The Calm Before...
Thirty Five Days Ago
Power Girl - Kara Zor-L - stood facing her duplicate. Her clone. The two of them faced off in the antarctic wilderness, snow whirling around them, neither paying it the slightest bit of attention, every bit of their awareness locked on the other. Except for the jet black hair and the black sports bra with black PVC pants and combat boots combo, the other girl was identical to Kara in every way.
“Hey,” Power Girl said.
“Hey,” the clone replied.
“Are you a clone?”
Kara’s eyes narrowed. “I can see that. The jet black hair is a bit off the mark.”
The clone smirked. “Yeah. I think my boss wanted to put his own spin on it. But I’m you in every way that counts.”
And she was. God, the expression on her face, even the way her hair fell? Identical. Kara raised an eyebrow. “Yeah?”
The clone didn’t. “Yeah.” And then Kara shot up into the air to avoid the absurdly powerful blast of heat vision that the clone had just sent out. And battle began between the two daughters of Krypton, and the earth did tremble beneath their feet. They fought across the antarctic wilderness, their battle taking them halfway across the continent and back, and then to the laboratory beneath the ice where the clone had been born.
Kara grimaced as the black-haired clone flew her head first and backwards through tank after tank of failed clones before driving the back of her head six inches into the concrete wall at the far end of the complex. It took her a moment to recover her bearings, but the clone allowed her that moment. She stood up. “You’re not bad at all. You got a name?”
The clone grinned. “Divine.”
“Pleased to,” Kara kicked off from the wall, rocketing towards Divine at break-neck speed, fist first. “MEET YOU!” she impacted, driving the other girl into the opposite wall and reducing it to rubble.
Things might have gone different. A plan was already under way to extract Divine from the situation. Her boss was watching. Ready to intervene. About to intervene. If it weren’t for the actions of one man in a parallel world far removed from this one. A man who called upon the primal powers of Chaos, Transition, and Change to do his bidding.
He called it Janus, but it was so much more. A thing beyond time and space and the barriers which mortals called ‘the walls between realities.’ Ancient and timeless, terrible in wrath, a bit petulant, and often extremely annoying - particularly to the Man of Steel.
The ceiling split down the middle as an angry red tear in the fabric of space and time ripped into being directly above the brawling pair. Reddish lightning crackled from the tear, bolts striking first Kara and then Divine and joining them to the mystical circuit. The world went white, and when it faded, both the girls and the rip were gone.
A moment later, the door leading deeper into the complex opened with a hiss, and a very ordinary looking man with short brown hair stepped into the room, frowning deeply. “Well,” Max Lord said. “This could be a problem.”
A New World in my View
by P.H. Wise
A Buffy Crossover Fanfic
Chapter 05: The Calm Before
Disclaimer: The DC Universe and its associated characters is the property of DC comics. The Marvel Universe and its associated characters is the property of Marvel Entertainment LLC. Buffy the Vampire Slayer is Joss Whedon's baby.
The whole world seemed ablaze. Fire raged across the wreckage, the crackling of the flames mingling with the screams of the injured and the grieving. Every now and again, a limb could be glimpsed, half-crushed beneath the remains of the bus.
“This can’t be happening...” Noriko kept repeating, shaking her head in denial of the carnage, “This can’t be...”
She spotted a body, and the bottom dropped out of her as she recognized it. “Oh, no...” she lifted a chunk of metal off of it and cast it aside. “Andrea...” The girl in the pink dress lay still amidst the burning wreckage. Still and dead and awful.
“HELP!” Noriko screamed. “SOMEONE HELP ME!”
The world faded to white.
Noriko sat up in bed and shuddered. The nightmare was still there. Every time she slept. Sometimes it matched the event. Sometimes it was her, or David lying dead under the rubble. Everything was... everything was wrong. Nothing was the way it was supposed to be. Professor Xavier’s dream was dead. Sentinels stood guard at the Xavier Institute now. ‘For their protection.’
It had taken a few days for things to really sink in. That this was how their lives were going to be now. A little over a month since everything had gone so horribly wrong.
Noriko rose to her feet, then, headed into the bathroom, stripped off the sweat-soaked clothes she’d slept in, turned on the shower, and stepped inside.
Ten minutes later, feeling a whole lot more human (or mutant, depending on who you asked), Nori came back out clad in her bathrobe. It was dark. The thick, heavy curtains allowed not even the tiniest glimpse of sunlight. She glanced towards the bed on which her new room mate was still sleeping, looked to the curtains, and then muttered, “F#!$ it. I want to feel the sun on my face.”
She walked to the curtains and drew them open, filling the room with the light of the morning sun. She stood there at the window, then, looking out onto the grounds of the Xavier Institute. Watching the repairs. Watching the new construction. Watching the graveyard with its fourteen brand new headstones: fourteen formerly mutant children whose parents had refused to take them back even in death.
She didn’t feel sad, looking at it. She didn’t feel anything. Not about the deaths. Not about the fate of mutantkind. Not about the Sentinel she could see from her window. She felt... numb.
A moan from behind her broke her out of her apathetic trance. Then a second. And then something did pierce the armor of her apathy: surprise. The expression on Karen’s sleeping face had become one of contentment. ...and that didn’t sound to Nori like an ‘I’m sleepy and you’re letting sunlight shine on my face’ type moan. That was more of a... no way.
Nori turned to stare at Karen. A thought occurred to her, then. She reached out and closed the curtains. Instantly, Karen stopped shifting, her moans ceased, and she settled back into a relaxed sleep.
And now a second emotion joined the first: incredulity. “No f#!$ing way,” she muttered.
When Karen woke up that morning, she woke to an empty room. Noriko was gone, which suited her just fine. She briefly considered just going back to sleep, but no, today was her first day at the Xavier Institute, and even if classes hadn’t resumed from the Summer break yet... and probably wouldn’t resume for a while to come considering everything that was going on, actually... well, she was still going to be training with instructors to master her powers, and...
Karen woke up for the second time an hour later. Her clock read 9:00 AM. She staggered out of bed and made her way to the bathroom.
“I know, I know, but what else am I supposed to do?” It wasn’t a voice Karen recognized, and when she looked around, she couldn’t find its source. She frowned briefly, and then dismissed it from her mind.
Looked like the shower had been used. Probably before she’d woken up for the first time. She looked in the mirror and grimaced. She had one of the worst cases of bed-head she’d seen in a long time. Time to shower. Clothes came off. Water turned on. She stepped in.
“You should start shaving, by the way,” Kara said.
Karen nearly jumped through the ceiling. Literally - her head’s impact she left a significant dent in it. “GAAAH! YEEEEGH... Don’t DO that!”
Kara laughed. “Sorry, but you really do need to start shaving. That’s MY body you’re in, and you’re not maintaining it properly.”
“I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but I’m not actually growing any facial hair, so why would I need to...” Karen grimaced, and looked down at her legs. “Oh,” she said. A pause. “... Can we not talk about this right now?”
“When would you prefer to talk about it?”
“Oh, I don’t know. How about never?”
“Come on, Xander. It’ll be easy.”
“I’m not going to stop bugging you until you agree.”
Karen tried very hard not to grind her teeth.
Fifteen minutes later, Karen walked into the cafeteria, clad all in thick clothing with heavy gloves to minimize her contact with sunlight. Very little of the cafeteria wasn’t exposed to direct sunlight, but she’d agreed to the training regimen Emma had proposed, and she wasn’t about to back out just because avoiding direct sunlight was inconvenient. She picked up her food and sat down. Her hearing had been wonky all morning. It had started with just that one voice, but there had been more on the way down to breakfast, and now, with twenty or so students eating in the cafeteria that had been designed for over a hundred, she was trying NOT to hear every single conversation in the room in perfect clarity. Of course, the other students weren’t the only thing she was trying to ignore.
“Come on, Xander,” Kara said as Karen sat down. “What’s the big deal? All I’m asking is for you to shave my legs for me. It’s not like I’m asking you to shave my...”
“OOOKAY,” Karen interrupted, “That’s... more than I needed to hear. I...”
Those blonde triplets were staring at her from the next table over. Karen waved nervously. “Don’t mind me,” she said. Just being crazy. Talking. To myself. Not to anyone else.”
“That’s funny,” one of them said, and Karen had no idea which one. “We thought you were talking to the other consciousness in your head.”
Karen’s eyes bugged out. “Is EVERYONE at this school a telepath?” she asked weakly.
“Not everyone,” the triplets replied in unison, picking up their trays and moving to join Karen at her table. “You remember our names, right?”
“Irma,” said Phoebe, “Celeste,” said Irma, “And Phoebe,” said Celeste. Then, with identical expressions of amused mischievousness, they said in unison, “You’ll have to guess which is which.”
Karen sighed. “Right. Nice to meet you, again. I’m...”
“Xander, we know,” they said, even as she finished with, “...Karen, when we’re in public,”
A brief, uncomfortable pause. “All right, Karen,” Celeste said. “Will you introduce us to your other consciousness?”
“Girls, this is...”
“Kara,” Kara said, interrupting Karen’s intended word choice.
“Right,” Karen said, recovering smoothly. “Kara, these are Celeste, Irma, and Phoebe.”
Karen’s ears pricked, then. Her room mate was in a conversation across the room, but to her ears, they might as well have been speaking right next to her. "Wait, Nori, are you seriously telling me that her mutant power is that she has an orgasm whenever she's exposed to sunlight?"
Wait, what? "I'm just telling you what it looked like," Noriko replied.
‘OK,’ Karen decided. ‘This day officially can’t get worse.’
“Don’t say that,” Phoebe said.
“Pretty sure I didn’t,” Karen replied a bit bitterly. “... Wow.” That was the girl with the mercury skin. “I know, right?” There wasn’t much inflection in Noriko’s voice. The emotion that should have been there was muted, somehow.
“You know what I mean,” Phoebe said. Irma and Celeste nodded in agreement. “You should never hand the universe a line like that,” they finished in unison."That must be..."
"Pretty embarrassing, but not dangerous. Why do you think they brought... Seriously, Cessily?"
“I’m not the universe’s buttmonkey,” Karen said. The Cuckoos cracked a smile at that. “What? Don't tell me you're not jealous, too! Girl's got the Best Power Ever!"
Noriko sighed audibly. Then another girl spoke up. “What are we talking about?”
“The mutant power to orgasm whenever you’re exposed to sunlight, apparently.”
“I thought that was called Ecstasy?”
“... OK,” Karen conceded, blushing so deeply red that she seemed almost purple, “Maybe I’m the universe’s buttmonkey.”
The cuckoos laughed in unison. “Don’t feel bad, Karen. At least you’re not one of the New Warriors.”
The Cuckoos exchanged glances. “Never mind,” said Celeste.
“Well? What do you think?”
Scott Summers, known to the world as the mutant ‘Cyclops,’ considered the tape - minus sound - of Karen Starr eating lunch in the cafeteria. He’d only just finished experiencing the memory of her accidentally destroying her closet door about a minute previous. He looked thoughtful. “Interesting,” he murmured, then looked Emma in the eye. “A blatant invasion of privacy, but interesting.”
Emma rolled her eyes. “Karen Starr may have the luxury of privacy when she is no longer unintentionally a threat to the other students,” she replied.
Scott considered that, then nodded reluctantly. “She doesn’t have trouble with ordinary tasks unless she’s consciously thinking about them?”
“That would be my assessment,” Emma said. “And it gives me a few ideas for how to train her.”
“Danger room?” Scott asked.
“Danger room,” Emma confirmed.
Karen stood in what looked like a traditional dojo. It was generic. Every little detail stood out in its unremarkableness: the way each mirror panel was the same generic mirror panel, each mat the same generic mat, each board in the wooden floor exposed past the mats the same generic board. The overall effect was a place that was clearly a dojo, but not a dojo that any human being might have built.
A tall man with brown hair and blue eyes shimmered into being in front of her, clad in a clean white gi but otherwise unremarkable. Generic.
“OK, I admit your holodeck is really cool, but how is learning kung fu going to help me?”
Emma’s voice filtered through the speakers from the control room, “All right, Xander. I want you to punch the hologram in front of you. Strike him hard as you can.”
Karen looked uncertain and uncomfortable. “... Er, couldn’t we start with breaking boards?”
“It’s a hologram, Xander. It’s not real. Now hit him.”
Karen shrugged uncomfortably, stepped forward, and hit the man in the face.
Her fist went through his skull like it wasn’t even there. The skull split open like an over-ripe melon, and a spray of bone and brain and blood went flying out what used to be the back of his skull. The body collapsed like a puppet whose strings had been cut. Very little of its skull was still connected to its body. The vast majority now lay sprayed out onto the floor.
Karen stared, utterly horrified, her hand trembling and coated with gore. “... what... what the hell was that?!”
“That,” Emma replied in a quiet voice, “Is what you can do to a human body if you aren’t careful. A crude demonstration, perhaps, but necessary.” The blood vanished. The corpse vanished. An identical man in a white gi appeared in front of Karen. “I’ve reset the scenario. This time I’ve want you to strike him in the face without killing him. Should you apply enough force to kill an unaugmented human being, your target will vanish, and then the scenario will reset. Training begins in 5, 4, 3, 2, 1...”
Karen struck the man, and he immediately vanished. She sighed.
Some days, she really hated her life.
Day passed into day, and week into week, and Karen’s control of her powers began to improve. Exercise followed exercise. First the ‘punch, but don’t kill.’ Then moving into fights against enemies the X-Men had faced in the past, which must be defeated without killing them: a test of Karen’s ability to control her strength in the heat of battle.
Now she was learning how to meditate. With a big blue furry. Karen still wanted to giggle every time the thought occurred to her, but she’d managed to not actually act that desire after actually spending more than five minutes in Beast’s presence.
“Clear your mind, Miss Starr,” he told her.
Karen tried. That was the problem. ‘Learn meditation,’ they said. So she dug in her heels, grit her teeth, and tried to meditate. ...which all but guaranteed that she’d never actually meditate.
“Relax your body. Feel your face relaxing. Feel your shoulders. Let the tension drain from them. Feel your arms. Your elbows. Wrists. Fingers. Relax...”
She became uncomfortably aware of the cushion beneath her. Of the lotus posture she had put herself into. Her whole body tingled with energy, and she felt an uncomfortable heat behind her closed eyelids, but she remained. She struggled. And finally, she began to relax.
“Don’t think. Listen. Feel your breath as you breathe in, breathe out.”
Her breath felt like a hurricane in her lungs. She felt like the big bad wolf: she could huff and puff and blow the whole damn house down. Or freeze it solid. Or...
“Silence your mind. If thoughts recur, simply allow them to pass without comment, and return to silence. Breathe in. Breathe out...”
His voice was almost hypnotic now, and at last Karen settled into a state of relaxation. ...which lasted for all of a minute before her foot began to cramp. “OW, OW OW!” she yelped, and tried to stand up. Not used to the lotus posture, she tripped over her tangled legs and fell flat on her face.
Beast helped her up, and he was smiling. “You did better than I on my first attempt to meditate after the manifestation of my secondary mutation,” he said.
She nodded. “Thanks. I guess, I guess I’ve never really been the meditating type.”
“And what do you suppose is the meditating type, Miss Starr?”
She didn’t have an answer for that. “I... I don’t know,” she said honestly.
Beast smiled, exposing his sharpened lower canines. “The beginning of wisdom is the admission of one’s own ignorance,” he said. He gestured towards the door. “Come, it’s time to meet with Ms. Frost. I believe she intends for you to begin training with the other students soon.”
As Karen followed Beast out of the room, Kara made her presence known once more. “Not bad,” she said. “Better than me, anyways. I suck at meditating.”
Karen didn’t reply.
“Oh, come on. Not going to talk to me just because someone else is in the room?”
“Yeah, silly me,” Karen said under her breath, “Being tired of talking to you in public and making everyone around me think I’m crazy.”
Beast’s ears pricked, and he looked her way, an eyebrow raised. “Talking to who?”
Beast, hovering somewhere between bemused and puzzled, continued on his way to Emma Frost’s office.
Divine woke up at the bottom of a swimming pool. For a moment, she thought that she’d blacked out during the fight, but a swift look around showed her that Power Girl was nowhere in sight. And neither was the lab. She kicked off the bottom of the pool, trying to go airborne. All she managed was to break the surface. She sucked in a great, heaving breath before she sank back down to the bottom. She felt... drained. The sunlight filtering through the pool was recharging her, but she had NEVER felt this drained before. Admittedly, she’d not really felt much of anything before, but still. It took a few more frantic leaps to grab another gulp of air before she had absorbed enough sunlight to fly out of the pool, and when she did, she went straight up into the afternoon sun, water streaming off her body.
It felt good to be alive. Good to...
New York. She was in New York. Max had... shown her this place, but... it looked different. More run down. Grimier, somehow. Granted, New York had never been the pride and joy of the United States the way Metropolis had, but still...
It looked off.
No matter. She landed on the roof of a skyscraper which bore the words, ‘Daily Bugle.’ There, basking in the light of the yellow sun, Divine stretched out her hands, as if embracing the sky.
Her first priority had to be to reestablish contact with Max.
He would know what to do.End Chapter 05