prez1 The Golden Boy's Last Temptation

By DarkMark

Characters in this story are property of DC Comics. No money is being made from this story, no infringement is intended.

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They say there's a lot of stories about Prez Rickard that haven't been told yet. If you sit back quietly and don't interrupt too much and act like a good kid, I'll tell you one. If you don't, I won't fly you up to the ceiling anymore. Okay? Good.

Now, even a young boy like you knows something about Prez Rickard, don't you? You should. Let me tell you what he was about.

When he was born, that's the name his mother gave him. "Prez. It's short for President." Some say that she was a prophetess. I say she was just a good, normal, American woman. That makes her just as much a prophetess as the rest of us. Either way, it was a good way to make a start.

Prez Rickard always believed in America. Some say the first thing he set eyes on, when they could focus, was an American flag in his room. He was born on the Fourth of July, and the hospital gave his folks the flag they flew outside the building that day. He kept it until his death. I'm pretty sure of that.

At any rate, he was pledging the Pledge of Allegiance about as soon as he could talk. His parents taught him how, and taught him what it meant. Though it got harder and harder at times to think the country was really Indivisible, he still believed the Under God part, and always...always...the Liberty and Justice For All. He never recited it. He always spoke it. He believed in it.

The first president he knew of was Jack Kennedy, and Jack Kennedy told him and everyone else about not asking what your country could do for you, but what you could do for your country. Prez had been asking himself that for quite some time, even though he was only six. He read about American history. He read about American myth and legend. He studied politics. He was reading the Congressional Record when he was seven.

He also learned about watches.

Some say his daddy, who, like the rest of the family, lived in Steadfast, gave him a watch to play with when he was five. Others say it was eight, but it could have been either. Prez tore the watch apart, and that would have gotten him a hiding. But he put it back together again. The watch apparently worked better afterward than it did before. Instead of getting him a busting, that got him more used watches to practice on, and repair.

They say Steadfast had a lot of clocks, which is true. They also say that, in those days, no two clocks in Steadfast agreed. Like they were people, or Congressmen. I can't verify that. I do know that Prez asked to adjust some of the clocks on Town Square for free, to see if he could do it. They let him, and he did it, and soon every clock on the square was in harmony and keeping the right time.

Einstein once said that if he'd known what was going to be done with his Theory of Relativity, he'd have given the whole thing up and become a watchmaker. I think he would have had to go a ways to catch Prez, if he did.

When Prez was thirteen, his mom lost him on a shopping trip in Steadfast. She finally caught up to him at City Hall, where he was talking to the town managers about civics and government. They asked him questions in return, and they were amazed that a boy that young could be that smart about what it takes to run a city. Or how it could be adjusted to run better. That is, if some people didn't have vested interests in keeping that clock off-time.

So, three years later, Prez finally got permission to adjust the big clock on top of City Hall, and he did it. It never needed tending afterwards, outside of maybe a little oil now and then. If Greenwich ever gets tired of being the place where they set time, I think they'd do well to try Steadfast for the job. But I digress.

That year that Prez turned 16 was the year they let 18-year-olds have the vote. The 18-year-olds promptly lowered the age limit on Congressmen to 18. Then those Congressmen did the same for the Presidency. That took two years.

By that time, Prez was 18.

By that time, he got a visit from a man in a limo with tinted glass.

When the man rolled down the glass, Prez could see that the man was Boss Smiley.

There's some say that Boss Smiley was a man with a big yellow circle for a head and a smile on that circle, just like those smiley-face buttons you used to see everywhere and sometimes still do. They were all over Steadfast. Steadfast was Boss Smiley's town.

He said to Prez, "Prez, boy, I will show you all the cities and states of America. They can all be yours, if you walk with me, and talk for a little while."

So Boss Smiley took Prez up to a high place, showed him all of America, and promised him it could be all Prez's. Promised him that he'd give him the thing he most wanted in his life: the presidency.

"In return, just remember who you all owe it to," said Boss Smiley. "Remember whose world this is. Know who's boss."

And Prez looked at him, thanked him courteously for his offer, and said, "I will be president, sir. But I will do it in my own way, and in my own time. No, thank you, Boss Smiley."

And he turned on his heel and left Boss Smiley there.

The Boss was still smiling.

But there's many ways that you can smile.

Well, what else is there to do but cut to the chase? That's what we used to say back then, kid. It amounts to, get to the important stuff. Prez Rickard was elected president. He said that he wanted to try and make a difference. He wanted to make it easier for folks to live, to heal the gap between rich and poor, black and white, oppressors (of whatever color or creed) and oppressed (likewise).

The difference he made was that, unlike other politicians, he did it.

He started the Middle East peace talks that finally brought peace, or more peace than they'd ever had before, over there. He jawboned with the Arabs about oil prices and brought down the price of gasoline. The federal deficit and national debt came down. He stopped the construction of nuclear and biological weapons, but he kept the intelligence boys in place so he could make sure the other side did, too. He said that America had to put its own house in order, fix its internal workings, get the mechanism working right.

More than anybody thought he could, Prez did it. Don't ask me how. I was living then, and even I'm not sure.

Of course, there was some that didn't like him. I know. Let me tell you about one such time.

Prez himself was making a speech in front of a supermarket in Rosedale, talking about how he was going to try and find a way to keep food prices from rising. After the speech, like all politicians tend to do, he went out and shook hands with the people. But it wasn't an ordinary shake-hands kind of thing like politicians do, leaving you feeling like you've pumped the handle of a one-armed bandit. When you shook Prez's hand, you felt like he was shaking hands with just you, that he gave a hang about you, that he knew who you were. Very few men have something like that, but Prez did.

One guy stepped out to shake Prez's hand, and almost made it. But a couple of inches before he would have made contact, something grabbed the guy by the wrist and pulled him back. I should've said someone, and I should have said she.

It was a woman in a blue shirt, red shorts, red shoes, and a cape. She was blonde and said to be pretty, and I allow she probably was that. She got herself in between Prez and the man she had in hand, and the gun that the guy had sneaked up his wrist went off and the bullet hit her in the stomach. It bounced off. She caught it in her free hand.

Prez was mighty surprised, even though he called her by name. He said, "Supergirl?"

And she told them that she'd been keeping watch on things from a ways off, and had spotted the gun in the man's sleeve with her X-ray vision. So that man, who wanted to kill Prez, didn't get a chance to do it. The crowd wanted to tear the guy apart, but Prez calmed 'em down, told them that even a guy like him had rights, and the U.S. government was going to see he got them, in jail. Supergirl wouldn't have let them harm him, but she flew him over to a cop car, turned him over, and told them that he was to arrive in his cell in the same condition she turned him over to 'em. She gave them a look that let 'em know she meant business. So they did what she told 'em to.

Then she flew back over to Prez, and he took a microphone, thanked her in public for what she'd done, congratulated her on her career of saving the world and being a super-heroine, and shook her hand. Then he held his hand and hers up for the crowd to see, and they got the biggest cheer and applause of the day. That was really something. You can tell from the pictures they took then that she looks embarrassed, but glad, all at the same time.

When Prez smiled, it was a lot different than when Boss Smiley smiled.

She walked with him for a little ways afterward, and he mended the watch of a boy whose father had died in Vietnam. Then they parted ways for a bit, but, when somebody tried to lure him into a trap by getting him into a barnful of clocks where they'd hidden a bomb, Supergirl was there to find the one clock where it was hidden, smash through the roof, and let it blow up in the sky. Then she flew him back towards the White House, and that's what the plotters were counting on.

The guy who was trying to kill Prez was a hitman who was big on science, but knew his limitations. That's why he had a witch-woman around, to take care of the areas he couldn't. They cast a kind of voodoo spell on Supergirl, transmitted it by a laser ray to her brain, and told her to let Prez go while she was flying high above the ground. He would've been street pizza. That's how hitmen make their money, and he was looking at a big payoff for this one.

Who from? He never told. But if his boss smiled a lot, I wouldn't have been a bit surprised.

Anyway, a lot of people saw Supergirl drop what looked like Prez from a considerable height, and the thing that looked like Prez didn't look like much of anything when it hit the ground. But, within five minutes, she melted the laser cannon the hitman was using to transmit the spell, nabbed him and his witch-woman, and turned them over to the cops. Turned out she'd just wrapped the real Prez up in her cape, sped up till she outdistanced the laser, took him to the Fortress of Solitude, and zipped back with a Prez dummy, which was all that got broken.

Later on, she did get Prez back to the White House, and he made a special broadcast with her on all three networks. He told America what had happened, and then asked Supergirl how she felt. "Fine, Prez," she said. "I had a slight headache, but it went away."

I didn't say she was a comedienne.

Of course, Supergirl wasn't around all the time for Prez. She couldn't be. And there was one time that hurt the most.

Some crazy woman had been writing letters to Ted Grant, the Wildcat, the one who used to be heavyweight champion of the world, and who used to be a super-hero, and then got to be a TV guy. She'd been stalking him, without much luck. So she tried to shoot Prez, thinking that would get Ted to answer her letters.

Why? I don't know. When you get into those states of mind, I guess, parallel lines meet, there's dimensions between the third and fourth, squaring the circle sounds simple enough, and they figure if you kill somebody, that means somebody has to return your calls.

It doesn't. Don't ever think that.

Anyway, the crazy woman had a high-powered assault rifle, but she wasn't all that good a shot. Prez had gotten engaged to his old sweetheart Kathy, and both of them were cutting a ribbon at a ceremony, and the crazy woman took a shot at Prez.

She got Kathy instead.

Prez just got injured, hit in the arm by a second shot. A second after that, those Secret Service boys were all over her. They wanted to take her apart, but Prez, even though he was smeared with Kathy's blood and his own, said, "Please don't hurt her."

So they didn't.

They got Prez to a hospital and her too. Didn't do her much good. He got a wounded wing out of the bargain, and haunted eyes, and God knows what all in his soul.

And one night while he was still in the hospital at Bethesda, Supergirl came to see him.

She was almost crying, but holding back. She apologized for not being around to save him and his wife, and he said that was all right, nobody can cover all the bases. She tried to talk to him about how sorry she was he'd lost Kathy, but that was when she did break down and cry. Because she'd lost almost everyone she'd loved when they died out in her hometown...all but her parents, and she thought she'd lost them, too, for years...and she knew what it was like to lose those you'd loved.

But Prez stopped her crying. He talked to her, told her neither she nor her cousin had the power of God, or Rao, as she would have put it, and told her that she was a very good woman and that he appreciated everything she'd done. Including coming there.

And he shook her hand.

She was still holding onto it when the Secret Service guys came in to tell them her visit was ended. Then she let go and flew away.

There's some say that Boss Smiley appeared to Prez once again, during his second term, and showed him Kathy, and told him that he could have her back if Prez would only back his agenda. Prez wouldn't do it. It hurt him like someone was twisting a coal from the fires of Hell in his soul, but he still wouldn't do it.

He resisted Boss Smiley, and Smiley walked away.

I believe that story.

Prez couldn't run for a third term, even though there were a lot of Americans who petitioned for the law to be changed so he could. The next election had one of the lowest turnouts there ever was. Prez went back to Steadfast, where he lived alone and repaired clocks. He wouldn't write his memoirs. He wouldn't take positions on the boards of corporations. He wouldn't agree to assist later presidents as an advisor. He didn't play golf.

He fixed clocks.

Then he left Steadfast, and nobody was quite sure he went. Not even Supergirl, and she looked. Some said he was a hobo, some say he was kidnapped by aliens, some said he'd talk to a psychic and disclose his secret purpose for all America.

But none of these things was true.

Eventually, he died. Prematurely, we're assured. He was a healthy man and hadn't yet passed his threescore and ten, so it's likely the cause of death was unnatural.

I don't know. God only knows, and God, or Rao if you prefer, keeps His counsel. Most of the legends say somebody shot him. Some say he died of malnutrition and pneumonia as a street person. Some say he just figured his job was done on Earth, and he quietly lay back and gave up the ghost.

I don't know.

We all just somehow knew–-everybody in America knew—that Prez Rickard was dead.

Don't ask us how. Every cop shop in America, and most in Mexico and Canada, were questioned. Every funeral parlor in the Land of the Free had to examine their records to see if a body that might have been Prez Rickard's was processed. The police, the FBI, even the CIA made a search far and wide. So did Superman and Supergirl. Especially Supergirl.

They didn't find anything. There were some bodies that might have been Prez's, but didn't really check out. He was just gone.

We knew it in our souls.

Most everyone in America wore black armbands. The current president did, too. Whenever someone asked why, you just said, "For Prez."

Now, youngster, this is where it gets to the hard part. The rest of this you just have to take on faith. You've been to church, so you know something about faith. The substance of things not yet seen, and all that. So have faith in what I'm telling you, and at least believe it could have happened, because I think it could have happened, too. At least I hope so.

After Prez died, some say he was taken to a higher plane, where he met Boss Smiley once again. The Boss was sitting on a golden throne, and when Prez asked who he really was, just said, "I run your world." But he didn't have Kathy anymore. Kathy was free. He wanted Prez to sit at his right hand, sing praises, and help run the world.

Prez just said, thank you kindly, there are other Americas. "Must be one of them needs a Prez. Must be one of them needs fixing."

Boss Smiley poked him in the chest with a finger and said, "You aren't going anywhere. You're dead. You're mine."

But somebody pulled up right about then and surprised the both of them, and said, "He may go wherever he wants."

He said it in a way that even Boss Smiley couldn't disagree. The Boss tried to order him away, but the newcomer wouldn't budge. Prez asked him for his name. "Just one with an interest in tales," the newcomer said. "And I am Prince of Stories."

Seemed like he was bound and determined that story would have a happy ending.

So he took Prez with him, Boss Smiley fulminatin' behind them and yelling at them to come back, and took him away. Then the newcomer showed Prez a gate, and said it would take him where he needed to go.

But before he went, Prez took something out of his pocket. It was his father's watch, the one he'd repaired many, many years ago. He took it out, and he gave it to the newcomer. As a gift.

Then he turned away and went through the gate.

There's some say that was the last anyone ever heard of Prez Rickard. At least, anyone on this world, for sure.

That isn't true.

This is the story nobody else knows about. You have to keep it secret, a deep, dark secret between nobody but you and me. And you have to take it on faith.

You will?

Good.

Earlier on, I was talking about Supergirl. How it hurt her when Prez's fiancee died, and how it hurt her more when Prez died, and that she couldn't do anything about either of them.

One night, some months after we knew Prez had died, she lay sleeping, and she had a dream. This was the substance of it.

Supergirl found herself dressed in her costume, in a strange land where everything was mostly smoke and mist. If she'd been there before, she didn't know it, although she felt kind of a deja vu thing. That means...well, it's like Yogi Berra saying, "Deja vu all over again." I'll explain fully some other time. For right now, let's just say it seemed familiar.

The smoke seemed to clear in one area, and she flew towards it. But something played itself out before she could get there.

Prez and Kathy were cutting the ribbon again, and the crazy woman with the gun shot Kathy dead.

It was horrible. Supergirl hadn't seen the killing when it happened, only the videotapes. But she could tell, from the way this dream felt, that this was the way it really happened. There was Kathy slumped over dead, blood all over her shirt, Prez holding her and trying to stop the bloodflow and knowing it was already too late, and then getting shot in the shoulder, and the suits in dark glasses taking the crazy woman down.

By the time she could get there, the whole thing had vanished.

Then something else came into view, way ahead of her, but still within sight.

She saw Prez Rickard's body lying on the ground.

She couldn't tell what had happened to him, couldn't even swear if there was blood or not on his shirt, but it was obvious from the way that he was lying that he was dead. She flew even faster, even harder than before, to try and reach him.

But he was gone, too, by the time she got there.

Right about that time, she felt like sitting down and keeping herself from bursting into tears. But there wasn't anything that looked like it could be sat down upon, and she was a little tougher than that, so she kind of hovered and tried to see what was going to be shown next.

She didn't have to wait very long.

The mists kind of parted, like the Red Sea in that movie with Charlton Heston, and there was a big golden throne in front of her, and somebody sitting in it. Somebody in a shiny white suit and a black tie, a big purple flower in his lapel, a man who was big enough to fill that oversized seat to capacity.

A man who had a big, circular smiley face for a head.

Boss Smiley.

"Hi," he said. "We have a friend in common."

"I doubt it," she said, and flew right at him.

He didn't vanish before she got to him, but she couldn't touch him. She flew right through him, and then turned and flew through him again just to make sure.

"You shouldn't abuse my substance," he said. "I'm insubstantial enough."

"So what are you? Why did you show me what I just saw?"

"I run your world," he said.

"Not my world, you don't," she said. Then, acting a lot braver than she felt, she said, "What's next? Should I please allow you to introduce yourself?"

He stood up, rubbed his hands together, and stepped down from his throne. "It's nothing like that, my dear. These simple things you see are really complicated. I look really Seventies but I'm just backdated, yeah."

"You haven't told me who you are," she said. "You haven't told me why I'm here."

He looked at her and said, "I'm the Boss. Let me tell you about my franchise. I cover a lot of territory. Branch offices in every city, every country, every life-bearing globe. And one golden rule: always, always, service with a smile."

"I'm not smiling," she said.

"You will be," he said. "You will be."

Then he stepped towards her, and with every step he seemed to get smaller, till he was standing right beside her and looked no larger than she was. "Let me show you something more," he said.

Then he hopped right off what he was standing on, rose upward, and flew. She had to fly to catch up to him. "Why did you do that?" she asked.

"Because, like you, I feel more comfortable sometimes with air power," he said. "Got a few more pictures to show you. Observe."

He made a gesture, just like Mandrake, a magician in old comic strips. Right before her eyes she saw a sight just as horrible as the ones beforehand.

She saw her own body, bloody and broken and lifeless, hanging in the arms of her cousin, Superman, who was standing and crying in the midst of a group of heroes.

She saw herself as a ghost, talking to another ghost in a red circus costume, walking the Earth like something out of a novel by Dickens.

She saw herself as a thing of changeling matter, who joined her substance to a woman who had trucked with powers from Below, but became a sort of angel later on.

She saw a world in which she had never existed, where the only super-hero wearing her colors was a version of her cousin. He died in battle. There were some worlds in which he came back to life, and some in which he didn't.

She saw a host of worlds devoured by anti-matter, because she and the heroes who stood beside her failed.

She saw a world in which she had married, had children, became governor of a state, and ruled wisely.

She saw a world in which none of that happened, in which she had loved not wisely, nor well, and quit the Earth not long afterward.

She saw a world which had lost her, in which she had gone to live on the world her people had settled.

"I'm impressed," she said, sarcastically. "Just a bunch of what-if scenarios. Is this all you've got to show me?"

Boss Smiley seemed to grin even wider, and said, "You ain't seen nothin' yet." Then he gestured, and showed her one more world.

This world began with her in her secret identity, working where she was working at the time. She suddenly looked up from her work. She'd gotten a premonition—don't ask where from, because she didn't. But with the kind of life she'd led, she'd learned to check things out, even if it only came in the form of a feeling. And that feeling was: she'd better check on the president.

Who was Prez.

Her telescopic vision could let her see all the way across the country, if she wanted. She knew where Prez was going to be that day, and she looked in that direction. She was already pulling off her street clothes, arranging her Supergirl costume in the right way, getting ready to fly through a window at super-speed.

She saw Prez, and Kathy, and the crazy woman with the gun.

She was there between the time the woman fired, and the time the bullet would have struck its mark.

She caught the bullet.

Before the crazy woman could fire again, Supergirl had melted the gun barrel and knocked her silly with a right cross. The punch, if she'd wanted to, could have taken the woman's head off, or pulped it outright. But she knew just the right touch to use, and so the woman just fell on her back and that was it.

Prez and Kathy were mighty grateful to her, and told her as such, and many other things besides. She smiled, said it was just her job, and flew off. Prez looked up after her and said he was mighty glad she was around. Kathy was glad, too.

Then she saw scenes of Kathy and Prez with their young children in the White House, of Kathy succeeding Prez as president, of Prez taking the reins after her term and, thanks to the striking down of presidential term limits, winning election again and again until he died.

He died a happy man, surrounded by family and friends. One of his sons would go on to be president, in future years.

He left America in the midst of peace and prosperity, which it would endure for centuries.

All that and more could happen, would happen. Did happen, perhaps.

"And I haven't even shown you what would happen to you," said Boss Smiley.

"You don't need to," said Kara. "You've shown me–" And she hesitated, then said the rest of it. "You've shown me all I need to see."

Boss Smiley said to her, very gentle-like, very much like a friend: "That's the good thing about the power I have. You have the power to make happy endings happen. You can rewrite the stories, any way you please. And I like happy endings. Don't you, Kara? Especially if you can make other people happy while you're doing it. Like Prez. Like Kathy. Like America. Just think. You can leave 'em all, everybody in the whole world, yourself included–-with a smile."

"And what," she said, "is the price?"

He looked away from her, kind of casual and nonchalant. "All you have to do is remember who is the boss around here. And never forget it. Or all the bad things can happen again, Kara. Even worse, if I want to. And I hold a grudge."

"I'm sure you do."

He whirled on her, gestured, and showed her a scenario of Kathy and Prez. They were in separate cells in She—in Hell. They were being burned, tormented. Things were being done to them even I can't speak of. The worst thing was that they were going to be apart from each other, for eternity.

And it only took a second for her to see all of that.

Then the vision faded. Her breath was coming fast and hard, like she'd almost taken a hit from a Kryptonite meteor the size of Dallas. Boss Smiley was still standing in front of her, his hands behind his back, smiling.

"That's nothing compared to what will happen to you, in that universe," he promised. She knew he was speaking the truth, too. Don't ask me how, but she knew. She definitely knew.

She paused before she answered. "So if I say yes, I get my choice of what will happen to me, and to—them?"

The Boss nodded.

"A choice from those alternatives you showed me?"

"Even better," he said. "Customized. You make the specifications, we deliver. We'll even include the number of our complaint department. Service with a smile.

"And don't forget, you're not just doing this for yourself. You're doing this for America. For the world. You're making a much better future for Earth than you ever could with just those super-powers. America's just the start. The whole world will be in a golden age within two or three centuries. We'll paint a smile on the entire Earth."

"Why are you doing this? Why me?"

Boss Smiley hesitated again, then he spoke. "Because I had a little sales problem. I tried to make the kid see the benefits in our system, and he just wouldn't see the beauty in the plan. He was too selfish even to help out his wife. Can you imagine that? He could have saved her life, and he wouldn't do it. He insisted on an unhappy ending."'

"I see," she said.

"Remember what I said, Kara," said the Boss. "You ain't seen nothin' yet. And you won't, until you sign it on the dotted line. Just a figure of speech. No contract. Just got to know who's boss around here. Then all the benefits go into effect."

"And if I don't, all the penalties do," she said.

"You got it, honeybunch."

She crossed her arms over her chest, didn't look at him for a time, then she spoke.

"You know, of all the things I've wished not to have happened, I'll admit that isn't the biggest one. The biggest is that Argo City hadn't died, and I was still living there with my parents. Another is that my best friend there, when I was a kid, hadn't died from a poisonous bite. But Kathy dying, and Prez dying—they both rank right up there. I'd give almost anything for those things not to have happened. I'd give my life in a moment."

"Yes," Boss Smiley said, clenching his fist like a salesman who knows he's closed a deal. "I knew you'd come around, Kara. I always know my marks."

"But," she said, "there's the matter of choice. You said Prez already made his. You offered him the chance to get Kathy back, and he didn't take it. You probably offered him life when he was dying, and he didn't take it. And living the kind of lives they lived, I can't believe either one of them ended up in Sheol.

"All of the choices you showed me, all of the alternatives...all equally true, all equally false. If I live in a world where there's still a Prez, and still a Kathy, that's no guarantee it won't have its tragedies. People die every second. Grade-school knowledge. Some good, some bad, some horrible. I can't stop them all. I do what I can. That's all I've ever done.

"It would be a great thing to say yes, to let both of them live, maybe to get the kind of future I wanted. But I wouldn't have to work for it. It'd be a gift, not something I earned. And whether I get the kind of future I want or not, it has to be something I worked for. That I earned, on my terms.

"I imagine that's just what Prez told you, when you offered to make him president. Didn't he?"

Boss Smiley didn't say anything.

"I imagine that's just what I'll say to you, too. In fact, I do say it. No, thank you. Definitely no. Now you can send me home."

At that, Boss Smiley didn't act like a salesman any more.

The entire realm that surrounded them changed into something dark and shot through with flames and lava flows, and pieces of people hanging out of the flows here and there, and sounds of screaming and moaning and pleading, not all of it coming from human throats.

Boss Smiley grew so high, you probably could have put the Empire State Building in his back pocket without jostling his wallet. His clothes weren't white anymore. They were dark, multicolored robes. His hands weren't those of a human. But he still had that smiley circle for a head. And he was looking down at Supergirl.

"You have made your decision," the Boss said. "Now, you pay the penalty."

Then somebody else said, "No."

And she looked in the direction from which the voice had come, and saw a man there. A very pale man, with black hair and black clothes. To be specific, it looked like a black leisure suit. The kind that they used to wear a lot, in the Seventies.

"She has made her decision, Boss Smiley," said the newcomer. "Let her go."

"Oh, it's YOU again!" Boss Smiley raged. "Get out of the way! I'm about to put this little twist in the delivery chute for her worst nightmare!"

"I think not," the other said. "That would be my jurisdiction."

And, with that, he made a gesture, and everywhere around them turned into grey mist again.

Boss Smiley wasn't even there. Well, maybe he was. Because, floating near their feet, was something she might not have caught until she saw the pale man stoop and pick it up.

It was a little, circular, yellow smile button.

"There is a place for this," he said, and, with his free hand, he opened a portal to another reality. It looked like a dock somewhere on a seaport. Some young guy in brown hair, a yellow costume, and an eyemask was beating up on a gang of hoods. Just as he laid out the last one with an uppercut, the pale man tossed the smile button through the portal. It landed, kind of with a clink, at the costumed man's feet. He was breathing hard, but he looked down at it, picked it up, looked at it, and pinned it on his costume.

One of the hoods, who was semi-conscious, they heard him say, "Who's this comedian, anyway?"

The costumed man said, "You got that right." Then he walked away.

Then the pale man closed the portal up. She asked him, "Why did you do that?"

He said, "Because it was destined that I do so. Perhaps, to leave that world with a smile."

She shuddered. "So, who are you? An angel?"

"No," he admitted. "But we have a friend in common."

And with that, someone else appeared.

I shouldn't say that: "He appeared." It makes it seem like he popped up out of nowhere, like the Invisible Man. But he was just there. And the pale man was right. He was an old friend.

Prez Rickard.

The smile he had on his face was one Supergirl had been waiting to see for a long time. And it looked a lot more sincere than the one on the face of Boss Smiley. His hand was out to greet her.

"Hi," he said. "How are you? It's been a long time, Supergirl."

She didn't know whether she dared reach out her hand or not. But, in the end, she knew she didn't dare not to. So she did.

And she could touch him.

And the shake of his hand felt just like it had those many years ago, when she'd met him in a different world and a different time. Some things don't much change. She was mighty glad of that.

She smiled at him. "Hi, Prez," she said.

"My friend said you might be in a tight spot," Prez said. "He was right. But there wasn't much we could do until you made your decision."

"Like you made yours," she said. "Or so I guess."

"You guess right," said Prez. "I had to make it over and over again. I hope I made it as many times as I could."

"I think you did," she said. "I really think you did." Then she looked sad, and said, "I'm sorry. About Kathy, I mean."

Then another person was there, held by Prez's other arm, not there a second before and always there a second after. She gave Supergirl one of the warmest smiles she'd ever seen. "He couldn't deny what he didn't possess," Kathy told her. "Thank you, Supergirl. You did the right thing."

"I hope so," said Kara, a bit wistfully. "No. I know I did. But it's going to be a lot tougher, because I made it."

"And so it will be, Kara Zor-El," said the pale man. "And so it must be."

"Is this the end, then?" she asked. "Do I wake up after this?"

"Such is the way," the pale man said, and he looked like somebody who'd know.

Kara stepped up to him. "Then, may I ask you for a favor? Just one?"

"You may ask," he said. "Whether or not it be granted."

She said, "May I be allowed to remember this dream? In all its particulars? I want to remember them for the rest of my life. I want to remember Boss Smiley, so that I'll always know what the alternatives are. And the choices I have to make. And I even want to remember you."

The pale man waited a long moment. "You ask a very great thing, Kara Zor-El."

Then Prez spoke up. "If you grant it, old friend," he said, "I'd consider it a favor. And it never hurts to have a president owe you a favor."

"Or a first lady," said Kathy, and she was being brave when she said it.

The pale man finally decided. "Very well. You will retain this dream, Kara Zor-El. In all its particulars. But you must be very circumspect as to whom you share it with. Some things should be kept in the realm of legend, for thereby they gather power. And if the legend of Prez Rickard should gather power in your world...well, there are worse alternatives that could be dreamed.

"Once every ten years, you may pass on the dream to one you believe worthy. You may not reveal the fate of Prez Rickard to anyone else. What they do with their dream afterward is up to them. As with King Arthur, and the squire he spared to tell the tale of Camelot. All Truths begin as Dreams.

"Go now, Kara Zor-El. And, once again: well done."

She never knew what he meant by "once again", because she never met him before that she knew of, and never met him again. But the last thing she remembered was hearing Prez and Kathy say goodbye.

And then she woke up.

What happened then? Well, then, youngster, she got on with her life, like you always do when you get up in the morning. But she knew, from that moment on, about getting to work on her dreams. Her own, personal dreams. And a lot of them came to be, because of that dream and a bunch of hard work. The kind that takes more than super-powers to make them real.

So now you know. You're the first one to learn this in ten years. Surprised? You should be. Don't ever forget the tale, young 'un. But be very, very careful to whom you tell it. Not to your playfriends, not to your parents. But when one comes around to whom you should tell the tale, you'll know. Trust me on that. And be sure to pass it on.

Okay. Story's finished. Have to go to the bathroom? No? That's good. Well, you deserve something for having sat through the whole story as nicely as you did. Come on, climb on auntie Kara's back. Ready? Here we go.

All the way to the ceiling.

-S-

The Supergirl of this story is obviously not the one of Earth-1.5 or Earth-1.75. But disbelievers are urged to check out SUPERGIRL #10 (1974), and "The Golden Boy" in SANDMAN #55 (collected in WORLD'S END by Neil Gaiman). If there is still a world that contained a Prez...

...then there is still a world that contained a Supergirl.

But that, too, is a matter of faith.

–DarkMark

8 / 30 / 2001