By Shayne Terry <email@example.com >
Submitted: October 2006
Summary: Trapped together, several versions of Clark Kent and Superman compare notes, and learn something valuable in the process.
He couldn't take his eyes off them. The cartoon and the black-and-white man, the sullen teenager, the young man with the wooden facial expressions and the tall one. Each of them claimed to be Clark Kent, and yet not one of them looked at all like him.
The cartoon was the worst. Somehow he managed to be two dimensional in a three dimensional world. Clark found himself looking for the edge, but from the side he was perfectly invisible. Worse, he was the only one in the Superman suit, although Clark could see that three of the others were wearing them under their clothes. The teenager had nothing but boxers.
Trapped in a white room, each of them had tried the door only to find it locked and impervious to their abilities. Clark's X-ray vision worked within the confines of the room, but he couldn't make anything out outside the walls. He saw expressions on the faces of the others that led him to think they had come to the same conclusion.
The black-and-white man sat heavily in his seat. His clothes were vintage forties, as was his haircut. He was thicker in the jaw than the others, and Clark wondered if that was what happened to Kryptonians as they got older. He might have to slow down on the Twinkies.
"This is obviously a plot by Luthor." The tall man with the piercing blue eyes spoke suddenly, his expression intense.
Most of the others nodded, though Clark noted that the teenager seemed surprised.
"The Luthor of my world is dead," Clark said quietly. "And it doesn't seem like his style to bring all of us together like this."
"I can't imagine that Lex would be able to do all of this," the teenager murmured, staring at the cartoon once again. "Even if he wanted to."
"I'm guessing that we come from parallel worlds," Clark said quietly. "I've dealt with things like this before."
"How do I know that you aren't all just imposters?" The cartoon spoke finally. He seemed as fascinated by the side view of everyone else as they did of him.
"They'd have made us look alike if they wanted to create fake Supermen," Clark said with some feeling of authority. "I've had to deal with clones before."
"I mostly dealt with gangsters and mad scientists," the black-and-white man spoke again. He'd been looking more and more glum. He looked up hopefully. "Maybe this was all just an accident, an experiment gone wrong."
"Then what about this room?" Clark asked. "If it was an accident, we'd be able to push our way through the door."
Glancing at the wooden-faced man beside him, the blue-eyed, tall man said, "This has gone on long enough."
He leapt to his feet and charged toward the door, moving at an incredible speed. Even to Clark's special vision, he moved so fast he was a blur.
The door exploded, but the tall man came flying backward. He hit Clark, and Clark was stunned by the impact.
He was stunned, and it took a moment before he realized that the blue-eyed man was already on his feet and holding out a hand to him.
"Sorry about that," the man said. He turned his head slightly and said, "But at least we've learned something."
The force of the impact had caused the entire front end of the room to collapse. On the other side of the wall was a sight Clark had hoped to never see again.
They were moving along the time stream.
The expressionless man handed over the picture.
Clark stared at it for a moment, feeling a moment of heartache. "He's cute. How old is he?"
"He's five. Lois named him Jason."
"So you and Lois are together?" Clark asked quietly. It was painful, knowing that he would never have a child of his own.
The other man shook his head. "I left her for five years. She hasn't quite forgiven me."
Clark blinked. "I'd have thought Lois would be able to find Clark Kent anywhere on the planet…"
"I went back to Krypton."
That got the attention of everyone else in the room.
Seeing the dawning hope in some of the others eyes, the wooden-faced man shook his head. "There were no survivors. It was a dead planet."
"I just don't understand how you could have slept with her without telling her who you were." Clark shook his head. "I could never do that."
"You asked her to marry her without telling her…"
"That's different. I would have told her before we got married."
"I erased her memory." The blue-eyed man spoke suddenly, looking troubled. "It was tearing her apart that we couldn't be together."
"I still don't understand why you couldn't…" Clark felt frustrated. The expressionless man and the blue-eyed man seemed to have trouble understanding the idea of a personal life. They seemed to think they were above humanity, apart from it.
They didn't seem to understand that Superman was a man before he had ever been super.
The teenager spoke for the first time. "I don't understand why you all seem to be obsessed with Lois Lane. If she's anything like my Lois, she's pigheaded, arrogant, determined, obsessive and annoying."
For once, Clark found himself nodding in unison with the other four men in the room. "Danger-prone too."
He grinned. "So you know Lois already, do you?"
Clark wondered for a moment what it might have been like, knowing Lois as a teenager.
"Lana Lang is the love of my life," the teenager said stubbornly. "I don't care what you say."
"I knew a time traveler once," Clark said, "who said that in every world he'd been to with a Clark Kent, there was a Lois Lane that he loved."
The teenager shook his head again, staring at the floor.
"So you got Lois to marry you." The cartoon sat down beside him, turned slightly so that Clark could see him.
Nodding, Clark said, "I asked her out on a date as Clark. It really does wonders."
He could hear the teenager in the background muttering to himself.
Clark wondered how long it would be before someone came to the rescue. This cube, at least, did not seem to be shrinking, and luckily none of them seemed to have a need to eat, but the boredom was starting to get to them all.
The cartoon was speaking again. "The League has to know I'm missing by now. They'll get us out of here as soon as Batman figures out how to do it."
The whole idea of other super-powered heroes was mind boggling. It might have been nice to have had some help, although some of the villains the cartoon talked about Clark didn't like the sound of at all. This Darkseid character, for example.
"We should try to figure out who might have done this to us," he said suddenly. "It might give us a chance when we get to the end of our journey."
"So our best bets are Darkseid, General Zod, Mxyzptlk, or some random scientist," Clark said, nodding toward the black-and-white man, "or my own enemy, Tempus."
After a moment of thought, Clark shook his head. "If it was Tempus, he'd have found a way to let us hear him gloating by now, although this does look a bit like the kind of time cube he placed me in once."
"Darkseid might want to take over several dimensions at once," the cartoon said quietly. "But I'm not sure why he would leave us alive."
"Zod would have loved to trap me in the Phantom Zone," the blue-eyed man said. "But why he'd want the rest of you, I'm not sure."
The teenager was silent for a long moment before saying, "I think I might know something."
Seeing that he had the attention of the others, he hesitated, then said, "I was feeling pretty let down after my last breakup with Lana. I know it was the twelfth time, but it hurts every time. I found myself in the Talon…our local coffee shop alone.
"There was a girl behind the counter that I'd never seen before, and I may have said something I shouldn't."
The black-and-white man placed a reassuring hand on the boy's shoulder. "Go on, son."
"It all started a little like this."
"So you're saying that every choice we make—every choice everybody makes—creates an entirely new universe."
The blonde woman, Anya, nodded. "Every choice you've made and those of the people before you. In some worlds the laws of physics are completely different because of a small change during the big bang."
The teenager frowned at her and wondered if he'd had enough sleep.
"So there are other versions of me out there, versions who lived whole different lives and made whole different choices."
"Some of them don't even look like you at all," the woman nodded, smiling. She leaned forward. "Every bad choice you've ever made, there's a you that made a different choice."
The boy shook his head gloomily. Some of the choices he'd made, the regrets he'd had… "I wish I could see that."
"Wish granted." The woman's face shifted, the bones under her skin altering, becoming something monstrous.
"So that's it," Clark said. "You wished for it and it came true." He couldn't help the skepticism in his own voice.
The boy nodded glumly. "I can see now that I'm a screw-up no matter where I go."
"What?" Clark asked.
The boy nodded toward the blue-eyed man and his expressionless companion. "Those guys don't think they can be human beings. They've cut themselves off from everybody. I'm lonely, but them…" He shuddered.
He glanced at the cartoon. "You too, though not as much."
The black-and-white man said, "Son…"
"You've been in love with Lois Lane and you've never been able to say anything about it."
The boy shook his head and turned to Clark. "You're the only one who has the kind of life I think I might like, and it's too late for me. Your dad is still alive…you've always been a good person. Me…I've screwed up more often than I want to think about. I've hurt people, done things I'm ashamed of. All of you seem proud of the cape, but I don't think I'm ever going to be a good enough person to live up to what it stands for."
"There's always time for a second chance," Clark said. "You just have to want to change."
The black-and-white man nodded, and the others nodded as well. They gathered together, offering their support.
"Being Superman isn't about what you are…it's about who you are," Clark said.
It seemed like they talked for days, though objectively it was probably only hours. Clark discovered that, despite their differences, there were things about his life that these men understood in ways that no one else did.
Slowly, he felt something release inside himself, and he noticed the teenager beginning to look more relaxed as well.
They were surprised when the cube finally came to a halt and the far side of the room gathered in darkness.
A red-skinned creature stepped out of the darkness, and Clark slowly rose to his feet.
The figure cleared its throat and spoke. "I…um…I'm sorry about all this," he addressed the boy. "Anyanka didn't realize you weren't human, or she never would have granted that wish. Alien wishes are somebody else's department. You are all free to go."
Clark woke up with his head in Lois's lap, the remains of their meal spread out around them. He stared up at her for a moment, feeling absurdly grateful that he had her in his life.
The thought of living like some of his counterparts…always seeing her but never being together would have been his own special version of hell.
"You've been asleep for an hour, sleepyhead," Lois said, laughing gently. She ran her hand slowly through his hair. "I think my legs are getting a little numb."
Clark pushed himself up to a sitting position.
It had all been a dream.
He should have known, the moment he saw the cartoon.
"I have some news for you," she said. "I took the test today, three times. I'm pregnant."
He blinked for a moment, stunned. "I thought Dr. Klein said that we weren't compatible?"
"I know," Lois said quietly. "I guess he was wrong."
She pulled a piece of paper out from the basket beside her. "The test results are here. You can look at them yourself."
Clark glanced down at them, then blinked. On a white piece of paper, words began to form.
"Sorry about the inconvenience. Hope this helps, Anyanka."
The paper changed again, and a moment later it was the test results Lois had obviously been expecting him to see. Clark hesitated a moment, then hugged her.
Life could be worse.
The teenager woke, his head against the counter in a puddle of drool. He shook his head, then blinked as the woman appeared before him
"You've been here all night, Smallville. I'd have thought Lana would have at least woken you up."
"I must have been out of it, Lois," Clark said. He'd had such a strange dream. Five men just like him, all of whom were obsessed with Lois Lane. He wondered for a moment what they saw in her.
She was infuriating, sure, and pretty, but…
"Would you like to go and get some breakfast?" he asked abruptly.
She looked surprised, but finally shrugged her shoulders and said, "The Talon doesn't open for another hour anyway. Sure. I'm sick of donuts."
And in this world it started, as it had in all the others. For every Clark there was a Lois, for every Lois, a Clark.
The universe hummed its contentment.