By Chris Carr <email@example.com>
Submitted: November 2001
Summary: On an alternate world, history has taken an unexpected turn… and Mr. Wells gets a life lesson, no extra charge.
DISCLAIMERS: This story has been written for fun, not profit. No attempt is being made to infringe any existing copyrights held by December 3rd Productions, Warner Bros, D C Comics, or anybody else.
As ever, the H G Wells I am writing about here is *not* the Mr Wells of our own world. Instead I'm writing about the fictional character from the world of Lois and Clark. I feel compelled to point that out because, as anyone who cares to read on will discover, I don't treat him in a very flattering manner.
With thanks to my beta-readers / editors, Wendy, Jenni, Yvonne and Meredith for encouragement, laughter and correcting my punctuation. :) Thanks also to Ray Reynolds, who unwittingly provided me with the inspiration for this vignette and then gave me permission to use Joe Slabontnik's name. (I couldn't have made that one up myself! :) )
There was only one thing H G Wells felt like doing when he got home, and that was getting drunk. It wasn't something he did very often. In fact, he couldn't actually remember ever having made the deliberate decision to get thoroughly plastered before. But, as the aphorism went, there had a first time for everything.
Wells' hand shook as he sloshed whisky into a tumbler. Some of the amber liquid caught the light as it splashed over the edge of the glass, landing on the mahogany sideboard. Wells knew that if he didn't wipe it up it would mark the wood but he couldn't be bothered to do anything about it. In fact, he wasn't even sure that he cared, not after everything that had happened over the last few days.
He gripped the tumbler hard enough for his knuckles to show white as he lifted it to his mouth. It clattered against his teeth as he gulped. He gasped, then choked, as the whisky slid down his throat, its burn spreading out from the centre of his chest. He hoped that it wouldn't take too long for the whisky's anaesthetic effects to kick in because he craved numbness. He wanted — needed — to blot out the memories of how he'd managed to make a complete fool of himself.
The thing was, he'd been so certain that he understood how the universe worked — how *all* universes worked… or should work. He'd dedicated much of his adult life to exploring the future, both of this and of other worlds. He'd sought, where possible, to put things right where they had gone wrong, and in all cases he'd left the worlds he'd visited more satisfied than when he'd arrived.
All, that was, except for the most recent one.
His second mouthful was more circumspect than the first and this time the whisky caused him to shiver only slightly. Then he closed his eyes for a second, took a deep breath and found himself beginning to grow a little calmer. He picked up the bottle and carried both it and his glass over to his favourite wing chair and sat down.
God, he thought, but he'd been an idiot! An arrogant, presumptuous idiot! He carefully put the bottle down on the floor, sat down and ran his free hand through his thinning hair.
He'd made a fool of himself and, worse than that, he'd upset the two people he admired most in the world. He never should have involved them. Hell, he never should have involved himself!
His glass, he realised as he raised it to his lips once more, was empty. Odd that he'd been too distracted to notice when he'd drained it. He picked up the bottle and poured himself a more than generous measure. His movements were already growing clumsier and his thoughts sluggish, and he decided that he was grateful on both counts.
His problems had started when, on a whim, he'd decided to go travelling. His motivation for taking the trip was much the same as any other Londoner's might have been on an unbearably sticky summer's day; he'd just craved a respite from the city.
He could have gone to visit any one of the many worlds he'd already been familiar with. He could have chosen to visit some of the friends he'd made. With hindsight, he wished that he had. Instead he'd decided to explore somewhere new. He'd set the co-ordinates of his time travel device for Metropolis, 2200, looking for a new Utopia to visit. He *liked* visiting Utopias. In fact, it was almost a hobby of his. There was something wonderfully satisfying about seeing an attractive future, of knowing that humans would outgrow their almost wanton stupidity and would create worlds full of contentment and peace.
Another gulp. Wells sighed. Thanks to the alcohol, the edge was wearing off his embarrassment as he remembered everything that had happened subsequently.
As he had done many times before, Wells landed in Centennial Park, in front of one of the places where a statue to the founders of Utopia usually stood. He looked at the sculpture — and immediately knew that something was wrong. Terribly wrong.
In front of him wasn't, as there should have been, a statue of Lois Lane and Superman. Instead there was a representation, carved out of black marble, of an overweight man with an unruly mop of curly hair, a double chin and a beer gut. And was that a *tattoo* on his right forearm? Wells blinked, not quite able to believe what he was seeing. To make matters worse, the statue depicted the man wearing a plaid shirt with its sleeves rolled up and a pair of gravity-defying denim jeans, which hung off his hips and sagged around his crotch. Wells wondered if, were he to walk around to the rear of the statue, he'd discover the man to be exposing a case of "builder's bottom". He shuddered at the thought, pursed his lips in distaste and decided not to investigate.
There was a plaque at the base of the statue so Wells walked over to read it. "Joe Slabontnik, 1940 to 2021," he read. "Founder of Utopia."
Joe Slabontnik? he thought. Who the hell was *Joe Slabontnik*? And whatever had happened to Superman on this world?
Wells' second glass was now empty and he decided to pour himself a third. This time he had to struggle to undo the bottle's cap and he realised that there was something amiss with his co-ordination as he tried to decant the whisky into the glass.
Several hours in Metropolis's archives only served to make Wells more worried than ever. According to the history books, Utopia had been founded by one Joseph "Joe" Slabontnik, a second-hand car salesman from New Jersey. It was a notion that Wells found to be completely unacceptable. On every other world he'd visited, Utopia had been founded by Lois Lane and Clark Kent. It wasn't possible that this one should not have been. That wasn't, in his experience, how universes worked.
If Lois and Clark had not founded Utopia, he told himself, there had to be a good reason why not. Someone must have tampered with the time line to prevent it, and that, Wells guessed, would most likely be Tempus. The idea that someone so obviously unsuitable as Joe Slabontnik could have founded Utopia would undoubtedly appeal to his twisted sense of the ironic. Wells was too wrapped up in his own prejudices to realise that that was not the way Tempus operated; Tempus, after all, would object to any Utopia, not just those created by Clark Kent and Lois Lane.
Wells dug deeper in the archives, pulling up birth records, death records, marriage records… and discovered that, on this world as on his own, Lois Lane had worked at the Planet. She had married a fellow reporter called Ralph in 1998 only to divorce him fifteen months later. A second marriage had followed, followed by a third and a fourth. She'd never had children. Clark Kent had died at the age of seven, before, as Wells knew, his superpowers would have kicked in. The two had never met.
That was obviously *not* how things were meant to be. Thus Wells, appalled by what he'd learned, resolved to put things right. To do that he needed to enlist the help of his usual allies.
By now Wells was having trouble aligning the whisky tumbler with his lips, and half his next mouthful dribbled down his chin. He wiped what he could away with the back of his hand then brushed ineffectually at his tie and waistcoat, which, for some reason seemed to be soaking wet.
Lois and Clark had not welcomed Wells' visit. In fact, Lois had made a few particularly pithy comments about how he only ever turned up when he wanted something and about his predilection for playing God. At the time he'd let the comments wash over him, dismissing them as the hormonally- charged ravings of a pregnant woman. Now though, as he took another sip of whisky, he wondered if she hadn't had a point all along.
Although they were reluctant to do so, Lois and Clark agreed to accompany Wells on his trip back to the alternate world he had just discovered.
They travelled to 1973, when they were forced to witness at first hand the death by *natural causes* of Clark's other self. No malevolent forces were at play after all and they were unable to rescue the child Clark might have been lest fate's intended course for history be changed.
Wells watched as Lois and Clark grieved, wishing their counterparts had the opportunity to live lives parallel to their own. Lois held tightly on to her husband as she empathised with her other self. She said that she could only imagine how barren her life must be in a world where there was no soul mate for her to share it with.
Clark, of course, managed to find something uplifting to say to comfort her; Wells would have expected nothing less of him. Clark said that seeing how their lives might have been made him doubly grateful for the way things actually were — but Wells could tell that the younger man's heart had also been touched by their counterparts' situations. He feared that it would take a while for Clark to overcome the sorrow he felt on their behalf, no matter how much he sought to hide the fact.
Wells slumped deeper into the cushions and thought morosely about the way in which he had put Lois and Clark through the emotional wringer for no good reason at all. If he'd done his research more thoroughly before enlisting their help, he would have been able to spare them.
Yet, despite their obvious upset, it had been Lois and Clark who had asked the questions that Wells should have thought to ask for himself.
Why did it matter who had created Utopia? Surely the important thing was that it had been created. Why did it have to be Superman and his descendants who did so? Wasn't it arrogant in the extreme to suppose that one family had a monopoly on the moral values that would be needed to create a better future? Clark had pointed out that Utopia would need the support of millions, if not billions, of people in order for it to be a viable proposition, not just one or two leading proponents. In the worlds where Superman existed, the hero would undoubtedly be a visible and influential voice, capable of steering them towards their destiny. But, in a world without Superman, however, was it so ridiculous to suppose that somebody else would be able to articulate the same aspirations for humanity's future?
Why *shouldn't* Joe Slabontnik, or anyone else, for that matter, be able to do the work of Superman? It was Superman's alien origins and superpowers that made him unique, not his moral virtue. True, many humans found it difficult to live up to Superman's ideals, but surely some of them could. In fact, didn't Wells, himself, share many of Superman's ideals? Wasn't that why he found the whole notion of Utopia to be so attractive?
Human history was littered with examples of remarkable individuals: why shouldn't one such person be able to found Utopia? In order for Utopia to be viable, surely it had to be built upon something more solid than the shaky foundations a personality cult built around one person — around Superman — would imply.
So, Lois and Clark, although they'd hated seeing what that one world had done to their counterparts just as much as Wells had done, had been able to question whether the balance of history *needed* to be changed. Utopia would be created. That was what mattered, not who it had been created by.
Why, Wells asked himself, as he laboured to pour himself a fourth glass, had he needed them to point out something that should have been obvious to himself? And why, even at that late stage, had he not been able to accept the validity of their arguments? Why had he felt compelled to drag them through more of the other world's history as he tried to justify his own position?
They went to meet Slabontnik, a big bluff man with a heart of gold and — to Wells' mind anyway — a remarkably unattractive accent. Under the pretext of looking for a new second-hand motor vehicle, Lois and Clark initiated a conversation with Slabontnik. When Wells joined in, he was begrudgingly forced to admit that Slabontnik seemed both honest and fair. More than that, Lois and Clark liked the man, and Wells knew enough to trust their judgement.
After bidding Slabontnik farewell, Lois and Clark took Wells to one side and demanded by what right Wells was seeking to deny him his place in history.
By what right? His head was growing muzzy, but still it wasn't muzzy enough to stop him asking the questions. Why *had* Wells been so adamant that Slabontnik shouldn't have founded Utopia? Was it because he liked all the Loises and Clarks he'd met? Or was it because he, despite all his wonderful ideals, was bigoted — yes, *bigoted* — enough to think that Slabontnik wasn't a suitable person to play a key role in human history? Lois had had quite a lot to say to him about *that*.
And what, he wondered, when he got right down to it, *was* wrong with a Utopia having been founded by Joe Slabontnik? Nothing, other than it had offended his sensibilities, sensibilities that had cost him the respect of two people he admired greatly. Two people that he had, however unintentionally, hurt by his recent actions.
And there wasn't, Wells knew, a damn thing that he could do about any of it besides apologise and do what he was already doing. He sat in his living room and proceeded to drink himself into a stupor.