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Between the Lines

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The barista rocking a tight manbun at the coffee shop on Fifth gives her the first letter.

It’s an odd Saturday off, and Alex isn’t an hour southeast at the DEO headquarters, filing incident reports for the latest alien attack; nor is she content to remain cooped up in her apartment on such a sunny day. She doesn’t even frequent this coffee house all that often, maybe pops in twice a month on slower weekends or federal holidays that happen to coincide with the lack of an intergalactic threat. The gilded coffee presses and billowing steam from the wands is an assault on the senses; the first time she brought Kara to a city coffee house during morning rush her sister had darted outside, shaking her head against the stimulation. She noted, all those yesteryears ago, to never give a Kryptonian caffeine.

The same could not be said for her bedraggled human system.

She steps forward and places her order, double checks her phone and shuffles her way down the line to the counter. Usually after runs she treats herself to a calorie-heavy pastry. But watching Kara demolish seven sticky buns in a single sitting last Thursday still has her stomach roiling.

Today, Alex gets a quadruple shot Americano and an unmarked envelope.

“What’s this?” Alex asks, scrunching her face up as the hand-off is completed. She hates asking because the place is swamped, flannel-clad millennials and toddler-toting moms eye-rolling and sighing at the slow (frantic, rapid, but never fast enough) pace of the service industry.

“Your friend left it,” the barista quips, turning his attention back to the espresso grinder and the portafilter.

“Friend?”

“She said she had an emergency. Had to jet.”

“I think there’s been a mistake—”

“You’re Alex Danvers, right? Quad-shot medium Americano with a dash of whole milk for a cool-down?”

“Uh… yes.”

“Then that’s for you!” the young man shouted over the crunching rumble of the grinder. “The General gives you her regards.”

Alex periscopes her head around the interior, scanning for any behavior that seems just south of human. The envelope feels light and innocuous in her hands; plain office supply paper with no outstanding notations on the exterior. There’s a thumbprint in brown powder at the upper left-hand corner that will likely be traced back to the barista. Of course the paper will undergo every test the DEO has in its scientific arsenal, several of which Alex designed herself. The smallest hint of sweat or saliva used as sealant could be traced, collected, dissected and studied.

Know your enemy, Alex.

Alex dashes outside, coffee and envelope in hand. She should call it in, she knows.

The General sends you her regards.

No way General Lane, even on his worst days, would ever be mistaken for a woman.

There’s only one other General within her circle of acquaintances… enemies… extended foster-family that Alex has communicated with in her lifetime.

You’re the human that defeated the Hellgrammite, she’d said, languorously stretching to prop herself up, her equilibrium no doubt compromised by the effects of the Kryptonite. Her body had suffered, but her mind was still relatively functional: I like you.

Alex should call it in.

She posts up against the brick of the building, one sneaker propped carelessly on the wall behind her. Alex had needed the run this morning, had missed her sparring session because Cat Grant was speaking at a conference in Montreal and Kara had accompanied the woman, eager for her first flight on the corporate jet despite the barking demands of an agitated boss.

But ever since Alex had started sparring with Kara, all the other agents at the DEO were afraid to get in the ring with her. Hank always refused, ever wary of outing himself as more than human. Alex didn’t blame him; after their rendezvous from the mission with Lord and his offices, Hank seemed more guarded than usual. Regardless, with Kara gone she was partnerless, but a brisk 5k through the city was supposed to center her, quiet her, not up her anxiety levels with mysterious, likely untraceable correspondence.

Alex doesn’t call it in.

She rips into the letter right there on the street.

 


 

 

Agent Danvers,

It is with great hesitancy I compose this letter at all. It will go against basic principles I’ve learned as commander and prisoner, and will likely be the beginning of my own demise. My dearest Kara believes, so naively and wholeheartedly, that faith between our opposing forces will be the first steps to compromise. I feel you know better Agent Danvers; belief in a cause is righteous, and admirable, and undoubtedly dangerous. Fervent belief, to the point of harming others with whom you disagree, is a bastardization of all that I’ve fought for.

Or so I am coming to learn.

I will spare you the details of my troops’ indoctrination. Not all under my command were good beings to begin with, as you well know. But with bloody resolve did I seize control over this unfortunate collection of criminals. I trained them, molded them, gave them the tools to face even the toughest opponents, all for the sake of saving this planet.

Hollow English words cannot express the depth of my regret.

The alien army are fantastic menaces that have, surprisingly, pledged their allegiance to me this past decade. Yet the troops grow restless. There is talk of insurrection, that I have grown weak due to Kara’s influence. My intentional capture, diversionary, of course, was seen as the first blow to my regime. Even my closest Lieutenant questions my resolve. I can trust no one, for they will not compromise. It has been my desire for the longest time to overthrow the established hierarchy you humans have in place; your habits mirror with devastating exactitude those of the Kryptonians before their planet’s demise. Living here, in secret, studying your historical patterns and reviewing the actions of your greatest thinkers, has shown me that it is through diplomacy, not force, that the most long-lasting change occurs.

I wish to open negotiating talks with you, and you alone, Agent Danvers.

I cannot trust your military officials. I know the type of people who result to torture, and they disgust me.

Have you ever looked at your reflection, Agent Danvers, and been disgusted?

I cannot trust Kara; she is too young and too hopeful and, in truth, too inexperienced in many regards to complete any operation remotely surreptitious. You are close to her, and rank higher than she does.

That is why I’m extending this request to you. Yours and your father’s scholarship on Kryptonian biologies has been entertaining and incorrect in many aspects, yet, admittedly, not wholly off the mark. You are wise for your youth; you are brave, and honorable. I recall that you protested vehemently when that heartless scrap of excrement opened the case of Kryptonite syringes while I was in your custody.

But I likewise understand the duty of a soldier. You were told to remove Kara from the interrogation and you followed orders. You are a premiere soldier, Agent Danvers; I would be lucky to have you in my command.

All this I write with the understanding that currently, our respective agencies are still at war. If the situation presents itself, I can fight you and respect you in equal measure; do not misinterpret my praise for leniency.

What I am doing accounts to treason in the laws of my people, so please give careful consideration to my proposition. I am writing this letter because it is the easiest to dispose of. Burn it, destroy it, I implore you. Should our correspondence continue, I encourage you to use this more tangible method of communication. Digital records are too easy to trace with both of our bases’ technological access, but these thin paper pieces are just like you humans.

So fragile. Flimsy…. Delicate.

To show my good faith I would like to alert you to the movements of one of my top agents. He has gone rogue, and has gathered a handful of dissidents on my side to attack the laboratory at Los Alamos. At least two in the group have the known ability to absorb energy in myriad forms, hence the location. By connecting to the experimental power sources at a nuclear facility, their abilities will only grow, making your job much more difficult. I cannot say precisely when this attack will occur, but I do know it will happen within the forthcoming week.

I understand that this could read very much like an invitation to an ambush; I did not acquire the rank of general by heeding every missive sent my way. But I ask you, like my niece would ask you, to exercise a little faith, Agent Danvers. If the group is thwarted in their endeavors then you will have successfully quashed a raid that could have devastating effects on a number of locations, not just National City.

If you wish to continue this discussion, I encourage you to write me. It would not do for us to be seen meeting. I have security, and I don’t trust your government not to have eyes on you, especially after your objections against General Lane. There is a fence, black iron with overgrown greenery, which separates the sidewalk from a vacant lot two blocks west of this shop. The ninth brick from the left is loose, the perfect spot to leave a note of agreement or refusal. You do not have to answer right away, of course. You may very well wish to allow the situation at Los Alamos to play out, and make your decision accordingly.

I will do what I can on my side to temper the gnashing of teeth and talon; it wears on me, this duplicity, when for the longest time I felt so certain in my purpose. The events of the upcoming months will rest heavily upon your decision, Agent Danvers.

I await your response and remain, respectfully,

General Astra In-Ze, First Daughter of the House of In-Ze, Arclominian of the First Order