The Great Confrontation

    by DarkMark and Dannell Lites

    Part 11

The dinner was as good as any Mom had synthed, Alan decided.  

The group was limited to only himself, his parents, Adam, and sister Lori.  It was a celebration of Superman XXI’s victory over Muto, and all of them showed admiration for him.  Even Lori, who expressed it by showing the least Sluggish enthusiasm she ever had about anything.  By that, Alan was impressed.

“This one’s for all my family,” said Klar, holding up his glass of Kono juice.  “But mostly for Alan, who carries our particular torch.  Well done, son.  I’m proud to welcome you as a Superman.”

Alan had smiled and hugged his father, and the other three had applauded.  Just for a second, as he turned to look at them, Alan thought he saw something unusual in his brother’s eyes.  But what of it?  There had to be some jealousy there, sure enough.  If Alan had been the one passed over, he would have harbored a few hard feelings for Adam.  Nothing more than sibling rivalry, though.  

“The fight sounded so boring I had to listen to the description twice,” said Lori-Le, her face registering ennui.  “I would thank you for that, but I can’t care.”

“I don’t care whether you thank me or not, Lori,” deadpanned Alan.  “As long as you don’t get hurt.”

She gave him a close look.  “I’ll make a Slug of you yet,” she said.

“I should care?”

“We’re halfway there,” Lori promised.

Alan grinned and even Lyra Kent snickered.  Klar said, “One of my kids is a Superman, the other is a power macher, the third is a Slug.  Mother Moon, Lyra, how did it happen?”

“We got lucky, Klar,” said Lyra Lennox Kent.

“That we did,” Klar confirmed.  

Adam had his own glass held high.  “I’d like to add my own toast to Dad’s, Alan.  I really thought I wanted the cape, and you know that.  But what with all I have to do, I’m just glad I’m where I am right now.  So...congratulations, brother.  You did doublegood.”

The 21st Superman smiled and gave his brother a one-armed hug, which the other reciprocated.  They drank from each other’s cup, and then linked fingers, Kryptonian style, to signify brotherhood.  Still, there was that look.  A bit of hardness.  Alan wasn’t sure he liked it, but what the hell.  

“Think I’d like some time alone with him, all of you,” said Klar Ken.  The other three took that as a signal.  Lyra bussed her husband on the cheek as she left the room.  Adam clasped Klar’s hand strongly as he passed.  The last, Lori, jumped at her father, encircled him with arms and legs, and planted a big kiss on his forehead, hugging him tightly afterward.

“Thought you weren’t supposed to show you cared,” said Klar, returning the hug.

“Some things never change, Dad,” said Lori.  She disengaged herself and left.

After Lori left the room, Alan Kent found a chair and collapsed into it.  He was dressed in casual clothes, but had his uniform under them, Klar noted approvingly with his X-ray vision.  “How did you do it, Dad?  How did you make your job and the hero thing work?”

Klar smiled wryly, working his fingers around his glass.  “The art of balancing your time, Alan.  Really, it’s like working two jobs.  You’ll learn what you can do, and what you can’t.  Even we need to sleep, and we eat, though we usually don’t have to.”

“Yeah,” said Alan. “Except if you don’t, and you lose your powers for some reason, you could starve to death.  You told me about that.”

“Exactly.  It almost happened to Superman XVI.”  Klar looked into the distance, and not with super-vision.  “I suppose the main thing is not just budgeting your time, Alan.  It’s budgeting your priorities.”

“Which means?”

“Which means that, even though there are emergencies going on all over the world, all the time, you realize you can’t respond to them all,” said Klar.  “You have to pick and choose.  If you save somebody in New Tokyo, somebody in Budapest may die.  If you fish a man out of the Pacific Ocean, a woman in the Atlantic may drown.  Still, even with our powers, there’s only so many things we can do.  And the point is not that you let a woman drown in the Atlantic, Alan.  It’s that you saved somebody in the Pacific.”

Alan said nothing.  Klar went on.

“Usually, we don’t do what regular authorities can do, unless we can save life or limb by doing it.  The Superman handles things on a different order, though he functions on all levels.  Sometimes, I think we’re there mainly because people expect us to be there.  Like a night watchman.  Your building might not get burgled anyway, but just knowing he’s there is something of a deterrent.”

“You’re saying that it’s a role, and we’re chosen to play it,” said Alan.

“Almost,” said Klar.  “Naturally you’d think that way, since you’re an actor.  For me, since I’m a newsman like old Kal, it was an extension of the crusades I’d wage in my ‘casts.  Superman could do something Klar Ken could only talk about.  But we’re guardians, Alan.  Since a Superman has been on Earth, how many world wars have there been?”

“None,” said Alan.  “Of course, on Earth-Two...”

“On Earth-Two, yes, they had a Superman before us, and they had a World War II,” said Klar.  “Hitler also had the Spear of Destiny.  Their Superman couldn’t get into his sphere of influence, thanks to that ‘spear’ of influence.  We haven’t had that problem.  But you see my point?”

“Yes, dad,” Alan said.  “I think I do.  Because of us, because of our line, they haven’t had more than single-nation wars, for the most part.”

Klar nodded.  “Back in Superman I’s day, they had a lot more heroes to help out.  Now the Green Lantern of our sector isn’t from Earth, and he doesn’t come around a lot.  The Amazons are in another dimension.  There hasn’t been as much metahuman activity here as there was 500 years ago.”

“Because of us, the Powers haven’t gone to war?”

“It’s a factor,” said Klar.  “Not the only one, but we’re like nuclear weapons used to be.  The thing that makes war a lot harder thing to get into.”

“Hope I never have to stop something like that.  Great Rao, Dad, it took me awhile just to figure out how to beat Muto.”

“And you think I was any better?  Son, when I was young, about your age, and my mind was wandering when I was in the men’s room...well, let’s just say that I made a hasty exit, and the place needed another urinal in short order.”

Alan laughed, very hard.

“And you’d better never let that story out of this room, either,” said Klar, smiling.

“I’ll try to keep my mind from wandering.”

“Good.  But being a Superman...”  Klar sat in a chair across from his son.   “It’s much like any other job.  You learn as you go along.  If you don’t screw up too badly, you keep it.  If not, you get taken aside for retraining.  You’ll learn, because you’ll have to learn.”

“Guess so,” said Alan. “What about sleep?”

“You do what you have to, and get your eight hours in when you can,” said Klar.  “Sometimes you only get one.  But we can take it.”

“Yeah.”

“Just don’t go for more than three days without it,” said Klar.  “We have to dream.  We need our rest, just like Earthers.  And there’s something more, Alan.”

The young Superman waited.  

“No matter what, no matter how they try to cover it up...there will always be an element of fear towards us,” said Klar.  “We can do things that normal men on almost all worlds could never dream of.  We are not bound by gravity, by their limitations of strength, speed, sight, or endurance.  We can traverse space and time.  In ancient days, men of this world worshiped beings with powers like ours.  But we must never give way to that, Alan.  We must never give them a reason to fear us...and we must never accept worship.  Do you understand?”

“Yes, Dad,” said Alan.  “You said it, more than once...’Don’t let the Super outweigh the Man.’”

“Exactly, my son.  Exactly.”

“Dad?”

“What, Alan?”

Alan Kent sighed, wondering how to phrase it.  “They’ve had a pretty nasty murder in Gotham lately.”

Klar nodded, again.  “I know.”

“It stinks of the Joker line.”

“That it does.”

“Think I should intervene?”

The once-Man of Steel paused.  “The Joker has usually been Batman business.”

“It’s been awhile since the last Batman sighting.”

“I don’t think it’ll be that long till we see one again,” said Klar.  “Remember, I worked with the last one.”

“And you think another one will show up soon?”

“I think you should wait,” said Klar.  “My own opinion, but I leave it in your hands.”

Alan was the one who nodded this time.  “I think we’d better downwrap this one.  I have a job in the morning.”

Klar smiled and opened his arms.  Alan came to him in a firm masculine hug.  “Son?”

“Yes, Dad?”

“Think you can tell me if Steve Banning gets the girl at the end of the season?”

“Some things you can’t even tell to another Superman.”

“Okay,” conceded Klar.  “Let’s say goodnight to your brother and sister, and then you can go.”

    -S-

Bron Wayn was manipulating a Nanite Glove to check evidence for chemical residue because he believed there were some things you had to do for yourself, rather than let computers handle.  You got lazy that way.

But even as absorbed as he was, Bron was good enough to detect the presence of an intruder almost before he entered the Batcave.  No alarm system had to tell him that, even though the pulse in his earpiece had.  He turned to the exact spot where the newcomer was standing.  “Show yourself,” he ordered.

The man in the three-colored costume stepped into the glow of artificial light.  “You,” said Bron, evenly.

“Me,” Superman XXI agreed.  “How are you, Bron?”

The Gothamite drew in a long breath and let it out.  “Not a question I feel like answering these days.  Congratulations on your debut.”

“Thank you,” said Superman.  “What about your own?”

Bron stripped off his glove, idly.  “Not sure what you mean.”

Alan stepped closer.  “Bron, please.  Don’t insult my intelligence.  I see the newsers about the Joker killing, I know enough to pay you a visit.”

“I’ll have some tea made,” said Bron.  “The butler is out.”

“Are you going to do it, Bron?”

“Pray tell, what?”

Superman waved his hand at the crowded cave, holding memories that dated back half a millenium.  “Are you going to put on the cape and mask?  Because if you are...”

“I’m a successful businessman, Kent,” said Bron Wayn, clasping his hands before him.  “Simply because I take an interest in crimes with a familiar m.o. doesn’t mean I’m looking for any signals in the sky.”

“Is that why you’re analyzing that piece of material from the murder site?”

Bron glanced at it.  “Anything which can help the authorities.  My family has always had the genes for detective work.”

Superman smiled.  “I want to help, Bron.  I want to help you.”

“I know that, Kent,” said Bron. “I knew that when I sensed you in the cave.  But, no...I’m afraid this one is a personal matter.”

“Our forefathers put Jokers away working together, too,” said Superman.  “From Kal and Bruce on down.”

“True.  But mostly, the Joker was the Batman’s responsibility.”  Bron looked at him evenly.  “And this Joker is mine, Alan.”

“So you recognized me that well,” said Superman.

“Not that hard,” admitted Bron. “Both our families know each other, and there were only two candidates for the job.  Unless they gave it to your sister.”

“Rao forbid.”

Even Bron had to grin at that.  “I appreciate the offer, Kent.”

“Bron,” said Alan.  “I don’t want to see you get hurt.  Or cross the line.”

“The Family doesn’t cross the line,” said Bron.  “Ever.”

For a long time, the two looked at each other.  Then Superman reached into his golden belt and pulled a small disk from it.  He lay it on the table before Bron Wayn.  “I want you to have this,” he said.

Bron took it.  “It’s a communicator,” he said.  “Old style.”

“A couple of generations old,” said Superman.  “Call me nostalgiac.”

The man from Gotham looked at his guest.  “I appreciate this, Alan.”

“You’re welcome.  If you need me, you can use it.”

“And if I can be of use to you, somehow, feel free to do the same.”

After a long moment, Alan held out his hand and Bron grasped it.

“Now, then, if you would,” said Bron, “I’ve got a bit of work to do.”

Superman regarded the piece of rock.  “Keep in touch,” he said.

“As you wish,” said Bron, putting the glove back on.   “Can you see yourself out?”

There was nobody in the place in which Superman had stood a second ago.

Bron Wayn looked in that direction for another moment, until a smile formed on his face.  Then he clamped the glove on his hand and got back to his task.

    -S-

Katherine de Ka’an, when she heard the announcement of her guest on the Serve Screen, didn’t want to let him up.  But, after all, he was family.  And for a time, he had been more than that.  The lift tube schussed up and the door to it purred open, revealing the man within.  He was smiling.  “Kath,” he said, as warmly as possible.

“Hello, Adam,” she said, standing far away from the tube with her arms crossed over her chest.  Thankfully, he was smart enough to stop some paces away from her.  

“You’re still looking beautiful,” he said, proferring a sealed jug in his right hand.  “Here. Won’t you take it?”

“What is it?”

“Kono juice from our celebration tonight.  We toasted Alan’s success as Superman.  I didn’t want to leave you out.”

“Thank you.”

He paused.  “Aren’t you going to take it?”

Katherine walked over and took the jug from him.  He held onto it until she looked him in the eyes.  “Thank you,” she repeated.  He let go.

“Is that it?” he asked.

The lady walked to her Food Storage and set it inside a zone of freezing.  “What do you mean, Adam?”

“I mean,” he said, “that the way you’re acting, you could probably keep that jug colder in your own hands.”

Katherine looked up at him, regretfully.  “I’m sorry, Adam.  I have a lot of work to do.  Thank you for the juice, but I’m really not up to visitors tonight.”

Adam Kent stepped closer to her.  “Visiting wasn’t exactly what I had in mind, Kath.”

“Adam, I’m sorry.  I really am tired.  Could you—“

He held up his hands.  “Peace, Kathish.  Are you amnesiac?  Have you forgotten a few things?  About us?”

She turned her back to him.  Determinedly, Adam came up to her from behind and lay his head on her shoulder.  “Does this cure your amnesia?”

Despite herself, she felt a familiar sensation going through her body.  “Adam. Please go.”

“Kath,” he said, caressing her arms.  “It’s been a tough week.  I wanted to see you.  Very badly.”

“Adam,” she whimpered.

He kissed her ear.  “There are some rewards that my brother is entitled to,” he said.  “I’ll give him that.  But there are some things I’d almost kiss off the cape and suit for, Kath.  And you know what they are.”

“Adam, please go,” she pleased.

“Go?  Before I’ve...”

She whirled and shoved him back.  For an instant, there was fury in his eyes.  That almost made her step back.  Her face was flushed, and not just with desire.

“Adam,” she said.  “I’m sorry that you didn’t get the cape.  I’m very sorry for you.  But I’m...I can’t be your consolation prize.”

“And why not?  Don’t you remember what we had, Kathish?”

“I remember it,” she said.  “I could never forget it, and it was very good.  But that time is over, Adam.”

“Why?”

“Because I said so.”

“Why?”

“R** damn you!  Can’t you see that I don’t want you here, Adam? Will you please just get out!”

For an instant, she thought he was going to strike her.  Then a veil of control seemed to come over him.  “That’s it, then?”

“Adam,” she said, shaking her head.  “Will you please just go?”

“All right, then, Kathish,” he said.  “But once I’m out that door, don’t ever expect me to come in the same way again.”

“Just go, Adam,” she said, looking away from him.  “Just...go.”

Deliberately, Adam Kent treaded to the entry tube.  Kath watched him, breathing heavily as she did so.  His eyes were on her when he turned around.  Then they swung away.  Katherine looked in the direction they pointed as the cover swung back over the tube and Adam dropped many levels to an exit port.

Adam’s direction of vision would mean, Kath knew, that he was using X-ray vision on the wall.  Dear Rao...

She rushed to the room beyond the wall, her own bedroom.  She had the bed microcleaned and changed to remove what traces there were of Adam’s visit.  But...on the floor, in the carpeting...

Her microscopic vision showed her the long black hair of Adam’s, lying there.  She picked it up, held it between her fingers.

Adam knew.  He had to know.

Katherine de Ka’an hit her knees, made a circle with her arms, and offered up prayers to Rao for a very long time.

    (next chapter)

(HOME)