DARKSEID RETURNS Written by Charlie Wilkins Edited by Oblique
The following takes place before DC2 Most Wanted...
Previously, in the DC2universe…
One day, a handful of years ago, a great war spilled through reality and across the universe until it crashed into an unsuspecting Earth.
Gods descended from the skies and, when they spoke, it was clear that whatever heaven they called home was not home to angels.
The skies bled crimson. Mindless alien monsters stole people away from their homes to be put to work in slave camps, all to solve an equation that would bring about the dreaded Anti-Life, master control over all living souls under the iron fist of a dark god.
It took the combined efforts of the world’s greatest superheroes and a cadre of benevolent New Gods to save the entire multiverse, and in the aftermath the dark god himself was imprisoned in the Source Wall, the barrier separating entropy and the rest of the universe, and the heroes decided to become the Justice League.
But some time later, reality was under threat, and it reset once it was saved… and a single prisoner escaped the Source Wall.
No one in the Justice League knew.
But soon enough, one hero will.
Because at the end of all things…
“You imprisoned a New God at the edge of the solar system… and didn’t think to tell anybody?”
Arms crossed and an unhappy look on his face, Superman waited for the Green Lanterns to give him an answer.
Guy Gardner looked to John Stewart for the Corps’ company line, but the latter Lantern was giving him the same exact look. The hotheaded one of the pair shrugged. “Well, no one asked, Big Blue.”
John held up his hands. “…This isn’t how we wanted this to come out, Superman. After the second coming of the dark New Gods*, I needed somewhere to stash him, and somewhere fast. The Sciencells weren’t designed to hold a celestial being, but by placing a cosmic event in the heart of an asteroid, surrounded by a battery-maintained forcefield it kept him contained.”
*Green Lantern #41-43
“'Contained' without due process. Those aren’t the values of the Justice League, John,” said Superman.
“This ain’t your jurisdiction, Supes. Besides, Johnny-boy ran it by the New Gods in the League, and they were happy with it. They provided the location of the inertron mine we needed to create the restraints that held Devilance for so long,” said Guy.
John bristled under his fellow Lantern’s straightforward reportage of the facts, but he wasn’t wrong-- even if he was an ass. “We did what we thought was best,” he said.
“And we did check up on him on the regular*,” said Guy.
*Green Lantern Corps #67
“But now he’s gone. Escaped. Or perhaps released?” said Superman.
“There’s an esoteric energy signature in the immediate area that matches what we’ve seen in the past with Boom Tubes. The asteroid was pulled apart from the outside and the singularity snuffed out by I don’t even know how. Yeah, this was a prison break. That’s worrying,” said John.
“I’ll speak to Barda, see if she’s been in contact with Orion or the others on Exodus*, and if you could--”
*Exodus is the name of the benevolent New God’s artificial home world!
A buzzing at Superman’s belt buckle interrupted and alerted him to something occurring over 7.5 billion kilometres away, back on Earth, back in Metropolis. He looked across the solar system, straight through the planets themselves, until his eyes focused on the city he called home-- where a panicked Jimmy Olsen was pressing his signal watch, and where Metallo was tearing downtown apart.
Superman turned to face the others. “I need to go. Can you--?”
“Do you need a hand?” said Guy.
“No, I’ve got this. But a warp tunnel would be useful,” said the Man of Steel.
John aimed his ring toward Earth, and a few metres away from Superman a swooping tear in space formed that beckoned him forward. He looked back at the Green Lanterns and gave them a playful salute. “I know you did what you thought was best. Let me know what you find, and if I can be any help!”
The Man of Tomorrow dove into the tunnel that would lead back to Earth, and Guy grimaced as he gripped his wrist. “Don’t like being lectured, Johnny.”
“You just don’t like it when you’re in the wrong. C’mon. Let’s work the scene, see if we can track that Boom Tube signature,” said John.
Screeching with every bone-melting blast from his Kryptonite heart, Metallo was on a rampage. Thankfully, no one had perished due to the mad robotic monstrosity’s onslaught so far. Having arrived minutes into the attack, the Metropolis Special Crimes Unit had taken a battering, but, thanks to the SteelTech armour they wore on the super beat, they weren’t as worse for wear as they could have been!
Inspector Dan Turpin, current ranking officer since Maggie Sawyer left for Gotham City and Nemo Jones for Coast City, was barking orders over the radio, clearing civilians back and establishing a perimeter. The question on everyone’s lips was ‘Where’s Superman?’, but they had to make do in his absence!
“Oooph! Are you getting this, Jimmy?” asked Lois.
Along with her partner-in-crime Jimmy Olsen, they were on the front line, doing their best to stay behind cover while reporting from the scene. He was ducking up and down from the behind the car where they’d taken refuge, snapping photos, checking their quality, and then repeating the process, while she was dodging debris that rained down when Metallo let loose, trying to get her head round the story.
“Unfortunately!” Jimmy replied.
She smiled, and even though he looked terrified, he was still there with her. She was dictating notes into her phone rapidly, her own verbal shorthand making no sense to anyone but her, and trying to get a feel for the scene-- while there’d be photos to back up the story she’d tell her words would also paint a picture, and she wanted to make sure they were the right ones!
A walking horror show, the skeletal cyborg known as Metallo unbolted his chest cavity and tore gashes in the granite and glass of the buildings nearby. His mouth clicked open and a shrieking, inhuman voice bellowed, “Where-- Is-- Superman--?!”
“That’s… weird…” said Lois.
A long time ago, she thought she knew John Corben, aka Metallo. He was an old friend, and maybe, just maybe, if her father had his way, they would have ended up together. Corben was a career soldier, until all his paranoid underpinnings got turned up to eleven upon the arrival of the Man of Steel on the scene.
In the rush to figure out whether Superman was a threat or menace, he agreed to a US-military sanctioned experimental procedure to create an all-American Man of Steel, fuelled by an alien meteorite... sufficed to say, the process left him inhuman, wholly mad, and with no way back to humanity left to him…
Jimmy looked away from “What is it, Lois?”
“Doesn’t Metallo look weird to you? The skeletal structure is completely new! So either John Corben went and got himself a redesign, or that’s not him--!”
A shadow fell over where they were taking shelter, and the pair looked up to see Metallo loom over them. Jimmy tried to find something witty to say, but instead, whispered, “…Uh, Lois--!”
“He-- said-- you’d-- be-- near-- by--!”
“Who said what now?” said Lois.
She took a few steps back, made sure her phone was recording audio, and, with a gesture toward Jimmy, that the moment was being captured. As much as Perry White didn’t like his journalists becoming the story, when it came to Metropolis and the Man of Tomorrow, sometimes it didn’t seem like they had much choice!
There was a colossal explosion behind Metallo, and he turned too slowly to make any difference to what was coming next. A massive tunnel had appeared behind him, and a figure flew out into the world!
Noting the scenario, the harness that held the newcomer aloft seemingly retracted into his gauntlets and he dropped down, quickly plunging his hand through the cybernetic being’s chest and tearing the green Kryptonite heart from his centre out for the world to see.
Metallo deactivated immediately, and collapsed forward, slipping off his attacker’s arm and landing with a heavy clunk in front of Lois.
The tunnel snapped shut, and she was amazed to see that her saviour… was Orion-- Dog of War-- Son of Darkseid-- and ruling Highfather of Exodus!
Orion tossed the Kryptonite lump backwards into the whirling tunnel behind him as it snapped shut. “Where is Superman?”
Moments later, the warp tunnel that Superman had entered thanks to the Green Lanterns spat him out overhead, and he was shocked upon arrival when he saw Metallo defeated by none other than Orion.
“What happened here?” asked the Man of Tomorrow.
He descended, cape flowing behind him, as Orion looked up at him uneasily.
Lois stepped up, cliff notes rolling off her tongue like her life depended on it. “Metallo came out of nowhere spewing Kryptonite energy! The MCU were being--”
The Dog of War couldn’t help but interrupt. “There is no time! The Fourth World beckons! Exodus needs you if we are to end the forever war between our forces and those of Darkseid himself!”
Superman was taken aback. “…Darkseid? He’s back? But how?!”
Orion shook his head. “There’s no time! I have taken an immense risk coming here while the war rages back in the cosmos. We have need of you on the frontline!”
Superman understood. If Darkseid had returned, then he had no choice. The greatest darkness the universe-- perhaps the multiverse-- had ever known was back, and he was needed. He turned to look at Lois, and took her hand in his. “I need to go, Lois. Get word to the Justice League. Tell them what you’ve heard here. And… I’ll be back as soon as I can.”
“Superman, you can’t go! Darkseid’s attack on Earth took the formation of the Justice League to defeat him*, and now you’re going alone? Surely--”
*Back in the conclusion of “The Apokolips Imperative” in Justice League #0
Orion triggered the appearance of another Boom Tube, and he stepped into the event horizon, wind whistling down the tunnel as he extended his hand to the Man of Steel. “Come, before we run out of time!”
Superman nodded in response, and then joined him in the Boom Tube, and it snapped shut after they journeyed inside. Lois was left standing there, in the middle of the street as the SCU approached, weapons ready in case Metallo was still a threat. They needn’t have worried. Oil pooled out of his open jaws, and sparks burst from where Orion had snatched away his Kryptonite heart.
Jimmy was concerned and reached out to his friend. “Lois, are you all right? Lois--?”
The world went quiet for Lois. She heard Jimmy but didn’t have an answer. She came up with something sharp and witty, something to dismiss how she felt about being left behind in the wake of some massive, all-encompassing, horrifying news story she was too small to get a handle on, but when she turned to say it, there was nobody around.
No SCU members.
No Metallo corpse.
Instead, floating above her was a man she thought she recognised, but whose aged, elfin features did not connect with any faces in the depths of her memory. He sat upon an emerald throne that hummed quietly, circuitry visibly operating across every part of the seat, and looked down at her with probing eyes.
“Lois Lane of Earth.”
“Strange man on a floating chair,” she replied.
She didn’t recognise him, or understand why Metropolis seemed to now be empty but for this newcomer and herself. Metallo-- or whatever simulacrum of John Corben that thing was-- claimed he had said she would be at the scene, so was this man that mysterious ‘he’? Machinations in Metropolis usually led to one man, and one man alone, but Lex Luthor was still MIA since his fall from grace*, and this gentleman… didn’t exude menace, but mystery.
*Back in the second year anniversary event, “Justice League Vs America”
He smiled, and Lois didn’t take her eyes off his. He hadn’t blinked yet, and the more she looked, the more she was convinced his eyes contained square pupils and square irises. Something clicked in her head, and she echoed the effect with her fingers.
“You’re Metron! One of the New Gods!”
He was a celestial being, wearing an insanely intricate azure body suit, and a cowl that covered the majority of his head. He looked old, feeble, and his thin legs appeared atrophied. When was the last time he’d been for a walk?
“Do you have something to do with whatever Orion came here to drag Superman into?”
“I do not.”
“Then why are you here?”
“Because the tapestry of the universe is about to be irrevocably torn asunder, and I believe that bears witnessing.”
He extended a hand.
“Would you care to join me?”
Jimmy was concerned and reached out to his friend. “Lois, are you all right? Lois--?”
But she was gone… there one second, and vanished the next…
“Lois?!” Jimmy repeated, completely mystified by his friend’s sudden disappearance!
“Welcome aboard Exodus; we’re at war-standing,” said Orion, trudging aboard the bridge of the immense moon-sized colony that the New Gods had constructed to host their people during the cosmos-spanning hunt for the followers of Darkseid.
A grey-haired man, with dark circles around his eyes and bushy eyebrows that sat atop them, stepped forward and extended his hands towards the Man of Steel. “Superman! Highfather, you found him!”
The Man of Tomorrow recognised the elderly gentleman as Himon, the inventor and scientist who created the Mother Boxes, semi-sentient computers that the majority of the New Gods wore. He had lurked on the surface of Apokolips under the guise of a lowly ‘Hunger Dog’, the lowest caste of citizen on the hellworld, and played a pivotal role in ferrying refugees from that place to safety during the early days of the god war.
“Himon, it’s good to see you again. Can someone explain to me what’s going on here?” said Superman.
“Did Orion not explain to you before bringing you here? Why your presence was needed so urgently?” said Himon.
Orion had slumped in the captain’s chair and was looking through datapads handed to him by the crew of the vast spacecraft, even as the bulkheads shook and shuddered under interstellar bombardment. “I did not.”
“The wisdom of our Highfather, of course,” said Himon.
Orion cast an eye over Himon and Superman, then abruptly stood. “We have cornered Darkseid’s forces here, on the fringes of Space Sector 1287. We have reason to believe that the dark god himself-- my dread father-- lurks beneath the defensive net that has been erected for the last 48 hours.”
“…How is all this possible? We imprisoned Darkseid inside the Source Wall!”
Orion leaned forward. “And he escaped. And now he is here.”
Himon was clearly unhappy with Orion’s seemingly obtuse approach to the dissemination of information. “Hmmph! I believe that reality underwent some kind of… flux, and in the aftermath, he was spat out of the Source Wall, and went to ground, lurking on the fringes of the universe until his next opportunity to seize power arose.”
*Following the events of Green Lantern #19-21
“Himon, please brief Superman on our current situation. I need to speak to the others,” said Orion. With that, he stormed off, leaving Metropolis’ protector stood beside the elder statesmen of the New Gods.
Watching him go, Superman turned to Himon, wearing an expression of concern. “Is he all right?”
“There was a terrible accident… come with me,” Himon said, beckoning Superman into the depths of Exodus.
Sniggering incessantly, Desaad shoved the pain-rod deep into the ribs of his captive, his eyes bugging out as the man cried out in agony. His prisoner had tried not to give him the satisfaction of seeing him in pain, but all that had done was encourage the chief torturer of Apokolips.
It wasn’t like the captive was being asked questions. Desaad just wanted to watch the shades of green the prisoner went under different types of torture. He opened and closed the grey flesh-glove he wore on his right hand, keeping the preserved flesh he’d taken off a former victim pliant. It was his strong hand. Kept that way with exposure to the light of a yellow sun.
“Yuh yuh you wuh won’t get get away with thuh this,” gibbered Vril Dox, the Coluan rebel known as Brainiac 2.
“I wonder if I could torture you into dropping a few of your famed intellect levels,” Desaad said, scratching his distended, wart-covered chin. He leaned forward. “I mean, I could happily-- easily-- lobotomise you. Make you a drooling wreck while my master rapes your world, but I wonder if I could find the right level of pain to make you a retarded shell of yourself. I wonder, I wonder…”
Even with his eyes swollen, Dox levelled his gaze on the evil scientist, causing the purple-robed inquisitor to take a step back. It was known, throughout time and space, that the most brilliant-- albeit most erratic-- thinkers of Colu were the Dox family. They believed that the baseline eighth level of intelligence that the majority of their populace held was the perfect balance, but the Dox were known to achieve the fabled twelfth level, and sometimes higher. When that intelligence was detected, the thinker would be labelled ‘Brainiac’, both a compliment and insult in equal measure. But that, of course, was a story for another time…
Dox was the leader of the Licensed Extra-Governmental Interstellar Operatives Network, aka LEGION, a peace keeping force that operated across the galaxy. When he received the distress call from the ruling council, against his better judgement he came running-- but of course it was a trap.
For all his intelligence, Vril didn’t realise that he had been caught in the net of a mass recall of all Coluan thinkers back to their home world, all so they could be enslaved by the dark gods that had taken residence amongst them.
“Don’t look at me like that,” spat Desaad, jamming the pain-rod into the left eye of Dox, causing LEGION’s leader to cry out in agony as he was immediately blinded. “My master relishes the proud falling. And you’ll be a masterpiece. Do you know what my comrades have been undertaking while I’ve been working on you?”
Dox said nothing but, in his heart, he feared the worst. Desaad giggled and pulled up his robes in bunches until he found a pocket. He yanked out a small remote, and the shutters behind him opened, revealing the vast, ruined citadels of Colu. And floating between the spires were a horrible sight--
“You’re the last of your kind, Vril Dox.”
--Millions of Coluans, all wearing the Parademon harnesses that could animate dead matter into unwavering slave troops for the forces of Apokolips. Millions of Coluans, all dead.
“No,” whispered Dox.
Something inside him broke. No matter how he’d been treated by his people, how he’d once been exiled due to his intelligence, branded a monster and messiah in equal measure. No matter his disconnect from his people-- seeing them like this, desecrated and animated in equal measure by arcane technology from a far-off world… something shattered in his chest.
Someone clicked their fingers in the darkness behind Dox, and a sword was shoved through Brainiac 2’s chest, killing him instantly. Kanto relished that moment, when he took someone’s life, as it was his life’s purpose. He was the New God of Assassination, after all.
“I could have done that--!” Desaad spat.
Ever the dandy, Kanto tutted and shook his head. “Our lord and master wanted it done cleanly, didn’t you hear?”
Desaad looked past Dox’s corpse, to where a throne had been assembled, and where a looming presence sat, watching the proceedings. “O-of course. My apologies.”
“Mother may I?” asked Granny Goodness, licking her lips.
Her scarred, disfigured face and missing hand were a constant reminder of the wounds she took from Wonder Woman’s younger sister during a plot to take over the underworld from the Greek Gods*.
*Back in Wonder Woman #25
Attached to her wrist was a crooked, rotten prosthesis that had withered from the moment it had been attached to the fetid stump. She had experienced many indignities at the hands of humanity, including her defeat at the heads of a mere mortal during the Apokolips war*, and she wore these aides-mémoires to fuel her anger.
*Suicide Squad #7
There was a movement in the dark that Granny took as approval, and she hoisted the Parademon harness around Vril Dox’s dead shoulders. Tubes wended themselves from inside the chassis into his still warm flesh and began to go about reactivating his aborted biological functions.
There were horrible noises, the same horrible noises they’d heard a million-fold when they took this world forty-eight hours ago and committed genocide, turning every victim into a killer within moments of the Parademon horde’s descent…
The Coluan people were all dead.
And now, in death, they served the one true master of all.
They served Darkseid, who sat silently upon his throne, his every breath an assault on existence.
“Oh my God!” Lois wretched, barely able to hold her lunch in.
One moment they’d been in Metropolis, and now she was perched on the edge of the Mobius Chair, Metron’s preferred vehicle of interdimensional travel. They’d watched Vril Dox’s final moments and listened to the inane chattering of Darkseid’s court.
Metron watched indifferently, his serene body language revealing no sign of agitation. “Numerous gods walk upon Colu, Lois Lane. Of all of them, Darkseid is the worst, and most dangerous.”
“And he can’t see us?” She found herself digging her fingers into the arm of the Mobius Chair, and felt the buzz of movement under her the pads of her fingertips. It spread a warmth throughout her, an aura of protection that must have kept them safe during their travel from Earth to this far corner of the universe.
Metron shook his head. “No, he cannot. We are watching the events unfold from a higher plain of existence. He cannot sense us. I made that mistake once before, and I will not repeat it.” He touched his cheek, where a series of faint scars sat beneath his eye. He looked all too human in that moment, even though he was beyond that by now. Or perhaps he wasn’t?
“Can’t we… can’t we help Superman? Tell him what’s happening? Maybe even bring him in, under that shield?”
“We cannot interfere at this point in time. Events must unfold. We are only observers.”
“But if… if they do what they claim they can… if they can-- ”
“There will be a moment. A singular time. Then, and only then, should we interject ourselves. Until then, we will only observe this series of moments for posterity. The death of a race deserves witnesses.”
Himon led Superman to the medical bay, where young godlings were being checked over by the medical staff. Just because they were celestial beings did not mean they could survive anything, and they appeared to have gone through numerous battles.
“This way,” said Himon.
The pair turned a corner, to a more secluded spot in the vast ward, and the Man of Steel was horrified by what he saw. The patients here were misshapen, their bodies twisted in horrible shapes that made no sense to his eyes. He couldn’t help himself but to look deeper, and with his x-ray vision saw that their internal organs had also been twisted into this new paradigm, but he could find no reason why--!
“What happened to them, Himon?”
“The defence net that Darkseid has erected over Colu is unlike anything I have seen before in my long life. Orion sent a team down to the surface to investigate the situation, and the Boom Tube splintered on impact with the shield. Boom Tube’s alter size and mass to make those travelling fit for survival in any dimension. It’s how we appear human-sized on your world, but, in fact, are so much vaster than that… the alien technology of the defence net and the Boom Tubes collided, resulting in what you see before you.”
Superman drifted between the beds, trying to process what he was being told. He’d not seen horror like this since the first Apokolips War he’d been party to, and even then, nothing could prepare him. A hand found his wrist, and he looked down at the shape now holding him fast.
“Who-- ? Lightray? Solus, is that you?” Superman said, looking down at the misshapen man who lay covered in bandages and life-preserving machines.
His swollen lips curled in such a way as to make him appear smiling, but the mess that was the rest of his face made it clear that he was in no way amused or happy about his current situation. His arms were facing directions they shouldn’t, and his torso seemed to have a curve to it, bending internally in such a way as to make him look half the size he had ever looked previously. Bones had burst through his sides so as to make him look like his rib cage was mostly external-- the pain of being awake in such a state must have been horrifying.
“What do you mean?” asked Superman, looking down at his old friend’s face.
Lightray had defended Metropolis, and by extension the world, in the Man of Tomorrow’s short absence years ago*, and they’d become fast friend upon his return. If he recognised something out there because of his time on Earth, that narrowed the list of what it could be down immensely, but without more information…
*Action Comics #15-19
Tears welled in the New God’s eyes as he tried to find more words, but instead, he just repeated himself, again and again, until one of the doctors rushed over to administer more painkillers.
“I can’t… I can’t believe what’s happened here,” said Superman.
Himon was stood beside the unconscious body of another fractured and fragmented humanoid, her long red hair streaked with black where it met her distended flesh. He gently held her hand, careful not to touch her palm, where nerves and musculature had become exposed.
“Neither can I. We thought we had finally cornered the dark gods, but instead, we lost so many in the opening salvos. Oh, my dear… my dearest child…”
The Man of Steel realised who Himon was stood over; it was Bekka, his daughter, and the bride of Orion. No wonder the Dog of War was in such foul spirits. At war with his father once more, and his beloved was in such a sorry state from the off? It was enough to break a man’s heart.
“We’ve been hunting Darkseid since we knew of his return to this plane of existence. It was all for naught until a few days ago. We followed Devilance the Pursuer here, thanks to the unique radiation signature of the inertron bands used to contain him in your solar system.”
“I just learned he escaped,” Superman started.
“Yes. We found that out earlier than you. Devilance led the hordes of Apokolips to this world, but before we could take the battle to the surface, the defence net was activated. Solus said he recognised the configuration of the net and volunteered to lead the war party while I awaited the rest of our fleet. I didn’t disagree. I have tried to be more… patient, since becoming Highfather.”
“He recognised the configuration? I think it might be time I took a closer look at it, to see what’s going on.”
“We already analysed the configuration, Superman. It’s Kryptonian. The technology of your people currently keeps my dread father safe from harm.”
Devilance the Pursuer took a knee at the seat of Darkseid’s throne, tilting his head forward in abject reverence and obedience to his master. “I am eternally grateful for being freed from my bondage, Lord Darkseid. All I want is to serve at your leisure.”
Desaad shuffled over to the pageantry, bowed at Darkseid, then looked to the Pursuer. “Our master appreciates your hard work, Devilance. For it was you that located the thinkers required for the task at hand, and it was you who led us here. Without your hunter’s eye and vast, cosmic awareness, we might never have found those we needed to build the Ghoul Processor--!”
“I live to serve,” Devilance said, once more.
“…That said, you were imprisoned for so long. You must understand that the weakness you have demonstrated is an embarrassment to Darkseid.”
Perturbed, Devilance looked up, uncomfortable at what Desaad was saying. “I… they bound me with inertron. None have escaped its pull.”
“For years, they held you captive. They feasted atop your tomb. They laughed and mocked you, because you were weak! And now you come snivelling back, hoping that we-- that the master-- would forgive such weakness?”
Slowly, wordlessly, Darkseid raised his hand. The air seemed to shimmer, as if he was fire itself, but he still said nothing. Instead, he simply clicked his fingers--
--And savouring an opportunity to please their master, the likes of Amazing Grace to Virman Vundabar rushed forward, knives drawn. Brola and Titan brought their fists down on Devilance’s head, while Granny Goodness and Mortalla went about their ghastly work. Kalibak roared, while Kanto struck in silence. They ripped and tore and stabbed, while Devilance fought back fruitlessly, then pathetically, as his godhood and life were stripped from him. Mere moments later, the Pursuer was dead, his ravaged body bubbling bloody at the foot of Darkseid’s throne.
“Thank you for your service, old friend,” Desaad said, giddily.
“I don’t know why you’re looking so pleased with yourself, Desaad,” Granny Goodness sneered. “We all know that you used Devilance as a pawn in your efforts to set up your puppet Grayven as our master’s replacement.”
Desaad was outraged. “And our master judged me! And found me worthy of keeping alive!”
“They just squabble and stab each other in the back,” said Lois.
Metron nodded. “That is Darkseid’s way. If you keep your court at each other’s throats, what time do they have to plot against you? Not that he is concerned with such skulduggery. Many a time have the likes of Granny, Virman, Kalibak and the rest tried to steal the throne from him. Yet he is still here. Not even the Source Wall could contain him.”
“Will it work? The… the Ghoul Processor… will it do what they claim?”
Metron went quiet. For a long time, he stayed silent, before replying, “Yes.”
Lois shook her head. “No! But that would mean--!”
“Yes. It would mean the end of everything, in the wrong hands.”
“Are you sure about this, Superman?” asked Himon, as he made sure the oxygen mask was firmly attached to the Kryptonian’s face and the tube secured to the tank on his hip.
“If that shield has something to do with my people, then I have to make sure it’s not used for evil purposes. I won’t have my history repurposed for Darkseid’s gain.”
“As soon as you bring it down, we will be ready to strike,” said Orion.
“If he can bring it down,” Himon corrected.
Orion grimaced. “Lightray believed that Superman holds the key to bringing the shield down, and I believe in Lightray. We have to trust our brothers.”
Himon shook his head, angrily. “Lightray’s body has been warped beyond all recognition! His mind--”
Superman stepped between the two and held up his hands. “I’ll do my best, gentlemen. But you have my word, if it’s within my power to bring it down, I will.”
Orion placed a hand on the Man of Steel’s back and walked him toward the airlock. “I apologise if… my manner… has been unbecoming of the Highfather, Superman. When it comes to my father… my emotions get the better of me. This might be the final fight. I can feel the red fury of my genes clawing up inside of me. I know how this ends. And I’m ready.”
The Man of Steel was taken aback by the sincerity of his words, but also the admission that this battle could be Orion’s last. “…I won’t let that happen.”
Orion smiled. “Some things have already been foretold, and destiny makes slaves of us all.”
“I don’t believe that,” Superman replied.
“It’s not for to you believe it is, it simply is,” said Orion. “Are you ready?”
“I’ll bring down the shield. Don’t make any rash decisions while I’m out there.”
Arms reaching forward as he took a crouching stance, Superman looked up as the airlock above his head opened, sending him flying forward like a bullet. He arced around the incoming energy barrages so that they didn’t even graze him and was careful not to let the stray blasts buffet Exodus behind him, a world ship that loomed large in the silent void surrounding Colu. He squinted needles of heat vision at the energy blasts that careened toward Exodus’ metal hull, and they caused the volleys to burst harmlessly.
In under a minute, he was clinging to the defence net, a vast metallic sphere that surrounded the planet. His x-ray vision couldn’t penetrate it, but the matrices that covered every square inch of the net were undeniably Kryptonian. Even at a glance, yes, this was of his native world, and as he pressed a bare hand across the cold metal, he was suddenly pulled into a previously hidden compartment!
“Whoa!” He said, and he was surprised to hear his own voice. The small compartment, a tiny bit larger than a coffin, was oxygenated and pressurised. Flashing lights identified a crystalline matrix that resembled one of the command consoles that littered the Fortress of Solitude back on Earth, and Clark wracked his brain to recall the Kryptonese he’d picked up from time spent studying the language of his ancestors.
<Kryptonian genetics identified. Please confirm ancestral house,> the console cricketed in the long dead Kryptonian tongue.
“I am… Kal-El, son of Jor-El and Lara Lor-Van. Heir to the House of El,” Clark replied. He considered listing off more relatives, knowing full well that Kryptonians loved to pontificate about their genetic lineage, but before he could start talking about Seyg, Charys, Ter and Don--
<Genetic scans confirm. Awaiting orders.>
“You’re… awaiting orders?” He repeated.
<Correct. Last order given by Kru, son of Jor-El and Myla Zod, of no recognised House. Your genetic profile supersedes his own.>
Questions spun in Superman’s head. Kru-El was depowered and on Earth-- and the name of his previously unknown mother, and the implication there?-- but-- “Kru… Kru’s behind this? But how? What… what was the last order?”
<‘Protect this world from external forces with extreme prejudice in the name of-- eheh-- Rao,’,> said a voice, echoing in the replay. It was a voice he hadn’t heard for years, and it was distinctly not Kru’s.
“...Desaad-- ?” Superman whispered. He remembered how Kru had been in Desaad’s custody thanks to the machinations of Lex Luthor*, and it had been this act that led to Kru’s mutation into the engine of destruction the media called ‘Doomsday’**. What had Desaad done during that time, when he had Kru under his thrall?
*Action Comics #7
**Adventures of Superman #10
<…Query?> asked the computer, almost confused.
No time. “Can you deactivate the defence net? Rescind the previous order?”
“Do it,” he said.
The command console shimmered for a second, and then disengaged from the metallic housing that held it fast. A split second later, before Superman could think to do anything else, the entire net vanished instantly-- Colu was visible-- and so were the legions-- millions, perhaps-- of Parademons waiting to attack!
He reached out and grabbed the satchel-sized command console and headed back to Exodus-- the wall had fallen, and now the New Gods could enter Colu, but the armies of Apokolips still stood, ready to attack!
Boom Tubes opened silently in the void, and Parademons and Apokoliptikan siege engines swarmed out, ready to attack the fleet assembled by Orion. Superman moved quickly, knowing full well that the fight was on, and he didn’t want to leave his allies vulnerable!
Nervously trying not to pay any attention to the sudden starlight that shone down upon the ruins of Colu, Desaad picked at the rotting skin glove he wore over his right hand. It was the key to the Kryptonian defence net that they’d salvaged-- not that he had it made for that reason.
So long ago now, he had a Kryptonian test subject, and he’d enjoyed mutating his perfect genome into an abomination of genetics. Along the way, he’d excorticated the man’s flesh, made him a demon powered by fury and sunlight, but he always liked to keep souvenirs of a job well done…
“The shield has fallen,” mused Kanto. He was absent-mindedly sharpening his rapier. It would be in someone’s back soon enough; Desaad knew the assassin’s kinks and tics and this fitted a number of them nicely.
“Zat cannot be a good theeng!” replied Virman, in his thick, fake Prussian accent. How Desaad hated the pretension of the god’s affect. Vundabar had long been a student of Earth’s history, even before Apokolips Boom Tube’d into the Milky Way galaxy, and as he pranced around in the garb of a long dead military, the torturer contemplated ways to visit upon Virman atrocities the likes of which had only been seen between 1870 and 1871…
“Our Lord’s forces will keep our enemies at bay until our friend here can finish his work,” said Granny. She patted him patronisingly on the shoulder with her prosthesis, an act that caused him to shake with each connection. “Isn’t that right, Desaad?”
He looked at his high caste comrades and pulled an angry face. “We have unleashed genocide upon this blasted marble and the full force of our enemies rains down upon us! Do you know what we have to do to complete the task assigned to us by our master? Do you have any comprehension of--”
No one was looking at him. No one was paying him any attention. They had turned to Darkseid, who had stood from his throne. He looked up, past the stars, past the swarms of Parademons that fought to the death at his bidding. It was hard to gaze upon the God of Evil. He was an abomination upon reality, his physical presence a stab wound against the universe. Looking at him made your eyes hurt, caused tears to well under the strain, and he had been known to drive weaker men and gods mad with his mere presence. He had stood, and the air crackled with the movement.
“M-Master?” Desaad whispered.
“The Kryptonian is here…” said Darkseid, his voice a low rumble that caused their ears to burn. He hadn’t spoken in months, his orders given silently, intuitively. No words said when Colu fell. It had simply been a function of his godhood, an extension of his celestial design. And now, after so long, after many had tried to push the sound of his voice out their feeble and fragile heads, it had returned, hard and heavy and promising never to leave their memories again.
“O-of course! It’s the only way they could have dropped the shield. This damn hand of mine is nothing in comparison to the real thing…”
Granny grabbed Desaad’s hand and held it up for the rest of them to see. “You were so proud of this. But a hand does not a god make, old friend. You’d do well to find out what I did-- what the humans did to me--!” She pulled out a knife from her armoured bodice but faltered when Darkseid clicked his fingers once more.
Hiding his face at the sound, Desaad cowered, fearing the worst, but didn’t stop talking. “Master! The Ghoul Processor is slaved to your immensity! The collective Coluan consciousness is yours to direct!”
Throughout Colu, where millions of green-skinned corpses were animated by the Parademon harnesses that kept electricity darting about their brains and preserved their bodies, eyes began to burn red. There was a horrible groaning sound as they turned their gaze toward the towering column where Darkseid’s army had taken up residence.
From Coluan to Coluan, as their minds became linked in an immense, planet-wide circuit, the Ghoul Processor began to work. Pumping life into dead brains. Pushing past any boundaries they might have adhered to in life. In the ruins of their once-bright cities, the people of Colu went about the work of Darkseid-- the atrocity of thought! The crime of idea!
“I… see… everything,” intoned Darkseid, his eyes crackling. “I see the ultimate end of all things… just waiting to be captured. I see... myself.”
“All batteries--! Fire--! Fire--!” barked Orion. Pure Astro Force was funnelled through Exodus’ cannons, pelting destruction at the oncoming hordes of Parademons that swarmed space. He gripped the staff of Highfather tightly, so much so that you might expect him to snap it in half under the exertion, but instead it hummed gently, a calming influence in amongst all the chaos unfolding in space--!
“We’re launching all attack cruisers, we need to rout the siege engines,” said Himon.
Orion nodded. “Where’s Superman?”
“Why is Orion still on Exodus? From the stories Superman has told me, he was always more likely to fly head first into a fight rather than take a back seat,” said Lois.
Metron nodded, and added, “Orion’s time as Highfather has tempered his legendary war-fury, but you can still see it bubble under the surface.”
“If they don’t move quickly, Darkseid will win-- what can they do--?” she asked.
“Watch, and we shall find out together,” said Metron.
“He was back onboard and went straight to the medical bay,” replied Himon.
“Was he injured?” asked Orion.
“No, but--” Their view screen flashed as a red blur disembarked Exodus and headed down to the surface of Colu-- “That was him--!”
The bridge exploded as a Boom Tube manifested nearby, and, without a moment’s hesitation, Orion psychically conjured the Astro Harness around his body-- just in time to meet Granny Goodness and the Female Furies as they boarded Exodus!
“Hello, my boy!” bellowed Granny, swinging her Mega Rod above her head. “Care to give your old gran a kiss?”
“All hands! We’re being boarded!” shouted Himon, as Orion screamed into battle--!
Even knowing that Parademons were mindless, reanimated corpses, it gave Superman no pleasure to plough through them as he made his way to the surface of Colu. He tried to take out as many of the opposing army as he could on his way down, flashes of heat vision scouring through the siege engines that loomed toward Exodus.
Silent explosions pocked the vacuum of space, but after a brief flight with only his thoughts to hear, the Man of Tomorrow broke into the atmosphere and was horrified to see the ruins of the city below. He’d been so distracted by the Parademons that had shot up from the planet’s surface when the shield dropped that he hadn’t looked beyond it, but it looked like Colu had been ravaged by Darkseid’s armies!
“KRYPTONIAN!” bellowed Kalibak, as the son of Darkseid pounced upward, from the planet’s surface.
“Not now,” replied the Man of Steel, swatting him aside with an almighty backhand. He didn’t track the monstrous brother of Orion’s trajectory, but he bounced twice across two continents before coming to a stop when he crashed into an inactive volcano.
Superman scanned the planet, searching for Darkseid’s court, but instead felt sick to his stomach as he saw what had happened to the Coluans themselves. In the ruins of previously proud cities stood the now dead bodies of Colu’s people, all wearing the Parademon harnesses that gave Darkseid his near-unlimited fighting force. The only electrical activity in their brains was a portion of the brain being stimulated by artificial means by the harnesses, to what ends, the Man of Tomorrow had no clue…
“We need to tell him!” said Lois, shaking Metron.
“No. The events need to play out. You will see,” he replied.
“There,” said a grim-faced Superman, finding the tallest spire on Colu, where Darkseid sat atop his throne. The Last Son of Krypton recognised some of the gods who stood around him, but he didn’t care. He could end this fast, with one punch, so he raised his fists and shot forward like a bullet--
Darkseid caught Superman’s fist with one hand and slammed him twenty floors down with the other. The God of Evil laughed, like boulders crashing down a collapsing mine, and raised his hand once more. He clicked, and his court leaped into the chasm he’d created with the barest effort, ready to continue the work he started.
Superman had underestimated Darkseid, or perhaps misjudged his own actions. Had he truly believed he could end the fight against the god of all evil by flying at it head on? He batted away Brola, whose heavy hands of stone tried to drive his shock prod into the Man of Tomorrow’s side, and kicked out at Titan, who had landed a few solid blows with his Rune Rod.
But nothing prepared him for the deviousness of Kanto, who simply crept up behind the brawling giants, and plunged a glowing emerald dagger into the Man of Steel’s side.
“I want you to know that I hate you, but this is such a lazy way to bring you to heel,” purred Kanto, dragging the dagger out of his victim and back into his stomach, driving the Man of Tomorrow to his knees.
“Y-you…” mumbled Superman. He recognised the pain radiating through his now punctured body, and when Kanto drew the weapon out again, ready to plunge it into his heart, his fears were confirmed. Kanto wielded a Kryptonite dagger and was using it to malicious effect. “N-no--!”
Kryptonian eyes flashing a deep crimson, and Kanto cried out as he dropped the super-heated hilt of the dagger. He cursed, and Superman threw himself backwards, through the wall, and up into the skies, even as he felt his life drain out of him. He arched so he faced the sun and felt the healing light of the alien star heal him, even as the light in his own eyes flickered and faded. Three worlds between Colu and its sun, and six moons visible on the horizon, orbiting around the equator…
Kalibak didn’t roar as he would usually, but he landed hard none the less, square on the Kryptonian’s back. The pair spun down to the ground, but Kalibak managed to steer their fall so that they landed once more in the spire where Darkseid waited.
“Kryptonian. It has been so long,” he said.
“QUIET!” barked the bestial son of Darkseid.
Grunting, Kalibak released the Man of Tomorrow, and Darkseid pressed his boot into the fallen hero’s back. “Me. The harbinger of the end. The great darkness. The New God of All Evil.”
“…You coward,” hissed Superman, straining under the weight of Darkseid’s foot.
“Coward? A coward lacks conviction, Kryptonian. I am my intention and my deliverance. I am the engineer of my own ascension. Desaad. Explain to him what we have done here.”
“W-we, m’lord?” stuttered Desaad.
Omega light sparked in Darkseid’s eyes.
“O-of course!” Desaad put an arm around Vril Dox and dragged the mobile corpse so that Superman could see the torturer’s handiwork. “We have d-developed the first w-working Ghoul Processor, capable of harnessing the energies of the dead and funnelling it into whatever task our master so desires.”
Chuckling and not paying Desaad much attention, Kalibak poked his clawed finger into one of the stab wounds in Superman’s side and licked the blood he drew from the puncture. He smiled. Kryptonian tasted delicious.
“And what does our master desire? Dominion over all. Mastery over existence. The Anti-Life Equation.”
“Y-you failed at that once*, w-what makes you think you can a-acquire it again?”
*In Justice League #0, the conclusion to “The Apokolips Imperative”
“I’m so glad you asked.” Desaad lifted him up by the chin, and then held out his right hand, and the dead flesh he wore upon it like a glove. “Recognise this?” Clark couldn’t say they he did, but he squinted, and saw familiar strands of DNA-- genetic markers close to his own-- “I took it from your brother, a scrap from the slabs of flesh I carved from his body before I turned him into an engine of destruction. What did your people call it? ‘Doomsday’?”
“You… stray…” growled Kalibak.
“Ah, yes. Apologies, oh great son of Darkseid. The Anti-Life Equation was within our master’s grasp. He held it tight and took control of the entire universe*. It touched even you, I am sure.”
*Wonder Woman #10
Superman remembered Darkseid’s voice in his head, demanding he kill Wonder Woman while they took refuge in the Cave beneath Wayne Manor during the Apokolips War. It had taken the Lasso of Truth to bring him to his senses, but he still felt the psychic earthquake that had been Darkseid’s voice screaming in his mind.
“Yes, I see it. I see it. That fear in your eyes. I wonder what he’ll make you do this time round. But your union with Highfather’s cohorts and the army of metahumans you assembled on that day dispelled the Anti-Life Equation, cast it out of existence… but upon Darkseid’s return from the Source Wall, from his exile at your hands, he knew that it was still there, but simply out of reach. Energy cannot be destroyed! But it can be changed! Your actions, and the actions of your so-called Justice League, scattered the components required to reform the Anti-Life Equation, but something that is lost can be found-- if you have the means! All Darkseid needed was processing power, an infinite computer capable of discerning the fragments of the equation from the infinite background radiation that shadows the universe.”
“The smartest rodents in the universe. And with the Ghoul Processor untethering their self-imposed restrictions, their minds are linked in a circuit capable of becoming that infinite computer. Capable of--” He froze and watched as a shape began to form before Vril Dox. “--Look! Look! It’s coming!”
The energy construct was transparent, barely visible, but as seconds passed it became clearer. It was an abstract collection of shapes that crackled with black energy, globules of light that became heavy droplets that floated in every direction. Desaad pushed Vril out of the way and marvelled at what had been pulled from the depths of the universe, dredged from the minutiae of cosmic background radiation!
“Master! It’s here! It’s here!”
“And it is not alone,” said Darkseid.
With a fury long absent from the face of Colu, ever since they’d ascended to their lives of emotionless pure intellect, Orion smashed through the wall and struck Desaad in the chest with a burst of Astro Force. The torturer toppled off the tower and to the streets below, and before Kalibak could strike at his brother, a restored Lightray shot through the hole that Orion’s entrance had made and unleashed all the power he could muster in one immense blast!
“Your Kryptonian technology restored us, old friend,” said Lightray, placing a healing hand on the Man of Tomorrow’s shoulder. Solar energy flowed into Superman’s body and knitted together the flesh that had been torn asunder by Kanto’s attack.
Superman hadn’t spent long in the medical bay when he returned to Exodus, but he had a suspicion that the technology behind the defence net that caused the damage to the likes of Bekka and Lightray could also reverse it. He’d given the order to the crystalline command console, and then headed back to the fight, and it looked like his plan had worked-- the cavalry was here!
“Is this the time of prophecy, my son?” Darkseid asked.
“If now is the time of our final battle, then so be it,” replied Orion.
Darkseid smiled. A horrible sight indeed. “Shame. I had always hoped it would be Scott Free I slaughtered on the eve of my ascension.”
With his hands behind his back, Darkseid turned away from Orion and began to laugh. Superman was glad he couldn’t see the face of the God of Evil, as it might have been the thing to push him over the edge.
Enraged, Orion took the bait, screamed forward, only to realise his mistake at the last moment, as the Omega Sanction spun from Darkseid’s eyes, darted once, twice, three times-- and then headed straight for Orion’s chest!
Superman didn’t have a chance to spring to action. Instead, Lightray moved with an impossible speed and latched his arms around his best friend’s torso so he could carry him out of the tower, even as the Omega Sanction followed them--!
The twin beams of the Omega Effect followed the pair as they darted in the Coluan skies, but it was closing on them. They didn’t have speed, or distance, or time, to make a difference, but when Superman flung his clasped fists into Darkseid’s face to break the connection, it helped in its own way!
Darkseid grimaced, and the Omega Sanction cut off at the source, but the searching beams were already so close to Lightray and Orion--
But Lightray was one step ahead! He flew with all his speed into the depths of the tower, where the likes of Brola, Kanto and Titan were recovering, grabbed Brola, and slowed to a stop so that the Omega Sanction neared-- and then threw his enemy into the finder beams as they were about to hit Orion--!
Mutely, Brola exploded in a cascade of light, and Orion finally caught his breath.
“This is horrible,” said Lois.
Wryly, Metron cocked an eyebrow. “I have always been fascinated by the way in which humans process emotional and informational input. The fate of the entire universe is at stake, there is true horror on display, yes. You shake with every strike, you wince at every physical connection. And yet… your emotional range is second to none in the whole universe.”
“Are you… are you critiquing humanity right now?”
“This may be the final collective breath that humanity takes. A fight for universal survival, and the only forces standing between the forward free momentum of this reality and the bleak entropy offered by Darkseid are the forces of light, and along with them, an orphan migrant from a dead world. It is fascinating how one small kindness can change the direction of a universe.”
“What… what are you even talking about?”
“We need to finish this, Lightray!” Orion barked.
Solus grinned. “Of course, Highfather!”
Upstairs, Darkseid caught another punch thrown by Superman, minimal effort exuded for maximum effect. The conservation of movement would have impressive, if it wasn’t so terrifying.
“Do you see, Kryptonian?” Darkseid asked, driving a knee into Superman’s guts, causing the Man of Steel to cry out in surprise.
Fearlessly, Orion careened back into the fray, but Darkseid didn’t seem to notice. Astro Force caught the God of Evil in the back, and he toppled to the ground.
Superman took a step back as Orion pushed his advantage, the light of his attack almost blinding the Man of Tomorrow, but as the God of War screamed and shouted curse after curse at his biological father, driving his attack home as he flew closer and closer to the God of Evil, Superman realised their mistake too late-- Darkseid wasn’t in pain-- he was smiling-- and as Orion was now within reach of his father, the villainous entity took advantage of that fact, and cast a crackling web of cerulean lightning at his son--!
“Orion, no--!” cried Lightray.
The Dog of War cried out in anguish as his body spasmed and shook. Superman went to assist him, but Lightray grabbed his arm.
“No! You can’t! You’d just get caught in it too! It's called the Agony Matrix. Direct neural stimulation of pain receptors-- all of them--!”
Darkseid laughed as he stepped over his son’s convulsing body. “Imagine the worst pain you've ever felt in your life, times a thousand. Now imagine that pain continuing. Forever.” He cast a glance back at his screaming son. “Oh. That's right. You don't have to imagine.”
“ffffffaaaaaatheerrrrr!” growled Orion, veins pressing against his flesh, his body smoking under the pressures he was exerting against the Agony Matrix as he stood on shaky legs. “yyyyyyooooouuuu caaaaaallllll thhhhhaaaaaatttt ppaaaain?”
“By the Source, how is he standing?” whispered Lightray.
Darkseid was almost impressed. “Maybe you are worthy of my bloodline, Orion. Let’s see.”
Superman flew forward and cracked Darkseid on the upside of the head, sending him stumbling toward Orion, who threw his arms around his father’s body and pulled him into the caustic web of the Agony Matrix.
The God of Evil didn’t scream-- his very existence was a blight upon existence, he knew pain-- but it was a momentary distraction-- so he pressed a button on his belt and deactivated the weapon, before it did any real damage to him.
Releasing his father, Orion swayed from side to side, his handsome visage torn away by the attack-- now he resembled his father, grotesque features smouldering and burning after the Agony Matrix had done its horrible work. Before he could do anything else, he was punched in the face by Darkseid with such force that the floor beneath and walls behind him crumbled.
Orion fell, leaving Lightray and Superman against Darkseid.
“The equation… it’s manifesting…” murmured Lightray, gesturing toward the energy construct forming nearby.
“Is that what I think it is?” asked Lois, watching from a dimension above the one in which all of reality was threatened, as the energies coalesced before the throne of Darkseid.
“Mathematical proof that shows the true meaning of existence,” said Metron.
“The Anti-Life Equation?” offered Lois.
“You would think that, after all the horror that Darkseid and his forces have unleashed. But a mathematical equation cannot be good, nor bad. It is simply proof. To what end? Only time will tell.”
Lois’ mind was racing. She’d seen Superman beaten, stabbed and bleeding, and now Darkseid had defeated his own son-- what would happen next? What would happen when the construct became physical? Became real?
“We can stop him, we have to,” said Lightray.
“What is that thing?” Superman asked, pointing at the energy construct.
“Nothing go-- aaaah--!”
Silently, Kanto plunged his knife into Lightray’s back, the assassin’s hands moving faster than either of the two heroes could react. As the altruistic New God toppled forward, the malevolent killer laughed, and turned his attention to the Man of Tomorrow. “You fellows need to start paying attention.”
Superman grimaced. “I’m a bit distracted.” He kicked forward and unceremoniously sent Kanto out the tower. His allies were down, a war raged in the skies above, and now he was watching Darkseid trudge toward the energy construct, hand extended-- and the Man of Steel knew that he couldn’t be allowed to make contact!
“No!” He flew forward, exhaling hard so that the God of Evil froze in his tracks, then smashed through the iceberg he’d created with all his might.
Barely fazed, Darkseid skidded forward half a metre, then swung round and caught Superman in a both massive hands in what, on Earth, would have been called a full nelson, preventing the Man of Tomorrow from breaking free with relative ease. He leaned forward, and whispered, "I hope you appreciate, Kryptonian, that everything that happens from this point is on your head. Across the universe, the skies will rain fire, the oceans will boil, the streets run red with the blood of billions. Only then, after your last pitiful hope is extinguished, will I end your life."
The Lord of Apokolips tightened his grip, and the Man of Steel could feel his joints and muscles begin to pop and strain. Given enough time, and with enough purchase, Darkseid could very well tear his arms off, and knowing the sadistic monster’s tendencies, the Last Son of Krypton could bet on being beaten to death with his own dismembered limbs. With the pain reaching a fever pitch, he cried out and shot into the sky, carrying Darkseid with him, then spun round and round until the God of Evil flew off despite his steely grip, a Boom Tube immediately opening up and welcoming the falling god before it snapped closed.
Back in the tower, Desaad emerged from where he’d been hiding. “All alone…” He cast a glance toward the shambling corpse of Vril Dox and giggled. “…Or as close to alone as needs be.”
He shuffled toward the construct, his spindly fingers outstretched and eager to make a connection with the manifestation of the Anti-Life Equation, only to be knocked out instantly when Lois Lane swung a piece of debris against the back of his skull.
“That’s for Black Canary, you piece of trash,” she said.
Metron smiled, knowing full well that something monumental was about to happen.
But then there was an explosion as a Boom Tube opened, and Darkseid walked out.
Lois nearly vomited. Being in proximity to the God of Evil was like being caught in the gravitational pull of something dark and insectile, and she felt revulsion as the arachnid response in her brain screamed at her to run, to die, to escape, to do anything not to be in the presence of the shadow across creation. “Human.”
“ohgod” was all Lois could manage. Her body was seizing up, her spinal chord vibrating at a frequency that made nausea her default setting. She felt sparks fly in her brain, the cogs of her mind beginning to come loose in their moorings. Was this what it was like to be in the presence of Darkseid? It was almost unbearable, and all she could think was-- he’s getting closer he’s walking towards me and I can’t move all I can do is die.
Superman returned with a vengeance, screaming with raw anger when he saw Darkseid trudging towards Lois.
“GET AWAY FROM HER!” he bellowed, swinging his fist back, and with one almighty blow sending the Lord of Apokolips’ lower jaw into his head with a crack.
Darkseid wiped inky blood that seemed to smoulder outside of his body from his lips, and chuckled. “If she’s yours, she’ll soon be mine.”
He flicked beads of his blood at Superman’s chest, and the ‘S’ sigil emblazoned there began to smoulder. He was a toxic influence on the universe in a variety of ways, but said variety and the extent of them were still capable of horrifying those present.
“Everything is mine as soon as--”
“A-as soon as w-what?” interrupted Lois, her voice cracking.
She had managed to pull herself far enough away from the edge of catatonia-- she didn’t understand how she was finding the strength to even talk—that she could drag her body toward the energy construct that had finally became solid enough that you could see the depth of the angles within it, even the ones that didn’t make any sense.
“You wouldn’t know what to do with the Anti-Life Equation if you interfaced with it. It’s for more than your feeble mind to grasp. More—”
While he spoke, Darkseid’s eyes flashed— finder beams began to manifest— and Superman clamped his palms around the God of Evil’s face, catching the Omega Sanction before it could be unleashed. The Man of Tomorrow cried out, his hands burning, but he refused to let go.
“Lois! Gggggget out of here! Rrrrrunnnn! I’ll hold him back!”
Darkseid shoved his elbow back into Superman’s ribs, but the latter refused to release his grip.
“Yeah, but what-- what if it’s n-not the Anti-Life Equation?”
Lois touched the construct, and the universe changed.
She blinked. The entire world was white, Colu had vanished in the blink of an eye, and now she was stood in front of her father, dressed as she always remembered him dressed, in military regalia, all his badges, medals and buttons stretched across the chest of his dark green jacket. He looked down at her, and she realised she was a small girl, completely overwhelmed by the depths of this new place she had found herself in.
“Daddy?” she asked, her voice a squeak despite her intention to sound as adult as she truly was.
Not-Sam smiled. “No. An image plucked from your mind. Someone of worth. A component in the collective equation that makes you… you.”
Seamlessly, not-Sam shifted into her mother.
“Oh, God, I feel so sick,” Lois mumbled, covering her mouth. Her fingernails were painted black, and she found herself taller, and her mother wearing an apron and a disappointed expression, while she herself was wearing the punk attire she’d worn during a phase in her mid-teens.
“Biological function overriding logical interpretation,” not-Ella said.
“What is this? What’s happening? Metron, is this you?” she asked.
Not-Ella transformed into Perry White. “Metron is not present in this sphere; you are alone. We are not with you. We are the universe.”
“The universe? But you… you’re the Anti-Life Equation, aren’t you?” she asked.
“No,” he answered, dismissively.
“What do you think this is?” not-Perry asked her, as he transformed into Jimmy Olsen.
Lois began to pace, trying to think. Words Metron said to her before came out her mouth like they were her own, “Mathematical proof of… of the meaning of life?”
Not-Jimmy gave her a cheeky grin. “You are capable of multitudes. Within you, there are universes, just like us. Given the opportunity, you can eschew the bicameral nature of the current paradigm. Life / Anti-Life. Why so limiting?”
Not-Jimmy shifted into Darkseid. “What possibilities are there for the God of Evil? What can that specific platonic ideal truly deliver unto the universe? For the God of Evil, there is only entropy and the end. For the opposite, negentropy and progression. Chaos and order. Binary nature in action. Simple, and limiting.”
Lois stood agog at the casual manner in which not-Darkseid addressed her, even though the words were riddles. She blinked, and not-Darkseid took on Superman’s form.
He spoke slowly. “This is not our shape. But this is our intent. We wear the façade of those you have interacted with in the flesh to make you understand. If we were to expose you to our immensity, you would not survive.”
“What do you want from me?” she asked.
Not-Superman smiled. “A decision. And answer to the only question we pose: What is the nature of the universe?”
“That’s not… that’s not my decision to make,” she replied.
“Whose decision is it?” Not-Superman asked.
“Those who live in it! Those who exist! People who live and love! You can’t ask one person to dictate the nature of a thing! It’s-- it’s-- it’s Schrödinger's cat! Mulholland Drive! Inception! It’s that damn top spinning at the end of the movie! It can be anything! It can be one thing or the other or something else entirely! Oh, God… I wish--”
Not-Superman transformed into Clark Kent. “…I agree.”
“--Lois!” shouted Superman, reaching out as Lois’ hand withdrew from the energy construct. She looked down at it, and the moving parts were now glowing brighter than anything she’d ever seen before, but she could recognise in minute detail every component of the impossible machinery that started to fade from view.
Metron smiled as he leaned back in the Mobius Chair. His fingers gently brushed against the old scars given to him a lifetime ago by Darkseid. He could see the information streaming through Lois, he could see the basis of the Life Equation she momentarily harnessed, and it warmed his sterile soul.
“What have you done?!” bellowed Darkseid.
“Won?” she offered.
Vril Dox vomited as life surged back into his body. He panicked and began to shake off the Parademon harness, removing the arcane Ghoul Processor technology from his body. Across the surface of Colu, its people were instantaneously resurrected, and if you had a macroscopic view of the world, the last person to be restored to life would have breathed their first breath back in the land of the living as the energy construct finally faded from existence entirely.
Desaad rushed over to his king and began tugging at his side. “M-My Lord! The Coluans have all returned to life! The Ghoul Processor-- I don’t-- I don’t understand what happened--!”
The Lord of Apokolips’ eyes flashed, and the Omega Sanction smashed into his lackey, erasing him from the face of the world in an instant. “This is not over, Kryptonian.”
A Boom Tube triggered-- and Darkseid vanished in the event horizon, along with those of his court still on Colu. The surviving Parademons and the lagging siege engines that roared across space were enveloped by further Boom Tubes, until the skies of Colu were empty but for the battered satellite known as Exodus.
“D-Does someone want to explain what just happened?” asked Dox, his hands still shaking.
“I don’t… I don’t entirely know,” replied Superman. “Lois?”
Clutching her arms, Lois tried to catch her breath. She’d seen the multitude of existence in a split second, and known how to undo the damage done by Darkseid. With that power in the palm of her hand, on the tips of her fingers for even a moment, she’d known everything, and now… it was all a distant memory.
“Deus ex machina,” she whispered.
“I find that extremely problematic,” replied Vril.
“My… my father has escaped once more…” grumbled Orion, pulling himself up from where the Agony Matrix had downed him. He hefted Lightray to his feet, as their Mother Boxes repaired the damage done to their battered god-bodies.
“Yet we live to fight another day,” Lightray replied.
“Look, I don’t mean any offense, but as soon as the council get their bearings they’re going to order you off-planet. You might as well get going now, because they’re not going to give one dren why you’re here.”
Superman looked to Orion. “They’re all alive, Highfather. I can hear their heartbeats… they’re all back.”
“The Source works in mysterious ways,” replied Lightray.
Orion grimaced and triggered a Boom Tube. “Come. The battle may be won, but the eternal war isn’t over.”
“Hey! Can I get a lift off-world? I’m still not the most-liked Coluan,” Vril asked.
Lightray put an arm around the man known as Brainiac 2. “Of course. Have you ever been to heaven?”
“I’m sure that sounded much cooler in your head,” mumbled Vril.
Moments after their departure from Colu, a planet-sized Boom Tube sent Exodus spinning back into the depths of space. Vril Dox kindly accepted a drop-off in the Vega System, where the forces of LEGION awaited their leader, and Superman and Lois Lane headed back to Metropolis, where night was falling…
“Enough is enough,” said Orion, breaking his journey-long silence. He stood from his chair on the bridge of Exodus. He supported his weight on the staff of Highfather, handed to him when Izaya-- his predecessor and the man who raised him-- passed away in what should have been the final battle with Darkseid.
“What’s that then?” asked Himon. They’d cleared their home of the remains of the Parademons that had swarmed it, and the god-technology that existed within the walls of their world-city had scrubbed the floors and walls of blood.
“…Beloved?” asked Bekka. She’d emerged healed from the medical bay at the same time as Lightray, and been at the forefront of the defensive efforts to drive the Female Furies off Exodus. She had stayed near Orion as he stewed, but knew her beloved well enough to smother him when he was in one of his moods.
“I am not the one who should lead our people into the future. I am not worthy of the mantle of Highfather,” Orion said, slowly.
“You’ve shown wisdom time and time again-- ” started Lightray.
“--Along with your usual bullheadedness,” added Himon.
“Father!” Bekka blurted out.
Orion smiled. Himon always had his ways with words. “I have endeavoured to do better, but I could have been more. I will still serve the Source, but it’s time for a new Highfather to answer the call.”
“Who?” asked Himon.
“That’s for the Source to decide. But my final act as Highfather is thus-- we are not made to exist within the cramped confines of this world city. Before it was destroyed by Darkseid’s forces we had a different home…”
“Genesis,” whispered Himon.
“But I think it’s time for something new. So--”
Without any more words, Orion slammed the staff of Highfather down and bolts of malleable energy whipped out! The bridge dissolved into the light being projected by the staff, and the entire planet rumbled--! And changed--! Reality went white for the New Gods, and when their visions cleared--
The wind was blowing gently…
Waves crashed together in the oceans nearby…
And the surface of Exodus was terraformed into a veritable paradise, hills and knolls and mountains and oceans all visible from their vantage point above it all!
“By the Source!” declared Himon, catching himself. Across the newly formed streets were the other members of their altruistic race, all amazed at what had transpired in a matter of moments. Every inch of the city they were stood within were paved with gold. “This… you reformed Supertown?!”
Could it be? The utopian capital city of the New Gods? Had Supertown really returned?
“Our true home is back,” mused Orion. He looked at his hands, as fragments of Highfather’s staff drifted off on the newly resurrected winds of their home world.
“Genesis?” asked Himon.
Orion smiled and put an arm around Bekka. “New Genesis.”
On the roof of the Daily Planet, the Boom Tube snapped shut behind Superman and Lois Lane, but it wasn’t the sharp chill of the night’s air that sent shivers down Lois’ back. He reached out to her, but she took a step out of reach, and looked out at the city.
“That’s your world then, yeah?” she said.
“Sometimes. Not all the time though,” he replied.
“You know… I thought I had a handle on it. I did. I thought I knew the ins-and-outs of what it meant to be ‘Superman’s Girlfriend’, or whatever it is I am to you. But we just… I just watched all of reality nearly come to an end because an alien god of evil… oh, god… did you feel what I felt? The hate that radiated off him? It was like… it’s like that’s all he was. All ‘it’ was. I don’t even… I don’t even have the words. I just… that’s it, isn’t it. That’s the world of Superman.”
Superman stood, silently.
She laughed. “Yeah. It really is. I think… yeah. Yup. I’m going home. I think we’ve kind of run our course, don’t you? I had a really good time, but you’re you, and you’re… massive. Beyond massive. And I’m just me. And I think… yeah. Okay.” She walked over to the Man of Tomorrow and gently kissed him on the cheek, before heading to the door that would lead her down to the Daily Planet’s bullpen and from there, home.
Wordlessly, Superman lifted up and began to float over Metropolis, caught up in his thoughts. He had just fought god, and his knuckles hurt, and where he’d been stabbed by Kanto ached, even though Lightray had healed him. He just wanted to sleep, to be not wear the cape and costume. He wanted--
An emergency alert sounded in Japan-- some kind of massive wave was headed toward the coast of Kamakura. He heard shouts in a foreign tongue-- a creature had emerged from Sagami Bay! Where were Big Science Action, they asked. He knew where he was needed. With nary a thought, he leaned into the thermals around him, and shot toward the east.
Some time later, the towering reptile he’d defeated now in custody of S.T.A.R. Labs Japan’s Kaiju Division, Clark Kent was lying in bed and finding himself unable to sleep. He wanted to know more, but accepted that he might never know the answers to the questions he had. How had Lois travelled across the universe to witness that near-death god-battle on the surface of Colu? What had she seen within the energy construct that led to the defeat of Darkseid?
His phone rang, and he swung over, picking it up without checking who was calling. “Hello?”
“You up?” Lois’ voice was quiet on the other end of the line.
He hadn’t expected to hear from her. “…Yeah. What’s wrong?”
“I just… I had a long day. And I can’t sleep. I know we… I know we haven’t talked as much as we used to. I know I’ve been distracted. But a lot of things were put into perspective for me today and… do you want to go for a walk? I could use a walk. Maybe a talk.”
“It’s past 3 a.m., Lois. Are you sure you--?” he replied.
She heard him sigh. “Smallville-- Clark-- I want to go for a walk. You coming?”
“I guess I am,” he said.
NEVER THE END
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NEXT TIME:One year later, and everything has changed! Check out ADVENTURE COMICS ANNUAL 2018, out in two weeks, for the next evolution in the life of Superman and friends!
Last Edit: May 10, 2018 11:41:44 GMT -5 by oblique
Small Town Heroics Written by Steve K. Edited by Charlie Wilkins
The unpaved country road was as bumpy as ever as the school bus took its usual route down side road ten, passing the Gregors’ farm every weekday at the same time. It was quite mundane for the students of Picketsville High as this ride had become such a routine, being the same route they took when coming home from Picketsville Elementary, which was located right next to the high school. Over the years the students had to find new ways to break up the monotony of this twenty minute ride.
When they were younger they would make up games and tell silly jokes. Those games turned into video games, trading Pokemon between their gaming handhelds. But they were young adults now and now partook in the adult tradition of gossip and nasty comments. The back of the bus was awash with such talk, a group of boys being at the centre of it.
However one boy was trying to get as far away from it as possible. Yes, young Clark Kent was sitting near the front of the bus, a book Mister Deacon had just assigned for a novel study in his hands. He had been trying to read the first page for a few minutes now, however his acute hearing kept picking up whatever junk the group at the back of the bus was spewing from their mouths.
“Hey Will, who’s hotter? Wonder Woman or Supergirl?”
“Hey man you know I love them blonds.”
“But Wonder Woman has get them…assets.”
“Yeah you’re right. What about you Chuck?”
“They’re both just drawings on a page, so neither. But if we’re talking Gal Gadot…”
“Another for team Wonder Woman!”
“Man, you guys are dumb. Hotness is what you think about in a superhero?”
“Well it just can’t always be Batman beating people up.”
“Hey Will, I happen to like Batman beating people up.”
“Okay Tim, it can’t always be Superman getting cats out of trees.”
“Yeah screw Superman, he sucks.”
“You here that Clark, you suck!”
“Why couldn’t we know a guy named Peter Parker instead? He would still be a nerd, but Spider-Man is way better than Supes.”
“Supes? I think we just got a name for Kent.”
Clark cursed silently as he shifted in his seat with agitation. He hated it when these came up with a name. It took almost a year for them to stop calling him Souperman after a wipe out in the school cafeteria. Even though there were plenty of other quiet kids at Picketsville High, it was Clark who they focused on. For the crime of a name he was the topic of sneers and jabs. It was bad enough that he was born into a family with the name Kent, but his parents had the audacity to name him Clark. They claimed it was just because they were lovers of cinema and the works of Richard Donner were masterpieces. Realistically his naming shouldn’t be the subject of so many jokes, it was just an “odd” name. However, he lived in Kansas. Clark Kent from Kansas. People had asked him if that was even his real name, and he would answer unfortunately yes.
The bus dropped Clark off at the foot of his driveway the same time as it did every school day. As Clark walked up the driveway he noticed that the truck wasn’t there meaning his father Phil was out on a job. As Clark opened the front door the little chime sounded, letting his mother Lauren know he was home. She didn’t bother to acknowledge him as she was intensely watching the news in the living room. She was lying on the couch, like most days since she had her accident.
A few months back she had been walking downtown Picketsville when a car swiped her as she was crossing the street. They never managed to figure who the driver was, but she had good insurance and could focus on just getting better.
As Clark set his book bag down on a bench near the front door, his mother noticed he was home as it was a commercial break, “Hey honey, how was school?”
Clark shrugged, “Good, I guess. The math test wasn’t impossible, the vending machine did not eat my money today, and I can now ask where the bathroom is in Spanish.”
“That’s, 'bueno'? Is that the word?”
“Sure Mom,” laughed Clark as he took off his shoes.
“Okay, plus one for Mom,” she said more distantly.
Clark immediately realized what had taken her attention. A particular entertainment news had just started. This was particularly her favourite news program. And she was very particular about watching it everyday. Clark didn’t question, at least not aloud. He wondered why she didn’t just use the Internet. Of course, with the Internet you didn’t get the male host with the nice hair.
Clark started to make his way up the stairs to his room when his mother shrieked and called out for him.
With frantic speed he dashed over to the couch, “What’s wrong Mom?”
She was very still, “They’ve done it again.”
“Who’s done what Mom?”
She turned her head to stare at Clark, “Those stupid, stupid executives.”
Clark calmed down, realising she was just ranting about the film industry, “What did they do this time?”
“They’re making another Batman film.”
Clark’s face strained, “Why is that an issue?”
“Because he’s overexposed, DC has plenty of other heroes they could do.”
Clark sighed, “Like Superman?”
Clark started to walk back toward the stairs, “Maybe you should start an online petition.”
“Whatever,” his mother said before calling up to him, “Oh! Does your Superman costume still fit?”
Clark stopped dead in his tracks. He really hoped his mother hadn’t remembered that Halloween was coming up. Almost every Halloween he could remember, Clark had dressed up as Superman. It was cute when he was younger, Will would be Spider-Man and they would have fake super fights. However, as Clark got older, it just played into all the jokes about his name. He hoped to use the fact that he was older to say he didn’t need to dress up this year. That was until Carla Jefferson, his English class crush, had invited him to her costume party, to which he immediately agreed.
“I don’t know, but I was thinking I could be something different this year,” he shouted down.
“But it’s a tradition Clark. What’s Halloween in the Kent household without the Man of Steel?”
Clark didn’t answer, instead heading into his bedroom and vowing that he wouldn’t be Superman ever again.
Clark had managed to finish his homework shortly before his father arrived home. He came downstairs to the familiar sound of his father’s old truck’s engine. It made a very odd noise right before it was turned off, every time. As Clark sat down for dinner his father opened the door and yawned, putting his hat down. Clark figured he had a busy day, which was good. Recently work hadn’t been steady for his father. The family could financially afford it, but it was a matter of pride to Mister Kent. He didn’t feel right without contributing to this household.
Clark’s mother had been eating her dinner on the couch since the accident, so Clark was hoping that his father would sit at the table with him. However, the man was exhausted. He picked a chicken leg off a plate and took a beer out of the fridge before heading downstairs to the basement. Clark sighed. He finished his meal quietly before washing his plate and heading back up to his room.
As he closed his room door, Clark considered playing a video game, but he decided he didn’t feel much like killing zombies or riding a dragon. Instead he knelt next to his bed and stuck his hands out, pulling out an old cardboard box. Brushing off a light layer of dust, the fade words “Clark’s Comics” became visible. He delicately opened the box up to reveal a punch of yellowed and beat up comic books. Stuck in the middle of the box was an oversized bookmark, which of course had Superman on it. It marked how far into the set Clark had read. With light hands he pulled out the next issue, a classic nineties era X-Men comic. As always Clark got a laugh out of the advertisement on the back, in this case Magneto telling you what acne fighting cream was best.
Clark began to read the comic and was immediately was immersed. Within a few minutes Clark was turning the last page, wondering what will happen to Wolverine? He was tempted to grab the next issue but decided to pace himself as he didn’t get to visit the comic shop often as it was over an hour’s drive away. He could probably buy trades off Amazon or get digital copies, but he liked the feel of the real singles in his hand. He supposed it was the same thing as his mom with the entertainment news. Yes, Clark really cared for these damaged Claremont-era X-Men comics. He really connected with the anguish of being a mutant.
The same anguish Clark felt as he realized he was floating over his bed. To most this would be a very troubling predicament, but it was par for the course of the life of Clark Kent. About two and a half years ago Clark had discovered that he had powers beyond that of normal man. One hot summer day he was walking down side road ten, when his eyes began to burn. Not sure what to do, Clark shouted as searing beams escaped his retina, decimating the Gregors’ scarecrow. The fear he felt that day prevented him from telling anyone. And as he discovered more powers, his fear kept them a secret as well.
“Maybe I am a mutant?” mused Clark as he manually descended himself back onto his bed.
But if he were a mutant, where were the others? There were thousands of mutants in the Marvel universe. Clark was always looking out for stories of other people with fantastic powers, but all he ever found was hoaxes and bogus conspiracy theories. Again, that anguish of being a mutant, being alone. The loneliness of his room started to weigh down on Clark. He had felt this dread before and knew one sure fire way to escape it. He opened his bedroom window and flew off into the cool Kansas night.
In a town as small and secluded as Picketsville one could truly appreciate the starlit sky. As Clark glided through the air under the north star he fell the weights of the world fall off him to the ground below. Here he was free, free from the jokes, free from the expectations, free to be himself. Clark didn’t really fear being seen, as Picketsville was sparsely populated and there was almost no light pollution. The dark was good for him, it was a shield, and he could see through it perfectly with his enhanced vision. It was with that enhanced vision that he noticed he was passing over what the locals called Indian Woods. Clark headed toward the wall of trees and landed on the top branch of the tallest tree.
When Clark and his classmates were younger they would often spend many summers in Indian Woods. This particular tree was their favourite, they were always trying to be the first to climb to the top. By the time any of them were big enough to actually climb to the top, they had stopped playing in the woods. For they had grown up and didn’t need silly little games, like cops and robbers, or play hero.
Clark realized just how much he missed those days, when he was a friend and not that kid Clark Kent. Even out into the night, his problems followed. Clark sighed as he left the Indian Woods. He decided he best be getting to bed so that he got up on time tomorrow but decided to give one last flyover of town. He silently moved through the sky, passing over the town hall, his school, and even that old abandoned drive-in theatre.
When he got back near to his house he saw that his father’s truck was gone. As Clark wondered if his parents had another fight, a loud ringing pierced his ears. Grabbing the sides of his head Clark tried to regain control of his mind. With a few deep breaths Clark regained control of his super hearing. He realized it was a fire alarm he was hearing as he turned his head to the source of the noise, downtown Picketsville. His super vision kicked in and he saw red shapes moving around. The vision enhanced a little more, and Clark realized that Picketsville was on fire!
Instinct kicked in as Clark flew faster than he had ever before, arriving downtown in less than a minute. Initially he was overwhelmed by the chaos of it all. Several buildings were on fire, two cars had collided, and a group were running out of Dugan’s Pub. With a few deeper breaths Clark regained control. Figuring water beats fire he found the nearest fire hydrant and blew it up with his heat vision. Water exploded out but not in the direction Clark had hoped for.
Trying to think more tactically, Clark remembered a power Superman had, freeze breath. Clark had never used such a power, but the town was on fire, so might as well try. Clark inhaled, filling his lungs to the brim with the crisp night air. With an exuberant amount of force Clark exhaled, releasing a wave of frost that collided with the fires on top of the bank, leaving only steam.
“Okay, I can shoot ice,” said Clark with ragged breaths, “Good to know.”
Clark proceeded to do the same to the next couple buildings. However, by the fifth building Clark could barely breath. He realized he wasn’t trained enough with this power, as it felt like his lungs were shredded. Clark landed on the roof of the bank to try and recover. His super hearing picked up shouts for help. Clark jumped back into the air and saw that the roof had collapsed on Dugan’s Pub, with people still stuck inside. Worst of all Clark’s father’s truck was parked outside the pub.
Clark barrelled through the wreckage of the pub, tossing aside debris to free those still trapped. He was moving too fast for anyone to get a good luck as he moved two older men out into the street. As he freed more people he wondered where his father was. He grew faster and more frantic as he cleared the ruined ceiling. With his super hearing Clark picked up the faint breaths of a man at the bottom of the debris. With a mighty push Clark removed the last of the wreckage, finding his father.
Mister Kent had clearly seen better days as his head was bleeding and a piece of wood was piercing his side. He was in and out of consciousness, Clark appearing as just a shadow to him. Clark knew enough about anatomy to know that he had to removed the piece of wood from his side. As gently, but also as swiftly he could Clark yanked out the piercing wood. His father screamed before going unconscious.
“Sorry about that, Dad,” Clark said as he propped him up.
But Mister Kent was still bleeding from the wound. Clark realized even if he flew him to the nearest hospital he still might die of blood loss. So, Clark gambled on something he had seen in movies. With as much precision as he could muster Clark activated his heat vision and began to cauterize the wound. He hoped he was doing it right but was satisfied when it stopped bleeding.
By now Clark could hear the emergency services heading into downtown. With a few swift leaps he dropped his father next to an ambulance treating people. Before anyone could see he was back in the night sky. He considered helping more with his freezing breath but figured the fire trucks that were arriving could deal with the last of the fires. That and his lungs still felt like someone had cut them up.
Clark flew over downtown once more to make sure everyone was safe. Satisfied that he had done all he could, Clark returned home, knowing that he should have been asleep hours ago.
Clark never got to sleep. His mother got the call in the night that her husband was in the hospital. She and Clark rushed over and had been sitting at his bedside for several hours. He didn’t seem to be in pain, but Clark figured that more had to do with what was in the IVs than his rush cauterization job. Around eleven am he opened his eyes.
“What the hell did I drink last night?” he asked groggily, “Where am I?”
“The hospital honey,” answered Mrs Kent, “There was a fire downtown.”
“Was anyone hurt?”
“Mostly you, though,” she said, “They say there was a young man rescuing people, got the majority out by himself.”
“Anyone see who he was?”
“Fred Porter said that he was moving too fast like some kind of superhero.”
“Oh god, Fred Porter’s a drunk, he must be imagining things.”
“At least ten other people say they saw him,” added Clark, suppressing a smile.
“So, we got ourselves a regular Batman,” laughed Mister Kent, before Mrs Kent punched him in the shoulder.
“Speaking of Batman, I was considering getting a costume of him for Halloween,” stated Clark.
Mrs Kent gave her son a death stare. She was already frazzled by this hospital visit and wasn’t in the mood for yelling.
“But this whole small-town superhero thing kind of makes me want to go as Superman again.”
That night Clark stood in his room. He had just read what happened to Wolverine and now wondered what was going to happen to Superman. For he had taken out the old Halloween costume and tried it on. It didn’t really fit properly anymore but it would due until tomorrow when he could go into town and buy a new one. However, tonight it was just fine for his first official patrol. Opening his bedroom window, Clark leaped into the night sky. His cape moved with the cold October wind as he realized that this was happening. Maybe the universe had a reason for him being named Clark Kent. Maybe the world did need a Superman. Someone to look up to. This is what he was meant to do, he decided.
“Faster than a speeding bullet...” whispered Clark.
He shot off right into the starlit sky ready to see the world. And for the world to see a new hero. Superman.
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