"Are you aware of why you lived your life as you did?" The Spectre's voice intoned.
The Spectre had rarely spoken to her directly when Kara was alive, and even then he always seemed distracted and distant. There was nothing distant or distracted about him now, all his attention and will seemed focused on her. She had known so many powerful beings in her life, so many with a personal presence and charisma that seemed to dominate whatever place they found themselves in. Men, women, entities that were neither, used to wielding power and being listened to and obeyed. This was like that, and yet somehow different, the Spectre was on a different plain entirely. And, oddly enough, he seemed to not be the same being she had known, as if there was someone new acting in the role. Kara realized that she hadn't known if that was possible.
"I was hoping," Kara said, "that you might sit with us for a bit, I'd like to..."
"Do you know what contributions you made in your brief material existence?" The Spectre's deep voice demanded. "Have you felt the depth and nature of your connections to others throughout the mortal plane?"
Kara tried again. "I'm sorry, if you would just..."
"Answer!" the Spectre's voice boomed. "Answer, woman! Much now depends upon your ability to perceive your life's values! Why you chose your path! Who you were at the core of your being! Why, when you finally came to the end of things at the beginning of things, you willingly made the sacrifice you made!"
She was momentarily filled with awe. There was a glory and power in the Spectre that made her feel small, and intimidated. It was the same feeling she had when she had met him when she was alive, but now so intense it was almost blinding. Then just as quickly the awe was replaced by a new feeling. Surprised, she realized she was annoyed.
"You know, you really are quite rude." Kara felt her face flush. She hadn't felt that since she was a child living on Argo City. I guess you don't flush when you're invulnerable, she thought. "I asked if you would please sit down," she continued, her voice showing more calm and composure than she felt, "and I offered you tea. You've responded to neither and instead began questioning me as if I was on trial. Am I on trial?"
"All Earthly beings must face the trial of their own truths when the Book of Life is opened! You will..."
"But I'm not from Earth." Kara said simply. "I'm from Krypton. Does that make a difference?"
The Spectre stopped in mid-sentence and glared at her.
"Right to the point, Casper. I think you're out of your jurisdiction. This has to work her way or not at all." The woman who had first welcomed her was grinning, and Kara realized that again she looked different, this time much younger. Her hair had become a reddish-brown, and now she wore a hooded robe with sandals. And her voice had changed, even the way she spoke seemed different, much less formal and more colloquial. Why did this keep happening? Is this what the afterlife was like, people changing constantly around her?
"Did you... just call the Spectre... 'Casper'?" Kara asked, then started giggling. She remembered cartoons on television when she was in the orphanage. "He doesn't seem very friendly to me." She giggled again. This woman's sense of humor, of the absurd, struck a chord in Kara's heart. Again, as before, it was almost as if she knew her from somewhere, some time in her life. The woman responded with hearty laughter, and Kara's giggles turned into laughs in response. It felt good, she couldn't remember when she had last been able to laugh like this.
But now the Spectre's entire focus had returned to the woman, and Kara sensed that her bravado was wavering just a bit. She could see that there was an unspoken agreement of some sort between the two, that they were even reluctant partners in what was now happening. But partners in what, and why?
"Take this tea," Kara said brusquely to the Spectre, "sit down, and tell me what you came to tell me. I guess I have all eternity, so we might as well enjoy ourselves." Kara raised one eyebrow at the pale Hand Of Vengeance, then smiled. "And please, stop lecturing and just talk to me. We were allies when I was alive. Well, I think we were allies, sometimes it was hard for me to tell with you magical types. We were, weren't we? And still are?"
To Kara's surprise, and the woman's obvious amazement, the Spectre did as she asked and slowly sat on the grass. He took the tea, then placed it on the grass beside him. Kara happily accepted this partial victory.
"First," the Spectre started again, "I must inform you of your place and station. You are virtuous, and lived a blameless and honorable life." Kara was relieved to see the Spectre sitting calmly, his voice so much less intimidating, but his tea still untouched. Even sitting cross-legged on the grass he didn't look at ease, his bearing formal and stiff. But at least he wasn't being so belligerent! "And in the face of your own death," he continued, "you chose the difficult path, the necessary path, and acquitted yourself with grace and honor. Your acts were a holding action, they prevented a critical loss, and by your example hope was restored in the hearts of those present. Hope that, in the end, a victory could yet be achieved. The sacrifice you and others made allowed the fabric to be re-woven, and though the universes died at least one could live again. You willingly picked up this burden when the time came, provided inspiration by your example, and because of this you are honored even by Powers you do not know."
Kara was shaking her head, not wanting to believe what she had just heard. "Wait, what do you mean 'the universes died?'"
"The Multiverse as it was became not, and then it was again - but only as one, not many." The Spectre said, almost sadly. "Much that you knew remained, much merged, but infinitely more was lost."
"Wait, wait... we failed? You're saying we failed? I thought you said we made a difference!" The Spectre was silent. Kara's heart was racing. How could her heart be racing? She didn't have one, did she? Oh Rao, Kal!
Kara stood up, her tea dumped unseen on the grass at her feet. "What happened? What happened to Earth? What happened to Kal? I thought you said..." She couldn't continue, she was having a hard time breathing. No! There was always hope, and she could, she would make a difference!
The world seemed to waver, the sky darkening. Ghosts of stone buildings were rising from the ground around her, at first transparent as fog, dreamlike. Then slowly more and more solid. A fortress. The Anti-Monitor's fortress! The air grew cold, and in the distance she heard the battle raging. She turned toward the sounds, her fists clenched, knowing that it was her will that guided this existence. And she would do what had to be done, as she always had. The Anti-Monitor was in there. Kal was in danger, she could hear his cries of pain as the Anti-Monitor battered him to the ground. She had to save him! The fate of all of the Earths was at stake. Kal, Lois. Her friend Barbara.
She felt power flooding through her, familiar and thrilling, fairly crackling through her frame. She looked down and saw she was now in her uniform, then gritted her teeth and focused her mind. Kara centered herself as Kal had taught her, reaching inside to gather together every last erg of energy for the assault, then slowly began to rise into the air. The cold wind was whipping around her now, blowing dust from the stones of the fortress, making her cape flutter and snap behind her. This time it would be different, she told herself. She would save her world, her allies, her friends!
"Please, Kara, stop, please! It's OK," the woman was yelling, trying to reach her, "everything's OK. Damn it Spectre! You know what's at stake!" She grabbed Kara, her hands grasping Kara's arm. "Kara, Kara, stop for a moment! Listen to me!" Kara turned, but her fists were still clenched, her jaw set. "Kara... come back to me. Listen, listen to me! Kara, all of this is your creation. Not the Anti-Monitor's fortress, your creation! Your will, your hope, your drive, your desire, make everything here what it is." The woman's eyes shined. "This was Krypton to you, now it's becoming the Anti-Monitor's fortress. But even if he's here, it's only your will, it's not really him. He's gone! Please Kara, please, don't be caught, this is a trap you're setting for yourself!" Kara looked down at the woman, at the hands gripping her arm. Now the fortress was fading again, the buildings wavering and insubstantial, then vapor and mist. The woman continued, forcing her voice to be calm. "Only your will, your belief. Your faith." The woman paused. "Faith. And Hope. Combined with a will like yours, it makes all the difference in life. It made all the difference in YOUR life. It makes all the difference here." She took Kara's hands, gently pulling her back down to the grass.
Kara nodded, closed her eyes, bowed her head. And the sky was blue again, the hills green, the flowers beautiful and fragrant. "And you've got a strong will." The woman looked around, seemingly surprised that everything was back to what it had been moments before. "Boy have you got a strong will! I'm surprised the Lanterns never recruited you, those little blue freaks never miss a bet. You really grew up right, I knew you would." She grinned that strangely familiar grin again. "You lived that life in the way it had to be lived, the way I couldn't, and did what you had to do. You became the woman the Multiverse needed." Then she laughed. "The Multiverse accepts no substitutes, even my ersatz Sydney Carton. I had to learn that lesson the hard way. Kara, I'm so proud!"
Kara turned and faced the woman, each still gripping the others hands. So familiar, she was so familiar. Her face, her voice, it danced around the edges of her consciousness but always just out of reach. Kara knew she had to grasp this somehow, she needed to know the truth. She should know, why didn't she know? If what the woman had said was true, if faith and hope and will could do so much, then she knew in that moment that she was going to understand, somehow. She would make it happen.
Then, in a sublime moment of perfect clarity it all crystallized and came into focus. Not just her life, not just her death, but even those parts of her life that were hidden from her. Things that had happened when she was half asleep as a child but only dimly remembered were now clear and sharp, integrated into her being. All her successes, all her failures, every moment she was proud of, or regretted, or that mattered to her or anyone else. Events that she had forgotten, places visited, people met and then never seen again, all of it snapped into place. Things that she had witnessed throughout the universe, the Multiverse, in the far future and the distant past. Even events that had been hidden from her by great Powers. Powers such as the Spectre. Now, in this place, even his power could not block her from this knowledge because it was part of her being. Kara turned to the woman, and in that glorious moment she knew. She knew!
"Thus is the Book of Life opened," the Spectre said softly, "and the ways and the paths revealed."
Kara pulled the woman to her greedily, burying her head against the woman's shoulder, and her voice was barely audible as she whispered, "Linda!"