Disclaimer: Alas, my name is not Aol, Time, or Warner, and so I cannot claim to own the DC Universe.

"Hey, Batman?" came a voice from the transporter. "Mind if we talk for a minute?"

Bruce Wayne raised his cowled head from the lab reports on the new Starro, and saw a slender young blonde in a knit sweater and slacks approaching. A second glance told him that it was that young cousin of Clark's, the one who was covering for his League duties while he dealt with some old business on Apokolips; a third glance told him why the first glance hadn't told him that.

"Not at all, Kara," he said, rising and offering her a chair beside him at the empty conference table. (She accepted with just the faintest hint of surprise; evidently she wasn't used to a Bruce Wayne who treated women with Alfred-trained courtesy.) "What's on your mind?"

Kara sat down and exhaled heavily. "Red Kryptonite," she said. "What's that supposed to do?"

Ah, so that's it, Bruce thought. "To my people, nothing," he said. "In yours, it creates temporary somatic distortions of a wholly unpredictable but invariably momentous nature."

Kara snapped her fingers. "Right, momentous," she said. "That's the word I was looking for. It's always something big, isn't it? The stuff wouldn't waste its time just turning Kal's hair red, or giving him whorl fingerprints instead of loops."


"Then how come," Kara Zor-L demanded, "when I was fighting the Toyman an hour ago, and he whipped out a whole kilogram chunk of red K an inch from my face, all that happened to me was this?" And she gestured expressively to the gentle curve beneath her sweater that was all that remained of the famous Power Girl bustline.

Bruce said nothing. He suspected that anything he might have to say would cause Kara to feel rather irascible, and irascibility in a Kryptonian was something to be avoided. So he said nothing.

"The little creep thought it was the funniest thing in the world," Kara muttered. "He was so busy giggling, I'm not sure he even noticed when I picked him up and threw him into the wall. Some of these enemies of Kal's, I tell you what… I mean, sure you have to deal with them and everything, but you still wonder how even they take themselves seriously."

Bruce said nothing.

"So I took him and dropped him off at the police station," Kara went on, "and then flew over to American Eagle to pick up something to wear for the next couple days. I'd stuck a few safety pins into my costume to hold it in place, but it was still kind of flopping around – and, anyway, it doesn't exactly inspire confidence in people to see their local heroine holding herself together with safety pins, you know what I mean?"

Bruce said nothing.

"But what I'm getting at is, what's the deal here?" said Kara. "I mean, come on, this is red Kryptonite we're talking about. There's no excuse for me not being some kind of outrageous freak right now – a living balloon, a see-through ghost creature, a whole roomful of Power Girls all moving and talking in unison, whatever. Anyway, I shouldn't be basically still the ordinary me."

Bruce's strong initial impulse was to keep saying nothing, but his sense of responsibility prevailed over his caution. After all, she'd come to him for insight, and he was pretty sure he had some to offer; he couldn't just keep withholding it out of fear of her super-uppercut.

"No," he said. "If you've been exposed to red Kryptonite, you can't very well be your proper self."

"That's what I'm saying," said Kara. "So how come…"

Then she paused, and gave him a sharp look out of the corner of her eye. "Wait a second," she said. "What are you trying to say, exactly?"

"Just what I did say," said Bruce. "Red Kryptonite always makes Kryptonians into something fundamentally different from themselves; that's the one constant thing about it. From which it follows, logically, that what you are right now is something fundamentally different from Kara Zor-L."

"But… but it isn't," said Kara. "It's a change, sure, but it's not… fundamental."

"No?" said Bruce.

"No!" Kara insisted. "How can you say… you don't think I'm so shallow that I can't be me unless… I mean, okay, sure the girls have given me plenty of mileage over the years, but that doesn't mean there isn't more to me than… than…"

She trailed off, and stared down at the tabletop for a long moment. "Oh, great Krypton," she said softly. "Is that really how people think of me? Not an actual, breathing woman and heroine, but just a pair of oversized gazombas in a cape?"

"I'm sorry to have to be the one to tell you, Kara," said Bruce.

Kara leaned back in her chair, her jaw slack. To be sure, it was hardly the first time she'd been presented with the idea; just about every villain she'd ever tangled with had gotten off some snide remark suggestive of that general viewpoint. But it was one thing for sick-minded enemies of justice to talk that way; it was another thing entirely for the impersonal forces of Nature to endorse their views. Brain-Wave might be prejudiced, the Ultra-Humanite might have ulterior motives, but red Kryptonite didn't lie; if it said that shrinking her down to an A cup was enough to undermine her basic identity, then so it was.

And that meant…

A sudden glimpse of life's depths, to one who has always lived blithely in the superficies, can be a dizzying thing indeed. For Kara, it had always been enough to be the golden maiden who swooped down from the sky to make the world safe for democracy; if people had issues with that, or thought it was somehow devalued by the way she dressed or acted, it was on them – period, end of story. She was doing the right thing. –And she still didn't doubt that, but the question came to her, for the first time, whether just doing the right thing was enough. Wasn't it important – didn't she want – to be somebody noble, whatever she might happen to be doing at the moment? Like Kal – he just walked into the room, and it was as though Truth, Justice, and the American Way walked in with him. Nobody would have ever said that he was his chest measurement, impressive though that unquestionably was.

But it's not fair, part of her complained. What about the rest of the League? You take Diana – I mean, criminey, I might show a little skin, but at least I don't run around basically naked while oozing moral superiority over everything with a scrotum. And it's not just her: you've got Dinah and Zee in their fishnets, Connor flaunting his bare chest all over the place, and Koriand'r I'm not even going to think about. Why should I be forbidden to have fun, just because I happened to be built with a little extra on top?

But a deeper part of her knew that was an evasion. She wasn't responsible for Diana or Connor; she was responsible for Kara, and Kara deserved better than what she'd evidently gotten hitherto. And, as for her complaints of somatic inequity… well, she'd always known that much was demanded where much was given.

She took a deep breath (trying not to think about what a different sensation that was now) and raised her eyes back to Bruce's. "Okay," she said, her voice unwontedly gentle. "Now I know. What do I do about it?"

Bruce cocked his head. "You mean, once the red Kryptonite wears off?"

"Right," said Kara. "I can't just go back to what I've been doing, if it's making me… you know, what you said. So what do I do differently?"

Bruce smiled wryly. "Well, I'm hardly the person to ask about that," he said. "If you want to know how a real lady pulls off the super-look, you should talk to one who's done it."

"Like who?" said Kara ungrammatically.

For reply, Bruce reached into his ear, withdrew a miniscule earpiece, and extended it to her on the tip of his index finger. Baffled, Kara took it, pressed it into her own ear, and said awkwardly, "Um… hello?"

There was a three-second pause (radio delay, as she subsequently realized, from the Moon to Earth and back again); then a soft, feminine sigh came through the earpiece, and a brisk, pleasant contralto said, "Hello, Power Girl. This is Barbara Gordon."

"Barbara Gordon," Kara repeated, riffling through her memory of Earth-One heroes. "That'd be Oracle, right?"

"That's what they call me these days," said Barbara (after another three-second pause, of course). "Though that identity doesn't involve much in the costume line, so I imagine Mr. Wayne was thinking more of my Batgirl days. If he's still there, tell him that he didn't seem to think so highly of my ladyhood when I was actually running around stepping on his and Dick's toes."

Kara glanced up, opened her mouth, blinked, and said, "Um… he's not here, actually."

"No, I figured as much," said Barbara. "If he knows girl talk's on the way, you can't expect him to stick around. That's actually why I said it; if I thought he really had been there, of course I wouldn't have told you to tell him that if he were. The truth is, he's the finest man I know who didn't actually beget me, and I won't have some upstart Supergirl doppelgänger sassing him to his face. But he was rather high-and-mighty in the old days, all the same."

Rather than try and find a reply to this, Kara just rubbed her forehead and wondered vaguely whether all of the Earth-One Gotham's heroes were like this. (Probably, she thought. If normal people had been adequate to deal with the Prankster or whatever his name was, the Gotham police would hardly have welcomed a vigilante in a bat costume and his wise-acre sidekick horning in on their turf.)

"Don't worry about returning the earpiece to him, by the way," Barbara added. "He has dozens of spares, and we can make more any time. Just throw it in the disintegrator when you're done, okay? We don't want it falling into the wrong hands."

"Sure," Kara murmured. "Sure. As soon as you've told me about… you know, what we're talking about. You do know what we're talking about, right?" she added as an afterthought.

"Umbulgacious stop-pods," Barbara replied promptly.

Kara stared. "Say what?"

But the voice in her ear was already dissolving in giggles. "No, I'm sorry, Power Girl," said Barbara. "That's just an old joke of Dad's and mine; don't…"

At this point, Kara's reaction must have caught up with her; her laughter redoubled, and Kara distinctly heard the sound of a female human palm repeatedly striking a computer console. "Oh, good gravy," she heard Barbara say at length, her voice breathless and shaky. "That was really awful of me, wasn't it?"

"If you say so," said Kara primly.

"Trust me, I do," said Barbara. "But seriously, yes, we're talking about how the red Kryptonite took away your curves, and what that means for you as a person."

"Right," said Kara, grateful for so neat and dispassionate a summary of the matter. "I mean, it's all fine and good to say that I've been making my figure too important, but what am I supposed to do, then? I can't just pretend I don't have it, can I?"

There was a thoughtful silence on the other end, over and above the radio delay, before Barbara replied. "So," she said, "if you didn't flaunt your half-naked breasts before the world, you'd be living a lie. Is that what I'm hearing?"

Kara huffed irritably; her bangs fluttered across her forehead, and the Watchtower's ceiling was dented slightly. "Okay, yeah, it sounds pretty dumb when you put it that way," she said, "but it is kind of how I feel. It isn't as…"

"Just a tad, yes," Barbara agreed.

"…though the girls aren't going to draw half the world's gaze whatever I do, so what's the point of my trying to ignore them? And besides…" Kara hesitated, unsure whether she really wanted to share all her secrets with this random librarian from Earth-One; then she shook her head and took the plunge. "The fact is, I like being voluptuous and womanly, and I want people to notice it. If they don't, it's like I might as well just be a sickly little star-tossed waif again."

"Again?" Barbara repeated.

Kara sighed. "Yeah, again," she said. "See, when I was in the symbio-ship on my way to Earth, every now and then it had to turn off the dream-world and let me get up and move around for a little while – you know, so my limbs didn't atrophy from lack of use. So picture me, about forty-five years out, waking up from a dream of adolescent health and vitality on Krypton, and seeing what I really look like at age fifteen on a diet of intravenous ship's rations. And it's interstellar space, bear in mind, so I'm not getting any sunlight, yellow or otherwise.

"I hated it." Her voice was tight with remembered emotion. "You can't imagine how much I hated the scrawny, pallid, lank-haired, feeble little body I saw in the ship's reflectors. The first time, I actually begged the ship to just put me back under right away; later, after I'd figured out what it wanted of me, I worked out this routine where, as soon as I felt myself coming to, I'd jump out of the pod and do twenty quick jumping jacks just to get it over with. And even then, I'd have to stop in the middle and catch my breath, as often as not.

"And then, the last time it woke me, everything was different. We must have passed the orbit of Ceres by that point – maybe even Mars, I don't know exactly. All I know is, we were close enough for your sun to do its thing – and, boy, had it ever. All of a sudden, I actually looked like the girl in my dream-self's mirror, with actual color in my cheeks and meat on my bones – and other places, too. But I didn't even think about that part of it then; the sheer thrill of just not being this pale, skinny little rat any longer was too overwhelming for me to itemize details.

"And then I got to Earth, and started eating real food and breathing air that wasn't artificially synthesized. So that was when I really started filling out – and it was also just about the most glorious few months of my life. The number of afternoons I spent just soaring gleefully around the countryside around Metropolis, shooting fireworks out of my eyes and lifting unsuspecting cows into the air just because I could…" She sighed as the memories washed over her.

"I know," said Barbara, with a hint of wistfulness in her own voice. "It's only when you've known weakness that you can really appreciate strength."

Several days later, Kara recognized the subtext of this remark, and felt like a heel for having only said, at the time, "Exactly. Strength, vigor, health, power – call it whatever you want, it's the thing I've always treasured most about my life on your world. And my figure's as much a part of that as my super-powers are; they both came to me together, and it's not an accident that they did. So you can't expect me to not be proud of it, can you?"

There was a moment's meditative silence on the other end. "No," said Barbara thoughtfully. "No, you should be proud of having legs that can really run – and arms that can really lift, and eyes that can really see, and a whatever-Kryptonians-have that can really fly. Every part of you that can really do what it's for is something to be glad of; I'll never argue with that, I promise you." (Again, the implications here sailed right over Kara's head until much later.) "And of course that goes for your breasts as much as anything else. But the thing is…" She paused, and Kara could hear her tapping her fingers hesitantly on her computer console. "Well, I don't want to sound rude, but… are you really sure you know what your breasts are for?"

She hurried on before Kara could protest. "I mean, I'm sure you know intellectually – probably better than I do, what with your Kryptonian science education and all. But, when you designed your costume, was that really what you were thinking of?"

Kara spent a long moment inspecting this question from every possible angle, vainly hoping that it might turn into something more sensible than it first appeared. "Are you asking me," she said slowly, "whether the reason I flaunt my cleavage as Power Girl is to show off how well I could nurse babies?"

"Yes," said Barbara.

"Why?" Kara demanded. "What kind of question is that? What… who even thinks that way?"

"Not many people," Barbara agreed. "But you did just say that your style choices were based on pride in your body's vitality, and vitality's about your members being able to do their jobs. So, logically, your…" (she cleared her throat, and Kara could practically hear her blushing) "…your 'window', I think it's called, should be about that too."

"What it's about," said Kara irritably, "is that I'm a woman, and I like it that way. It doesn't matter whether I'm ever going to actually use the girls; they're still the most obvious part of me that I wouldn't have as a guy, and I'm not going to let anyone pretend they aren't there. There are enough men in capes out there already, without me acting as though I might as well be one."

And if you try to argue with that, she added silently, I'm not only going to pull out this earpiece and crush it between my fingers, I'm going to go out and find a decent-sized meteorite to fling at the Clock Tower. (Like many feminists, she regarded women who acquiesced in the disparagement of their sex as essentially treasonous, and the temptation to give them what traitors deserved – or at least enough thereof to make them sit up and think a bit – could sometimes be hard for her to resist.)

Fortunately, Barbara's reply was more agreeable. "Okay, I can see that," she said. "Superheroines shouldn't dress like superheroes. I can get behind that, absolutely. But…"

She paused, then, for a long moment – so long that Kara would have prompted her halfway through, if the radio-delay issue hadn't made her leery of prompting her a half-second after she'd finally spoken, and coming across as a jerk in consequence. So she kept quiet, and waited for Barbara to say her piece – which, eventually, Barbara did, in the sort of reverent-yet-businesslike tone that one might have expected to hear from a jeweler assessing the carat value of Star Sapphire's crown. "Okay, maybe this is just me," she said. "I don't think so, but it may be. But when I designed my costume as Batgirl, or even when I'm just picking out what to wear for the day, it isn't just the specifically female parts of me that I want to make express my womanhood. My job is to be Miss Gordon all through, head, shoulders, knees, and toes; there shouldn't be the smallest bit of me that someone could see without thinking, 'There she goes.' You see what I mean?"

Kara took her time about replying to that one. She indeed saw what her interlocutrix was getting at, but she felt, somehow, that acknowledging the fact, without having a good comeback ready, would itself be a sort of concession. There are some arguments so guilelessly simple that it is dangerous even to concede that they can be made; perhaps this was what Euthyphro felt, when he so hastily excused himself from Socrates's presence. Certainly, Kara would have been glad, at that moment, to have been able to break off the conversation on the plea that she had to go accuse her father of murder.

But, her father being a Kryptonite-seared corpse ten light-years and two cosmic hertz away, there was no such easy out for her. Reluctantly, therefore, she brought out the admission that Dame Oracle was waiting for. "Yeah, I see," she said. "So I'm actually cheapening my own womanhood by tying it exclusively to my upper frontals – as though it only mattered at the sexy times, instead of being an all-informing way of life the way it is for you. That's it, isn't it?"

"Well, I wasn't going to put it quite so harshly," said Barbara, "but… yes, basically."

"Terrific," said Kara. "So what do I do?"

She heard Barbara sigh across 240,000 miles. "That I can't tell you, Power Girl," said the former Cowled Crusaderess. "Living is an art, not a science. I can tell you what I know about the general principles, but as for how best to make them real in your own life… well, that's a question for someone who knows you, not just some girl in Gotham who's read a bunch of books."

She might possibly have said more, but, at that moment, a buzzer sounded in her near vicinity; she broke off for a moment, and then spoke in a much tenser tone than hitherto. "Oh, good gravy," she said. "Listen, Power Girl, I need to go; Poison Ivy's just unleashed a cloud of noxious spores over the Newmar Parkway, and the boys are going to need biomass readings and toxin analysis."

"Sure, no problem," said Kara. "Go get 'em, sister."

The only reply was the faint pop of a radio channel being shut off. Kara sighed, withdrew the earpiece from her ear, and tossed it into the disintegrator as Barbara had advised; then she dropped herself down into a convenient chair, and pondered the challenge that life and the Bat-Clan had just laid before her.

Because the truth was that, despite the question she had posed to both Batman and Oracle, she already knew what their words, if taken to heart, obliged her to do. She had only asked out of a vague hope that the others might suggest something else she could do instead – for the course of action that she saw before her was one before which her soul quailed, as a lifetime of titanic battles with odious monsters had never succeeded in making it do.

Like all the greatest dooms, it was simplicity itself. To be a superhero was to be an archetype, an indelible symbol in flesh and blood; whatever meaning one's deeds attached to one's alter identity, it couldn't help but bear that meaning forever after. And the meaning of Kara's own alter identity, it seemed, was simply and solely a flying pair of hooters. Whatever Power Girl may have been at one time, that was what she was now; to don the mantle of Power Girl was to become that, and nothing else. So, if Kara didn't want to be that – and she didn't; she knew that much – it followed that she couldn't be Power Girl any longer.

Not that she couldn't be a superheroine, necessarily. There was no reason she couldn't exchange her old identity for a new one, through which the fullness of her womanhood could properly shine (and maybe with a darker-colored costume, too, so that stains wouldn't show up on it so readily; that would be something, at least). But the persona that she had now – that she had had for her entire heroic career, that she had spent the best years of her life devotedly cultivating, that she had spent so long thinking of simply as her… that she would simply have to give up as a giant mistake, and the thought made her ache in places she hadn't even known she had.

Abruptly, she rose from her seat, went over to the observation window, and trained her telescopic vision on the American Northeast. Her motive, she was well aware, was completely irrational; she knew perfectly well that the value of what had been said to her depended in no way on the appearance of the person who had said it – but, nonetheless, if it turned out that she had been getting advice on modesty from some flat-chested spinster in wire-rimmed glasses, she was fully prepared to forget the whole conversation and resume her customary neckline the next day as though nothing had happened. Such are the vagaries of the mortal mind.

Earth-One's Gotham City was laid out rather differently than the one she was familiar with, and it took her a minute to find the Clock Tower; when she had it, she joggled her eyes into X-ray mode and peered down through the southern gable at the hidden maiden within. The angle was a surprisingly good one; had it been a quarter-hour later, she could hardly have seen much more than the top of Barbara's head, but, as it was, she had a fairly clear view of her all the way down to the waist.

And what she saw, tapping rapidly at computer keys and whispering urgently into a nearby speaker, was a human female of a little less than her own physical age, with wine-red hair falling in shoulder-length waves about a trim oval face. She was, in fact, wearing rather old-fashioned glasses, but they did nothing to hide her striking blue eyes – and, similarly, her high-necked blouse of forest green, bound at the throat with a sapphire brooch etched with the Bat-Logo (one of the perks, Kara supposed, of fighting crime alongside a part-time millionaire playboy), neither confirmed nor denied, but merely unemphatically accommodated, an hourglass figure as gracefully ample as any woman could reasonably desire.

So that was that. Whatever other multitudes Barbara Gordon might contain, the one thing she certainly wasn't was a desiccate frump denigrating sexiness out of mere envy. If a woman like that could think modesty of body and spirit worth cultivating, then Kara Zor-L was free to think so too.

Kara Zor-L took a deep breath, and smiled as well as she was able. "Well," she said aloud, "it'll be an adventure, at least."

And so it was that, a few days later, two different universes were shocked to hear that Power Girl had died in the Earth-One Watchtower from complications attendant on a delayed red-Kryptonite reaction. (Some were rather more than shocked; the Toyman, when he heard the news, was reported to have fainted.) The specific nature of the reaction was not disclosed, save for what could be inferred from the report that Superman, rather than let his time-shifted cousin lie in state before the world in such a condition, had elected to cremate her privately with his heat vision and scatter the ashes about the Sea of Tranquility. This left a broad field for speculation, and both worlds duly speculated away – though it was noted (particularly by the supposed deceased) that most of the speculation ran in one particular, Russ-Meyer-esque direction.

It was about five months later that a raid on the First National Bank of Chicago was foiled by the first appearance of a new superheroine: a young blonde of preternatural might, who dressed from head to toe in mulberry-colored satin and identified herself as Vitalia. Her powers seemed to roughly parallel those of Superman, but she was cagey about whether she was another survivor of Krypton, and, if so, by what means. "The big guy knows about me," she told the Tribune reporter who first asked her, "and I've got his okay to do my thing. If I told you any more than that, it'd be a lot less fun for both of us, don't you think?" And she winked at him saucily.

This jaunty approach didn't entirely sit well with the information broker who was monitoring the situation from a Clock Tower three states over. "You realize you're just daring everyone in the Midwest to find out who you really are," she said into Vitalia's ear as the latter flew away. "Kind of risky, don't you think?"

Vitalia shrugged nonchalantly. "Risk makes life interesting," she said. "Anyway, we've gotten the Martian Manhunter to help out with that. He's going to pose as a terrorist next week and ostensibly take an El station hostage; when Kal and I show up, he'll hurl a chunk of malachite at us, and Kal's going to pretend to collapse in agony while I casually pick it up and fling it into the sun. That should throw everyone off the trail, shouldn't it?"

"Not forever, I wouldn't think," said Oracle. "Honestly, if I'd known five months ago that our little talk was going to lead to this…"

"You wouldn't have changed a thing," said Vitalia. "You're the real item, Barbara Gordon – the kind who can't possibly see someone needing help and not do everything for her that you can. I know I wasn't exactly dying in a gutter five months ago, but I did need help in my own way."

There was a self-conscious little snuffle from the other end of the link. "Well, I'm glad I could help you, then," said Oracle.

"Trust me, you did," said Vitalia. "Even the guys at the computer lab say they've seen a difference in Karen Starr lately. I'll admit it was a wrench at first, but, when you stop trying to be the sexiest thing on two legs and just start being a person, it's amazing what a relief it is in the long run – like a cool ocean breeze after a week on Mercury." She laughed. "I should make coffee mugs: 'Cup Size Is But a Letter.'"

Oracle laughed, too. "Don't let me stop you."

Vitalia cocked her head, and paused in mid-air. "You know, that reminds me," she said. "There's one thing about our talk that's still bugging me after all this time. I'm sure there's a perfectly innocent explanation, but I still want to know what was behind it."

"What's that?"

"What in Rao's name," Vitalia demanded, "is an umbulgacious stop-pod?"