How to Save a Life: A Novel by J.F. Bailey (unedited)

How to Save a Life by JF Bailey Superman Logo

PART I

If we don’t change the direction we are headed,

we will end up where we are going.”

Chinese Proverb

Day 1

New York City

Midday

Static crept into his mind, distant and out of focus, a confusion of sounds that coalesced into something recognisable.

Voices.

In a language he didn’t know.

He willed his eyes to open, but they were sluggish to his command. His arms too felt far away, as though they belonged to someone else – he knew they were there, joined to his shoulders, but they were detached from his body somehow.

Severed.

Amputated.

With a distant DNA memory connecting them to his brain and causing them to itch.

A finger abruptly jerked backward into his palm.

Or his fractured mind imagined it.

So great was his confusion, he didn’t know what was real. Where he was. Who he was. His thoughts bounced away half-formed and feverish when all of a sudden he felt something undeniable – pain. He tensed and cried out but no sound escaped his corporeal prison as a searing agony ran like a board of nails dragged down the length of his body…

…But what in the god’s names is he wearing?” demanded a polished voice, speaking in english after all, like an English school ma’am with a penchant for handing out punishments.

I… I don’t know,” stammered a gentler voice – this one he recognised, but its owner flitted on the peripheral just out of memory’s reach, “He’s not in either of his disguises.”

“But how did he get here?” The first woman questioned, her authoritative voice low.

“I couldn’t say, I literally tripped over him while cutting through the alley during my lunch break-”

“Lower your voice,”

“I’m sorry,” she whispered, “I’m just… so shocked,”

“Hm, as am I,”

“I thought you said he was at the meeting with the others

“Indeed,” the school ma’am answered thoughtfully, “He should have been at that meeting. But no matter the reason for his being here now, we must move him first and foremost.”

“Yes, of cour-”

And with a sudden jolt, he felt the familiar sensation of being shot through a slingshot and jerking to a halt moments later when whatever it was that moved him at such a rapid pace, gently put him down. He could make out the sound of breathing by his ear but he was powerless to open his eyes and see whose mouth was attached to it; to see who could move so fast.

Kal El?” came the firm, accented voice by his ear, “Kal El?…” the sound of her polished vowels like old upperclass English mixed with something else – Italian? Greek? Her voice was urgent and strong and yet it caressed his aching senses like a drug. She called to him again, shaking him efficiently, pain and sensation swinging in and out of him like a revolving door. Answer me. Open your eyes.” She was growing impatient.

She bustled away and the sounds of a cell phone, followed by a string of mutterings soon reached his ears. A curse muttered from the woman as each number she tried must have gone to voicemail. She huffed, more a low frequency growl, letting slip some of that signature poise her accent implied.

Zeus’s ballocks,”

His body suddenly tingled. He grasped the sensation, willing himself to life. He could feel coldness beneath him now, a cold hardness, and perfume – roses and paper, everywhere the scent of paper. He never thought such a thing could smell so strong; could make him want to puke. Unfamiliar nausea built suddenly and violently then quickly swam away on the wave it came in on, leaving nothing but writhing pain in its wake. His fingers twitched then balled into a weak fist.

Open, he told his eyes. Open. I need to see.

His lids, too swollen to open more than a crack, revealed little. Everything within the cold space looked like dark, indistinguishable blobs.

A moan rattled coarsely from his chest.

Kal?” clicking heels came scurrying back to his side, “Kal El, talk to me.” Shaking his shoulder, she began tapping his cheek quite ungently. His eyes struggled to focus on the oscillating shadow beside him.

“How…” his voice was hoarse and his tongue heavy, it felt swollen and too large for his mouth, “How do you know that name…?” he managed, cotton-mouthed, straining to have any kind of focus above the burning sensation in his gut and lower back. He winced and clamped his jaw.

Kal El?” strong hands grabbed his face, “Look at me, look at me, her forceful fingers held his jaw in a vice-grip, “What happened? Who did this to you?”

Blinking hard, another groan escaped his dry throat. His teeth ground so hard they squeaked as agony ripped through his pathetic body, wave upon relentless wave.

“Kal El…” His heavy lids blinked slowly, once, then twice, then rolled upward and fluttered closed, fading the urgent voice and the sharp points of her fingertips into peaceful silence.

There was no pain in the silence.

——

Before her, Kal El’s face grew a deathly shade of pale. A moment later a scratchy exhale marked the moment where his body slackened completely, his mouth sagged in the way that only death allows, every muscle beneath his skin suddenly silent.

“No…” shaking his chest, his arms then face, she looked down in horror. “No, no, no…” the triage checklist within said to check for breathing and a pulse. Keeping her eyes trained between his face and chest, she deftly slid her fingers around the soft inside of his wrist and checked for the radial.

Nothing.

She automatically repositioned. Nothing. She checked for the carotid pulse between the windpipe and large muscle in his neck. Again. Nothing. All the while looking for any signs of response in his face and colouring. Placing her cheek millimetres from his mouth, she felt for the warmth of his breath as her fingers moved for his radial once more. Her fingers silently shifted and repositioned around his wrist in case she’d missed the sweet spot all while watching for tell-tale movement from his chest and warmth upon her cheek. She waited a tense moment, all focus on her cool cheek as her ears strained to make out any sound.

His chest remained pacific.

She stared past him then, unseeing, confused. How could this be? With anyone else, she would have started CPR immediately, but this was Kal El – this was Kal El! Fear scraped down her spine with it’s cold, icy edge – this was not possible!

No. No, no, no…

With all her might, she raised her arms high above her head and beat down upon his chest with a powerful double fisted punch.

Don’t,”

She pummelled his heart with all her strength.

Die,

His sagging body jolted like a boneless corpse beneath her punches.

On. Me. Now, Kal El!”

She beat down upon his chest in time with her command, willing his alien heart to begin pumping once more.

The other woman finally arrived then (on a personal note pleased that she’d made such good time), but the sight that greeted her pulled her up short. She skidded to a halt at the door and paled, her hand automatically reaching for her open mouth as she took in the horrific scene before her: Mr. Kent, covered almost entirely in the shocking red of blood, laying on the cold cement floor of a UN storage room, dead.

She gulped, but hesitated for only a second before jumping into action.

Resuscitation is useless, Diana!” she barked without her usual reserve as she sprinted forward on her sensible heals, already winded from her exerted run from the taxi stand, “Strip him! There must be something responsi-”

But before she could finish her sentence, Diana had ceased the pounding and was promptly ripping the bloody clothes from his body, tossing them to the other side of the room in three swift moves.

Impressive. Her boss was always impressive.

Casting the hero-worship aside, she dropped to her knees and joined Diana in scouring every inch of his bare front, their faces just inches from the mutilated flesh. They searched under his arms, the soles of his feet, in his hair – looking for something, some explanation why The Man of Steel was laying in a pool of his own blood, dying.

Dead.

Dear God, he was actually dead.

Ok, flip him, Diana. There has to be some kryptonite somewhere for him to be bleeding out like this.”

Diana turned his body over as though his two hundred and twenty pounds weighed two.

Damn it to hades, there is just too much blood here! It is everywhere, I cannot see!” Diana, on rare occasion when she panicked, swore with great fervour, “Zeus’s ballocks. Get me something to clean this up!” she snapped at her subordinate while re-looking in every gash for a clue as to why he wasn’t healing himself.

Wiping away blood with her tailored sleeve to get a clearer view, her curved black brows suddenly snapped together as an unwelcome possibility entered her mind; a frightening thought, a thought she did not wish to entertain but there it was nonetheless: that some kind of liquefied kryptonite was mixed into his bloodstream to specifically stop him from ever being able to heal. She prayed right then and there to every single one of her gods, good and bad, that this was not so, because then… well, then… she could not bear to think of what this would mean… or how they could possibility help him in time…

Curse him for ever telling anyone his god’s damned weakness,” she swore at length as she moved up the line of his broad, bloody back with her strong hands to the thick mess of blue-black hair above, and the lifeless face hidden beneath.

But Diana forced her training to take the place of her fears. Using her hands like a squeegee, she wiped away the fresh pool of blood gathering on his lower back, gathering as though his heart still pumped though it remained still. His blood made a soft splashing sound as it landed on the concrete between them, soiling her wide-legged slacks.

Too much blood.

Her eyes sharpened.

“These look like bullet wounds,” she observed as she tugged at the torn flesh nearest his kidney – a bullet wound she was qualified to handle, refined kryptonite in the bloodstream she was not. Stretching the messy opening apart, she peered deeper inside the slitted wound of interest, but blood kept refilling the hole, oozing not pumping, it was as though all his blood vessels had simply broken and he were turning to puree inside.

“But a bullet would just bounce off his skin,”

I know that! I said get me something to clean this up!” she snapped. The smaller woman understood Diana’s impatience and didn’t take offence. She was actually moving, she was obeying, just at a mortal pace. She knew Diana was protective of her friends, particularly Mr. Kent – Kal El as she and only one or two others dared call him – and right now she was no doubt feeling powerless and scared and this would make anyone agitated, even the stoical Diana.

Diana,” she cautioned while standing to find something to absorb the pools of blood, “Look everywhere,” she nodded in the direction of his sky-blue boxers stained brown with blood, “Modesty is not an issue for the dead.”

Turning, she spotted the pile of clothing where Diana had thrown them moments earlier and ran, slipping on the blood trickling away from his body but regaining her balance just before she lost her footing completely. She skated the last step to his blood-soaked apparel and grabbed his torn black t-shirt to use as a cloth, but as she pulled it away from his black trench coat, something ominously green and glowing tumbled from the jacket pocket –

“Diana!” She gasped.

They looked at each other with mirrored expressions of horror.

Kryptonite,” they said in unison, one woman holding up a glowing green meteor rock, the other holding a green bullet fashioned from refined meteor just retrieved from Mr. Kent’s bloody behind.

Diana swore and super-sped to the other woman, extracted the rock from her grasp and then flew out the tiny storeroom window, shattering glass in her wake.

The smaller woman flinched and turned her mortal head to avoid the flying spray of razor-sharp debris. When she turned back, all she could see was the horror of bloodshed and glass. Shades of crimson everywhere, so much of it that it looked as though Mr. Kent had drained completely. The very thought had her biting her lip anxiously, feverishly debating something within…

She carefully knelt, avoiding the glass, and cleaned his wound, keeping one eye on the mottled colour of his jaw peeking through his hair and the other on the task at hand. His olive skin had turned pure white now, with yellow and blue patches of death surrounding what she could see of his mouth. His limbs were already turning cold. She shuddered and swallowed thickly. She’d seen death before and this was it. He was so totally dead right now.

Please let the kryptonite not be in your blood-stream, please let the kryptonite not be in your bloodstream…” she murmured, harbouring the same niggling fear as Diana, “Please, please, please come back from this…”

Wondering why just one bullet in the butt would kill him, she heaved him over and used water from her drinking bottle to loosen up the thickening blood upon his chest, trying to gauge whether there were more wounds hiding beneath the mess.

Overwhelmed by the wreckage, she murmured, “What is blood and what is wound?

A swoosh of air let her know that Diana was back.

“Any change?” Diana asked, watching nervously from a crouched position inside the broken window-frame.

“None,” her employee responded, rattled.

Diana rubbed her forehead and pinched the bridge of her nose. Feeling powerless, she swore again.

“Those damned meteor rocks. I thought we eliminated the last of them years ago.”

I don’t know if we ever really will, what with the Luthor’s having stock-piled the stuff in god knows how many secret locations for god knows how many years.” Tension was high in the small room and mention of the infamous Luthor clan always brought a foul flavour. They’d been a formidable foe and one the world was a much better place for now that they were no longer in it.

Diana glared warily down at Kal El, rubbing her temples in a repetitive, agitated motion when something suddenly caught her eye.

Wait, stop!” She leapt, defying gravity, and landed in a neat squatting kneel by his side, immediately peering into a sliver on his chest that had looked at first glance like only a scratch. “There is another damned one,” she ground out through angry teeth. She quickly reached deep into his rib cage and retrieved another green bullet with a wet crunching sound that sent a shiver down both their spines, “Re-check every gash! Quickly, quickly!”

This time she super-sped the glowing bullet into the wastepaper basket at the end of the hall instead of the sea – the sea? – just far enough away for it to stop glowing. She was gone less than a quarter of a second, so fast that her assistant barely registered the motion.

Even more panicked now, the two women slid their hands across his slick skin, feeling like brail for any change in the surface texture that might indicate a hidden wound, any wound. They opened and reopened every piece of mashed flesh, checking even more thoroughly for glowing green bullets that may be hiding beneath the surface.

“Push your fingers all the way in, he cannot feel it,” Diana urged and her subordinate obeyed. Digging deeper, two more bullets were found, both in his abdomen, and then another lodged in his lower back, near that kidney.

Holy cow someone was trying to do a thorough job here,” the smaller woman murmured while awkwardly retrieving what she hoped was the last bullet and handing it to Diana – it slipped from her bloody fingertips into Diana’s large, blood-soaked hand. She had no actual medical training herself, unlike Diana, and marvelled, not for the first time in her slightly abnormal career, what one was truly capable of when one had no other choice, like, sticking one’s fingers their full length inside a bloody bullet wound and wiggling them around in blind search of a bullet, not bone or cartilage or whatever else seemed to be all over the place in there, but something hidden by flesh and a never ending stream of slippery blood.

“Yes, someone whose head will soon decorate my palace gates. I promise you that.” Diana super-sped the last bullets to the bin. She would take care of them properly later, for now, they were safely out of range to be a threat to him and she didn’t want to leave his side for a second longer than absolutely necessary. The sea?

Kneeling once more by his side, she hauled him over and opened his eyes.

No pupil response.

She felt for a pulse.

Lifeless.

She fell back roughly against the wall near his long, beat-up body. Exhausted tears betrayed her, making her eyes an even greater shade of blue. She’d never quit a single thing during her long life but found herself now without a course of action, all they could do was damned wait and futilely hope. Her head pounded like hades, her patented poise was slipping in a big way and she felt powerless to stop it.

Tenderly, she cradled his blood-stained hand to her chest and smoothed her thumb over the pasty flesh of his lifeless fingers. How strange hands felt without life in them. Cold. Utterly lax. Once pink nail beds turned yellow. An unnatural heaviness and flexibility.

The other woman watched with both curiosity and a great compassion.

You cannot die, Kal El,” Diana whispered, “You cannot…” Hot, angry tears streamed down her ageless face, her elegant voice trapped in her throat, “All those years of being a nurse and the damned rules do not apply to you. I cannot fix you… nobody can. How utterly useless I feel…”

Her words hiccupped and did battle with her habitually checked emotions; emotions she usually saved for the battlefield where she fed them into the numb single-mindedness necessary in order to fight; to win; to kill even; emotions that were now threatening to consume her with a weakness that, if unchecked, she knew would pull her apart at the seams; unravelling all that she was.

The other woman observed the inner battle in silence. She recognised this as new territory for the dauntless warrior – all the while her own mind worked feverishly…

“Diana,” she urged gently, in the soft, kind way she had about her, tears filling her own eyes in response to Diana’s, “Go find me as many first aid kits as you can, we can at least clean him up,”

But when Diana didn’t respond, when her fixed watery stare did not refocus, her subordinate carefully pried Mr. Kent’s hand from her mentor’s wet cheek – an exquisitely shaped cheek smeared now with tears and the coagulated blood of a man she clearly loved.

Go,” she urged, the undertone in her naturally sweet voice suggesting that this was no longer open to discussion; that it was in point of fact, an order. She was not the one who did the ordering in their relationship but for some reason Diana blinked and moved as if to obey. The tall, immaculately tailored woman took one last look at the tragic mass on the floor beside her, then swooshed from the room, relieved to have a purpose, leaving a trail of loose copy paper swirling through the air behind her.

The smaller woman swatted the paper away before it could land on Mr. Kent, then she looked at him intently, biting her lower lip anxiously. She did not have much time.

Kneeling again by his side she placed a hand on his forehead and softly whispered, “Mr. Kent,” her voice a sweet mixture of innocence and sincerity, her heart expanding and pounding inside her chest, filling her entire being with the warmth of dopamine. She had never been this close to him before, and she had also never been so conflicted with indecision… She glanced nervously over her shoulder, “I know that you don’t really know me, but, sometimes I feel…” she suddenly felt foolish and wiped some blood from his remarkable brow with her thumb and glanced over her shoulder yet again.

She looked back down at him and suddenly stilled.

“Are you going to wake up?”

She watched him closely, absurdly expecting a response,

Are you going to heal yourself?”

Indecision jumped back and forth within her. Perhaps he was too far gone, maybe it was already too late and Diana would be back at any moment, what should she do? She needed to decide and now.

Her voice changed then to the barest of whispers as she leaned in close and offered into the perfect shape of his ear, “Do you need my help?”

Looking across his inanimate face, so lose she could see every pore, she exhaled shakily; there really was no decision to be made here.

Okay then,” she smoothed back a lock of black hair from his brow, “If it means saving you,” she took a deep, courage-building breath, “then of course I will give my life.

Her resolve firmed like stone in that moment. A sacrificial sob caught in her throat and she nodded her head, willing her strength to hold. Tears shone in her bright eyes, tears that were strangely luminous, the largest of which tumbled past the inner rim of her eye, shining like a star as it descended with a soft splash upon his beautiful face. Then another iridescent tear fell, followed by another, and very gently, oh so tenderly, she placed her palms over the broad surface of his cold chest.

Live,” she whispered like a prayer, begging the universe to gift him back his life, “We need you… The world needs a Superman…”

——

A familiar voice.

Crying.

…please… please live…”

Wet hair, tickling his face. Soft words, weeping gently into his soul.

We need you…” came the melodic chant again and again like a lovers caress. The comforting warmth in his blood suddenly accelerated and burned through his body, clearing all of his senses.

“Chl-oe?” he croaked, his voice dry from adrenaline and punctuated at the end by a sudden pain in his lower gut that broke her name in two.

Heaving heavy hands upward, he felt for her shoulders and slowly pulled her into view. Blinking hard he found himself looking at his best friend, Chloe Sullivan, having a full-on weep session. Her skin was as white as fresh snow on a corn field and covered in an alarming amount of vividly contrasting red. He immediately x-rayed her – a knee-jerk protective instinct ingrained long ago – but the familiar exertion now sent pain soaring through his skull.

He groaned and squeezed his eyes shut, blocking her image from view. Realising he was squeezing her arms too tightly, he quickly released his grip just as untamed sparks of molten heat shot forth through his lids in fractured bursts of red lightening that melted his weakened flesh away. Instinctively, he turned from Chloe and screamed an agony of silence as his lids and lashes melted back from his eyes. Teeth clenched, his twisted neck revealed veins and tendons strung deep into slick, bulky shoulders covered in streaks of blood. His huge body jerked convulsively, fighting the frightening onslaught of self-destruction. Scorch marks scarred the concrete bricks of the wall behind him for he no longer possessed eyelids to shield the world from this hideous power.

The warmth he’d awoken to suddenly intensified then. A hot light filled each corner within, he could almost see it, taste it bursting through his every pore with a power stronger than himself. He suddenly felt the burned flesh of his eyelids knitting back together as the muscles and skin relinked, an horrific sensation he would never, ever forget.

When he finally felt it was safe to look at her again, he was blinking and breathing hard and wanted to cry as much as she was. Tears streamed from the corners of his freshly healed eyes. So great was his relief, he almost laughed. The whimpering smile quivered along the pathetic lines of his mouth, but then just as quickly changed to a questioning frown. He cocked his head to one side, confused – Chloe’s hair was brown… in a sagging bun that was about to fall out?

“Chloe?” He croaked again, bewildered by the conflicting data. Chloe didn’t have long brown hair? His shaking hands reached for her. “I…” His disproportionate emotional response to her new hair colour were as though it were more alarming than the amount of blood covering her, or the fact that he couldn’t engage his x-ray vision and barely had the strength to hold up his own two hands.

Half laughing, she beamed with relief, “No Mr. Kent, I’m Karen.

“No. You’re Chloe Sullivan,” he grunted hoarsely, puzzled at this brown-haired version of the normally blonde and sassy Chloe. “W-what’s going on?” He glanced around the tiny room – he couldn’t remember her needing to be in disguise for any reason, but perhaps he shouldn’t be saying her name when she was insisting it was another.

Seeing that they were alone, he looked back at her with dark brows furrowed and saw the most peculiar expression upon her face. She was watching him with strangely wide, darting eyes; her smile almost twitching. She wiped her hands nervously on her skirt and promptly avoided his gaze.

She was totally lying to him.

A faint pop of air in his left eardrum and the sudden chaos of copy paper flying through the room heralded the appearance out of thin air – but he knew better – of a smartly dressed brunette; scratch that, a gorgeous brunette. She stood frozen by Chloe, holding a mass of bandages and other first aid equipment in her arms, including what looked to be an ancient defibrillator from before dinosaurs went extinct.

“Oh thank the heavens!” the woman exclaimed mid-sob, immediately dropping to the floor, bandages and giant defibrillator tumbling with her. “What on earth happened?!” she looked frantically between the two, her hand first resting upon his bare thigh, which he noticed, then checking his pulse just in case she were seeing things. She wiped uncontrolled tears from her face and hid a sob of relief, “I was so sure you were dead, Kal El.”

Clark flinched at the casual use of his Kryptonian name by this exotic stranger.

My name is Clark,” he grunted disapprovingly. The metallic taste of blood that lined his mouth tasted foul. He hocked and spat ungraciously on the bloody floor beside him – the bloody floor? His eyes bulged when he saw the mass of liquid there, pooling and smeared, spidering out in every direction around him like some sick Jackson Pollock canvas. He immediately began calculating how fast he could regenerate that amount of blood loss when a bottle of water magically appeared before his face in Chloe Sullivan’s outstretched hand. He took it and chugged it, noticing her nails weren’t polished, then tried not to throw it up. He half expected to see water spurting out of him like a sprinkler.

As he finished the bottle he took the moment to covertly observe them. The two women were communicating with each other with expressions he couldn’t read, and he could usually read Chloe pretty well.

Alright, Clark,” the tall brunette finally responded – he recognised her fancy accent now, a fancy accent to match her expensive clothes. Turns out the English school ma’am was anything but. She was watching him with peculiar interest as she opened a gauze pad and offered it for him to wipe his mouth with. He stared at it in her outstretched hand, bleary eyed and sceptical for a good ten seconds before cautiously accepting it.

How can you move so fast?” He questioned with squinting suspicion as he dragged his aching body into sitting position. The two women looked at each other again, the fifth-avenue brunette’s red mouth may have even hung open a little before they both turned back in unison and pretty much gawked at him like he’d lost it. He wiped his mouth with the gauze pad and realised upon catching a glimpse of his mashed-up torso, that one piece of gauze was not going to be anywhere near enough. “Where… are my clothes?” He asked frigidly before she could answer his first question; his boxers were barely – barely – covering his front man-parts and not at all covering his backside, his strangely wet and sticky backside. Geez, this was uncomfortable. Everything felt cold and wet and far too naked. He was raised in a mid-western christian home with a moral code that included pretty strict dress standards that pretty much only allowed the showing of skin when swimming, so yeah, right now he felt pretty naked.

“What, what’s going on?” his heart raced faster as he saw the multitude of bloody wounds close themselves up all over his body. He flinched from the sting of it as though watching made it more painful, “What happened to me?” True panic gripped his voice now. He swallowed hard, the scrape-scrape of a wood-chipper grinding against the back of his throat each time he did, adding to his panic.

You are healing, praise be the gods. What do you remember, Clark?” The brunette asked, cautiously remembering to use his earth name. His eyes darted around the room like a wild animal trapped in a cage.

Observing his strange behaviour with caution, Diana couldn’t help but notice how his powerful aura shone through even the layers of blood and grime. The man simply had ‘it’, as mortals would say, that certain something that most humans spent their lives searching for in both themselves and their mates. It was not merely the cerulean-blue of his eyes nor the dark rim of lashes that contoured them. It was infinity more.

And it was the one thing she silently resented about the man.

Apart from the occasional tiny jealousy over his immense physical strength of which she could never seem to match, she rarely indulged in petty negatives and took pride in rarely sinking so low as to harbouring an actual living resentment… But in this moment, in this intensely vulnerable moment with her centre off-kilter and the tears still drying upon her face, she was reminded of her predisposition to do so; a predisposition toward resentment that even though conquered, always seem to rear its wicked head and say, oh no, you will never truly vanquish me, you will try your whole life, but I will always return. And so she began to resent him even now for her own weakness. She did not approve of distractions in their line of work and he was oft times her secret distraction. Her vulnerability. For in truth most men would be fortunate to look as handsome as Kal El ten minutes ago when at deaths door. And how she resented him for it.

As she watched him watch his wounds close up with a look of innocent horror in his eyes that she was not buying, she thought spitefully how he brought out the worst in women. He possessed the kind of unconscious appeal that had women everywhere joining fan clubs in his name and writing idiotic love letters begging him to sire their children for Hera’s sakes, even going so far as to rig accidents in the off-chance he would come to their rescue. It was a colossal time-waster for the team, not to mention utterly ridiculous. And women of all ages and social structure seemed to be susceptible. It was exasperating. On behalf of all women everywhere, mortal and immortal alike, Diana felt humiliated for them as a sex on a regular basis because of this man.

But of course he did not take notice of all the absurdity. It was as though he naively assumed this type of thing happened to everyone. But surely he knew? Surely he noticed how differently he was treated because he was handsome? She wielded her own beauty like a sword. But because he was not one of those men who walked around carrying his hammer, trying to nail everything in sight as the mortal maxim went, it was hard to know precisely what he thought of himself. The man seemed to live in complete oblivion to his inherent charms, which, of course, only served to increase his allure ten-fold, giving women everywhere (and more than a few men) palpitations at the very thought of him, an actual sighting having caused heart failure on six known occasions to date. (Fact.) His fan base had achieved fever pitch long ago and had not dulled despite the changing political climate, the next generation of fans bringing just as much enthusiasm for his unique set of ‘attributes’ as their sister’s and mother’s and aunties before them. That there were never any solid rumours about his dating life only fuelled the hormonal hysteria he unwittingly induced, because no one knew anything. And no facts meant the sky was the limit imagination-wise. To the women of this mortal realm, he was free, available and no flimflammer. In their eyes he was The Ideal Catch, in every way a super man – a dangerously intoxicating mix that no mere mortal man could ever truly compete against, even though they did end up being the ones who got the girl at the end of the day.

Clark, listen to me,” Diana repeated sharply as much for her own focus as his, “Tell me what you remember.”

Clark decided he didn’t like the brunette’s voice after all. It was harsh and bossy and coupled with all this frightening pain, her tone was agitating the heck out of him right now, compounding his anxiety in a huge way.

“What do you remember?” she insisted with that voice.

But he couldn’t remember anything. His pounding head filled with nothing but a heck of a lot of blanks. In short, he had no clue how he came to be in this painful predicament.

I can’t remember, his speech slurred as a new pain shot through his temples, “Man. I can’t even think right now, my head hurts Chloe…” He pressed his palm hard against his brow and held it there. Pain was so foreign to him that he thought he might actually pass out from its peaking acuteness in that moment. What a wimp. Dad would be so proud. His stomach seized yet again and he clutched his shredded gut in a futile attempt to make the pain stop.

Focus Clark, he told himself, focus and control.

He swallowed hard, trying to get a full breath in, “The last thing I remember is sitting at my desk at The Daily Planet… But, I…” he shook his head, “I can’t even remember what I was working on…”

“When was that Clark?”

“Ah… what’s today?”

He attempted to covertly pull his boxers up but they were now sticking to the coagulated blood on his backside. In frustration, he accidentally ripped them and broke the elastic clear in two. Just great, he moaned inwardly, feeling even more vulnerable now.

“November twenty-third.”

“Yeah. So this morning.”

The brunette’s defined brows lifted her eyes. He didn’t notice, that her eyes were beautiful, and looked away. “You were meant to be meeting with the League today, Kal El.”

Clark.”

I spoke with you just before you left – I saw you fly off to it in your red and blues.”

“Fly?” He stared in blank confusion first at one woman, then the other, then pressed his dark brows together with further scepticism and shook his head, “Chloe, what’s she talking about?”

The girl he named Chloe shrunk back.

“My, my name is Karen,” she stammered and then busied herself gathering what was left of his torn clothing and folding it into a neat pile. She certainly wasn’t giving off any confidence-boosting vibes, Clark thought.

Karen felt her hands shake and her head spin lightly; she could barely hear over the drum of her own pulse, but she felt surprisingly good for having just healed someone so powerful, (not to mention pretty flipping relieved that she were actually alive to never tell the tale.)

Clark’s eyes sharpened as he watched her try so obviously to blend into the background. He knew her better than he knew anyone and could read her like a book, but what was with the chameleon act? “Is this some kind of drug-induced nightmare or something? Did I hit my head really, really hard? Because to say nothing makes sense right now would be understating things by about a country mile.”

Karen hid her eyes in her made-up task of sorting bandages – bandages that were no longer needed as Mr. Kent’s body, now kryptonite-free and alive, was doing the rest of the medical work on its own.

Clark,” the brunette physically moved his face and forced him to look directly at her. He didn’t care for the manhandling and resisted the urge to yank his head away and run for it. “That is Karen. She is my secretary. She has top clearance. She knows who you are. Now Clark, do you know who I am?”

Clark looked into the ocean-blue, red-rimmed eyes – eyes that had been crying for him apparently and were now staring at him with some major intensity from behind what looked like a pair of very expensive, black designer glasses.

“No.” He replied flatly. Her face hid all trace of reaction – a reaction in and of itself. He yanked his face free from her grasp. Annoyed. “I’ve never seen you before in my life. If you care so much, why don’t you enlighten me.”

Rude does not fit you well, Kal El. Now tell me, do you know who you are?” she asked, trying to hold his gaze with her own, resisting the urge to hold his squirming form still and slap him until he focussed.

Clark looked doubtfully between the two women, “Yeah… I think we’ve established I know who I am.”

“Well?”

Clark Kent, cub reporter for The Daily Planet,” his usual fob-off line. She made a look that said, do you think I’m stupid? “What about you?He interjected. Heck, he sighed, she probably wasn’t even real. He was probably dreaming this whole thing. It was way too bizarre not to be fantasy. Just look at the woman starring in his dream – no one that physically put-together even existed in real life, not to mention Chloe’s weird hair. All signs pointed to dream. Any minute now he’d wake up in his bed at the farm thinking how he’d had the craziest dream the night before and how real it’d felt. Especially the pain. The pain felt very real.

All of a sudden, faster than he could finish the thought, the brunette had encircled him with a golden rope and was yanking it tight. Man she was strong – he couldn’t move! But before he could even register an expression of surprise, he was literally paralysed. Again.

Who are you?!” She boomed, eyes ablaze while wind from some unknown source entered the room and blew the loose wisps of her dark, shining hair about her face. The rope glowed brightly, reflecting gold in her wide, angry eyes. Clark’s eyes immediately glazed over and his lips moved with no will of their own…

“Kal El of Krypton.”

“Tell me more,”

Live on my parents farm… Smallville… work at The Planet… close to the action…” Some small weak pathetic little voice in the back of his head screamed fight it! but his body now belonged to another…

“What else!”

Only a few people know who I am…” he continued numbly, “Everyone who knows either dies… or goes away… I’m… all alone… I have no one… even mom stays away. I wreck anyone who ever gets close…” Stop talking! God he was pathetic!

“Tell me your other name.”

“Clark Kent.”

No, your other name,” she demanded through straight, gritted teeth.

“Smallville? Clarky? Son? C.K…?”

“No, ugh, why were you wearing those black clothes with your Kryptonian symbol upon your chest?”

“It’s what I wear when I help people… to blend into the shadows… the symbol gives people hope… I think… or maybe that’s just me stroking my own ego… I stroke my ego a lot… No one else will…” he giggled.

“What about your other uniform?”

“What… other…”

“What are your powers Clark?” she interrupted, frustrated.

He monotoned, “…super-speed, x-ray vision, super-hearing, super-strength, super-leaping and heat vision…”

“Can you fly?”

“Noooo, don’t like heights… dooooon’t like heights at all…”

What?” The two women looked at each other then with eyebrows fused upward, then they turned back to this strange version of Clark Kent.

Who am I Clark?”

“Don’t… know…”

You do not know who I am?!”

“Nope,” he sounded punch-drunk accentuating the p with a popping sound.

Diana slumped back on her haunches, her grip slackening.

“He’s telling the truth, he has to be.” She flicked the rope from around his body and stashed it beneath her blood-splattered blazer. Clark noticed a smooth, wide gold belt glistening around her waist as the urge to tell the truth slowly wore off his lips.

Geez, how the heck did you do that?” he asked angrily, rubbing his mouth and shaking his head to clear the cobwebs. He was getting madder than a wet wasp, “How did you do that!”

She ignored him and fiddled with her rope, thinking.

He hated not being in control, being tricked, bullied, victimised. She’d attacked him while he was down and completely vulnerable, so vulnerable that he hadn’t even seen it coming! He was fast approaching an active dislike of this woman and this coming from someone who pretty much only ever saw the good in people!

“Hey, I’m talking to you!” he snapped.

“It is my lasso, it forces people to tell the truth,” she responded impatiently, “You see, men are, in general, liars, and this is how I combat that inherent male failing, having to live in the world of man as I do, surrounded by their lies!”

“Geez woman, issues much? Get off your soap box. A simple my magic lasso makes people tell the truth would have been plenty.”

I have several tricks in my arsenal, Clark, but this morning you knew that – this morning you knew me.” She turned away, breathing hard and attempting to close the curtains on her spiralling emotions.

Karen, doing her best to blend into the background once more, visibly relaxed, relieved that none of the interrogating with the Lasso of Truth involved questions about ‘Chloe’. Somehow Mr. Kent suddenly knew things about her… But then he didn’t remember other more important things like Diana whom he knew so well or his red and blues or the fact that he actually can fly.

With a sudden snap that made the two women jump and Karen squeak, Clark, along with his long black jacket and boots, was out of there. He’d made a run for it and grabbed the only two things that hadn’t been torn to complete shreds, holding up his bloody boxers every hypersonic step of the way.

Seeing him suddenly disappear into thin air, Diana turned to Karen whose long hair was blowing wildly out of its bun. Irritated by his rash move and the fact that she hadn’t seen it coming, Diana barked red-faced, “Keep trying the League, I’m going after him!”

And with a second gust of wind, Karen was left alone with a huge job to do. It would take at least an hour if not two to clean up this room and only if she could get to the janitors closet without being seen in her current state of gore. She looked down at her blood-soaked clothing. These might cause a little too much attention on the way home, she thought grimly, drawing the kind of attention she usually liked to avoid like the bubonic plague.

She sighed.

“I think I need a raise,” she murmured as she extracted her phone from her purse with weak, trembling hands. Opening the HandiMan app, she pointed the phone at the broken window where it took automatic measurements, she clicked yes a couple of times and typed in the UN address and the storage room number and was informed that the window would be delivered by five. She bit down on her lip and crossed her fingers that reception wouldn’t be too intrigued when the glass arrived.


Chapter 2

Metropolis

Afternoon

Exterior: rundown, unlicensed Radio Shack

“…indeed the seven deadly sins take a toll on us all, the rich and the poor alike, both the human and the metahuman…”

The minister’s charismatic face, framed by the crisp white collar of his livelihood and an impeccably sculpted black suit indicating his livelihood left him in some comfort, filled every obsolete TV screen in the rundown store window; a storefront that looked more like a mob front. He articulated his words smoothly, soothing in his overtone, but almost sectarian in the under. It was the way he said ‘metahuman’ like the word smelled funny.

“But, Minister Alexander,” the interviewer responded, attempting to steer the interview back in his desired direction, “As an outspoken advocate for the city of Metropolis, how do you explain – in real-world terms if you will for our viewers – the sudden surge of violent acts around the city and the growing sense that no one is in control on the streets?”

“That’s a good question Stan, and it’s one I’ve been answering for the last two minutes,” he smiled.

The reporter’s mouth thinned as he shifted in his chair, “Perhaps, then, you would explain in simpler terms, for the viewers.”

“Alright, let us take a look at our police officers for example,”

“Okay…”

“Excellent men and women who risk their lives each day to bring a sense of safety and order to our ordinary lives,”

“That has been open to debate in recent months since the failed trial of alleged mob boss Eddie Costello and his links to the Metropolis Police Force hierarchy,”

They are selfless and courageous, well-trained human beings whose efforts are constantly thwarted by that ever-growing group of Caped Wonders,”

“Again, some may say this idea is open to debate-”

Those uninvited renegades who take it upon themselves to short-cut the justice system and take their own brand of so-called justice into their inhuman hands. It’s no wonder there is a sense of chaos on the streets.”

“Hmm.” Not quite convinced.

But it runs even deeper than that, Stan. These metahumans seem to revel in power; in ego stroking; they seem to hunger for it, and I find that pretty frightening,” he went on to explain, “You see, to be worshipped and adored as a driving motivation for what you do is not coming from a good foundation, Stan – what if they one day decide to do anything to keep this power? And I mean anything. Not just lie, cheat or steal, or confuse us with their elegant words and appealing looks. I’m talking about anything. Things even our darkest nightmares can’t even imagine.”

“Hmm.” Still not convinced.

“As a minister of God, I see in them each of the seven deadly vices of which our scriptures forewarn will lead to the downfall of the human race, and this makes me nervous, Stan. Yes, I am well aware that our human leaders are not perfect, no one is, but beings this powerful being imperfect? Let’s just say it keeps me up at night – it should keep us all up at night. The idea haunts my dreams because when I look, really look at this ever-expanding group, I see clearly sin in all sin’s subtleties and wonder why more people don’t see what I’m seeing. I see them confusing our kids by doing good, but then acting unpredictably; preaching confusion through both accomplishment and simply by being. Indeed their very existence confuses.”

Stan still didn’t look like he was on board, but he’d converted stronger men than this before.

“Let us face some hard facts then shall we, Stan?”

“Sure.”

I will do us all a favour,” Minister Alexander looked directly into the TV camera, “and be candid for just a moment. Let’s speak plainly and ask the questions we’ve been too afraid to ask. Like who are these aliens? Why are they here? Where did they come from and why do we extend such leniency to them when time and time again they invite their inhuman battles upon the poor citizens of this once great city and then presume to think that they can then turn around and judge our actions; our human, small, petty little actions that pale in comparison to their galactic sized faux pas. Who are they to play witness, judge and juror to our fine race? Can you tell me, Stan? The devil himself takes pride in their lust for dominance and their appetite for power. They are not ‘good’, Stan,” the minister stated with regulated distaste, carefully articulating every syllable, “No. They do not come from a place of peace and light, but from a place of ambiguity and secrecy. They are a secret society and history teaches us that secret societies topple empires.”

The minister exhaled slowly, and looked at Stan meaningfully – confidence like this made the minister inherently likeable, it was as though the man had his own gravitational pull despite the preachy outbursts and tendency to go off-topic and sermonise. “In my view, it is their pride and greedy passions that are destroying this good city,” he continued, “indeed they are destroying our world. And what of their continued evasion when asked about their essential natures; their true intentions and powers. New enemies plague us at every turn – enemies we would never have known if these Caped Wonders hadn’t invited them to wreak havoc upon us mere mortals. I just don’t understand how we’ve welcomed them without question, Stan, and why the hard working middle class has to foot the bill when the Caped Wonders wreck a train line or the top ten floors of a skyscraper – we used to wage wars for much less than that. When my father was a kid, apart from a healthy fear of the Russians and the Cold War, the next most terrifying fear on earth was an alien invasion from Mars, but when it finally happened, we just did nothing? I don’t understand that. We didn’t do nothing when English sovereign taxes and unfair laws were crippling our budding nation, or when Japanese forces bombed Pearl Harbour. The collateral damage of the Caped Wonders combined exploits to date has now surpassed the death-toll of 9/11 and yet we do not consider them terrorists?”

“It’s an interesting point you make, Minister, and indeed your thoughts on the – as you put it so delicately, ‘Caped Wonders’ – is fast gaining recognition around the world.” The minister nodded humbly at this. “In fact, it is fair to say that there is a growing movement of citizens and political leaders alike who share the same views of these visitors who – as you again like to put it – take justice into their own hands. But then I have to say, on the flip side of the coin, there are also countless others who would disagree with your interpretation of their intent and your accusation of their destructive influence on society. There are many who would in fact call them our saviors and protectors.”

“Harbingers of our ultimate doom is more like it, Stan, and you can quote me on that,” the ministers trim lips briefly curled into a handsome smile revealing a perfect set of veneers before fading back into a mask of holy serenity, “All one need do is look beneath the surface just a little, scratch back one thin layer and ask: So a man can fly, does this make him a god? Some metahumans can use their bodies like missiles and come out unscathed on the other side. Is this ability worthy of worship? Or should we instead be moving toward drafting weapons treaties with them.”

“I would imagine that most people do not think in these terms,”

Well, perhaps we should. I most certainly wouldn’t refer to them in any deity-like way because haven’t these ‘saviors’ among us in reality made humankind pretty slothful and lazy? And I have to ask, what kind of higher power does this? I imagine a savior would inspire us to be better, to look further, to reach higher and love stronger. No Stan, I have to disagree, these are not our saviors. They are not gods among us. There was only ever one god among men and he taught us to love one another and encouraged us to be better human beings. Just look at what we’re becoming, Stan, with these aliens as our heroes and deities instead of inspirational real men like George Washington, Martin Luthor, Socrates or Jesus Christ – we’re a race of lazy beings that once owned this planet and dominated industry, who invented and progressed with phenomenal technologies and scientific advancements. We were a strong civilisation doing exceptionally well on our own.”

“Again, many would beg to differ with you on that point, Minister.”

But we were doing well, compared to now, even you and your left-wing media group can’t deny that, Stan,”

Feathers ruffling, the interviewer reluctantly gave a little with a shrug and a hand gesture.

Sure, we weren’t perfect. We had room for growth. That’s the human way. But now we’ve simply, just, stopped. Stopped growing, stopped building, stopped reaching, stopped aspiring,” he shrugged, “I’ve got to ask myself, did we truly honestly need this ‘help’? Or would we have figured it out eventually, like we always do, given the space to make mistakes and learn from them. Who proclaimed this great need to be saved anyway?”

“As you might remember, the senate was crumbling, essentially at war with itself, any real social progress stale-mated for no less than four presidential terms while corporations became more powerful than our elected officials, and the public were suffering as a result.”

But why do we now bow to these other-worlders as though they are more than us, and with blind trust, give ourselves permission to be less than ordinary?”

“Minister,”

Because they fly like a nuclear missile, shoot killer lasers from their eyes and can check out your wife or daughter with their magic eyes? Does this make any sense to you? Their differences do not make them better than us. They are not better, Stan, they are different. They make mistakes and pretty seismic-sized ones at that and yet are interestingly famous for not getting their hands dirty when it really counts – when they really could be making a difference on a large scale, you know, like stopping the twenty year war for example,” he sat back in his chair and folded his hands thoughtfully, “To be honest, I see it as only a matter of time before they turn on us.”

“So you’ve been quoted,”

So I prophecy,” Minister Alexander corrected with quiet confidence. The reporters bushy brows shot up at this audacity. “They’ve already taken over our city through the art of subtlety, patiently waiting for us to grow accustomed to them so that now we don’t question them at all. But soon we will all see their true colours, I know it. But my question is, will it be too late by then, and how big will be the fallout…”

Clark’s eyes had dried to dust. He stood rigid, unblinking, his dusty work boots rooted to the spot before the filthy store window.

Lex Luthor. Alive.

And a man of god…

How many times could he suppress the desire to puke in one day. Of all the deviant routes to power in the demented Luthor portfolio… “What the heck happened while I was out?” he muttered to himself. Apparently the world had turned inside out in a matter of hours. He shook his head, disbelieving; Lex Luthor, a minister with an audience. There wasn’t much that made his alien skin turn cold, but this did it. He positively shivered. A storm brewed across his scowling brow making a muscle at the corner of his mouth twitch. His instinct: to find this minister and take him down for the count. Permanently.

He shook that dark thought off as fast as he could.

People began pressing in on all sides. The crowd that had gathered, drawn by the interview, were beginning to murmur. It would seem that Lex Luthor, aka “Minister Alexander”, was successfully drawing attention with his controversial words yet again. It was his gift. The master manipulator. The genius speechmaker.

All around him the crowd began to vibrate with both agreement and dissent. He could actually feel the angry tremors growing, encircling him, negative emotions that pricked at his skin and set his acute senses on high alert.

As with any discussion concerning politics or religion, tempers quickly flared and small arguments soon broke out. Just when Clark was thinking he might have to get out of there and miss the rest of the interview, the familiar scent of roses made him pause.

“Put these on,” ordered the voice suddenly by his side.

He knew without turning who it was, for how could he forget that pushy school ma’am tone. She was handing him a pair of black Ray Bans and some sort of Justin Timberlake cool-guy hat.

“Not my style.” He brushed them aside.

She pushed them into his chest anyway and muttered, “Trust me, you do not wish to be recognised.” She nodded subtly at the TV screens and the continued dogmatic chatter there while opinionated yelling suddenly broke out at the far edge of the ever-growing crowd as if to reinforce her statement, and while his first instinct was to ignore her, to tell her that he could take care of himself thank you very much, he knew arguing would only make him look childish – he didn’t know where this new belligerent streak had come from – and besides, she was right. His gut had just been telling him to disappear which was the only reason he obeyed her now.

She smiled vacantly as he put on the hat and glasses, her eyes all the while covertly observing their surroundings like some kind of trained spy.

I am so glad to see that you found yourself some…” she looked him up and down then, eyeing his red plaid shirt and blue jeans (stolen at super-speed from a ranch store on the outskirts of the city) (he would pay for them as soon as he could), “some clothing…” her eyes sparkled, “If one can call the fabric of flannel clothing,” she touched his sleeve as though testing for dust then, as though offended by the thick fabric she looked at his face, “Oh and a shower too, praise the god’s you are a rather resourceful man, are you not?” She was mocking him. He ignored the gibe and wondered if they ever used contractions wherever she was from. It would cut down her sentence time by at least half.

“Apparently not as resourceful as you,” he remarked, not liking that she were able to find him.

“Oh I have my ways.”

As Clark adjusted the hat in his reflection on the grimy storefront window, he noted the strain etched into his features, then looked at the face beyond – Lex.

Tell me, how is it that he is alive and kicking?” Every TV in the run-down store had his old friend’s face plastered across it spouting the virtues of humanity and the evils of the Caped Wonders.

“Whom would that be?”

Lex.

Lex…? as in Luthor?” She looked at the screens and shook her head, “No, he died years ago, Kal El.” She had dismissed his question all the while smiling as though they were talking about something else entirely, “Praise be the gods in all of heaven and hell,” she added, “What a mess that deranged family left for us to clean up. But I suppose you do not remember that either.”

Clark.” He corrected through gritted teeth.

“Pardon me?”

My name. Is Clark.” He eyed her warily from behind his dark glasses for a long, tense moment, “My name, is Clark. I know he died,” frustration and confusion made his voice hard, too loud, she shushed him by gripping his arm, hard, and steering him out of the buzzing crowd, “More than a year ago. I know that.”

“Say again?”

Clark groaned. There was nothing worse than having to say something twice, especially when one was afraid one was trapped within the Twilight Zone. Man, now he was even thinking in her accent. “I said I know he died.” He turned back to the shop window as she continued to steer him away, trying to convince himself, trying to sort through the epic weirdness and majorly conflicting data, “He died, he definitely died. I mean, I know he died… Or, I’m certain he died. I mean, I was there, I saw it, or… most of it anyway, but… then why is he being interviewed on live television right now…” By now he was talking more to himself, pondering the conundrum that was, frankly, giving him a fresh headache; he didn’t like these things called headaches; a decent pounding right behind his eyes that made him even more uncharacteristically irritable. Generally, he was a pretty peaceful kind of guy. Had been most of his life. Slow to anger and quick to forgive. At least he liked to see himself that way. But in reality, that was who he used to be. He hadn’t been that person for a while now. He was no longer as saint-like as he liked to think. Perhaps his temper had always been easier to control simply because it never really got tested from a physical-pain standpoint. Or perhaps being patient and good and forgiving was all part of the fictional story he’d been writing about himself since he was a kid, because he had to have a story and it had to be a good one in order to cover up the unforgivable truths of his origins.

“Who?” she looked at the screens in the distance, “Minister Alexander? No, he may hate us in a very unchristian way Clark, and he may be stirring up all kinds of contention, but he is not a Luthor,” she explained, shaking her head and looking at the Minister like he was a bug she would very much like to squash.

But Clark pointed with an agitated finger.

That is Lex Luthor,” he insisted with a hiss, “He may have hair and eyebrows but that is Lex. Lex in a really bad wig,”

She looked curious at the faraway screens and tilted her head, “Are you certain that is a wig…?”

“Come on, playing dress-ups as a Christian Minister? It’s classic Luthor. Look – wait, what is your name?” He turned to fully face the brunette and noticed she had changed into fresh high-waisted pinstripes with wide legs and suspenders over a crisp white high collared mens shirt, under a clean tailored black jacket. She had to be close to six feet tall he realised, maybe more, and, like himself, she towered over the multicultural crowd moving around them.

So much for keeping a low profile, two giants standing in a street full of midgets.

Who are you,” he hissed again, frustrated, just barely keeping his voice down, “Other than someone who can run really fast, perform magic tricks that make people tell the truth like their life depends on it and who also seems to possess the amazing ability to find one boring person in a city jam-packed full of boring people – and in a completely different city than the one I left you in.” He’d run directly from New York to Metropolis for Pete’s sakes, with a lot of country in between. How the heck had she found him? “Do you have a Find People Power or something?”

Drawing her gaze away from the distant TV’s, she suddenly found herself studying him. She watched his dark brows draw together across the bridge of his beautiful nose, his cantankerous sky-blue eyes just barely visible through the dark glasses – clearly he did not trust her; he had never looked at her thus.

Who are you?” he repeated irritably. Two more seconds and he was out of here.

I am a friend,” she assured him quietly as she took his arm again and guided him with a firm hand away from listening ears. It was perhaps unimportant at this juncture to describe the story of how it were actually several groups of birds, a deer and three dogs that had led her to him, “I am a confused friend, I do confess. And what I mean by this is I know that you are Clark Kent, but you seem, a little different to me – and it is more than just the self-evident memory loss.” She pulled him to a stop near a quiet alleyway and checked to make sure they weren’t followed, “You also… look different to me.”

His brows raised high. “Why do you keep acting as if you know me? You’ve got thirty seconds before I run again, so start talking. In detail.”

But she wasn’t listening. Her eyes were squinting and her cherry lips pursed deep in thought as she looked him over from head to toe and pretty much everywhere in between, noting every nuance and detail and apparently giving him great thought. For Clark, her sudden scrutiny felt a little like that recurring childhood nightmare of going to school naked and he instinctively wanted to shy away from her gaze. He resisted the adolescent urge and masked it with impatience instead, but then he suddenly wondered if she possessed x-ray vision and couldn’t help but fold his hands in front of his pants and turn a little from her gaze. Which was completely stupid. He knew full well better than anyone that only lead could block x-ray vision, not his lame hands.

He groaned inwardly and looked heavenward. “Ten, nine, eight…” He hated feeling like a thirteen year old boy again and was deciding whether or not to hold it against her when at last she spoke.

Strange I did not notice this earlier,” she said, distracted by her musings, “probably because you were all covered in blood and I thought you were dead and gone forever, but Kal, you look… younger to me. How is that even possible?” Her arched brows rose in question, like he was meant to know what she was talking about. “You have not gone visiting The Fountain of Youth, have you?” she probed his face and body again, continuing to give Clark the disconcerting feeling of going to school naked, “I hope not for I have heard terrible stories of the water’s side-effects. Have you made any pacts with the gods lately? Perhaps Apollo? He’s been known to heal men and is especially generous with the pretty boys. Or perhaps it has something to do with how you died? Although I would not think kryptonite would make you younger, quite the opposite.” She was poking and prodding him now and blood rose to his cheeks like a fool. He wasn’t used to being so openly man handled by a beautiful woman. Her intense gaze regarded him shrewdly and it took a moment for Clark to find his voice. “Yes, you are much thinner.”

I’m the same age as I was when I woke up this morning,” he mumbled. What he really wanted to say was, see you later, nice knowing you (not) stop staring at me like that and goodbye forever and go home to Smallville. Instead, he stood there in front of her feeling like a fool. He shoved his hands deep inside his jeans pockets.

“And how old is that, Clark?”

“Twenty-two.”

The woman’s face twitched. “Do you not mean thirty-two earth years?”

No. I mean twenty-two.”

Wait a moment-” she grabbed a dishevelled Daily Planet from the closest garbage bin, pointing at the date, “Do you not mean thirty-two?”

Clark impatiently snatched The Daily Planet from her hands, the date on which read: November 23rd 2019…

Ten years in the future?

“Ha ha. Very funny.”

“Not so humorous, I am thinking.”

He eyed her hard, but her face revealed no deception that he could see. But he’d always been trusting to a fault, he could easily be wrong now.

This is a trick,” he insisted, “it has to be. But why? I don’t get the joke.” Then suddenly his jaw dropped, immediately followed by his gut, because right there under the date on the front page was a picture of him, arms folded across his chest with the title Friend or Foe? written in bold type above. “What in the Sam…?” his eyes bulged like a fish out of water with a trace of what felt like genuine hurt behind them. His mouth opened and stayed that way.

That is the understatement of the 22nd century. You are fortunate no one recognised you. Come on.” Taking the newspaper from his stunned grasp, she threw it back in the rubbish where headlines like that belonged and pulled him into the dim alleyway. Once she was certain no one was watching, she shot upward without warning, holding Clark by one super monkey-gripped wrist.

“Woah!” he exclaimed, startled, the hat and glasses making a distant ‘clink’ on the grimy pavement below.

You had better start getting used to heights, Clarky,” she smirked. Oh, she thought that humiliating little incident with the lasso funny, did she? “It is far safer than super-speeding down there in the ‘concrete jungle’ as the human maxim goes.”

Human maxim? “Have you ever had that rope turned around on you?”

“I have nothing to hide.”

Everyone does.”

He looked down, squeezed his eyes tight and moaned. All of a sudden everything swelled up inside him: Lex not really being dead, that newspaper down there, grief over losing his personal grip on reality, fear of the kind of future he’d landed himself in, and most of all, powerlessness. Absolute powerlessness.

How had this happened? Ten years in the future?

She was still smirking down at him.

“Keep your eyes on the road please.”

“Oh yes, that is funny. I get it. We are not on the road and that is what makes it funny.”

How can you think any of this is even remotely close to the distant relative of funny?”

“The distant relative of funny. That is funny too.”

“I’m serious.”

“The source of my humour is not actually joy, but sorrow, Kal El.”

Clark.”

She looked at him a beat before continuing “I am telling you to turn painful situations around through laughter.”

“You seem, maybe, not good at this – is this something new you’re trying?”

She shrugged her tailored shoulders, “Somewhat, yes.”

“Let me know how that goes for you,” he responded blandly, trying not to look down.

“So I should not call you Clarky?”

“My name, is Clark.

He wasn’t completely blinded to his own flaws, he was aware on some level that his sense of humour had gone the way of the dinosaurs lately, but he hadn’t yet realised that it were actually extinct – not even a fossilised part remained. In truth he found nothing in life that could be considered funny or pleasurable these days, and he sure as heck didn’t find her attempts at humour appropriate now.

If he took the time out for a bit of honest reflection, he wouldn’t be able to remember the last time he’d laughed out loud or what it felt like to feel the lightness of carefree amusement filling his soul. But he didn’t reflect. He kept busy instead. Better not to know because the knowledge would only make him sad, possibly sad enough to think he had to do something about it, and he wasn’t ready to change. He needed fuel to keep him living in the shadows and to further justify pushing everyone that loved him far, far away.

The brunette stopped midair beside the ornate dome-topped skyscraper that Clark recognised immediately.

“The Watchtower?” The top floor, known as the Watchtower, belonged to his best friend Chloe Sullivan – a wedding present from Jimmy before he’d died, and home to all the spy-ware Oliver Queen’s fat-cat money could buy. Its massive circular stain glass windows sparkled warmly in the afternoon sun, casting multi-coloured rainbows of light across the surrounding buildings.

“You remember this?”

“Yes. I remember everything before this morning.”

“Can you engage your x-ray vision to see who is inside please? No one is responding to my calls.” All trace of her ‘Clarky’ humour was now gone while she indirectly answered his question about her ability to x-ray. Good. She can’t see my underpants.

“I can try…” he responded grimly, dangling by one hand, mid-air over the concrete city below. He looked down and gulped. He really didn’t like heights. Forcing his vision upward and away from the intimidating and somewhat deadly drop below, he focussed on the interior of The Watchtower and prayed his eyes wouldn’t explode again.

“It’s trashed… equipment everywhere…” he stilled and zoomed in, “Two dead bodies, both male. I don’t recognise them.” A wave of relief washed over him knowing that Chloe was in New York City right now – she practically lived at The Watchtower whenever she was in town and he didn’t know what he’d do if anything ever happened to her.

The brunette activated her tiny cellphone with her free hand, “Karen, The Watchtower has been compromised.”

Clark immediately tuned-in with his super-hearing…

I figured as much,” that was definitely her voice, he’d known her since pre-puberty, no matter what anyone said, that was Chloe Sullivan.

“Report.”

I haven’t been able to get through to anyone except for you. Everyone else has vanished off the radar. All of them. Every person at that meeting is unreachable.”

All of them?”

Silence.

“Karen, are you there?”

Yes, yes, yes all of them. I am sorry Diana, but no one is responding to any traditional or non-traditional communication and there’s no one at the Alpha Site as far as I can tell. Any other ideas I should pursue?”

The flying brunette looked down at the young man hanging from her grip, a look of defeat lining the attractive edges of her face, “Ah, no, Karen. Not at this point.” She looked as though she were visibly deflating and Clark almost felt sorry for her.

What about Mr. Kent? Any luck finding him?”

Yes. Wait, wait a moment…” the beginnings of an idea began to spread across her face, “Lex Luthor.”

The dead Lex Luthor? The Lex Luthor we all loved to hate?” Chloe asked on the other end of the line, “What about him?”

“He may not be dead, Karen. Cancel my meetings for the rest of the week,”

But-”

No Karen, I do not care who I am supposed to be seeing or how long it took you to coordinate the appointments or how important I thought the meetings were before this precised moment in time. Cancel everything. Our agenda previous to this date is now null and void. Do you understand me?”

Yes.”

“Send a clean up crew to the Watchtower and meet us at the Alpha Site, as soon as possible. I am going to need you.”

On it.”

The nameless brunette slid her phone back inside her inner jacket pocket. Her jaw was set with renewed purpose. “Let us see if your hunch is correct because as of right now, I am officially out of ideas and about as stumped as Black Beards left leg.”

Clark winced at yet another bad joke. She was so weird. He really couldn’t figure her or her fancy accent out and his confusion over her compounded the feeling of anxiety taking up residence in his gut. She didn’t look like the kind of person who made any kind of jokes really, even weird ones and yet she seemed to have this uncomfortable way of joking and teasing at the most inappropriate moments, as though she didn’t quite know the rules. Deciding she might be a bit simple, he made the conscious effort not to be angry with her, to have patience with her strange ways, whoever she was. She was connected to Chloe and The Watchtower which therefore forced him to place at least a limited amount of trust in her and if he let her teasing get under his skin this quickly, it would get ugly pretty fast between them and that wouldn’t make either of their complicated lives any easier right now. Little did he know that she had actually met Black Beard once and was speaking quite literally about his left leg that was indeed a stump with a crude wooden peg fashioned from driftwood to help him hobble about, plunder and pillage. But she had liked him. He was a jolly sort of man, weatherworn and interesting with a treasure trove of stories about a world she had never known until recently. While her mother and the other women on their muliebrous island utopia were confirmed despisers of men, she confessed to a certain level of intrigue where the opposite sex was concerned…

“I suppose I have no choice but to trust you,” Clark said as his fingers dug deeper than necessary into her wrist as he glanced down at the imposing city far, far, far below.

“Yes,” she said simply as she held him by one hand dangling over Metropolis. “And you can, Kal El,”

Clark,” he corrected.

“You can trust me,” she stated in all seriousness.

He took a deep breath, that sense of powerlessness messing with his head in a bad way. Trust was such a big word and she couldn’t even get his name right.

O…” no don’t say it, “…kay,” he reluctantly agreed.

With his verbal consent, their speed increased exponentially. Clark swallowed hard and held on tight as the city fast became a smattering of dots in the far distance. In his life, he had dropped from an exploding airplane and leapt across skyscrapers in a single bound, he’d even (unbelievably) stopped a missile from detonating mid-air (that was pretty cool), and all through his ability to jump really, really high… and not get squashed when landing… and yet it seemed the whole world could fly except for him. Not that he wanted to fly, he reaffirmed to himself. Heck no. It made his stomach lurch just thinking about it.

The wind blew noisily in his ears and he focussed on it as a distraction to help control the unrest brewing inside. Fear. Anger. Confusion. Helplessness. Who were ‘the others’ they’d been talking about? His mind raced to and fro. How on earth did I arrive half-dead in 2019? Is this Jor El’s doing? Another virtual reality trial from my domineering Kryptonian father designed to teach me some big life lesson or something? Or did the Legion Ring throw me forward in time? That’s possible I suppose, but… it’s not on any of my fingers… If only I could remember! And what’s with Chloe hiding her identity – why would she even do that? Why would she hide from me? And if I’m Clark from 2009, then where’s the 2019 Clark – with the illusive ‘others’? And Lex back from the dead? It couldn’t be possible. DNA fragments were found in the exploded truck that had killed him – Oliver had even found his kryptonite ring in the debris. No, he was definitely dead… he had to be… although… the same could’ve been said of Lana after she’d left her sham of a marriage to Lex. Her DNA was found in an exploded car also and yet she was actually alive and hiding out in China, the DNA being from an insentient Lexcorp clone experiment created by her demented husband in her image…

Clone experiment.

He swallowed hard and closed his eyes.

It made absolute sense.

All he had to do was spend more than three seconds thinking about it to realise that of course Lex would have set plans in place to clone himself in the event of his untimely death. Any true narcissist with endless bank balances would. Either that, or he’d taken a page from his ex-wife’s playbook and put a clone in his stead when the truck exploded leaving him alive and living in secret this whole time.

Geez.

This was not going to be fun. Why couldn’t life just be easy for a little while? Six months. Six months with no evil masterminds, no alien mass murderers and no one vying for world-domination. A quiet six months would be heaven. It wasn’t asking much.

But reality wasn’t so kind. Reality kicked you in the teeth relentlessly.

And if Lex Luthor were truly alive, then not only did he know Clark’s secret of all secrets, but he could be even more dangerous now than before – this could be one seriously jaded man seeking some serious alien revenge with years of planning up his sleeve. Adding a splash of long-awaited vengeance into the traditional Luthor family recipe for power meant the possibilities were not pretty. Not pretty at all.

As he found himself watching this sophisticated-looking woman with her super-strength, her speed and her ability to fly he wondered, where does she fit in this insane plot-line?

“Are you from Krypton too?” he asked over the whistling in their ears.

No, I’m from the Bermuda Triangle,” she glanced down at him soberly. The sun lit up her long raven hair and shone a vivid yellow light across the blue of her eyes that were gazing at him from behind her spectacles – spectacles that somehow managed to magically stay on her face even at this great speed. He assumed she was teasing him again and rolled his eyes. “Really,” she assured him, “I am Diana Prince and I am from the Bermuda Triangle, known to my mother’s people as the Island of Themyscira. But you, my young Kryptonian friend, may call me Wonder Woman.”

His eyelids cast to half-mast and he monotoned, “Wonder what?”

She hoisted him upward into a bear hug.

“Personal space,”

Hold onto your socks, Clarky,” she said with the sparkle returning to her eyes, and before he could groan they sonic-boomed southbound, leaving a trail of swirling holes in the soft white cumulus behind them.


Chapter 3

New York City

Later that afternoon

Chloe Sullivan, known to the small circle she dealt with as Karen Carter, avoided her reflection in the mirror as she brushed her teeth – mouse-brown hair, pale skin, I know the drill.

She’d quickly taken a shower before trekking down south to the Alpha Site because frankly, she’d arrived home looking like a scene from a cheap horror movie – wild hair, shredded clothing, covered in so much blood it looked fake. How she’d managed to make it home without getting arrested or even drawing so much as a raised eyebrow from the cab driver, she did not know. An illustration of how little anyone truly saw during the hum drum of day-to-day life she supposed – which was an unsettling thought.

Or perhaps she was simply a better chameleon than she’d realised.

As she brushed her molars with a weak arm, still utterly wiped-out from healing Mr. Kent, she forced her mind away from the Star Lab’s clean-up crew she’d just sent in to sort out the two dead men at the Watchtower. She forced herself instead to dream of all the happy places she’d visit one day in the English countryside, like Mr. Darcy’s fictitious home in Pemberley; her happy thoughts, for there was no safer fantasy than tall, dark and fictional Regency England to get her mind out of bad places. And it was sort of working until something suddenly caught her eye; a tiny blob of coagulated blood glued to a wet strand of her hair, clinging damply to her bare arm.

And that’s all it took.

Tears blurred her vision as she stared at the blob. Those two men were nobodies, just like her. They were decent men with families and there was no way she could help them, it was too late.

They were gone forever.

No second chances, as she’d told herself repeatedly during the last half hour that even if she could magically teleport to their corpses on their way to the Star Lab’s Pathology Department right now, there was still nothing she could do for them because she didn’t dare try to revive anyone more than a few minutes gone. Something deep inside her had always warned her away from ever attempting to bring back the dead dead, and she trusted her gut on this one. And now lives had changed forever because of the violence these two hard-working men had been caught in the middle of today. Their families would never be the same again.

She picked at the stubborn chunk of blood.

Kryptonian blood, stronger than Revlon stay-fast power,” she tried the joke; it just made her cry harder. “…Could make a fortune with the damn stuff, the lipstick that never ever… ever comes off!” She scraped her fingernails along the affected area, “A splash of alien blood in every bottle, direct from Krypton to your lips – ooooh the crazies would love that one.”

She spat and wiped her chin roughly, then combed back her waist-length hair into its uniform tight bun, holding no prisoners with her brush strokes.

Then she caught her eye.

Her brush stilled.

Oh my god, just look at you,” she wiped her wet cheeks and running nose, “Now that’s a face that can blend into a crowd,” she couldn’t look away from the frightful picture now that she’d glimpsed it, “- into a hospital crowd that is, holy cow you’re as white as a ghost, Karen Carter,” she moaned at the car wreck before her, “You actually look dead.”

Her reflection was shades paler than usual with deep, dark circles framing her large, grey-green eyes. Teal coloured veins shone through the transparent skin at her temples like an old lady who’d had one too many facelifts. Bravely, she leaned closer to get a better look, noticing with morbid interest that she was almost completely see-through, “Er, thatll teach you for bringing an alien back to life… or,” she smiled softly, “maybe it won’t.”

She straightened her bun, adding about ten pins too many and thought of Mr. Kent. A small wave of pride that had been lingering in her peripheral all afternoon gently washed over her.

And then she began to cry again. How did people turn off their emotions?

With that watery, blotched reflection, she decided that no makeup could improve upon perfection and so settled on a blob of cream and pale lip-gloss. “It’s all about the beige baby,” and she was so glow-in-the-dark-white that the pinkish-beige actually added colour to her lips today.

Yep, she was pretty wiped-out. Every time she used her ability to heal, a little of her own life’s force got drained from her body and given to the recipient – it’s how the whole science behind her freakish ability worked for some reason. It was like a trade, and lucky for her the power loss was only temporary, she usually felt strong enough to heal again a few hours later, “Today’s healing session however, may take a little longer, she admitted to her ghostly self-portrait as she felt her knees wobble from holding up the weight of her, “But hey, at least I’m still alive and kicking, right? Could have been worse.” Indeed, she had fully expected to die in the epic trade off today and the fact that she hadn’t, left her feeling a little shell shocked.

Looking back, she could still vividly remember the first few times she’d accidentally used her power to heal, back when she’d first discovered she was a part of the dreaded ‘meteor freak’ club. She was twenty years old, bright-eyed and optimistic despite the tragedies life had thrown her way, and while the whole world around her seemed to have life all figured out with exciting careers looming attractively in their big bright horizons, she’d felt like she’d suddenly had her life ripped away from her and had been handed a death sentence in its place – a death sentence like everyone else poisoned by the Smallville meteor rocks, known now as kryptonite. In an instant, she’d never felt more alone or afraid in her life, as though she were living on Death Row expecting to drop dead or turn psycho at any given moment.

But, she didn’t. Hadn’t. Yet. Thank goodness. Here’s to hoping it stays that way, she crossed her fingers and toes and knocked on some wood.

Throughout her teen years, she’d cynically believed that miracles only happened in fairytales because she’d never seen them at work in her life – and she’d begged for a few, two in particular. She’d hear others speaking of miracles at church and on TV and would secretly think them naïve, that they simply moulded an experience into the semblance of a miracle to give meaning to their lives or to validate the existence of God. But then all of a sudden she was literally a miracle-maker, and the inherent selflessness and sense of charity that came along with such a ‘curse’ soon softened the stinging barbs of her debilitating fears; in particular her fears of dying young and turning to the dark side of the force as most people did once poisoned. After several months, she grew to fully accept her new reality with surprising maturity and positivity, especially given that she was fully aware that she may potentially die from it one day.

It was a pretty huge thought, knowing your own mortality. Most people didn’t spend too much time thinking about dying and so lived on in blissful ignorance, feeling immortal, and when death came were surprised by it. But for Chloe, having no time-frame for a death sentence you may or may not have was, at times, difficult to live with. At first it felt like her life was one giant, unsettling question mark – what was the point of any of it? She was plagued by that question – what is the point? What was the point of making plans, settling anywhere, flossing, making an effort, having a routine, work, friends, love… Don’t even get me started about love.

But amidst her fears – and there were many, and they were intense – the amazing reality of her curse was mind-blowing: she could heal. Holy smokes, she could actually heal!

So it was worth it, in her eyes. All of it. The doubts, the debilitating fears, the hiding, the mountain of secrets, the constant subterfuge. And she grew to think of her curse as a precious gift, and she protected that gift with her life.

Back then, bringing someone back from near or total death would suck the life right out of her completely, to the point of appearing dead herself for more than a day – it took that long for her body to regenerate itself in those early years. It was more than once that she’d awoken to the memorable stench of formaldehyde, lying in the cold morgue under a white sheet with a toe tag and a death certificate signed by the doctor.

But over the years, she’d fine-tuned her abilities and began to master her craft. As frightening as it all was at first, she’d bravely decided that just because she’d become infected by radioactive meteor rocks from outer space while her father experimented on their uses for potential farming applications for his job at Luthorcorp, that didn’t mean she had to use her gifts for evil like so many others seemed to do. Belle Reve Mental Hospital was filled to the brim with the meteor challenged, and she wasn’t planning on being numbered in their ranks any time soon.

Or ever for that matter.

If she could help it.

And she was determined to help it.

So the last time she’d died, she went along with it, partly for that reason – to get the hell out of the Belle Reve spotlight, not to mention the fact that Luthorcorp had gotten wind of her unusual talents and there was no way she was going to become the Luthors next twisted lab rat.

So Chloe Sullivan had died.

And Karen Carter was born.

That was twelve years ago now and no one had recognised her until today.

And it unsettled her like crazy.

But, she had to admit, it also, kind of, made her insides quicken, like her gut knew something was coming, something unseen on the horizon.

Change.

And even though nothing about this afternoon had turned out anywhere close to her preferred kind of normal – and she liked normal, she counted on it to remain hidden and safe – she noted with curiosity that she didn’t feel as afraid as she ought to right now, hearing her birth name uttered for the first time in over a decade. She’d come to depend on her old friend Status Quo, she needed it to keep Karen Carter believable, and while she didn’t mind the person she had become since her rebirth years before and was comfortable wearing the mask she’d worked so hard to create for herself, almost being caught out in her elaborate lie this afternoon left her feeling…

She couldn’t admit relief, could she?

It was more like her senses had perked up and were more aware than usual. Like she’d been woken from a long dream. Looking at things rationally, she was probably just feeling the unusual after-effects of having just healed an alien-immortal rather than her usual human saves.

Yep. That made more sense. She was overanalysing.

What she needed to do was remember to keep her head down. Not to get complacent. Be normal, Karen Carter normal; to not doubt herself or become paranoid. When her former self had died, she’d changed as much about herself as she could with the goal being to become the kind of person nobody ever noticed, and she was good at it, really good at it, one hundred percent of the time without fail until today. She just had to remember that.

She had this down. Second nature. She was a nobody. She was background noise.

Yes, this made for a solitary kind of life and yes, she was tempted to ask Mr. Kent, “how do you know who I am?” but the only way she slept soundly at night was knowing her priorities were in the right place in a way that mattered. Her sense of fulfilment in life came from appearing anonymous enough to be able to safely walk through the dark corners of whichever city her work with Diana took her – the areas that no sane middle-class white American woman would normally dare venture – to find somebody that desperately needed her help. Whether it was Metropolis or Kolkata, she would walk the darkened streets dressed in her dull work clothes with her ordinary hair and nondescript face and she would touch a mentally ill man forced onto the streets because of huge medical bills and the inability to hold down a job, a blind man begging for his next meal, a starving child or a sickly-looking prostitute with a disease-riddled body and holes in her shoes.

This was what she’d been doing earlier that day when she’d stumbled across Mr. Kent’s bloody body strewn across a pile of black garbage bags down a dim alley in the middle of down town New York City.

This city needed help.

It needed a hero of it’s own just as Metropolis had Superman and Star City had The Green Arrow. New York City was a mess.

As per her routine, she’d been looking for a quick heal during her lunch break at the UN and in New York City these days it’s like, take your pick; just stand anywhere, close your eyes and point and there’s someone in need of help; and there he was, dumped ungraciously like a piece of garbage, face down in the rotting trash, limbs splayed in every which direction.

She hadn’t recognised him at first but her heart had immediately broken at the sight of such savagery. She immediately ran to his side, heaved his massive form over and… Mr. Kent! Talk about sheer, unadulterated luck. A disturbing thought indeed – a thought that made her especially grateful for her covert lunchtime ritual now more than ever. She shivered to think what would have happened if she hadn’t stumbled across him; if the world no longer had Superman in it. And if Diana hadn’t been walking past that exact alley at the exact moment Chloe found Mr. Kent, she could have tried healing him before he were actually dead. As it was, if she hadn’t been able to coerce Diana into collecting some useless first aide supplies, she may have had to resort to using her gift in front of her mentor, exposing her secret, because at the end of the day, his life outweighed her own. She would eventually have made that call, even if Diana were present in the small storage room.

If only her gift didn’t suck so much out of her, she would go from hospital bed to hospital bed healing every child, every patient – healing the whole world.

But as cruel as fate could be, she could only make a tiny difference in the big scheme of things – one to three people each day, and while her limitations taught her patience, she didn’t appreciate the lessons. The world was full to overflowing with people who needed her help and she was just one person, with one very limited power who needed to take breaks in between. Too often she passed by someone who needed her help and had to keep walking, and how that broke her heart.

“How can I possibly make a difference?” She murmured to her frustrated reflection as she roughly rubbed body cream down her neck, chest and shoulders, then moved on to her legs.

And yet, saving Mr. Kent this afternoon had felt good, like saving him would make a real difference…

She’d watched him from afar for years now, even before she began working as Diana’s personal secretary at the Pentagon, and then later with The United Nations and The Justice League. She’d noticed Mr. Kent’s handiwork around Metropolis for years, long before he wore his red and blues. He’d even saved her life once. Not that he remembered. “That’s okay…” she smoothed out her light brows and placed two tiny pearl studs in her ears, “He’s one super-guy with one very busy saving schedule.”

She shmooshed her lips together and felt the comforting moisture from her beige gloss sink in, “But how strange were you today, Mr. Kent? And why on earth were you calling me Chloe?”

Yep, she was baffled.

Sure, she may have noticed his buns-of-steel on the football field once or twice (he officially being the sexiest half-time water-boy that ever existed in the history of high school football), but she hadn’t seen him up-close and personal, ever. Not as Chloe Sullivan. She would have remembered. They didn’t have any classes together and travelled in completely different social circles.

And yet, he was acting as though he knew her this afternoon…

Now, Karen,” she warned herself, nerves building, “When you see Mr. Kent, you will keep your head down and keep quiet, you hear? I do not care how gorgeous his baby-blues are – do not get distracted. And do not get lured into any discussion beginning with the words ‘hey Chloe’,” she gave herself a stern talking-to. “A distracted person slips up. And we can’t have that, can we? No we cannot. So don’t let him distract you.” She pulled herself away from her pasty reflection and then quickly dressed into her blend-into-the-background-browns-and-beiges. She glanced at the old watched hanging from her wrist – her dads – she had to speed things up here if she was going to make the last flight out of JFK, for while Diana and Mr. Kent could get to the Alpha site in no time at all, she’d have to fly economy.

She sighed and wondered how fast it would take that bat guy in Gotham to get around in his sweet swiss-army-knife-car-jet-sub transformer thingy. “I must figure out who he is,” she said as she put on her pumps, pondering over the possibility of adding the bat guy’s skills to the team. “He could be awesome…” She grabbed her purse, touch-pad and a spare set of skin-coloured undies and then as an afterthought her toothbrush, then her ratty old copy of Jane Austen’s Sense and Sensibility, but quickly switched it for Pride and Prejudice and Mr. Darcy in a wet shirt instead, then locked the paint-peeling door to her tiny New-York-broom-closet-of-an-apartment behind her.

Like every inch of her body, her feet felt achy and tired but she forced herself to make the seven flights of stairs in good time. She raced down in a blur of brown and beige.

Coming to an abrupt halt at the bottom of the stairwell not even a second after she’d begun her descent, her damp hair came flying completely out of its tight bun, falling across her face.

She gulped.

Hard.

“Ah?”

The sound of hairpins tinkling down the stairwell three floors above echoed like haunting chimes. Peering through the veil of hair, she stared gape-mouthed at her normal-looking hands and her normal-looking feet, her chest afire with adrenalin.

“What… just happened?” She glanced back up the narrow stairwell and knew beyond a shadow of a doubt that she hadn’t just traversed the seven flights in her typical heal-clacking style.

Far out…”

A smile of mass proportions slowly spread across her pale face, lighting her eyes like the Rockefeller christmas tree, “Far out!she exclaimed, filled with an awe and excitement she hadn’t felt in years. Suddenly she grabbed a hold of the old, rickety balustrade and arched her back like a nerdlet, flinging her loose hair Demi Moore-style. “Yes, yes, yes!” went her pole-dance of glee in the deserted foyer, “Woohoooo!” She skipped and leaped and twirled like a demented ballerina.

When the door to the building suddenly opened, she cleared her throat and made to fix her hair back into its bun, her head rushing with the heat of embarrassment but that iridescent smile just would not fade. A young family smiled at her as they made their way upstairs – the parents with some awkwardness and the kids with wide-eyed glee.

“Some major tall-dark-and-alien gave me a little present today me thinks,” she chuckled quietly to herself, shaking her head disbelieving as she attempted to secure her bun with only three remaining bobby pins.

Grinning from ear to ear, she noticed the elderly lady from the third floor struggling to open the lobby door, Chloe gingerly raised herself upon her toes and carefully tip-toed the few remaining footfalls to the door where she then held it open for the tortoise-like woman and her miniature dog. She held the woman’s elbow for just a moment, just long enough to gift her a small present that should help with the stairs and those arthritis pains for the next few weeks; then carefully, ever so gently, Chloe exited and hailed the closest taxi.

“Where to?” the cigar smoking New York native asked over his shoulder once she was finally, carefully seated – she was scared her feet may do something crazy-fast again.

“Um?”

“What’s that sweedart?”

She chewed on her lip, to the airport, or not to the airport, that is the question… I mean, why fly when I could potentially super-speed my way down there in a fraction of the time? No tiny economy seat, squished-up next to an overweight man coughing germs all over me (mind you, I could just heal him); but no stale cabin air or bad airplane food; no waiting for hours for connecting flights; no lost luggage, not that I have any luggage but that’s hardly the point here…

Ah, actually, you know what? I think I’ll walk,” and with that, she very carefully exited the yellow cab with the drivers’ muted complaints grumbling behind her. She handed him a five for his trouble and, thinking slow, turtle-like thoughts (to prevent the accidental triggering of any super-fast motion), she walked to the centre of the footpath in front of her building where she then turned slowly on the spot and looked all around her, unable to stop smiling.

Yep, the wind was definitely changing.

Breathing deeply, filling her entire lungs, she noticed her respiration slow and her heart pulse strongly through her neck – and it felt dizzyingly good. She closed her eyes and calmly savoured the heady feeling. Sound seemed to slow and reach her ears differently; she could hear the cabbies engine roar impatiently away like music, the revving sound reaching out to her as though she were a million miles away while at the same time never having felt such a keen sense of closeness; in-the-presentness.

She opened her glittering eyes and found she were surrounded by a world of wonder. Colours and shapes looked surreal, glowy, bendy. Every person bustling about her was both blurred and faceless, and yet more sharply focussed than she’d ever noticed before; intoxicating in their immense beauty. Every piece of conversation that reached her ears resonated acutely, symphonically, every moving body a tangible person with thoughts and feelings and stunning uniqueness.

She closed her eyes for a long moment then and simply breathed, basking in the heady feeling of living inside a dream. Her mind was floating in the clouds, her limbs soft and languid from endorphins while her intelligence remained acutely aware of all sensation in this very moment in time, listing them all one by one: the breath of a breeze caressing her face, tickling the loose hair drying and curling naturally at her temples; the goose flesh it raised upon her arms and the faint scent of the Hudson River it carried with it. Somewhere high above, a child’s laughter echoed through an open window into the late afternoon air, mingling with the sounds of car engines, honking, live music from the twenty-four hour bar on the corner, even the distant chorus singing in the broadway ad on the holo-billboard two blocks down, and then the soothing sounds of two lovers kissing quietly on a stoop nearby, murmuring their goodbyes.

Oh, the sounds in a kiss.

Breaths and heartbeats, two sets of moist, warm lips moving together as one, slowly and beautifully, a little moan, a breath of promise. She opened her eyes and watched them. The girl held shopping bags by her sides; Bloomingdales, and some fruit and veggies from a street vendor stretching an old-fashioned netted bag. The guy’s long fingers circled her waist, one moving lower with an unconscious familiarity, pulling her closer to him. They’d been together a while, Chloe suspected, but not that long. A month maybe. Just long enough to still get lost in a goodbye kiss.

Then suddenly their kiss slowed. Curious. It were as though some higher being had pressed pause on life. Chloe’s head tilted curiously as she took in the phenomena; their facial expressions frozen in time, so utterly absorbed in one another that they seemed oblivious to the world surrounding them, their only focus being on that warm, shared, joining of mating breaths.

Glancing about her, she noticed that everything had slowed, except herself, even a pigeon froze in mid flight but a few steps away. She moved to the bird and gently touched the silken feathers on an expanded wing, marvelling at the iridescent purples and greens hiding beneath the dull grey exterior.

“Wowzer…” she murmured, her eyes dancing with dreamy delight, when suddenly everything sped up again. The bird frantically dodged her face and she giggled, a crazy idea taking root.

“I know the city’s probably not the smartest place to try this,” she whispered to herself, self-talk running in the family, “but… who said I was smart anyways, right?” Her pep talk was going well and she started to quiver with anticipation. “All I need is a nice, quiet spot… Aaaand to stop talking to myself like crazy cousin Lois.”

She figured she must have looked pretty silly tiptoeing along (whilst trying to look completely average and unnoticeable at the same time) in an attempt to not take off into a wall somewhere by accident. Once she found a quiet side-street, she tucked her touch-pad into her purse, slung her purse around her neck and held it tight – “Can’t have my tampax flying all across New York City now can we,” she giggled, and with a deep, tingling breath, she… well, she thought fast thoughts.

And immediately her legs began to smart and tickle. Her grin grew even wider to match her wide eyes. It felt good. Painful but good because she felt so alive, so filled with wonder and possibility. There were no right words that could describe this. The sensation had her completely outside of her head, like she was living in the purest physical moment there was.

Her toes started to prickle and zap and a heady power surged through her body making her shiver. She laughed aloud and threw her head back yelling to the sky, “I’m as fast as the wind!”

And then Karen Carter was gone.

With a faint blur and the rustling of dirty napkins from a nearby garbage bin, the small, unassuming woman was suddenly heading southbound at ridiculous speed, zooming towards the Alpha Site in South America and loving every damn-diggity second of it. She may have even screamed “Yippeeeeeee!” the whole way to the border, but she couldn’t be sure because she was also laughing at the top of her lungs, “I CA-HAAAN’T BELIEVE I CAN SUPERRRR-SPEEEEEEED!!!!”


 

Check back here for the next installment of How to Save a Life, by J.F. Bailey

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This Smallville-based fiction is set between seasons 8 & 9 of the CW tv series.

Tom-Welling as Clark Kent

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