Superman of 2499:

    The Great Confrontation

    Part 22

    by DarkMark and Dannell Lites

George Kent sat with his hands danging limply between his knees.  “I don’t know what it’s coming to,” he said.  “I have no idea what the Family is coming to.”

“I don’t expect you do, George,” said Irinia, lounging on a couch nearby that hovered a few inches off the floor.  “Is that so important?”

“Sure as Sheol it is.  I want to talk to Klar about it.  I need to talk to him, Irinia.”

“So?  Go ahead.  The comlink’s right where it ought to be.”

“But you don’t think I should,” said George.

Irinia turned her face against the couch.  “Why should it matter what I think, George?  I’m not the one with the super-powers here.”

“Don’t patronize me, Irinia.  Above all else, don’t...don’t patronize me.”

“What’s left to patronize, George?  Any time you want to run this family, go right ahead.”

George Kent stood up and, with a single hand, upended the couch.  Irinia tumbled out onto the floor carpeting.  She wasn’t hurt, but her face spoke a volume of evil.  That, against her own husband.

“I am the head of this family, Irinia.  Make no mistake about that.  My company, my investments, they provide—“

“To hell with that, you idiot!  George, how long do you think any of those companies of yours would last without me?  You’ve followed my advice for over twenty years, and you’ve thrived because of it.”

“Yes, and I’m a wreck because of it!”  George grabbed Irinia by the shoulder and pulled her straight off the floor.  She was grim, white-faced, but didn’t say a thing.  “Look at me.  I have more power than 99 percent of the men of this world, Irinia.  See this hand?  My right?  I can crush coal into diamonds with it.”

“So can everybody else in the Family.”

“I can run faster than the speed of light, Irinia.  I can see through your skin, through your skull, into your very brain.  I can fly through space without a suit.  I can melt solid rock with my eyes.  I can do that, and so much more.  Men dream of the powers that I have.  That’s my legacy.”

“Can you think?”

“What?”  The question genuinely caught George off-guard.

“Can you think, George?  Can you run your enterprises all by yourself?  Could you run them without me?”

“If I had to, yes!”

“Then do it.  Put me down.  I’ll leave you to your own devices and go live with Sy and Adam for awhile.  Just do it, George.”

He held her, still a few inches off the floor.

“Well?”  She gave him the look of a harpy.  “What are you going to do, George?”

After a second, George Kent used his free hand to put the couch back in place.  Then he deposited Irinia back upon it, unharmed.  He faced away from her, his hands behind his back.

“I’m glad we understand each other, George.”

“Damn you, woman.”  He said it flatly, without obvious emotion.

“I’d be careful what you wish for, George.  Because we tend to wind up together, wherever we go.”

George moved away.  “I’m going to see Klar.  I want to talk to him.”

“By all means.  Cry on his shoulder.  He can cry on yours, too.  That’s what you’re both best at.”

In the next instant, George Kent pivoted.  His eyes were blazing with the power that Irinia recognized from her years with the Family: heat vision.  Without much effort, he could generate temperatures high enough to turn her into a wisp of foul-smelling smoke.  There might be DNA evidence, but without a body or enough circumstantial proof, no one could bring him to trial for what he was capable of doing.

Except, of course, the Family.

Holding her face still for the next few seconds was one of the hardest things Irinia had ever done.

George Kent turned away.  “I’m going out,” he said.

Irinia called after him.  “Give my love to Lyra, George.  I’m sure she’ll understand.”

She heard the door opening and then shutting.  To herself, Irinia smiled.

    -S-

One of the advantages of working with a Green Lantern was that his ring could provide excellent cloaking for three flying figures.  One of the advantages of working with a Kryptonian was that his vision powers could be attuned to literally see energy waves.  One of the advantages of working with a Batman was his ability to size things up quickly and make shrewd decisions.

Thus it was that the three heroes had at least that many things in their favor on their singular quest.

Green Lantern had used his power ring to help guide Superman’s vision among the 77,000 spy satellites circling Earth.  Even he was impressed.  The Kryptonian had speed beyond his imagining, and that without the benefit of the Guardians’ green power.  There were millions of wave broadcasts filling the ether to, from, and between the satellites.  Superman was, successively, scanning them all.

The Man of Steel wasn’t complaining a bit.  Even Batman had to silently admire his resolve.  Still, it took time, and they were hanging in near-orbital space.  As a matter of fact, it had been almost an hour.

Then Alan’s voice came across the channel that Tal Thorn had set up for communication.  “There.  See that?”

The Lantern brought up ring-created holoscreens before himself and Batman, tied into Alan’s vision powers.  The ring interpreted it as a graph pattern, standing out in front of other, more darkly colored patterns.  “Details, Sir Superman?”

“This one has something inside it.  They’re cloaking it as a normal survey transmission, but I can see it.  Not from any government or agency I know of, and I know them.”

“So you have our match,” said Batman, quietly.

“Tracking it right now,” said Superman.  “Between Gotham and Metro.  Let’s go.”

The 21st Man of Steel streaked towards the Earth.  Green Lantern put an energy tether on him and he and Batman were towed along.  After an instant, Tal Thorn increased the protective shields in his and Batman’s bubbles.  Superman’s speed made it necessary.

And I thought I had power when I joined the Corps, he thought.  This Superman could almost stand up to a Guardian.

For his part, Batman settled back against the walls of the bubble and waited.  His thoughts were his own, as ever.  But they would not be hard for a knowing observer to guess.

In the between-town of Swanson, the persons walking the groundlevels or passageways between buildings and those traveling in hovercars barely had the chance to register the streak of green which flashed from the sky.  Said streak bored a hole in the very ground, at a space which didn’t intersect that of a subtransport tube, with the power of an incredibly hard body and double heat rays which darted from Kryptonian eyes.  Mostly, all the pedestrians knew was that a hole had opened up in the street where there hadn’t been one a second before.

Batman and Green Lantern were dragged along like skiers on the end of a rope.  Superman whipped upward, boring through ground and building material as though they were water.  This had to be done quickly.  The enemy would have sensors, but if the entry was done fast enough, that wouldn’t matter.  They could outspeed the defenses.

Maybe.

He broke ground again, and came up within a large docking chamber full of aircars and people.  Most of the people wore distinctive uniforms, and over the right side of their chests was an emblem: a stylized and illuminated 7.

They barely had enough time to go from consciousness into unconsciousness as Superman administered careful taps to each of their jaws.  Barely a moment later, the Green Lantern power-ringed the aircars into useless wrecks.

A moment after that, jets in the ceiling started gushing seawater.

“Lantern!” shouted Batman, pointing upward.

“Complied,” said Tal Thorn.  Beams from his ring flashed out again.  One of them formed a protective shield about Superman.  The other created a barrier under the ceiling that rapidly began filling with briny liquid.  Barely a few drops had gotten through to Alan.  Batman’s face was as grim as an executioner’s.

Neither of them could see Superman’s face as he smashed through a wall into another chamber.

But they could see a blinding burst of red light, and the hero of Metropolis staggering back from it.

Batman swore under his breath as Superman staggered back, almost falling to his knees.  With a leap, he bore his friend to the floor.  A lucky thing, as blasts of energy seared overhead...just overhead.  It wasn’t going to be that easy.

“Lantern,” Batman said.

Without a word, the Green Lantern sent a great green fist from his ring into the next chamber, smashing away at the lamps and blasters within.  Batman could feel Alan breathing underneath him, as if in shock.  But, as the ruby light faded, the red-caped man got up and briskly shoved Batman off his back.

Then, with a vengeance, he smashed through the back wall of the lamp chamber and went on.

“What was that?” said the Lantern, following him.

“Something we didn’t count on,” said Batman.  “Red-sun rays.  Simulated.  They take away his powers.”

“Oh,” said Tal Thorn.

Batman brought up the rear as the Green Lantern went through the hole in the wall before him.  Superman was not to be found in the room, but a fairly large hole was in the ceiling and a host of angry Heaven’s Seven members, armed, were.

“He went upwards,” Tal Thorn observed.

Batman hurtled forward.  “I’ll save some for you,” he said, and got to work.

Above them, the Kryptonian had smashed through several levels and emerged in the meeting room proper of the Seven Directors, themselves.  Not surprisingly, there were only four.  The others were running through several halls, hoping to avoid capture by a man who could move faster than light.

Hope, Superman thought, truly springs eternal.

Seawater started gushing from ceiling pumps, red light started blazing, and the Man of Steel leaped down the hole in the floor and flew away from the cascade of liquid pouring down it.  There were two Heaven’s Seven minions in the room, which turned out to be a filing section.  He turned his head in both their directions and blew them up against the walls, stunning them both.

Then he trained his heat-vision upward, burning away power elements, relays, and receivers.  Within three seconds the red-sun rays went dark.  Within five, the pumps stopped forcing brine into the room.  Of course, there was enough already there to fill the room above to ankle level if there hadn’t been a hole there to pour through.  It was, appropriately, starting to course into the room Superman occupied and pour through the corresponding hole in its floor.  Using his X-ray vision, Superman discerned that the last of the Seven’s directors had lammed out of the room.

He sighed.  Flying backwards, he smashed down a wall behind him, took no notice of the terrified Seveners within, and burst through the roof above as if it were styrofoam.  It was a simple matter to track the fleeing directors, both with vision and hearing powers.  They were headed in seven separate directions.  Appropriate.

Before his pursuit, he X-rayed each of their robes and found a detonation mechanism within.  Each could be triggered by themselves, it seemed, or by the One, who directed the directors.  The devices were shielded by lead.

Child’s play.

The directors might as well have been statues.  Their robes were ripped from their backs and they were each laid out cold with a punch to the jaw, and that within a second.

All but one.

Superman saw the One Director schussing through a grav-lift towards the roof of the building.  Several walls stood between the Man of Steel and the lift tube.  They didn’t mean a thing.  He entered the tube, resisted its great force, and plunged feet-first to the anti-gravity generator in its base.  Two red-booted feet crushed said generator.  Gravity was restored.

A safety plate swung out to catch the Director as he fell.  Superman smashed through it and caught his quarry in his arms.  One mighty hand darted out and crushed a vital part of the One’s suicide device.  Then, still holding tight to the Director with one hand, he pulled off the man’s hood.

The face below was trying for defiance, but all it ended up with was fear.

“Julius Morton,” said Superman.  “Industrialist.  Double-plus seated, super-secure.  One question: why?”

“You would have to ask why,” grated Morton.  “You worship Rao, not Christ.”

“I have a feeling both of Them would be as disgusted with you as I am,” said Superman.  “It’s over.”

He stopped Morton from clenching his hand in a certain way, alerted by an acceleration of the man’s heartbeat.  Superman’s hand covered Morton’s palm.  His X-ray eyes detected the reason why: Morton had a trigger in that hand.  It was connected to a small sac of fluid in his chest.

“Poison,” said Superman, looking up from Morton’s chest to his face.  “Joker-venom?”

“Never,” snarled Morton.  “I hate that unbelieving fool.”  Unable to do anything else, he snapped his head forward and tried to bite Superman in the throat.  Knowing that would most likely crack the man’s teeth, the hero took mercy on him.  He butted him gently in the head.

Morton sagged, unconscious.

Alan regarded him for a moment.  Years of trying to outthink, outmove, and counter these terrorists, these shadows in the night, never being able to get more than their lowest level ops.  Now?  Just some 50-ish guy sagging in a robe, in a rapidly falling house of cards.

Maybe that was profound.  Maybe that was ironic.  Then again, maybe it was only absurd.

Something came to mind.  That was the Seveners’ latest and most deadly ally.  The one Batman was sworn to apprehend, and Superman hoped that would be all Bron would do.  Of course, the Lantern was by Batman’s side, and Superman had to acknowledge that he was more than enough backup for his friend.

But the Seven Directors wouldn’t stay out for long.  It was time for him to join his friends for a quick mop-up.  At least, he hoped it would be quick.

Tucking the senseless Director under his arm, Superman flew back to the hole in the floor and jumped through it.  He took care not to touch any of the dripping water on the way down.  Even a drop could hurt, and once or twice, they did.

On the first floor, Green Lantern was using a great green broom to sweep the beaten and unconscious Seveners into a large green box.  Superman had to smile.  “Where’s Batman?” he asked.

Tal Thorn looked up at him.  “He said he was heading for the file room.  A lot of these are his work, by the way, Sir Superman.”

“I’ll just bet.”

The Man of Steel did a quick X-ray check on the file room.  No Batman there, nor any other sort of human.  Damn.

Time to put the ears on.

Super-hearing can be used like a directional mike, but this time Superman used it to pick up everything and filter through it.  There were a cacophony of sounds, but he’d gotten used to that early on.  His father had made him.  He mentally went through the list of them in a fraction of a second.

Then: paydirt.

“Not another step.  Not one more.”

“It would be much better if you surrendered to me.  My friends are a lot more powerful than I.  If you don’t, I can’t assure that I’ll leave your face intact.”

Laughter.

“Let them come.  I’ve got a flower full of seawater in my lapel.  As for that whoever-he-is in the green suit, I’ve got enough Joker-venom for both...”

A crack, like something striking a wall.

Superman was already in motion.  His motion, predictably, carried him through several walls and a ceiling.  Briefly, he wondered if the city would ask him to refurbish a Swiss-cheesed villains’ hideout.

He smashed into the room in which Batman’s batarang had clamped the Joker’s wrist to the wall.

The Batarang was powered by magnetics as much as a good right arm, and its pointed ends could penetrate concrete or metal.  The inner surface was smooth, not cutting the Joker’s wrist, but holding him fast.  The room was decorated with shifting paintings depicting scenes from the Book of Revelation: angels, the Four Horsemen, a throne whose owner could not be seen, and pictures of Earthian horror.  Scorpions, starving humans, disease-plagued humans, death.  

How could any man remain in this room for long, thought Superman, and stay sane?

Batman, hearing his entry, put up an arm to bar him.  “Back, lad.  He’s got seawater in his lapel flower.”

“I already heard.”

The Joker’s face, eternally smiling, only betrayed his true emotion through his eyes.  They were that of a trapped panther: apprehensive, yet defiant.  Batman’s breath came heavy.  This was the murderer of his father, of both his parents and his siblings.  For him, it was the end of a vendetta.

Superman kept as close a watch on Bron as he did on the Joker.

“Why, Joker?” said Bron.  “Why...Aelfric?”

“Why...what?”  The Joker’s voice was low, almost tired.

“You had the perfect opportunity to kill me, year after year.  Your son died in a battle with me.  Why?  Why didn’t you do it?”

The Joker sighed, and his smile faded a bit.  “Many reasons, Bron.  Many, many reasons.”

“I’ve got a little time,” said Batman.

“I...don’t,” said the Joker, and clenched his fist in a way that Alan had seen another man just attempt.

He rushed towards the Joker, holding his cape before him with one arm to catch any seawater.  But the white-faced adversary didn’t even try to spritz him.  Superman’s vision powers told the tale: a sac of venom had erupted into the Joker’s heart.  And this time, it truly was Joker-venom.

Before he knew Batman was there, the masked man shoved him aside and grasped the Joker by his throat and wrist.  “Why, Joker?  Why, Aelfric?  Why?”

“Because,” said the old murderer, faintly.  “Because he was my foe.  Not so much...you.  Because it was...my duty to raise you.  Because...I was your butler.”  His face changed expression, became that of the Wayn factotum under the mask makeup.  “Master Bron.  Did I...do badly?”

Alan couldn’t miss the look of sadness in Batman’s eyes.  “Not as Aelfric, old friend.  Not ever as Aelfric.”

The smile that came to the Joker’s face this time was sincere.  “Thank you, Master Bron.  You know...I only...exist...to serve...”

There was no heartbeat, no pulse, nothing to indicate a sign of life.  The familiar rictus pulled the Joker’s face into an even wider grin, but there was no movement in his open eyes.

An eternity of three seconds later, Superman said, “I’ll stay with you, Bron.  The Lantern can mop things up.”

“Go,” said Batman.

“Bron–“

“I said go, damn it!  I want to be alone.”  Pause.  “And Superman?”

“Yes?”

“While I’m like this...never call me Bron.”

Slowly, Superman turned towards the doorway.  As he reached it, he looked back.  Batman had released the Joker’s wrist from the Batarang and was cradling his body as he knelt on the floor, surrounded by an apocalyptic panorama.

He left to help the Lantern mop up.

    (next chapter)

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