There weren't too many obvious differences between D.C. and Metropolis, Diana decided. The buildings were taller here, and there seemed to be more people on the streets, but the road traffic was just as bad, especially at this time of day. The streets were clogged with stop and go (mostly stopped) traffic, yet it wasn't noisy like D.C. at this time of day. It was a beautiful afternoon and perhaps this is what kept the car horns to a minimum. Or, however unlikely, it was possible that everyone decided that honking horns weren't going to make the people in front of them move any faster today. Rush hour was rush hour no matter what the city, but today at least, it was civil.
After maneuvering between stopped cars on the way back to her hotel, Metropolis Park was just too tempting to pass up. After such a long day cooped up indoors it would be nice to just sit down outside and take a breather before getting back to her hotel. It wasn't crowded yet since it was a late Friday afternoon and it seemed like the whole city was on the road anyway.
It was a cozy little park, with pine trees and quite a few flowering bushes, all enclosed within a tall wrought iron fence. It was small enough that a good bit of it could be seen from its arched entrance, except for those parts that were obscured by the trees. The park was well maintained by the city, she could see, because there was almost no litter to be found and the benches had been painted green not too long ago. It was a very relaxing looking oasis amid all the city hubbub.
The wooden benches weren't padded, but they were surprisingly comfortable anyway. If she closed her eyes, she could almost imagine herself being back on Paradise Island, sitting among the trees and surrounded by only plants and chirping birds and maybe a stag or two. Well, it took lots of imagining because of the noises and smells from the surrounding streets, but it was worth the effort. She really needed the break and it gave her a chance to collect her thoughts before tonight's other little appointment. She gave in to the temptation to sit on a bench, kick off her shoes and close her eyes for a bit.
The meeting she was in town to attend had gone on all day and through lunch because the discussions were intense and it seemed that no one wanted to stop even to eat. Watching those officials argue was like watching dogs barking at each other to establish dominance, Diana thought sourly. It wasn't the idea expressed that was so important, but that the speaker was given his or her say over their territory. There was too much preening and not much substance, just like other meetings that she had been assigned to attend. Surely generals and colonels and cabinet secretaries, who each had important government posts, would have left these childish games behind long ago? Evidently, that was not the case. Before long she had figured out that all the important decisions had already been made (in a meeting she hadn't been invited to, of course) and this one was only to work out minor issues. But, everyone had to have their say and appear important, so it was hours of wrangling over little more than nothing. They didn't ask her opinion very often and she was glad of it. Her department wasn't affected by any of this very much, so she was sent more to observe and report rather than participate.
It was easy for Diana to shrink into the background, and she still found it amazing what tying one's hair into a bun, wearing thick glasses and dressing conservatively could do for a woman's ability to blend into the woodwork. Normally, she had to make an effort to be heard, unlike Wonder Woman, who commanded people's attention all the time, but as Diana Prince she once actually had to take off her shoe in a meeting last month and rap it on the table before the others would shut up for a moment and give her a chance to speak. On this particular day, though, she had no desire to draw attention to herself, and it was a relief not to be noticed. And, now that it was over, she could relax for a bit before her dinner appointment.
Fortunately, she still had a couple of hours before her newspaper interview. Clark Kent from the Daily Planet was nationally renown for his writing and reporting skills, but she was still quite surprised when he called her hotel and requested an interview about the meeting. Mr. Kent must have very deep sources because, besides knowing the when and where, he also knew who all the attendees were. While it wasn't exactly secret, it wasn't to have been broadcast beyond the circles of those attending either. Doing it over dinner was her idea. A neutral spot was always best for these types of things. Dozens of previous interviews had taught her that. She certainly didn't want to go to the newspaper office for it, or even worse, have him meet her at her hotel. It was a public hotel, true, but while out of town on business it was also her only vestige of privacy.
Granting the interview made sense anyway, she reasoned. Kent was going to write something about the meeting regardless, so at least she could tell him a little—very little—about what was going on instead of letting him making something up. While this wasn't a terribly important meeting, the leaking of some details could be quite embarrassing to certain government officials. As a government official herself, she wanted to eliminate or minimize any press related damage. With a lot of luck, she could talk him out of writing anything at all about it. Besides his reporting and writing skills, he was also well known for being honest and fair and even discreet when necessary---and persistent. Hmmm, maybe this wasn't such a good idea after---
The crashing of brush behind her shook Diana out of her reverie and shot her to her feet. Some distance behind her was another bench and the noise had come from the bushes behind it. In front of it stood a little girl who couldn't have been more than five or six years old. She had been playing with a doll that was now dangling forgotten from her right hand. Diana could only see her back because the girl was facing what had come out of the brush to stand menacingly in front of her, but by the stiffness of her back she must be scared stiff. Literally. And for good reason.
What the girl was staring at was what Diana would surely say was the largest bear she had ever seen, other than a polar bear. Standing, as it was now, it was well over eight feet tall. More like a brown polar bear than a normal one is what it resembled. It was a confused and very angry bear too. Where in Aphrodite's name had it come from? This was a small city park and it couldn't live here undetected. An escape from a nearby zoo was the only logical explanation. That wasn't important now anyway. A quick glance told Diana that there were more people in the park than when she had arrived. She must've had her eyes closed longer than she thought. Fortunately, everyone's attention was focused on the riveting scene of the small child facing the huge bear. Just like the girl, they were shocked into immobility. None of them knew what to do and the horror of it kept them rooted to the spot. Thanking the gods for small favors, Diana ducked behind the bush near her own bench and was back out again almost immediately. Well, Diana Prince went in and Wonder Woman came out. So transfixed on the scene before them, they didn't even notice her.
The bear wasn't more than a few feet from the child now and Wonder Woman's only hope was to snatch her and run before the animal could attack. If she confronted the animal first, the girl could get hurt. Luckily there was a park bench between the bear and its intended victim. With a burst of speed, she quickly closed the gap. As she approached, the animal raised one of its enormous paws and brought it down on the bench. The force of the blow broke the wood in half, sending wood chips into the air, but none struck the child. The bear took a step closer to the girl and raised its' paw again, this time for a killing blow. All this happened within a moment, but now Wonder Woman had finally reached the girl. She picked up the child from behind and turned to get her out of reach of that long arm. It seemed as if the bear was going to get one good whack at her back before she got out of range, but better it land on her where it would do little damage. The blow never came, however, and she got back safely to the small crowd of gawking onlookers. Having deposited the child in the waiting arms of her shocked mother (Thankfully, they were wearing the same white dress with red roses so it was easy to tell.), Wonder Woman turned to deal with the raging carnivore. The bear, though, was already being dealt with.
"Take it easy now, big fella. Nobody is going to hurt you." The voice was commanding and yet soothing too. It was almost as if he was talking to a child instead of a massive bear.
Superman stood in front of the roaring creature that was easily two feet taller and wider than he. At first glance it didn't look as if it would be much of a contest. The bear took a swipe at the strange figure in front of him, but the man in the red cape casually avoided it, which was interesting to Diana. From what she had read about him, this Superman didn't have to dodge the blow since the bear probably couldn't hurt him. Or he could have just blocked it with his arm. He just didn't want the bear to injure himself, she guessed. Very admirable. Too many other superheroes wouldn't have hesitated to light into the poor animal in order to subdue it, especially after it had threatened a child. The way he approached this situation told Diana that Superman knew he had the situation under control and didn't have to prove it, not even to the bear.
There was nothing for her to do now except watch since he had the situation under control, but she kept an eye on the crowd to make sure that the bear didn't get past Superman, or more likely, that no one in the crowd would do something foolish like attempt to get a closer look at either Superman or the animal. Also, approaching the bear might frighten the animal further, so she judged it would be best to let him handle it. Wild animals were unpredictable under normal conditions and even more so when frightened and angry as this bear obviously was. Surprisingly, the bear did appear to be calming down a bit, though. It was still standing on two legs in a threatening manner, but the swings it was taking seemed slower, as if he was amazed that he was missing and just wanted to see it happen again. Or, more likely, the bear was getting tired. Wonder Woman concentrated her thoughts on the bear, trying to understand what it was feeling. One of her special abilities was animal empathy, though she didn't get the opportunity to use it much, but in situations like this it was good to know what an animal was feeling because it gave a clue as to what it might do next. All she felt from this creature, however, was confusion, a waning anger and a growing lethargy. The energy it expended to escaped and get into the park was taking its toll.
Since no one in the crowd looked to be moving any time soon, she shifted her attention to the man in blue spandex. She had never actually seen him in person before, but she had seen a magazine picture or two and read some news articles about him. He was bigger than she expected him to be but that was the only thing she could evaluate since his back was to her.
Thinking about those news articles, she recalled that one of them had been an interview of Superman…by Clark Kent. Hmm, she might have to bring that up with Mr. Kent tonight and see if she could get more information. This evening might be interesting after all. The day certainly was so far.
"Is the girl okay?" she heard him call over his shoulder.
Not sure whether he was asking her or the child's stunned parent, Diana answered, "She's fine, Superman." The question now was, what was he going to do with the bear? Picking him up would be difficult without hurting the poor creature, as it would undoubtedly fight. There was nothing to cage him in, either. At that particular moment, the answer arrived.
She heard a vehicle door close behind her. She turned to see that a good sized flatbed truck had pulled up onto the grass and three large men in drab uniforms were slowly approaching Superman and the bear. Black lettering on the side of the driver's door read "Metropolis Animal Control Board". They had what Diana could only assume were tranquilizer rifles. The bear was evidently already being sought and either they got lucky in finding their quarry, or Superman had tipped them off before arriving. If Diana had to guess, she would have guessed the latter.
Meanwhile, the bear hadn't noticed the truck or the men approaching, as his attention was solely on the large man in front of him, a man that he couldn't manage to swat out of his way. It attempted another swipe, but this time Superman grabbed its arm and held it fast. Suddenly, it reared and twisted to the left. Diana could see a large dart in the animal's left shoulder. A second shot struck the back of Superman's leg and fell harmlessly to the ground. The needle was clearly bent almost in half. A third dart found its target in the bear's left leg.
Even with only two darts in it, the bear soon began to weave, shaking its head to try and clear it, but was unsuccessful. Whatever tranquilizer they used was potent and fast-acting. The huge creature toppled forward into the waiting arms of the Man of Steel. The large animal engulfed him, as if he was wearing the bear as an overlarge coat. He easily carried it to the flatbed and gently laid it down. The animal control officers then quickly and efficiently strapped it down. By the effortless way he carried the bear, Diana guessed that the reports of his great strength weren't exaggerated. The bear hardly fit on the bed of the vehicle, but with the straps in place, the bear was secured.
The officers were thanking Superman as he handed the broken dart to one of them. The man looked quite sheepish as he apologized. "Umm, sorry about that, Superman. I guess a little too much coffee made me shaky." The man in blue just laughed. "That's alright," a quick glance at the nametag told him who he was addressing, "Officer Roberts, no harm done. Just take good care of our friend here, please. He didn't really mean any harm." The men nodded their understanding, and, thanking Superman once more, one of the men climbed onto the truck bed with the bear while the other two got into the cab. Soon they were gone into the rush hour traffic.
Superman glanced at the awestruck mother and softly sobbing child to make sure that they would both be okay. The crowd was already starting to disperse as they recounted the recent events to each other. Evidently the sight of Superman was fairly commonplace, as very few of the park's patrons decided to stay and gawk.
Nodding to himself, he turned and walked towards Wonder Woman. She sized him up as he approached. He had vivid blue eyes and wavy black hair with an unruly forelock. She also noted that he strode at an easy, confident gait. There was no swagger or strut. This was an oddity to Diana too. She knew that men tended to preen when they were around females, especially the superhero types. A good many of them apparently had very overdeveloped egos. It never failed to disgust her.
As a matter of fact, she held a goodly number of those male heroes in disdain if not contempt. They acted like children, barely out of the control of their hormones. Even some of the older ones suffered from this and it annoyed her. They could do their jobs more or less, but when it came to working with women, it seems that they all turned into chauvinists. As if she needed their protection. She had only worked with a few on special occasions, and only after she made it abundantly clear that she would lead and they would follow. She certainly didn't respect them or their judgment enough to follow them. Besides, she had more battle experience than a good number of them combined. It amazed Diana how many of these heroes couldn't stand the thought of being led by a mere female. There were exceptions, of course. Green Lantern was solid, but not the leader type. The Batman was good, but he preferred to work alone anyway. Neither of them had a problem with her leading them in battle if the situation arose. To be entirely fair, it was really only a minority that were Neanderthals, but it still grated on Diana's nerves. It would be interesting to see if this superman was yet another one, but so far that didn't seem to be the case.
Superman stopped in front of her and she realized that he was a good three inches taller than she and that took her aback for a moment. Being a very tall, statuesque woman, she was used to looking down at others or at least eye to eye. He gave her an almost shy smile as he came to a halt. It was a—what was that funny American expression—oh yes, a "megawatt smile". Reflexively, she smiled back.
Sky blue eyes locked onto sea blue eyes, and then both of them began to speak at the same time.
"Thanks for saving that little girl—"
"Thanks for holding off that bear---"
They both stopped and laughed for a moment, slightly embarrassed but not sure exactly why.
After they both recovered, he began again. "You must be Wonder Woman." At her nod, he offered her a handshake. "I'm very pleased to meet you. I've heard lots of great things about you. Thank you for saving that little girl. I couldn't get here fast enough, it seems. Good thing you were around."
"It was my pleasure to help, Superman. I assume that the poor creature escaped from the zoo?"
"Yes, it did." He turned and pointed towards the back of the park. "The zoo is right over there on the other side of the street."
"I'm glad that you didn't hurt him. He was just confused." There was that smile again.
"You sound as if you knew for certain that he was confused. I didn't know you could do that."
"Certainly, Superman. It was one of the gifts I was given long ago. I can't actually speak to animals, of course, but I can sense what they are feeling."
"Well, I wish I could do that. Would be a good talent to have in situations like this."
She didn't know exactly what to say next and it appeared that Superman didn't either. Strangely, the silence wasn't an awkward one. They just stared at each other for a few moments. It was as if they'd known each other for years. Diana broke the spell first.
"Well, the girl seems to be fine and the bear is in good hands, and I have an appointment to keep. It's a pleasure to have finally met you, Superman."
"Same here, Wonder Woman." There was the shy smile again. "Uhhh, from what little I've heard of you, you don't normally need help, but if I can be of any service at all, please contact Clark Kent at the Daily Planet. He can usually get a hold of me."
"Thank you, Superman, I'll keep that in mind." Ah, apparently Kent and Superman knew each other in something other than a professional capacity.
With that, both Wonder Woman and Superman flew off in opposite directions.