In a place that was no place at all, hung a shining city. It contained crystals and fountains and gardens. Outside its domed borders was nothing; not even space. For Argo City existed within a fold of spacetime created for the sole purpose of preserving it from the destruction of Krypton.
A young blonde woman kneeled, viewing events on Earth unfold on a large crystal viewscreen. Her calm gaze reflected both innocence and wisdom - until the events shown her caused a look of consternation instead.
"Mother," she said. "Come here. This woman calling herself Kara Zor-El - it isn't me."
"Of course not, dear. We all know that the universe we left behind has gone through some kind of temporal shift, leaving us unaffected because we're outside the time stream. That's why not even Zaltar has dared to use the binary chute to go exploring or reestablish contact with the outside world. Since you're still here in Argo City, the Kara you're observing must simply be the version that belongs in that world now."
"No, that's not what I mean! I understand about the temporal shift - and I think there's been more than one, actually, based on my studies - but that's exactly the problem. I could understand if the Kara Zor-El of the new timeline didn't look exactly like me. After all, Superman and Superboy don't look exactly alike either, but I can still recognize them both as cousin Kal-El, or at least a version of him. But this 'Supergirl'; there's just something off
about her. I would expect to have a feeling of familiarity, of recognition when looking at her, but I just don't. There's something wrong about her, and I think my cousin... cousins, need to know about it."
"The risks would be too great, Kara. Supposing you did go to Earth, we can't be sure you would even survive. Suppose you're wrong about this other Kara. We don't understand what forces are allowing to versions of Kal-El to coexist, so there's no guarantee that being in the same reality as another version of yourself wouldn't be a catastrophe."
Elsewhere in Argo City, the Kryptonian enclave's most brilliant and erratic citizen was contemplating the same problem. However, he came to a very different conclusion.
"Not real... we're just not real," muttered the very drunk Zaltar. "What point can there be hanging on to this shadow existence? We should have been erased, along with all the other ghosts of the past..." He dropped the empty flask and looked blearily at the spherical object held in his other hand. "Ah, my greatest... ecch... my greatest tool, designed to harness the energies of destruction for... urrrp... creation and, and preservation. You're what's holding the wheel of time back from turning as it should, you're.... rubbish!"
The scientist turned and flung the object from himself, towards the crystalline dome facing onto the void of inner space. It broke through, and powerful suction drew Zaltar after it before the breach could heal itself automatically.
When Zor-El, Kara's father, later went to investigate Zaltar's disappearance, he was unable to understand most of the scientist's notes. He was able, however, to determine that the Omegahedron was gone, and that the city's life span without its primary power source was days at best.
"Kara, you were Zaltar's prize student. Can you think of any way to recover the Omegahedron?"
Kara was already readying items from Zaltar's lab. A crystal bracelet went on one wrist. "There's only one chance, Father. It looks as though I'm finally going to get my wish - to visit Earth. I only wish it were for less tragic reasons. Once I'm through the chute, this should guide me to the Omegahedron's location." She kissed her father on the cheek. "Don't worry. I'll be fine; there's every reason to think I'll possess the same powers on Earth as my cousin. Therefore, what could possibly hurt me? I'll be back in no time."
On Earth, a strange spherical object appeared from a hole in space and descended rapidly. It flew erratically, controlled not by gravity but by affinity.
There was a grim looking building on the outskirts of a large city. The Sartorius Mental Health Clinic and Hospital of Orange County, outside LA. The sphere found its way to the high, small window of one patient's room.
That patient had long since gotten past the point where she required being kept in restraints around the clock or her own padded cell. However, her delusions of grandeur were still strong, and her violent tendencies against both herself and others bad enough that the orderlies didn't let her have eating utensils or writing implements of any kind. Too dangerous. That, after all, was why she was still here after ten years.
Clink, went the sound of something hard hitting the floor. The patient crawled to the end of her bed and looked under. There was the Omegahedron.
"Ooh, shiny," said Nancy Downs.
The bizarre imperfect duplicate was taken to the undisclosed location, to be stored preparatory to study by the government's finest minds. It seemed totally inert to all probes and scans so far; taking it apart piece by piece could wait.
The place found for the body was within yards of a ton or more of refined green meteor rock from Kansas. Once the body had been in proximity to the ingots for a few moments, they started to glow. The green light washed over the body's white face and red and blue costume while other energies, invisible to human eyes, transferred as well.
Yellow eyes opened. A hoarse, cracked voice spoke. "Who am me? Me know for sure!"
It sat up and took in the costume it wore. "Am me not Superman? Yes! Me am Superman! Me am not bizarre copy!"
Standing, the strange figure looked up at the ceiling. Lead posed no problem for its senses, but there were opaque rectangles obscuring its vision above - the silhouettes of glass windows at the surface level.
"Me am Superman's best friend! Me must always rest until Superman is alive!"
The monster's last utterance would have seemed a change in its pattern of speech, had anyone heard it. "Up, up, and away!" said the bizarre creature.
But rather than burst up through the ceiling, Bizarro plunged through the floor feet first, tunneling down to the sewer levels through which he made his escape.
"So, Xander, tell me how you were able to go all wolfman in the fight back there?" asked Buffy.
"I suspect it's hyena-man, not wolfman, Buffy," commented Giles.
"Oh, Xander, we're not going to have to start locking you up, are we?" asked Willow.
"Not to worry, gang, Giles is right, but I'm top dog in this particular combo. I'm not going to be getting furry or eating any live pigs or doing anything else gross. Me and the hyena have become quite sympatico since I've been in Africa."
"But how," asked Buffy. "I thought the hyena spirits were sucked out of you and the rest of the pack, then the zookeeper got eaten. You said you didn't even remember what you did while possessed."
"I hate to tell you, Buffy, but that last part wasn't quite true; I remembered every bit, I was just too embarrassed by how I'd acted. Giles knew. But also, some trace of the spirit got left behind, and the zookeeper certainly didn't get it all. If he had, he would've been as strong as I was, and then how would he have gotten eaten? Even if the hyenas didn't see him as a pack mate, I mean?"
Xander brushed his hair back. "You know, I think a little of the hyena was with me for all those years. I was always a little harder to hurt and a little faster to heal than I should have been, even if I couldn't use the strength or speed. But I got the full package back, finished the ritual the right way, while in Mother Africa. Remember one of the Slayers I went after was in this little slip of a country, not even on all the maps - Wakanda?"
Giles started. "Wakanda? I thought that location was in the Congo! Nobody gets into Wakanda - it's a death trap. I would have told you to leave well enough alone if I'd realized..."
"Yeah, well, they actually let Robin and me in - trapped us with some high-tech gear and put us in shackles and chains, but let us into the country, anyway. Then they brought us directly to their king, T'Challa. Seems like one of their seers told him we were coming, and he ordered them not to kill us on sight. They knew the Slayer who'd been called was his cousin, Ishanta. She's still there, they've got plenty of evil stuff right on site."
"But anyway, soon as this guy looked at me, he said he could see the Hyena still in me. Once Robin and I had helped him out against this guy called Killmonger, he offered to walk me through the rest of the ceremony to get full control over the beast and all its powers."
"But Xander," said Giles. "How did he know the ceremony? Wait - you don't mean to say..."
"That's right, G-Man. The King of Wakanda is always a Primal, for the last hundred years or so a Panther. That's why they call T'Challa the Black Panther."
"But how do they retain their sanity?" asked Willow, clearly fearful for her own friend's condition.
"Turns out the zookeeper only knew part of the story. You're not supposed to take on the animal's spirit and let it control you; you're supposed to prepare for years, decades even first and make yourself strong enough to be the dominant partner. T'Challa had to go through a bunch of contests and trials before he was even allowed to try channeling the Panther spirit. I think he was almost Slayer-tough before he took on the role of the Black Panther; you can only imagine what he's like now."
"Anyway, turns out all my years of helping out on the Hellmouth were valid as preparation for the vision quest or whatever you want to call it. The text we had said the transformation required a predatory act - well, what have we been doing all these years but hunting
vampires and demons. I've also had a lot of practice fighting off mental domination and possession. So, I was almost ready already, in his book. Plus, I was friends with his brother."
"His brother?" asked Buffy.
"Sure. Didn't I mention that Robin was T'Challa's half brother? Their Dad sowed some wild oats back in the day, and Nikki Wood reaped the harvest. Robin could have challenged T'Challa for the kingdom, but he was more interested in helping out the Slayer and his new brother. Plus, I think he's got a different mystic warrior dealio going on, now."
"Huh. So, you've got hyena powers and control over them," said Buffy. "You as strong as you were back then?"
"At least," said Xander. "Since we're not fighting for control, the Hyena and I can act together. Plus, I got back the fighting technique from Soldier Boy that had faded, since the spirit of one Clayton Abernathy was still hanging around when I went on my vision quest. Dracula, too, but the three of us managed to kick him out of my mind for good. Add in combat training from Robin and T'Challa, and the last three years dealing with Africa with no Slayer support over half the time, and I'm good to go. No more Zeppo."
"You were never the Zeppo, Xander. You always helped," said Buffy. "So, now that you've gotten these fancy superpowers, and spandex people are popping up all over the place, you gonna jump on the bandwagon? I was halfway thinking of getting a cape and calling myself Power Girl, after all. Wanna be my sidekick, Hyena Boy?"
"Nah, Buffy, if I go that route I'm not choosing a name that tells anybody my strengths or weaknesses. Really dumb strategic move. I mean, guys like Batman or Daredevil are okay, they're just going with a motif and it doesn't really define what they can and can't do, but Spider-Man? Who wouldn't be able to figure out that the guy can climb walls and spin webs? I wouldn't want anyone thinking, ooh, Hyena Boy, maybe we can hit him with stink bombs 'cause he's got to have a good sense of smell, or maybe we can distract him with a nice cut of meat."
Xander turned to Willow. "Actually, if I ever put on a costume, I'm picking a name only we Scoobies will understand. Remember that summer after the whole Acathla fiasco, the code names we used?"
"What?" said Willow. "You'll call yourself Nighthawk?"
"Yeah," said Xander. "Why not?" He mimed pulling a goon close to his face. "Who are you?" he asked in a squeaky voice, clearly playing the role of Wimpy Thug #1.
"I'm Nighthawk," he said in a much deeper, grittier voice.
The rest of the Scoobies dissolved in laughter.