SUPERMAN: MILLENIUM

"Visitor"

Written by Wyzeguy

Superman characters created by Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster

Smallville -- The Past

The stars were peaceful and distant, sparkling clearly in the Kansas night sky.

The couple in the weathered pickup truck below were distant as well, but far from peaceful.

"Martha," the man spoke after a long silence. "Are you gonna be all right?"

The woman continued staring out the side window. She glimpsed her reflection in the glass, and saw what she'd been feeling: she was on the edge of tears. "I'm . . . I'm fine."

The man shook his head and glared at the dirt road ahead of him. At least the farm wasn't much further ahead. "You're not fine. Want to talk?"

"Jonathan," she replied sharply, turning to him, "you heard what the doctor said."

"Yeah, I know what he said. It's going to be all right."

"No, it's not! I can't have children. Ever. It's not gonna be all right, and you know it!" She resumed her vigil of the sky outside her window, finding no comfort in the stars.

Jonathan pondered this in silence. "I know how much you've been wantin' children. Hell, so've I. But it's not the end of the --" Silence. The outskirts of their farmland emerged into view. "We can adopt."

Martha turned back to him, her stare boring into him. "Won't be the same. It won't be our child."

"Not by blood, Martha, but it's the heart that counts."

"We've been over and over this. If we can't--" She was interrupted by a brilliant light in the sky. A bright streak that raced like a comet.

But it seemed like it was racing toward them.

Jonathan instinctively slammed on the brakes as the flash blinded him. The old vehicle skidded and kicked up clouds of dirt and sent rocks airborne. He came to a complete stop and opened his eyes. "Martha? You all right?"

"Y . . . yes, Jonathan. But what was that?" They were both breathing hard and shaking.

"Don't know. It's gone, whatever it was."

A plume of smoke caught Martha's eye. "Jon . . . out in the field."

He looked where she pointed. Near the center of his cornfield, he saw the smoke, and he struggled to unbuckle himself and open the door. "My corn!" A crops fire was the absolute last thing they needed.

After extricating themselves from the car, the two raced into the field to investigate what happened. They had no idea what to expect.

What they found was beyond comprehension. The small fire that had started in a perfect circle in the middle of the field died down, and the resultant column of smoke parted to reveal . . . a large silver object. It was twelve feet in length and teardrop-shaped. And it hovered roughly six feet above the charred ground.

"What . . . what is it?" Martha asked, her voice scarcely above a whisper.

"I couldn't begin to . . . I don't know. Maybe it's a spaceship, or something N.A.S.A. lost." He saw Martha reaching for the object with a slow tentative hand, and he grabbed her wrist. "No! That's thing's hot! I can feel the heat from here. Who knows where it could've come--"

Then they noticed a dark grey design on its hull, a shape that greatly contrasted with the shiny silver. It was pentagonal, with a strange shape contained within that resembled a letter. It appeared to be a stylized "S". The design glowed red, and a large circular hole opened up underneath it. Jonathan and Martha found themselves waiting with baited breath to see what would come out.

A small object slowly lowered itself from the exit hole until it hovered three feet from the ground. It was a large red blanket bearing the same design as found on the ship's hull, held aloft by a gold dome hovering patiently upside-down.

Martha noticed something under the blanket. "Oh my god . . . it's . . . there's something . . . ." She pulled back the blanket, revealing the last thing they expected to see: a sleeping human child, fair-skinned with short black hair. A boy.

The couple stared at the baby in silence, trying to comprehend what they were seeing. Lights flashed on the baby's carrier, and they heard a garbled voice announcing something they couldn't understand. The message tried again, but this time in English: "Protect him."

At that point, the baby woke up, looked around, and fixed his inquisitive blue eyes on the husband and wife.

And commenced bawling at the top of his lungs.

Martha picked him up and tried to quiet him down by rocking him in her arms and shushing him with a quiet, soothing voice.

It began to work, and Jonathan watched this with an affectionate gaze. "You're a natural at it, Martha."

She stopped and looked at Jonathan incredulously. Looked at the drowsy baby in her arms. "I . . . I guess I am." The hovercarriage rose and reentered the teardop ship through the opening, which shrank and closed as if it had never existed. Only marginally aware of this, Martha whispered to Jonathan, "he needs a name."

But Jonathan's mind was on the ship. "What're we gonna do with this . . . ship, or whatever it is?"

"Jon . . . this baby needs a name."

Her words sank in. "You want to keep it?"

"That voice said to protect him." She slightly emphasized the last word to point out Jonathan's choice of pronoun.

"Him, I mean." He took a deep breath. "But didn't you say that--? Never mind." He watched her and the baby for a second more. "I don't know a good name. You pick."

Martha's smile was faintly smug. "How about . . . 'Clark'?"

"Your maiden name?"

"It's as good a name as any."

Jonathan knew better than to press the issue when his wife's mind was made up. "Okay. Fine. We'll have to register him. Get papers going so we can legally adopt him." He indicated the silver spacecraft. "But are we gonna tell 'em about that? Nobody'd believe us. And if they did, they wouldn't let us keep him."

"No . . . we can just say we found him abandoned. Which is the truth."

"So you're serious about this."

Martha simply continued watching the baby doze off. "I've always wanted a child, Jonathan. It's the heart that counts, right?"

"You named him Clark."

"Yes. Clark Kent. I like the sound of that . . . ."

***

Metropolis -- The Present

"No, I assure you, Mr. President," a well-dressed man stated into his cellular phone as he reclined in the back seat of his stretch limosine, "that the product will be in your hands by tomorrow morning. You have my word that I will personally see to...yes, well, the theft of my LexArmor unit was an isolated incident, and one I expect to resolve quite soon."

Lex Luthor's eyes rolled as he listened to the president's response. "I see. I see. Fair enough. Well, I hate to keep you from your . . . oh, that's quite all right. Tell the missus I said hello." He turned off the phone and half-heartedly threw it against the back of the front seat in frustration.

"Didn't go well, I see," his driver and bodyguard, Mercy Graves, commented from the front seat, glancing occasionally at the rearview mirror at Lex.

"Just drive, Mercy," Lex snapped, rubbing his temples. "The continued disappearance of the LexArmor is ruining my credibility with my clients, the president most of all."

"So you want the armor back, right?"

Lex glared at Mercy, loathing her talent for asking stupid questions in an attempt to make conversation. "Yes, Mercy. I'd very much like to have that armor prototype back in my possession, and my hands around that overzealos ex-employee's throat for daring to abscond with my property. Now keep your comments to yourself and your eyes on the road. I'd like to be at the meeting sometime before I have to collect social security."

"Uh, sir? The armor's back."

"What're you--?" Lex's next words were slammed into the seat cushions along with the rest of his face, as the stretch limosine jarred to a sudden halt, its front end crumpled like an accordion under a steel-mesh-gloved hand.

Mercy looked up from her airbag at the cause of the impact, a six-foot man in a black bodysuit and green chromium armor. His face was hidden under a black full-face helmet with a visor over his eyes, but Mercy knew that the man was Ken Braverman, the current possessor of the aforementioned LexArmor prototype. "Afternoon, ma'am," Braverman greeted, tipping an imaginary hat as Mercy reached for her gun. "I'd like to have a meeting with your boss. I realize I, y'know, didn't make an appointment, but . . . ."

Mercy cut off the rest of his sentence by bringing her pistol up sharply and firing an armor-piercing round through the already-damaged windshield. The bullet glanced off of Braverman's helmet, which was far more durable than anything the bullet was designed to penetrate. That was, after all, the point.

"Okay, I'll make an appointment next time," he replied, slightly annoyed, and he reached through the hole in the windshield and grabbed the gun. He crushed it in his grip, and Mercy had to quickly let go of it to keep from getting her fingers crushed. He then grabbed Mercy's hair and slammed her head against the driver's side window, knocking her out. He idly pulled his hand back out, and walked around to the side of the limo, enjoying his newfound power, which was far beyond anything human. His old friend and former co-worker, John Henry Irons, had designed it well.

Lex stirred back to consciousness when he heard a gunshot coming from the front seat, but when he peeked over the seats to get a look at what was going on, all he could see was a hole in the windshield. He was startled by a loud tearing sound above him, and he looked up to witness four snakelike metallic coils tearing the roof off of his limosine. "Braverman," Luthor breathed while reaching for his own gun as the LexArmor suit appeared, tossed the roof aside, and reached into the back seat to grab Lex with his coils.

"Sorry, Luthor," Ken Braverman mentioned as he pulled Lex out of the vehicle, "I just figured you needed a bigger sun roof, that's all." He grinned as he saw Luthor level his gun at point blank range. "You know, you're a lot funnier than I thought. I mean, you gotta know that a stupid handgun isn't gonna do jack to this visor, no matter how close it is."

"You'd be surprised," Lex smiled. "I'm always prepared for an opponent."

"Okay, that's nice to know," Braverman replied as he activated his armor's electrical charge, sliding a massive jolt across his coils into Lex's body. "And call me 'Conduit'."

Lex shouted and looked up at Conduit through bleary eyes, fighting to stay conscious. "Still awake, huh?" Conduit asked, pleased with himself. "Good. Torturing you will be fun."

* * *

"I'm actually having fun here, Ma," Clark Kent admitted over the phone as he sat on the couch in his apartment building. "Metropolis is an interesting city, the restaurant job is going well, and --" He paused as Martha Kent interrupted him. "No, as I said, it's just temporary," he informed his adopted mother. "At least until I get the job at the Planet or another newspaper. In fact, I have an interview with Perry White scheduled for tomorrow. He's the Planet's editor-in-chief. Yes, I hope it goes well, too. I have to go to work. Tell Pa I said hi. Okay? Bye."

Despite saying goodbye, it took another full minute for Clark to end the phone conversation with Martha. It was that way every time they talked.

Hanging up the phone, Clark breathed a sigh of relief and walked to his closet. As he grabbed his coat, he heard the distant sounds of police sirens and helicoptor rotors. Whatever was going on, Clark observed, it seemed like a job for the police. But they were converging on the bridge over Metropolis Bay, an area which his apartment overlooked. He looked out a window, and saw several police cars and choppers swarming the bridge. In the middle of the scene was a demolished limosine and a man with black-and-green armor taking a hostage.

Clark narrowed his eyes, focusing on the hostage. His gaze closed the half-mile distance between the apartment and the bridge, zooming in on the bound victim like a telescope. The victim was Lex Luthor.

He looked back into his closet and sifted through it for something different from the jacket he'd been planning to grab. He removed a suit from the back, one very different from anything else he wore. One he hadn't quite convinced himself to start wearing yet.

Until now.

Blue-and-red bodysuit and cape in hand, Clark made his decision.

* * *

Conduit couldn't tell how many police officers had arrived, but it seemed like a small army. Leading them was Maggie Sawyer, captain of the Metropolis Special Crimes Unit, who shouted into a bullhorn. "This is the S.C.U. Surrender and release the hostage safely into our custody, or we--"

Unfortunately, all this took place on a bridge above Metropolis Bay, so Conduit simply dangled Luthor off the side while facing the police. "Or you what?" His coils let go and retracted into the armor's forearm casing, causing the billionaire to drop toward the water.

The S.C.U. opened fire. Their bullets didn't scratch Conduit's armor. Then they stopped shooting, but not to reload. They were fixated on something occurring behind him, so Conduit turned around to see what was going on.

He found himself face-to-face with Luthor, who was carried by someone. A man roughly Conduit's height, who appeared to be in his early twenties with black hair, blue eyes, and an athletic build, smiled at Conduit while hovering in midair near the bridge above the bay. Even stranger, the newcomer wore a dark blue bodysuit, which heavily contrasted with the bright red cape, boots, gloves, and polygonal chest-borne "S" shape the man also wore.

"I believe you dropped something," the man observed while setting Luthor carefully down on his feet on the bridge. His own feet stayed in midair, refusing to touch solid ground.

"Who the hell are you?" Conduit demanded, then fired five coils at the man in the cape. The coils wrapped around the man's forearm, and Conduit sent a massive charge of electricity lancing through them.

The man didn't seem to feel it.

Conduit upped the wattage to three thousand volts, which made his opponent wince. Five thousand volts put the man in danger of losing his concentration for hovering.

The caped man looked pissed.

Flying rapidly upward, the bodysuited stranger pulled Conduit off the bridge and up to a height level with the Metropolis skyline. The man abruptly stopped, but Conduit kept his upward momentum . . . right into the 'S' man's fist. Conduit somehow felt the punch straight through his helmet, and felt it crack as the coils disengaged from the man's forearm.

Conduit flew backward away from the point of impact toward an office building, and crashed through an enormous neon sign on the roof. He rolled across the gravel surface several times before slamming into an air conditioning unit and stopping. His entire body ached. An alarm blared in his helmet, warning him of "critical damage to Armor's integrity; losing power." He cursed incredulously as he rose to his feet. The most advanced combat armor system on the planet, built to withstand impact from bullets and missiles, had just been critically damaged by one punch from a human fist and a crash-landing through a neon sign?

Then he saw his opponent alighting on the rooftop, cape flapping in the wind and sky-blue eyes giving an intense stare. "He's gotta be human . . . right? It's gotta be the suit." Conduit rerouted his helmet's power to his sensors and scanned the stranger. He was more than a little surprised at what he found:

"Superhuman abilities biological in origin instead of manmade?", he whispered as he studied the readings. "Class five strength, and class ten potential? How's that possible? Flight capabilities and high durability; possible energy projection? What am I dealing with? Oh shit...what do you mean, you can't determine the being's biological classification?"


By now, police and media helicopters were circling the area, all hoping to get a glimpse of the action. Clark waited for Conduit to stop whispering to himself, then announced, "Allow me to introduce myself. I'm Kal-El." He'd decided that he didn't want to be known by his human name while using his powers; he liked his private life too much. So in order to disguise his indentity, he began wearing a costume made from the alien fabric the Kents had found in his spaceship. He'd also decided to call himself by what he'd learned was his original name. This way he could say he was a visitor from another planet if asked. He thought it was a fairly good idea.

Conduit didn't seem to be as fond of it. "Ka . . . what?" He shook his head and checked his armor systems to see if he still had enough power. "You're gonna need a better name than that. Me, I'm Conduit. And I can punch, too." He did just that, launching a punch at Kal-El with tons of augmented strength behind it. The punch could shatter concrete, and it sent his opponent stumbling back a few paces. Conduit pressed his attack, delivering two left punches and a right, but none of them connected. Kal-El ducked and sidestepped them all.

Changing tactics, Conduit eyed the swarming helicopters above and retreated a safe distance away from his adversary. Locking onto the main rotor of a WGBS-TV 'copter, he fired a tight-beamed laser from a compartment in his forearm gauntlet. The blades were severed instantly, flying in every direction due to centrifugual force and leaving the rotorless vehicle and its passengers to plummet toward the office building.

"No!" Clark shouted, and raced up to meet the falling chopper. Flying, he grabbed it in midair and adjusted his speed to slow its descent. Despite weighing over a ton, Kal-El didn't find the helicoptor to be that heavy or difficult to manage. His biggest fear was crushing its hull in his arms. His feet touched the concrete rooftop of the office building, and Kal-El set it down gently. A quick check of the passengers inside confirmed that they were all right.

But this left him open to a strong right hook to face, courtesy of Conduit.

"Good rescue," Conduit commented while standing over Kal-El's toppled form and clapping. "I bet that's gonna make the evening news. So while the cameras are running . . . ." He kicked Kal-El twice more, then clasped both fists together to deliver the coup de grace.

Kal-El reached up and grabbed Conduit's fists on their way down, then rose to a standing position. The two struggled, their eyes locked, in a contest of strength.

"I have to admit," Conduit said conversationally through gritted teeth, "you put up a heck of a fight. But you're obviously new to this. I mean . . . look at you; you're dressed like a comic book superhero."

"I'll take that as a compliment," Kal-El replied with a smile. "I didn't think I'd get a fashion critique from someone with a sci-fi theme."

"Hunh. Good one." Conduit wrapped his coils around Kal-El's arms and turned up the juice all the way, blasting Kal-El with more voltage than ever. But Kal-El had grown used to this tactic, so he calmly rode out the storm. He knew he could last longer than his armored sparring partner.

Then Conduit seemed to realize his mistake. He was draining himself, and his armor was in no shape to handle the energy transfer. It was overheating. He turned off the suit's charge and disengaged his coils from Kal-El, but ran into another problem: the suit's unlocking mechanism was damaged. "Help!" he shouted. "Dammit, help! I can't get this thing off! It's gonna explode!"

"I'd be glad to help," Kal-El replied, so he willed his eyes to glow red.

Conduit crawled away from the superhero in a panic, obviously thinking Kal-El was going to kill him. Clark couldn't help but smile inwardly, realizing that it must indeed look that way. But all he was doing was emitting a concentrated ray of heat from his solar-powered body, focusing it like a child focuses sunlight through a magnifying glass. The armor opened, and Kal-El pulled out the man inside. "Never let it be said I'm not a nice guy. Now, are you ready to behave yourself?"

A terrified Conduit could only nod dumbly.

The passengers in the news helicopter opened all the exit doors to file out onto the rooftop. Eager for a story, they raced to Kal-El. The few who weren't busy catching their breaths and calming their frayed nerves from the ordeal, that is.

"Lois Lane, Daily Planet," the first of the reporters to reach him introduced herself. She had jet black chin-length hair, brown eyes, and a striking red business suit/black miniskirt combo. "Care to say a few words before you fly off? Like what your name is, where you're from, how it is you're hovering right now, what possessed you to dress up in a cape . . . care to talk?"

"Uhm, Kal-El. My name is Kal-El. Believe it or not, I'm from a distant planet, but I've made Earth my home and want to protect it." He found himself having more difficulty than he'd anticipated with explaining himself to the press. Mostly because his story sounded idiotic when he said it out loud.

Lois tapped her cheek with her pen and looked at her small notepad. "'Kal . . . is that spelled with a 'C' or a 'K'?" She looked up at him, especially at his chest-born symbol. "And if that's your name, why is there an 'S' on your chest?"

"Huh? Oh." Kal-El looked down at the design, realizing just how much his family crest looked like the Roman letter she just described. Ma Kent had been right. "It's really not an 'S', Miss Lane. Let's just say I'm a superhero, and leave it at that."

There were more questions, but Clark'd had enough. He flew straight up from the office building and made a few laps around the city before reaching his apartment. He wanted to make it difficult for any viewers to tell where he was headed, but that was only part of it. He found himself taking his time before returning to his apartment in order to give himself room to think.

The bay stretched out beneath him, washed in the golden light from the setting sun. He saw his reflection on its surface. It seemed he really didn't give his superhero identity as much thought as he should have. There were too many people asking questions. Too many parts of his story that seemed ridiculous when he voiced them. But they were all true. He frowned as he watched the reflection of his chest insignia in the water. And his thoughts drifted back . . . .

***

Smallville -- The Past

"Clark!" Jonathan Kent shouted to his son. "Get away from there! What are you doing?"

Clark largely ignored him, and kept digging. He had been steadily chipping away at the soil with his shovel for the better part of an hour. The plot was at the back edge of the Kent farm, and true to Clark's suspicions, it had been dug into before, years ago. All of his life, Clark had always gotten a strange feeling every time he'd gotten near this area. He could never decide whether the feeling was good or bad, but it steadily increased throughout his childhood. Now, three days after his sixteenth birthday, the day after he peered out of his bedroom window and swore he saw a tiny flash of red light in the night sky, he found himself in this field, standing over the spot with a shovel. Dig, something told him.

So he did, and shortly thereafter, his shovel clanged on metal. Unearthing the buried treasure took the rest of the time, and by the time his father shouted, Clark had found himself staring at the last thing he expected to see.

A spaceship. Twenty feet long, five feet across, and teardrop-shaped. At least he guessed it was a spaceship; there were no visible entrance points in the smooth metallic exterior, caked with dirt. In fact, he couldn't even be logically sure it was a spaceship, because it didn't look like anything he'd seen in sci-fi movies or books.

But he knew it was. Beyond the shadow of a doubt. He also remembered seeing this before.

"Pa?" he asked his father when the older Kent finally made his way across the field to him. "Why is there a spaceship buried in the field?"

Jonathan caught his breath, his face white with horror. He had no idea how to answer that. Instead, after a few moments, he responded with, "So you know."

"Know what? All I know is that I just...I dunno...I just felt the need to find whatever was buried down here." He could tell that answer didn't explain much to his father, so he tossed the shovel aside and crouched over the vessel. Something caught his eye...a marking of some sort, obscured by a patch of clay.

Focusing on it, Clark rubbed away the clay, and revealed the marking: pentagonal, with a strange letter in the middle. The insignia was black against the grey hull, but at Clark's touch, the symbol glowed red.

"What the hell...?" Jonathan breathed.

Clark flinched backward, surprised, and watched a growing circular hole open in the hull, and expose the ship's interior, which lit up like a christmas tree. By the time the hole finished growing, it was large enough for a single full-grown human to enter, and inside the shuttle, there were two adult-sized reclining seats, with a smaller, infant-sized seat in the middle.

Father, mother, and child, Clark realized, looking up at Jonathan.

"This is where your mother found you," Jonathan informed him sadly. "We were headed back to the farm after visiting the doctor. Martha found out she couldn't bear any kids, and we spent the whole trip back arguin'. I don't even remember why." He sighed. "Anyway, there was this comet came out of nowhere. We watched it go by, and forgot what we were fightin' about. Next thing we know, the comet fell toward us and struck this field. Right here in this very spot.

"Martha got me to stop the truck and get out. She ran to this field, and I guess this thing opened, 'cause she found you sitting in that seat. When I got to her, she was holding this black-haired, blue-eyed baby. She named him Clark, and after we got 'im settled in, I spent half the night covering up the ship. It's been here ever since. An', well . . . that baby is you."

"So you're telling me . . . you're . . . what are you saying?" Clark asked, trying to process this. He stood up and stepped back from the ship. "I came from this?"

Krypton.

"What?" Clark looked at Jonathan, certain he'd heard a voice.

"I didn't say anything."

"No, somebody said something. I heard...some word. 'Krypton'. That's it."

Jonathan peered at his son, trying to understand where the strange behavior was coming from. "A Crip-what?" But Clark had apparently zoned out. He was listening to something else.

You are Kal-El. Your home planet is Krypton, twenty light-years from Earth.

Clark found a rather complex hallucination sliding across his mind's eye. He ceased to be aware of his farmland surroundings, and felt himself in what looked like deep space, staring at a small collection of planets revolving around an enormous crimson sun. A red giant.

His attention was directed to the second planet, a green sphere of which he now knew the name. An all-consuming flash of light shifted the scene to the interior of an obscenely hi-tech laboratory. Clark's point of view put him near the center of it, near a computer console, and in front of two bizarrely-dressed figures, a man and a woman. Clark found that he could look around to anything in the room, which helped, because he was disoriented to a fantastic degree. The man's voice riveted his attention.

I am Jor-El, science officer for the Kryptonian Ruling Council. She is Lara, my wife.

The woman spoke then, and her statement brought Clark's knees out from under him, both in this vision, and in reality on the farm:

We are your parents.

"My...my what...?" Clark realized the woman was holding an infant. One with black hair and sky-blue eyes...

Clark couldn't think. None of this could be real. The man, who wore an ornate, sleeveless red cloak with the same design Clark saw on the ship, stepped forward and continued:

For us, this planet has less than three semi-cycles left before our sun goes nova. By the time you are old enough to see this, Krypton and everyone on it will be long forgotten.

Jor-El's demeanor grew solemn.

However, I could not convince anyone of the imminency of the cataclysm, and now it is too late. Too late to do anything but wait for the end...and ensure my only son survives.

Clark watched as Jor-El walked to the teardrop-shaped spacecraft, its hull brand new and untouched by light-years of space travel, and years of neglect under Earthen soil.

You see, I had enough prior warning of this to construct a vessel which would carry the three of us away from this doomed solar system, and to a Kryptonian colony in the neighboring galaxy. Various factors have ruled out this plan as a possibility, but I do have the means to send one passenger -- you -- half the distance to a planet called Earth. I have discovered that it is capable of sustaining Kryptonian life, though its yellow solar radiation will have certain biological effects, for which I have made minute changes to your DNA in order to compensate--

His wife nudged him slightly, to bring him out of his scientist mode.

Jor, please.

Sorry. All of that, as well as information about your homeworld and birth race, is stored in the ship's computer banks. You may find the answers there at your liesure.

Clark realized that their language wasn't English, yet he was able to understand it perfectly. He decided that Jor-El had planned that. Still . . . .

I know this must be hard for you to accept, Kal-El. You have no doubt spent your entire life until now living amongst humans, and believing yourself to be one of them. But I assure you that we are telling you the truth, that we are your parents. And that you are the last survivor of Krypton.

As if on cue, a violent tremor shook the laboratory. Clark didn't feel anything, but the rest of the room was deeply affected. Jor and Lara lost their balance, and Lara almost dropped the baby. Jor whipped around and registered the tremor with shock.

It's starting . . . earlier than I'd projected! There's no more time left. Lara?

Lara carefully placed the infant in a small hovering seat which moved inside the ship once its portal opened. Jor-El checked the harness to make sure the child was secured, then looked up and nodded at Lara, who reached over to a console, resting a finger on a button.

I'm afraid we must say goodbye, Kal-El. Rao be with you. We love you.

Lara pressed the button, and Clark felt disoriented once again, a flash of light washing washing over his synapses. He kept hearing a strange word repeating over and over, like a mantra.

It finally dawned on him that the word was his name, Clark.

His Earth name, at least.

He looked up at Jonathan Kent, who was trying desperately to snap him out of his trance. "Clark? C'mon, boy, say something!" Clark's mother Martha had arrived, and was equally concerned.

"I'm...I'm fine, pa," Clark muttered weakly, trying to stand up. He'd apparently slipped back into a sitting position during his trance. "Really, I . . . I don't know what happened."

Martha began fussing over him, wiping the dirt off of him and checking to see if he was all right. Clark wanted to tell her what he'd seen, but how could he? How could he tell the woman who raised him that he had just met his real parents in a bizarre out-of-body experience? Even more, how could he explain to them that his real parents were from another planet? Or did they already know?

Hours later, long after the elder Kents had gone to bed, Clark sat on the roof of the main barn, gaze fixed on the section of the night sky where he'd seen the red flash of light. He had figured out what it was: a red star had gone nova, and its light had taken years to reach Earth. Fifty years, which had to mean that he'd spent despite the ship beating lightspeed to make the trip, it had still taken decades that he must have spent in suspended animation. And it couldn't have been a coincidence that Clark had been looking at the constellations when he saw the nova; he had been stargazing all his life. Now he had a pretty good idea why: Jor-El must have implanted that instinct into his DNA.

Clark stood up. Jor-El. Krypton. Lara. Spaceships. Dying planets. Stars going nova. Genetic engineering. This all sounded relentlessly cheesy. He'd always known he was adopted -- there were papers to prove it -- but Clark always thought he had met the Kents as the unwanted product of a possibly unwed, underage mother too scared to have an abortion, and too scared to keep him. That was one reason Clark had loved Jonathan and Martha so completely: they had accepted him whole-heartedly, and made him feel like he was worth something.

It had quite simply never occurred to him that his mother and father might have been aliens.

He didn't believe it. Well, he did, but he didn't. This was the kind of thing he saw on TV, or on the cover of tabloids in the grocery store. In fact, had he seen any of this in a movie or magazine, he would have laughed out loud. He wasn't laughing now, because as much as he wanted to dismiss the vision of his offworld parents as sheer hallucination, there was still solid evidence in the form of an unearthed teardrop-shaped spaceship.

It was all too much to process, and Clark suddenly wanted off of the roof. He walked over to the ladder, and prepared to make his way down to the ground. He looked down to the soil below...and suddenly, the ground didn't seem that far down.

On a whim, with every survival instinct screaming what the hell do you think you're doing?, Clark stepped off the roof, avoiding the ladder completely, and landing on his feet twenty feet below on the hard earth. He was completely amazed to discover that not only did he barely even feel the landing, he could have sworn that the trip down took much longer than it should have.

In fact, it felt as if he were...floating?

He dismissed it as yet another bizarre event in an ever-expanding line, and headed back inside to go to bed.

***

Metropolis -- The Present

Clark quickly reentered his apartment, hoping no one saw him, and shed his Kryptonian costume. He redressed into his waiter's uniform and glasses, now running very much behind schedule. A glance at his clock revealed the time to be a minute before six o' clock. With his speed, he could easily make it to work on time, but he was certain that only luck allowed him to resolve the Conduit situation so quickly. He was glad he didn't have to face Lex Luthor, Conduit's hostage, in the process.

The very thought that he'd just rescued the same man whom Clark had come to Metropolis to investigate irked him. Luthor had employed the services of Pete Wilson, a promising lawyer who was Clark's best friend in Smallville for many years, and now Pete was dead. A week before Pete's supposedly accidental death in a fire, Pete had called Clark and informed him that he'd discovered something shady about Luthor's activities. Clark wasn't sure what Luthor's involvement in the death was, but he was certain the billionaire knew more about it than the press was told.

Clark raced out of his apartment and to street level, running to work faster than the eye could track.

* * *

"But what was really amazing was his eyes," Lois Lane enthused, fully immersed in her excited description of the caped alien who'd saved her life. "They were blue . . . very unearthly blue. I've never seen anything like it. He had a stare that just . . . commanded attention. They were almost hypnotic."

Her boyfriend, Lex Luthor, listened with a frown as they sat in his penthouse abode atop the LexCorp headquarters skyscraper. "I see. You were up close; was there anything else you noticed about his face?"

"Not really. I mean, he was handsome, but I don't really remember much about his face other than his eyes. His stare had that much behind it." She thought for a moment, brushing her bangs away from her face with her fingers. "Come to think of it, it was weird that he didn't wear a mask or anything. Like he didn't have anything to hide."

"An alien with a hypnotic stare and all kinds of powers doesn't have anything to hide? I find that hard to believe. Just as I find it hard to believe he'd show up out of nowhere and express a desire to protect Earth." Lex dismissed the notion with a wave of his hand. "All that was probably elaborately-staged anyway. Garbage more suitable for a tabloid than a Daily Planet headline."

"Wow, could you maybe sound just a little more jealous, there, Lex? Well, I for one think it's a great story," Lois asserted. "How's this for a headline: 'Prominent Billionaire Saved by a Superman'." She framed the imagined headline with her hands for dramatic effect.

"A what?"

"A Superman. I decided he needs a better name than 'Kal-El'. One that goes with the 'S' on his chest."

"And now you're naming him. 'Superman.' How perfectly Neitzchean." But as he glanced out the window to the nighttime skyline beyond, it occurred to him how profitable it could be to have a Superman in Metropolis. Or more accurately, in his pocket.

It also occurred to him for the first time in years that, as tall as his Metropolis empire towered, he couldn't see the stars.

END

Next Month: BATMAN