By Dannell Lites and DarkMark
Aelfric be HighRom. HighRom be clever. HighRom be too smart for Gadjo. Aelfric be clever; too smart for Gadjo. But Boy is HighRom, too. Caution, Aelfric. Must not give self away. Have not. Careful have I been. Boy not suspect Aelfric. JokerSon is clever, too.
Plans advance. The woman is foolish. Plans only to exploit illegality of AdamSon's little scam. Small thinking. Alfreaic have bigger plans. MUCH bigger plans. To control, perhaps destroy, The Superman. And The Batman, too, of course. Must be done.
Like son to me, is he. Raised him, I did. Taught him, I did. Foolish Aelfric. Taught him too well? Kill him will JokerSon. Will Aelfric weep? Think so. Boy is clever, too. He be HighRom also. But he is blind. Cannot see. Wishes not to? Mayhap. Odd one. Driven. Dangerous. Like first of his kind; the first Batman.
Will involve self in El Family feud? No! Must not allow. Prevent at all costs. Plans might be discovered. Plans might fall apart. Bad! But Boy is great friend to Klar Kent. Loyal. Know this well. Might do this foolish thing despite danger. Will council against. Will listen? Must.
If not ... hand forced; must react.
Time for killing is not now. Not rush plan.
The woman's ChildWeath also foolish. Very. Chooses wrong son; wrong lover. *Could* have been lover of The Superman. Women are all fools. Easily swayed by pretty face, are they. Aelfric has not pretty face. Aelfric has brain.
Feh. Too late, now. Must proceed without advantage. Plans are easily made; easily changed. Think spontaneously. Act. Strike swift as serpent. Be cunning as serpent. Be done with it. But not *too* soon. Wait. Patience, JokerSon. Patience. In the fullness of time will come reward. Will come death for enemies of JokerSon. But not now. For now, waiting is.
Thinking Klar Kent biggest fool of all. For good of others he alienates, angers, cleverest ChildWealth. Will pay for stupidity. Thinking soon for that. What care for thoughts of masses? Why? There be more than one power in the House of El. Foolish to restrict them, restrain them. Let fly free. What can Gadjo masses do? Nothing. Their fears not matter. Power matters. Much, much power in House of El. Needs to be harnessed, directed, used. *Will* be. Why serve when could so easily rule? Foolish.
Klar Kent will fall. Family restive. Always bad thing. Unhappiness spreads like cancer. Eating away at body; at heart. Leaving behind lifeless shell to rot within.
HighRom built on Family. Know importance of Family. Family must survive. Dissent in Family very bad. Leads to death. Always. Dissent must be crushed. Klar Kent not do so.
Frowning, the tall, thin man rose carefully from the comfortable seat before his HoloPuter. In mid-air the cursor's evil grin stretched obscenely, wide beyond all human proportions, leering at him. With a single thought, he sent it into oblivion, waiting to be summoned for the JokerSon's next log entry. Aelfric smiled until the muscles of his face were aching with the effort.
Time to check on Bron.
With another thought Aelfric activated his monitors and skillfully directed them to the Master Bedroom. His sharp ears were greeted with the soft sounds of regular breathing.
Floating about six inches off the stone floor beneath him, Bron Wyn stirred slightly in the comforting embrace of his SuspensorSleepField. Blinking his bright eyes in unexpected surprise, Aelfric linked his private unit with the larger HouseUnit and checked the vital signs fed constantly into the BatComputer's database by the SuspensorField. Heart beat normal. Respiration well within normal limits. Ah! There was the pesky problem! He resumed breathing. His concern vanished as quickly as it arrived. Blood chemistry readings showed increased levels of accumulated lactic acids within that finely tuned body's muscle tissue and a corresponding rise in vasoreceptors.
The Boy was sleeping. Aelfric glanced at his chrono and frowned once more. Nine o'clock, Galactic Standard Time. Usually Bron was awake by this time of the morning. But his blood chemistry showed fatigue. He was still quite weary from his exertions of the night before. And no wonder. The BatRocket had not returned to its asteroid home until well after three o'clock. And if the mission datalog downloaded into the BatComputer was any proper indication, it had been a long, rough Patrol. Jovian ore pirates. Dealt with. Captured. An attempted breakout from LockDown, the prison asteroid, foiled and the prisoners recaptured, returned to their cybercells.
Oh, yes. A long, rough Patrol, indeed, for The Batman.
The JokerSon's smile returned.
Well, as long as it kept the Boy amused, and his too clever mind on other matters, Aelfric was content. So let the Boy sleep. He deserved it, that was sure. He was a good Boy. Loyal and hard-working, strong and fit. A good son. Not like so many of these modern youngsters, frivolous and so very foolish. He was a worthy successor to the memory of his illustrious ancestors. Aelfric felt that deep in his aging bones.
Of course ... the JokerSon's thoughts and feelings on the matter of Bron Wyn and The Batman were an entirely different matter, now weren't they?
Oh, yes, definitely. An entirely different matter, indeed.
Aelfric stirred uneasily in the confines of his floating hover chair. He refusing to entertain such thoughts. He banished them to his unconscious mind with a flicker of focused thought. No time for the Second Self now. Aelfric chastised himself sternly. He was as he was. Much too late to change horses in midstream, now. Even should he really wish to.
And he didn't, of course. Not really. So what if a good part of him was the JokerSon? What of that? Everyone had their dark sides; their vicious, personal demons with which they must occasionally deal. Didn't they? His were just more concrete than most, that was all.
Bron Wyn was his beloved son; the only real ChildWealth he was ever likely to know. He loved the Boy greatly. He looked after Bron and his House here on its desolate, solitary asteroid as though they were his own. And so they were. He had made it so, had he not? With his care, his constant labor, and his unwavering love, he had done so. He was the Boy's teacher and, many times, sole companion in his dangerous, lonely quest for Justice, to force the Universe to make sense once more. This Batman had no Robin.
He only had Aelfric.
Aelfric, the wise. Aelfric, the loyal.
... the JokerSon; murderer of Bron's parents.
He was sorry about that, actually. Aelfric had always regretted the necessity of it. Deeply. But Tomas Wyn, that clever, clever Batman, had come close, so very close, to unmasking the JokerSon. Neither Self could allow that, could they? Surely, the JokerSon argued vehemently, even Aelfric could see the right of that. And so, the JokerSon had dealt with Tomas in his own, unique way, little caring for Aelfric's sadness in the matter.
And Aelfric *had* been sad; very sad. So sad that the JokerSon was not seen for many months after the death of Aelfric's late, lamented employer.
He wondered if killing Bron, when the time came, would make him as sad?
Turning firmly away from the HoloPuter, Aelfric moved with quick steps of his long legs to the kitchen.
Time to prepare Bron's breakfast. He'd be arising soon, rough night or not, and steady, loyal Aelfric *always* had breakfast waiting.
That was his nature.
And the JokerSon hated the Batman above all things. Hated and loved him at one and the same time.
That was *his* nature.
After the cooking was done, he stored the hand-prepared meal in the VitaField to preserve it and went to check on Bron. Aelfric slipped into the large bedroom with its lone, slumbering occupant and stood there silently for several minutes. He stared down at his sleeping charge with wide, knowing eyes.
It would be so easy. So very easy, wouldn't it? The sweep of a sharp knife across the column of a tanned, exposed throat, and the deed would be done. Accomplished.
Aelfric closed his eyes. Then he stared down once more at the trusting, sleeping man before him.
A son who was all too likely to kill him, if he weren't stopped.
Aelfric lay his hand on the knife at his belt and fingered the cold metal for long seconds, as if the sharpness was a lover's skin.
Not now. Not this way.
He was Aelfric, now. And here was Bron. The Batman was to be killed, not Bron. And it would be for the JokerSon to kill him, not Aelfric.
Trembling, the butler retreated swiftly, running down the twisting corridor to the safety of his own rooms. There he would be safe. There he would not be troubled by his lingering demons. He made it through his door, which hissed and double-locked behind him. His breath (or was it JokerSon's breath?) came heavy.
Aelfric sat before the dressing table with its large, old-fashioned mirror and stared at his own reflection. His breath still came in small, uneven pants as though he had run a far distance or lifted a great weight above his head.
Or, perhaps, done something a great deal nastier.
"Aelfric," he husked to no one save himself. "This is Aelfric! I AM AELFRIC!"
His hand reached out without conscious command and pulled the FaceMasker from its hidden space behind the left front drawer. His hands were steady, steady as the rock beneath his feet, as he lifted it to his thin, ascetic face and thumbed the activation stud.
Instantly, he felt it work its plastiflesh magic upon his body. Molding, sculpting his flesh to his desire. It lengthened the bones of his face and forehead. Dyes soaked into his skin, his hair, the whites of his eyes. His mouth stretched insanely and then stretched yet again into a hideous grin, a perverse mockery of a smile. With a soft "ping!", the device let him know that the deed was done. That he was once more transformed.
With one long finger he traced the length of a too-high cheekbone and smiled. His Second Self basked in the sight of yellow eyes, long green hair, and distorted carmine lips staring back at him from his mirror.
"There you are!" he cried in delight. "You handsome devil, you! You've been gone all too long. Where've you been?"
Maniacal laughter rang out, echoing eerily off the stone walls of the small room. He slapped a firm hand over his mouth, trying in vain to suppress a sibilant giggle.
"Mustn't wake up Batsy! He needs his beauty sleep!"
His hand touched the cold, reflective surface of the ancient silvered mirror. It lingered upon the reflection of the clown face, as if the chill and firmness of the glass were the true texture of the flesh which it showed him.
"Now you can do it, can't you?" he chortled with glee. "The JokerSon can definitely kill The Batman. Why, it 's practically traditional, isn't it? Traditional, I tell you! O frabjous day! Callooh! Callay!" Like lightning, the knife was in his hand, a natural extension of his body. He flipped it, caught it, balanced its point on the end of his forefinger. Yes.
"Oh, come to me my beamish Boy," he whispered, smiling. "Beware the SuperBird, and shun the frumious JokerSon! What are your uffish thoughts about *that*, I wonder? And is that a TumTum tree I see over there? Yes! But those toves don't look nearly slithy enough for me!" He grasped the knife in his right hand and drew the blade gently, lovingly, across the ring finger of his left hand until he drew blood.
"More slith," he commanded his legions of invisible, invincible henchmen in a stern voice. "More slith!"
He giggled softly into the shield of his protecting hand. What was leaking from it, after all, wouldn't clash with his lips.
But it was the wrong time. He knew that even as the blood flowed from his cut finger. The JokerSon wasn't through playing yet. The Batman was such a good toy, after all. And, like any good toy, The Batman deserved to strut and fret his hour upon the stage.
"I am but mad north by northwest!" he crowed, arms uplifted. "When the wind blows southerly *I* know a hawk from a handsaw! OOOO! You are sooo good! Shakespeare, yet! You literary maven, you!"
And so he must wait, after all. Very well. He could wait. He could be patient. The mad, he reminded himself, frequently were.
And if the JokerSon self wasn't mad, then nobody deserved to be.
He stared at himself for over an hour, watching with growing fascination as the plastiflesh slowly melted away from his features; as the JokerSon disappeared, inch by inch, molecule by flowing molecule.
In the end, he was left with only Aelfric with which to face his life and troubles. Aelfric, the First Self.
Aelfric, the loyal. Aelfric, the clever.
Aelfric, the damned.
From the journals of Katherine De Ka'an:
Oh Alan! What an extraordinary first night as The Superman you had. It makes me smile. And fear for the future, too. Did you know that your ancestor, Superman I, the first Superman, Founder of your Dynasty, once had a similar problem to cope with? Way back in the mists of the wilds of the 20th century? Yes, he did. It's true.
When I was a young girl I spent many long, pleasant hours immersed, enthralled, really, in the Kryptonian DataFiles of the Fortress of Solitude, so I know what I'm talking about. And I remember this particular case very well. It was such a shock, after all. Superman almost arrested? Great Rao! But it happened. It really did. I guess one of the many reasons that I remember the case so well is simply that it dealt with such an ordinary thing. Not a "supervillain" in sight. No menace on a global scale nor an extraterrestrial or extradimensional invasion of Earth. Oh, no.
Just a man and his wife.
A man who *beat* his wife.
And a wife who let him.
I remember being almost dizzy at the concept. How in the name of Rao could a woman, any woman, allow such a thing? My thirteen-year-old mind just didn't understand. I still don't, and I'm a lot older now, though it's debatable how much wiser I am. This would have been easy enough for the Superman to ignore, after all. It only involved one single, insignificant, unimportant person. Nothing Earthshaking at all.
But we El's don't think that way, I'm very proud to say. *No one* is
unimportant to us. No one.
With his superhearing, Superman must have detected the beating. The ragged, choking pleas through bruised and battered lips, the fear living at the heart of that feminine cry for help. And he answered them, of course. After all, he was *Superman*, Champion of Justice, Defender of the weak and helpless. How could he not? To ignore it as beneath his concern wasn't in his nature, apparently. Or yours, I guess.
But when the Police came, the woman's husband threatened to have Superman arrested for "breaking and entering".
And the woman just stood there. She didn't say a word. She refused to press charges against her abusive mate. Disgusted, the Police left and Superman had to leave, too. I looked it up; spent hours upon hours searching what was left of the MPD case files until I found what I was after.
I was so upset by the whole thing. It's amazing what can suddenly become important in the eyes of a thirteen year old, isn't it?
Eventually the woman, who's name was Andrea, found the courage to overcome her terror. She pressed charges and her husband was sent to prison for a time. She divorced him, found a new job as a waitress to support herself and her two children. She even remarried before long, to a much nicer man named Hal.
You have no idea how glad I was to find this small but (at least to me) terribly important happy ending. It wasn't very long after that I decided to become a Supergirl.
I'm not exactly sure what this new knowledge had to do with my decision, but I know that somehow it sped me on my way there. This, I believed, was what the Els were born for, what my Family was all about. And I wanted so very desperately to be a part of it.
I still do.
Please understand, my darling Alan. I *know* why Klar made the decision
he did. To protect The Family and shield us from human envy and wrath.
And yes, I suppose it was a good decision. For the good of the whole, sacrifices
must be made. I *know* that. Truly, I do. And I even accept it.
The price. Oh, the price of that safety! Is it too much? I don't know. Part of me wants to rebel, like Uncle George and his followers. Why can't there be more than one Superman? Why not half a hundred? A thousand? Just think of the good that we could all do! Think of it! Why, the mind fairly boggles. Even if that mind is Kryptonian.
Am I willing to give up my chance to be a Supergirl? To sacrifice that identity, outfitted in cape and blue-and-red costume, on the altar of Family good?
I do not know.
But Klar is right, isn't he? And as Moliom of his House, the decision is his to make, by right. And he's made it.
People would never accept us, he's got the right of that. Never. To reveal ourselves might be to destroy ourselves, or at least the public perception of ourselves, and we can't take that risk, can we?
Still, when I see the sadness and anger in Adam's blue eyes, I have to wonder and my heart aches for him.
Wouldn't it be wonderful if we could all three work together, openly; two Supermen and a Superwoman? Rao give me strength. That would be Heaven. To fly free with those I love ... And you and Adam are brothers. Why should this tragedy come between you? It's not right. It's not fair. It isn't! Not in the least. In fact, it's so far afield of "fair" that it makes me faintly nauseous just to think upon it.
Adam came to see me this evening.
He was so sad and trying so hard, so bravely, to conceal it. To pretend that all was business as usual. But he was angry, too. So very angry! He thought he hid it so very, very well, too, and I suppose that he did to any other eyes but mine.
Yet, I *know* Adam. I've seen him sad, I've seen him giddy with happiness,
I've even seen him depressed. Remember the Vertigo Incident? That was quite
a blow to his considerable pride, believe you me. It was a solid week before
I could help him lift himself up from the depths of his doldrums.
By now I suppose I must have seen Adam in the grip of every emotion a human can possess.
But I swear that I have never, ever seen him so very angry. It smoldered beneath his skin like molten rock bubbling beneath the crust of a planet. Roiling and threatening to erupt at any moment. (Rao keep me from using a uranium core as a metaphor. I simply won't do it.)
It frightened me, Alan. It did. And I'm not ashamed to say it.
He asked me to go with him. To stay the night and be with him. Oh, Rao forgive me! I didn't know what to say. I just didn't. I knew what I *wanted* to say well enough. Wanted to say with all my heart. Opened my mouth to speak. I swear I did. But ... I couldn't. My throat locked up and I was lost. I found that I could not force the words past my still, drawn lips. How could I tell him the truth? The truth that was shining in my heart?
I remembered all our times together, all the laughter and the tears; the good times and the bad that we survived. I remembered that once upon a time I *did* love him. I remembered the sound of his voice raised in passion and the sight of his face shining with ecstasy as he shared himself with me.
And I simply could not speak the words. Can you forgive me, Alan? I know that I'm having Sheol's own time forgiving myself.
How could I hurt him like that? Would he not see it as one more rejection? First, his father rejects him as the new Superman in favor of his younger brother. So humiliating for a man as proud as Adam. And, then, I reject him as a lover in favor of you as well, Alan. How much rejection can one man be expected to take, I wonder? Before he strikes back?
No, I couldn't tell him. I hesitated.
But he must have seen the truth in my eyes. Adam's face didn't crumple or fall. Nothing so obvious. He stood completely still, not moving a single visible muscle. His face was like an emptied cup. Then he even smiled at me. At least he smiled with his lips. But there was no life or merriment in that smile and it never reached nor warmed his blue eyes any more than a starship's exhaust heats the absolute cold of space.
Adam drew himself up proudly. It was as if he didn't move carefully, he might shatter the skillfully prepared shields covering the depths of his eyes, revealing the pain lurking just behind the place where all the secrets were hid.
"Never mind, Kath -", he said.
He meant to call me Kathish. I know he did. But the endearment died a horrible death on his lips, like a child sacrificed in the hands of Moloch. (Rao! I hate my metaphors, and yet...that was the way I saw it! Damn my reading of Earth's history!)
"Never mind, Katherine," he amended softly. "Your silence is answer enough."
And then, he was gone. Vanished at superspeed like a phantom. Perhaps, I think, to remind me that Alan was not the only one in the House of El who was heir to vast power.
I didn't let myself cry. Not for Adam, not for you, not even for myself. I sat dry-eyed for a very long time, listening to the whisper of passing time and my own confusion.
And then I flew off; away from Adam, away from all my problems, and went in desperate search of you.
I liked your clever solution to the problem of the newscams. It made me smile and, Rao knows, I needed something to smile about then. After all, they were only doing their jobs, weren't they? The newsies are paid to gather and report what's happening to the public. I suppose as Klar Kent's son you must know all about that and what it means. Klar is still one of the best newsmen in the System. And *you* my darling, are most definitely news.
Especially your first night on the job. It'll take time, but once they get used to their new Superman, once they start taking you for granted as they inevitably will, things will ease up for you. They'll hound you less fervently. You'll be yesterday's news, then, or at least not as big as you were. Back during the cynical days of the 20th when news was almost solely delivered in the form of writing on paper, they used to say that yesterday's news was old news; the kind they wrap fish in. Well, they don't wrap fish in old newsprint anymore, but the basic sentiment holds as true as ever, I fear. The public is as jaded, as fickle as ever.
Still, I'm very glad things went so well for you on your first Patrol, my dearest. A good sign, yes? I need to believe that. Right now, I'll clutch at anything, no matter how foolish or superstitious. It's either that or scream.
Is Supergirl allowed to scream, I wonder?
Probably not. At least, not in public.
We have a long hard road ahead of us. That goes without saying. But together we can walk that road with gladness. Together. Always together. But, as I think about the future, I can't help but wonder.
Will we be allowed to walk down that road?
Things are happening so fast, Alan. George is up to something, I know. I can feel it. Call it woman's intuition, or latent psychic tendencies from all those mutant genes cascading into the El family tree during the 21st. Call it whatever you like. But it's real. George was overruled by his brother Klar, but he's not going to accept it. That's not his nature. And so many, so very, very many are beginning to listen to him when he speaks in favor of unmasking, now. They want to believe him; want to believe that he's right about humans. That they will accept us, embrace us as brothers, as their protectors. They *need* to believe him. And so they do.
And, Rao help us, I think Adam may be one of those who believe.
Oh Alan, Alan.
I'm afraid. Afraid for us and for the future. A strange thing for a Supergirl to admit, isn't it?
Alan, I need you; need you to be with me and hold me. And that's *not* a strange thing for Supergirl to admit.
Not a strange thing at all.
From Lyra Kent's notebook:
...I've never tried to write a haiku before. Not sure that I can. It's an exacting, disciplined art form. Almost forgotten these days, except in some parts of Japan. And haiku are usually written about nature, not people. But for the poem I have in mind, to capture Klar at this moment in time, the form is perfect and the poet in me recognizes that. Now, if only my skills are up to the task ...
Cares of all the world
linger in his eyes and stain
glad reflections there
Whew! That wasn't so bad, was it?
But why do I only recall another line of poetry at this time? The one about the moving finger which, having writ, moves on, and that neither piety, wit, nor tears can lure it back or cancel out half a line?
A finger more powerful than all the Kryptonians that have ever been or ever will be...