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Chapter 31

"That button over there."  The blue-sleeved hand darted to press one of the myriad dials, levers, heat-sensitive bulbs, and other controls lining the six walls of the cramped cab.

"Excuse me, bunkie.  Don't you have anything useful to do?  We're just a few light-seconds from Vega, why don't you take a steam bath?"  Apparently Superman's helpful suggestions as to how the machinery worked were as welcome to Luthor as someone reading over John Stuart Mill's shoulder.  It did not take Luthor long at all, for a mortal, to determine how the time-snatcher worked.  Superman calculated that they could snatch a maximum of 21 facsimiles without permanently damaging the planet.

Luthor set about reaching a billion years into the future for a collection of Xerox-style copies of the dead husk of the planet Oric which he placed skillfully in orbit around the original like moons.  As this process began, Superman slipped out of the airlock of the contraption and swam through space back to the planet.  The idea was to create chaos, but avoid disaster.

Luthor was quite jealous of whoever it was that had designed this time-snatcher.  The machine used no basic principles that were unfamiliar to Luthor.  The thing simply used what Luthor knew so darned efficiently.  There was no margin for error to account for imprecise borders between different dimensions.  No energy-matter discrepancy.  The time-snatcher dealt with only inorganic matter and could move virtually any amount of it across unlimited expanses of time or space, ignoring the physical laws of the three-dimensional Universe.  The navigational equipment of the Black Widow compared to it as a kayak compares to an aircraft carrier.

The Master must certainly have stumbled on this piece of equipment, or stolen it and lost its inventor and anyone who completely understood its mechanism.  There was nothing on Oric among the technology provided by a thousand advanced cultures to compare with it.  If he could tinker with stuff like this all the time, Luthor, thought, he might be content to leave off the nonsense of his life and live out however many years he had as a traveling interplanetary fixit man, if there was such a profession.

The time-snatcher worked so quickly that by the time Superman arrived back at Oric there already were three facsimiles of the planet in orbit around it and a fourth taking shape like a film image coming into focus.  The Kryptonian stole a glance at the Master's headquarters and saw nothing unexpected, although he could not see through the walls of the pyramid's upper chambers.  Everyone seemed to be occupied with the crises Superman and Luthor had left behind.  The teleporters were still turned on, and the computer terminals were still spouting the nursery rhyme, and the various races among the Master's employees were coping in their respective fashions.  The first tidal wave was coming.

There were nine facsimiles drawn back from a -billion years in Oric's future, and the tides of ammonia water were heaving toward Cyber Island.  There was a heavily populated community mostly made up of Lalofins and Gorgans on the undersea shelf directly in the tidal wave's path.  Superman plowed into the putrid ocean like a dagger and swept back and forth along the border between the settlement and the open sea, setting up a cross-current to meet the tidal wave that was half a kilometer away and building.

Superman spanned his 200-meter course twelve times a second, following a pattern through the liquid he mentally calculated as he was diving into it.  But when the wave was 300 meters away, Superman sensed that he hadnot stirred up the ocean enough.  It was not churning as it should be, and the undersea community was imminently threatened.

He swept into the sky over the ammonia sea and saw the wave coming, with no cross-current building to neutralize it.  The only thing Superman seemed to leave behind was his own wake, foaming at the surface.  There were seconds before the tidal wave would surely sweep over the settlement, onto the island itself.

Superman knifed back into the sea and flashed directly at the coming tidal wave.  Before he reached it he felt himself swept around by the sea itself like a corkscrew and slammed at the ocean floor.  He looked up in time to see the tidal pattern lumbering over his head and pacified by a collection of sonic generators that circled the ocean floor around Cyber for the purpose of doing just that.  It was the sonic generators, no doubt, that had caught Superman in their vibrations and unexpectedly mashed him into the muck, that had calmed his cross current, and that would be routinely catching tidal waves before they reached any populated area of the planet.

Quakes.  There would be quakes.  There were sixteen Orics In the sky and there were hellish rumblings from thousands of kilometers around the planet.

Superman found one quake with his x-ray vision.  He caught sight of the underground plates it was loosening.  He traced the probable pattern of quakes to follow.  He was ready for them to reach the planet's population, and so was the population ready.

Before the first sign of tremors on Cyber, alarms clanged and lights flashed.  Creatures looked up with resigned expressions—those who could form expressions—and scores of entire buildings.  raised themselves up on great collections of springs.  The buildings on springs were equipped with expensive magnetic devices that homed in on the planet's immoveable center of gravity, and when the tremors started the buildings essentially stood still, relative to the planet, while the surface shivered.

The buildings not equipped with springs shot full of life-saving foam.  There were nineteen Orics in the sky, and Superman felt quite useless here.  The crisis he and Lutbor had brought about was certainly most inconvenient for the population of Oric, but hardly dangerous.

The only thing left for Superman to do was to flash through the pyramid and find MacDuff, Luthor's computer terminal, and see what the machine knew about flushing out the Master.  This Superman did, swimming undersea through the closed hatch of the launch ramp and into the winds caused by the runaway teleport machines.  Superman slammed into each of the machines, disabling and, nominally, turning them off.

MacDuff was inert in the corridor where Luthor's office had been.  It would be quicker to fly the terminal to Luthor himself several million miles away than for Superman to figure out the codes that would reactivate it and then imitate Luthor's voice to do so.

All at super-speed to blur any sight of him Superman wrapped the computer in his protective cape and flew it up above the pyramid ...

. . . and the pyramid had no point.  The Master was gone, along with all his intentions.

Superman and the computer terminal crashed a space warp directly at the star Vega.  The hero was inside the time-snatcher again in less than 30 seconds of real time.

"The Master's gone," he told Luthor before the scientist knew he was back, "took off somewhere.  Can you trace him?"

What followed were seconds wasted annoyingly, several useless words in abbreviated conversation, startled instants, and random feed-outs from the computer.  There were checks and double-checks that always came out the same and were thus even more annoying in their original accuracy.

The battle on Oric was over, and Superman and Luthor had apparently won it, if only by default.  The answer from the computer was the same each time.  The course was locked in long ago.  The Master had gone to Earth.



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