By Joel Schuldt <JASCHULDT@aol.com>
Submitted June 2000
Summary: In Part 4 of the author's "The Saga Continues," Clark and Kal continue to fend off Luthor's plans to control the world and destroy Superman. Meanwhile, Lord Kal-El hasn't given up his plot to destroy everyone on Earth, even though his support at home is beginning to erode.
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.
AUTHOR'S NOTE: This is the fourth installment in my little story line. For those just joining, it's my attempt at joining together two of my favorite shows- "Lois and Clark" and "Sliders." This story all began in "Endings and Beginnings" and continued in "Storm Warnings" and "Evil Resurgent." For those who've been here the whole time, I hope you enjoy reading this as much as I did writing it. What began as a simple little idea for a quick fanfiction has grown into a multi-part saga that has robbed me of quite a lot of sleep and resulted in numerous stern looks from my wife. <G> I hope you enjoy.
A huge thanks to Kathy B for all the editing work! Maybe someday I'll get those possessives right! <g>
Any comments or questions? E-mail me at: firstname.lastname@example.org
> Indicates thoughts <
ALL CAPITALS — indicates stronger emphasis on word
With a disgusted snort, Lois tossed the crumpled newspaper onto the couch next to her.
"Something bothering you?" Putting his own book down, Clark looked over at his wife in concern.
"Just reading about another corporate takeover by LexCorp," Lois grumbled. Jabbing a thumb at the wad of paper beside her, Lois shook her head in disbelief. "Alex, or Lex," she amended, rolling her eyes. "He just bought BioTech for a PALTRY one point five billion dollars."
"Is that all?" Clark joked. "Luthor probably used his spare pocket change."
Retrieving the newspaper from the couch, Clark smoothed it out as best he could. "Isn't BioTech that genetics place in Colorado?"
Lois nodded. "I did an article on it a few years ago. The Planet even quoted from my piece," she said, motioning towards the paper.
Scanning over the article, Clark's brow furrowed.
"I wonder what Luthor could want with a place like BioTech?" Out of the corner of his eye, Clark caught sight of Lois staring pensively out the window, her brow furrowed in concern.
"Penny for your thoughts?" Clark asked. When no answer was forthcoming, Clark sat down on the couch next to his wife. "Honey?"
"It's not fair," Lois whispered. As she turned to face him, Clark saw her eyes glistening with unshed tears. "We went through this before, Clark. Just when I thought I put it all behind me, along comes something to bring it all back again."
Lois's change in conversation topics caught Clark off guard. A second later, the reason for her distress occurred to him.
"What Professor Hamilton said," Clark stated, nodding in understanding. "About my life expectancy."
"Right," Lois exclaimed. "Getting these powers, I finally think that I'm going to be around with you for however long you're going to live." Her head lowered. "Then THIS happens, and I'm right back where I started from."
"How am I supposed to feel about you possibly being immortal?" Tossing her hands up in frustration, the tears finally came. "How should I feel about becoming nothing more than a CHAPTER in your life? How should I feel knowing that, after I'm gone, you'll keep going on and have ANOTHER life? SEVERAL lives, actually."
"Lois," Clark said, taking her hand in his. "Professor Hamilton is looking into it. He says that it's the extra energy in my system that's making me… like I am." Clark hesitantly flashed her a crooked grin. "All we have to do is find a way to drain it out of my body."
"I was hit by the same energy," Lois said. "Why wasn't I affected the same way?"
"You weren't hit with the same dosage that I was," Clark said. "Yours was more gradual."
"And if we can't find a way to drain the energy out of your system?" Lois's eyes closed briefly in pain. "What then, Clark?" Shaking her head, another wave of tears coursed down her cheeks. "You have enough energy in you to last for over a month without sunlight, Clark. Are you WILLING to spend that long in a cave? Or on the other Superman's world?" Placing a hand on his chest, Lois gently traced the curves of his muscles. "And even if you drain the energy out, who's to say you might not just recharge again back to this level?"
Speechless, Clark attempted to draw her into his arms, but was stopped by her hand pressing against his chest.
"I need to go think this through, Clark," Lois whispered. "Please?"
Gently kissing him on the lips, Lois vanished with a rush of air, leaving Clark alone on the couch with only his thoughts.
Strolling through the gleaming hallways, Lex Luthor proudly admired his latest acquisition. Employees scurried from room to room, immersed in their own private concerns. Though at times they bumped each other in their passing, not a single soul even approached the tycoon. All gave him a wide berth as they went about their work. As he walked, a thin trail of cigar smoke marked Lex's passage through the building.
"Mr. Luthor?" Desperately trying to keep pace with the executive, Paul Blake smiled haltingly as he gestured to the cigar. "Um, I must inform you, sir, that this facility is a 'no smoking' facility."
Lex smiled, not unlike a predator preparing for the kill. "Yes, I'm sure it is, Mr. Blake." Drawing on the cigar once more, Lex slowly exhaled. "A very sensible rule it is, too." Meeting the flustered BioTech administrator's eyes, Lex shrugged. "And I assure you, were I any other man, I would pay attention to it. Fortunately, I am NOT any other man."
Seeing that he'd get nowhere except fired, Paul shrugged inwardly and continued the tour.
"As you know, Mr. Luthor, BioTech is one of the nations leading pioneers in the area of genetics," he cited, regaining his momentum. "Only S.T.A.R. Labs in Metropolis surpasses us, and even then," he added, winking conspiratorially at the billionaire. "It's not by very much."
"I know," Lex said condescendingly. "That's why I bought it."
Continuing on, the administrator led Lex down the hallway. As they two men entered a vast chamber, Lex noticed the walkway they followed branch around the perimeter of the room, exposing the interior to the floor below. Striding up to the handrailing before them, Paul motioned Lex to join him. Gazing down into the floor below, Lex had a momentary attack of vertigo.
The floor's opening formed the top of a shaft, stretching deep into the heart of the building. Each floor below was arranged the same, with the walkway leading around the room's edge. Glass fronted laboratories surrounded each floor, allowing glimpses of scientists immersed in their work, oblivious to the surrounding world.
Noticing Lex's wide-eyed expression, Paul cleared his throat.
"Mr. Luthor? Are you all right?"
Snapping out of his reverie, Lex smiled coldly.
"Just remembering a bad experience I had on a ledge, once." Puffing on the cigar, Lex nodded to Paul. "Continue, Mr. Blake."
"We have branch offices in nearly every major city nation wide. This facility, however, is the 'heart' of BioTech, though. All research data collected at the branch facilities is sent here to the headquarters for more in-depth examination. As you can see, we currently are exploring ALL avenues of research into genetics. From birth defects," he quoted, motioning towards one floor. "To augmentation, mapping, and replicating." As he listed each subject, he motioned to corresponding floors below. "If it's genetics related, we're involved with it."
"Replicating," Lex mused. "You mean cloning?"
"Yes sir, Mr. Luthor. We recently acquired Doctor Mamba's data concerning the process, and have even made some improvements."
Lex's smile grew wider.
"Show me more, Mr. Blake."
Later that night, as he lay on the roof staring at the stars, Clark's thoughts raced through his head in a jumbled mess.
"Need to talk?"
Startled, Clark jumped. He'd been so wrapped up in his own head that he had failed to notice Alt-Clark hovering at the edge of the roof.
"No," Clark said, gruffly. "Not really."
"Too bad," Alt-Clark countered. Stepping onto the roof, the other dimensional Superman shoved his hands into his pockets as he looked into the sky. The slight breeze rippled his white shirt and sent his hair dancing.
"I've been talking to Lois," Alt-Clark began, before glancing to his counterpart. "MY Lois. It appears that she was talking to your wife earlier this evening, and got the impression that something's wrong." Leveling an even stare at Clark, Alt-Clark's eyebrow raised. "Is there?"
After several minutes of silence, Clark sighed. "I might be immortal." When no answer was forthcoming from Alt-Clark, Clark glanced over at him. "Did you hear me?"
"Yes," Alt-Clark confirmed. "I'm just trying to understand what the problem is."
Clark felt his ire rise. "I'm IMMORTAL. Lois is NOT."
"I heard you the FIRST time, Clark," Alt-Clark said. "And I'm STILL trying to find out what the problem is. Yes," he added, heading off Clark's objection before he could voice it. "I know, you're immortal. So?" Alt-Clark shrugged. "You're soulmates. Didn't H. G. Wells tell you that you're destined to be together? A little thing like death won't change that. And even if Lois DOES die long before you, who's to say that you won't meet her again later in life? Have a little faith that things will work out." Walking over to the edge of the roof, Alt-Clark paused. "That's something I forgot. As a result of that, I nearly destroyed myself." Gesturing vaguely in the air, Alt-Clark smiled as he shrugged helplessly. "Learn from my mistakes, Brother."
After his duplicate dropped over the edge of the roof, Clark returned his attention to the skies once more, a slight smile playing across his lips.
As the first light of morning beamed through the window, Clark yawned and opened his eyes to an amazing sight.
Ultrawoman, her legs crossed Indian style, hovered beside the head of the bed.
"Morning, Honey," Clark whispered.
"I thought about it a lot last night, and I'm still not comfortable with it," Lois explained. "The idea of you being immortal." A shy smile played across her lips briefly. "But I'll manage."
"I love you," Clark murmured.
"You better," Lois replied. Her eyes flickering down to the bed, Lois canted her head slightly. "Got room in there for one more?"
Chuckling, Clark lifted the covers aside.
Two Months Later…
Night had begun to fall as a familiar figure arced through the sky, winding his way across the countryside.
As the colorful form of Superman gently set down on the Kent's front lawn, Clark paused to take a deep breath in relief.
>Unusually busy night, < he mused. >Seems as though that quiet spell I had a while ago has DEFINITELY ended. < Walking towards the house, Clark scanned the surrounding countryside, searching for anything that might be watching. As he did so, a brief flash of irritation shot through him.
>Never had to take so MANY precautions before, < he thought. >But thanks to Luthor being back, I'm taking NO chances. I definitely need to arrange a better way of coming and going from Mom and Dad's house, though. <
Continuing towards the house, the beginnings of an idea began forming in Clark's mind.
Before he could even get the door open, Clark heard a voice calling from inside.
"Clark?" Alt-Clark called from the living room. "You're on TV."
As he entered the doorway, a flash of color on the television screen caught Clark's eye.
"Repeating our top story tonight," the newswoman chirped in a voiceover. "French Airlines Flight 118 out of Paris was struck by another plane early today on takeoff. There were, however, NO fatalities, due to the intervention of Superman." The camera picture switched to a shot of Superman shaking the hand of the passenger airliner pilot. Smiling warmly into the camera, he sprang into the air and sped off into the night sky.
"Nice save," Alt-Clark congratulated. "Not that I couldn't have done the same thing." Flashing his duplicate a smile, the other dimensional Clark Kent shrugged nonchalantly as he drank from his glass.
"That's not me."
Alt-Clark stopped in mid swallow. Slowly placing the glass back on the table, he folded his hands in his lap, looking closely at Clark.
"What did you say?"
"That," Clark repeated, pointing at the screen. "That's not me."
"If that's not YOU, and that's not ME," Alt-Clark reasoned. "Then who IS it?"
Watching as the news station replayed the footage, a growing sense of unease took root in Clark's stomach.
"I have no idea," Clark said. "But I have a pretty good idea of where to start asking."
Sitting behind his desk, Lex Luthor was a gray blur of motion as he read through the entire day's worth of paperwork. Gradually slowing to human speed, Lex sighed in exasperation as he shot an annoyed look at the balcony.
"Well?" Lex asked, sarcasm dripping from his words. "Are you going to stand out there all night, Kent, or come in and tell me what's on your mind?"
Striding into the room, Clark stopped mid-way across, saying nothing. After several minutes of staring at one another, Lex chuckled.
"I take it that you saw the news report?"
Clark merely stared at Luthor.
"Kent, I'd like you to meet the newest addition to the LexCorp family." Motioning grandly to the side door, Lex smiled coldly at him. As Clark watched, the door opened, revealing the room's other occupant. Pacing into the chamber, the newcomer fixed Clark with a cold gaze. The first details to register on Clark's mind were the blue and red uniform with the recognizable pentagonal s-shield. With his red cape gently swishing around his frame, the figure advanced into the room on red boots that trod soundlessly across the deep carpet. As the new arrival took up a position beside Lex's desk, Clark could only stare mutely at the two of them.
"Superman, meet Junior," Lex gloated. "Junior, this is Superman. I believe you know him."
"H-how?" Clark stuttered. "How'd you do it?" Sweeping his enhanced vision over his identical double, Clark's blood went cold. "He's a clone."
Lex merely smiled.
"That's IMPOSSIBLE," Clark gasped. "All the samples of my DNA were recovered by the FIRST clone you made of me."
"Were they?" Reaching into his vest pocket and withdrawing a cigar, the executive carefully clipped the end and placed it in his mouth. Clark's double, glancing down, stared intently at the end of the cigar, lighting it with his heat vision.
"Thank you," Lex said offhandedly. Returning his attention to Clark, Lex smiled. "While it IS true that the first clone recovered your DNA, he didn't recover ALL of it," Lex explained. "You should know by now that I am NOT the type of man to keep all my eggs in a single basket, so to speak." Puffing contentedly on the cigar, Lex leaned back in his chair. "I recognized the viability of the project, despite the initial failure of the… prototype."
"I was under the impression that the alien nature of Kryptonian DNA made it impossible to create a stable clone."
"Utilizing Earth technology, that's correct," Lex admitted. "But, then again, thanks to my little alliance with Lord Kal-El I now have an entire WAREHOUSE full of Kryptonian technology that he left behind." Exhaling a stream of smoke, Luthor smiled. "That includes a great deal of medical technology. You see the problem was that our human computers couldn't map out the Kryptonian DNA accurately enough to prevent errors. Thanks to the medical technology left behind by your more INTERESTING counterpart, that particular problem has been solved for the most part." Gesturing to the clone, Lex's smile turned cold. "Meet the second generation prototype of LexCorp's new line of corporate protection."
"And one that's directly under your control, no doubt."
"That would be a fair assessment, Kent."
"And his powers?" Clark inquired.
"Regrettably, he isn't QUITE as powerful as you. Not too far from it, though." Noting Clark's shocked expression, Lex shrugged. "Even though we now have a detailed analysis of the Kryptonian DNA, we still lack the necessary equipment to create an absolutely PERFECT clone. Rescuing that plane was a… trial run for my boy here. I needed to see what he could do."
"No," Clark corrected. "I'm not surprised by the level of his power, I'm just surprised that you TOLD me."
"Why not tell you?" Spreading his hands, Lex smiled. "It's not like you can STOP me."
"Really?" Clark asked, looking from his clone to Lex and back.
"Really," Lex confirmed. "What would you do? Arrest me?" Nodding his head towards the clone, Lex chuckled once more. "Kill him?" Sighing in mock regret, Lex shook his head.
"You CAN'T arrest me, Kent, because I've broken no laws. And as for killing HIM?" Lex's eyes danced with mirth. "Well, that question answers itself."
Returning his attention to the chuckling executive, Clark folded his arms across his chest. "Why, Luthor? We've been down this path before. Why create more clones of me?"
"Why, you ask? Think about it, Clark," Lex said with a jovial tone. "I send Junior here out to do some decidedly non-Superman like things in the world, and what do you think will happen? With the public still reeling from the knowledge that there is at least ONE evil Superman out there somewhere, your image might be SEVERELY damaged, if not destroyed outright if they see my boy here leveling a city." Exhaling a stream of smoke, Lex smiled. "And as far as I'm concerned, that can't be all bad."
"And that's the ONLY reason?" Clark shook his head. "I have a little trouble believing that."
Drawing on his cigar once more, Lex shrugged. "I don't see why I shouldn't tell you. To tell you the truth, our Lord Kal-El visited me not too long ago. During this visit, he made some certain comments that led me to believe that he would enjoy it greatly if I were to depart this mortal coil." Waving his cigar towards the impassive clone, Lex cocked his head to the side. "Thus my need for a bodyguard."
"Lord Kal-El visited you?" Clark asked. "When?"
"A few months ago. Though he hasn't been back since, I've no doubt that he's managing to keep an eye on things here."
"You find something about the imminent return of Lord Kal-El funny?"
"No," Clark admitted as he walked back towards the open patio doors. "Just that I finally discovered something Lord Kal-El and I have in common." As he stepped out onto the landing, Superman smiled at the irate executive.
"We both don't like YOU."
His laughter echoing across the skyline, Clark disappeared into the night.
As he watched Superman disappear into the night, Lex scowled.
"We might need to move up the timetable," the executive said. "Be a good lad, won't you? Change into something more presentable and contact BioTech."
"And what should I tell them?" Junior inquired.
"Let them know I'll be en-route there soon, and I expect a full update on Project Ubermensch when I get there. Also, activate contingency plan Theta."
Bowing slightly, the clone exited silently, leaving Lex alone in the room. Leaning back in his chair, the billionaire stared unseeing at the ceiling, his mind already occupied with the change of events.
Thousands of miles away, standing on the porch, Alt-Clark breathed in the night air.
>We've been here months now, < he thought. >And I STILL can't get enough of this fresh air. <
Floating up over the edge of the roof, Alt-Clark was startled to find Clark stretched out, staring at the night sky once more.
"All right," Alt-Clark sighed. "What's the problem THIS time?"
"Huh?" Snapping out of his revere, Clark blinked at his doppelganger. "What'd you say?"
"I asked you what the problem was," Alt-Clark repeated. Gesturing towards Clark, Alt-Clark grinned. "You're on the roof again. I figure that means something's bothering you, and you're trying to figure it out.
"Oh," Clark said, distractedly. "Nothing."
"Nothing?" Tilting his head slightly, Alt-Clark fixed him with a disbelieving stare. "This is TWICE now I've found you up here, staring up into space. Either you've suddenly decided to pick up astronomy as a hobby, or something's bothering you. Why don't you try again."
After a long moment, Clark shrugged helplessly.
"I found out who that other Superman was. He's a clone of me, made by Lex Luthor."
"A clone?" Alt-Clark exclaimed. "You people here are experimenting with CLONING?"
"Yeah," Clark sighed. "It seems to be kind of a recurring theme in my life. Either someone's cloning ME, or they're cloning LOIS." His brow knitting, Clark looked at his double. "Didn't they have cloning on your world?"
"No," Alt-Clark said. "It was outlawed two days after it was developed; too many moral gray areas. We're going to have to put a stop to this, you know."
Nodding in agreement, Clark returned his attention to the skies.
"So, what ELSE is bothering you?"
"I've been trying to wrap my brain around this from the start," Clark reluctantly admitted. "Ever since Lois encountered the first alternate dimensional version of me."
"So, what's got you so puzzled?" As he lay down next to his doppelganger, Alt-Clark stared up into the heavens.
"The whole alternate dimension thing," Clark stated. "Just trying to figure it out gives me a headache."
"Actually, it's not NEARLY that difficult," Alt-Clark chuckled. "Think of it this way. When time began, there was only the one timeline. As time progressed and events happened, the alternate dimensions began splitting off from the main line. For every event in history, there's a dimension where the OTHER path was taken." Alt-Clark snapped his fingers. "Like branches of a tree growing off from the main trunk. I'm sure there are universes where Julius Caesar was never assassinated, where Adolf Hitler won the Second World War, and so on down through history."
"All right," Clark conceded. "But answer me this: which is the central timeline that all the others branched off from? Which is the REAL universe?"
Alt-Clark shrugged. "Who knows? Considering how many alternate realities there must be by now, whatever one started it all is probably buried so deep that we'd never find it. As to that central timeline being the 'real' one?" He shook his head sagely. "What makes you think that YOUR reality is any less real than that one? Or mine, for that matter?" Spreading his hands, the mirror Clark looked around. "It's all a matter of perspective."
"All right," Clark admitted. "You've got me on that. Now, since we're being so honest, what's bothering YOU?"
Caught off guard, Alt-Clark was speechless.
"W-what? What are you talking about," Alt-Clark stammered.
"Something's bothering you," Clark pressed. "Out with it."
"You were coming up here yourself," Clark stated. "What is it?"
Alt-Clark was silent for so long, Clark started to believe that he wasn't going to answer.
"Lord Kal-El." A shudder ran through Alt-Clark's body. "It gives me the chills knowing someone like him is running around out there."
Clark shrugged, glancing away.
"Doesn't it bother you to know that someone THAT evil is out there, and that it's us?"
"You know it does," Clark said. "Sometimes I try and imagine what HIS life was like, why he made the choices he did. The closest I can figure it, Lord Kal-El's personality, his identity, was shaped by his surroundings, evolving him into a very cold, hard person." Clark pointed at both himself and his mirror image. "We were lucky, Kal. We grew up in the care of loving parents who nurtured us. You call him evil?" Clark asked. "I'd bet that he regards his choices as being necessary, his actions as being justified."
"Justified? All this death and destruction?" Alt-Clark rubbed the bridge of his nose in frustration. "I can't believe that. How can destroying a world be justified?"
"I said that it's justified in HIS eyes, Kal," Clark corrected. "Not mine."
"Do you think he's evil?"
Pausing uncomfortably, Clark glanced away.
"The man killed over six billion people, Clark," Alt-Clark stated flatly. "And, loathe as I am to say it, in a sense WE are responsible."
"No 'but', Clark!" Alt-Clark said, raising his voice over his doppelgangers. "Rationalize it all you want, it won't change a thing. Whether we like it or not, that is US out there." As he stared at his double, Alt-Clark's eyes narrowed. "Tell me you've never wanted to cut loose. Just once," he whispered. "Tell me that you've NEVER wanted to say 'the hell with it', and just let go. That you've NEVER wanted to put Luthor in the GRAVE rather than jail."
"I can't say that I haven't," Clark admitted. "But, I've NEVER done it. And I never WILL."
Pointing his hand out into the night, Alt-Clark scowled.
"Well, Lord Kal-El DID. He DID decide to cut loose. And it's our responsibility to see to it that he pays for his crime." Getting up from the roof, Alt-Clark stared down at his double.
"Like I said, that man killed over six billion people on my world alone, and who knows how many more he's killed on other worlds? I used to think Lex Luthor was the epitome of evil." Shaking his head, Alt-Clark's voice lowered. "Imagine my surprise to find out that it was US instead."
Walking to the roof's edge, Alt-Clark paused on the threshold.
"He's going to pay, Clark," Alt-Clark vowed. "Even if it kills me, he's going to pay for what he's done."
Launching himself into the night air, Alt-Clark was swiftly lost to sight.
"I hope he's the ONLY one that has to pay," Clark whispered.
Nestled deep in the Colorado Rocky Mountains, Paul Blake nearly had to sprint down the corridor of BioTech in order to remain along side the swiftly walking Lex Luthor.
"Mr. Luthor, I must protest," Paul whined. "This research facility was NOT intended for these purposes."
"Mr. Blake," Lex growled, unrelenting in his pace. "Might I ask who OWNS this facility?"
"You do," Paul said, sweat beading on his brow.
"Who provides the funding for all of this?"
"You do," Paul replied, his voice dropping.
"Who pays your salary?"
"That means this facility does whatever I WANT it to," Lex explained coldly. "As well as all its employees." Stopping without warning, he stared intently at the panting administrator.
"Any problems with that?"
Swallowing noisily, Paul shook his head, not trusting his voice to reply.
"Good," Lex said. "Then let's get going, shall we?"
Nodding vigorously, the administrator led the way down the hall.
Sticking her head into the living room, Martha Kent smiled at the other dimensional Lois.
"Lois? Would you like to help me make dinner?"
Returning the smile, Alt-Lois followed her into the kitchen.
"I have to admit, Mrs. Kent," Alt-Lois said. "I'm not that good of a cook."
Patting her on the arm, Martha smiled wider. "Not to worry, honey. Neither was the Lois of THIS world." Rolling her eyes skyward, she chuckled. "Oh, when I think of some of the things she made!"
Joining in on the laughter, Alt-Lois's attention was attracted by a flash of color from the doorway.
The silent figure of Superman merely stared at the two women, his face impassive. Lois, instinctively backing away, drew Martha with her.
"That's not Clark," Alt-Lois whispered fearfully.
"Martha Kent," the imposter stated. "Leave the room now."
"In a pig's eye," Martha spat.
"Go," Lois urged. "Find Clark."
Backing out of the room, Martha shot Lois a supportive look before ducking around the doorway. As Lois returned her attention to the duplicate Superman, she heard Martha shouting at the top of her lungs for Clark and Jonathan.
"I do apologize, Mrs. Lane-Kent," the Superman clone said, grasping Alt-Lois by the upper arm in a blur of motion. "Though I personally bear you no ill will, I do have my orders. I can guarantee, though, that it will be a painless death." Raising his fist, the duplicate was about to strike when a voice interrupted.
"Get away from her, you monster!"
Turning to face the new threat, the clone was doused by a pitcher of water. Before he could react, Martha tossed the exposed end of the lamp's electrical cord against the clone's chest, surrounding both him and his target in brilliant white light. With a strangled cry, the clone slumped to the floor.
Entering the room, Alt-Superman looked around in confusion as behind him, Jonathan hugged Martha. Caressing Alt-Lois's cheek, Alt-Clark looked into her eyes. "Are you all right, Honey?"
Closing her eyes in relief, Alt-Lois stepped into her husband's embrace.
"I am now," she replied. "Thanks to Mrs. Kent." A small liquid noise drew her attention to the floor behind Alt-Superman.
"What the devil is happening to HIM?" Martha gasped.
Turning around, Alt-Superman witnessed the clone melting into a pool of fluid.
"I have NO idea, Mrs. Kent," he admitted. "But we DEFINITELY need to find out."
Bursting into the room, Clark skidded to a halt as he took in the sight of Alt-Clark holding Alt-Lois, his parents holding each other, and the pool of steaming sludge on the floor.
"Would someone mind telling me what's going on?"
"Luthor," Alt-Clark growled, rigid with anger. "It was sent by Luthor."
With a rush of air, Alt-Clark was gone.
"Ms. Tesmacher," Lex said, thumbing on the intercom. "I've finished up in here. Why don't you close up the lobby, call it a night, and make an early start on your weekend?"
"Thank you, Mr. Luthor!" Her voice fairly bubbled with excitement. "I'll see you bright and early Monday morning!"
Switching off the speaker, Lex chuckled to himself.
>Ah, the things I must do to cultivate this 'nice guy' persona. <
A thunderous blow sent the far wall cascading through the room. Pieces of reinforced concrete flew through the air, raining down across everything. Coughing lightly, Lex waved his hand through the air, clearing the dust.
Standing in the gaping hole, backlit by the city lights, Superman's chest heaved in anger. Striding across the room, his cape billowing in the air, the enraged juggernaut casually tossed away chairs, tables, and anything else that stood between him and his intended target. Grabbing Lex by the front of his shirt, Superman spun around and slammed the startled executive against the wall hard enough to leave an indentation.
"You slimy piece of garbage! How dare you!"
"Something troubling you, Clark?" Lex asked, keeping his voice level.
"You tried to kill my wife!" His bellow of rage rolling through the room like thunder, Superman drew his fist back. "I have had ENOUGH of you!"
"Temper, temper Kent," Lex chastised. Pointing to the far upper corner of the room, Lex winked at his guest. "You're on Candid Camera."
"I'm not… who you think… I am," Alt-Clark whispered harshly. "And I don't care if the Pope HIMSELF is watching."
"But think of what YOUR actions will mean to your twin," Lex reasoned. "The camera makes NO distinction. To anyone watching the film, it'll appear that Superman savagely attacked an innocent man. It makes NO difference that the Superman in question isn't from THIS Earth." Lex's lips twisted into a savage grin. "You'll do in a few moments what I've been trying to do for years: ruin Superman."
Slowly, Alt-Clark lowered Lex to the floor and released his grip.
"Since I KNOW you didn't mean this incident to happen, I'm going to hold on to the video footage for a while," Lex said sarcastically. "And I figure that as long as NOTHING like this were to happen again, I can probably keep anyone from seeing it." Leaning in, Lex smiled. "Get my drift?"
Alt-Clark remained silent.
"And just for the record," Lex explained further. "I have NO idea what you're talking about. If I had wanted anyone dead, they'd be nothing more than statistics by now." Picking up his jacket from off the floor, the billionaire snapped off a jaunty salute. "Don't worry about the damage, Superman. I'll write it off as a business expense. Just count your blessings that I had the walls of my offices sound- proofed." Withdrawing a cigar from his coat pocket, Lex lit it with his heat vision.
"You can leave any time now," Lex chuckled, puffing on the cigar.
Alt-Clark, however, was already gone.
Returning to the farmhouse, Alt-Clark slumped into a chair on the porch.
"You visited Luthor, I take it," a voice said quietly from behind.
Without looking, Alt-Clark nodded.
"You did something you shouldn't have, right?" Clark asked, stepping out onto the porch.
Alt-Clark nodded again.
"Luthor used what you did against you," Clark continued. "And used it against me as well."
Alt-Clark gave another nod.
Patting his twin on the shoulder, Clark chuckled. "I can't say I'm happy with it, but don't worry. Right now, we have other things to think about. Like finding out what THIS is." Holding up the glass in his hand, Clark shook his head as he stared at the liquid contents. "We need to get this to S.T.A.R. labs."
Landing at the entrance to S.T.A.R. Labs, Clark paused a moment to collect himself before entering.
"Superman?" Smiling broadly, the receptionist motioned to the rear door. "You can go in any time now."
Thanking the woman, Clark walked into the laboratory.
"Ah, Superman!" Doctor Klein called, motioning him in. "I was just talking to your doppelganger here about quantum fluctuations between dimensions. And, before you ask, I can assure you that no-one saw him come in here." Motioning to the massive amount of papers laying scattered around the room, Klein chuckled. "It's going to take me all day tomorrow to sort this. You guys certainly kick up a lot of wind when you move that fast." His brow knitting in puzzlement, Klein turned to Alt-Clark. "Is there a Doctor Klein on YOUR world?"
"Yes," Alt-Clark carefully replied. "There is."
"Uh, Doctor Klein?" Clark interrupted.
"Oh, right!" Turning to face the computer, Bernard shook his head in wonder. "I have the results you asked for, and boy are they something."
"Great," Clark replied. Walking over to the Doctor, he clapped him on the shoulder. "Glad to see you back in Metropolis, Doctor Klein."
"I'm glad to BE back, Superman," Klein admitted. "While I appreciated the chance to work in Washington D.C., it just wasn't the same." Leaning towards the Kryptonian, the Doctor lowered his voice conspiratorially. "They're all a little too… stuffy for me. Know what I mean?" he asked, winking.
"I get your point Doctor," Clark chuckled. "So, the test results?"
"Oh, RIGHT." Withdrawing a beaker from the cabinet beside him, Klein held it up for both Supermen to see. "As you both know, THIS is all that's left of the clone that was zapped." Placing the beaker back onto the tabletop, the Doctor folded his hands in his lap. "A detailed analysis of the remaining cell structure reveals the presence of a recessive gene that was engineered into the DNA. Kind of a self-destruct trigger, so to speak. When the clone was exposed to the electrical current, it triggered that gene, causing the clone to revert into… goop." Jerking a thumb at the beaker, Klein smiled apologetically. "The analysis also reveals that the cell's NATURAL degradation level is unbelievably high in comparison to your own, Superman, or even compared to human cells. These clones," the Doctor whispered. "They age a lifetime in about forty-eight hours."
"Why would someone do that," Clark mused aloud. "Design a clone to be that short-lived?"
"Actually, if you think about it," Dr. Klein confessed. "It makes perfect sense."
"What do you mean?"
"Well, if you're planning on creating a weapon," the Doctor explained, scratching his cheek. "It's best to also develop a way to COUNTER it. On the one hand, when activated, this recessive gene destroys the clone in seconds." Stretching out his hand, Klein indicated the beaker. "On the other hand, the clone only has a life expectancy of two days." The Doctor's lips quirked into a half smile as he shrugged his shoulders.
"Either way, should the clones turn against them, they won't pose much of a threat to whomever made them." Tapping his watch, Doctor Klein shook his head in amazement. "Time is NOT on their side. The creators can just sit back and let Father Time do the rest."
"What else can you tell us about this stuff?" Alt-Superman queried.
"Putting aside the DNA trigger, even for cloned tissue, the cells of this material are strange," Klein murmured, turning back to the beaker. "It's almost if…" Trailing off, the Doctor pulled his chair over to the mainframe computer. After a flurry of typed commands, he sat back, scanning the results.
"Well I'll be darned." Klein's whispered words instantly drew both Supermen's attention.
"What is it, Professor?"
"This material," Klein said, turning to face the two Kryptonians. "It's been cloned from a CLONE."
"What?" Alt-Superman was stunned.
"Yes," the Doctor confirmed. "The genetic sample used to create this clone came from ANOTHER clone." Turning back to the screen, Klein tapped two horribly twisted masses of colored lines on the screen. One set ran straight and true across the top of the screen, the other started where the first did, but drifted down the screen to disappear towards the lower right corner.
"As you can see, using Superman's own cell structure as a basis, the cell structure of that material has TWICE the genetic drift that it should." Shaking his head in disbelief, Klein's voice took on a shocked note. "THAT'S what accounts for the increased entropy level in the cells. I can't believe I didn't see this earlier."
"So that," Clark said, gesturing to the beaker. "Was a cloned clone?"
"Right," Klein affirmed. "Think of it as making a carbon copy of a carbon copy of the original document. It's faded, weak, and completely useless for any REAL work. Especially if the carbon paper was one of those really USED ones?" Looking to the heavens, Klein's voice took on an injured aspect. "Why on Earth do people think that they can use and re-use and re-use and re-use…"
"I get the point, Doctor," Clark interrupted. "Thanks for your time." Shaking the Doctor's hand, Clark led his double into the hall.
"So that's why Luthor hasn't done anything about the clone's destruction," Alt-Clark said. "He knew all along that the clone would fail."
"He was counting on you reacting the way you did," Clark muttered. "It's just typical of him to do something like this. He used you to get at ME." A puzzled expression crossed Clark's face as a thought struck him. "If that thing in there was cloned from a clone, then Junior's still out there." Glancing at his twin, Clark noticed his doppelganger's attention was focused elsewhere.
Snapping back to the present, Alt-Clark looked at Clark. "Yes?"
"I was just thinking about something your wife told me a little while ago," Alt-Clark admitted. "Nothing important, though. Just a few more differences in our universes."
"So, did you understand what Doctor Klein was talking about? The quantum fluctuations between universes?"
"Not a single word." Alt-Clark shook his head. "I was lost after he said 'Hi.'"
Laughing along with his double, Clark ushered him out into the sunshine.
"Let's go home."
The next day, back at the Kent farm, Clark poked his head into the kitchen.
"Mom?" Clark called. "Have you seen Kal?"
"Last I saw of them, he and his wife were flying west," she replied. Sticking her head out of the living room, Martha looked at her son. "He mentioned something about Lois needing to get out of the house for a little while. Something wrong?"
"No," Clark reassured. "I just wanted to see if they needed anything from Metropolis."
Joining his wife out on the front porch, Clark's eyes drifted to the west where massive thunderheads towered over the countryside, their interiors alight with colossal displays of lightning.
Looking down, Clark met his wife's concerned gaze.
"Something wrong, Honey?" Lois asked, taking Clark's hand.
Shaking his head, Clark dropped into the chair beside her. "No, not really. Mom said that Kal took Lois flying, and headed west. Towards THAT," he added, jerking a thumb at the approaching storm.
Following his gaze, Lois's brow drew into a slight frown.
"Something wrong, Lois?"
"Just something that Kal was asking me about the other day." Looking at her husband, Lois idly toyed with the hem of her dress. "He asked me how I got my powers." Shrugging, Lois's eyes drifted back towards the approaching storm. "I told him about the red kryptonite laser, and how you'd used it to transfer that other Kryptonians powers to me. Then he asked me if there'd been any other times other people had gained super powers."
"And you told him about William Wallace Waldecker and Jesse Stipanovic," Clark finished.
"Resplendent Man and 'Superman's Love Child,'" Lois giggled. "Do you remember that costume of William's?"
A low roll of thunder drowned Clark's reply out. Looking back to her husband, Lois reached out and took his hand.
"Clark, Kal asked me about the power transfers BEFORE that clone got electrocuted," Lois said. "He was REALLY shaken up that he almost lost his Lois again. And since the clone's powers weren't transferred into my double by the electricity, do you think he might…?" Trailing off, Lois tilted her head towards the storm.
Shrugging, Clark's eyes stayed on the clouds. "I don't know, Lois."
Rolling across the countryside, another peal of thunder echoed faintly.
Sighing heavily, Clark glanced at Lois. "I need to go and do something I've put off long enough." Gently kissing his wife on the lips, Clark smiled faintly and walked off the porch. Stopping far into the yard, Clark took a deep breath to clear his thoughts.
>Well, here goes nothing, < he thought, staring skyward.
Hours later, as he finished putting the leftover food back into the refrigerator, Jonathan glanced at Clark.
"Heard anything from Kal?"
Clark shook his head. "No. It's been three hours now, and still nothing."
"They'll come back, Clark," Martha assured him. "I just know it."
"Someone mention my name?"
As one, everyone looked to the dining room doorway.
"At this time, I'd like to present to you the new and improved alternate-dimensional Lois Lane-Kent!" Standing to the side, Alt- Clark ushered his wife into the room. Hesitantly, Alt-Lois stepped into the light.
"Well, I'll be…" Clark began, but was cut off as Lois began clapping and cheering.
Smiling broadly, Alt-Lois pirouetted. Her red cape billowed out like the wings of a giant bird, revealing the blue and red v-neck uniform beneath. Adorning her shoulders, the clasps holding her cape in place was small, red and yellow pentagonal shields; one an 'S', the other a 'W'.
"Superwoman, I take it?" Clark asked.
"Down to the red hip boots," Alt-Lois replied. "Clark made it for me."
"CLARK made it for you?" Lois gave Alt-Clark an incredulous look. "He can SEW?"
"Mom taught me," Alt-Clark admitted. Motioning to Clark, Alt-Clark smiled sheepishly. "You mean he CAN'T?"
"Nope," Clark said. Chuckling slightly, he smiled at his double. "I guess this is yet ANOTHER difference between our dimensions."
Walking over beside her double, Lois spun into her Ultrawoman uniform. "What say we go out and have some fun?"
Alt-Lois flashed her duplicate a smile. "Sounds great."
As Clark began to get up from his chair, Lois wagged her finger at him.
"No, no, no. This is a GIRLS night out." Smiling her most disarming grin, Ultrawoman gestured to the kitchen. "It's YOUR turn to do the dishes tonight."
"And YOU can help," Superwoman added, smiling at Alt-Clark.
"If you don't mind," another voice from the doorway said. "I think you should postpone the dishes for a later time."
Whirling around, Alt-Clark tensed for an attack.
"Easy there, Kal-El," the man said, holding up his hands in a stopping gesture. "I come in peace."
"Ching?" Clark asked, standing up from the table.
Smiling faintly, Ching sketched a small bow. "In a manner of speaking."
Clark's brow furrowed in puzzlement until Alt-Clark's words supplied the answer.
"He's from MY universe." Staring intently at the newcomer, Alt-Clark straightened fractionally, though he remained tensed. "Why are you here?"
"To help you, as a matter of fact."
Alt-Clark snorted in disbelief.
"Why should we believe you?" Clark asked. "Didn't Lord Kal-El incorporate your entire colony into his army?"
"Yes," Alt-Ching answered. "But, be that as it may, I am still here to help."
"To give you information," Alt-Ching stated. "After your last victory over Lord Kal-El, the Council decided to remove him from the ruling throne of New Krypton, citing that he was allowing his personal obsessions to govern his decisions." His eyes widened slightly in disbelief. "If I hadn't seen it with my OWN eyes, I'd never have believed it. Lord Kal-El didn't even seem to be fazed by the accusation." Waving his hand vaguely, Alt-Ching's gaze dropped to the floor. "Citing that he had another pressing matter to attend to, he assigned his Chief Advisor to act in his stead in the Council as they discussed possible resolutions to this debacle. As he left, the arguments began in earnest, ringing down the corridors." His voice lowered. "There are those in the Council, though, who feel that Lord Kal-El might try to take advantage of this event."
"Do they have any idea what he might do?" Alt-Clark asked.
"They believe that he will probably launch another attack against your world," Alt-Ching sighed. "Since the Council is embroiled with Lord Kal-El's representative in this dispute, it leaves Lord Kal-El free to continue as he sees fit until a decision is reached."
"What if the Council rules against him?" Martha stepped closer to her husband who obligingly placed an arm around her. "Will he go along with it?"
"Lord Kal-El COULD fight the decision," Alt-Ching confirmed. "But I doubt he would. He's made several enemies on the Council with pushing his marriage to Viantaa through, and he's not powerful enough to stand against ALL of them. Not YET at least."
"How did that make enemies?" Jonathan asked.
"According to traditional Kryptonian law, the unmarried Lord of a ruling House must marry the eldest daughter of the next House in line for the throne." His lips twitched into a slight smile. "Unfortunately, the eldest daughter of the House next in line is roughly six years old."
"So," Clark said. "When Lord Kal-El passed over his arranged bride in favor of his OWN choice, he insulted her father."
"Not only that," Alt-Ching added. "Kryptonian law provides for that eventuality. Should the daughter not be of age, the daughter of the NEXT House in line is then selected. The daughter of the second ruling House is nearly nineteen years of age. By not recognizing HER, Lord Kal-El has insulted HER father as well."
"Didn't Lord Kal-El know this?" Lois interjected.
"Of course he did," Alt-Ching replied. "He just doesn't care. Lord Kal-El, however, decided to invoke the FINAL part of the law. This part specifies that, should NO daughter of any of the Houses be of age, the ruling Lord may then select a bride of his own choice."
"And so he chose Viantaa," Clark finished.
"Correct," Alt-Ching said. "And now, the Council is furious for his blatant disregard of tradition."
"And the people accept this dissension between Lord Kal-El and the Council?"
"What little they hear of it? Yes."
"And the people accept Lord Kal-El as their ruler?" Clark's voice was puzzled.
"Accept him?" Alt-Ching laughed bitterly. "They CHEER him!"
"How COULD they?" Lois asked. "Don't they KNOW what he's done?"
"In that respect," Alt-Ching admitted. "Lord Kal-EL has been VERY cautious. He scouts each prospective universe beforehand. The first ones that he conquered were the ones where the resident Kryptonian people tried to settle on Earth and were being persecuted. And there are a LOT of them." Lifting his hands helplessly, Alt-Ching barked another self-loathing laugh. "His Earth is populated ENTIRELY with these Kryptonians. He's viewed as a HERO desperately striving to preserve the Kryptonian heritage." Lowering his eyes, Alt-Ching's voice dropped to a harsh whisper. "It was only recently that he began invading universes indiscriminately." Taking a deep breath, he leaned back against the wall.
"When he began his march across the dimensions, he gave many speeches to the people, enthralling everyone. He made it seem as though it was the RIGHT of the Kryptonian people to advance their rule across the dimensions. As a whole, the ENTIRE population of New Krypton devoted itself to this crusade of Lord Kal-El's. Volunteers from every corner of the world flocked to his banner."
"How did the Council reply to Lord Kal-El's actions?" Alt-Clark asked.
As he lowered his eyes, a far away look came to Alt-Ching's eyes.
"In the beginning, when Lord Kal-El was RESCUING Kryptonians from certain death, they backed him one hundred percent. Later, as he began conquering planets where the humans posed NO threat, even then the Council supported him. Whether from fear, or because they just didn't care, I have no idea." Breathing deeply, Alt-Ching rubbed the bridge of his nose. "Each of the Council members comes from various dimensions where Lord Kal-El has 'saved' the Kryptonians. Each Lord or Lady rules their dimension in Lord Kal-El's name. There are only a few dimensions that are under his control that have no corresponding Lord or Lady on the Council."
"The ones ruled by their resident Superman," Clark whispered, shame coloring his face.
Alt-Ching nodded. "Lord Kal-El speaks for THOSE dimensions."
"How is the choice made for who sits on the Council?" Lois asked, folding her arms across her chest.
"The oldest House is granted the privilege," Alt-Ching answered.
Clark met his gaze. "Has anyone EVER stood against him?"
"Once," Alt-Ching's voice was barely audible. "The Kryptonian colonists of a dimension had been enslaved, but when Lord Kal-El freed them, they turned on him."
Lifting his eyes, Alt-Ching projected a mental picture into the two Supermen's minds: a vision of two great armies clashing both on the ground and in the sky. Graceful, delicate towers of silver and crystal crumbled into heaping mounds of shapeless rubble. Oceans of flame licked hungrily at everything they touched. Bodies lay strewn about like broken dolls, and a constant sound of screaming orders and thunder echoed through the air. A vast army of shadows advanced across the sky, pushing back an opposing army of light, until finally the light was swallowed in darkness. And over the entire scene, the visage of Lord Kal-El loomed, a mad conductor in an orchestra of destruction. As the vision faded, Clark found himself bathed in a cold sweat. Meeting Alt-Clark's eyes, he understood that his doppelganger had experienced the same apocalyptic vision.
"The civil war only lasted about a week," Alt-Ching whispered. "The Kryptonians of that Earth did not stand a chance."
"And the human population?" Clark reluctantly asked.
"WHAT human population?" Alt-Ching's voice bordered on hysterical. "Most all died within hours of the start of the war."
"All of them?" Lois inquired, her own eyes wet with tears.
"When gods, or even demi-gods clash," Alt-Ching stated. "Humanity is the least of their concerns."
"How did you get here?" Alt-Clark interrupted.
"On Lord Kal-El's Earth," Alt-Ching supplied. "I am the head of the Sliders Project."
"The Sliders Project. 'Sliding' is the nickname for crossing dimensions," Alt-Ching explained. "Individuals who cross dimensions are thus called 'Sliders'. I was the head of the section responsible for making the advances in the Sliding technology."
"Wait a minute," Lois said, waving her hands. "Before we go any farther, I need to make sure I know which world you're from. You're from HIS world, right?" Lois asked, pointing at Alt-Clark.
"Then, it was YOUR Lady Zara Lord Kal-El killed," Lois whispered.
"Yes." Alt-Ching's voice came out hoarse. "After Lord Kal-El killed the woman I loved, it was I who provided Superman with the portal device that enabled him to escape his doomed world."
"How did you get that portal device?"
"I stole it," Alt-Ching said nonchalantly, regaining his composure. "As the section head, I was in an invaluable position to facilitate the acquisition of the device. When Lord Kal-El discovered its theft, he assigned me to discover who had taken it." Shrugging, Alt- Ching's eyes seemed lifeless. "I created a trail that led to a laboratory technician. Lord Kal-El placed the blame on him, and had him killed."
Clark was stunned. "You framed an innocent laboratory technician for YOUR crime?"
"Yes." Alt-Ching's matter-of-fact tone grated on Clark.
"How could you condemn an innocent man to death?" Lois cried.
"Lord Kal-El demanded results. By providing him with the outcome he desired, I was able to effect my escape." Alt-Ching focused on Lois. "Anything other than providing Lord Kal-El with an acceptable culprit would have possibly resulted in my discovery and death. Had that happened, you all would most likely be dead by know." Looking at each person in turn, Alt-Ching clasped his hands behind his back.
"If I had died, you would NEVER have received forewarning of Lord Kal-El's imminent attack. I sacrificed one life for billions. A pretty good deal, if you ask me."
"ANY loss of life is unacceptable," Clark stated.
"So you say," Ching retorted. "I have my own opinions on that."
"You have to stop him," a small voice said from the doorway.
Everyone in the room save Ching turned to the door.
"Now, who's THAT?" Alt-Lois asked.
Stepping up beside and slightly behind Alt-Ching, the frail looking man meekly hung his head.
"His name is Ken-Re," Alt-Ching said. "Lord Kal-El sent him here to spy on your world."
"He WHAT?" Alt-Clark's shout rang through the room, causing the blond man to shrink back behind Alt-Ching even further.
"Wait a minute," Clark implored his double. Staring intently at the smaller man, Clark's eyes narrowed in thought. "I know you. You're the one that stopped the armored car heist a while ago, aren't you?"
Nodding, Ken-Re remained silent.
"Why?" Lois softly asked.
"All my life, every time someone looks at me, all I see is fear. I'm tired of everyone fearing me." Looking at his feet sheepishly, Ken- Re shrugged. "That's why I stopped those robberies. I wanted to see what it was like to be good. To have someone look at me in GRATITUDE."
Glancing at his double, Alt-Clark shrugged. "It's your world, Clark. Your world, your call."
"I brought you something," Ken-Re piped up. "A gift to show you my sincerity." Opening the door, the Kryptonian stepped aside as a tall, gaunt figure moved into the room.
"ANOTHER mystery guest?" Lois muttered under her breath.
His eyes scanned the room's occupants, resting for slightly longer on each Superman. His shoulders were faintly bowed, as if a great weight rested on them. The man's dark hair was tied back in a ponytail that reached just below his shoulders. Though he wore the black body suit of a Kryptonian, Clark could see that it ill fit the man; it hung on his bony frame, like a scarecrow dressed in a giant's clothes. Clutched tightly in his fist, a suitcase bulged at the seams beside him.
"Ladies and Gentlemen," Ken-Re announced. "May I introduce Quinn Mallory, the man who developed the portal device."
Elsewhere, an armored man approached a figure seated on a throne.
"Are your forces ready, Captain?" a deep voice rumbled.
Bowing before the throne, Captain Kar-Za clapped a fist to his chest.
"All is in readiness, my Lord." Lifting his head up towards the dais, the commander smiled. "I await your orders."
"Then the order is given," Lord Kal-El replied. "Let the invasion begin."
"Mr. Mallory," Clark said, extending his hand. "Welcome. My name's Superman."
"Like the comic book character?"
Clark smiled. "I assure you, Mr. Mallory, we're QUITE real."
Ignoring the proffered hand, Quinn stared at Clark. "You'll forgive my skepticism concerning the type of person you are. The last time I saw someone who looked like you, he'd just ordered the deaths of my friends."
"I quite understand," Clark agreed. "I hope you'll grant us the benefit of the doubt, though. I'm afraid I must ask for your assistance."
"My assistance?" Though Quinn's voice trembled, Clark saw his eyes harden.
"Yes," Clark replied. "We need your help in preventing Lord Kal-El from attacking this world."
"What can I do?" Quinn shrugged. "YOU'RE the ones with the fancy super-powers. I'm just a scientist."
"YOU'RE the one that developed the portal device," Clark pressed. "And that's what Lord Kal-El's going to use to attack us."
Stepping up beside Clark, Lois wrapped her arm around his waist.
"Will you be able to help us?" Lois asked.
After several long moments, Quinn nodded his head. Patting the large suitcase he carried, the scientist smiled faintly.
"Every advance I was working on for Lord Kal-El concerning the timer device I have right here."
"Timer device?" Lois asked.
Quinn nodded again. "My first device for inter-dimensional travel was on a timer basis. A portal couldn't be opened until the timer reached zero." Shrugging, Quinn smiled. "Ever since then, I've always referred to the devices as timers."
"What advances are you working on?"
"Since each timer has a memory feature, I'm working on a way to access that memory by remote," Quinn explained. "That way, should Lord Kal-El come back here, we'd be able to access his timer and download the stored memory."
"Which would give us a kind of 'map' as to where he's been," Clark added, awe evident in his voice.
"Right," Quinn finished. "I've also been working on a way to detect the formation of the dimensional portals. Right now, though, it's in an experimental stage."
"Does it work?" Clark inquired.
"Oh, yes," Quinn said. "Unfortunately, it has a very limited range thus far."
"How far?" Lois asked.
"Five miles," Quinn said. "Not that far, I know. But better than nothing."
Suddenly, a shrill whine filled the air.
"What's that?" Martha said, raising her voice over the noise.
"The early warning device," Quinn replied, his eyes going wide. Opening the case, the scientist withdrew a device the size of a cassette recorder. Peering intently at its readout screen, Quinn's face went white. "He's here. It shows that only one portal has formed, but the power readings register more in line for FOUR portals." Quinn shook his head. "I need to adjust this thing."
Calmly, Clark nodded.
"How can you be so blasted calm?" Pointing outside, Alt-Clark's eyes narrowed. "FOUR portals are out there. That means there are twenty- four Kryptonians coming here, and you act like it's no big deal."
"I know," Clark said.
Alt-Clark tilted his head slightly to the side.
"I hope you did what I think you did," Alt-Clark whispered. "If not, we're in really BIG trouble."
Remaining silent, Clark motioned to the door.
"After you," Alt-Clark responded.
As Clark smiled, four small tornadoes briefly concealed the twin Clarks and Lois' from sight as they spun into their uniforms. As Ultrawoman, Superwoman and one of the Supermen marched out of the house, Clark walked over to his parents.
"Mom, Dad," Clark said, embracing both. "I need you two to get as far away from here as possible, until this is over. Take Quinn with you."
Nodding in understanding, Jonathan clasped his son on the shoulder, the first glimmers of tears in his eyes. Martha, fiercely hugging her son, softly sobbed into his chest.
"Ching," Clark said, fixing his attention on the two. "I need your help outside. Ken-Re, please go with my parents and keep them safe."
"But…" Ken-Re began, but was cut off by Clark's next words.
"Lord Kal-El thinks you're still his spy. We can use that. Now go."
Nodding, both men swiftly left the room.
"You be careful, son," Jonathan whispered. "You're outnumbered at least four to one, so don't just fight with THIS," he said, tapping Clark's chest above his heart. He then tapped Clark's head. "Use THIS too." Gently disengaging Martha from Clark, the elder Kent turned her away from Superman as he raced out the door to join his companions. As he arrived at Alt-Clark's side, Clark's eyes widened.
Arrayed across the field in a straight line, an army of living shadows waited for him. At the vanguard of the group, Lord Kal-El stood rock steady, calmly observing the colorful group opposing him.
"Did you say goodbye to your parents, Clark?" Lord Kal-El asked.
Clark bit back an angry retort as he saw his mirror image's eyes. For a moment, they filled with an entire lifetime's worth of pain and suffering as he looked at the farmhouse. An idea sprang into Clark's mind.
"It looks so much like their house," the alternate Earth's tyrant whispered to himself. "So much like it."
"If you don't mind," Clark asked. "Could we keep this AWAY from Smallville?"
Lord Kal-El's head snapped around to face Clark. Seizing the moment, Clark gestured into the distance. "That's where I sent Mom and Dad, where they'd be safer with Lana."
"L-Lana," Lord Kal-El choked. Wavering like a reed in a windstorm, the black clad man looked as though he'd collapse. Suddenly, with a violent shake of his head, Lord Kal-El's eyes blazed red as his face contorted with rage.
"You… heartless…" Trailing off, Lord Kal-El's body shook with fury as his fists clenched at his side. Shaking his head violently once more, Lord Kal-El's voice thundered across the group, shaking the ground. "NO! My parents and wife are DEAD! How DARE you do this to me! How DARE you reawaken their ghosts!"
"Good going, Clark," Alt-Clark wryly whispered out of the corner of his mouth, trying to hide his smile. "As if he weren't mad enough before."
"I had planned to be merciful, Clark, and allow you to surrender! NO MORE!" Swiping his hand to the side, the unstable Kryptonian's eyes blazed brighter. "THIS WORLD DIES!"
"Wait!" Clark's plea echoed across the field. "It wasn't my intention to torture you, Kal-El! But you had to know, for every world you destroy, THOSE are the type of people you condemn to death!" Pointing in the direction of his parent's receding truck, Clark's face became imploring. "On EVERY Earth you conquer, THOSE are the people you crush under your boot."
From the way his face twisted with madness, Clark was certain Lord Kal-El hadn't even heard him.
"Come on," Lord Kal-El snarled, motioning both Clarks forward. "I'll take on BOTH of you!"
Standing side by side, both Supermen prepared themselves as everyone present tensed for battle.
Before anyone could move, twin beams of crimson heat stabbed down from above, blasting a crater in the ground.
"Lord Kal-El," a feminine voice called from the heavens. Drawing his eyes upwards, the tyrant's intake of breath came as a hiss.
Twelve figures hovered high above the carnage below. In the forefront of the group, long brown hair was tossed around a woman's face by the wind. Her eyes flashed briefly in the sunlight. Clark heard Alt-Ching gasp.
"I bring my envoy here to Earth to establish diplomatic ties, and find that you are apparently violating our pact." Though the tone of Lady Zara's words was cordial enough, all could feel the icy rage that lay beneath. "I would like an explanation." Motioning to General Ching and Lord Trey, Lady Zara began to descend.
"What are they doing here?" Lord Kal-El whispered, almost to himself.
"They would be here because of me," Clark replied. "As a representative of Krypton, I invited them."
Lord Kal-El shot a look of pure venom at his doppelganger.
"I'm waiting for that explanation, Lord Kal-El," Lady Zara pressed, coming to rest beside Clark, Lord Trey and Ching flanking her on both sides. Glancing at his double in wonder, General Ching forced himself to focus on Lord Kal-El.
"We had an agreement," Fixing his gaze on her, Lord Kal-El's words grated out from between clenched teeth. "An oath of non- interference."
"And I was MORE than happy to abide by that oath," Zara explained. "At least until the health and well-being of one of my citizens was put at risk."
"I was informed that as long as Clark resided on Earth, he was no longer considered to be a Kryptonian citizen," Lord Kal-El said, visibly attempting to retain his temper.
"According to the periodicals of this world, Clark Kent is dead. Even if he were alive, though, you are correct to say Clark Kent is NOT a citizen of New Krypton," Zara admitted. Motioning towards Clark, Zara smiled. "THIS, however, is Kal-El. And Kal-El is most certainly a citizen of New Krypton. As is his wife, Lois-El."
Fixing Zara with a cold glare, Lord Kal-El's eyes narrowed.
"That is an awfully thin hair you're splitting."
"You would question Lady Zara's motives?" Ching asked, taking a threatening step forward. Clark felt Alt-Ching likewise tense beside him.
Without removing his eyes from Zara, Lord Kal-El smirked. "Call your dog off, Zara, or I'll be forced to chastise him."
Lady Zara's hand shot out to restrain Ching as he lunged for Clark's evil double, with Clark similarly restrained Alt-Ching.
"General, control yourself!" With Ching's shocked expression, Zara softened her voice. "Let it pass, my husband."
"I'm afraid, Lord Kal-El," Lord Trey interjected. "The Lady Zara is right in this case. As the head of the Kryptonian Supreme High Court, I can assure you that everything Lady Zara has said IS, in fact, legal according to Kryptonian law." Nodding to Clark, Lord Trey's voice took on a lecturing tone. "As stipulated by law, though, Kal-El may have renounced his ROYAL lineage, he still retains his Kryptonian citizenship. And as such, he is protected by the rights that are due him from that citizenship."
"And this world?" Lord Kal-El asked, spreading his arms.
"We are in the process of petitioning this Earth's United Nations for membership," Lady Zara replied, smiling widely.
"So they haven't accepted you yet," Lord Kal-El said, his eyebrows raising suggestively.
"Not as of yet," Ching returned, cocking his own eyebrow. "But what better way to gain favor than to help with the defense of the Earth from an invading extra-dimensional army?"
"The twelve of you, against the twenty-four of us?" Lord Kal-El snorted in derision. "I'll take those odds."
"Twelve?" Smiling, General Ching shook his head. "Not hardly."
Raising his arm, the General spoke a soft word into his wrist communicator. High above them the afternoon sky suddenly wavered, as if seen through heat waves. Slowly, as the cloaking shield dropped, Lady Zara's massive flagship came into view, filling the heavens.
"To use the human vernacular, Lord Kal-El," Ching said. "I'll see your twenty-four, and raise you one hundred."
As the ship came into view, Lord Kal-El's expression hardened. For long moments, the Kryptonian tyrant's gaze rested on Clark, his hatred and anger evident in his eyes. Then, as suddenly as it had come, his rage vanished, smothered by a blanket of icy calm.
>He's made a decision, < Clark thought. >I only hope it's not war. <
For a second, Clark believed that Lord Kal-El had addressed Lady Zara and her entourage. Then, out of the corner of his eye, he caught sight of Lord Kal-El's forces pulling back. Lieutenant Rann, detaching a small mechanism from his belt, pointed the device into the distance. A portal, twice the size of any Clark had ever seen, roared into existence above the broken plain. Ruby light spilled out of the vortex, casting bloody shadows over the assembled forces. In the distance, silently watching the spectacle through binoculars, Quinn Mallory's face went white. As his troops began filing into the dimensional aperture, Lord Kal-El straightened to his full height.
"I will abide by the pact, Lady Zara, and withdraw from the field." Pointing towards the relieved Kryptonians, the black clad tyrant's voice dropped to a hiss. "So long as NONE of you set foot on any world under my dominion, or interferes with me in ANY way, the agreement stands. Should one of you violate that condition, I will return to this world. I will not leave again until it is in ashes." Turning away, the warlord began walking towards the portal.
"Before you go, Lord Kal-El," Alt-Clark said. "I need to know one thing. The Lois that you killed on this planet- where did she come from?" Motioning between himself and Clark, Alt-Clark's eyes became haunted. "As when WE thought our Lois was dead, the Superman of that world deserves to know what happened to her."
Pausing in mid-stride, Lord Kal-El's back stiffened.
"He already DOES."
As understanding flooded through him, Alt-Clark could only stare in mute horror as the tyrant began his march towards the portal once more.
Shaking off his own shock, Clark stepped forward.
"Lord Kal-El," Clark pleaded, calling after the retreating figure. "There CAN be peaceful coexistence!"
Looking over his shoulder, Lord Kal-El's gaze was a mix of pity and hatred.
"And there WILL be, Clark." His gaze grew frosty. "The peaceful coexistence between the conquerors and the conquered. And by the way, you can keep Doctor Quinn Mallory. I don't need him anymore." Turning away, Lord Kal-El disappeared into the vortex. Scant moments later, with a rush of air the portal collapsed in on itself. Lois, wrapping her arms around Clark, sighed deeply.
"It's over," she whispered. "Finally, he's gone for good."
"I hope so, Honey," Clark replied, throwing a concerned glance at Alt-Superman. "I truly hope so."
Wrapping his own arms around Alt-Lois, Alt-Clark's eyes remained fixed on where Lord Kal-El had vanished, his brows drawn down into a scowl.
Leaning back in his chair, Lex smiled at his guest.
The light glinted off of the polished rank insignias on the man's epaulets, and the various ribbons and medals adorning his coat looked like a rainbow had been pinned to the entire upper left side of his chest. Clasping his dress hat beneath his arm, the general's eyes peered out at the world from beneath bushy white eyebrows as he sat rigidly at attention in the chair.
"General Morgan," Lex purred. "Please, relax."
"I don't believe in relaxing, Mr. Luthor," the elder man barked. "Never had much use for it."
"Why's that?" Lex asked, genuinely intrigued.
"It lulls a person into complacency," General Morgan explained. "Complacency gets a soldier killed." His eyes hardening, the General fixed Lex with a penetrating stare.
"Your message to Washington indicated that the process was a success." General Morgan's eyes cooled as he straightened even more. "I have been sent here to collect all data and materials concerning Project Ubermensch."
Lex smiled even wider.
"It's being transferred to your facility even now. Equipment, data, and DNA samples; everything you need to mass produce an army of mindless super-clones." Exhaling the smoke from his cigar, Lex's eyes glittered. "Super soldiers willing to do the bidding of their commander. Now, mind you, these clones only have a life expectancy of two days." Sighing, Lex's expression became downcast. "I truly wish a way existed to make a more stable clone of Superman, General. Unfortunately, his alien DNA is beyond the reach of human technology to duplicate effectively."
"For someone with their capabilities, a great deal can be accomplished in forty-eight hours," General Morgan grunted. "The citizens of the United States, the United State's government, and Bureau 39 would like to thank you for your cooperation in this matter, Mr. Luthor." Getting to his feet, the General smiled slightly. "Now, should Superman or any other Kryptonian seek to impose their will on the Earth, we will possess the means of ending the threat they represent once and for all."
Lex's laughter rumbled through the room like thunder.
"General, I couldn't agree with you more."
The sun shone down through the clear blue sky, reflecting off the windows of the vast floating city. Far below, striding down a walkway that wound through the woods, Viantaa barely acknowledged the city that drifted past overhead. Her attention was solely occupied with her final destination that lay beyond the two sentries flanking each side of the path ahead of her.
As the one to the left snapped to attention, the guard on the right bowed deeply.
"Lady Viantaa," the guard said. "Lord Kal-El awaits your arrival."
Nodding in acquiescence, Viantaa stepped past them and entered the clearing.
A towering obsidian monolith dominated the entire area. One entire face was covered with hundreds of names etched on its surface in Kryptonese script. Sitting in a large chair before it, the sunlight glittering off the blue pentagonal s-shield adorning his chest, Lord Kal-El stared at the monument, lost in thought.
"My Lord," Viantaa asked. "Might I have a word with you?"
Nodding in acquiescence, the leader of New Krypton beckoned her closer.
Nodding at the looming mass, Viantaa's expression darkened.
"Why do you do this to yourself, my love?" Crouching down beside him, Viantaa gestured at the monolith. "Why torture yourself with this? Those are the names of the DEAD. You need to concern yourself with those who are LIVING."
"I know," Lord Kal-El conceded. "This is to remind myself of why I do this. I hold the humans responsible for EACH death listed on that monument." His lips lifting into a smile, Lord Kal-El chuckled. "But I think you have something ELSE on your mind."
"Kal-El," she began hesitantly, nervously tapping her fingers on her thigh. "I find that I am uneasy regarding the encounter on the other Earth."
"You think I caved in to their demands too easily," Lord Kal-El stated. As she glanced away, the black clad tyrant chuckled lightly. "Rest easy, my love. All is going according to plan."
"Kal-El?" Viantaa's confusion bled into her voice.
"I know those two Supermen as well as I know myself," he began. "I know how they think, I know how they'll react to a situation. I know they're just DYING to use the portal to begin exploring the other Earths. Lois will probably attempt to be the voice of reason, but even SHE will eventually become caught up in the excitement." Motioning to the sky above, Kal-El chuckled once more. "They'll begin to travel through the dimensions, awestruck by the differences that separate the dimensions. And then they will eventually make their mistake."
"What mistake is that, my Lord?"
"Eventually, they will arrive on a world that is controlled by US." Lord Kal-El's eyes glittered. "The pact will then be broken, and their world will be open to our… TENDER mercies." Pulling Viantaa down into his lap, Lord Kal-El tenderly caressed her cheek. "We will sit on the throne of their Earth as their rulers, or we will stand on the grave of their world as its executioners."
"But what of the contingent of Lady Zara's kryptonians on that Earth? Won't they stand against you?"
"They would, if they were there." Seeing her puzzlement grow, Lord Kal-El chuckled once more. "I'm fairly certain Lady Zara never established diplomatic ties with Earth. They probably left soon after we did."
"And what of your spy?" Viantaa asked. "What about Ken-Re? He's still on that Earth."
"He's betrayed us, just as I suspected he would," Lord Kal-El confirmed. As Viantaa's eyes widened, he shrugged. "I've suspected that he was a human sympathizer for a while now, which is why he wasn't the ONLY spy I sent to that Earth. For every false report he's given me, I've received an ACCURATE one from my other spy."
"And you've let him get away with it for this long? Why?"
"The old human adage: 'Keep your friends close, and your enemies closer.' As long as Ken-Re believes he's escaped my notice, he's easier to keep an eye on."
"How are you so certain of what the two Kal-Els will do?" Viantaa asked.
Lord Kal-El's eyes glittered. "Because I'm them, and they are me," he answered. "Our similarities are more numerous than our differences. The Kal-El of the world we destroyed is absolutely OBSESSED with bringing about my end, despite what he may say to the contrary. And Clark?" Lord Kal-El barked a brief laugh. "Clark's finding it QUITE difficult to comprehend my existence. It's slowly eating away at him to know that there is a man out there wearing his face and using his name, and doing the things that I am."
"So, what makes you believe they're dying to use the portal?" Viantaa asked, running a finger down the side of his neck.
"Simple," Lord Kal-El chuckled. "Because I'M out here. And as long as I'm out here, the two of them will NEVER feel safe in their little worlds."
Viantaa's smile mirrored Lord Kal-El's own. "Now, my love, about that wedding you proposed…?"
Viantaa's laughter echoed throughout the courtyard, joining Lord Kal-El's.
NEVER THE END…