by DarkMark and Dannell Lites
NOTE: Superman of 2465 and the universe in this fict are property of DC Comics. No money is being made from this story, no infringement is intended.
The Superman of 2465 (originally called the "Superman of 2965", corrected in reprints) originally appeared in SUPERMAN #189, ACTION COMICS #338-339, and WORLD'S FINEST COMICS #166. This story takes place some years after those tales.
Even Men of Steel grow old.
Not at the same rate as humans, once they achieve maturity. Their vital strength is ebbed a bit, but still potent. Still far beyond the range of normal men.
Klar Ken stood at the transparent balcony of his home, 72 stories above the ground. A forcefield barrier below each level would catch a falling body. No one could harm himself, or herself, by being thrown out of a window anymore. You could fly with a MagPak strapped to your back and cut the thing off and maybe avoid the safety tractors. Some had done it. But by and large, if you wanted to suicide, you had to try something else in 2499.
Klar Ken, standing there in his brown robe and sandals, needed no MagPak to fly.
549 years ago, his ancestor had come to Earth. His forebear's father, Jor-El, knew what he was doing. He had selected a world in whose environiment young Kal-El would be invulnerable to harm. He had programmed the rocket's computer to land somewhere in the United States of America, the optimum place for the three-year-old Kryptonian to live. Despite the mishaps on the way, the rocket had flown fairly true, and Kal-El's life was spared.
Five years after that, he had first become a Superboy. In his college years, he adopted the name of Superman. Thus the pattern had been set.
Twenty generations had come and gone, since then. Twenty members of the family, direct descendants of Kal-El and Lois Lane, had taken the costume and name of Superman. Some had done it proudly. Others had done it hesitantly. A few had hardly done it at all. But every generation of the line had donned the uniform at least once.
The family had grown larger, over the course of five centuries. The family of Clark Kent and the scions of Kara Zor-El had produced many members. Only one in each generation was allowed to be a Superman, a Superboy, or a Supergirl. There had been gaps in the line of Supergirls, and the Superboys were always the sons of the current Superman. On occasion, one Superboy or another had not worked well enough, and the mantle was given to another son.
Intermarriage with Earth people had altered the line somewhat. Their powers were usually the same, though the strengths of one ability or the other could differ. The weaknesses had altered. At this point, Klar Ken had no fear of Kryptonite, though seawater, with the strange pollutants that alien immigrants had once brought to it, could denude him of his powers and even drown him. The ability to be affected by magic had remained.
And of course, if one faced an opponent of equal or greater power, one could be harmed or possibly destroyed. There were still Rokynians, Daxamites, Xenonians. But they mostly stayed on their own worlds.
Klar Ken sighed. The role each of the chosen El males was handed was as much a constriction as an honor. It was nothing less than having to protect a world and, very often, a universe.
One had to become two men, and to pretend one had nothing to do with the other. It was not as easy a thing as one might expect. The third Superman had to pretend his Kent-self had been killed, and to take up the name of Jon Hudson. The fourth Superman's identity had been revealed during a monorail accident. One Superman had simply abandoned his secret identity, becoming a full-time Man of Steel until his son was old enough to succeed him. More than once, a Superman had suspected himself of becoming quietly schizophrenic.
But, for the most part, the twenty Supermen had served well, served proudly. It was a role all men on Earth, and most of the known universe, would have sacrificed much to play, at least once. They had no knowledge of the burden the costume carried with it.
They had no knowledge that the descendants of Krypton (and such they were, for the El family always called themselves Kryptonians, not Rokynians) were many in number now, and each of them on Earth had to conceal their powers, lest they betray the line's great secret. In a way, it was much worse than having a secret identity. At least, the Supermen could do their great feats in costume and be praised for them.
The other Els had to use their powers in secret, or among their own kind. Some had adopted other identities than Superman over the years, though this was officially frowned upon. Powerman, Hyperman, Herculion, Ultrawoman, and Guardian Girl had all been of the family. Some of them had gone to other planets to operate. There were dynasties of such on other worlds, and not all of them had felt the need to become crusaders. That, he supposed, was a relief.
Thirty-four years ago, in 2465, Klar Ken had taken up the mantle of Superman. He had played the role well, as well as he could, and had not disgraced himself, which was always a Superman's greatest fear. He had even formed a partnership with the Batman of his era, and vanquished Muto and the current Joker alongside him. In secret life, like his forefather, he had been a reporter for one of the world's great news agencies. He had married a fellow reporter, Lyra 3916 Lennox, ten years after that; his marriage was late, like the first Superman's. It was not the first parallel that would be drawn between him and his forebear, and he suspected it would not be the last.
Their union had produced three children. Two boys, Adam and Alan, and a girl, Lorelei. All of them had the powers. From the time they were young enough to understand, the two boys had each wondered the same thing:
Which of us is going to be Superman?
He had tried both of them out as Superboys, alternating one with the other. Adam was certainly the more aggressive of the two, the quickest to act, the most forceful. Alan was his brother's match in intelligence, if a bit less motivated than his sibling. But, as time wore on, Superman saw a bit too much pragmatism in his eldest son Adam. Once, he had caught him breaking a crook's hand, crushing the bones in it to make him confess, or just to make him scream.
Superman had taken his son aside and punished him. He demanded that he never do such an act again, and informed him that if he did, there would be no chance of him ever donning the uniform again. Ever. To emphasize it, the Man of Steel had given the Superboy role to Alan for the next four months. Alan enjoyed the experience, and was eager to repeat it. But Adam was the firstborn, and, by tradition, had the right to a second chance. He acquitted himself better this time. Still, for four months of each year, Superman had given the costume to Alan, just to remind Adam that he had not forgotten...and that Adam must never forget, either.
There were other branches of the family that had to be heard from each year, at the annual reunion, and they chafed at the restrictions. The latest daughter of Kara's line, Katherine de Ka'an, a blonde beauty who resembled her foremother somewhat, and to whom Adam and Alan seemed to pay a lot of attention during the family get-togethers. The sons and daughters born of a union between a Superman and a Wonder Woman so long ago in the past that nobody was quite sure of which generation they came. The family of Superman VII's second son, of Superman XIV's daughter, of his own uncle George Ken T3871...all had their agendas, all had their grievances, and all had their priorities.
The reunion was to be held in three days, in that very city which most
Supermen had called home.
He had not yet picked a successor.
Sometimes he wished he could just give it to Lorelei. But Lorelei was more interested in becoming a physician and curing the inhabitants of many worlds, than she was in wearing a costume and fighting malefactors. The daughters of the Kent / El line could opt to become secondary Supergirls, if they wanted to, and some had. Lorelei, thus far, had not.
Already Adam was a successful businessman, with his power company supplying 33 percent of Metropolis's needs. He was as aggressive in the marketplace as he had been fighting crime. Rao knew, he'd been an efficient Superboy. Perhaps a bit more so than Alan, who was pursuing acting jobs with medium success.
They were both in their twenties, and both being called Superboys.
The decision had to be made at the family gathering, and one of them was going to hate it for the rest of his life. So, perhaps, would the other members of the clan, who knew their sons had no chance of taking up the role no matter how good they were.
George had once approached him about the matter and said, "Look, Klar, I know it's tradition. But for once, can't we break with it? The other families are getting tired of being kept out. We've got rights, too, you know."
Klar had tried to explain, patiently, that the Terrans would grow apprehensive if they knew they harbored so many Kryptonians in their midst; that their awe and veneration of the Supermen would become fear, distrust, and loathing if they knew of the people of power; and that secrecy among mortal men was a thing which went back to the first Superman to walk the planet.
George still wasn't convinced. But family custom gave Klar the authority, and he finally exercised it. The matter was still closed.
As far as Klar knew, they were still friends.
Lyra had come up behind him.
She was still a beauty for her age, though, like Earthers, she wore her years a bit more heavily than he did. He hardly noticed. "Klar? Anything I can do, darling?"
He half-smiled, setting his hands on the plassteel railing of the balcony. "Doubt it. Besides the usual, of course."
Lyra put her arms about his chest from behind and snuggled her head against his back. "I know you're worried about the boys," she said. "But remember what you told me, dear?"
"I've told you so much," replied Klar, easing a bit at her touch. "Which thing, specifically?"
"That you all grow into the role. That sometimes it looked like one of you wasn't going to work out, then did, because he figured it out. Because he had to." She paused. "I'm looking forward to having you with me that much more. And to having both my sons and my daughter grow up."
He paused. "I won't be retired all the time. Just most of it. They'll need me to help, every now and then."
"You've got to let go of it, Klar. A new generation takes over. It always happens, in every family. You're 55 years old. You've got to let the cape go, sometime."
Klar Ken turned and embraced her, and kissed her as long as he had ever done when they were first wed. She almost felt drained when he broke it. Krypts are capable of amazing feats in all parts of their lives.
But he took her head between his hands and said, quietly, "You never let it go, all the way, Lyra. Until the day a Superman dies...it never lets you go."
"That's good for now. Thank you, Mr. Kent. Next?"
Alan Kent looked at the director. He'd given his all in this audition. Well, he customarily did that, but this was a part he wanted. The defender of Senator Grey in a reenactment of one of the great trials of the 23rd Century. He loved period drama.
Listening to the director's heart was cheating. But he handicapped his conscience and did it anyway.
The usual lub-dub, lub-dub of the human pump. No racing pulse, no ill-concealed smell of sweat, no nothing. The director might have been an unusually controlled man. But such was usually not the case. Alan guessed that he'd just failed to impress him.
He stepped away from the booth in which he'd played a scene with a simulated jury, judge, defendant, and prosecutor. Nothing but VirtReal, but he'd made it RealReal for himself. Rubbing his hands together, as if against the cold, he went to the rows of seats and sat beside his friend Akon, a Rannian.
"Looking a bit mouthdown, Alan, you'll pardon my saying," said Akon, his feet warming a seat to the left of him.
"Don't think I got it," Alan Ken T4821 admitted. "Blaze it. I hate to hit my old man up for money again."
Akon touched Alan's shoulder. "You can chunk with Reyna and me tonight. Hey, she's a cook to please the green skies of home. That saves on food, doesn't it?"
Alan nodded. "It does, Ake. It does, indeed. But I don't like to impose. Could I bluecheck it for right now?"
"Say nay, that's all right. But you can still come by as a guest, not a mooch. That make you feel better? Reyna'd love to see you, jake."
Alan shifted uncomfortably in his seat, glad there weren't too many people around their section right now. "Tell her thanks for me. Doubledamn, Ake. Why won't they give me a chance at the good stuff? Am I that typed?"
Akon, who wore a red and white suit and had the middle part of his head shaved, looked away for a moment. "It was a good role, Alan. You know that."
"Was it my only role?"
"Lot of guys would be glad to have played Tab Hunter, Time Master for three months. Talk about historical drama. You had different history every week!"
"Yeah," said Alan. "Yeah, it was fun. But just kidstuff. That was a year and a half ago." He shook his head. "Money's tight, now. Didn't pay me that much when I was doing it."
The Rannian spread his hands. "Listen, Alan. You're fixed up better ‘n' most of us right now. My old man's a Z-Beam Inspector. Not exactly high-pay, just midwage. I do Foodrun during the days to make the rent check. Sometimes, a lot of times, Reyna and I live on stew from what the customers margin. But we make it. Howbout you?"
He sighed. "I know, Ake. I know. My dad's a bigtime editor, my brother's a power macher. But me, I have to be the one with talent. At least, I think it's talent. So I've gotta pin Dad for rent creds, or food creds, or...well, sometimes, even date creds. Even then, we go nowhere special. Just the mile-high places. Not the lowdowns."
Akon said, "Problems I should have, believe me. Your brother can afford the lowdowns, but so what? You seen ground-level clubs once, you've seen ‘em all. I used to Foodrun one. Blazing nice, but you get used to it. Specially from the service entrance."
Alan touched the bare part of Akon's scalp, a gesture which he'd learned on Rann signified friendship. "I shouldn't complain. You're the one with real probs."
"In a way," Akon said. "In a way. But I know yours too, jake. Yours is pride. The same as mine."
"Pride," Alan scoffed. "Only seems to mean a bunch of lions, these days."
"No, it doesn't," said Akon, seriously. "No, it doesn't. There wouldn't be a theatre, if there wasn't pride. There wouldn't be anybody with the insides to act, if there wasn't pride. Blaze, man, you know it's true. True back when Shakespeare went on the road in BackThen, or when Klaxton Karr on my world did The Balance, even more BackThen. You gotta have pride, like you gotta have faith in your insides. Or we wouldn't starve for it."
Alan looked at his thumbs, then at Akon. "I think you've downed it. May have downed it right there. Just...well, sometimes it feels better to pity-pin myself. Like turning a tender heart on me, when nobody else does."
"Oh, that's a comfortable place, all right. Just don't spend too long in it. Or anyplace else. It'll barnacle you."
"I gotta go, Akon," he said, extending his hand. "Give Reyna my utmost, okay?"
"Will," confirmed Akon. They grasped each other's arm above the wrist, held it for a second, then let go. "Till tomorrow, jakeboy."
"Tomorrow and tomorrow," said Alan, getting up from his seat. "And tomorrow. Creeps in its petty damnblazed pace."
The office of ContraMatPower was on a low enough level to let clients know it was important, but high enough not to scare them. That was important. The correct balance had to be maintained, and nobody knew that more than Adam.
For a man of 25 years, he'd done well for himself. Buying into a small power company, just one of many that broadcast power from the distant and quasi-controlled explosion of matter and anti-matter in uninhabited space. Making decisions and implementing improvements with incredible foresight. Bringing the third-rater into the second tier, and banging on the door of the first, within four years.
Now Adam Kent owned landcars, a ground home on each coast and one in highlevel when he wanted to be Just Folks, and was never lacking for a woman to share them with. The world knew about him. Or at least all that he wanted them to know about.
Life was decent.
His secretary gave him a GateKeeper message on his ear communicator, an almost-invisible strip of adhesive flexmetal on his earlobe, that his brother was in the outer office. "Send him," he ordered.
The interlocking metal segments that made up the door parted. Spyrays did their customary scanning of the figure that came through, in his tanned suit that was worn too often for Adam's taste. He had almost brought himself to buy the kid a new coat. But not quite.
Since no weapon or illegal article was found by the spyrays, the room's forcefield parted automatically to admit him into Adam's presence.
Alan kept his hands in his pockets and Adam didn't get up from behind his desk. But Adam smiled, put out a hand, and grasped arms with his brother, who leaned across the desk to do so. "Alan," he said. "Baste and turn them at the audition?"
Alan smiled slightly and looked away, for an instant. "I wouldn't know," he lied. "But it's just another chance, Adam. Got to take ‘em all if I want to act."
"Well, what seems to be the problem?" While he spoke, Adam's left hand was stuck in a slot of his desk, getting a tactile readout of current market and stock conditions. He could do more than two things at once, easily, and he knew the drill with his brother.
"I'm kind of credit-shy," said Alan. "I won't know about this job for awhile."
Adam drummed his free thumb on the polished black-green surface of his desk. "I understand," he said. "It's good that you came to me, this time."
"Well, it's not like I'm getting thrown out of my apartment," said Alan. "Just eating money. Just for the week. I'll pay you back, you know that."
"You don't have to," Adam said. "What the blaze are brothers for, if not to be touchable? Here." He reached in another slot of his desk and produced a wafer with a screen. The screen had a number of credits. "Yours. Just remember me when I need a friend."
"Thanks, Adam," said Alan, dropping the wafer in a pocket of his coat.
"Well?" Adam said. "Aren't you going to tell me the latest?"
"About what the family's saying. The whole family, not just us."
"You mean," said Alan, "which one of us it's..." That was as far as he dared take it.
"Yeah," said Adam. "Not that you won't make a great one, not that I won't make a good one. But I'll bet they're laying wagers that even J'imm the Martian wouldn't cover."
"Walls have ears, Adam."
The businessman waved his unoccupied hand over his desk. "Not here. Not even spy-rays, enhanced ones. The Insulation Field I've got in this room was enhanced by Rokyn technology."
Alan rolled his tongue in his mouth. "That's dislegal, Adam."
"Just bending," said Adam. "The Practical Liberties Union is still adjuciating it. As long as they're fighting for our rights to privacy, I'm going to fight alongside them. By example."
"You've got a talent for nobility," said Alan, sarcastically.
"We can't all have your talent," said Adam. "Wish I could do what you do on a stage."
"No, you don't. You're a good enough actor as it is."
Adam shook his head. "The boy acts like he doesn't want my credits."
"I want ‘em, all right. I need ‘em. Dad said never to skip eating too long. People start asking questions."
"I suppose they do," said Adam. "Want a job, Alan?"
"Not yet. I'm still looking. And working."
"Giving acting lessons, tutoring, writing critiques nobody reads for an obscure journal," said Adam. "Quit it, Alan. Make Father proud."
"He's proud of me," said Alan. "You know that."
Adam nodded. "Blazing proud. Of both of us. But he'd be prouder if you didn't have to ask him for money."
There wasn't anything Alan felt like saying in response. Adam changed the subject. "Want you to know, Alan, if...well, should something happen shortly that would, let's say, take up a portion of my time, I could use a trainee to take up some slack."
"I'll keep it in mind," said Alan, fingering the credit wafer in his pocket. "Of course, if something like that happened to me, it'd be easier to fit into my schedule."
"I'm sure it would," said Adam. "And you'd do a blazing great job of it, I know. I mean, look at me. It's all I can do to keep this place at 53 degrees above ground. I don't know where I'd find the time to do something else."
"I'm sure you could make room," Alan said. "I mean, consider Dad. He did it and still ran the news service. Take it all the way back to the Twentieth, I mean."
"Yeah, sure," said Adam. "But, Sheol, Adam, we'll all be proud, no matter who it is. It's family that matters, you know. I know it."
"Yeah," Alan replied. "Family matters. And--"
He stopped, almost in mid-word. Adam looked at him, knowing from the look in his eyes that he'd better turn up his hearing doublefast.
Both of them had been taught by their father to leave part of their ears tuned to the wavelength the cops used for their intracasts. It was an automatic thing, and they filtered out 99 percent of the stuff there like a city dweller filters out urban noises. But they were always warned to listen for the 1 percent.
Somebody in a dispatch office had said, "Heaven's Seven."
They also mentioned Northplex.
By that time, both men had vibrated through the walls of the office.
Heaven's Seven was a band of ethical terrorists who believed that Apocalypse could be brought about on schedule, or perhaps ahead of time, if just the right disasters were brought into existence at the precise time involving the precise amount of people. True, many would die. True, much destruction would be wrought.
But their motivation, they were assured, was pure. God would return and bring the Age of Peace. God would see into their hearts and, despite the blood that was on their hands, know their purpose was pure, and forgive.
God would sort things out.
The entirety of Metropolis did not depend on matter / anti-matter broadcast power. Most of it was Metro-based, from different sources. One of the newer ones was the Fusion Protosphere, a great globe of force surrounded by a concrete and absorbative metal housing. The force was a controlled and small thermonuclear reaction. Its power was the source of much of Metro's public energy, though alternatives and emergency sources existed.
Lots of folks felt more comfortable with local power, instead of some newfangled thing in deep space. Up there, something could go wrong and it'd take days, possibly months, to know about it on Earth. Here, you knew about it right then, and could fix it. Hopefully, also right then.
That's how they knew about the band of terrorists gassing their way into the place, disabling the guards with an illegal and experimental neurointerrupter that left them catatonic for whole minutes, long enough to kill. Seventeen men and women had died for the Seveners to gain access to the plant.
The cops knew about it and were storming the place, but they ran into a ray-barrier that cut five of them down and was going to take a quarter hour to breach. That was going to be time enough, perhaps, for the whiz kid the Seven had imported to hack the controls and bring them down.
Shortly after that, a large section of Metro would be uninhabited, and uninhabitable, for the next fifty years.
There were more than seven people in Heaven's Seven. The name was symbolic, and also stood for the seven directors who were rumored to rule the cult. They liked to strike in teams that were multiple numbers of seven, though. Fourteen had been chosen. Eleven yet survived.
Right now, Garrig Brow N5670, the hacker, was sweating like a heart surgeon and manipulating the controls on his Black Box. He was hoping the PortaField that the Seven had brought with them would protect them from the blast. One part of his mind wondered what the thing would look like when its power was unleashed. Whether he could remain sane, seeing and hearing it. Another part, the dominant one, kept working at the Box, solving problems of control bypass as if it were an academic exercise.
None of him tried to remember that one Sevener had a weapon pointed at his head, from a short distance, in case he should decide to welch.
He needed the cash. God knew, he needed it, or the NumbersMen to whom he owed gambling debts would take their payment from his body...and probably from his children first.
But they didn't live in town. They'd be safe.
Tentris Hal E4567, the squad leader, educated in equal parts of Bible, Koran, and nihilistic / anarchist texts, snapped, "Well? What have you, Prober?"
Garrig didn't look up, tried to keep his voice even. "Just a few seconds here. Yeah, doubleyeah. I think...got it."
With a twinge of conscience, Brow handed over the Black Box. Tentris wanted to press the control himself.
Tentris Hal reached for the device. The others were desperately chanting passages from various scriptures, though some were praying, and others softly swearing. They thought of relatives in the city. They thought of their three brethren who had died. They didn't think much of the ones whom they had killed. That was just margin.
"Apocalypse," said Hal, softly, as if it were an endearment to a virgin bride. His fingers neared the Box.
They never touched it.
A force like a controlled ball of wind contacted the hands of Garrig Brow, and the Black Box was no longer in them. He almost had time to gape.
None of them saw what was amongst them. Invisible forces picked them up, slammed them into metal and stone, broke their jaws, smashed their weapons. None of them was conscious to see the guards who were merely injured be lifted, vanish into the invisibility of hyperspeed, and be deposited at emergency MedStations.
When they awoke, in custody, the Seveners would first believe they had been intercepted by supernatural forces. Perhaps something from the Other Side.
"No such luck, jakes," said one of the guards, and held up a holoprint. "We found this in the floor."
It was a familiar insignia, burned there by the bolts of heat from one or more pairs of eyes.
An S in a triangular shield.
Heaven's Seven had another devil added to their agenda.
Adam and Alan vibrated through the walls of the office again. For cover's sake, it was important to finish it where they began.
Both were breathing a bit more heavily. When they could speak with ease again, Adam said, "Well. Chalk up another one for the Peerless Pair, eh?" He was smiling.
"We were slow," said Alan. "Seventeen people dead. We should've been on the job faster. Dad would have been."
Adam frowned. "Well, he wasn't."
"Can't be everywhere."
"We can't, either. And a lot more than seventeen would've died if we didn't show up when we did."
"It is not good enough, Adam!" Alan slapped the desk, hard enough to make it vibrate. "People died. Having them not die is what we're all about."
Adam stood up. "Standing for the Greater Good is what we're all about, brother. People die every day. I'm sorry for that, but, Sheol, we can't grieve for every individual."
"I'm not asking you to," breathed Alan. "Only want you to say it."
"Say what?" retorted Alan. "That we should listen to every broadcast from every source all over the System? I want you to say something, Alan."
"What...do...you...want...me...to...say?" said Alan.
"That we did a good job," said Adam. "That we saved the whole frabbing city."
"All right," said Alan. "All right. We saved the whole frabbing city. Does that make you feel better, Adam?"
"Yes. Yes, it does. Doesn't it you?"
"I'll live with it," said Alan. "So long."
"See you at the reunion," said Adam, to his brother's back.
The door delinked and relinked behind him. Adam stood watching it for a few seconds.
He thought of how, for 500 years, it had been enough for the Family to be the strongest, the fastest, the most invulnerable, the mightiest beings on Earth, in this entire sector of the galaxy, perhaps.
For 500 years, the Family had thought of that as Power.
It wasn't power. Power was the ability to refashion society. To make it work more efficiently. To heal the inner wounds, to get past the pettiness and insanity that had held humankind back for far too long.
That was Power. And Adam Ken T5477 knew all about it. Or at least he'd learned more than anyone in the Family ever had.
He was going to make a great Superman.
He was going to be the Superman the world had always needed.
A few blocks from his brother's office, Alan Kent had gone to a communications booth and plugged in his ID wafer. He input an address. Akon's face came up on the screen.
"Hey, ‘tis Alan," said the Rannian. "What gives, brotherjake?"
The actor smiled. "I'm going to take you and Reyna up on dinner, Ake. If the offer still stands, that is."
"You gotta ask? Transport your sorry carcass over here fastly. If I'd knew you were coming, we'd have had ham, in your honor."
"I'll be there soonest," said Alan. "Out."
He stepped out of the booth, walked another block or so, and ducked the crowds in a secluded spot. Then he took to the air, at a speed that made him invisible.
Behind him, on the ground, he left the credit wafer that his brother had given him.
It was burned to a molten lump by heat-vision.