The Great Confrontation

    by DarkMark and Dannell Lites

    Part 10

Alan Kent, the 21st Superman, had to fight back his fears as he speared through Earth’s atmosphere.  Three-fourths of Earth’s surface could kill him.  He’d have traded weaknesses with some of the early Superman anytime.

But his father had defended Atlantis the same way, under the same conditions.  The phobia against the deadly sea had to be faced, fought, and conquered.  That, while all the time remembering that exposure to seawater could mean his death.

Best to get it done quickly, then.

The Man of Steel checked his force-field belt for the umpteenth time to make sure it was functional.  Then, with a cry of fear and fury, he increased his speed, plummeted through the last few thousand feet of air before him, and plunged into the open sea.  It boiled about him from the heat of re-entry.

An instant later, he opened his eyes.  He was already hundreds of feet beneath the surface.  Sound was distorted, light was decreased.  Neither of these things mattered much, with his super-senses.  What did matter was, thank Rao, the force-field of Brainiac 5 was keeping him dry as the desert (save, perhaps, for his underarms).  It extended an inch or two in all directions, following the contours of his body.  He could take a hit from a blue whale and it wouldn’t break the field.

Unfortunately, Muto was not a blue whale.

Superman XXI located Atlantis with his vision powers, scoped it out with his inbuilt X-rays, said a prayer to Rao, and vectored in that direction.

The city of Poseidonis was in its own way as advanced as modern-day Metropolis, but kept more of its traditional architecture.  That appealed somewhat to Superman’s nostalgic side.  Strange, the side thoughts one had before battle.  His speedy path was disturbing the blazes out of the sealife around him, but that’d just have to be.  A few shook-up fish were a small price to pay.

Shortly before he would have entered the city, a huge mallet of hardened water slammed down on him from above.  It shattered, but it knocked him downward somewhat and he scattered Atlanteans in his path.  Superman skidded to a halt on his chest, tearing up a large section of well-paved sea bed street.  It occurred to him that he’d have to repair this later on, and that he really didn’t know how.

Some impressive entrance.

The undersea people were looking on him with awe, nonetheless.  They’d heard about the Superman, seen him in their holovids, but none had ever expected to glimpse him on (or under) an Atlantean street.  Their telepathy was filled with images of him and a thousand mental ways of describing the same thing.  

It almost overloaded his mind.  He sent out a thought, and hoped they’d catch it: <Please!  Stop the telepathy!>

There was a lull of surprise.  Then one lone voice sent, <Um...how do we do that?>

Right.  How do you stop a person from thinking, Superman?

Abruptly, he felt the water beginning to heat up.

Superman’s eyes widened.  True, he couldn’t be hurt by the extremes of temperature, but the Atlanteans...that was another story.  It had been hard for him to learn the range of human endurance to heat, cold, force, pressure, pain, airlessness, hunger, and all the rest.  But when he’d seen people dying from such things, he didn’t forget it.

The Atlanteans were crying out in fear and pain.  The sea about them was almost hot enough to scald.

Nothing in his training had prepared him for this.  Alan Kent had to improvise.

He pushed off from the underwater street and speared his body towards the surface.  Along the way, he felt the water cooling to more temperate levels.  When he judged the level cold enough, the new Man of Steel swam at super-speed in a motion calculated to bring the cooler water down to the level of the rapidly heating water about Atlantis.  It was, in a way, like swirling the cold and hot water together in a bathtub to make things the right temperature.  Of course, down here there was the danger of the temperature and motion turning it into something of an undersea tornado, but he’d deal with that if and when the time came.  Saving the lives of the Poseidonians was paramount.

As the cooler waters mixed with the hotter ones, Superman saw the Atlanteans swimming upwards to the more temperate waters, gratitude in their faces.  Their bodies could adapt to extremes of temperature and pressure change much better than surface people’s, but Muto had been raising the kinetic energy of the waters to heat them beyond even Atlantean capacities.  Of course, he could raise the temperature even further.  Which meant that Superman had to close with his foe in combat before very much longer.

Alan focused his eyes in just the manner to utilize his x-ray vision and infra-red vision powers and swept his gaze over the sunken city.  Not surprisingly, he found Muto and two aides in the king’s quarters of the palace of Poseidonis.  Muto turned towards him, nonchalantly.

The yellow-headed mutant didn’t seem to have telepathic powers, but he could sense things.  Muto smiled.

Superman accelerated to lightspeed and promised himself to wipe that smile away.

As he neared the palace, he rebounded from an unseen barrier with great impact.

The force shook both himself and the foundations of Atlantis.  Even Alan Kent was hurt.  There was no way you could achieve that kind of speed and inertia counter and not feel it.  But beyond the force barrier, the palace of Poseidonis seemed intact.

A voice came thru the P.A. system, distorted by the water but still clear enough to his ears: “A little obstacle, young Superman.  Wouldn’t want you getting too overconfident in your first battle.  Actually, I wouldn’t even want you to live through it, but we’ll get to that when the time comes.”

Superman tried rubbing his head and felt only the force-field covering it.  He grimaced.  “Why do you want to play this out, Muto?”  He was surprised by the way his voice sounded underwater.  “What’s the point?”

“The point is vengeance, young Superman,” came the voice.  “The point is showing your father, who simply must be watching this somewhere, that his insipid son can’t take his post.  The other point is conquest.  Given the world we live in, what respectable super-powered being wouldn’t want to scrap it, start over from scratch, and make it work?  Also, make it pay great dividends to the conqueror?  Look at it this way, my friend.  I’m a very simple man.  All I ask for is the chance to do things right.  And to kill you, of course.”

Superman spread his hands against the force-barrier, feeling of it.  “In case you haven’t figured it out, I’ve got a force-field of my own.  The seawater can’t touch me.  Nothing can hurt me, Muto.”

“True.  But quite a lot can hurt King Armadon.”

There was a great pause while Superman considered that.  “What’s your plan, then?”

“Simple,” Muto said.  “You let down your force-field, I’ll spare the king’s life.  If not, I’ll blow his brains out from the inside.  I’ll do his wife, too, just as an add-on.  That’ll just be the start, too, Superman.  How many Atlanteans do you think I can kill before you find a way of killing me?  Oh, I forgot.  Silly me.  You can’t kill.”  Muto laughed.  “Another advantage of being a super-villain.”

“What happens,” said Alan, “if I let down the field and live?  Will you turn yourself over to my custody, then?”

“Don’t be ridiculous.  I want a win-win situation here.”

“All right, Muto,” said Superman.  “Give me a few minutes to put things to rights.”

The mutant’s voice held a touch of fury, then.  “You fool!  Do you think I’d give you time enough to formulate one of your family’s famous last-minute saves?  Let your field down now, or he dies!  Do you understand me, Superman?  He dies!”

“Oh...” said Superman.

An instant later, Muto turned his head at a sudden turbulence in the water.  He tried to keep his eyes from widening and his jaw from dropping when he saw the blue, red, and yellow-clad form before him.  But he did it, nonetheless.  Superman was smiling.  Muto’s two lieutenants didn’t even have time to cower.

“...I wouldn’t count on that,” Superman finished.

Then he hit Muto in the jaw.

The mutated villain was not physically what he should have been, and Superman took that into account.  Nonetheless, the blow robbed him of his senses before he could manage to do much more than make a half-formed thrusting pole of water which missed its mark by a mile.  No matter what, Muto could never match the Superman’s hyper-light speed.  He crashed against the wall of the palace and lost consciousness.  An instant later, his force-field faded entirely.

Superman went to his fallen foe, checked his vitals, and pressed a spot that would keep him unconscious for as long as necessary.  Then he turned to Muto’s two aides.  The king and queen of Atlantis were nearby, astounded and speechless, but Superman’s words were addressed to Muto’s helpers.

“You’re wondering how I breached Muto’s force-barrier,” said Superman.  “Let’s just say that the one I use is capable of a little analysis.  It told me how many pulses of energy the field was sending out per nanosecond.  Most things aren’t fast enough to get between the pulses.  Once I had it figured out...I was.”

With that, Adam Kent slugged both of Muto’s alien assistants lightly in their jaws and watched them crumple in slow motion to the floor.

King Armadon, who wore a Neptunian beard and robes of office that billowed behind him in the currents, half-walked, half-swam to Superman’s side, followed by his wife, Amathea.  He extended his hand to the son of Krypton.  “You have...performed well,” said the king.  “In the manner of your ancestors.  After a thousand years, the alliance still stands.”

Alan Kent smiled and clasped the monarch’s hand.  “From my ancestor to the descendant of Aquaman,” he said.  “The alliance stands, King Armadon.”  Then he grasped the smaller hand of the queen.  “And for you, milady.”

She nodded, awed by the man’s power.  Superman said, “I have to get these idiots into custody before Muto awakens.  Their personal fields might not hold much longer, anyway.  Farewell, King Armadon, Queen Amathea.”

“Farewell, Superman,” said the King of Atlantis.  “May the waves of destiny carry you to your true path.”

Alan looked at him, tried to think of a suitable Kryptonian blessing, and simply said, “Rao be with you.”  Then he gathered the three interlopers, tied them together with his cape, towed them through a window, and propelled his body towards the surface.  He could sense the telepathy of over a million Atlanteans, thanking him and wishing him well.

He decided that, just maybe, this might be a job he could grow to like.

All the same, he felt more secure when he reached the open air again.

    -S-

The newscams were on Superman almost as soon as he reached the skies.  For security reasons, he had them leave as soon as they’d gotten some good footage.  For Klar Ken, one of the hardest tasks he’d faced in his entire career was not to show his pride while he watched the live feed.  After all, he was still in the office.  

Lyra Lennox Kent had no such problems.  In the privacy of home, she exulted with relief and triumph.  On the spot, she composed a poem of gratitude.  Then she called up both her husband and Adam and, in coded tones, let them know how she felt and asked them what they felt about Alan’s deed.  Klar said, “It’s a maxplus day for the world at large.  The new Superman has made a good showing, and Metropolis should be proud.”

Adam said, “I’m glad he was successful.  The world will always need another Superman.”

For his part, the new Superman had to haul out a projector and send Muto and his cronies to the Phantom Zone.  In a way, that was a touch of vigilante justice.  But the Rokynian Science Council had passed such legal power to the Superman of Earth, as the first one had in centuries past, with the option of reviewing sentences.  Most doubted very much that Muto’s sentence would be reversed.  The man in the cape returned the projector and the force-field belt to their hiding places in the asteroid Fortress.  Then, somewhat tired, he had just enough time to catch a meal at home, get dressed, and get to the studio for another taping of “We’re All Martians”.  

All of that, Alan reflected, and the only thanks he’d get for awhile would be a yelling director.

But the taping came off okay and the crew called it a wrap shortly after midnight.  Alan handprinted his way into his apartment.  But as he lay his palm on the sensor plate, he knew something was wrong.

The temperature inside was warmer than it would have been if it was unoccupied.  He trained his X-ray vision on the room an instant before the door schussed open.

“You,” he said, stepping over the threshhold.

Katherine de Ka’an was sitting lotus-fashion in mid-air, dressed in a unisuit and smiling at him.  “And you,” she said.

He made sure nobody had seen her as he shut the door behind him.  “Never should have given you a pass.  Doubledamn.  Whyfor you here, Kath?”

She descended lightly to the floor.  “To congratulate you, Alanian.  None of the family could make it over, although they left a lot of messages for you.  Myself, I prefer the personal touch.”

Alan sighed, weary as Sheol.  “The personal...touch?”

Kath looked at him, seriously.   “Would you mind a touch, Alan?”

“No,” he said.  “That is...if you really mean it.”

She nodded.  Neither of their eyes left the other’s for a very long moment.

Then they went to an inner chamber and soft rituals began.

    -S-

“Why, Kath?”

“Mmm?”

“Why me?  I thought Adam was the one you pinedup for.”

“Oh.  Adam.”

“Right.  My brother.  Big credit load, big power macher, not a once-starving actor who had to brace pals for eating money.”

Katherine de Ka’an shifted in bed.  “Are you fishing for a comparison between you and your brother, Alan?”

He shrugged.  “Couldn’t deny it.”

“What if I just said a man in uniform turns me on?”

“If that’s true, why’d you make me take it off?”

“Doublediff!”

He grabbed her playfully.  “And now to show you just how I took down Muto.”

“Oh, stopstop!  What do you want me to say, Alan?”

“Just the truth.”

Katherine sighed, straightened her legs under the covers.  “What if...what if I said, Alan, that even though your exteriors are comparable, your interiors are a lot different?”

“Uhuh?”

“Adam’s got his charm.  He’s used it on a lot of women, present company included.  But...I don’t know.  There’s something cold in him under the outercrust.  Like cast venadium.  I don’t...I don’t trust him.”

“And me?”

Her fingers traced his bicep.  “There’s something more in you.  I can’t deny you’re hesitant, maybe scared, about what you have to do.  But your core...it’s a lot warmer than Adam’s.  A lot warmer.”

He paused before saying, “Thank you.”

Katherine snuggled a bit closer.  “I don’t think we should let on about this just now.”

“Don’t see how we can keep it a secret, Kath.”

“Do you really want to give your brother another reason to hate you?”

He looked at her.  “Adam doesn’t hate me!”

She gave him back the look, and remained silent.  Finally he said, “What makes you think Adam hates me?”

“Wouldn’t you?  You have everything he wants.”

“He’s an uptimer!   Money, fame, politics, women, all even somebody in the Family would want.”

“Yes, Alan.  But he doesn’t have the uniform.  He can’t be the Superman.  You are.”

Alan considered it.  “I can’t believe my brother would hate me.”

Kath shook her head.  “I hope he keeps it a passive hate, Alan.  You are his brother.  But...”

“But what?”

She drew up her knees under the covers and lay her head on them.  “But I don’t know about the family, Alan.  They’re not together on all things.”

“Kath, they never have been.”

“No, they haven’t.  But not as bad as they are now.  There could be a split, Alan.  If that happens...Rao help the Earth.  Rao help us all.”

He had nothing to say to that.  Instead, Alan Kent simply lay back in bed.

After awhile, they made love again and went to sleep, to have their separate dreams.

The world rolled on.

    -S-

Adam Kent flew over the city of Metropolis, a cloaking device concealing his form.

With his Kryptonian eyes, he could perceive every detail of the panorama of humanity below him.  Every good thing, every bad thing, every indifferent thing.  He could have stopped the bad things. But what did he care?  Was that not the Superman’s job?  And was he Superman now?

No.   Not yet, at any rate.

His brother had done well.  He had defeated Muto, saved Atlantis, and remanded the menace to the Phantom Zone.  The news organs were already praising him as if he had won a war, and none praised him more than the Daily Planet.

But there were more Kryptonians on Earth than just the Superman.  Far more.

Adam shook his head, sadly.  Would Rao that he did not have to do what he must.

But power had to be in the hands of those who could use it most efficiently, most wisely.  Not expended on puny conventional thugs, or even on superhuman menaces.  It must be used to remake society into a more efficient thing altogether.

“I pray you will forgive me, my brother,” said Adam, softly.  

But in the end, he reflected, it wouldn’t matter whether Alan did or not.

Adam Kent flew on, the darkness concealing him within and without.

    (next chapter).

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