by Starsky Hutch 76
“Greetings, Kal-El,” Salkor said. When he noticed the others standing with him, he added, “And friends of Kal-El.”
“Hello, Salkor,” Superman said. “It’s good to see you again.”
“Yes,” Salkor said. “And under much happier circumstances. I have someone here I am sure you would like to meet.” He looked behind himself and said, softly, “It’s all right, Jasma. You don’t have to be afraid. This is your cousin I told you about.”
She poked her head out from behind Salkor’s legs shyly, peeking at Superman, and he had to stifle a gasp. Except for the golden skin that gave her something of an Asian appearance, it was as if he were looking at a younger version of Kara Zor-El.
“Oh, Clark, she’s so beautiful,” Superwoman said, reaching up and holding his arm.
Superman could hardly argue with that. She was easily one of the most beautiful children he had ever seen, all the more because she was Kara’s. A part of her lived on even after her death, and it was something he would always be thankful for.
Salkor leaned down, putting his hands beneath her arms, and lifted her up. She was clad in a power-blue tunic that seemed a perfect compliment to her golden complexion. As he carried her over to Superman, he stroked her hair soothingly and said, “Don’t be shy, Jasma.”
Salkor looked back up at Superman and said, “Kal-El, I’d like you to meet little Jasma.” And to Superman’s surprise, the Makorrian handed the child to him.
The little girl had a fresh smell that reminded him of breezy summer days back in Smallville. She wrapped her arms around his neck and kissed his cheek in greeting, apparently having quickly recovered from her initial shyness. He pulled her to him and embraced her. When she pulled back, she said, “Na milli nala oonkta?” and touched her small hand to the tears running down his face.
“She says, why are you crying?” Salkor said. “English, Jasma.”
“Why… you cry?” Jasma said, struggling with the unfamiliar language.
“I’m just so happy to meet you,” Superman answered.
“Me… too,” Jasma said, visibly pleased with his answer, and she hugged his neck again. She looked down at his chest and said, “You… dwess… like Mommy.”
This drew laughs from everyone. “Yes. Yes, I do,” Superman said. He looked at Salkor inquiringly.
“While her mother was with me, we made many holo-vids of our time together. I often show them to Jasma so she’ll at least know her mother’s memory.”
Every eye was on Jasma now as they stared and smiled at her. The only one who wasn’t completely enraptured by the child was Powergirl, who seemed preoccupied. She was fidgeting uncomfortably and had broken out in a nervous sweat. When she ran her hand up to her hair, several blonde strands came loose in her fingers.
“All that I have shown her will be nothing compared to the memory recordings you plan to make for her,” Salkor said. “She will know her mother better than any orphan… better than any child with both parents.” He took a deep breath and said, “My gratitude for your doing this is immeasurable.”
“We’re glad to be able to do it,” Superman said. “We were very lucky to have two people who, thanks to some very unusual circumstances, both have my cousin’s memories. At least for now.”
“This is probably just in time,” Valor said. “I’m already starting to forget things — childhood memories, names, dates. It’s like there isn’t room in my head for both my life and hers, so something has to give. I’m sure you’ve gone through the same thing, Karen… Karen?“
Powergirl seemed to snap back to reality upon hearing her name, and she realized someone was talking to her. “Huh?”
Salkor stared at her curiously. “Are you unwell?“
“I wish people would quit asking me that,” she said, grimacing. “I just have a headache.”
“Karen is just a little under the weather,” Supergirl said. “She will receive treatment after the procedure to create the memory tapes for your daughter.”
“I’m fine!” Powergirl said more forcefully.
“Just the same, we’d all feel better if you were looked at, considering everything you’ve been through in the past,” Superman said.
“In spite of everything I’ve done to prove myself, you still don’t trust me,” Powergirl said with a voice filled with hurt.
“It’s not that,” Superman said. “I know what you did for Rokyn. (*) All of Rokyn appreciates it. I appreciate it. But we don’t–“
[(*) Editor’s note: See Showcase: Powergirl: Crisis on Rokyn.]
“Then why are you badgering me?!” she interrupted.
“Because we care about you,” Superman said.
“You only cared about me when you thought I was Kara Zor-El.”
“Karen!” Superwoman gasped.
“That’s hardly fair!” Superman exclaimed.
The room grew quiet. Salkor looked from one person to the next, looking perplexed. Jasma looked as if she wanted to cry.
“I… I’m sorry,” Powergirl said. “I don’t know what came over me. Maybe I am under the weather.”
“Well… illness has been known to make people behave irrationally,” Supergirl said.
Powergirl flashed her an angry glance, and Salkor quickly asked, “How is it you intend to do this recording of memories?”
“There is Kryptonian technology within the Fortress, here, capable of recording the memories of my cousin from the minds of Powergirl and Valor. The computer, by way of comparison, should be able to decipher her memories from theirs. It should also be able to fill in whatever gaps they might have in their recollection of her memories they have individually,” Superman said.
“Fascinating,” Salkor said, visibly impressed. “Quite an undertaking, indeed. When shall we begin?”
“Well, now is as good a time as ever,” Superman said. “Follow me, and I’ll lead the way to where it will all happen.”
As they walked, Salkor looked around at the vast interior of the Fortress of Solitude. “Your headquarters is every bit as impressive as the last time I was here. Museums across the universe would kill to have half of what you have here.”
“I don’t know about that,” Superman chuckled. “It may all look impressive when you put it together like this, but the pieces weren’t considered valuable in the places that I took them from. Otherwise, I would have given them to a museum. Their value is strictly sentimental.”
“The fact that they belonged to you, and that they were each tied to an adventure of yours make them valuable,” Salkor said, drawing another chuckle from Superman.
He’s right, Superwoman thought, even if Clark is too humble to admit it. She watched Superman with admiration, amazed that one man could be so great and not have the ego to match. Constantly being in his company made it hard to remember the man she had left back in her own time.
Superman stopped walking and gestured to a machine in front of them. “Well, here we are.” Before them stood a machine that looked like a union of two hospital beds joined together with hair dryers from a beauty shop. It was hooked to a computer console by its side.
“This is the miraculous machine you spoke of?” Salkor asked.
“It’s my Mind-Prober Ray, and don’t let its odd appearance fool you,” Superman said. “Its ability to write upon or work with the human consciousness has served me very well over the years. It’s allowed me to tap into childhood memories of Krypton that otherwise would’ve been lost. (*) It even let me rebuild the mind of Lois Lane when a criminal she was investigating in the course of a story erased her entire memory. (*) Its potential so far has been limitless.”
[(*) Editor’s note: See “Life on Krypton,” Superboy #79 (March, 1960) and “Have You Ever Told Me the Story of My Life?” Superman Family #206 (March-April, 1981).]
“Truly fascinating,” Salkor said again. “When shall we begin?”
“Now is good,” Powergirl said, moving to one side of the reclined, bed-like seats.
“I appreciate your enthusiasm for this,” Salkor said.
“It’s time my possession of false memories did some good,” she said, lying down.
“It certainly did me good,” Valor said, lying on the seat next to her. “It changed my life in ways I’ll always be thankful for. I’m a better person for knowing her the way I do.”
Supergirl helped each of them into one of the helmets connected to the machine and adjusted the controls on the front panel of each one. Lydia-7’s hands moved across the buttons along the front of the helmets, calibrating each one to their brainwaves.
Superwoman sat down in front of the larger computer banks in a seat next to Superman. She reached up and pulled back her cowl before starting to work. Superman turned and looked at her. “You’ve let your hair grow out. It looks good.”
Superwoman brightened at the compliment, running her hand through her hair and looking back to the computer console. “When I went to find a job in your time, I found that even though the punk look might be considered old-fashioned and conservative in my time, it’s not looked on too favorably in the academic circles here.”
After a signal from Supergirl, Superman and Superwoman both began to press a series of keys and flipped switches across the console, commencing the procedure. Both Valor and Powergirl seemed to slip into a deep trance.
The process seemed to be going smoothly. Images began to form on the various screens of points in the life of Kara Zor-El: her time in the womb, her birth, her childhood in Argo City, the visible fear everyone felt as people began to die from anti-kryptonite poisoning, her trip to Earth, and her first meeting with her cousin, Superman.
Among the memories were such things as her first kiss, her first heartbreak, her first love, and other even more personal moments. “Somehow, this seems invasive,” Supergirl said. Does anyone have the right to know someone else this well?”
“We can continue recording,” Superman said. “But watching this might not be the right thing to do.” He reached over and began turning off the screens one by one. He turned and saw that Salkor was weeping. “I’m sorry,” he said sympathetically. “Did you want to watch this?”
“Yes,” he said. “But perhaps it is best that I do not. Seeing her like that brings back too many feelings.”
The transfer had continued for a few minutes, when Powergirl’s eyes opened, glowing a deep crimson hue, and the machine began to spark and smoke. Valor let out a screech and bolted upright and then rolled off the machine, falling to the floor. Her own eyes crackled with energy, and a light seemed to glow through her skin as she struggled to regain her composure.
“Great Krypton!” Superman exclaimed.
Powergirl rose up, and her skin was even grayer than before. There were now streaks through her hair as well. A bolt shot from her eyes, and Supergirl quickly dived out of the way as it hit the spot where she had been standing, sending up a shower of rock and ice.
“Karen!” Superwoman exclaimed. “What’s wrong with you? What’s happening?“
A Boom Tube suddenly opened up behind the machine upon which Powergirl sat. “What’s happening?” a voice boomed from it. “My daughter is about to claim her destiny!“
“My father has come for me! Don’t let him take me!” Powergirl screamed. “Don’t let him take me!“
By now, her skin was almost completely gray. Her head darted about wildly, indiscriminately firing beams from her eyes that crashed against the roof of the Fortress, sending stalactites crashing down.
“She’s out of control!” Superman shouted.
“Don’t let him take me!” Powergirl kept screaming.
“Don’t fight your legacy, my daughter! Embrace it!” the voice said from the other side of the Boom Tube. “You are a child of Darkseid. Your ultimate destiny does not lie on the side of good.”
Suddenly, there an enormous vacuum issuing from the Boom Tube. Loose objects began to fly into it, first the smaller bits of debris, then larger ones. “Hold on!” Superman shouted.
Since most of the people in the room had the powers of a Kryptonian, fighting its pull wasn’t too difficult. Salkor threw up a force-shield to try to ward off its pull. His forehead broke out in a sheen of sweat from the strain.
The one person not doing such a good job of fighting its pull was Powergirl. The machine upon which she sat began to slide toward the Boom Tube.
“Powergirl!” Superman exclaimed, flying toward her.
Suddenly, a huge burst of light issued from the Boom Tube, and everyone in the large room fell to the floor unconscious before being quickly sucked into the Boom Tube after her.