The Day After You Saved the Multiverse
Characters in this story are property of DC Comics, Inc. No money is being made by this story, no infringement is intended.
It was night when the space-warp opened at the Kent estate in New England. It was a glowing thing, emitting a whitish light on the opening end of it. If you went behind that expanding circle, you would have seen nothing at all. A space warp may have two sides, but the other one is in another universe or another sector of space. The other side of this warp was on New Genesis.
It was a fairly efficient means of travel across millions of miles of space, and it didn’t cost a dime.
Two blue-clad figures, a teenaged boy and a woman, popped out of it. The lights were on in the house. Kal judged that was a good thing.
He stood there in the red, blue, and yellow costume of Superboy. It was an identity he had adopted for less than two months. The suit he had seen enough times in the comics, movies, and TV shows to think of as almost generic. But when you wore it, or you saw it on somebody else, as he had recently, it became something much greater. A uniform of honor, that only one man per universe could wear. He wasn’t sure he wanted to investigate that thought too thoroughly.
The woman beside him was lovely, blonde, and dressed in a red helmet, a blue suit that bared her legs, and greyish knee boots. At one time, she had been the helpmate of the Monitor. He had given her the powers she wielded, including duplication of bodies, energy-blasting, space-warping, and the like. Lyla had been his forward agent in his dealings, so the Monitor called her Harbinger. She had been instrumental in coordinating activities in the Crisis on Infinite Earths and the Apokolips War, which had just ended. And now she had brought him home.
“Will you need any help, Superboy?” asked Harbinger.
He sighed and shook his head. “No. Thanks, but no. I’m tired and I just wanna go to bed. I appreciate the ride, though. Is there any chance you’ll be back this way sometime?”
“There’s always a chance,” Harbinger said. “But for now, I must return to Earth-One. Quark, Kell, Alex and I have much to do in the wake of the war. Good luck, Kal-El.”
“Thank you,” said Superboy, and watched the lovely woman reenter her warp and close it after her. There went the last of his ties to the Apokolips War. He felt a letdown. What was life going to be like here, after all he’d gone through there?
Right now he was aching in a large number of places and tired in all the rest, and then some. If this was what super-heroes went through in the comic books, it was a wonder they could function once a month. All in all, he’d settle for just an annual.
The Boy of Steel (and how odd it seemed to him, even today, that he bore that name) turned and trudged towards the house he lived in. There wasn’t anybody else who could see him, and he didn’t really feel like doing super-speed tonight, anyway. When he got to the door, he banged the knocker a couple of times and waited. His breath came smoky in the cold New England night.
The door opened. Jerome Kent, bespectacled and bathrobed over his pajamas, looked out. “Clark,” he said.
“Hi, Dad,” said Superboy. “Wanna let me in?”
“Why, of course, son,” said Jerome, moving aside. “But...my God, you’ve been beaten.”
“Yeah, well,” said Clark, “it happens when you’re saving the Multiverse.” He moved inside, and started for his upstairs room.
“Son,” said Jerome. “I want an explanation. And I want to talk about your attitude.”
Superboy, on the stairs, turned towards his father. He looked tired in more than body. Even beyond that, Jerome thought he looked older in the eyes, as if he’d been given a crash course in what lie ahead in life, all too early.
“Dad, can it wait till the morning? I really have to crash. You can chew me out then.”
“All right, son,” said Jerome. “All right. But it won’t be a chewing. Not as much as a talk.”
And Superboy went to bed.
He was awakened by a rap on his door. “Breakfast is ready,” said Naomi Kent’s voice. “And you and we have some talking to do, young man.”
“Uhm,” he acknowledged. “I’ll be down in a bit, Mom.”
“You get five minutes. That’s all.” She sounded about as pleased as General Patton must have been when Eisenhower gave him a memo about slapping a soldier.
Clark had gone to bed in the bottom half of his Superboy suit, minus the boots. He took stock. At least he wasn’t as tired as he’d been when he got in last night. He still felt the bruises he’d picked up in the various fights on Apokolips
(Apokolips. Not just an image in a Jack Kirby comic, but the real thing. With Darkseid, Kalibak, and all the rest of those characters.)
and wondered how many of them showed. Clark checked himself out in a small mirror on his cluttered desk and saw the scattered patches of color on his body and face. There weren’t too many on the latter area, but one was visible on his cheekbone and his left eye still looked bloodshot where he’d taken a blow from Jax-Ur. No question about it, those Zoners could hit hard.
Without a word, Clark went to his sink, splashed soap and water on his face and underarms, took a washrag to himself, and then shucked his Superboy pants in favor of underwear, sweats, and slippers. He took a comb to his hair and was certain to make sure the spitcurl didn’t hang over his forehead. There was no sense in waving a red flag in front of Mom.
Then he opened the door and went down to breakfast.
Naomi Kent, in her nightdress and robe, had fixed oatmeal for them. His favorite breakfast was pancakes, so he guessed this was a form of punishment. Jerome Kent was buried in a Peter Straub novel, or pretending to be. Clark took his seat before he said, “Morning, Mom.”
She gave him a look. “We’re both very glad to have you back, Clark. But we have a lot to talk about after breakfast.”
“Yeah,” he said. “I imagine we do.”
“I don’t want the least bit of attitude out of you when we do it, either, young man.”
‘Oh, cripes.” Clark buried his head in his hands.
“I said ‘cripes’, Mom. Didn’t take the Lord’s name in vain. Please, could we just, I don’t know, kind of eat? Jeez, I thought when I got back you’d want to know how it went, what I did, how I...made out.”
Jerome put his book down. “That’s exactly what we do want to know, son. But we want you to know something else. One, you are a member of this family, whether you are a...Superboy...or not. Two, your mother and I are still in a position of authority here, and if you don’t like that, you can move out.”
“You know I’m not going to do that, Dad.”
“I didn’t expect you would,” said Jerome. “But I am not going to play Pa Kent for you, Clark. Regardless of what you have experienced, we are not playing parts in a comic book.”
Clark dug into his oatmeal to prevent himself from having to reply. After a couple of seconds, Jerome did the same. Naomi sat down with the air of a prosecuting attorney sizing up a defendant, which was the exact opposite of the part she played in a courtroom, and had at her own dish. When Clark asked for seconds, she said, “No. We have to talk first.”
“Okay,” he said.
“Wait till your father and I are finished.”
After Naomi had gathered up the three empty plates and put them in the sink, she sat down on the side of the table between the two others and said, “Now. We will talk.”
Clark rested both arms on the table before him, clasped his hands, and gave her what he hoped was a neutral expression.
“You charged off after those women from that other world without even asking permission,” she began.
“Yes, ma’am,” acknowledged Clark, “I did.”
“You risked your very life out there, Clark. I know it.”
“Yes, ma’am. I did that, as well.”
“And did you ever bother to think once about what your father and I were going through while you did that, Clark? Did you ever once think about us?”
“Yes, ma’am. I thought about you quite a lot. And I wondered what I was going to say to you when I came back. I’m still wondering.”
“Well, you’d better wonder, young man,” said Jerome Kent. “You’d blamed well better wonder, because I had to spend nights up consoling your mother when she was crying her eyes out. She was worried that those three women were going to bring you home in a pine box. If they brought you home at all. And Clark...so was I.”
“I’m sorry, Dad. But I did what I thought I had to do. As it turned out, I was right.”
“Oh,” said Naomi, turning a fierce look at him. “It was right. Just a day after you’d shown us that you were Superboy, that we learned you were a boy from another planet, with powers and strength and speed and all that stuff, and three girls straight out of a stupid comic book come and, and lure you away...”
“Now, wait a minute, mom. It was not like that. I didn’t have the hots for, excuse me, I wasn’t chasing after those girls at all. It wasn’t like that, I swear.”
“That’s not the point, Clark,” said Jerome.
“The point. Oh, yes, the point,” said Naomi. “The point is, your father and I spent over a week in hell, wondering where the hell you were. You didn’t send us any messages, we didn’t know where you were, we knew nothing.”
“Mom, I couldn’t,” said Clark. “There’s no way I know of getting messages across dimensions other than going through them yourself. And we were busy.”
“Busy,” echoed Jerome Kent.
“Yes, Dad, busy. Busy saving five whole universes, six counting this one, from Darkseid.” It sounded ludicrous as he said it. But there was nothing else he knew to say.
“Oh. Darkseid,” said Naomi. “Another comic book character we didn’t know we needed saving from, before two weeks ago. Another idiot who could have been taken care of by the other idiots in those other worlds. You didn’t have to go, Clark. But you went, and you didn’t ask. You just left. What if your father and I just left, Clark? Where would you be then?”
He didn’t answer.
“Clark, this cannot go on,” said Naomi. “We cannot permit you to go on risking your life as this...this Superboy. From now on, you are to...”
“Mom.” Clark stood up, pushing the chair back. “I’m sorry. But there’s no way you can keep me from it.”
“Clark!” Jerome Kent’s voice held real warning. “Don’t speak that way to your mother. Or to me.”
“Sorry, Dad, but my decision is made and you’re both going to have to live with it.” He looked at both his foster parents, who gazed at him as though they’d both been poleaxed. “I have been given these powers. I have to assume that I was given them for a purpose. I have used them, and I have used them well. I’ve helped people. I’ve caught criminals. In the last week or two, I’ve helped save five whole universes, six counting this one. If I hadn’t pitched in and done what I did, don’t kid yourself...you and everybody here would have been Darkseid zombies. He was after a thing called the Anti-Life Equation. That would have enslaved everyone in the universes he had access to. And he knew about this one.
“You want to know where I got these bruises? I got them fighting a bunch of villains from Krypton. They were from a place called the Phantom Zone. Remember reading about that in the comic books, Dad? Well, over there, they really exist. It was about 20 of them against me, and Superman, and Supergirl, and Dev-Em, and a bunch of the New Gods and some other heroes. We won. It was tough, but we won. I’d never been in a fight like that, but I made it through. Afterward, Superman told me I did real good. And you know what? I was proud.
“Later on, I had to help Supergirl and Power Girl fight the Galactic Golem. That was just about as tough, but we won that one, too. Then I had to take a message to Highfather, the leader of New Genesis, across a battlefield. I got tagged by a thunderbolt, right in the back, and it hurt. But I delivered it. Thanks to that, we won the war.
“But that wasn’t all. I joined Superman and a bunch of other guys when we made a final assault on Darkseid. He hit us with the Anti-Life Equation, and then the Omega Effect. I’m sorry, Mom, you probably don’t understand these concepts yet, and I don’t have time to explain them to you. Just let me say that I managed to make it through, thanks to some help from Highfather and his daughter, plus Supergirl and the rest of the crew.
“Once it was all done, I went to a ceremony with the rest. Highfather gave us all medals for our work in the war. I’ve got mine upstairs. I can show it to you afterward.
“I don’t expect you to understand everything. Heck, I went through it and I’m not sure how much I understand. But I do understand this, because you taught it to me.
“Every one of us has a duty. You taught me that whatever powers and abilities we have, have to be used in the service of the common good. That’s why you’re an archaeologist, Dad, trying to find out what the past was really like and what it can teach us. That’s why you’re a lawyer, Mom, with all those cases you take on for people, including the pro bono ones. That’s why I’m going to be whatever I turn out to be.
“And that’s why I’m Superboy, right now.”
“Clark,” said Jerome, in a tone much more respectful than he had used earlier.
“Dad, I’m not quite finished,” said Clark. “I’ve been shown my potential. I have to live up to it. Do you remember telling me about my uncle Louie? The one who went to Vietnam, and never came back? You told me he was a CO. That it was near the end of the war, and if he’d been born a year or two later, he wouldn’t have even gotten a draft notice. He probably could have gone to Canada or something, and he wouldn’t have even had to go. But he did, because he saw it as his duty. He got shot at by a sniper, doing medical duty. And he died.
“Like it or not, I’ve got a duty. What I’ve seen in the past couple of weeks made me realize that I have to fulfill it. It’s even greater than I thought it would be. And like it or not, I’m going to do it. You can kick me out of the house. That’d hurt me. A lot. But I can’t stop being Superboy. And I won’t.
“That’s about it. I’m finished.”
Naomi Kent sighed, her head in her hands. “You’re finishing us, Clark. Don’t you realize that when you get hurt, we get hurt as well? It may be from a distance, but we feel it. When your son feels pain, you feel pain second hand.”
Clark did something he didn’t know he could, up to that point. He looked his mother in the eye, very steadily, and said, “Well, then, Mom, I guess we’re both going to have to get used to it.”
A second later, he said, “I’m going out. See you both later.”
After the door shut behind him, Jerome Kent said, “Well, that went about as well as a fire extinguisher in Hell.”
Naomi looked at the table. “Why is he doing this, Jerome? Why can’t we...can’t we control the situation? For cripes’ sake, we’re the parents here. He is our foster son.”
Slowly, Jerome said, “Yes. But every son, every daughter, starts breaking the cord to the family sooner or later. It’s our job to make sure he doesn’t break it too soon, too completely, or in the wrong way. Nonetheless, Nay...I think our boy’s started to break it.”
“And there’s nothing we can do about it?”
“Oh, there’s certainly something we can do about it. We just have to do it in the right way, Nay. In the right way.”
“And what if he doesn’t accept it?”
“Make your own answer, Naomi. Because I’m not sure I’m up to making one myself.”
Clark walked into town, headed up Algonquin Street to a certain address, and rapped on the door. A maid poked her head out of the door. “Ayuh? Oh, it’s you, Mr. Clark.”
“Hi, Julia. Is Laurie around?”
“Sure is. I’ll tell her you’re here.” She vanished and, a minute later, was replaced by Laurie Lemmon. Laurie, a brown-haired beauty, was wearing a robe and nightgown and was standing barefoot on the carpet.
“Clark,” she said. “Where’ve you been for the past week?”
“‘Lo, Laurie,” he said. “I’ve been away. Now I’m back. Wanna go for a walk?”
“You need one?”
“All right. Let me get dressed. Come on in.” She moved back from the door and Clark came in. While she went to change, Julia served him some Yuban with two sugars. He was glad the Mr. and Mrs. were at work.
The girl returned, in a yellow shirt, blue jeans, and running shoes. “Ready if you are,” she said.
Profound, thought Clark, but he wasn’t up to heavy dialogue himself. Yet. “Definitely, Laur.” He took her hand and led her out the door, saying, “We’ll be back” to Julia in his best Schwartzenegger. It wasn’t likely to make Rich Little envious.
After the door was shut behind them and they were on their way down the street, Laurie voiced her critical examination. “Looks like you got in a fight,” she said.
“I did,” Clark said.
“Was it bad?”
“Yeah, in spades. Sorry about that.”
“Want to tell me about it?”
“Oh, I got jumped by a whole click of guys while I was out with some friends. We won, but it was tough. I don’t care to do that on a regular basis.”
“I should hope not. Clark, you’ve stayed out of trouble for as long as I’ve known you. How’d this happen?”
“Wasn’t my fault. They just happened to be there.”
“Don’t go there again.”
“Don’t intend to. Laurie, can we talk?”
“Well, I thought that was what we were doing.”
“It is.” He squeezed her hand, gently. “Let’s go down to Sullivan Park, okay?”
“Suits me,” she said. “Don’t you want to hear how I did on my art project?”
“I do, yeah.”
“Took second place in it. Not bad for all the effort I put into it. Toni got first place, but that was just because she had that computer animation her uncle helped her with.”
“I saw your entry,” said Clark. “Nice use of space and color. Pretty abstract, but you nailed it down with the photo background. I thought it was good.”
“Thank you.” She hesitated. “Clark, you missed some days of school.”
“It was unavoidable,” he said.
“You can’t tell me about it?”
“It was personal, Laurie. Really, really personal.”
How in the heck did Kal handle these things on Earth-1? Clark knew he wasn’t a good liar. In the comic books, Superman always had a great excuse for his absences, or some elaborate scheme to throw everybody off the track. That just wasn’t him.
At least, not right now.
“You’re keeping secrets from me,” Laurie observed.
“I’m sorry, Laur,” he said. The park was only two blocks away.
“Clark, did this have anything to do with drugs?”
“Definitely not, and that is the truth. Never took anything, never going to take anything.” He looked her straight in the eye. “I’m not into anything bad, Laurie.”
“Then why can’t you tell me?”
“Because I promised not to.”
“Oh.” She reflected. “Clark. Were you getting somebody else out of trouble?”
“Yeah,” he said.
“It sure was.”
“Answer me truthfully, Clark. Could you have gotten killed?”
“Truthfully, Laurie? Yes, I could have.”
She couldn’t hide her shudder. “I think you’re scaring me, Clark.”
“I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to.”
“Whoever that person is you were getting out of trouble, I hope you never get them out of trouble again.”
“They helped me out, too,” he said. “I owed them one.”
“You can’t just go ahead and tell me?”
“That makes me sad, Clark.”
“Makes me even sadder, Laurie. I’d like to tell you, but I can’t.”
“So what did you want to talk about?” The park was before them. A couple of kids were playing on the merry-go-round. Clark led them towards an empty picnic table.
“My folks,” he said. “I think I’m on the outs with them.”
“We had a talk about it today.”
“About the thing you can’t tell me about?”
“So how do you expect me to help you out, if you won’t tell me what it is?” She looked at him, directly.
Sitting across from her, Clark entwined his fingers with hers. “Just by being here, Laurie. Just by being a friend.”
“Sounds like you could use one,” she said, rubbing her thumb over the edge of his hand. “But not the kind like you’ve just been with.”
“I’m not getting kicked out of the house or anything,” he said. “It’s just...damn it, Laurie, I’m doing something they don’t approve of. But it’s something I’ve got to do.”
“No. No way.”
“Are you working with the cops, Clark?”
He considered his response. “I’m not at liberty to say, Laurie.”
She drew a deep breath. “You’re into some very dangerous territory, if you are,” she said. She drew her hand back and placed it in her lap.
Clark rubbed a hand across his face. “Laurie, I can’t say a heck of a lot more than that. I’m not usually in any danger. This last time...well, all of us involved fought our way out. But we made it.”
“What if you hadn’t?”
“Well, then, I might never have come home to play the violin again.”
“You think this is something to joke about?” She gave him a serious look. “You’re gone for a week, you miss classes, you come home beaten up, you imply that you’re working with the police, and then you make jokes about it? I don’t think it’s funny, Clark.”
“I don’t think so, either, Laurie.”
“I need to know more. Or I’m going home.”
“Please, Laurie. Stay. I’m telling you as much as I can.”
“What if it’d been me, Clark? What if I was out with another guy?”
“I never said you couldn’t date around, Laurie.”
“What if I’d come home beaten up, and wouldn’t tell you about it?”
“I would’ve figured out what happened. I’d ‘ve taken care of it.”
“Oh? Maybe like you took care of what happened to you last week?”
She stood up. “I’m going home, Clark.”
“I’m going home.” She started to walk away.
“Laurie,” he said, again, and followed. What the heck would Superman do in a case like this.
“If you want to follow me, Clark, you’d better give with more details than you have,” she said, looking away from him.
He sighed. “What if I told you I had three visitors last week?”
“Keep going,” she said, still walking.
“What if I told you I found out who my real parents were?”
She stopped. “Okay.”
“You want to come back so I can tell you more?”
Laurie turned around. “I’ve always liked the swings, Clark.”
“All right,” he said.
So, while they sat and swung in two vacant swings, Clark told her what he could: that three people, one of them a distant relative, had come to him with news of his real parents. He couldn’t reveal to her who they were or what they were, but he did say that his week-long journey had been in conjunction with them. Laurie asked flatly if they were in the Mob. He told her no. When she asked if they were in something like the CIA, Clark only said that they were from another land, and let it go at that.
Laurie finally halted her swing’s motion. “So you weren’t just helping friends. You were helping family.”
“Yeah, I was,” he said. “And I’m glad I did.”
“You’re sure it isn’t Mob? You don’t look Italian, anyway, Clark.”
“I’m not, cara mia.” He smiled. “Nope, my family is not involved with the Mob.”
“But going off with them put you on the outs with your real folks.”
“Kinda, yeah. Definitely, yeah.”
She started to say something. She was interrupted by the onset of a fire siren.
Both of them looked around. In a few seconds, a firetruck came barrelling down the street, cars pulling to the side before it. Laurie shot a glance at Clark. He seemed tense, as if he’d never seen that kind of big red vehicle before.
“Laurie,” he said. “Can you trust me on something?”
“I’ll try, Clark.”
“I’m going to take you to the McDonald’s over there. I want you to get yourself something and wait for me. I’ll be back as quick as I can. Can you do that for me, Laur?”
“What is this, Clark?”
“It’s important. Can you do this for me?”’
She sighed. “When will I get to know what this is all about?”
“I don’t know. Give me an answer, Laur.”
“All right, all right, I’ll do it.” She got up. “Just when I thought we were making progress.”
“We are, honey,” he said. “We are.”
So it was that Laurie Lemmon occupied herself with a chicken salad while, as soon as Clark Kent was out of sight, Superboy emerged from an alley, streaked across the sky, landed at the site of a furniture store that was well in flames, shouldered his way past the smoke-eaters, pulled a couple of them, protesting, out of the store, and then sucked in a great breath and blew it out. The fire was extinguished, but he blew out the store windows and caused some property damage. Altogether, though, it was better off than if he’d let the place burn down, and none of the firemen had to suffer smoke inhalation as a result.
As soon as the bystanders across the street figured out what had gone down, they broke into applause. The fire chief took Superboy by the arm. “Nice job, kid,” he said.
“Thanks, chief,” responded the Boy of Steel.
“But next time, let us do our job,” he said. “Or figure out how to do yours better. That’s a nice trick, but if you busted things up less, it’d be better.”
“I’ll work on it. Now, I’ve got to go.” He crouched, launched himself upward, and was glad to hear somebody in the crowd below saying, “Look! Up in the sky!”
Not long afterward, Clark Kent entered the McDonald’s, ordered a Dr. Pepper and fries, and made his way to Laurie’s table. “About time,” she said.
“Thanks for waiting,” he said, sitting down before her.
“Why do you smell like smoke?”
“This Superboy kid cut himself in, sir,” said Norton Fellows. “Nobody expected it.”
“I see,” said the Boss. “I see.”
“Nonetheless, the operation was about 20 percent efficient.”
The Boss stood up, went over to Fellows, and slapped him.
“And 80 percent inefficient,” he said. “You think anybody’s going to be buying into a protection racket that can’t do any better than that? We deal in fear. If they can rely on this...this Superboy...no fear. No income. Do you see that, Fellows? Do you see?”
“I see, sir,” he said. “I see.”
The Boss went back behind his desk. “We need to take care of the kid.”
“Agreed, Boss, definitely agreed.”
“Think we could give him a piece of the action?”
“Kind of doubt it, Boss.”
“I do, too. Just floating an idea. We need somebody who can tell us how to take him out.”
“Like in the comic books, with Kryptonite?”
“Any way we can. Who’s the man we go to for something like that?”
“Only one guy smart enough that we’ve got access to,” said Fellows.
“Larson,” Fellows replied. “Alexander Larson. The Solution.”
The Boss considered it for a moment. “Get him,” he said.
Norman Fellows, rubbing his face, went off to do just that.