By Richard Frantz Jr. <email@example.com>
Submitted: December 2005
Summary: Lois and Clark's daughter is well known as being "tough as nails" on the outside, but few people know the warm human being inside. When history seems to repeat itself, maybe the next generation can learn from the first.
[Disclaimer: Clark Kent, etc, are not my property and are used solely for noncommercial purposes.]
The Middle East: desert, sand, sun and heat. The burning oil well didn't help any. I just wished there were enough wind to be upwind of the well. It stank. Must be like living in a diesel engine, if this could be called living.
The rebels had tried to start something. They apparently figured if they made a flash, hit the news big time, then people would flock to them. It didn't work. The governments in the region clamped down, no one flocked and the rebels got rounded up or gunned down. But regardless, their big flash, intended for the cameras, remained. Over fifty oil wells burned, wasting oil, polluting the air and wherever the wind blew…and making this a corner of hell. That's why I'm here: putting out oil well fires.
I turned to head back in, having rehydrated (i.e. gotten a drink of cold water). We'd pulled the superstructure out of the way, and using tractors and long steel cables had pulled everything back. What was left was removing the manifold, the final piece of plumbing above the pipe into the ground. Then we'd be able to set up to blow out the fire, with explosives, after we got a bunch of hoses in here so we could cool down the metal and suppress sparks so it wouldn't reignite.
I was turning back towards the flaming wellhead, but I never made it, because halfway through my turn I was stopped by the sight of a figure in a blue uniform. Even through the grime it was a bright blue. I stared. I admit it, I stared. What do you expect? There are only two superheroes in the whole world, Superman and his daughter. Well, presumably his wife was around somewhere as well, but no one admits having seen her. Supergirl made a comment once that her mother was so subtle she'd save you and you'd never realize she'd done it. That was the only thing she would say about her mother. Only two public superheroes in the world and here was one 50 feet away.
The superhero who was here was the daughter, Supergirl. Of course I've seen her on television but, having seen her in person now, it doesn't do her justice. I guess the camera may add 20 pounds but also takes something away. You can't see her confidence, or the way she walks. Only two superheroes in the world and one of them was 40 feet away. She was streaked with grime and her hair was a little disheveled but she looked great. Did I mention she looked great? She had an expression on her face that suggested that she'd walk through a wall if it got in her way and not notice but it also looked like she'd swerve out of her way and keep someone from stumbling at the same time. A combination of determination and compassion that is darn impressive and just doesn't show on television. And she has quite a figure. Only two superheroes in the world and one was only twenty feet away and she was going to walk by even closer on her way to the oil fire. I took the opportunity to really look at her…she was beautiful under that grime. Maybe it even added something because she just ignored it and went about her business.
Her eyes met mine and ZAP, there was an electric surge as I looked into those beautiful dark eyes. Only two superheroes in the world and one of them was about to walk by only ten feet away. I don't know why I did it, maybe locking eyes with her had shaken something, but I spoke up. "You need a tin hard hat if you're going closer to the fire."
She looked at me, half amused, half irritated and half perplexed. (Yes, I know that's three halves, but she's a superhero, she can do things like that!) She walked up to me. "Really. You need to wear a hard hat near the well."
She stopped, stood there, and tapped her foot.
"It's the rules," I said, lamely.
She reached out and took the tin hard hat off my head. Oh well, I figured, she'll put it on and I'll go get another at the 'shack'-. There was a crunching noise as she bit into the rim of the tin hat and started to chew. She handed the hat back to me, with the bite mark out of the brim right in front of my eyes. I took it and stared at the brim. "You have good taste in hats," she said after swallowing, her voice soft and musical, "but it needs salt." She walked towards the burning oil well.
I don't know what I'd been thinking when I'd told her she needed a hard hat. I put on the hat. I knew what I was thinking now: that I was keeping that hat! It was quite a souvenir, and I'd have a story to tell about the time I said something stupid to a superhero.
She stopped about 40 feet from the well, put down a rolled up piece of cloth and unrolled it. I walked over and asked, trying to sound more sensible, "Do you need anything?" I glanced down at the cloth she was unrolling and saw that it was wrapped around three or four big wrenches. Oddly, it looked like the old towel I kept my motorcycle tools in, except hers was really oily from being near oil well fires.
"No, thank you," she said, "I've got everything." That same beautiful voice. That voice doesn't come across on television either. She shrugged off her cape, which I noticed was cleaner than the rest of her uniform, picked up a wrench and walked into the fire.
I stared, aghast. She walked right up to the manifold, which had a twenty-foot flame over it and began doing something with her wrench. The hot wind from that flame blew her hair around. A normal person — make that a normal human — would have been fried on one side. What am I saying, fried on both sides! She just calmly worked on the manifold for about five minutes, then walked back to where I was standing. One of the foremen had come over, mainly to tell me that SHE was coming to work on this fire (apparently she'd worked a couple of other ones today) and then he'd stayed to watch.
She walked up, tossed her wrench in the sand and selected another wrench from her dirty towel (I'd noticed by now, it really was an old towel, it used to have flowers on it). The guy who was watching with me started to reach for the wrench she'd tossed down. "Don't touch that," she snapped.
He didn't listen. His hand closed on the handle and then his hand shook and he dropped it with a little cry. She was standing next to him in an instant, grasping his wrist and forcing the fingers open with the other hand. I saw that his hand had already turned red. She pursed her lips and blew on his hand from a foot away and I felt a cold breeze blow past, colder than air conditioning, more like someone had opened a freezer door. I remembered something from physics class, something about expanding a gas taking energy out of it, which made it colder. That's how refrigerators work. So if she let the air in her lungs expand it would be cold…
"I was just working on what amounts to an economy size torch with that wrench and you had to pick it up." She sounded irritable. "I'm changing wrenches because the metal in that one is starting to soften. And you had to go and pick it up." She didn't seem angry, too much compassion I guess, but she was bothered that someone had hurt himself. (I wondered if what bothered her was that it was her watch that he'd hurt himself on.) "Go get that bandaged." She walked into the flames with her fresh wrench and he went to the first aid tent to get a burn dressing.
Another five minutes and she was back, a bit of a scowl on her face. She threw down this wrench too, but it looked like in irritation. I raised an eyebrow. She said, "It's like the last three bolts are fused solid into holes. The stress combined with the heat must have force-welded them." She wiped her sleeve across her eyes.
"Would you like some water?" I offered.
"Yeah," she said, "as a matter of fact I would. And can you have them bring up the replacement manifold for when I get this one off?"
"Sure," I said, heading towards the water first. She turned and walked back to the fire, not waiting for me to return. "What about your wrench?" I called, confused.
"It's not working. I'm going to have to cut them out," she called back.
"The evil eye," she called back as she entered the fire zone.
I went back and got her several bottles of water, had someone radio for the truck with the replacement manifold and went back to watch her finish. She had her head right next to the pipe, peering along it. And then suddenly the manifold came loose into her arms, and the fire that had been above the manifold was now below it, where the pipe ended. Flames erupted all over her. I gasped and dropped one of the bottles of water. But a few seconds later she walked out cradling the manifold in her hands. All three hundred or more pounds of thousand-degree hot metal. Carrying it casually.
She came back and dumped the manifold in the sand. I handed her the bottle of water I'd picked up while she was walking back. She took it and twisted off the cap. "Thanks. Soot in the eyeball. It makes them feel scratchy." She tilted her head back and dumped about a cup of water over her eyes. She blinked several times as the now dirty water ran off her face. "Uh, wasting water like this isn't going to offend anyone, is it? I mean, we are in a desert, after all."
"No," I reassured her, waving my hands. "We all do it sometimes to cool off."
"Oh, good." And she dumped about half of the bottle over her eyes before taking a deep gulp. "Don't touch the manifold, though I suspect you're too smart for it. I can't believe he was stupid enough to touch that wrench… I'm sorry, no offense intended, I shouldn't call him stupid."
"He was stupid," I said. "I can't believe he did it either. You certainly don't need to apologize."
"Thanks. I usually don't say things like that, but I've already done six of these fires today and they're not exactly calming."
She nodded. "This is the seventh today, I started at 4:30. Have they got the replacement manifold on site or do I need to fly it in?"
I pointed at the crated manifold on the bed of the truck, pleased that I could give her some good news.
"Then let's get this fire out…" And then she paused and drank the rest of the bottle of water.
"Explosives?" I asked.
"No. Me. Keep everyone well back." She handed me the empty water bottle and took several deep breaths. Then she began inhaling and just kept inhaling. There was a wind that seemed to be kicked up as she kept breathing in. (I thought my ears popped from the pressure drop but that was probably my imagination). Then she flew into the fire just above the wellhead.
I gasped. It was very impressive watching her hovering there in the flame, but what was she planning?
She spread her arms and started to spin. The aerodynamics around her created a flameless space around her. Then she altered the angle of her palms and suddenly she was blowing air outward in all direction, like a spinning water sprinkler sends on water. The vacuum she created caused the flames to go out. The air coming towards me stank of soot and oil. But, with all the hot material in the area, as soon as she stopped it would re-ignite.
Suddenly, she flipped over so she was spinning head down. She was still creating a vacuum with her spin but now she was upside down. She opened her mouth and exhaled a huge breath of air. The oxygen in her breath allowed the fire to start again but like blowing out a candle it also extinguished it.
The wind coming now was cooler than it had been.
She ran out of air in her lungs and flipped over to spin head upward and sucked in more air from the top while her spin kept up the vacuum near the bottom. Then she inverted again and continued cooling off things near the wellhead. She repeated the procedure several times.
Finally she left the wellhead, which was now blowing crude oil into the air, and flew back to land next to me. I gave her another bottle of water, which she opened but only took one sip from.
"Interesting way of putting out a well fire," I commented.
"There is one little trick to it," she admitted.
"Keeping from becoming dizzy?"
"Two little tricks. One is not getting dizzy. The other is knowing when you can stop without it re-lighting. First time I did that it restarted three times before I got it right. Time to put the new manifold on before we get a spark and it relights." She started towards the truck with the new manifold.
"We'll give you a hand," I offered, getting ready to motion for the rest of the crew to join us.
She turned and stopped me with a gentle hand on my chest. Her hand was warm, and very soft, so wonderful… "Leave this to me," she said, breaking the spell.
"We can do this," I protested. "We're professionals, you know."
"You're professionals," she agreed, "but I'm fireproof. If there's a little static discharge while I'm setting the manifold, which can happen, that well could reignite. If I'm standing there when it happens I may need a new uniform. If you're standing there you'll need a new coffin. Please, just leave this to me." She went over and uncrated the manifold with her bare hands instead of a crowbar. When it was free she just picked it up. You'd expect that she'd grunt as she lifted it, I grunt when I lift things much lighter, but she just picked it up, carried it to the wellhead and began mounting it. She dashed back once for her wrenches to get into some tight spot but she moved so fast I could barely see her moving, and then she was done. She spun the valve to shut off the flow of crude oil with an expression of satisfaction.
I gave her another bottle of water, hoping she'd at least take the time to wash a little. She just thanked me for it and flew off. I guess she had another well to put out.
It was a small bar, in the middle of nowhere, and I happened to walk into it, because it was the only one around. When they say the Middle East is dry they don't just mean it doesn't rain very often, they also mean they don't serve alcohol. They're pretty strict about it. But they also realize that if they want foreigners, who don't mind if someone drinks, to come here and work on things like putting out fires (which is very thirsty work) then they have to provide some amenities. A drink isn't really necessary but it's very nice. So there's a compromise. This spot, in the middle of nowhere, is technically outside any national boundary, so it is the one place around that you can come and get a drink.
The bar is basically a shack. It's small and with all the foreigners working on the well fires it was crowded. There are a few tables and every one of them had at least 4 people sitting at it and most had more. Except for one table. That one only had one person sitting at it. Sitting at it in a bright blue uniform.
Our eyes met again. There was that electric zap effect again as I looked into her dark eyes. We only broke our gaze and looked away when someone nudged me to get in the door and asked me to move.
I could see she was sitting there with a soft drink, nursing it along. Her eyes scanned the room every so often. I walked over to the bar. I fished in my pocket for some cash, leaned close to the guy tending bar so he could hear me over the noise, and no one else could. "She's here?" I asked, knowing she could probably hear me ask.
"Yeah. She brought over some of the guys and promised to make sure everything stayed fairly quiet. She's just been sipping that cola for an hour. The one fight that started she broke up just by standing up."
"Does she drink anything harder?"
"I don't know. She hasn't asked for anything else. I don't know if she's of drinking age, but if she asks for it I'm not going to ask her for ID."
I decided something. I said, "two beers to start," and put cash on the bar. He handed me two bottles and put a bottle opener on the bar. Most of the world has gone to easy opening bottles but in the Middle East you still need a bottle opener. I've been here before, I have one on my key chain. I picked up the bottles and ignored the opener. Then I walked over to the table with just a single occupant.
Our eyes met, but after a few seconds we both looked away so we could actually converse. "May I buy you a drink?" I asked. "I don't know if you like beer," I said, putting one of the bottles on the table in front of her. "I can get you a soft drink if you prefer…"
"Beer's fine. I don't drink it very often, it doesn't do much for me." She explained, "The alcohol has no effect on me, it might as well be flavored water to me, but the taste is a nice change. Sit down, please," she offered, motioning to the chair across from her. Her eyes swept the room, patrolling for trouble I guess. "You're the first person with enough guts to join me."
I pulled out the chair, felt for my bottle opener. She reached out and grasped the neck of the bottle in front of her and put her thumbnail under the cap and pushed. The cap flipped up about 2 feet and finally landed on the table with a ping. I stared.
She realized I was still standing and motioned for me to sit and said, "allow me." She grabbed the other bottle and popped the cap off it too. This time it went up more like four feet before coming down. Was she showing off just a little?
I sat and took a sip of my beer while I tried to think of something intelligent to say. She took a larger sip and sat there considering the taste. I guess she liked it because she finally swallowed. "Do you come here often?" I asked, which is not an intelligent question. She looked at me with a raised eyebrow (telling me how stupid that sounded.) "I mean, the Middle East? You travel a lot," I said, trying to recover.
"Yes, on business," she said, smiling. I guess she didn't take offense.
"Me too," I said, glad we'd find something 'sort of' in common. "It's the fringe benefit of my job."
"Mine too," she agreed.
"I get to see some strange sights."
"I hope you aren't going to try to one up me about strange locales," she said. Her voice was pleasantly pitched as she said it. She had a beautiful voice to go with her eyes. (I can't believe I'm commenting on the beauty of her voice and her eyes when she has a figure like that. Well, maybe it's a defense to keep her from taking offense and injuring me).
"Ah, no. Strangest I've ever been is the really north of Canada, above the Arctic Circle. Probably pretty tame for you. What's the strangest locale you've visited?"
"The moon," she said casually.
"Really. It was my 17th birthday present from my dad. I'd finally gotten so I could hold my breath long enough for the round trip so he took me." She bent forward conspiratorially. "I'm still the only person to leave footprints on the moon." She sat back, satisfied.
"Ah, what about Apollo?"
She shook her finger at me. "Armstrong, and all the rest, left BOOT prints. I'm the only one who went barefoot."
"Your dad?" I asked.
"Your mom?" I asked, knowing I was treading on shaky ground.
"Too much a lady to go getting moon dust between her toes. Just me."
"That's cool," I said.
She looked down and frowned to herself. "No. That's bragging. I shouldn't do that."
"It's not bragging if you can do it, and you can. You deserve to cut loose and brag every now and then."
"Thanks," she said.
Another beer?" I offered.
"I'm still working on this one. But if you'd like I can buy you one."
I shook my head vigorously. "No. I'm having a great time talking to you. The least I can do is spring for a couple of drinks."
"Thank you," she said. I guess not too many people have the nerve to just chat with her. And then there's the fact that she doesn't have the time very often. And then, for just a second, that persona of toughness she wears as though it's part of her uniform slipped and I saw her real smile, and that's something I'll never forget. And then she put her 'mask' back on.
"If you don't mind, though, I'm going to get another for me," I said.
I went and got a refill, hoping no one would take my seat before I got back. I could feel lots of eyes following me.
When I got back no one had taken my seat. But just as I sat there was a tinkling sound that seemed to be coming from Supergirl's cape. She reached behind her, felt around for a second and then pulled out a…pager (now who'd have thought she carried one of those in her cape, of all places. Um, where else would she carry it, though? I went back to thinking about her eyes so I wouldn't offend her.)
"Code 666," she said, looking at the pager after she'd stopped the alarm.
"666? We're being invaded by the anti-Christ?" I asked.
She made a face that was somewhere between a laugh and a blush. "Not an emergency," she announced, loud enough that anyone who could have heard the pager would hear the comment. She looked at me and said quietly, "The numerals 6-6-6 correspond to the letters on a phone of M-O-M." She looked chagrined as only a young girl can. "She worries about me." She tucked the pager back under her cape (or maybe in it) and fumbled around a second before pulling out a cell phone, one of those really good global ones.
She dialed with her thumb, so fast it was just a blur to me. I noticed that the phone number she was dialing wasn't displayed. It rang and when the other end answered she said, "It's me. Not secure on this end."
"…Yeah, I'm fine. Long day but we're making good progress and I'll be home soon."
"…I'm taking the night off. We need some parts that won't arrive until tomorrow."
"…Yes, Mom, I'll get my rest."
"…I love you too. Tell Dad I love him. Bye."
She hung up. She looked at me. "Like I said, she worries. But it's nice of her to call."
I noticed something: her eyes kept going to the corner, which had a jukebox in it. I think she may have been the only girl in the place (I know she was the only girl I was noticing). The jukebox wasn't playing now. Was it possible she wanted to…
I took a deep breath. "This is probably a question I shouldn't ask, but would you like to dance?"
"Why is it a question you shouldn't ask? I won't step on your feet and I won't notice if you step on mine."
"Would you like to?"
"Yes," she said.
I groped for change.
"I'll get it," she said, "you got the drinks." And she fished in her cape again. What is that thing? Her purse?
She found some change, went over to the corner and selected a couple of songs. She walked back to me just as the first song began. 'Fly Me to the Moon'. I figured it was a kind of joke on her part, I mean, she's been there and all. I smiled as I took her hands and we began to dance. Normally I'm an indifferent dancer but tonight something just clicked and we moved perfectly together. I didn't know if it's that she's a great partner, that we were a matched pair or if the moon was in the right alignment for me to do well; but it was great. As 'Fly Me to the Moon' wound down, I put my head next to hers and, smiling, commented "Pretty song, a pun because you've been there?"
She looked surprised. "Actually, it's nostalgia, it's the song I learned about dancing from. My parents used to dance to it when I was young… It's their song, as a matter of fact."
That surprised me. Why would her parents have an Earth song as their song? Wouldn't they have some Kryptonian song as theirs?
The next song started. Something a little faster. To this day I can't remember what it was because I was so lost in the pleasure of dancing with her. When it wound down I couldn't help making a comment (to cover how desperately I was hoping there'd be a next song). "You're very light on your feet."
Her face clouded up as she tried to suppress laughter. "I can't believe you said that," she hissed, trying to keep her voice down.
"Why?" I asked, confused.
Various expressions of confusion crossed her face. Finally she said, "You really don't know, do you?"
I looked down and discovered our feet were six inches off the floor. I was holding her hands for dancing and I tightened them in surprise (fortunately there was no danger I'd grab her hand too hard). "How… How… How long has that been happening?"
She giggled (it sounded funny coming from her). "I'm not sure, but I noticed it about half way through 'Fly Me to the Moon'."
"Does this happen often?"
"I've never spontaneously air danced before, but my parents usually dance this way."
"Oh." Fortunately the third song she'd selected started at that point, saving me from having to think of something to say.
I wanted it to never end…of course it did. As the last notes faded away they were replaced by applause. The whole bar had been watching us. I blushed. Supergirl brushed my cheek with a kiss and let us settle back to the floor. She didn't seem at all bothered by the attention (considering she's one of the two most recognized people on the planet this should not surprise me). "Again?" she asked.
I nodded. She smiled, grabbed for change in her cape and headed for the jukebox. I had the sensation she was moving very fast but then I was experiencing some strange sensations at the time. My knees were weak and my head was spinning…and I was really enjoying both. She was back in a flash (or at least it felt that way). She took my hands, the music started and we began to dance. About ten minutes later I remembered to look, and yes, we were at least six inches off the floor again, gliding back and forth in perfect unison.
Later in the night I was vaguely aware that my legs were tired… and all the rest of me… but I still didn't care, we just kept dancing. Every so often she'd put more coins in the jukebox (and once she had to have the bar man break a bill). And once (just once) someone tried to cut in on me. I reluctantly prepared to let go to her hands but she just looked at him once (and I didn't want to be on the receiving end of that look) and said "No" very firmly. He backed away. I was surprised that no one had tried to cut in before that. I wasn't surprised no one tried after that. I still wondered if it was her intimidating presence that kept people from trying to cut in before she indicated she didn't want to change partners. I figured it was either extremely brave or incredibly foolish, and probably the height of bravado, to ask her. But once she accepted what slowed everyone else down?
Finally we glided to a stop. She looked at the clock and, I think, very softly sighed. Then she gently lowered us to the floor and she turned to the barman. "Call last call," she ordered, "and since everyone was so nice by not starting a fight or anything while I was dancing, the last round is on me. Then it's time to head everyone home." There was a little complaining but the round on her softened the pain…and no one was drunk enough to argue with her.
I glanced at the clock and was amazed that it was a quarter of one AM. I was surprised my knees were still attached to my legs after all that exercise. I knew was going to feel this in the morning.
Supergirl bustled around getting everyone out. Apparently part of her job was making sure everyone not only got home but got home safe. I walked out and headed for my jeep, secure in the knowledge that I was certainly sober (unless you can get drunk on dancing, and if anyone had a chance for that to happen it was I). Just as I got to the jeep, there she was. She stood very close to me and said, in a voice so quiet even I could barely hear it, "Thank you for a wonderful evening. I haven't had so much fun in a long time."
I started to say 'you're welcome. So did I.' But she stopped me by stepping up to me and giving me a gentle kiss on the lips. Who'd have thought someone so tough could have lips so soft? Then she was flying off. I watched even after she was out of sight. Then I finally got into the jeep, sighed as the weight left my tired feet, and headed back to my bunk and dreams of dancing on air.
It was the end of the week. I would be heading home soon. The fires were out, thanks to Supergirl's help. It wasn't as bad as it sounded. A condition of her help had been that we were all paid for the time we would have worked if she hadn't helped. That was pretty generous of her, especially since she didn't get paid at all. The companies, the governments, etc. saved money on equipment not needed, the fires were out sooner and we were all paid a lot for a little time (and no one got injured).
I was driving back towards the little building that acted as a barracks for myself and some of the other experts (or had until they'd headed home, I was the only one left). I saw a little speck in the sky. I assumed it was a buzzard or something (in retrospect, they'd be kind of rare in the desert, wouldn't they?).
I don't know why I kept glancing up at that speck, other than I was in the middle of nowhere and there wasn't much else to watch.
Suddenly something dark and sleek was rushing up at the dark speck I was watching. When they collided (and it looked like they did collide) there was a flash of green light. That was weird. Even in the Middle East they don't hunt buzzards with surface to air missiles, do they?
The dark speck I'd been watching started to fall towards the Earth, but not straight down like a dead duck, but in a glide, still making forward progress even as it plummeted. Which sort of argues against it being a buzzard shot down with a surface to air missile, right? There wouldn't have been enough left of it to glide.
Whatever it was glided in jerky changes of course, its descent steepening as time progressed. It seemed to be aiming for the road I was on, up ahead. Curiosity got the better of me and I accelerated while keeping an eye on it, trying to estimate where it would land. As I got closer to it, and it got closer to the ground, I saw it was bigger than a buzzard. But I just couldn't figure out what it was. It just didn't make any sense.
Finally the 'speck' crashed next to the road 50 feet ahead of me and I could see what it was and accept it, albeit incomprehensibly. I slammed on the brakes and skidded to a stop in a haze of smoke and dust next to her. I took the jeep out of gear, didn't set the parking brake, didn't turn off the ignition or take the keys, didn't turn on my hazard blinkers. I did jump out and run to her.
She was doubled over at the side of the road holding her abdomen and shaking. Her uniform and cape were covered with a green stain of some kind. I couldn't understand what was happening to her. "Are you OK?" I asked, then figuratively slapped my forehead for asking, but didn't waste time actually doing that. "Of course not. I've got a jeep. Do you want me to take you somewhere?"
"Yes," she managed to say, through teeth clenched against pain.
"I'll help you to the jeep." I grabbed her shoulders and tugged. I don't think much happened. After a few seconds she staggered up and, with me pulling, moved towards the jeep. Once she stumbled and her weight came down on me, it felt like a quarter ton sand bag fell on me (it did once, don't ask). But she caught her footing and we didn't fall. I concentrated on just keeping us going in the correct direction. She concentrated on moving each foot after the other.
Eventually we got to the jeep. She fell half into the passenger seat and the suspension listed oddly, like she were forcing it down heavily. I tried to lift her legs into the foot wells and then settled for doing it one foot at a time while she tried to help, groaning with effort.
I jumped into the driver's seat and put it in gear. "Do you know where you want to go?" I asked.
She shook her head.
I floundered for a few seconds. "My place? It's got shelter, water, food…"
She muttered "Yeah," and concentrated on breathing.
I was getting worried. I floored the jeep, which complained like a spurred horse, bucked like one too, and then took off. It felt so much like a horse that if I hadn't been so worried about her I'd have yelled "Hi-ho Silver."
It's fifteen minutes to get to the shack/cottage/nameless-desert-building I was billeted in. I got there in five. I don't think the wheels touched the ground more than fifty percent of the last 1500 feet. I parked in the little lean-to shed next to the house (it's a carport with a door. It's supposed to keep the sand out. It doesn't.) I killed the ignition with it still in gear and jumped out.
I tugged at her shoulder again and she was even slower to move. As she got out of the jeep the suspension, which had been at an odd angle the entire trip, and pulling to the right, leveled itself. I tugged her in the direction of the kitchen door and she did her best to stagger that way.
When we finally got in she knelt down on the floor, panting. "What do we do now?" I asked, and then was horrified to realize she had collapsed, apparently fainted, the sounds of little gasps coming from her mouth. I was in trouble now: I'd have to figure out what to do. I started to try to loosen her cape while I thought. Whatever had happened to her, there couldn't be many people who'd know how to help her. I'd need someone like her father. Then, with my hand fumbling with her cape, enlightenment hit. I turned her cape inside out and felt the lining, quickly finding a large number of Velcro-ed pockets. There were a bunch of them, from one that looked like it would hold a tube of lipstick to an empty one that looked like it could hold a paperback book.
I ripped open the tab on the right size pocket and found her cell phone. I said a quick prayer (that it wasn't broken in the fall, that the battery was charged, that she didn't call very many people). And hit redial.
A few seconds later a voice answered in English, "Hello"?
I froze. What if she'd just ordered pizza or something? What if this was some secret government organization? And how did I explain what I needed and who I was looking for? It wasn't like I even knew the name of the person I was trying to call. And how would I prove I wasn't a crank? So I said, "Is this… is this code 6-6-6?"
There was a couple seconds' pause, then, "Yes, this is Mom."
I said everything in one long confused sentence. "She's in trouble, there was a missile or something and she fell and she seems to be in pain and she's got green stuff on her and she's gasping-"
"Stop babbling!" ordered the voice on the other end.
"Three things: One: Don't Panic. It doesn't help. Panic later. Two: Where are you?"
"I'm, I'm sorry, I should have introduced myself, I'm-"
"Not who! Where! In case we get cut off how do I find you?"
I told her and she cut me off when I started to go into too much detail.
"We can find that. Three: If she's as you describe then look around for a — well — for a rock. It's probably green but not necessarily. It's probably crystalline. It does glow in the dark…"
I looked at the green dust on her uniform. I cupped my hand over part of the cape and it did seem brighter in the shadow of my hand than I'd have expected. "She's covered with green powder, " I said, "and it seems to glow-"
"Does it look like she breathed any of it?" demanded the voice on the phone.
I looked at her. "No, it's mainly over her torso and back, not near her mouth or nose."
I heard an audible sigh of relief. "Try to get that stuff away from her, but remember: anything it gets on is contaminated for her. I'll be there soon." And the phone went dead.
I looked at her, lying there, in pain, passed out. I wasn't sure what to do so I figured I'd start by getting rid of the green stuff on her cape by getting rid of the cape. Except I couldn't figure out how to get the cape off. I struggled with it for over a minute.
The door opened and a figure rushed in. Female, slim, petite with dark hair and a lot of presence. She rushed in and I immediately knew she was in charge. She looked around, saw Supergirl on the floor, and ran over to kneel at her head. "Honey? It's me. You're going to be OK."
Supergirl roused a little, or maybe she had been awake all along and just conserving her strength. "'Hurts," she managed to say.
"It'll be OK soon," she reassured the stricken superheroine. She quickly pulled one of those little surgical masks over Supergirl's mouth and nose and began removing the cape I'd been struggling with. She tossed it aside. "We need to get her uniform off her and clean off the Kryptonite dust."
I looked at her aghast, I certainly didn't belong here while she was undressed (not that I wouldn't want to see, just that I didn't want to offend her, she's been too nice to me). "M-m-maam, I don't-"
"There are some supplies outside. Go get them. The gray box is made of lead, it's heavy, don't hurt yourself on it."
I ran out through the door she'd left open, found the box she'd mentioned and a satchel. I grabbed the satchel, brought it back, and left it next to the woman. Then I went back and got the box, which weighed about 80 pounds, and brought it back too.
I made a dash into my bedroom and found a pair of clean shorts and a t-shirt and brought them back too. I walked backward into the room, looking away. "I've got some clothes that she can use, they'll be at least large enough, which is to say too big-"
"Thanks, I forgot to bring her a change of street clothes. Just put them on the counter where they'll stay clean and then you can step out, if it'll make you more comfortable, until she's dressed."
I stepped out and closed the door and stood there, waiting. It felt like forever but was probably only a couple of minutes when she called me back in. Supergirl was still lying there, but now was dressed in my spare casual clothes. It was a strange sight seeing her in anything other than her uniform. I had a fleeting thought of wondering if she ever dressed this way to pass among normal mortals but I let it go. "Is she all right?" I asked.
The woman was busy cleaning up things. Gathering the uniform and sponging down everything in sight. "She'll be fine, but she's tired and a bit weak. She isn't used to being either of those things." She started to put things away in the lead box.
It wasn't until the woman had placed Supergirl's uniform in the gray box and sealed it, with an audible sigh of relief that it was done, that an obvious question occurred to me. "Excuse me, but why does that stuff make your daughter sick but doesn't affect you?"
She looked at me, measuring me I think, and finally replied. "You'd figure this out in a few minutes anyway, so I'll tell you, but I'd still prefer this not become public knowledge. Kryptonite, the green glowing stuff, affects my daughter but not me because…because my daughter is half human. I'll leave it to you to figure out which half." She took a glass of water and knelt next to her daughter to see if she could drink yet, while I thought. If her daughter, who was obviously also the daughter of the Kryptonian Superman, was half human then she had to be the human part. Which meant a human and a Kryptonian had had a child.
I stared at her in utter confusion, much to her amusement. Finally, I managed to stutter, "H-h-how…"
"How did we have a daughter?" she finished for me, amused. "You look a little old for me to have to explain the birds and the bees…"
"No. I mean how did…?"
"How did a human and a non-human have a child together, in contradiction of basic biology? I don't know either…it still confuses my obstetrician, and he's the world's greatest expert on Kryptonian physiology. Of course, he's the world's only expert on Kryptonian physiology."
"No, I mean how…how did you…survive the honeymoon?"
"Ohhhh, " she said, with dawning comprehension, and a wicked sense of humor. "OK, I'll answer. You see, I survived the honeymoon, as you tactfully put it, which no other woman on Earth could have done, because I am so close to my husband that hurting me would be like hurting himself. As long as he doesn't become masochistic I should be perfectly safe. It's worked so far."
'Hurting her would be like hurting himself.' That was so poetic, and romantic. What a lovely way to say he loved her. I wasn't sure that fully explained her 'survival', but this really wasn't any of my business.
She interrupted my revere. "Speaking of whom…" She went over to the outside door and opened it. I was there wondering who we'd been speaking of when she called out "Honey? You can come in now."
There was a rush of wind and suddenly Superman was there, filling the doorway. I'd never met him, though I have seen pictures of him. I even owned the standard poster of him when I was younger. He's a lot more solid in person. I don't know how to explain it. He just filled the door even though I know he's not really that tall.
He glanced once at his wife (with a smile of affection on his lips). He glanced once at me (and managed not to frighten me to death). The he looked at his daughter and in just a second had crossed the floor to kneel next to her. He lifted her up and hugged her to him. After several seconds of holding her, he was able to get out the words, "Are you okay?"
"I'm OK," she said, her voice sounding very tired. She hugged him back and they just held each other for several more seconds, reassuring each other. "Can I go out in the sunlight?" she finally asked.
"Sure, honey," he said, picked her up and carried her out.
His wife watched them go, amused by how tender he looked, I think. I watched too, amazed at how tender he was…and how much his love for her showed. After that I puttered around the kitchen for a while. Mrs. Superman helped. She made sandwiches. (I am not going to say I observed anything negative about her cooking skills, I'm not stupid). Finally, I asked, "It's hot out there. Should I bring her a glass of water?"
She gave me another of those measuring looks and then nodded, "Yes."
I filled a glass with cold water (as cold as a tap in the middle of the desert produces) added ice and went outside. Supergirl was leaning against the building on the sunny side. Her sleeves and jeans were both rolled up. "I brought you something to drink. Aren't you going to burn?" I asked.
She took the glass and began sipping the water. "No. I don't burn, I just absorb the light. This feels good."
"Where's your dad?" I asked.
"I sent him to find out who did this and what's going on," she answered, handing back the empty glass.
"Would you like more water?"
So I went and got another glass of water. After she drank it she declined more. I turned to go back.
"Please," she asked, "will you stay and keep me company?" She sounded lonely, and just maybe a little scared.
"Sure," I said, sitting down next to her, being careful not to block her sunlight. We sat there for a little while, not saying anything. After a while I reached over and patted her hand. Before I could get my hand away she caught it and just held it gently. Well, if she wanted to hold onto my hand I wasn't going to argue.
We sat there all afternoon. Her mother brought me a hat and some sunscreen so I wouldn't burn while her daughter never burns. We didn't talk much. Towards late afternoon I commented that it was pretty out and she agreed. Somehow we didn't need many words; it was nice just being there.
When the sun had gone down (desert sunsets are boring but you can't beat the company I had) we went inside. It would be getting cold soon and she had gotten all the benefit the direct sun would give until morning (though I suppose Superman could fly her a few time zones west if she really needed more).
Superman was inside, talking to his wife. He seemed rather angry. That's a scary sight. I got nervous and separated my hand from Supergirl's. I didn't want to be a target for that anger. She let go but, and it may have been my imagination, she seemed reluctant.
"You found something out?" she asked her father.
"Yes. The people who shot you publicly claimed credit." I saw anger deep in his eyes. I knew what that meant: it meant you do not hurt his little girl. "Apparently, they were preparing to attack me and you were a target of opportunity."
"They were gunning for you?" she asked, anger audible in her voice. "I don't know what bothers me more: that they weren't gunning for me or that they were gunning for YOU." She thought about it and then added, "I do know." Something told me it was the second point that bothered her more.
Supergirl's mother tried to calm things down. "As long as everyone is OK then it all worked out."
"No it's not OK," interjected Supergirl immediately.
"It is definitely unacceptable," agreed Superman. "I will have to spend a little time settling this…"
"Hey, as the injured party I expect some input into this action."
"You know you won't be able to do anything about this until some time tomorrow at the earliest. You know the stories about Kryptonite poisoning."
"So we'll wait until tomorrow and then I'll do something about 'talking' to the people who did this."
"Maybe waiting until tomorrow is a good idea," offered Mrs. Superman. I got the feeling she figured that their sleeping on it before going after the people was a good idea.
Supergirl and Superman traded looks and then quietly agreed.
"You're welcome to stay the night," I offered. "There's plenty of space." There was, since everyone else had already left. "But you might want your usual bed." As soon as I said that I started wondering if Kryptonians slept in beds. Or did they just float in mid air? For that matter, did they sleep? There are so many things that just aren't commonly known about the superheroes' lives.
I think Superman was starting to decline when I heard Supergirl say, "Thank you." He looked surprised. I was surprised. I didn't have the nerve to look and see if her mother seemed surprised. But hey, if she wanted to stay she was more than welcome to. "I'll get some towels and make up beds," I said.
As I walked down the hall, I heard Superman ask her, "Are you sure?'
She replied, "I'm sure. I just need to rest some. Here is good for that." Very softly she added, "I like it here." Then louder, just as I walked out of voice range, I heard, "Tomorrow, when I'm rested, I'll have to let the people with that missile know what I think of it, pointedly shall we say."
I didn't hear his reply. By the time I got back with the linens and finished making up one single and one double bed, they had stopped discussing it. She looked determined. He looked resigned and determined (resigned about her insistence on being involved and determined that he was also going to make a point, also 'pointedly'). Mrs. Superman wore an expression I had trouble interpreting. I think it was 'concern'. But I'm not sure what she was thinking.
Supergirl, tired and unused to being tired, turned in early. I think Superman decided to stand watch and make sure nothing approached (which made me feel a lot better). I took a shower, put some cream on my skin where I'd sunburned in spite of the sun block and crawled into bed.
I got up bright and early, determined to make a hearty breakfast for everyone. When I got to the kitchen I saw I was too late because Superman was stirring pancake batter, Mrs. Superman was doing something with orange juice and Supergirl was setting the table. I was surprised by Superman cooking. Who knew he knew how to do that? I wasn't even sure he ate (though as I thought about it I seemed to remember seeing him on the news attending a U.N. banquet).
Mrs. Superman noticed my look and explained with a sigh, "He's actually a very good cook. I've improved since we married but I can still burn water. I leave cooking to them." She must have noticed my strange look. "What?" she asked.
"Well," I began, "I can understand him having a power to burn water, or her doing it, but for anyone else? …That's impressive."
She giggled a little. "Figuratively! Figuratively I can burn water…and most cookware I can burn practically." She looked over at her daughter. "Watch it," she warned about me. "He's got a really sharp sense of humor…almost as sharp as mine…I think I like it."
Supergirl looked amused, which oddly pleased me.
Breakfast was excellent. I considered asking for the recipe for those pancakes but I'm not a super cook so I decided not to. After we'd all eaten and I'd done the dishes (I insisted on doing my part), I sat with Supergirl as she absorbed sunlight again.
We chatted about little things. It was peaceful and pleasant. Then in the middle of my telling her a joke she suddenly put her palms against either side of her head. "Please," she said, "don't say anything for a minute."
"Is there something wrong…" I started to ask but she hushed me, her eyes closed as though she had a headache.
She held her head like that for about ten seconds then she sighed and relaxed. "Sorry about that," she said. "I'm beginning to get my powers back."
"And…?" I asked, not understanding her behavior.
"One of the first powers a Kryptonian on Earth gets is enhanced hearing. But when it first cuts in it's overwhelming. I just got it back and it was like the first time: very loud." She leaned back, basked in the sunlight and seemed to think. Perhaps she was reminiscing about other things that had happened to her. She must have had an interesting life. Then she frowned. After frowning and thinking for several seconds she finally spoke. "I hope…I hope that this doesn't mean I'm going to go through ALL the events that occurred when each power manifested."
"Problems?" I asked.
"Oh, just a lot of little accidents, things that happen when you suddenly have a power and no experience or even warning. Ripping doors off their hinges. Accidentally x-ray visioning a friend. Oops! Starting a few minor fires when heat vision starts to work. I don't want to have to go through that all over again."
It was mid-afternoon, the hottest time of the day. Superman had gone out for a while and come back. He hadn't said where he was going, I hadn't asked, and I knew it was sensible that I didn't want to know where he'd gone.
Supergirl nodded at him, a curt nod that just screamed 'NOW'. "I'm back to full power. Let's go find who did this to me." There was something about how she said it that I interpreted as "who tried to do this to you and did it to me instead." I'm very relieved I'm not the one she wanted to go find.
"Sure you want to do it now? We could wait until tomorrow. It'd give you a chance to rest."
"You can wait until tomorrow if you want," she said. He looked surprised. "But I'll be done by then," she added.
Superman considered for a few seconds and I could actually watch as he decided she meant it and that since he wanted to be involved he'd have to do it now. He nodded.
"What did you find out about who did this?" she asked.
"Credit got taken by two different terrorist organizations. One of them strikes me as implausible. The other is possible but not definite…" Superman said, as they walked out the door.
I looked at Mrs. Superman. "Will they be able to handle this?" I asked.
She nodded and said, "Yes." But she seemed uneasy to me.
"Hard to say. If they knew where to look they'd be done by now-"
I raised an eyebrow.
"They can fly really fast," she explained. "Because they have to find where to go first it may take a while. We should keep track of their progress."
"The same way everyone else does. By watching television."
This didn't completely make sense to me, but I turned on the television.
"Set it to CNN," she told me.
I changed channels. I didn't see anything informative about the price of soybeans on the Chicago mercantile exchange. Which was almost immediately interrupted by a special report from the Middle East. It seems that Superman and Supergirl were making a bit of noise…actually a lot of noise, about what you hear when buildings collapse…which they were (with a little help).
"Ummm…" I finally asked, "Would you check something for me? Your husband doesn't care if people attack him, but they hurt his little girl, which he does not think is OK. Your daughter doesn't mind if people attack her, but they wanted to hurt her father and she doesn't accept that either. So normally they'd be perfectly calm or one would try to calm the other down…but instead they're both angry now."
Mrs. Superman had been watching the television intently, but my question pulled her away, a little. "You're very insightful," she finally said. "And I can't think of any force on Earth that can stop them."
"Force won't stop them, so you'll have," I said.
"Are you kidding? You know I can't force them to stop," she snapped.
"I know. So do something subtle, before someone gets hurt."
"I am not that subtle. If you can think of a subtle way, let me know about. Please!"
"Well, they wouldn't hurt someone who has already surrendered and been taken into custody. All we need to do is warn people to turn themselves in." I paused, looked at the television and winced as Superman punctuated his point with a Kryptonian fist. "And we need to hurry. But I don't know how to get the word out."
She considered for just a second, then fished in her purse for her cell phone. "I think I know someone who can get the word out…but could I have a little privacy to make a call?"
I nodded. "I'll be waiting in the car port. Let me know when you're done." I headed for the door while she hit the speed dial on her cell phone. I only heard one word of her conversation as the door cut it off. That word sounded like 'Jimmy.'
I waited about ten minutes. Which I whiled away trying to get something on the jeep's radio (so that the static would drown out any more of the conversation).
Finally she called me back in. "I called a friend of mine who is a reporter," she said. (Must be Jimmy I deduced.) "She called her editor." (Oops, I guess not Jimmy, after all). "And he's going to get the word out."
"Very subtle…which is to be expected."
She gave me a strange look (I think she gave me a strange look, I had turned to watch the television). The news coverage had seemingly split: part was now on Superman and Supergirl who were grimly seeking who had attacked her; the other part was an announcement trying to make clear how much trouble whoever did this was in. Combined with the footage, I would have been scared. They also made a point of it that being in custody was about the only thing that could be expected to protect someone from a superhero whose little girl has been hurt and a superheroine whose father was the target.
It must have worked, because pretty soon there was a rush of people turning themselves in. Not only did the guilty parties turn themselves in, but people who might have been suspected of being guilty turned themselves in just to be safe. The police departments had to call in off-duty officers to process all the people turning themselves in. The news announcement not only got terrorists off the streets, statistics showed there was even a drop in general street crime.
An hour later Superman and Supergirl were back. She said thank you and good-bye (and I think she might have kissed me if her father hadn't been watching, but he was, like a hawk). They picked up Mrs. Superman and flew off.
I went outside and waved good-bye. Once they were out of sight, I went back in and got a drink of cold water (it's a desert thing).
The next day, she was back at work putting out the last of the oil well fires. A couple of days after that they were all out and people headed home.
It was a week after the terrorists turned themselves in. I was back in Metropolis. I had resumes in the mail, money in my wallet…and a persistent thought in my mind. It was even in my dreams. I just couldn't get my mind off her.
Thursday I walked down the street, looked to my left and saw something that might finally help me let go: A florist's shop. The perfect way to get a girl off my mind…because every time I've sent a girl flowers it's backfired and we immediately broke up. It should be even easier this time because there's no breaking up to do.
I stepped inside. Do I know how to pick them? I guess not because the florist's shop was a disaster. It looked like it had been picked over and the only things left an aphid would have rejected. So I said I wanted some flowers for a girl who just recovered from being sick (that's honest, right?). The harried clerk suggested a dozen yellow roses since they stand for friendship (well, I can't really claim anything more than that, I don't even know if I can claim that much). Then the only yellow roses left in the shop were…slightly wilted. And there were only eleven of them. I seriously considered just leaving when the clerk, recognizing a nearly lost sale, came up with something.
I didn't even know they had purple roses. But to make a dozen the clerk combined the eleven yellow roses with the one odd purple one. You know what? It looked great. Somehow the slightly wilted yellow roses made the purple one look even more special, and the purple flower made the yellow roses look better. When the clerk offered the dozen at the price for eleven yellow roses I smelled a bargain and bought them.
I was outside on the street when I realized I didn't know how to send them to her. Dooh! So there I am carrying a box of flowers with no idea what to do. I went to the top of a parking garage to think. I often do that. I like it up there. The blowing air, the great view…the cheap admission if you just walk up. I went up there and thought.
What was I going to do with this box of flowers? There is no really simple way to send Superman or Supergirl a package. Supposedly you can send it to the Metropolis post office. You used to be able to send it to the Daily Planet care of Superman. I don't know how you send something to Supergirl. In frustration I started to talk to myself. "What am I supposed to do? How do you send her a package? Stand on a really tall building a yell 'Help, Superman, I've got a package for your daughter?'"
"That'll work," said a calm voice behind me.
I whirled and there was Superman standing right behind me. I jumped. "I'm s-s-sorry sir," I stammered. "I was just thinking out loud trying to-"
"I heard," he said, in a friendly way, "I've been wanting an opportunity to thank you for helping my daughter. And now you're trying to figure out how to send a package to her." He looked at the box. "Interesting choice of colors…"
I wondered what was that supposed to mean, until I remembered he could see through the box if he wanted to. "Ah, yes. It's not very appropriate to ask you to -"
"Who else are you going to ask?" He glanced at the box again. "You should include a note."
"I really don't think -" I started to say, very quickly.
"Girls like it when you do things like that…trust me." He fished in his cape and pulled out a notebook and three pens.
I wondered why he carried things like that. I mean, I've heard him called the world's biggest Boy Scout, but doesn't that mean he'd carry a pocketknife, not a notebook?
He folded back a used section and handed it to me along with a pen. I started to write, not really planning what to say. 'I hope you are feeling better. Here are some flowers, I hope you like them. I hope you don't mind my sending them to you but I really enjoyed meeting you.
I read back what I had written. "It sounds kind of 'hope-y'," I commented.
He shrugged with a little smile (which I thought was very human and thus very strange). "It's minor babbling, nothing compared to the babbling of a master, but she'll like it," he reassured me.
That sounded strange too, but I didn't say so.
He tucked the note in the flower box, tucked the notebook and pen in his cape, nodded his good-bye and took to the sky. I watched him soar away. I figured I should feel better, now that I'd sent flowers to a girl I couldn't get out of my mind… I didn't feel better, and I still couldn't get her out of my mind. I just kept thinking I should have sprung for better flowers.
The next day, after a round of job interviews and trying to get my bank account straightened out from the pretzel the bank's computer had put it in, I was walking down the street when I heard a voice say "Hi". It wasn't a particularly nice neighborhood and, while I wasn't particularly scared about this area, I was cautious. I looked quickly to see who had said that, the adrenalin beginning to pump so I could either fight or run, and there she was: the girl in my dreams. I quickly squashed those thoughts and substituted: there was Supergirl, standing in an alley.
"Hi," I responded with scintillating conversational skills, when the zap of our eyes meeting had worn off.
She beckoned. I hesitated, why did she want me in an alley? But if she wanted to overpower me she could easily drag me into the alley, so I stepped in.
Once I was out of sight of the street she seemed to relax. "Thank you for the flowers," she said, with a warm smile. "They were lovely."
I mentally winced as I remembered that the yellow flowers had been a little wilted. "You're welcome." I was trying to think of more conversation to make but she seemed to have something in mind so I remained silent.
"I got something for you -" she said, reaching into her cape.
I know my eyes widened. I didn't know what to expect. "You didn't have -" I started to say.
She pulled out a CD case wrapped in colorful paper and handed it to me. "Because of track 3," she said, "And because most people don't treat me like a person."
I raised an eyebrow in confusion.
"People don't treat me as 'just' a person. They don't buy me a beer or ask me to dance or hold my hand and watch a sunset. And they definitely don't send me eleven yellow roses for friendship and one purple for something special. Someone who will hold my hand and watch a sunset is something special." She paused. "So, what else do you do?"
"Uhh…I could offer you a ride on my motorcycle, but it's broken. How about, I'll offer you a ride on my motorcycle as soon as it's fixed?" I felt pretty silly offering her, who could fly around the world in minutes and had been to the moon, a ride on a 'cycle but it's all that came to mind.
She tilted her head and looked at me. "I'll see your offer and raise it: let me help fix it."
"Another thing most people don't know is that I'm mechanically inclined. I actually know which end of a screwdriver to hold and what a clutch does. Tell me when a good time is and I'll bring over my tools and help you fix it, then you can give me a ride."
"Tomorrow's Saturday. I'm off -"
"It's a date!" she said eagerly, then she realized how she'd worded it and rephrased it as "It's a day…"
I told her where and we picked a time. And then she lifted off. It was a weird feeling knowing I had a date, or at least an appointment, with her, but it left a warm feeling in my insides.
I played the CD that night. Track 3 was "Fly me to the moon". It made me feel lonely, like the only other person in the world was all the way on the moon. Who knows, maybe she was.
Ten AM Saturday morning I was up, showered, shaved (which I normally don't do on Saturday, but I had company coming) and I had pulled out my cycle, found the manual and opened my toolbox. I really didn't know if she'd show, or if an emergency would come up and she'd be rescuing flood victims in China or something.
I was just finishing resorting my socket set when I noticed a young woman walking along the sidewalk. She was wearing shorts, sneakers and a cropped sweatshirt. She had her hair held back by both a headband and a scrunchy (overkill). She had a lot of dangly jewelry at her neck, ears and wrists. Her eyes were covered by oversized sunglasses. I looked at her but I didn't really pay attention, until she started to walk up my driveway.
I was a little irritated. What did she want? I was expecting company and she wasn't it. I wondered what Supergirl would think when she got here if another woman was here. Who was this girl? I looked at her more closely but I didn't really notice anything. She was pretty shapely but she had on too much makeup and too much jingly jewelry. I now had too conflicting questions. Who was this and where was Supergirl?
Then it occurred to me that I might not be expecting this woman but I was expecting a woman. It couldn't be… I looked more closely. No it wasn't — wait a sec. I looked really hard, noting details and trying to subtract the clothing and makeup and stuff. It was! It was Supergirl, just in a disguise.
I smiled. "That's incred -"
She put a finger to her lips, telling me to stop. Then she walked quicker until she was next to me. "This only works if you don't tell anyone it's me. As long as they don't expect to see me they won't. So don't yell anything I might regret."
I looked her up and down. "Even if you told me I wouldn't have recognized you if I hadn't been expecting you to show up, and even then I almost didn't."
"Then it was worth the two hours I spent putting together this disguise."
"You look good," I said, trying to be complimentary. I really thought her 'disguise' made her look silly and less interesting.
"Thank you," she said. "It good to see you too." I'm pretty sure she was glad to see me, but obviously my greeting had been underwhelming.
"But I miss seeing your eyes," I explained.
She pulled her sunglasses down her nose so I could see her sparkling dark eyes. There was that electric zap between us. I smiled. "Those are the eyes I know," I said.
She smiled back. "Sorry, I need the glasses or this disguise doesn't work. Just know they're still there."
I nodded. "So, all we need to do now is fix this recalcitrant engine," I said, pointing at my motorcycle. "It's either the carburetor, the fuel filter or the electrical to the fuel pump. Because I get spark and air but it doesn't -"
While I'd been listing choices she'd pulled down her sunglasses again. She flashed me a look with her eyes (which made my knees shake because I wasn't ready for it). Then she looked at my machine. Then she cut off my explanation. "It's the carburetor," she said, putting her sunglasses back up.
"Well, it could be, but it could also -"
"Carburetor," she said.
"We can check that first, even though that is more work than checking the fuel filter, but we won't know it's the problem until it's opened."
"I already know," she said. She looked around quickly, then she said, "This is me, remember?" she pulled down her sunglasses for a third time and flashed me a look (electric zap time but I was ready for it). "I have…x-ray vision…remember? I can see the problem. And your fuel filter is fine, you're low on oil and your carburetor is broken." She put her sunglasses back.
To make a long story short, we took the carburetor apart and it was broken. We needed a part from downtown and my motorcycle was broken, but that wasn't a problem because she ducked into a secluded spot, there was a whoosh, five minutes later there was a reverse whoosh and she walked out with the part. We spent another hour putting it back together and fired it up. It sounded great. I cleaned up, she disappeared for five minutes and came back wearing riding gear and carrying a helmet.
"Now where would YOU get a helmet?" I asked.
"I borrowed it," she answered.
So apparently she really did want to go for a ride. I can't image why someone who can go to the moon on a whim would want to go anywhere on just a motorcycle but if she wanted to then it was fine by me. I got on, started up the engine and was about to ask her if she wanted to do this when she hopped on behind me and wrapped her arms around me. She scooted up really close and leaned her body against my back, with her head next to mine just over my shoulder.
She felt warm, like having the sun shining on you. It felt wonderful. I put it in gear, twisted the throttle and we headed off. I didn't care where we went as long as it took a long time to get there.
Much later, I started to notice my surroundings again. She'd moved her head and that was what I had noticed. "We need to get gas," she said. I looked at the gas gauge, looked at the sun, and realized we'd been driving for a long time and I had no idea where we were.
"Any idea where we are?" I asked.
"Don't you know?"
"I think I've been in heaven, but I don't know where to get gas there."
Her eyes gave me an odd look but her lips gave me a smile. I enjoyed the smile and didn't worry about the look. She pointed to the right side of an upcoming fork. I turned without worrying about how she knew which way to go. Later, it occurred to me she could read road signs very far off. Probably even seeing through trees and buildings and hills and such to find the signs. Pretty soon we came to a combination gas station/inconvenience store/bar. There were several cycles outside the bar part (cycles that were the worse for the wear and worked on more to make them loud than to make them good).
I filled the tank. And then we went over to use the restroom. I needed to go; with her physiology who knows if she needed to go or just went because it would have looked odd if she didn't.
It didn't take me long. (It did, however, take longer than I wanted it to, in one of the most disgusting men's rooms I've ever been in.) I came out, ordered two beers and waited for her to finish.
This was a rough crowd, and they wanted everyone to know it. I was trying to just stand there and be ignored, but they didn't like it. I knew I'd be in real trouble if I showed fear, so I stood up for myself while trying not to escalate anything. There was a bit of posturing going on. I didn't really like the way things were going. They seemed to want a fight to break out.
Just as it got to the 'take off the jackets and get ready to rumble' stage a voice cut through it. Her voice. The secret weapon that gave me extra confidence since if anything got too dangerous we'd probably have a superheroine breaking up a bar fight.
"Don't let him trick you like that!"
I glanced at her, but she was obviously speaking to the big guy who had been looking to bruise his knuckles on my face in order to show off for his girlfriend. I didn't quite understand what she meant. He didn't understand either.
"He's trying to get you to pick a fight with him," she explained, meaning that somehow I was trying to goad him, which I wasn't. "He's a martial arts expert. If he starts it then the police will be down on him. But if he can get you to start…then he can beat you up without getting in legal trouble. I don't want to waste MY night watching him fight again. I want a nice romantic evening. He wants to fight someone. Don't be a fool and let him get away with messing up my evening."
She stood there, looking so absolutely confident that I almost wondered if I'd been trying to start something.
If I was unsure, the big guy was sure. He put his jacket back on and turned back to his drink and his date.
She walked over to me. "Wouldn't you really rather spend romantic time with me than looking for someone to fight?"
I left the beers on the bar, untasted, and we walked out to my bike. After we had driven away I asked her, "What would have happened if he hadn't believed I was some kind of Bruce Lee knockoff and had decided to fight?"
"Then the lights would just have happened to go out and you would have beaten everybody up in the dark when no one could see you do it." It took me a couple of seconds to figure out her plan. "Remind me to let them know that their emergency lights are malfunctioning. I noticed when I was getting ready to disable them along with the main lights. They should get them fixed, it's a fire safety hazard."
She whispered, "You did say you'd rather spend time with me than beat up some guys you don't know in a bar, right?"
"Definitely." I considered asking her if she'd meant it when she referred to this as a romantic time, but I decided not to push my luck. I just enjoyed feeling her arms wrapped around me and went back to enjoying heaven.
It was a few days later. We'd been seeing each other almost daily since the ride on my motorcycle. It was evening. We'd watched a beautiful sunset. We were walking back to my place and we'd reached a very deserted stretch and I noticed that she seemed to be getting nervous. Nothing makes her nervous: guys with guns, exploding bombs and falling planes do not make her nervous; deserted stretches of road definitely do not make her nervous. "You OK?" I asked.
"Hmm," she agreed, nodding.
"Sure? You seem…tense."
"I…just have something to tell you…"
My hearted skipped a beat. "Bad news?" I asked. Was she going to break up with me? I knew that I couldn't hold her interest but I'd foolishly hoped -
"No. Not exactly good or bad. Just something I think I should tell you."
She took a deep breath. "Laurel," she announced.
"Laurel," she repeated. "My name is Laurel…Laurel Kent."
I didn't understand.
She brushed her lips against mine for a kiss and asked, "Can I see you tomorrow?"
"Sure," I answered, still confused.
She smiled, stepped into the shadows and I heard the whoosh that meant she had vanished.
I walked home, confused, and was locking the door when it hit me. When she said her 'name' she meant her Earth name. That was something I'd barely considered existed. When she'd first walked up to me in disguise, the day we fixed my motorcycle, and I didn't recognize her I had wondered if she'd ever done this before but it never occurred to me that she might have done it long enough to have…or need…a name.
I climbed into bed and tried to sleep. It didn't come. I just kept thinking about her. Now, that isn't an uncommon occurrence in itself, I often lie awake for half an hour just thinking about her. But what I was thinking about her had changed. I kept wondering about her with an Earth name.
Finally I got up, turned on my computer and entered "Laurel Kent" into the search engine. It came back with several hits. The first one was from a college. I clicked it and there she was, in her graduation gown, smiling after just having received her diploma. I looked at her. It took even me a second to recognize her, but I'm used to it by now. It was definitely she. The couple surrounding her took longer. It took me several seconds to recognize the bespectacled man as the man I knew was her father. The mother didn't take long after that. I read the caption. And sat dumbfounded. When she said Kent she meant that Kent? Her parents were Lane and Kent? I looked at the picture to make sure I recognized them. I did.
How had her father, the most famous person on the planet, hidden in plain sight, as one of the world's most famous reporters, and have no one notice? OK, I didn't notice either and I knew things most people didn't. For that matter, how could Laurel walk down the street, or sit in a lecture at college, and not be recognized?
I tried a few more of the hits that the search engine had found. There was one announcing her promotion at work. She did something for the Center for Disease Control involving statistics. She had a job? And no one at work noticed? How was this possible?
I turned off the computer and went to bed. I got to sleep soon enough now but, though I can't remember them, I know I had strange dreams all night long.
One month later.
We'd gotten into the habit of meeting for breakfast. I'd provide the coffee and she'd provide the croissants. She knew I liked to bring something and she'd gotten to like the very harsh coffee I preferred. The croissants were always good (why not? 15 minutes before we ate them they were still in Paris, France. There are advantages to dating a superheroine.)
We were meeting in her apartment, as we sometimes did. I turned around suddenly and stubbed my toe on the coffee table. That keeps happening, I don't know why I can't get used to its placement.
There was a soft "ow". That was odd because I was biting my lip to keep from doing that. As a matter of fact, it's impossible to say ow while your lip is between your teeth. So if I hadn't said ow, because I couldn't…
I looked at Laurel. "Did you just say…"
"Yes. Did you just stub your toe?"
"Yes. Wait a minute…why did you say -"
"Slap yourself!" she ordered.
When she gives an order, people obey. I obeyed even though she wasn't in uniform. I slapped the side of my face hard enough that it stung.
She put her hand softly to the side of her face, where'd I slapped myself. "I felt that," she said in a surprised voice. She stepped over and gently kissed my stinging face. "Is that better?" she asked.
"Yes, but…but you aren't supposed to feel pain! You're…you're you. You don't feel pain."
"It didn't really hurt, I just knew something wasn't right… Hang on a minute. Turn around," she said.
"What am I doing?" she asked.
"You have your hands behind your neck," I guessed, though I was pretty certain.
"You aren't looking in a mirror or something, are you?" she asked softly.
"No. I can feel your hair tickling your wrists, and my hands are at my sides."
"Well, this is interesting. We can sense each other's experiences."
"But you aren't supposed to feel pain," I insisted.
"But I can also feel you experience this," she said and kissed me full on the lips. I don't know if I was feeling her sensations of that kiss, because I was too distracted to be feeling anything…
I was still bothered by the thought of Laurel experiencing pain. Worse, it would be my pain she would be experiencing. I just didn't think it was right that she should experience pain at all, even if she said it wasn't exactly pain she felt.
I decided there was someone who might be able to explain things like this. The only problem was that that person was Laurel's mother. I was a little uncomfortable about going to her. I'd met her, and she seemed nice, but as Laurel liked to put it, her mom was very intense. (That and I didn't know how to explain what business I could possibly have dating Laurel. Laurel seemed to like it and I couldn't imaging not spending time with her as frequently as possible, but how to justify her wasting time with me?)
As I walked in, I wondered if I'd forgotten anything important to making a good impression. I'd shaved, dressed up, combed my hair, bought her a box of chocolates (Laurel said she'd like it), bought Laurel a box of chocolates (Laurel did like it, said her mom would like that she had). No time left to worry about it now.
I saw her, walked up, said hello and introduced myself. Just as I was giving her the box of chocolates, several men walked up.
"Ms. Lane?" one of them asked cheerfully.
"Yes," she responded.
They all pulled out pistols. "This is a kidnapping. Remain calm and very silent." He looked at me. "You're coming too," he told me, "stay calm and keep quiet too".
They blindfolded us and put us in car. For the record, getting into a car while blindfolded, even with someone pointing a gun at you, isn't that easy. Lois Lane seemed very calm about the whole thing, and I'd heard enough to know she was experienced at this, so I just followed her example.
They got us out of the car and we took an elevator down (which is good because I wouldn't want to try to use stairs while blindfolded). Finally, they tied us to chairs and removed the blindfolds.
As soon as the blindfold was off, I looked at Lois. She seemed OK. "You OK?" I asked, to be sure.
"Oh, yeah, this really brings back memories. No one's kidnapped me in years. I kind of missed it."
"You missed this?"
"I missed the excitement, the adrenaline…the feeling of vindication when the kidnappers were caught…" She smiled.
"Well it's not going to be like that this time," interrupted the leader of the kidnappers. "I'm only holding you for a little while. Then I'm leaving the country for good. AND… this building is lead-lined. I'll be long gone by the time you're rescued. And since I'm not going to hurt you I think people will let me go. Now if I hurt you, then I'd be in trouble -"
"Where in Metropolis did you find a lead-lined building?" I cut in. Part of it is that, let's face it, a lead-lined building has to be hard to find. (Or maybe not, I've never gone looking for one, what do I know?) The other part is that I really wanted to know. After all, I had to prove to Lois that I was suitable for Laurel.
He looked a little irritated that I'd interrupted his pontificating. But he answered, probably figuring it would shut me up. "This is an old fall-out shelter. There are ones all through Metropolis. You'd be surprised how many of them. And since they are popular, since Superman and Supergirl's X-ray vision is blocked by it, there's even a web site listing them all. Makes them easy to find one when you need it."
Seems I don't know anything about finding a lead-lined building after all. The good news is, if there's a website for buildings like this so crooks can find it, doesn't that mean that Superman and Supergirl could just look up all the existing ones and check them if they need to find someone? I wondered idly if they'd had something to do with setting up that website for when they needed to find someone being hidden.
"OK. That makes sense, but which one?" I asked, as forcefully as I could with guns pointed at me while I was tied up.
"Sigh…I picked one from the economy list on the web site. I figure it's not worth spending a lot of money on it since I only need it for a little while -"
"Which one…and is the ceiling of this economy hideout going to fall on our heads because it hasn't been maintained?"
Lois looked at me strangely. I guess my behavior was a little odd, but she didn't interrupt. After a couple of seconds I realized I was probably behaving like she used to. The stories Laurel had told me made her sound pretty wild.
"City hall," the leader answered. "So it's still well maintained and very cheap. Satisfied?"
"Oh, ecstatic. I've been kidnapped on a budget." I looked at Lois. "You're the expert on being kidnapped. Is this a quality kidnapping or are these just cut-rate villains?"
"I'd give them a grade of B. But I mark really hard. After all, I've been kidnapped by the best."
I turned back to the leader. "Congratulations. The expert says you're above average -"
He threw up his hands and walked out, leaving a couple of underlings to guard us.
Lois called after him, "Make that B+, most kidnappings have too much dialog."
He kept walking. Apparently we're really frustrating kidnappees. After a minute (it felt longer to me) my hand started to twitch, tapping against my leg.
The guards perked up at this. "What are you trying to do," demanded the taller guard. "That isn't going to get you loose, and if it did we'd just have to tie you up again."
"I'm not trying to get loose," I said, truthfully. "I'm just twitching." Not entirely truthfully.
"What's with your hand?" asked Lois.
"Well," I answered, "it's either a nervous condition or I'm trying to send a message to my knee. And I have nothing to say to my knee."
"Oh" said Lois, "well as long as it keeps you calm…"
"It does," I assured her, "it keeps me very calm."
And since we were all calm we just settled back, the guards and the kidnappees, and sat there while my hand twitched.
I was later told that, meanwhile, Superman and Laurel were looking down on Metropolis from a height, still checking out easy places before resorting to the website of lead-lined buildings, which they had helped to establish. If they weren't particularly worried about Lois Lane being kidnapped, that was because they were used to it. They weren't blase, but they did have a certain experience with it.
"That finishes the west side of the city, and you checked the north. We're getting there. Of course, they might have been taken out of the city proper and there are certain places that we'll need to check in detail, those on the lead-lined weblist, for instance." He looked at her to see how she was holding up. "Don't worry, I'm sure your boyfriend is fine."
"I'm not worried about my boyfriend being kidnapped with my mother…well, a little about him being with my mother for an extended period of time, but the kidnapping doesn't worry me."
"So he IS your boyfriend?"
"Well…yeah," she admitted.
"I'm going to have to have a talk with this boy."
"You're not going to try to scare him off, are you? Because I won't let you…and I'm not sure it'd work."
"Scare him off, never. But I do have to warn him about a few things -"
"Dad, I'm a big girl. I can take care of myself. You don't have to warn my boyfriends."
"About you, no. About your mother, maybe," he said with a smile.
"He's already met her, what's to warn about?"
"Mainly her cooking," he answered with a smile, beginning the next pass of their search.
"Wait a sec!" Laurel interrupted, getting a faraway expression and just hovering there in mid air.
"What -" Superman started to ask.
"Shhhh" she snapped, continuing her faraway expression. Then she started to smile. "I know where they are, come on!" She changed course and lost altitude. Traveling just slow enough to not kick up a wake, until she suddenly dived, her father right behind her through the doors of a building…
The fight didn't take long and soon the kidnappers were all tied up. Superman called the police (turns out he has a cell phone under his cape, but it's an unlisted number so don't bother checking). To the irritation of the superheroes, getting the story out of the mastermind did take a long time. Not because he was reluctant to talk but because he wouldn't shut up. He wanted to tell them everything in excruciating detail. Apparently, getting to explain this to legends was the high point of his existence.
As I listened in on the interrogation, I started to wonder if he would have been disappointed if he'd gotten away with it. He actually seemed to be enjoying having been caught. Finally, the police took him 'downtown' so they could ask him questions in front of a stenographer, which he didn't like nearly as much as talking in front of superheroes, but accepted. The police offered Lois and me a lift home.
"Officer," interrupted Laurel, "leave that to us. I suspect Superman giving Lois Lane a lift home is nostalgia for them, and to be honest, I don't think this gentleman will object to my giving him a lift home."
Of course I didn't mind at all, but I tried to look impressed. A few seconds later, we were all airborne. Once we were off the ground I just had to check that it had worked. "You got my message?" I asked.
She smiled. "Loud and clear, even if it was a silent message."
"Message?" demanded Superman, "what message?"
"He sent me a message," explained Supergirl.
"When?" demanded Lois. "There was no time or I would have called."
"After he told us where we were. That's why I needed to know, so I could tell her," I explained.
"But you couldn't make a phone call after we found out. There were guards…" Lois objected.
"Remember my nervous twitch? It wasn't a message for my knee, it was a message for her knee," I answered. I looked at Lois. "I was going to ask you about this, but it does come in handy. It's like that thing you said about being so close to your husband that hurting you would be like hurting himself. I thought you were just being poetic."
"Um…" began Lois, "your knee, her knee, what? I think you're babbling."
"That's what I wanted to talk to you about, get some advice. Laurel and I are getting very close, so close that when I stub my toe she says 'Ouch'."
"Actually," Laurel interrupted, "it bothers him more than it bothered me. He's a little paranoid about it."
"It, um, seems to be the same way you share each other's sensations," I explained.
I noticed that Mrs. Superman and Superman exchanged glances. She started to say something. "I'm not aware that we…well not exactly…" She petered off and looked at her husband.
"I guess we do," he told her, "just not as obviously…"
He looked into her eyes. She looked into his eyes. Laurel interrupted, "Hey! Dad, watch where you're flying. There are buildings around here. If you're not going to look where you're flying then go home."
"Sounds good to me!" he said and sped up in an arc. "Have fun, kids. Stay out of trouble," he called back.
"Have fun, 'kids'. Stay out of trouble," I muttered.
"Congratulations," Laurel said. Changing her own course to take us back to my place via a favorite pizza place (I know her well enough now to recognize things like that).
"Congratulations? He just called us kids. And warned me to stay out of trouble."
"Yeah. It means he likes you. It's like getting his blessing, informally."
"More likely he's telling me not to do anything with you that would get me in trouble with him. You're still his little girl to him. I think that was a threat."
"No, it wasn't. You remind him of my mother -"
"Your mother how?"
"Well, for one thing, you just got kidnapped."
"Only because I was with your mother."
"Exactly. Mom was always getting into trouble. Now you're getting into trouble. He thinks you should try to avoid it while on dates with me."
"Are you sure he was giving me a warning?"
"Yes," she said, and suddenly kissed me. "He was going to warn you about my mom's cooking, so he actually likes you. And we're reminding him of when he was courting my mom."
I was silent for several seconds, until after we'd landed. "Speaking of which. There's something I should tell you."
"I love you," I said.
"Don't let being kidnapped put you off -" she said, answering what she'd expected me to say. "Wait! Did you just say -?"
"Yes, I —"
"I love you, too," she interrupted.
A warm feeling filled me. "What do we do now?" I asked.
"We get a pizza that will still taste good cold and a video we don't care about. We put the video on and ignore it and later we heat up the pizza. And in between we cuddle up and talk about the really important things: us." And she kissed me. And the world stopped bothering me for a while.