The sound of chirping birds filled the air as Clark and Karen took a seat on a bench in one of Metropolis's public parks. Although they could hear the noise of the city traffic some distance away, they were a little more insulated from the clamor and attention of the streets. They both held cups of coffee and watched as few gray pigeons scratched at the nearby grass looking for grubs. Karen took a sip of her drink, "Pretty simple and low key. And here I thought you were going to try and get back at me for the Capital Room."
Clark gave a faint sidelong grin, "What can I say? I'm a cheap date. Now… what is it about those robots that brought you all the way here?"
Karen grimaced and began to tell him about what her lab discovered. She told him about the threat of the psychotic AI called Brainiac and what limited knowledge she had of it herself. A lot of it had been relayed to her secondhand from the Superman of her own timeline so she felt a little uncertain about making speculation too. When she finished, Clark sat back and thought it over quietly.
"You think this rogue AI might actually think about coming to Earth? If those things were scout probes, it's always possible we could have scared it off."
Karen shook her head, "Brainiac is a machine. It doesn't feel fear. If I had to guess, it's probably going to be more interested in us now. It likes to collect valuable things from other worlds so it could study them and grow even more powerful."
Clark nodded in agreement, "And things like the Caduceus Driver and the two of us probably fit the bill. There aren't too many superpowered Kyptonians running around Earth."
"The only question is, when?" Karen added, "It could be today, tomorrow, maybe even two months from now."
"So you came asking for my help in case this Brainiac character shows up?" Clark summarized.
"It seems to be that way," she admitted, "Maybe you're getting your wish. You wanted to work together and be in more regular contact with me, didn't you?"
"Well sure, but I wasn't expecting it would be under these circumstances," Clark answered with a thoughtful look, "Still… I'm glad you came Karen. And you can count on my help."
"Thanks," she said quietly, "I just thought you should be aware."
They settled into a brief companionable silence and watched the people in the park before Clark spoke again, "I was thinking… maybe there's more to Karen Starr than she's willing to let on."
"And what is that supposed to mean?"
"That you care more about this place than you'd like me to believe. I thought you said this wasn't your home."
"It's not, but…"
"But what are you going to do if you finally get that power generator working and can go home tomorrow?" Clark asked, "Would you be willing to just up and leave when you know something bad might happen to New York? Or even the rest of the world? That there are even greater threats out there?"
Karen paused a moment and frowned to herself. As much as she wanted to go home again he had a fair point. She was a hero. She did care and she still felt responsible… just in a different way. It was the same way she had felt differently about this other Clark and how she continued to feel differently and it was becoming more and more problematic for her the longer that she dwelt on it. She would just have to do what she'd always done and keep the guard up around her heart.
"I'm sure the Justice League is more than capable of dealing with things like that," Karen answered evasively.
"Maybe," Clark shrugged, "Or maybe not."
She gave a slight defensive huff, "Listen Clark, if you're trying to get me to have second thoughts and stay here on this earth, then you've got it all wrong."
"You can do what whatever you want Karen," Clark said reclining on the bench, "I'm just reminding you of all the good you've done here already and maybe some of the things you have left to do."
They looked at each other for a moment before Karen sighed and leaned back on the bench too, "You've been making a lot of sense lately. It's getting kind of annoying."
Clark gave a gentle laugh before Karen rose to her feet, "Well… I guess I should be heading back to New York. I guess it was my turn to take up some of your time today."
He waved it off, "Forget it. You still have the whole rest of the day. You might as well stay in Metropolis. There's always something going on and…"
He was interrupted as a large armored object fell from the skies and landed in the middle of one of the park's grassy fields. Once the smoke and dirt cleared, the large object shifted and began to open up in segments before converting into a somewhat humanoid form… as if it were some kind of Transformer. The alien robot finished folding and reassembling its bulky army plates before powering on the two large light emitting diodes in its circular shoulder plates making them look like large eyes.
Civilians began to scatter and flee in screaming droves as the new robotic menace emerged from its landing spot and revealed the third diode in its chest forming the familiar triangular pattern of Braniac. This was one of its more advanced Hunter drones. The Hunter reared up to its full height and powered on its cyclopean eye sensor to scan its surroundings. The drone raised one of its arms which contained a gattling blaster and it began to test fire several shots to scatter the crowds and damage several buildings.
"I'm guessing this isn't one of your city's attractions, is it?" Karen quipped before she and Clark dove in different directions to find cover in some of the surrounding hedges of the park.
As the Hunter swiveled its head and looked around the park, it used its sensors to try and locate the Kyptonian bio-signatures nearby. Before it could turn its head completely, it caught a blurred form of a female Kryptonian rocket forward. In an instant, the Hunter was battered backward by an incredibly powerful punch while the ringing sound echoed in the air. As the drone staggered for a moment, Karen hovered nearby and shook out her knuckle. The moment of chaos and her super speed had given her just enough time to quick change into her superhero persona within the hedges. She had delivered a good blow, but it was clear this new enemy was much tougher than the octopods and was packing a lot heavier armor and weaponry.
She raced forward and again and delivered another vicious punch that drove the Hunter back before it activated a force shield from its diodes and stopped her third punch cold. Power Girl gasped as the robot grabbed the edge of her cape and flung her into a pavilion before a second Kryptonian suited up and joined the battle as well. Superman flew low and hit the Hunter from the flank, bull-rushing it back through several trees to try and get to an even more open area where there were less civilians. He used his aerial momentum and shifted his weight, hurling the hunter back down to the cleared ground in a superhuman style judo throw. He pounced on the downed drone and began to hammer it with several blows while weakening its armor.
The Hunter again activated its shield projectors from its shoulders and raised it arm with the blaster cannon. It fired an energy bolt point-blank which sent Superman hurtling back into the treeline before the bolt exploded into a fiery cloud. The Hunter aimed another follow-up shot at the explosion but its cannon arm was smashed aside by a concrete park bench at the last second. The shot went wide and exploded in some nearby grass before Power Girl drove back the Hunter again with a flying kick this time. The kick shattered one of the diodes and caused the Hunter to reel sideways.
PG back-flipped off the impact and sailed upward into the air while dodging a swing from the enemy. As she rotated in midair, she prepared to counter with a heatvision beam but was surprised when the drone raised its other arm and deployed an energy net that snared her completely.
Before she could react, the Hunter sent an electric current through the net and stunned Power Girl with an intense shock. Amid the smoke, Karen toppled to her knees in a daze and tried to regain her senses when a second heart ray was fired from the near distance and blew off the drone's appendage. The Hunter fell backwards in momentary surprise as Superman recovered and raced back over to help his new comrade. He began to pull the metallic netting off her and Karen gave a grateful nod as he helped her back to her feet, "Thanks for the backup."
Before he could answer, the Hunter opened up two armor flaps from near the sides of its neck revealing banks of small compacted rockets. It unloaded a volley and the spiraling projectiles exploded around the two heroes. Clark gritted his teeth and shook off the blast, "Okay… this guy is getting really annoying now, but we're going to have to take him down together. You with me?"
Karen glanced over and saw the severed cannon arm of the Hunter and nodded, "Yeah and I think I have a plan. Keep that thing occupied for a minute. Have it use its shields."
Clark nodded and engaged the Hunter by firing a sustained heat ray while Karen rushed over and recovered the arm cannon. While the Hunter raised its remaining shield, Karen pulled at a few circuits and wires to re-arm and reconfigure the weapon systems of the cannon appendage. As the drone held its ground against Superman's attack, it opened up its missile banks again but Karen swooped in close with her one cannon for one last shot. She let loose and the blast from the reconfigured energy cannon passed straight through the shields and detonated the rockets. As the upper armor of the drone were already weakened from prior attacks, the entire upper torso of the drone exploded in a tremendous blast that rocked the grounds of the park.
Having been caught in the fireball and the energy feedback, Karen was thrown back end over end before landing hard on the ground in a stunned heap. Clark immediately came to her side to prop her head up, 'Karen! Are you okay? That was really reckless!"
She cracked open an eye and gave a tired smile, "It worked… didn't it?"
Before Clark could answer, she briefly passed out as was followed by a call on the Justice League comms. It was Bruce and he spoke in a grim voice, "Superman? We picked up a disturbance in Metropolis. What's going on? Do you need help?"
"Negative. Everything is under control here," Clark said quickly before cutting off the link with a grimace. The last thing he needed right now was the whole League getting involved. It was only a matter of time before they started asking more questions and trying to intervene so he decided to do what he could to keep things under control in his own city. Without wasting another moment, he scooped Karen up and swiftly took off to get her to safety and hopefully figure out their next move.
Meanwhile back on his carrier ship, Brainiac sat in his command chair and watched the video feed that had been relayed back to him by his Hunter drone. Before the signal cut out upon the drone's destruction, the AI studied the two Kryptonians who had battled back against it. It was unlikely the drone was going to succeed but it was a calculated sacrifice. It gave Brainiac a better measure of what sort of force he would be up against later on. He had already planned some effective countermeasures against the two but was not about the reveal them just yet. For now, there was plenty left to study. Even more interesting was a stray life sign that the drone warrior had picked up upon its entry into the Earth's atmosphere.
Quite unexpectedly, it had revealed the presence of a third Kryptonian, only in a neighboring city to the other two. It looked to be that of a younger female, only it bore a strikingly similar reading to that of the older one in Metropolis. It was possible the two female Kryptonians could have been close family, csisters perhaps? Even so, the readings were far to similar even for that of siblings. How could that possibly be? Brainiac sat back in his chair and began to calculate any and all likely theories and possibilities to this mystery. Fortunately, there was still time left before his ship reached the planet. No doubt solving that would prove to be an even more interesting diversion because as far as the malicious AI was concerned, he had all the time in the world.
Later that day, late afternoon sunlight hung over the orange skies of Metropolis when Karen awoke. She shifted and rolled over, surprised to feel a pillow and a soft mattress underneath her. Her eyes fluttered open and she looked around to find herself disoriented in an unfamiliar setting. It appeared she was in someone's apartment bedroom. The outside window was open letting in fresh spring air along with the light of the city below. Otherwise, it was a clean and simple if modestly decorated room. Karen looked to a chair by the desk and saw Clark's blue blazer hanging off it and then she shook out her head to remember what happened earlier from the battle earlier. She sat up and pushed aside the bed sheets to see she was still in her Power Girl uniform. Except her red cape folded neatly at the foot of the bed nothing else was amiss.
She looked up and heard footsteps before there was a knock at the half open door. The door opened and Clark stepped inside, dressed down to a pair of casual blue jeans and a red t-shirt. "Clark?"
"Hey sleepyhead. How are you feeling?" he asked, "Better?"
"Yeah. I should be okay," she sighed, "Hopefully I wasn't down too long?"
Clark shook his head, "Not really. I figured it'd be best if you had a safe place to rest up after that fight."
She nodded appreciatively, "Thanks. Are you okay?"
"Just fine. Lucky for me, I had some time to write up my next article on Superman's exploits... with a big assist from Power Girl of course."
She gave a wry look and he shrugged before offering a hot cup of steaming liquid in his hand, "I was brewing a little hot tea. You want some?"
"I don't suppose you've got anything stronger?" Karen quipped as she accepted the cup, "Honestly, I'd be happy to get back into my street clothes and..."
Before she could say more, Clark reached down and picked up Karen's large purse from near the doorway. He handed it back to her, "I went back after the battle and figure you'd probably need this. It's got your street clothes tucked away in there."
"Oh... thanks," she said, "I don't know what to say."
"It's fine," Clark waved it off modestly, "Don't sweat it. I'm sure you would've done the same."
Karen sat quietly and looked over her bag. Of course she had helped in the battle but she hadn't expected Clark would have been such a gracious host either. Sure this Clark seemed to have a little more edge and youthful attitude than his older counterpart in the other timeline, but deep down, he had the same good heart it almost kinda made Karen feel a little bad about the way she had treated him before, especially because he was being so nice now. "You've done more than enough and I'd be imposing. I should really head out and let you be..."
"Karen, it's okay... really," Clark said as he headed for the door, "It's getting late anyway. If you're not feeling up to it, then feel free to stick around for a day or two. It's Friday night and there's plenty of time to relax. I'll just crash on the couch if I have to.
He closed the door and headed back into the living room to give her some privacy so she could change. As Karen sat by herself in the room with the fading sunlight from the window, she looked over her purse again. Part of her wanted to just pack up and go, but part of her also felt like she owed Clark at least a little gratitude. Maybe offering a meal or cleaning up his place? She also wanted to stay and talk about the recent battle with the newest drone and what it could possibly mean about a future threat from Brainiac. For now, she just decided she'd take Clark's advice. It was Friday night and there was plenty of time to rest and sort some more things out.