Superman of 2499:  The Great Confrontation:

    Part 20

    by Dannell Lites and DarkMark

Even Lyra Kent shuddered when Klar gave forth to the fury that was within him.  With a Kryptonian, nothing was ever totally safe.

The BAM-BAM-BAM sound of the blows rang through their apartment, despite the soundproofing, despite the dampeners he himself had installed, and despite anything that could be done about it.  She just prayed that none of the other tenants in the milespire would complain enough to get them ejected.

Klar was in his gym room, a private one visitors outside the Family never saw.  He was pounding away at the Rokynian equivalent of a punching bag, a plasma construct anchored at top and bottom by force-lines to magnetic plates.  He could pound it all day and all night and it wouldn’t fly off its tethers, wouldn’t smash into and through the walls.  But it would spring outward and snap back, and he could pound it again and again and again.

And he did.

She knew what he would look like, but she ventured into the room anyway.

There, among exotic equipment designed to test even his mighty body, stood Klar.  He was in his undershirt and sweatpants, barefoot, still wearing his glasses, sweaty and redfaced, like a prizefighter training for a match.  Klar’s lips were bared back from his teeth, and he snarled sometimes as he punched the bag.  He attacked it from different angles, as if it were a foe he could crush to powder.  

Unfortunately, she knew the foe he was trying to crush lay inside him, and was impossible to touch.

With a great cry of anger, Klar leaped up and kicked the bag, sending it as near to the walls of the gym as it would go.  He held up both hands to catch it on the rebound and was knocked flat on his ass.  He wiped his brow with one forearm and picked up his fallen glasses with the other.  These, he actually needed: they were of Rokynian manufacture and his eyesight had dimmed a little with age.  

His wife was sitting against the gym wall.

“Lyra,” said Klar.

“Nice of you to notice,” she said.  “Guess your super-hearing is overrated.”

“Wasn’t concentrating,” he grunted.  “Bad habit.”

She wanted to go to him, but in his condition, even she didn’t dare.  “Tell me about it.”

Klar lay on his back, the punching bag near his splayed feet, finally at rest.  “The Family, Lyra.  The whole damn Family is going insane.  It’s breaking up.”

“It may be time...”  Lyra began, and then stopped.

“What?”  Klar sat up and looked at her.

“It may be time,” she said, “for the Family to leave Earth.”

“We can’t do that.”

“You can,” said Lyra.  “The world can hold one Superman.  It can’t hold a whole secret race of them.”

“Lyra.  We’ve been doing this for five hundred years.”

“What have you been doing for five hundred years?”  The poetess spread her hands apart.  “One of you has been saving the world.  The rest of you have been hiding, skulking, afraid to show your fellow men that you’re something they aren’t.”

“Fear doesn’t have anything to do with it,” said Klar.  “Not our fear, anyway.”

“Yes, it does,” she said.  “The fear of rejection.  The fear that us Earthers would consider you freaks.  Or worse, monsters.”

With speed that surprised even her, Klar scooped her up in his arms.  She could smell his sweat, feel his dampness, see his flushed face, and look into eyes that she knew held no hate for her.  Of that, Lyra was grateful.

“You think you know, Lyra,” he said.  “You think because we have the same kind of brain, because we look like you, because we have all the same parts, that we are like you.  We’re not.  You could never understand.”

“Try me,” she said, keeping her voice steady.

“Do you know how easy it would be for me to squeeze a little too hard, and...”

“But you wouldn’t.  I know you wouldn’t.”


“No.  I wouldn’t.  But do you know how much control we have to put into even that action?  Try to imagine holding a human-sized mass of spun sugar candy, and not to change its shape while you did.  That’s kind of what it’s like.”

Lyra shivered.

“None of us can ever forget ourselves, Lyra.  Not one of us can ever forget, around the Earthers.  When we were drafted in ancient wars, we had to either fake disabilities to get an exemption or somehow manage to stand it while men were dying around us, getting shot to pieces, made into meat, and we weren’t.”

“I don’t like to hear about that.”

“Well, we didn’t like to live it!  Do you know what it was like to have to keep these secrets from your best friends, Lyra?  To keep them from knowing you can fly, or run faster than the speed of light, or plow through a mountain, or...or...”

“Or have to hide among a bunch of men made of marshmallows?”

“You don’t know what it’s like!”

“Maybe because you never let anyone else know what it was like!  What if the whole Family decided to reveal themselves, Klar?  What then?  How long do you think they’re going to bow to the authority of King Superman?”

Klar Ken’s jaw hung open.

“You say the Family’s breaking apart, Klar.  All right, then you’d better start making some plans for what happens when it does.  If you all have to go back to Rokyn, fine, then.  If you want to exile yourselves individually to other worlds, and God knows we’ve found a lot of them, you can do it.  Be local Supermen.  If you want to tell the world what they probably already suspect, that there are a lot more Supermen living here than just the one in the costume, do it.  Because you know something, Klar?  They’re about to find out themselves.”

“What?”

“No, don’t look at me that way.  You know me.  I’d never tell.  But there’s only so long the rest of them can keep the secret.  Klar, you know how many of the Family are here on Earth.  They can’t hide their light under the bushel forever.”

“They can.  They’ve been doing it.”

“For how much longer?”

Klar slammed his fists down on his thighs, and the thump of it filled the room.  “Back in the 20th, there were whole colonies of heroes.  Almost all of them kept their identities a secret.  Most of them did it for their entire lives.  They were our forebears, our examples, our ancestors, Lyra.  Our heroes.”

“Yes.  But only a few of them were Family.”

“The Family inspired them.”

“Like Wonder Woman?  Or the Green Lanterns?”

Klar sighed.  “What in the name of the Happy Lands do you want me to do, woman?  I can’t tell everyone of our line to move.  They’re individuals.”

“Yes, Klar.  But you’re a clan.  Like the ancient Scots or something.  Like it or not, they’ll take your advice.”

“Not a lot, anymore,” he said.  “George’s family is chuffing us.  The bit with Sy and Kath, and my sons, Rao, even my sons...”

Lyra moved to him and rubbed his shoulders.  Despite the fact that he could use those muscles to tunnel to the center of the Earth, it relaxed him.  He leaned against her.

“...Even my sons, Lyra.  Alan is still too green.  I don’t...well, I don’t know that he’s strong enough.  Adam is strong but he’s not moral enough.  How did I go wrong with them, Lyra?  How?”

“You didn’t go wrong, I don’t think, Klar,” she said.  “But...they have their own nature.  We can’t turn out perfect people, not even perfect Supermen.  We did the best we could.”

“Did we?”

“They made their own choices.  They had to.  Just like you did.”

“Did I?  I wonder.”

“You’ll have to talk with the Family soon, dearest.  You’ll have to tell them all we’ve been thinking about.”

“I know, Lyra.”

“Good.”

“But not yet, Lyra.  Not just yet.”

    -S-

Superman knew what kind of speed the human body could take, even when wrapped in a Kryptonian cape.  He didn’t exceed it, even given the toughness of the Batman’s body.  Regardless, the trip to the Bat-Belfry was made so quickly that only the finest government spy-scanners could register his passage.  A device in Alan’s belt identified him as friendly to those who observed.  There were few observers.

The lenses in Batman’s mask revealed an aura the Bat-Belfry broadcast to alert him that his sanctuary had not been breached.  He nodded to Alan.  The Man of Steel flew him towards the top entry port and within it, as the portal opened in reaction to Batman’s signal device in his utility belt.  

The Belfry itself was a fairly large blue-black sphere hovering over Gotham City, totally cloaked by devices even the government couldn’t detect.  It moved, in response to sensors which could detect an oncoming unfriendly object for hundreds of miles.  Yet it was always accessible to Bron Wayn, whose MagPak could lift him up to it within minutes.  That was how Superman was able to enter with him.  The Man of Steel had to marvel at the Batman’s technology; even with his super-vision, the Belfry was barely visible to him.

The circular hole in the flying orb irised shut after them.  Superman unwrapped his cape from the Batman’s form as they touched the tiled floor and gazed about him at the functional design of the interior.  Not a thing out of place, no wasted space anywhere.  Sensors, monitors, stored equipment.  No trophies or holos or flat pictures.  Not even any labels.

“Bron,” said Alan, “how do you know what thing does what?”

Batman looked at him.  “I know.”

The Man of Steel nodded.  “What about Aelfric?”

“He can’t get up here.  Not without my access.  I changed it since learning about him.”

“But what about...”  

That was all Alan could say before the mass of whiteness started surging from the walls towards them.  Luckily, that wasn’t all he could do.

The white stuff, whatever it was, seemed to erupt from specific points in the room walls, ones which Alan would have sworn a few seconds before were solid and undisturbed.  It filled the room faster than an erupting spray can, and the stuff was quick-hardening, smothering, stronger than UniConcrete.  He could easily survive it.  Batman couldn’t.

His hands and feet flailed at the white mass, shattering it, paring it away, rendering it into dust at super-speed, even as his eyes flashed bolts of heat at the stuff and turned it into running goo.  The problem was, the molten result was as hot as lava.  Bron had to be protected.  So far, he’d managed to keep the Gotham Guardian behind him.  But the white filler was expanding too fast for him to guarantee that.

With a super-speed motion, Superman grasped Batman firmly, spun around behind him, and smashed backwards out of the Bat-Belfry.  Metal wreckage exploded from his wake.  He tried to vaporize as much as he could with his heat-vision.  He didn’t get it all.  He couldn’t.

It was the work of a nanosecond to wrap Batman in his protective red cape again.  Holding his ally with one hand in the cape’s wrappings, he dug the fingers of his other hand into the hull of the Bat-Belfry.  The white plasmic mass was bulging out of the hole he had made.  Had this been a century or two ago, there might have been enough vacant land for him to throw the Belfry onto safely.  Regrettably, in these tightly-packed times, such was not the case.

There was only one thing he could do.

Accelerating to a speed only slightly less than he knew Bron’s body could endure, Superman towed the Bat-Belfry out over Gotham Harbor, X-raying the seas below him, finding a spot free of surface- and sub-ships, and released it.  The multi-ton hovercraft plummeted towards the waters below.

At a rate that exceeded that of the falling craft, Adam deposited Batman on a seaside street.  The grounders that occupied the area had barely enough time to gape at the masked man before the roar of tremendous impact was heard.

The Bat-Belfry impacted with the bay’s surface, sending up a wave of water several stories high.

Grimly, Superman faced it, flashed on an earlier teaching, drew his fists apart, and brought them together with a deafening SLAMM.

The sonic burst smashed even reinforced windows, caused temporary deafness in a few score of bystanders, and knocked most pedestrians in the area to their knees.  Batman remained standing, just barely.

The shock wave caught the wave of water at precisely the correct instant, caromed off it, sent it imploding backwards.  Superman was already hurling himself backwards at ultraspeed, vaporizing water droplets as they assailed him.  The ones that got through stung like hell.

The Belfry, whiteness still pouring from the hole in its side, tilted and sank with a gurgling noise that few were able to appreciate.  Some historically inclined observers thought of the legends of the Titanic, the Edmund Fitzgerald, or even the Challenger.  Only two of them had any clue as to what had happened and what had really sunk.

Beneath the opaque eyelets of his mask, Bron Wayn’s eyes were opened almost to their widest.  This was more than an horrific spectacle.  This was the violation of his homespace, of his most cherished sanctum.

War had been declared, by a most intimate enemy.

He loosened the wrappings of the great red cape about him.  The emotions surging within his heart were almost impossible for him to control.  Here he had been the one about to teach young Superman some necessary lessons in survival amongst the enemy, and now?  Who was to teach whom?  Upon what battlefield were they now to fight?

A voice above and behind him said, “I’ll take that, thanks.”

The Batman looked upward.  Superman was hovering about six feet above the ground, his hand outstretched.  Several places on his face looked burned, but they appeared to be healing.  Wordlessly, Bron handed him the cape.  Superman tucked it back about the shoulders of his costume.

Words came from the crowd, usually from people who could not hear their own voices and thus could not modulate them.  Some screeched, some whispered, some moaned, some merely mouthed the words.  They expressed terror.  They expressed awe.  They expressed gratitude.  But the two most common words to pass their lips, or attempt to, were names: “Superman.”  “Batman.”

The Dark Knight finally spoke.  “I underestimated him.”

“This isn’t just him,” said Superman.  “Heaven’s Seven gave him the plasma trap.  They had to.  The tech knowledge for that is beyond him.”

“He’ll pay for that.”  Batman looked into the churning waters of the harbor.  “He will pay for that.”

“We can operate out of the Fortress,” said Superman.  “But I can’t go down there to investigate.  I can use X-ray on it.”

“Not since Lady Hecate and the Curse of Poseidon,” said Batman.  The incident was over a century old, but both of them knew it as if it had happened in their lifetimes.

“Maybe we can get the Atlanteans to help,” said Superman.  “Maybe we’d also better make sure...”

“Superman.”  Batman stopped his friend, who was hovering only a foot off the wet pavement, with a hand to his chest.  He had caught a glimpse of something in the night sky.  Superman caught it only an instant after him.

A streak that glowed green against the night and stars over Gotham.

It took less than ten seconds for the glowing green streak to reach the bay, become stationary over it, direct an emerald beam of power below the waves, and, with seemingly no effort at all, drag the shattered Bat-Belfry and its whitish cargo dripping above the water, surrounded by a gleaming, verdant aura.

Both Batman and Superman stared at the man from whose white-gloved hand the power beam radiated.

He turned to smile at them.

“Sorry I wasn’t here faster,” said the Green Lantern.  “Where would you prefer me to take this?”

    -S-

The Klurkor master, Dan-Le, had won his share of tournaments at the Great Stadium of New Kryptonopolis, as had others of his rank.  That was a necessity, if you wanted to teach martial arts at the level he did.  He had also coached his share of competitors and champions, and those people who simply wanted to know useful self-defense.  The last category were few indeed.  Dan directed most applicants to others who could give them what they wanted.  His time was limited and only the most wealthy could afford his lessons.  

Such a person sat across from him now.  Still, he was skeptical.

“I want you to teach me martial arts,” the newcomer said.  “In a month.”

Dan-Le didn’t bother to breathe deeply.  “Impossible,” he said.  “I am sorry, but the study of Klurkor requires more time than that.”

“I don’t want to learn Klurkor.  I want Horu-Kanu.”

The master’s expression grew more grim.  “I do not teach the Killing Art,” he said.

“Then I’ll take Klurkor.  Whatever you can give me.  Within a month.  Just allow me time to eat and sleep, and the rest will be given to you.”

“Why?”

“Because I must have it,” the visitor said.  “Because I have to learn how to fight.  To defend myself.”

Dan-Le took note of the figure sitting across from him.  “Only to defend.”

“Yes.”

“You swear?”

“I swear.”

“You can meet my price?”

“You know that I can, Master Le.”

“Then come, Tynth de Ka’an,” said Dan-Le, “and let us both see what we can learn.”

   (next chapter)

(HOME)