By Joel Schuldt <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Submitted July 2000
Summary: In part 5 of "The Saga Continues," Clark and Kal argue over the right path to take in dealing with Lord Kal-El, while Clark discovers some information that could send the tyrant over the edge — if his power base doesn't crumble first.
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 story (and those following) are my attempt at merging two of my favorite shows- "Lois and Clark", and "Sliders". Some poetic license has been taken with regards to the "Sliders" aspects of the stories (technology, etc.) in order for it to mesh better with the story line. I hope you enjoy.
My special thanks to Kathy B for her immense help in editing and getting everything straightened out (not to mention her helpful suggestions), and to everyone who's e-mailed me with their thoughts on the stories. I truly appreciate it!
Any comments or questions? E-mail me at: email@example.com
Though not a single cloud was in the sky, thunder echoed through the wooded valley. Animals fled in panic as the ground trembled and lurched beneath them. Sporadic grunts of pain pierced the air following many of the concussions. From above, only a large cratered area broke the lush green carpet of the valley floor. Two figures struggled in the midst of the devastation, trading blows that jostled the surrounding valley. The sun's rays shone down on twin uniforms nearly identical in design and color save for where a pentagonal u-shield graced one in place of an 'S'. Finally, both men simultaneously lunged at each other, each grasping the other's arms. Locked in stalemate, like dual Grecian wrestlers, each strained their star-born muscles to the utmost in an attempt to overpower the other.
"How… many times… must… I say it, Ultraman," Clark grimaced. "I'm not… who you… think I am!"
"I… don't… believe you," Kall-Ell snarled, his eyes gleaming feverishly. "I… won't… let you… get away with it!"
Before Clark could reply, an electric blue light washed over the area, followed by a rush of air and a roar of noise. Seconds later, a dark blur smashed into Clark's side, throwing the surprised Superman away from the struggle. Intense pain lanced through his body, arching his back in agony.
>What was that?< Clark wondered, shock clouding his mind.
As the pain slowly subsided, Clark watched with detached fascination as the light slowly faded from the sky, leaving behind the more normal colors of the afternoon. Shaking his head to clear it, Clark's stomach lurched as his eyes focused on the newcomer. Though a goatee now adorned his face, the identity of the man was unmistakable.
"Lord Kal-El," Clark breathed.
As he leapt to his feet, Clark's legs buckled from under him, throwing him back to the grass. Looking up from the ground, Clark watched helplessly as Lord Kal-El opened another portal and draped an insensate Ultraman over his shoulder.
"Nice to see you again, Clark," the tyrant shouted over the noise. Waving jauntily to the injured Superman, Lord Kal-El and his unconscious companion stepped through the portal and disappeared.
"NO!" Clark screamed in frustration. Painfully dragging himself to his feet, Clark withdrew the portal device from behind his belt and activated it. Once the portal had formed, Clark staggered through it and vanished, leaving the forest silent once more.
Shaking her head, Lois clucked her tongue. "Quit being such a big baby," she chastised. "You KNOW it doesn't hurt."
Sitting at the kitchen table, Clark shrugged as he smiled up at his wife. "Well, it did when Ultraman hit me."
"Well then, it's YOUR fault for not ducking," Lois said, gently kissing the top of Clark's head. "I just wish I'd been able to go along. Speaking of Ultraman, though, I thought we'd agreed NOT to interfere with other worlds," Lois gently chided her husband. Moistening the cloth once more, she softly dabbed at the blood on Clark's forehead. "What happened?"
"I have NO idea," Clark admitted. "I was dressed as Clark Kent and doing the normal reconnaissance when, all of a sudden, I'm attacked by that world's version of me. The whole time he was screaming about 'not letting me get away with it,' whatever that means."
"You weren't dressed as Superman, but he attacked you anyway?" Lois's puzzlement was evident.
"Yeah. It's like he could tell that I wasn't who I appeared to be." Shrugging helplessly, Clark took his wife's hand in his own. "And that's not all that happened." Meeting her eyes, Clark's voice dropped to a whisper.
"I saw Lord Kal-El."
Lois felt the blood drain from her face. "Are you sure?"
"Positive," Clark replied. "I managed to check him before he disappeared back into the vortex. The vibrational frequency of his molecules matches exactly." Sighing heavily, Clark lowered his head. "It's him."
"But, it's been MONTHS since we heard from him last. What was he doing there?" Lois asked.
"He appeared there long enough to nab Ultraman and duck back into the portal again." Staring off into space, Clark rubbed his chin. "It looks like Lord Kal-El did something on that world, and Ultraman thought that I was him."
"He does have a Superman uniform," Lois added. "I wouldn't put it past Lord Kal-El to try something." Tossing the cloth into the sink, Lois leaned against the kitchen table. "Were you able to get any ideas of what he might have done?"
Exhaling heavily, Clark nodded. "There were some pretty grisly murders while I was there," he said slowly. "From the descriptions I read, and from examining the bodies myself, it appears that the people were all killed by heat vision."
"How were you able to examine the bodies?"
"X-ray and telescopic vision," Clark replied. "Plus, I overheard the coroner giving his analysis of the wounds."
"Obviously it's an attempt to discredit that dimension's version of you," Lois concluded, frowning slightly. "To get the people of that Earth to not trust Ultraman, and making it easier for Lord Kal-El to have his way."
"Obviously," Clark mimicked, smiling.
"Watch it, buddy," Lois playfully growled. "Don't make me get out the iodine." After her laughter trailed off, a pensive look came into her eyes. "Clark? When you told Kal about what happened to you on the other Earth, did you notice the look he got?" she inquired in a soft voice. "As I was flying in this afternoon I saw his face as he finished talking to you, and I'm not sure I liked what I saw."
Nodding slightly, Clark's brow furrowed in puzzlement. "It was like he expected it."
A soft knocking in the doorway drew their attention. Cautiously peering around the corner, Lois's double eyed the two.
"Am I interrupting anything?" she asked.
"Not really," Clark replied before Lois could say anything. "What's up?"
"Could we talk to you in the living room, when you get the chance?"
Shrugging, Clark stood and ushered his wife into the adjoining room. Standing by the window, Alt-Clark looked out into the afternoon sky. As Clark and Lois sat on the couch, Alt-Lois walked over to her husband and quietly whispered a few words to him. Nodding in agreement, Alt-Clark faced the couple.
"Lois and I have been talking about what happened to you on that other Earth, Clark. It's pretty evident that Lord Kal-El is continuing his march across the dimensions." Clasping both hands behind his back, Alt-Clark fixed his gaze on Clark. "If we're to use that portal device to investigate other dimensions, we need to get more information, Clark. What happened to you on the other Earth proves it." As he rubbed the back of his neck, Alt-Clark's eyes took on a distant cast. "Eventually, no matter WHAT Lord Kal-El promised, he'll return here and finish what he started, and we need to know WHEN. Quinn Mallory's nearly finished the remote access circuit for our portal device. It'll allow us to tap into the memory banks of the device Lord Kal-El uses. We NEED to know where he's been, so we can take precautions against something like what happened to you with Ultraman from happening again."
Shaking his head, Clark massaged his forehead. "You're forgetting, Lord Kal-El promised to abide by Lady Zara's ruling. I can't believe that he'd just ignore her."
"You know as well as I do his word means NOTHING to him," Alt- Clark hissed. "As soon as it's convenient, he'll make up some lame excuse and attack us again."
"And what about the fact that WE would be violating the Council's ruling?" Clark murmured, staring intently at his double. "Aren't WE supposed to be better than that?"
"The ruling specifies that we not interfere with Lord Kal-El. A simple reconnaissance mission is not interference," Alt-Clark cajoled. "The four of us use the portal to go to Lord Kal-El's universe. We take a look around, see what's what." Spreading his hands, Alt-Clark smiled. "We're in and out before anyone's the wiser."
"And you propose that we just drop in on his Earth? Just like that?" Lois asked.
"Not his Earth," Alt-Clark said, lowering his voice conspiratorially. "The moon."
"The MOON?" Lois repeated, looking to her husband. As she watched, she could see the anger building behind his eyes.
"That's an awfully thin line you're treading," Clark stated flatly. "YOU might not view it as being interference, but Lord Kal-El MIGHT. Lady Zara might also."
"It could work," Alt-Clark pressed, ignoring his double's objection. "We come in on the dark side of the moon, out of visual sighting. Stay right on the horizon." Rubbing his chin, his brow furrowed. "Two air tanks per person should cover it. Combining x-ray and telescopic vision, it wouldn't take the four of us long at all to cover the whole planet."
"I can't believe we're even TALKING about this," Clark whispered, raking a hand through his hair.
A soft snort drew everyone's attention to Lois's double. "What's hard to believe is that you let him off this planet in the FIRST place," Alt-Lois accused, her eyebrow raising slightly. "The first time he attacked, you had him BEATEN. Why'd you let him go?"
"Clark doesn't KILL," Lois shot back, shocked at her double's words.
"Maybe he SHOULD," Alt-Lois growled. When Lois's eyes bulged at her words, Alt-Lois's temper flared. With a tremble in her voice, the other dimensional woman pointed a quivering finger at her counterpart. "Don't you get all high-and-mighty with me, Lois! I know full well that it's crossed YOUR mind as well. This ALL could have been over MONTHS ago if your husband would have had the guts to do what needed to be done!"
"I can't BELIEVE…" Lois began, but the other Lois swiped her hand through the air, cutting her off.
"Everything could have been stopped right there and then if Clark had done what NEEDED to be done."
"Don't you try and pin all this on Clark! The SAME could be said about when Lord Kal-El attacked YOUR world!" Lois replied, her own anger rising to match Alt-Lois's. "Why didn't YOUR husband kill Lord Kal-El when HE had the chance to?"
"People," Clark interrupted, waving his arms. "None of this is helping. Can we get back to the matter at hand?"
"When Lord Kal-El destroyed our world, he made sure I had a front row seat." Alt-Lois's whispered words cut through the room like a gunshot.
Lois's mouth snapped shut, her words unspoken.
"What?" Alt-Clark whispered, kneeling beside his wife.
"He wanted me to see what he was doing to our world, Clark," she said, facing her husband. Her voice hitching, tears slowly wound down her cheeks. "He installed monitors in my cell that covered EVERY wall. Every bomb they detonated, he made sure I saw it. All those people, Clark, died in front of me. All that DEATH, and I witnessed EVERYTHING." Staring at her double, Alt-Lois's eyes became haunted. "I saw my husband frantically trying to stop the explosions, Lois. He tried SO hard!" Lowering her head, her long hair cascaded around her face. "Have you ever seen what a nuclear bomb does, Lois? Have you ever witnessed what radiation poisoning does to a human body?" Completely breaking down, Alt-Lois collapsed into her husband's arms.
"I'll be back in a minute," Alt-Clark said, glancing briefly at Clark. Wrapping his arms around the sobbing woman, Alt-Clark gently lifted her up, cradling her against his chest as he walked out of the room, whispering soft words of consolation to the sobbing woman.
For long minutes, the only sounds to be heard in the house were the ticking of the clock, and the weeping of a broken heart.
"Maybe they're right."
"What?" Lois gave Clark a disbelieving stare. "What did you just say?"
"That maybe they're right. Maybe I AM being to lenient."
Lois's mouth dropped open. "I can't believe I'm hearing this. As a matter of fact, I'm NOT hearing this," Lois insisted. "Besides, we're probably not even going to have to deal with Lord Kal-El anyway."
"How's that?" Clark asked with a weary voice.
"From what that other Ching said, Lord Kal-El's Council is debating on whether or not to remove him from leadership. If they do, do you really think Lord Kal-El will be a problem?" Laughing ruefully, Lois shook her head. "What am I saying? If they rule against him, he'd probably just KILL them!"
Clark shook his head. "Probably not. He'd lose the support of the people. Killing the Council is about the ONLY thing he wouldn't do."
"Clark," Lois said. "Do you think he really CARES? For God's sake, he killed his Lois. How much more difficult would it be to kill a couple old men?"
"He didn't kill his Lois."
Lois's eyes widened. "What? What did you say?"
"He DIDN'T kill his Lois." His brow knitting in concentration, Clark shook his head. "Someone ELSE did."
"What makes you say that?"
"When Kal asked him about the identity of the… other Lois, everyone was paying attention to WHAT he was saying. I paid attention to HOW he said it." Kneading the bridge of his nose, Clark cleared his throat. "Bear with me on this. He said that the Lois of his world was responsible for the deaths of hundreds of Kryptonians, right?"
"I'd assume that a crime of that nature would DEMAND the death penalty."
"Knowing Lord Kal-El, it would," Lois agreed.
"I'd also assume that Lord Kal-EL would want to confront the perpetrator of that crime in PERSON." Gesturing with his hand, Clark shrugged. "Knowing what type of person Lord Kal-El was, I imagine that until that point, his dimension's Lois wasn't exactly in a hurry to meet him. So, here we have the scene: Lois is brought before Lord Kal-El for judgement. Before she even arrives, EVERYONE is certain she'll die; it's almost a given."
"Probably," Lois murmured.
Clark's eyes opened in triumph. "But nobody expected Lord Kal-El to fall head over heels in love with her. If he's ANYTHING like me, the moment he set eyes on her, he fell COMPLETELY in love with her."
"And how can a person kill someone they love?" Lois added, her own heart aching in sympathy.
Clark nodded. "Since he obviously DIDN'T know about being soulmates, he probably didn't understand what happened. All he probably knew was that he couldn't let her die. Somehow, he suspends the death sentence and imprisoned her instead. There's a massive argument among the Kryptonian Elders, accusations flying everywhere. Finally, Lord Kal-El forces everyone to go along with his decision and allow her to live."
"But we KNOW she died," Lois replied.
"True," Clark agreed. "Who else would have been in the room when Lord Kal-El made his decision?"
Lois chewed her lower lip in thought. After a moment, her eyes met Clark's.
Nodding, Clark's lips pressed into a thin line. "Viantaa."
"She killed Lois," Lois whispered. "Lord Kal-El had told me that every dimension they'd ever gone to, you and I are ALWAYS together. Viantaa must have seen this as well and decided that, if she was to have Lord Kal-El for her own, she needed to remove Lois from the equation."
"Hell hath no fury as a woman scorned," Clark quoted.
"Oh my god, Clark," Lois gasped. "If this is TRUE, and if Lord Kal-El ever found out about this, he'd go COMPLETELY over the edge!"
"And that means we'd be RIGHT back where we started." Bolting up from the couch, Clark nervously paced the room. "This thing with trying to stop Lord Kal-El, it's the SAME as with Luthor."
"How so?" Lois asked, folding her arms across her chest.
"Both Luthor and Lord Kal-El have super-powers," Clark grated. "How in the world am I supposed to beat them WITHOUT killing them?"
"You'll think of something, Clark," Lois reassured. "You always do."
"That's just it," Clark shot back, frustration in his voice. "I've NEVER faced something like this before!"
"What about Lord Nor?" Lois reasoned.
"What about him?" Clark said with a dismissing wave of his hand. "Yeah, I beat him. But the only way I was able to beat Nor was to be prepared to KILL him. What if the only way to stop Lord Kal-El is to ACTUALLY kill him? Or Luthor, for that matter?"
His frustration boiling over, Clark threw his hands in the air. "It's driving me crazy, Lois. I've got two of the most dangerous enemies I've EVER faced ready to kill me, and the only way I might be able to beat them is to kill them first!" Dropping his voice to a whisper, Clark clutched his head in his hands. "And on top of ALL of this I have Kal up there, who's ready to throw EVERYTHING away to get his vengeance on Lord Kal-El." Gazing despondently at his wife, Clark dropped to his knees before her. "When we met the FIRST alternate version of me- the one from the Earth that Tempus sent you to- I was amazed at how alike we were. It felt great, knowing that there was someone else like me out there, fighting the good fight. Now, after meeting Kal and Lord Kal-El? I don't know if I'm so happy anymore."
"Clark, listen to me." Taking her husband's face in her hands, Lois leaned forward and gently kissed him. "You HAVE to stop holding yourself responsible for their actions. As much as they might LOOK like you, you have to understand they AREN'T you."
"But Lois, they ARE me," Clark whispered, the depths of his pain evident in his voice. "What am I supposed to do?"
"What you're NOT going to do is kill Lord Kal-El, Clark."
Startled, both Clark and Lois turned to face the speaker. Leaning against the doorframe, Alt-Clark stared back at them, his face devoid of expression.
"Why do you say that?" Lois asked.
"Because, if anyone is going to kill Lord Kal-El," Alt-Clark sighed. "It's going to be ME."
"We've already had this discussion," Clark said. "And we decided that killing him was NOT an option."
"No, Clark," Alt-Clark corrected, wagging his finger. "YOU had this discussion. I never agreed to that course of action. Actually, I've TRIED to kill him."
Clark's eyes widened. "You WHAT?"
"I tried to kill him," Alt-Clark stated matter of fact. "If Viantaa hadn't been there, I probably would have succeeded, too."
Raking his fingers through his hair, Clark groaned in frustration. "I can't believe this is happening."
"Tell me he doesn't DESERVE to die," Alt-Clark pressed. "Tell me that he can be brought to justice some OTHER way." After long moments of silence, Alt-Clark nodded once. "I didn't think so."
"We CAN'T kill him," Clark whispered.
"No, Clark," Alt-Clark corrected, gazing in understanding at his double. "YOU can't kill him. I, however, CAN."
Desperate to say something to divert his doppelganger's homicidal tendencies, Clark frantically thought of a way to stall him. Finally, grasping at a slim hope, Clark stood up and began unbuttoning his shirt.
"If you're dead-set on going to Lord Kal-El's Earth, we need some more information. We need to talk to Quinn Mallory."
Sitting in the throne room, Lord Kal-El poured over the papers in his hands. Standing to his side, a man wearing a rumpled lab coat fidgeted nervously.
"And these are ALL the damages, Mr. Becker?" Lord Kal-El asked, not looking up from his reading.
"Yes, my Lord," the man answered.
"And they have been ACCURATELY assessed?"
"Yes, my Lord."
Turning to face his guest, Lord Kal-El's eyes smoldered. "And you're willing to wager your life on this certainty?"
Swallowing noisily, Mr. Becker nodded.
Breaking into a wide grin, the black clad tyrant laughed boisterously. "Excellent! Captain Kar-Za!"
Hurrying to his Lord's side, the Captain bowed low. "Orders, my Lord?"
"Assign Mr. Becker whatever work details he requires," Lord Kal- El said. "Give this matter the utmost priority. It is IMPERATIVE that repairs to Kryptonopolis be finished as soon as possible."
Bowing once more, Captain Kar-Za ushered Mr. Becker out of the room.
Smiling savagely, Lord Kal-El motioned for Lieutenant Rann.
"Once repairs have been completed, move the city to these coordinates," Lord Kal-El whispered, handing the Lieutenant a small disk.
Bowing at the waist, Lieutenant Rann vanished in a rush of air.
Sitting back in his throne, Lord Kal-El gestured for his assistant.
"Bring me a Mountain Dew and the latest report from my spy on Earth."
Striding through the dim and dusty corridor, Junior approached the massive vault door at the far end, the heavy bass notes of Carl Orff's 'Carmina Burana' thundering in the corridor. Pausing outside the vault door, Junior listened intently to the music emanating from within before knocking respectfully.
Instantly, the music's volume dropped. "Enter," a muffled voice called from inside.
With a hiss of hydraulics, the thick metal door slid ponderously aside, revealing a highly advanced laboratory within. Liquid gurgles and mechanical sounds combined to form a symphony of technology, permeating the air with their music. Dominating the center of the room, a large cylinder sat like a spider in the midst of a web of pipes and wires connecting it to various machines surrounding it. A figure, shrouded in mist, occupied the tube. Reclining in a leather chair, Lex turned his attention from the file of papers in his lap to his visitor.
"Ah, Junior," Lex piped. "You made certain you weren't followed?
"Good. Is everything proceeding according to schedule?"
Nodding, Junior remained silent.
"Good," Lex chortled. "Were they… accommodating to our needs?"
Once more, Junior nodded.
"Did they request any additional services or materials?"
"No," Junior replied. "They were QUITE satisfied with what was provided."
"Excellent," Lex laughed. Returning his attention to the documents in hand, Lex's eyes glittered with mirth.
"If I might be so bold," Junior asked. "What are you reading, Sir?"
"The fruits of a surprise legacy left to me by a former employee."
Junior's eyebrows knitted in confusion. "Sir?"
"These documents here," he said, waving a handful of papers in the air. "These are the files of Doctor Gretchen Kelley." Noting Junior's puzzled expression Lex chuckled. "She used to be my personal physician."
Junior's eyes widened in understanding. "Ah. She was the one then that brought you back from…"
"She was the one that healed me," Lex interrupted, throwing Junior a dark look before returning his attention to the papers. "These are the notes she took during that period of time."
"And this underground vault, Sir?"
"A shelter I constructed once, to protect a select portion of humanity against extermination via an asteroid."
Rubbing his chin in thought, Junior nodded. "The Nightfall Asteroid, wasn't it?"
Lex eyed the clone. "Yes, it was," he replied, suspicion coloring his voice. "How did you know that?"
"I've been doing some research," Junior replied, oblivious to Lex's growing unease. "I've been learning all I can concerning Superman."
"And why might you be doing that?" Lex quietly asked, his body tensing.
Junior looked surprised. "Your primary tenant, Sir: Know your enemy."
"Ah, of course," Lex said, relaxing slightly in the chair.
"Sir," Junior murmured, gesturing towards the papers. "If that period of time causes you such pain, why then do you read her notes?"
"I'm not reading ALL of them," Lex replied. "Just a certain few." Glancing down to the notes, Lex chuckled lightly once more.
"Just the ones concerning one Mr. William Wallace Waldecker," Lex whispered. Smiling darkly, Lex returned the music to its former thunderous volume as he closed his eyes, enveloped by the brooding music.
Entering the room at S.T.A.R. Labs, Quinn Mallory stopped short as his gaze rested on the room's four occupants. Standing in a semi-circle, Superwoman, Ultrawoman, and both Supermen turned from their conversation to look at him intently.
"Can I help you," Quinn asked, directing his question to Clark.
Stepping forward, Clark fixed Quinn with an intense stare. "We need your help again, Quinn. We're contemplating going to Lord Kal-El's Earth, and we need to know what we'll be in for." Gesturing towards the table, Clark's eyebrow rose hopefully. "Sit and talk with us?"
Almost grudgingly, the scientist took the proffered seat. "What would you like to know, aside from the fact you'll be wasting your time?" Quinn snapped.
"What makes you say that?" Alt-Clark asked.
"Never mind," Quinn sighed, rubbing his face tiredly as he stifled a yawn. "I haven't been getting much sleep lately. It's just the fatigue talking," he said, straightening up in his chair. "Now, what do you need to know?"
"What kind of a world is it?" Lois asked.
"Lord Kal-El's world is a paradise." Quinn's soft voice was barely audible. Ultrawoman, Superwoman, and both Supermen listened intently as the scientist spoke. "When he took control of the planet, Lord Kal-El announced that there'd be vast changes made to the globe. The first things to go were human rights; he explained that they would only be an impediment to him doing what needed to be done. Civil rights, everything. Humans became nothing more than pets. Next, the Kryptonians moved on to the environment. After repairing the ozone layer, his people rid the world of all pollution." Motioning around himself, Quinn shrugged offhandedly. "They cleaned the air, water and ground of all pollutants. Trash was compressed into huge blocks that were then flown into the sun, with nuclear waste following soon after. Nuclear reactors were replaced by solar power plants, with the nuclear reactors following the nuclear waste into the sun. Once the planet had been cleaned, Lord Kal-El and his people set their sights on nuclear, atomic, and biological weapons."
"Confiscated?" Clark asked.
"Destroyed," Quinn corrected. "Sent into the sun as well."
"What about conventional weapons?"
The corner of Quinn's mouth lifted in a sardonic grin. "Lord Kal- El GRACIOUSLY allowed the military to keep them. After the major weapons had been dealt with, they turned their attention to us." Staring into space, Quinn shook his head in wonder. "They erected vast, domed cities that hovered on anti-gravity platforms, each of them triple the size of New York City. The entire human population was moved into them. With humans no longer residing in the surface cities, all but the largest were leveled. Highways were torn up, bridges knocked down, monuments reduced to rubble." Shaking his head once more, Quinn barked a short laugh. "When they were finished, there was NO trace of humanity's influence left on the planet. Then they restructured New York City into their capital."
"What happened then?" Lois asked.
"Now that the world's ills had been corrected, Lord Kal-El turned to humanity's. Poverty was abolished when the Kryptonians did away with money."
"They did what?" Alt-Lois gasped.
"They did away with money. Society was restructured away from the materialistic, centering more on practicality instead. Food, clothing, and housing are provided for ALL by the Kryptonians." Quinn ran a hand through his hair. "With homelessness, poverty, and hunger eliminated, jobs were provided for every man and woman over the age of eighteen. Strict controls on population growth were also enacted."
"Wait a moment," Clark asked. "The Kryptonians were able to get EVERYONE into the cities?" Clark shook his head in disbelief. "I can't believe that they all went willingly."
"Let me put it this way," Quinn explained. "There are no LIVING humans on the face of that world. Anyone who refused to go is not alive today to talk about it."
"Oh my God," Lois choked.
"What else," Clark pressed, forcing away his dread.
"Travel between cities by humans is prohibited," Quinn murmured. "Travel to the surface is also prohibited to humans. The Kryptonians have reserved the planet as their own private playground." Quinn's expression became downcast. "To let humanity know what would happen if we violated their rules, Lord Kal-El personally created a warning sign." Quinn's voice dropped even lowered. "He carved Mount Everest into a giant skull."
Quinn nodded. "Every floating city passes it once a month, making it a constant reminder. Since each city floats at 2,000 feet, the skull looms high over each of them as they pass beneath it." Shuddering, Quinn clutched his arms to his chest. "As the city glides by, that leering skull dominates the entire sky. You can't help but look at it."
"My God," Alt-Clark whispered in revulsion. "Those aren't cities. They're prisons!"
"Has anyone ever tried to leave the cities?" Alt-Lois asked.
"At first, yes. Rumors spread of people who'd evaded the mass exodus of the surface, or of people who'd parachuted down from the cities. They told tales of hidden villages high in the mountains, or deep within the jungle."
"Do you believe the stories?" Alt-Lois queried.
After a pause, Quinn shook his head. "No. Personally, I don't think ANYONE believes them anymore."
"Why not? Did something make people stop trying to leave?" Clark asked.
"Waking up to find a human skull on the pillow next to you is a GREAT deterrent." An angry tone crept into Quinn's voice. "No sooner would someone begin talking about escape when that person would wake up to that sight."
"They were the people that had tried to escape, weren't they," Alt-Lois stated.
Quinn nodded. "Speculation ran amok about Kryptonian sympathizers among humanity that acted as spies for our Overlords. Paranoia ran rampant." Quinn tossed his hands into the air. "The one thing the Kryptonians excelled at was crushing our spirits." As he fixed Clark with a cold glare, Quinn continued.
"Once, an entire city revolted. Riots swept through the entire place. Men dragged suspected sympathizers into the streets, beat them, knocked a hole in the dome, and threw them over the side of the city." Leaning forward, his voice dropped to a hiss. "In order to quell the riot, Lord Kal-El sent the city into orbit and shattered the dome, killing everyone. Viantaa then carpeted Death Valley with their bones." Quinn's head canted slightly to the side. "Kind of ironic to use the remains of the dead to blanket Death Valley, no? Since that incident, civil disobedience has sharply declined."
Alt-Clark fixed Clark with a fierce glare. "And you think he can be PEACEFULLY dealt with?" he whispered. "The man's a MONSTER."
Covering his face with a hand, Clark rubbed his forehead as he sighed. "I… I just don't know."
Clearing her throat, Lois tapped Alt-Clark on the shoulder. "I'd like to talk to you," Lois said. "Alone. Up there." She added, pointing skyward.
Glaring one final time at his counterpart, Alt-Clark gave his wife a quick kiss on the cheek before following Lois outside. As the two rose into the sky, Lois turned to her husband's duplicate, anger creasing her features.
"What do you think you're doing?" Crossing her arms across her chest, Lois scowled.
"What do you mean?" Alt-Clark innocently asked.
"My husband has ENOUGH to deal with as it is, without YOU adding to it!" Lois snarled. "You're getting Clark all worked up over this need of yours to know what Lord Kal-El's doing, and to stop him before he DOES anything."
Alt-Clark sighed in exasperation. "We DO need to know…"
"No we don't!" Lois's sharp cry cut off Alt-Clark. "YOU'RE the only one around here that feels this need to know! Everyone else, including my husband," she stressed, leaning forward. "We're all satisfied to leave Lord Kal-El alone! Clark thinks Lord Kal-El will abide by the ruling. Martha and Jonathan even think he will, and I think he will too."
"And if you're wrong?" Alt-Clark's voice was barely above a whisper.
"Then we're wrong," Lois replied. "We deal with it and move on."
"But if you ARE wrong, innocent people will DIE because of your mistake. And as for moving on?" Alt-Clark repeated. Chuckling slightly, Alt-Clark's laugh was without humor. "You make it sound so easy, Lois. Try 'moving on' when your world is burning beneath your feet. Try holding your precious moral high ground as every man, woman and child on this planet DIES around you, and you know that there is NOTHING you can do to save them. Or rather, you HAD the chance to do something, and DIDN'T take it."
As the pair faced off, Lois gazed deep into Alt-Clark's eyes, seeing the flames of obsession burning in their depths. "This quest of yours is going to get you killed," Lois whispered.
"Maybe," Alt-Clark conceded. "But at least I'm TRYING to make a difference they ONLY way I know how." Reaching out, Alt-Clark's voice dropped to a pleading whisper as he brushed back an errant strand of hair from Lois's face. "Please, try to understand that."
Shaking her head in sorrow, Lois looked with pity at the driven man before her. "How can someone who's supposed to be identical to someone be so different? You've got your Lois back, now. Why don't you settle with her on another Earth and forget about Lord Kal-El?" Reaching up, Ultrawoman cupped Alt-Clark's face between her hands. "You DON'T have to keep hounding him, Kal. You have something he'll NEVER have."
Taking Lois's hands in his own, Alt-Clark raised an eyebrow. "And what might that be?"
"Friends," Lois said earnestly. "People who genuinely CARE about you. The love of a GOOD woman." Smiling faintly, Lois shrugged. "I should know, because she's… well, ME. Though I DON'T think I could let my hair grow quite that long."
Returning her smile, Alt-Clark shook his head. "My, aren't WE the modest one?" Sighing heavily, the smile slowly faded from the alternate Superman's face as he glanced down. "Have you any idea when the last time was that I heard my wife genuinely laugh? Or SMILE? It's like she's… locked away a part of herself, and I don't know how to reach it." Staring down at the building below, Alt-Clark drifted into thought.
"Do you think killing Lord Kal-El will bring her back?" Lois asked, her own voice scarcely a whisper.
Snapping out of his revere, Alt-Clark glanced at Lois. "Frankly, I don't see how it could HURT," Alt-Clark bit out harshly. As he witnessed Lois's eyes reflect the pain he'd just caused, Alt- Clark sighed. "Look, I'll think about what you've said," he whispered. "Right now, that's ALL I can promise."
"Right now, that's ALL I'm asking," Lois returned.
As they began drifting down to the pavement, Alt-Clark glanced at Lois out of the corner of his eye. "Mind if I ask you something?" When Lois shook her head, Alt-Clark glanced down. "HAVE you ever wondered why Clark didn't just kill Lord Kal-El in the first place?"
"Honestly?" Lois replied. "No."
"Because that's not Clark's way," Lois said. "That's not who Clark is."
"So, you don't think he's CAPABLE of killing?" Alt-Clark asked.
Her brow furrowing in thought, Lois shook her head. "No, as a matter of fact I DO think he's capable. I've seen him so angry that it's even frightened ME."
"So why the contradiction?" Alt-Clark pressed.
"It's not a contradiction," Lois corrected. "It's a choice. A choice that he made a long time ago." At Alt-Clark's uncomprehending stare, Lois shrugged. "He told me once that, early in his career, he had to make the decision about what his powers stood for."
Alt-Clark grunted. "Let me guess: law or lawlessness?"
"Something like that," Lois confirmed. "And it's a decision that he's lived with his entire life. And believe me, it hasn't always been easy."
"I made that decision myself, long ago," Alt-Clark said, looking back to the building below. "But if there's ONE thing I've learned, it's this." His fists clenched unconsciously, Alt- Clark's face grew cold.
Striding into the massive throne room, her entourage of bodyguards in tow, Viantaa casually made her way to the throne and Lord Kal-El. Nuzzling her face in his neck, the Kryptonian Queen breathed hotly into his ear.
"I'm off for my inspection of the cities, my love," she purred. "It won't take long. On my return, would you care to… debrief me on my travels?" Her eyes sparkling with meaning, Viantaa gave a throaty laugh.
Blushing slightly, Lord Kal-El cleared his throat. "Um, ah, of course," he stammered. Hastily, grabbing his drink, the flustered Kryptonian leader downed half the glass.
Chuckling once more at his obvious discomfort, Viantaa nibbled his earlobe. "Please make certain you're prepared for some… in- depth questioning."
Lord Kal-El choked on his mouthful of drink.
As she walked away, her hips swaying suggestively, Viantaa nonchalantly cast a sultry look to her husband over her shoulder before the closing doors blocked her from view.
"Oh, WOW," Lord Kal-El whispered, grinning shamelessly. Gesturing for his aide to approach, the Kryptonian Overlord stood up from his throne.
"Cancel my appointments for tomorrow. I'm going to be a little busy." Throwing another look towards the door, Lord Kal-El's smile widened. "Make that the next TWO days."
Flying side by side across the Kansas fields, Clark and his double leisurely approached the Kent farmhouse. Clark regarded his double with what he hoped was a reasonably pleasant expression.
"Before we get back, Kal, we need to talk."
Sighing faintly, Alt-Clark looked at his twin. "And? I suppose YOU'RE going to read me the riot act as well?"
"And try to out-do Mad Dog Lane?" With mock severity, Clark shook his head. "No thank you!"
Caught off-guard, his double tried to hold in the laugh threatening to escape from his mouth. Succeeding only in transforming the initial outburst into a snort, Alt-Clark's laughter softly followed in their wake. Feeling the recent tension between them melt away, Clark playfully nudged his doppelganger in the shoulder.
"There you go," Clark chuckled. "Now you don't look QUITE so much like Batman."
Clutching his stomach, Alt-Clark doubled over in laughter, causing his flying form to wobble across the sky like a drunken bird. After a long bout of mirth, Alt-Clark straightened back out and wiped the tears from his eyes.
"Oh, man!" Shaking his head, the alternate Superman smiled at Clark. "I needed that, Clark."
"I figured you did," Clark said, returning the smile. Joining in with his double's returning laughter the pair continued across the sky, their roaring laughter echoing across the land.
Nearly an hour later, the two stood outside the Kent farmhouse.
"You sure we took long enough?" Alt-Clark asked his double. "You DID say that your Lois wanted to talk to MY Lois alone."
Trying unsuccessfully to hide his smile, Clark nodded. "I don't think even Lois can talk this long."
"YOU'VE obviously never seen her stone drunk," Alt-Clark whispered, his own smile lighting his face.
As Clark was about to reply, Alt-Clark motioned him to silence, concern suddenly masking his face.
"Clark, I hear crying."
Rushing into the house the two Clarks found Jonathan and Martha in the kitchen, Jonathan gingerly holding an ice pack against a bruise that seemed to cover the entire left side of his face, and Martha clutching her head in her hands as she wept.
"Oh no," Alt-Clark whispered, horror constricting his throat.
Hearing her son's voice, Martha staggered towards Clark. Stretching out his arms to greet her, Clark's own throat tightened with fear.
"They were… going to kill us," Martha sobbed, clutching Clark. "They… told Lois what they were going to do to us… if they both didn't go with them." Shaking her head, a fresh wave of tears poured down her cheeks. "Such… HORRIBLE things! It's MY fault. It's all my fault."
"Who did, Mom?" Clark gently asked her. "Who did this?"
"Lord Kal-El's men," Martha whispered.
Holding his mother tightly, Clark looked to Jonathan. "Did they say anything else, Dad?"
Holding the ice pack to his bruised jaw, Jonathan nodded. "They said to tell you to wait here, and that they'd be in touch." Shaking his head, Jonathan's eyes echoed Martha's grief. "I'm sorry, Clark. I tried to reason with them, but…" Trailing off, Jonathan sighed heavily.
"They're Kryptonians, Da… Mr. Kent," Alt-Clark responded, clasping the older man on the shoulder. "It was brave of you to even TRY to stand against them."
"Dad," Clark said. "Did they say HOW they'd contact us?"
Mutely, Jonathan pointed towards the living room.
The hours crept by. For the hundredth time, Clark checked the wires of the strange combination camera and satellite dish to insure they were properly connected. As he was about to resume his restless pacing, with a faint click, the camera on top of the television came to life. As Alt-Superman restlessly paced behind him, the static slowly cleared from the television to reveal a picture that caused Clark to forget to breathe. Smiling a devil's grin behind a goatee, Lord Kal-El slowly raised his head to look at the two Supermen.
"Hello again, you two," the tyrant said.
Behind Clark, Alt-Superman bit out a short curse.
"Naughty, naughty," Lord Kal-El chastised. "Such language, to be coming from the idol of millions." Putting his hands to his face, his expression turned to mock horror. "What would the children think?" Spreading his hands, Lord Kal-EL tilted his head slightly.
"Well, don't you have anything WORTHWHILE to say?"
Biting back his anger, Clark forced his voice to remain even. "What do you want?"
"Now, that's an awfully VAGUE question, Clark. Let's see if I can give you a more specific answer." Clasping his hands behind his back, Lord Kal-El stared intently at the duo.
"I've recently become aware that the two of you have been talking about possibly visiting my dimension," he stated. "Or to be more precise, ONE of you has been talking about it, and the other has been trying to talk him out of it. No, don't bother to try to deny it," the tyrant chided, seeing Clark about to object. "I'm here to inform you that it would NOT be the wisest of things to do at this time. Before you start spouting some garbage about how I've violated my agreement with Lady Zara by being here, I'd think twice about complaining, if I were you. After all, if she were to ask me why I came here, well… let's just say the two of you conspiring to sneak over to MY world doesn't exactly speak very highly of you." Nodding his head to someone standing off screen, the black-clad Kryptonian turned and pulled back his sleeve. His fingers danced across the control surface of the wide metal bracelet he wore, and a portal obediently opened.
Over the roar of the dimensional gateway, Clark's hearing picked out a woman's voice, but strangely echoed. Four armored figures entered the screen from opposite sides, each pair holding a fiercely struggling individual in their arms.
Clark's mouth went dry as a sickening dread filled his heart.
"Say goodbye, boys," Lord Kal-El bellowed.
With those words, Lord Kal-El's guards heaved the twin, identical madly flailing figures of Lois Lane through the portal. As soon as the figures had disappeared, the portal drew in on itself and collapsed, returning silence to the scene.
Facing the stunned Supermen once more, Lord Kal-El flipped a jaunty salute.
"Consider this an object lesson. Have a nice day," Lord Kal-El sneered.
With that, the screen filled with static.
"I'll kill him," Alt-Clark whispered, staring at the blank screen. His clenched fists trembling with fury, his eyes burned with murderous intent. "I'll KILL that son of a…!"
"Kal, wait a minute," Clark pleaded, grabbing his double's arm, fighting down his own panic. His body felt like it had been carved from ice.
"Wait for WHAT?" Alt-Clark asked. "Every second we waste means we're that much further for finding out where he sent them!"
Staring off into the distance, Clark's brow furrowed. "Can you hear it?" he whispered.
"Hear what?" Alt-Clark snapped, anger tensing his voice.
"The signal from it," Clark replied, pointing at the camera. "Lord Kal-El left it activated. We can track it to the transmission source."
"Then what are we waiting for?" Turning towards the door, Alt- Clark moved to leave.
"It might be a trap," Clark cautioned. "He wouldn't have left the signal activated unless he WANTED us there."
"So?" Alt-Clark retorted, his anger mounting. "That means HE might still be there. And if he is, after he gives us the coordinates for where he sent our wives, he's DEAD."
"Let's just concentrate on getting our wives back," Clark admonished. "Worry about HIM later."
Alt-Clark's eyes widened. "He threw our wives into who knows where, and you still want to play by the rules? We might NEVER see them again, and you STILL want to be the Boy Scout?" Shaking his head, Alt-Clark snorted in disbelief. Disappearing in a rush of air and a sonic boom, Alt-Clark rocketed over the countryside. Desperately trying to control his own mounting fury, Clark followed close behind.
With a tremendous screech, Alt-Clark ripped the heavy vault door off of the hinges, sending it flying over his shoulder.
"LOIS!" Alt-Clark's hoarse cry echoed eerily off the walls. Coming into the room close behind, Clark's eyes immediately swept the room for any signs of life. Spotting the camera mounted on the tripod, his eyes were drawn to what appeared to be black smudges marring the wall behind it. As Clark stared, the smudges began to take on a familiar pattern. Reaching towards his doppelganger, Clark tapped his shoulder.
"Over there," Clark whispered, pointing at the camera.
Following where Clark pointed, Alt-Clark's eyes widened in surprise.
"Coordinates?" he breathed. Turning to his double, Alt-Clark's eyes narrowed in suspicion. "He left us coordinates?"
"But LOOK at the coordinates, Kal," Clark said. "Do they look familiar?"
The alternate dimensional Superman straightened in surprise as he looked over the numbers.
"My Earth," he whispered. "He sent them to MY Earth."
"Which means we have to hurry," Clark said, heading for the doors.
"Why is that?" Alt-Clark asked, following close behind.
"Because when I visited there, I damaged Kryptonopolis," Clark hastily explained. "That in turn damaged the atmospheric processors Lord Kal-El had made, so we have no idea how much air there is. Not to mention that the longer they're there, the more their powers will fade."
"We need a portal device," Alt-Clark stated.
The only thing remaining of Clark, however, was his fading after- image.
As the two Supermen stood on the hilltop, waist-deep in snow, their capes snapping around their bodies in the icy wind, Alt- Clark's expression darkened as he looked across the wasteland that once was his home. Sensing his companion's deteriorating mood, Clark nudged his counterpart.
"Hey, remember why we're here," Clark urged. "We're here to save the women we love."
Taking a deep breath, Alt-Superman nodded. "So, how are we supposed to find them?"
Lifting into the air, Clark smiled at his double. "Cover your ears." Tilting his head slightly upward, Clark inhaled deeply and yelled Lois's name at the top of his lungs. The shockwaves from the roar cascaded across the terrain, blasting the drifted snow back from before him. In the distance, the sonic onslaught caused the remains of a skyscraper to tumble to the ground in a cloud of snow and dust.
Gently returning to the ground, Clark looked in amusement at his doppelganger as Alt-Clark shook his head to clear it.
"Wow," Alt-Clark gasped. "I'd hate to be around when you hail a taxi."
As Clark joined in the strained laughter, twin sonic booms echoed across the plain as two colorful figures arced across the sky and landed next to the Supermen. Alt-Lois immediately rushed into her husband's arms. Wrapping his cape around her, Alt-Clark held her tightly. Standing slightly apart from the two, Lois gazed adoringly at her husband.
"I thought I heard you," Lois said, trying to hide her relieved grin.
"I figured it'd get your attention," Clark replied.
"As soon as I realized where we were, I took Superwoman up above the cloud cover to insure that our powers wouldn't start to fade," Lois said, hugging her husband fiercely. Pulling her head back, Lois looked pointedly at Clark. "We also did a little checking."
"For what?" Clark asked.
"Kryptonopolis," she replied. "It's not here, Clark. It's GONE. We found the site where it hit the ground, but there's nothing there anymore."
Clark's eyes widened slightly in dismay. If Lord Kal-El had indeed recovered the floating fortress, then it couldn't bode well for anyone. And if he'd managed to get it operational, then it might already be masked from their sight.
"We need to get out of here," Clark announced to the group. Despite the fact there were four of them and could probably face anything Lord Kal-El cared to throw at them, he felt extremely vulnerable. After all, how can you fight a threat you can't even see?
"No argument here," Alt-Clark agreed, drawing his wife closer. He, too, nervously scanned the countryside.
Entering the coordinates for Earth, Clark opened another portal.
Far in the distance, unseen by all, their departure was observed.
Emerging from the portal, all four costumed heroes breathed a collective sigh of relief.
"That was a little closer than I care to think," Clark whispered to his wife.
"How'd you know we were there?" Lois asked, wrapping her arm around Clark's waist. "Lucky guess?"
"No. Lord Kal-El left us coordinates," Clark said. Seeing Lois's eyes widen in shock, Clark nodded. "I know. Surprised me, too."
As they neared the farmhouse, Alt-Clark nudged Clark.
"On the porch," he whispered.
Following his double's gaze, Clark saw both his parents standing in the doorway, watching their approach intently. The expressions on their faces bordered on disbelief.
"Mom? Dad? Something wrong?" Clark called. Stepping onto the porch, Clark stared at his father. "Dad? What happened to the bruise on your face?"
"Right after you left, Clark, we… were visited," Jonathan stammered, his voice uncertain.
"By who?" Lois asked.
"Lord Kal-El," Martha said, her voice catching slightly on the name.
Clark immediately bristled. "Him? He was HERE? WHY?"
"Easy, Clark," Martha soothed. "He wasn't here to hurt us."
"As a matter of fact, he was the one that healed my face. He even apologized for the attack on us."
Clark's eyes bulged, as did Alt-Clark's. "He WHAT?"
"He apologized," Martha confirmed. Glancing down to her hands, she held up a videocassette. "He also left THIS."
Gently taking the cassette from his mother's hands, Clark walked into the living room and placed it into the VCR. After a second's worth of static, Lord Kal-El's face filled the screen.
"Look at this as a warning, people," Lord Kal-El growled. "Thanks to the Council's ruling, I am forced to leave your world alone. I expect the courtesy returned in kind. If you don't?" Shrugging, Lord Kal-El smiled coldly. "I guarantee you, next time you'll NEVER find them."
The screen dissolved into static, leaving six people lost in their own thoughts.
As the group stormed down the corridor, Captain Kar-Za and Lieutenant Rann struggled to match Lord Kal-El's stride.
"Would you mind telling me," Lord Kal-El asked his voice low with rage. "How could something like this have happened? You're the Queen's personal Guard, for Rao's sake. How could she have been injured?"
"My apologies, Lord," the Captain stammered. "We underestimated the rebels, sir."
"Not ONLY has my wife been injured," Lord Kal-El continued, ignoring the Captain. "But two members of the personal guard have ALSO been injured!"
"The rebels were armed with THESE, my Lord," Lieutenant Rann supplied, handing the weapon to the enraged Kryptonian leader. "I overheard them refer to the weapons as the Quantum Disbander."
Turning over the short, cylindrical weapon in his hands, the look of fury on Lord Kal-El's face increased.
"How in the name of Rao did they develop these things?" Fixing a murderous glare on the Captain, Lord Kal-El brutally shoved the weapon at him, striking the Captain in the chest. "Sweeps of the cities are supposed to be made every week, Captain Kar-Za, in order to PREVENT things like this from ever being made! Negligence of this kind can get you killed, Captain," he hissed, his voice thick with meaning.
As they entered the infirmary's waiting room, Lord Kal-El spun to face the Captain of the Guard, anger blazing within his eyes.
"We'll finish this conversation later, Captain." Glancing towards the room's sole remaining door, the tyrant's eyes narrowed in irritation. "DOCTOR!"
After a brief sound of hurried steps, Doctor Randolph burst into the room at a frenzied pace. Skidding to a halt before the scowling Lord Kal-El, the flustered Doctor bowed before the Kryptonian leader.
"Doctor, how is my wife?" Lord Kal-El asked.
"I'm sorry, my Lord," the nervous physician said. His eyes briefly filled with panic as he glanced at Lord Kal-El's associates. "With the extent of her injuries, I'm afraid she's slipped into a coma."
Lord Kal-El, his eyes widening, staggered slightly. Hastily grabbing a chair, Lieutenant Rann placed it behind the stunned overlord as he slowly lowered his frame.
"Our preliminary tests have been completed, my Lord," Doctor Randolph continued. "We've detected kryptonite radiation in her blood. Our best guess is that the weapon the rebels used must utilize some weakened form of synthetic kryptonite radiation as its power source. When she was shot, the resulting injury allowed the radiation to enter her blood stream, saturating her body with its radiation and slowly cause her life to fade." As he watched Lord Kal-El slump further into the chair, the doctor placed a consoling hand on the grieving ruler's shoulder. "I'm afraid that the baby did NOT survive."
Lord Kal-El's head jerked up. "Baby?" he muttered, his voice hoarse. "What baby?"
His brow knitting in confusion, the doctor motioned towards Viantaa's room. "Her baby," he said. "She was pregnant."
Lord Kal-El's face drained of color. Burying his face in his hands, a low moan of pain and fury emerged from deep within Lord Kal-El's being. Slowly, the moan built into a scream of rage so loud it forced the doctor to cover his ears against its volume. As it died away, the tyrant's tear streaked face turned towards Captain Kar-Za. Madness shone behind his eyes as the muscles along his jaw danced.
"You are hereby relieved of your command, Captain," Lord Kal-El hissed. Twin blasts of heat vision caught the unprepared soldier in the chest, knocking him back against the wall and reducing him to ashes before he could utter a sound. Dragging the chair behind him as he sprung to his feet, Lord Kal-El's body trembled as he faced Lieutenant Rann, the tyrant's eyes narrowing. As he fought to control his fury, a clenched hand reduced the chair's arm to splinters.
"You are now in command of the Personal Guard, CAPTAIN," he growled. "You presently have two missions ahead of you. First, I want every rebel on this planet dead by sundown three days from now. If any human interferes, kill them as well. Take whatever forces you need, and see that it's done."
"And the second?"
"The Doctor said that kryptonite radiation was used on Viantaa," Lord Kal-El growled, his voice hitching slightly. "All samples of kryptonite are controlled by the Kryptonian Elders. They are the ONLY ones who could have gotten it into the hands of the rebels. I want you to find who was responsible."
"Once the culprits are discovered, what are your orders, Sire?" Rann asked, sinking his massive frame to one knee.
Taking a deep breath, Lord Kal-El released his hold on his emotions, allowing the rage to flood unimpeded through his body.
"I want their heads," Lord Kal-El screamed. "Literally!"
"Their Houses will object," the Captain pointed out.
"Kill whomever objects," the tyrant grated. "Should any Councilmen object, consider them to be in collusion with the responsible party, and execute them as well!"
Clapping his fist to his chest, Captain Rann stood and exited the room.
"And YOU," Lord Kal-El growled, jabbing a finger at the frightened doctor. "Go back in there and do whatever is possible to save Viantaa. When you have exhausted those avenues, do the IMPOSSIBLE. And when you've exhausted the impossible, you will do the UNTHINKABLE." With his hand against Randolph's chest, Lord Kal-El backed the human against the wall, pinning him there like an insect. "Rest assured, Doctor, my wife's last day among the living shall be YOURS and your FAMILY'S as well."
A frantic knocking on the door roused Clark from his reading. Opening the door, a disheveled Ken-Re staggered into the room, clutching at Clark.
"Lord Kal-El's gone mad!" Gasping for breath, Ken-Re shook Clark, stark terror oozing from him. "He's killing HUNDREDS of humans!"
"Ken-Re, slow down," Clark urged. "Tell me what's happened."
Taking a deep breath, the Kryptonian spy forcibly controlled himself. "I received a message from Ching, telling me that Viantaa had been attacked by rebels; she was seriously injured. Lord Kal-El killed the former Captain of the Guard and appointed Rann in his place, charging him with the task of finding the responsible humans. He also told him that, should any other human interfere in that task, he was to kill them as well."
Clark blanched. "What else?"
"The weapons the rebels used were powered by artificial kryptonite radiation. Lord Kal-El tasked Rann with questioning the Council how the rebels came by those weapons."
"Why? Does he think the Council might have supplied the rebels with the weapons?" Clark asked.
Ken-Re nodded. "Yes, he does."
Feeling as though events were spiraling out of his control, Clark raked a hand through his hair. "Ken-Re," Clark said. "The Lois Lane of Lord Kal-El's Earth was held in a prison cell somewhere, correct?"
Ken-Re nodded. "When Lord Kal-El commuted her sentence, he imprisoned her."
"Do you know where that cell was?"
Once more, Ken-Re nodded. "EVERYBODY knows that. Beneath the remains of Metropolis, on Lord Kal-El's Earth."
"Do you know if the cell was monitored?"
Ken-Re snorted. "EVERY cell under Metropolis is monitored."
"Good. I need you to search for any recordings of Lois Lane's cell and bring any you find to me. Then, I need you to contact Lord Kal-El and tell him… no, ASK him if he'll speak to me."
"Please," Clark urged. "Just do it. Time is of the essence."
"But, Kal-El, how will this stop the slaughter of the humans?"
"We need to divert Lord Kal-El's attention AWAY from the humans and onto something else," Clark explained. "If those tapes show me what I THINK they will, we'll have our diversion."
Ken-Re, finally nodding, vanished with a low sonic boom.
Turning back to the living room, Clark prayed that he was doing the right thing.
Standing beside Viantaa's bed, Lord Kal-El stared down helplessly at the ailing woman. A sickly green tint suffused Viantaa's sweaty skin, giving the impression that she had been carved from jade. Reading over the chart in his hand, the blood drained from Doctor Randolph's face as entered the room and saw Viantaa's visitor.
"My Lord," he gasped. "Y-You shouldn't be this close to her! The kryptonite radiation…!"
"I… can… handle it," Lord Kal-El whispered, pain edging his voice. Standing this close to the kryptonite radiation, Lord Kal- El could feel it stabbing into his body, weakening him.
"But Lord Kal-El…"
"I CAN HANDLE IT!" Lord Kal-El roared, spinning to face the Doctor. "Concern yourself with more pressing matters, Doctor! Namely, the survival of my wife!"
His mouth working soundlessly, the doctor handed over the chart to Lord Kal-El. Like a condemned man facing his executioner, the Doctor held his breath.
As he paged through it, Lord Kal-El's eyes glimmered with tears as he reached the final page. Dropping the clipboard to the floor, the black clad tyrant raked both hands through his hair in helpless frustration.
"Then…" Lord Kal-El choked. "Then there's no hope?"
Mutely, Doctor Randolph shook his head.
"How long?" Lord Kal-El asked.
"A matter of hours," Randolph whispered. "Maybe less."
His body trembling, Lord Kal-El's eyes flared crimson, casting red tinted shadows across the room.
"Then I suggest you spend these final hours with your family, Doctor," Lord Kal-El hissed. "They will be your last."
Spinning on his heel, the infuriated overlord stormed through the nearest wall, sending debris scattering across the room.
As he heard the low sonic boom, Clark opened the front door before Ken-Re could knock. "Did you find anything?"
"I… There's…" At a loss for words, Ken-Re handed Clark the viewer.
Placing the headphones over his ears, Clark switched on the player. As the screen came alive, he watched in mounting horror as the events replayed themselves on the tiny screen. Finally, unable to take any more, he yanked the headphones off. Glaring at the viewer as if its mere existence sickened him, Clark fought down the urge to retch.
"Why… Why weren't there more marks on Lois's body?" Shaking the viewer at Ken-Re, Clark's voice raised up a level. "From what Viantaa did, why weren't there more marks?"
Ken-re sighed as he looked at the floor. "Kryptonian medical science, when applied to a human body, can heal nearly ANY wound. No matter HOW severe."
"Did… did Lord Kal-El agree to meet me?" Clark asked, staring at the viewer.
"Yes," Ken-Re replied. "But only for a few minutes."
Straightening, Clark took a deep breath. "Hopefully, that's all I'll need." Glancing around the room one last time, Clark suddenly wished Lois were there so he could say goodbye. Grabbing a pen and paper, he hastily scribbled out a note for his wife, then another for his parents, leaving them both on the kitchen table. Clearing his throat, Superman faced Ken-Re.
As he was escorted down the corridor, Clark fought to quell the unease that was growing in the pit of his stomach.
>Just keep telling yourself you ASKED for this, < Clark thought. >And keep telling yourself this is the right thing to do. <
Entering the throne room, the guards bowed respectfully towards the throne and backed out of the chamber.
"You're becoming annoyingly predictable," Lord Kal-El said, his voice drifting to Clark. "At the first sign of trouble on MY world, you come running to save the humans." Floating down from the vaulted ceiling, Lord Kal-El glared at Clark. "Besides, you're wasting your time. The killings have already been stopped."
With a gasp, Clark backed up a step as he took in the condition of his double.
His face, drawn and haggard, was pale. Dark rings framed sunken eyes that contained more pain than Clark had ever seen before. His once neatly manicured goatee now had disappeared in the emerging forest of a full beard. His hair stood out in a disheveled mess, and an air of weariness hovered around the beleaguered tyrant like a shroud.
"What do you want?" Lord Kal-El asked in a tired voice.
Clutching the viewer like a life preserver, Clark took a deep breath. "I'd like to talk to you about something."
"If it's about the humans, then you're wasting your time," Lord Kal-El stated, beginning to turn away. "And mine as well."
"It's about one human in particular," Clark replied.
Lord Kal-El froze. "ONE human?"
Clark nodded, trying to ignore the misgivings growing inside him.
"Lois Lane," Clark said.
Lord Kal-El shrugged. "She's dead. End of conversation."
"But do you know HOW she died?" Clark pressed, walking around the Kryptonian leader to face him.
Confusion growing in his eyes, Lord Kal-El shrugged once more. "No. They said that it was an accident. After I sentenced her to prison, she tried to escape. The guard killed her before he realized who it was." Lord Kal-El's eyes narrowed in suspicion. "Why?"
Clasping his hands behind his back, Clark looked to the floor, trying to order his thoughts. "Since the day you first laid eyes on her, Lois has never been far from your thoughts, correct?"
Cautiously, Lord Kal-El nodded.
Peering at his double, Clark tilted his head slightly. "The minute you saw her, you fell in love with her, correct?"
"I don't see the point in this, Clark," Lord Kal-El sighed.
"Please," Clark asked. "Just answer the question."
"She's…" Taking a deep breath, Lord Kal-El swiped a hand through his hair. "She was a HUMAN, Clark," Lord Kal-El growled. "A human guilty of the deaths of NUMEROUS Kryptonians. It wouldn't have worked anyway. Besides, I was in love with Viantaa."
Clark merely nodded. "But that didn't stop your feelings from growing, did it?"
After a long hesitation, the tyrant shook his head. "No," he sighed.
"And every version of Lois you've encountered since then has only served to intensify these feelings," Clark continued.
Once more, Lord Kal-El nodded.
"And, you have NO idea why?"
"No," Lord Kal-El agreed. "I DON'T have any idea why."
Clark stared at his mirror image. "That's because Lois Lane is Kal-El's destined soulmate."
"Soulmate," Clark's doppelganger repeated, as if trying out the word. "If we're destined to be soulmates, then why haven't I felt that same connection with any other Lois? I mean, I FELT the connection, but not as strong. Why?"
"Because those other Lois's aren't YOUR soulmate. They're the soulmate of OTHER Kal-Els. Each Kal-El in EVERY dimension has his Lois Lane. As I found out a while ago, even down through time in each dimension, the incarnations of Kal-El and Lois Lane are inseparable."
"No. NO!" Lord Kal-El's bellow took Clark off-guard. As Clark watched, Lord Kal-El's eyes glistened with tears. Angrily, the enraged tyrant swiped away the offending moisture before he continued. "That's great. That's just PERFECT! Yet another thing I've been deprived of by life!" Scowling at Clark, a slight trembling took hold of Lord Kal-El. "Every time I see one of you with their Lois, it tears me apart inside. Knowing her, experiencing her love; those are other things I will NEVER have!" Thumping his chest, Lord Kal-El's eyes grew wild. "You're telling me, Clark, that this void within me should have been filled by the love of MY Lois Lane. But we both know it's a void that will NEVER be filled. WHY ARE YOU DOING THIS TO ME?" His anguished cry echoed around the room.
His eyes echoing Lord Kal-El's own grief, praying he was doing the right thing, Clark held out the viewer to his double. "What I do now, Lord Kal-El," Clark said softly. "I do NOT do out of spite. I do this because you have the right to know." As Lord Kal-El hesitantly took the viewer, Clark turned away. Long minutes passed as a silence stretched over the room. Finally, Clark turned back to his double, only to see Lord Kal-El's face had become a deathly white.
"She… She killed her," the black clad tyrant whispered. As he stared into space at a vista only visible to himself, the muscles along Lord Kal-El's jaw spasmed. "Viantaa killed Lois."
Clark nodded, preparing for the worst.
"But Lois was a human," Lord Kal-El objected, his voice barely above a breath. "What kind of a threat could she have POSSIBLY posed to Viantaa?"
"It wasn't a war between Human and Kryptonian," Clark said, placing his hand on the shoulder of his double in sympathy. "It was a war between two women for the heart of one man."
Dropping from nerveless fingers, the viewer clattered to the floor.
"Kal-El," Clark began, but swiftly fell silent, not knowing what to say. Lord Kal-El merely stared into the distance, fresh tears coursing down his face as he fought to control himself.
"Why?" Lord Kal-El's question was no louder than a breath of air.
Snapping out of his revere, Clark glanced at his doppelganger. "Why what?"
"Why did you show me that?"
"I felt you needed to know," Clark replied. Shrugging uncomfortably, Clark gestured at the chamber doors. "Knowing what you do, what are you going to do about Viantaa?"
Barking a brief, nearly hysterical laugh, Lord Kal-El shook his head. "Nothing."
"Nothing? But, Viantaa…?"
"Viantaa is DEAD!" Lord Kal-El's roar echoed across the chamber.
Staggering backward, Clark's body went cold with dread as fear clutched at him.
"You couldn't let me have it, could you?" Lord Kal-El continued, stalking across the room after the retreating Superman, his voice bordering on hysterical. "You couldn't let me have this ONE piece of happiness! One pleasant memory! One GOOD thing in my life!"
>Oh my god, < Clark thought, clenching his eyes shut with horror. >What have I done? <
Grasping Clark by the front of his shirt, Lord Kal-El yanked his double closer, until the two were nearly nose to nose.
"You just HAD to ruin it, didn't you!" the furious overlord hissed.
"I-I'm sorry, I didn't know," Clark whispered, doing nothing to free himself from his double's grip.
"You didn't know," Lord Kal-El mocked in a singsong voice. "More likely you didn't CARE!" Eyes narrowing in hatred, Lord Kal-El shook Clark like a rag doll. "Several Council members conspired to have her poisoned by kryptonite radiation. My own people, the very ones who I've sacrificed SO much for, and they killed my wife!" Lord Kal-El bellowed, sending Clark sprawling across the floor with one massive push.
Colliding with the far wall, Clark looked to the floor, shame coloring his face.
"Oh, SPARE me the sympathy card, Clark," Lord Kal-El growled hoarsely, wiping away the tears that blurred his vision. "You CAN'T possibly tell me that you regret Viantaa's death."
Meeting his mirror's eyes, Clark felt hot tears wind their way down his own cheeks. "Yes," he whispered. "I DO."
"Your hypocrisy SICKENS me, Clark," Lord Kal-El snarled. "I know the TRUE reason you've come here."
Clark looked at his doppelganger uncomprehendingly. Lord Kal-El, missing the expression, continued his ranting.
"You came here to GLOAT! Your little turncoat spy Ken-Re obviously told you that the Council had stripped me of my status and privileges, and you wanted to rub my nose in it!" Throwing his hands in the air, Lord Kal-El gave another hysterical laugh. "The great and powerful Lord Kal-El, now a Lord in name only!"
"I-I didn't know," Clark whispered.
His head snapping around to face Clark, Lord Kal-El's eyes burrowed into Clark's own. Seeing the truth they held, Lord Kal- El's fury stuttered. "Y-You mean it, don't you." At Clark's nod, the former tyrant seemed to collapse in on himself. "Of all the enemies I thought would eventually bring about my downfall, why did it have to be my own people?"
Getting to his feet, Clark walked over to his counterpart. "Kal- El," he began, placing a hand on the morose man's shoulder.
Lord Kal-El shrugged it off. "Spare me your pity, Clark," he said in monotone. "Please."
Nodding in understanding, Clark hooked his thumbs in his belt. Glancing around the empty room, Clark frantically tried to think of something to say.
"Uncomfortable, isn't it?" Lord Kal-El whispered, lightly chuckling. "You've NEVER been at a loss for words before. Now, talking to YOURSELF, you can't think of a thing to say."
Clark's reflexive objection died on his lips.
"Yeah, you're right." Shrugging, Clark canted his head. "What now?"
"Now? Now I go into exile," Lord Kal-El responded. "Part of my 'punishment' handed to me by the Council."
"The Council DID this to you," Clark replied. "Did the people back them?"
Lord Kal-El snorted. "They didn't exactly object. It seems as though they've tired of my little vendetta against humanity's persecution of Kryptonians." Lord Kal-El shook his head in disgust. "How soon they forget."
A loud knocking on the chamber door stopped Clark's reply. Striding into the chamber, a balding, extremely obese man dressed in gaudy purple and orange robes smiled at the twin Kal-Els. Clark felt his double instantly bristle.
"It's time," Lord Reldt announced. "Follow me to the Hall of Judgement."
As they followed the waddling Lord down the corridor to another set of closed double doors, Clark leaned closer to Lord Kal-El.
"Who is that?"
"Lord Reldt," the black clad Kryptonian replied. "The architect of my downfall, if you can believe it."
Clark's face mirrored his shock. "Him?"
"Yes," Lord Reldt answered, smiling oily. "I AM responsible for Lord Kal-El's current state of affairs. The other Lords were rather… hesitant about directly confronting our illustrious leader. I, however, had NO such qualms." His eyes alight with the fires of righteousness, Reldt's body quivered with excitement. "It was a MASTERFULL stroke of genius that…"
"Oh, SHUT UP!" Lord Kal-El's roar thundered across the diminutive Lord before him. Stepping closer, the former tyrant backed Reldt up against the closed doors. "You give yourself FAR too much credit, Reldt. You're really NOT that intelligent, you know."
Reldt's eyes bulged, whether from fear, outrage, or both combined, Clark couldn't tell.
"Before I leave, Reldt, I must know two things," the deposed Lord murmured. "Why, Reldt? Why kill my wife? Why kill Viantaa? Why not just kill me?"
"Because a man who dies in the service of a cause can become a martyr," Reldt sneered. "A man who dies in the service of a FAILED cause is nothing more than that: a failure." His eyes alight with glee, Reldt sketched a mocking bow. "Now, I believe exile awaits you?"
"My second question," Lord Kal-El stated, placing his hand on the door, preventing Reldt from opening it. "Who gave the order? Who killed Viantaa?"
His smile widening even further, Reldt bowed mockingly once more.
Lord Kal-El's eyes hardened.
"The next time we meet, Reldt," Clark's double hissed. "I will kill you."
Yanking on the door, Lord Kal-El sent the obese Lord careening across the corridor, slamming into the far wall. Casting one final murderous glare at the frightened Lord, the deposed tyrant strode into the hall.
Clark followed close behind.
Amassed before them stood the entire Council, their colorful robes arrayed like so many rainbows. Beside them, in orderly rows, stood Lord Kal-El's personal Guard. Seeing their Lord enter, they rigidly snapped to attention as one. His eyes roving over the ranks, Lord Kal-El respectfully saluted them, his very demeanor paying tribute to their loyalty.
Stepping around the two, Lord Reldt took his place at the forefront of the Council. Puffing himself up, the Lord smiled self-importantly.
"Lord Kal-El. Your actions of late have been found to be not in the best interests of the Kryptonian people. It is therefore the ruling of this august Council that you be stripped of your powers and entitlements granted by your position, that you be…"
As the pompous Lord droned on, Clark watched his twin silently view each and every Council member, daring them to look him in the eye. Some met his gaze. Most, however, looked away.
"Enough of this," Lord Kal-El sighed, interrupting Reldt in mid- speech. Striding into the midst of the hall, Clark's mirror image shook his head tiredly. "I grow weary of this." Without looking, Lord Kal-El's fingers danced across the buttons of his bracelet, keying in coordinates for the forming portal. Without a word, his head hung low over stooped shoulders, Lord Kal-El entered the blue-white portal and vanished from sight. A moment later, the vortex vanished.
Captain Rann, glancing down at his own portal device, faced the assembled Royal Guard.
"I have Lord Kal-El's coordinates," the Captain rumbled. Keying his own portal device, a massive red tinged portal opened with a roar. Stabbing a commanding arm towards the maelstrom, Captain Rann snapped to attention.
"Royal Guard, follow!"
Wordlessly, the amassed group of armored Guardsmen filed into the portal, vanishing after their departed Lord.
"Captain Rann," Lord Reldt shouted, a note of worry in his voice. "Where are you going?"
"We are Lord Kal-El's Royal Guard," Rann proclaimed. "Where he goes, we go."
"You are the protectors of the Kryptonian leader," Reldt corrected. "Lord Kal-El is no longer the leader of the Kryptonian people. Your place is here with the NEW leader. Me," he added, tapping his own chest.
Captain Rann, with a look of disgust, spit contemptuously on the floor of the chamber.
"We are the Royal Guard of LORD KAL-EL," Rann sneered. "Not the protectors of spoiled children afraid of their own shadows!" Turning his back to the stunned assemblage, Captain Rann followed his soldiers into the maelstrom.
As murmurs of shock spread through the Council, Clark withdrew his own portal device and activated it. With one last look at Lord Reldt, Clark couldn't help but chuckle to himself at the Lord's expression of outright terror.
"Somebody's in trouble," Clark whispered in a singsong tone. With a last glance, Clark vanished into the vortex.
That evening, as he lay in bed with Lois, sleep refused to come to Clark. Lois rolled over to look at her husband.
"Not really," Clark whispered.
"Me neither. I can't help but feel sorry for Lord Kal-El," Lois whispered, resting her head on Clark's naked chest. "He's all alone out there, now. What do you think will happen to him?"
Clark shook his head. "I have no idea, Lois. He's suffered through SO much already, I only hope he finds SOME measure of happiness, wherever he might be."
Her brow furrowing in confusion, Lois softly ran a finger over Clark's chest. "Clark? Why did Lord Kal-El leave coordinates for you and Kal, telling you where to find us?"
"He didn't want Kal or myself to lose you two," Clark replied. "He'd lost HIS Lois, but even though it killed him to see us together, he didn't want either Kal or myself to lose you."
"That's what I thought," Lois replied, her voice thick with sorrow.
Wrapping his arms around her, Clark gently held his wife as she softly cried for Lord Kal-El.
Drawing on his cigar, Lex smiled at the two men across his desk. "I trust everything was to your satisfaction?"
Lord Queima nodded fractionally.
"And you followed the diagrams for the Disbanders as I outlined for you? You made the modifications as I indicated, and powered them by kryptonite?"
"We did," Lord Reldt replied.
"Good," Lex murmured. "Then a LARGE part of our mutual problems have been solved. Lord Kal-El is no longer a threat."
"Not… exactly," Lord Reldt quietly conceded.
Lex's eyes narrowed. "Lord Kal-El was supposed to have been killed."
"He's… still alive," Reldt whispered.
"But he's been exiled," Queima quickly chimed in.
"Exiled?" Lex's quiet voice sent a shiver through both Kryptonian Lords.
"Yes," Reldt said, desperate to stand up to the furious executive across the desk. "Lord Kal-El will NOT be a problem anymore."
"I must admit," Lord Queima added, before Lex could reply. "I do find it troubling that we have now armed the human rebels with weapons that are capable of killing a Kryptonian."
"If you followed the plans as I outlined them," Lex sighed. "Each weapon is only capable of firing twice at the most before the weapon's operating systems fuse into a lump of worthless circuitry. As long as those who are loyal to you KNOW this, then they will be able to stay out of range until the weapons are useless. And since they can't build any more of them, they are not a threat."
Lord Reldt nudged Queima. "Idiot," he hissed.
Before the insulted Lord could reply, Lex noisily cleared his throat. "Then, despite Lord Kal-El's continued existence, I trust that we can anticipate a long and prosperous alliance?"
Once more, the Kryptonian Lords nodded.
Lex Luthor smiled. "Excellent."
TO BE CONTINUED…