by DarkMark and Dannell Lites
The Family was convened. The Reunion was underway.
Every year, it was held in a different place. The security was maxed about the area, for this was the convocation of the Supermen. It was the only place in which the sons of Krypton bared their souls and powers, the only place where everyone knew Klar Ken was Superman.
The only place where the Superman of the 26th Century would soon be chosen.
This time, it was held within one of the great caves of Mars, into which few colonists had penetrated. True, the surface and atmosphere had been terraformed, but there were many areas of the planet that had not yet been investigated fully. Not, at least, by men whose only heritage was from Earth.
Two weeks earlier, Klar and some of his relatives had constructed this meeting place and strove to make it as pleasant as possible, with ancient tapestries from the East, color crystals from Titan, flooring of polished wood, overlaid with plastic, lightglobes which hovered near the ceiling, food repositories, amusement machines, sleeping quarters, and displays of the Family history in various media. Since it was on Mars, there was also an exhibit of J'onn J'onzz I, the Martian ally of the first Superman and his fellow Justice League member. His statue gazed out at them under the famed beetle brow, his mighty hands resting on his hips, as much a guardian of his world as Superman I had been of Earth.
All told, there were over 100 men, women, and children in the meeting place, all of whom were part of the clan either by heritage or through marriage. Except for those few who were mortal wives or husbands recently wed into the Kent / El family, each of them claimed powers of some degree.
In some ways, it was not unlike any other family reunion. The kids got together, played, fought, ran screaming to mother that so-and-so had burned somebody with their heat-vision or used too much power in a game of competitive strength. The women caught up with gossip and traded secrets. The men talked politics and business and, sometimes, ogled each other's wives.
They came dressed in various styles of clothing, from various parts of Earth, and from worlds other than Earth. But none of them, as yet, wore the "S" shield or the familiar costume, not even Klar. He was dressed in a short-sleeved shirt, conservative pants, and running shoes, and dutifully greeted everyone of the congregation as they arrived, his wife standing beside him in support. Alan and Adam were elsewhere. The Family, like most such clans, had few enough gatherings and they wanted to catch up with as many relatives as they could.
But some who were perceptive enough noted that Alan's greetings were sincere enough, though the man himself looked a bit haunted. Adam, by contrast, seemed to work the crowd like a politician. Some were turned off by it, others were glad to get the chance to talk with the son of the great Superman himself, one who might be the next in line for the costume. It was true, most of them had powers, but only one branch of the family had that kind of prestige.
"So what the hell are the rest of us here for?" complained Rod-El, known as Rodg Nelso N4576 in Greater Minneapolis. "If we're not really going to have a part in deciding, what's the point of all of us coming?"
"It's a ceremony, Rod," said Jenna McBrid E8649, wife of another El. "Also, it's a chance for the whole family to get together. Normal families do that, too."
"Since when is this family normal?" asked Galen 7566, appearing with a drink in his hand to butt into the conversation. "I mean, Sheol, on Earth we're beyonders who have to hide our strengths. On Rokyn, a third of us couldn't stand the gravity, or we'd be moving slower than the World Congress."
"Pleasure to see you again, too, Galen," grated Rod.
"‘N' here we are, every one of us with these damn little stick-on tags on our shirts to let everybody know how strong our powers are, and what kind," Galen continued, spilling some of his drink on Rod. "Normal? Doesn' that imply a norm? What's our norm, Roddy? What is it?"
"Normal is anywhere away from you," said Jenna, and stalked away.
Not far away, two of the other adults were separating a belligerent boy and a crying girl. The boy, it was obvious, was going to be punished, but he was protesting. "Aw, I didn't think it was gonna hurt her! Me ‘n' Eddie used to do it to each other all the time."
The man holding him pointed towards the girl's dress. "Look at that tag, Ben. What does it tell you?"
"It's..." Ben, all of nine years old, gulped. "The third stripe is yellow. But I didn't see it, honest I didn't!"
"He saw it!" wailed Shiela, a year younger than Ben. "He knew my invul was only 25, and he burned me anyway!"
"He certainly did," said her mother, with a meaningful look at Ben's father. "Come on, Shee. We'll get some Counterburn on that arm of yours."
Ben's father dragged him away, snapping, "And you'll need more than Counterburn on your butt, young man, when I'm done with you."
Lorelei Ken T, aka LoriLe Klar-El, watched the incident without much emotion. She was the youngest child of Klar and Lyra, barely out of school, and out to forge what she called "her own identity". Said forging included the styling of her hair into the Slug style of frozen black curls, a third-eye paste-on for her forehead, her upper lip coated with a shade of white, the lower one with black. Her clothes were black leather from the skin of an alien mammal and left her back, the sides of her belly, a generous portion of cleavage, and one leg bare. Despite all that, she had beauty. The point of the visuals was to pretend that she didn't give a damn about it.
The Slug lifestyle, which she dabbled in, was to pretend you didn't give a damn about much of anything else. Even when you dug things that were Slug-approved, you had to verbally dismiss them. She was waiting tables in a club and living, in part, on money from home.
Fin-El, a distant cousin, managed to be standing behind and to the left of her. He was blonde, clothed in brown garments that shielded his body from the cold of Mars. "LoriLe, right?" he ventured.
She favored him with a glance out of the side of her eyes and said nothing. He took that for a sign of approval.
"So. Been a long while, hasn't it?" He stepped around to face her. Lori's back was nice enough, but he wanted to devour a frontal view for as long as she'd let him.
"Couple of years, seven months, some-odd days," said LoriLe, keeping her voice in neutral. "Barely remember."
"Oh, yeah," said Fin, cautiously. "But I remember you."
"Why should you?" She crossed her arms and didn't look at him.
"Why should I? Sheol, Lori. Haven't you looked in a mirror lately?"
"Do it at least two hours a day," she muttered. "Hell getting my lips right. Who are you?"
"Who am I?" He laughed, a tad nervously, and buried his hands in his pockets. "I'm Fin, Lori. Fin-El. You know me. I'm interning at MetroMedtech this year."
"Good money in medicine," she said. "Probably think I want to go to bed with a doctor."
Anything that was going from his brain to his mouth got stopped in transit. She continued speaking.
"That boy. Shame he didn't see the girl's yellow stripe, isn't it?"
"Well, yeah," said Fin, beginning to wish he hadn't started the conversation. "Except I think maybe he did, and maybe he didn't care."
"It's good not to care about yourself," said Lori. "As long as you don't hurt others. He hurt someone else. That isn't good."
"Sure not." He wasn't looking at her. "Any, uh, news on which of your brothers is gonna get the suit?"
"I should care?" She was looking at the greater throng, possibly picking out Alan, Adam, and their parents with her vision. "I could be a Supergirl. I could be better than either of them."
"Why is that?"
"Because I wouldn't care what happens to me. I also wouldn't care who knew who I was, except that they might think that my brother and my father were Supermen. That would be hurting someone else."
"And...that's not good, huh."
"No, it isn't. You should know that. If you don't know that, how can you get to be a doctor?"
Fin sighed. "Guess I'll be scudding," he said.
"You want to go to the ceremony?" she said.
He stopped. He started to turn around, then didn't. "Doesn't mean that much to me," he said.
"It means even less to me," she said. "Watching a U-235 atom lose particles is more interesting to me than the ceremony."
"It'd be even more boring to me than you would be in bed," he said, still having his back turned.
Her hand found his. He looked at her out of the corner of his eyes. She still wasn't smiling.
"I could care less about meeting my parents," she said.
"I think I'd yawn in your dad's face," said Fin.
They went off to hunt up Klar and Lyra.
Adam had picked out Katherine De Ka'an--out, but not yet up; that would take a little longer, he figured, but not too much--and deliberately escorted her to meet the other families with him. She came with him, his arm about hers, not committing herself to him but not quite resisting. George Kent, Klar's older brother, was there with his wife, Irinia, and his daughter, Sy. The latter's name was short for Psy-something-or-other, the Greek name for an Amazon. Irinia had picked it out herself. Sy was wearing a halter and the shortest shorts she could get away with. She was athletic even by Krypt standards, and was making her way as a model.
She and Kath had about as much empathy for each other as a shark and a seal. But she was turned on by Adam, and remained polite with Kath.
Irinia was an Earthwoman, but no one underestimated her for that. George was a politician, having served in city government and then state-level. Whether he could have made it without Irinia, who had been a Bosnywash councilman's daughter and was born with the proverbial VoteCounter in her little palm, was a subject of some debate, outside the Family and sometimes inside it. But nobody disagreed with one thing: he wouldn't have gotten as far, or as fast, without her. The woman was black-haired, wore an expensive blue and white dress from a personal designer, and was, Katherine estimated, a snake in glassite pumps.
At least she didn't mind George. Adam was talking to him now.
"Doubledamngood to see you, Unk," said Adam. "Iri and Sy, as well. You know Kath, here, too. If you don't, feast your eyes, eh?"
"Oh, I know Kathish, t'be sure," said George, smiling and shaking her hand. "How's it throwing on your side of the country, Kath?"
"Pretty respective, George," said Kath, keeping him in vision so she didn't have to look at Irinia or Sy. "The usual quakes and such, but we survive. How's the state house?"
"Unk, I want to talk you up about power," said Adam, lessening his smile just a micron.
"Power?" Irinia and George said it at about the same instant. Then they looked at each other and laughed, a bit too convincingly. "You go ahead, George," said Iri.
"Who's the politician here, you or Daddy?" asked Sy of Adam.
George settled back a bit and said, "Okay. Define what kind of power you're talking about, nephew."
Katherine favored Adam with a playful smile. "Think I'd like to hear about that, myself."
"Well, I'm talking about my company, first off," said Adam, spreading his hands. "ContraMat. We've been doing great in Metro, making the older sources look pale. I wanted to pump you to see what the market looks like in Boston."
Irinia said, "Money's always to be made for a man who can go out there and take it. You seem like you might be the kind of man who could, Adam, with a little help. From the right people."
"Iri, please," said George. "So you want to open up business in Boston? Well, could be done, I suppose, but you've got competition. Not like you didn't in Metro, but these people are entrenched."
"Can they be taken?"
George smiled. "Anybody can be taken. Anybody."
Sy put on her nastiest smile and looked at Kath. "You know, Daddy, I really believe that. I really, really do." Then she turned to Adam. "About the power companies, I mean."
"I know what you mean," said Katherine.
"Ladies, please," said George. "If you want to talk about putting down roots in Boston, Adam, get with me after tonight and we'll see what I can tell you. That all right?"
"Doubleperf, even triple," Adam assured him. "If it was any better, it'd almost be up to the level of Kath, here. Almost." Katherine blushed a bit, but knew part of it was the equivalent of a cattleman showing off his prize heifer to a judge at a county fair.
"Is that all the power you wanted to talk about, Adam?" said Irinia, leaning forward in her seat just a tad.
He shrugged. "Well, what the hell. I don't know what I can say about the big event. Dad's going to pick me or Alan, and I guess either one of us will do. ‘Course, Alan's really good at what he does, and I've got to say he'd be really good in the suit."
"I think you'd be better," said Sy, enthusiastically. "I'd love to see you in that costume, Adam. I mean, really I would."
"I think you'd...better reserve judgment," said Katherine, looking straight at her. "After all, Alan hasn't exactly performed badly when he's been Superboy."
Sy smoothed back her flaming red hair. "Oh, we know that, dear. But take a look at them. I mean, here's Adam, and he's already a businessman with a big line of credits."
"Now, hold on, Sy," protested Adam. "I'm not that flush, yet. And money isn't everything."
"It sure as hell isn't," said Kath. Damn!, she thought. Why am I getting trapped into this?
Sy shot her a silent look that was almost an offering to meet her and settle things in a distant cavern. Katherine flinched a bit before sending her back a similiar look.
"Anyway, compare that to Alan," said Sy, after a moment. "I mean, he's an actor, for gall's sake. Not one of the one that makes, well, very much money, even."
Katherine shook off Adam's arm for the moment and placed both hands on her hips, standing before Sy. "Alan is a damn good actor, and you know it, or you would if you had sense enough to watch him instead of sexvideo."
"Girls, please," said Irinia, but she made no move to get between them.
"Kath, Sy, break it up, please," said Adam, who grasped Katherine's shoulder. She threw his hand off.
Sy smiled, stepping closer to Katherine. George grabbed her by the shoulders and pulled her back. "Young lady, act your age. And Katherine, I will thank you not to speak that way to my daughter."
"Oh, I've watched him," cooed Sy. "I sat through a whole episode of Tab Hunter without falling asleep. Did you watch it with your joystick on high, Kath?"
Katherine swung a roundhouse slap at Sy that came too fast for unaided human eyes to see. It should have contacted the redheaded twit's overtanned cheek and snapped her head satisfyingly to the side. Kath knew she'd have to deal with the repercussions of this from George and Adam, and, more tellingly, from Irinia. But it'd be worth it to maybe see this smartmouthed slut go down. All of that trainsped through her mind as she made the swing, with all of her follow-through behind it.
Except that George wasn't exactly a slouch at reaction, himself, and his arm came up, blocking it with a smack that carried all through the hall. It hurt her arm where it contacted his.
At the same time, Sy unleashed a left jab that contacted Kath's cheek, even though Adam grabbed Sy's arm a microsecond before contact. The momentum was there, the force was there, and her fist hit Katherine. Hard.
The blonde in the blue jumpsuit went down on her kiester before she knew what had happened. A second later, subjectively, the pain of Sy's blow registered. The girl was strong.
Adam was saying something, George was grabbing Sy and shouting something to her, and Katherine was about to get up and figure out what to do. But a pair of hands was at her back, helping her up. And...they weren't Adam's hands.
She looked at the face near her shoulder. Alan Kent was raising her to her feet. "Okay, Kath?" he said, with a look between fury and love.
Kath grabbed a breath. "Okay definitive, Alan. Things just...got a little out of hand."
George was holding Sy in a grip as powerful as any Superman possessed, and she was biting her lip. Irinia was taking in everything, filing it away for future use, Katherine knew, while feigning dismay. Adam was drop-jawed.
"I'm sorry," whispered Sy. "Really, I don't know what got into me, Kathian. I'm really, really sorry."
Alan got between Katherine and the rest, looked at his brother, then George, then Sy. "What just went down here? What happened, brother?"
Adam said, "Be halfdamned if I know, Alan. I think they carried freedom of expression too far into the physical."
"You're sure you're okay?" said Alan, looking into Katherine's eyes. She looked back into his, deeply, and brought up an old Nietsche quote about being careful about staring into an abyss, and said to hell with that, because she wanted this abyss to stare back into her, too.
He looked surprised, a bit, for a few moments. Then he seemed to be searching her eyes for something. She wondered if he would find it.
She found herself hoping he would.
Alan stayed close to Katherine as he said to George, "Tell me what this was about."
Irinia said, "The girls had an argument, Alan. I'm afraid my daughter was a bit loose-mouthed, and I'm regretful of it. She has apologized."
"I heard the apology," said Alan, quietly. "Perhaps she'd care to say it a bit louder."
Sy took a deep breath. "I apologize, Kathian. It was my fault, and I'm very, very sorry."
Katherine still felt a bit of numbness over her cheekbone where she'd been hit. She wondered what to say.
"There, she's said it," said Irinia, looking at Kath. "Is that all right by you, Katherine?"
Finally, Kath said, "I accept your apology."
Sy looked at her once, with eyes that showed little regret, then looked at the floor.
George was about to say something. Alan jerked his head in George's direction. George was his elder, his uncle, a man of stature both in the Family and in the outside world. A man who, by family tradition, had authority.
And, for all that, before Katherine's unbelieving eyes, George Kent decided to back off and let Alan speak.
"This is our family reunion," said Alan, softly but distinctly, as an actor would. "This is the gathering of the Clan. This has been our tradition for over 500 years. You know this as well as I do, Uncle George. Correct?"
"Agreed, Alan," said George. "As you say--"
Alan overrode him. "This is the one chance we--the entire family of Els--get to see each other, besides weddings and funerals, and not even the whole Clan can show up for those. We're high up in the Family, of the First Branch itself. And this is how we commemorate it? By brawling with each other like a bunch of kids in a schoolyard?"
George stood a little straighter. "Unfortunaely, Alan, the Family is just like other families in that respect, like it or not. We just have to deal with it as it happens. And the schoolyard image isn't that unapt."
Alan got in his uncle's face. "Well, if I can help it, it isn't going to happen anymore. Not at this time, not in this place. Are you with me?"
Katherine's fingers wrapped themselves about Alan's arm at the bicep, and she wasn't aware she had done it until seconds after she had.
"Well, of course, to keep order," said George. "I'm no more in favor of this happening than you are, Alan. Shall we just...let it blow over, for now?"
Alan was silent for a second, then said, "All right. As long as it's all right with Kath."
"Oh," said Katherine. "Yes, I...well, for the moment, I..."
All eyes seemed to be on her, and she felt as though she was back in junior school.
"Everything's decent," she said, at last. "I'm fine."
Irinia said, "I'm so glad to hear that, Kath. Once again, I apologize on behalf of our family."
Adam turned his smile on again. "I think our family can accept it, once again. I'll talk to you later about what we were speaking of earlier, George. Good to see you again, Alan."
"It is," said Alan.
"I want to go chat up cousin Nim," Adam continued. "Coming, Kath?"
Her hand found its way into Alan's hand and entwined its way among his fingers. He looked at it once, then at her, but did not object.
"I haven't had a chance to talk with Alan very much yet," said Katherine, sweetly. "Why don't you go ahead and talk with Nim yourself, Adam? Give him my very best, will you?"
Adam hesitated, looking at her. He glanced at Adam. Sy, seeing the action, tried to favor Adam with a seductive look. After all, if things were shifting that way, he might be fair game...
"Sure, I'll do that," Adam replied. "George, Iri, Sy, all regards."
"All regards, Adam," agreed George.
"Take good care of her, brother," said Adam to Alan.
Alan said, "She can probably take care of herself."
Katherine saw Adam slightly nodding as she pulled Alan away from the others. Once they were more than a few steps away and proceeding in the direction of the snack bar, Adam said, "So what was that all about? Truthspeak, now."
"It was about a foul-mouthed little babootch-whelp who wanted to downspeak someone I have pretty decent regard for," she said. "I almost got in a lick, but your uncle blocked me. Unfortunately, he didn't block the little snot, and she knocked me on my butt."
"Oh," he said. "I'm sorry, Kath."
"Don't be. You didn't slug me. You can't stop everything bad from happening."
"Well, then," he said, looking into her eyes, "maybe Dad had better choose somebody else for Superman, if I can't."
She looked at him in horror, tightening her grip on his hand. "No! Alan, don't even talk like that. You'd be perfectly fine as the Superman. Doubletruth. Being Superman isn't about being God, Alan."
He guided her to the salad dispenser and made his choice with a couple of quick gestures, watching the vegetable matter and dressing cascade into an edible grainbowl, before he answered her.
She gaped at him. "Come off it, Alan. Doublequick."
Alan took his salad in one hand. "I've heard Dad tell me, in one of his more depressed moments, that being chosen Superman is like being elected Messiah. He wasn't kidding, either."
Shaking her head, Katherine idly made her selection, took it, and followed him to one of the tables, its white surface suspended above the floor by a magnetic device. "Do you really believe that? That you'd be Earth's Messiah, if you got to be Superman?"
"Not for a minute," said Alan, digging into the greenery. "But. I believe the people Outside would believe it. Or expect me to be."
Katherine took a seat beside him. "And would they be disappointed when they found out you weren't?"
He forked some more salad into his mouth, wiped it with a cleanswipe, and said, "They're disappointed in all of us. From the first one, on down through five centuries. We won't play God. We won't solve all their problems, end all human ills. We're just...Supermen."
"And some of us are Supergirls," said Katherine, casually.
Alan smiled a bit. "Are you going to try that, now?"
"Ummmm--" She favored him with a glance. "Only if a Superman could talk me into it. I don't know if he could."
Alan shrugged. "We don't know who Dad's going to pick for that. Not so sure it shouldn't be Adam."
She put her fork down, turned to him, and looked at him seriously. "I hope it's you."
"Oh, well, thanks very much, Kath. Really. But--"
"Minus but. You'd be my first choice."
"Come on. Adam's the one with the get, remember? He's got the money, he's got the--well--he can get things done."
"And you can't?" She covered his hand with hers, gently. "Seems to me you were handling things pretty well back there with your uncle, there."
"Oh. Well, that was for you."
She looked at him. "So?"
"What do you mean, ‘so'?"
"I mean that I didn't see your brother standing up to George Kent and telling him off when his daughter punched me on the cheek. You did."
"Frab Adam! You made George back up in his tracks. Your own uncle. You think that's something I'll see everyday?"
"Possibly not," said Alan. "But George knew he was on the bad side in that arrangement."
"More his littlebitch daughter than him," said Kath. "You've also done pretty well as a Superboy, haven't you?"
"I've performed," said Alan. "So has--"
"You have, Alan," she said. "Being Superman is more than having the powers. It's also having the heart."
He couldn't say anything.
"When I saw you on stage," she continued, "in Virginia Woolf...Rao, I don't think I've seen a piece of work like that before. Your character, the man you played, the professor...you acted him so well, I forgot you were one of us. Forgot you were a Krypt. All I saw up there was George, the husband, the cuckold. You made me believe in that man, Alan. Not every actor on a playstage can make me do that. I don't think anybody has the way you did."
"Acting's different from being Superman, Kath."
"Is it? Both of them make you play a role, Alan. Both of them require heart. Don't ask me if I think you've got it...I know you've got it."
He paused a long moment, glad that their voices weren't carrying far, and hoping not too many of the Family were snooping in with super-hearing. "Well. What do you think of Adam?"
She took her napkin and folded it in an intricate way, making an origami sculpture to give herself something to look at and something to do as she spoke. "I was attracted to him. I'll admit it. Maybe I still am. He's got a lot of flash, a lot of cash, and I'd be a liar if I didn't say I liked his looks. He's a capable man, Alan. He wouldn't have gotten where he was if he wasn't."
Alan nodded, silently.
"But. Despite the fact of his cash appeal and his sex appeal, I've decided I don't like him that much."
Alan didn't nod.
"I'm sure he's a law-abiding larry, that he can use his powers skillfully and all that," said Katherine. "But there's...I don't know. Too much of the politician in him for me. More so than even George. I know he wants me. But I don't know how much of that is just that he wants to use me. I think he wants to use everybody. I think being Superman is part of the goal, sure, but...I think he wants even more than that."
"Like what?" asked Alan.
"I don't know," she admitted. "I doublehonestly don't. But...power. Not just physical, not just what he's got, but...control." She looked at him. "I don't think that's the best quality to have in a Superman."
"There've been twenty Supermen so far. All different, all flawed, all strong in certain ways." He leaned back in his hovering seat. "Probably be twenty more after us, looking back and seeing where we messed up."
"There might not be, if the wrong man got the suit," said Katherine.
"If the wrong man got the suit," said Alan, "the Family would take it back from him, and give it to somebody else."
"You think so?"
"It's Clan Law."
"Has anyone ever done it?"
He rolled his tongue in his mouth, then answered. "You know they haven't. They haven't had to."
"We've got a few hours before the ceremony. Want to show me around some more?"
He smiled at her. "Sure. Where d'you want to go?"
She placed a hand upon his knee. "I'm sure you can think of some places."
Klar Kent looked out on the assemblage in the meeting room through the wall, with his X-ray vision. He was sure some of them were doing the same to him.
They wouldn't be seeing much. Just an aged man in casual clothes, sitting with his wife in a room off to the side, a Superman costume on the table between them.
"I've got to do it," he said. "This thing has got to be done."
Lyra Kent went over and put her arms around him. "It'll just be harder if we keep putting it off, dear."
He exhaled. "One of my sons may hate me forever for what I'm going to do in the next few minutes. The other may end up hating me just as much."
"No, they won't. Adam and Alan would never hate you. No matter what happened. Neither would LoriLe, and I wouldn't, either."
Klar held her, as well. "You don't know, Lyra. You don't know what it's like to have to wear that suit."
"No," she admitted. "But I've seen what it does to you when you wear it. You were magnificent, Klar. It's time to let one of your sons be magnificent, too."
"Would you have married me if you knew things were going to be like this, years later?"
She looked at him, holding his head between her hands. "I would have married you under any circumstances, knowing anything. That's how much, Klar. That's how much I love you."
He smiled. "Then that's one thing we have in common. I would have done the same for you."
"Why did it take us so long?"
"Because my generation of Els was as dumb as the first about waiting."
"Then," she said gently, "maybe it's time to stop waiting."
Klar Kent stood up. "Maybe it is. Are you ready?"
She handed him the three-colored uniform. "I have to be," she said.
He opened the door. The two of them walked, hand in hand, down a short hall and into the meeting room. The applause started shortly after the door closed.
"They're listening," said Klar.
"Maybe watching, too," said Lyra.
"What sort of a poem will you compose about this, Lyra?"
"Depends on what happens next," she said.
Then they were within view of the Family. Everyone still seemed to be applauding. Adam and Alan, sitting at separate tables near the small stage at front, were standing. Klar noted that Adam was sitting with George's family and Alan was sitting with Katherine. Lyra smiled in Kath's direction and hoped she caught it.
Klar glanced at both his sons, with what he hoped was kindness. The uniform of Superman was in his hands. It was not the same one that had been woven so many years ago by Martha Kent on a farm near Smallville. But, by tradition, it contained some of the same threads that Jor-El had sent across space in Kal-El's rocket as the three blankets which had become his uniform.
Great ancestor, give me strength today. And wisdom. Say something on my behalf to Rao, while you're at it...
He stood not far from one of the white support pillars which held up the roof, both of which had only been constructed a few weeks ago. Klar held his hands above his head and crossed his fingers in a signal for silence. The applause and talk died down.
He let the silence hang for a few moments before he spoke.
"Brother, sister, uncles, cousins, sons, daughter, wife, members of the Family," he began. "Tonight we pass on the heritage of the Els. For 500 years and more, an El has worn this uniform." He held the three-colored suit between his great hands, gently, displaying it. "For 500 years and more, an El has been there, to serve the people of Earth, and the Universe beyond, as a Superman. A Superman.
"Twenty men have borne that name. A few more than that have been known as Superboys. Two of them sit with us here tonight. My sons, Adam and Alan. Since I have more than one male child, by Family Law, I must pass the uniform which I have worn all these years to only one. I regret that both cannot wear the cape and the shield, for they both...are worthy. I regret that my daughter, LoriLe, cannot wear it, though it is her choice if she wishes to become a Supergirl."
Fin-El, sitting beside her, knew that Lori was impressed. She didn't even say anything to show that wearing the suit was no more interesting to her than watching bugs mate.
"To say that this choice is a momentous one is to belittle the term. Its importance is universal. To say that the burden is great is more than absurd. The weight of it would break the back of Atlas, in Earth's old Greek legend. I have borne it many years, as my father did. He passed it down to me." He looked at George. "Perhaps he might have chosen more wisely. He had two sons, as well. He had another who might have performed even more aptly than myself in the role." (George was rolling a salt container between his fingers. It broke. Klar did not pause.) "But it was given to me. Tonight, I must choose. I pray Rao will guide my hand.
"I know...I am aware...that we chafe at our bonds tonight. That many of us ask, ‘Why must we remain unknown? Why can we not use our great powers openly?' To that, I can only answer, as I have before: because humankind would fear us, were they to know how many Supermen live among them. Even those of us without power, if our lineage were exposed, would be made pariahs. And some of those, possibly some of the others as well, would be killed. They will give their trust to only one Superman. We must be there to ensure he is trustworthy."
Silence. Klar wasn't sure it was an approving one, either. He went on.
"So tonight, let us pass on the red, the blue, and the yellow. Tonight, let us appoint the 21st Superman...and hope that he will be enough. Alan, Adam, come here."
There was a slight murmur as the two young men rose from their seats and went to the dais. Before Adam went up, Sy kissed the top of his head for good luck. George grabbed her hand and dragged her back down to her seat. Kath was just sorry she didn't have time to give Alan another good-luck hand-squeeze.
Damn it, Klar, she thought, get the thing over with. I don't think this is going to be a good night...
Alan and Adam stood before Klar Kent and Lyra Kent, their backs to the others. Klar threw the uniform over his shoulder and placed one hand apiece on a shoulder of each of them. "One of my sons will wear the uniform. Should he be incapacitated, or die without issue, or before his son has reached maturity, the other will stand in his place, and take up the burden. Tonight, my love flows unimpeded, and equal, to both of them. Both the one who will wear this uniform, and the one who will not."
There was time for two breaths to be drawn, but few were drawing them.
"To you," said Klar, "I pass the uniform of your predecessors. To you, I give the mantle of the Superman. To you, I pass the threefold burden of Truth, Justice, and the Kryptonian Way. Wear it proudly...or another will wear it in your stead. And remember this day, for someday, you will pass this on to another. You, my son, are the 21st Superman."
He handed the uniform over.
"Put it on."
The one who held it looked at his father. Klar nodded.
At super-speed, the job was done.
The Family saw his caped figure from the back.
Klar told his sons to turn around. The first one to clap was Lyra.
The second one to clap, standing, was LoriLe. Fin was astonished for the umpteenth time.
Kath didn't know in what order she came, but as soon as she could she was on her feet and banging her hands together with such force that she caught herself before she could make more than one large boom of sound.
George stood, clapping, and made Sy stand as well. Irisia was also standing, but her face, while smiling, was hard to read.
The two sons of Klar Kent stood side by side, their father's hands on their shoulders.
Alan Kent wore the uniform of the Man of Steel. He looked uncertain, in a way, and embarrassed, in another way, and wondering what in Sheol he was doing up there.
But in another way, the one that Kath saw, he looked strong, and brave, and as able to fill the boots of the Superman as Kal-El had been, those five centuries before. She didn't know she was crying. Alan looked at her, and promised himself to go to her as soon as the wave of applause died down.
Adam Kent was applauding his brother's good fortune. He stuck out an arm and hugged Alan in front of the entire crowd, and the applause and cheers increased. But Katherine, even though her tears, was close enough to see his eyes.
They weren't conveying any warmth.
There seemed to be an unholy touch in them, if the truth be told.
But then again, maybe it was just her tears.