Disclaimer: All the characters and related intellectual property in this story belong to DC and their respective creators.
This is set loosely in the New 52 continuity and I'll probably be taking a few little creative liberties. Fair warning, this is my first try at a DC/Justice League fic so I'll pray I don't get skewered too badly in the review section.
The acrid smell of car exhaust filled his nose as Clark Kent exited the taxi cab and stepped out onto the streets of New York City. As the cab departed back into the crowded roads of the city, the young reporter for the Daily Planet wrinkled his nose slightly. He knew that New York had always had a reputation for being a sort of dirty city, but his own heightened sense of smell certainly didn't help matters either. The early Spring air was cool and it was a bright sunny day, which unfortunately didn't match his glum mood.
As he walked down the block toward the hotel where he'd be staying, Clark huddled into his dark blue blazer and decided he might was well make the most of this field assignment. He had already been dragooned by his editor into covering a big expo of the major tech corporations, and for once Clark was grateful for a chance to get out of town. Right now, he wanted some time to just clear his head and focus on something new, especially after learning that Lois and Jon Carroll were involved in a relationship.
Even after he checked into his small room and set his bags down, Clark's mind still lingered a little bit on Lois and he mentally chastised himself. It may have been a little stupid of him to harbor any kind of feelings or hope that maybe something could have happened between them. It was inevitable such a one-sided affection would only end in disappointment. He had always admired strong confident women and Lois had those traits in spades, but with her perception of him as the naïve mild mannered farmboy Clark Kent, he had a lot working against him. It probably never would have worked out anyway. She didn't know the real him and it was probably for the best that she didn't either.
The fact that he had to hide parts of himself behind his civilian persona had always gnawed at him a little bit, not only when it came to his few brief brushes with romance, but in his own friendships as well. How ironic it was that Superman, a member of the Justice League and a champion of the people of Earth had his own difficulties in really connecting with them at an intimate level. After all, he was still an alien. Aside from his newly discovered cousin Kara who still didn't trust him yet, he was the last survivor of the planet Krypton, the only other one of his kind. He was an outsider. He had always felt like an outsider growing up and part of him feared that an outsider was all that he'd ever continue to be.
Clark gave a quiet sigh and stood by the window hoping he could banish away some of those morose thoughts if just for a few days. For now, he decided he'd just try to take in the new scenery, enjoy a few easy days, and hopefully find something interesting to keep him occupied during his stay in New York. He had heard some rumors from other members of the Justice League that there was a new superheroine making appearances here in this city. Although information had been sparse from the rest of the Justice League, this heroine had been calling herself Power Girl and helping to fight some of the local crime in discreet ways. Clark snorted to himself in amusement thinking that with any luck, maybe would bump into her and land an exclusive interview of his own.
That evening, the lights remained on in the office of Starr Industries' CEO. Karen Starr sat behind her desk and tried to focus her blue eyes on the presentation slides she was reviewing. It was getting late and as much as she wanted to keep going, she knew this was going to be a losing proposition. She took off her glasses and her eyes drifted over toward a separate binder with the pet project she had spent the last few years slaving away on. If all went well tomorrow and the last bugs could be worked out of the new quantum generator called the Caduceus Driver, then she would be as close as she'd ever been toward finding a way back home to her respective dimension.
If she was going to be honest with herself, it had been easy for Karen to make a new life for herself here on this version of Earth. It had been a small miracle she had been able to craft a semi-faux identity, found a Fortune 500 tech company, and develop the means to create a boom tube portal. She had used subterfuge and at times, less than honest methods to secure the resources she needed, but it was all with her ultimate goal in mind, to find a way home. Then again, a part of her wondered what she would be returning home to. Her Earth had suffered great destruction from the attack of Darkseid and many of the world's greatest heroes had perished in the resulting violence, not least of all her own older cousin; the one the world knew as Superman.
Part of her knew that without him, the people of her earth would need direction and something to give them hope. Maybe that was the role she would be destined for but it was impossible to know. It had seemed odd to her that this world seemed so safe an innocent by comparison, unaware of some of the greater dangers out there in the cosmos. She knew this world had its own Justice League, but she had made it a point to keep her distance and fly low on their radars. For now she would keep up the facade of the civilian identity she had forged for herself, that of Karen Starr… and sometimes Power Girl.
She heard a knock at the door and Karen looked up to see one of her assistants poke her head in. The bespectacled secretary was a brunette, maybe barely out of college with a young and innocent look about her. She spoke in a slightly timid voice, "Miss Starr? I'm going to be leaving soon. Is there anything else you'll need?"
Karen shook her head tiredly and forced a kind smile, "No… thank you for all the hard work today Cecilia. Go home and get some rest."
"You'll have a big presentation at the expo tomorrow Miss Starr. I hope it goes well."
"Me too," Karen nodded in gratitude.
She waited for Cecilia to leave before she gave another sigh and pushed aside the papers on her desk. She glanced at her phone and wondered what her best friend Helena was up to. No doubt jaunting around the country and causing some sort of trouble. At the very least, Karen was glad she had been stranded on this Earth with Helena. Helena Wayne had been a sort of anchor and source of companionship during their time here, but even that wasn't enough sometimes. Unlike Karen, Helena had made a true effort to adapt to her new environment. Whether it was because she was more "human" than a superhuman Kryptonian, she couldn't be sure. Helena had often encouraged her friend to get out more and try to find a place in this world if this turned out to be their ultimate home.
In some ways, Karen wanted to believe her, but she couldn't fully accept that either. She often reminded herself that this was not her earth and that these were not "her" people. It had been Karen's choice to avoid forming any meaningful attachments to this place. If she and Helena found a way home, then she'd just be torn up inside all over again. Maybe that was part of the reason why Karen avoided this world's Justice League, and this world's Superman. She knew it would be too much to bear and she wasn't sure she'd know how to handle it, so it was best things remained as they were. Separate. Compartmentalized. Manageable.
She gave a sigh and took the binder labeled Project Halcyon before locking it safely in her desk drawer. There was no point in going any further tonight and she figured it would be best to focus on the promise of tomorrow. The only problem was dealing with the nagging feeling of loneliness that now hung over her tonight. For now, she'd just go home and prepare for next day where she would do what she had always done best here. Pretend.
The next day, Clark was greeted by a large bustling crowd that was attending the expo being held in one of the city's large convention halls downtown. Many of the attendees looked to be affiliated with several of the large tech corporations in the region, among the larger ones were Starr Industries, Lexcorp, and Wayne Enterprises. Scientists and technicians were busy setting up exhibits or giving demonstrations to visitors while other guests mingled over hors d'oeuvres and champagne. No doubt the majority of these affluent well-dressed people were corporate executives and interested investors. Admittedly, Clark felt a little out of place here. To them, he was hardly worth noticing... just a lowly news reporter sporting a press badge and a cheap blue suit. But in another way, it was that kind of anonymity which Clark loved and used to his advantage. He may be an invisible outsider here, but it let him people watch; to listen to what they were saying and sniff out interesting bits of news.
After a few presentations were given, Clark worked the floor and idly looked over a few exhibits, hoping to find some other tidbits of news to pad out his article. As he passed a display that had been set up by Wayne Enterprises, Clark took a moment to wonder if the elusive Bruce Wayne would grace the expo with his appearance later on. It was sometimes hard for Clark to fathom the way Bruce carried on with an almost Jekyll and Hyde persona. Out in public he was billionaire playboy Bruce Wayne, charming, affable, and charismatic. When he put on his cloak and cowl, he became the grim, sullen, and cynical Batman.
Clark dwelt on those idle thoughts for a moment before he turned and headed off toward the other end of the hall when he collided with another guest that had been passing by. The woman spilled some champagne from her glass on his suit and staggered sideways to try and catch her balance. Clark reached out with lightning quickness and caught her arm to steady her. As he did, he was surprised at the equally strong grip she had. Clark spoke quickly, "Oh, I'm sorry about that."
The stranger stopped and stared at him with an equally surprised look and Clark gasped as he recognized the owner of Starr Industries, Karen Starr herself. She was a beautiful woman, probably no more than a few years younger than him. Maybe her mid twenties? Her short blonde hair was styled and tied up neatly and her eyes were blue just like his. Clark also couldn't help but notice she was tall with an athletic build and a curvy figure accented by the fancy white dress she was wearing. He quickly averted his gaze and let go of her arm, "Err... sorry about that Miss Starr. Are you okay?"
She blinked a few more times with a mixture of equal parts shock, fear, and intrigue at a person she had known all too well in her past life and never expected to see here either. Though this time it was very different. This was not the Clark Kent she knew before but one that was much younger and dare she admit more handsome? "I... I'm fine. Thank you Clark."
Karen paused again and blanched at sudden unconscious slip of the tongue as it was Clark's turn to blink in wide eyed surprise, "Sorry? I mean, I already know who you are, but I'm not sure we've ever been introduced before."
She waved it off and decided to try a different tactic, "Oh... well, you should give yourself a little more credit Mr. Kent. I do read the papers you know, even the Daily Planet. Your investigative expose' articles on corporate business practices and corruption have not gone unnoticed by many large corporations in the region."
Clark gave a small wry smile, "Including yours? I'm flattered. I don't suppose you have anything to hide, do you Miss Starr?"
Karen fully composed herself and assumed the cool, confident, and aloof demeanor that she used in the boardroom to put people in their place. She met his look with a slow smirk of her own, "I run a clean operation and you know it Mr. Kent. Now if you'll excuse me..."
"Wait," Clark said quickly gesturing to the champagne spill on the front of his suit, "There's still the matter of this."
Karen raised an impatient eyebrow and glanced to his suit. She was hoping to brush him off and escape but he wasn't making this easy. "Oh? What about it?"
"I was hoping you could make it up to me?"
Karen frowned having been caught off guard and surprised by the cockiness. This was definitely not the same Clark she knew and even if he didn't know who she was, it was a pretty big leap for a lowly reporter to even think of talking to someone such as her like that, "Mr. Kent, you aren't trying to flirt with me here are you? Because if you are..."
He gave a small laugh and waved it off, "You can take that any way you'd like Miss Starr. What I was actually getting at was maybe your letting me ask you a few more questions for my article? You can think of it like a special interview?"
Karen sized him up for a long moment and maintained her aloof attitude. She finally have a resigned sigh and glanced to her expensive watch, "All right. Fine. You have five minutes Mr. Kent."
Clark grinned quietly and led her toward the Star Industries booth containing its main exhibit. He hadn't expected that gambit to pay off, but it seemed that fortune favored the bold. He pointed toward the large spherical device sitting on a secure pedestal, "So... I was hoping you could tell me a little more about this thing. The Caduceus Driver?"
Karen crossed her arms patiently, "You were paying attention to my presentation of it earlier, weren't you?"
Clark nodded, "Yes. You said it has the potential to be a newer more efficient energy source and much more powerful than some of the nuclear generators currently in use. What I'm curious about it what you're aiming to get out of this. What exactly is Starr Industries' angle?"
Karen shrugged, "What else? The betterment of human progress and the all American dollar."
Clark rolled his eyes, "That's a pretty nondescript answer."
"But an honest one," Karen pointed out in amusement, "Next question."
"All right... this is some pretty cutting edge tech and you said it uses some extremely rare minerals. Don't you think that could be a problem later on if you produce these on a large scale?"
"We've only got working prototypes right now but I think you're underestimating the people I have working at my company Mr. Kent," Karen replied, "They're extremely ingenious and resourceful people."
Clark chewed his lip and decided to take a different angle, "I imagine you'd have to be so too. To be so young and steering a Fortune 500 company? You run with some pretty elite people. Industry leaders, moguls, and high flying investors? How do you manage to get some of these old established power brokers to listen and take you seriously enough?"
Karen smiled and decided to mess with him a little. She leaned over toward him slightly, "Let me just put it this way. When it comes to getting things done, I can be very persuasive when I want to be."
Clark held her gaze for a moment and felt the edges of his face grow warm as he gulped, "I... have no doubt."
Before he could speak again, Karen handed him a small white handkerchief for his suit and waved him off. "Well it looks like your five minutes are up Mr. Kent. It was nice meeting you and best of luck on that little article of yours."
As she began to depart, Clark stood staring in stunned silence before her heard the shattering of glass coming from one of the large skylight windows above the main convention hall. All the attendees froze and turned with shocked horror to see several monstrous alien machines burst in and land on the floor. They were large cybernetic creatures with a sort of sensor probe of a head that was equipped with and three glowing eyes arranged in a triangular pattern. Protruding from the head and body were several steel tentacle-like arms that spread out and raised the creatures up. It almost resembled a pack of robotic killer octopus creatures standing up on their legs to look around.
People began to scream and scatter in terror while the invaders began tearing up the convention hall on what seemed to be a direct course for the Caduceus Driver. Clark reached out and caught Karen's arm first hoping to get as many civilians clear before he'd deal with these cyborg invaders himself, "Miss Starr, you need to get clear right now! Run!"
She gave an exasperated huff of her own and pushed his hand aside, "You don't have to tell me what to do."
Those few moments of bickering cost them as one of the mechanical octopods scuttled directly in front of them at great speed and reared up menacingly. It lashed out with one of its heavy steel tentacles and sent the news reporter flying sideways into another booth. Had it been any normal human, they would have had several shattered ribs or some other serious injury but Karen didn't have any time to consider it as the creature produced a small telescoping weapon from its head and fired a ray beam. Karen dove clear just in time as the monster was joined by several other octopods and they gathered around the Caduceus Driver from Starr Industries.
As some of the smoke cleared across the room, Clark shook his head out and began to push some of the debris off him. Hopefully by now, enough people would have cleared out and he could take on these creatures without blowing his cover. Although he was still half buried in a collapsed display, Clark could see the space invaders reach out and poke curiously at the Caduceus Driver before he saw a heat ray beam similar to his own shoot out from somewhere and cut off the steel tentacle of one creature. He could only blink in shock when he heard a female voice call out and challenge the invaders, "Touch that again and you'll be loosing more than an arm."