The following short story is based on characters created and/or copyrighted by Glenn Eichler, Susie Lewis Lynn, and MTV. All other characters were created and copyrighted by Roland Lowery.

The author gives full permission to distribute this work freely, as long as no alterations are made and the exchange of monetary units is not involved. Any questions, comments, suggestions, or complaints should be sent to esn1g(at)yahoo(dot)com. Thank you.

The following story is part of a shared universe created by NightGoblyn. Please check out the rest of the stories in this universe at:

"All power corrupts, but we need the electricity."
-Archer's Goon by Diana Wynne Jones

Lawndale's Finest - Action Stories #4
Power Struggle
by Roland 'Jim' Lowery

"I don't see how you can stand reading that garbage."

Jane Lane looked up to find Jodie Landon leaning down to see what she was reading. "Eh," Jane said with a shrug. "It's entertaining."

Jodie crossed her arms and snorted lightly. "Entertaining?" she said. "That's not the word I'd use for it. Mean, nasty, vindictive, and driven by a need to shock and anger rather than to inform, that's closer to the mark."

"That's several words," Jane pointed out, but Jodie ignored her.

"With all the work that Supergirl has done around Lawndale and Gotham City, she shouldn't have to put up with people trying to tear her down like that." Jodie scowled deeply. "Willis doesn't even live here, anyway. She's from Metropolis. What does she know about what Supergirl is really like anyway?

"Nothing, that's what," she answered her own question. "That's why the Daily Planet or any other respectable paper won't touch her. That's why you can only find her mean-spirited editorials running in second-rate magazines and trashy tabloids."

"Gosh, Jodie," Jane said as she turned a page, "I'm starting to get the feeling you don't like our good pal Val."

"Journalistic integrity rearing its head again," said Jodie. "All she does is grab on to the latest news sensation and tries to pick it apart, even if she doesn't actually care or know anything about it."

With a start of surprise, Jane straightened up and handed the magazine to Jodie. "She may just get her chance at an informed opinion," she told the other girl. "Check it out!"

Jodie skimmed over the section of the article Jane was pointing at, her eyes widening in surprise and then narrowing in suspicion. "No way."

"Yes way," Jane said with a chuckle. "Val Willis is coming to Lawndale for a one-on-one interview with Supergirl!" And maybe, she added to herself, just maybe, she'll get it . . .

Valerie Leslie Willis looked down her perfectly sculpted - in almost the literal sense - nose at the large crowd of people standing in the Gotham airport lobby, all of them cheering as they noticed her and waving homemade signs that professed their love for her and their hatred of a certain local superhero. Her glittery red-painted lips parted in a wide grin as she held her hands above her head to wave at the people, sending them into an even higher state of frenzy. Val felt certain that if airport security hadn't been on hand, she would have been accidentally trampled to death or torn apart as the crowd rushed toward their idol.

"Ladies and gentlemen," she called out after she managed to motion everyone to silence, "boys and girls! I just don't know how all of you knew that I was coming to Gotham since I gave specific instructions that no one was supposed to know about it, but it's still so jiggy that you all came out to support the cause! And does everyone remember what the cause is?"

"Down with Supergirl!" they all started chanting. "Down with Supergirl! Down with Supergirl!"

Val's face lit up with such delight that the wrinkles lining it almost seemed to disappear, making her look at least ten years younger than she actually was, though that was still ten years older than she so often pretended to be. Her clothes - a light purple halter top, a dark purple miniskirt, and medium purple tennis shoes - were everything that her man George assured her was "in" with the current teenage crowd, and she was thrilled to see that it was just that age group that made up the bulk of the crowd.

Despite whatever other faults they had, Val could always count on teenagers being easy to stir up against something, no matter what it was. Her entire career was based on it. And though she hadn't managed to graduate from college, she still knew enough about psychology to know that the one thing people loved more than a hero was to see a hero fail, fall, die trying.

Val didn't really want to see Supergirl dead, but she definitely intended to give a push or two toward the fall.

Once the crowd had settled down again, Val blew a kiss to them and said, "You're the greatest, Gotham City! I'm just gonna go find a nice 'pad' to 'crash' at now, but rest assured that tomorrow, the hunt for Supergirl is so on!"

Flicking on her designer sunglasses and snapping her fingers at George to follow her with her bags, Val strode out of the airport and into the waiting limo. George joined her a few seconds later after stowing her luggage, settling into the seat across from her.

"They love ya, luv," he said, twisting open two mineral waters from the mini-bar and passing her one.

"And why shouldn't they?" Val returned, sipping daintily on her drink. "I'm the voice of my generation, after all."

"Too right, too right," George said quietly, stifling a malicious grin and biting back the insult that came all-too-readily to his lips. "Though you might find the reception in Lawndale itself a bit colder."

Val allowed herself a small frown. "That's just because they're too close to the problem," she said disdainfully. "They don't see Supergirl for what she is. I'll show them. But for now, let's get to the Grand Regency Hotel. I hear they've got four stars!"

"As the lady wishes," he said as he lowered the screen between them and the driver, then relayed Val's instructions. After he raised the screen back into place, he put on a concerned face and said, "Now, Val, after we drop you off, d'ya mind if I go out on a little business of my own? I've got a few mates here in the city, and I was thinking about getting with them for a nice drop or summat."

"Your cell?"

"Shall remain on at all times," he reassured her. "If ya need me, just give a ring-a-ding and I'll come flying back to ya, just like I always do."

Val checked her makeup and short, blonde hair in a makeup mirror as she thought it over. "Okay," she finally said, "I guess I'm jiggy with that. But don't stay out too late! We have a very busy day tomorrow!"

George's razor teeth gleamed. "No worries, luv," he said. "Wouldn't miss it!"

Jane sucked in several heaving breaths as she scanned the interior of the warehouse. It was dark, the only real light coming in from a few dirty windows and the large hole in the ceiling, but her enhanced vision put everything into sharp relief. She listened intently for any movement, but there was nothing but the shuffling sound of a rat crawling through the building's duct-work.

Stepping out of the crater in the concrete floor that she had inadvertently made upon her unscheduled entry into the warehouse, she walked slowly through the musty air, gloved fists at the ready and nerves already starting to fray.

"Still can't fly, I see," the Eradicator said from directly behind her. "Pathetic. You're really no better than the hairless monk-"

Jane twirled around, planting her right fist in the Eradicator's face and sending her flying backward through several empty metal shelves. The shelves collapsed onto Jane's opponent, but she didn't relax for a second. The Eradicator had proven herself quite resilient already, and sure enough she lifted up from the wreckage looking none the worse for wear.

"Am I gonna have to put a bell on you?" Jane asked, shaking her finger angrily at the other woman.

"If you join with me, I can train you so that no one can ever sneak up on you again," the Eradicator said, then shook her head ruefully. "But you are still going to insist against that, aren't you? You will never reach your full potential this way. You will never succeed at your ridiculous plan to protect the monkeys. Only through me can you-"

Jane launched herself forward, barreling into the Eradicator's stomach and cutting her off mid-sentence. They hit one of the steel beams supporting the warehouse wall, bending it outward and shaking the walls and foundation with the force of the blow. Before she could recover and pull back, Jane felt a double-fisted slam hit her spine, forcing her to the ground.

The Eradicator grabbed her short red cape, dragged her a few feet out, and then swung her around to slam into the steel beam and dent it further to one side. With a small huff of exertion, the aggressive Kryptonian creation then spun again, bending the beam back the other direction with Jane's flailing body.

As she tried to spin for a third time, the Eradicator found the cape torn from her hands. She looked back to see that Jane had gotten a hold on the beam, then found herself flying through the air again as Jane delivered a massive uppercut to her chin.

"This is already . . . starting to get old," Jane panted, rubbing her sore ribs as the Eradicator pulled to a stop midair. "Seriously, don't you . . . have anything else . . . better to do?"

"Yes," the Eradicator said. "But this is my lunch hour." Her eyes glowed red for a second, then twin beams of energy burst out and seared through the spot Jane had just rolled away from.

"Can't fly yet," the Girl of Steel said with a grin, "but guess what new trick I did learn!"

Heat vision burned out of Jane's eyes, catching the stunned Eradicator square in the shoulder, spinning her about and sending up a flare of smoke. The Eradicator cried out in surprise and pain, clutching at her shoulder and glaring at Jane.

"Your powers are growing, Jan-El," she growled. "But they will not be enough. You will join me and we will restore the might and majesty of Krypton together. It is your destiny!"

With that, she flew straight up, tearing a second hole in the roof as she went. Jane walked under the hole and looked up with a frown. The day was starting out bad, and she knew it was only going to get worse. Shaking her head and sighing, she dusted off her dress and stepped out of the warehouse to meet with the police and the press.

Stepping out into the midday sun, Jane looked around to reorient herself. With her telescopic vision, she could see the park that the fight had started in almost two blocks away. Though she had gotten somewhat used to being basically invulnerable, it still shocked her to see how far she had been flung by the Eradicator and survived. It had still done more than tickle, however, and she once again considered working on the flight thing more seriously.

Her thoughts were interrupted by a handful of uniformed police officers running up to her. "Supergirl!" one of them called out. "You all right?"

"Yah, just fine," she said, holding up her hand. "Just a little bruised. The Eradicator got away again, but I gave her something to think about before she comes back."

"What the heck was she doing, anyway?"

Jane glanced back at the park again and shivered slightly. She wasn't certain what the other woman had been doing, and said so, but she had a good guess. When Supergirl had arrived upon the scene, the Eradicator had already chased everyone out of the area and had been improvising some landscape remodeling. Something about the new form everything had been getting shaped into struck Jane as hauntingly familiar somehow.

Though her home planet of Krypton had been destroyed just shortly after her birth and she had no real memories of what it had looked like, something told her that it was very similar to the Eradicator's handiwork.

"The usual bunch of reporters showed up while you were inside," one of the cops said, jerking his thumb over his shoulder at the police line straining to contain the crowd. "You want us to shoo 'em off for ya so you can get outta here?"

Jane shook her head. "Actually," she said, "is there a woman named Val Wi-"

"Willis?" the officer interrupted her and scrunched up his face. "Yah, she's in there with this big thug of hers. Hey, don't take those articles of hers personally, Supergirl. She just don't know how great you are, y'know?"

"Heh, thanks," Jane chuckled. "Heck, I don't know how 'great' I am or anything, but I would like to talk to her, try to set a few things straight. You mind letting her through for a few minutes?"

The policemen traded unsure glances with each other, but one of them finally nodded and ran off to the line. After a few moments of minor crowd control and yelling at the other disappointed reporters, he had Val in tow. The thug the other officer had mentioned had apparently decided to stay behind, as she approached Supergirl alone, with a smug look on her face.

"If she gives you any trouble, just let us know," one of the cops said before they went back to the line. "We'll take care of her for ya."

"Thanks, but that shouldn't be necessary," said Jane.

"Supergirl!" Val greeted her brightly as she approached, looking and sounding as if she were meeting an old friend for the first time in years. "What a pleasure to finally meet you! Now, you probably didn't know I was coming since I wanted it to be a super surprise, but I'm Val! As in Val Takes On...!"

Jane stretched out her best fake smile and shook hands with the woman. Even with gloves on, she imagined she could feel the snakeoil oozing out of Val's skin. She could most certainly smell the undiluted and overpowering cloud of perfume that hung around the reporter, even without activating her enhanced senses.

"Yes, Ms. Willis," she said politely, "I'm familiar with your work. It's why I wanted to talk to you."

"That is 'totally wicked'!" Val said as she pulled out a small memo pad and a pen. "So you don't mind if I ask a few questions?"

"Of course not," Jane replied. "I've got nothing to hide."

"Mmm-hmm," Val said, making a note. "Except for your identity, of course."

Jane's smile froze and she mentally berated herself for stepping right into the first trap with both eyes wide open. "I'm pretty sure everyone knows I'm Supergirl," she said quickly.

"Does 'Supergirl' have a birth certificate?" Val asked, looking genuinely inquisitive. "Does she have a social security number? A job? I don't believe that you're actually a member of the police force here in Lawndale, any of the other Gotham suburbs, or even Gotham itself, are you?"

"Well, no, but-"

"So in order to get by in society, one would have to assume that you have another identity, right?" she pressed on. "And isn't the reason that you keep that other identity hidden because you are, in fact, a vigilante? After all, vigilantism is illegal, and keeping your true ID a secret would help protect you from prosecution."

Jane struggled to keep her jaw from dropping. Everything that she had gathered about Val the reporter had seemed to peg her as an airhead blowhard more interested in superficial insults and mudslinging than actual facts and concern for right and wrong. Her questions belied that and were striking targets that Jane hadn't even considered before. She knew that she had been taking the law into her own hands sometimes when she worked as Supergirl, but the facts that she was trying to do the right thing and she had the cooperation of the police themselves had blinded her to the actual legal status of her actions.

It was an uncomfortable revelation, and she found all of the little speeches that she had prepared in her head for the interview scatter and burn in the light it cast.

"Look, I think we may have started off on the wrong foot," she said through suddenly dry lips. "What I do is for the good of everyone-"

Val interrupted her again. "But is it good for everyone? Are you aware of how many crimes happen in the Lawndale area alone, much less the rest of Gotham City, every day? The pleasantness of many of the surrounding suburbs notwithstanding, statistics place Gotham proper itself in the top ten most crime-infested cities in the world. Based on what the GCPD has estimated, there have been at least ten muggings since we started this interview alone."

"I can't be everywhere at once," Jane said, feeling anger start to percolate in her chest. "I'm Supergirl, not Perfectgirl."

"But you do count super-speed among your powers, don't you?" Val asked. Her quizzical look was so obviously manufactured that it was comical, but Jane wasn't laughing. "Doesn't that mean you can be everywhere at once? Or at least you should be able to do even more than you have been doing, right? But instead, you seem content to remain here in Lawndale for the most part, leaving Gotham to ro-"

"Gotham City is Batgirl's territory!" Jane blurted, immediately wishing she could reel her words back in.

"Yes, Batgirl . . . "

Val's eyes narrowed in a shrewd expression that had never made it to any of her publicity photos, and with what Jane figured was good reason. If she had seen it before the interview had started, she would have never allowed said interview to happen. It was a dangerous, calculating look that made a chill run up Jane's back.

Then, as suddenly as it had come, it was gone, replaced once again by the insincere smile and wide-eyed look that was a Val staple. "I was thinking about trying to flag her down for a little chat too while I'm here in town!" Val said cheerfully. "Do you think you could arrange something?'

"No," Jane said adamantly. Not even if I could, she added silently.

"Oh, well, 'zero perspiration, girlfriend'!" Val giggled. "Anyway, speaking of Batgirl, I'm sure you heard about the trouble over at Ace Chemicals just a little while back? Rumor has it that she might have been involved somehow. Is that why you weren't there to help?"

"I-" Jane said, then choked as the last of her confidence and patience broke simultaneously. Anger flooded in to take their place, and she leaned over to put her face right in Val's.

"The incident at Ace Chemicals was a tragedy," she said, her voice dangerously low but gradually rising. "Should I have been there? Yes, damn straight I should have. I should have been able to save everyone there. I should have been able to stop the destruction of property and the loss of life and sanity. I should have been able to help. But I wasn't there! And do you know why? Because I didn't even know about it until it was too late! All these powers, and I didn't even know!

"People get ripped off," she continued, full-out yelling, "they get robbed, they get hurt, they die, and it happens all the time, and sometimes there's nothing I can do about it! But it's still my fault because I should be there! I'm fast, I'm strong, I'm tough, but no matter how I try, sometimes I'm not fast or strong or tough enough! AND IT'S NOT. FREAKING. FAIR!"

The silence that suddenly descended around Jane was broken only by the sound of passing traffic and static-lined voices coming from the police radios. She stared at Val's stricken face for a few moments before looking around to see everyone else nearby looking back at her in shock, pity, and fear. She felt her body start to shake and weaken, almost as if she had gotten close to another chunk of the green rocks that sapped her very life-force.

"I'm . . . I'm sorry," she mumbled, unsure if anyone other than Val was even close enough to hear her.

One of the police officers cleared his throat and stepped forward. "Ah, Supergirl?" he said cautiously. "I dunno if now's a good time or not, but there's this other situation we could use your help with . . . "

Jane swallowed deeply, looked over at Val, then said, "Yah, okay. Sure. Where?"

Once the cop had given her the address, she disappeared in a blur of red and blue, kicking up a gust of wind that nearly made Val tumble to the ground. The reporter steadied herself, and watched the retreating figure for only a half a second before she ran back to the police line, jumped over it, and pushed a hole through the crowd until she reached the rental car that George already had running. She slid into the passenger seat, buckled her seat belt, and glared at her assistant.

"Follow that girl."

Jane kicked herself again and again as she ran. Not literally, though she was considering it.

She told herself that there was no way that Val could have known about the connection between her and Ace Chemicals. There was no way she could have known that it was there and on that night that Jane's best friend Quinn had lost her mind and Quinn's boyfriend Charles had lost his life to one of the company's industrial cocktails. She couldn't have known about the guilt that coursed through Jane's mind, body, and soul that she hadn't been there, that she hadn't been able to save all those people.

And yet the very mention of the incident had set Jane off like a bomb. Worse, it had set Supergirl off in front of all those people. Unlike Batgirl, Supergirl actually held the public trust. She had scoffed at the "Val Takes On Supergirl" articles, naively certain that she could turn the woman around to her side if she could just explain things.

Instead, Val had showed her just how fragile her position in the public trust could be. She was Jan-El, an alien from another planet, but she still had human feelings and human failings.

How can I be trusted to save the city, she thought as tears pooled, if I can't even manage to save my friends?

Her time for introspection and self-loathing was cut short as she rapidly approached her destination. She lifted her red wraparound sunglasses and wiped her eyes before pulling to a stop next to a black and white sitting outside a fenced yard surrounding what looked like an old flophouse.

"Supergirl, thank goodness you're here," one of the police officers crouched behind the car said. He then looked at her more closely and said, "Uh, hey, are you okay?"

"I'm fine," she returned curtly. "What seems to be the problem?"

"There's this gang that decided to expand its territory out of the city," he told her. "We figured they were basing their expansion out of this building, but they musta caught wind of the raid. Now they're shooting at anybody that gets close. We're waiting on a SWAT team to get here, but we heard you were in the area . . . "

"Gotcha. One rout, coming up."

With a single bound, she leaped over the line of squad cars blocking the open section in the fence. She landed on the other side and sped into the dirt lot only to be knocked back by a sudden explosion of flame. She hit the ground and rolled, extinguishing the fire that seemed to cling to her for a few seconds, then picked herself up warily.

Despite the officer's earlier words, no one in the building shot at her, and she could see why. With her enhanced vision, she could make out the remains of an odd-looking metal disk sitting in a crater where she had stepped moments before. Scanning the yard carefully, she could easily pick out several slight mounds in the dirt, each one undoubtedly disguising even more nasty surprises.

They weren't shooting because she was standing in the middle of a mine field.

Someone behind her shouted something, and she half-turned to give a signal that she was okay. The flame had merely surprised her without actually hurting her, but it wasn't an experience she wanted to repeat or a limit she wanted to test.

Stepping forward carefully, she kept her eyes glued to the nearby areas of raised earth, making sure not to let her feet get anywhere near them. It was slow going, but she didn't trust herself to be able to weave her way through the field at super-speed without setting off another blast.

She heard more shouting from behind her, which put her teeth on edge. She turned again, this time to ask for some quiet so she could concentrate, when she noticed the reason for all the yelling. Val had arrived, slipped over the fence, and was running straight toward Jane with a determined look on her face.

All Jane could do at first was goggle uselessly at the approaching blonde, but she recovered and tried to wave her off. "Val, get back! Now!"

"Not until I get answers, !"

Val's words turned into a horrendous scream when she stepped on one of the mines and a burst of electricity started curling around her body. Ignoring the danger to herself, Jane used a short burst of super-speed to get over to Val and grabbed onto her shoulders.

The electric charge passed through the reporter's body and into Jane's. It didn't hurt, she noticed, at least not much, but it did cause her muscles to lock up and left her frozen like a statue. With a herculean effort, she managed to force her arms to one side, pulling Val away from the mine and tossing her into the air where she evaporated with one final screech of pain and fear.

Jane fell to her knees and stared numbly at the spot Val had last occupied. "No," she breathed softly. "No . . . "

She stood, gritted her teeth, and turned back toward the house. The three mines she hit on her way to the front door of the run-down building flared with more fire, electricity, and what she assumed had to be some kind of poisonous gas, but none of them did anything other than momentarily inconvenience her. The door was rendered into matchsticks with a single punch.

Bullets hit her head, chest, and arms, but she ignored them as they flattened against her impervious skin and Kryptonian clothing, then fell to the floor harmlessly. Every gang member who didn't run away as she stalked by them was knocked out with a single hit each. Her enhanced hearing led her to the building's emergency stairwell and up to the fourth floor, where she could make out voices talking about a strategy to take her down, a strategy obviously being formulated by the brains of the operation.

Another trashed door found her stepping into a large den filled with armed men and women. Right in the middle of the room was a table at which stood a pudgy man wearing slightly better clothing than the people around him. He looked at her with something close to wonder.

"You walked through my mines," he said, a half-smile curling his lips. "Just . . . walked through them. No one just walks through my mines."

Ignoring his words, she took a step toward him.

"Ah, well," he said with a frown. "I suppose everyone should start shooting."

More bullets slapped against Jane, stinging at most. She continued walking forward heedlessly until she was in a position where anyone missing her would hit people on the other side of the room. The gunfire trailed off as one of the goons stepped around the table and pointed a pistol directly at her face.

The muzzle flash and subsequent exit of the bullet from the gun's barrel seemed to go in slow motion for Jane. She watched as the small bit of rapidly rotating metal flew across the two foot gap, broke through the lens of her sunglasses, and smashed against her eye. Like all of the other bullets before it, it fell away from her without leaving so much as a mark.

She snatched the pistol from the goon's hand and squeezed it out of shape before dropping it to the ground.

"You're all under arrest," she said.

No one argued.

"This afternoon's events involving reporter Val Willis and gang leader Carl Draper-"

"Supergirl, can we have just a moment-"

"Supergirl, can you answer a few questions-"

"Supergirl, would you look this way-"

"-an earlier altercation between Metropolis-based reporter Valerie Willis and local superhero Supergirl-

"-thoughts on the death of Ms. Willis and capture of Mr. Draper and his-"

"-unable to save her from the mine, or did you allow her to be disintegrated-"

"-death was a direct result of your actions, or do you believe that she is solely to blame for her own-"

"-regarding this matter, Supergirl?"

"-were you arguing about, Supergirl?"

"-could have been avoided, Supergirl?"

Unable to give them the answers they wanted and unwilling to deal with any more of the garbled voices and camera flashes coming from the mass of humanity the police were barely managing to contain, Jane ran. She didn't bother to stop to change into her civilian clothing. She didn't try to take a winding route to throw off anyone following her. She simply ran until she was home safe in her own room.

Her brother Trent came in a little later to find her curled up on the bed, her body heaving with wracking sobs. He laid down next to her, wrapped her up in his arms, and tried his best to comfort the confused and hurting teenage girl.

Jane walked back into the house the next day, set down the backpack that held her Supergirl outfit, and put her back against the closed door with a tired grunt. She wiped her hands down her face, feeling completely washed out emotionally. Trent stepped in from the kitchen, two bottles of root beer in his hands. He gave one over to Jane and took a long pull from his own before speaking.

"So, how'd it go?"

"No charges are being brought against Supergirl," Jane replied, though she sounded far from happy about it. "All of the witnesses confirmed that Val avoided the cops to cross a police line and that Supergirl did everything she could to save her." She took a swallow of her drink and stared down into the neck of the bottle. "Not that the press believed a word of it, of course. They still seem to think I snatched her up and dropped her down on the mine myself."

"But you didn't," said Trent.

"No, I didn't," Jane echoed sourly. "But it was because of me she was even there. She was chasing after me. She had me on the ropes, she knew it, and she was moving in to finish me off."

There was the slight tink of splintering glass, but Jane seemed oblivious to it. Root beer leaked out over her fingers and started to pool and fizz on the carpet. Trent reached out, gently took the bottle from her, and set it and his own drink on an end table before pulling her in for a hug.

"It wasn't your fault, y'know," he said.

Jane buried her face in his shoulder. "I know," she said, muffled by his shirt. "Doesn't make it any better."

"So now what?"

"That I don't know," Jane said, turning her head so she could breathe easier. She wasn't sure how long it had been since her brother had washed the shirt he was wearing, but she guessed it had to be in the range of weeks. "My fault or not, if there hadn't been a Supergirl, Val would still be alive."

"Huh," Trent grunted. "What about all those other people?"

"What other people?" Jane asked, then pulled back from him to cross her arms and roll her eyes. "What, the people I've saved?" she asked. "Yes, Trent, I know, I know. Supergirl saves lives. It's just . . . this is tough, okay? Maybe it's a little bit more than a sixteen year old is supposed to be handling. Even a sixteen year old who can bench press an SUV. I didn't really wanna do any of this in the first place. Maybe I should just hang it up and wait until I'm older. I don't know . . . what do you think?"

Trent mulled the question over for a few moments before answering. "I'm not gonna say that I understand what you're goin' through, Janey," he told her. "I don't really. Hell, I don't understand what I'm goin' through most of the time. But you know I'll back your play, no matter what you decide to do."

She looked at him. He was smiling that slight Trent smile, but the concern behind his expression was readily apparent. She glanced away and sighed, then said, "Okay. Tell you what. I'm gonna try and take just a little time off from the superheroics to think about it. Hopefully Lawndale can get along without me for at least a day or two."

Trent arced an eyebrow. "Maybe they can get Batgirl to fill in for ya," he said, picking up his drink and then nearly spilling it as she lightly punched his shoulder.

"You doof," Jane laughed as she grabbed her own broken bottle to throw away.

Caught up in their sibling mock-fight as they walked out of the room, neither of them noticed the old television set sitting in the corner flicker on, then off, then on again. Silent static played across its screen for several seconds before it shut down again for good.

Jodie rubbed her eyes and growled in frustration before resuming pounding on the keyboard, trying to elicit any sort of positive response. The screen of the computer remained stubbornly frozen despite her best attempts, the only movement evident being that of the cursor when she moved the mouse.

Then, just as she was ready to reach down and reset the entire system, windows began to pop up, close down, and move around, seemingly at random at first but finally in a pattern that she recognized as all the command attempts she had been making before, all executing at once.

"No no no no!" she screamed, grabbing the sides of the monitor and shaking it in frustration. When the window containing the article she had been writing shut down without saving, she slumped forward to rest her forehead against the screen.

"Careful, you'll leave a smudge."

Looking up with a mixture of annoyance and abject misery, Jodie found Jane standing over her, camera slung around her neck and a bag of chips in her hands. Jane carefully selected a single chip and nonchalantly munched it, ignoring the dirty look Jodie was giving her.

Jodie shook her head and decided that taking out her frustrations on her staff and friends wouldn't help the situation. Instead of exploding like she wanted to, she calmly said, "Hello, Jane. Early for the third day in a row?"

Jane ate another chip. "Yup," she said. "Decided to take some time off from painting and stuff to take some pictures. Follow some leads. Help get another issue of the Lowdown ready to go. That sort of thing."

"For all the good it'll do us," Jodie snarled, then winced. "Nothing against your pictures, of course," she added quickly. "It's just that even if I were to send you out to shoot anything, I wouldn't be able to get a story written about it because nothing is working!"

Jodie gestured at the computer screen, which had started to dance back and forth as if the power was being rapidly turned off and on. Green lines ran across it every once in a while, and both the text and icons were turning into junk characters.

"Oh, wow, it's hit the school computers, too?" Jane said, frowning at the nearly epileptic display. "Stuff has been doing this all over town the past couple of days."

"I know! I haven't been able to write or edit anything because my work keeps getting deleted every five minutes!" Jodie smacked the monitor, which only caused it to glitch even more. "And it's not just for the Lowdown, I've got some freelance work for the Sun-Herald lined up, too, and now I'll never get it done in time!"

"Well, to be fair, their stuff is probably all backed up, too," Jane shrugged. "What were you gonna be writing about? Maybe I can go ahead and get pictures for it anyway."

"That Carl Draper guy escaped from prison yesterday," Jodie told her, "and if nothing else, all of the electronics in Lawndale going haywire should make for a decent story if it would stop long enough for them to print it."

Jane's eyebrows came together when she heard Draper's name, but she dismissed it as unimportant for the time being. "Anybody know what's causing it?"

"Apparently the power station is running just like it's supposed to," the editor of the Lowdown said, shaking her head. "Without a proper reason, naturally it's everything from a government conspiracy to disruption caused by Supergirl's mothership landing to take her back home, depending on who you ask."

"Ha! 'Supergirl's mothership'?"

"Well, there hasn't been a confirmed Supergirl sighting in a little while. People are starting to think- finally!" Jodie clapped her hands and breathed a sigh of relief as the computer suddenly stabilized, then leaned in closer when a video popped up on the screen and maximized itself. "What the-?"

Jane's jaw hung open in shock as the image ran. "No way," she said. "No way."

"Isn't that-?"

"It is," Jane confirmed. "It's Val. As in . . . Val!"

Valerie Willis stared out at them from the computer screen as a poppy top 10 tune played over the external speakers, but it was a Valerie Willis that had undergone a radical change.

The first and most obvious difference was that she was completely blue. She was still wearing the all-purple outfit that Jane had last seen her wearing several days past, but her skin was a very pale shade of blue, her eyes glowed blue from the pupils, and her hair - once blonde and bobbed flat against her head - was a darker neon blue that stood straight up into the air as if she'd stuck her finger in a light socket.

Which I guess she kind of did, Jane thought numbly. "Is that makeup or something?" she asked aloud.

"I don't know," Jodie replied. "I thought she was dead, anyway!"

Jane opened her mouth to speak again, but shut it when Val drew her thumb across her neck and the music stopped.

"People of Lawndale!" the transformed reporter said, her cheerful, eager voice coming through the speakers so clearly that it was as if she were standing in the room with them. "Most of you may remember me as Val Willis, as in the 'Val Takes On...' series of editorial articles syndicated to all your favorite magazines and newspapers in the Metropolis and Gotham areas! But some of you may also remember that Val died just a few days ago thanks to that awful, horrible so-called 'superhero', Supergirl!"

"Oh, come on!" Jodie yelled at the screen, causing Jane to smirk.

"Well, Val did die that day," Val continued, "but Livewire was born! And right now, I've like totally got control of every electrical system in the Lawndale area! I control the horizontal! I control the vertical! From now on, I control everything you see and hear! I'm the power company now, so if you dudes and dudettes want to keep the juice flowing . . . well, let's just say Livewire is partial to cash, jewelry, and gold bullion!

"And just in case anyone thinks this is a 'totally bogus' scam, I'd like to direct your attention to the intersection near you! Ciao, babies!"

Val waved a blue hand at the camera and stuck out her tongue, then the image blipped out, leaving Jodie with a clear desktop.

Jodie looked up at Jane. "What do you think she meant by-"

The sound of car horns followed by the squealing of tires and a heavy crash cut her off and sent both girls running for the nearest window. As they stared out in horror at the nearby street, they could see two cars, one wrapped around the front of the other and both sitting right under a randomly changing street light. More vehicles had come to a stop haphazardly around the accident, and it became readily apparent that a traffic jam would soon ensue.

"We need to go out there and help," Jodie said. "We need to- . . . Jane?"

She looked around to find that the other girl had completely disappeared, leaving her camera and bag of chips sitting abandoned on one of the computer tables.

Jane burst into her bedroom at Casa Lane and was surprised to find that her Supergirl outfit was already laid out on the bed for her. She turned around to find Trent standing behind her. He tossed her a new pair of red-tinted wraparound sunglasses and leaned against the door frame.


Trent shrugged. "Bought 'em a couple of days ago," he said. "Kinda figured you might need a new pair at some point. So, that was Val, huh?"

Jane became a tornado for a second, switching out her regular clothes for her Kryptonian dress at super-speed. "You saw her, too?" she asked as she straightened her gloves.

"Whole town saw her, I think," Trent told her. "She even came on the TV downstairs, and it hasn't worked in five years."

Jane slipped on her new glasses. "Huh," she said. "I saw her on a computer. I guess I'll try looking for her at the TV stations first, then figure something else out from there."

"Good lu-" said Trent, but she had already rushed past him and out of the house.

The streets were lined with chaos. Traffic, though light, had already begun to back up horrendously. Jane found herself having to dodge between extra pedestrians on the sidewalk as well as the cars they had abandoned in the middle of the road. She found a wreck at the first intersection she came across, so she stopped to make sure everyone was okay before moving on.

The already crumpled passenger side door of the crashed truck came away easily in Jane's hand. After tossing it to the side, she crawled in and gently touched the shoulder of the driver. His eyes fluttered as he came to and looked over at her.

"Supergirl?" he muttered. "Am I dreamin'?"

"Nope," she returned. "Not anymore, anyway. Are you okay? Any broken bones, head trauma, internal bleeding, that sort of thing?"

The man seemed to wake up a little bit as he checked himself over. "No, I think I'm good," he said.

"Okay, let's get you out of-"

As she helped him scoot across the seat, the radio suddenly jumped to life, startling both of them.

"Hellooooooooo, Lawndale! How are we all doing on this beautiful day?"

"That's her!" the man said, pointing at the radio. "That's the voice I heard just before the crash!"

"I'll tell you how we're doing," Val continued. "We're getting a little 'bummed out' because none of you are moving fast enough with all the cash and valuables! And it should come as no surprise that we're not very jiggy with the Lawndale PD trying to get in contact with the Gotham PD, so your rights to the airwaves have just been revoked! If you want 'em back, just start laying out the green and gold on your front porches for me to pick up later, 'kay? This is Livewire, signing off!"

"Do you have a cellphone?" Jane asked the man. "Car phone? Walkie talkie? Anything?"

"Uh, yah," he said, pulling out his mobile phone and handing it to her.

Jane turned the phone on and started dialing the school, then cursed when it started cycling through the "no signal" sound. Dialing a few other random numbers got the same result, so she tossed the cell back to the man in frustration.

"So she's got control of the local internet, the traffic signals, the TV transmitters, the radio towers, and the cellphone towers. How the heck is she doing this?" she grumbled to herself. "Hey, think you'll be good on your own now?" she asked the man, who nodded. "Good. Go check on the other driver and then find someplace safe, someplace without a lot of electronics around. I've gotta find this lady before she does any more damage."

Back on the street, Jane beat feet toward the nearest television station that she knew of. Residential homes gradually gave way to a commercial area, but the scenes at the various intersections she passed were almost universally the same. She stopped briefly to give a hand where it was needed, but unless it looked like a real emergency, she kept running. She knew that if she didn't find Val soon, much worse could happen to far more people.

She tore past a mini-mall, then screeched to a halt and turned back to stop in front of an electronics store that had a huge display of brand new TV sets sitting in the window, each and every screen showing Val's face. She was talking, but the volume had been muted. Jane was just about to turn up her hearing to see if she could catch anything when all of the Val's suddenly turned and looked directly at her.

It took her a second to realize that the Vals weren't synchronized, each of them looking straight down at her from different angles. She jumped back when she noticed, and the glowing blue eyes followed her movement exactly.

"Supergirl!" the Vals all cried out in unison.

Flickering cords of electricity shot out of the TV screens and poured through the window onto the sidewalk. The light show reached a crescendo, then blinked off like someone had flipped a light switch. Val stood before Jane in the blue flesh, a wide grin creasing her features.

"It's about time you showed up," she said menacingly, electricity playing back and forth across her fingertips.

Jane gaped at Val, her brain still trying to process the scene she had just witnessed. The journalist's skin, she could see now, truly was a light shade of blue bordering on chalk white, and the coloration remained consistent across all the visible portions of Val's flesh. The only makeup evident on her entire body was purple lipstick and length-enhancing mascara.

Noticing Jane's stare, Val looked down at herself and said, "Oh, right! A proper supervillain should have a proper supervillain outfit!"

Val snapped her fingers. A circle of blue-white electricity appeared around her feet, then swiftly moved up around her body until it closed itself out of existence over the top of her head.

In place of the shorts and halter top combo she had been wearing before, her clothing had morphed into a pair of thigh-high boots, a pair of gloves, and a skin-tight leotard with a plunging neckline in the shape of a lightning bolt that dropped almost all the way to her navel. The outfit was mostly black but had a purplish hue to it reminiscent of her former attire, the only parts of which remained were a navy blue neckerchief and three purple hairpins.

"Ta-da!" Livewire exclaimed, turning to better show off her new outfit. "So, what do you think? Great costume or best costume?"

Jane picked her jaw up and shook her head to clear it. "How are you doing this?" she asked.

"Neat, huh? I ionized the air around me. Pretty form-fitting, don't you think?"

"No, no," Jane said with a frown. "I mean, how are you doing any of this? You wouldn't happen to be an alien or anything, would you?"

"Like what everybody says about you and Batgirl?" Livewire asked, perplexed. "Hell, no! I was born in . . . well, the autobiography I was having ghostwritten says 'Metropolis', so let's go with that. Anyway, I don't really know why I can do it, but somehow it feels like I always could, and I only figured it out after you let me step on that mine!"

Jane stepped forward angrily. "Now hold up," she said. "You jumped over that fence of your own free will!"

"But I wouldn't have had to do it if you hadn't run away!" Livewire returned. "If you'd just stayed and taken your medicine like a good little Supergirl, none of this would have happened!"

Jane felt anger rise again as she heard one of her own recriminations against herself echoed by the other woman, but it was quickly replaced by guilt. Her expression softened as she continued walking toward Livewire.

"Look," she said, "my fault or not, I think we need to just stop and take a moment here. This whole 'hold Lawndale hostage for money' thing . . . the zap you got must have scrambled you up or something. If you just come with me to S.T.A.R. Labs, they can try and get you sorted-"

Jane put her hand on Livewire's shoulder in an attempt to seem comforting but immediately realized she had made a mistake. What felt like several thousand volts suddenly poured through her body as tiny arcs of lightning flowed around her and Livewire. After a few seconds that seemed like an eternity, she was launched into the air and landed hard on her butt several yards away. Her muscles twitched spasmodically, leaving her unable to get up for a few horrifying moments.

"Ah-ah-ah!" Livewire admonished, waggling her finger. "Mustn't touch, Supergirl! My new name isn't just a colorful metaphor!"

With an exaggerated swagger, she moved over to crouch down next to Jane. She placed a single gloved finger against the girl's forehead and started up a constant flow of stunning energy to keep Jane from getting back up, then chuckled softly to herself.

"I don't think you fully understand the situation, Supergirl," said Livewire. "I don't want to get sorted out. And I'm definitely not scrambled. This isn't about the money . . . though I will admit that it's a nice little bonus!

"See, I had quite a lot of time to think while I was floating around as a loose collection of ionized particles. I finally came to the conclusion that there were only two things I really wanted out of life anymore. First, of course, is revenge on you for allowing me to become this freak of nature. I mean, I'm jiggy with the electricity powers, but the new complexion? Puh-lease. Do you know how hard it's going to be coordinating my wardrobe now? Forget about it!"

Livewire paused and looked thoughtful for a second. "Where was I?" she said distantly, then brightened both figuratively and literally for a moment. "Oh, yes! And second, I want to show the world what a horrible fraud you are. You're not Perfectgirl, and I don't think you're even Supergirl. You're just Kindofokaygirl at most, and I'm gonna prove it by taking you down!"

Jane pushed her arm up despite the pain and paralysis to swat Livewire's finger from her forehead. Once free of the flow of electricity that had been keeping her immobile, she rolled away and jumped to her feet.

"Why don't you try being a superhero instead?" she asked. "Be a better one than me, show me up that way."

Livewire sighed and rolled her eyes. "Uh, no," she said. "Then Lawndale will just have two super-simpletons running around, and everyone will still love you even if they love me more. Which they would, of course. No no no, I'm afraid the only way people are really going to see you for the loser you are is if a supervillain takes you down.

"So," she said as she unleashed twin bolts of lightning from her hands, "how 'bout we get this party started?"

The electrical discharge tore through empty air as Jane stepped to the side. She felt her skin prickle as it went past, barely missing her, but she didn't have time to breath a sigh of relief. Livewire tossed another bolt her way, then a third, forcing her to focus entirely on dodging. After another blast passed her by, she swung all the way around to the other side of her attacker, the massive g-forces of moving so fast in so small an arc causing darkness to press around her vision for a second.

"Stand still, dammit!" Livewire snarled as she flung a globe of ball lightning over her shoulder. It was a blind throw, but it hit the ground and exploded like a grenade, blasting a crater into the asphalt next to Jane as she jumped away.

"No, thanks," Jane retorted. She lunged forward to stand face to face with Livewire as the former journalist spun around. "Seriously, let's just talk-"

"Dodge this!" Livewire screamed as a dome of bluish-white light exploded around her, tearing up the ground as it expanded.

Jane tried to push back from the assault, but too late. She was caught up in the electrical maelstrom and shoved out at tremendous speed. The ground rose up to smash into her side, sending her rolling end over end down the street for several yards. Steam rose up from her hair and costume as she rose unsteadily to her feet and tried to focus her eyes.

Livewire was still standing, but just barely. She looked almost as bad as Jane felt. The glow in her eyes was subsiding, small sparks were flaring fitfully around her body, and she stared down at the massive pit of broken and melted asphalt that she had created around herself as if she couldn't fully register what she was looking at.

"Woooo!" she said. "That was nasty! Guess holding Lawndale hostage for so long took more outta me than I thought." She pointed vaguely in Jane's direction and said, "But don't you worry, Stupidgirl! I'll be back right after I have a little power lunch! TTFN!"

Before Jane could react, Livewire ran up to the electronics store's busted window and leaped back into the television sets, disappearing in an erratic flash of light. Jane stared after her, grinding her teeth.

"Dave! C'mere! The TV's back on!"

Dave grabbed hold of the top of his hard hat, dashed across the room, and skidded to a halt next to Rob, his co-worker at the hydro-electric dam. Sure enough, the weird blue woman had disappeared and was replaced by a special news report. Rob hit the volume knob on the tiny set.

"Have they said anything yet?" Dave asked.

"If ya'd shut yer gob for a second, you'd be able to hear it yourself!" Rob shot back.

"-image of the woman used in the terrorist demands has been identified as that of Valerie Willis, the syndicated journalist who died late last week in an incident involving local hero Supergirl," the reporter said. A byline photo of Willis appeared in the corner of the screen as she continued. "The police cannot be reached for comment at this time, and it is still uncertain exactly how every radio and television signal in the Lawndale area was hacked all at the same time, nor is it known why control was given back only minutes ago. If-"

The audio suddenly cut out as the picture of Valerie Willis flared electric blue and seemed to come to life before the disbelieving eyes of the two men.

"Hi, boys!" Livewire said cheerfully as she stepped out of the television, causing Dave and Rob shy back a few feet from the bolts of energy that streamed around her for a few moments. "I'd like a super-mega-sized hydroelectric combo meal with extra electron dip, a side of zap-zap fries, and . . . ooooh, I'm trying to watch my figure, so I'd better go with the large diet cola."

"Holy crapsticks!" Rob yelled then ran off, dragging Dave along with him by the collar.

"But I haven't even paid yet, boys! Boys! Boys?" Livewire shrugged helplessly and started walking to the nearest turbine. "Oh, well. I suppose I'll just have to get it myself!"

One of the frightened attendants of the Lawndale Hydroelectric Dam apparently had to presence of mind to hit an alarm as he was fleeing, but Livewire ignored the blaring siren and flashing lights. The only person that could possibly stop her was Supergirl, and she'd left that goody-two-boots almost all the way over on the other side of the suburb, still shaking of an unhealthy dose of electricity.

And it was doses of electricity alone that Livewire was worried about. Though she'd compared her need for a jump start to hunger, what it really felt like was an emptiness inside of her, a nothingness that she'd never even noticed before. After exploding in Supergirl's face, she'd felt the exultation of hurting her enemy, but she also felt like she'd lost something.

But now she was ready to fill that emptiness back up to the top. She'd gathered a little strength back from the TVs she had traveled through, but she craved more. With the last of her power reserves, she reached up to the side of the turbine and ripped one of the cables from the side. Sparks flew through the air, tingling delightfully across her skin. She enjoyed and absorbed the shower for a moment, then grabbed both broken ends of the cable and let the energy flow from them into her.

Bright light pulsed around her. It poured from her eyes and mouth as she cackled gleefully at the feelings of power. She was a queen, an immortal, a goddess. She would take Lawndale with this power, squeeze it for every last drop, and then tear it apart to find and eradicate Supergirl once and for all. And after that, the entire world would be hers for the taking. No one could stop her.

No one!

"Yah," a voice from behind her said mockingly, "not gonna happen."

Livewire whirled around in furious surprise. "How the heck did you get here so fast?" the electric vampire demanded. "How did you even know where I was?"

Jane scoffed as she slipped on a thick pair of heavy duty gloves in place of her normal mitts. "You use some super blast on me, you look weak afterward, and you say something about having lunch? It's not exactly the toughest riddle in the world to figure out. I just had to stop by a hardware store to grab some better equipment to handle you with and then just run straight for the nearest and biggest source of electricity in Lawndale."

"Handle. This!" Livewire bellowed, her amplified voice echoing through the dam. She pointed her hands down at the floor and shot out streams of energy that lifted her up into the air. Once launched, her entire body was surrounded with an electric aura which kept her aloft. As Jane quickly scrambled for cover, Livewire unleashed an aerial assault, tearing up the concrete floor with blast after blast as she zipped along overhead and followed the fleeing superhero.

"Dammit, I am really getting sick of everyone but me being able to fly," Jane grumbled as she dodged another volley of electric bolts. Taking just a split second to look over her shoulder and gauge the distance and Livewire's speed and trajectory, she jumped onto the side of one of the turbines and propelled herself back toward her attacker.

Livewire's glowing eyes widened as Jane arced up through the air. She put on the brakes but wasn't fast enough to avoid the double-fisted over-the-head slam that the other woman planted across the top of her head. The world spun crazily as she spiraled out of control. The floor rushed up to meet her, cracking as she crashed into it and her electric aura exploded around her.

Jane shook her hands after she made her own, more controlled landing. The electrician's gloves had absorbed some of the shock, but enough still got through to leave her feeling just a little bit numb. She cautiously approached the smoking crater that Livewire had made, waving the smoke aside just before getting a facefull of fist.

Livewire's electrically enhanced strength as well as the electricity she was generating itself forced Jane into the air. She landed on her back, skidded for a few feet, then flipped herself over to land on her feet once more. She gently touched her nose to ensure that it wasn't broken. The force of the blow had felt like it might have been enough to do so.

"I'm getting more than a little sick of this, Supergirl!" Livewire screamed as she stepped out of the crater. "And not 'sick' in the good sense! Why don't you just give up? Haven't you heard the voices calling for you to step down? Don't you know the youth of Lawndale and Gotham want you to give up and let everybody handle their own problems without you sticking your nose in? I'm the voice of my generation, and my generation says 'GO! AWAY!'"

Ten pinpoint bolts of lightning flew from Livewire's fingers and tore through the air between her and Jane. Time slowed down as Jane's super-speed kicked in, and she leaped into the air slightly as she contorted her body. Two of the bolts glanced across exposed skin, but she was able to twist into just the right position to let the rest pass by harmlessly. She hit the ground in an undignified manner, but quickly picked herself back up again.

"'Your generation'?" she yelled back. "What, you mean the senior citizens? Or, hell, I'll give you the benefit of the doubt . . . maybe you're talking about the fifty year olds of Gotham? Hmm?"

Livewire stomped her feet in rage. "I'm twenty, dammit! Twenty! . . . ish! Just . . . die!"

The ex-journalist poured everything she had into a single blast emanating from every part of her body. It roared out of her like a freight train, covering the distance between her and Jane far too fast and covering too wide an area for even Jane's super-speed to get her out of the way. Unable to think of anything else, she held out her gloved hands, planted her feet as firmly as she could, and braced herself for the full brunt of the attack.

It was hell.

At first, Jane really thought that she may have been killed and taken directly into hell. Every part of her hurt. She felt her gloves start to melt under the bombardment. Her glasses sagged across her face and then began to drip hot plastic down onto her bent knee. The parts of her suit that were made of Kryptonian fabric continued to hold up, but everything else was fusing, melting, or burning. Her vision, filled with the bright blue-white of electricity raging around her, began to grow black at the edges.

But she stepped forward.

And she stepped forward again.

Despite all the pain, through the haziness, she forced herself to stay conscious and moving. Gradually, bit by bit, step by step, she worked to close the distance between her and Livewire. She considered trying to move to the side, but one of her steps faltered, causing her to stumble sideways involuntarily. Livewire's beam simply moved with her, showing an attempt at escape would be futile. Livewire truly meant to end it.

Jane gritted her teeth. She wouldn't - she couldn't - let that happen. She couldn't flee. She couldn't give up. She couldn't die. Doing any of those things would mean that Livewire was right, that she wasn't worthy of being a hero.

Supergirl took another step.

Two high-pitched wails of agony, anger, and frustration filled the air, and it took Jane a moment to figure out that the sounds were coming from her and Livewire. She looked up to find that they were almost close enough to touch. The lines on Livewire's face were twisted and contorted with hate and effort, making her look even older than she really was as she poured more and more energy into Supergirl.

She reached out and grasped Livewire's arms. She pulled the older woman in and wrapped her own arms around, locking Livewire in a bear hug. The villain struggled, kick, clawed, and bit, but to no avail. She continued throwing off wave after wave of the power she had drained from the turbine, each one pounding through Jane's head like a hammer hitting an anvil.

Gradually, the swells of electricity slowed and became weaker. Supergirl looked up to see that the glow had disappeared from Val's eyes even as she continued to expend the rest of her stores. Eyelids drooping, body going limp, Val managed to summon up just enough energy to gather a wad of spit and launch it onto Supergirl's face. It fizzled with one last bit of electric discharge before Val went completely dim.

Besides the rumbling thunder of the turbines, the only other sound in the dam was that of two bodies hitting the floor, followed shortly by the clatter of several police-standard shoes running across concrete.

George was just settling down at the bar when his cellphone began to chirp at him. With a longsuffering sigh, he pulled it out and flipped it open. "Yeh?"

"Report," said a deep-throated female voice.

With a quick glance around to make sure nobody was near enough to overhear his conversation, George said, "Seems like everything you said would happen finally did. Little miss finally started poppin' lightning and went nuts. Kinda weird she went and stepped on that electrical mine, though, eh?"

"It has been my experience that this is how these sort of things tend to happen," the voice told him. "We're not sure exactly why metahumans coincidentally experience some form of trauma directly related to their abilities, thus awakening them, but it has happened too many times to ignore. It was almost inevitable that things would unfold this way."

"Yah, well, all and good then, I suppose. Anyhow, Supergirl stepped in on the scene, and now they've got our girl kipped up in some special cell where she can't get any 'lectricity."

"And it's definitely holding her?"

"Near as I can tell," George said over his drink.

"Good. Very good. And how exactly did Supergirl handle 'our girl'?"

George chuckled darkly. "Aw, she had to have 'erself a little nap after," he said. "Seems little miss ain't quite as tough as red an' blue, but she still packs enough of a wallop. Pair her up with one or two more of your conscripted fiends, and I figure you'll see a light show wif a much better ending."

The line was silent for a moment. George thought he could hear the tapping of computer keys, but it was quickly drowned out by the voice again. "Very well. For now, we want you to stay in Gotham City. You are to observe Supergirl's activities as you can, but your new main target is Batgirl. Follow, observe, but do not engage. Is that understood?"

George straightened in his seat and threw off a mock salute. "Aye aye, mum!" he said officiously. "Is there anything else I can do for ya, Ms. Abbo?"

"You can desist from calling me derogatory terms, Mr. Harkness," she returned menacingly. "Do not think I am ignorant of the slang of your homeland, and do not imagine for one second that I cannot or will not send you back to the cage I found you in. You might even find yourself sitting right next door to Ms. Willis, and I assure you that you will be sitting there for a very . . . very . . . long time. And that's only if I'm feeling generous. Do I make myself clear?"

"Yes," he said, his tone completely sober. "Perfectly."

There was a click as the call was ended without another word. George stared at the slim phone in his hand and sulked for a minute. Then, with a deft flick of his wrist, he sent it flying through the air. It twirled in an arc, banking back around to George's waiting hand. He flipped it shut, slid it away, and then morosely turned his attention back to his alcohol.

A soft thump from outside brought Trent out of his slumber. Usually such a small sound would never have awakened him, but he got the strangest feeling that he'd heard the sound before and that it might be important.

As he blearily stood up and searched for a shirt and some jeans, he heard a second thump, this one still outside but closer, like it was right on top of the house. The earlier thump came again shortly after, and he realized that he must have been hearing the noise in his sleep over and over again, and that had been what woke him up.

Dressed, or at least somewhat decent, he stumbled downstairs, took a turn into the kitchen, and grabbed a couple of drinks from the fridge before stepping out the back door. Just as he stepped down onto the grass, a human body slammed into the ground a few yards away. It bounced once slightly, then lifted a fist and beat it into the dirt in frustration.

Jane picked herself up, brushed herself off, then grunted angrily as she jumped back up to the roof.

"Y'know, that probably can't be good for the shingles," Trent said as Jane launched herself into the air and succumbed to gravity yet again. "Or the lawn," he added.

Jane accepted the drink he proffered and took a long pull at it before responding. "I'm gonna get this flying thing down," she said.

Trent nodded silently and looked around nonchalantly. "Sure it's a good idea to be doing it here?" he asked.

She nodded and wiped a bit of sweat from her forehead. "Most of the neighbors are out except for the Martins," she said, "and they're busy trying to make another of their little no-neck monsters. Not that I'm actively listening in or anything. Fortunately hitting the ground kind of blocks it out."

"Guess there's an upside to jumping off of buildings," Trent said with a smirk. "So, this mean you're gonna give the superhero thing another go after all?"

"Yah," Jane said, taking another drink. "Yah, I think I am. Val seemed to think I was a failure because I wasn't doing as much as she and other people wanted me to. Like, they expect me to save everyone or something. And if they want to think of me as a failure for that, then they can, because I can't save everyone. But . . . she and I were both wrong about me giving up. Because if I give up, then I'm a failure. Then the people I could save wouldn't be. I can't be everywhere, but I can still do what I can, and that's just gonna have to be enough."

Trent wrapped an arm around her shoulders and gave her a brotherly kiss on top of the head. "Good ol' Janey," he said. "Figure it was worth getting you more sunglasses, gloves, and boots, then. I was gonna get 'em all colored up for ya, too, but I kinda fell asleep halfway through."

Jane pushed him away with a half-indignant laugh. "Oh, so you knew I was gonna keep being Supergirl, huh?" she asked sarcastically.

He shrugged and gave her a half-smile. "I'm a musician," he said. "I'm very sensitive to shifts in mood."

"Yah, okay," she returned skeptically. "But people are gonna start getting suspicious if you keep buying these things Supergirl ends up wearing."

"Nah, I bought multiple pairs of everything from different places all around the city. Besides, I was thinkin' . . . don't you know some people over at S.T.A.R. Labs or something? Maybe they could build you some stuff that's more durable. I dunno."

Jane thought it over for a few moments, then handed her empty bottle back to him. "It's not the worst idea ever, I guess," she said. "But for now, I better get back to work. Those flying bad guys aren't going to catch themselves, you know!"

Trent drained his own drink, saluted her with it, and walked back into the house. He smiled as he heard another dual set of thumps come from outside, confident that no matter how many times his sister fell, she would always manage to get back up.


Roland 'Jim' Lowery

June 23, 2010