New York – Starr Industries Offices
The rain had finally switched over to snow and a wet heavy layer covered the city. From her office, Karen Starr looked out over the festive scene. Christmas lights twinkled in every direction and mixed with the garish, a blow up Santa flying a helicopter to the understated, single white lights in every window. Here and there she could see last minute shoppers still rushing out to get that final gift.
The office Christmas party had broken up a few hours ago and everyone was gone. The lights were all turned off and Santa Baby by Eartha Kitt played over the sound system. As the boss, she had given everyone the next week off to enjoy the holidays. This was very popular with her staff. At the party they had all told her of their plans. Most were visiting family. Everyone told stories of Christmas' past. There were many laughs and even a few tears as they talked of their memories. It seemed the fondest was of childhood and the excitement of rushing down on Christmas morning to find that special toy under the tree. Karen had smiled along with all of them but hadn't participated.
This wasn't her world and the only other person that knew that was Helena Wayne. They had both been stranded here. Five years had passed and it seemed they were no closer to get home. This world was so similar in many ways, except the key ones. Family and friends weren't the same here as they were back home. They didn't look the same or even act the same. Even their ages were wrong here. While Helena made the best of it, Karen was reluctant to. This business and everything that went with it was just a vehicle to finding her way home. She would leave tomorrow if she had the chance.
They say the holiday season also brings about a quiet depression in many and Karen understood that. Like many she found this a time of reflection. Glancing at her desk she saw the two snow globes that had been her secret Santa presents in the gift exchange. One was of the cityscape, while other was of a sort of idealized rustic scene that was supposed to represent where she was from, she guessed. She reached over and gave it a little shake and watched the imitation snowflakes swirl inside the glass.
Clark tapped the snow off his boots as he entered his apartment. Setting the take-out down, he slipped off his wet coat and hung it on a peg. Next came the sweater and the glasses. He moved over to his computer and turned it on. In the distance he could hear Christmas music from multiple sources but he tuned them out just like all the other noise of the city. He wasn't really in the holiday mood. His adopted family, Martha and Jonathon Kent were both dead. The few friends he had were busy with their own family, so he was on his own this holiday just like the last one and the one before.
He had always been something of a loner even at a young age. His abilities precluded most of the normal activities of a teenager. He became something of an observer, the outsider watching everything. It served him well in his chosen profession, journalism. As his computer retrieved all the vital information of the day, he casually went through is mail. It was mostly junk and bills, but there were Christmas cards from Lana, Jimmy and even one from Lois. He smiled as he read them. He needed to thank Bruce again for helping him reestablish his identity as Clark Kent after what appeared to be his demise.
Bruce, the mercurial Batman from Gotham had turned out to be a better friend than Clark would have imagined. When he agreed to join the Justice League five years ago it was because of a common threat. It had worked out well for the planet, so he continued to assist whenever they called. He wasn't close really with any of them. They met so infrequently and mostly when a crisis arose. He certainly had his opinions on all of them.
Barry and Hal had an easy friendship that predated the League. Barry was the more stable of the two, and kept Hal grounded. Hal was the flyboy, the lady-killer or so he though, and he seemed to bring out the risk taker in Barry. They seemed to get under Bruce and Arthur's skin the most, as those two were the authority figures and functional leaders of the group.
Cyborg, or Victor, Clark chastised himself. He had to keep reminding himself to use his real name not his superhero name. He was the youngest and in many ways had the most difficult time of it. He had been transformed overnight into a living, breathing computer. He couldn't turn it off or take it off. Clark had some idea of what that was like to be bombarded constantly by information. It had taken years to learn to control it, while Victor had to do it on the fly.
Arthur was trapped between two worlds, not sure which he fit in. He was a natural leader and knew it. Right from the start he had stepped forward as the spokesman for the Justice League. That was fine with Clark. Governments were still leery of him, if not openly hostile to an alien among them, especially one with Clark's powers. Arthur was also the only married member of the group, which made him seem older so how.
Bruce was a fascinating person, Clark thought. The least powerful of them, basically an ordinary man, yet he charged in to danger without regard for himself. The combinations of demons that drove him would have sent most people to an insane asylum long ago, yet Bruce fought on. It was as if the city of Gotham had chosen him to be its protector. A more dysfunctional city you couldn't find, with more than its share of criminals, mobsters, lunatics and villains. Few of them had superpowers, but it didn't make the city any less dangerous. It was as if inside that bubble that was Gotham, everyone knew their roles and played out some ancient drama between good and evil.
Then there was Wonder Woman. Clark understood her least of all. Her mystical origins, regal nature and unparalleled beauty made her seemed almost ethereal to the eye. Her power and warrior spirit were almost unmatched on the planet. Clark had heard the rumors about them being together but dismissed them just as he knew she had. Because of their abilities they seemed like a natural for media speculation. She was the only woman in a group with six men and one of the most beautiful women in the world, so it was hard for reporters to resist. As a reporter himself, Clark thought they were missing the obvious connection between Diana and Arthur. They seemed to have an affinity for each other, coming from similar backgrounds. He didn't write about the League, but knew if you were going for the gossip angle, Wonder Woman and Aquaman offered the biggest story. The Princess and the Married King had Charles and Diana ratings written all over it.
The guy caught up in all of it was Steve Trevor. Clark kept his distance from him, as he worked for the government, but it wasn't hard to see Trevor was in love with Diana. It was also easy to see she was too new to the world to even know it at the time. Five years in, Clark could still see that Trevor was carrying a torch, but that Diana thought of him as a friend. She'd confirmed this at one their infrequent meetings. Clark had suspected, but was as surprised as the others when she admitted it. Clark knew a little about carrying a torch and even though he didn't particularly like Trevor, he felt sorry for the guy.
The computer dinged and Clark turned his thoughts back to the events of the day. He opened the Chinese food and began to eat as he scanned through the stories. He read everything but kept tabs on the other Kryptonian on the planet, the one they called Supergirl. He'd met her once, but that hadn't gone so well. She had made it pretty clear she wanted nothing to do with him so he'd backed off. That didn't mean he wasn't desperate for information about her. She was his cousin, Kara, actual flesh and blood from a world he would never knew. He hated waiting, but knew she needed some time to adjust to this new world she found herself in. He would be waiting when she wanted to talk.
The chopsticks stopped just before his lips as a news story from Japan came up. It seemed two new superheroes had fought a radiation monster that was bent on destroying Tokyo. It sounded like the plot of a bad 50's movie, but there was video. Clark clicked on the link and sat back and watched. He recognized the one young woman in the dark outfit and mask. He'd read reports of someone called the Huntress stirring things up in Italy, but the other woman drew his attention. She was dressed in a mostly white outfit with a red cape. There was some sort of insignia on her chest, much like his S but off center. The Japanese pressed had dubbed her Power Girl. As he watched her fly across the sky, tear a tower apart with her hands and then hit the monster with such force that it was sent flying into the Tokyo bay, Clark reporter instincts told him there was a story here. The fact that she was gorgeous didn't hurt either.
Karen looked out at the city skyline and watched the snow fall for a few moments before turning away. It wasn't her skyline. Pushing those melancholy thoughts away she sat down to finish up some last minute paperwork. Tomorrow was just another day for her and she had no plans for celebrating. It wasn't her holiday, so she would probably close up this office and head back to her offices in Micronesia. Maybe some time on the beach would help. The sun and sand, the ocean, those could be from any world, even hers.
As hard as she tried to concentrate on the work, she couldn't help feeling alone and depressed. She kept thinking of her employees at the office party and the smiles on their faces as they told of their plans. She had watched enough holiday movies so she could almost picture the scenes in her mind. The hugs and kisses at the door, the laughter around the dinner table, the opening of gifts and most of all the sharing of memories. It all seemed so beautiful almost like the scene inside the snow globe, but that's where it would remain behind the glass for her.
Helena was God knows where, so Karen felt even more isolated. They would see each other in ten days in Rome, but that wasn't helping right now. Of the two of them, Karen had made a success of her business and outwardly seemed to be adapting the best. That was just a surface illusion. Everything she'd done was with one goal in mind, getting back home. She'd done things she regretted. Chief among them was using Michael Holt, Mr. Terrific. Karen had genuinely liked him, but his data on a quantum tunnel was too vital for what she was doing. Perhaps if this had been her world they would have been at a party together on a night like this, but it wasn't her world.
Helena seemed to be handling the private side of all of this much better than Karen was. While she stayed away from Gotham, Helena had checked out everything about the Bruce Wayne and Selina Kyle in this world. It was still a shock that he had another Robin, not his daughter Helena, but the bigger shock was that Bruce and Selina hadn't married in this world.
The difference between here and back home wasn't just the architecture; it seemed to extend to everything, even the ages of the people both of them knew back home. They were all so much younger here, so different than the ones they knew.
Helena had been surprised when Karen told her she wanted nothing to do with this world's Superman or any another of the other heroes she knew back home. He wasn't the Kal that had taken her in when she was sixteen and raised her. He wasn't even much older than she was on this world. Helena had tried to show Karen the articles about the young woman the press was calling Supergirl, but again she wasn't interested in this world's Kryptonians. Helena had finally let it go, but still found it strange.
Karen had told herself it was part of not getting too comfortable here. She didn't want to loose track of what her ultimate goal was, returning home. It was one of the reasons she and Michael would have never worked, as she would be leaving as soon as she could. Curiosity though, was hard to resist. It seemed the papers and television, never mind the web were always filled with stories about the Justice League or the heroes of this Earth. Karen had resisted for almost four years looking, but finally the curiosity got too much. She began looking at the stories on Superman.
He seemed so different than the man she knew back home. Discretely she did some checking and the differences seemed to grow. On this world Clark Kent's parents were already dead. While he was friends and coworkers with Lois Lane, it didn't appear they were married or even dating for that matter. Karen never let Helena see any of this, knowing she would never hear the end of it if she did did, but quietly she read everything she could about Superman and the Justice League on this Earth. Against the differences were striking. Arthur was the leader of the Justice League, not Kal. There were all the other heroes she expected, but Superman was always in the background never front and center. She read the reports on him and the words cocky, arrogant and aggressive seemed to be used. The other words that appeared the most were standoffish, aloof and distant. He was nothing like the man she knew back home and he was so young. It was just another reminder that she was on another world.
God, she thought, now I'm bumming myself out. The Christmas music wasn't helping either. Pushing away from her desk, she straightened her conservative gray suit and headed over to change the channel on the piped in sound system. About half way there she changed her mind. Maybe it was time to leave the city, the snow and the holiday cheer, she thought. She'd been putting it off for the last few hours since the party broke up, but staying here wasn't much better. Might as well just get on with it, she thought.
Retracing her steps she went back to her office and quickly finished the last of the paperwork and then slipped on her coat. She picked up the two snow globes in one hand and smiled. As she was heading towards the elevator, she saw an unopened bottle of champagne and on a whim decided to take it too. She took one last look around and then started for the elevator. It was one of those elevators of glass that was attached the side of the building. The ride down would give her a breath taking view of New York at Christmas time.
The doors opened and Karen stepped inside. She was preoccupied for a moment, looking for her keys as the doors shut behind her. When she looked up, she gasped in shock. Floating outside the elevator was none other than Superman. He smiled at her.
"Did you really think I wouldn't notice another Kryptonian on this planet?"