere near Gotham."
"How the hell can you be so cold?"
"Practice. Whatever it is you're mixed up in, keep it out of Gotham and we'll have no problems. Goodbye, Clark."
Clark would've protested, tried to explain more of the situation, but just at that moment his bad habit of chatting on his cell-phone while driving caught up to him. A kid had wandered out of a roadside café and into the street, directly in the path of Lois's speeding car. His mind working at superspeed, Clark knew that there was no time for the brakes to do their work. So he simply drove his feet through the car's floor and against the pavement, lifting the car off the road. The momentum harmlessly diffused itself into the air in the few seconds before Clark set the car back down, then drove around the child as his mother ran out to fetch him.
"Clark, what the hell happened to the floor of my car?" Lois asked when she woke up.
"We hit a road bump."
Chloe banged on the phone with the heel of her hand, but it was no good. She'd lost the signal.
"There is only so much I can do to boost the reception of such primitive technology," Jor-El said, a bit defensively.
"Doesn't matter. I'll let him know in person." Chloe heard Sully sniffling. "Are you crying?"
Sully thumbed a tear out of the corner of her eye. "Sorry. It's just after so long after so much fighting you don't know how beautiful a thought it is that none of this has to happen."
Chloe thought of the devastation on Dark Thursday and how much worse it could've been. "I think I have an idea."
"Jor-El," Sully said in a loud, clear voice, "can you send us to the island, to warn them?"
"My systems only have enough power for a single teleport one-way."
Chloe and Sully looked at each other.
"We both know it only makes sense for me to go," Sully said fatalistically. "Let's not make this difficult."
"I'll try to come get you, but if I can't this is goodbye," Chloe admitted.
Sully cupped Chloe's face in her hand, affectionately tracing the younger woman's lips with her thumb. Chloe tasted the bitterness of her tears.
"Thank you. It shames me that I used to be someone like you before I gave in to becoming what I am."
"Are you kidding? I'd love to grow up to be like you. Self-confident, assertive "
"Lesbian," Sully reminded her, with humor.
"I can live with that."
One of the larger crystal pillars split open to reveal a flat, man-sized pad. It glowed with energy.
"Your transportation is ready," Jor-El said.
Sully kissed Chloe gently on the forehead. Chloe suddenly realized that the other her had a scent, harsh and acrid, like smoke. She must have carried it back from the future. Or maybe it was in her, down to the skin and blood. Irrationally, Chloe wondered what Sully smelled on her.
"If I don't make it," Sully said, a dry recitation of fact, "there'll be nothing to prove my my people ever mattered. So, if anything happens."
"I could never forget," Chloe said simply.
The teleportation was more drawn out than usual. A tingling sensation had time to seize Sully's body. Bookending a period of sightlessness was her last eye contact with Chloe and her first glimpse of a new world.
It could've been a commercial for an island getaway. The sands were so cool and white they might have been melting snow. Waves pounded against the shore with surprising force, liberally spraying the area with foam. It all made Sully feel deliriously out of place. First Kansas and Chloe, then this beach. After being put through so much hell, maybe she was finally ascending through heaven.
Then she saw two women approaching with spears.
"What took you?" Chloe asked the next time she saw Clark. "Leg cramp?"
The cave was abandoned around them, the only sound the gentle rustling of bats. Clark had only had time for a brief shower and change of clothes before heading back to meet her. Chloe, for her part, had only just thawed from teleporting out of the Arctic.
"I had to pawn Lois off on Oliver. It took a while. I had to convinced him to act interested in her Bat-pose."
"Long story. So, what's up?"
Chloe laid it out as quickly as possible. Clark processed it all as best he could, stopping her only occasionally to ask questions. When she got to the part where Fine was planning to blow up an island, he stopped her again.
"Wait, what's so special about this island?"
"I was just getting to that. Apparently, back in the day Krypton set up a listening post there, sort of a proto-Fortress. With all the damage you've done to Fine lately, the chance to recharge his batteries must be pretty tempting. Jor-El said that before the Kryptonians left, they set up a tribe of warriors to defend and maintain the installation Amazons."
"Amazons? As in Xena?"
"Technically, it was Xena's sidekick Gabrielle that was the Amazon, but yeah. We have to get there. I promised Sully "
Clark rubbed the side of his head, thinking. "I think I could convince Lionel to part with a plane. I know you don't like relying on a Luthor "
"I'll chance it."
Lionel Luthor laid his suit jacket across the back of his chair. Clark was seated on the other side of the monolithic glass desk that dominated the room, looking singularly uncomfortable with sitting down in the presence of a Luthor. The room was eighty stories up, giving its occupants a God's eye view of Metropolis. Clark could make out the rotating globe of the Daily Planet building in the skyline.
"Immortal warrior women defending a storehouse of alien knowledge," Lionel was saying in that mellifluous purr of his. "If you were anyone else, Clark, I'd be inclined to dismiss this as the fantasy of a raving, albeit highly creative, lunatic."
You used to be a raving lunatic. "I know how this all sounds." You drove your son mad to save your own hide.
Lionel opened a desk drawer and took out a lint brush. He ran it over the shoulders of his jacket. "I wasn't finished talking, Clark," he gently chided, a hum of superiority in his voice. He was going to make Clark grovel for it. "On the other hand, you're a quite trustworthy source. So the question isn't whether to believe you, it's if I should make an enemy out of Fine."
"He brainwashed your son," Clark said tersely. So did you.
"That was between Lex and Fine. I advised my son against dealing with the devil, but he ignored my warnings. Regardless, allowing a vendetta to influence my decision-making is bad for business."
The elder Luthor rubbed the brush over the lapels of his jacket. He never trusted others with this. Others could handle generalities, but the specifics, the last details, those must be left to the leaders.
"Innocent people could die," Clark said.
He had the audacity to chuckle. "Charity has its place, but I tend to draw the line at private jets. Quid pro quo, Mr. Kent, or to put it more colloquially, there's no such thing as a free lunch."
Clark gritted his teeth. Martha could've gotten it out of him like that, but he hadn't wanted to involve her any deeper with the Luthors. "What do you want?"
"I'm not as young as I once was. Whatever fountain of youth these Amazons possess, find out its secrets. Bring it to me, if at all possible."
Clark considered it quickly. His only alternative was to go to Lex, and those terms would doubtlessly be more draconian than Lionel's. He could try to play them against each other, but that would take too long and could backfire besides. No one presented a unified front like the Luthors.
Chloe was parked just outside the Luthorcorp building under the watchful eye of a Luthor security man. He discreetly wandered off as soon as Clark walked out of the lobby.
"The plane is being fuelled right now," Clark answered.
"You're a miracle worker."
"Thought that was my line."
They got into Chloe's car. Chloe stuck her key in the ignition, but didn't turn it.
"Clark, can I ask you a question?"
Clark buckled his seatbelt. "Sure, Chloe, anything."
"Have I ever struck you as " Chloe's gesturing hands jolted forward, as if to contain the size of her next word, "butch?"
"You know Ellen-y."
"Oh God." Clark rubbed his brow with the heel of his hand. "I know what this is about."
Clark nodded and called on everything he'd been taught about psychology in community college. "You're somewhat attracted to this 'you' from the future because of perfectly natural positive self-image and it's got you thinking that you're a lesbian."
Chloe barked out a harsh laugh to convey how absurd the idea was. "I am not attracted to Sully!"
"Really? When you think of her, what's the first adjective that comes to mind?"
"Beautiful," Chloe answered as if by rote. She scowled: "That doesn't prove anything!"
"You're getting worked up over nothing. Raya told me that sexuality is fluid "
"Not mine!" Chloe sighed and cradled her head in her hand, propping her elbow against the steering wheel. She looked sidelong at Clark. "I'm going to need you to kiss me."
"We settle this, once and for all. Pretend I'm Lana and let me have it."
"Chloe, begging your pardon, but is there something in the Sullivan-Lane water supply today? First Lois wants me to pretend-rape her, now you want me to reassert your heterosexuality?" Clark said, exasperated.
"Do it for Jimmy," Chloe begged. "He'd be so disappointed if I was a lesbian."
"Alright, one kiss "
Clark closed his eyes, welled up every ounce of affection and desire he'd ever felt for Chloe, and kissed her.
"That did absolutely nothing for me," Chloe said with disappointment.
Clark was flabbergasted. "It didn't?"
"I am a lesbian!" Chloe realized.
"We could try again "
The Terminator walked into Lionel's office with the leisurely stride he'd practiced, watching "himself" on security footage. He'd switched his skin to mimic another of the suits he'd found in the real Lex's wardrobe and changed the level of fatigue to reflect a good night's sleep. Hopefully, Lionel Luthor would find the illusion inscrutable.
"Hey dad," the Terminator greeted, watching the man in question look up from the papers on his desk. "Got a minute?"
"'Dad'?" Lionel chuckled and took off his reading glasses. "I suppose your taste of married life has reflected itself in your disposition."
Lex tilted his head to one side and screwed up his mouth a little, a characteristic gesture hopefully well-employed. "Maybe it has at that. I notice you lent out one of our family jets. Mind telling me why?"
"A single Leer jet is hardly going to put Luthorcorp in the red."
"No, perhaps not. But as soon as we get sloppy, thirty Leer jets are, so I ask you again why?"
Lionel smiled wolfishly. "Yes, engagement isn't emasculating you at all, is it? One of our Senate friends wanted to say hello to some old friends in Bermuda, I simply did the neighborly thing. More flies with honey than with vinegar, Lex."
"A senator. Then I suppose it was just a coincidence that you were meeting with Clark Kent right before that jet was given orders to fuel."
Like all humans, Lionel's flesh betrayed him. The slight jump in heart rate, the smallest dilation of the pupils, a quarter of a second microexpression they told the Terminator all he needed to know.
Without another word, the Terminator got up and walked out the door.
Clark nervously jangled his knee from right to left. The process of flight assaulted every one of his supersenses. He could hear the airstreams stampeding by the plane's fuselage his sight and the altitude made the curvature of the Earth, it's very smallness, blindingly plain to him
"Nervous?" Chloe teased from the other side of the cabin.
"I don't like to fly," Clark avowed, trying to avoid glancing at the many windows. "Long way down."
"Clark, you're invincible."
"I can still feel pain."
"Wimp." Chloe turned back to her magazine.
"It's a lot of pain. I mean, you know how much it hurts to get punched, right? Now imagine getting punched through a wall. It hurts that much more."
"Well, if it didn't, imagine what you couldn't feel. A touch, a handshake, a kiss "
"I don't imagine I'll be feeling that last thing anytime soon, irregardless."
"Irregardless isn't a word. And why don't you cry about it on your MySpace while listening to Dashboard Confessional?"
"My what while listening to who?" Clark was genuinely confused.
"See, this is why you should move to Metropolis."
"For Dashboard Confessional?"
Finished, Chloe folded her magazine closed and shoved it under her seat. Then she pulled out her cell phone and checked the GPS. "Hey, almost there. So, what's the plan when we get there?"
Clark shrugged. "I don't know about you, but I'm making this up as I go along. I guess we just shore up defenses and hope that Sully has a welcome wagon ready for us."
A shrill noise invaded Clark's brain, just over the hiss of the airstreams. Something volatile and fiery like acid burning in his eardrums.
"You hear that?"
The missile hit the cockpit, the ensuing explosion disintegrating the cockpit. The contrails of the shockwave reached out, vile tentacles scorching the cabin even as the change and air pressure ripped and tore at anything not bolted down. In a burst of superspeed, Clark cradled Chloe in his arms. The flames scorched against his back, but left them unharmed. Then they were in freefall, the shattered plane drifting apart above them, the air tearing at their bodies as they rushed past it.
Below them, the world was pale blue water, flexing like one immense membrane with currents not yet reaching shore. Chloe opened her eyes, the wind dragging tears out of their sockets.
"Clark, when we hit the water "
Clark looked over his shoulder. A white contrail of exhaust led to a jet drone (his X-ray vision revealed no one inside), which swept over them. The Luthorcorp logo was emblazoned proudly on its side.
"We've already reached terminal velocity!" Chloe shouted to be heard over the wind. "Once we hit, I'm going to die."
"I'll shield you!"
Chloe shook her head. "Doesn't matter. The sudden stop is going to kill me, no matter what. You're going to have to swim to the island. Stop Fine. And tell my father "
Clark blinked away tears. This wasn't happening. He wouldn't let it. The water gaped open below them. He could see fish swimming beneath the surface in vast clouds. Debris from the plane had fallen ahead of them; it splashed in the water in tiny concentric dimples.
"Tell him yourself. Hold on tight."
He braced himself with Chloe, reached out with his mind, exerted. He didn't know how he had done it before, but he could do it. All he had to do was want it hard enough and he could do anything.
The water was close. Two hundred feet. One hundred. Still they didn't slow.
Clark imagined himself floating, imagined himself reliving the odd sensation that had expressed itself through his body all those times in his past. As Kal-El, in his dream, during the tornado. Up. I want to go UP.
Seventy feet. Forty feet.
Chloe buried her face in his shoulder, holding on to him as hard as she could.
"I'm sorry, Chloe."
Chloe opened her eyes slowly.
The waves were gently rambling under her feet. Two meters under. And her feet were almost imperceptibly stuttering up and down. She looked up to see Clark, clutching her tightly in his arms.
"How is this possible?" she said when she found her voice.
"I don't know. I just--get down!"
He dunked her under the water as another missile flew towards him, so close to the water that it kicked up waves in its wake. Clark threw a punch, his hand ripping through the missile's nose before he wrapped his fingers around the warhead. It muted the explosion, but the force was still enough to send him hurling backwards. He skipped over the water like a pebble before coming to a stop, his descent padded by the water.
The drone was coming in for another pass. Clark dove under, kicking his legs as powerfully as a submarine's turbines, and launched himself out of the water at the jet. It jerked out of his path at the last minute, but as the two passed, Clark blasted it with a burst of heatvision. Most of the rays missed, boiling the water instead, but the tail of the drone was shredded. It wobbled as it flew away, finally hitting the surface of the water and being threshed apart by the impact.
Clark landed in the water again. Quickly, he swam to Chloe. "You see the island?"
Chloe nodded and pointed to a small speck on the horizon.
"Okay! Wrap your arms around my neck. I'll get us there in no time."
"Airline and cruise ship," Chloe quipped, teeth chattering from the chill of the ocean. "You start offering piggyback rides and I think we can go into business."
Lex watched the feed from the drone fighter go dead, an emotion creasing his features. Frustration, this one was called. In machine terms, it translated to continued inability to perform the task at hand. The Terminator was neither pleased or displeased with this turn of events. It simply registered the appropriate emotion to display, then went about performing its job with a new attempt.
A slow clap filled the room. Frustration again was called up. Lex had told its underlings to
The clapping was coming from Lex. The real Lex. Its father.
"I've got to say, you've got your impersonation of me dead to rights. If this were a comedic styling, I'd laugh. Unfortunately for you, right now I'm not very amused."
The Terminator looked at the several armored and well-armed men who had entered the room along with their boss. Their rifles were leveled at the machine, dots of red laser light playing across its fake body.
"Fortunately for me," Lex continued, "I have fail-safes in place for just such an emergency. As good as you are, I doubt you know my private codes. Isn't that right, challenge-response blue-blue-twenty-three?"
The Terminator shook its head. "A wise precaution," it told Lex in his own voice. "How'd you overcome the drug?"
"I have a better metabolism than most," Lex answered nonchalantly. "And as for you, you whatever you are, you're going to make a fascinating addition to Section 33.1."
Again, the Terminator shook its head. Then, shedding the Lex disguise like a second skin, it ran out of the room, right through a wall. Automatic weapon fire racked the area it had just been, but already it had exceeded speeds of eighty miles per hour. A window was spread out before it and it leapt, shards of glass sticking to its liquid-metal exoskeleton for the split-second before it landed. The pavement cracked under its feet and it looked up thirty stories up to see Lex and his team looking down in bewilderment. The Terminator took on a new form, the embedded glass dropping off its body, and walked away.
The K-Bomb was still in play.
Clark dragged Chloe onto the beach. She looked like a drowned rat, her clothes sodden, her skin rapidly turning a light shade of blue. He rubbed heat into her arms and face, stopping as soon as she achieved a healthier skin tone.
"All these years all I had to do was nearly drown to get you to touch me."
Clark smiled and propped her up against a palm tree. She was doing better now, the tropical sun bleaching her dry. Clark felt drained as well. The flight, the explosions, and the swim had drained his strength. He sat down on the beach and basked in the sunlight, feeling revitalized. Clark folded his legs and concentrated on hovering.
"What are you doing?"
Clark turned to Chloe. "Am I flying?"
"No. You look a little ridiculous. But it's okay. Thanks."
Chloe stopped hyperventilating. "Sorry. I prefer my near-death experiences not be so near."
Clark smiled reassuringly at her just as a golden lasso wrapped around his neck, digging into the tender flesh. Before he even had time to gag, he was yanked backwards, his body corkscrewing through a tree.
He heard a female voice, husky and strong, bark out a challenge in what sounded like Greek before he was pulled away again, this time the lasso sending him through an entire copse of palm trees. Clark fought his way to his knees. The cord was cutting into his neck, but had just enough slack to let him breath.
"I don't know if you've heard," Clark said hoarsely, "but superheroes meeting up and having a fight over a misunderstanding before they team-up? It's kind of a cliché."
The lasso tightened. He focused on it and sent a scalpel-thin line of heatvision against it, but it only warmed the lasso, it didn't break it. Clark looked up to see the lasso's wielder, a jaw-droppingly beautiful Amazon in Hoplite armor, smiling at him as a cat might smile at a mouse. She snapped the lasso like a whip, planting his face back in the sand. Another Greek taunt from her lips rung in his ears.
"This isn't Sparta!" Clark heard Chloe yell as she charged the Amazon. She was knocked unconscious by a simple backhand.
Alright, that does it!
Clark grabbed the lasso in one hand and pulled it towards him with all his might. The Amazon was yanked off her feet, right into a haymaker from Clark that sent her skidding into the surf. Remarkably, she held onto the lasso and pulled him in with her. Before he knew it, Clark was face to face with her. She spun, the weighted ends of her armored skirt battering against his thighs. Clark backed up, just enough to get room for a proper punch. She blocked it with some kind of silvery gauntlet on her wrist. Whatever the gauntlet was made out of, it absorbed the blow so well that Clark nearly broke his hand on it. The retaliatory punch actually bruised Clark's face. He spat out blood and it bloomed in the surf before being swept into nothingness by the undertow.
Heatvision blasted out of Clark's eyes, hitting the gauntlets. They turned molten, but remained stubbornly solid. The heat didn't even seem to affect the Amazon. She pulled on the lasso, dragging Clark closer. Now Clark blew on the gauntlets with his freeze breath. The extreme temperature shift shattered them to crumbs. The Amazon had no time to process this before Clark was upon her, throwing a punch that she automatically tried to block with her gauntlets. Instead, it slid past her hands and snapped her head back. The Amazon fell back into the surf, nose bloodied.
"Ready to listen?" Clark asked, extending his hand to help her up. "I don't want to fight you."
The Amazon jerked on the lasso again, this time pulling him into a double-kick to the gut. He was flipped over the Amazon, deeper into the water. Then Clark was being dragged out by the neck, a sinister look in the woman's eyes. She began to spin around. With superhuman strength, Clark was picked up off the ground and spun at the end of the lasso like a tetherball. He caught a glimpse of the Amazon with that same queer grin before she let him go, flinging him deeper into the island's interior.
Branches and leaves broke off against his flesh, ripping into his clothes. Freed of the lasso, he took in a deep breath of air. Then his luck ran out and he began crashing through tree trunks, smashing them apart like toothpicks. Whoever had thrown him, she was helluva strong.
Clark skipped twice across the ground, ripped through the trunk of another tree, then skidded to a sudden halt against a marble pillar. He heard the masonry crack and protest at the impact. Bruised and battered, he opened his eyes. The sky was blue above him. He looked around. He was in some kind of communal area, filled with open air Greco-Roman architecture. Where marble wasn't available, expansions had been made out of bamboo and other plant matter. It was as if the Temple of Artemis had erected itself right out of the jungle.
The pillar he had hit tottered. His collision had taken a huge chunk out of its base. As Clark watched, the pillar toppled towards the courtyard, intent on squashing flat several of the toga-clad inhabitants. Clark jumped up and wrapped his arms around his end of the pillar, braking it just inches above their heads. The Amazons noticed him as he carried the pillar to the side and set it down.
The Amazon he had been fighting earlier appeared out of the jungle, her lasso coiled at her waist. She called out a sharp command, the meaning of which became clear when another Amazon tossed her a sword. She leveled it at Clark and shouted out another order.
"I don't know what you're saying," Clark said exasperatedly.
The Amazon gestured for him to kneel. Reluctantly, Clark did so. The girl was a psychopath and swallowing his pride beat carrying on the fight in a populated area.
"Rise," a voice said in flawless Kryptonese.
Clark turned. It was a woman, draped in the same robes as the other Amazons, but this was accessorized with a jade headdress which propagated into necklaces and other jewelry. But besides that, there was a certain stature about her. He'd recognized it before, in Lex and Lionel and Morgan Edge. A power and a willingness to exercise that power. She must be their leader.
"We will speak in the old tongue for the benefit of our guest, to show we have no secrets to keep from him." The queen turned to the Amazon that had attacked him. "Diana, why do you attack this man?"
"Mother, he is a male. Surely, he is in league with the other intruder that came here. They are planning an attack."
"An attack of two warriors?" The queen chuckled. "Diana, you have much to learn. Did you not notice his great strength and endurance in your battle? He is of the old ones."
The queen ran a hand over Clark's chest. He gasped in pain as the brand that Jor-El had once inscribed him with sprang to the surface again, glowing fiercely in the shape of a vertical lemniscate. Instantly, all the Amazons present bowed. Diana was the only one who went to the additional length of going to her knees, but only for a brief moment. She was the first to rise.
"My apologies, honored one. I could not have known."
Clark couldn't help but be a little less than gracious as he wiped blood from his chin. "Maybe next time you should try saying hi before you try to lynch someone."
Diana frowned and took off her helmet.
"You must be weary from your exertions," the queen said solicitously. "We will prepare food and beds for you and your friends."
"My friend on the beach doesn't speak Kryptonese err, the old tongue. I should go talk to her."
"No need. I'll instruct my women to bring a translator device. We've been familiarizing it with your harbinger's dialect all morning."
"Speaking of which, I need to see my harbinger. Umm, her name is Sully."
"Quite so. Mine is Queen Hippolyta. Come, I will show you to her."
They walked. Clark's Kryptonese was barely conversational; he faltered and strove to find the right words constantly.
"So, uh, who do you think I am?"
"You are the last son of Krypton, come to reclaim your birthright."
"And Krypton what do you think that means?"
"Mount Olympus, of course."
Clark automatically looked to the mountain range at the center of the island. It wasn't nearly tall enough, but his telescopic vision picked up a winding trail up the length of one mountain, well-worn and used. A marble quarry, most likely.
"Queen Hippolyta, I'm not sure how to tell you this but Kryptonians aren't gods. We're just people, same as you, only more advanced."
"The difference is academic, young one."
"My name is Clark. Clark Kent some call me Kal-El."
"Which do you prefer?"
"Clark then." The queen smiled. "We do not worship the Kryptonians, only acknowledge the superiority they possessed over us and their wisdom. Our beliefs have not given way to myth and hearsay. I was quite alive when the Olympians descended from their perch and selected us for our holy mission. The memory rings clearer in my mind than what I dined upon last week."
"Tell me everything."
Queen Hippolyta glanced at Clark for explanation.
"Since you've been gone, Krypton has been destroyed. I'm pretty much the only survivor."
"Of course you are. That's why this temple was established. It was meant for emergency use in case one of your kind became stranded here, there are many such outposts. However, Jor-El reconfigured this one to serve as a training ground; and we, as your elite guard in bringing peace and order to this troubled world."
Clark recognized Kryptonian technology melding seamlessly with the Amazon architecture as they went deeper into the temple. Crystal consoles were kept low-key and filed down to fit with the feel of the building.
"I don't need bodyguards. And I don't want to rule either."
"As you will. But nevertheless, your arrival tells our oracles that it is time to end our exile and return to Patriarch's World. Thus, my daughter will accompany you as our vanguard."
Clark was sure he'd mistranslated that last sentence. "Your daughter? Diana? The one that tried to kill me?"
"Not kill, merely subdue. To the master warrior, the taking of life is as unnecessary as trailing mud in from the outdoors when one could merely wash one's feet."
"Thrilled to hear that. She had a lasso around my neck."
"I imagine you would be quite difficult to subdue. She was exercising all due force."
"She threw me through a tree. Through a lot of trees, in fact."
"It is good that you respect her as a warrior first and as a woman second," Hippolyta replied, unfazed.
"I saw the way you stared at her. Her beauty has captured your eye. You would do well to have her as a wife, although I doubt she will prove receptive to her charms. You will have to be cunning to win her heart, as a serpent is with a "
"I'm not marrying your daughter," Clark said emphatically.
"Not yet. Give it time. She would stand beside you in hopeless battle and bear you strong children in time of peace. Not like the sycophantic slaves of Patriarch's World, always questing for a man's approval and never knowing how to get it."
They started down a spiral staircase. The walls gave way to the interior of a cave.
"Queen Hippolyta, with all due respect, a lot's changed since you've been gone. Women's suffrage, feminism that's on it's third wave by now trust me, things are much better than they were in the world you left."
"My daughter will uncover the truth of your statements. Ah, your friend awaits."
Sully was being held in a small cage within a basement of the main temple. Two centurions in similar armor to Diana were guarding her. At Queen Hippolyta's signal, they left the room. The cage was made of bamboo tied together with twine. Clark ripped it open.
"Yes, that was our key too," Hippolyta said.
Clark whistled at the sight of Sully. "Now I know what Chloe sees in you," he teased. It seemed like a good way to break the ice.
"Super Clark," Sully greeted, giving him a smile that was all Chloe. She was happy to see him, to say the least. "Sorry, without the glasses I thought damn, it's good to see you again! And weird to see you without the spit-curl."
Clark hugged her. It seemed like the right thing to do. "Okay, I've seen Back To The Future. You're not supposed to tell me anything about the future unless I die or something. I don't, do I?"
"Oh, you do, but don't worry, you come right back to life a few weeks later."
"Ummm " Clark had no idea what to do with that. "Okay then. We'd better go find Chloe, see if we can explain all this."
The party wasn't quite what Clark had expected. The dinner itself was stately and dignified, but there was dancing on the outskirts. The table was never more than half-seated, Amazons drifting to one of the circles of dancers that rung around the dining area and then returned to their seats, flustered and exhausted, holding hands with their dance partner. Chloe and Sully sat across from the Kryptonian.
"So thanks to the forcefield," Sully was saying, "Paradise Island is spared the radioactive aftereffects. That makes it an invaluable operational base during the war. Amazons are were some of our best fighters."
"That would explain why the Terminator would want to destroy it."
"Terminator?" Chloe asked, swallowing her wine. "I thought we thought that Fine was trying to use the bomb."
"We did," Clark said. "But then I realized that if he uses a bomb, he can't recover anything. So it must be the Terminator trying to rob the resistance of its base."
"But we used Fine's nanites to hack into their processing."
"Fine must've anticipated just that move. He safeguarded himself and the Terminator did the exact opposite, to lure us into a trap."
"So, if this is a trap, why are we here? because this is the best possible place to stop the trap."
Clark nodded. "Like Sully said, the forcefield will prevent a frontal attack. If the Terminator tries to deliver a bomb, it'll have to be the same way we got on the island. That's when we'll get him."
"I've already ordered the shore patrols doubled," Queen Hippolyta said. "No one will penetrate our defenses."
Clark felt an insistent tug at his sleeve from a young Amazon of thirteen. Diana stepped in.
"I'm afraid Clark has promised me the last dance," Diana said gently. "Run along now."
She sat down beside Clark, who turned his attention back to his plate of freshly slaughtered boar. She was wearing a diaphanous series of gowns, piled on top of one another, constantly shifting over each other. He tried not to stare.
"No one deserves to dance with Derinoe. She steps on toes."
Clark served himself from a pitcher of water.
"No wine?" Diana asked.
"Not to my taste."
"Mine either. In fact, I was just about to leave. If you'd care to join me, I'll be training in the gardens."
"Take it as an apology if you like."
Diana got up from the table. After a moment, Clark followed her. "Sorry. Not much in a feasting mood."
Chloe watched them go. "Well, they seem cozy," she said to Sully, sotto voce.
"Oh ho no. That ship sailed a long time ago." Chloe took a deep gulp of wine.
"You seem a bit uncomfortable around me." Sully brushed some hair out of Chloe's face. "Are you alright?"
"Huh?" Chloe shied away from her touch. "Oh yeah, fine. Why wouldn't I be?"
"It's the lesbian thing, isn't it?"
Chloe finished off her goblet of wine and reached to refill it. Before she could set the decanter back down, two giggling Amazons tumbled onto the table, kissing passionately. Queen Hippolyta snapped at them good-naturedly in Greek and they ran off, holding each others' hands.
" what lesbian thing?" Chloe said at long last.
"Clark thinks you're attracted to me."
Chloe choked on her wine. She covered by drinking more. "I'm not quite really "
Sully waved a hand in the air dismissively. "No big. I find you attractive too. Just because I'm a lesbian doesn't mean I have sex with everyone I find attractive " She tore off a chunk of meat with her fork. "I wish, though " She glanced at Queen Hippolyta.
"No," Chloe said, sensing her thoughts. "The Queen? Get outta here!"
"She's got kind of a MILF thing going for her. Yummy."
Chloe giggled, a tad tipsy. Sully gave her a look before taking a bite from her meal.
"So, uhh " Chloe covered her mouth with her hand. "How do I how did you how do we realize we're a lesbian?"
Sully chewed once, swallowed, and leaned back in her chair. The memory was a happy one. "I remember it like it was yesterday, even though technically it's tomorrow. I had just made staff writer for the Planet and I went with a group of co-workers to this club. Small joint, great club sandwiches. We had a few drinks, talked about work we didn't have much else in common. I wasn't the only woman, but it was a near thing. And on stage, there was this singer. You're gonna love her."
As her other self talked, Chloe felt herself fading into the memory. Sully's words were so gentle and introspective that they were like a prophecy, cajoling a vision out of Chloe's imagination. She could picture the kind of club newspaper writers would frequent. It would be a bit more lofty than a normal bar, a bit cleaner, a bit more pretentious. A classy establishment, as they used to say.
"It's strange. Everything else is so vivid, but I can't remember what she was singing. The lyrics, I mean. But the song, her voice it was heavenly. Slow and lilting and quiet. So quiet I was surprised I could make it out. It felt like she was whispering in my ear. I never stopped looking at her through the whole performance. I didn't even care that my beer was going flat."
Chloe had drunk too much. The wine laid in the pit of her stomach, dragging her downwards. Her eyelids suddenly were heavier than the rest of the world. Her limbs felt leaden. But it was okay. She was comfortable in her numbness. She drifted to the side, towards Sully's sweet voice, and laid her head down on Sully's shoulder.
"So afterwards, I have to meet her. I don't know why, I just have this compulsion. An undeniable need. So there I am, waiting outside her door, when she comes out. We look at each other. She's beautiful. Even as a straight woman, I thought she was beautiful. Olive skin, beaded hair, cutest little nose breasts that you could just but you probably don't want to hear about that part. We talked and she was just God, the things you could say to that woman. Her name was Kali. A stage name, I think it was. I'm sure that was the only one she answered to."
Lulled. That was the word, Chloe mused. She was being lulled to sleep, inexorably inevitable sleep. And she was drunk and she was on an island filled with beautiful, immortal, possibly lesbian Amazons. With her future self as a tour guide. The most normal part of the day was her alien best friend with superpowers. And she was acting like the lesbianism was weird? It was to laugh. Sully's bicep was soft under Chloe's head. Chloe could feel a scar, cool and hard, against her cheek. She wondered what had made it, if it would hurt when she suffered through the initial wounding.
"We went back to her place. We kept talking. It was all very loose, all very easy. We just kind of slid into touching. Then into kissing. Then into more. It never occurred to me to stop, or that I was doing something wrong, any of that. It just felt so good, like perfection. I woke up the next morning and we talked some more. I told her I had never done anything like that before. She said it didn't matter. We dated for about two years, parted amiably. Looking back, those were some of the happiest times of my life, being with her."
Her reverie ended, Sully turned to gauge Chloe's reaction. When she noticed Chloe resting against her shoulder, she shifted back a bit. Chloe slumped forward, recovered, pulled herself up to look Sully in the eye. Then she kissed her, awkwardly, her hands poised next to their heads for a moment before meshing against Sully's neck. Sully tasted wine on Chloe's breath and it was still sweet. Then Chloe pulled away, smiled at Sully, and toppled over, unconscious.
To Clark's surprise, Amazon training didn't consist of any sort of sparring or drilling, at least not entirely, but some sort of Tai Chi-like meditation. He tried desperately to follow Diana as she flowed through a series of contortions, but his bulky frame seemed determined not to cooperate. She said she was going through a beginner's routine for his benefit. He had his doubts.
"So, your special abilities?"
Diana raised an eyebrow.
"How'd you get them? Are the others the same way?"
"No. Only me," Diana said with a touch of pride.
"The crystals gave me this wondrous power. Didn't you know they could do that?"
"It's happened before. Once to my father my adopted father and again to a girl I knew. Kara. You don't like me much do you?"
"No," Diana said, equally bluntly.
"Any particular reason?"
"What you represent. After thousands of years, we were imprisoned under the yoke of your expectations, like dogs under their master's table. And just as I was beginning to convince the elders that we must take charge of our own destiny, you show up to reinforce the status quo. Excuse me for not being happy about it."
Chloe woke up, thankfully minus a hangover. Amazonian wine. She'd have to export it. Make a Sullivan family fortune. Unthankfully, she remembered everything.
She turned over in bed. She was in a small and tented pavilion, sleeping atop what appeared to be a futon. There were no sheets covering her, but the morning air was so cool, yet humid, that she didn't really mind.
There was another futon a few feet away. Sully was sleeping atop it, face up, one eye figuratively open. She clutched a spear in her arms and for a moment Chloe wondered how many restless nights it took to get used to sleeping like that. She prayed she would never have to find out.
Chloe remembered the kiss. She had enjoyed the kiss, as much as possible under the circumstances. In truth, she hadn't not been expecting something like that. It was the way of things. For as long as she could remember, really remember, like what she had for breakfast remember, her life had been a constant series of strange incidents, breaking out of the (albeit comfortable) tedium of her day-to-day routine. And out of this chaos there had always been tiny oases of nice things, reminding her that things could get better. A shared smile with Clark. A kiss from Jimmy. Even that weird time after a meteor freak case where she'd stayed the morning at Lex's manor while the Big Bald himself made them banana sandwiches and talked to her about the works of Kurt Vonnegut. Chloe was far too young to be wondering if they had ever been that young.
And now she was hoping that Sully was thinking of that kiss the same way. An oasis they both had shared. Goddamn.
"Yo. Sleepyhead." Chloe threw a pillow at her ambiguous companion. "Up and at 'em." Sully snapped to immediately, sitting bolt upright. "Whoa!"
"Old habits." Sully tossed the spear to Chloe, who fumbled it. "We don't have to talk about it if you don't want to."
"No, no, I'm fine with talking about the kiss. I'm not ashamed. I'm okay with the gay thing. I'm not looking forward to explaining it to Jimmy, but I like you a lot and I don't care how ridiculously narcissistic that sounds."
Sully swung her legs over the side of the bed so she was sitting, facing Chloe. "So where do we go from here?"
Chloe stood up and walked over to Sully. She tilted the other woman's face upwards. Sully smiled as Chloe kissed her, the blonde pushing her tongue deep into her mouth.
"Not bad for an amateur," Sully said.
Chloe sat down next to her, resting her weight on Sully's thigh via a hand that stayed where it was, even after Chloe was seated.
"You know, I envy you," Sully said. "You have so much to look forward to, so many kinks to discover "
"Such as?" Chloe asked, taking off her jacket.
Sully grabbed her young counterpart by the hips and swung her around, putting Chloe on her back against the mattress. She pressed her body full-on into Chloe's, enjoying the full and luxurious sigh Chloe made at the contact.
"Physicality," Sully said, her face inches from Chloe's. "You always thought lesbians were gentle, all lapping tongues and shit. Then you realize how rough it can be " She grabbed Chloe's breast and squeezed brutally. Chloe moaned, even after Sully had pulled her hand away, leaving quickly-dissipating red marks. "Turns you on, doesn't it?"
Chloe put her hands on Sully's waist, then flipped them over so she was on top and giggled at the look in Sully's eyes, all lust and fire. "I'd say it does."
Chloe stripped off her shirt and Sully's eyes bugged out a little when she saw her periwinkle bra. "Oh, I remember that bra! Made my cleavage look like a third-world country. And always so easy to.."
Chloe snapped it off and threw it aside. Her breasts were full and lovely. Sully reached up and groped them again, grinning widely as Chloe threw her head around in ecstasy. Quickly, Chloe put her hands over Sully's, forcing them to stay on her cleavage. Even more enthusiastically she jerked her hips back and forth, grinding atop Sully's midsection.
Finally assured that Sully's hands weren't going anywhere, Chloe rested hers on either side of Sully's head and slid herself forward, the fly of her pants rubbing downward on Sully's torso with a scratching sound as it tore against the denim of Sully's overalls. Sully loosened her grip on Chloe's left breast to reach her arm around Chloe's back and pull the blonde against her, biting down on her breast. Chloe's face contorted in awed pleasure.
"God," Sully muttered, leaving a spit-shined nipple in her wake. "Do I really look that ridiculous in the middle of sex?"
Chloe grabbed the shoulder straps of Sully's overalls and yanked Sully up so they were both sitting up, straddling the other. Then, with a slow smile, she undid the buttons and pushed the overalls down liquidly until they were hanging off Sully's waist.
"Now," Chloe said, slowly pulling the black T-shirt over Sully's head, leaving her naked except for the half-off overalls and her boxers, "what else do I have to look forward to, sexually speaking?"
Sully ran her hands through Chloe's hair, suddenly yanking her head back. Chloe let out a brief "eek!" of surprise, followed by a small giggle. Sully moved in, her lips inches from Chloe, then running along Chloe's cheek and the side of her neck, taking in her scent. Chloe's eyes drifted shut as Sully nipped at her throat, dragging slightly on the flesh before releasing it and repeating the process, lower each time, until she was nibbling on Chloe's shoulder and moving downward again, faster, along the bicep and rough, ruddy skin of the elbow, the inside of the forearm, finally pressing her face into the palm of Chloe's hand. She made a quick kiss against Chloe's wrist and let Chloe stroke her face warmly. Then that same hand was ringing around her neck, fingers clenching the back of Sully's spine, pulling her in another, deeper kiss.
Chloe licked Sully's chin, perching herself upward on knees and elbows just long enough to tug Sully's overalls all the way off. They fell in a heap at the foot of the bed and the two were against each other, skin against skin.
"You're wearing too much," Sully said as Chloe buried her face in Sully's collarbone, pressing Sully down against the bed at the same time she rubbed her face against Sully's cleavage. With her toes, Sully managed to push the offending pants past Chloe's hips. Chloe kicked them the rest of the way off, not caring when they tangled at her ankles. She was already running her way down Sully's ribs, her fingers embedded in Sully's waistband.
"I'm wearing too much?" Chloe asked as she peeled Sully's boxers down, tantalizingly slowly, finally removing them from each other Sully's feet in turn and holding them up for inspection before throwing them aside.
Sully, nude, was a work of art. Her scars were a bittersweet reminder of what she'd gone through and Chloe rested her head against Sully's belly, letting the older woman twine her fingers through her hair as she stared at a crescent-moon-shaped scar just over Sully's pubic bone.
"Will it hurt?" Chloe said, tracing the scar with her finger.
"I won't let you feel it," Sully promised, turning Chloe's head away from it.
Chloe kissed her belly button and proceeded down. Sully gasped out loud, then let a dreamy smile ripple across her face as Chloe entered her, a tongue, then fingers, then both and more and most and Sully screamed, jerking her hips up against Chloe's face. She came back down to earth and the bed, panting hard as Chloe laid down beside her, smiling, face shiny.
"I've always wished someone would do that for me," Chloe said before Sully briefly, weakly tackled her, sliding over her body just far enough to pick up the spear at bedside. "What are you going to do with that?"
Sully turned the spear around, presenting the butt of the spear to Chloe's eyes. "You'd be surprised what you can improvise with when there aren't any dildos to use."
Just as they moved together, Clark burst into the tent.
"They're coming!" He looked from Chloe to Sully and realized the position they were in. His words stumbled off his tongue. "So you should, uh, probably get to the shelters. They're that way." He pointed belatedly.
Clark couldn't remember the last time he'd thought about how strange his life was. But, as he stood in line with an army of Amazons, all of them holding spears and shields against the oncoming horde and the horde was made up of robotic endoskeletons, striding out of the surf like a Harryhausen creation brought to life Yup, this was one of those times.
"Stay close to me," Diana said from beside him, once more fierce(r) in her Hoplite armor. "I'll protect you."
"I don't need protecting!" Clark insisted, indignant.
"I'll be the judge of that."
Out of habit more than a hope of learning anything useful, Clark X-rayed the incoming Terminators. They were large and cumbersome, more like Frankenstein creatures than the sleek killing machines Sully told him would come to infest the future. Still, they had numbers. Clark wondered about their mass production. He caught sight of a Made In Taiwan watermark on one of the androids, in addition to the familiar Luthorcorp logo. When this was all over, he was going to have words with Lex.
The Amazons assumed a sort of rough phalanx formation as the Terminators opened fire, kneeling down and interlocking their shields so that the weapons fire bounced off. Clark had no trouble with the gunshots, but one of the endoskeletons was carrying a heavy cannon. It blasted him with a plasma bolt and he fell backwards, feeling a burning sensation in his side.
Diana smirked and threw her aspis to him. "It's magic, Kal-El."
Clark looked at it for a moment. The front has a bas relief of himself. Or, more accurately, his father as a young man. For some reason, the sight of Jor-El struck him as oddly funny.
"We can't mount a counteroffensive under this fire!" Hippolyta shouted over the fury of the assault. "The moment we break cover, we'll be slaughtered!"
"Leave that to me," Clark and Diana said at the same time, then glanced at each other.
"Ladies first," Clark said.
"Well, if you insist." Diana shoved him forward.
Clark braced the shield in front of himself and charged. He felt gunfire nipping at his pumping legs and arms, throwing up sparks against his skin. The Terminator with the plasma cannon fired. Clark moved the aspis in front of his face and the crystalline shield absorbed the shot, flushing an angry red as it did so. The endoskeleton didn't have time for a second shot. Clark led with the shield in a sweeping backhand and the endoskeleton's torso disintegrated in a chorus of nuts and bolts.
Vaguely, Clark was aware that Diana was behind him, punching the head off another Terminator before using it as a shield for incoming fire. It was the first few seconds of the battle, but her bulletproof gauntlets were already scorched and worn. Clark hoped they would hold out. He blurred forward again, his feet kicking up explosions of water and wet sand, and shouldered right through the nearest Terminator.
As expected, the Terminators had to break ranks to deal with the threat within their midst. The Amazons took advantage. On the queen's shouted order, a barrage of javelins pierced into the Terminators, pinning them to the ground or deactivating them outright. Drawing their swords, the Amazons charged into battle, intent on driving the Terminators back into the sea.
"Some party, huh!?" Clark quipped, now back to back with Diana against the encompassing horde of Terminator forces. They had lost the element of surprise and been cut off.
"Hardly. We Amazons exert more in the craft of love than with these paltry toys." Diana crumpled an endoskeleton's metal skull between her hands.
"Do tell." Clark caught a sniper bullet before it could burrow through the back of Diana's skull, than threw it back towards its source. He saw one glowing red eye gouged into blackness. Headshot.
"I believe the proper response is 'aren't you going to buy me dinner first?'" Diana kicked a robot between the legs, cleaving it from its groin to the crown of its head.
Then Clark spotted it. Just a rustling of foliage in the forest beyond the beach, but too much to be the wind. He bought himself a moment of freedom, throwing one Terminator into three of its buddies, then concentrated his heightened vision on the area. The trees fell away and he saw them. Four Terminators, carrying a large device shielded in lead. The bomb.
"Son of a bitch, it's a diversion!" He turned to Diana. "Diana, I need to stop the bomb. Buy me the time."
Diana drew the lasso from her waist. It glowed in anticipation. "Bought and paid for. Go!"
Clark dashed away atop the water as Diana swung the lasso around her in a great arc, cutting the Terminators down in wide swathes. The last sight Clark had of her was spared over his shoulder, watching the Terminators pile on to her, wave after wave after wave.
Clark stopped in a jungle clearing. He'd lost the trail. He scanned the countryside with his supervision, catching a glimpse of metal endoskeleton as a man stepped out of the brush. A Terminator. But one that looked human on the outside. The hell?
"Who are you?" Clark demanded.
"Special Agent Lawrence Driver, FBI," the Terminator said. It drew its sidearm and pulled the trigger. Just as it did so, Clark X-rayed it again. The layers of the gun peeled away from his vision like those of an onion and he saw glowing green bullets in the magazine.
Clark sped to the side just as the first shot took off. The radiation from the Kryptonite bullet in flight leeched at him, sapping his strength. He faltered and stumbled through a tree, splitting it in two. The Terminator fired again, the bullet thudding into the tree trunk Clark had fallen behind.
Mustering all his strength, Clark focused on the Terminator and flashed as much heatvision as he could. It should've taken the Terminator's hand off. Instead, it merely caused the gun barrel to warp and sag a little.
The Terminator aimed at Clark's head and pulled the trigger.
The gun misfired, exploding in its hand. The Terminator stared at its arm, the explosion having ripped the 'skin' right off the bone. The metallic claw underneath flexed with an audible hum. Clark rolled away from the Kryptonite embedded in the tree stump and came up on one knee, firing off a stronger blast of heatvision. This bolt took the Terminator in the chest, neatly cutting its tie in two before scorching its chest.
The Terminator checked its internal chronometer. This has gone on long enough. In a burst of white light, the Terminator was gone.
"Kryptonian technology," Clark realized, then shook his head. He still had a bomb to worry about.
Sully watched as the pair of Terminators smoothly assembled the K-bomb. She recognized it. They had found a dud once. The nuke that hadn't blown up Detroit. This must be a prototype. The Terminators would have to go through all the safety procedures to arm and detonate it. That gave her time to make a move.
"What are you going to do?"
Sully turned around. Chloe was staring at her. Staring at the spear in her arms. Sully held it up for closer inspection.
"I'm dying," Sully said simply. "Have a nice life."
She turned away from the refugees the young the old the sick and her innocence and she charged. The Terminators hadn't spotted her yet. She'd long ago mastered the art of running silently. Her feet slapped against the Amazons' cool pavement. The spear felt pure in her arms.
Whatever sound she wasn't making, the Terminators must've registered it. The nearest one turned just in time for her to ram the spearhead through its skull. Its chipboard destroyed, the endoskeleton went cold instantly. Even as she tried to pull her spear free, the other Terminator pistol-whipped her with the force of a hydraulic press. Sully hit the ground and knew darkness.
In the darkness, there was sound. A hiss as the Terminator aimed at her. A click as it pulled the trigger. A boom as the bullet was fired. A clang as the bullet bounced off the palm of Clark Kent.
That palm wrapped into a fist and struck the Terminator, punching through its chest and coming out between its shoulder blades. Still, the Terminator clung to its mechanical life, ripping and battering at Clark's invincible form. The Kryptonian snarled and grabbed the endoskeleton's shoulder, ripping it apart as soon as he got a good grip. The Terminator fell to pieces on the ground.
"Sully, you okay?" Clark turned to the woman. She was down, head oozing blood into a small puddle.
Clark swore and turned to the bomb. Priorities. He threw open the casing and immediately a sensation like being pierced by a thousand needles went through his body. Kryptonite, twice in one day. He fell back instinctively, then marshaled and pressed forward. Aside from the chunk of Kryptonite apparently serving as some sort of warhead, the inside of the bomb was full of wires. Pull the right one and the bomb was deactivated, right? Clark focused on a small LED timer atop a circuit board. Ten seconds. With that little time remaining, no wonder the futuristic Terminator had decided to leave.
"It's always the red wire anyway," Clark grumbled, grabbing one of the wires (it was hard to tell which color they were under the Kryptonite's green glow) and preparing to pull.
Someone interceded. His hands were pried off the wire with three seconds remaining. Clark tried to shout no, but couldn't raise his voice above a harsh whisper. In two seconds, it would all be over. The black-gloved hands that had stopped him grabbed another wire and tugged. It ripped loose and the timer stopped with a second to spare.
Clark looked up as his savior closed the casing.
Batman nodded cordially. "Hayseed." He stepped over Clark to examine Sully, who was already being fawned over by Chloe. "This woman has a concussion. She needs a doctor."
Chloe frantically petted Sully's blood-soaked hair, as if it would rouse her. "Will she be okay?" she kept asking, to no one's answer.
Chloe sat by Sully's bedside, holding the comatose woman's hand. The medical center of the island was filled with women having their wounds sewn up, disinfected, bandaged. The trinity stood in a small group nearby, talking in hushed voices. Diana had come out of the fray remarkably unscathed, excepting a long cut that ran down the side of her face. "It won't scar," Diana had said. She sounded disappointed.
Batman stood nearby, looking slightly uncomfortable with no shadows to lurk in. Clark just felt tired. Kryptonite exposure catching up with him. Occasionally, a bout of nausea would overwhelm him and he would have had to lie down if he wasn't already sitting.
"Light casualties," Diana said. "We got lucky."
"I agree. Next time Luthor will send a real army," Batman said.
"What are you even doing here?" Clark blurted out.
"My butler can be quite persuasive."
Clark felt the sudden embarrassed need to contribute something to their discussion. "I don't think Lex is behind this. Well, not entirely. I think the Terminator is influencing him, maybe even impersonating him. It would explain a lot." Off their questioning, but encouraging looks, he continued: "Lex doesn't like dealing with people like us from a position of weakness. That doesn't mean he has no information, but I think we should try the carrot before we go for the stick. Let me talk to him."
"And exactly how are you going to explain that a mild-mannered farmboy knows about his top-secret plans?" Batman asked. "Operating in secrecy is our greatest asset. We can't risk squandering that."
"'We'?" Clark returned.
"I say we chop off this Luthor's head and stick it on a pike as a warning against all who would attempt to despoil our sanctuary," Diana said.
"No killing," Bruce and Clark said simultaneously.
"Desperate times," Diana reasoned. "You say Lex Luthor is an evil man. And his nature makes him more dangerous than is safe to allow."
"How many others would be 'more dangerous than is safe' if we start down that road?" Batman said, his voice dropping down several notches. It chilled. "No. Right now, we agree. We handle this without deaths."
"You have an alternative?"
"I'll talk to him," Batman said. "If he's guilty, he'll be brought to justice. If not, he'll give me a lead on the Terminator. Either way, it's a trip worth making."
"I can give you the layout of your mansion," Clark volunteered. Off Batman's immediate glare: "Not that you need it, but it might grease the gears a little."
"Agreed," Batman nodded.
"And I'll come along," Diana said. "Some of my sisters fell this day. Whoever is responsible will be held accountable. And I trust neither of you have any objections to a mechanism like this Terminator being destroyed?"
Batman and Bruce shook their heads.
Sully came to slowly. The light, what little there was of it, hurt her eyes. The other woman in the room must've sensed her discomfort, because she immediately doused the lantern. It was near dusk and the setting sun's light was distilled by a flurry of curtains. The other woman was blurry and ill-defined, but Sully could sense who it was.
"Chloe who "
"Don't speak." The blurred figure's mouth jagged up and down. "You've taken a pretty nasty bump, but the good news is that the healers say you're done with the worst of it. Some of the herbs that gave you managed to calm the fever you almost ran, so there's that. And to answer your questions, it's been one day, we managed to repel the Terminators, and Batman disarmed the bomb, as evidenced by the fact that we're not all radioactive dust."
Her head felt coarse. Sully ran a hand up her face and felt the bandages wound around her head. Her fingertips came back dirtied with dry blood.
"Can you hear the music?" Chloe asked, and indeed, there was music just outside, a choir. Glancing to the side, Sully saw a dozen Amazons lined up in a circle around the curtained room, singing softly. "They're praying to Artemis to heal you. I guess she listened."
"Clark, Diana, and Batman are on their way to stop it. Don't you worry about it."
"What you here?"
"I know it hurts to think, just keep quiet until you go back to sleep." Chloe lit some incense and set it down by Sully's bed. "I'll be here when you wake up."
Sully made a brief nodding gesture as Chloe grabbed her wrist supportively, then tugged at the other's hand. Chloe looked surprised, then gave in. Sully dragged Chloe to bed with her, stopping when the blonde was lying atop the sheets.
"With me," Sully said, and went to sleep against Chloe's body. Chloe covered Sully's ears as the Amazon's chief healer approached them.
"I believe your friend is well enough to move now."
"So," Clark said, glancing around the cabin, "would this be the Batplane?"
"It's a jet," Batman replied caustically.
Diana just continued to teach herself to read English from an in-flight magazine. Chloe helped her, to take her own mind off how still Sully was.
Three-quarters of the way through the flight, Batman abandoned the controls to Clark.
"I don't know how to fly!" Clark protested.
"It's just like Microsoft Flight Simulator. And you can imagine how I wouldn't want to disembark dressed in my work clothes." Batman picked up a garment bag from the co-pilot's seat and walked into the bathroom.
Flying wasn't so bad, once Clark got the hang of it.
Bruce emerged from the bathroom a few moments later, handsome and well-groomed in a tailored business suit. He combed his hair, still mussed from being trapped inside a cowl, as Diana looked him over.
"Nice suit." She batted at his tie. "What does this do?"
"Looks good," Bruce answered after a second's loss. "Unfortunately, I don't have anything in your size onboard. I've already radioed ahead for Alfred to gather some wardrobe ideas at the mansion. But for now " He reached for her and pulled her toga up so that it covered both breasts. "Being in the public eye means that the press would assume the worst if I got off a plane with a half-naked Amazon and a " he gazed at Clark, "rent boy."
Clark opened his mouth for the expected protest, then shut it as Bruce retook the controls.
"Seatbelts, everyone. We're coming in for a landing."
The first and lasting impression Clark had of Wayne Manor was that it was cold. Not physically; the room temperature was comfortably crisp. But it seemed staid, as if the life had long ago passed it. Despite the trappings of furnishment, it was decrepit. A haunted house for all the neighborhood kids to tell stories about, just without the neighborhood kids and with the boogeyman still alive. Even Diana seemed to pick up on it. Her words were hushed, like those of a pallbearer at a funeral.
"Such opulence," she whispered to Clark. "Like a god in human form."
"What am I, chopped liver?"
"I don't know what chopped liver is. You might be."
Bruce had already undone his tie after the 'grueling' hundred paces walk from the private airfield to Wayne Manor.
"Alfred, see to our guests. Get the girl some clothes," he said as adjusted time on a grandfather clock.
"'The girl'?" Diana repeated. She ignored the secret passageway that opened up in front of Bruce. "Does that mean something in English that I don't think it does?"
Alfred stopped in front of her and gestured to another room. "I've prepared what I hope will be a suitable wardrobe, Miss "
"We're gonna have to think up a last name for you, princess," Clark remarked casually before he followed Bruce into the earth.
They had just finished setting Sully up in the Batcave's med-unit when Diana descended the spiral staircase. She was dressed in something form-fitting that resembled the white linens of her toga; white turtleneck and a pair of white trousers. Clark and Bruce stared at her for a moment before realizing they were both staring.
"Oh no, we are not doing the love triangle thing," Clark said under his breath.
"I don't have time for love. You're welcome to her."
Diana took off her sweater and hung it on a stalagmite. Her tanktop was white underneath. Bruce was more apt to notice and consternate about someone using a fixture of his cave as a clothes hanger.
"Are we going to have a " Diana searched for the right word, "sleepover here or are we going to get down to business? Luthor is in Smallville. Let's go get him."
Bruce jerked his head towards Clark. "The hayseed insisted on getting Sully situated first."
Diana relaxed a bit. "I understand. Chloe, we have need of"
"I'm not coming," Chloe said softly.
Bruce and Diana started to back away, recognizing the intimacy of the moment. Clark drew closer to her.
"What do you mean, you're not coming? Chloe, this could be it."
Chloe clutched Sully's hand tighter. "She needs me."
"There's nothing you can do," said Clark gently, reaching out a hand. He clasped her shoulder. "If she was awake, she'd want you to"
"Don't!" Chloe cried, vehement. "You've raised the dead. You've traveled through time. You've saved the world. Now don't tell me it's impossible that I can help her, just by being here when she wakes up."
With a sharp, cold pain, Clark realized there was a chasm between Chloe and himself. Between human and Kryptonian. He shook it off and tried his best not to care.
"If there's anything I can do "
"Go save the world. And give 'im one for me."
Luthorcorp security was surprisingly light. Batman would be surprised if people weren't just bursting into Lex's mansion whenever they pleased. He didn't even have to disable any guards or detonate the charge he had planted on the fuse box. The cameras had already been taken care of, fed into a recursive loop by a computer virus supplied by Chloe on the Batcomputer.
Within two minutes, Batman had entered the estate and reached Lex's private office. He checked through all the memos that had been sent or received while he downloaded the computer's hard drive onto flash disk for later decrypting.
"Can I help you?" Lex asked after he turned on the lights.
"You can not insult me by pressing the panic button in your pocket," Batman said. "I'm already jamming it. And try not to go for the gun hidden in your desk. I've removed the firing pin."
"Well." Lex shut the door and sat down on a sofa, putting his feet up on a coffee table. "Since I've never been accosted by a man dressed as a flying rodent before, you have five minutes for sheer novelty value."
"The attack on Themyscira. You ordered it."
"Yes, I did. But that fails to take into account which 'me' did that." He stood up and strode to the liquor cabinet. "Brandy?"
"I don't drink on duty."
"Of course you don't." Lex poured himself a sniffer of brandy. "Someone disguised as Chloe Sullivan, an intrepid young reporter for the Daily Planet, attacked and drugged my fiancé, then disguised himself as her and did the same to me. That imposter then ordered the attack."
"A tad far-fetched, don't you think?"
"Said the man in the fetishistic pajamas." Lex toasted the other man. "If I were going to lie, don't you think I would make up a more plausible story?"
"Like the one you're feeding the press?" Batman surreptitiously took the flash drive from the computer. "Someone jumping thirty stories out of your building and living to tell the tale is a viral marketing publicity stunt?"
"There's nothing I would love better than to enlighten the public about the dangers that lurk among us, such as home invaders dressed as Chiropterans. But that's when you cross the line from eccentric to Howard Hughes. Speaking of which, how much does a suit like that cost a man? And all that equipment hanging off your belt " Lex tutted. "Must cost you a pretty penny."
Batman wasn't rattled. "The imposter, what can you tell me about him?"
Lex drank, savoring the brandy before answering. "You probably know as much as I do. A shape-shifter, near invulnerable Oh, and before he jumped out a window, he stole a large quantity of meteor rocks. If you happen to run across him, be sure to return those to Luthorcorp. They don't come cheap, you know."
Lex turned away from Batman to pour himself another glass. "If you're going after him, best of luck. I know I wouldn't "
He turned back around. Batman was gone. Lex took a shot.
"Do-gooders," he said, shaking his head.
The Terminator held its badge up to the video camera. "Special Agent Lawrence Driver, FBI. I'd like to ask Mr. Wayne a few questions."
Alfred buzzed him in.
Clark and Diana sat in the back of the SUV, Diana staring out the window. She noticed her faint reflection and checked her scar. It was already starting to fade into pink nothingness. The backseats were set up so that they faced inward instead of both front-facing, the second set of seats facing backwards and the third set of sets facing forwards.
Diana rested her head against the glass. "So, have you known Bruce for long?"
Clark shrugged. "Not much longer than you. You may have noticed we're a little antagonistic."
Diana made a curt gesture with her hand, dismissing that. "He likes you. I can tell."
"He hides it well."
"Of course he does. That is the way of the warrior."
Snorting, Clark drew his legs up to lie down across the line of seats. He propped his head up on his elbow and stared across at Diana. Her legs were crossed, her hands folded in her lap. Even in repose, power seemed to come off her in waves, like a great cat stretching.
"Thank you," Diana said at last.
"Bringing me here. I've always wanted to see Patriarch's World, despite the horror stories that the elders tell of rapers and misogynists." She pursed her lips. "But there is beauty that far outweighs that. I see why you fight for it. Them."
"Her," Clark said after a while.
"A knight currying the favor of his lady."
"I don't think she's gonna give me a handkerchief anytime soon. Every time I saved someone, I was saving her, over and over again. Not that I wanted there to be a difference between me and normal people, you understand, but there was and she represented them to me. Took me a while to see her, warts and all."
"Really?" Diana glanced at the window again. A squirrel was eating a nut beside a tree. She became transfixed on the new creature. "What'd you see?"
"A ring on her finger. She's engaged to someone else now."
"Monogamy. It's a killer." Diana prodded him gently with her toes. "Hey. Maybe you should fight for something bigger."
"Why? What do you hope to fight for?"
"Peace. The hope that someday everyone can know the same tranquility that I had growing up. No rapers and misogynists."
"The proper term is rapist," Clark corrected her.
Diana shrugged. Watched the squirrel run up a tree. "What about you? What would you fight for?"
Clark sat up. "I'm just spitballing here, but I don't know. The American Dream. Truth. Justice. That sort of thing."
"Sounds nice. What's that thing called?"
Clark looked where she was pointing. "That's a squirrel."
"Yeah, it is."
Bruce got back in the car, sitting down next to Diana and slamming the door behind him. "We're going to need a way to track Kryptonite radiation."
Agent Driver sat in small chair next to the oven, watching Alfred finish setting the dishwasher.
"Mr. Wayne is not here presently," Alfred said, offering Driver a glass of water. Driver declined it. "I will be happy to handle any questions you might have to the best of my ability."
Driver nodded. "I trust you won't have a problem if I wait around for Mr. Wayne. Will he be gone long?"
"A few more hours, but I'm sure I can help you."
Driver made a show of considering it, then reached into his jacket pocket. "Here." He held out a photograph of Sully. "I'm looking for this woman. Have you seen her?"
Alfred examined it, then shook his head. He went to the sink to pour the glass of water out. "I've never seen her before in my life."
Alfred swiveled, pulling a pump-action shotgun from a drawer under the sink. "And you're not an FBI agent. Stay where you are, please."
Ignoring him, Driver stood. Alfred fired, the bullet ripping into Driver's thigh. Sand drooled down to his knee for a moment before merging again with the fiber of his pants. Alfred, taken aback, was helpless as Driver's arm stretched out elastically to grab the pistol from his grip. Brutally, Driver clocked the gun against the side of Alfred's head. The butler fell.
Somewhere in the distance, Driver heard a door opening. "Alfred?" a feminine voice called out. "Is everything alright? I heard what sounded like an explosion."
"Everything's alright," the Terminator said in Alfred's voice. "Quite alright indeed."
The drive from Smallville to Gotham was surprisingly unremarkable, considering the amount of power centered in one call. Clark got a call from Ollie explaining that Cyborg's systems had been infected with nanites, explaining the mind control. He shared the information, which quickly set their driver to musing about what exactly the capabilities of the Terminator were.
Clark also learned that Diana got carsick unless she was riding shotgun.
"My butler has been replaced by a robot," Bruce said by way of explanation as he turned off the main road and drove through the forest.
Clark and Diana stared at the back of his head. Bruce had just finished the phone call with Alfred, asking the butler if celery could be found for their guests before hanging up.
"He didn't give me an all-clear signal," Bruce explained. "Which means he's either operating under duress, in which case it would be more likely that he would give me a panic code, or that he's been replaced by someone who isn't aware of the all-clear signal. Namely, our robot friend."
Clark blinked once. "You make your butler give you code phrases over the phone to let you know everything's hunky-dory."
"Is that normal?" Diana asked.
"No. No, it is not."
Bruce shifted into a higher gear. As the speedometer crawled ever higher, a waterfall loomed up ahead.
"Ummm, Bruce?" Clark called, tapping him on the shoulder. "Care to share your plan with the rest of the class?"
"We're going in through the backdoor."
Then the SUV hit the cleverly disguised ramp and they were airborne, slipping through the diffuse curtain of the waterfall. Two facts flittered through Clark's mind. First, that SUVs had a tendency to roll. Second, that he had no way to reconcile Bruce's driving with the fact that Bruce was the only "mortal" in the car.
The car landed, kicking up thick explosions of water on either side, finally skidding to a top. Bruce shifted into park, but left the engine running.
"Quite an entrance, Master Bruce!" the Terminator shouted in Alfred's crisp British accent. "But I'm afraid your attempt at stealth, American as it was, is wasted. I am the cave."
Two large stalagmites separated their points from their bases, revealing gun turrets. Gunfire crackled against the SUV, spider-webbing the windows and denting the body. The car was bulletproof.
"These features come standard?" Clark asked.
"I have a really good mechanic." After quickly scuttling past them, Bruce opened up a panel behind the backseat and pulled out a costume. "By now the Terminator will have infected everything in the cave. You two distract him. I'll try to get to the central reactor and shut this place down manually."
Diana rolled up her sleeves. "And by distract, you mean ?"
"Punch. Kick. Lasers out of the eyes. That sort of thing." Bruce, clutching the costume under his arm, sat down in the front seat. "Good luck."
He punched a button on the steering wheel and the driver's seat ejected upwards, carrying Bruce away. Diana and Clark exchanged a look.
"I'll take the one on the left if you take the one on the right."
Clark pile-drove his way through the sliding door, holding it up as a shield between him and the right gun turret. He felt a few bullets from the left gun turret wimp out against his back before the familiar klink-klink-klink of bullets ricocheting off Diana's bracelets came up on the soundtrack. Drawing closer, the force of the bullets against the door intensified and he actually had to exert himself a little to get close enough to take the turret down, finally swinging the crumpled door hard enough to decapitate it.
Behind him, he heard the other gun turret stop firing before he looked over his shoulder to see Diana stomping it into the ground.
"Is that the best you have?" Diana shouted, her voice echoing through the cave. "I'm barely even warmed up!"
There was a rev of jet turbines in the distance. Then another.
"Diana, in case we ever get into this kind of situation again, make a point of not mocking the nigh-invulnerable killer robot."
Bruce hung from one of the strategically-placed-and-camouflaged rafters that reinforced the cave. Below, Clark and Diana seemed to have their hands full. Annoying as they might be, with their stubborn inability to grasp that he knew the best course of action, they were still handy in a clench. He'd have to remember that in case he ever had need of allies. But what were the odds of that?
Bruce unfolded the costume and began to mentally map out the route he would have to take to the main reactor.
The Batmobile, low to the ground and roaring like a demon, crawled out of the darkness. It was followed by a hovering Batwing, those turbines a whisper-thin whine.
"I'll take the car, you take the plane, flyboy."
"That might be a bit of a problem."
The vehicles' engines roared and they lurched forward once, trying to psyche the heroes out.
"I saw you fly," Diana said through clenched teeth.
"Well, I still haven't gotten the hang of it quite yet "
"Not a problem."
Diana grabbed Clark by the scruff of his red jacket and threw him at the Batwing. Clark didn't even have time to scream before he smeared against the fuselage. The Batwing wiggled from side to side, trying to shake him off. Clark clung tightly to it, his fingers biting into the dark metal. He saw the joystick, rowing in this direction and that of its own accord inside the cockpit. As he crawled towards it, the Batwing tried to scrape him off against the stalactites dotting the top of the cave. They broke off against his back, filling the air with grit and dust. Clark threw one hand forward and dug it into the metal, hauling himself forward.
He was face to face with the smooth Plexiglas of the cockpit. Clark pulled back his fist for a punch when suddenly the cockpit ejected, hitting him under the chin. What is it with this guy and ejection seats? Clark thought as he rolled off the Batwing, only just managed to catch the edge of one forward-swooping wing. Behind him, the abyss was so absolute that it might as well be the figurative hole to China. Clark pulled himself up, kneeing the plane. The force of the impact cracked the wing off the fuselage and Clark fell, the wounded Batwing crashing into a wall above him.
Chloe sat at Sully's bedside, trying to believe that everything would be okay. The sounds of explosive battle rattled through the cave. Nearby, the Terminator cracked its neck, shifting from Alfred to Driver to Lex in a matter of seconds before settling on Clark Kent's form. It rested one hand on Chloe's shoulder. She tensed under its touch.
"Still thinking of resisting, knowing that I can kill you so swiftly. That feisty streak in you goes deep." It brought her to her feet. "Cheer up. Your friends are about to die for you."
It shouted out again, back to Driver's voice. "I have Chloe Sullivan hostage both of her. Surrender now and I'll let them go."
The Terminator raised Alfred's shotgun, pointing it at Sully. Chloe wanted to do something, but couldn't think of what would make a difference. So she did the heroic, stupid thing. She stepped in the way.
"You shoot me, you change the future. You willing to take that chance?"
The Terminator began to pull the trigger just as the Batwing's severed wing zoomed out of the darkness and hit the Terminator like a javelin, impaling him against a cave wall.
Clark hovered down out of the darkness. "Flying it ain't so hard."
"Clark!" Chloe cried out.
The Terminator squirmed on the wall like a pinned butterfly. Its liquid metal shell retracted into the wing, dissolving it like acid. Finally, the Terminator dropped to the ground in a crouch. The damaged endoskeleton mended itself before the liquid/sandy metal flowed over it, once more forming an approximation of clothes and flesh.
It started forward, raising the shotgun. A burst hit Clark's stomach. He brushed the buckshot off his abs.
"Chloe, get Sully out of here. I'm pressing delete on this guy."
Chloe picked up Sully and ran up the stairs. The Terminator pumped its shotgun just as a Rolls Royce engine, still leaking oil, bounced a few times before coming to a stop. Diana followed it, dusting off her hands. "What'd I miss?"
The Terminator pivoted, firing at her. Diana crossed her wrists over her face, her gauntlets blocking the shot. She walked towards the robot. Clark started forward as well, ignoring the shot that bounced off his chest. With an almost disgusted expression, the Terminator dropped the shotgun and transformed both its arms into blades.
"A little piece of home, Clark," the Terminator said in Lana's voice, brandishing its blades. The tips glowed green.
Clark broke out in a cold sweat. He backed away, too late, just before the Terminator swung. Diana interceded, catching the sword just at the terminus of its arc. Sparks shot out where the blade had collided with her bracelet. She forced the sword aside just as the Terminator swung with its other arm. Diana didn't jump back quite in time and it opened up a thin cut along her abdomen.
The Terminator raised its weapon, blood dripping from the point. The radiant greenness bathed its face in malign light as it shifted into Hippolyta's form. "You should never have come to Patriarch's World, Diana. They're going to bury you here. Tartarus awaits your corpse."
Clark lashed out with heatvision, the thin rays of light penetrating into the Terminator's left elbow. The metal glowed hot red and the blade on that arm became blunt. The Terminator kicked dirt in Clark's eye, charging towards the now-blinded Kryptonian. Diana grabbed him from behind before he could get within striking distance, wrapping him in a chokehold. The Terminator took on Clark's form as it reversed itself, its back becoming its front. It kissed Diana full on the lips, metal tongue jabbing the back of her mouth like a scorpion's tail. Diana fell back, choking.
"No!" Clark shouted.
His doppelganger turned around, licking its lips. Its features dissolved like shifting sands into the face of Jonathan Kent.
"Son, there is one thing no computer can ever puzzle out in my time. How is it that you can be so stupid to let your own father die for some simpering girl, just so you can watch her marry your arch-nemesis? Are you some kind of sadomasochist?"
Clark raised his dukes, blinking the sweat out of his eyes.
"Don't feel like talking to your old man? That's okay, son. Break off a switch, there's gonna be a whoopin'!"
The Terminator swung in a horizontal arc, looking to decapitate the Kent boy. Clark ducked under it and rammed the Terminator in the midsection, a picture-perfect football tackle, picking it up off its feet and slamming it against the cave wall. The Batcave shook. The Terminator's left sword arm transformed into a Kryptonite-tipped cat o' nine tails, which was brought down on Clark's back. Clark fought through the pain, rallying and sending a series of heavy blows into the machine's guts. Tortured metal screeched as it gave way under the pounding. System errors piled up in the drone's operating system. Sensing its end was near, the Terminator drove its right sword arm down, impaling it through one of Clark's pistoning arms. Clark screamed in agony as his bicep was penetrated. The Terminator broke the Kryptonite tip off inside Clark's arm. Weakened, it half-transformed into Lana Lang.
"How could you hurt me like that, Clark?" Clark stumbled backwards, trying to wrap his opposite hand against the jagged steel of the blade embedded in his flesh. "I thought you loved me." Clark got a good grip and began to extract the knife from his arm, grimacing at the pain. The Terminator lightly switched the back of that hand with its remaining sword arm before moving that blade to Clark's throat. "I'll make you love me."
A shotgun blast splattered the small of the Terminator's back. The Terminator turned around to see Chloe holding the gun. She fired again, splitting its scalp. The Terminator's face hung off its skull, still sculpted into Lana's porcelain features.
"Chloe!? I thought you were my friend! How could you ?"
"Oh, shut the fuck up."
Chloe fired a third time. The shot took the Terminator full in the skull, popping one mechanical eyeball from its socket. The damaged Terminator staggered back, bracing itself against a railing. Two more shots scored the Terminator's chest, revealing its mechanized innards. Chloe pulled the trigger again. The shotgun clicked empty.
The Terminator straightened as its skin flowed together over its wounded core. Glitching in a series of nervous tics, it transformed into Sully.
"Here comes your future, Chloe," it taunted, transforming one hand into a mace.
A roped Batarang wrapped around the Terminator's chest, pinning its arms to its side. The Terminator just had time to turn its head around 180 degrees to see Batman had been the man who lassoed it before Bruce tugged on the cord, yanking the Terminator over the railing. It fell, disappearing into the dark abyss. Batman jumped from where he had been clinging to the wall by pinion and grabbed the railing, pulling himself over it and landing at Chloe's side.
"I don't think that's going to kill him it," Chloe said. "In fact, I think that only made it mad."
"That's why I set the reactor to self-destruct in two minutes."
Clark finished pulling the shard of the Terminator's sword out of his arm. He chucked it over the side. "Then shouldn't we be getting out of here?"
Batman picked up Diana. "A very astute observation, hayseed."
The Terminator had landed hard, its legs snapping like chicken bones that had been worried at by a dog. Its skin had sloughed off into a half-flesh-toned puddle on the floor. Its teleportation system had been irreparably damaged. Metal claws scrambling for purchase, it pulled itself towards the wall. It would climb upwards and find a way to repair itself. Then it would complete its mission. It would complete it mission. It would complete its
Fire gutted the lower half of the cave, burying everything underneath tons of earth and rock. Somewhere, under meter upon meter of debris, the Terminator's fingers flexed in and out as best they could in the confined space. It would complete its mission. It would complete its mission. It would complete its mission.
Clark winced as Alfred pulled the tourniquet tight around his arm wound. "Sorry about your cave, Bruce. And your car. And the plane."
"Batwing," Bruce muttered darkly into his coffee. "Doesn't matter. I was planning on redoing the place anyway."
"Then I guess it was all for the best," Diana said. They were all seated in the living room of the mansion, trying not to show each other how much the fight had taken out of them.
"Well " Clark stood, dusting off his pants. "I'd better get going. I'm not sure what trouble has reared its head in Smallville while I've been gone, but someone has to take care of it."
"And I had better go to make sure his training isn't sidetracked by love connections." Clark raised an eyebrow as Diana extended her hand to Bruce. "It's been a pleasure working with you."
Bruce shook her hand. "Yes. We should do this again sometime. Preferably in one of your secret headquarters."
A Waynecorp jet taxied on the runway, waiting for Clark and Diana to board. Sully and Chloe were waiting at the stairway.
"Try not to blow this one up," Diana told Clark.
"As long as you don't throw me into it," Clark replied. "Gotta admit, I'm not looking forward to telling Lionel that the only way he's going to live forever is if he decides to take a furlough with a bunch of " Clark felt Diana's eyes on him. And he thought his look could kill. "Amazons. So unless you have a rather lenient immigration policy towards corporate raiders "
They ascended the stairway into the jet, Clark turning to look at Chloe. "You coming or what?"
Chloe wrapped an arm around Sully's waist. "We're staying."
"Someone needs to stop Fine from destroying the world, wherever he is. And you're needed in Metropolis, fighting meteor freaks and capturing zoners."
"And keeping an eye on Lex," Sully added.
"And how am I going to do all that without your help?" Clark protested.
"I'm sure Lois can pitch in. She's not half-bad as a journalist. Besides, you've got Diana watching your back now. And let's be honest, there's really nothing I can do for you that you haven't learned how to do for yourself, if you just put a little muscle into it."
Clark sighed. "If you're sure this is what you want."
Chloe glanced at Sully. "It is."
"I'll miss you," Clark said, pulling Chloe in for a hug. They parted and Sully shook Clark's hand.
"It was nice seeing you again 'man of steel.'"
"Same here I think."
He boarded the plane, watching Sully and Chloe through the window. By the time he had to use his supervision to keep sight of them, they were already walking away from the airfield, side by side, one's head rested on the other's shoulder.
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