By J. Schuldt <email@example.com>
Submitted February 2000
Summary: The first part in the author's series "Lois and Clark: The Saga Continues." Metropolis is visited by not just one, but two alternate universe Supermen, one good, one evil, but each bent on revenge. Can Clark stop them? And will his world survive, even if he can? (VIOLENCE WARNING: Contains graphic fight scenes.)
All standard disclaimers apply. All characters in this story (except those of my own creation) are the properties of Mrs. Siegel, DC Comics, Warner Bros. and December 3rd Productions Ltd, Robert K. Weiss, and Tracy Torme; no infringements of any property rights are intended by their use.
Comments or Questions, e-mail me at: firstname.lastname@example.org
AUTHOR'S NOTE: This story (and those following) are my attempt at merging two of my favorite shows- "Lois and Clark", and "Sliders". Some poetic license has been taken with regards to the "Sliders" aspects of the stories (technology, etc.) in order for it to mesh better with the story line. I hope you enjoy.
> Indicates thoughts <
ALL CAPITALS — indicates stronger emphasis on word
(VIOLENCE WARNING: Contains graphic fight scenes.)
Dirt clouded the air, making it difficult for the man to breathe as the room collapsed around him. He could feel his ribs grind together as he desperately fought for each breath. The coppery taste of blood in his mouth sickened him. Through the haze, he could just barely make out the blur of his adversary helping the woman out of the chamber, shielding her with his own body. If he'd had the strength, he would've spit at his foe in defiance, showing him that, to the very end, he opposed him and what he stood for.
A thunderous cracking sound drew his attention to the roof. Chunks of the roof above were beginning to break away and plummet towards him, as if anxious to bring about his end. Intending to keep his eyes open to the very last, he was still startled when his vision went black. Confusion made his thoughts swirl madly.
>Am I dead? If so, why does it still hurt? Why can't I breathe? <
On the verge of panic, he turned his head to the side. Broken fragments of concrete and twisted beams of steel greeted him, as well as a black-clad arm with its hand driven several inches into the floor. The sleeve, where it pulled up from the wrist, revealed a wide gleaming metal armband that held numerous controls and a tiny view screen. Turning back to the darkness before him, he slowly brought his eyes to focus on it. His heart skipped a beat when he realized that it was indeed a human figure.
Slowly, his eyes began to bring out innocuous details of the apparition above him; he recognized the stitching on the suit from the same tailor as his own. As his gaze traveled up, he could see in the outer fringes of his vision the size of the slab of concrete resting on this beings back. The moment his eyes rested on the being's face, however, his mind snapped into perfect focus, all thoughts of pain were pushed aside as recognition swept through him.
"Lex Luthor, I presume?" The being's voice was clear and strong, revealing no strain of supporting the tons of rock on his back. "Have I got an offer for you."
Clark was bored.
As he leisurely banked across the autumn night sky, skimming over the Metropolis skyline, he gusted a heavy sigh.
>No fires, accidents, national emergencies. Nothing, < he thought to himself.
Angling towards the familiar silhouette of the Daily Planet building, red cape snapping and popping in his wake, Superman heaved another sigh.
It was shaping up to be a boring night on top of the previous boring day.
Softly lighting on the rooftop, Clark strode over to the edge and trained his super-hearing on the city below, almost desperately seeking a cry for help, the screech of tires, anything. After almost ten minutes, his scowl of frustration was replaced by a wry grin.
>Trust Superman to be disappointed when people are obeying the law! <
Breathing in the night air, Clark felt a giddiness sweep through him as his thoughts turned to more pleasant things. Namely Lois was returning from Chicago with Professor Hamilton from the S.T.A.R. Labs symposium.
>It's hard to believe that we've been married for nearly six years now, < Clark chuckled to himself. >And to think, there was a time when I thought we'd NEVER get married. <
The preternatural silence of the night, however, continued to plague the Kryptonian's conscience.
>Like the calm before the storm, < he mused.
"At last," a soft feminine voice murmured.
Spinning around, Clark peered into the darkness, his enhanced vision peeling away the shadows. Inwardly, he cursed himself. Had he truly become so complacent that he had missed the figure waiting on the roof for his return?
A tall, statuesque woman strode out of the shadows. Dressed in a body hugging black suit with diagonal red slash-marks on the cuffs, she appeared to be a member of a military unit. Her glossy black boots clicked softly on the roof tiles as she approached. The woman had a commanding presence about her that immediately drew Clark's attention.
Black, short-cropped hair framed delicate features; high cheekbones, tapered nose and chin. But her most arresting feature was her eyes. They held a confidence and power in their brown depths that Clark could feel from across the roof.
"Uh, Miss? Do I know you?" he asked.
The woman raised an eyebrow slightly.
"You are Lord Kal-El? Of the House of El?"
Warning bells began ringing in Clark's mind as it all added up. Her bearing and demeanor, her uniform, the way she talked, and her sudden appearance on the roof. He hadn't seen her on the roof because until a few moments ago she hadn't been ON the roof!
She was from New Krypton.
But what was she doing on Earth?
Superman raised his hand to interrupt her.
"Not anymore I'm not. It's just simply Kal-El now."
Her eyebrows drew down into a frown, and for no apparent reason a shudder went through him.
"And you believe that royal lineage is something that can be cast off so simply? Or concealed by this…SUPERMAN persona?"
Straightening to his full height, Clark folded his arms across his chest and scowled. Bored he may be, but he was not in the mood for this.
"And I am addressing…?" He left the question hanging.
"At this moment, that is none of your concern. This is for you," she stated, holding out her closed hand palm down.
Walking forward, Clark reached out his hand to accept the item.
The mysterious woman became a blur of motion, and Clark never saw the fist that collided with his jaw. Stunned, he was knocked backwards off the roof ledge, plummeting to the street far below. With a thunderous crash, Clark's blue and red clad body hit the pavement, buckling the concrete like styrofoam, sending a cloud of dust up and obscuring him from sight.
"Ow," he muttered, struggling to clear his vision. He certainly wasn't expecting THAT greeting from his visitor. Launching himself skyward, Clark fought to control his anger. The last thing the city needed right now was two Kryptonians battling it out and leveling several buildings.
Arriving back on the rooftop, Clark was momentarily taken aback to see the woman standing where she had originally been, and with a satisfied smirk on her face.
" 'More powerful than a locomotive'? That IS the way the periodicals of this world describe you, isn't it?" She sneered. "Hardly."
"Anyone can be caught off-guard once, Miss. Catching them a second time is a little tougher." Clark slowly crossed the distance between them, opening his arms in a helpless shrug. "I thought that I was finished with New Krypton. Lady Zara and myself parted on good terms, and nothing has changed that. What could have happened that would make you attack me like this? I don't even know you."
The woman slowly shook her head, the smile widening.
"Always looking for answers. Have you ever considered that maybe there is no reason? Perhaps I just feel like it." She shrugged. "In the end, the reason is inconsequential to the result." Her left hand slipped behind her back as she motioned Clark to stop with her right.
"That's far enough, Kal-El. Don't think I'm stupid enough to let you catch ME off-guard. Besides, you have other worries."
As she withdrew her left hand, Clark noticed that she held a small pager-like device. With a wicked smile, the Kryptonian woman pressed a button on the device's top.
"Decision time, Kal-El. I just activated the timer on a rather sizeable explosive device hidden in what used to be the LexCorp building in downtown Metropolis. Granted, the building at this hour is mostly deserted, but the device is situated as so it will cause the building to topple over onto several others. The result will be quite a few deaths, I imagine.
"Now the second choice. Moments from now, I will leave here and kill one citizen of Metropolis who is connected to you in some way. Possibly a friend, a co-worker, a neighbor. Someone whom you know."
The woman gave a little laugh. Lifting the back of her hand to her forehead, she gusted an exaggerated sigh.
"Oh, the agony of the decision. On the one hand, you can save the life of your acquaintance but condemn the occupants of the tower, or you could save the tower and leave your friend to my…tender mercies."
Clark was stunned to his core as his mind worked furiously. Neither choice was acceptable, but this woman was trying to force his hand.
"Take ME!" he shouted. "Leave everyone else out of this! If your quarrel is with me, then let's settle it between us." Tensing, Clark prepared for the attack that was sure to come.
The woman gave another short laugh, her voice like the chimes of small bells.
"Not an option, I'm sorry to say. We all have our orders to follow." She heaved another mock sigh. "Pity, though. I'd dearly love to match myself against you." Making a show of looking at an imaginary watch, she gave Clark a smirk. "You're wasting time, SUPERMAN." The way she stressed his name, it sounded almost derogatory.
But Superman was already gone, the wind from his wake washing over her.
Whistling a jaunty little tune, the mysterious woman took to the air, leisurely banking out into the darkness.
>By Rao, I do love my work, < she thought with a fierce joy. With a burst of speed, she vanished into the night.
As he rocketed across the city, Clark sent his x-ray vision probing ahead of him, searching the edifice that used to be the symbol of power for Lex Luthor.
Before his death, even though Lex had been one of his greatest adversaries, Superman had always refrained from invading Luthor's privacy in this manner. Now, however, expedience dictated that he put aside any qualms on the legality of the act.
An oblong box in the sub-basement of the tower caught Superman's eye. It was composed of lead, preventing him from seeing into it, but the box itself was the only item in that entire room. Mentally crossing his fingers, Superman steeled himself and accelerated even more towards the ground. Burrowing into the pavement, he emerged in the basement amid a shower of dust, dirt, and concrete.
The box was a featureless casket-shaped thing. The low lights in the room softly played off the glossy surface and Superman could find no way to access it. Its smooth surface revealed no seams or hinges of any kind.
With an audible click, a small square of the top surface detached and rose several centimeters into the air. A low humming began deep in the machine, and a minute figure of the mysterious Kryptonian woman faded into view on its surface.
"To use your human vernacular, Kal-El, 'Gotcha!'"
Superman stood in shock as the last part of the message began repeating itself.
"Gotcha! Gotcha! Gotcha! Gotcha!"
Realization swept through Clark's body in a sickening wave as, with an inarticulate scream, he plowed through the ground once more and headed for the sky. In his wake, small rocks and clumps of dirt rained on several news teams on the street outside. Their outraged cries fell on deaf ears as he vanished into the night sky.
Desperately, Superman swept the sky with every sense he possessed, frantically searching for any type of clue as to where the woman had gone.
>Better luck next time, Kal-El, < The woman's soft mental voice practically purred. >You can find the body at the Metropolis parade grounds in the park. <
Clark was standing next to the body before the echoes of his passage faded, his blood turning to ice by the sight that greeted him.
She lay on the dais, her dark blue dress neatly arranged around her, arms crossed on her midriff, looking for all the world as if she were merely sleeping.
"Lois." Her name escaped his lips, no louder than an exhaled breath.
Carefully, he approached her still form and extended a shaking hand, smoothing back an errant strand of hair from her cold forehead.
He felt as though a deep, dark pit in his soul had opened and swallowed him. His vision clouded over with a white haze as he fell to his knees, sobbing. He wanted to scream, to rage at the world, to find the woman responsible for this and to throttle the life from her! Anything, just as long as the pain stopped. It wasn't until long moments later that Clark was finally able to bring himself under enough control to think coherently.
>This can't be Lois, < he told himself. >She's in Chicago, covering the S.T.A.R. Labs symposium with Professor Hamilton and isn't due back until tomorrow. < Quickly, his mind began working on the possible explanations: clones, cosmetically-disguised imposter, time divergent doppelganger. All the situations they had encountered before. A quick scan with his x-ray vision, however, revealed the scarring on the anklebone Lois had broken. This left only the possibility of an alternate Earth Lois. And if it was a doppelganger from another dimension, it still meant THAT Superman had just lost his Lois.
Shaking his head sadly, still fighting to control himself, Clark numbly strode over to the closest pay phone and called 911, then walked back to the body to await the authorities. After they arrived, he would have to begin to answer the other questions raised by this incident.
>Better to concentrate on what I CAN do<, he fumed. >This Kryptonian woman is playing mind games with me, trying to keep me off-balance. My best bet is to try and figure out what her next move might be. < Glancing down at the prone figure, Clark couldn't repress a shudder. >At least I know my Lois is alive, < he told himself, trying to sound convincing.
As the sirens grew in volume, heralding the approach of the ambulance, Clark did his best to avoid listening to the tiny voice in the back of his mind:
What if you're wrong?
Hours later, Superman was restlessly pacing in Inspector Henderson's office, nursing a tepid cup of bad coffee and impatiently awaiting the forensic report. Time seemed to crawl by as the night slowly gave in to day.
Glancing out the office door, he spotted Henderson weaving his way past the desks, his lean face even more haggard, clutching a moderately thick file in his hand.
Entering the office, the Inspector pointedly shut the door behind himself before breaking the silence.
"We just got the results back from Forensics, Superman," his deep voice rumbled. "And I'm…" His voice broke, forcing him to stop. Taking a deep breath, Henderson collected himself and met the Man of Steel's eyes.
"I'm sorry. The tests were positive. It's Lois Lane."
"That's not possible, Inspector. Lois is in Chicago at…"
"Professor Hamilton concurs with our findings."
A reflexive spasm of Clark's hand crushed the paper cup, sending coffee splattering to the floor and causing Henderson to flinch.
Clark's mouth froze in mid protest. Professor Hamilton? He was supposed to be in Chicago at the Symposium.
The chasm in Clark's soul widened slightly.
Flipping open the file, the morose Inspector began paging through the report.
"DNA analysis indicates a positive match to Lois Lane-Kent. The body in question even exhibited the scarring on the ankle bone, as you told us earlier." Looking up from the report, the Inspector answered Clark's unasked question. "We decided to test for the clone possibility anyway, on the outside chance that someone had managed to duplicate the scarring. As near as we can tell, she is NOT a clone."
Henderson flipped another page in the file.
"The Chicago Symposium was contacted. It released yesterday evening, a day early. Professor Hamilton had to cancel his presentation at the last minute, so the Symposium released ahead of schedule. Flight records from O'Hare Airport indicate that a passenger Lois Lane-Kent boarded a "Red-Eye" express from Chicago to Metropolis. Witnesses likewise corroborate this. Upon arrival in Metropolis, Mrs. Kent apparently took a cab from the airport to 344 Hyperion Avenue." He glanced at Superman.
"The taxi never arrived." Gently, he closed the file. It had an unsettling final quality to it.
"The information I'm about to tell you, Superman, goes no further than this room. Once you hear it, you'll understand why. We found the remains of the cab roughly forty-five minutes ago, located in the middle of a field some fifteen miles outside of town. Seems the farmer was rather surprised to find a city cab in his cornfield. The roof of the cab had been torn off, as well as the head of the driver. No tracks lead to the car. It was as if it had been dropped from the sky." He cleared his throat.
"Analysis of Mrs. Kent's body indicates cause of death was blunt trauma to the chest. Several ribs had been broken from the impact, with extensive damage done to the internal organs. As close as the Coroner can ascertain, the weapon used was no bigger than a man's fist."
Visibly shaken, Henderson sat heavily into a chair. Clark could only stand there, frozen in shock.
"Adding this information to your report of the events earlier this evening, it confirms the existence of either another Kryptonian being on this planet, or a being with similar powers. Unfortunately, we have no idea if there are MORE than one. Right now our primary concern, aside from finding Mrs. Lane's killer, is preventing a citywide panic. If it IS a renegade Kryptonian, I shudder to think what their next move might be." A puzzled frown creased his face. "Any idea why Lois was targeted, Superman?"
Clark stared blankly at the wall with a single thought echoing through his mind.
>This was a message to me. Nothing is safe. <
Slowly, with great deliberation, Clark turned to the Inspector, a mask of calm over his face.
"Do you have any idea why she was targeted, Superman?"
>Because she was my wife. <
"No. I'm sorry. It could possibly be retribution for her involvement in stopping their last attempt." Turning back to face the wall, Clark desperately fought to keep his voice level. "I'll contact Clark Kent for you, Inspector. It would be better if this came from a friend, rather than the news or the Police."
"I'd appreciate it, Superman." The Inspector vented another bone-weary sigh. "Damn shame on this one." Standing up, Henderson drained the half-empty coffee cup on his desk in a single gulp and turned to the door. Before he exited, he briefly glanced back to Superman. "There was nothing you could have done, Superman. Coroner estimates that the time of death was several hours ago. At LEAST an hour before you encountered the Kryptonian woman. Even if you'd chosen to fight her, it wouldn't have prevented Lois' death." As Inspector Henderson turned to leave once more, he wiped at his eyes. "I'll get Mrs. Kent's personal effects."
The alley was like many of the other alleys in Metropolis: dark, forbidding, and containing many items besthidden from the light of day. Its inhabitants were the forgotten and ignored of the city, left to fend for themselves as best they could in whatever way they were able to. Anyone passing by pointedly made an effort not to glance into the shadows in order to maintain their ignorance of life's crueler side. Due to this, the event that happened was witnessed by none.
Gradually, an unearthly light emanating from no definable source pierced the shadows; it seemed to originate from everywhere at once. With a roar, a fiercely spinning hole opened in mid-air. Wind whipped papers and other garbage about and, into this chaos, a figure stepped out of the maelstrom.
At first glance he would have been immediately recognizable to practically anyone on the face of the planet; the flowing red cape, blue body suit, and pentagonal red and yellow S-shield. Only on a closer inspection would someone pick up on that perhaps this wasn't quite the Superman that the public was acquainted with. His once vibrantly colored uniform now showed wear; its colors were dulled and the cape and sleeves were frayed at the edges. Dark circles rimmed his eyes, and his once open and honest face now held bitterness and anger.
Emerging into the open air and bright light of the street, he paid no attention to the gasps of onlookers as they beheld his disheveled appearance. All his concentration was directed at the small device in his hand. Turning back and forth, he scrutinized the readings displayed and, with a satisfied grunt, slipped the device beneath his belt.
A light tug on the edge of his cape drew his attention downwards to meet the gaze of a small girl, her mother vainly trying to usher the child back along her way and away from the imposing figure.
"Superman? What happened to you? You been in a fight?" The child met his intense stare with absolute sincerity.
"Leave the man alone, honey. I think he has a lot on his mind." Glancing up, the beleaguered mother was surprised to see Superman's eyes shut tightly. When he opened them again, they glistened with unshed tears.
Crouching down to the child's level, Superman placed a hand on her tiny shoulder and met her intense gaze with his own.
"I promise, I won't let it happen again. I SWEAR." Nodding briefly at the stunned mother, he launched himself into the air and flew towards the Daily Planet.
Lex Luthor was not a pleased man.
Superman knocking a hole in his building had not helped his mood.
Neither was his current guest.
Even the morning News reports on Superman's unusual behavior of the previous night failed to cheer him.
Pacing around the luxurious penthouse, absently listening to the work crews calling in estimates on the repairs, his displeasure mounted into a fury. Finally, with a snarl, the former billionaire spun to face the well-dressed dark haired man sitting placidly in a leather chair. Unconcernedly, the man glanced up from examining the contents of his briefcase.
"I'm holding you personally responsible for this outrage!"
"Calm yourself, Lex," the man responded. "You'll give yourself an ulcer."
Luthor's ire increased. "I have a six foot wide hole leading from the street to the sub-basement of this building. A hole, I might add, put there by Superman himself. I was under the impression that we wanted to keep him away from the tower and what we're doing. Not invite him in!"
"He would have come here sooner or later, Lex." The dark man flashed the furious businessman a shark's grin. "Besides, it's not like you lost anything in the incident." Closing his briefcase, he placed it beside his chair.
Luthor stopped in mid-stride, unable to believe his ears.
"Am I to…"
"Lex," the seated man cut him off. "With the stakes we're playing for, a little wounded ego is nothing compared to the potential gains. And frankly," he held up a warning finger, "I'm a little disappointed by this display. It makes me feel that perhaps I've made an error in selecting my ally." The man shrugged. "If, however, you feel you are being treated unjustly, I can return you to the life the State had left you to exist in: penniless, homeless, and an outcast of society. May I remind you that, according to the world at large, you are also DEAD?"
Luthor swallowed. "Not to worry. You made the right choice. But I must ask, why Lois?" Her name caught briefly in his throat.
"Why Lois?" He leaned forward in his seat, another cruel smile playing across his lips as if he were enjoying a private joke. "Why not? Besides, when have you ever mourned the death of an enemy?"
"Lois was NOT an enemy!" Lex's shout echoed through the room. "She was never an enemy!"
"Correct me if I'm wrong, Lex, but did she or did she not stand with Superman where it concerned you?"
Marshaling his anger, Lex forced himself to calm down.
"That MAKES her the enemy, Lex." The man sat back in his chair once more.
"I still don't agree with the decision." Lex crossed his arms and scowled at his companion. The look that once had been able to bend even the most staunch adversary to his bidding merely made the dark man smile wider.
"Shall we review the facts as they currently stand, Lex? One: thanks to your illegitimate son and his accomplice Leslie Luckabee, they managed to gather together virtually all of your former holdings in their attempt to resurrect your former glory. Two: their untimely deaths paved the way for MY associates to step in and seize the vacated businesses for myself. The extent of your former empire has provided the ideal base for my operations here." Folding his hands in his lap, the man leaned back into his chair. "Once my plan has reached fruition, I will gladly turn over all of LexCorp's former holdings to you. You will have your empire once more." He gestured expansively, motioning to their surroundings. "All this will be yours again. And that brings us to the third point: in all honesty, you have VERY little to say in the decisions that are made around here."
"Be that as it may, I would still like to know what you and your associates are doing here on Earth."
The man's laughter filled the room with an evil sound. Leaning forward, Lord Kal-El fixed Luthor with a cold glare.
"Whatever we want, Lex."
How long he had been sitting on top of the Daily Planet's globe, Clark had no idea. The sun had nearly dropped below the horizon, and the lights of the city were beginning to softly glow. Before leaving Henderson's office, he had convinced the Inspector to allow him to review the entire contents of the file, stating that any bit of information might provide an opening for him. He vaguely recalled calling Perry at the Planet, informing him that he had taken ill and wouldn't be in for the next few days. When Perry had asked about Lois, Clark's voice had failed him and he had simply not answered the question. After hanging up, Clark had exited the building and taken to the air, flying on instinct with no destination in mind. Once he had arrived on the Daily Planet's roof, only then had he allowed the tears to come, his ragged sobs echoed eerily across the rooftops. Eventually, as his tears dried, the sharp pain of his loss settled into the dull ache that seemed to say 'Get Used To Me Being A Part of You'. The papers of the file lay scattered around the area where he sat and mulled over the various details they contained, the light breeze making them stir like autumn leaves.
> I know I'm missing something. The tests proved it's not a clone, but they were uncertain on the doppelganger matter. Even Dr. Klein had no options on that. I wonder, could I contact H. G. Wells?<
Glancing over, Clark couldn't bear to open the personal effects bag. It sat on the ledge next to him, daring him to open it. Through the transparent bag, her wedding band glinted in the dying sunlight. >Wish all you want, buddy,< it seemed to say. >I'll still be here in this bag when you're done.<
Before his thoughts could continue along that line, Clark's ears picked up a heartbeat from behind him. A shockingly familiar one. Scarcely able to believe what his senses were telling him, Clark haltingly turned to face his observer.
Alt-Superman emerged from the deep shadows where he had been concealed. The fading sunlight accented the haggard look in his eyes, and Clark couldn't help but stare. Striding over to his counterpart, Alt-Superman folded his arms across his chest.
"We need to talk, Clark."
Lex began pacing once again.
"I still would like to know, if I MAY," he amended, sarcasm tinting his voice as he glanced at the lounging Kryptonian. "Why DID you have the news media in front of the tower last evening?"
Lord Kal-El smiled crookedly.
"Sowing a little chaos now and then never hurt things any. The public this morning was shown images of their hero pointedly ignoring possibly injured media personnel. Now then," he began, standing up and walking over to the windows. "How are things proceeding on the satellite procurement? Will it be ready on schedule?"
Picking up a laptop computer from one of the tables, Luthor reluctantly skimmed through the files until he found the one he sought.
"According to the agent we have in NASA, the satellite will be re-tasked on time for the transmission."
Another deep chuckle reverberated from the smiling Kryptonian.
"Perfect. Make a note to have him killed."
"Killed?" Luthor couldn't believe his ears.
Glancing in Luthor's direction, a smirk lifted the corner of Lord Kal-El's lips.
Indignantly, the businessman scowled. "I have NEVER balked at killing someone that deserved it. I simply question the killing of an individual that we may still be able to utilize."
Bowing slightly at the waist, Lord Kal-El's smirk widened.
"As you wish."
Lex cleared his throat.
"I feel that I must point out, however, that killing Lois may have been a mistake. Aside from antagonizing her husband, the media coverage her death will generate will be astronomical. It might possibly be more than we can handle without tipping our hand in the matter."
"Not a concern," the Kryptonian said, returning his gaze to the scenery outside the window. "Any media coverage will be delayed, no doubt at the request of Superman. He won't want to alarm the public in any way until he knows for certain how she died. The Police will agree to the request because it's SUPERMAN who is asking. Before too long, Lois's death will be the LEAST of everyone's worries. And as for Superman?" Lord Kal-El shrugged nonchalantly. "I think I can handle him, don't you?" Turning to face the impatient businessman once more, a puzzled look crossed the Kryptonian's face.
"You mean that trick with the glasses actually WORKED?"
Alt-Superman stood on the edge of the roof, staring off into the distance at the towering buildings, a look of profound longing on his face.
"I'd almost forgotten what it looked like," he murmured. "What it felt like."
Turning to face his counterpart, Alt-Superman's lips briefly smiled.
"A living city. I'd almost forgotten how it looked, how it sounded. The sheer…EXCITEMENT of it."
Pacing forward, Clark glanced out at the vista his other self was looking at.
"I think you'd maybe better explain that."
"All of this," the bedraggled Man of Steel said, sweeping his hand from horizon to horizon. "It's gone."
Shaking his head, as if to rid himself of an unwanted memory, Alt-Superman turned away from the bustling city and faced Clark.
"I…," he began, but trailed off as his gaze rested on the bag containing Lois's belongings. Hesitantly, he walked over and reached down for it, but stopped short just before picking it up. "Oh no," he choked. Clenching his eyes shut, the distraught Kryptonian gently lifted the bag to his chest, weeping quietly. A wave of relief flooded through Clark, which he felt guilty for a moment later. Pacing forward, Clark placed a comforting hand on the grieving man's shoulder.
"I was right, then. She was YOUR Lois," Clark stated. "I can understand…"
Dropping the bag to the rooftop, Alt-Superman slapped away the hand and grabbed the surprised Kryptonian by the shirtfront, yanking him closer, their faces scant inches apart. Clark was taken aback by the wild, savage look in his counterpart's bloodshot eyes.
"You…naive…FOOL! You understand NOTHING!" Alt-Superman snarled. "I lost everything! Everything that meant anything to me! The thought that she might still have been alive was the ONLY thing that I had left!" Tears streamed down his face. "Lois, Mom, Dad, Lana, Perry, Jimmy, my world…EVERYTHING! They took everything that meant something to me and destroyed it!" Releasing Superman's tunic, Alt-Superman sank to his knees on the rooftop sobbing, his face buried in his hands. "All those people screaming, and I couldn't help them. I couldn't PROTECT them."
Crouching down, Clark gently took Alt-Superman by the shoulders and lifted him back to his feet.
"Tell me everything that happened."
Turning away, Alt-Superman slowly swept his vision over the skyline of the city, visibly composing himself. When he began speaking, it was in a voice so quiet that Clark nearly had to use his super-hearing to listen.
"It was on a night, one much like this, when the Kryptonians first made their presence known. A group of about thirty or so." Crouching down, Alt-Superman picked up the bag once more and tenderly cradled it in his arm, a nostalgic smile briefly lighting his face.
"At first, Lois was so happy. She always felt that it wasn't fair that I was the last of my people." The smile faded. "Her joy didn't last very long."
"I think I met one of them, last night. She was about my…our height, short dark hair, brown eyes, and a very intimidating presence." He paused before continuing. "I believe she..was the one that killed Lois."
Several long moments passed, until finally Alt-Superman nodded. "Viantaa, their leader's right-hand enforcer and Captain of his bodyguards. Aside from him, she's the most deadly. Most of the others can be reasoned with enough to at least partially curb their more destructive inclinations, but not those two." A shudder wracked his body. "Together, those two are chaos incarnate."
"Do you know who their leader is?" Clark stepped closer to his counterpart. "Perhaps, if the two of us were to combine our forces, we could…"
"Clark," Alt-Superman interrupted. "Their leader is called Lord Kal-El."
Superman stood there, thunderstruck, as the revelation tore through his brain like lightning.
"H-he's," Clark stammered. "He's…US?"
Mutely, the other dimensional Superman nodded. Turning back to the city sprawling below, Alt-Superman's voice floated back over his shoulder. "He's like a fun-house mirror version of us. There's so MUCH in him that's exactly like us, yet at the same time, there's so much different."
"Go on," Clark urged.
"From the tiny pieces of information I've been able to gather, Lord Nor apparently discovered a damaged spaceship of Kryptonian design floating in deep space. Once onboard, not only was Lord Kal-El found, but thirty other Kryptonians were likewise discovered, all unconscious. They were brought back to New Krypton by Nor and nursed back to health." He shook his head slowly. "I haven't the slightest idea what type of story Kal-El fed him but, soon after, Lord Nor himself went before the Council and presented his newest 'ally': Lord Kal-El." His head shook once more in disbelief. "The Council was awestruck. The son of Jor-El, long since feared lost, had miraculously been found." Alt-Superman shrugged. "No-one had any idea of the truth. If they had, who knows? Maybe things would have been different. Maybe not. The sole thing the Kryptonian people were focused on was that the ruling bloodline would once more be re-established."
"Wait a moment," Clark interrupted. "Didn't Nor try to invade Earth in your dimension?"
Alt-Superman shook his head.
"No, he never had the opportunity to."
"How did Nor explain..Kal-El's sudden appearance, then?"
"Who knows?" Alt-Superman shrugged helplessly. "Everyone must have assumed that he had been on another colonist ship from Krypton. Records from that period were partial at best." Alt-Superman drifted into silence once more, absorbed in the sights and sounds around him.
"You said that they had destroyed your world. How exactly did they do that?" Leaning against the pylon supporting the giant globe, Clark motioned for his counterpart to continue.
Alt-Superman's eyes grew distant, looking into the past.
"Nor outsmarted himself." A low chuckle escaped Alt-Superman's lips. "He had the idea of THIS Lord Kal-El backing his bid for power. Unfortunately, once the Council officially recognized him as being genuine, his first official act was to challenge Lord Nor to combat. During the combat, Nor was killed and Kal-El assumed control of the colonists."
Clark was dumbstruck. Nor killed by the duplicate? The whole situation seemed to have a surreal quality to it.
"Didn't anyone stand against him?"
"After what he did to Nor? Not hardly." Alt-Superman snapped his fingers. "Kal-El killed him THAT easily, and with about that much thought in the matter. Once his rival had been disposed of, he solidified his authority by marrying Lady Zara and establishing his personal guard. A personal guard composed solely of the Kryptonians that accompanied him in the ship." Alt-Superman gravely shook his head. Turning to face Clark, Alt-Superman's eyes grew cold. "Make no mistake, whatever there might have been in him that was good, it's GONE."
"What makes you say that?"
"Experience," he answered, eyes flashing. Slowly, he began walking towards Clark, his voice dropping into a snarl. "Weeks after he took control of the Council, Lord Kal-El invaded Earth. It took him and his followers four days to crush the majority of the world's military forces." Alt-Superman stopped, scant inches away from Clark's face. "Lord Kal-El announced to the world that, even though each countries ruling bodies were still in place, they now answered directly to HIM. He declared himself Emperor of the World, with Zara as his Empress." Alt-Superman tilted his head to the side. "You still think he can be reasoned with? He's a creature of pure rage, lashing out at all of creation, wanting everything to pay for what was done to him."
"That doesn't mean we should stop trying."
Alt-Superman shook his head. Turning away, his gaze drifted out over the city again.
"You said that it took him and his followers four days to crush the military. Where were you? Didn't you help?"
"OF COURSE I helped!" Alt-Superman snarled. "In the end, it was a simple matter of numbers; they had more!"
Clark held out his hands in a placating gesture.
"All right, I understand," he conceded. "But, why didn't he imprison you? Or try to convince you to turn sides?"
Alt-Superman smiled a sardonic smile.
"Because, and I'm quoting, I'd 'make things interesting for him. These sheep are too docile. You'll provide some entertainment.' Unquote. Besides, Clark, if YOU had around a thousand Kryptonians that were willing to do your every bidding, would YOU worry about one man? Even if he was a Kryptonian himself?"
Clark's eyes widened.
"He ruled Earth uncontested for several years, building a floating fortress city he called Kryptonopolis. It, and…OTHER things occupied all his attention for a long time. Unfortunately, it didn't last long enough. Four years ago, Kal-El took notice of Lois. She had been writing numerous articles in an underground newspaper against the Kryptonian establishment. I'd been spending more and more time as Superman, trying to organize the various rebel factions around the world into a cohesive unit, and less time in the public spotlight. When the rebels wanted to strike a particular area, I'd allow myself to be spotted in public somewhere in order to draw the Kryptonian's attention away from the target." Crossing his arms, Alt-Superman scowled at the rooftop. "On my return from one of these outings, I discovered Lois missing from our apartment, and the place in shambles. I scoured the city looking for her, but never found her." His hand tightened on the bag. "And now, it's too late."
Clark strode forward and placed a comforting hand on Alt-Superman's shoulder.
"Well, they're HERE now, and they have to be stopped. To do that I need your help."
"Your Lois is missing too, isn't she." he stated, no hesitation in his voice.
"That's why they need to be found. Lois vanished last night, and I haven't the slightest idea where to start looking for her." Gently, Clark turned his morose counterpart to face him. "Will you help me?"
Nodding, Alt-Superman tucked the bag beneath his arm and, following Clark, took to the air. Miles away, a pair of cold, brown eyes watched their departure. Raising a small microphone to her mouth, Viantaa keyed the switch.
"They're on their way, my Lord."
>This situation is intolerable,< Lex mused. The former billionaire sat behind the polished marble desk and watched as Lord Kal-El quietly spoke with someone through a tiny transmitter. Little had been said between the two over the past half hour; Kal-El preferring to gaze out the window at the bustling city below, and Luthor preferring to concoct a scheme to resolve the situation in his favor. The time for Lord Kal-El's transmission to the world was fast approaching, and Lex still had no idea what it was about. That fact ate at Lex, and he hated the feeling of not being in control.
>Whatever the message is, it's a certainty that this Earth's Superman won't like it,< he reasoned to himself. >He'll more than likely challenge this Kryptonian outsider, and this upstart won't have the intelligence to back down.<
Slowly, a plan began crystallizing in Luthor's mind. As he finished out the details, he mentally sat back and examined it for flaws.
>If it works, I'll be at the top of the game again. Everything that was stolen from me will be mine once more. If it doesn't work?< He mentally shrugged. >I've nothing left to lose.<
Switching off the receiver, Lord Kal-El strode over to the bar and filled two glasses with cognac before returning to the desk where Luthor waited. Smiling broadly, the Kryptonian handed one to Lex.
"Good news, I take it?" Lex's words fairly dripped with sarcasm.
"The best. Everything is going according to plan. As soon as the players reach the appropriate stage, the curtain will go up." Lord Kal-El beamed. "Soon, it will all be over."
Raising his glass, the darkly clad Kryptonian toasted Lex.
"To plans being fulfilled."
"Indeed," Lex replied. "To plans being fulfilled."
The dangerous glint in Lex's eyes went unnoticed.
"Amazing. It looks just like Lois's and my apartment." Walking around the couch, Alt-Superman opened the bookcase and revealed the secret compartment behind it. "Even down to the number of uniforms hanging in here."
Hanging up the phone, Clark poked his head around the corner from the kitchen.
"How long were the two of you married?"
"Quite a while. Lois and I married soon after she left Lex standing at the altar." Alt-Superman shook his head. "That was a close one. If she hadn't had that change of heart and turned on Lex at the last moment, who knows what might have happened." Shutting the bookcase, Alt-Superman strode over to the couch once more and sat down.
Clark entered the living room with two cups of coffee.
"Well, that covers things with Perry," Clark began.
"You know, if you keep using that 'out-of-state family emergency' excuse, Perry WILL become suspicious." Alt-Superman glanced up at Clark. "He started calling Mom and Dad whenever I'd use it, to 'see if there was anything he could do' for them." He chuckled. "Either that, or he needed to clarify a point on a story I'd written. Made it pretty tough there for a while. Mom and Dad had to do some pretty quick thinking in order to create a reason for my needing to be there." Reaching over to the end table, Alt-Superman picked up a photo of Lois and Clark together at an awards banquet. "He won't kill her, you know. Not yet, at least. Crazy he may be, but he's DEFINITELY not stupid."
"Why do you say that?" Sitting on the armrest of the couch, Clark handed one of the steaming cups to his counterpart, who deeply inhaled the aroma.
"Fresh coffee. You have no idea how long it's been since I last had some." Taking a sip from the drink, Alt-Superman smiled briefly.
"She's too useful as a negotiation piece, Clark," the other-dimensional Superman supplied. "He won't..discard her until he's certain she has no more use. I'd also watch out for him trying the old 'bait-and-switch' routine."
"I beg your pardon?" Clark asked, clearly stumped.
"Using the Lois of ANOTHER dimension to distract you."
"And we're supposed to tell them apart HOW?" Clark prodded.
"Just check the difference in the vibrational frequency of her atoms." With Clark's puzzled expression, Alt-Superman's lips quirked up into a smile. "Sorry. I guess I should explain. All matter in a universe vibrates on the atomic level at a particular frequency. Matter from a DIFFERENT universe vibrates on a DIFFERENT frequency." Reaching up, he tapped on Clark's temple. "We can SEE it, if we look closely enough."
"We CAN?" Clark's astonishment was evident in his tone. "I didn't think we could see THAT well."
"Well, we CAN." Sipping again from the coffee, Alt-Superman stared intently into its depths. "You just have to know what to look for. And practice doing it."
"What else can we do?"
Struggling to hide his amusement, Alt-Superman peered at Clark out of the corner of his eye.
"That's not the question you WANT to ask me, is it?" When Clark shook his head, Alt-Superman grunted. "Well?"
"When we talked on the Planet's rooftop, you looked at the..effects bag." Pausing, Clark stirred his coffee, searching for the right words. Finally, he decided to be direct.
"You KNEW it was your wife who'd died. How?"
Expecting a more detailed response, the brief, terse reply caught Clark off guard.
"The ring? What about it?"
After several moments of stunned silence, Clark shook his head in disbelief.
"I can't BELIEVE I missed that."
"You were in shock," Alt-Superman supplied. "Easy enough to overlook."
"Lois told me about her experiences on your world," Clark said, once he'd returned from the kitchen with more coffee. "About how your Lois was lost in the Congo. I can't.."
"Excuse me?" Alt-Superman interjected. "Lois, lost in the Congo? On MY world?" Shaking his head, Alt-Superman frowned. "I have NO idea what you're talking about. That never happened. I met Lois my first day of work at the Daily Globe." Shaking his head once more, Alt-Superman sipped his coffee. "Must've been another doppelganger you ran into. Lois always HATED the jungle." Smiling faintly, he stared off into the distance.
Fidgeting uncomfortably, Clark hurriedly gulped down the last of his coffee.
"I know it must be difficult to talk about, but I need to know what happened on your world."
"The beginning of the end for the Kryptonians was due to, believe it or not, Lex Luthor." Alt-Superman explained. "He had apparently managed to synthesize a fairly effective form of kryptonite, and began outfitting the various rebel factions with bullets made of the stuff. Within a few months, hundreds of Kryptonians had been assassinated." He grunted. "Personally, at the time, I thought that was probably the WORST thing we could have done. I knew that killing the Kryptonians would only enrage Lord Kal-El, and it certainly did just that."
"How did the Kryptonians reply?"
Alt-Superman shook his head sadly.
"For one, we never did find all of Luthor's body. After punishing the population in…OTHER ways first, several of Lord Kal-El's soldiers began using their heat vision to detonate nuclear warheads world-wide from orbit." Alt-Superman shuddered. "It was horrible. In the four days it took for Lord Kal-El to defeat the armies of the world, only two nuclear missiles were ever launched. The rest were still in their silos. When the rebel uprisings first started, Lord Kal-El had several of his men go and take the warheads from all the remaining missiles, hiding them in various places on the planet, creating a crude doomsday device." As Alt-Superman took another sip of coffee, Clark could see his hand trembling. "Later, when the uprisings became more serious, they started detonating the nuclear devices. They did it in a very slow and methodical way, so the people remaining on Earth could see it coming. For days, his soldiers gradually detonated each warhead, contaminating the Earth a little more each time. I tried finding the warheads myself, but each time I'd get close, they'd blow it up first. And, as the cloud cover increased, my powers dwindled. I'd have to spend at LEAST an hour a day above the cloud level recharging. Finally, towards the end, the President issued a directive to me, ordering me to take up residence in the Prometheus space station with several other astronauts." Eyes clenched shut, he rubbed the bridge of his nose.
"After it was all over, all we could do was watch as the Earth slowly froze. Several months passed, and the radio transmissions began tapering off, until finally they stopped. Later, I woke one morning to find all the astronauts gone. They left me a note, telling me that they all had emptied their air tanks into the station's systems, keeping just one minute of air per person, and had left to die with their world." Alt-Superman's voice cracked slightly. "They wanted to give me more time, and figured that with the supplies on the station, what could sustain several people for a year could sustain one person for SEVERAL years."
"My..God," Clark breathed.
Lifting his head to meet Clark's shocked gaze, a determined look flashed in Alt-Superman's eyes.
"The last line of their note said 'avenge us, avenge our world.' And I intend on doing just that." He sipped his coffee again.
"I'm going to kill them all, starting with Lord Kal-El."
She awoke into darkness. Groggily, the woman tried to turn her head, but something prevented it from moving. A pressure across her face told her that she was blindfolded. As she attempted to raise her arm, she realized her arms and legs were restrained as well. The chill from the metal table leeched the warmth out of her as she began to tremble.
"H-hello? Is anyone there?" Her voice, dry from disuse, came out as a croak.
"She's awake," a male voice grumbled from somewhere above her and to the left.
"Give her another dosage. Lord El isn't here yet," a female voice purred from her right.
"So soon? It might harm her," the man responded, genuine concern tingeing his voice.
"So?" The coldness in the woman's voice made the table's chill feel warm in comparison.
"Very well, Captain." A slight pressure briefly touched the left side of her neck.
"Wait! What's going..?"
Oblivion claimed her once more.
"I'm going to kill them all."
Clark's eyes narrowed as his own anger flared.
"Superman does NOT kill. EVER!" Clark bit out between clenched teeth. "I can't believe.."
"YOU weren't there!" Alt-Superman bellowed. "YOU didn't hear those murdering creatures laughing as they sent my Earth into another ice age!" Bolting to his feet, his coffee splattering to the floor, the enraged Kryptonian turned to leave.
"Is this what Lois would have wanted?"
Clark's quiet question stopped Alt-Superman in his tracks.
Standing up, Clark walked around to place himself in front of his doppelganger.
"You know, Lois? The woman you said you loved? Would she want this, for you to become some vengeance-driven vigilante? That's-not-OUR-way," Clark said emphatically, tapping his own chest emblem with the final four words. He then pointed to Alt-Superman's emblem. "That's not SUPERMAN'S way. You leave here," he stated, motioning at the door, "you leave WITHOUT that uniform. You'll be no better than THEM."
As Clark finished, a bleak, forlorn look came into Alt-Superman's eyes. His shoulders slumped as he seemed to collapse inwards on himself.
"It hurts so much, Clark," he sobbed. "So much."
Stepping forwards, Clark placed his hands on Alt-Superman's shoulders for a moment, before drawing him into an embrace.
"We'll get through this, Brother. We'll get through this."
Even as he said it, Clark fervently wished he believed it himself.
"Are they still there?"
"Yes, my Lord. Both the Supermen are still inside."
"Good, Chifnal," Lord Kal-El smiled. "Return to the Tower and relieve Captain Viantaa. Out."
Switching off the communicator, the Kryptonian overlord grinned at Lex. The former businessman returned the grin with a scowl of his own.
"Are you sure this is wise?"
"Relax, Lex. Everything has been taken into account. Even the appearance of this other Superman. In fact, I was HOPING he'd make it to this little party."
Inwardly, Lex groaned.
>I don't know which is worse; having TWO Supermen in this world to possibly bedevil me, or having to tolerate the ONE madman sitting in front of me. To actually think he can take on BOTH of them.< His thoughts were interrupted by a deep chuckle from across the desk.
"Very soon now, Lex. It'll ALL be over."
The dangerous glint in Lord Kal-El's eyes, however, went unnoticed.
Stepping back, Clark released his counterpart.
"Now, Kal, I need to know. What else do you know about Lord Kal-El?"
Alt-Superman shook his head after a moment.
"Not much, I'm afraid. The only other thing I know is that he operated almost solely out of his capital on my world. Here, though? I don't know. He must have a human on this planet helping him."
"That reminds me," Clark interrupted. "How DID he get to this world. Or for that matter, how did YOU get to this world?"
Reaching behind his belt, Alt-Superman withdrew a compact device and handed it to Clark. About the size of a TV remote, it had a dozen or so buttons organized below a small screen. As Clark watched, the screen came to life, numbers crawling across the surface. A wire-frame globe slowly spun in its depths, divided into fractional slices radiating from the center in all directions.
"It's a dimensional gateway transmitter," Alt-Superman explained. "It creates a bridge between dimensions, allowing individuals to cross over. How it works, though, is beyond me. I can barely get it to function at all. I do know that those keys below the screen are for entering coordinates of various dimensions."
Turning it over in his hands, Clark was amazed at the complexity of it.
"Where'd you get it from? Or, actually, from whom did you get it?"
"Lady Zara. It was the LAST thing she did before she died."
Clark's gaze rose to meet his counterpart's, an unasked question evident behind them.
"No, Clark. I didn't kill her." Alt-Superman shrugged. "Though I would have liked to. It was Lord Kal-El that did it. It seems she publicly disagreed on a decision he made, so…" Falling silent, he drew his finger across his throat. "Lieutenant Ching, acting on contingency orders from Lady Zara, brought the device to me as an act of retribution towards Lord Kal-El."
Returning his attention to the device, Clark scratched his chin absently.
"Well, we could take it to S.T.A.R. Labs. They might be able to make heads or tails of it."
"Or, we could take it to the source." Alt-Superman interjected.
Clark returned his gaze to his twin.
"Years before they left the other Earth, I discovered that the Kryptonians had several scientists working with them, presumably to work on this," Alt-Superman commented, motioning to the portal device. "If anyone were to know something about this thing, it'd be them. We just need to find them."
Clark nodded in agreement, then frowned.
"But, how did you know he came to THIS world?"
Turning away, Alt-Superman clenched his eyes shut once more, fighting back tears. When he spoke again, his voice sounded strained.
"Before he disappeared, Lord Kal-El left me a present. Literally." He took a deep breath, exhaling slowly. "I woke one morning to find a gift-wrapped present floating outside the station. After recovering it, I opened it and found Lois's wedding dress inside with a note pinned to it, containing several coordinates. A note written in blood."
Alt-Superman's voice dropped to a whisper.
Striding down the corridor of LexCorp Tower, Lord Kal-El allowed a feeling of accomplishment flow through him.
>My scientists tell me that work is proceeding as planned on the new device, and I have a secure place on this planet from which to launch my conquest of this world,< he mused. >Yes, everything is advancing grandly.< A smile slowly spread across his face, one that he quickly smothered. >No use feeling TOO secure just yet,< he chided himself. >That's what happened the FIRST time, and look what happened! You lost a world!<
Lost in his thoughts, Lord Kal-El quickly rounded a corner, and ran straight into a scientist approaching in the other direction. The double armload of papers the heavy-set little man was carrying went flying up into a snowstorm of documents from the collision, and sent the spectacled scientist backwards to land unceremoniously on his rump with a grunt of pain.
"Who in the…!" the scientist began as he straightened his glasses, but stopped short as he came to focus on the living wall that had hit him.
"L-L-Lord Kal-El! W-what a surprise!" he frantically wallowed. "A thousand apologies, my Lord! I did not MEAN to physically assault you in such a manner!"
"Dr. Halloway, isn't it?" the dark Kryptonian queried.
"Yes, my Lord! Please, DON'T incinerate me, Master. I mean, you obviously CAN if you would like to, but…"
"Stop your blubbering, human." The fierce tone in Lord Kal-El's words caused Dr. Halloway to quake all the more. "I'm NOT intending on killing you today."
Expecting to be reduced to a pile of ash at any moment, the toadying doctor looked up hopefully at the towering presence.
"Maybe tomorrow," Lord Kal-El added, smiling devilishly.
As he continued down the corridor once more, the ruler of all Kryptonians smiled once more as he heard Dr. Halloway's body hit the floor, fainting.
Trying to suppress a yawn, Clark glanced over at the clock.
>5 a.m.? We talked the WHOLE night? No wonder I feel so tired!<
When the phone rang in Clark Kent's apartment, Alt-Superman smiled wanly at him.
"Who should get that?"
Smiling himself, Clark walked over to the phone and lifted the receiver.
"Hello, Kent." The voice on the other end fairly spit out the name, as if it found speaking it offensive.
"Yes, and who might this be?" Clark vented an exasperated sigh. He was definitely NOT in the mood for this.
"Come, now, Kent. Surely you haven't forgotten me so soon? And you with that SUPER brain of yours. I most assuredly have NOT forgotten YOU," the voice hissed.
Clark's blood ran cold as he identified the voice.
"Come to where we first met. Now." The line went dead.
Slowly, as if watching someone else do it, Clark returned the phone to its cradle and turned to Alt-Superman.
"Who was it?" Clark's doppelganger asked.
Sitting behind his desk, Lex Luthor was beginning to become impatient when a light rapping at the window of the penthouse startled him. Turning, he momentarily believed he was seeing double, until he reminded himself of who he was dealing with.
Pushing the patio doors open, both Supermen, now wearing identical brightly colored uniforms, slowly walked out of the morning sky and into the room, their eyes scanning the surroundings.
"You may relax, gentlemen. Lord Kal-El is not here, at present." Lex magnanimously spread his hands. "Welcome to what used to be MY home. And, hopefully, soon will be again. I'd offer you something to drink, but I'd hate to waste perfectly good brandy on the likes of you."
"Nice, isn't he?" Alt-Superman murmured.
"Very. Just as I remember him," Clark replied.
"Mine was bald, though."
"So was he," Clark chuckled. "For a while."
"Now that we've re-established where we stand with one another," Lex began again, speaking over the two Kryptonian titans. "Perhaps we may move on to the business at hand?"
Leaning forward, the former billionaire rested his elbows on the desktop.
"You want to defeat Lord Kal-El. Even though it gladdens my heart to see that even YOU have a dark side, I want him beaten, too. In that regard, I am willing to help you." Sitting back, Lex folded his hands in his lap and smiled. "For a price."
"No," Clark said.
"Name it," Alt-Superman replied simultaneously.
Clark, stunned, turned to look at his double in disbelief.
"I like him," Lex chortled, raising an eyebrow. "Very practical minded. Pity you don't share that trait."
"If YOU don't want to pay it, I certainly will." Alt-Superman gave Clark a withering stare.
Fuming, Clark turned back to Lex.
"And that price will be what?"
"To be named later." Leaning forward, Lex peered at Alt-Superman. "I take it that you have one of those portal devices?"
"Good. The man primarily responsible for creating them is one Doctor Francis Halloway. I believe you'll find him in his office. Perhaps he can be of some assistance in finding a way to make them work to your advantage." Motioning to the window, Lex smiled coldly again at Clark. "When this is over, you and I have a score to settle." Returning his attention to the other Superman, Lex nodded. "Three floors down, second window from the left. A short, balding man with thick glasses. Can't miss him. We'll discuss my payment once your boy-scout friend leaves."
"Anything else?" Clark grated from between clenched teeth.
"Yes. Lord Kal-El's planning something big. He's intending on making a transmission soon, and seems to think that, when it's completed, the game will be over for humanity. Also, if it makes any difference, he only has about five of his personal guard with him." Lex shrugged. "Beyond that? You're on your own. Now, if you don't mind?" Motioning to the patio doors, Lex stared expectantly at Clark.
"Thanks," Clark said, icily.
With a rush of air, Lex was alone in the room with Alt-Superman.
"Now, as to my payment."
Alt-Superman listened intently for the next few moments as Lex explained the price for his assistance. Once the businessman had finished, the other dimensional Superman was dumbstruck.
"You can't be serious."
"You say you're from another dimension, correct?" Lex asked, pacing slowly around the room. "Now, I believe I can safely assume that the Lex Luthor of YOUR world is at least somewhat like myself?"
Alt-Superman nodded, his eyes never leaving Lex as he continued pacing. Without warning, the former billionaire stopped in his tracks and spun to face his guest.
"So what makes you think I'm joking?!" he hissed. "You know what your problem is? You underestimate me. YOU do. HE does," Lex growled, jerking a thumb at where Clark had stood. "EVERYONE does. They all underestimate me. But, in the end, who's left standing?" Slowly, he tapped his chest. "Me." Drawing closer to the Kryptonian, Lex smiled without warmth. "Your counterpart underestimates me. He always did, and always will. It would be ill-advised of you to do the same."
Stopping, with their noses almost touching, Lex glared at Alt-Superman.
"My price is non-negotiable."
For several long moments, the two men stared at one another, silently testing each other's resolve, until Alt-Superman nodded fractionally.
"If that's what it takes, then you'll have it," Alt-Superman grudgingly agreed. "As long as Lord Kal-El is beaten. If he isn't, the deal's off."
Another blur of motion, and Lex was alone in the room.
>Perfect,< he thought fiercely.
Fumbling with the doorknob to his office, balancing the piles of papers delicately, Dr. Halloway managed to open the door without spilling them. Entering the cluttered workspace, the encumbered scientist began turning to close the door.
"Here, let me get that for you," a low voice said from behind him.
With a startled squeak, papers flying everywhere, Halloway pivoted to face the speaker. Standing side by side, the two Supermen glared at the little man, arms crossed across their chests. Alt-Superman stepped forward, snagging the doctor by the front of his jacket, lifting him high off the floor and, continuing forward, pinned the surprised scientist against the wall. Holding the dimensional portal device in front of the man's face, the Kryptonian smiled at him.
"Now, I'd like a little history lesson about this little thing."
"W-whatever you'd like to know, I-I'm your man!" the bespectacled scientist squeaked.
"Where'd it come from?"
"I don't know for certain. All I know is what I've been told. A year or so after Lord Kal-El conquered the Earth, a portal of some kind opened on the lawn of the White House. It had the unfortunate timing of occurring while Lord Kal-El was conducting an inspection of the area. Apparently, four people emerged from the gateway, and were immediately captured by Kal-El's forces. When they were searched, a device was found on one of them, much like the one you have in your hand. When questioned about it, their leader said that they were travelers from an alternate Earth trying to get home." The scientist trailed off.
"Go on," Alt-Superman growled, shaking the pudgy man slightly.
"Really, Sir, I can think much better on my feet. I mean, on the ground," he amended, smiling hopefully.
Placing the scientist back on the ground, Alt-Superman laid a finger on the man's chest.
"Remember, if you try to run, I can catch you before you even move a muscle. Now, go on."
"Right," Dr. Halloway managed, straightening his jacket. "Now, where was I? Ah, the four visitors. When the Kryptonian scientists began examining the device, they realized that the leader of the group had been telling the truth." As the scientist continued explaining, the little man grew more animated. "This device allows the user to access a potentially INFINITE amount of parallel dimensions. Think of reality as,…" he scratched his chin. "A roulette wheel, with an infinite amount of slots on it. This device allows you to travel from one slot to another." Dr. Halloway pointed at the numbers on the bottom of the screen.
"The numbers you see at the bottom are coordinates; the ones on the left are your originating point, the ones on the right are your destination dimension and the location the exit portal will be at on the planet. The keys below the screen are to program in specific coordinates for your destination. Or, you can use them to access the memory stored in the device to call up past destination coordinates. The larger gray button below the coordinate keys activates the recall setting if you want to return to the dimension you just left. This, my friend, is a device ages beyond the one those travelers had. They had a Wright Brother's plane, whereas this one?" Smiling like a proud parent, Dr. Halloway grandly motioned to the device in Alt-Superman's hand. "That one is a Space Shuttle. Absolutely no comparison."
"Meaning…?" Alt-Superman raised an eyebrow.
Dr. Halloway blanched.
"Ah, I mean, the one they had was comprised of Earth technology. This one," he motioned again to the device in Alt-Superman's hand. "This is a hybrid of Earth and Kryptonian technology. The one that the travelers had could only RANDOMLY select dimensions to cross into, it had NO memory features, and the user had a prescribed waiting period before another portal could be opened." Dr. Halloway smiled once more, albeit weakly.
"All right, Doctor. What happened to the four individuals?"
"Well, from what I could gather, the four of them were intensely…uh, interrogated by their captors. When it was determined that only the leader truly knew anything about the device, the others were..disposed of."
"Meaning they were killed." Alt-Superman's eyebrows drew downwards into a frown.
"I-it wasn't my idea! I w-wasn't even there!" Halloway stuttered, frantically.
Placing his hand on the scientist's chest, the enraged Kryptonian pressed the startled man against the wall, pinning him there like an insect.
"What happened to the leader?" he demanded.
"Still alive," the obese scientist squeaked. "He was deemed too important to kill."
"And, how many of these devices are there?"
"Three, maybe four," he wheezed.
"Who has them?"
"I..I can't tell you that. They'd kill me!"
Alt-Superman placed a little more pressure on Halloway's chest, causing the quivering scientist's eyes to bulge.
"Captain Viantaa has one! Lord Kal-El has another! You have the third!" Fighting for breath, he looked at Alt-Superman pleadingly. "Will you let me go, now?"
Smiling slightly, Alt-Superman withdrew his hand, allowing the scientist to breathe more easily.
"Just a few more questions, Doctor. About the exit portal…"
"If no specific coordinates for the exit portal are entered, it appears in the other dimension at a random location on the planet!" the nervous Doctor supplied. "Never inside a solid object, and never higher than ten feet off the ground unless the portal is INITIATED higher!"
"Anything else you care to supply, Doctor?"
"Well, the portal forms no further than twenty feet from the transmission device," the rotund scientist mused, rubbing his chest. "The portal can only accommodate up to six living beings without collapsing in on itself. And they're working on another project. I don't know much, but I think they're trying to make another portal device." Dr. Halloway gazed meaningfully at Clark. "A more powerful one."
"To make longer lasting portals?" Clark asked, peering over his double's shoulder.
"Yes," the little man said. "And to make BIGGER portals."
"Bigger? Why?" Clark, moving around his double, gently took the device >from Alt-Superman's hand. "Why would he want to do that?"
Startled, Clark turned to face his counterpart. Alt-Superman, his face gone white, stared in mounting horror out the window.
"His city. Kryptonopolis. He wants to bring his city into this universe."
"His fortress city?" Clark asked. "Wasn't it destroyed in your universe?"
"No, it wasn't," Alt-Superman grimaced, shaking his head. "He had a force-field enclosing it to protect it. I tried, though."
"Aside from the obvious reason, why else would he want it here?" Clark muttered to himself. After a moment, his eyes snapped open. "The rest of his forces."
"Waiting for his call," Alt-Superman agreed, nodding. "We need to destroy that device." Turning to the scientist once more, he scowled. "Where is it?"
Shaking like a leaf, Dr. Halloway pointed up in the air.
"Could you be a LITTLE more specific?" Alt-Superman growled, advancing on the quivering man. A restraining hand on his shoulder stopped him in his tracks. Turning his head, he saw Clark staring up at the ceiling, eyes narrowed.
"Geo-synchronous orbit above Metropolis."
Papers flew wildly as Alt-Superman shot out through the window and vanished into the sky.
"No, why don't YOU handle it," Clark asked wryly. Turning back to the scientist, Clark's expression became puzzled. "What's the matter, Doctor?"
Weeping quietly, Halloway covered his face with his hands.
"Three of you in one day!" he sobbed. "Could someone PLEASE tell me how many MORE of you I'm going to run into today?"
Chuckling lightly, Clark patted the distraught man on the shoulder.
"Actually, I was wondering if you could help me with another matter. I'm looking for a person, and maybe you might know where she is? After that, I think that I can help YOU."
Dr. Halloway's eyes became hopeful once again.
Facing the camera lens, Lord Kal-El needed to use all his self-control to keep from smiling. Technicians scurried around the room, insuring cables were connected, lights were lit, and anything else they could think of in order to look busy.
Glancing down at the podium he stood behind, Lord Kal-El chuckled.
>Sheep, one and all. So desperate to act nonchalant, hoping that they won't attract my attention.<
"My Lord?" A nervous looking woman in a blue dress stood off to the side, trying to gain his attention, wishing she was as far away from there as possible. "We're ready when you are."
Nodding his approval, Lord Kal-El turned to the camera as the red light came on.
"Ladies and Gentlemen of the United Nations Council, and citizens of the world. You all know who I am, so I will skip the introductions and get right to the point. I apologize for this intrusion into your daily routine of meaningless meetings and posturing, but I can assure you that it IS for a good reason. Today is a GREAT day for the people of Earth!" Looking deep into the camera, Lord Kal-El let a smile spread across his face. The bright lights in the studio harshly lit the familiar blue and red uniform the tyrant now wore, and the red and yellow pentagonal S-shield on his chest fairly glistened.
"Your rightful ruler has arrived."
Hovering low above the LexCorp Tower, Superman anxiously scanned the surroundings, using both his x-ray and telescopic vision. A rush of wind at his side heralded the arrival of a blue and red figure. Alt-Superman, smiling broadly, nodded at Clark.
"It was right where you said it'd be, Clark. The platform was almost complete, but the device itself seemed to be functional. They were beginning the warm up cycle when I found them."
Alt-Superman turned, pointing. Following his direction, Clark witnessed an amazing sight.
Far in the distance, a comet blazed through the atmosphere, leaving a broad trail of smoke in its wake across the blue sky.
"It'll impact in the Sahara Desert. At least, what's LEFT of it will impact there." He shrugged. "It'll be about the size of a filing cabinet by then."
"How big was it to begin with?"
"About the size of this building." Alt-Superman's smile turned wicked. "I had a little fun."
"And the scientists?" Clark grew anxious, wondering if he'd made a mistake letting his duplicate take care of the problem.
"In orbit in a survival pod," Alt-Superman explained. "A little bruised, but with plenty of air."
"Did you run into any opposition?"
"One Kryptonian guard, but I took him by surprise."
"What'd you do with him?" Clark asked, a note of concern in his voice.
"He's…alive. I put him in another pod." Alt-Superman hesitantly supplied, glancing away.
Breathing a sigh of relief, Clark motioned for his doppelganger to follow.
"Come on, we aren't done yet. I think I know where Lois is."
Groggily, the woman slowly became aware that someone was shaking her.
"Lois! Lois, are you okay?" a male voice was whispering softly into her ear.
Light lanced into her eyes, making them tear, as her blindfold was removed. It wasn't until she had placed a hand over her eyes to shield them that she realized her arms weren't bound anymore, either. Tentatively, Lois tried to open her eyes, but shut them immediately against the flood of light. Trying again, she was able to keep them open against the pain. Gradually, she began picking out blurs of color and shapes, until her eyes managed to focus on a face scant inches from her own. Black hair swept backwards, piercing blue eyes, a well remembered smile…
"Clark?" she whispered.
"Hi Honey." The comment was meant to be light, but she heard the underlying emotion create a tiny catch in his voice.
Throwing her arms around his neck, Lois buried her face in his shoulder and sobbed with relief.
"Clark! Oh, Clark, I knew you'd.."
Lois's words were silenced as Clark's lips covered hers, kissing her deeply. Tears of relief fell from his eyes onto her upturned face, mixing with her own tears of joy. For several long seconds, the two were lost in their joy of finding each other, until Clark remembered the rooms other occupant. Reluctantly drawing his face away from hers, Clark turned to find that the room was empty of his doppelganger. His x-ray vision revealed the other Kryptonian in the hallway, leaning back against the wall, his hand covering his face. With a sigh, Clark turned to look at his wife again.
"C-Clark? What's going on?" Panic-stricken, Lois feverishly glanced around the room with wide eyes. "There's a woman somewhere with your powers, Clark! What…"
Gently, he placed his finger over her lips, quieting her.
"Lois, before anything else happens, there's a few things you need to know." As briefly as he could, Clark filled his wife in on everything that had happened after her disappearance. As he related the tale to her, Clark marveled at how she steadily calmed, filing the information away in her mind.
"And, this other Superman, he's standing out in the hallway right now?" Lois's eyes filled with tears once more as she looked to the door. "That poor man."
Without warning, the door to the room banged open, and Dr. Halloway barreled into the room, wheezing like a steam engine. Alt-Superman, a grim look over his face, followed close behind.
"Superman! Superman!" he panted. "It's all over the news! Every channel!"
Standing up, Clark grasped the quivering man by the shoulders.
"Calm down, Doctor. WHAT is on the news?"
Aghast, the diminutive scientist's head swiveled back and forth between the two identical Supermen.
"You…I mean, Lord Kal-El just announced to the world that he was taking over!"
"What?!" Lois exclaimed.
Nodding emphatically, the scientist gestured to Clark.
"And what's more, he was wearing THAT uniform."
"He was dressed as Superman?" Lois rubbed her arms, lost in thought. "I wonder why?"
"Don't you get it?"
The low voice startled everyone in the room. As one, the three turned to the fourth person in the room. Alt-Superman, hands clasped behind his back, stood staring at Clark.
"Get what?" Clark asked.
"As far as the world out there is concerned," Alt-Superman explained, "YOU just declared war on the Earth. When I started actively opposing the Kryptonians on my world, the people flocked behind me. With that transmission, he just eliminated their trust in you." The corner of his mouth lifted in a half smile. "The question is; what are you going to do about it?"
Reaching out to help Lois off the table, Clark smiled down at her.
"Lois, do you still remember what floor the broadcast studio is on?"
Folding the uniform neatly, Lord Kal-El placed it back into the briefcase. As he reached to close the lid, however, his hand paused. The S-shield lay facing him, its rich colors holding his attention as his eyes longingly caressed its curves.
"For of all sad words of tongue or pen, the saddest are these: 'It might have been'."
"Excuse me, Sir. Did you say something?"
Breaking out of his revere, Lord Kal-El turned to face his guardsman.
"A quote, from John Greenleaf Whittier," he supplied. "About regret."
The guard's puzzled frown deepened.
"Never mind, Fetlau." Shaking his head, as if to banish an unwanted thought, the Kryptonian overlord slammed the case shut, locking it once more. "I'll be leaving momentarily. You are to stay here." His blue eyes met the towering guard's gray ones. "Once he finds out what I've done, I expect this world's Superman will most likely come here to broadcast his OWN message to the people, letting them know that it wasn't HIM that declared war on the planet." Lord Kal-El shrugged fractionally. "Do what you must to prevent that from happening."
"How much resistance do you think we'll encounter?" Lois asked, racing down the hallways behind the two Supermen.
"I see …one guard. The rest appear to be humans," Alt-Superman replied.
"Lord Kal-El's leaving through the window," Clark noted. "It looks like he's heading out over the city."
"I'll follow him."
Without waiting for a reply, Alt-Superman turned in mid-stride and barreled through the wall, heading towards the open air. Dust billowed up around the two remaining occupants, causing Lois to cough.
"Hasn't he ever heard of DOORS?" Lois gasped.
"I'm more worried about whether or not the guard heard the commotion." Clark shook his head. "Well, there's no helping it now. Come on." As the two hurried down the hallway, Clark began explaining what he had in mind to Lois.
Her reaction was understandable:
"You have GOT to be kidding!"
Pressing up against the wall outside the studio, Lois frantically tried to slow her racing pulse.
>He can probably HEAR my heart beating!< she thought to herself. >Clark better be RIGHT about this!<
Stealthily, she eased around the doorframe once the towering guard had turned his back in his pacing. Creeping forwards, Lois picked up a microphone stand and swung it at the hulking Kryptonian's head with all her might.
>I hope this works,< she prayed.
Contemptuously, Fetlau spun around and caught it in mid-air with his right hand, holding it immobile, an ugly sneer creasing his features.
"Truly pathetic, earthling! As if THIS puny thing could truly harm one of Lord Kal-El's personal guard!" His deep, mocking laughter rumbled across the room.
Fetlau, turning to see who was speaking, caught the blast of ruby laser-light emanating from the weapon in Clark's hand center in his chest. Raw power flooded through the massive man, rooting the Kryptonian to the floor, surrounding him in a crimson aura and bathing Lois in its light. After several seconds, the device shorted out with a massive gout of smoke, allowing the stunned guardsman to sink to the floor. Lois, smoke gently rising from her hair, let the stand drop from her grip as she staggered backwards.
"Whoa! What…?" Dazed, she didn't see Fetlau return to his feet. Glaring coldly at Lois, the enraged Kryptonian unleashed a powerful blow at her head. A sickening crunch reverberated from the room's walls. The accompanying scream of agony, however, did not come from a female voice. Fetlau, cradling his arm, gazed through tear filled eyes at the mass of broken knuckles his hand had become.
Walking over to an equally stunned Lois, Clark gently grasped her hand and turned her towards him.
"Welcome back, Ultrawoman," Clark whispered, planting a tiny kiss on Lois's cheek. Releasing her hand, he walked towards the control booth and the staff hiding inside. Pausing en-route to virtually mummify the still sobbing Fetlau in cables, Clark knocked lightly on the door. As the people inside slowly crawled out from under the consoles, Clark motioned for the frightened camera crews to join him.
"Excuse me, I was wondering if you could help me?"
Standing on the roof's edge, dressed once again in his black suit, Lord Kal-El smiled once more as he basked in the sunlight. High up on his perch atop the Daily Planet, the beginning sounds of terror from the people below softly drifted up to his ears. With a rush of wind and a soft thump, another joined him in his observations. He knew who it was without having to look.
"Have you noticed, Viantaa, how glass breaking has an almost musical quality to it?" Closing his eyes, the Kryptonian overlord breathed in deeply. "You can even SMELL the fear in the air. The slightest bit of uncertainty enters their feeble little lives, and they react by regressing to their more barbaric ways." Chuckling softly, Kal-El shook his head in mock disgust. "Pathetic. Truly pathetic."
"My Lord, there is a problem."
Falling silent, Kal-El pivoted to face his Captain, his eyebrows drawing downwards slightly in a frown.
"We have received a transmission from this world's United Nations." Standing at attention, hands clasped behind her back, Viantaa's expression became downcast. "They have unanimously rejected your offer."
Lord Kal-El's frown deepened.
"Also, my Lord, Fetlau has been defeated. This world's Superman succeeded to make a public statement denouncing you as an imposter."
"What?" Lord Kal-El gasped. "Are you certain?"
The Kryptonian tyrant slowly turned back to the city below, his mind working furiously. Viantaa, her eyes never leaving him, patiently waited for her orders.
The two other-dimensional Kryptonians looked skyward as one to view the approaching threat. Alt-Superman hovered high above them, his eyes burning red with rage as he glared down on them. Viantaa, surreptitiously placing herself between the two identical men, smiled up at the newcomer.
"Well, well. To what do we owe this pleasure, Superman?"
"In the name of my planet, I have come to deliver justice to you, murderers!" Alt-Superman leveled an accusing finger at the black garbed Kryptonians. "The sentence is DEATH!"
"Oh, oh!" Viantaa giggled.
"Well then, Superman. By all means," Lord Kal-El said, motioning to the enraged man. "Feel free to try."
When Clark returned to the studio broadcast room, the first sight that greeted him was Lois sitting in a chair, holding her hands over her ears and squeezing her eyes shut. Momentarily panic stricken, Clark rushed to her side.
"Honey? What is it? What's wrong?"
Slowly, Lois opened her eyes and looked up towards her husband's concerned face. The smile she gave him, although slightly strained, was genuine.
"Just getting re-adjusted to having super powers once more. You know, seeing and hearing EVERYTHING?" Closing her eyes once more, she winced. "Remind me to send a letter to the mayor, asking that car alarms be outlawed."
"Give yourself a few minutes for your senses to adjust." Clark nodded knowingly. "The red kryptonite laser is back in orbit again, so we can relax a minute."
Lois shook her head.
"No. We might not HAVE a few minutes to spare." She smiled once more as she gazed at the package beneath Clark's arm. "That what I think it is?"
Now it was Clark's turn to smile. Checking to insure no one was watching from the control booth, Clark handed it to his wife.
Taking it out of the box, Lois became a cyclone of motion that eventually resolved itself into the familiar form of Ultrawoman. Grasping the edges of her aqua cape, Lois did a little pirouette for Clark, kicking up her purple booted feet.
"So, what do you think?" she asked, batting her eyes playfully at him.
"That's a subject we'll need to discuss at a later time," Clark whispered, coughing self-consciously.
"You don't think this makes me look fat, do you? I still have what it takes to be a good superhero?" Running her hands down the sides of her purple body-suit clad form, Lois smiled impishly, her eyes dancing behind the likewise purple mask adorning her face.
"LOIS…" Clark groaned, clearly uncomfortable.
"Just thinking about something Mom said a long time ago." Covering his face with a hand, Clark sighed. " 'They don't call them tights for nothing.'"
Suddenly, Clark's head swiveled to the side, his attention on something beyond the walls of the building.
"What was THAT?" Lois gasped.
"The other Superman, Lord Kal-El, and Viantaa." Clark grimaced. "They're fighting."
"Clark, look at what's coming towards us." Lois's voice was soft with barely restrained fear as her x-ray vision revealed the fast approaching threat. "Two more of them!"
The imprisoned Kryptonian guardsman's laughter rang out harshly through the room, sending a chill through everyone's bones.
"Did your broadcast go through, Clark?" Lois asked.
Never taking his eyes off the approaching guardsmen, he nodded.
Facing the occupants of the control room, Lois raised her hands for attention.
"Ladies and Gentlemen, may I have your attention please?"
Gradually, every eye turned to look at her. Satisfied that she had their undivided attention, Lois lifted herself up off the ground and hovered before their upturned faces.
"You all really NEED to leave."
Puzzled, the stunned crew glanced nervously at one another. Lois huffed in frustration.
"RIGHT NOW!" she bellowed.
With a low rumble of trampling feet, the room was quickly emptied.
Twin beams of searing heat blasted down on Viantaa and Lord Kal-El from above, scorching the bricks of the rooftop and setting the tarpaper on fire. Growling with pain, Viantaa weathered the onslaught while shielding her leader with her own body. Sending her own heat-vision traveling back along the same path, it struck Alt-Superman in the face, which ceased his attack with a surprised yelp of pain. With the attack stopped, Viantaa sank to her knees on the rooftop, moaning softly.
"Viantaa?" Lord Kal-El whispered.
Fighting to hold back the pain, the Captain of the Guard couldn't answer.
Fists clenched, a white-hot rage flared to life deep within Lord Kal-El. Trembling with the effort to contain his towering fury, the Kryptonian tyrant watched Alt-Superman recover from the latest attack. Across the distance, their eyes met, both ablaze with hatred for one another.
"Care to face me by yourself? Or would you rather cower behind her again?"
"You hurt her." Lord Kal-El's words emerged as a whispered hiss of contempt.
His bellow of rage shattered windows for blocks around the pair as Lord Kal-El rocketed across the gap and collided with the floating Superman's mid-section. The force of the impact drove both combatants through several adjoining skyscrapers until they finally came to rest deep within the bowels of an office building, sending rubble plummeting to the pavement far below. Wrestling for domination, the two Kryptonians remained locked in conflict, trading thunderous blows, oblivious to the panicking humans around them.
"I'LL KILL YOU!" Lord Kal-El roared. Blinded by rage, the maddened despot repeatedly hammered at Alt-Superman, his only thought to punish the man before him. For every blow Alt-Superman received, he returned one of his own in kind, snarling his defiance. He finally had the person responsible for the death of his world in front of him, and NOTHING was going to stand in his way.
The tower shook and swayed with the force of the combat, violently jarring with every blow landed. The cries of the wounded and dying were drowned out by the din of battle as the floor beneath the two warring titans collapsed, sending them plummeting to the level below. The impact of hitting the floor separated the two combatants momentarily, allowing them to catch a much-needed breath. Shaking his head to clear it, Alt-Superman glanced around to take stock of the situation. The devastation they had wrought on the building shocked him. Gradually, the cries of the wounded penetrated the haze of his rage, making his blood run cold.
"W-what have I done?" Aghast, Alt-Superman shuffled in a small circle, unmindful of Lord Kal-El's presence. A light tap on his shoulder drew him out of his revere.
"Lights out, pal," Lord Kal-El snarled. His fist, already in motion, was a blur.
Alt-Superman's world went dark.
"We need to keep the fight out of here," Clark commented. "Feel like taking on the one on the right?"
"Sure," Lois smirked. "I wonder how surprised they'll be to see a 'lowly human' flying?"
"Let's not keep them waiting, shall we?" Turning to face the approaching pair, the duo took to the air, punching through the wall and raced to meet the guardsmen. As they came nearer, their ears picked up the final bits of conversation between the two men.
"…take the Kryptonian woman, Chifnal. I'll take him."
Angling sharply away, Chifnal quickly disappeared behind a low building.
"Lois,…" Clark began.
"I'm on him."
Without waiting for the reply, Lois shot after the departing Kryptonian, leaving Clark stunned.
"…DON'T take off after him by yourself," Clark finished.
Shaking his head, Superman turned to meet the approaching guardsman. Before he could react, Rentlai slammed into Clark's mid-section, the impact knocking both men out of the sky. Twisting around, Clark managed to place the guardsman under him and used his flying power to push them down even faster. Like the hammer of the Gods, the force of their impact rocked buildings for blocks around them, and sent pedestrians, cars, and anything else not rooted in place flying backwards from the concussion. Rentlai's breath exploded from him in a rush as Clark drove his fists into the man's stomach. Lying prone, Rentlai desperately reached above his head and, grasping a slab of concrete, brought it crashing down onto Clark's head. As he stumbled backwards, the stunned Superman lashed out with his foot and felt it connect with Rentlai's jaw, momentarily dazing him.
"Just wait a minute," Clark blurted, waving his hands in a halting gesture. "Hold on here. We don't…"
Staggering to his feet, Rentlai unleashed a wild roundhouse punch that Clark easily avoided, the force of the punch nearly sending the guardsman back to the ground.
"Oh, forget it," Clark sighed.
The force of Clark's blow rocketed Rentlai out of the low crater and out of sight. Breathing deeply, Clark jumped slightly as a loud crunch echoed down from above. A brief touch of his super-hearing brought a smile to his face.
"Careful, Ultrawoman," he called. "You'll make me blush, using language like that."
Slowly, painfully, Clark dragged himself up over the jagged edges of the rubble and back onto street level, assessing the situation around himself. Chifnal lay unconscious a short distance away, sprawled across the hood of a demolished Cadillac with Lois standing over him, massaging her fist, a satisfied smirk on her face. Three blocks away, Rentlai had made a sizeable hole in the side of the Daily Planet building where Clark had knocked him. A quick scan with his x-ray vision revealed him to be still out cold on the lobby floor.
"Well, well, well. What HAVE we here?" a voice thundered from above.
Looking up, Clark felt the blood drain from his face.
Lord Kal-El hovered high above the street smiling, Alt-Superman dangling by his cape from the Kryptonian's fist. Viantaa, her eyes never leaving Lois, chuckled lightly. The morning breeze stirred the tatters of the Kryptonian tyrant's suit, revealing the black body suit beneath, emblazoned with the midnight blue pentagonal S-shield.
"They appear to be rebels, my Lord." Viantaa's eyes glinted in the sunlight, a sneer marring her features.
"Well, then, I suppose we should deal with them, don't you think?" Lord Kal-El's fist opened, sending Alt-Superman plummeting to the pavement below, where he lay unmoving.
"With pleasure, my Lord. You," Viantaa bellowed, pointing at Lois. "Concubine. Do you dare to challenge the Captain of Lord Kal-El's personal guard?"
"Concubine?" Lois sputtered. "CONCUBINE!? How many times do I have to tell everyone I am NOT a CONCUBINE!"
Launching herself into the air, Lois plowed into Viantaa at full speed, sending the two fiercely struggling combatants up over the rooftops and out of sight. Lord Kal-El's laughter drifted down to Clark.
"Quite the fiery temper in her, eh, Clark?" Looking down, a wicked grin spread across his face. "And I see you somehow gave her Kryptonian powers. Who knows, she might actually be able to stand up to Viantaa, but I doubt it." Motioning for Clark to follow, Lord Kal-El rocketed into the sky.
Briefly checking on his unconscious counterpart, Clark followed moments later, and found the black clad Kryptonian hovering several thousand feet above the city, stripping off the remaining tatters of his business suit.
"Well, Superman. What do you think of my accomplishments so far?" Lord Kal-El sneered.
Clark spread his hands in a pleading gesture. "Why are you doing this? I…"
"Why?" Lord Kal-El interrupted. "You ask why?! Why NOT?" Viciously, he swept his hand downwards, motioning to the ravaged city below. "What could I possibly owe them?"
"You owe it to them to be better than this. With the power we possess, we owe it to them NOT to forcibly impose our will on them."
"You do have one thing right, Clark," Lord Kal-El stated. "I AM better than they are."
Clark could feel his blood heating up. Only by reminding himself of what was at stake could he calm himself enough to continue.
"Look," he began.
"No, YOU look!" Lord Kal-El stabbed a finger towards Clark. "I owe these people exactly NOTHING! It was a bunch of people exactly like the ones down there that made me what I am today." The agitated Kryptonian's voice grew harsh. "Let me guess, Clark. You came to Earth as a baby, didn't you? Well, I didn't. I didn't leave Krypton until I was almost ten years old. The ship father made was large enough to hold us ALL. We would have been together. A FAMILY." A feverish gleam came into the floating Kryptonian's eyes. "They weren't able to reach the ship in time before the computer automatically launched it. I had been playing inside of it when the eruptions began and, as the hatch closed, my last view of Krypton was of Jor-El and Lara dashing madly for the ship." Squeezing his eyes shut, Lord Kal-El took a deep, ragged breath. "When I DID arrive on Earth, frightened, lonely, you know who met me? Bureau 39! Led by one Mr. Lex Luthor. I barely managed to escape with my LIFE, Clark. I was hunted like a wild animal for months until, finally, I managed to give them the slip. Hopping aboard a train, I found myself in Smallville where I was taken in by an orphanage run by Jonathan and Martha Kent, and raised as one of their own. I was finally HAPPY again!" Choking back a sob, he swiped at his eyes, brushing away the tears. "It only lasted for ten years. Just long enough for me to meet a woman, fall in love, and get married. I had finally found what I believed to be my place in the world, finally able to put everything behind me. And then THEY found me again."
As the tirade continued, Lord Kal-El's eyes grew wilder, more savage. His fists, clenched with rage, shook from the strain.
"Bureau 39 had found me again. They murdered the CLOSEST thing I had to parents! They murdered my WIFE, Lana! She hadn't done a single thing to warrant it, and they killed her! The one and ONLY thing she was guilty of was loving ME! They didn't even have the COURAGE to face me like men." A single tear slowly tracked down the enraged Kryptonian's cheek. "They destroyed the house from a distance with missiles. All my powers, all the things I could do, and I couldn't even save her. And, years later, when the other Kryptonian colonists came to Earth in PEACE to find me, do you know what those miserable humans did then? Luthor KILLED most of my people, then twisted the truth around until he looked like he did the world a favor! And humanity THANKED HIM!"
Long moments passed as Lord Kal-El drifted into silence, visibly attempting to calm himself. When he continued once more, a more controlled tone came into his voice.
"I organized the remaining Kryptonians into a unit to defend ourselves and wiped the Bureau off the face of the planet. It was THEN that I finally understood my course in life. My destiny." His voice lowering to a rumble, Lord Kal-El raised a clenched fist up before him. "I would lead my people to the future that they rightfully DESERVED, safe and secure on a planet of our OWN. Humans have made my life a living hell, Clark! All thanks to THAT man down there! He's the same on ANY world! A manipulator, a user, and a monster! And you expect me to care what happens to him? Or ANY of these people?"
"Yes, I do!" Clark's frustration at the situation bled into his voice. "Not everyone is like Luthor! There are millions of people down there that have done nothing to warrant this treatment, and yet you would punish them all for the crimes committed against you by ONE man! Millions of innocent people who did NOTHING to you! You're trying to punish all of creation for the crimes done to you in your OWN reality!"
"AND WHY NOT!!" Lord Kal-El's shout of rage echoed through the sky. "As far as I'M concerned, humanity declared war on me LONG ago!"
"You're telling me THEY forced you into this? Did they FORCE you to kill? Did they FORCE you to terrorize? I don't think so." Clark jabbed an accusing finger back at Kal-El. "You did that all on your own! Quit trying to justify your actions at the expense of others!"
Lord Kal-El shook his head.
"In the end, Clark, it doesn't really matter WHAT the reasons were, does it? It boils down to the fact that I have NO intention of stopping. I'm convinced that I'm right, you're convinced that I'm wrong." Lord Kal-El smiled as he tilted his head to the side. "I guess it's time to find out which of us is truly right."
"I don't want to fight you, Kal-El. We DON'T have to do this," Clark implored.
"Yes, Clark. We do. I won't surrender, and you won't give up." The Kryptonian tyrant leveled a finger at Clark, anger flaring once more behind his eyes. "You'd rather mold me into something that suits YOUR ideals. All you Supermen, you're ALL the same. You think that JUST because my name is Kal-El, that I have a DUTY to be some type of moral paragon. And, if I happen to think otherwise, I am OBVIOUSLY WRONG!" Lord Kal-El shouted, thumping a fist against his chest. With his other hand, he pulled back his uniform sleeve and placed a finger over one of the buttons on his control bracelet.
"I push this button, Clark, and it's all over. My man in orbit starts using his heat vision to detonate nuclear missiles world-wide, and you and your counterpart can compare notes on who has the better radioactive wasteland." Giving a mock shudder, Lord Kal-El smiled. "Hello nuclear winter, goodbye sunlight. But, hey, you could always take up residence in the Prometheus space station like the other Superman did, and watch your planet slowly freeze into a block of ice. Plenty of sunlight up there, Clark."
"You're mad," Clark whispered, his eyes wide with shock. "Do that, and you'll lose too. The planet you fought so hard for will die."
Lord Kal-El snorted.
"So? With that portal, I have access to MILLIONS of Earths."
Before Clark could reply, twin ruby beams of heat stabbed down from above, striking the tyrant on the arm and melting the bracelet off in a heartbeat. Lord Kal-El's scream of pain and rage echoed across the sky as a red and blue blur collided with the hovering Kryptonian, sending him careening away with a thunderous impact. Alt-Superman hovered there, in front of Clark, a murderous rage burning in his eyes.
In another blur, Alt-Superman was gone, chasing after the plummeting figure of Lord Kal-El.
>First things first,< Clark thought grimly.
Rocketing downwards to street level, Clark came to rest standing beside the still unconscious Chifnal. With one smooth motion, the Man of Steel withdrew the small portal control from the back of his belt and activated the recall setting. Simultaneously, with the other hand, he reached down and grabbed a fistful of the Kryptonian soldier's tunic. As the portal opened with a roar, Clark heaved the insensate man through the opening, back to the ruined other-Earth.
After closing the portal once more, Clark sped down the block to where Rentlai remained, and repeated the process.
>Two more down,< he thought, sighing in relief when he finished. >I wish I knew how many more to go.< Lifting into the air, Clark began searching for his counterpart.
Lord Kal-El struggled to clear his head as he fell, snarling curses the whole time. A whistle of wind was his only warning as Alt-Superman blazed straight for him, fists extended. Twisting to the side to avoid the attack, Lord Kal-El managed to spin around and drive his elbow into the back of the enraged Superman's head as he passed. Stunned, Alt-Superman's flight slowed, allowing the Kryptonian dictator the chance to drive both booted feet into the small of his back. With a strangled cry, Alt-Superman spun around, left arm extended, and slammed the back of his fist across the face of his attacker, then followedit up with a right hook. Lord Kal-El's head viciously snapped to the side from the hammering double impact. Groggily, the black-clad tyrant instinctively raised his arm and blocked the approaching left punch, but left himself open to the right uppercut that followed close behind. Thrown backwards, Lord Kal-El lashed out with a kick that connected on the jaw of his opponent, knocking Alt-Superman backwards as well.
Both combatants, after halting their mid-air tumble, paused. Each eyed the other with unconcealed loathing and contempt as they fought to clear their heads.
"Pretty good, Superman," Lord Kal-El conceded, nursing his sore jaw.
"Good enough to kill you, Kal-El," Alt-Superman growled.
"Kill ME? You would actually put aside your precious code and murder me?" Lord Kal-El's laughter thundered through the heavens. "And this world's Superman thinks I'M a monster!"
"You ARE," Alt-Superman hissed, his eyes narrowed. "You killed my WIFE, Kal-El."
"And humanity killed MINE," the hovering tyrant returned. "See? We're more alike than you know."
Enraged, his fists clenched hard enough to shatter diamond, Alt-Superman's eyes blazed.
Lord Kal-El smirked.
"And that?" Alt-Superman pointed down to the smoking city below. "Did that just SPONTANEOUSLY happen!?"
"Self-defense." Lord Kal-El chuckled. "After all, you DID attack me first."
"After YOU declared war on humanity! Maybe I AM a monster," Alt-Superman conceded, fists still clenched. "It doesn't change the fact of what you did in the other universe, though. And for THAT, if nothing else, I WILL kill you!"
Smiling a shark's grin, Lord Kal-El motioned his doppelganger forward.
"Come on then. Let's see what you've got."
In the blink of an eye, Alt-Superman had closed the distance between them, driving a sledgehammer of a blow into the mid-section of his opponent. The air exploded out of Lord Kal-El's lungs in a rush, doubling him over, and throwing him backwards several yards. As the enraged Superman attempted to follow his attack up with a right hook to the head, his fist tore through only empty air. The ebon garbed Kryptonian re-appeared a fraction of a second later, arm already in motion, and delivered a thunderous right cross to Alt-Superman's head. Disjointedly, as if it was happening to another person, Alt-Superman felt something give way in his cheek. Lord Kal-El continued to rain blow after blow on the stunned Superman, and soon the Kryptonian tyrant's fists were stained red. Stars swam in Alt-Superman's vision as Lord Kal-El's voice echoed through his skull.
"Shall we have a brief history re-cap, hmm? After all, I never DID tell you much about myself. Well, here's a little known tidbit for you: my Krypton was slightly different than yours. My molecular density is greater than yours, so you know what THAT means?"
Arms outstretched, Alt-Superman desperately fought to stay aloft, wobbling crazily through the air. Casually, almost contemptuously, Lord Kal-El drifted closer towards his victim. Grasping the stunned Alt-Superman by the front of his shirt, Lord Kal-El drew his fist back, a cruel sneer marring his face. Alt-Superman's head lolled back and forth, both eyes swollen nearly shut, a mask of blood covering most of his features.
"I'm FASTER than you…"
"…TOUGHER than you…"
"…STRONGER than you…"
"…BETTER than you!"
"And you, Superman?"
Alt-Superman felt the faint touch of Lord Kal-El's breath as he drew near.
Sitting behind the desk in the penthouse office, Lex Luthor abstractly listened to the sounds of the distant battle drift in through the windows. As he nonchalantly sorted through the papers that lay scattered across the desktop, he withdrew a cigar from a case in his vest pocket. Lighting it, the smoke leisurely wafted through the air. A low buzz emanated from the intercom, disrupting the moment.
"Yes?" he snapped, irritably.
"The package has been secured, Sir. The pod was at the specified coordinates, as you ordered."
"Excellent," Lex replied, smiling. Drawing deeply from his cigar, the pleased businessman expelled it in a slow stream. "Bring it to me at once." Without waiting for a reply, he clicked the intercom off and reclined back in his chair, lifting a photo up in front of him. From the picture, Superman smiled out at the world.
It was a very long time before his laughter stopped.
Lord Kal-El's upper lip curled in a snarl as he raised his fist to deliver another crushing blow to the helpless Alt-Superman. Just as he struck, knocking his captive away, a shadow fell over the tyrant, causing him to look up.
The city bus swung straight down, knocking the hovering Kryptonian away from his victim and driving him towards the ground like an ebon missile. After watching his opponent drop, Clark spun and, with a massive heave, tossed the remains of the vehicle far into the ocean before racing after the plummeting figure of Alt-Superman, gently catching him moments before he would have collided with the ground. Out of the corner of his eye, Clark caught a blur streak past overhead towards where Lord Kal-El had struck the ground.
>Viantaa!< Clark thought with a shock. >But, where's Lois?<
Desperately, Superman scanned the surrounding city with all his senses until he found her several blocks away, over the river.
Glancing down, Clark caught sight of what seemed to be the entire Metropolis Police force, including most of the heavily armed Special Crimes Unit, massing below. Dropping beside the Captain, Clark carefully placed Alt-Superman on the ground.
"Captain," Clark said, shaking the man's hand. "I hate to impose on you, but could you look after my friend for a few minutes? I have something that needs my immediate attention."
Without hesitating, Captain Johnson motioned to several men.
"Alyn, Reeves, Philips, Grant! Front and center!"
Four massive men instantly stepped forward, their weapons gleaming in the morning sun, and arranged themselves around the unconscious Kryptonian.
"Nothing and no-one will touch him, Superman." Captain Johnson's eyes took on a hard glint.
"Don't go head to head with these people, Captain," Clark warned. "They're Kryptonians."
"Not to worry, Sir. We'll do our job."
"Be careful, anyway." Shaking Captain Johnson's hand once more, Clark sprang into the air and sped towards the river.
The slightly eager tone in the Officer's voice drew the Captain's attention down the street where two dark figures were leisurely strolling towards them.
"All right, then! FORM UP! Heavy artillery to the rear and find some elevation! Alyn, Reeves! Take that man to cover! Everyone else, get ready!"
Crouching down behind a cruiser, Captain Johnson tightened his grip on his weapon, made sure it was ready, and bid a silent farewell to his family.
Approaching the river, Clark could see why Lois hadn't still been chasing Viantaa. Bracing the bridge up with her shoulders, Lois was gazing intently directly below her where an oil tanker was foundering in the water. A rupture in the hull allowed the tanker's contents to gradually spill into the choppy waters of the river. Small pieces of the bridge's metal work dropped downwards to the tankers deck, causing fat sparks to jump up from the impact. Lois was busy using her super-breath to push as many of the pieces away into the water as she could, but was also having to be careful to not accidentally spread the spill any farther.
A blue and red blur, Clark went to work. Deftly plucking a man-sized piece from the decaying bridge, Clark placed it over the opening in the hull and, rubbing the edges at super-speed, molded them into the ship's hull, creating a makeshift patch. Racing around to the bow, Clark grasped the anchor chain and, straining to the utmost, hauled the ship to safety several hundred yards away. Returning to the spill, Clark unleashed the full power of his heat vision, instantly flash-burning away the oil as well as several hundred gallons of water before finally coming to a rest beside an awestruck Lois.
"Wow," she breathed. "I mean, I knew we..WOW."
Clark, blushing slightly, motioned to the bridge as he braced his own shoulders beneath it.
"Care to do the honors?"
Making swift work of the repairs, Lois flew into her husband's waiting arms, hugging him tightly.
"She CHEATED," Lois huffed, her face buried in his chest. "When she couldn't get the upper hand with me, Viantaa damaged the propellers of the tanker, knocked a hole in it, and trashed the bridge. She flew away laughing."
"Want another shot at her?"
Lois's answering grin was response enough.
Standing in the street, Lord Kal-El and Viantaa stood side-by-side, calmly observing the Metropolis Police through a barrage of bullets. Ricochets careened madly off the two, biting deeply into building walls and shattering windows. Captain Johnson motioned to several officers standing slightly apart from the rest.
"GRENADES! FIRE AT WILL! WE'VE GOT TO BUY SUPERMAN MORE TIME TO GET HERE!" he bellowed, shouting to be heard above the noise of gunfire. "ALYN, REEVES! MOVE HIM BACK TO SAFETY!"
Grasping the semi-conscious Kryptonian by the arms, the two men hurriedly dragged Alt-Superman away from the scene as rocket grenades descended from above onto the awaiting Viantaa and Lord Kal-El. With a deafening roar, the grenades detonated on target, throwing vast amounts of rubble and debris into the air. Clouds of dust billowed through the street, obscuring the two individuals from sight.
"CEASE FIRE!" Captain Johnson yelled. As the final echoes faded, all eyes vainly fought to pierce the thick dust clouds covering the street, the muzzles of their weapons like pointing fingers. Gradually, the light breeze began stripping away the concealing haze to reveal an unscathed Lord Kal-El and Viantaa.
With a roar, the barrage resumed.
"Lord Kal-El?" Viantaa turned to regard him with a questioning expression.
"Let them have their fun, Captain," he chuckled. "It's likely this will be their last experience in THIS lifetime."
"But, my Lord," she interjected. "Remember the plan? Time spent here entertaining the natives is time wasted."
Scratching his chin thoughtfully, Lord Kal-El considered her point.
"As always, Captain, you are the soul of reason." Nodding slightly towards her, he smiled warmly. "Very well. Dispose of them."
Twin beams of red destruction swept across the ranks of the policemen, melting vehicles, weapons, and instantly rendering flesh and bone into ashes before even a single scream could be voiced. The sole noise to disturb the air was a woman's throaty chuckle at the carnage she had wrought.
"Now," Lord Kal-El quipped, rubbing his hands together. "Let's find that Superman, shall we?"
Neither of them were prepared for the twin blurs of color that smashed into them; one knocking Lord Kal-El into the sky, the other driving Viantaa below the street level and into the subway tunnels.
Gradually, Alt-Superman regained consciousness. Peering out from between swollen eyelids, he observed the two policemen standing over him, weapons at the ready, as they kept watch over the way they had come.
"Y-you men," he mumbled. "Get a-away, while…you can."
Startled, one of the policemen looked down at the prone figure.
"Sir? Begging your pardon, but…you don't look so good."
"Feel worse." Struggling to clear his head, Alt-Superman braced himself against the alley wall. Taking a deep breath, the battered Kryptonian tottered to his feet. "They'll be coming. You…need to go. Now."
"Sir," the other policeman said, stepping forward. "They'll kill you. You are in no.."
"Doesn't matter," Alt-Superman interjected. "My choice to…do…this." Motioning towards the end of the alley, Alt-Superman nodded his head. "Go. Please." Squeezing his eyes shut, the exhausted Superman leaned against the wall, his breath coming in ragged gasps. "You can't stop them. No use you dying too."
As the sound of the receding footsteps faded, Alt-Superman gave a low groan and collapsed in an unconscious heap to the pavement.
The two men, locked in fierce conflict, tumbled through the sky. Each man, straining to the utmost, found themselves unable to overcome his duplicate and gain the upper hand.
"This..isn't..getting..us..anywhere," Clark strained out from between gritted teeth. "We're too..evenly matched."
"So..YOU..say," Lord Kal-El returned through likewise clenched teeth. "Me? I'm..just getting..warmed up."
Deftly slipping to the side, the Kryptonian tyrant pivoted, tossing Clark over his hip and sending his counterpart spinning madly away. Frantically righting himself, Superman instinctively ducked as Lord Kal-El's blast of heat vision ripped through the space Clark had occupied a scant second before.
Before the two could resume their war, a low rumble drew both their attention down towards the street far below. Emerging from beneath the pavement like a giant, terrible flower, a massive fireball erupted from the city's depths. Black, billowing smoke filled the air as flaming debris showered the streets. From his vantagepoint, Clark could see the few remaining onlookers racing for cover. Above the noise of the destruction, however, one sound thundered even louder across the sky:
Lord Kal-El's laughter.
"Underground gas lines! You've just GOT to love them!"
With a shout of rage, Clark tackled him.
>This must be what Dante was talking about,< Lois thought to herself, grimly.
The subway tunnel and landing was awash in flame. The wreckage of the subway train lay on it's side beneath them, as the two warring titans glared at each other through the inferno. Viantaa, wavering slightly, held her side as she glanced around. Lois, favoring her own ribs and arm, never took her eyes off the guardsman.
"Bet YOU'RE glad the train was unoccupied," Viantaa chuckled.
"Bet YOU'RE not," Lois countered.
"Perhaps," Viantaa shrugged. "Then again, YOU didn't get HIT with it."
"No, but that gas main exploding didn't exactly TICKLE." Lois added, motioning to the wreckage below them. "At least the train shielded YOU."
"Because the train was on TOP of me, Lois."
"Well," Lois began, but trailed off, unsure what to say.
With another low chuckle, Viantaa rocketed across the tunnel, driving her fist into Lois's ribs. Stifling a cry, Lois grabbed Viantaa's arm and swung the guardsman into the wall face first. Shaking her head to clear it, the Captain of the Guard pushed off the wall, backhanding Lois, sending her tumbling to the tunnel floor where Viantaa landed on Lois's stomach with both knees.
"It's been fun, CONCUBINE," the female guardsman laughed. "But I have a pressing engagement elsewhere."
Viantaa's next blow sent Lois into oblivion.
Shaking his head to clear it, Clark advanced unsteadily across the street towards his unconscious foe. Before he could react, an ebon blur collided with his chest, violently knocking him backwards into and through the wall of the nearby building, and finally coming to rest in the center of the main room. Holding his ribs, Clark managed to roll onto his side and leverage himself into a sitting position. Each breath he took sent white-hot shards of pain deep into his body.
>Must've broken a couple ribs with that shot,< he thought to himself, groggily. Forcing himself to his feet, Clark staggered to the hole he had made in the wall and leaned on the edge for support.
"Hold it right there," a woman's voice barked from the street before him.
Peering outside, scarcely able to focus his eyes, Clark saw Viantaa kneeling on the pavement across the way, cradling Lord Kal-El's bloody form in her lap, a cold rage burning deep within her eyes as she glared at Clark. A large smear of dried blood marred her forehead, and one eye was blackened. Extending her closed left hand, the Kryptonian woman drew her leader closer to her with the other.
"Where's Lois?" Concern flashed through Clark, making him involuntarily take a step towards the Captain.
"Not another step, or I'll destroy the Daily Planet," she snarled past a split lip. "She's unconscious, but safe. You will allow me to take my Lord away from here, unchallenged, and not attempt to follow us. If you do try, the Daily Planet, and everyone inside, will pay for your defiance."
"We've been through this before, Viantaa," Clark sighed.
"Not like this, Superman," she spat. "This time, the bomb's REAL." Opening her extended hand, she dropped a small cylindrical device to the street. "And the timer's active. Either you let us go, or the bomb reduces your precious Planet building to a smoking crater." Her eyes glinted in the faint light. "Frankly, I hope you call my bluff."
Tiredly, Clark lifted a hand to his face. Fatigue gnawed at his body, making his legs tremble, blurring his vision. He could feel a warm trickle of blood creep down the side of his head, and every fiber of his being ached. He couldn't remember the last time he felt THIS bad.
Lifting his head, Clark's gaze met Viantaa's across the distance. By her expression, he realized that he had asked it out loud.
"What do you mean, why?" she replied, puzzled.
"The remainder of your personal guard are gone. You have no allies left. Why are you still DOING this? What can you hope to gain?"
"Why, you ask?" Viantaa's eyes hardened. "Because I LOVE him."
Clark's mouth dropped open.
"Is that SO hard to believe?" Laughing, the Kryptonian woman smiled sardonically. "You think me incapable of feeling love? Of wanting to be with someone for the rest of my life?" Tears swimming in her eyes, Viantaa gazed down at the form in her lap. "I have loved this man from the moment I lay eyes on him," she whispered hoarsely. "And I will allow NO-ONE to take him from me." She raised her head defiantly, her lips in a firm straight line. "Not even you."
"Does he know?"
"No," she whispered. Her eyes momentarily clenched shut from a pain not entirely physical. "And, if need be, he never will."
Her comment baffled Clark. Why WOULDN'T she want him to know? Seeing his confusion, Viantaa explained further.
"Lord Kal-El is destined for greatness, Superman. He WILL rule. A leader such as he?" Tenderly, she swept an errant strand of hair back from his face. "One such as he must be spared all unnecessary complications. It would only distract him from accomplishing what NEEDS to be done."
" 'What needs to be done?' None of this NEEDED to be done! He's a MADMAN! He's INSANE!"
"Y-you don't care?" Clark's blood ran cold. "How could you NOT care?"
"This coming from a man who didn't grow up on a lifeless rock of a world, like I did! From a man who didn't have to fight for his life every single day of his existence, like HIM!" Her eyes shining in the twilight, Viantaa smiled crookedly. "You've had it TOO easy, Superman. Living here on this paradise of a world, you have NO idea what it's truly like out there. He's PRECISELY the type of man our people need to lead them. And, by the way," she added, glancing suggestively down the street. "You're wasting my time, Superman. I want your decision NOW."
"Even if I were to let you go, you know I'd eventually come after you. And you KNOW I'd find you."
Viantaa barked another short laugh.
"So?" Shaking her head once more, Viantaa looked at Clark with an almost pitying look. "Do you HONESTLY believe you're in any type of condition to stop me, should I simply decide to leave? Look at yourself. You can barely STAND! And when you DO decide to come after us, we'll be ready for you." Viantaa smiled crookedly at Clark. "Face it. Your options right now AREN'T that good."
Lowering his head, Clark shut his eyes. He could feel his pain wracked body trembling against the fatigue, crying out for him to rest.
Looking up in shock, Clark's blurry vision caught sight of a figure garbed in purple and aqua hovering just above them. Gently lowering herself to the pavement beside him, Lois wrapped her arm around his waist, helping to support the exhausted hero.
"Take Lord Kal-El and GO, Viantaa," Lois urged. "We won't try and stop you."
"Lois, the bomb…" Clark began, but was cut off by Lois placing her fingertips over his lips.
"Hush," she crooned.
Turning her husband around, Lois gently ushered him down the street, away from the pair of other dimensional Kryptonians. They hadn't even gone five steps before an electric blue light illuminated the street behind them with a roar. Glancing back, Clark caught a fleeting glimpse of two figures diving into a vortex before the maelstrom vanished.
"The bomb's been taken care of, Clark," Lois explained. "I heard her telling you about it, and figured I'D take care of it before coming to help you."
Leaning on her for support, Clark chuckled lightly as he kissed the top of her head.
"Let's go home."
Walking down the corridor, the two black clad Kryptonians neared a pair of double doors etched with a pentagonal s-shield. As they approached, Lord Kal-El straightened, disengaging himself from his Captain. With a rush of air the doors opened, admitting the pair into a large chamber filled with similarly dressed individuals.
"Lord Kal-El! Lord Kal-El has returned!"
In an instant, a crowd had massed around the two exhausted warriors, inundating them with questions. Finally, Viantaa's patience broke.
"SILENCE!!" Her shout echoed harshly from the walls, silencing the group. "Our leader requires medical attention! You," she bellowed, selecting a man at random. "Go retrieve the medical personnel! The rest of you, STAND BACK!"
Guiding the weary Lord Kal-El to a chair, Viantaa crouched down beside him.
"What now, my Lord?" Viantaa, eyes full of confidence, gazed adoringly at their Kryptonian leader.
"We rest. We heal." Lord Kal-El's eyes narrowed in pain for a moment, before hardening in defiance. "And we plan." For a long moment, the Kryptonian overlord glared into the distance at a vista visible only to his eyes before he shook his head to clear it, returning to the present. "Oh, and Viantaa?" Tenderly, he reached out and cupped her cheek in his palm, caressing it lightly with his thumb as he smiled warmly at her, his eyes softening.
"I love you, too."
Clark stood on the front porch of his parents' house, the late autumn breeze gently stirring his hair, and stared out at the lone figure standing in the empty field. The screen door quietly slapped shut as Jonathan Kent joined him. Lois, exiting a moment later, wriggled beneath Clark's arm for comforting and wrapped her own around his waist. Each stood in silence, immersed in their own thoughts as the wind moaned through the branches of the trees.
"Is he going to be all right, Clark?" Lois glanced briefly up at her husband before returning her gaze to the field and its solitary occupant. "He's been through so much."
"I honestly have no idea, Honey." Clark shrugged. "He's lost TWO homes; first Krypton, then Earth. Not to mention losing everyone he loved." He shrugged again, helplessly. "I just don't know."
"He's welcome to stay here, Clark," Jonathan suggested.
"Well, Jonathan," a soft voice said from the doorway. "Of COURSE he'll stay here."
"Are you sure, Mom?" Clark turned his head to face Martha. "It's probably going to take an awful lot. Not to mention it'll be pretty difficult to explain why there are two Clark Kents walking around."
"We'll manage, Clark. Not to worry. With winter coming on, we shouldn't have to worry about too many visitors. And it'll give us some time to talk to him."
"That poor boy," Jonathan murmured, shaking his head sadly.
Clark watched as his father stepped down off the porch and walked out into the field to stand by the morose figure of the other dimensional Kal-El. After exchanging a few words, Alt-Supermanstepped into Jonathan's embrace, his grief stricken sobs faintly audible over the wind. Clark felt a light touch on his shoulder.
"You and Lois should go, Clark." Martha smiled lovingly up at him. "He needs to rest, and you need to find the man that did this to him." Standing on her tiptoes, she gave him a peck on the cheek. "Everything will be fine, here."
"Thanks, Mom," Clark said, embracing her.
"Same here," Lois added, kissing her mother-in-law's cheek.
Hand in hand, the two stepped off the porch and walked a short distance into the front yard. A warm smile beaming on her face, Lois glanced at her husband.
His smile matching her own, Clark nodded.
Martha giggled as both Clark and Lois briefly spun in miniature tornadoes, to be replaced by the figures of Superman and Ultrawoman. Lifting into the sky, the pair waved farewell before vanishing into the distance. Returning her attention to the two men in the field, Martha dabbed at the corner of her eyes with her apron before returning to the interior of the house. When they were ready, they'd come back inside. And, when they did, coffee and food would be waiting for them. Humming to herself, Martha began gathering the ingredients as the wind continued its low howl outside. ***
"Is everything prepared?"
"As you have ordered, Sir." Bowing at the waist, the robed spiritualist smiled.
Lex Luthor returned the smile.
"Then go, my friend. Your payment is waiting for you in Zurich, as requested. And, as you know Asabi, I am a man who ALWAYS pays my debts."
Bowing once more, the robed man backed out of the room, shutting the door behind him, leaving Lex alone. Casually strolling over to the table, Lex gently grabbed the sheet covering it, and pulled it back to reveal the unconscious male figure beneath.
The man was of medium height and build, clad in a black body suit and boots, his dark brown shoulder-length hair swept straight back from his forehead. Lex's smile widened as he examined the figure.
"Checkmate," he whispered.
TO BE CONTINUED…