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 SUPERMAN: THE LIVING LEGEND: LAST SON OF KRYPTON: CHAPTER 11

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Chapter 11
THE BROADCAST


Here is the way the show was supposed to start:

At precisely 5:59 P.M. the rerun of whatever the network is rerunning in that time slot goes off and camera 2 in Studio B flashes on Clark Kent. Clark then reads a ten-second "billboard" from the teleprompter—a list of a few top headlines designed to entice viewers of the preceding show to watch the news fifty seconds later.

Here is what happened today instead:

At precisely 5:59 P.M. in the control room adjoining Studio B, Josh Coyle, the director of the news, pressed a button that put the image currently being immortalized by camera 2 over the WGBS-TV air.  The teleprompter clearly showed Clark his well-timed 35-word billboard.  The red light on the camera which served to alert Clark that he was on the air short-circuited out.  So a million viewers across the Metropolis Area of Dominant Influence—a television euphemism referring to the communities a station's signal reaches—were treated to ten seconds of valuable television time during which the inoffensively handsome face of Clark Kent stared blankly out of their picture tubes.

It was not Clark's day.

Somewhere out in space, Clark often thought, there was someone who would receive these television broadcasts that flew off the Earth at the speed of light.  Somewhere somebody would figure out that Clark and Superman were the same person.  Somebody whose mind was not clouded by human perceptions and prejudices would notice without a touch of effort that two men were one.  If that someone was also capable of grasping the idea that no one on Earth knew it, that this was a disguise and a very effective one, that someone would probably catch the irony in Clark's first words today.

"Good evening, this is Clark Kent of WGBS-TV News in Metropolis, on a day when Lex Luthor, the escaped criminal scientist, made a fool out of Superman."

It was times like this when Clark wished he were genuinely schizoid, not just a consummate actor.  He had to sit here and challenge his own pride, his masculinity, by all that's holy, in front of over a million people.  Could Olivier, Gielgud, Brando, Nicholson pull off this act as effectively?  Probably not, Clark thought.

"Luthor turned up today, one week after his disappearance from the maximum security cell block at the Pocantico Correctional Facility, to steal secret documents belonging to the late Dr. Albert Einstein.  Jimmy Olsen reports from Princeton, New Jersey."

There was the scene in all its diabolical brilliance.  Luthor stepped out the door and through the solid wall as if he'd had super powers all his life.  There was the pompous crud flipping back and forth in the sky waving the leather folder and thumbing his nose at the bullets.  There he was fading out.  And there was Jimmy's verbose, overwritten narration.  Jimmy tried hard.


For a long time it was very difficult for Clark to notice when someone was trying hard.  Most of what was important to American men in the twentieth century—surviving, prevailing, creating—came easily to Clark.  All he ever needed was a good start.  He had picked up the English language in a matter of weeks.  He seemed to skip right over the single word stage and whole sentences poured from his infant lips.  Grammatical rules did not much interest him at first, although his mind was frighteningly sharp.  He often came out with statements like, "Me want finish reading Tale of Two Cities," and then he did precisely that.

The Kents decided early that at least for awhile they were going to screen his influences very carefully.  Martha Kent held, for example, that stories of cutthroats and street urchins of the type Dickens wrote were not the sort of things Clark should be exposed to.  She put the Bible and lots of Horatio Alger on his reading list.  If he were going to insist on reading, she thought, it might as well be decent material.  Land sakes, he can wait for Tom Sawyer until he's assigned it in school.

By the time Clark Kent was old enough to start the first grade he had been exposed to the wisdom amassed over ten thousand years of human history on Earth.  He was even able to extrapolate a bit on that wisdom.  He could have discoursed with Descartes and Locke.  In an apparent contradiction of his own condition, he held Hobbes and Nietzsche and their ideas of the natural superiority of certain members of society, in contempt.  Martha Kent appreciated the influence of her reading list, but she suggested that he substitute simple rejection for the contempt.

The boy was quite aware of the world around him, but he did not yet know who he was.  The Kents were careful to ease the knowledge into his mind that he was somehow different.  He also knew that this difference was not something to be ashamed of, but it was to be kept secret.

When the time came, his hyperactive mind pondered all the questions his condition posed.  There were certain fundamentals, however, that he did not question—axioms at the bottom of his thoughts on any subject that approached his mind: that there was a right and a wrong in the Universe, and that value judgment was not very difficult to make.  They were the fundamentals that made Jonathan and Martha Kent who they were and they never seemed inconsistent with anything in Clark's experience.

By the time Clark started school he learned how to wear normal clothes without flexing his muscles through them every time he waved his arm inside a sleeve or took a step in a pair of pants.  Jonathan Kent retired as a farmer and started a small business—Kent's General Store on Main Street in Smallville, next door to Sam Cutler's hardware store.

There had been rumors floating around the region about a super-powered tot almost since the day of young Clark's arrival on Earth.  At parties, on hayrides, in local newspaper offices and the like, people would swear that they had seen a three-year-old boy punch a timber wolf and fly away.  Or people would tell about others they knew who told some such story.

With each rash of new super-baby sightings there invariably seemed to follow an outbreak of tales of a werewolf in some cavern, or a 100-year-old Indian medicine man who hid out in the woods, or the old reliable flying saucers.

The child was the source of a number of unsolved mysteries until the day he revealed himself to the world.  There was one point when he flew to London and helped Scotland Yard foil a plot to steal the Crown Jewels.  He was the "messiah" once as far as a tribe of Bantu were concerned.  He was probably among the most widely traveled children on Earth, even discounting his interstellar journey from a dying world.

When Clark was about ten years old he started wearing glasses and purposely acting timid in front of people other than his parents.  That was the Kents' idea; it would allay suspicions that Clark was anything but ordinary.

There was even a girl-next-door romance of sorts in the boy's life.  Lana Lang was Clark's age, and she was a sunshiny little red-headed girl.  She tended to consider herself a notch or so above the rest of the people in Smallville.  Her mother was editor of the local weekly newspaper and her father was a nationally recognized archaeologist who once made the mistake of telling his daughter that the family chose to live in Smallville so that Lana would grow up in a wholesome small town environment.  Professor Lang often traveled to New York, London, Metropolis, Rome, as well as the sites of early American Indian excavations.  Lana sometimes went with him, and no one in Smallville forgot it when she did.

When he was in his early teens Clark asked his foster mother to design a costume for him—an unforgettable one.  He wanted to be recognizable instantly, even to people who had never seen him.  The costume would have to be made of the material from the blankets in which baby Kal-EI was wrapped when he came from Krypton, as was the indestructible baby jumper he had to wear for most of his first five years.  She unraveled the jumper and blankets, Clark cut the material with his heat vision and fused the hems when it was done.  He would wear the cape, the skin-tight blue suit and red boots, along with the "S" insignia that would become his symbol.

His foster parents gave him permission to bore a pair of tunnels into the woods outside Smallville.  One was connected to the basement of the Kents' home and one underneath the general store.  He was going out alone a lot now, stopping fires, scooping people out from under falling trees, tripping up criminals, all from cover or at a speed so fast that the eye could not register his presence.  Jonathan Kent told him that he was as ready as he would ever be.

A pair of bored, broke adventurers in diving suits tried to rob a bank in Smallville.  The event came over a police band radio in the store.  Lana was in the store at the time, and Jonathan Kent covered for Clark by asking him to go to the basement and bring up a package from storage.  Clark brought back no package.  He stripped to the costume he wore under his street clothes, dove through his hidden tunnel and found the robbers jumping into a lake from a pier outside of town.  A police car was unable to follow them into the water.

Superboy plopped out of the sky into the lake and threw the pair out as quickly as they fell in.  They tried to gun the boy down and he giggled as the bullets bounced harmlessly off his chest.  The criminals surrendered in shock and the police were amazed.  The patrolmen on the scene took Superboy to Police Chief Parker.

George Parker thought it was a matter for the Mayor's attention.  The Mayor thought the Governor should know.  The Governor, naturally, used the alien teenager as an excuse to call the President.  The President, who was very graceful in strange and bizarre circumstances, promptly invited Superboy to spend the next weekend at the White House.

The last son of Krypton was an instant star.  Martha Kent's Horatio Alger books finally seemed to make a little sense.

Smallville was changed but not cowed; the world was cowed.  Clark continued to be the timid, studious, dutiful boy helping Pa Kent in the store.  Wordly Lana, the girl next door, presumed to develop a crush on the "Boy of Steel," as the out-of-town newspapers called him.  Smallville even developed a brief tourist trade, encouraged by a billboard on the water tower and on the entrance roads to the town.  It said, "Welcome to Smallville—Home of Superboy."

The Kents were well past child-rearing age when they found that rocket ship near the old farm.  On a vacation they both contracted a rare virus over which even their son had no power.  They died within a week of each other, Martha Kent first.  Jonathan Kent, on the last day of his life and without his wife for the first time in twoscore years, asked his son to stand next to his bed.

Superboy long ago had learned the story of his origin.  His power of total recall accounted for most of the story.  He was able to fill in most of the blanks by flying at many times the speed of light through space and overtaking the light rays that left Krypton the day it exploded.  In this way he actually saw the drama of his infancy reenacted.  He knew that he was Kal-El of Krypton, the son of Jor-El, and possibly the finest specimen of humanity in the galaxy.  He had broken the time barrier, he could speak every known language on Earth, living and dead.  He had been born among the stars and could live among them now if he so chose.  He had more knowledge in his mind and more diverse experience to his credit than any Earthman alive could ever aspire to.

Yet he stood at the deathbed of this elderly, generous man whose last Earthly concern was his adopted son's happiness.  Superboy listened, because he believed Jonathan Kent to be wiser than he.

Enough of this clowning around in the circus costume, Jonathan Kent told his son.  A man is someone who assumes responsibility.  To help people in need is right.  To grab at every short-lived wisp of glory that tumbles by is wrong.

"No man on Earth has the amazing powers you have," Jonathan Kent told the mightiest creature on the planet.  "You can use them to become a powerful force for good.

"There are evil men in this world, criminals and outlaws who prey on decent folk.  You must fight them in cooperation with the law.

"To fight those criminals best you must hide your true identity.  They must never know that Clark Kent is a superman.  Remember, because that's what you are, a superman."

And the old man died.

The sale of the business left Clark Kent with enough money to study journalism at Metropolis University, and to pay the taxes on the house in Smallville.  Superman could not bear to sell it, so he boarded it up.

People would still call him Superboy for a while.  Gradually, though, they would realize that he no longer scooted across the sky giggling as he flew into a hail of bullets.  He no longer thought battles of wits with criminals were a fun way to spend the afternoon.  Superboy would not be back.

Jimmy Olsen's face on the monitor was fading into the three useable seconds of Superman in action that had been shot through the newsroom window.  Clark narrated that, with most of his words heard over the frozen final frame—a remarkable shot of the Man of Steel rolling three unconscious criminals out of his cape to the ground like a sack of rotted pears.

"At the very moment Luthor was pulling off his spectacular robbery, the only person who has ever been consistently capable of thwarting the criminal's plans—Superman—was here.  Right outside the Galaxy Building here in Governor's Plaza in Metropolis, stopping what looked to be an attempted multiple bank robbery by twelve men piloting twelve glider-style air vehicles equipped with devices capable of crumbling a vault with sound waves.  The robbery attempt bore the unmistakable signature of Luthor himself, and although Superman managed to incapacitate all twelve pilots in ten seconds flat, he was effectively distracted enough so that he could not possibly have gotten wind of the real caper taking place sixty miles away."

Urbane Clark.

Unemotional Clark.

Bland Clark.

He felt like an idiot.

"Jimmy Olsen's next, live from Princeton as Superman tries to pick up Luthor's scent.  Also: a little girl noses her way across Long Island Sound, candidates of the Hamiltonian Party sniff the political air, and Mayor Harkness smells a rat in the city budget.  After this message."

Puerile writing.  Maybe Clark should drop-kick the building into a lunar crater.  It was kind of a secret thrill for Clark to watch Superman on the air reenacting the day's triumphs.  Having to sit through failures a second time, though, wasn't fun.  There was another of those failures coming up.

Coyle the director was in the control booth.  "You think we can get it right this time, Clark?  We're back on the air in four seconds .  .  .  three .  .  .  two .  .  .  one .  .  ."

"Less than half an hour after Luthor vanished from the scene, Superman showed up in Princeton.  Jimmy Olsen filed this exclusive taped interview."

It was a credit to Clark's acting ability that his face could be replaced on the screen by that of Superman, looking intently at Jimmy Olsen's microphone.

"Superman," Jimmy said on tape, "would you explain to our viewers exactly what it was we just saw you do here?"

"Certainly, Jimmy."  That rich voice rippling power and grace filled a million living rooms.  "What I was trying to do was reveal a trail of ionized molecules that Luthor's jet boot mechanism should have left behind in the air."

At this point Superman and Jimmy's voices were broadcast over the scene Superman was describing, which apparently took place several minutes earlier.  Superman was flying to the scene, arriving, motioning everyone in the area outside the Institute building to back away.

"As I arrived and I was backing everyone off the lawn, the reporters and the University people, I was scanning your videotape recorder's imprints to see exactly what happened—where Luthor had been and what he had done.  Next I flew off to the nearest large body of water, Carnegie Lake."

On screen, Superman was flying off and almost immediately a long blue cone of swirling liquid appeared over the trees in the direction he'd flown.  The cone was half a mile long and followed in the wake of a spinning red-and-blue streak.

"I flew in circles over the lake at super speed to draw up a waterspout and I created artificial air currents around it like a sack so it would follow me through the sky to the Institute here."

The spout was a few hundred feet in the air, directly over the Institute lawn as Superman broke away from it and raced the water to the ground.  The tape slowed so viewers could barely catch the sight of the Kryptonian crouching with his back to the camera blowing a massive gust of air from his mouth, creating an updraft as a three-second deluge hit the immediate area.

"The momentary downpour I created," Superman narrated as a swamp clapped the greensward, "was for the purpose of duplicating conditions of a thunderstorm.  You may have noticed that I blew upward into the rain as it fell.  This is the sort of disturbance that causes electrical charges to clump up in clouds and make lightning bolts."

"You wanted to make artificial lightning where Luthor was? Why?"

"His jet boots had to have jangled up the air he flew through at least as much as stratospheric winds.  This whole area should be loaded with ionic particles of nitrogen."

Darkness and gushes of wet heaves filled the screen, and through it could be seen flashes of sunlight, but no lightning, not even a spark.

"How would that tell you where Luthor went?"

"Well, Jimmy, my theory was that however Luthor escaped, whether invisibly or at super speed, he must have left a trail of ionic particles pointing in his direction.  My artificial cloudburst would cause flashes of lightning to point out Luthor's escape route like a beacon."

The fall of water on the tape ended, leaving Superman, soaking wet, standing imposingly against the dew-drenched lawn and the sun.  The picture flashed back to Jimmy and Superman speaking minutes later.

"Well, I didn't see any lightning, Superman.  Did you?"

"No, actually."

"What are you going to do now?"

"Find Luthor and the Einstein papers."

"But Superman, nobody's been able to turn him up since he escaped.  He pulled off this incredible camouflage to keep you away so he could steal this big scientific secret; he figured out some way to get maximum publicity and still cover his tracks completely.  You have absolutely nothing to go on, you don't even know what was in the notebook he stole.  You're back to where you were when you were just waiting around for him to make the first move.  What makes you so sure that you'll be able to find him and bring him to justice now?"

Superman smiled that smile that took over the screen.  Redford had a smile like that, so had Eisenhower, but Clark Kent didn't. "Force of habit," the smile said.

 

 

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