By J. Schuldt <email@example.com>
Submitted March 2000
Summary: In Part 2 of the author's series "The Saga Continues," Lois and Clark pursue Lord Kal-El to his armed fortress. While there, Clark learns more about Lord Kal-El's past — and his plans for the future.
All standard disclaimers apply. All characters in this story (except those of my own creation) are he property of Mrs. Siegel, DC Comics, Warner Bros., December 3rd Productions Ltd, Robert Weiss, and Tracy Torme; no infringement of any property rights are intended by their use.
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. This is the sequel to my first story "Endings and Beginnings." I hope you enjoy.
Comments or Questions e-mail me at: firstname.lastname@example.org
> < Indicates thoughts
ALL CAPITALS — Indicates stronger emphasis on word
A cold, bitter wind howled around the two figures as they stood side by side on the hilltop, their capes slapping against their legs in a staccato rhythm. Fat, wet flakes of snow pelted the duo, swirling around them like living things. Thick gray clouds boiled across the sky like angry mountains, lit from within by pale bolts of lightning in a continuous procession. What little light filtered down from the spectacle above only succeeded in revealing the complete absence of life across the landscape. Everywhere they looked, the land was barren. Snow, mixed with ash, covered the ground as far as the eye could see in a dirty gray blanket, broken only by occasional small spars of rock that jutted up from the ground like fingernails. Skeletal trees vainly reached skyward, as if in supplication to a higher power, and in the distance, the shattered remains of a city could be seen. Once proud skyscrapers now stood as broken monoliths, fragmented echoes of a lost age. With the exception of the wind, an oppressive silence hung over everything.
"My…God, Clark," Lois whispered. "I knew it would be bad, but.. I never expected THIS." Aghast, she slowly turned, her enhanced vision desperately searching the distance. "We've covered almost the entire planet, and it's ALL like this. EVERYWHERE." Biting back a sob, she pointed at the tiny rock spars in the distance. "Oh Clark, are those..?"
Nodding, he drew Lois closer to him, wrapping his arm around her shoulder.
"Grave markers," he confirmed.
"There's.. so MANY of them," Lois choked. "The other Superman said he'd buried them, but …" Overcome, Lois trailed off, her eyes fixed on the scene before them.
Without warning, the air surrounding the two was filled with an electric-white light. Pain lanced through Clark's head, sending his thoughts into chaos, driving him to his knees before unconsciousness claimed him.
Descending from above, two armored gray figures gently landed beside the insensate bodies. Pausing for a moment as if silently communicating, each gathered one of the colorfully garbed travelers under their arms and lifted once more into the dark sky, leaving behind only the impressions left in the snow by Clark and Lois's bodies.
Gradually, Clark regained consciousness. As he tried to focus his eyes, the first thing that caught his attention was the welcome sight of Lois lying on her side next to him. Something, however, struck him as being wrong, and it wasn't until several moments later that what it was penetrated the fog in his skull:
She was dressed in a form-fitting black body suit, with red cuffs.
Gently rolling her towards him, he also noted that the chest of her suit was likewise emblazoned with a crimson pentagonal S-shield.
Looking down, he noted that he was dressed identically.
"Uh-oh," Clark muttered. A soft hissing from behind him drew his attention. Rolling over, Clark's eyes widened as four armored individuals reminiscent of medieval knights stepped through the opening door into the room.
"You," one of them growled, pointing at him. "Come with us."
Traveling down a seemingly endless number of corridors, the guards' footsteps rang softly as Clark took in his surroundings. Though the walls and floor were made of metal, it was of a type he'd never seem before. Seams between the plating were nearly microscopic, and Clark could feel an incredible amount of power coursing just below his feet, behind the walls, and above his head. A deep hum permeated the air, giving him the impression of being inside a giant machine. As the minutes passed, Clark's confusion grew. For as large as the city seemed, the only occupants they encountered were a few other guards here and there. Filing this information away for later consideration, Clark mentally kicked himself.
> Lord Kal-El HAD to have expected pursuit. Viantaa as much as STATED it, < he chided himself. >We should have been more cautious. <
Coming to the end of the corridor, Clark noticed a large set of double doors flanked by two more armored guardsmen holding ornate staves. Doors engraved with a massive, pentagonal S-shield. Nodding fractionally to the leader of the group escorting Clark, the sentry to the left of the doors motioned for them to halt.
"Lord Kal-El wishes to see him. ALONE."
Bowing, Clark's escort stepped to the side, motioning him forward. Taking a deep breath, Clark slowly advanced towards the doors, which obediently slid open as he neared.
"Ah, you FINALLY woke up," a voice chuckled from within the chamber. "Good." Sitting on a raised throne in the center of the room, the speaker beckoned Clark closer. "Quite frankly, I was wondering what took you so long to come after me."
"Lord Kal-El," Clark stated flatly. Entering the room, Clark's vision swept over his new surroundings.
Glowing spheres hovered high above the floor, lighting the entire area. Aside from the throne itself, the only other adornments visible were two small side tables at the foot of the dais. Looking closer, Clark observed numerous crystals of various sizes and hues scattered across the tabletops. Returning his attention to the throne, Clark noted that Lord Kal-El likewise wore armor, though his was the color of midnight. The light sparkled off of the silver s-shield adorning his chest. Viantaa, standing behind and just to the right of her leader, also wore ebon armor.
"You have SUCH a nice way of inviting someone to visit," Clark said caustically. "I felt that I simply HAD to accept. My apologies for not being here sooner, but there were a lot of things that needed my attention in Metropolis."
"I do what I can to make life interesting," the tyrant smirked. "And I'd imagine that things were QUITE interesting in Metropolis for a while. You must have questions, right?" Spreading his arms wide, the ruler of New Krypton smiled beneficently at his prisoner, the lights high above glinting off his ebon armor. "Ask away."
"Quite a few, actually. I take it that this is Kryptonopolis?" Clark asked, looking around the chamber.
Lord Kal-El gave a low chuckle. "Ah, I see the Superman of this world told you about my little home away from home."
"He mentioned it," Clark supplied. "Lois and I scouted almost the ENTIRE planet, and I'm surprised that we didn't see something this big."
"Kryptonian technology. Special shields refract light AROUND the city, rendering it invisible. In a way, though, I AM rather surprised that you still didn't find us." Smiling faintly, Lord Kal-El chuckled. "After all, you DID fly right over us. TWICE. Tell me something, Clark. You don't experiment with your powers much, do you?"
"Sometimes, yes. I haven't really had the time necessary to devote to it."
Shaking his head, Lord Kal-El sighed. "Well, maybe that's something you should think about."
"The Superman of this world also mentioned that you had quite a few people here."
"And you're wondering why you haven't seen more people other than my personal guard, right?" Shaking his head slowly, Lord Kal-El leveled a knowing look at Clark. "Before you start getting all heroic on me, you should probably be aware of something." Motioning to the ceiling, Lord Kal-El continued. "Aside from being outnumbered sixteen to one, the longer you remain on this planet, under this cloud-cover, the weaker you'll become. They prevent any and all sunlight from reaching the surface." His smile was anything but pleasant.
"It's been YEARS," Clark asked, confusion tinting his voice. "The clouds SHOULD have begun dispersing by now."
"You'd think so, wouldn't you?" Lord Kal-El's eyes glinted. "Actually, it takes VERY little effort to keep them as they are."
"You're PURPOSEFULLY keeping them like this?" Clark queried. "Why?"
"Look at YOURSELF, Clark. THAT'S why." Leaning back, the Kryptonian tyrant steeped his fingers in front of his face. "This planet makes the PERFECT stronghold. Under NORMAL circumstances, any Kryptonian on the surface of this planet will gradually lose their powers unless they have one of these solar suits to feed them the necessary wavelengths from the sun." Flexing his fingers, Lord Kal-El met Clark's eyes. "These things are WONDERS of technology. Orbiting satellites gather the sun's wavelengths and transmit them to the city's storage banks, where they are then broadcast to the armor."
"How does the broadcast beam get through those clouds?" Motioning to the ceiling, Clark frowned. "If the clouds are thick enough to COMPLETELY block out the sun's rays like you say, how does the satellite manage?"
Lord Kal-El chuckled. "For now, let's just say that… it DOES."
"And air? Without plants, there's no oxygen created."
"Atmospheric generators." Smiling in genuine pleasure, the Kryptonian despot folded his arms in front of him as he leaned back into his throne. "Situated in several locations across the planet. Carbon dioxide goes in, oxygen comes out. Not enough for HUMANS, I might add, but enough for US."
Looking at the seated dictator, Clark shook his head in disbelief. "You've covered all the bases, haven't you."
"I DO try," Lord Kal-El sneered. "After all, I have the welfare of quite a few Kryptonians to worry about." Leaning forward again, he waved vaguely at the doors behind Clark. "They're not here, by the way. I had to have the capital evacuated."
Clark's brow knit briefly in confusion. Evacuated the city?
"You don't have enough suits for everyone." Though he whispered it, to Lord Kal-El's ears it might as well have been a shout. "That's what you meant, isn't it? There's enough air here for those with POWERS, but not enough for a non-super Kryptonian."
"You catch on quickly." Applauding lightly, the black-clad ruler nodded his head. "Congratulations." Pressing a hidden button on the arm of his chair, Lord Kal-El tapped his chest plate. "The materials needed to manufacture these particular gems of engineering are rather difficult to come by. Not to mention the broadcast range of the satellite cannot accommodate the draw of energy that over a THOUSAND Kryptonians would demand."
"So that just leaves YOU and your storm troopers with the reins of power," Clark said, sarcasm dripping from his voice. "How convenient."
Before Lord Kal-El could respond, the chamber doors hissed open, admitting a person carrying a decanter of green liquid and three glasses on a tray. A second followed close behind with two covered trays. Escaping steam brought the smells of food to Clark's nose and, despite himself, his stomach growled. Placing them on the side table, the two men bowed briefly and left.
"Saved by the proverbial bell," Lord Kal-El chuckled, raising an eyebrow. "Care for some refreshments?"
"No thanks," Clark growled, folding his arms across his chest.
Filling the three glasses with the pale green liquid, Lord Kal-El handed Viantaa one of the glasses before taking one of his own. Holding the third out in his hand, the Kryptonian leader smiled knowingly at Clark.
"With your fading powers, you should be starting to feel the first pangs of hunger and thirst right about now." Swirling the liquid around in the glass, Kal-El's smile widened. "And, by the way, Lois's needs are being seen to as we speak. Sure you won't drink with us? It's non-alcoholic."
Grudgingly, Clark accepted the proffered glass and took a sip. The green liquid had a slight citrus flavor to it, and it took Clark a moment to identify the drink.
"You know, if I didn't know better, I'd SWEAR that this was a soft drink."
"Actually, it IS," Lord Kal-El confirmed. "Mountain Dew."
Clark's eyebrows raised in surprise. Seeing this, his doppelganger smiled sheepishly.
"I developed a taste for it. I WAS on your world for several years, after all." Sipping from his own glass, Lord Kal-El shrugged. "I never really cared for coffee that much."
"HELLO? Can anyone hear me?" Pacing back and forth in the room, Lois nervously glanced around. After coming around just in time to see Clark being led off, Lois hadn't heard or seen anyone since. Even though she wasn't exactly a steelworker, she could tell that the walls weren't made of ordinary metal. Since they didn't block her x-ray vision, she'd spent about an hour scanning as far into the interior of the building as she could before giving up in frustration.
>It's like a ghost town, < she thought. >Everything's still here to be used, there's just no one here to use it. <
Now, as she tried to use her x-ray vision, it seemed a little more difficult than before to see through the walls. Before she could think any further on the matter, the door swished open and admitted several armored guards. One, bearing a covered tray, placed it on the floor between them.
"Well, it's about TIME someone came to check on me," Lois huffed. "I mean, is it TOO much to ask…"
"Food," the guard grunted, jabbing a finger towards the tray. "Eat."
"I BEG your pardon?" Lois asked, her eyes widening in amazement. "Is THAT…"
Without waiting for a further reply, the guards unceremoniously turned and exited the room.
"I guess that whatever military school you graduated from DIDN'T include MANNERS in the curriculum!" Lois shouted. "That is, IF you even MANAGED to graduate!"
"The other Superman mentioned that your ship had been found by Lord Nor floating in space. How'd you get there?" Clark raised an eyebrow. "I would assume that you didn't leave whatever Earth that was voluntarily."
Lord Kal-El's smile dropped from his face.
"My ship was traveling through space, being pursued by the remaining Earth forces in an attempt to recover a… certain item. The engines of my ship were heavily damaged, and we were barely keeping ahead of them. One of the scientists in my employ suggested using the portal device to escape. It was a bad idea."
"So, what happened?" Clark asked, genuinely intrigued.
"The portal's matrix reacted with the engine's field effect in a rather unexpected way. The matrix somehow linked with the field's power supply, drawing it into itself, creating a dimensional portal of staggering proportions. It engulfed the ENTIRE ship, catapulting it into another dimension." Lord Kal-El's eyes grew distant. "The transition was terrible. Systems shorted out, the hull buckled in several places. I lost twelve good people in a few seconds." Shaking himself out of his revere, Kal-El gave Clark a hollow smile.
"So, you were chased off of your OWN Earth, tried to invade THIS Earth, and ended up on MY Earth." Shaking his head, Clark's eyebrow raised. "Not a very good track record, I'd say."
Lord Kal-El's laughter boomed across the chamber.
"Who said I was defeated on MY Earth?" Shaking his own head, Lord Kal-El smiled coldly at Clark. "The Earth that I was escaping from wasn't the Earth that I'M from. I've been the ruler of MY Earth for a VERY long time now."
"But, Dr. Halloway, from the other Superman's world said…"
"Dr. Halloway?" Lord Kal-El's laughter rang out again. "He's from MY Earth."
Clark's jaw dropped.
"Didn't you know that?" Lord Kal-El shrugged slightly. "He was the top scientist at S.T.A.R. Labs on my Earth. After the travelers had appeared and been questioned, I knew that I needed to master their technology as soon as possible. Dr. Halloway provided that opportunity for me."
"Not voluntarily, I'd imagine."
"No," Clark's double chuckled. "Not really." Withdrawing the portal device from behind his belt, an unsettling gleam lit Lord Kal-El's eyes.
"I've cataloged over a HUNDRED worlds, Clark. Worlds like you can never imagine. Worlds where we are revered as GODS!"
"Or devils." Clark countered. His counterpart, however, continued as though he hadn't heard.
"I've been to dimensions where Krypton NEVER exploded. Dimensions where our parents are still alive. Can you imagine it? Worlds where we NEVER suffered that loss."
"Granted, I'm not PLEASED that Krypton exploded," Clark snorted. "But I'm also not exactly SORRY for how my life has turned out, either."
"Spoken like a TRUE human," Lord Kal-El hissed.
Forcing himself to remain calm, Clark decided to change the subject.
"My next question: why was Lois dressed as a Kryptonian?" Crossing his arms in front of him, Clark's lips raised in a half smile. "I was under the impression that you and your associates regarded her as a concubine."
"The two of you ARE married, are you not?"
"Yes," Clark replied. "We are."
"Then, DESPITE the fact that she's a human, she deserves to wear your family crest." Shrugging nonchalantly, Kal-El motioned vaguely in the air. "As your wife, TECHNICALLY she is the Lady of your House and thus deserving of at least THAT much respect."
"You KNOW," Clark began, shaking his head in mounting anger. "I'm getting rather TIRED of you referring to humans as being something akin to what you would scrape off the soles of your boots. If memory serves, weren't you at one time MARRIED to one of them?"
Jerking forward in his chair, Lord Kal-El's eyes narrowed. His posture struck Clark as resembling a cobra preparing to strike. Viantaa placed a restraining hand on his shoulder.
"If you value your life," the enraged tyrant growled. "I wouldn't refer to that EVER again."
"And why NOT?" Clark replied, his own temper threatening to flare out of control. "It's TRUE, isn't it?"
Lord Kal-El stared at Clark for long moments, saying nothing. Under the intense scrutiny of the gaze, Clark couldn't help but feel as though the Kryptonian ruler was attempting to come to a decision. From the way his fingers clenched the arms of the chair, Clark's first impression was that Lord Kal-El wanted nothing more than to beat him senseless.
>Something's stopping him, < Clark mused. >But, what could it be? <
"I will tell you this ONE time and ONE time only, Clark," Lord Kal-El growled, the strain of control evident in his voice. "As far as I'm concerned, when Jonathan and Martha Kent adopted me they became Kryptonians in name, if not in blood. As did Lana Lang." Savagely sweeping his hand towards the walls of the room, his eyes narrowed. "The rest of the human race doesn't have that distinction."
Reaching her hand forward, Viantaa gently placed her hand against the furious ruler's cheek.
"My Lord," she crooned.
Leaning back in the throne, Lord Kal-El softly took her hand in his own as he smiled up at her. A wordless exchange seemed to pass between the two, and when the tyrant returned his attention back to Clark he was noticeably calmer.
"I'd imagine that another of your questions would be 'why doesn't he just send more soldiers through the portal to Earth'?" Smiling nonchalantly, Lord Kal-El's eyes glittered. "Rest assured, that'll come soon enough. There are a few things that need to be addressed first before I send any more troops through the portal."
Slowly pacing in front of the dais, Clark frantically ran through all the information he'd accumulated so far. He could see that there was something escaping him, and had the impression that it would explain a lot about the madman before him. Lord Kal-El watched, a half smile on his face, as he lightly kissed Viantaa's fingertips. Minutes passed as Clark pondered, restlessly pacing back and forth, wracking his brain. Finally, he believed he had it.
"You're looking for something, aren't you?"
His eyes still glittering, Clark's doppelganger shrugged. "What gives you that idea," he replied, his voice noncommittal.
"You sent about six people through the portal to my world." Spreading his hands, Clark fixed his double with a piercing gaze. "Why only six? Why not open another portal and send through six more? Why not send through your ENTIRE force?" Clark smiled. "Because, you KNOW that if you sent through that many soldiers, odds are that Earth would have launched a MASSIVE resistance against you. Destruction would have been on a WORLDWIDE scale. But, if you only sent through a FEW soldiers, and kept them in a confined area, then more than likely Earth's forces would have concentrated their efforts in that reduced area." Folding his arms across his chest, Clark glared at the ebon armored man. "By limiting the damage, you increase the odds that what you're looking for survived."
"The question still remains, Clark," Lord Kal-El stated, gently swirling the liquid in his glass. "WHAT am I looking for?"
"To save time, why don't you just TELL me," Clark suggested. "After all, it's not like I'm GOING anywhere."
"A cure." Sipping his drink, the ebon clad overlord's eyes narrowed. "For kryptonite poisoning."
"Kryptonite poisoning?" Clark repeated, his disbelief evident in his voice. "You're telling me that you've been conquering WORLDS in order to find a cure for kryptonite poisoning? There IS no cure!"
"Hear me out," Lord Kal-El asked, raising his hand to forestall any further comments. "In the course of my travels, kryptonite has been used against both myself and my forces on several different occasions. However," he stressed. "Lately a new factor has entered the equation. Artificial kryptonite."
"Artificial? You mean synthetic?"
"Precisely," Lord Kal-El confirmed. "Man-made kryptonite."
Resuming his pacing, Clark peered at the seated man out of the corner of his eye. "How effective is it?"
"Deadly. I've got eight graves in the mausoleum to attest to its effectiveness."
"So, why conquer MORE worlds?" Clark shrugged. "It seems as though this new factor would make the risks too high."
"One reason," Lord Kal-El rumbled. "If a human can MAKE the stuff, reason stands that a human can CURE it as well. My Kryptonian scientists can't get near the pseudo-kryptonite to examine it effectively, so that leaves humans. One of the first things we do after conquering a planet is gather the best and brightest minds of the world, the best technology it has to offer, and put them to work finding that cure."
"And so the conquering continues," Clark jeered, shaking his head. "Now, don't get me wrong. A small part of me understands what you're attempting to do for your people. But I CAN'T condone your methods. You'll gladly sacrifice MILLIONS of humans to save a comparative HANDFUL of Kryptonians?" Pointing a quivering finger at the seated tyrant, Clark's voice shook with suppressed rage. "It's your insane quest for VENGEANCE that's put your people at risk to BEGIN with!"
Bolting up from his seat, Lord Kal-El was a blur as he descended the stairs to stand in front of Clark. Grasping the black tunic in his fist, the enraged Kryptonian leader glared into Clark's eyes scant inches away.
"How DARE you stand there and believe that YOU are entitled to lecture ME!" His words escaping in a seething hiss, Lord Kal-El's eyes burned like miniature suns. "Who do you think you ARE to judge ME or my ACTIONS? To decide if what I've done is right or wrong?" Tightening his grip, Lord Kal- El lifted Clark off the ground several inches. "I'm fighting for the lives of our people EACH and EVERY day!" Releasing his hold, he allowed Clark to drop to the floor. "And you? When asked to fulfill your obligations to our people, you turned your back to them." Stepping back a pace, Lord Kal-El snorted. "Listen to yourself, to the way you talk. Every time you refer to a Kryptonian, you call them MY people," he growled, tapping his own chest. "Last time I looked, I could have SWORN that you were a Kryptonian, too." His upper lip curling in distaste, Lord Kal-El turned back towards the dais. "Apparently, I was mistaken. Maybe Lord Nor was right about you."
As his double ascended the stairs, Viantaa handed her Lord a scroll and stepped back to her station beside the throne. Lowering his frame into the seat, the armored man gazed at Clark with a mixed look of sorrow and disgust before unrolling the document.
"Let it be known that on this day, in accordance with Kryptonian law, the Lord Kal-Els of Earth 128 and Earth 129 respectively are hereby charged with treason against the Kryptonian people. It is the ruling of this court that they be stripped of ALL titles, honors, and privileges, their Houses disbanded, and their family lineage stricken from all records." Returning the scroll to his Captain, Lord Kal-El sighed heavily.
"And all that meant what?" Clark asked.
"What it MEANS, Clark, is that as far as the Kryptonian people are concerned," he began, smiling humorlessly. "MY Kryptonian people, that is. You and your friend are now 'persona non grata'; no better than a human is. You and your friend from this world are now Kryptonian in biology only. Should any member of the Kryptonian people attempt to render assistance to you or your friend, they will run the risk of JOINING you in your exile." Rubbing his temple, Lord Kal-El winced as if in pain. "Simply put, if you or your friend interfere with me again, you'll die. Should any try to HELP you, THEY'LL die."
"And if I were to seek help from another dimension?" Clark countered.
"Pray it isn't one that I've already been to," Lord Kal-El chortled. "In case you haven't been thinking about it, how do you think I've been expanding my forces?" When no answer was forthcoming, he continued. "You see, in WHATEVER dimension I go to, one of the FIRST things I accomplish before conquering it is contacting the resident Kryptonians. Once that is done, we then present our case to the Council and request any assistance that they might be able to provide." Lowering his voice conspiratorially, Lord Kal-El leaned closer. "Kryptonian law dictates that the matter be brought before the people. Even if they decline to render aide, I invariably draw in volunteers. Sometimes even as many as FIFTY."
"That doesn't seem like a whole lot," Clark mumbled, his mind racing.
"At first glance, I'd have to agree with you. But, taken into consideration that this is then repeated in the NEXT dimension, the numbers escalate rather RAPIDLY." Spreading his hands, the black armored tyrant smiled. "Fifty becomes five HUNDRED very quickly."
"And what about the remaining Kryptonian people?"
"Even easier. As long as they are not directly threatened, they'll do NOTHING." Lord Kal-El barked a short laugh. "And, why WOULD they? I AM after all working for their betterment."
"By giving them a reputation for being conquering warmongers? That's BETTERING them?" Clark snorted. "I'm SURE that they appreciate what you're doing."
"They haven't stopped me YET, Clark." Lord Kal-El's teeth flashed in a shark's grin. "In ANY dimension. Didn't Lady Zara tell you that Kryptonians take a more PRAGMATIC view towards things?"
"Wait a moment," Clark pleaded, a cold feeling growing in his gut. "You said that maybe Lord Nor was right about me." His eyes widened as a thought struck him.
"How long were you in my dimension?"
"Long enough to recruit MOST of Nor's followers," Lord Kal-El admitted, his eyes gleaming. "They were MORE than happy to join me."
"Lady Zara and the Council didn't try to oppose you? Or stop you from invading my Earth?"
"No," the overlord chuckled. "They DIDN'T. To their credit, they DID try. The Council voted them down. Apparently, the ONE war with Nor was enough for them."
"And Lady Zara?"
"Still ruling happily with General Ching."
Clark was dumbstruck. "General?"
"For quite some time now," Lord Kal-El supplied. "Didn't you know? Oh, THAT'S right," he quipped, snapping his fingers. "You don't CARE what happens to them, do you?"
"I DO care…" Clark began.
"DON'T LIE TO ME!" the armored despot roared. "You've known about their existence for YEARS now, but when was the last time you actually SPOKE to them?" Without bothering to wait for a reply, the enraged Kryptonian continued. "The last time they were on EARTH, wasn't it? YEARS AGO!" Pointing an accusing finger at Clark, Lord Kal-El's frame trembled with rage. "And you DARE stand there, professing your CONCERN for them?"
"If you talked to Zara, then you know I agreed to leave Earth and help the Kryptonians!"
"Yes you DID! And at the FIRST opportunity, you LEFT them once more in favor for Earth and LOIS!" The black armored despot scowled at his doppelganger. "In MY eyes, that demonstrated QUITE clearly where your true loyalties lie."
"I told Lord Trey that no matter HOW hard I tried, I would ALWAYS be Clark Kent over Kal-El," Clark explained. "It's how I was raised."
"And that makes it RIGHT?" Lord Kal-El asked, raising an eyebrow.
"Like your conquering Earths is right?" Clark countered.
His eyes narrowing, Lord Kal-El leaned forward. "Violence is the coin of humanity's realm, Clark. It always has been. Despite their protests to the contrary, it's the only universally understood language."
"I don't agree with that," Clark stated. "There's ALWAYS a better way."
"And why DON'T you agree?" Lord Kal-El shrugged. "Can you honestly tell me of ANY successful negotiations that HAVEN'T included some type of violence beforehand?"
"And look where violence has gotten you," Clark retorted. "SIX Kryptonians under your command, and you weren't able to conquer my Earth." Motioning vaguely in the air, Clark's voice lowered. "You weren't even able to put down the rebellion on THIS world."
"Who said I even tried?"
Clark's eyes widened, his next words dying on his lips as he stared in disbelief at the seated tyrant. "W-what?" Clark stammered. "What do you MEAN you never even tried?"
"I. Never. Tried." Leaning forward, Lord Kal-El slowly enunciated each word as a separate statement. "It wasn't worth the expenditure of effort."
Clark's mind raced furiously as he sought to make sense of this new information. Lord Kal-El, sitting complacently on his throne, watched in fascination as the other dimensional Superman's facial expression changed from confused puzzlement to abject horror.
"You MEANT to do it all along," Clark whispered. "You intended to destroy this Earth from the BEGINNING."
"Bingo," the black-clad ruler chuckled. "Give that man a cigar."
Aghast, Clark stared in mute disbelief at Lord Kal-El. Standing, the tyrant slowly descended the stairs until he was level with his doppelganger
"Now, as to my inability to conquer your world," he began, strolling over to a small side table and lifting up a palm-sized crystal. "I DO have to admit, Clark, even though I took into account the Superman of this dimension showing up in your world, you DID take me by surprise by somehow managing to give Lois powers like ours." Tilting his head, the tyrant smiled coldly at Clark. "Under normal circumstances, six of my troops would have been FIVE more than necessary to conquer your Earth. Or ANY Earth, for that matter. So the question remains, Clark, how DID you give Lois powers?" Facing Clark, Lord Kal-El slowly rotated the crystal in his hand. "I know WHO you got them from. What I want to know is HOW."
"Let's just say that… I did."
"I'm afraid that's not QUITE good enough," the Kryptonian tyrant stated. "I need to know how it was DONE so I can find a way to prevent it from happening again." Shrugging, Lord Kal-El placed the crystal back on the table. "Whether I learn it from YOU or from Lois, I WILL find out what I want to know." His eyes briefly flared crimson as he smiled knowingly at Clark.
"I'll tell you," Clark whispered. "Just DON'T hurt Lois." Taking a deep breath, trying not to think about the potential problems it might create, Clark plunged ahead.
"A laser, powered by a fragment of red kryptonite," Clark muttered.
"RED kryptonite?" Glancing up at Viantaa, Lord Kal-El shook his head. "Never heard of it before."
"It's a version of green kryptonite, but the radiation has random effects." Not meeting his double's eyes, Clark gazed at the floor. "For some reason, when it is used to power a laser, it has the effect of being able to transfer the powers from a Kryptonian into a human and vise versa."
Lord Kal-El's statement caught Clark off guard.
"Impossible? What do you MEAN?" Motioning towards the door, Clark's brow knit in confusion. "Lois is living PROOF that it works."
"I'm SAYING that it isn't that SIMPLE," Lord Kal-El added. "It's the way our cells process yellow solar radiation that gives us our powers. Simply transferring our POWER into a human would at BEST result in TEMPORARY super-powers. At worst, the radiation would probably give them cancer." Shaking his head once more, he rubbed his chin in thought. "The red kryptonite radiation passing through a Kryptonian body must somehow mimic the cell structure. Then, when it contacts a HUMAN body, the radiation must somehow alter the genetic structure of the human to match." His eyes widening, Lord Kal-EL gazed at Clark. "Do you know what that MEANS? She's not HUMAN anymore."
Clark's own eyes widened as he understood. "She's a Kryptonian."
Pacing around the sparsely furnished room, Lois trained her hearing out into the corridor once more. Gradually, she picked up the guards conversing outside her door, though it was harder each time.
>That settles it, then, < she thought. >My powers are DEFINITELY weakening. And if mine are, so are Clark's. < Gnawing on he lower lip, Lois sat down on the edge of the bed, worry clearly etching her face.
>Please, Clark. Be careful. <
"You're wondering why you're still alive, aren't you."
"In all honesty, yes," Clark conceded. "When we fought on my Earth, you seemed to be leaning in that direction."
Of all the reactions Clark expected, the one he received was the last he expected:
Lord Kal-El laughed.
"Clark, if I'd WANTED you dead," the Kryptonian leader explained. "You'd NEVER have seen me coming." Replacing the crystal on the table, Lord Kal-El glanced out of the corner of his eye at Clark. For a moment, the tyrant simply stared at him, as if reaching a decision in his mind.
"Look at this, Clark." Motioning to him, Lord Kal-El walked over to the wall of the room and touched a hidden control panel. The concealed door obediently slid open next to it, admitting him into the antechamber, followed closely by Viantaa.
Shrugging to himself, Clark entered the room.
Slowly rotating in the center of the room like a giant carousel were dozens of Earths, spiraling around a central sphere.
"Magnificent, isn't it?" Lord Kal-El's statement emerged as a breathless whisper. "Each Earth represents a different dimension I've been to. Each one, now ruled by Kryptonians, helps bring my vision THAT much closer to fruition." Turning, the Kryptonian overlord fixed Clark with an expectant stare.
For a moment, Clark thought he'd misheard. Realizing that he hadn't, Clark fought to keep his irritation from showing in his voice.
"You expect me to JOIN you? After what you've done?"
"Why not?" Gesturing back to the diorama, Lord Kal-El's voice became smug. "After all, THEY did."
Clark's blood went cold. Hesitantly, Clark's own hand motioned to the spinning planets. "By 'they,' you mean…?"
"That's right. Each of those worlds is now ruled," Lord Kal-El stated, grandly sweeping his arms. "By their SUPERMEN."
How long she had been walking through the open field she had no idea. It was a pleasant enough day, though, that she didn't really mind. The sun shone down from high above, the birds chirped off in the distance and the light breeze carried all the myriad scents of flowers and new grass. Why she was in the field, though, remained a mystery. She had the vague idea of waiting there to meet someone, but who it was she couldn't say. Shrugging to herself, she closed her eyes and tilted her head back, letting the sun warm her face. It was SUCH a pleasant day.
The woman awoke in darkness. For a moment, panic overtook her as she fought to recall where she was. As the fog of sleep slowly cleared from her mind, the knowledge of where she was settled like an iron weight on her soul. Biting back the sob that threatened to tear from her throat, she turned towards the wall, tears coursing down her face.
"Someone, PLEASE help me." Her voice, hoarse from disuse, came as a whisper that she herself barely heard.
"This is your LAST chance, Clark." As they re-entered the throne room, Lord Kal-El turned to face Clark once more. "Join me." His eyes narrowing, the armored Kryptonian lowered his voice to a sibilant whisper. "Or the next time I come to your world, I won't leave until it's MINE."
"And how exactly am I supposed to rule Earth?" Tilting his head to the side, Clark looked expectantly at his doppelganger. "Am I supposed to just show up and declare myself ruler of the world?"
"That's YOUR problem, Clark," Lord Kal-El chuckled. "I don't care HOW it's done, just as long as it's DONE. Bloody conquest or peaceful transfer of power, it's YOUR choice." Smiling beneficially at Clark, Lord Kal-El ascended the stairs to the throne and lowered himself into the seat. "I'll expect your answer within two hours." Glancing to the approaching guards, Lord Kal-El addressed their leader. "Bring me Lois." Motioning towards the door, the Kryptonian overlord's laughter rang throughout the room.
As the guards escorted Clark back to the room and Lois, Clark felt his soul grow cold.
"So, THIS is the famous Lois Lane." Lord Kal-El gave a light chuckle. "You know, no matter HOW many worlds I go to, I just CAN'T seem to get away from you." Leaning forward, he dropped his voice down conspiratorially. "Personally, just between you and me, I just don't see WHAT the attraction all my counterparts seem to have towards you."
"Lucky me," Lois snarled. "Somehow, I just can't see myself or any of MY counterparts being involved with the worst mass-murderer in history. How's it feel to know that you've one-upped Hitler?"
"How's it feel to know you're MARRIED to the man that one-upped Hitler?" he retorted.
"I am NOT.." Lois began.
"YES YOU ARE!" Lord Kal-El's roar washed over Lois like a tidal wave. His eyes narrowed to slits as he jabbed a finger at her. "Can you HONESTLY tell me that, given the SAME set of circumstances, your precious little lover wouldn't have done EXACTLY the same things as I did?" Bolting up from his throne, the overlord rapidly descended the stairs to stand directly in front of the shocked reporter. "Think about it. YOUR husband, deprived of EVERYTHING that makes him who he is. Forced to watch everyone he loves DIE right in front of his eyes. Do you honestly think he would have done anything different? Do you honestly think he would remain the SAME? That he would remain that blue costumed BOY SCOUT?" Lord Kal-El's gaze bore into Lois's, into her very soul, and watched as her walls of assuredness slowly cracked. Scornfully, he turned his back to her and ascended the stairs once more, pausing halfway up.
"Think about THAT the next time you see your 'Superman', Lois. It could just as easily have been HIM standing here. And, in a way, it IS. Sergeant," he said, raising his voice. "Return the prisoner to her cell."
A hand dropped heavily on Lois's shoulder.
"Oh, before you go, Lois, there's something else you need to know." Looking over his shoulder at her, Lord Kal-El's eyes grew distant. "On MY world, Lois Lane HELPED Lex Luthor in his crusade against myself and my people. She was DIRECTLY responsible for the deaths of HUNDREDS of my people. Before you start judging ME so harshly, why don't you think about THAT."
"Let's go," the Sergeant chuckled.
Emotionally drained, Lois remained silent.
After the duo had left, Viantaa glanced down to her lover.
"Kal-El? Before the Council convenes, might I ask you a question?"
Taking her hand, Lord Kal-EL gently kissed her palm. "Ask away."
"What did you hope to gain by questioning her?"
"Nothing," he chuckled. "Not a single thing." Stroking her hand, Lord Kal-El smiled. "Be a dear and prepare the chamber to admit our guests, would you?"
Bowing slightly, Viantaa's lips briefly quirked upwards in a smile.
"As my Lord wishes."
Restlessly pacing the floor, Clark's mind kept going in circles.
>If I resist him, he'll kill me and Earth's doomed. If I HELP him, I'M doomed, and Earth will become another playground for him and his cronies. I'd be no better than HIM. < Sighing to himself, Clark shook his head. >No matter WHAT I choose, everybody loses. <
With a hiss, the door opened, startling Clark. Lois, looking downcast, shuffled into the room and sat down heavily on the bed, her eyes never leaving the floor. Wordlessly, the guards stepped back into the hallway, closing the door.
"Lois," Clark asked, crouching down beside her. "Are you all right?" When no response came, Clark gently lay his hand on her shoulder. "Honey?"
Lifting her head slowly, Lois's red rimmed eyes met Clark's. Tears spilled unheeded down her cheeks as she clutched Clark's hand in her own.
"I need you to do me a favor, Clark," she whispered.
"Anything, Honey. Just name it."
Leaning into his chest Lois's breath came in wracking sobs.
"I need you to hold me, and tell me I'm a good person."
Holding her tightly, Clark gently rocked her as she wept.
"Sire? Lieutenant Rann seeks an audience with you," Viantaa announced.
At his nod, the Captain of the Guard opened the chamber door, admitting the visitor. Striding into the room, the massively muscled soldier approached the throne and eased his towering frame onto one knee.
"Sir," Rann begged. "PLEASE, let me lead a strike force through the portal to the next Earth! I will PERSONALLY defeat that world's Superman, and deliver him to your feet. I SWEAR that, within two days, the people of that world will be MORE than eager to accept your rule!" Bowing his head, his long blonde hair falling around his face, the huge Guardsman's voice dropped to a respectful murmur. "Let ME be the one to bring that planet to heel. For YOUR glory!"
An expectant hush fell across the chamber as the Kryptonian ruler, his eyes smoldering, restlessly clenched and unclenched his fist. For long moments, the only sound to be heard was the distant drone of the machinery. Nervously, the members of the Council furtively looked to one another, as if daring each to speak.
Though no louder than a whisper, Lord Kal-El's voice filled the room with its power. Rann, lifting his head, smiled savagely.
"Assemble your team, Lieutenant Rann, and prepare yourselves. You'll leave within the day, BUT you will draw out the assault for at LEAST a week."
Rann's smile slipped fractionally.
"A week, Sire?"
"Yes," Lord Kal-El grated, his eyes narrowing. "You will gain as MUCH information on that world as possible. You will monitor that world's Kal-El at ALL times. When you attack him, you will NOT allow yourself an immediate victory. You WILL allow that world's Superman to drive you off." Leaning forward, like a predator sighting prey, the black-clad tyrant's voice lowered to a hiss. "Let the humans repair their city. Let them begin to order their lives once more." His eyes glittered like coals. "Then return and CRUSH THEM ALL."
The Lieutenant's smile became even more bloodthirsty as a low rumble of voices spread through the Council members.
Rising to his feet, Rann clapped a fist to his heart.
"For your glory!"
Spinning on his heel, the hulking Lieutenant marched out of the room. Turning his attention to the people before him, Lord Kal-El's eyebrow raised.
"You have a comment on my decision, ladies and gentlemen?"
"Yes, my Lord," a balding councilman at the far end of the table agreed. As he stood, he smoothed the folds of his robe, revealing the sizeable girth they concealed. "As the head of the House of Mar, I would like to take this opportunity to…"
"Oh, do SHUT UP, Reldt!" Rising to his feet, another councilman midway down the table shook his head in disgust. "I, for one, am TIRED of hearing you drone ON and ON about your own self-importance!" Looking to each member at the table, he finally settled his glare on the rotund leader. "We all KNOW what you and your House have done and ARE DOING for the Council, and are grateful for it!"
"As well you SHOULD be, Queima," Reldt sputtered. "However, if you would have WAITED before interrupting me, you would have learned that I was simply going to voice my approval of Lord Kal-El NOT leading this next assault!" Facing the brooding figure at the head of the table, the portly councilman bowed at the waist. "With all due respect, my Lord, you are FAR too important to Krypton to be needlessly risking your life in these assaults. To lead an attack because you're NEEDED is one thing, but to lead one because you're BORED is another thing entirely."
"Lord Kal-El decides what DOES and does NOT require his attention, Lord Reldt!" Viantaa snarled. Taking an angry stride forward, the Captain of the Guard clenched her fists so tightly that her knuckles cracking sounded like gunfire. "To question that borders on treason!"
"YOU accuse ME of treason?!" Lord Reldt's eyes bulged as he turned his attention to Kal-El. "My Lord Kal-El, I would ask that you remind your pet soldier that she addresses a member of the ROYAL Council, and not some mere underling!" Returning his attention to Viantaa, the portly lord scowled at her. "I would have thought that the close call on Earth 86 would have MORE than adequately demonstrated how vulnerable our initial assault force is!" Looking around at the other Council members, Lord Reldt drew himself up to his full height. "They profess to be his most STAUNCH protectors, yet where was Lord Kal-El's personal guard when he NEEDED them?"
Her entire body trembling with barely suppressed rage, Viantaa stepped closer to the councilman. "Lord Reldt…"
"Viantaa," Kal-El chided. "Enough." Placing a hand lightly on her arm, he gently ushered her back. "Though he could have worded it slightly different, Lord Reldt is correct. I DID place my own… amusement over the needs of my people. In that sense, the defeat handed me by that world's Superman was deserved. As to where my personal guard were during the attack, they were carrying out MY orders." Lord Kal-El's eyes glittered like ice chips as he stared at Lord Reldt. "And I would likewise remind YOU that you are addressing my future consort."
Sweat beaded on Reldt's forehead as his face blanched.
"Oh, I'M sorry," Lord Kal-El apologized. "Didn't I tell you? Captain Viantaa and I are engaged."
The room exploded in noise as each Council member began shouting.
"Married? That cannot be," Lord Queima interjected, raising his voice above the others. "She is NOT of royal blood!" Nodding slightly to the Captain, Queima continued. "Though I respect the Captain greatly for her past deeds, law is law. Captain Viantaa's family line is not affiliated with ANY House.."
As the echoes of Lord Kal-El's bellow faded, the furious Kryptonian leader slowly looked at each member of the council.
"I am amending that particular law here and now. It is ANTIQUATED and OBSOLETE. You, Lord Reldt," he growled, pointing at the stunned councilman. "Your House is next in line to rule. Your daughter is, what? Six years old?" Sweeping his hand around at each member, Lord Kal-El's eyes hardened. "Do you people HONESTLY expect me to marry a CHILD?! Not to mention the fact that there would be NO heir for at least TWELVE YEARS?"
"Be that as it may, my Lord," Queima began, but was cut off by Lord Kal-El's glare.
"Do you think that I would have suggested this course of action if I hadn't THOROUGHLY researched it, Lord Queima?" Pinning each Council member with his stare, Lord Kal-El leaned his fists on the tabletop. "According to Kryptonian law, should the intended consort of the ruling House's leader not be of age, a suitable replacement may be found in order to carry on the lineage."
"And Captain Viantaa is suitable?" Lord Reldt asked, glancing from one to the other and back.
Lord Kal-El and Viantaa's smoldering glowers spoke volumes.
Clearing his throat self-consciously, the obese Councilman withdrew as far into his seat as he could.
As silence reigned throughout the room, Lord Kal-El stood, glaring disdainfully at the assembled group.
"All of you rule separate Earths under my name. For that, I am grateful. HOWEVER, I am MARRYING Captain Viantaa, so you had BETTER get used to it. Anyone who still doesn't like the idea can meet me in open challenge for the right to rule the Kryptonian people." Smiling savagely, towering over the council like a dark monolith, the tyrant's eyes glowed crimson. "Who knows, you may even fare better than Lord Nor did."
"I have a plan."
Wiping her face, Lois raised her head. "What?"
"I have a plan," Clark repeated, staring at the wall in front of them. Following his line of sight, Lois struggled to see what he was looking at.
"Clark, that PIPE? What is it?"
"I don't know. But I have a hunch." Disengaging himself from his wife, Clark walked over to the wall and ran his hand along it. "Whatever it is, it's carrying a LOT of power."
"Can you see where it leads to?" Peering at the walls around them, Lois strained her x-ray vision to its limits. "I'm looking as hard as I can, but I can't see any more than three levels below us."
"There's other pipes LARGER than this one in the next room over, but I'm not feeling the power from them like I am from THIS one. There's SOMETHING special about this one." Falling silent, Clark dug his fingers into the wall panels and, gently pulling them off, lay them on the floor. "Lois, keep an ear out for the guards."
"They're not there." Looking back and forth, Lois walked over to the door and opened it. "Clark, why aren't there any guards?"
Startled, Clark glanced to the door before an understanding enveloped him.
"He doesn't consider us THREATS." Returning to his work, Clark gritted his teeth in frustration. "We're outnumbered sixteen to one, our powers are at half strength by now, and before too long we'll probably start to suffocate from the low oxygen. He thinks we're already beaten." Smiling savagely, Clark glanced over his shoulder to Lois. "Let's show him how WRONG he is."
"What do you want me to do?"
"You're probably NOT going to like this," Clark said, chuckling nervously. "I want you to stand outside the door."
"Excuse me?" Stepping closer to her husband, Lois folded her arms across her chest. "You want me to do WHAT?"
"Stand outside the door." Motioning towards the conduit, Clark shook his head in resignation. "If I'm right, and this conduit contains what I THINK it does, we'll stand a chance against whatever Lord Kal-El throws against us. If I'm wrong, well," Clark shrugged once more.
"Wait ONE minute here, Clark Kent!" Lois snarled. "If YOU think I'm just going to LET you do this, you are SADLY mistaken!"
"We don't exactly have a CHOICE, Lois," Clark reasoned. "If I'm right, this conduit contains energy. By letting it out, we might be able to find a way to recharge our powers, and we'll stand a chance. If we DON'T, we're DEAD."
"And if you're WRONG about what's in that conduit, you could DIE."
"Honey," Clark whispered. "We're running out of options. If we DON'T do this NOW, we might not have the strength to do anything later."
Placing her hand on his chest, Lois gently traced the pentagonal s-shield. "If you're doing this just to get out of buying me a birthday present," she whispered, her throat constricting with grief. "It won't work."
"Wish me luck," Clark whispered, chuckling nervously.
"Be careful," Lois pleaded, her eyes wet. Leaning forward, she kissed Clark deeply before hurrying out of the room, shutting the door behind her.
Taking a deep breath, Clark mentally steeled himself before placing his hands on the huge power conduit before him. Sinking his fingers into the metal slightly, Clark gritted his teeth and pulled with all his remaining strength.
At first, nothing happened. Straining to the utmost, Clark desperately threw every last ounce of strength into trying to pull apart the metal plates. Finally, with a low groan, the dull gray slabs began to separate.
Leaning against the wall outside, Lois fought to hold back the tears that threatened to come. She had tried not to listen with what remained of her enhanced hearing to the struggle occurring inside the room, but in the end she'd given in. Faintly, she could make out Clark's grunts as he strained at his task.
Suddenly, an unearthly roar that shook the walls pierced the air. At first, Lois couldn't understand what it was. Only moments later did she identify it.
It was Clark.
Without warning, an alarm's wail pierced the air. Lord Kal-El, gazing into the distance, sighed heavily.
"Clark," he stated flatly. Raising his communicator, Lord Kal-El motioned Viantaa closer.
"Control, what's the situation?"
"Checking now, sir," a voice replied. In the background, the soft clatter of fingers on a keyboard sounded. "According to our readings, sir, one of the main power conduits feeding the solar storage assembly has suffered a breach in containment. With the main feed line destroyed, reserves have dropped to roughly fifty-eight percent. The broadcast array has been likewise damaged, and is now operating at approximately thirty-five percent of capacity."
Rubbing his forehead, the armored despot sighed once more.
"That's not all, sir," the voice continued, a note of concern entering his voice. "As you know, the main solar storage assembly is interlinked with virtually every system in Kryptonopolis. When the containment cells were breached, it sent a MASSIVE feedback surge through the system, causing systems to fail citywide. I'm attempting to re-route critical branches, but I'm afraid the surge hasn't left me with a whole lot to work with here." Another flurry of clattering keys sounded. "I can slow the system failures, sir, but I can't stop them. Best estimate is a TOTAL citywide failure within two hours. Three at the most."
"Recommendations?" Though he spoke to the Control Center, Lord Kal-El's gaze met his Captain's. For a long moment, only the faint crackling of static emerged from the communicator.
"Evacuation, sir. When the anti-gravity emitters fail, the city will drop to the ground and be destroyed." By the tone of his voice, the operator on the other end clearly wished he'd been able to give another answer.
"Sound the evacuation, Control," Lord Kal-El ordered, the muscles of his jaw tensing and relaxing in frustration. "All personnel are to assist with the salvage of whatever equipment is still useable. Transfer the computer's data base to the portable module and send it through the portal to New Krypton." Switching off the communicator, Lord Kal-El's clenching hand ground the machine to powder.
"Further orders, my Lord?" Standing beside him, Viantaa's eyes glittered.
"As a matter of fact, yes." Opening his hand, Lord Kal-El slowly poured the fragments and dust onto the floor. "Go to our quarters and retrieve my personal files. Bring them to me."
"And if I should encounter our visitors?"
The tyrant's eyes narrowed. "Much as it pains me to say, I want you to avoid them."
"My Lord?" Viantaa gasped, not believing her ears.
"Avoid them, my love." Taking her hand in his, Lord Kal-El softly kissed the back of her hand. "If it WAS Clark who destroyed the power conduit, then his current condition makes him FAR too dangerous right now to face. Rest assured, though, his time will come."
"What if I were to lead the entire Guard to surround the city and lower it to the ground ourselves?" Viantaa suggested. "Could that work?"
"I'm afraid not," he replied. "When the containment cells ruptured, the failsafes kicked in and diverted all remaining power to the city's systems. These things," Lord Kal-El grimaced, tapping his chest plate. "They're nothing more than dead weight now. And we're getting weaker by the minute."
"CLARK!" Lois's heart wrenching wail echoed down the hallway. Clark's scream of pain had ended minutes ago, and now only silence could be heard from within the room. Several times she'd started to open the door, but had stopped herself. When she'd finally decided to open it, Lois had found that the energy flooding into the room had melted the door into the frame, effectively welding it shut.
As she lay against the wall, sobbing, a low sound came to Lois's ears:
The sound of metal bending.
Scurrying away from the wall, Lois watched in rapt fascination as the door slowly bulged outwards from the center. Looking at the object pressing into the door from the other side, Lois gasped as she recognized the shape of a hand. With a groaning roar, the door burst into the hallway, slamming into the far wall and rebounding back into the middle of the corridor. Intense light radiated from the doorway, washing over Lois, filling her with renewed vigor.
"Solar power," she gasped. "THAT'S what was running through those conduits! Solar power!"
A shadow momentarily eclipsed the dazzling spectacle pouring out of the conduit, moving into the doorway like a dark planet.
"Clark?" she whispered. "Are you all right?"
Clark's chest heaved like bellows as the sound of his breathing thundered in the corridor. His wild eyes glowed like miniature suns in his face, which was twisted into a snarl. A nimbus of energy encompassed his body as he strode into the hallway.
"Clark?" Lois's whisper was barely audible.
The enormous quantity of energy flooding through Clark's system drowned out all thoughts save one:
"Lord Kal-El," he rumbled.
Like a blazing comet, Clark rocketed down the hallway, screaming his rage.
With a roar, the portal opened. Light danced across the walls of the chamber, illuminating the throne and side tables. The electric blue glare, refracting in the crystals on them, cast tiny rainbows everywhere. Lord Kal-El, his eyes glittering with suppressed rage, watched as the final members of his personal guard disappeared into the swirling maelstrom. Facing Viantaa, he motioned towards the vortex.
"Go," he yelled, fighting to be heard above the noise. "I'll be right behind you."
Nodding in assent, the Captain leaned in and kissed him fiercely before diving into the portal and vanishing.
Looking around the throne room for the final time, Lord Kal-El swore bitterly under his breath. >He'll PAY for this, < he vowed to himself. >If it's the LAST thing I do, he'll PAY for this! <
As he leaped into the swirling chaos, the ebon armored tyrant felt something grab his ankle and brought him to a sudden, jerking halt. Throwing a surprised look over his shoulder, Lord Kal-El's coldly furious eyes met Clark's burning white-hot gaze.
"And where do you think YOU'RE going," Clark roared. "This ISN'T over yet!"
"Well, well," Lord Kal-El replied. "If it isn't the blue Boy Scout." Casting a look around, the Kryptonian leader gave a mocking laugh. "Quite the decision you have here, Clark."
"What do you mean?" Clark's confusion warred with his rage. "What decision?"
Lord Kal-El's smile widened. "In a few short seconds, this portal will close. Seeing as how I'm only partially over the threshold, when that happens I will die."
"What do you mean," Clark asked, his confusion growing.
"When the portal closes, anything WITHIN the corridor ceases to exist. As it stands right now," the black clad despot added, looking down his body. "That means the upper half of my body."
"Then I guess I'll just have to haul you back out HERE," Clark snarled. Bracing himself, he pulled with all his tremendous strength but was unable to budge the escaping tyrant.
Lord Kal-El's eyebrow raised. "You may have been strong enough to STOP me from leaving, but you're NOT strong enough to pull me back against my will, Clark." His smile turned into a sneer. "Kind of limits your choices, doesn't it? If you hold me here I'll die, but ALL those worlds I've conquered, or WILL conquer, will be rid of me." Shrugging, Lord Kal-El's eyes narrowed. "Or, you can let me go."
"NO!" Clark screamed. "You have to PAY for what you've done!"
"Perhaps," Lord Kal-El agreed. "But it won't be YOU that collects on that debt." Looking around at the portal once more, he grinned. "Time's running out, Clark."
"You're willing to DIE?" Clark's voice cracked under the strain of his effort to extract his doppelganger from the vortex.
"For your information," the tyrant remarked. "Yes. But mores the question: are you ready to KILL me?"
Staring at his double, Clark struggled to bring himself under control. The incredible amount of solar power thundering through his veins made it almost impossible to calm down enough to think straight. Finally, clenching his teeth hard enough to make his jaw ache, he leveled a finger at Lord Kal-El.
"This isn't the end," Clark snarled.
"No," his doppelganger agreed. "It ISN'T."
Releasing his grip, Clark watched Lord Kal-El vanish into the maelstrom scant moments before the portal collapsed in on itself.
Walking across the room, Clark seethed in frustration. He'd HAD him in his grasp, and had to let him GO! So engrossed in his self-berating, long moments passed before Clark's augmented hearing registered the sounds emanating from deep within the complex. Puzzled, his x-ray vision peered deep within the structure, attempting to locate the source. After finding what it was, it took even longer to comprehend what he was looking at.
"Well I'll be…" he chuckled.
As she leaned against the wall, soaking in the warm rays, Lois's hearing picked up the sounds of people coming towards her. Opening her eyes, she caught sight of Clark carrying someone down the corridor, a small smile on his face.
"Clark, what happened?"
"He got away," Clark sighed. His eyes had cooled to their normal color. "But that's not all. I found our uniforms and our portal device. And THIS," he said, nodding to the shrouded figure in his arms.
Standing up, Lois walked over to her husband and, her brow creasing in puzzlement, pulled back the blanket covering the figure's face.
"Well I'll be…" Lois breathed, a smile lighting her face.
"Kal?" Knocking on the door of his room, Clark gently opened it a crack and tentatively peered in. "Kal? You in there?"
In a chair by the window, the other dimensional Superman sat motionless, staring out into the world. Dressed in a black T-shirt and blue jeans, his unkempt hair and five o'clock shadow lent him a slightly frazzled look.
"What do you want?" His voice, a dull monotone, sounded to Clark like a thing already dead. Sighing deeply, Clark's morose doppelganger turned to face the reporter. "Whatever it is, say it and get out." Without waiting for a reply, the grieving Kryptonian returned his attention to the window.
"I found something for you that I think you'll like. I'll let you decide for yourself, though." Pulling back into the hallway, Clark ushered his guest into the room.
With another sigh of exasperation, Kal turned to the doorway once more and froze, his retort unvoiced. Clark watched in mute joy as his counterpart slowly rose from the chair and hesitantly approached the vision before him.
"L-Lois?" Tears spilled unheeded down his cheeks as Kal stretched his hand towards her face, stopping just before he touched her. Smiling through her own tears, the alternate-Earth Lois gently covered his hand with her own, placing it against her cheek.
"Lois." His voice, thick with emotion, bordered on incoherent. Drawing her into his embrace, Kal buried his face in her hair, inhaling the scent of her as they both wept.
Reaching out, Clark grasped the door handle and quietly closed it as Lois walked up behind him, wrapping her arms around his waist from behind.
"Everything fine?" she asked, resting her chin on his shoulder.
"Very," he replied. Turning to face her, Clark gently kissed his wife on the tip of her nose. "Let's go downstairs, Honey." Glancing back at the door of his room, a smile lit up his face.
"They have a lot to talk about."
"So, Clark," Lois began, softly rubbing her husband's back. "How did you know she was the Lois from HIS world?"
"Something that he taught me about molecular vibrations. Before we went to his world, I went and re-checked who we THOUGHT was Kal's Lois, and found she had a different vibrational frequency than his." Seeing her puzzled expression, Clark laughed warmly. "I'll explain it later, sweetheart. Right now, though, I think we deserve a break. How about a leisurely few days in the Bahamas?"
"Mmmmm," Lois purred. "Make it a DESERTED island and you've got yourself a deal."
"Deserted?" Clark asked. "Why?"
"Well," Lois murmured throatily. "Sunbathing in the nude is kind of difficult when there's people around."
"Nude?" Clark's mouth gaped.
"Well, we DO need to make sure we've recharged, don't we?" Tracing her finger down his bicep, Lois leaned her head against his shoulder. "Can you think of a better way?"
Clark's laughter filled the house.
To Be Continued …