#5: Back to Basics, Part Five Feb 5, 2019 12:20:18 GMT -5
Post by Charlie on Feb 5, 2019 12:20:18 GMT -5
Issue Five: “Back to Basics, Part Five”
Written by Eric Guptill
Cover by Jorell-Rivera (click the link for his Instagram)
Edited by Charlie Wilkins
Of course Clark would never reject us. We were given the world’s finest son.
Martha and I sat in the living room, her on the couch and me in my recliner. She had put down her crocheting and me, a book I was reading, as the light outside faded into near darkness.
Earlier on, Clark had made a big how-do about having us here at 6 o’clock sharp. He had spent the last few weeks ceaselessly exploring the strange craft that had brought him to Earth. It had been difficult for Martha and me, but we wanted to give him the privacy he requested.
Outside there was a warm glow from the setting sun, though it had reached a point that there was not enough to light the living room beyond casting shadows across every surface.
Clark entered quietly and stood in the doorway silently for a few moments. He breathed in, and then said, “Ma… Pa… no matter where I was born… I love you and you will always be my parents.”
Martha stood before I did, but we both crossed the distance between us and our son and embraced him. I realized I was gripping him tightly with my eyes closed when Martha squeezed my arm and I opened my eyes to see my beloved wife smiling at me. I was smiling too.
Releasing our boy, he places his hands on our shoulders and continues. “I want you to know as much about where I came from as I do. About Krypton.”
Krypton. The way he said it… I could see the glint of tears in Martha’s eyes as he continued. The words flowed out of his mouth like a river, and he explained that his birthfather’s name was Jor, and his birthmother’s name was Lara. They were dying, and sent him out into the void on a hope and a prayer…and that was only the beginning.
He held up a glowing crystal, and from deep within it, light spread out across the walls and painted a three-dimensional vision of an alien world in front of us. It was spectacular and amazing and we experienced it as Clark wanted us to; as a family.
I could see the glint of tears in Martha’s eyes as Clark continued. He was okay. And he would forever and always be ours, though I didn’t know it at the time, the world would share in him soon enough…
Superman entered the Fortress of Solitude with a smile on his face. He’d had a wonderful night with Lois earlier, there were no emergencies that called him away… it had just been the two of them. It was a rare event and they had both cherished it.
Before all that though, he’d dropped the ever-inquisitive Emil Hamilton off at the Fortress and asked his support droid Xelek to look after him, as the Metropolitan scientist had work to do that would require the hyper-advanced Kryptonian crystal computers embedded throughout the Man of Tomorrow’s home away from home.
He assumed Emil Hamilton had worked all night, and his suspicions had been well founded when the scientist contacted him the morning after, saying he had done just that but found something.
The professor was bent over the screen, printouts of data scattered here and there. Almost all were littered with notes in the margins. Xelek looked frustrated at the mess and was doing her best to organize the papers, while Emil shooed her away. He noticed the Man of Steel’s arrival, and declared, “You’re here!”
“Your message-- you said you found something?” said Clark.
Emil grabbed one stack of papers in particular and pulled out three or four astrological charts. He laid them out on the floor, re-arranging them until they were in the desired order. “Yes, yes, yes! Each of these charts represents where the transmissions were being sent. They only lasted for a few minutes at a time, but were never sent to the same position…”
Curiously, Superman looked at the charts. “The transmissions seem to be sent to coordinates that are moving closer to Earth.”
Emil slapped his knee in excitement. “Correct! Of course, my first thought was a spaceship.”
Clark nodded. “Makes se--”
Emil continued as if Superman hadn’t said anything. “So, I plugged in all the data and looked at photographs taken from earth telescopes. Obviously. the speed at which light travels and we receive imagery back means we can’t receive a clear image for years via human means, but with the advanced crystal telescopic lenses available in the Fortress, what I found was much more impressive than any spaceship…“ He grabbed the papers and moved towards the computer console. After plugging in a few commands, an object appeared on the screen. “That is what was receiving the transmissions.”
“…It’s a planet,“ said Superman, feeling a creeping sense of unease.
“Exactly! I checked through your Fortress’ logs and searched for any kind of vessel that matched the size and shape, but even the closest match-- New Genesis-- is smaller than whatever this new, beautiful mystery is.”
Superman couldn’t take his eyes off of it. Beautiful is not a descriptive he’d use to describe the shape. The image was grainy, but the surface of the world appeared mottled and uneven, artificial in fact. There was no green or blue to suggest land or sea, just a gunmetal sheen that suggested something else entirely. Something artificial... “Does it have an odd orbit of some sort that accounts for its position?”
“I thought just the same! Some sort of long-period comet that enters our solar system every… I don't know, tens of thousands of years? On some peculiar orbit that we've only just witnessed for the first time in recorded human history? But no, this isn't a planet-sized Haley's Comet. If it were, I could call it Hamilton's Self-Propulsive Planetoid! But, no, no. There is no orbit, per se. It’s travelling in a straight line. Moving of its own accord and getting closer to Earth with every passing day, though it is very far away at this point.”
Superman hoped that this was not a problem that he himself had caused during his ongoing exploration of the Fortress of Solitude’s vast and still-alien resources. But even if it wasn’t his fault, the Fortress had been used and that made it his problem. “Were you able to find any logs of who or what made the transmission?”
Emil shook his head. “No, they’ve been erased. I did want to perform a scan of dear Xelek’s memories, but she’s not being cooperative.”
Floating in mid-air, Xelek moved between Superman and Emil. “Hey, would you want some strange old man scanning your body?”
Emil feigned shock. “Who are you calling old?”
“Whoa, whoa, you two.“ Superman couldn’t help but crack a smile, despite their current circumstances. “Xelek, please let Emil perform his scans. We have to figure out who made the transmissions, and your help would be most appreciated.”
Xelek crossed her tiny, bronze arms and hovered toward Emil’s makeshift work station, ready to be tinkered with. “Fine, but this is not usually on the cards for a first date. No dinner, no wine, no dancing, not even a bouquet of flowers… pfft!“
“Thank you, Xelek. Emil, let me know as soon as you find anything.”
Hamilton nodded and followed after the Kryptonian support droid. “I will.”
Superman nearly left without another word, but at the last moment turned back and said, “And Xelek, he didn’t buy me dinner when he did my body scan.”
“It’s not the same!” replied Xelek, as Emil pulled on a pair of goggles, ready to get to work.
Eyebrow arched and pearly white teeth clamped around a red biro that had seen better days, Lois devoured the headlines on the Daily Planet’s award-winning website. The night before, Clark had told her about his two supervillain encounters, but she was now reading the article he’d submitted regarding his confrontation with Metallo, and she was mentally editing it as she went, ready to feedback to her fiancé when they met later.
Other than that, here she was, having just seen her article on the Mayor Iron’s new plan to crack down on the ongoing super-crime wave that the city was experiencing post online.
Even though she’d interviewed John Henry a few days before, she’d only managed to sit down with Maggie Sawyer, captain of Metropolis’ Special Crimes Unit, yesterday, and that meant a slight delay on the delivery of the finished article. She knew that her story was fair and balanced and that John Henry would understand her putting out two points of view. She was glad that she was friends with the Mayor, even if they had dated for a while.
That was one past relationship that hadn’t ended badly.
Contented, Lois got up from her desk and turned around to see Clark stumbling into the bullpen a huge grin on his face. As he crossed the distance toward her and she was certain no one else hut him could hear, she said, “Well, well, already back from a little glacier diving, are we?”
“I just couldn’t wait to see you,“ he said as he wrapped his arms around her.
Lois jokingly pushed away and lightly smacked him in the chest. “Keep it PG, Smallville. Our colleagues will file a complaint with HR.”
He laughed, then looked over her shoulder to see her byline on the front page of the Daily Planet website. “I see your crime initiative story went live.”
“Yep, and you with your two back-to-back Superman stories.”
“Hey, I'm not the only one who’s been busy. You did name Rampage and all…”
“We’re just a bunch of workaholics… some more than others.” Lois kissed him lightly on the cheek. “Speaking of…” Clark noticed her eyes darting behind him a split second before he felt someone smack him on the butt. He jumped a little because even a Man of Steel was capable of being surprised every now and then by a sexual harassment lawsuit waiting to happen…
“Good game, Clarkie, good game,“ Steve Lombard said as he walked past them. “You two need to get a room, or I’ll be calling HR, y’hear?”
Clark watched as Steve continued down the row of cubicles in his jeans and t-shirt. He was not someone that Clark had ever gotten along with and as much as it was possible to do so, he was actively irritated that Steve had decided to call him ‘Clarkie’. Steve had been around for years and his behaviour had changed little. Most people just ignored it, but there had been a few times that his conduct had caused mandatory sensitivity training…
Lois saw Clark’s face, and as if reading his mind, said, “Y’know, you could be the one to file a complaint with Human Resources…”
“Oh, I’m fine. You know how my mind wanders.”
“You just hate Clarkie, don’t you?“ Lois said, shaking her head. “Me too, I think.”
“I mean, it’s not actually my name…”
“Just think of it this way, Clark-- some action is better than no action.”
Clark grinned. “I got plenty of act-- "
Lois put her finger over his mouth. “Now, now, PG, remember? By the way, we should check on Perry and Alice at the hospital, see how Jerry’s doing.“ Lois removed her digit from his lips and grabbed her coat. “C’mon, I’ll book a KordCar.”
“I could fly us?” he offered.
“And ruin this hair? Forget about it. There’ll be a car downstairs by the time we hit the lobby.”
“As you wish,” he said, following after the love of his life.
Emil double checked the multiple wires he had attached to Xelek. They led from the robot to his portable computer in an attempt to reveal any information that may have been hidden deep within her advanced, alien systems.
“Are we done yet, Hammy?“ Xelek asked.
“Yes, yes, calm down, calm down…“ Emil disengaged some of the wires from the computer screen and attached them to some nearby crystals. He was familiar with the crystals and how they could be used to control nearly anything in Superman’s Fortress. He was glad that he had spent time studying them, it made this part easier.
A few commands typed into the computer and fed into the crystals meant that his screen began filling with data translated from the Kryptonian base code into binary and then into his own quickly understood shorthand. Emil scanned it as it went by, making note of a few anomalies. “Xelek, have you entered into a warning or alert mode in the last 48 hours?”
The robot paused for a moment, scanning through her memory banks. “Yes, but there was no cause for alarm. I logged the mistakes and planned to have myself serviced so that it wouldn't happen again.”
Emil looked closer at the data, his brow furrowing. “Could you please pinpoint all of the times that you went into alert mode?”
As requested, Xelek sent the information into the computer. She was unusually quiet, more worried about what was wrong with her than concerned with keeping up her Diva-ish appearance. It was an odd sensation for a robot such as herself, one she would have to explore at another time.
“Hmm, that’s odd, very odd…“ Emil said, ponderously.
“What is it, Professor?“ she asked.
“Well, hmm. It looks as if after each alert was triggered, there followed a surgical deletion of files within the computer system… and within your autonomous systems, as well.”
“I-- I have no recollection of that,” she admitted.
He continued to pore over the data, adding a few commands here and there to help close in on the information he was searching after. “About ten or twenty minutes after each alert. Not much time at all. Xelek, do your visuals constantly record?”
“My visual cortex records everything,” she confirmed.
“Does that continue when you are in stasis or rest mode?”
Xelek put on hand on the approximation of her hip. “I said it records everything.”
Emil looked at the robot. “No need to get snotty, my dear.”
He began typing faster and faster as he got more excited. The calculations began to work, pulling the previously hidden visual data from deep within Xelek’s systems, eventually starting to form an image on the screen… until a face slowly but surely appeared.
Lois and Clark headed to the nearest nurses’ station of Metropolis General ICU. They’d tried to get to Jerry’s room the way they came the day before, but were redirected by hospital security to the station, which was odd, but didn’t set off any alarms in either of their journalistic heads… yet.
“We’re here to see Jerry White. I’m Lois Lane, this is Clark Kent,” she said, gesturing to her fiancé.
The nurse looked up at them. “Sorry. Family only.”
Lois leaned forward, confused. “Excuse me? We were here visiting him last night. What's the problem now?”
The nurse didn’t even bother to look up this time. “That’s the hospital’s policy. No matter the patient’s father.”
Bemused, Lois looked at Clark, but he only shrugged. She pulled out her cellphone. “Well, I’ll just give Perry a call then.“
The nurse looked a little nervous now but didn’t argue. “Go ahead.”
As Lois dialled, Clark headed toward the elevator. “I'm going to check in on Kitty Faulkner, see how she’s doing. I’ll be back in a few. Give me a shout if you need me.”
“Will do, Kansas.”
Clark quickly went down to the second floor and headed to Room 218. He had inquired about her a day ago but unfortunately hadn’t had the time to check on her since, due to the escape of the Parasite and Metallo from Stryker's Island. In reality, it had only been a few days since the incident at S.T.A.R. Labs but seemed like an eternity. Regardless, he knocked on the door and waited.
“Come in,“ called out Kitty, though her voice was frail. As he entered, her eyes lit up, and she said, “aww, Mr Kent, I’m so glad you made it out okay!”
He beamed warmly, and took a seat next to her bed, “I'm glad you made it out as well, Dr Faulkner.”
She shook her head. “You’ve interviewed me too many times! Please, call me Kitty.”
“Only if you call me Clark,“ he said.
“Deal,” she replied, accepting his offered hand and enthusiastically shaking it, the pair sharing in the exaggerated gesture that allowed them to both smile.
Apart from looking exhausted, she looked good, not like she had been during her mutated form’s fight with Superman. He was glad for that. “How are you doing?”
She began wringing her hands before looking up at him. “Honestly, I don’t know. Do you know what really happened?”
He nodded solemnly. “Yes, yes I do.”
She jammed her eyes closed, balling up her fists and covering her face. “I-- I remember it all. The explosion. My… my transformation. It’s all swirling around my head, but it’s like it happened to a different person, not me. But the thing is, the police aren’t treating me like I was a monster. It’s like they don't know.”
Clark leaned towards her. “Kitty, I don’t think that they do. In all the chaos, people didn’t see you change. By the time your battle with Superman was over, it was a simple matter to get you on a gurney. With the smoke and rubble, people may have not seen it. And he probably doesn’t want you to be punished for something that wasn’t your fault. As long as you get the help you need from S.T.A.R.”
Kitty let out the breath she hadn’t realize she was holding in. “Thank you for not saying anything. And you’re right. I plan to have Emil test me until even he runs out of ideas. If there’s any way you can get a message to Superman… to say thank you… I’d appreciate it.”
“Of course. And you're welcome. Just let me know what he finds, all right?”
“For a story?“ Kitt asked, raising an eyebrow.
Clark got up from his seat. “No. For a friend.“
“Man, you're a good guy, Clark. Lois Lane is one lucky woman… but before you go… just one more thing.”
Heading for the door, Clark paused and waited for her to go on.
“I’m not bragging when I say those calibrations were perfect. They just were. But somehow, they changed at the last minute. It had to have been sabotage. I’ll know more when I look at the back-ups at head office. But yeah, if you have any ideas…”
Clark looked at her intensely, and said, “I’ll check it out, you have my word.”
Lois saw Perry coming toward her and she immediately sprung up from her chair. His face hung low and he looked as if he had aged years since she last saw him the day before. His shoulders slumped, and he barely looked at her-- this was not the man she knew. “Did something happen, Perry?“ she asked. “Is Jerry--?”
He shook his head, not saying anything at first. “Alice, she… she, ah, she can’t give Jerry a kidney.”
“Oh my God, Perry, I'm so sorry. Is there anything I can do, maybe get tested?”
Perry looked at her with a weak smile, visibly grateful by her offer, but the load on his shoulders not lessened in the slightest. “They want to test family first. They’re the best hope. Luthor. I have to ask Luthor.“
Then he broke down, nearly falling into Lois. His shoulders shook as silent tears cascaded down his face. Lois hugged him instinctively. Even though she didn’t know what was going on, she knew how much this man meant to her, how much his family meant to her, and she whispered, “It’s okay, it'll be okay…”
Moments passed, and Perry relaxed into her embrace for a second before standing up straight and wiping away the tears. He was fully himself as Clark walked up to them.
“I thought I heard Luthor’s name,” said Kent.
He looked over at Clark. “It’s a long story. Can’t get into it now. Just… just know that Luthor might be able to help Jerry.“ He took a few deep breaths. “Anyway. I need to go. But thanks for checking on us.”
Perry walked away toward the elevator. Clark looked at Lois in confusion, “Is that about what I think it’s about?”
“I think… I think Luthor might be Jerry’s father, but that makes no sense.“ Her thoughts trailed off, memories of her beginnings in Metropolis, of the period of time she knew Lex before he became the absolute bastard he was today. He may not have been a good man, but back then, in those early days, he wasn’t the monster he was today. Was he?
Clark rubbed his chin. “You're right, it doesn’t, and Perry and Alice aren’t in the right frame of mind… we’ll have to look into this, I mean, I don't like, Lex, but I don’t think this could have been him. I could look at Jerry’s DNA though, maybe--”
“No, this is between them, Superman can’t just butt in,” said Lois.
“Yes, of course, you’re right, you’re right. This is so--”
An abrupt crackling began in Clark’s ear, and his hearing zeroed in on Emil Hamilton’s voice as it came over the hidden transponder on his belt. “Superman, I found it! An image of the intruder--- and something even more interesting!”
He turned away from Lois and put a finger to his ear and gripping the secret switch on his belt buckle, replying, “I’ll be right there.”
“Your mad scientist?” Lois asked.
“He’s not exactly mad,” he replied, “eccentric, maybe.”
Lois kissed him. “Well, just be safe.”
“Always,” he said, tugging at his tie and heading into an empty room nearby, pulling open his shirt to reveal the ‘S’ shield emblazoned across his chest.
Emil had cross-referenced the photo from Xelek with the database and had found that he was a Kryptonian, but hadn’t had time to look up any more information on him.
Suddenly, Xelek darted towards Emil and placed her delicate hand on his shoulder. “Emil--don’t say anything-- just hide-- now!”
Emil looked stunned but did as instructed. He moved quickly toward the statues of Superman’s parents, hiding behind the legs of Jor-El and Lara situated in the middle of the vast chamber. He carefully peeked around to see Xelek and another two guard robots’ arms swivel and transform into energy weapons as they headed for the entrance to the Fortress.
Nerves fraying, he swivelled back behind the leg. It had not occurred to him that whoever had been invading the Fortress previously would return when he was there. He had always assumed that the invader would only come when it was empty. Clearly, he had been wrong.
A loud voice said something in an alien tongue, and then Emil heard the robots powering down. The scientist held perfectly still, not making a sound. He knew that whoever got in here was either extremely intelligent, had powers or worse… both.
“I can hear you breathing, you little rat.”
The voice came from the entrance, most likely near the felled robots. The speaker’s voice was clipped, his tone completely devoid of inflexion or accent, as if he’d learned it from written word alone. Emil didn’t know what to do, his only chance was to hope for the best and keep as still as possible.
“I can hear you. Hiding behind that statue…”
There was a slight crunching of boots to Emil’s right. It startled him and as he fell down, he saw the man who had been on the screen standing over him.
“…I can see you. Cowering right in front of me.”
Superman arrived back at his Fortress. It had only been a few minutes since he’d received Emil’s message and left the hospital, but he hadn’t been in any particular rush.
He needed time in the air-- time to think-- because after speaking to Lois about Perry, everything was just so confusing.
Lex was Jerry’s father? Between Clark and Lois and Perry’s pained ramble, that was the working theory. If that were the case, it would have been truly vindictive of Clark’s ‘old friend’.
He knew that Perry had been a mentor and guiding light to Lex when the young Luthor first came to Metropolis. The Whites had Lex over for dinner at least once a week, offered advice, insight, and especially support whenever he needed it. For Lex to betray Perry after all he had done for him… well, it was evidence of how evil the younger Luthor truly was.
Clark and Lex were only a handful of years apart in age. They’d known each other back in Smallville when the latter had become obsessed with the former after Clark had saved Lex from his own self-destructive streak. For Clark, the mental arithmetic added up in all the worst ways, with Jerry, just nearing fifteen, and them in their thirties. The very thought of it was heartbreaking.
As the Man of Steel walked into the Fortress, he was shocked out of his reverie by the sight of Xelek and two other guard robots scattered across the ground, shut down and their weapons visible He saw no signs of them being damaged, but that could only mean that the person responsible for the transmissions was back. And where was Emil in all this?
Superman closed his eyes, focusing on the sounds throughout the Fortress. He could hear the movement of animals from his intergalactic zoo, the humming of energy-- and three distinct heartbeats. Two were faster than normal and one was evenly paced. He zeroed in on the one beating faster and could hear ragged breathing. That had to be Emil.
He wasted no time, using his super speed to rush to his friend, but he didn’t come close to reaching him. As soon as he began to move, he was hit by someone, razor-sharp claws raking at his side. The intensity of the attack burned through his whole body and drew blood. His ribs had been the only thing that saved him from having the claws dig any deeper and tearing out his heart.
Losing control, Superman slammed into a nearby wall. That, combined with the pain of the slashes, knocked the wind out of him. He settled on the floor, glancing down at the cuts. He could see flecks of emerald within the crimson of his wounds. Whatever he’d been slashed with, it had to have been laced with some form of liquid kryptonite-- that was the only substance that could hurt him like this.
He stood up, making the effort look much more painful than it actually was, a recommendation made by Batman back in the day. He used the extra time to glance around, taking stock of the scene. The only figure he could see was crouched in front of him, ready to pounce once more. His attacker looked like a mix of humanoid and leopard; a tail trailing from the base of his spine, cat-like ears and eyes on his face, a thick fur coat lining his body and glowing green claws finishing out his appearance. Even his yellowing teeth seemed to have a green hue-- at least the protruding canines did.
The leopard-man smiled, waiting for Superman to come towards him. The Man of Steel did not disappoint, heading straight for him, but peeling off to the side at the last second. He continued on, out of the room and toward where he had heard Emil’s heartbeat, behind the statue of his Kryptonian parents-- only to see the professor lifted off the ground by his throat.
He recognized the costume Emil’s attacker wore-- a white version of Superman’s own, with an ornate ‘X’ symbol embossed on his chest. He wore the equivalent of Kryptonian surgical scrubs, all clean lines and divots, with his smug face on display as he held up the professor. “Hello again, Kal-El,” intoned the invader.
Superman stopped, knowing full well the threat this man-- this evil Kryptonian-- held.
“Xa-Du,” Clark said, his voice holding an edge.
He should have known that the Kryptonian mad scientist, would resurface after their last confrontation. He’d caused problems for the Green Lantern Corps many months ago, having transformed a Daxamite colony into his own personal torture / science-playground*, but had gone to ground since then. He was on the galaxy’s most wanted list, easily in the top ten, but hadn’t been seen since then. And now here he was…
*Green Lantern Corps #57-59
Something clicked in the Man of Tomorrow’s head, and he said, “I thought I recognized that lab assistant’s voice at S.T.A.R. Labs. You’re the one who sabotaged Faulkner’s experiment.”
Xa-Du laughed, nonchalantly dropping Emil to the floor. “I can’t help but brag, now can I?“ He placed one foot on Emil’s chest, pressing down slightly. Any harder, and his toes would have broken through the older human’s sternum, sending shards of bone into his lungs and heart. “It was me, Kal-El. I’m the one who made a mess of your frail friend’s laboratory. It’s almost sad to me, having so damaged a fellow scientist’s work. But then again… she was only human.”
Superman tensed, ready to spring into action. He was close enough to be able to help the professor before Xa-Du could hurt him. He was sure of it. But before he could follow through, Xa-Du continued, “Now now, Kal-El. I may not have been exposed to as much solar energy as yourself since my escape from the Phantom Zone, but I’m nearly as fast as you. Do you want to chance me shifting my weight even a fraction?”
Clark knew he was right. He had confidence in his abilities, after operating for so long in this line of work, but even then… he couldn’t take the chance that Emil would be hurt if he actually had miscalculated. “What do you want, Xa-Du?”
The mad scientist smiled even bigger than before. “Is it really that big of a mystery what I want? You took my greatest experiment from me. You stole my boy. Kal-El, I want you to suffer. I want to tear your life-- your world-- apart in front of you.”
Superman could hear the half-man / half-animal approaching him slowly from behind, but he couldn’t take his eyes off of Xa-Du. With a hard glare or a sharp exhale from the rogue Kryptonian, Emil could burn or freeze to death.
“Why not just come straight after me?” asked Kal.
“We both know that would never work. You're harder to kill than one would think. Also, what fun would that be.? Hmm. No. The explosion at your ‘S.T.A.R’. Labs. The escapes of the Parasite and Metallo: All me. Oh, and your new playmate? The Leopard? He’s one of my newest creations. After I installed the liquid Kryptonite enhancements to his cellular structure, he practically begged me to let him have a crack at you.”
The Man of Steel shook his head. “I should have banished you back into the Phantom Zone, instead of letting you go for Connor’s benefit. I promise you, I’ll rectify that mistake soon enough.”
“That would’ve been the smart thing to do, but you've always been sentimental. Always wanting to see the best in people. And Kon-El? Well, it's about time he realizes that I am not looking for redemption. He’ll understand his true destiny soon enough when I’m through with my deconstruction of you.”
Superman could hear the Leopard approaching. From the sounds of it, he was poised to leap… Clark held his position for the briefest of moments, then dropped to the ground, but the leap had been a feint. The Leopard’s claws raked across the Man of Tomorrow’s face, though he managed to turn away before his eyes were damaged. The radioactive burning began in earnest and he could already feel himself weakening.
Kal-El twisted on his back, kicking up. He had made another mistake-- claws scraped against his shin. He didn’t have time for this! The Leopard was fast and he was quickly losing stamina to Kryptonite poisoning. Superman did a quick flying backflip to get some distance, but his movements were groggy, lazy even, no matter how hard or fast he tried to move.
Xa-Du watched the battle intensify, then glanced down at Emil, who was still squirming underfoot. “I wish I had, hmm, what do you call it? Popcorn? I wish I had some popcorn. Don’t you, professor?”
The Leopard weaved back forth in front of Superman. He was trying to distract him and it was working. With the liquid green fire coursing through his body and blood dripping into one eye, it was hard to keep his focus.
“Whatever Xa-Du did, I can help you,” he said. It wasn’t a desperate attempt to lower the man’s defences, but completely true. Superman would do whatever it took to help this man, but the Leopard only sneered and leapt forward, making it clear that whatever had been done to him, it was voluntary.
This attack was easily dodged-- at least that’s what Superman thought-- as soon as he had landed on the ground behind him, he twisted then jumped and landed on the Man of Steel’s back. His head leaned towards his ear.
“Whatever he did to me, I wanted.” The voice was husky and filled with a growl of rage that was followed up with a zealous clawing of Superman’s back.
A yell of pure agony ripped from the Man of Steel, but he was not incapacitated. He acted on instinct, flying into the air as more and more of his skin was shredded by the superspeed strikes and slashes made by the Leopard. Quickly, he turned midstream and slammed into the ground, the Leopard’s body cushioning his fall. It was enough to stop the attack, and maybe knock him out. Either way, he had little time to help Emil.
Superman raced into the sky, flying over the large statue of his parents, whipping down near the leg and slamming into Xa-Du. The other Kryptonian went flying into a nearby wall, and finally, the Man of Tomorrow had room to breathe. “G-get the defences online!” he managed to say.
Emil didn’t have to be asked twice. Blood covered Superman, the cuts deep enough that he figured they may even leave scars. This whole situation was uncharted territory, but without the defences offered by the Fortress, he knew that they both might be killed. He rushed towards the crystals he’d been working with earlier as Superman staggered onto his feet.
Clark watched as Xa-Du pulled himself out of the wall and flew near the Leopard to regroup.
“You will never succeed, Xa-Du, never,” said Superman, his voice holding that ring of pure truth and determination, the one that made Xa-Du flinch just the tiniest bit.
Instead of showing weakness, the mad scientist shook his head, and said, “Kal-El. Son of Jor-El. It’s already past the point of no return for you. You will die.”
Superman knew that Xa-Du was not a fighter, so focused all of his attention on his other enemy. It paid off when the Leopard leapt, but he did not move out of the way. He watched as Xa-Du moved towards Emil-- Superman’s arms were clawed as he used them to block attack after attack from the Leopard. Clark was waiting for his moment though-- then it was there, a slight opening-- and he smashed his enemy in the chest, sending him flying into the air and against the solid stone of his father’s statue. The Leopard crashed down to the ground. He was unconscious, that was sure.
Beyond that, Superman didn’t know if there was anything broken in either himself or his opponent, but he didn’t have time to worry about that now.
Emil knew that he only had seconds-- if that-- but as he had earlier created a program to track commands in the robots and computer as a precaution, seconds were all he needed, and it paid off! He pulled up the logs and began typing, deleting previous commands and performing a soft reset of the system. It would shut everything down and do a quick purge of any contrary commands.
In effect, it would clean everything out and leave Superman as the sole person able to input anything. Xa-Du would forever be locked out of the Fortress of Solitude, and then-- he typed the last of the commands, but felt a hand wrap around his neck from behind and lift him off of his feet.
“You’re barely worth our time, professor.”
It was Xa-Du. Emil knew he wouldn't get another chance. He kicked his foot out, hitting what amounted to a return key amongst the crystals, and it had the intended effect. The whole system went dark, even the lighting within the Fortress-- but only for a split second. Then everything rebooted, systems were purged and foreign commands were deleted.
“What have you done--?” asked Xa-Du.
Immediately, the guard robots reanimated, Xelek immediately taking the offensive and firing at Xa-Du, making sure to not hit Emil. “If anyone’s going to smack that human around, it's going to be me!” she declared.
Xa-Du turned around, placing Emil between him and Xelek, causing the female robot to stop assaulting him. He backed up as he saw Kal-El walking towards him. Things would still go according to his plan, but he needed to be free. The human was his ticket out.
“It was fun while it lasted Kal-El.“ He smiled at the injured hero and tossed Emil into the nearby ocean at the main entrance. He watched as Superman rushed to help his friend. He expected no less. It was just what he needed. He sped over to Leopard and used his heat vision to drill a hole through the ice and escape. It was far from over between the Houses of Du and El!
Superman rushed into the ocean, the freezing water helping to ease the burning from the Kryptonite that filled all of his wounds. He grabbed Emil and flew back into the Fortress. He could feel the professor’s laboured breathing as his body began to shake.
“Xelek-- heating chamber-- prepped-- now!”
He began ripping off Emil’s clothes. “I'm sorry, but this is necessary.“ He couldn’t tell if his friend could hear or understand him, but he needed to explain, that sense of small-town Smallville modesty overriding anything else at that moment in time. He rushed towards the chamber, pulling the last of Emil’s clothes off before placing him inside. Xelek closed the chamber and began monitoring Emil’s vitals as the older man’s core temperature was slowly raised. They had gotten to him very quickly and she was optimistic. Oddly enough, the Kryptonian support droid found herself worrying about this human who she was beginning to consider a friend.
“Vitals are looking good, Kal-El.“ Xelek turned to look at Superman. He was collapsed on the floor, blood pouring from all the open wounds still covering his ragged body. She rushed over to him, calling the other two robots. A quick scan of his body told her all that she needed to know. He was filled with Kryptonite, it was flooding his bloodstream, surrounding his vital organs and stopping the wounds from clotting. She needed to perform a deeper medical scan.
“Move him to the exam table,” she instructed. The other two droids followed her directions without question. The whole room was a medical lab with multiple beds that allowed both patients to be treated side-by-side. She was scared, the Kryptonite poisoning was deep and there was no surety that all of it could be removed. She could only hope that a complete removal and cleaning of his blood would help. She moved to the table that Superman was placed on and put a metal hand on his shoulder. “Please, Rao, please save him...”
TO BE CONTINUED…
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