He tried to move his hand to throw off the bedcovers before he opened his eyes.
He could not.
He opened his eyes.
This was not his apartment.
This was a hospital bed.
There was something in his mouth. Something plastic and metal. He could not expel it.
His body had no power.
When he went to bed the night before, he might have moved the Earth out of orbit. Now he could not move his hand.
He wasn't sure that he could even feel it.
Something had happened to his body. His body. His body.
Who could have done this? What great villain among the many he had faced, in a lifetime of heroism?
He searched his memory, found that it was more sluggish than his norm, and guessed that he had lost his powers of super-recall as well. But what he did remember indicated that there was nothing unusual about last night. He had finished work at GBS, come home, had dinner, did a routine patrol, came home again, and went to bed.
A dream. Surely this had to be a dream.
But it did not feel like a dream. It felt all too real. The bed beneath his back, his labored breaths, the machine pumping away beside him, metal bands around his body...great Rao, what had become of him?
He shifted his eyes to take in the room around him. It was a room he had never seen before. The door opened. A strange woman came in.
"Morning, Chris," she said, holding a stack of mail. "How you feeling today?"
He attempted to speak. But making words appeared to be as difficult as fighting the pull of a neutron star. Nonetheless, he would do so, because speaking seemed to be one of the things possible to him, in this new body.
The woman looked at him strangely. "Chris, something wrong?"
With great labor, he spoke to her.
"Who are you? Who am I?"
The actor awoke. He felt nothing in his mouth. He snapped his eyes open.
"Dana," he called. "Dana."
The room. It was a strange room. Not his bedroom. Where was he? Was he still dreaming?
Without the tube in his mouth, without the breather, he could die. He took a panicky breath.
He let it out again, and breathed in again.
Again and again, he breathed. It would have been enough to make a normal man hyperventilate, the way he breathed. But he was breathing on his own again. Without the machine.
He turned his head. He was able to turn his head.
There was a clock radio on the nightstand by his bed and a picture of an elderly couple with a young, black-haired boy.
What had happened to his body?
Feeling flooded through him, sensation from all points of his person, from toes to forehead. It had been difficult feeling some things, before. Now...could he...
With a sweep of his arm, he threw the bedsheet off.
He could move. He COULD MOVE.
He stood, looked at himself, moved his hands tentatively down his pajama-clad chest to his legs. He stood on one leg, then the other.
He spoke. "Hello," he said. "Hello."
What had happened? Surely this was a dream. Unless...could there have been an operation? Could he have been cured, by some new procedure? Was he only now awakening from an amnesiac episode?
He looked at the picture of the couple and their child. No, he did not know these people. He was in someone else's body. Which meant that this, surely, was a dream.
But if he could move, then, certainly, it was a dream he wished to prolong.
The alarm on the nightstand clock went off. He looked at it for a moment, walked over (walked!), and reached out a hand to shut it off. He fumbled for the button, squeezed the thing in one hand.
It shattered into a million bits.
"My God," he said, aloud. "My God."
A spike of fear struck into his being. Surely, he had had dreams like this before...having played the role he did, it would have been impossible not to. But never one this precise, this tangible. He could even smell the air in the room, taste the saliva in his mouth. If this was this accurate a dream, then...
He turned around until he saw a closet.
Opening it, he saw the suits, the clothes that any moderately successful man would have in his wardrobe. But he was seeking something else. He placed his hand against the back wall of the closet. With a bit of pressure, it went through. He was sorry for that. After all, this was somebody else's bedroom, and he had no right to tear it up like that.
He felt something in the space beyond, something like knitted clothing.
With his other hand, he tore at the side of the hole until it was large enough for him to pull the object out. He held it in both hands, stared at it, turned it over again and again, held it against his body.
As he turned, he noticed a mirror in the room. He saw himself in the mirror. The reflection did not have his face.
But he recognized that the red, yellow, and blue costume he held against his body was something that the regular occupant of that body wore quite often. He had worn something very like it...but not the same.
And he had to say it aloud.
"Superman," he whispered. "My God. I'm Superman."
The woman before him looked at him with surprise and a bit of fear. "Chris. Did you have a bad dream, or something?"
He waited before forming words. He knew that each phrase would be a labor, so they had to be precisely formulated. If this woman was part of a plot against him, it would be prudent not to give too much of himself away.
But, holy sun of Krypton! In this body, he was a paralytic.
"Don't know," he said, with an effort. "Tell me."
She told him his name. Or at least the name she said he was. "You're my husband. You're an actor. You played Superman in the movies. Plus a lot of other things. You have a child, Chris. You really can't remember these things?"
"Am I. Greg Reed?" Gregory Reed was the actor who had most often played him in the movies. He had encounted Reed personally more than a few times.
"Reed? No, Chris." She sighed. "Look. This is your name." She came closer, held up a letter with a name on it. The name she had told him. His address. Not in Metropolis.
"How did. This happen?" He hoped his eyes were more expressive than his voice.
The woman pulled over a chair and sat down in it. "You really don't remember? You had an accident, Chris. While you were riding. A spinal injury. Chris, are you really amnesiac?"
Somebody else had been playing Superman. In what movies? Nobody got to play Superman in movies or on TV or the stage without his permission. Greg Reed was the most famous Superman impersonator, but there had been others. None with the name she had given him.
This had to be a plot of one of his enemies'. Luthor wasn't much active now. But he would be capable of it.
It might also be a hoax, perpetrated by some others. Mxyzptlk? Possibly. His magic could affect even Superman. Even his friends had sometimes gone all-out for a wool-pulling, like the Legion with their robot duplicates of Perry, Lois, and Jimmy, or the time Jimmy Olsen pulled that Silver Kryptonite fooferaw.
If it was the latter, all would be revealed in time. If the former, he was in a bad position.
Either way, he had to play for time.
"May I. See one. Of the movies?"
There was real fear in the woman's eyes now. "Sure, Chris. Which one? Somewhere In Time?"
"No. Superman. Movie."
"Be right back. Hang on."
She was gone, and took a while getting back. He figured she was calling a doctor. Or perhaps her co-conspirator. If she was really an enemy, she was one hell of an actress.
Perhaps she was, and Luthor had recruited her from the world of the theatre.
But if she was not...then how was it he was here?
One super-power left to him, it seemed, was self-control. He exercised this to its fullest extent till she returned.
Having seen the costume, the actor had to try it on. He had worn a facsimile. Similar in most details, not identical, but a close enough match. But the texture of the material, the feel of it, the substantiality... He stretched it. It seemed infinitely elastic between his hands, but snapped back into shape when he released the tension. If he was Superman...the real Superman...then was this material, also from Krypton, as invulnerable as...
There was nothing more to be done with it. Nerve connections, fully workable, sent miraculous messages to his muscles and tendons. Able to grasp, able to draw a garment on one's body. So simple to a normal human, yet, for these last few years...something to be prayed for, to be cried for, to keep in the back of one's mind as a might-be-but-you-better-not-hope-too-much.
He stripped out of his pajamas, pulled the shirt over his head, fitted it into place. He felt of the cape behind him, with both hands. Then he pulled up the pants, wondering about the belt, but it did not buckle or unbuckle and did not impede his pulling the pants waist-high. Finally, the boots. A strange plastic substance, probably no polymer invented on Earth. But, by the feel of them, as sturdy and durable as the rest of the outfit, and himself.
Could he walk on the sun with these boots, unharmed?
"No," he said, refusing to look in the mirror. "No, I can't...this is a dream."
But he turned towards the mirror and opened his eyes and the face that looked back at him was not his own. A black spitcurl bobbled over his forehead, as much a trademark as any part of the costume. As any of the powers.
He flashed on the slogan of the first movie. "You will believe a man can fly."
Yes, and so many millions who saw the thing did believe a man could fly. Even if it was just somebody on wires, held statically above a soundstage, or moved on a crane, or something. They knew what it was, knew of the trickery, yet they believed.
Because they all wanted to believe a man could fly.
Did he believe?
How would he do it, if he could? Simply say, "Body, fly", and be done with it? Was it a function of the muscles? Superman often, in the comics he had skimmed for research, crouched and leapt to take off.
He considered it. Then he thought about the ceiling above him, and realized that, dream or not, this was an apartment. Somebody was obviously living above him. It would not be a good thing to crash through their floor.
Superman had great strength. Superman had great speed. He would have to try and see if he had both or either of those powers.
He also recalled that Superman had other powers. X-ray vision, and heat vision, and half a dozen other visions. All from the comic books. All dreamed up by those idiots down at DC Comics, who really believed that such a thing was possible. Who bought into the myth so much, they tried to rationalize out every bit of it.
Only here, in this dream, it needed no rationalization.
He remembered one other thing, as well.
Superman had a secret identity.
With a start, he wondered if he had somehow betrayed it. But no, no one seemed to have heard a thing from him.
Clark Kent clothes. They were in the closet. He would have to put them on over the costume. That was the way such things were done. Even if they might be uncomfortable and hot. And were there glasses, like the ones he had worn in the movies?
There were. They were plain glass, and hard...harder than any glass he had ever handled. They, too, must be from Krypton.
He wondered what else was from Krypton, in this room. But he put that aside. He went to the closet, selected a white shirt, blue suit, and black shoes. He also went to a dresser in the room and found a pair of blue socks.
Not exactly a fashion plate. Not the kind of thing he liked to wear, or be seen in. But that was when he could walk, and such compromises were possibly the part of the dream.
One must dress as Clark Kent, so one would dress as Clark Kent. This was what was done.
It took some time to flip the spitcurl back in place, but he finally managed it. His hand was on the doorknob when he realized something:
He hadn't picked up a wallet or keys.
Even Superman would need such things, if he wanted to get back into his apartment without busting the lock, or to pay for a meal at lunch.
So he rummaged through the drawer until he found where Clark Kent had stashed such things, and transferred them to his pockets. He took a glance at the drivers liscence photo, and was glad that the police photogs had done their customary lousy job. They did it on everybody, including him.
Or what he dreamed was him?
Trying to suppress a shudder, the actor unlocked the door, went out into the hall of what was definitely an apartment house, not a movie studio, and locked it behind him. Two twin girls were coming down the hall, apparently to their own apartment. They both smiled and said, "Hi, Clark," an instant apart.
"Um, hello, ladies," he said, and hurried past them.
Behind him, one said, "Something wrong?"
He turned, smiled with his mouth, and said, "Everything's fine."
Then he turned back and went down the hall, hoping it was the right direction to the elevator.
Dana had popped a videocassette into the VCR and had turned on the big-screen TV in his room. Superman reflected that he really ought to get a set like that, when he got back to his body.
If he got back to his body.
"Thank you," he said. She gave him a funny look. Well, there was nothing to be done for it.
The movie began. First, a kid's hand turning pages of a phony Action Comics. Then a shot of the Daily Planet. But not quite right, all they got was a mockup of the Planet globe. Why didn't they just go to Metropolis and take a shot of the building?
Unless there was no Metropolis to go to. If he was on a world other than his Earth.
The credits rolled, under some stirring music. Despite his state of mind, he had to admit that the theme music was rousing, excellent. Dah-dah-dah-dah-dah, DAH-dah-dah... If it wasn't so much work, he'd hum along with it.
Marlon Brando. Gene Hackman. These guys were in a movie about him? Then the name of the actor whose...body...he wore. More names, more credits. It seemed to take an awfully long time.
Finally, a planet in space, orbiting a star. A voiceover. Brando's voice. Was this supposed to be Krypton? They got that wrong, too. All they had to do was consult one of the maps he had drawn, or one of the globes he had constructed. There was even a globe of Krypton in the Smithsonian, Rao-help-us...
Except this was probably not his Earth. So there would be no Krypton globe. How the hell did they know Superman, if there was no Superman on this Earth?
There was Brando, in an all-white outfit, making a speech. He mentioned the planet Krypton. There were others in the room in which he spoke, all in white clothes. Superman realized, with a bit of displeasure, that this was their version of Jor-El speaking to the Science Council. But they got it all wrong. His father was not an old man at the time of the Destruction. He was black-haired, vital, and usually wore a green, red, and yellow suit. The "S" symbol on Brando's shirt? Were they trying to be cute?
Still, Brando gave a decent enough speech. But the Science Council members looked nothing like that, nor were their meetings with Jor-El anything quite like that.
He glanced at Dana. She was watching him with some concern. "Everything all right?" she asked.
"I'm fine," he said. Certainly. Paralyzed, breathing with the aid of a machine, not knowing anything about the person whose body he occupied, whom he was supposed to be...yes, he was the peak of perfection, all right.
Now, a scene of Jor-El's home, which looked nothing like that. A woman in a jumpsuit. With a baby. Oh, Sheol. Was that supposed to be Lara? His mother? She never wore anything like that, except maybe when she was an astronaut. And the baby...
That was supposed to be him. Kal-El.
He felt a wave of dissatisfied empathy. The filmmakers were trying. He had to give them credit for it. But the dissonance between his reality and that which was on the screen was giving him the vapors.
Still...it was as good as they could do. In a world without a Superman, they had to try and find an interpretation that worked in their movie. After all, it wasn't as though he had been a tech consultant.
He remembered the time that he went to the version of Earth that the Flash called Earth-Prime, along with some other Justice Leaguers. There were no super-heroes on that Earth, but they produced comic books about him, the Flash, and the rest of the heroes on his world. Flash said that their writers seemed to be mentally "tuned in" on their Earth. Of course, there were differences, based on interpretive ability and probably a glitch in transmission here and there, but he was surprised at how much the comic producers had gotten right.
Could he be on Earth-Prime?
If he was, he could have them contact Julius Schwartz, an editor at DC Comics in that world, and utilize the Cosmic Treadmill Flash had built there to take him back to Earth-One.
Except that he couldn't move.
"Holy sun. Of Krypton," he sighed.
Dana looked at him. "Why'd you say that, Chris? Sure, he came from Krypton, but did you really think he was a Christ figure?"
"No," he said, with effort. "Sun. Star. On Krypton. Some saw. As God symbol."
"Was that in the comic books?"
Speaking as much as he did tired him. The machine inflated, deflated his lungs.
"Yes," he said. "In comic. Books."
He turned his eyes back to the screen. Brando was placing the baby in a crystalline half-globe. This was supposed to be his spaceship? Had they done any research at all?
But still...when he heard the man speaking, when he realized what scene was being enacted, even despite the inaccuracies, a wave of emotion hit him, as it always did when he remembered that time.
Mother, father, don't leave me...
Dana saw him. "Chris. I'm turning this off."
"No," he said, as emphatically as he could. "Keep it. On."
Getting on the elevator was a triumph. Being jostled by half a dozen passengers was a triumph. Walking down Clinton Street, feeling the pavement beneath his feet, saying hello to people who called him Clark (Clark!), stepping around and within the herd that made a living wall of the sidewalk, this was a triumph indeed.
He walked around the block, twice. The doorman gave him a funny look. He just smiled.
It was one of the happiest days of his life.
He wanted to throw up his arms, to shout, to see if he could turn handsprings. And he could, if he had the space, if he dared. But Superman had a secret identity. Not secret at all to the people of the actor's world; everybody who knew about Superman knew that he was Clark Kent. Here, however, it was a Deep Dark Secret. It would not be good for the people around him, or himself, for the secret to be revealed.
Not like his own world...
Will, his son by her. Matthew and Alexandra, his other children.
The actor stopped, dead still, and got jostled in the back by somebody behind him. "‘Scuse it, buddy," said the guy who had bumped him.
"Quite all right," he said, and stepped into a doorway. He stared out at the passing crowd with blank eyes.
His family. How could he abandon his family?
Well, technically, he had not abandoned them. He had been kidnapped--make that bodynapped--into the corpus of the Man of Steel. But his wife, his children...they had been his life, even before the accident.
How could exchanging them for a mobile, Kryptonian body be a fair trade?
The actor looked up at the sky between the tall buildings of Clinton Street. "Whoever you are, however you've done this," he muttered, "it's not fair. It's not right. I want my family. Now."
But there was no response. He stood and waited till a lady opened the door from behind and dislodged him.
He walked over to the apartment building he had just left, nodding to the doorman. "Mister Kent," said the doorman, "ain't you goin' to work today?"
"Yeah," said Frank. "Work." He paused, then looked closely at the actor. "Mister Kent, are you feelin' all right today?"
He felt like taking his glasses off and massaging the bridge of his nose. But letting somebody see you without glasses, and letting them know you looked Just Like Superman...no.
"I'm fine," he said. "Just a little under the weather, I guess." He smiled. "Guess I'd better get back to the Daily Planet."
"Didn't think you worked for ‘em that much anymore," said Frank. "Ain't you doin' the evening news no more?"
He stopped, dead still. Of course. He was still thinking movie, not comic books. If this reality reflected the comic book Superman's world, Clark Kent was a TV newscaster, not just a newsprint reporter. Even he knew that.
"Right," said the actor. "Talk to you later."
He turned, not wanting to look at the doorman anymore, and scanned the street for a yellow cab. He squinted, sighted one coming in the right direction, and stepped to the curb with his arm upraised to hail it.
It was only a few minutes later, when the cab arrived, that he realized the hack had been six blocks away when he saw it.
Telescopic vision. Just like in the comic books. He hadn't even known he was using it.
"Where to?" asked the cabbie, an Indian immigrant who was developing a Metro accent.
The actor hesitated, then said, "The Daily Planet. Do you know where that is?"
"Shoo," said the driver, pulling away from the curb.
He settled back into the seat and interlaced his fingers. The only Daily Planet he knew of was populated by Jackie, Margot, and a horde of extras. It was a safe bet that the real Perry White, Lois Lane, Jimmy Olsen, and company didn't look a thing like them.
He just hoped someone up there could tell him what he was supposed to do.
The movie had ended.
There was so much that they'd gotten wrong. So incredibly much. General Zod had been given the role that Jax-Ur played among the real Phantom Zoners. Ursa was a poor man's version, apparently, of Faora Hu-Ul. As for the strongman Non, no counterpart existed for him among the prominent Zoners.
Lex Luthor was played more as a clown than as the serious threat he'd proven himself to be, time and again, since the days of Superboy. As far as Superman knew, Lex had never had a mistress before Wanda Nordo. Nor did he normally associate with losers or softies such as Eve and Otis. A man who could invent robots, spaceships, and super-weapons had no need of them.
He also wouldn't have been so easily suckered by Kryptonite.
Nor could he have turned the world backwards by flying around it in a counterorbital direction. Even if he could turn it in such a way (theoretically, he supposed his old body could have, by sheer muscle power), it wouldn't have reversed time, and it would have destroyed the Earth.
If he had wanted to change history, he would have taken a trip back in time himself, by spinning himself at hyperlight speed. Except that he knew he couldn't change history. If Lois had died because of his negligence, she would have stayed dead.
But even he was caught up in the impact of the movie-Superman's grief at that moment, his shout of denial, his defiance of his father's image, and his valiance at doing whatever he could to resurrect Lois. If he had been in such a situation, and if he had the power to diverge the timestream, he admitted he would have done so, too.
Worse yet was the implication that only three danger spots were created by the California quake activity Luthor had created. In reality, many more people would have been endangered by fault line quakes, and even he wouldn't have been able to save them all. He could have done more than just damming a river and pushing up a bus, though.
In the movie, Clark Kent hadn't even attended college. And Perry White had given him a job? If he'd tried that without his journalism degree, Perry would have put his application in File 13 and that would have ended it.
The girl who played Lois tried to do a decent job, and was amusing, in her way, but that wasn't the Lois he knew. Jimmy, though, had been a little like the gosh-wow kid of the movie in his early days. Now he was tougher, smarter, a lot more capable customer, and often able to handle himself in danger without calling on Superman. The real Perry was gruffer than Jackie Cooper's version, even though he liked the portrayal.
The best part of the show, in his viewpoint, was the section dealing with Clark Kent's teenage years. Sure, it wasn't accurate. Jonathan Kent had sold the farm and bought a general store in Smallville shortly before Clark started school. But still, the small-town ambience, the pastoral scenery, the girl who played Lana--no more accurate than anything else, but it was nice to see her portrayed--and the attempt to show what growing up with super-powers, and having to conceal them, did to young Clark's psyche resonated mightily with Superman. It hadn't been like that, but it was close enough.
The death scene with Jonathan Kent had hit him like a wrecking ball of Krypton metal. Sure, the real Pa Kent hadn't died like that. He had passed on with his wife, of a tropical disease, in Clark's senior year of high school. But just seeing Pa grab his arm and fall, and then seeing young Clark with his mother at the funeral, lamenting that, even with all his powers, he couldn't save him
(And with all your powers, you couldn't save either of them, could you?)
brought new tears to Superman's eyes. The rest was so much fantasy...a shard of Kryptonian computer generating the Fortress of Solitude in the Arctic? Sheol, he'd had to build that with his bare hands...but he had to admit that Jeff East, whose name he had picked up in the credits, was the best actor of the entire bunch.
Then, finally, he'd gotten to see himself. Or, at least, his body, on screen.
The first instance was in the "first flight" sequence, where the computer programmed with "Jor-El's" likeness bid him goodbye. Initially, he had scoffed. If "Krypton's" dress was so monochromatic, white with some black for effect, how in the name of Mother Moon would he have been outfitted with a costume of blue, yellow, and red? But he had to admit that, from a distance, the actor looked the part. Not a duplicate, by a long sight. But a reasonable substitute.
Then a cut to the Daily Planet, and he'd had a chance to see him as Clark Kent. Well, he did a decent job at that. He couldn't tell how well he'd played Caspar Milquetoast in the past. It was a pose that started in late grade school, not long after he'd started appearing as Superboy. Dad Kent had told him to act as somebody who was physically on the weak side, nonagressive, the kind of fellow nobody was supposed to believe could be the Boy of Steel. Because, after all, anybody who knew Clark beyond one-time acquaintance knew he looked a lot like the guy in the costume.
It worked, to an extent. The problem was that people became used, by consuming mystery novels and films and radio plays and TV shows, to expecting the least-expected guy to be the suspect. There were also only so many boys in Smallville who could be candidates for Superboy's alter ego. Lana Lang had made a full-time career of trying to expose him, thwarting which occupied a lot of his time. When he could get out and move to Metropolis, with millions of people to help and hundreds of thousands of men who might be Superman, it was somewhat of a relief.
He did remember how, once, his dad got so fed up with hearing his son called a weakling that they moved to another town, assumed new names, and let Clark be a he-man for awhile, but it didn't work out. There was another time in which he decided to abandon his powers, reduced himself to normal humanity by a controlled Kryptonite treatment, and took on Bash Bashford, school jock supreme, in a boxing match. Clark had taken a decent pounding, but the rush he'd gotten by facing the creep on equal terms and finally laying him out flat with an uppercut was something he remembered to this day.
But he realized he had to become Superboy again, and managed to restore his powers. So it had been, more or less, to the present day. Now, he covered for his Superman missions by faking stomach upsets, and wondered if the crew on the nightly news were still buying his excuses or suspecting he wore a blue suit for underwear.
He snapped out of his reverie. As Clark Kent, the actor had been decent. Even though he hadn't quite acted like that at the Planet, it was a decent approximation. He did bristle when Clark, about to take Lois out, was on the point of revealing his Superman identity. At that point, the real Clark would never have betrayed his alter egoship. But it was a movie, and he supposed some liberties had to be taken.
The sequence with the helicopter was good fun. He found himself wanting to cheer as much as the crowd in the street when "Superman" saved "Lois" from a fall, and caught the falling copter in one hand. Then all the choreographed super-deeds, stopping a boatful of crooks and leaving them and the boat on the street (Inspector Henderson would have had his head for that), busting a human fly on the side of a building, saving Air Force One, getting a cat out of a tree. The special effects were great, and he had to admit the actor did the part justice. Even though Superman should look a bit meaner to the crooks. He wasn't as good as Batman in the scare department, but he wanted the hoods he captured to know that he didn't like what they were doing, and that they were up against somebody who was entirely out of their class.
Then came the bit with the entirely idiotic clown-Luthor and his partners, and Superman wondered why they just hadn't thrown him away and used the Zoners instead as villains.
Altogether, though, he liked the Superman he saw on the screen.
All the while the shhhh pumm of the breathing machine puttered away underneath the soundtrack.
Dana was talking to him. "Chris, can you hear me?"
"Yes," he said, remembering again what a work it was to talk. "I can. Hear you."
"Did the movie help bring back anything? Any memories, I mean?" Her eyes were saying, Please say yes.
He wanted to say, "Yes, but not the kind you're thinking of." Instead he said, "A few. Can you. Tell me. More about. Me?"
She sat down. "Do you want me to get Will? Maybe he'd help you remember."
He made an educated guess. "My son?"
"Yes. Yes, he's your son. I'll have him brought here from school."
"Shouldn't. He be. In it?"
"This is an emergency."
"Not yet," he said. "Tell me. Something."
"Was I. A good man?"
An unfeigned smile came to her lips. "Let me tell you all about it. Then you decide for yourself."
The cabbie had let him off at the unfamiliar building with the familiar globe on top and he had been glad there was enough money in his wallet to cover it. There were large letters on the building facade: WGBS. The words Daily Planet were in smaller case below it.
He went in, and made a point of smiling to just about everyone. There were the usual ricochets of "Hi, Clark" and "Hi, Mr. Kent". He said "Hi" back, making sure not to call anyone by name. From the response he got, he guessed Kent's fame and good rep must be almost on a par with Superman's. But if he was on the nightly news, a TV reporter in this world, that may have been a given.
He decided to go to the Planet offices, not quite knowing what to do if he got there. But, if the real Perry, Jimmy, or Lois were there (and he could recognize them), maybe he could get a feel for this sort of thing. Perhaps try and discover what had happened to him.
What if they saw through him as the inappropriate mind in this body?
Well, it might turn out to be a good thing. But for now, he had to feel his way through this world. And not betray the secret this body held.
The plate by the elevator told him what floor to go to. The "Hi, Clark"s didn't stop within the car itself. A blonde man who was a bit thinner and taller than him seemed to know him well. "Hi, Clark," he said. "Edge wants to see you pronto."
"Hi," he said, leaning over to shake the man's hand, an act which the man seemed to find surprising. "What about?"
"I should know? Edge is Edge, Clark. You know that. You find out when you get on his carpet, not around the water cooler."
"Oh. Okay." Whoever this Edge person was, he must be analogous to Howard Hughes around this place. "I have to go to the Planet first, then I'll see him."
The other gave him a strange look. The actor was getting used to them. "Whaddya have to go to the Planet for?"
"Because," he said.
The man shrugged. "Just make sure that's a pretty good because, Clark. Morgan Edge doesn't like waiting too long."
A first name, good. "I'll, uh, try not to keep him too long."
Josh Coyle saw Clark give a sudden start. "Clark. Something wrong with you? That gut of yours acting up again?"
The actor shook his head. "Oh, uh, no. It's just...yeah, probably is my gut, come to think of it. See you soon."
"See you tonight at prep, I hope," said Josh.
Clark smiled bravely and was very glad his floor came up just then. He got out.
Coyle stood looking at the closing door, shifting among three other people in the elevator. 98 percent of the time, he was sure he understood Kent. Hick from the sticks, makes it big on newspapers and then Dan Rathers it on television news. It happened. God knew, it happened a lot of times.
It was just the 2 percent he wondered about.
Today, he was sure it was growing to 3.
The actor walked, and was surprised how quickly it was for walking to become second nature to him again, towards a glass door with the Planet globe emblazoned on it. A guard nodded hello to him, and he said "Hi" back.
He had no idea what Kent's mannerisms were. He had to be deviating from them somewhat, by people's reactions. But he apparently hadn't done it so badly as to raise more than suspicion.
Well, blazes. Superman wasn't General Eisenhower. On his world, there were no old newsfilms an actor could study to form an approximation of his voice, walk, stance, and tone. All he'd had to go on was his own instinct, the director's instructions, reading a few comics supplied by DC, and memories of George Reeves on TV in the Fifties (and forever after) in, supply the announcer's voice here, "The Ad-ven-tures of...Su-pah-man!"
According to the critics, he hadn't done half bad. And the people who saw it, my God! Everyplace he'd gone after that, it was "Superman! Superman! Superman!" He was lucky someone hadn't pulled a gun on him and fired, to see if the bullets would bounce off his chest.
He'd heard some kid really had tried that on George Reeves, way back when. But Reeves had talked the kid out of the gun, saying that the bullets wouldn't hurt him, but could ricochet and strike others. Some moxie.
Then, a few years later, good old George had gone and killed himself.
Some years after he himself had played Superman, he fell off a horse the wrong way, and became paralyzed from the neck down. Obviously, it was not a role without risks.
But he had taken on a number of roles in other movies and on stage, trying to break the Superman hold. He could understand why Sean Connery wanted to leave James Bond behind, and had successfully done so. Could he?
It was too soon to know. He'd done a lot on the live stage, done well on it, and loved it. But only a few thousand people saw you at a time there, and not everyone in America or the world was within range of a live theatre. Just about everybody, though, could go to a movie.
His movies, except Somewhere In Time, hadn't done all that well. He might have done better if his face wasn't what it was, movie-idol perfect (even he had to admit it). If he'd been a bit tougher-looking, like Connery or Stallone or you-name-it. Even Harrison Ford had a bit of edge to him. But his face, and the Superman image, had cast him in a certain mold. He wasn't ashamed of playing Superman, he was downright proud of it. But he darned well wanted to be known for more than that.
If the accident hadn't happened...well, maybe.
He was known for his activist work, and he was most proud of that. Now he was active in another direction, and he had to believe his work on behalf of victims of spinal injuries was making a difference.
On another world.
The reason he had given a start in the elevator was this:
On this very evening, in that other world, he was to be delivering a speech at a local fundraiser for the cause. Now he would not be there, unless he somehow did another body-switch.
He could only assume, perhaps incorrectly, that
the mind of Superman had been transferred into his own body as well.
God, that had to be a rough row to hoe.
But the speech would not get made, now, and he wondered if Superman would be able to cope. If this went on for very long, the work he had done for the cause would slowly halt. It required a front man like himself, with his fame and curious unblessing, to carry it forward.
Now, what was he to do but figure out what was expected of Clark Kent and Superman in this world, and try to get on with it?
Prison. Superman as prison.
All these thoughts went through his head as secretaries and reporters looked up and said, "Hi, Clark!" or "Hi, Kent!" (Never Mr. Kent) and he walked automatically forward. None of the faces were ones he could recognize, even from comic books.
Someone was walking through the door of an inner office. A balding, brown-haired man with white temples, smoking a cigar furiously. The man had his head down, but brought it up to look at the actor with confirmation.
"Great Caesar's Ghost, Kent," the man exploded. "What're you doing down here? Edge wants you upstairs and I've got a paper to run."
Inwardly, he congratulated himself for recognizing the man. "Just wanted to, uh, check and see if Lois was free, Perry. Is she around?"
"She's your wife, not mine. Don't you know she's out on assignment? If she hasn't checked in with you, she hasn't checked in with me."
Perry gave him the epidemic Funny Look again. "Yes. Your wife. Don't you remember?"
A black man with a coat slung over his shoulder came up to the both of them. "Morning, Clark. Hear from Lois yet?"
"Dave Stevens, you've got a column to turn out," said Perry, through a cloud of cigar smoke. "In 25 minutes."
"Thought I had an hour, Chief," protested Dave. "What happened to that?"
"The government just reduced the length of the fiscal hour. Now get moving!" He grabbed his cigar with two fingers and bellowed, "And DON'T CALL ME CHIEF!"
Dave Stevens. One must remember these names, and the faces to which they were attached, and what those people did. He had a good memory--actors had to--but he had to play undercover man as well. That was the tough part.
As casually as he could manage, the actor said, "I don't recall just what Lois was assigned to, Perry. You know how busy I've been, lately."
Perry White looked at him in total disbelief.
"I knew it," he said. "Being on television has utterly undone your mind. Your wife is doing a story on the escape of Lex Luthor from federal prison, and you don't remember it?"
Dana had told him some of the things the man who occupied this body had done.
He had become a quite successful actor, thanks to the Superman movies. He had used this fame, money, and image power to do good things in the world in which he lived. He became a spokesman for an arts council, raising his voice against censorship. He helped fight for unpolluted water in New York, meeting with the state's governor. He went to Chile, at a time when a dictatorship had marked a list of actors for execution within the week, and helped spearhead a protest against the action. He was active in progressive politics, though not a radical. He had worked with Save the Children, Amnesty International, People For the American Way, and many other such groups.
But more than that were the number of acts of common kindness Dana had told him about, given to people who knew him little, or not at all, only as Superman.
And more than that was the achievement that had come since his accident. The creation of a foundation to seek a cure for paralysis induced by spinal injury. His tireless (probably tiring as Sheol) work on behalf of it, though he had to pause between every few words at every speech. The consequent progress of research into such injuries, with the far-off hope of finding a cure.
On top of that, even, was the fact that the actor had not allowed his horrible fate to defeat him. He presented a mood of optimism to the millions who saw him, even in this state, with no motion below his neck and a breathing tube stuffed into his mouth. He had even made a movie in this state, a remake of Rear Window.
It was all but unbelievable.
Dana had shown him some of the letters the actor had received, a wave of outpouring of emotion for the man, from children and performers and professionals and working folk and movie industry people on up to and including the president himself.
It was as if the man were the closest equivalent this world had to a Superman in truth.
Superman's mind sought to evaluate what he had been given. What incredible sense of irony Rao, or whoever placed him here, must have. Was it the work of a villain? He doubted it. Was there a lesson to be learned?
Especially if the actor's mind now resided in Superman's body, a body which could not only breathe unimpaired, but walk, run, do all sorts of things, and do many more which were quite beyond the capabilities of normal men or even other super-heroes?
There had to be.
Dana shuffled some of the letters back into various boxes. "Chris, I have to tell you something," she said. "You were...well..."
She sighed. "A fundraiser. For the foundation. You were going to speak there tonight. But, well, let's face it. If you don't know who you are, I don't see how you can do it."
Silence for two seconds.
"I can. Do it," he said.
She opened her mouth to speak.
He silenced her with a look. A look that she couldn't recall ever seeing from her husband before.
"May not. Be man. I. Used to be." He drew another breath. "But still. The man. I am. I'll speak. I will." Another breath. "Speak."
Dana said, quietly, "Are you sure?"
"Superman. Couldn't stop me."
He had gone into the holy of holies, the private office of Morgan Edge himself, who was director of Galaxy Communications, a name that would only have worked in a comic book.
Edge himself was clad in a brown business suit and slippers, his newly polished black shoes standing beside the desk at attention. He smoked, using a cigarette holder 50 per cent longer than FDR's.
"We've got Tremayne coming up with a feed from Bosnia," Edge was saying. "Two and a half on that. Then Meg does a short on the new lion cubs at Municipal. But here's the bit, Kent...we were going to have some info about Lexy-boy's escape. The Planet was going to share it with us. Where's your wife?"
Edge was looking at him as if he knew the answers.
"I don't know," the actor admitted. "She wasn't in last night. She hasn't been in today. I was hoping you knew something about her."
Edge looked a bit more serious. "Then, I hate to say it, Kent. But Inspector Henderson may have been right. Your wife may have been kidnapped."
The actor tensed. "Kidnapped?"
(Just like in the comic books)
Edge nodded, not smiling a bit. "The police are working on that assumption right now. My question is, Kent: are you up to doing the bit tonight, or should I have Lana do it solo?"
"Lana?" He paused. "As in...Lana Lang?"
Edge's version of the Funny Look was melded with fury. "Yes, as in Lana Lang. What's the matter with you, Kent? You've only been doing the news with her for about fifteen years now."
The actor reached out for Edge's marble desk to steady himself. "Of course. Lana. Of course, Mr. Edge. Has...the inspector...turned up anything yet?"
"Not a lot," admitted Edge. "You need to talk to him. Lois has become the story herself. Again. Henderson's hoping Superman can lend his muscle, since nobody but Blue Boy's been able to bring down Luthor. I'm sorry, Kent. Kent?"
Edge looked at him, critically. "Kent, you don't look as though you're prepared for work today. I can understand that. Let me give you the night off."
"Well, that's very kind of you, Mr. Edge, very kind indeed"
"And I'd uh, like to thank you for the consideration"
(Superman would not wimp out on a job)
"But, all things considered"
"Being a, ahem, newscaster is my job."
Edge kept looking at him.
"And I've got a job to do. Even if, forgive me, Lois is missing. Maybe kidnapped. What time do you want me in the studios?"
Edge took the cigarette holder out of his mouth. "What do you mean, what time? You're not a rookie kid, showing his face for the first time around here."
The actor straightened up, moved closer, and gave Edge the kind of look he imagined a Man of Steel would give him. "What time, Mr. Edge?"
"Four-thirty. At the latest."
"I'll be there."
"Four-fifty-five will be too late."
"May I go, now? And, uh, check with Inspector Henderson?"
"Inspector Henderson's office is..."
"At the Hall of Justice," said Edge, with a sigh. "Kent, what's gotten into you?"
The actor shrugged. "Don't know, Mr. Edge. Sometimes I can't tell where my mind's gone off to."
The young boy was grasping his hand and smiling at him and probably would like to crawl all over his chest, but knew he couldn't, in Daddy's present state. Dana hadn't told him about Daddy's problem, obviously. Superman supposed that was good.
"Hello, son. How was. School today?"
"Neat enough, Dad. I finally got to use that dinosaur stuff from the Net for my report today. Harris gave me an A-!"
"That's. Mr. Harris. Son." Superman made his mouth smile. "But congratu. Lations."
Dana looked on, rubbing her hands together. From her eyes, Superman could tell he was disappointing her. His "memory" was not coming back. And it wouldn't, as long as he was in this body. But how could he tell her that?
"So are you gonna read the story I'm writin' when I get it finished, Dad, ‘n' critique it? That's what Mrs. Foss says, that you can't be a real writer until you go through the whole critiquein' process."
"Be glad to. Son. Just finish it. Give you. My harshest. Opinion."
"Neato! Can you talk Mom into doing lasagna tomorrow night?"
He glanced up at Dana, who was shaking her head.
"Doubt. Your mom. Is in mood. For pasta. Sorry, son."
"Dad. You feeling okay?"
"Sure, son. Why do you. Ask?"
"You're not talking the way you do most'a the time."
He sighed. "Daddy. Is a little tired. Son. Speech tonight. You be okay?"
Will nodded. "Best believe. Gonna make the babysitter read from Romeo and Juliet. I play Romeo."
"Watch out. She doesn't. Play scene. With knife."
Dana smiled. Well, after all, it wasn't like he wasn't a daddy on his own world, after all.
"I'll watch out. Bye, Dad." The boy flounced out of the room.
The woman pulled up a chair and sat facing him, her hands in her lap. "You don't act like my husband."
"Chris, I'm having a doctor come look at you."
"All right. Just get. Done before. Speech."
"You are in no condtion to make a speech."
"Been through. That before. I'm going."
"I don't see how you can do it. Do you even remember your accident?"
"Can't say. I do. Very hazy."
"You have lost part of your memory. I know it. Chris, I'm calling up and cancelling."
"Dana. My mind. Is perfectly. Fine. Will not. Cancel."
"I'm calling the doctor first."
"If he says you shouldn't make the speech, will you go on insisting you do?"
She sighed, bent over to pick up her purse where she had laid it beside the chair, and pulled out a cell phone. At least his stubbornness was unimpaired. She didn't know if she should be grateful or not.
So where did one begin to find Luthor?
The actor really wasn't sure. In the comic books, you could depend on a confrontation and fight scene towards the end of the story. But where was he, in this world? What page was he on?
Give me back my world, he thought desperately. Give me back Dana. And Will. And my other kids. I'll even take back my old, broken body if I have to. I'm not Superman.
But what if he was?
What if he were the only person left who could be Superman?
He had been standing outside the Hall of Justice. A cop passing by saw him staring at the sidewalk. "You okay, Mac?"
He nodded. "I'm fine, officer." Not really. He had been to see Henderson. About all the man could tell him was that Luthor had managed to escape his escape-proof cell, Lois Lane had gone to interview some members of Luthor's old gang, and had gone missing before she contacted the first one. They had interviewed the guy, a one-armed man named Louto, but a lie detector seemed to indicate he was telling the truth when he said he hadn't had contact with Luthor since he went into the joint.
He didn't feel an emotional connection with Lois Lane. He could hardly believe that Lois Lane was a real, living person in this world, not just ink on paper or a role another woman portrayed on screen.
But...if she was real, in this world, she depended on Superman for her salvation. Edge had been right when he said that only the Man of Steel could handle Luthor. Even Henderson acknowledged such. "To put him away, we're going to need the Big Guy," he said. "And he hasn't shown his face since she went missing."
The actor walked down the street like an automaton. He'd been in situations that demanded courage, and he'd summoned it. In Chile, daring the dictator's troops and tear-gas to speak out against the repression of artists. After the accident, when he determined that he would not give in to depression and inactivity.
If he got back to his old body, what would it be like, now that he had tasted freedom? Now that he had tasted power?
He almost stepped off the curb. If he walked into the street without looking, he mused that the slapstick sequence from the third film, in which he smashed down a host of objects with his invulnerable body just by walking over them while distracted, would become a reality.
It was magic to feel the wind on his face and the pavement under his feet and the warmth of the sun through his blue suit. It was magic to be able to bend and flex his arm, to breathe unaided, to talk without pausing between every few words.
It would be magic beyond magic to use the powers of Superman. If he dared.
He looked out at the busy Metropolis street, and came to a decision.
If Lex Luthor existed, if Lois Lane existed, and if the one endangered the other, only Superman could do something about it.
If he were Superman, just for this one day, then he would have to do what Superman would do.
He remembered a line from a David Bowie song: "We can be heroes, just for one day."
Yeah, but he didn't say what that day would cost you.
Well, what the hell. Was there a place to change around here?
He found himself in front of an office building. Some people recognized him, waved, said "Hi, Mr. Kent." He waved back and greeted them. He went inside to an elevator, took it all the way up to the top, stayed inside while everyone else got out, watched the doors close, and pressed the stop button.
Then he began taking off his clothes.
He hoped nobody on board had a good memory for faces.
The doctor had come, done an examination, asked questions and gotten answers. He called Dana over afterward and spoke to them both, briefly.
"As far as I can tell," he said, "Chris's mind is normal, except for his memory of his own life. This is quite a phenomenon. Usually, an amnesiac forgets some of the basic things...the alphabet, addition, the names of the fifty states, and so on. With you, Chris, that isn't the case. You're sane, at least apparently so, and intelligent. But you don't remember a thing about what you were before today."
"Could have. Told you that."
"Except for one thing."
They both looked at him. "Which is?" asked Dana.
"Superman," said the doctor.
"Oh," said Superman.
"I don't know if this new personality has been imposed on you by the stress of the accident, or what," the doctor continued. "But it could be, well, a bit dangerous if you begin to think that a role you played, Chris, is the real you. That you, in fact, are Superman."
"I can see. How that. Could be. Dangerous."
Dana seemed nervous. She had a right to be, he guessed.
"Chris," she said. "You're staying home tonight."
"No," he said.
The doctor looked at Dana.
"Am I. Physically. Okay?" said Superman.
Nodding, the doctor said, "No worse than you've been in the past few months. Physically, that is."
"Then I. Can speak. Without danger."
"What is your emotional state, Chris?"
"Scared," said Superman.
The doctor was about to say something. Superman cut him off. "But. I've been. Scared before. Didn't stop me. Won't now."
Dana spread her hands. "Why? Why do you insist on doing this thing, Chris?"
"Because," he said. "If it's. My only day. In this. Body. Have to do. What was. Expected. Of me. Dana."
"You know it is, Chris. It's boosted research into spinal injuries, brought national attention to the problem, helped insurance reform along those lines. You are the spokesperson for the cause. But you--"
"But I. Have to do it."
She looked at the doctor. "Can I get you to be with him during the speech?"
He sighed. "I wanted to spend the night with my family."
She said, "I understand."
"But if he's intent on playing Superman--I guess somebody'll have to play Jimmy Olsen."
The biggest damned problem with changing into Superman was finding someplace to put your Clark Kent clothes.
He looked at the hatch at the top of the elevator car. Forget that. His suit might get greasy, and he had to be on television in it in a few hours, of all things. He hoped it would hold a crease.
He opened the doors, looked out, saw a woman about to get on. Her mouth formed an O as her eyes widened to an unbelievable degree. "Um, hello, ma'am," he said with what he hoped was an aw-shucks grin.
Then he pushed the "close" button.
What was he supposed to do?
He sighed, and pushed the button for the next floor down.
There were three people waiting to get on. A business exec type, his wife, and a kid. Their jaws plummeted to the floor when they saw the suit.
"Good afternoon, citizens," he said, hoping he could dredge up the role convincingly. "I'm on a case, so if you'd please step this way."
"Superman," yelled the kid. "Holy jeez, Mom, it's Superman!"
"Bobby, don't bother the man my God it is Superman Harry it's Superman am I awake Harry--"
"Beatrice, shut up," said the man, not taking his eyes off the guy in blue, red, and yellow.
The actor put a finger to his lips. "I'm on a very important case. Please, be quiet. You might tip somebody off."
"You can count on us, Superman," said the kid, beaming.
"Thanks, Bobby." The actor placed a hand on the kid's shoulder, tried to think of something to say, and finally said, "Remember. Truth, justice, and the American Way. See you soon." He turned, still holding his Clark Kent clothes draped over his other arm.
"Hey, Superman?" said Bobby, after him. "I hope you kick Luthor's ass!"
"Bobby!" said Beatrice. The sound of the elevator door shutting reached his ears.
He noticed his hands were trembling. In excitement? Or just pure stage nerves? Well, he'd gotten through the latter beforehand.
How did one use x-ray vision? Did you have to squint, or call out a secret word mentally?
Almost at the thought of it, he began seeing steel girders in frameworks, people in the rooms in front of him at various activities, a maid vacuuming a rug. One room appeared vacant. He walked over to it, tried the door. Locked.
There was nothing to do except shove it. He placed a hand against it, gave a sudden push, and the door cracked off its hinges, sailed across the room, and impacted against the opposite wall.
"Oh, nuts," he muttered.
He stepped inside, walked over the carpet, noticed a detail he had missed: there was an open briefcase on the night table.
A salesman, his collar unbuttoned and his boxers all in polka-dots, was emerging from the bathroom, doing the Oh-my-God expression.
"Sorry," said the actor, and turned to the window. He had to remember, next time, to scan all the rooms in a room. Even if it was a john.
He took a running leap at the window, his free arm extended in front of his face just in case.
(What if I don't have any powers or they shut off in mid-jump or I get busted for breaking and entering and destruction of property or...)
The glass shattered like the spun sugar of a Hollywood version of itself.
(What if there are people below?)
He began to drop like a rock towards the ground 47 stories below.
He began to yell at roughly the same time.
His blue suit started to get away from him but he grabbed it tighter. How the hell did you make flying work?
He yelled, "Shazam!" No lightning bolt.
The ground was coming up at an incredibly terrifying rate and he knew that the crowds below would not appreciate being visited by an object of his weight and velocity on their heads.
The phrase again: You will believe a man can fly.
Was that how it was done, perhaps?
By believing, just believing, that one could fly?
He closed his eyes, extended one hand before him, balled into a fist, and concentrated. An image of himself, fixed in a spatial tank, seemed to come to mind. Like the little airplane on a control panel.
He made the image turn upward.
The lurch was not at all pleasant. He almost lost his grip on Clark Kent's shoes. But he didn't, quite.
Opening his eyes, he saw the buildings and streets of Metropolis below him.
And they were getting further and further distant from him.
"Good Lord," he breathed. He looked below him. Nothing there. Like a Warner Brothers' cartoon character, standing on nothing without harm. Better not visualize that too much, because they always started to fall when they figured out where they were.
Straighten out and fly right, Superman.
He corrected the image to place himself at a parallel track to the ground. At once, his upper body dipped a bit, his legs came up, straightened, and there he was, flying in a horizontal manner.
So this was how it was done. So this was the manner in which a man could fly.
A woman sunbathing on a building roof looked up and waved at him. He waved back, grinning.
This was fantastic.
He yelled incoherently at the Earth, at all the people in the world, at God, even, if He was listening. And how could He not be?
This would be hardest to give up of all.
He glanced at his arm. There was the problem of Clark Kent's clothes. Well, that could be dealt with.
Picking a structure at random with a flat enough roof, he directed his flight towards it, found that he could correct his course with but a gentle mental nudge or two, and came in for a landing. Unfortunately, as he realized when his belly pancaked the stone-and-metal surface, he had neglected to correct himself to pull up and land on his feet. He reached out a hand, dug a fraction of an inch into the roof surface, stopped his flight. Then he folded his Kent clothes neatly, at a place where the wind would be unable to snatch them from the roof, and stood for a moment, looking out at the buildings nearby, fixing its location in his mind.
If only the birds left it alone, his suit would be fine.
He jumped to the parapet of the building roof, and, on impulse, cried, "Up! Up! And away!"
He launched himself into the air with the push of one foot, sailing on the atmosphere, both hands plowing the wind before him, and feeling as though there was nothing in the universe so fine as flying.
His vision was crossed by another flying object.
It seemed to be closing on him. A helicopter? No. Too small. Even he could tell that.
With an effort, he brought his telescopic vision into play. A man. It was another flying man.
Another flying man who wore what appeared to be an armored suit of purple and green. A man whose face seemed ancient and old and very, very evil, despite his smile.
A man who, except for his eyebrows, had no hair on his head.
A man who was extending his armor-gloved hand towards him, and saying something his enhanced hearing could pick up.
"It's a bird," said the bald man. "It's a plane. It's dead."
Then the glove spurted a green fire that smashed into him like the fist of Zeus.
Dana was looking at him, and probably trying not to cry.
He couldn't even put out a hand to touch her. She was not his wife, but she was hurting, and he was empathic. Admittedly, he did try to solve too many people's problems. He knew that. Still...
She was nearly in despair, and it was probably because of him.
Both of them were just about to be driven to the dinner at which the actor whose body he wore was to speak. Dana looked fine in her formal outfit, and even he had been dressed in a suit. (It galled him that he couldn't even dress himself.) But still, there she was, sitting and looking at him and trying not to cry.
"Dana," he said. "Please. You're looking. At me. Why?"
She said, "You're not my husband, and I want my husband back. I don't know if you're amnesiac, or what. But I want...Chris...back."
"I know," he said. "I. Want him. Back, too."
She stopped. "You...I, I don't understand. Do you know...do you know he's another personality within you, or what?"
Superman hesitated. He had become convinced long ago that, whatever had happened to him, this woman was not a pawn of enemy forces. But how much could he tell her? How much would she understand? If he was snatched away from this body, how much would be safe for her to know?
"I'm not. Your husband," he said. "I hope. He gets back. Soon."
She stared at him. "Who the...what are you? Chris, what in heaven's name has happened to you?"
He sighed. Even that was an effort.
"Would it. Be easier. For me. To say I. May just. Be another. Personality?"
"God, Chris," she whispered. "It's been so hard. So hard, these last few years. Even though you've been so brave...and I have too, I won't play the modesty card...it's taken so much out of both of us."
"But always, through it all, I had you. I had the man I loved, the man I married, the man who fathered my child. That...that much I could hang onto."
"I understand," he said. "I am. Sorry. If I can. Will bring him. Back."
She shook her head. "I want to cry, all right. But I just...can't let myself. There are people depending on us, Chris. You know about them. That's what the foundation is all about. You're their figurehead, their..."
"Oh, don't talk like that. Please, don't talk like that. He's only a role you played, a character in a, in a comic book. And I've got to put on a brave face and smile and shake hands and look after you and...and I want you to be Chris again."
"Want that. Too." He paused. "But I. Must speak."
"What'll you say?"
"You'll see. But think. This speech. Something I. Have to do. Have to. To bring. Chris back."
She looked at him, wordlessly.
"Now I. Know what it. Is to be. Him. He knows. What it's. To be. Me. Not sure. Who has. Easier role."
"What are you talking about?"
"Just rambling. I'm ready. Are you?"
Sadly, she said, "I have to be."
There was a knock on the door. "Come in," said Dana.
The doctor pulled the door half-open. "Everything all right in here? Most importantly, Chris, do you really think you want to go through with this?"
"Gantlet," he said. "Have to. Run it. Watch me."
The doctor looked at Dana, and she at him. Then he said, "All right. If you'll give me a hand, ma'am, I think we can get started."
He was not prepared for it to hurt.
The blast of green fire made his chest ache, made it hard for him to breathe for a number of seconds, sent him plummeting towards the streets like a passenger bailing out of an airplane without a chute.
Thoughts rushed through him like a speedburst of information. Since his childhood, he had not been in a fight. Sure, he'd taken a bit of a knocking around at times doing his own stunts, or in sports, and, of course, there was the Accident.
But he had never been called upon to fight a man who was out to kill him.
And now, here he was, dogfighting in nothing but a suit of long underwear.
It was Luthor, it had to be Luthor, he resembled the character in the comic books, and that was the scariest thing of all.
It was insane. What was expected of him? 24 hours ago, he had been paralytic. Now, in a new body, with more power than the mind of Man could imagine, he was supposed to fight a crazy bald scientist who wanted to kill him. And who evidently had the power to do it.
(Pull up before you crash on people)
A voice from below. "Look out! Superman's gonna crash!" That was what penetrated, from a babble of voices he heard below him. Apparently, super-hearing wasn't entirely a voluntary power. Or he was closer to the ground than he thought.
A being with greater body density than steel landing on even one person, let alone a crowd, at this speed...
He exerted his flight power with more effort than he expected, forced himself upward, looked down for an instant and saw he had been about 20 feet from the ground.
Now he was supposed to find Luthor? And fight him?
What he really wanted to do was fly back to his apartment and hide.
I'm not a super-hero, he thought. I am not Superman. I'm just wearing his body, for crying out loud. I don't fight super-villains and I don't save planets and I WANT TO GO BACK TO MY WIFE AND KIDS...
Another blast, from above and behind. It made him cry out in pain.
He turned and saw Luthor, held aloft by some anti-gravity mechanism or something. The green and purple warsuit that he wore resembled that the actor saw in a few comics DC had given him to read, but it looked more advanced. Nastier. It gleamed with sickening power.
Luthor was grinning like Dr. Mengele receiving a new victim.
"This is for the pain you gave me," he said. "Feel it, Superman."
He tried to maneuver, tried to dodge, but he just didn't have the experience down to handle flight well enough. Luthor's third blast struck him in the head. His vision went green for a moment.
Falling, he pitched and angled his way towards a skyscraper, reached out his hand, and dug furrows in it with his fingers. He dropped down some feet, arrested his motion, hung there, and breathed hard.
He looked down. It was one hell of a drop. Vertigo threatened him.
He looked up. Luthor was jetting towards him, metal-gloved fist extended, still grinning.
It hurt like hell.
It occurred to the actor that this entire thing might be an elaborate scheme of Luthor's. Dispossess Superman's mind from his body, replace it with another mind which was much less capable of handling the powers, and destroy him. But would that be logical? That would simply be defeating Superman's body, not defeating Superman.
Unless Luthor's plan was to leave Superman in a paralytic's body, unable even to move his finger, for the rest of his life.
This was a possibility, unlikely though it seemed. If Luthor would leave off trying to kill him, he was sure he could work out a better hypothesis. But his worthy opponent smashed down a chop to his neck, which he was only partly able to deflect.
"This is not my job," he said aloud. "I don't do this."
Luthor looked at him, uncomprehending. But he said nothing.
But what was his job?
If he had been thrown into this position, in which things with this powerful body must be done or the world suffered for it, was it not then his responsibility?
He did not want it.
But was that one of the choices he was offered?
"It's not fair!" he snapped.
"Of course it isn't," said Luthor, grabbing him by the hair and presenting his palm-blaster to send a Kryptonite blast into his face. "And that's the way I like it."
In between the triggering of that blast and Luthor's last word, the figure in blue and red gathered his strength, made a decision without realizing he had, and simply whacked Luthor in the chest with his arm.
The master villain was sent flying ass-over-teakettle in the sky, impacting on the side of a building across the street, causing a gaggle of workers in the office nearest the dent he made in it to run for the elevator. A few hardy souls chose the stairs. Luthor took no notice of any of them.
The actor was stunned. Not even that hard a blow, and it had knocked Luthor clear across the street. He had no idea what the real power of Superman was. No scale, at all.
But the warsuit protected his enemy, or at least the enemy of this body. Luthor was a bit shaken. He was preparing to strike again.
"Not on my time," muttered the actor, and launched himself forward with both legs.
He smashed into Luthor just as the latter sent a greenish burst over his head, and both of them crunched through the stone and metal of the opposite building. They upset several desks, a few computer terminals, and a water cooler which broke open and spilled all over them.
Neither one of them took much notice. They were too busy fighting.
There had been some introductory speeches, short ones, at the dinner. Beforehand, he had said hello to a few people who apparently knew him well, but looked at him with real pity. He wondered if it was for his paralytic condition, or if the doctor had spread the word to the insiders about his "amnesia". He supposed it could be both.
What an onus not even to be able to shake a hand. Not to be able to stand and greet those who called the body of this man their friend.
Even in this state, it was the body of a very good man.
The dinner had been eaten. Of course, he could not participate, taking his nourishment through a tube. But no one expected him to do anything else.
If I live out my life in this body, he thought, I may never be able to taste a steak again, or potatoes, or chocolate cake, or any of the Kryptonian cuisine which Kara sometimes fixes for me when we get together. I will drink my meals or absorb them through a punctured vein. Unless a cure is found. And it has not been found yet.
In the setting of this rented hall, he was finally able to assess the popularity of this man, and the regard the others had for him. He knew fame; in his world, he was famous himself, in both his identities. He had also met the famous people of Earth, presidents, Congressmen, foreign rulers, religious leaders, artists, writers, singers, scientists. There were various reactions the faithful had to various forms of fame. The lust for a supermodel or rock star is not the same as the adoration of a Pope.
A movie star has his own form of adulation, of course. He knew that, and knew what kind it was; he had known enough actors in his time.
But the way this man was treated felt something more than just what a cinema actor got.
It was, he felt, the love not only for a man who had been in movies, but a man who had given his life to causes which were deemed worthy. A man who had done good, and who had been in a mishap that would have broken strong, strong men who suffered it. A man who not only would not let that mishap break him, but who would turn its effect into another, greater form of doing good.
The knowledge sobered Superman. He had to admit, for all the great things he had done, it humbled him.
But there was more than that. It was the knowledge that Dana had given him, that the actor had given concrete image to a being that, to them, was only a beloved concept. A man who had made them believe another man could fly.
A man who, for all those who had portrayed him before and after, had really seemed to make people believe...
He looked out upon the crowd. What did this world need Superman for? They had no evil men in costumes planning world destruction. They had no alien invasion fleets hovering outside their orbital space. There were, apparently, no conquerors from other times or other dimensions here. The only super-villains were the tyrants like the ones on his world, the ones whom he would have loved to depose, but would not, for fear of trying to play God.
Why did they love Superman? A being they only knew from a movie, or a television show, or a comic book?
Perhaps, he thought, because to them, Superman is not only a powerful man, who can do many things that none of them can do...but because he is a good man.
Only a concept...but a concept that might spur one, or many, to do good in their own ways.
Like the man whose body he wore?
It would be arrogant to assume such, and he did not. But he knew he had a job to do, and he had never shirked a job in his life.
Despite the physical status he had been reduced to, despite the strange body he found himself in, despite his lack of knowledge of this world or the people around him...
This was a job for Superman.
The last introduction had been made. Dana gave him a look of concern, possibly of fright. He was wheeled to the place on the dais from which the speech would be made. A microphone was bent to his lips.
"Let me. Speak to you," he began.
The fight had made a ruin of the office suite and the two of them had smashed through into the one below, which, thankfully, had been evacuated. The actor was still on the defensive, most of the time, but at least he hadn't been killed yet. That was a definite plus.
How did one fight such a person as Luthor?
He did not wish to kill the man. He assumed that, when Superman struck a human foe, he pulled his punches. Not certain as to how much of his punch he could pull, he struck Luthor on the chest, which was protected by the metal of his warsuit. He hit him carefully.
It was like banging one's hand into a steel girder. He saw a spark of purple aura where he struck, briefly, before he jammed his hurt knuckles into his mouth and sucked on them.
Luthor lashed out with a backhand, his glove wreathed in green fire, which slammed the actor back into a wall. He found himself half-embedded in it, figured that it was best to take the fight outside, and, setting his heels, pushed himself out. The building wall groaned as a large chunk of it broke off to allow the caped man access to the outer air.
With a start, the actor realized that it wouldn't do for the chunk of granite and whatever else to land on the pedestrians many stories below. He dived after the falling masonry and succeeded in getting under it, grabbing it, and flying back up to the hole in the wall with it. The stone debris was gingerly shoved back through the hole, and he hoped the floor could bear its weight.
Two metal hands grabbed him from behind and channelled pure pain into his body.
Luthor was staring into his face, from just above him.
"You hurt me," the man was snarling. "You came into my cell and you broke my body. That was fourteen years ago, Superman. Fourteen years. You haven't heard from me in that long. How does it feel, Superman? Does it feel the way I felt when you told me to behave myself, and then assaulted me? Does it?"
"I," gasped the actor. "I, I don't know. What did I...what did I do to you?"
Luthor was apoplectic, but didn't stop his Kryptonite-ray assault. "You mean you don't know? You cause my wife's and son's death, estrange my family from me, destroy my experiment in life, and cause me multiple breaks and fractures that keep me in infirmary for two months, and you don't know?"
Something had to be done.
He estimated, with what part of his mind that wasn't fixed on pain, that his strength had been reduced enough by the Kryptonite bombardment (and if this was Kryptonite, he was glad the stuff in his first movie had just been a fake; the stuff hurt!) to make it possible for him to hit Luthor and pull less of his punch.
He sent one fist hurtling up and back over his head, smashing into the plexiglass that protected Luthor's head.
There was pain, and the crackling of the aura. But there was also the sound of plastic, cracking.
With another motion, he sent an elbow into Luthor's armored gut, and hoped the armor was strong enough there to keep his intestines in place. For once, the bad man emitted an audible groan. The actor twisted out of Luthor's grip.
The plexiglass helmet was spiderwebbed with cracks, though Luthor's face was clearly visible. His face showed some hurt, and one of his hands was clutching at his gut. Evidently the purple force-field, if that was what it was, wasn't as invulnerable as the actor had feared it would be.
Lex Luthor tried to trigger another K-ray burst through his free hand.
The actor grabbed it by the wrist, holding it firmly. The burst discharged upward, harmlessly. He ventured a tight smile, full in Luthor's face.
Luthor's belt buckle opened and extruded a power-blast that thrust the actor backwards. Unfortunately for Luthor, the actor didn't think to let go of his arm.
He howled in pain, and hoped the arm wasn't dislocated.
"How many. Of you," said Superman, "first knew. Superman. Through comic books?"
There was a great deal of looking-around among the attendees. It was obvious that comics were still considered declasse` among the people of this world. They weren't held in much better repute on his Earth, though many were "true crime" ones depicting adventures of himself and other Justice League heroes. Still, a few tentative hands were put up. Then they were joined by others, and more beyond that, until well over half had their hands in the air. He heard some laughter in the crowd, a few murmured jokes. Some of the faces looked sheepish.
"All right. How many. Knew him. First. Through TV?"
Several other hands went up, this time more enthusiastically. From one corner, he heard somebody saying something like "strange visitor from another planet". The person he was saying it to was cracking up.
"Now. Sorry, but. How many. Through the movie?"
There weren't many who had been Superman virgins by the time of the movie's appearance, he guessed. But there were a few hands that went up proudly, and the audience broke into spontaneous applause.
"Well," he said. "Guess I. Can be thankful. For that. At least." More laughter.
"When I. Played him. I thought a lot. About being Superman. Man who had. Great powers. Man who did. Great deeds. Wore a costume. Flew. We all know. About that.
"That's not Superman. I want to. Talk about. Today.
"He's just fiction. To you. But I had. To make that. Fiction real. Had to think. About what Superman. Really was.
"How many of you. Came to America. From other countries?"
A few hands went up.
"And how many. Have ancestors. Who came here. From other lands?"
All the rest of the hands went up.
"Me too," he said. "All Americans. Came from. Somewhere else.
"But not. From Krypton.
"Superman was. The ultimate. Immigrant. Came from. Billions of miles. Away. To this world. To America. Just like. All Americans. Well, maybe not." More laughter.
"But consider. If Superman's rocket. Hadn't landed. In America. If he'd come. To Russia, in. Time of. Communism. Or to. Other dictatorships. Around world. Or even. Been in time. To land. In Nazi Germany. What would he. Have been? What influences. Would have. Molded him? Would he. Have protected freedom? Or destroyed it?
"I think. He was grateful. For landing in. America. Very grateful.
"I know. He was grateful. For finding. The people who. Adopted him. The Kents. You didn't. See much of. Them in movie. But they're. They were. Most important. People in world. To him.
"But let's imagine. Something else. Not like movie. Superman didn't. Come here. As baby. Came to Earth. As three-year-old. Had known Krypton. Known father. Jor-El. Mother, Lara. Even dog, Krypto."
"Don't laugh. He loved. That dog."
Dana looked at him with near horror. The way he was speaking...was Chris starting to think of Superman as a reality? Worse yet...could he be thinking that he could be...
No. She refused to go there. And she kept her hands buried in her lap, tying a knot in the napkin.
"He made. A voyage. Across space. In a tiny. Cramped rocket. Across billions of. Miles. He was aware. Of what was. Transpiring. He knew it.
"He knew. His world, Krypton. Was destroyed. He did not know. Where he was. Going.
"At that time. The mighty Superman. Was only a. Very lost. Very frightened. Child.
"He was terrified."
The audience was agape. Presumably, the actor was just improvising upon a dramatic situation for their benefit. It was interesting, true enough, to consider this perspective on a cardboard hero. But, still...he made it sound so damned real.
There was no sound from them as he continued.
"Imagine. The fear you felt. As children. When you rode. A fast ride. At the carnival. When you screamed. That was his fear. That was his. Until he screamed. Himself out. And simply. Went to sleep.
"The rocket landed. On Earth. Near small town. The boy, Kal-El. Was found. By two people. The Kents. Jonathan. And Martha. Imagine if he. Had been found. By two criminals. Or two wealth-seekers. Or politicians. Or people who. Just didn't care. Would leave him. To fend. For himself.
"But that wasn't. What the Kents were. They were frightened. Saw the rocket. Saw the alien. From another planet. But they saw. Something else. They saw a child. A child, crying. And that was. What they were. Supposed to see. Even if. From another planet. He was. A child.
"They took him. In. Raised him. As their own. Could have. Used his powers. For their own. Benefit. Could have. Become richest. Most powerful. People on Earth. They didn't. Could have. Told him. Never to use. His powers. For good, or evil. To pretend. All the time. He was just. An Earth man. They didn't.
"The Kents. Just farm couple. But maybe. The wisest. People on Earth."
One of the listeners whispered, "So what the hell were their names? Mary and Joseph?"
"Jonathan and Martha," said his partner. "Now shut up."
"The boy," said Superman. "Clark Kent. Had to grow up. To learn about. Being normal boy. As all boys do. But also. To learn about. Being a Superboy. And never letting. Anyone know. Till the time. Was ripe. Till he knew. How to use. The powers. How to use them. For good.
"It's just fiction. To you. But apparently. It's one of. Most powerful fictions. Of this century.
"Is it because. We all imagine. What we would do. With those mighty powers? How we would. Be famous? Be known to. Entire world? Be loved? Perhaps get. Whatever we. Really wanted?
"Or is it. Because. With all those powers. Flight. Super-speed. Super-strength. X-ray vision. All the rest. With all of that. He had to be. Had to be. A good man?"
There was silence.
"Don't mean. To make him. A Christ figure," said Superman. "He is not. That. But what if. The key to. This fantasy. If you will. Is not the power. But the power. We all have? The power. To do good?
"Does this. Seem simple? Perhaps it is. Simple enough. For a child. And children. Are the ones. Who read comics. But who are. The ones. Who go to movies? The children who. Grew up. Who read Superman. The ones who. Still believed. As adults. That maybe a. Man could. Fly.
"The man who. Occupied this body," said Superman. "Was an actor. He tried. To do good things. Simple enough, again. But he used. The powers he had. Of fame. Of public attention. To do what he could. And I can tell you. With authority."
"Oh, God," whispered Dana.
"That that. Is what Superman. Did himself.
"And that. Is what we all. Can do. Perhaps what. Superman. Would want us. To do. Not to leap. Buildings. Or outrun. Trains. But to use. What we have. To do good."
The strain was showing on Chris's face, Dana could see. Sweat was beading his brow. The doctor, noticing it, mopped it away with a cloth. But it was as though Chris hadn't noticed it, plowing through his stop-motion, improvised speech as though he were General Patton.
No. She was not going to go there.
"Now," he said. "Want you to. Imagine. Something else. Imagine if Superman. Was stricken. With the injury. That is the. Basis of. Our concern. Imagine there. Was a power. Great enough. To injure. Superman's spine. Not a very. Great injury. Just a break. You could barely. See light through.
"Imagine. A man who. Could grind mountains. Into dust. Who could move. Faster than light. Who could span. Vast reaches of space. Who could not. Be hurt. By anything besides. Kryptonite. Magic. And something. As powerful. Or more so. Than himself."
"Magic?" whispered another person. "They didn't use magic in any of those four movies he was in."
"They did in that Helen Slater movie," said another. "You know, the one about the girl."
"Oh. Okay," said the first.
"Imagine that man. In a body. That would no longer. Respond to him.
"Imagine his thoughts.
"Would they be. Any different. Than those of. Any normal human. Cheated of. Their body's use. By fate. Or accident? Any human. Who suddenly finds. His body. To be a prison?
"Probably. They would be. Very similar.
"It could happen. To any one of us. You may thank God. That it didn't. Happen to you. But to the others. Of us. Who were not. So fortunate. As to miss. This experience. There would only. Be one thing. That Superman. Could ask you. To do."
He was conscious of the fatigue of his body. Conscious that the labor of forming and speaking his words was like the construction of an Egyptian temple by a weary brick-making slave. But still, the job must be finished. Even if it was the last job for Superman.
"He would ask you. To use your powers. To do good. To help find. A cure for this. Condition. Even if. The only Superman. We have here. In this world. Is in a comic book. Or a TV screen. Or in. The movies. Or lying. Within each. And every one of us.
"And the last place. I have mentioned. Is the most likely. Place. Where you can find. A Superman. Please. Use his powers. And thank you. Thank you all. Very much."
He sighed, in exhaustion. His tongue was moistened by another. He closed his eyes and was certain that he would fall asleep in the mobile chair where he sat on the dais.
But there was silence for only a few seconds, until, it seemed, that it began to sink in that he had finished speaking.
Then somebody, a man from the sound that the hands made, began clapping. Long, loud, rhythmically.
Three claps had not been made before they were joined by another pair of hands. And another. And another.
Like a waterfall of echoing, pounding, twin-struck surfaces, the applause spread epidemically, and not a person in the hall, save the speaker himself, was failing to give up the audible sign of approval. There were cheers, even from those who prided themselves on a more dignified show in public. There were tears, though they could not be seen by the speaker, whose eyes were closed.
Dana wanted to tell him to open his eyes. The room was filled with the populance of a standing ovation. Not that he'd never had one before; they were common enough, especially these days. But somehow...the flavor of this one was a bit different.
She decided against it.
After all, he was, by this time, asleep.
The man in Superman's body whipped Luthor by the leg into another building. He hoped he was getting the hang of this thing, or he hoped that he would before much more property damage was done.
Luthor was hurt, but rose above his hurt. The actor had never seen such rage in a human face before...in movies, certainly. But not in real life. The warsuited man bent double at the waist and slammed his two fists together on opposite sides of Superman's head. Pain and white light shot through the actor's mind.
"Metal from Daxam, a Krypton-like planet," murmured Luthor. "Mined there, molded there, brought to me by one of the Revenge Squad. I killed him to get it, Superman. Don't worry, he deserved it. As you deserve this."
The blow was an uppercut, bruising his jaw. Revelation: fighting in real life wasn't anything like a movie stunt-brawl. It hurt like the devil. He tasted blood inside his mouth, an instant before Luthor's metal-reinforced knee came up into his gut.
It made him want to puke.
Luthor grabbed him by the hair. He looked at his foe in puzzlement. "I thought it would be so much harder than this. I've fought you before. Many times. You know that. In any of our other fights, by this time, we'd have knocked each other all the way to Metro Airport. What's wrong with you? Did somebody else get to you before I did?"
Focusing, the actor said, "So. It wasn't really you who. Did this to me?"
"Did what to you?" Luthor examined his prey closely. "Oh, well. Don't guess it really matters, now."
He started another blow forward.
A blue-clad arm stopped his fist.
Luthor saw a new expression on Superman's face, now. Grimmer, more resolute, more vengeful. The Big Blue Bumpkin was finally getting down to business. In that, Luthor felt a bit of pride.
All that went through his mind in an instant. After that, Superman's knuckles tattooed his midsection once, twice, three times before he could do anything more. The forcefield sparked, and he was sure some hurt had been dealt to Superman's hands.
But despite his powerful force-screen, despite the metal and padding of his warsuit, despite his resolution to end his lifelong duel with Superman now and for all time...
He had to admit that he felt like a mule had kicked him in the ribs.
Snarling, Luthor kicked back, stepping up the repulse-power of his field in the boot that struck Superman and sent him flying. He flashed back on the fistfight he and Superman had once had on the red-sun world of Lexor, now just gases in space. In that one, he'd given the Kryptonian a black eye, and neither one of them ever forgot it.
He also never forgot that his wife, his son, and the entire world of Lexor--a planet whose inhabitants named for him--had died, as a result of a battle with the very man before him.
Luthor pressed a button on his glove. A metal band on his wrist expanded, flew away from his hand, and hurtled towards Superman. It encircled his throat.
Another twist of a control device, and the Daxamite metal band began to constrict around the Kryptonian's neck. Superman's eyes went wide. He gasped, clawing at the strangling circlet, but even his strength was no good against it. It would either choke him, or cut his throat.
For dessert, Luthor lifted his palms and shot more Kryptonite blasts at him. The caped man reeled backwards, writhing in pain. Daring fate, Luthor channelled more power away from his shields and into his K-blasters.
This was how it was meant to be. In final conflict, on the skies Superman claimed. The Man of Steel versus the Man of Mind. Earthman versus Kryptonian. Absurdly, Luthor felt a thrill of patriotism. Despite all the natural power of a man from a giant red-sun world, given the intelligence, a mere mortal Terran could bring him down.
That is, if the Terran were Lex Luthor.
Superman was dropping. Luthor triggered his boot-jets and followed him down, blasting all the way. A crowd in a plaza below looked up, screamed in individual pieces, and began to run away. No one had time for the "It's a bird! It's a plane!" routine. They just had time to haul ass out of there.
The man in the red cape hit concrete with a sickening crunch.
Cracks appeared for many yards around him. Some pedestrians were jolted off their feet by the impact.
Luthor's jets brought him to a perfect landing five feet away from Superman. His foe was sprawled on his back, unmoving, one knee up, the other leg down, hands seeming to clutch at air, painfully. The metal band was cutting into his neck.
He did not seem to be breathing.
Well, hell. Superman didn't need to breathe. Luthor well knew that a Kryptonian isn't dead from K-poisoning until his skin turned green. Superman's was still normal flesh-toned, if a bit greyish. If he'd been sufficiently weakened, the impact with the plaza might have finished the job on him. But there was no point in taking chances.
Luthor prepared to unleash the final K-blast, and to sustain it until his foe was truly green, and for many seconds thereafter.
Superman popped his eyes open.
"That's another power I didn't know I had," commented the actor. "I can hold my breath forever."
Luthor had time to gasp "No" before the man in blue, red, and yellow lurched to his feet, drove himself forward, and speared a fist right into his midsection.
The forcefield had been weakened by the power drain, and Supes wasn't holding much back. The choke-band, free of Luthor's control, loosened. The actor tore it loose with one hand, threw it away without even looking at it. He was busy.
Trying to get his hands into position for a Kryptonite blast came second to Luthor's trying to get air back into his lungs. He tried to heave oxygen where he needed it most.
The Man of Steel was already at work.
His hands were joined together in a double-clutch now, hammering away at the joints on Luthor's arms, at the plexiglass helmet protecting his head, and at Luthor's chest and stomach. The bad man was driven back, like a mouse facing a steel piston. He tried to trigger more power into his shields, but against Superman's battering, it wasn't doing any good.
There were other weapons in his arsenal. He tried to get his right hand to the control box on his belt. "Give me that," snarled the actor, and, putting his hand underneath the plastic portion of Luthor's belt, ripped it in half and tore it away from the master villain's body. Angrily, he stepped on its control buckle, making it burst in a shower of sparks.
So this is what it feels like to be Superman, thought the actor, along one track of his mind.
Luthor's yell of fury reached him only a second before the metal knuckle-plate hit him in the mouth. It didn't feel good.
But this time, he gave it back with a fierce uppercut. Luthor's plexiglass head-shield burst like a shattered water glass. The bald man planed backwards from the impact, windmilling his arms. The crowd-ring about them moved back to avoid contact with him.
The actor wiped blood away from the side of his mouth. He grinned.
Luthor was still trying to keep his balance, still struggling to stay upright. It couldn't end this way. Not after fourteen years of waiting. Not after a lifetime of hating. It couldn't be just another battle. He had to get his hands into position.
The man in Superman's body walked up to him, unhurriedly, and flicked him in the chest with two fingers.
Luthor went over on his back like a turtle. His arms were splayed out to either side of him. Red boots stepped on each of his upper arms, holding them flat to the concrete.
"Take me to Lois," said his opponent, seeming to look down upon him from an incredible height. "After we get rid of all your gizmoes. Then...we're going to have a talk."
Luthor's mouth dropped open. "A talk?"
Superman nodded. "A talk. Now I'm going to let you up. You're going to hand me your gloves, very carefully. If you try anything cute--I'm going to hit you in the jaw."
The man below him strained and struggled and swore for a second, then sighed, helplessly, and relaxed. The powerful figure stepped off of Luthor's arms, watching for a trick. Slowly, sullenly, Luthor undid one glove, then the other. He handed both of them to Superman.
"Lois is all right, isn't she?" asked the actor.
Looking down, Luthor nodded.
"Let's go," said the man in the very heroic body. He grabbed Luthor by the arm, crouched, and leaped.
Both of them flew into the air. "Up, up, and away," he said, a trifle late.
He was still a man in an alien body, on an alien planet, in a situation he didn't particularly want to be in.
He still wanted to see the face of his wife and his son.
But he had to admit that flying without wires was really a helluva lot of fun.
Dana and the doctor had gotten Chris back into the van and, from there, back to his house, only minutes after the speech had been given. Many of the attendees wanted to shake Dana's hand and congratulate her on her husband's words, but they understood his needs. Thus, they were allowed to leave without undue restraint.
The man in Chris's body appeared to sleep peacefully through the ride home and did not wake as he was wheeled into his room. The connections were made to the equipment therein, and he was placed in a position more comfortable for sleeping.
Both of them watched him for a few more moments before speaking.
"Does he think he's Superman?" Dana hugged herself, wondering if she wanted an answer.
The doctor said, "I don't know. A mind can absorb strain in many ways. Sometimes it creates a different personality to bear the pain. Sometimes...perhaps it brings another personality to the surface. All of this is just a way of saying...we don't know. We don't know."
"And we also don't know if he'll be himself again," she murmured.
He did not answer.
Dana turned to him. "Doctor, you've been so much more than help to us tonight. If not for you, Chris probably wouldn't have made it. And I know I wouldn't have. So...thank you. From both of us."
The doctor nodded. "You're welcome. If he changes, or, perhaps, when he changes, call me. But right now, I'm going home. Jimmy Olsen needs to get some sleep."
She smiled. "As long as you don't call me Lois Lane."
Dana looked down on Chris's sleeping visage, thought about brushing a fallen forelock of hair off of his brow, and decided against it. It might wake him.
Besides, it didn't make him look that much like Superman.
In dreams, he found himself clad in blue, red, and yellow again.
In dreams, he walked a foggy landscape, and was aware of what had happened to him. It was a very lucid dream.
But there was a figure barely perceptible in the fog before him. Surely, there stood the man with the answers. He sensed that, and his hunches were usually pretty reliable.
He quickened his pace. But the shadowy man seemed to keep the same distance. Even a running gait brought him no nearer. Even taking flight only pushed his quarry further ahead in the fog.
So, at last, Superman sat down on the rocky ground this dream had provided, and waited for the man to come to him.
It might take awhile. But he was sure that, until he woke up, he had nothing better to do.
The red-caped man and his passenger broke through the door of one of Luthor's underground lairs. A female voice said, "Hello? Kal, is that you?"
He saw her.
She was raven-haired, with a bit of grey showing through, and her face showed a few mileage lines. She looked nothing like Margot. But she was still pretty, and her expression showed the same gratitude of rescue that the actor supposed she had shown Superman thousands of times. Plus there was an element of intimacy in it. Not only her hero, but her husband, had come to her rescue.
Lois Lane seemed to have expected it.
"Hi, Lois," he said, trying to summon a grin.
The Lair was comfortable, with plush furniture, a well-stocked pantry, and some sort of video devices for entertainment, but it was a prison. He could tell that without using his X-ray vision.
His X-ray vision? He caught himself. After all, he had only borrowed it.
"He caught me flatfooted," Lois admitted, her arms folded. "He's done that a lot of times. Every time, I swear I'll watch my back better. But maybe I should have been watching my front."
"Just a means to an end," muttered Luthor.
"Lex, please," said the actor, his hand firmly on Luthor's shoulder. "Listen, Lois, I'm going to, uh, get you out of here. Then I'll, uh, give you a story on this, after Lex and I have a little chat."
"A chat?" She looked perplexed. "Kal, I mean, Superman, what about? It's been fourteen years since you've seen each other, and he just kidnapped me, and it's not like you're the best of friends, and--"
The actor held up a hand. "Lois. Just trust me on this one, okay? I know it's odd. A lot of, uh, odd things have been happening lately. But just, just trust me on this one tonight. Please."
She looked at him, wonderingly. But she shrugged, and decided to trust. "Okay. If that's what you want. Just make sure he isn't packing a hot little green rock in his shoe heel."
"It's over," said Luthor, so sadly the actor felt sorry for him. "I should have done it better. Fourteen years. But I didn't have time to plan well enough. I didn't have enough time to prepare. I should have waited...but, my God, fourteen years ought to be wait enough."
Gingerly, the actor lay hands on both of Lex's shoulders. "We'll talk, Lex. Just you and me. Right after we get the lady to safety. Is that all right by you?"
Luthor, looking pathetic in what remained of his warsuit, looked up at him. "Why should what I want mean anything to you? When did it ever mean anything to you?"
"Well...maybe it means something now, Lex," said the actor. "Now, if you please, let's get Lois a cab."
Casually, Lois said, "I wonder if Jordy and Laurie have called in by now. Has Clark told you if they're back or not?"
He looked at her. "Jordy and Laurie?"
She gave him back a curious stare. "My kids. Remember?"
He tried to keep his jaw off of his boots. "Um. Right. Sorry, I was just woolgathering there. Uh, I've seen Clark, and he, he said they haven't called in yet."
Luthor said, "I didn't do anything with your kids, Lois. Honestly, I didn't."
"Nice to know," she said, coldly.
They led her out, brought her back to the surface, and hailed a cab for her. The cabbie wanted an autograph from all three of them, but he had to be satisfied with a handshake. Then he drove off with Lois in the back.
Luthor was left with Superman on the warmish Metropolis night, on a side street without too many people in sight.
"When do you take me back?", he said.
"Depends," said the actor. "I want you to talk to me, Lex."
"About what?" Luthor shook his head, tiredly. "We've known each other since 1959. Since we were both kids. We've hated each other almost all that time. What else do you want to know? What else is there to know, after forty years, for heaven's sake?"
"Pretend, Lex," said the actor, guiding them both to a bus bench nearby. "Make believe my memory's slipping. Talk to me. Tell me what I did to you, to make you hate me."
Anger flared in Luthor's eyes. The idea that his greatest enemy was forcing him to recite a litany that both of them knew as thoroughly as a priest knows Scripture. That was the supreme insult. He was on the point of calling damnation on the Kryptonian's head.
But he looked at the Kryptonian's eyes. Partly, he saw firmness there, and realized that any antagonism he showed might be met by the same.
Partly, he saw something quite alien to his own nature. Possibly something like mercy. On any other night, he might have taken advantage of it, tried to twist the trust into a way of gaining an escape, or planning for future advantage.
But this was not any other night. Perhaps it was the last one they would have together.
"I used to be your biggest fan," said Luthor.
That began the speaking.
From there, Luthor guided his one-man audience through a recital of most of the points of pain he had against him. He did not speak of grandiose, world-conquering plans thwarted, though there were many of those. Instead, he spoke of a baby sister whom he had saved from death, but who thought forevermore that she had been saved by Superboy. He spoke of a day in which Superboy had saved him, but in the process had destroyed an experimental life form Lex had created, and caused him to forever lose his hair. He spoke of his abandonment by his own family. He spoke of his hard life at Soames Reform School. He spoke of finally finding love in the arms of an alien woman named Ardora, who bore him a son, and of the world called Lexor, which made him their mostly-absentee ruler. He spoke of the battle the two of them had had, which ended in the destruction of Lexor, and of the death of his wife and son. He spoke of the day, fourteen years past, when Superman had entered his cell like a common thug, told him not to try any "cute stuff" anymore, and, when he was laughed at, took Luthor in hand and used violence on his body.
"Sometimes, my arm still pains me. A little," Luthor admitted. "That was fourteen years ago. I was too scared to do anything, from that day until recently. Too damn scared."
Superman, Lex noticed, had mostly been silent during his monologue. His expression was very grave. It was as if--but, no, the idea was absurd beyond absurdity. He just couldn't look that way, as if he were hearing all of this for the first time.
But that was the way he looked.
"My God," said Superman, in a very soft voice.
Then he looked at Luthor, and said three words.
The old man whom all the world called a villain wavered, visibly.
He should have hated him. Part of him still did, to be sure. But one man cannot associate with another for so many years, without feeling some kinship that transcends love or hate.
Despite all the hatred and all the battles and all the deaths and all the pains and all the broken dreams that were supposed to substitute for what he had lost in Smallville, including his family, and what was lost on Lexor, his new family, Lex Luthor broke down and sobbed.
Superman was holding him. "It's all right, Lex," he said, quietly but clearly. "You don't have to hate me anymore. And I don't hate you."
He couldn't stop the flow of tears. He was glad of it. He had cried tears of rage for Ardora and Lex, Junior and Lexor itself. But now he could cry tears of sorrow.
He didn't really notice that he was getting wetness and snot on the invulnerable cape of the man he had fought for forty years, and Superman didn't seem to care. A few passersby tried to stop and stare, but the actor sent them away with stern looks. The two of them had their privacy.
Finally, Luthor managed to pull himself together, at least sufficiently to break the embrace. "I don't know why," he said. "After what we've done, I don't know why."
"I'm sorry about it all, Lex," said the actor. "Especially the beating. I had no right to do that."
Lex chuckled and snivelled at the same time. "I tried to kill you, and your cousin, and even your dog, hundreds of times. It isn't like we were best friends. Hell, I wanted to kill you. More than anything else in the universe."
Lex paused. "I don't know," he admitted. "I don't know if I can carry that rock on my back any longer. I don't know if I can't. I've done it so long, I don't know what to do without it."
The actor said, "Lex, listen. I don't know about you, but forty years is long enough for me. The thing is..." He looked at his hands, weighing the words, wondering what someone said to the world's greatest criminal scientist on a moment such as this. Then he plowed on.
"The thing is, I can't do it alone. I can't give it up alone. You've been beating your head against a big blue and red wall for forty years. I'm not interested in being your wall anymore. But you've got to stop beating your head against me, Lex. You can keep on doing it until you kill yourself. You might kill me in the process, but honestly, after forty years...what do you think is the chance of that?"
Luthor said nothing.
"We've all got a lot of heavy baggage, Lex," he said. "But it's only as heavy as we make it. We can keep on dragging it around, for what few years we've got left to us. Or we can let it go. I can't make the decision for you, Lex. But I can tell you one thing.
"If you give up this grudge match, you've still got time to do something great and grand and awe-inspiring with your life. You've got a brain that I can't even touch, science-wise. You could do such great things for humanity that, a generation from now, they'd be wondering which one of us was the real hero. And why we ever found anything to fight about."
Luthor's hands were trembling.
"I know that, somewhere inside you, there's still that same Smallville kid genius who wanted to be famous for the things he wanted to do for people. Not to them. Nobody can put that kid in prison. Even if I have to put the guy whose...body...he wears back there."
Finally, Lex said something.
"I killed my wife and son," he said. "I killed them as much as you did, maybe more. If I hadn't been fighting you...if I hadn't built that power-rod, and hit it with that blast...they'd still be alive. So would Lexor."
Superman laid a hand on his shoulder. "It feels like Krypton, doesn't it?"
"It must," Lex murmured. "So. I go back to jail, now?"
"Not till you let me know," said the actor.
Lex said, "It's such a big thing. Such a very, very big thing." He looked at Superman, with a confused expression. "But what will I do? I tried making miracle soil to grow crops in for Africa, and it didn't work. You know that."
"You can do a lot of other things," said the actor. "If you know enough about DNA engineering to create a simple life-form, there are bound to be lots of things you could do in the field of science. Like medicine."
"Maybe." Luthor considered it.
"Would you consider something for me, Lex?"
"What? A cure for Kryptonite?"
"No," said Superman. "That'd only benefit me. Lex...would you consider a way to heal spines that have been damaged in accidents? Damaged spines, that leave their owners...paralytic?"
Luthor stroked his chin. "Nerve growth is a hard thing. Sometimes impossible."
"For you?" said the actor, and waited.
An eternity of three seconds passed.
"Guess I could give it a try," said Luthor.
And with that, and a few more minutes of conversation, Lex Luthor went willingly with Superman to the Hall of Justice in Metropolis, where the Man of Steel demanded that the policemen on duty treat his new friend with respect. They thought he was joking. A serious gaze convinced them otherwise.
Before he left with them, Luthor took off his boots and handed them to a guard, to be handed to Superman. "Kryptonite in the heels, embedded in lead," he explained. "Put them in a safe place."
"I'll try to," said the actor.
He flew away.
With a bit of searching, he found the clothes of Clark Kent where he had left them, brushed away a bit of bird-do, and flew back to an alley near Clinton Street. There he changed, hoping that there was sufficient darkness to cover him, and emerged into the light, just remembering to put on his glasses a second beforehand.
The doorman was a different one from the morning guy. "Hi, Mr. Kent," he said.
"Hi, there," said the actor, quite a bit more firmly than he had that morning.
It was only after he opened his door that he realized he hadn't made the evening broadcast.
That was serious business. Clark Kent could lose his job for that.
What if he had to be Clark Kent for the rest of his life?
Could he be a husband to a woman he had just met tonight?
Could he be a father to two children he had never seen?
Could he be a hero to an entire planet?
He sighed and shook his head. This was all too much for him. This day, this incredible day.
And yet, he had performed well in it. He had done the job of a Superman.
Lois was not there. Undoubtedly, she was still filing her story, or on her way back from the Planet.
He went to his bedroom, sat on the side of the bed, and decided to reach for the phone and try to call the place where Clark Kent worked. At least, he hoped Clark Kent still worked there.
But as he was reaching for the phone, he found himself utterly, completely, and irresistably drowsy.
He slumped to the floor, knocking the receiver off its cradle, and punctuated its buzz with his snoring.
Superman looked, and saw another man beside him.
The man had the face of the body he was currently occupying.
The man stared back at him, and after a few moments, said, "You're Superman."
Nodding, Superman said, "And I think I know who you are."
"This thing," said the actor. "Did it happen to you, too?"
"Yes," said Superman. "I was in your body."
The actor paused. "I'm sorry."
"Don't be. I learned a lot. It's very tough to be you, you know."
"Uh, yeah," admitted the actor. "But it isn't a cakewalk being you, either." He laughed. "My God. I'm talking to a comic book character. A guy I played in a movie."
Superman looked offended, a bit.
"Sorry," said the actor.
"Oh, don't worry," said Superman. "That's just the way it is on your world. I found out."
"I fought Lex Luthor," said the actor. "I can't believe it, but I really fought Lex Luthor."
"Luthor?" Superman's voice rose, and his stature seemed to increase. "He's back in town? What did he do? Did you capture him? Did he harm anyone?"
The actor held out both hands to Superman. "No, he didn't hurt anyone. Yes, I caught him. But I have to tell you this. You can't treat him the same way once you go back. I made friends with him."
"I think he's started on the right path, now. I think he might be ready to quit hating you."
"You've been conned."
"I don't think so," the actor said. "You've got to give him a chance. He's probably going to work on a cure for my condition. I--"
Superman got nearer. "You mean that you convinced Luthor to work on repairing broken spines and nerve columns?"
The actor smiled. "I think you'll find him a changed man. But he has to find you a changed one, too."
"Crazy," said Superman. "Utterly crazy. How did you accomplish this?"
"Sat down and talked to him. That was all."
"I've been talking to him for forty years," said Superman. "What did you say to him?"
"I told him I was sorry," said the actor. "So you have to be, too, when you see him."
Superman ran a hand through his hair. Even in the dim light, the actor could see that the highlights of it did look blue. "This is a dream. Therefore, I can't take seriously anything I'm hearing."
"It's a dream, all right. But you've got to take it seriously. Believe me."
Finally, Superman said, "I'll check it out for myself. Assuming we end up back in our own bodies."
"Bodies," repeated the actor. "How did you do in my body? I had a speech to make tonight. God help me, it's so great to be able to talk without pausing every few words. Even if this is a dream."
"I know," smiled Superman. "I made the speech."
"What did you talk about?"
"Oh...Superman." He grinned. "The one subject I'm a fair authority on. The audience seemed to enjoy it."
"Wow," the actor murmured. "I've mostly played that down. I mean, it was just one role."
"I saw the movie," said Superman. "You did a good job, Chris."
"I..." The proper words, the words one should use on such an occasion, seemed to have been lost on the Earth-Krypton run. Finally, the actor said, "You must have seen the first movie."
"That was it. The producers took a lot of liberties with the facts. But for a movie, it was pretty darned good."
"Thank you," the actor said. "Thank you very much." Then he said, "So. Did you figure out who was responsible for us ending up in, uh, each other's bodies?"
The Man of Steel gestured towards a fog-shrouded figure that the actor had not caught sight of. "I think we're both about to find out," he responded.
The man in the fog was, at long last, moving closer. Superman made sure that he was between him and the actor. His shape became more distinct with each step. He seemed to be wearing a purple robe with a hood. The Man of Steel suspected that their host was his old foe, the Time-Trapper, for a moment, and prepared to do battle.
But as the being moved closer still, Superman saw his face, which was not like the Trapper's, and which he had seen once before. And he saw the great book which he held clasped to his chest, chained to his wrist by a metal shackle.
His muscles untensed a bit, and he spoke the newcomer's name.
"Destiny," he said.
The actor stepped closer. "You know this guy?"
"I've met him," confirmed Superman. "Okay, Des. Last time we met, you put me through a little teaching session. You held me back from solving some problems that you said people could solve themselves, that you said they needed to solve themselves. So. You're the one who played Body Snatcher with both of us?"
The being spoke. "I am," he said. The lips in his expressionless face moved. But the actor could have sworn he only heard the voice in his mind.
"What is he, some kind of villain in your stories?" asked the actor.
"I am Destiny," said the being. "I am of the Endless. I wait at the crossroads of every human life. Only a few are privelaged to see my countenance once. You, Superman, have seen it twice."
Superman stood, hands on his hips. "I don't like the way you operate."
"That counts for nothing," said Destiny. "The lesson is almost over. What have you learned?"
The Kryptonian pointed an angry finger at the robed being. "I've learned that you seem to take it upon yourself to meddle cavalierly in the affairs of everyone you want to, without considering their feelings or asking permission. Endless or not, your manner of working stinks."
The actor lay a hand on Superman's shoulder, marvelling at the power of it, now that he wasn't in that body. "Superman, wait. All right, we have undergone...an experience. We didn't ask for it."
"We were not even given a choice," snapped Superman, not wavering his gaze from Destiny's form.
"But...I did learn from it. Didn't you?"
Superman paused, looked back at the actor. After a moment, he said, "Well, yes. In terms of a new experience, I learned a lot more than I ever wanted to know. About...helplessness, I suppose. And powerlessness. I've lost my powers, on many occasions. But never, ever before, Chris, did I ever feel so helpless."
The actor stared at his new friend, soberly. "Superman. I don't consider myself helpless. And I have never considered myself powerless. Not even as my body is, today."
Destiny said nothing.
Finally, Superman responded. "You're right, Chris. I apologize. If anything, I learned about the power you wield. And that may be a power greater than any I possess."
The actor smiled. "I'm not so sure of that, Superman. All I could try to do with your body is kind of try to keep from screwing things up too badly. I'm not sure how well I did. But at least I didn't knock down all of Metropolis trying." He paused. "I wouldn't want your life. Even if I have to go back to being paralytic. I want my wife and kids. I want to do what I have to do."
Superman considered, then said, "It doesn't seem like a fair bargain for you, Chris. I get to go back to playing super-hero, being a reporter. And yet..."
The Man of Steel looked at the actor almost pathetically. "You know, until today, I never appreciated...not really...the powers that a normal man enjoys. The power to walk down the street. To talk without great effort. To breathe without a machine. To lift my arm and...feel...and know that this machine, my body, will do what I tell it to. At least, unless something terrible happens to it. And the odds are against that, at my power level. But even there, you know...something could."
The actor nodded. "Stay away from jumping horses, anyway."
Superman smiled. "I'll keep that in mind." Then he glanced at Destiny and said, "So that's the lesson? That I had to learn what it's like to be paralytic, and he had to learn what it's like to be the most powerful man on Earth?"
Destiny was silent.
"Tell me," said Superman.
"Tell us," corrected the actor.
Destiny spoke again.
"The lesson is what you perceive it to be," he said. "You are your own teachers. I am but a facilitator. I am Destiny. You will not speak of this day, or of myself, to any other. But you will remember it for the rest of your lives."
He put his hand to his great book, and began to open it.
Superman anticipated the oncoming event. "I never want to see you again, Destiny."
Destiny replied, "You will never see me again, I think. But at each and every turn of your lives, at each crossroads of Destiny...I am there."
The Man of Steel turned towards the actor. "Chris. You're a good man. A very, very good man."
The actor managed to get out, "And you're Su--", before the book seemed to envelop them and they saw each other and Destiny no more.
And then Clark Kent woke up.
Lois's hand was underneath his pillow, nudging it. "Clark. Come on. It's 7:00 and I'm not leaving you breakfast in the microwave."
"Uh?" He shook his head. He looked down at himself. He was clad in his PJ's, with the covers half-thrown off. "Lois? What happened?"
She grabbed his arm and helped tug im out of bed. "What happened is that I filed a story about my capture by Luthor, my rescue by Superman, and all that, last night. That Lana Lang soloed for you on the news. And that your job will be saved only if you can get in there and finish selling Morgan Edge on what I started selling him on before I left, that interview with Lex Luthor that you are going to do."
"With Luthor?" Clark rubbed his eyes. "What interview?"
"Get up," insisted Lois. Super or not, he was as hard to get out of a warm bed as any other dumbbell American male. "Don't you remember, for crying out loud? Luthor says he's reforming. I don't know about that, but he's also saying that he's going to work on medical problems from here on in. Specifically, spinal research."
"Spinal research?" Clark sat up on the edge of his bed. "As in, spinal injuries and such."
"Yeah. Uh-huh," said Lois. "Good Lord, how did you get as far as you have without me around? Remember, you had that long talk with him last night? And he called up the Planet last night, saying he wanted to do an exclusive with me? But I convinced him to do it with you, so you could keep your job? Get into your clothes, for pity's sake!" She rummaged around in his closet for a blue suit that didn't look ten years out of date.
"Lois," he said. "You were kidnapped by Luthor last night, right?"
"Right," she said, tossing a suit at him. He caught it.
"And I saved you, right?"
"Of course you did, Clark. Even though you acted, I don't know, kind of funny when I saw you. But if you took as much K as the eyewitnesses said you did, I guess I'm not surprised. That was probably why I saw you passed out in your street clothes and Superman suit."
"Oh," he said. "And you...?"
"I undressed you and dragged your leaden 200-pound body to bed," said Lois. "Thank you again for saving me, but I don't want to do that again, even if you do. Now. Are you all together yet, Clark?"
"I, well, I suppose I am," he said. "Where's my working suit?"
"You'd better use your heat vision on it if you intend to wear it under your suit today. It stinks."
"Okay." He paused. "Lois. What did I act like, yesterday?"
She looked thoughtful. "You seemed a little less sure of yourself. And you acted as though you'd forgotten a few things. But I was really impressed with the way you handled Luthor. Almost like you'd found a new way to get to him. And, you know something? I guess you did."
"Hmm," he said. "I guess. I guess I did, at that. Lois."
He picked her up, threw her a foot into the air, and caught her. She shrieked, half in joy. "Good grief, Clark! I know you're glad to see me back, but you don't have to throw me into the light fixture!"
"What's a super-body for if you can't use it every once in awhile? You mentioned breakfast."
"Toast, eggs, and bacon. In the kitchen. Then we catch a bus to work."
"We can walk. It's only five blocks to the next bus stop after the one outside, and we'll have time."
She looked at him, still engaged in his arms. "Are you planning on flying, or what?"
"Lois, the good Lord gave us two good legs, and feet at the end of them. And I am very pleased to have mine in working order. I intend to use them as often as I can. We'll walk."
"Are you sure?"
"Sure as I'm the kid from Krypton," he murmured. "We'll walk. You'll probably enjoy it."
She looked at him again. "I probably will. Maybe. Let's eat first."
And all through the meal, she wondered why she saw him flexing the muscles of one arm and then the other, whichever one wasn't holding his fork or glass.
And then the actor woke up.
He woke up to the familiar noise of the ventilator by his bed.
He felt only numbed sensation in part of one arm, less in a few other parts of his body, nothing at all in most.
Before waking up, he had commanded an arm whose blow could shatter a steel safe. Now, he could not so much as twitch his pinky.
The familiar metal bands encircled him in the chair. The smells, the sights, they were all familiar to him. Sickeningly familiar.
At least, they seemed so after the last day.
"Dana," he called, as loudly as he could. "Dana."
In a few moments, she entered. "Chris? Are you...back?" Her eyes held hope and fear.
He was quick to answer. "It's me, Dana. I'm back."
She did not hold back her embrace, or her tears.
"What happened?" he asked. "What happened. Yesterday?"
"You lost your memory, Chris," she said, when she composed herself. "You were...well...another personality."
"Oh," he said. "What was I. Like?"
She held the hand of his that had the most sensation in it. "You weren't bad. You seemed to know all about Superman, but nothing about yourself. You are yourself again, aren't you?"
"I'm normal," he said. "Again."
"Thank God," she breathed, and held his hand tightly. "It's good to have you back, Chris. It's so good to have you back."
With an effort, he said, "The speech. Did I. Make the speech?"
"Why, yes, Chris. I wanted you to call it off, but you just wouldn't. You went, and you spoke about, well, Superman. And they just loved it. One of the board members had it videotaped." She looked at him. "It's strange. You didn't know who you were, but you gave a standing-O speech."
"I spoke," he said. "About Superman?"
She nodded. "And you don't remember it?"
"Not a. Thing."
She smiled. "That's good."
Then she went out into the hallway and called, "Will. Your daddy's awake. Come see him before you go to school."
Footsteps approaching with a familiar childish gait. Then the familiar face of his son. "Daddy?" he said, tentatively.
He smiled. "Yes, son. It's me. The old me."
The kid rushed over and hugged him as best he could.
It would be hard to accept this body, now. Hard to readjust to a form which was so much less than what he had tasted.
He had tasted the power of Superman.
It was so much more than he had ever imagined, than he ever could have imagined. Now, he had a tube in his mouth, and a body that wouldn't work from the neck down.
But he also had a wife and a son whom he loved, and who loved him back.
This was where he belonged. Not among men in costumes, or strange figures with books chained to their arms. Even if he never walked again, he had his family, his world, and his work.
No, there was more than that. If Lex Luthor had indeed been persuaded by him, and he thought that Luthor seemed as sincere as a penitent when last he saw him, then there was a chance that his great mind would be harnessed to the task. There was a possibility that a cure or repair of the wounded spine would be found, on Superman's world. If any mind could achieve it, perhaps Lex Luthor's could.
And perhaps that would be payment for what had been a wasted life.
Only he had a feeling that Luthor's would not be such a wasted life from here on, after all. His words had helped. As Superman's had, on this world, just a day ago.
Perhaps that was another lesson. There had to be many lessons still not perceived, in that one day of feverish transexperience.
Apparently Destiny knew something of what he was doing.
But the actor was glad that he would never see him, or any of the others he had met that day, again. As glad as he was to have their memories. He would never forget any of them.
And he was very glad, above all things, to be home.
Even in the old body.
Especially in the old body.
He smiled. There was still work to do.
In days to come, Superman made a point of visiting hospital wards containing spinally injured patients, and talking to them and their loved ones. He would only say that a good friend of his had been so injured, and that Lex Luthor was still working on a cure.
Whether Luthor was successful or not is beyond the power of this writer to say. It is enough to say that he tried, and that he was allowed, within the scope of the prison system and allied medical facilities, to perform research on that and other human medical problems. Luthor's research propelled more than a few medical breakthroughs. He won commendations, not the least of which came from Superman himself. Even Lois Lane said that, if it took her getting captured to spark something like this, she'd let Luthor do it every year.
The actor's story is still being written every day, as are those of all who dwell in the world he inhabits, and in our world, and all worlds besides. Stories must stop at some point. At least, the ones which are written.
As for Destiny, he is said to keep his own counsel and to be very busy, and is seen by only a few persons throughout eternity. Only the Endless saw him more than Superman. But he would probably assure you that many lessons were learned from the day two men would never forget, though they mentioned them to none.
And perhaps among the two greatest lessons were these:
That one of those men knew what it was like not to walk, but that someday, all such men might walk again.
And that the other believed indeed that somewhere, in a world he would never reach again, a man could truly fly.
I've been asked by some online friends how I could write this story, with simulacra of real, living people woven into its fabric. The answer I've given is the only one I have: that, after having had the idea for the story, how could I not write it?
Admittedly, I have not asked nor gotten permission from the real-life counterparts of Chris and Dana in this story to use them in it. I beg their forgiveness, and my only defense is that this story was intended as a love letter of sorts to both of them.
Here's how it started, I think:
Back in 1994, at the time of Christopher Reeve's tragic accident, I was as stunned by the news as most persons seemed to be who had seen him in the 1978 Superman movie and / or its three sequels. For us, despite what roles Chris Reeve undertook, he was always Superman. As Jeremy Brett's Sherlock Holmes eclipsed that of Basil Rathbone, so Christopher Reeve's handsome, muscular, and stalwart Man of Steel shadowed Kirk Alyn's, Bud Collier's, and George Reeves's.
Though we knew what had befallen him, and understood it academically, it seemed that many of us had the same thought in the backs of our minds.
How could this happen to Superman?
Of course, it didn't. It happened to a very brave, very human man, and there would be no last-minute comic-book saves for him, any more than the many others who suffered spinal paralysis.
But something quite remarkable happened after that: Christopher Reeve simply refused to let his paralysis be the end of it.
He became a spokesman for the cause of spinal injury research. He wrote. He narrated films, including a documentary dealing with spinally inflicted paralysis. Miraculously, he even acted. He appeared in the Rear Window remake, in the Jimmy Stewart role, and in other films.
And his foundation, for which Reeve serves as chairman, has furthered the cause of spinal injury research greatly.
Before his injury, Christopher Reeve played a superhero.
After it, he became a superhero.
Sometime after the accident, I suggested to my friend Mark Waid that DC do a special Superman comic benefiting Reeve's foundation. He wrote back that it was a great idea and that he would mention it. Evidently it didn't get far enough at DC Comics, that company which benefited so much from the shot in the arm Reeve's film had given them in 1978.
So I shelved the idea for a long time. Five years, more or less. I read Chris's autobiography and enjoyed it, picking up some behind the scenes trivia and the like. (But, c'mon, Chris, Superman IV wasn't that bad!)
Then, just recently, I checked out from our local library the book Care Packages, by Dana Reeve, Chris's wife. Along with information about his life before and after the accident, the book was mainly composed of letters from everyone from President Clinton on down to Death Row inmates. And all of them sent messages of encouragement, telling how the Superman movie had touched their lives, and how they hoped that someday, a man who had flown on screen would walk again.
That was the clincher. I'd played with the idea for some time previous, but never put it into text. What if...?
What if, for one day, the real Man of Steel and Christopher Reeve switched bodies?
It was almost too much to get around. There was the risk of using three real people in a fict, Chris and Dana Reeve and their son, Will. But I was convinced that, if they were treated with dignity, then a fictional version of the Reeves would not necessarily be perceived as insulting or exploitive. I leave it to you to decide how well I hewed to that rule. I can tell you this: no attempt was made to portray "Chris", "Dana", and "Will" in anything but a good light. Their personalities and dialogue in this story are, of course, fictional. Since I do not know them personally, they could hardly be anything else.
I beg their forgiveness for the appropriation.
But, as I've said, once I had the idea, I had little choice but to write the story.
The first 10-page segment, when it was done, was posted to Outside the Lines, a comic fanfiction mailing group. It has never been noted for its receptivity to Superman stories. Most of its output, until recently, has been devoted to unofficial stories of Marvel's X-Men characters. I didn't know what kind of reception it would get.
Almost as soon as it was distributed, I found out.
On a fanfic chat line, on OTL e-mail, the responses came back almost immediately.
A hell of a lot of people loved the story of Christopher Reeve and Superman.
The feedback letters kept rolling in, more than I'd garnered for any single story. So many of them eloquently spoke of how the story's subject moved them, that there was no question of not finishing it, for me.
But then again, once started, there never was any.
So thanks very much to all the folks who wrote me about the story, or told me about it online. Even the ones who questioned the ethics of using a version of Christopher Reeve. I hope you all liked how it came out, in the final product.
The Christopher Reeve Homepage was valuable in providing some important biographical information about Reeve, and pointing me in the direction of several other websites.
The Christopher Reeve Paralysis Foundation's website was another invaluable resource.
Steve Younis's Superman Homepage also provided much information and was a lot of fun to browse, as well; he's also responsible for the Christopher Reeve Homepage above.
Finally, if some traits of the Superman in this story seem unfamiliar to you, be advised that this is the Superman of Earth-1.75, an older version of the Superman who appeared in DC Comics from the mid-Fifties through 1985. This story is set in 1999, a few years down the road from the stories I'm currently writing. If you're confused, consult "Kara and the Dreamsmith". So much for that.
Don't stop reading, we're about to come to the most important part.
Regrettably, there are no super-heroes nor Lex Luthors in our world to find a cure for spinal paralysis.
Our own scientists, doctors, and surgeons will have to do the best they can on their own.
But we can help, and you all know it.
The Christopher Reeve Paralysis Foundation is taking donations for the cause of research online, at the website previously mentioned; by phone; and through the mail. The online page for credit card donations is here . The phone number for donations is (800) 225-0292. For contributions by mail, send to:
500 Morris Ave.
Springfield, N.J. 07081
After writing this, I'll be sending them a contribution. Hope some of you can manage to do the same, if you want. And you don't have to mention this story. But hey, if you did, it wouldn't make me mad. ;-)
I had intended to finish this up with a quote of Hal Ketchum's country song, "Hang in there, Superman / One million grown-up children wish you well". But I think I'll just say thanks to all of you for reading the story.
And thanks to Christopher Reeve, not for making us believe a guy in a blue suit could fly...
...But for making us believe.
12 / 8 / 1999
Superman and related characters are property of DC Comics, Inc. No money is being made from this story, no infringement is intended.