It goes without saying that I do not own the characters used within (something which I'm sure we're all grateful for.)
1 - Close To Home
Karen Starr sat behind her desk and pursed her lips, puckering up in front of her little mirror and making a face. She swiped the lipstick she chose, hesitated, and finally began to apply it. A waxy sheen of red painted her mouth before she capped it and dropped it into her drawer, sweeping a dozen other rejected colours in afterwards. She hadn't even thought about perfume yet. She didn't want to give this guy the impression that she dolled herself up just for him, but she didn't want to seem lazy, either. After all - it was just an evening out on the town, right? That wasn't a real date.
'This is getting silly,' she thought. The sound of footsteps outside her door clicked in her sensitive ears and she adjusted her long red wig, sitting at attention with her hands folded neatly against her tabletop. An instant later she remembered the mirror and vanished it with a rush of speed, tucking it away in her bottom drawer.
"Miss Starr? I've got the – oh." Charlotte Stein blinked, tucking a strand of mousy brown hair behind her ear while juggling a box in her arms. No matter how long she worked at Starrware, Karen Starr was unlike any boss she ever had. Time and again, Charlotte forgot the cardinal rule for assistants: knock before entering. And every time, she expected to be scolded or fired, or at least find her boss with her head down and studying some documents. But Karen Starr seemed to defy the odds, forever sitting to attention with a look of patience. "How do you do that?" she asked, unable to help herself.
"What's that…? Know that you're coming?" Karen smirked playfully. Super sensitive hearing. X-ray vision. Microscopic vision. An assortment of alien senses that allowed her to keep up with almost any meta on the planet. "I'm just special," she said instead, nodding at the parcel under the younger woman's arm.
"What's that you've got?" Discreetly she bowed her head. Karen's ice-blue eyes sparkled for a fraction of a second.
"Oh!" Charlotte stepped forward, holding out a cardboard cube. "This was dropped off via courier just now. I know I should have left it for you to collect on the way out, but I remembered you saying you were expecting something special and – "
"It's fine, Charlotte," Karen interrupted, gently interrupting the younger woman. "But I don't think it's quite what I was after…"
She was sure of it, in fact. A quick glimmer of her x-ray vision confirmed it was little more than a collection of nameplates for office doors. Those, and a whole heap of packing peanuts. What the company needed, perhaps, but not what she was waiting for.
"Aw, I'm sorry to hear that. Was it something special that you're expecting?" Charlotte set the box down on the nearby sofa. Karen smiled. It was a first job for Charlotte – most businesses in Manhattan wouldn't keep a secretary who barged into offices and asked questions. But she worked hard, and as far as Karen was concerned, that made her more valuable than most other applicants who could barely be bothered to answer the phone. Or gazed longingly at her breasts during the job interview.
"Just another snow globe for my set," she said. "Ordered it from Italy. It has the leaning tower of Pisa inside, and… well, anyway." She cleared her throat, feeling modest all of a sudden. And it didn't help that Charlotte was peering at her strangely, squinting like she was odd. Until finally –
"Is that new lipstick you're wearing…?"
"Hm? Oh! Yes, it is," she murmured, flicking her hand in dismissal. "Nothing special. Just a little date- ah, evening out."
"Oh, that's wonderful!" Charlotte beamed, and Karen fought the urge to roll her eyes.
"It's just a bit of a get-together with a guy, Charlotte. Nothing too special."
"But it can lead to something special," she gushed. Karen glanced up in time to find Charlotte staring off at the Manhattan skyline just outside the windows. No doubt fantasising of a million and one love stories that surely happened every day in New York.
"Just a little meeting," she said again, almost stubbornly. "Nothing fantastic."
"Karen Starr…" The young secretary drew her name out, offering her a sad smile. Two things that Karen did not enjoy, but kept quiet about it. "You realise you're more excited about a snow globe than a date, right?"
Karen Starr hung her head. Because Charlotte was right, but she didn't quite want to admit it. "I like the leaning tower of Pisa," she muttered, instead. She enjoyed Italy as a whole. So much history and art…
"Well, tell me about him! What's he like?"
For a moment, Karen almost asked "who? Italy?" But that would be an easy conversation, and her life was anything but easy.
"Well, he's funny," she said. Actually, it was perhaps the main reason she agreed to go out with him. Out of so many New Yorkers, Franklin made her giggle easily. And he was rather good-looking, to boot. He reminded her of a blonde Nightwing, only without the rough-and-tumble vigilante lifestyle. But that led to the big, glaring fault she had with him. "He's also younger…"
"So?" Charlotte grinned. "You're Karen Starr. Billionaire business owner and genius! Aren't you expected to have some trophy boy toy?"
Karen really did roll her eyes at that. Her reputation glowed so brightly because she was able to distance herself from so many others in that regard. She didn't have Lex Luthor's checkered past, nor the seedy reputation that Bruce Wayne had. Something else that made her giggle in private.
"I'm just not going to have a huge expectation going in, okay? And that's healthy scepticism! You can't tell me otherwise."
"Alright…" Charlotte held her hands up in defeat before turning, obviously knowing when a battle was lost. "Well, if any more parcels come, I'll leave them in your office, Miss Starr. Enjoy your evening!"
"Thanks!" Karen answered as the door shut behind the younger woman.
Stupid express tracking. The bane of using online shopping – once you entered your payment details, it was a bit of a faux pas to add "don't bother with posting: I'll fly over and grab it shortly." What a headline that would make.
Superhero outed as billionaire mogul after picking up her parcel in costume. More news at eleven.
Charlotte was right, though. She was more interested in a snow globe than a date with a younger, good looking and funny man. Whod'a thunk it? Besides: how bad could it possibly be? She was tough. She survived both the fall of Krypton and the loss of her second home of Earth-Two.
She was a daughter of the multiverse. Kara Zor-L. Power Girl. And she was a wealthy genius in New York, with tech companies across the world. She'd survived the collapse of a universe, robot aliens, interstellar teenaged brats and freaky tentacle monsters daily. Time to go out and have a nice evening with a trophy boy toy, as Charlotte put it. Power Girl didn't back away from a challenge.
She still hoped her new snow globe would arrive by the morning, though.
"So, I was too embarrassed to take it back. And now my apartment has purple wallpaper."
Karen laughed harder than she meant to, but she couldn't help it. Mostly because while flying in her uniform, she had seen many, many apartments with some gaudy lilac swathed over the walls. And none of the tenants looked entirely too alive inside.
"Oh, you poor thing," she hummed, sipping her diet soda and walking along at an even pace. Part of her still couldn't quite come to terms with how fresh-faced and boyish Frank looked. Not that it would make much difference in the long run. With her metabolism and alien genes, she'd be looking just as she did now as she would in decades to come. Not a small problem by any means, but sparks of romance hadn't quite begun to fly just yet.
Maybe, if that changed, it would be time to buy a cosmetic company for the moment people realised she hadn't aged past her prime.
For now, Franklin was a nice guy. A fun one, and he had an almost Disney prince look about him, with his casual good looks and clothes. In Manhattan, that made him enjoyable company. And it did feel good to go out and socialise a little more. Her inner circle mostly consisted of her (still unnamed) cat, her work colleagues, that jerk Teman who followed her around from the National Security Agency and a handful of the Justice League.
What was the harm in relaxing a little bit…?
"Okay, I've got one," she said, recalling the insane ordeal with Vartox. But, wisely, keeping a few of the details to herself. "Once this guy came onto me in a big way – he looked like Sean Connery, fresh off the set of a jungle movie…"
Charlotte logged out of her terminal and grabbed her coat, preparing to go home for the evening. It wasn't until she finished shutting off the lobby light that she noticed a pair of boxes sitting just inside the glass entrance of the building. She frowned, hesitating before bending over and picking them both up. She grunted and teetered over – they were solid, despite being small!
"Oh, I really hope one of you is a snow globe," she muttered, bringing them both back to the reception desk and looking at them from beneath the glow of the nearby lamp. Both parcels simply read "Karen Starr," along with a return address. One from New York, the other from Italy.
That was good enough for her. Charlotte hefted both boxes up with some extra puff and called the elevator with her elbow, waddling into the lift with the extra weight in her arms and pressing the number for Miss Starr's office at the top floor.
"This ought to make her happy," she hummed, setting both parcels down on the edge of Karen's polished desk with a nod. There! She'd probably enjoy tomorrow even more than the evening, she was willing to bet.
Charlotte closed the heavy wooden door of Karen Starr's office, completely missing the bright flash that lit up the room from within. An instant later, the world became pitch black as the door was ripped from its hinges, slamming against her from behind and throwing her unconscious to the floor. The sound of a dull explosion shook the building, followed by many of the glass windows cracking and shattering. People walking past Starrware ran for cover as shards fell like rain, all while shouting and pointing at the plume of smoke coming from the upper floor.
Across town, deep in an outdoors market, Karen's eyes widened as she heard the thunderous boom, followed by tinny screams of citizens. The wail of a siren caught her ears, too far away from the source of the noise.
"Oh, shoot!" She touched her forehead, looking for all the world like an ordinary forgetful woman, and not the owner of a multinational company with a photographic memory. "I just remembered I have to be at the airport in a few hours! Sorry, Frank, but, I've really gotta go."
"Oh." He blinked owlishly before his face lit up. "Hey! Maybe I can drive you over?"
"You're sweet," she smiled. "But I've got my own way. Secret CEO stuff, y'know."
"Oh, right…" There was no hiding the crestfallen look on his face, and she offered him an apologetic smile before touching his arm.
"But I had fun. And you've got my number, right…?" She did enjoy herself, really. For the better part.
"Sure! I'll call – "
"Great, bye!" And she was off, zipping through the crowd and dropping her drink in a nearby trashcan. Her ears caught the pouty "you" as Franklin finished his sentence, and Karen rolled her eyes. So young and pretty, but so insecure. Well – she knew it couldn't have led very far with her real nature, but he made her laugh. And that was worth an extra date down the road, maybe.
In the meantime, she apologised as she started brushing by people, weaving in and out before she ducked down a darkened alleyway. A quick glance ahead and behind confirmed that nobody was paying her much attention, and she leapt up the side of the apartment block in a quick hop.
Karen landed on the roof with her red wig in her hand, yanking off her jacket and blouse to reveal the slate-white figure-hugging clothes she wore underneath. She was still a few blocks away from her nearest cache of equipment, but that was never a problem for her. She took to the air and made a beeline for her apartment, little more than a flicker of air and light as she dumped her hairpiece and clothes behind her couch, and tugged on her boots, gloves and cape.
The bitter ball of ginger fluff that was Karen Starr's cat didn't even stir as Power Girl took to the air once more, heading in the direction of the explosion she heard. Emergency vehicles were still too many blocks away, and she had a mounting sense of dread when she started heading for-
Power Girl frowned, her bob of platinum hair blowing over her face as she stopped short and observed the exterior of her building. She knew those so-called blast-proof windows weren't all they claimed to be when she chose them, but it was more to keep them from expanding outwards and breaking when she had to leave the office in a hurry. Not an actual explosion. She shook her head and landed in her office, singed black and gutted from within.
But most alarming of all was the soft thump of a human heartbeat nearby, and she flashed as much of the floor with her x-ray vision until –
Power Girl was in the main office floor in an instant, lifting her heavy door up, designed to handle her own accidental bouts of strength. Now it was a frightening weight, trapping someone beneath it. And she could only imagine who would still be in Starrware at that time of night.
"Rao…" She tossed the door with a flick of her hand, inspecting the broken body of her younger secretary, Charlotte Stein. Fractures and breaks littered her skeleton, but her internal organs looked to be secure. For now, at least. But between the mess of the office, the damaged nature of the building and the sounds of ambulances still too far away, Karen needed to move her. As carefully but as quickly as she could manage, before her heartbeat grew any weaker.
A difficult task for most. But she was a Kryptonian. She thought fast and worked faster. She shot back through her office, out the destroyed glass and down to the next floor, smashing through a tinted window that was covered in spiderweb cracks and finishing what the explosion started. Power Girl's eyes blazed as she fired a superheated line around the ceiling, cutting through the bottom of the floor above. She reached up and smartly caught the slab of cement and support, gingerly bringing Charlotte down on the makeshift stretcher.
As carefully as possible, she floated out of the broken office windows, gently carrying the slab of flooring with Charlotte's form on top of it. People began pointing up and talking, but she focused on listening for the sound of paramedics, blessedly closer now.
She glanced down, where the poor younger woman had begun to stir awake. "Rest up," she told Charlotte. "You've been through a nasty attack, but you're going to get help."
"You have to help my boss," Charlotte murmured. "Karen Starr. She must be so worried…" And her cheek stretched out as she slumped back against the slab, slipping into unconsciousness once more.
Power Girl smiled grimly at her as she touched the pavement beside the newly arrived ambulance, where immediately paramedics began fussing over her. She'd be alright now, she told herself. She'll get the help she needed.
And, feeling entirely too helpless at having to stand by and watch, she took to the air again, zipping back up to the gutted remains of her office building and furiously looking over the debris.
She had been attacked. More than that, it was a cowardly attack, and one that dangerously hurt a sweet member of her staff.
Power Girl was angry, and she wanted somebody to pin this on. A name, a face. Something she could knock upside the head and send into a coma. But before that, she needed a direction. Some clue or hint at the perpetrators. A method they employed, or something subtle and unique. But all around her was the evidence of an explosive carnage, and Charlotte's broken shoe tossed free just outside the door.
Judging from the splintered desk and charred remains of her office furniture, the explosive employed was more than a message. If Karen Starr were an ordinary person, forensics would have had to use a spatula to pry what was left of her off the walls. It had been on her table before igniting… but why now of all times? Why not in the morning when she was sure to be sitting there, ready to take her head off?
Well, not really, but that lead to a whole slew of other worries. If this explosion were an assassination ploy, Karen would have had to play dead or pretend, miraculously, that she was blown through blast-proof windows (without shredding herself) and landed on something soft halfway down. On a building that had no discernible awnings. And then when news of her fantastical survival broke, who was to say she wouldn't be faced with an even deadlier threat?
But if her mad bomber knew that she was the maiden of might, it became a much more sinister message. A warning that someone knew who she was –
She shook her head. She was jumping to conclusions, now. Only a handful of people knew which name was on Power Girl's Netflix bill, and she trusted them with her life. But Karen Starr…? Rich, successful, and multi-national CEO? She probably had a list of envious enemies growing longer every day.
Which brought her back to the original question of why did it ignite now? It was obviously small enough to allow Charlotte to bring it up to her office, and cleverly disguised, too. The odds of it being triggered by touching her desk was laughable. There was no chance for a spark to make a circuit through wood and cardboard, after all. Not to mention it would have detonated before Charlotte - or anyone else - had a chance to escape.
Unless, she realised, it was waiting to come in range of a signal. Power Girl turned, straining her senses and peering out through the shattered windows at the surrounding buildings. And there – she heard it, high pitched and tinny, only after straining her ears. She took to the air once more, circling her building before pausing outside the boarded-up window of a nearby high-rise. An empty lot with little signs of life, she saw with her x-ray vision. And there, propped up on an upturned milk crate and aimed at her office, was an innocuous-looking device.
She ploughed through the wood with a flick of her hand, landing inside and kicking up a cloud of dust with each step. Power Girl bent down and carefully pinched the gadget, eyeing it for a moment before curling her lip. Simple and squat with a matte-black casing. It was also, insufferably, leaden. And she knew better than to try and pry it open. With her current frustration, she would at best tear it apart. At worst, find it to be another small explosion. Singed hair and outfit aside, it would mean the end of her evidence.
She was, effectively, stymied. It wasn't the first time her strength had bit her in the ass – her old apartment had a box full of destroyed doorknobs by the entrance at one point. But the idea of her hands being tied chafed her. Doubly so when it was her own building that was attacked and her sweet employee being rushed to the emergency room.
Her options were few, and each of them lacking in any result. Legally, and traditionally, she should offer the device to the investigators and warn them of its possible connection. But she could imagine how long they'd want to examine a potentially explosive item for. Assuming whoever was targeting Karen Starr wasn't also willing to slip some money towards some under-paid police to "lose" such a find. Not that she thought so little about New York's 'boys in blue,' but so far everything about this incident was an equal measure of sophisticated.. and sloppy. Unless they were very confident in their little "gift" sitting safely downstairs until the morning came.
That left her with the gutted remains of her office. And as soon as the investigators arrived on the scene, she would have virtually no chance of going back there. Not as Power Girl, anyway. A flying woman who walked through walls? She'd be chased away under the excuse of preserving evidence. And insisting on poking her nose into it would just draw unwanted attention to her personal life as Karen Starr.
A few dozen traffic violations and unwanted explosions happened every day in New York. Why would a superhero fuss about with an office building being bombed after she had already withdrawn any survivors? The only smart action would be to come back as Karen after the emergency crews had finished setting up a perimeter. Then she could demand to know what was going on.
… which would no doubt end with her being told to go away and allowing investigators to do their job. And that wasn't good enough. Not on an attack this private, and especially not while poor Charlotte was being driven to the hospital with so many broken bones. She was angry. Furious, even. Almost as much as the time Atlee had been snatched away by Satana.
Power Girl wanted justice. She wanted someone to either hurt, or wither in a dirty cell. A guilty culprit who would never feel safe again. Someone who would be caught, no matter how infinitesimal the evidence.
That's what she needed. The world's greatest detective. Luckily for her, she was rather good friends with him.
She glanced up at the night sky. The moon was full, bathing the Hudson in an eerie light. Across the river, nestled on the coast of New Jersey sat Gotham City. She squinted and couldn't see any sign of the eponymous Batsignal in the skyline in the distance, but she didn't doubt he would be on patrol for the evening. A quick hop took her back out through the broken window of the empty apartment, where she rose into the sky above Starrware. She withdrew her communicator from her belt and held it to her ear. The sounds of police were still too far away for comfort's sake.
"Power Girl to Batcave," she began, as soon as the call connected. There was only the briefest pause before the familiar voice of Alfred Pennyworth answered. The long-time retainer, advisor, and friend of Bruce Wayne.
"Batcave here. Good evening, Miss Power Girl." Hovering above her building, Karen could have sighed with relief from just how good it was to hear the elder gentleman's voice.
"I know I'm a terrible neighbour to call like this," she began, looking back across the water towards the dark silhouette that Gotham cut along the horizon. "But the thing is, I need a favour. A big one..."