Superman of 2499:

    The Great Confrontation

    Part 24

    by DarkMark and Dannell Lites

“You’re claiming that Superman is...bent?”

Klar Kent stared down the reporter before him.  Terry Carlos hadn’t seen such a look since he asked for his last raise.

“I’m not claiming it’s true, Boss,” said Terry.  “I was snatched, blinded, gagged, the whole extravaganza.  And...somebody I didn’t see, somebody whose voice had ‘gangster’ all downed into it, he claimed Superman was bent.”

“On what grounds?”

“Said he was wearing a mask and shaking down the rackets in Metro.  Wanted control of ‘em.”

“How did they know it was Superman, if he wore a mask?”

“The things he could do.  He could vanish.  He could burn a hole through a thug’s chest, just by looking at him.”

Beneath his sleeves, Klar’s muscles bunched.  “They don’t have any proof?  Other than what they told you?”

“They told me to check a sector in Morgue Registration,” said Terry.  “It’s confidential, cop stuff.  I called in a favor.  They let me look at the stiff.  Big Jerry Tempus.  He had a hole through his chest.  Wasn’t made by no bullet.”  He leaned closer to Klar.  “Burned clean.”

Klar massaged the bridge of his nose.  “There’s weapons that could do that.  Doesn’t mean Superman did it.”

“True enough,” said Terry.  “Might be a put-up job, might be blackmail.  Where do you want to go with this?”

The editor eased back in his chair.  “I don’t want to go anywhere with it.  Not yet.  Are they going to give you more proof?”

“They said...”  Terry hesitated.

“Yes?”

“They said...next time they have a meeting with him, they’re gonna take me along.”

Klar was silent for a long moment.  Then he said, “And we’re keeping track of you when you do.”

“What?  Boss, they can track spy-rays from a parsec away, where they are!”

“I didn’t say anything about spy-rays, Terry.  I said we’re going to keep track of you.  And I meant it.”

    -S-

Fin-El looked up as LoriLe came through the iris-door.  “It hasn’t been long enough,” he said, with practiced indifference.

“It could have been longer on my part, too,” Lori responded.  “Keeping in touch with Kath?”

“She’s still on Rokyn and intends to be there for a couple more weeks.  Won’t tell me what she’s doing.”  Fin paused.  “Don’t know what to make of that.”

“Probably scared of Sy, and Adam,” Lori offered.  “But if she was too scared, she’d stay there instead of coming home.”

“Not a bad idea, really,” said Fin, standing up and going to the young Slug woman.  “You paid a visit to Sy.  Maybe I ought to pay one on Adam.”

They embraced.  Lori, her head on Fin’s shoulder, said, “No.  He’s my brother, and I think he’s stronger than you.”

“Hey, I don’t intend to fight him.  Just on a fishing expedition.  Want to find out what I can.”

“Fin, he’s smart.  Lori has probably told him what I did.”

“Good,” said Fin-El, not knowing what else to say.

“And you’re going to talk to him about what, Fin?”

“About what he’s really got planned for the Family.”

“You expect him to tell you?”

“I expect to learn something from his answers.”

“Fin, that’s dangerous.”

“You really think he’ll harm one of the Family?  Without provocation?”

“I don’t know.  I’d like to think not.  I know my brother.  He got into fights with Alan, sometimes.  Fin?”

“Yeah?”

“Are you just doing this because I went to see Sy, alone?”

“Maybe.  Could be.  I’m not sure.  I want to pull my end of this thing, Lori.  I’m going to see him.”

She sighed and held him at arm’s length.  “I want you to tell him for one thing. Swear you will.”

“All right, what?”

“Tell my brother that if he lays a hand on you, I’ll come down there and scratch his frabbing eyes out.  And he’ll know I mean it.”

Fin chuckled and ran his fingers thru her hair.  “You are the most uninteresting woman I’ve ever met.”

“And you are pathetically boring, Fin.  My life would be so much fuller without you.  Please, be careful.”

“I’ll try not to, darling.  Believe me, I’ll try not to.”

    -S-

Bron Wayn had, for the last week, done what business was necessary from the confines of his home.  Even those communications he had to receive and transmit were, by his insistence, kept brief.  He had called his children and told them to come back to Earth, but that he didn’t wish to be disturbed for the present.

When the intruder showed up, he was only surprised that he came as Alan Kent.  “You,” he said.

“Hello, Bron,” said Alan.  Since the home security system recognized him, he hadn’t needed his powers to gain entry.  “Been awhile, hasn’t it?”

“Two weeks, one day, seven hours,” said Bron, dressed in a loose robe, pants, and slippers.  “I don’t want to see anyone for twice that much longer.  Please leave.”

“Can’t do that, Bron.”

“Can, and will.”  Bron waved his hand over a control surface.  A door reopened behind Alan.  “Go.”

“The only way you’re going to get rid of me is with seawater,” said Alan.  “And I can see that coming.  We just need to talk, Bron.”

“The hell with talking.”

“The hell with silence.”  That sentence was delivered full on to Bron’s face.  Without warning, Alan Kent had sped before him and was using one hand to pin him to a wall.  “I owe you more than that, Bron.  And so does the world.”

“I don’t give a damn about the world, Kent!  I’ve given it enough already.  My body, my brain, my money, my...time...”

The pressure of Alan’s hand eased a bit, letting Bron away from the wall.  “Just as every Batman worthy of the cowl has done, Bron.  Ever since the 20th.”

“It ends with me,” said Bron, staring at him.  “I’ll be the last one to wear the cape.”

“Seems to me Batman IV said the same thing,” Alan noted.  “What happened then?”

Wayn looked at the floor.  “His damned kid took it up again, when IV was too old to stop him.”

“So the decision was the son’s, not the father’s.”

“I don’t want to put my son through this, Kent.  I don’t want anyone else to have to suffer the way I did.  The way my father did.”

Alan looked at his friend.  “Bron, I never thought I’d have to be doing to you what you did to me a few weeks back.  But I’m going to have to talk some sense into you.”

“Kent...”

“Bron.  I’m talking, okay?  The problem isn’t whether your son is going to be the next Batman or not.  If not, fine.  The world will find a way to get along.  The problem is you.  You’ve been holed up in here for the past couple of weeks, since Aelfric died.  We’ve kept it hushed.  The public knows that Aelfric is dead and that the Joker is dead, but they don’t know they were the same.”

“They weren’t.  Not where it counted.”

“I agree.  And you miss Aelfric, don’t you?”

“Don’t patronize me, Kent.”

“Bron, what I’m doing with you is anything but patronizing.  You think Gotham City can get by without the Batman?  Okay.  It possibly can.  They’ve got cops.  They’ve got robot crime-controls.  I can even pay a visit, every now and then.  And if you want to retire, that’s great.  You’ve put in your time.  You can hang up the cape and mask anytime.  But there’s one thing you can’t hang up.  You can’t hang up Bron Wayn.”

The older man simply stared at him.

“I know that mourning takes some time, Bron.  My grandparents, I lost them both.  That doesn’t compare with what you went through, I know.  But eventually you have to let go, and continue on.  You can’t stay holed up in this mansion for the rest of your life.  It...isn’t good for you, Bron.  You haven’t even let your kids see you.”

“That’s none of your damned business!”

“You’re right, it’s their business.  And it’s your business.  But you’re my friend, and I’m making you my business.  Whether you like it or not.”

“What do you want me to do, Kent?  Do you expect me to tell you, ‘Oh, I’ve been playing the fool,’ and come out like Ebenezer Scrooge in that ancient tale and give my son and daughter half a crown for a Christmas goose?  That would be...it would be...”

Alan sat on the nearest chair.  “That’s not the story I had in mind, Bron.  The one I was thinking of was from the Bible.  Ever read it?”

“Many a time. Even in the ancient Hebrew and Greek.”

“Then you know the story of King David, and his son Absalom.  The one in which Absalom rebelled against his father, and, well, lost his life as a result.  And David was out there, screaming, ‘Would God I had died for thee, o Absalom, my son, my son.’  This was the one that had tried to take his kingdom, maybe even his life.  But all that mattered to David was that he’d lost a son.”

Bron took a deep breath, let it out, and waited.

Alan said, “David spent a lot of time by himself after that.  He had responsibility over a whole nation, and the problems were piling up.  But all he wanted to do was sit in his room and write songs in memory of Absalom.  Soon enough, his general, Joab, came calling and told him, ‘Look, either get up and start being a king again, or we’re gonna leave you, and you aren’t gonna be able to be a king.’  David wised up, Bron.  He faced his responsibilities.  You gotta have time to mourn, true.  But you’ve also gotta know when that time is past.”

Bron tried to speak.  After a long moment, he sat down in a seat near Alan.  He clenched his hands together between his knees.  Alan waited for him to begin.

“I was not only mourning Aelfric, Kent.  With his...passing...with his death, Kent...a lot of other things passed.  The murder of my parents, my brother, my sister...that should be accounted for.  Perhaps it is.  I’d like to think the stone is rolled off my shoulders.  But if it is, Kent, if it really is...what becomes of me?  What becomes of the Batman?  Is there any use for him?  Is there any need for him?  For me?”

He sighed and shook his head.  “I’ve mourned for my father, Bron, Sr., for my mother, Alice, for my brother, William, for my sister, Eve.  And yes, I mourned for Aelfric.  When I was younger, he was my best friend.  Is that, perhaps, why he let me live, and let the rest of my family die?  I don’t know.  I will never know.

“Sometimes what the first one of us, Bruce Wayne, what he felt when he saw Joe Chill die before him, and then Lew Moxon, the two men who murdered his father.  How empty did he feel, when that debt had been reconciled?  But he had a duty by then.  He had a Robin by his side, he had a host of foes who’d made it personal, and who were still around.  Most of mine are in prison, or gone.  I don’t know if it’s worth the time to make more of them.

“I want something different, Kent.  I’m not interested in dying with my cape on.  There’s time I need to spend with my children, with my grandchildren.  I need time with my family.  I want to learn how to be Bron Wayn again.  Don’t you think Gotham City owes me that much?  Don’t you think the, the world owes me that much?”

Alan said, “I think it owes you a lot, Bron.  I think it owes you that much and more.”

The older man rubbed his eyes, then chuckled, incongruously.  “Maybe the Joker did win, after all, Kent.  Maybe he killed the Batman.  What do you think?”

“No, Bron.  I don’t think he killed anything.  But I’ve got a suggestion.  Okay if I say it?”

“If one of my line can’t listen to one of yours, we’ve spent the last 500 years in the wrong place.”

“I can use your help, Bron.  As a consultant.  We did pretty well together last time.  I acted like a professional, and I’m convinced it was your hand in it that was the decisive factor.  Now, we’ve got a Lantern in the team as well.  Even if it’s just him and me out front, Bron...we could use you as a silent partner.  You can help us, Bron.  That’s what I’m asking of you.”

Bron Wayn looked at the desktop, over which there was placed a holopicture of himself at age 6 along with his father, mother, brother, and sister, all on an outing at one of the sylvan preserves near Gotham.  Then he looked back at Alan Kent.

“‘And they told unto all the people, saying, Behold, the king doth sit in the gate.’  Think that’s too highfalutin for us, Alan?”

“I think it’s just about right, Bron.  Well?”

“Just so you remember not to copy General Joab beyond that part of the story.”  Bron was smiling more wickedly, now.

“And I won’t steer any soldier’s wives your way, either.”  Alan tried to match his smile.

Bron Wayn stood up and clapped Alan on the back.  “Got anything planned?”

“I told the Lantern we’d have dinner with him if I brought you around.”

“And you’ll expect me to pay, of course?”

“Of course.”

“That’s the way it always goes.  You’re the ones with the powers, we’re the ones with the money.”

“And the Lanterns are the ones with the biggest travel vouchers.  Get dressed, Bron.”

    -B-

The meeting with the union rep was taking a Sheol of a lot longer than Adam Kent wanted, which was quite understandable.  Adam had wanted to give the shlep only five minutes.  By now, it was dragging into the second hour.

“We cannot compromise on this point, Mr. Kent,” said McCullough, the representative of the ContraMaterial Power Workers Union.  “An eleven percent raise, or a strike.”

“And I cannot go any higher than six, Mac,” said Adam, rubbing his hands together on the desktop.  “You know my expenses.  I’ll open the books to you, any day.  Hell, I already have.”

“You have the money, Mr. Kent.  Your workers don’t.”  McCullough slapped both palms on Kent’s desk for emphasis.

Kent stood up for his own emphasis.  “I don’t have that kind of money, Richard.  If you bankrupt the company, what will your members do then?  Ship out to Alpha Centauri?”

The look that McCullough gave him would have done credit to a Krypt’s heat-blasting eyes.  “We can strike, Mr. Kent.  Sure enough, you can keep the power running with robot controls.  But for how long?  It takes humans to do free-think diagnosis and repair.  And when you’re talking contra-matter power, you know how often that’s needed.”

“Give me time to talk with the board, Mac.”

“We’ve given you time already!  Where’ve you been these past few weeks?  You won’t meet with us at work, you aren’t available after work, it took me a month just to get this lined up with you.  You think this is just going to fade when you turn your back on it?  This is real, Mr. Kent.  Do you know how real?”

Do you know, thought Adam Kent, how easily I could make you unreal?  With just the right blast of heat-vision?  Even if I didn’t ram one finger through your flimsy chest, or your unreasoning head?

“Seven,” said Adam.

“Eleven, Mr. Kent.”

“Then we’ll have to tell the press we’re at an impasse, Mac.”

“No, Mr. Kent.  We’ll have to tell them that the union is on strike.”

“Forty-eight hours, Mac.  Give me forty-eight hours to talk with the board.”

“You want two days, Mr. Kent?  Fine.  Forty-eight hours.  But if we still don’t hear the number eleven after that, you’d better hope your robots hold out for a long, long time.  I’ll see myself out.”

After the door closed, Adam threw a small sculpture at it.  The object, solid stone, shattered into a zillion pieces.

His secretary buzzed him, and a small holo of Fin-El appeared over his desk.  “A Mr. Elton to see you, sir.”

Adam didn’t dare put his hands on anything breakable at the moment, which meant anything in the office but himself.  He took deep breaths.  The secretary was about to repeat her announcement when he finally spoke.

“Send him in, dammit.  Send him in.”

    (next chapter)

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