Chapter 1: Getting There Is Half the Fun
Kara loved flying. Just not in airplanes, and definitely not tucked into a tiny seat right next to Snapper Carr. She was typing away at her tablet, trying desperately to make sure he didn’t see what she was writing, because if he found out that she was drafting a love poem for Lena Luthor, she was pretty sure he wouldn’t let her interview her favorite CEO anymore. And if she was going to help him cover the national meeting of the International Business Women’s Alliance in Opal City, she really, really wanted to be the one to interview the keynote speakers: Lena Luthor, Cat Grant, and Jillian Holtzman, along with several high-profile aliens who identified, on Earth, as female.
It had surprised Kara at first to find out that Ghostbusters was a limited corporation rather than a nonprofit, but as Holtzy had pointed out, plasma rifles were not cheap to maintain, and as former academics, she and her partners weren’t exactly rolling in retirement and other benefits. Kara had speed-read research on the group so that she had a similar level of knowledge about Ghostbusters, Alien Bonne Santé and Partner Planetari as she had about L-Corp and CatCo. But once she was up to speed, she wrote for herself.
Snapper muttered, “Relax, Ponytail. I long since figured out that you write Supergirl fanfic in your spare time. I don’t care. While we’re in the air, you can do what you want. Once we’re on the ground, you belong to CatCo.”
“Oh? Uh, great! Thanks!”
The Royal Opal was the city’s biggest hotel and conference space, certainly bigger than anything National City or Metropolis had to offer. As they checked in, Kara found herself gaping at the high, gold-flecked ceiling and the ornate balcony that surrounded the entire lobby. She had expected something high-tech and ultra-modern, more like L-Corp, and had forgotten that Cat had a rococo side as well, and with CatCo as one of the primary American sponsors of the conference, that was going to affect the venue.
“Focus, Ponytail. Find your room and then find your targets. I want three hundred words on all five of them before lunch today. And don’t make me bleed.”
She knew he was referring to his red pen, but it still sounded like a personal insult. But she forgot it all when she saw Lena Luthor walk into the lobby, wearing a white linen dress and a red blazer with the sleeves pushed up to her elbows. The red matched her lipstick and her four-inch heels and Kara had to remind herself to breathe. Snapper looked at her and looked in the direction of her gaze.
“Oh, shit, Ponytail. Do I have to remind you to be professional?”
“No, no. Of course not! I just, what a pretty hotel!”
“Uh huh.” Snapper wasn’t fooled for a second. “Just don’t let your appreciation for the… venue’s finer points turn up as a bias in your writing and what happens in Opal City stays in Opal City.” He rolled his eyes and then slouched off, pulling his rolling suitcase behind him.
Lena saw Kara and joined her. “So nice to see a familiar face! Are you covering the conference? I didn’t expect to see you here.”
“It was last minute. The guy who was supposed to come with Snapper has the flu.”
“Lucky for me then.”
Kara wondered how every single thing Lena Luthor ever said to her sounded like flirting. She smiled, feeling the blush start. “It’s mutual.”
Cat Grant’s opening speech that night was everything Kara had anticipated: witty, acerbic, challenging, inspiring, much like the woman herself.
She ended, saying, “And so, in a global and transplanetary business environment that is, much like our social reality itself, deeply patriarchal, we business women need to never forget that we are, as my personal friend Supergirl would say, stronger together.”
The applause was deafening. Kara and Snapper got up, holding their reporter’s notebooks close to their chests as they struggled against the tide of the leaving crowd to get to the stage where Cat and the other main speakers were standing talking. They had just reached them and Kara was reaching out her hand to get Cat’s attention when a bright light flashed through the room and a sonic whine, pitched to hurt dogs and Kryptonians, split the room. Kara’s head exploded and went dark.
Chapter 2: Be Careful Who You Kidnap
Back in National City, the DEO was on high alert. Cadmus’s kidnapping of human and alien CEOs and the demand for $50 million in ransom in three days was already headline news. The fact that Supergirl was not responding to either her earpiece of her phone only increased the tension.
Alex was taut like a strung bow. This was her sister.
Winn was madly writing code to scan for the alien species. This was Lena, his inventing partner. And Kara, his best friend.
Finn and James looked like they wanted to punch something. This was Holtzman.
Vasquez was down in the armory, prepping a team for intervention if they could locate the kidnappers. All of these people were important to Kara and Kara was important to Alex. And Alex was important to Vasquez.
In short, the DEO as a collective entity was pissed. Cadmus had picked the wrong party to crash. J’onn’s head buzzed from the anger, fear, frustration and iron-clad resolve coming from the minds surrounding him. He heard the steps behind him before he saw the army officer appear in her blue uniform.
“Reporting for duty, sir.”
“How are your hostage negotiation skills?”
J’onn wore his FBI suit and followed the CatCo board’s chairwoman into the grey-walled conference room at CatCo with the others: Dr. Erin Gilbert, two aliens and the man from L-Corp. “Thank you for hosting this, Ms. Fitzroy.”
“Well, we have three of the victims coming from CatCo, and they said they would call here, so it just made sense.”
“Let me introduce my colleague, Lucy Lane, from the Hostage Negotiation and Rescue Division at the FBI.”
Lucy Lane's persona did not look like career Army. With four-inch black heels, a black pencil skirt, a crisp white blouse and a black blazer (not to mention the wire-rimmed glasses, the dark hair in a bun at the nape of her neck, and a single pearl in the hollow between her collar bones), she looked just feminine enough to be easily underestimated.
She walked in purposefully, adjusted her glasses and set a recording device next to the conference room’s main phone. The man from L-Corp frowned. “Sorry, Lucy, but L-Corp has a firm policy against negotiating with kidnappers. Lena wrote it herself.”
“You will refer to me as Ms. Lane, Mr. Cox. I am aware of that, by the way. It will make my work more complex, but I will get them all back. Now the first question is what amount of ransom can your institutions reasonably put together in the next three days?”
Dr. Gilbert, whose eyes were red as if she’d been crying, said, “But they asked for $50 million!”
“No kidnapper ever expects to get the first number they ask for, especially in such a small time window. Even companies can’t turn assets into that much cash that fast. I’m thinking $20 million, tops, but I’ll start out suggesting ten.” She looked at her watch, pressed the speaker phone button.
The phone rang. Lucy picked up. "Is this Cadmus?"
An annoyed woman's voice asked, "Is this Ms. Fitzroy?"
"My name is Lucy Lane and I'll be handling the transaction."
"I told her no police!"
"I am not the police," Lucy said with grave honesty. "And I am not interested in justice. I am here to facilitate a private transaction and make sure that no one is hurt during it."
"Do you think we're stupid, Ms. Lane? You are obviously a federal agent."
"You are not stupid, which is why I think you can understand why the Chairwoman of the Board of Directors of CatCo has asked for assistance on this matter. Cat Grant is not just the founder of CatCo, but a close personal friend, and she knows that Mr. Carr and Ms. Danvers are valued employees not just of CatCo in general but also to Ms. Grant specifically. Ms. Fitzroy is angry and scared, and she know those emotions are of no use right now. So you will deal with me, and everybody will get what they want."
"I have six hostages, Ms. Lane, so I believe I will be the one making the rules."
"You have seven hostages. And you want $50 million. Make it ten."
"Ten million. That is three million for each of the CEOs and half a million each for the two CatCo employees. Call me back in forty minutes, and let all the hostages speak to the gathered stakeholders to establish proof of life."
"There is no way that--"
Lucy hung up.
Fitzroy and the two aliens yelled out. Cox stared at Lucy. Dr. Gilbert looked like she was torn between bursting into tears and throttling Lucy with her bare hands.
Calmly, Lucy said, "She'll come up with a counterproposal. Like I said, I'm aiming for between $20 and $25 million. You all can come up with the money."
Fitzroy snapped, "It would have been polite to ask."
"They have to get used to doing it my way. Right now they're getting very used to it."
"Or they think you're the fed you are," said Cox.
"Doesn't matter. They'll take the money. You have to get used to doing it my way too."
Fitzroy twisted her hands and gritted her teeth. "They'd better put all of them on."
"They will," said Lucy, looking at her watch. "In thirty-eight minutes."
Cox shrugged. "You're the boss, Lucy. Ms. Lane."
The next half hour was tense. No one talked to anyone else. None of the people in the room knew each other except for Hank Henshaw and Lucy Lane. Mostly they all looked out the windows over the grey-sky and rain clouds hovering like a malicious ghost over National City.
Finally, Lucy looked at her watch, snapped her fingers and walked over to the phone. Again, she hit the speaker phone button. The phone rang.
"Ms. Lane," drawled the female voice. "I have carefully considered your proposition. Let's say $21 million for the three CEOS. And, because I’m not unreasonable, I’ll even throw in the two reporters for free.”
"Are they ready to talk to their colleagues?"
"One minute each."
Cat Grant went first, "Thank you for handling this, Ms. Fitzroy. Ms. Danvers is in good health and will speak with you next, but Snapper Carr has been unconscious since the bomb went off. We can't tell how much is the bomb and how much the way he hit his head when he fell. I personally testify that he is unwell, but currently still alive."
Then Danvers. "Um, oh, hi, Ms. Fitzroy! Cat's been telling me all about you! She said that you would be the one to handle the negotiations! Can you tell my family I'm just fine? Thanks SO much!"
The aliens went next, speaking in their native tongues, to the satisfaction of their colleagues.
Holtzman said, "Hiya, Erin! Thanks for taking this one! You know she can't handle hardship, I mean, geez, the woman gets too many or not enough wontons in her soup and she can't manage to be civil. I'm okay, same as always, and the company I'm in is great. These women are freakin' geniuses!"
"I'm glad to hear that, Holtzy..." said Dr. Gilbert weakly.
The woman came back on. "Tomorrow at nine, I will call you to tell you where."
"And they will all be there," stated Lucy, not making it a question.
"There are only two ways for this to go. Either everybody gets what they want or nobody does. We will not pay if they are not all there."
A click was the only answer.
"Wait," said Lucy. "Where was Lena?"
Chapter 3: The Pleasure of Your Company (Misery Loves It)
Lena woke up in the dark. The air in the room was cold, but she could feel against her tied hands the warmth that could only come from Kara Danvers and she could smell Cat Grant’s expensive perfume and one of the aliens who smelled vaguely like bay leaves.
She sighed grimly, “Oh, mother!”
“Cat, are you okay?” As her eyes got used to the darkness, Lena saw Cat shift to sit up.
“I appear to be in one piece. My Ferragamo heels, not so much. And Kara?”
“Out cold. Snapper too, and Holtzman.”
The alien who smelled like bay leaves groaned and sat up. “Where are we?”
“We, Ms. Torsi, are in an undisclosed location, quite likely where no one will hear us scream, wouldn’t you say, Lena?”
“And if this turns out to be Cadmus, as I expect it is, and I apologize in advance, then no doubt my mother will be along shortly to gloat and threaten. She takes her villainy very seriously.”
Torsi said, “I understand why Cadmus would want me and Zadzel, but why would they care to capture humans?”
“Ransom,” said Cat.
“Not from L-Corp. We don’t negotiate with kidnappers, and mother knows that. If we did I would never get any work done for being kidnapped twice a week, on Mondays by my family and Thursdays by pretty much anybody else.”
Torsi said, “Are you laughing? Because I am most sure all our lives are in the dangers.”
“It’s an Earth thing,” said Cat drily. “Keep calm and be ironic. It helps deter panic. By the way, Lena, I heard that you recently joined the club of people who got tossed off skyscrapers only to be saved by Supergirl. Welcome.”
Lena laughed. “Thanks. Let’s just hope she finds us before my mother does something appropriately Luthorish.”
They did not have long to wait. A door opened, and the light from the outer room showed them to be crammed into an electrical closet. In the doorway, Cyborg Superman stood in front of Lillian Luthor, perhaps to protect her in case the women tried to attack her.
“You’ve got visitors,” growled the cyborg.
Lena rolled her eyes. “Hello, Mother.”
Snapper woke up with a headache like he'd been hit by an oncoming train after a night of hard drinking, which would have been bad enough if he weren't also being dragged with one arm draped over Ponytail Danvers' shoulders and the other over Lena Luthor's. In front of them Cat Grant and two aliens were marching grimly forward, and that annoyingly chipper Ghostbusters woman was chattering away about what kinds of tech these people must have used to create the sonic bomb that had knocked them all senseless.
They were tossed into the back of a black van and Snapper drifted in and out of consciousness during the long ride... somewhere. He heard the women talking, but couldn't track their conversation. He caught words: concussion, ransom, mother, employees. He vaguely felt like vomiting.
And then the group of masked and heavily armed thugs prodded them down a dock and up a plank and into a boat that was quietly rolling in the water, and then he did throw up. And the black-clad older woman he threw up on looked pissed. She backhanded him and he hit the deck face first in his own mess.
Kara and Cat picked him up and tried to clean him off with Kara's pink handkerchief. Lena commented drily to the woman that aliens very rarely vomited the way humans did, and the older woman gave her a dirty look.
A motor revved loudly and Snapper groaned. Between the pounding inside his head and the rising and falling of the boat as they roared... somewhere...
"Just kill me now."
Chapter 4: Best Laid Plans
I stole a piece of this from Dollhouse.
Alex was in place an hour before the drop, rifle set up on the roof of the portmaster's office, wind meter ready. DEO agents were positioned in hiding on all three sides of the Jetty, while Lucy, still in her pencil skirt and heels, approached the drop carrying the briefcase of money.
For once in her life, Alex wasn't worried about Kara. When all the hostages except Snapper and Lena had spoken over the speakerphone to Lucy to establish proof of life, she had sounded chipper and rambling, which told Alex that not only was she unharmed but also that her secret identity was still intact. As long as Cadmus thought she was human, they would not try anything that could actually harm her.
Alex was worried about the two aliens and she was worried about Snapper. Sure, she detested the man, but a concussion like that was no joke. And although she would only admit it to Vasquez, she worried about Lena as well. The woman's mother might not be a psychopath like her brother, but a borderline sociopath? Oh yes. Maybe not even borderline.
(Of course, Vasquez had said that Lena had a spine of steel and was more than a match for her mother, who had after all trained her to be a badass.)
At the appointed time, a small yacht sped toward the jetty and pulled up. Lucy slowly waked toward it and Alex followed her progress in her sights, seeing an armed man walk forward, one hand on the elbow of a blue alien. Lucy gestured to the boat and another Cadmus agent disembarked with an alien, followed by a third with Holtzman. Lucy was just lifting up the briefcase for the first man's examination and Cat had just appeared on the boat's deck when a flash grenade went off. Cat stumbled and fell on the boat's deck. The first man grabbed the briefcase. The second pulled his pistol and shot Lucy, who fell. But Alex shot him and the guard behind him, one, two. The aliens and Holtzman ran forward and Vasquez's team rant to intercept them and pull them to safety.
The first Cadmus man pulled the third man back onto the boat, leaving a trail of blood, and the boat took off. A DEO Blackhawk followed above, but the men on the boat had alien rifles and shot hot blue plasma blasts at the chopper, sending it off course long enough for the boat to speed away. The helicopter pilot got control of the wobbling machine and landed it on the dock, its rear rotor a mess of fire and black smoke.
J'onn called off the op, called them in and promised bloody hell for whatever agent had sabotaged the mission.
Vasquez debriefed Holtzman and the aliens. There wasn't much they could tell her that the DEO didn't already know. Cadmus meant Lillian Luthor and Cyborg Superman and a whole lot of unknown alien weapons. About the only thing new was Holtzman sitting down and sketching notes for the sonic bomb that had been used, said she could probably build a prototype if they wanted her to.
When Vasquez went to bring her report to the command center, she saw rows of sweaty agents at attention and one on the ground with blood dripping out of his ears, his eyes frozen on the ceiling.
"Gambling debts," growled J'onn. "A psychic disruptor and a kill switch."
"Cadmus?" asked Alex.
Vasquez said, "They looked just as surprised as we were."
"Not Cadmus," said J'onn. "L-Corp."
Chapter 5: Long Day, Long Night
Cat didn't wince because of the pain. Once you've given birth, a sprained wrist is nothing. And she didn't wince because something unexpected went wrong at the drop. She'd been a reporter too long not to know that ransom drops often went sideways, with disastrous and sometimes fatal results.
No, Cat winced because the money that CatCo and the other businesses had raised was in Cadmus's hands, but so were all three employees of CatCo. (Okay, maybe the pain was getting to her a little if she was thinking of herself as an employee of CatCo.)
Lena Luthor was totally a trooper, ribbing her mother from time to time, helping care for Snapper, whose face since his fall on the boat was even greyer than it had been. And she'd taken the narrow black scarf she'd worn around her neck and wrapped it tightly to support and protect Cat's swelling right wrist. And every time she finished doing one of these things, her eyes would flicker to Kara and flicker away. Kara, and hopefully Lillian, seemed oblivious to the attention, too distracted by the other things going on.
Twice they had pulled in along the coastline and changed boats.
By nightfall, Lillian and her goons, wounded and unwounded, started to untense. Cyborg Superman still carried his rage like a kryptonite core replacing his heart.
Lillian's goons gave them protein bars to eat. Cat gave Kara half of hers and Lena did also. Snapper refused his, so Kara had his too. Lena knew about Kara's metabolic problem, and whispered to Cat, "Will this be enough for her?"
Cat had whispered back, "It'll have to be, for now."
Sometime around midnight, the boat made land and their guards dragged them to a path, and they stumbled, their legs expecting the ground to rise and fall like the water had, but it refused. They rode in yet another black van, tossed to the floor in the back and sleeping anxiously, waking and sleeping again. By the time they reached their destination, the air was cold and damp and smelled of dawn.
Kara had struggled to keep Snapper awake the whole time, but by the time the guards were dragging them into yet another bunker, Kara was practically sleepwalking, so Lena took over checking every few minutes: how many fingers? Who was the president before this one?
(And that last bit suggested to Cat that the people who thought Lena was just like her evil family were deeply misled.)
In the end, the four of them were thrown into another small room, this time handcuffed to water pipes and left to sleep. Their enemy was regrouping. They did not know what the morning would bring. The four of them huddled together on the cold cement floor and gave in to their exhaustion.
Chapter 6: Helpless to Help
Maggie went to the alien bar after her shift. With Kara and the other hostages still at risk, but in another jurisdiction, and Alex and Lucy hard at work at the DEO to rescue them, there wasn’t much for an NCPD detective to do and no one to worry about them with. So she found herself, as she often had before she met Alex Danvers and her crew, seeking solace from Meghan the bartender and tequila.
The bar was full. At first when she walked in and pushed her way toward the bar, it simply seemed fuller than usual because of the section that was blocked off with construction canvas. The attack that night of the abductions had been particularly destructive. So there was less space for the same number of people to be. But then she realized that the assortment of species was less random than usual, with more blue bipeds and pointy-eared Tellurites, aliens of the same species as the kidnapped and now rescued alien CEOs. Nervous, angry celebrations were happening.
Maggie pushed her way to the bar, held up three fingers to Meghan, who eventually lined up three shot glasses in front of her cop friend and filled them with tequila.
“Hey, Meghan, not that I’m not glad you’re open, but I’m pretty sure that you’re in violation of a bunch of ordinances with the damage and the overcrowding.”
“I know, I know. But if I can’t do business, I won’t be able to fix the damage. The estimate I got was through the roof.” She pointed to jars throughout the bar labeled: “Save Dollywood! Donate to help cover reconstruction costs!”
Maggie saw that the jars were mostly half-filled, but only with $1 bills. That wouldn’t go far. She picked up the first shot, threw it back, enjoyed the burn, and snapped the glass top-down on the bar.
She wanted to worry about Meghan, her friend, and the bar, her safe space, but she kept worrying more about Alex. If anything happened to Kara, Alex would be devastated. Come to think of it, if anything happened to Kara, the whole crew would be devastated, Maggie included. She picked up the second shot, threw it back, enjoyed the burn, and snapped the glass top-down on the bar.
She glanced around the space. The energy was a little frantic. Aliens were worried, and rightly so. They already knew that Cadmus could target them, the little people who had no protection, but if it could also target the rich and powerful, they were all in big trouble. Maggie considered that. She had wondered why Cadmus had been willing to release the aliens rather than killing or deporting them. Now she realized that this kind of show of power was almost worse.
She saw James Olsen gradually pushing his way through the crowd, and he met her eyes. He was looking for her. She waited, frowning.
“Maggie? Alex and J’onn want you to join them. They need your help on one thing and there’s, well, another thing you should come in for.”
He looked deeply worried. Maggie picked up the third shot, threw it back, enjoyed the burn, and snapped the glass top-down on the bar. Then she pulled out her wallet, counted out the $27 she had in cash, pulled it out and stuck it in the closest jar.
When the reached the DEO, James escorted Maggie to the conference room and then left. Alex and Vasquez were both there, sorting through documents and photos. They had already turned the whiteboard into a murder board, split in two, with a picture of the same DEO agent on both sides.
“Um, guys? That’s not how it’s done. You’ve got the same guy as victim and perpetrator.”
“Yeah,” said Alex. “You see the problem. This guy sabotaged the drop and then when J’onn went to interrogate him, one of those kill switches went off.”
“What I got from him, Detective, was intent and motive,” said J’onn. “He needed a lot of money to pay off gambling debts. But I also got a connection to L-Corp and fear. Our pathologist is trying to see what else she can find.”
“Okay. So why do you need me?”
“We were hoping you could see if there is an illegal gambling establishment that is connected to people wanting to bring down aliens, perhaps.”
“Okay… But what specific crime that is in my jurisdiction is this in reference to? I need a place to start to justify my spending time on this with my captain.”
Vasquez raised one eyebrow at Alex, who shrugged. “It was worth a try.”
J’onn sighed. “Just… keep your ear to the ground, Detective. If there is anything you can tell us, a thread we can follow…”
Vasquez said, “Once the pathologist removes the kill switch and, we hope, the psychic disruptor that we assume the agent was using, we can determine if it is Cadmus’s tech.”
Maggie frowned. “But why would a Cadmus agent disrupt a Cadmus drop? You could easily have killed all their agents.”
“Cadmus has shown its willingness to sacrifice its people. And the event did leave Cadmus with all the money and still half the hostages. It would have been a risky move, but not entirely senseless if it worked, which it did.”
Vasquez said, “We’re assuming it’s Cadmus tech simply because we have only seen such tech with Cadmus people. But what if it’s L-Corp tech? Or, I don’t know, Maxwell Lord’s tech. Didn’t he settle out of court on the negligence charges?”
Maggie thought about it, but still couldn’t see where the events would be in her jurisdiction. “The drop was in Opal City. You don’t have proof the agent didn’t embed that tech into his own head—Yes! I know how unlikely that is, but this is the justice system here. It doesn’t have to make sense for lawyers to use it. Even if the tech that killed him is from a National City company, the best we could hope for with the evidence you currently have is a negligence case that his relatives would have to… No relatives?”
J’onn shook his head.
“Then right now, guys, I got nothing. You get more evidence, a motive, a suspect, and you can link it to National City, then just maybe. I’m sorry.” She stood to go.
Vasquez and Alex met each other’s eyes. J’onn said, “Detective, there is…something else.”
Alex sat with Maggie outside the DEO’s recovery room, where Lucy Lane still lay in a post-operative haze. They had removed the bullet immediately after the failed drop, but a few hours later, they realized that she had a slow hemorrhage from the wound and had to go back in and fix that, which had taken more time than they had hoped. Alex explained that the surgeons had been optimistic the whole time, as these were fairly common surgeries, which was why J’onn had insisted on talking to Maggie before even telling her about Lucy’s condition, a decision Maggie could tell Alex had disagreed with.
“J’onn thinks you two aren’t really dating,” said Alex, apologetically.
“We’re not,” said Maggie, knowing it was true and wishing it weren’t.
“But you are something.”
“I don’t know what we are,” she mumbled glumly. “But you and Vasquez?”
Alex smiled shyly, almost with disbelief. “Yeah, we are. It’s really nice.”
“She’s very lucky.”
“Well, she seems to think so.” Still the disbelief.
“Do I have to give her the shovel talk?”
Alex laughed. “Kara did that already.”
Maggie’s eyes went wide. “Little Danvers of the Argyle People threatened an elite DEO agent? Seriously?”
“She can be very protective of me, and fierce.”
Maggie pictured a floppy golden Labrador puppy growling at a lean German Shepherd. “I would have paid to see that.”
They sat in worried but companionable silence until a nurse came out to tell them Lucy had been taken to a room and they could see her very briefly.
At the door, Maggie hesitated, so Alex stepped in first. Lucy’s big grey eyes were groggy. “Alex? I didn’t, I didn’t think they—“
“Lu, it’s okay. You couldn’t have predicted it. One of our agents had been compromised and he sabotaged the op. He’s dead. You’re not. Focus on what’s important.”
“But we didn’t get the hostages!”
“We got three, the aliens and Holtzman. They’ve been debriefed.”
“But I failed—“
“No, Lucy, you didn’t fail.”
“But I shouldn’t have let them take—“
“The money? Then they would have killed you for sure to get it. Hell, for twenty mill, I might have killed you myself. Lu, you know how it goes. If they hadn’t gotten the money, there would have been a much higher chance that they would maim or kill the ones we couldn’t rescue. It’s not ideal, but it’s not the end. We can try to renegotiate for the rest.”
“Not after we brought snipers to their party. Nice job, by the way. Thanks.” She wasn’t being sarcastic.
Alex shifted, and Lucy saw Maggie standing behind her in the doorway.
Maggie waved uncertainly.
Lucy’s eyes teared. Alex turned away as though she hadn’t seen. “Okay, it’s back to work for me. Get some rest, Lu. See you, Maggie.”
Maggie stepped up to the bed, pulled the nearby chair close so she could sit and touch the soldier’s hand. Instantly, Lucy gripped her hand hard. “You came to see me!”
What was it, Maggie wondered, about the disbelief these DEO agents had in their ability to inspire people to love them?
“Of course, I came,” she said, “once I found out you were the ‘FBI’ agent who was injured. J’onn didn’t exactly lead with that piece of information.”
“The organization comes first, with individuals only afterwards. You get used to it.”
“I’m a cop, Lane. I am used to it. Doesn’t mean I have to like it.” She looked around at the pale blue walls and all the white and metal surfaces, so dispassionate and clean. “I guess you’re going to be stuck here for a while.”
“So they tell me.”
“And after that, while you’re recuperating… if you need a place to stay… I have a guest room. It’s tiny. Sometimes my niece comes to the big city for a week during her summer vacation and that’s where she stays…”
“I’d like that. If it wouldn’t be too much of an imposition.”
“Bitch, please. Anyway, I have some vacation time that I need to take, just a couple of days, and it’s looking like this mess is so far out of my jurisdiction as to be in outer space, so…”
“Then, yes. Thank you.”
The nurse came in and hustled Maggie out, but she felt better than she had in days.
Chapter 7: And for My Next Act
I kinda love writing Lillian...
Once again one of Lillian Luthor’s plans to put the aliens and their allies in their place had gone astray. It hadn’t failed, precisely, not from what her agents in Opal and National Cities had reported to her. The aliens were upset, scared, and resentful. And upset, scared and resentful people were easy to manipulate. Also, Lillian had three fewer bodies to worry about and $20 million in cash. So it wasn’t a complete win, but it was far from a loss or even a wash.
And Lillian hadn’t gotten where she was by focusing on the negative. Her… daughter, for example. Lena had been a sore subject from the beginning for a variety of reasons, but Lionel had insisted and so Lillian had made a virtue of necessity, making sure the girl was trained properly so that she would not disgrace the family name. When the girl’s intelligence had made itself known so early on, it had given Lillian the reasons Lionel would hear to send her off to the best boarding schools in the world to train that mind to become, with luck, not unlike the mind of a Luthor. As with many parent-child relationships, the two female Luthors got along much better when there was a lot of geography between them, in their case, preferably an entire ocean.
When they were, as now, in close proximity, things were different. And yes, Lena had been a part of the plan all along, but only a tangential part. Cat Grant and the aliens were heart and soul of the plan, showing how much power Cadmus wielded over even the most powerful aliens and their allies, and not coincidentally dealing those figures a large financial blow at the same time. In the US, shareholders tended to get skittish if CEOs were abducted and ransomed back with company money. In South America, such things were more commonplace.
But Lillian had underestimated just how much Lena had learned from her: strategic thinking, coalition building, excellent posture and acerbic wit.
When Lillian had sent one of her henchmen off with the first boat to take the injured agent back to their Metropolis base, Lena had said, “Planning more cyborgs, Mother? But yes, I do recall that Dr. Frankenstein also had a classical education, just like you. And you have always liked it for people to make themselves useful.” The girl even had the Eyebrow down, finally. And that had taken years.
And as much as such things annoyed Lillian, they also strengthened her belief that the next stage of her plan was just as relevant as ever, even though now they had the worst kind of witnesses to the next apocalypse she planned: reporters.
The worst. Or maybe the best. Virtue. Necessity.
Really, it was a knack.
Chapter 8: We’ll Have to Start with the Bad News
Frieda Fitzroy had worked her way up through the ranks. She had started as an accountant and she was the one who had caught the attempt of the CatCo board to discredit Cat Grant, devalue the stocks and then replace her. Numbers don’t lie and Frieda was very, very good at making them talk.
After that, Cat had encouraged her to take more classes, go to professional development seminars, build her network, build her own brand, and those activities had shown them both that Frieda also had a talent for business strategies and even marketing, things that she had never been interested in before. But CatCo Worldwide Media, unlike most conglomerates, was at least 55% women-led, and that gave Frieda an extra incentive. She enjoyed working for Cat, enjoyed her hard-assed exterior, her manicured insults, her seemingly throwaway philosophy, her ironic and deeply helpful advice.
And rising to the position of Vice President had allowed Frieda to work more closely with Cat until her unexpected sabbatical. The sabbatical had allowed Frieda more practice at wielding her expertise and power, especially as James had showed minimal interest in actually doing the job of CEO. And then Cat returned and James resigned and Cat took one set of responsibilities out of Frieda’s hands and given her another set instead, asking her to consider taking over the reins at CatCo Opal City.
And now here she was, standing with Hank Henshaw in the same conference room, but this time it was just the two of them. The aliens were home and safe. The Ghostbusters scientist was home and safe. L-Corp’s representative said he had to get back to work, especially if Lena wasn’t getting rescued anytime soon. If he had not said that to her over the phone, she knew she would have slapped him. As it was, she saved the text for future... maneuvering.
Frieda was sitting at the table. She had not slept in, since, and standing wasn’t—
Henshaw looked at his watch, pushed the button. The phone rang.
“You were expressly told not to bring in the police. The FBI are police, Ms. Fitzroy, a fact I am sure you are well aware of.”
Fitzroy sighed her exhaustion. “I was advised to take the help in the negotiation. Clearly I was advised wrong.”
“Indeed, and now I am going to let you think about the consequences of your actions. You have three days.”
“God, how much do you want this time? It’s going to take even longer to liquidate—“
“You misunderstand me. You have three days until I contact you again. After that you and I will come to an amicable agreement about just how much you and CatCo want Cat Grant back again.”
“And Mr. Snapper and Ms. Danvers.”
“Yes, I suppose so.”
J’onn gestured to Fitzroy, shaped an L with his fingers.
“And Lena Luthor.”
“I told you before. The Luthor was never a part of the deal. I will call you at noon on Thursday to tell you what the new terms are.”
“So what do we do now?” asked Frieda. “Just wait?”
“No. You will need to find out just exactly how much more CatCo can liquidate in the next week. Meanwhile, my people are not going to stop trying to find your people and hopefully rescue them before the next call. I will be in touch, Ms. Fitzroy. If you hear anything—“
She watched him walk out the door with his recording of the call and wondered, not for the first time, What would Cat Grant do?
Chapter 9: Waiting for the Next Shoe
It had started to rain again. Vasquez found J’onn standing out on the balcony where Supergirl always landed. His arms, crossed over his chest, were sprayed with raindrops, but he didn’t seem to notice. She stood behind him and slightly to his right, waiting for him to notice and acknowledge her. Finally he turned.
“You’re getting better at shielding your mind from me, Agent Vasquez.”
“I’ve asked Meghan to teach me some meditation techniques. I know you’re not always comfortable with my thoughts, and honestly, I’d rather keep some things private.”
He nodded, distracted.
“Shall I read your mind, sir?”
He raised an eyebrow.
“The three days is some kind of ruse, for them to achieve something they want while we fall apart emotionally—that’s their goal at least. And you’re afraid that they aren’t going to release any more people. That they’ll send us parts, maybe, or just bury them in the desert.”
He sighed. "We have to find them before... But meanwhile, everyone's doing so much overtime and we're all running on empty. I've split the team into four groups, to take a mandatory eighteen-hour leave. You and Alex are on the first shift. Take her home and get her to sleep even if you have to get her a little drunk. When Supergirl and the others are located, we'll need both of you at 100%."
"And you, sir?"
"I can keep going until Major Lane is back on her feet again. Even wounded, she can run an op from here if I can't."
Alex was far too tired to even complain about J'onn's order. She threw herself into the passenger seat of Vasquez's Beetle and was immediately asleep. Vasquez had to reach around to pull the seatbelt across her body and fasten it. She drove to the grocery store closest to her apartment and left Alex sleeping while she bought supplies. When she pulled into her parking space, she touched Alex's hands where they rested loosely in her lap.
"Hey, Sleeping Beauty. Wake up. We're home."
Alex's long eyelashes fluttered. "Where? This isn't home--"
"My home, babe. C'mon. I'm going to cook for us. You can crash on the couch while I'm busy. We both need a solid home-cooked meal after that crap we've been eating these last few days."
But by the time they got upstairs, Alex was full of nervous energy again, worrying about the hostages: not just her sister, but all of them. Cat was Kara's mentor, Lena was her girlfriend, and Snapper-- Well, Snapper was Kara's nemesis (if you didn't count Cadmus), but he was arguably a person and two concussions in two days could mean brain damage, and nobody wanted that.
Vasquez started boiling water in one pan and browning ground beef, onions and mushrooms in another. From the refrigerator, she pulled a jar of spaghetti sauce and a smaller jar of crushed garlic. From the grocery bags, she pulled a tub of ricotta cheese and a bottle of red wine, the latter of which she handed Alex. "Glasses above the sink," she said.
Alex pulled out her utility knife and used the corkscrew to open the wine. She poured two glasses and handed one to Vasquez, who managed to sip some and still stir the meat sauce and put the lasagna noodles in the boiling water.
"Geez, Vasquez. You got three hands?"
Vasquez wiggled her eyebrows. "You wish."
Alex blushed and sipped her wine to hide it. Then she frowned.
"Talk to me, kiddo," said Vasquez. "What are you thinking?"
"Probably the same things you're thinking."
"I suspect that you are either underestimating or overestimating one or both of us." She considered that owlishly. "Or possibly vice versa. God, I am so tired."
"I saw Winn today at lunch. He looked like the walking dead. He said to me, 'Don't worry, Alex. We'll get Lena back.' Not Kara. Lena."
"Kara is his best friend. Lena is the big sister he never had. Family is... a sore subject for both of them. Also they kinda share a brain sometimes... Also, I think he's worried about the kidnappers considering Lena not part of the deal."
While they waited for the lasagna to bake, they watched the last episode from the first season of Xena, “Is There a Doctor in the House?” Vasquez didn’t know what shocked Alex more: that Xena basically invented CPR or that she did it by pounding on the unconscious Gabrielle’s chest in her desperate need for her friend to not be dead.
Alex’s eyes got wide. “And you’re saying nobody figured out they were gay?”
Vasquez shrugged. “It was the nineties. Denial was easier, I guess. We were still pretty invisible to most straight people back then.”
The oven’s timer went off and Vasquez served them both the steaming cheesy goodness, poured more wine.
“Sometimes I wish,” said Alex around a bite, “that food could make my tiredness go away like it does for Kara. God, I hope they’re feeding her enough. They won’t be. Not if they think she’s human. If we do a search and rescue, we’re going to have to bring those hyper protein bars with us. She’s bound to be starving and weak.”
“Good thinking.” Vasquez pulled a notepad out of her pocket and wrote it down.
“How does J’onn expect us to get any sleep at all? If I’m going to be awake, I might as well be back there working. We should go back.”
Vasquez picked up their empty wine glasses and put them in the dishwasher. She pulled down two lowballs and brought them and a bottle of scotch back to the table. “This is the good stuff. J’onn gave this to me last year after the hooha with General Lane. I only drink it on special occasions.”
“Then we should wait until we get them back.”
“Nope, we are going to drink it now because we are going to get them back, but we can’t do that if we’re sleep deprived.”
“Does scotch go with lasagna?”
“Pfft. Don’t be silly. Lasagna goes with everything.”
By the time Vasquez was putting the leftovers into the freezer and putting all the cooking ware into the dishwasher and turning it on, they were both a little sizzled.
“You could leave that till tomorrow,” said Alex, running one hand through Vasquez’s short hair.
“Are you kidding? We’ll probably get called out before dawn and not get back for a week. The last thing I need is to come home to that.” She turned and found herself engulfed in Alex’s arms, their lips fighting for dominance.
Around the kiss, Alex murmured, “You want to…”
Vasquez pulled back and looked into Alex’s root-beer-brown eyes. “Oh, honey, I don’t think that’s such a good idea. We’re both a little drunk, so the consent thing is a problem—“
“But we’re dating—“
“Doesn’t matter. And I know you, Danvers. If you let yourself enjoy yourself for five minutes while Kara is still in trouble, you will hate yourself in the morning and then you will hate me and I never want to live in a world where Agent Alexandra Baby-Dike Never-Misses-A-Shot Danvers hates me. So no. But to make up for it, you can pick which pajamas you want to wear: Royal Stewart or Black Watch.”
“Black Watch. Red is really not my color.”
When they climbed into the cold bed, Alex let Vasquez, although smaller, be the big spoon. Vasquez held Alex tightly, willing her to feel the comfort along with the warmth her arms were offering. And eventually, they both slept.
The call-out came around 4:15 am. Vasquez and Alex were dressed and hurtling through National City's night streets in Vasquez's Beetle fifteen minutes later. An Alpha team was already on the way by helicopter to the bunker hidden in the mountains, and two more Blackhawks were being prepped for Beta team to follow.
Vasquez's teeth flashed white in a feral grin. Alex frowned. "Don't you hate flying in the rain?"
"Hell, no. It's a rush, like riding a bucking bronco. Oh, honey, you are in for a treat. You are going to see some fancy flying this morning!"
"If it get's bad, I may throw up."
"Understood. Doesn't bother me. That's the other good thing about the rain. Once we land, you'll wash off."
Chapter 10: I Really Didn't Dress for This
Lena hated flying.
Normally, she hated flying but did it anyway. She trusted Ned, her L-Corp chopper pilot, to get her through a brilliant pale blue sky from point A to point B without anybody dying. And certainly, being held tight by Supergirl, flying among the stars was one of the more pleasant kinds of nerve-wracking activity.
But having her mother pick up an AK-15 and hurry her hostages into a helicopter, with Kara guiding Snapper and Cat running barefoot to keep up (her broken heels long since discarded), and the cyborg staying behind to secure their escape: all of that would have been bad enough in the daytime if the weather were clear. But no, that was asking too much. The helicopter pilot did his best to manage the pitch and yaw of the machine as it fought against the heavy rain and wind. Snapper threw up again, this time on Cat not Lillian, because he might be dazed and concussed, but he wasn’t stupid. Kara met Lena’s eyes and she knew that she was resisting the temptation to grab them all and fly away, but if there was one person who could never know her secret identity, it was Lillian Luthor. Lena gave Kara her most supercilious look to remind her that Lena would not live in fear.
They flew that way for an hour, hanging on for dear life as the helicopter kept losing altitude, fighting to gain it again, losing altitude. Lillian yelled something and the pilot yelled back, but the engine was too loud to hear. Then she saw a flash of blue light in the sky above them and realized that Cyborg Superman was flying out there ahead of them, trying to signal to the pilot a safe place to land. But there was a flash of lightning and the engine burst into flame and then they were falling, and nothing the pilot could do would bring them back up again. Kara threw herself over her friends, but then the helicopter leveled out and landed teetering on its runners on the side of a windswept rainy hill, Lillian pushed them out the door and Kara tried to help the pilot out, but then Cyborg Superman, who had pulled them out of the sky, dragged her away just as the chopper exploded. They jumped away from the fire and Lillian yelled, “March!” She gestured downhill with the gun. Kara picked up Snapper in a fireman’s carry and they marched through the rain and the trees.
Lena shivered. The rain was cold and made it hard to see. She and Cat helped each other over stumps, and eventually Lena shrugged off her heels too. It was better being barefoot and freezing than it would be to sprain an ankle. Her soggy clothes chafed as she walked. Lightning lit the sky and the march kept going.
Chapter 11: Dissecting That Shoe
Vasquez was exhausted. She had spent the day interrogating Cadmus agents at the base in the mountains, patiently asking them the same questions nine different ways, leaving them to stew, taking breaks to find out what Alex and the others had located in this base, info, weapons, tech, then going back in and starting all over again.
Alex was exhausted. She had spent the day going through the Cadmus warehouse, creating a manifest for the things that were to be brought back to National City while other agents worked on things to be brought back to the desert base. When Vasquez took her breaks, Alex offered to switch jobs, but Vasquez said torture never gained good intel and she was not putting Alex in a cell with anybody who might be responsible for Kara being in danger.
The Alpha team, who had gained the base but lost the most important targets, were exhausted, soaked through and terminally embarrassed. They had brought back the Cadmus agents who had fled on the ground, but Lillian’s helicopter was long gone, thanks to the Cyborg shooting too many of their operatives with his laser eye.
Back in National City, J'onn was meditating to stay sane while all the agents around him were radiating fear and frustration. Lucy was still under observation in the medical bay, dreaming of riding into Cadmus on a black horse and blowing Lillian Luthor off the face of the planet with a bazooka, while Maggie gazed on in admiration.
Maggie was at Dollywood with an informant whose eyes kept glowing purple and red, a sign of stress in that species, and Maggie took copious notes. Because Maggie was worried about her friends and Maggie was exhausted, but Maggie was a very resourceful cop, and she would find a way to work this case if she had to burn down her precinct to do it.
Winn had fallen asleep at his station of the command center before, but he had never woken up to see quite so many flashing lights on the computers. He had National City scans running, same as usual, but he also had a link to the base in the mountains, so that they could quickly communicate in case either side got information. And Winn was bleary, didn't even know what time of night it was, but what he saw on the National City screens and what he saw when he ran across the room to check the national scans was bad, bad, bad.
He hit his earpiece. "J'onn, we've got a situation. It looks enormous. You've got to get up here. We have to warn Clark and we have to find Kara. There is a cloud sweeping over the two coasts and it's setting off the K-scanners, like, completely off the charts."
Chapter 12: Going Up the Mountain
Kara wasn't tired, not yet, but she was hungry, and walking around in her Kara clothes over her supersuit in the driving rain was no fun either. They had found a small cave around noon to rest in, and Snapper seemed a little better, but she was still worried about him. One of the most important things with a concussion was rest, and he wasn't getting any at all. Well, none of them were. And although she had her Kryptonian resilience, and Cat and Lena were, well, Cat and Lena, they were both barefoot and freezing. Lillian and Cyborg Superman seemed fine, smug even. Lillian handed him the AK-15 and consulted her phone. Kara wondered how on Earth she could get any coverage out here in the middle of nowhere. She nudged Lena, who shrugged. "Satellites. Lex."
Lillian glanced over at them. "Yes, my son was remarkably ahead of his time on that. All right. Naptime, people. Cyborg, dear, shoot anybody with your laser if they try anything. I wouldn't want to completely devalue any of the hostages by killing them."
"Even Lena?" he sneered, and Kara wanted to tear him limb from limb. Lena grabbed her wrist and held it.
Lillian pretended to consider. "Yes, I suppose so. She could be useful too, at some point, in her own way."
Lillian lay down on the damp ground on one side of the cave, looking completely at ease. Kara, Cat and Lena huddled together with Snapper on the other side. In the middle, Cyborg Superman stood, cradling the rifle. Kara thought as hard as she could, but she couldn't figure out how to get all of them out of this. If there were just two people, she could use superspeed and get them away the moment the man's back was turned, but she couldn't carry three people, especially when Snapper was still in bad shape and Lena was still uncomfortable with flying. She wished she had Vasquez's ability to posit scenarios or even Alex's. She had speed, strength and near invulnerability, but she couldn't show any of those, and quite frankly, if she didn't get some food soon, she was going to be very, very cranky.
Cat Grant leaned against the cave wall, soaking in some of Kara's warmth. She knew that the DEO would be moving heaven and Earth to get their superhero back. And also the rest of them. She could see the crinkle between Kara's eyes that said the young woman was trying to come up with a plan. She saw Lena, on Kara's other side, lean in and fall asleep with her head on Kara's shoulder and she approved. Kara needed someone in her life who was brilliant and ambitious and unafraid.
And quite frankly, although Cat despised what Lillian stood for, the Luthor matriarch was an impressive woman. Long before Cadmus, Cat had done some research on the Luthors, knew about Lillian's advanced degrees, the award she had won in boarding school for ballroom dance, the developments the woman had made in data analytics when she first worked with Lionel at LuthorCorp. Even before she became the director of a domestic terrorist organization, Lillian had been a force to be reckoned with. Then Lex had gone bad and Lionel had died of cancer, and Lillian took on the cause of "preventing the alien menace." She didn't dance anymore. Cat thought it was a pity. Sometimes a girl needed to run a billion dollar institution, and sometimes she just needed to dance.
Snapper was groggy, exhausted, long past cynical, and pretty sure that whatever happened to the women, he was not going to make it out of this alive.
It didn't really bother him. He'd faced death before, in Afghanistan, reporting on the war, in Columbia, reporting on druglords, in New York, when those aliens had attacked the Avengers had made an utter mess of the city, ditto Lex and Superman.
You lived. You did your job. You died. Nobody got out of that.
Sure, he'd hoped to be surrounded by loving family, but the divorce had put an end to that pipedream. Anyway, women were too much work. He admired Cat, he did, and he couldn't blame the gay mess attempting to be a reporter for always looking at Lena with heart eyes; Luthor Jr. was a fine-looking woman, brilliant, rich. Well, good luck with that, Ponytail. Just wait until all the relationship drama starts.
Then he thought about what he had just thought and barked out a small laugh. He was pretty sure that Lillian Luthor was metaphorically the mother in law from hell. In comparison, his ex-wife's drama queen days were amateur.
Cyborg Superman frowned at him. "Something funny?"
Snapper spoke quietly, in part not to wake the women and in part to protect his head that was for the first time in how long not hurting. "Just how the craziest things can get normalized really fast. Here we are in the middle of nowhere, and you're probably gonna kill me. And all I really want is a Danish. I was too nauseous to eat that powerbar and I bet Ponytail ate it. That metabolic thing she has. But now I'm starving."
The big man frowned, then reached into one of his cargo pockets and pulled out a soggy energy bar. "It's not much." He tossed it at Snapper, who tore the paper off and ate it anyway. It was horrible and sort of delicious. Starving man syndrome, he supposed. "Thanks."
Cyborg Superman said, "You know I have nothing against you. I've read your work on the aliens, especially That Woman. You don't pull punches or sugar-coat the problem like Grant always did." He sneered at her.
"Cat's a brand manager. I'm a journalist."
"And I'm a patriot."
Snapper hedged. "I guess we all have to do what we think is right. I'd love to interview you, but I don't have a notebook. Or a pen. And I think I'm falling asleep again."
Lena dreamed that she was falling from the skyscraper, falling, always falling and then she heard the snap of a cape and felt strong arms catching her, and eyes like sapphires so wide and so full of love and concern, and a faint smell of cinnamon and lavender. And because she was a very classy lady with a steel spine, who was willing to snark at her very dangerous mother, later on when they all woke up and went back to their march in the ongoing drizzle, nobody had the heart to tell Lena that she snored.
Chapter 13: Extra-Normal Does Not Mean More Normal Than Usual
The next morning Maggie arrived at the DEO with several file folders of information and a list of questions for Winn and for Lucy. From Winn she needed to know just what kinds of information the DEO's equipment could scan for and where. From Lucy she needed to learn about the legality of investigating aliens. She sat with them in the conference room, while out in the command center agents were rushing around and J'onn was giving orders. The computer screens didn't show chaos in the streets, but they didn't expect that. The only two people that Kryptonite could harm (if it wasn't the explosive kind) were Supergirl and Superman. So probably the humans wouldn't even recognize it. James went to CatCo and talked to the meteorologists to subtly suggest that the readings they were getting were something like the dust storms that regularly troubled Chinese cities, and CatCo pitched the weather oddity as an environmental problem. It wasn't dust though, more of a mist, a continuation of the rainy weather they had been dealing with all week.
The bits of the self-destruct device that the pathologist had delivered to Winn's lab looked like classic LuthorCorp technology, circa Lex, which was a relief for all of the DEO staff who had interacted with Lena and were rather fond of her. The world might pin her as a psychopath waiting to happen but all they had seen of her was her nerdy side. She was basically a female and much better dressed Winn. They didn't see her or want to see her as a villain.
J'onn called Kal-El personally to warn him to stay indoors somewhere with an independent ventilation system, and he had quickly flown to Gotham to stay with Bruce Wayne, who of course had a place like that at Wayne Industries. Meanwhile, the state police and the park services were going by air and land to search the mountains around where the Cadmus helicopter had crashed. They were using Search & Rescue dogs to trace the trail but the rain had made the scent almost impossible to trail, so they didn't get far. But it gave them a place to start.
Vasquez had recommended they shut the doors on the DEO's balcony the moment she heard about the Kryptonite threat, saying that the last thing they needed if Kara could escape or be rescued was for the DEO to be contaminated. Immediately after they had done that, Winn had done a sweep of that floor with the mobile K-scanner, and found no traces.
And then Winn got word from people with the Search dogs that things were getting... weird with the animals and they were being pulled off the scent. And when they explained about the weird, and Winn thought about that whole Maxwell Lord thing with the Law Abiding Serum being "delivered" to the reservoir by a herd of hundreds of dogs, and J'onn's distinct disinterest in that part of the situation, Winn decided just not to mention it to his boss. After all, it probably didn't mean anything, right?
Chapter 14: Wherein Our Heroes Stop Suffering Momentarily
By the time they got to the top of the mountain, the hostages were beyond cold, beyond exhausted and their clothes were so far beyond saturated with water, it was a miracle everybody was still moving. The wind whipped at them and faces, hands and feet were white, tinged with blue.
But Lillian Luthor was in her element, grinning, and Cyborg Superman was at least as prosaic and bored as J'onn J'onzz would have been. Lillian turned to her daughter.
"Lena, do be a dear. I think you know what I need you to do." She clicked an app on her phone and a small biosensor emerged from the rock.
"Do it, yourself, Mrs. Luthor," said Lena, fed up.
"Darling, you know I can't."
"Why? Because you're Not a Real Luthor? I wouldn't know anything about what that felt like."
"Darling, you can whine all you want. We're all cold and wet and--"
"Cranky!" said Kara.
"Bored," said Cat.
"Ready to eat my shoes," said Snapper.
Lillian waved her hand at them. "Yes, of course. All those things. Also, I imagine hungry and rather tempting pneumonia if we stay out here in the cold and wet. Sunset is coming. Do you really feel like freezing to death? Very tiresome, Lena. Put your hand on the pad."
Lena looked at Cat and Kara, who both nodded. Kara could survive a night soaking wet on the top of a cold mountain, but none of the rest of them could, especially Snapper. Sighing, Lena stepped forward and placed her hand on the pad. A door opened.
"Speak, friend, and enter," murmured Cat.
Lillian grinned in shock. "A Tolkien fan, Ms. Grant?"
"Pfft. Of course, Mrs. Luthor. From way back."
"That might explain your siding with the underdogs."
"I take it you shipped Sauron and Saruman? What would they even name that ship? Ron-man? No. Saur-Man? JRR didn't make it easy on us, did he?"
"Well, I have to say I was completely against the Gimli/Legolas pairing. Atrocious miscegenation!"
"Lillian, dear, that word pretty much left the English vocabulary after the Civil Rights Movement. Do get up to speed."
Lillian snorted as they trooped inside and shut the doors. Instantly everyone relaxed just a bit. It was easily twenty degrees or more warmer here, and the LuthorCorp logo was blazoned over the wall. Lillian smiled fondly at it. Lena rolled her eyes.
"So, Mother, the last time you took me to one of Lex's old bases, you rather quickly set off a bomb that would have killed Supergirl."
"Mr. Corben was not a bomb. He was an experimental failure. Do learn the difference."
"My point is, how long do we have until our lives are once again in extreme peril and do we have time to shower, change and eat before we have to face it?"
"Dear Lena. I see that your time in boarding school was well spent. Keep Calm and Carry On, indeed."
"As I've told people more than once, my boarding school, unlike yours, was not British. It was Irish. Keep Calm and Pour Me a Drink."
"Given the swill of a red wine that you keep at your office--"
Cat got between the two women. "Priorities, ladies. Dry clothes, with or without a shower. We can argue about Cabernets afterwards."
Lillian smiled as she hit the app on her phone, which apparently gave her a map of the base. "Follow me. And by the way, Cat, if you're looking for a Christmas present to give me, I'm partial to Screaming Eagle. 2012 was a very good year."
"Really? I find that one's tannins to be a little too much. But I suppose it takes all kinds of tastes."
Kara's eyes got really big and she hissed to Lena, "That stuff is almost $3000 a bottle! Can you believe that?"
Lena smiled indulgently. "Supply and demand, Kara."
Kara shook her head. Snapper rolled his eyes.
They got to a room marked Quartermaster, and inside there was khaki tactical gear, mainly in men's sizes, and they all stripped down together, Snapper with his back to the women. Cyborg Superman held the rifle again, watching them change with bored eyes. Supergirl looked panicked at Lena and Cat.
"You know, I'm comfortable, now that we're indoors."
Lena said, "Now, Kara, I know how shy you are."
Lillian rolled her eyes. "There's a closet over there, if you have to."
Cat mouthed to Lena, "Nice save."
Lillian turned, in her black underwear, saying, "What was that, Ms. Grant."
Cat had not worked with Kara for more than a year and not learned what a good ramble looked like. "I, I made the singular mistake of commenting on your nice ass to your daughter."
Lillian's haughty expression froze. Lena looked physically ill.
Kara said, "Cat! Just don't! How would you like it if somebody commented on your, on, oh, my, but they probably wouldn't, would they? I mean, your mother is, well, your mother and..."
Lillian frowned and pulled on the khaki cargo pants, looking more pained that she was forced to wear something that wasn't black than that one of her hostages was making her daughter uncomfortable. As far as she was concerned, that was just a bonus. "Can we at least attempt to avoid being vulgar, ladies?"
Cyborg Superman grumbled in his throat. "If we can contain these people, we can get around to communicating with that Fitzroy person and the FBI."
"Yes, of course. Well, let's find out how big the brig is in this particular base." She turned to the hostages. "You see, Lex built different kinds of bases for different scenarios--hiding out, keeping prisoners, arming himself..."
She led the way down halls, smirking at the success of her plan, but frowning when she discovered that there were only three cells. Cyborg Superman automatically put Snapper in one, Kara and Lena in the next and Cat in the last. Lillian shrugged. She didn't even know what day it was at this point, but it was probably time to contact CatCo and start stage three of her plan.
Chapter 15: Practicing What I Learned from Her to Save Her
Jess Huang was losing sleep, which meant her cats were losing sleep by night and making up for it by day. So on Saturday, Jess shifted the still-unpacked boxes around her new condo to make space for her compatriots: a few of them were also Personal Assistants for CEOs in National City (but not Maxwell Lord's assistant, because her group had Standards, thank you very much). Some of them were nerds, like Winn, Kate and Ron, who also loved Lena.
And then there was Pam, an HR specialist with, if Jess had gotten it right, the FBI, who had some kind of connection to Winn and was, sub rosa, the President of the Lena Luthor Women Nerds Fan Club. But Jess had been sworn to secrecy and Jess wasn't telling.
There were ten of them in all, a brain trust, all determined to help Jess get her boss back, whole and well, and as cheaply as possible, because they weren't CatCo with millions of dollars in assets to throw around, on the one hand, but they also weren't L-Corp either, with its mandate to not negotiate with terrorists. But there was negotiation and there was strategizing, and this group of people were nothing if not strategic.
Winn gave them everything he knew, including that weird thing about the Search dogs, which made everybody kind of look away from each other. They learned about the kryptonite, of course, but that didn't worry them. It wouldn't hurt Lena, and actually, once they thought about it, nobody had heard anything from Supergirl or Superman all week. So maybe they had had some kind of warning and were in hiding.
What really interested Jess was when Winn said that the device that had detonated in the DEO traitor's head had come from LuthorCorp tech. That she could totally trace. And although she didn't say it, she knew it would lead back to Lillian. And she knew Winn knew that she knew.
Pam had suggested that Jess dig into the L-Corp archives from Lex's time, to see if she could find property in the mountain range where the search was going on. Andrew Jones, who worked for Snapper Carr, asked if the CatCo angle was something they were missing. He said, "I'm not going to say anybody likes him, but he is terrifyingly accurate. Could someone have wanted to stop him?"
Jess thought it was a fair point. "Who do we have who can do textual analysis of Snapper's editorials for, say, the past six months?"
Winn raised his hand, tapping on his tablet. "We got this."
Jess knew that "we" didn't mean Winn but the DEO. "Great."
Eve Tessmacher, a new addition and (Jess thought) a bit of a wet noodle, asked, "What about the organization that brought them to speak? The small business women's group?"
"Small?" asked Jess. "Try Intergalactic. But you're right. They might even have been in on it. We should find out if anyone influenced their choice of speakers, exactly to arrange something like this: aliens and their allies, all in the same place at the same, well-advertised, time..."
One of the PA's whose name Jess couldn't recall asked, "It's not just Lena and Cat and Snapper, though, right? Kara Danvers is there too! Shouldn't we figure out if they were targeting her?"
Kate nodded. "She has been very influential in turning Lena's ideas about aliens around. You might have a point. Winn, can you do an analysis of Kara's articles as well?"
"Your wish is my command," said Winn, but the flat tone of his voice made Jess think he might have already have thought of and done this. She would have to ask him later, when everyone else had left.
He stood up and stretched, and noticed her cats sleeping on the tallest stacks of boxes and went over and petted them, to their undying approval. Jess smiled. She liked Winn. Maybe, maybe after this whole debacle had ended and they got everybody back home safely... But what was she thinking? She was working for The Good Luthor, who would be continuously in the crosshairs of The Bad Luthors. How on Earth was she ever going to take care of her boss and have a life too?
Suddenly, Jess felt bad for Supergirl. Now she knew what it was like to have to use her superpowers to save the day, ignoring her own needs.
And honestly? It sucked.
Chapter 16: Scenario Number One
The crew returned to the DEO exhausted and demoralized, even though the number of prisoners and the amount of alien tech recovered was impressive by anybody's standards. But the past year had been about losing Supergirl over and over again: in National City, outside National City, on different worlds, in different dimensions. And now, although she was probably in-state, the anxiety ran high. Cadmus was no joke, and everybody was anxious about what would happen to their favorite superhero, to the one person at the DEO who routinely walked around with a huge smile (except for those mornings after nights when everybody assumed that the formerly-badass Agent Alex Danvers had probably finally gotten laid), accepting everyone, loving everyone, reminding everyone of hope.
So Vasquez settled into her station near Winn's at the command center and watched the agents under her command, including Winn, and the agents who were simply passing through the rooms she was in: the command center, the break room, the gym, the ladies' room. And everybody was a mess. Again. And she had talked to J'onn, but neither one of them really knew what to do. But then Winn gave her some different scenarios, and it had made her ask him about how to scan for a different kind of indicator. And he had gotten really excited, so much so that he had called Jess, sent Vasquez Jess's CV, and waited while Vasquez had hurried to get Jess the same kind of special clearance they had gotten for Lena.
And now Winn and Jess were in the conference room arguing as vehemently as he had argued with Lena, which Vasquez could only hope was a good sign.
And Alex was (other agents had murmured) down in the gym, murdering the big bag and swearing (apparently, it sounded like swearing) in what agents assumed was Kryptonese. Vasquez wanted to go down there and help, but she was so far past tired that she didn't even dare. Two people with the training they'd had, with the trauma they'd experienced...
She would send her a text that said Vasquez was sleeping in the barracks that night. Alex could do with that information what she would. It wasn't perfect, but after this last most recent sort of apocalyptic situation, it was as good as they were going to get.
Chapter 17: The Easy Version
Alex was slamming the big bag. She had heard from Vasquez that Captain America so routinely destroyed his big bags that he had a half dozen waiting in the wings at all times. She aspired to that level of destruction, but knew how much the DEO would charge her for the extra bags, because Kara destroyed them all the time.
So when her phone went off in the corner on top of Alex's leather jacket, she just assumed it was Kara checking in. And she hit the bag twice before she remembered that Kara was being held hostage. Then she ran to the phone.
She was kind of shocked to see Detective Dimples as the sender of the text. Her heart squeezed. Kara had gotten ahold of her phone again and changed the names of her contacts. It drove her nuts and it was also kind of cute, the sort of thing that was probably in the Little Sister’s Handbook.
The text said, “Pop-up alien gambling ring. Warehouse Dis. You in? Bring a team.”
Alex prepped the team, reminding them, “Okay, I know this has been the week from hell. Again. But do not, repeat, do not take out your frustrations on our perps. The last thing we want is to pull in a major operation and have it go to hell in court because of excessive force.”
The agents all nodded, knowing that Alex was speaking from experience. But by now, they had been working much more often with the NCPD Science Division, and with Maggie as their liaison they knew that the mission would be about as smooth as they could expect when rogue aliens were involved.
It went down like a lot of their operations. DEO and NCPD vehicles screeched into the Warehouse District like bats out of hell. Regular police breeched and located aliens and humans with alien weapons, DEO followed with plasma disruptors and extreme prejudice. Science Division held the perimeter and took the perps to jail. Maggie Sawyer herself arrested Veronica Sinclair (again). No surprise that she was involved. It was a gambling ring and she was Roulette for crying out loud. Alex and Maggie bet on how long the police would be allowed to hold her before friends in high places set her loose. It wasn't like their usual light-hearted betting, but more a way to lighten the kick in the stomach that was criminals walking loose because of corruption in high places.
When they got back to the DEO after the dust settled, Alex had to write up her report, making sure to add the parts that she got from Detective Sawyer about the loan-sharking ring that was supporting the gambling ring. Roulette and company encouraged people (both alien and human) to gamble beyond their means and then loaned them the money to gamble more until they were in way over their heads.
And they went to the funeral of the agent who had been compromised by those people and under her breath Alex muttered that she would get justice for him. On either side of her, Vasquez and Maggie turned toward her and whispered, “I’ll help.”
Behind them James and Winn were hugging. They had known the man, a bit, and they were murmuring about how maybe we never really know somebody, and they left the funeral together.
Chapter 18: Proof of Life
The next time the kidnappers called Freida Fritzroy at CatCo, Agent Vasquez was with her. The same woman's voice spoke on the speakerphone and was recorded.
"Ms. Fitzroy. I hope you have had time to see the error of your ways, bringing in the police. May I point out that every time they come at us with guns blazing, there is a very good chance that they will harm Cat Grant and your reporters."
Fitzroy saw Vasquez scribble on a pad. "Play along. Mollify. Apologize."
Fitzroy said, "I do regret following the obviously misguided advice I was given. Thank you for calling me back. I hope we can try again with negotiations."
"Of course. But the price just went up."
Ask for proof of life.
"I trust that the prisoners have not in fact been harmed?"
"A few scratches. They'll live. But in the process, you have quite put me out and that is going to cost you."
ASK FOR PROOF OF LIFE.
"I'd like to talk to them all before we go any further."
"I'm afraid that won't be possible."
Vasquez reached out and hung up the phone.
Fitzroy shouted, "What are you doing? You'll get them killed."
Vasquez said, "If she won't offer proof of life, it might be because she can't."
"You think they're dead?" Fitzroy's heart sank.
"Or escaped. Let's hope for the best here. When she calls back, tell her that without proof of life, you can't play ball. Be apologetic if you want to. Say it is required by the terms of Cat's kidnapping insurance, because it probably is. Then if we get everybody on the phone, and I mean everybody, even Lena this time, when she names a number, give her a lowball counteroffer. Explain that the shareholders are complaining--"
"Well, that should be an easy sell then. Tell her the board of directors are complaining--"
"Well, this should be easy then. Haggle like a fishwife, Ms. Fitzroy, because if Cat comes back to a company that has been taken to the cleaners, where there may be downsizing because of her--"
The phone rang. Vasquez hit speakerphone and started writing on her pad again.
"Ms. Fitzroy, I do not appreciate--"
"Frankly, ma'am, you have abducted three of our most beloved employees, taken them God knows where, apparently been in a major helicopter crash--and yes the police are sifting through the ashes for bone marrow. They already found one incinerated body and they aren't sure whose it is. So I do not appreciate you so blithely refusing to offer proof of life. It makes me think that you can't and that you have lost them all and are trying to get money out of me and this company in any way you can. I do not appreciate that one bit."
Vasquez shot her a surprised grin.
"That was the pilot. Your reporter tried to pull him out but she couldn't."
"Well, we will see what the pathologist says about that. But you can understand, I'm sure, why I might be fed up with being jerked around. Ms. Grant's kidnapping insurance terms are quite clear. Without proof of life, they will not come up with the money. So if you are unable to provide that, our conversation here is finished."
"All right. Fine. You can talk to your CEO."
"All of them. It seemed a bit suspicious to me that Mr. Carr and Ms. Luthor were not represented the last time. I will want to speak to all four of them."
"Lena Luthor is no concern of yours."
Vasquez handed her the paper she had been writing on. Aloud, Fitzroy read, "Lena Luthor is one of the leading businesswomen in National City. Her philanthropic activities alone would make me care that she is alive and well and rescued from your clutches--"
Vasquez frowned, realizing that Fitzroy was improvising. She mouthed, "Stick to the script!"
She shrugged and read, "Cat Grant has the deepest respect for the work that Ms. Luthor is doing in this city and I know that she would not want to be freed without helping to free everyone."
The sound on the speakerphone sounded like "harrumph."
"I'm afraid I really must insist."
There was a metallic sound, like a door opening. The woman said, "Talk to the CatCo board member."
"Hello?" It was Snapper Carr.
"Hello, Mr. Carr. I am Frieda Fitzroy, from CatCo Opal City. They had said you had a concussion..."
"Yeah, maybe two at this point, but I'm not seeing double or falling asleep or vomiting anymore and we're in out of the rain down here so--"
A door slammed. Another opened. "Ms. Fitzroy! It's me, Kara Danvers!"
"Good to hear your voice, Ms. Danvers. Are they treating you well?"
"Well, I'm starving because I don't know if there's any food up here but--"
The woman's voice. "We've been rather distracted. But there will be food. I have no interest in hungry hostages passing out due to low blood sugar. Now you."
"Thanks, mother. Ms. Fitzroy," said Lena. "I've heard good things about your work in Opal City."
Lena Luthor had heard of her? "Uh, thank you, Ms. Luthor. Are you all right?"
"Oh, well enough. I particularly liked your article on Maxwell Lord's--"
"Honestly, Lena. Focus!" said the woman's voice.
Another door slammed and another opened. "Ms. Grant." This time the woman's voice was full of respect.
"Cat!" said Fitzroy.
"Frieda, dear. It's so good to hear your voice. You'll want to talk to Evan Walters about the terms of the kidnapping insurance. I believe there is a clause about covering hostages taken in the process of my being taken, collateral damage if you will. I will not leave Lena Luthor behind."
"Understood, ma'am. I will consult with him."
"So can we negotiate now?" asked the woman.
Vasquez scribbled. "Say you have to consult first. Another day."
"Not until I consult with the insurance agent and the lawyers. If I'll be negotiating for four instead of three, that will change things."
"Consult then. You have until six tomorrow evening. I will call you then." She hung up.
Fitzroy said, "I'm not familiar with the name Evan Walters. I have already talked to the insurance woman and the lawyers. To be fair no one mentioned that clause either."
Vasquez frowned. "O-kay... in that case it might be code. Get her PA to go through her contact list and find that name. The moment you find out who it is, call me." She handed her the "FBI" card with her number. "Also, send me a copy of whatever it was about Maxwell Lord that Lena was talking about."
"What are you going to do next?"
"I am going to locate an underground base high in the mountains we've been searching for the last day or two and see whether we can find a place owned by LuthorCorp or one of its subsidiaries. And then I am going to pound Lillian Luthor's ass and bring our people home."
Fitzroy watched her leave with the recorder. Just an hour before the agent had said she had no idea where they were hiding out and now she was pretty specific. And how had she known that Cat would want to take Lena with her? And who the hell was Evan Walters?
Chapter 19: The Big Reveal (You Saw This Coming)
In answer to the question, "Can this show get any gayer?" The answer is, "Yes, yes it can. You're welcome."
Once again the DEO was working round the clock, everybody was doing overtime, and the only people who barely noticed the difference between that and their normal schedule were J'onn, because of the overwhelming psychic information pounding his brain at all hours; Vasquez, because it was much less serene than the night shift usually was, which made it harder for her to sit for hours, positing scenario after scenario; and Alex, who for the first time in a long time was getting to spend all the time in the lab that she wanted and was sort of in heaven, although in an anxiety-saturated kind of way.
Winn had joined her in the lab but was currently asleep on one of the desks, looking, with his arms crossed over his chest, like a cardigan-wearing mummy. Alex ignored him, staring at her microscope.
Up in the command center, Vasquez was staring slack-jawed at the eleven o'clock news, and she hit the panic button, summoning everyone up to see this.
"BREAKING NEWS! Donald Trump, Mike Pence and Sean Spicer caught in a threesome at the White House!
In a situation out of some bizarre dystopic pornography, an anonymous White House Staffer sent surveillance video from the Oval Office that has sent an earthquake through the GOP. Channel 7 News has authenticated the video, taken late this afternoon in Washington. Several White House staffers were asked to comment and as one said, Quote, I don't dare tell you it's true. Or the other weird things that have been happening all day long. A fellow can't even walk into a bathroom here anymore! But if I tell you the top brass are doing that, you know they're going to arrest me! End quote. Other news outlets have also received this video, and CNN got to Kellyanne Conway first. Although we cannot show the video that was received due to its extremely explicit content, we can share this picture the CNN reporter took when he asked Conway, the president's counselor, to comment on the video."
The screen was filled with a photo of Conway and Betsy DeVos locked in a passionate kiss while an enraged Ivanka Trump stood behind them, apparently yelling.
The anchor said, "This turn-up is expected to send shockwaves throughout conservative America. And now the weather, with Tripp Ferguson. What do you think, Tripp?"
The silver-haired meteorologist grinned. "Looks like the White House is having a gay old time! It's nice to see somebody enjoying the lousy weather!"
Vasquez turned off the monitor. Alex held up a test tube.
Vasquez groaned. "Pink kryptonite?"
"Well," said Winn. "At least we don't have to worry about Supergirl. Kal-El may find his life taking a turn for the queer, but..."
Vasquez's phone rang. "Vasquez."
"Agent, this is Frieda Fitzroy. Evan Walters is Ms. Grant's travel agent. He arranged for a cabin in the area you are currently searching last year. I will send you the coordinates. Also, I went back to my own archives. I am sending you a copy of the article. I don't see how it can help you. Lena does have the reputation of being a huge nerd, so..."
"Yes," said Vasquez. "A nerd with a photographic memory. It'll help. Thank you, Ms. Fitzroy. I will see you tomorrow."
Vasquez pushed some buttons on her phone. Winn's phone buzzed.
"Little Plaid Shirt, read through this and figure out what Lena wanted us to know."'
"I'm on it."
Vasquez typed the coordinates from her phone into the computer that was keeping track of the search on the mountain. A red dot appeared just outside of the search grid. Vasquez contacted the lead agent and told her to extend the search a half mile north and west.
Winn's phone rang again. "Hey, Jess. Any luck with-- Seriously! Oh, woman, you are absolutely the best!" He hung up and hit some buttons on his phone and then on the computer that Vasquez had just added info to. One inch north of the new red dot he stabbed his finger. "Lex has underground base. Right. Here."
Chapter 20: Three Scenarios for Your Consideration
Agent Vasquez is a strategist. She strategizes.
It was one of the least pleasant decisions J'onn Jonzz had ever had to make. Vasquez had handed him a folder with her usual list of scenarios on it and her recommendations. He knew that she knew that he had pretty much already decided what he had to do based on the law and that she was going to try to change his mind, because the laws of the United States were very, very important to the ex-Marine. But although she wore the slogan Semper Fi on her underwear, it didn't actually say which exact corps or community she was going to always be faithful to... Or whether, knowing her, she would find a way to be always faithful to both.
Since the DEO's discovery that Maxwell Lord and Lord Technologies were working on a way to weaponize Pink Kryptonite, it has occurred to me that the DEO might want to be prepared for the uncomfortable possibility of his success. As we have seen from past situations dealing with this individual and his corporation, he frequently weds genius-level intellect with adolescent ego and lack of mature responsibility; this would make him dangerous even he was not the head of a billion dollar corporation and a xenophobic consortium of tech companies.
Scenario One: He achieves traditional pink K, which only affects the Kryptonians, for 24 hours.
Analysis: We both know Kara won't be affected as she might have been in earlier years. Given that she has been in the tabloids on Lena Luthor's arm of late, I have to assume Lord knows this. That suggests the target is Superman. Aside from potentially causing a rift between him and Lois Lane, I don't see any fallout (or, from Lord's perspective, benefit) from this. Lex Luthor afflicted him with pink K before, and it only ended up making Superman a staunch ally of the LGBTIA community.
Scenario Two: He achieves a form of pink K that can also affect humans, for 24 hours.
Analysis: After looking at Lord Technology's product suite, I can see no corporate reason why Lord would want to temporarily make humans gay, unless he has some secret R&D that would be the equivalent of the "gay conversion therapy." In that case it will be imperative to shut him down immediately, as such things can be psychologically and sometimes physically harmful. However, I have also examined the public and private donations that Lord and his company have made, and they actually include GLAAD and the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force. So unless Lord is a closet case, I cannot see why he would do such a thing. About the only things this would cause would be a small uptick in people understanding the community and a large uptick in anti-gay hate crimes. It doesn't hold together.
Scenario Three: The Dominant-Hand-Switching Virus was a prototype of the delivery mechanism for a similar brain-changing virus: the pink K, transmitted virally in a mass way, with effects that last for varied amounts of time, based probably on individual brain chemistry.
Analysis: This scenario follows Lord's modus operandi, doing a small thing to find out its potential reach and impacts. As we saw, its reach was wide and its impacts mixed: some people immediately went back to their previous brain dominance, some switched over fairly seamlessly and permanently, and a small portion were confused and out of commission for a much longer time. A change like this might fit Lord's agenda: potentially having more people experience queerness both temporarily and permanently. The reasoning behind this is not clear to me. I will update as I can. However, I have thoughts about how the DEO might handle such a situation.
1. If we arrest Lord and prosecute him, we are basically saying that "making people gay" or being gay is bad--imprisonable bad. That would only fuel the anti-gay groups.
2. If we ignore it publically but call him out privately, we might do better. Of course, it will depend on how his PR team handles it.
3. I feel there will be more options appearing as this plays out and we see how government and the media handle it. We may need to improvise.
J'onn pinched the bridge of his nose. He hadn't considered the issue of backlash, but of course she did. He could imagine if something had made the White Martians take the form of Green Martians without their consent and especially only temporarily. When they assumed their much larger and more powerful forms the backlash would have been apocalyptic.
Oh, Vasquez, he thought, always ten steps ahead of the rest of us. I do love my Earth daughters.
Chapter 21: What Just Happened?
James was a wreck. The funeral had been hard. James had gotten to know John Tish when the rookies had come to National City, and the man had always gone out of his way to make them feel comfortable and welcomed. He had invited the five of them to his Superbowl party and when only Olsen, Winn and Holtzman had showed up, he had simply said, "Well, that's how we know who's real DEO!" and did a little touchdown dance of his own. His friends were cool, and his girlfriend seemed to really love him.
So when the op fell apart and he turned up dead from a kill-switch, probably embedded by Cadmus, James had felt his heart explode. How did he keep losing people? At first he had refused to attend the funeral, but Winn had insisted.
He'd said, "I still don't know what made my dad twist to become a killer. But from what J'onn and Alex were saying, John was manipulated nine ways to Sunday. He didn't do what he did as a choice, the way my dad did. Somebody twisted him, threatened him with the kill switch. And he did what they wanted but it didn't save him. We need to remember the man he was before, not the man he became."
And James had acquiesced.
The funeral was long and exhausting. A small ring of protesters at a distance held carefully by the police called John a traitor, and he was, but there were different kinds of traitors. Some saw no choice, seeing their loved-ones in danger if they chose wrong. Winn, faithful Winn, had stood next to James with a light hand on his lower back, murmuring, "Ignore them. Look. J'onn, Vasquez and Alex are ignoring them. They know who he really was."
And then the funeral ended, and James was falling apart, and then James felt tears trickle from his eyes, and that hadn't happened for fifteen years. Winn said, "Let's go home. You need some hot tea and a nap. It won't make everything better, but it might make this afternoon a little better."
And that had made sense.
They had gone back to James's apartment, as they had often done before, and flicked on the football game of the moment and sat on the couch, watching and cheering, right up until James felt the bottom give out of his emotional state, and Winn immediately noticing it, picked up the remote and shut off the game.
"Dude, what are you doing?"
"You're not okay and we're going to talk about it."
"What are talking about? I'm fine."
"You just went to the funeral of a guy who was becoming a good friend, a guy your colleagues now tell you was a traitor, who was compromised against his well into compromising the organization that you and I both love. Or, if we don't love the actual organization, we do love the members of it, that his actions endangered."
"It's okay. I can handle it."
"Can you? Because it has definitely been hard for me. I liked him. I really liked him. And then he went off and... He could have gotten Kara killled!"
"Um, dude, she's bullet-proof. Unlikely.'
"Well, what about Lena? She's not bullet-proof!"
"Oh! Hey! Does Winn have a thing for the billionaire genius CEO?"
"No, of course not!"
"Why of course not? She's gotta see how hot you are."
"Women just friend-zone me immediately. Kara did. Why should Lena be any different?"
James thought about it. "Well, your IQ pretty much matches hers. So you can keep up with her when you're both doing that manic inventing thing. That's gotta be a huge turn-on."
Winn blushed. "Yeah, she's nice like that. But she's so... I don't know... feminine?"
"But you like that. You still like Kara, and when she's Supergirl, she is badass as shit!"
"Yeah, but maybe I like a more traditional masculine badassery."
"Like you got a thing for Superman? Batman? Captain America?"
"Or..." said Winn in a small voice, "maybe Guardian?"
James froze. He had never in a million years seen that coming. Except that maybe, just maybe, he had... Because convincing Winn to help him had taken a bit less time than he'd expected at the beginning, and after the whole Red Shirt Incident, Winn had done a whole zero-to-sixty turnaround overnight. And when J'onn, Kara, and Alex had turned on them, demanding that they either join the DEO and get trained, or abandon the Guardian persona entirely and return to their previous personas, or get heavily railroaded for their vigilante activities and maybe spend decades in jail, Winn had made his decision with what James thought of as an indecently short amount of time.
And he had thought of that as a betrayal at the time, and it had broken the formerly very solid bond they had had together. But this, maybe this explained it, that Winn had been crushing on James for a while, and when somebody, J'onn, the DEO, had noticed this, of course he had skittered away. That was what James would have done in the past.
But Winn, Winn was special in a way that Clark had never been. Maybe it was because Clark, as Superman, was so terminally out of reach: he would always be better than James, more than James. He was everything James ha always wanted to be: strong, good, loyal, heroic, but to the nth degree. and James suspected that his penchant for strong, smart women--Lucy, Kara--came in part from that. He wanted an equal, not for the man he was, but for the man he so desperately wanted to be. But maybe he had been looking in the wrong direction all along.
He didn't think. He just looked at Winn's big brown eyes looking at him with such concern and care. He leaned forward and kissed him. Winn grinned, grabbed his face and kissed him back, deeply, passionately.
And then they pulled apart abruptly.
"Oh, man, I shouldn't be taking advantage--"
"Winn, I am so sorry--"
"The funeral and your friend and--"
"I'm not gay. You're not gay--"
Suddenly Winn's mouth fell open. "The Search & Rescue dogs!"
"The S&R folks had to pull them off the scent because the male dogs were, well, bonking each other! Don't you get it? It's pink kryptonite! It's got to be! Max Lord finally figured it out and--"
"And we've both been affected? But we're not Kryptonians."
"Neither were the dogs. And I'm fine. I'm bi, but you've been affected--"
"The pink kryptonite, yeah, of course." The relief in his own voice was palpable and he could see a tiny quick spasm of regret on Winn's face. "I'm sorry, man. I have to--"
"Yeah, yeah. No, we're good. I have to--"
"Yeah, and meet with Jess and--"
The awkwardness continued until Winn grabbed his coat and practically ran out the door.
Damn that Maxwell Lord anyway
Chapter 22: Three Cells
Cyborg Superman sat in Snapper's cell as they both ate the microwaved soup.
"Clam chowder," muttered Snapper sarcastically. "My favorite."
"Lillian took the minestrone," said the cyborg. "Sorry. She was so upset after that call, I thought she was going to throw her phone across the room. Giving her first choice seemed... diplomatic."
"Makes sense. Funny, though. She never struck me as the kind of chick that would have a temper."
Henshaw shrugged. "It comes and goes. We're all tired. Normally she hides it much better. Usually, when things are at their worst, she's in her element. The lady loves a challenge."
"So why do you follow her?"
"I've always said the aliens were a menace. I devoted much of my life to tracking them down and eliminating them. Then I more or less died, back there in South America. But she had been following the Martian Manhunter too and when she reached where Jeremiah and I had been left for dead, her agents saved our lives, enhanced us. The amount of power I have now is astronomical and it's a rush and it is allowing me to return to my mission to save this planet." He ate some more, then asked, "What about you? Why do you do journalism?"
Snapper grunted. "Like you, I'm trying to save the planet, one story at a time. You get the news wrong and you put a fascist in the White House."
"You don't suppose he's an alien, do you? Can you imagine unleashing Cadmus on that particular shitstorm?"
Snapper laughed for the first time in days. Or, well, actually, months.
In the next cell over, Lena slowly ate the pea soup her mother knew that she hated. "So, any chance you can break us out of here?"
Kara looked over her glasses at the metal walls on all four sides, up at the ceiling, down at the floor. "Lead lined," she said. Her bowl was already empty next to her. Her stomach growled. Lena handed her the half bowl of pea soup. "Are you sure?"
"Kara, you know you're dying to eat it. And you need to keep up your strength."
"Okay. Lena, what do you think your mother has planned for you? I mean if this time the drop goes right and the three of us go back..."
"Something nefarious, I should imagine. Take your pick."
Kara ground her teeth in frustration. "If I have to, I'm flying you out of here."
"You can't. Mother can't..."
"I know! I know! It's just... I'm not used to being helpless."
Lillian brought Cat a tray with two bowls of tomato soup and two grilled cheese sandwiches, two spoons, two folded paper towels. "Sorry," she said. "It was the best I could do with what we have."
Cat took her soup and sandwich graciously.
They sat down next to each other to eat.
"Thank you for the dry clothes, Mrs. Luthor. Although I must say I feel rather like a park ranger in this outfit."
Lillian smiled. "I do prefer black, myself, but you make do with what you have, Ms. Grant."
Cat rolled her eyes. "Surely, now that we are kidnapper and kidnappee, we should be on a first name basis by now. It is a rather... intimate... relationship. Hi, I'm Cat." She put down her spoon and offered her hand.
"Lillian," said the Luthor taking it and giving it a firm shake. "I hope you don't hold it against me, Cat, but bankrolling an operation like this is not as easy as it used to be. The changes in the financial transparency rules since 9/11 have been simply quite annoying."
Honestly, Cat said, "I never really gave that any thought before."
"It's true. And that spaceship that Supergirl grounded was astronomically expensive."
"Hmm. Actually, Lillian, I'm curious. What made you think that sending aliens back into space would work any better than the nineteenth century attempts to send ex-slaves to Liberia?"
Lillian shrugged. "The point is getting them away. The US deports dangerous humans all the time."
"Yes, but usually we're not sending them back to the war-torn or famine-stricken home they came from when they sought sanctuary here."
"As if they were all refugees. I don't buy it."
"Let's agree to disagree." Cat finished her soup and her last bite of sandwich. "They do say that hunger is the best sauce."
Lillian murmured, "Yes, they do, don't they..."
She reached out and took Cat's hand, circling her thumb over the back of it. Cat barely breathed, considering her options. She looked up into Lillian's ice-blue eyes, and was reminded strongly of a girl in her sorority so many years ago, a woman whose allures Cat had quite enjoyed. She can't imagine that Brenda would have aged half so well as Lillian.
Lillian said, "I remember you, you know. All those years ago, when you came to LuthorCorp to interview Lionel and he took you on a tour. You were wearing that stunning electric blue dress and I remember thinking I would love to find a dress in that color, to bring out my eyes, and then I thought--" She stopped abruptly, biting her lip.
Cat read the small panic. "That you wanted to take it off me? I remember that day too. I remember the look you gave me, looking up at me over the computer screen."
"I was young. We both were."
"And you were in love with Lionel."
Lillian shrugged. "I believed in his dream of technology fixing the world's problems."
Quietly, she said, "You know, Lillian, while I do believe that your zeal against aliens is somewhat misplaced, and you don't give Lena nearly the credit she deserves for the work she has done both in the lab and in the boardroom--"
At the sound of her daughter's name, Lillian took her hand away from Cat's. Cat took it back. "All I'm saying is, I know what it's like building an empire as a woman in business, and you're forced to make sacrifices and, God knows, I have made sacrifices and yes, I sacrificed my older son on the altar of CatCo Media. But what I've learned over the years is that the one thing you can't walk away from is honest warmth when it is freely offered."
"But if I am your kidnapper, it's not being freely offered."
Cat smiled at the thought of discussing consent with the woman who tried to pitch three hundred aliens into space. But those eyes. And that strength, that perfect posture, the positive glee she had shown when their helicopter came that close to being pitched into the mountain in a hurricane. Sue her, she thought, but damn, she liked strong, brave, beautiful women. Kara was so young, and was her protege, so Cat had controlled her interest in her, but this woman. This woman. And blue eyes.
"It's not like I expect any different treatment from you, Lillian," she said lightly. "Tomorrow my lawyers and my insurance company will pay to get me back and you will turn me over to them and quite likely we'll never see each other again." She moved closer to Lillian until their shoulders were touching.
Lillian's pupils were dilating. "What is that perfume?"
"A little something I got in Paris."
"It's intoxicating." Then she frowned. "But after all that rain--"
Cat unbuttoned her khaki shirt to reveal a black bra, from which she extracted a tiny bottle. "I believe in coming prepared," she said.
Lillian leaned in to smell her better and Cat (thinking in for a penny, in for a pound) leaned toward her and kissed her, first lightly, then deeper, and then they were groping each other and tearing off khaki, and touching, and the last coherent thought Cat had for a while after that was, I am so, so, SO grateful that these cells are lined with lead.
Chapter 23: Another Day, Another Rescue Mission
The plan, in the end, was simple. Lucy brought her divisions in to surround the mountain to make sure no one could get away by land. Alex and Vasquez led National City's DEO in a hail of Blackhawks, led by J'onn in his Supergirl persona. James was to video the whole thing both for DEO training purposes and to record Supergirl saving Kara and company. That could be leaked to the media later.
Alex, in her cargo pocket had Lena's brush that Jess had retrieved from her boss's condo. If that wasn't enough DNA, Vasquez and Finn were ready to set charges, but unlocking the door was always going to be sneakier than blowing it up. Back in National City, Winn was at CatCo with Ms. Fitzroy, so that they could use the six o'clock phone negotiation as a diversion.
The hairbrush worked. (Vasquez made a mental note to go back later and blow up the sensor so that Lillian wouldn't realize how they'd gotten in.)
They breached swift and silent. The base followed a pattern similar to the one on Mount Haystack, so finding the cells and the command center wasn't too hard, and when Lillian turned around, still holding her phone to her head, Vasquez thought she could almost read the thought bubble hanging over Lillian's head, "Drat! Foiled again!"
Cyborg Superman gave them a fight, of course, shooting with his laser while Lillian leaped for the AK-15 and started shooting, but Alex's laser pistol melted the gun and some good old fashioned martial arts on the part of J'onn dressed as Supergirl took out the cyborg.
Alex found the key to the cells and let out Snapper and the women, who looked in remarkably good shape, considering what they had been through. Vasquez also thought that Cat Grant smelled far too good for a kidnapping victim, and when she was reading Lillian her rights, she noticed a similar smell on her, and filed it away in her head as she did such things.
James got video of "Supergirl" leading out the hostages and the handcuffed Cadmus agents, of a medic checking Snapper and insisting on getting him to a hospital for testing. He got all four of the hostages thanking "Supergirl" profusely, and the helicopters flying away like an old MASH episode and gave it to Cat to have her people edit it and figure out how she wanted to pitch it.
Vasquez volunteered to fly Cat directly to CatCo with it. As she helped Cat down from the helicopter onto the skyscraper's helipad, Vasquez said, "That's a lovely perfume you're wearing, Ma'am. Smells very expensive."
Cat's eyes narrowed. "It is."
"Seems like Lena's mother favors it too."
"I have been known to set trends," Cat said archly.
"Yes, Ma'am," said Agent Vasquez. "You and Maxwell Lord."
Chapter 24: Breaking News and Associated Cleanup
Cat and her people intercut the video with interviews with Lena Luthor and the other hostages. Cat framed the rescue by Supergirl, assisted by the FBI, as the welcome ending of a distasteful but not traumatic time. They all claimed that they had been well-treated (good news wouldn't last; if people thought they'd had a horrible time, they would keep digging and no one would get past this). Snapper claimed that his injuries were caused by criminals in the pursuit of other ends and were not intentional. He said that his doctors were recommending he take some time off to rest and recover, but that he intended to back at work at CatCo as soon as he could. Lena castigated her mother's anti-alien policies and her association with Cadmus and distanced herself and L-Corp from them. Kara said she was glad to be getting back to work doing her food reporting and made jokes about power bars and canned soup.
Before Kara left CatCo, Cat handed her a blank card made of very nice paper and a box of colored pencils, and asked her to draw some lily of the valley on the front. Kara knew Cat very well, and did as she was asked without comment.
Kara went home to her apartment, grateful that she didn't have a cat to worry about every time she got kidnapped or sent to a different dimension. Sometimes it felt like she was getting carried off every damn week.
Snapper arrived back at his apartment to find a fruit basket, a book of coupons for his favorite bakery and a stack of DVDs: Superman, Citizen Kane, Broadcast News and All the President's Men. He brought them in and put them on his kitchen table, looking for a card and not finding one.
When Lena arrived at L-Corp, she saw Detective Maggie Sawyer arresting Cox from L-Corp's board of directors. She listened to the charges: attempted fraud, corporate malfeasance, aiding and abetting a known domestic terrorist.
When she went upstairs to her office, she found Jess and Winn handing over paper files and computer evidence to the police. When the cops left, she sat with them in her office as they explained the deal her mother had done with the board member to get Lena booted out of L-Corp for working with Cadmus and putting Cox in the CEO's chair. They had emails, rerouted halfway around the world but recoverable. They had a clear paper trail of Cox "inventorying" the old LuthorCorp archives and caught on the hidden surveillance cameras dismantling the obvious cameras and stealing one of Lex's kill switches, so Lena figured accessory to murder would be an added charge.
Jess hugged Lena almost as tightly as Kara did, which was saying something, and then Winn did the same. Lena was overwhelmed, and grateful to her two loyalest friends and couldn't stop thanking them. After they left, she made two calls and then went over to Kara's to sleep for a million years.
When Winn got to the DEO, he found his command center chair stacked high with brand new video games and a note that said, "Just a token. --L." He laughed delightedly until he saw James striding into the command center, see him, and stop short, looking awkward.
Winn said, "Hey, man. Are we still good? 'Cause I want us to be good."
James smiled sheepishly. "It might take me a while, but yeah. I think so."
"Good, because I am going to need someone to play against!"
J'onn, Alex and Vasquez paid a surprise visit to Maxwell Lord and had... a talk. Alex's index finger might just possibly have been mentioned. When they left, he asked his assistant to cancel the rest of the day and went home very, very pale and with none of his signature bravado.
And deep in the bowels of a supermax prison in Kansas, a prison guard brought Lillian Luthor a package.
She opened the box to find, inside, an envelope with her name on it. She opened it to find a card with a hand-drawn lily of the valley on the front. A very expensive perfume drifted up to tickle her nose.
The card read,
We'll always have Paris.