The New Superman
C 2003 Arthur Rosch
Superman was awakened by the buzzing of his Iphone. It was still in the utility belt of his tights. Now it vibrated against his butt cheek, bringing him out of a deep dreamless sleep. The fact that the Iphone was in his tights, and his tights still on his body, was due to his having fallen asleep after a hundred hour work-day. He had gotten back to the Fortress of Solitude only long enough to collapse onto his bed, eyelids falling of their own weight like leaded curtains.
“What the fu…” he cursed, but his throat was too dry to create words. There was a half full bottle of spring water on his bedside table. As he tried to reach it, he rolled to his left, and the badly fitted contour sheet on the mattress snapped up in the corner, so that all his bedding started to unravel. The bottle tipped and spilled into the Pandora’s box of junk at the side of the bed. Superman slapped at the buzzing pest in his belt. It vibrated insistently.
He sat up, dragging blankets and sheets with him. He rocked to one side and fished the Iphone from its pouch. There were only four people who had this Iphone code. When he freed it from the belt it expanded to the size of a small book. Superman squinted blearily at the rapidly forming screen.
It was Piers Bloch, his Public Relations Manager. For the last twenty hours Piers had been voning, texting, emailing, over and over again. The message was always the same:“Whr R U? MUST TALK!”
Superman had been dealing with crisis upon crisis and there was no time to answer the ever-nervous Piers. He was flying supplies to the aftermath of an immense Tsunami in Sri Lanka. There had been an earthquake in Szechuan, a volcanic explosion in Colombia, a Sarin attack in Odessa. What could Piers want that could be more important?
The Man of Steel pushed the Clear button. It would notify Piers that he had finally come to rest in the Fortress Of Solitude. Superman couldn’t bring himself to answer these calls. He had nothing left, nothing to give. He was burnt out.
As he slept he had gotten his face stuck to a napkin from KFC. The place was full of such junk, empty bags and cardboard cups. He spit pieces of lint from his lower lip and picked the rest of the material away from his mouth. Pieces he didn’t see still adhered to his chin.
“Where would I be?”, he grumbled, “Moscow? Alma-Ata? Minsk? I’m everywhere and nowhere.” He sat up, kicking his sheets and blankets into a pile on the floor. The place was a wreck. Outside, he could see the mountains of Greenland, rising in range after range, deep in the interior. Wind kicked disdainfully at the peaks, blowing off piles of snow. In this remote wasteland, it was almost possible to make the world stop. Almost.
For Superman, the world could never stop.
Sighing deeply, with a great effort of will, he got up. He took three steps to the left, and was in his bathroom. Outwardly, to the visible world, the Fortress of Solitude was a 2006 Winnebago Adventurer. Superman didn’t need much in the way of personal comfort. The brown and white rectangular vehicle moved with the wind, it’s springs squeaking. There was more of the Fortress, much more, underground. Next to the motorhome, four twelve foot satellite dishes shuddered in the gusts. They were guyed to the bedrock by inch-thick cables. As the wind traversed this giant harp, the strings went “toing toing”. The perforations in the discs, designed to prevent them from becoming sails and blowing away, added an eerie howling to the already lambent sound of the strings. When the wind was high, the installation made a music appropriate to the landscape.
Superman looked at himself in the mirror. He saw a man approaching middle age with a four day growth of beard. He gave himself a sloppy shave with yet another shaving gizmo, a Shick Seven Blade Self Sharpening Ultra Trend. The self sharpener didn’t work; it was just another shaving gimmick. He made a fist and ran it under the blades at blurring speed. In a few seconds the blades were sharp.
His gut hung over the elastic waistband of his red and blue tights. His arms and legs were packed with muscle, but he was subtly broadening in girth. Lately his physique had begun to resemble that of a Russian weight lifter. He needed a Rejuvenation. His body clock had run close to the age of fifty earth years.
Who has the time? he thought plaintively. Wait. He stopped himself from pursuing that line of thought. It was ridiculous. He could Rejuvenate any time he wanted. It took an hour. He could make the time. It was the wanting. It was the motivation that was missing. He was, as the expression went, “letting himself go”. He was doing it on purpose.
Superman thought, with sudden and unexpected longing, of the key to the Kryptonite Vault. It was hanging just out of reach, in the towel shelf. He could see it, hanging from a Bugs Bunny key chain. He could go down into the underground world of the Fortress, unlock the vault, walk in….and never walk out again.
He rubbed his now-smooth chin, patted his belly, and ran a finger in a vertical line along the Adaptex material of his tights. It opened to the slit shape while he withdrew that part of his anatomy he wryly called “The Dong of Steel.” He stood over the lever-operated toilet and made a piss that poured from him like Niagara, on and on. After three minutes, it gradually rattled to a halt, squirted one last time, and was done. He stepped on the flush lever and the fluids disappeared. The super hero replaced himself in his tights, ran his finger across the opening, which instantly self-sealed. He went into the main room of the motorhome, stepping over empty cans and papers. The lights were on…he had fallen asleep with the lights on. They were beginning to dim, and his computers had already kicked over to generator power.
Impervious to the cold, Superman went outside, brushed snow off a stationary bicycle that was hooked up to a bunch of cables and pedaled for two minutes with such force and speed that smoke rose from the pedals’ sealed bearings. The lights came back up. The generators kicked off but the wind was so loud there was no difference in the noise level.
He returned to the bus-like vehicle’s interior. I should clean this up, he told himself.
He could have asked one of his clones do the cleaning, but any one of them would have laughed at him. Besides, the idea of watching himself working for himself as a menial was absurd. He couldn’t create a sweet plump girl named Rosita to do his housework. He cloned himself, only himself. That was his law, his inflexible principle. He couldn’t handle the work of serving Earth without help.
He heard a boom like distant thunder. This was followed by another sound, a sort of backward rendition of the noise a straw makes after emptying a milk shake.
Superman looked out the window. One of his clones had just landed and was heading towards the beat-up looking cargo container behind the RV. He wasn’t wearing “the costume”. Briefly, the clone and its maker exchanged a glance. Superman nodded perfunctorily. It was Kal-el 17, alternate name Boon. Every Kal-el had a secret identity, a life, sometimes a job. Boon wore his hair long, shoulder length. He pulled a door of the container and vanished down the ramp leading into the tunnels of the Fortress.
Kal-el One registered hunger as the quiet gurgling at the center of his abdomen and a slight dizziness due to lowered blood sugar levels. It was ridiculous, this need to eat, defecate, occasionally masturbate, blow his nose, fart. Ridiculous. But that was where the central problem was located, wasn’t it? He was Superman. He wasn’t Super Super. He wasn’t Man Man. He was Superman. He was, in fact, a goodly part human being, even if his Kryptonian origins lent him unusual faculties. He had lived so long with humans that he almost considered himself to be one of them.
He was a half- breed, with all a half-breed’s identity confusion.
He called himself by his real name, Kal-el. That was his given name. He was Clark Kent in the alternate world of his secret identity. This Superman business was a comic book. True, he could leap tall buildings in a single bound, but there was a lot more to him than what he could DO.
He waved his hand in front of his face, as if to dispel a mirage. To get to the half-sized refrigerator, he had to wade through the detritus of his motor coach: bedding, old newspapers, empty CD jewel cases, bottles of Calistoga water. He couldn’t even get the fridge open. There was an empty Costco box that had contained Top Ramen jammed between the door and the pantry. Taking him by surprise, a fit of pure rage filled him, and he kicked the box so that it exploded and filled the place with cardboard confetti.
Frustrated, he decided to clean the place, now, not later. NOW! He gathered cleaning supplies from under the sink, brought out the vacuum cleaner. He became a blur, and twenty seconds later the Winnebago was spotless, immaculate.
“Why did I wait so long to do that?” Kal-el wondered. He was beginning to worry about himself. The brooding, the mess, the overwork….all classic symptoms of depression.
“That won’t do.” He thought with a puzzled sigh. “We can’t have Superman on Prozac.”
When he opened the little refrigerator a noxious smell came lurching from it like an evil creature. Kal-el recoiled, covered his face, swung the Winnebago door open and puked a perfect little pellet of the protein cake he ate when he was too busy to eat anything better. Which was always.
He held his breath, leaned into the fridge with a squirt bottle of Lysol. His hands moved so fast they virtually disappeared. The little fridge was disinfected and spotless in ten seconds. He sealed the organic garbage into some empty cardboard containers. He was left with four parcels of junk and rotten sludge neatly wrapped in biodegradable paper. He went out into the full roar of the storm and tossed each package thirty miles , one in each of the four cardinal directions.
He sang a brief incantation with each toss. The words were a chant to the wind spirits that he had learned from the local indigenous tribe. He used small ceremonial gestures taken from the Inktuktikut. He lived here on their sacred land. The courtesy of using their chants was his way of showing respect.
That was not the only reason he used the shaman’s way. All he had to do was look at the world around him, the wind, the snow, the mountain crags, the great plateaus of ice. It was a place of awesome and mysterious power. It had to be taken seriously.
He wrapped his cape around himself as he got into his RV. He closed both doors, the screen and the outer door. He opened various laminated plywood cabinets, looking for something to eat. There wasn’t a crumb, not even a bar of his cursed protein cake, not an egg, not a Trader Joe’s Carb 100. Nothing.
Maybe one of the other Kal-els had something to eat. By force of habit Kal-el activated his comm gear and data streams. When his corneal implants flickered to life. information began to whiz across his vision. He had turned the damned thing off when he reached the Fortress. Enough! he had told himself. I’m sick of being a data sieve. Now his feeds were back on. He was getting info from weather satellites, military channels, web cams. He heard chatter from intelligence agencies and radio calls from Metropolis cab companies. A driver on 45th Street was singing “Louie Louie,
Oh no, y’bettah go now. Yah yah yah yah!” He was badly out of tune. Unconsciously, Kalel picked through the brontobytes of information, sorting them for relevance and doing emergency triage. There was a lot of chatter about Superman, which he automatically discarded from his attention. There was always chatter about Superman. There was an endless flow of tabloid trash: I’m having Superman’s Baby! Superman Caught in Gay Romance. There was that perennial tabloid favorite: Superman Has Cloned Himself Thousands of Times! He had to laugh. There WERE clones of Superman. He had made a hundred replicas of himself. He didn’t deny, didn’t confirm, he merely ignored. People hallucinated all kinds of things. Let them work it out.
“There’s so much to be done,” he thought desperately. “So much to be done.”
Then, as always, aware of his mental processes, he stopped thinking and hurled his psyche a billion light years into space. From that distance, he looked down upon the infinitesimal speck of this person, this unfortunate hero the Earthlings called Superman, Kal-el, son of Jor-el.
This thought, he realized, was his nemesis: There’s so much to be done. In those five words huddled a universe of misplaced responsibility, guilt, neurotic over-achievement. He had that insight for a few seconds, then his distance collapsed, his detachment gave way to a sucking rubber-band sound, thwangggg! and he was pulled back into his personality. “Who am I kidding?” he asked himself. “I’m the only person who stands between these earthlings and utter self destruction. I can’t afford the luxury of neurosis. I am doomed to be a workaholic because the alternative is to be uncaring, unfeeling, and to let these people fight each other to extinction.”
He had altered the political structure of the planet Earth until its stability depended upon his intervention. He kept the peace by what he called “The Balance of Astonishment”. Or, sometimes, “Mutually Assured Incompetence.”
Meanwhile there was the real pain, the real horror of earth in its emergency century: oceans rising, monster storms, mass death of man and animal. He couldn’t stand it. If he paid attention to his data stream for another five seconds he would be engaged, he would turn around and fly to the nearest tragedy and then his work day would begin again, and last how long? Fifty, sixty, a hundred hours? A week? He turned his feeds off in something close to panic. He was seized with an overpowering need for company. He decided to go down into the subterranean tunnels to visit a few of his clones the old fashioned way, face to face.
The Winnebago’s bedroom was a discreet area. A slide-out extender gave it extra roominess. Kal-el’s bed faced towards the front of the motorhome. There were mirrors all over the place, typical motorhome décor creating the illusion of space. Opposite his bed there was a large mirror that he had modified to make an interior door. It was his personal entrance into the Fortress Of Solitude, with its miles of tunnels, its super computers, machine shops and laboratories. Kal-el pushed at the full length mirror. It clicked and turned on a central axis. He slid through the opening and pushed the mirror closed.
He was in a long corridor lit to emulate sunlight. Cameras recorded his movements, weapons tracked him. Grey concrete walls and a black rubber floor went down, down, down, at a slope of thirty five degrees. Kal-el ’s feet were sore. He used them hard. He landed on them going a hundred miles an hour. He ran on them, kicked down steel walls, punted ticking hydrogen bombs into space. All in a day’s work.
It was hell on the feet.
Kal-el rose into the air and adopted a lazy prone position, as if he were on a couch watching T-Vid. He did a few mock back strokes, turned on his stomach and flapped his arms raggedly, doing the dance called the Funky Chicken.
He descended a mile this way. When he reached the blast doors he let himself back to the ground. He winced as his feet made contact.
There was a keypad, an iris scanner and a DNA analyzer. When Kal-el had satisfied these security devices, a deep sound vibrated beneath the ground and the massive doors slid apart, only wide enough to admit a man before they reversed on their tracks and shut behind him.
He entered a comfortable but functional set of laboratories, computer banks, work benches and lounge spaces.
“Hey, look who’s here, still wearing his monkey suit!” A Kal-el clone came towards him, smiling with some irony. “K-1”, as he now called himself, recognized “K-47” or, as the clone had named himself, “Zyle”.
KI and Zyle did an informal handshake, fists closed, two taps, top and bottom. Zyle had chosen to treat his skin with melanin and his hair was a great bun of dreadlocks. He weighed less than the original Kal-el . His body was wiry and strong but had none of the bulk that had come upon Kal-el One. He wore a sweater, green with orange stripes, and a circular knit cap. His pants were worn jeans and his feet were pushed into leather sandals. He looked like an Ethiopian version of his maker.
There were usually twenty or thirty of the clones on hand in the Fortress. They were autonomous. When they needed to communicate with one another, they activated
a special channel in their communications gear.
Heads began popping over the tops of cubicles. Variously clad, colored, adorned, each wore the features of Kal-el One, but each was subtly different. Kal-el One knew all of their names, numbers and interests.
A corridor divided the vast chamber into two halves. Some areas were walled off, some merely curtained.
“Hey mon, what bring you down here into da bowels of de earth?” Zyle inquired. He had a jeweler’s loupe raised to his forehead, resting there on its elastic band. He had been making a scarab of exquisite delicacy.
Kal-el 1 threw himself onto the nearest couch, a threadbare legless piece of junk worthy of a college dorm room. Its faded upholstery was a plaid pattern of blue and gold diamonds.
“You guys got anything to eat?” Kal-el 1 fussed with his cape so that he didn’t sit on it. Every time he did so, he found that he couldn’t move without dragging the cape along with himself. Sometimes he sat with legs crossed. Attempting to rise from furniture became a wrestling match as the fabric stuck under him and prevented his legs from getting free.
“Got some potato salad,” a voice spoke up from a few rows down the cubicle complex.
“Punkteen?” Another voice issued from behind a curtain, using the slang word for the ubiquitous protein cake.
“’Tato Salad will be just fine,” Kal-el One said. There was a low coffee table in front of the couch. There were empty bottles, cans and other kinds of junk spread across its surface. Kal-el 20 emerged from a cubicle with a half full container of potato salad. A plastic fork stuck out from a chunk of potato. K20 was dressed simply in a light blue shirt and belted slacks. He handed Kal-el One the container and sat next to him on the couch. The furniture sagged even further as the husky bulk of another Kal-el joined the first.
Kal-el One took a bite. After swallowing, he realized that he was very hungry. “This is good. Any more?” He finished the contents of the container, licked the spoon and looked around.
A small crowd of Kal-el s had gathered. They all bore the same basic features. They were the same height, though their weights varied. They were different in physical age. Some were barely teenagers. Others looked forty. Kal-el 1 was the oldest looking “Superman” in the room. It wasn’t until he saw himself in the context of the others that he realized how long it had been since he had Rejuvenated.
One of the Kal-el s had vanished from view and now returned with a new, very large, container of potato salad. It was a twenty five pound opaque plastic drum with a tightly sealed lid. A stack of paper plates was underneath this large drum and a pack of plastic utensils rode atop. This Kal-el , who was number 8, Naftali, set the items down on the table with a dramatic thud.
Using a perfect Elvis Presley drawl, Kal-el One said, “Thank you very much.” He leaned forward, sank the fingers of his right hand around the edge of the vacuum sealed lid and pulled it away. The seal hissed as it was broken, and the aroma of fresh delicatessen potato salad wafted into the air.
A few other Kal-el s had brought beer and cups, pickles, several pounds of corned beef, loaves of French bread, jars of mustard and mayonnaise. Tables were pushed together, chairs and couches added to the original furniture. An impromptu picnic of Supermen was under way.
The eating was fast and ferocious. Twenty two Kal-el s walked back and forth, fetching seconds. Kal-el 1 simply sat on the couch at the center of this activity and ate the way a steam locomotive eats coal. He shoveled food into the furnace of his mouth, he ate with a fiery hunger. Now and again he would slow down long enough to drink a beer in a single gulp.
From a hundred yards away he heard the comments of two other Kal-el s, numbers 76 and 85. Philemon and Becket.
“Hey, One is here,” said K76.
“Don’t you mean ‘THE One’?”responded his clone-brother.
“You know, if he’s paying attention, he can hear you.”
“I don’t care. I doubt he cares, either.”
Their voices faded, and Kal-el 1 had an intuition that they had gone to sign language, a common enough practice in an environment that was essentially a hive of one hundred and one identical twins gifted with super hearing.
He also realized something else, which should not have been a shock. Kal-el s 76 and 85 were gay. They weren’t gay with each other, but they were gay.
It should not have surprised Kal-el 1. He’d just never thought of it. The concept was interesting. It forced him to think of himself as being gay. He tried to stretch his fantasy in a new direction. It didn’t work. His mind kept drifting back to Allyson Followes. She worked for the Daily Planet writing a column on pet behaviour. He tried again to think of attractive men. He knew many such men. His mind returned to Allyson Followes. It was not for him, gayness or bisexuality. It was just…interesting.
If he could find a free hour as Clark Kent, he would like to get to know Allyson. The way things were going, that hour might be years in coming.
In the front assembly area, a party was now in full swing. Bob Marley’s voice was rasping from the speakers of the sound system.
“One loooove, one looove, let’s get together and feel all right.”
Several Kal-els were dancing with great jumps and twirls, writhes and sinuous turnings of the limbs.
The speakers went silent. Kal-el 1, who was finally feeling satiated, looked up to see standing before him the two Kal-el s, 76 and 85.
Each was dressed in a standard set of Superman tights. The tights on Becket were ridiculously too large. The sleeves hid his hands. The cape dragged on the floor.
Philemon’s costume was absurdly small. At his wrists, the ribbed material designed to keep air from blowing up his sleeves was snugged around his elbows. The cape rode at the height of his utility belt. The legs were like bike racers’ shorts; they gripped just below his knees. His thighs bulged and his protective cup no longer blended with the whole but showed its contours through the speedo that covered Kalel’s middle parts.
The two Kal-el s put their arms about each other’s shoulders and a musical accompaniment sprang from the sound system. It was the intro to an old and famous comedy song.
At their cue, first Philemon sang, then Beckett.
“Hello Muddah,” sang Philemon.
“Hello Faddah”, sang Beckett.
“Hello Bruddah”…with each line, the singer did a splay kneed little dip.
“Hello Sistah”, Beckett dipped, a trace of tremble beginning at his shoulders as he suppressed his laughter.
Together they sang, “Here we are at…Camp Granada.”
That was as far as they could go before cracking up, and the whole group of clones and their creator were awash in tears of laughter.
It was an odd laughter. It had elements of genuine amusement, of mania, of self contempt. There was also a subtle element of madness, of the completely unhinged.
It was the type of laughter that subsided and set itself off again, making waves that rose and fell, until finally, reaching a beach where merriment was exhausted, it
ended in a few sighs and blown noses.
A new sound came from the speakers. It was a gentle bonging that sounded once each second.
It was a sound that meant Emergency. The only possessors of the code were the one hundred and one Kal-el s and the four executives in the company doing business as “Superman LLC”. Piers Bloch, as public relations director, was one of those four executives.
Piers handled the public image of a company worth more than forty billion dollars.
Kal-el 1 tapped in the keyboard on his Iphone. When the keyboard came on screen, he tapped Enter and Piers’ face filled every monitor in the Fortress. It appeared deep in the lower levels, down in the genome labs. It appeared another three miles below where a team of Kal-el s was doing research with Neutrino detectors.
It was a head-and-shoulders shot of Piers’ gaunt visage. He was wet, his long heavy hair lay flat against his skull. His glasses were partially fogged. He spoke into a Iphone that was scrambled through a maze of encryptions. The background appeared to be some remote farm in Yorkshire. A few cows wandered through muddy fields, tails swishing. A farm house looked to be about half a mile away.
“Speak to me, Piers,” Kal-el 1 said gently. It was obvious that Piers was badly frightened.
The PR man wiped his face with a dirty handkerchief. He wore a grey Burberry with the collar turned up. A black and somewhat shapeless Western-style hat kept the light rain from falling onto his glasses. Piers had chosen this spot for signal strength. Otherwise, he’d be in his Jaguar. He was fastidious about his clothing
“I can’t believe it, so I’m just going to show you, Kal. Er…I should say Kals. I don’t think I’m ever going to get over the confusion, there are so many of you. Sometimes I think, ‘what would happen if they were evil?’ a very scary thought. Well, we’re in trouble. At first I thought someone was having me on, but I saw twenty, maybe twenty five videos, some of them very hi-res videos at that, so I could have little doubt as to the veracity of the..the product. No green screen, no CGI. It couldn’t be done. I mean, the technical challenges would be….”
“Piers!” Superman spoke sharply. “Just get on with it.”
Piers seemed to gain control of himself. His breathing steadied.
“All right. It’s like this: You were…or I should say a Superman was seen ..uh…exposing himself to rocketliners in flight.”
This brought immediate silent attention to the room full of Kal-el s.
“I…wait a minute…” Superman said. “He what??
“Here,” said Piers Bloch with a helpless shrug. “The stuff’s spreading all over Youtube, Whotube, and Newtube, every where. uh, fuck.” The image of the phone wobbled, Piers’ face vanished, there was ground and sky, a copse of trees. His voice could be heard saying , “Where the effing hell is the play button..”
The scene changed abruptly. A Iphone camera was recording out the window of a sub-orbital passenger transport. It was descending towards an airport that looked like Heathrow. The camera was pointing towards the ground, taking shots through the clouds of the approaching coast line and the city that seemed to turn as the plane banked to find its approach to the runway. Then the phone’s angle changed abruptly. It looked straight out the window to see, just a few feet away, a flying Superman, matching the airplane’s speed so he seemed to be standing still. He smiled, then waved. The camera jiggled a bit, as apparently its owner waved back. Then, still smiling, Superman reached through the adaptex fiber of his tights and let the Super Dong hang flapping in the wind.
The camera twitched with the shock of its user. The exposed Superman slowed a bit so that he could be seen, window by window, along the length of the passenger jet. The Iphone followed him until he could no longer be seen. There was a moment of camera looking at sky, then the lens shifted to the passengers inside the jet. There were piles of people atop one another, looking out every inch of window. They all had Iphones, vidcams, watchcorders. They flowed like thick molasses towards the back of the plane until Superman vanished behind the tail. Then Superman reappeared on the other side of the airplane, smiling impishly, waving, shaking his tool. The passengers scurried to gain an inch of window space as the display was repeated in reverse, with Superman seeming to swim forward towards the plane’s cockpit. When he reached the wing, he stopped, stood up, and did a little dance. His cape was pointed straight back in a three hundred mile an hour wind. His flaccid penis followed the direction of the cape. It was long and it seemed to be an accessory glued on to the costume. The camera showed passengers leaning in a pile, climbing over one another to get a view of The Man of Steel’s Thing of Steel.
Superman pretended to be vulnerable to the wind. He mugged for the passengers, hung onto the wing and simulated terror, regained his footing, imitated the pose of Rodin’s famous sculpture, “The Thinker”. There was, of course, no stool upon which to sit. This particular version of Superman sat in the air, chin resting in hand, eyes drawn down in concentration.
The jet was making its descent towards Heathrow. At about five hundred feet, Superman ended the show. After buzzing the cockpit a few times, he returned to the wing, crossed his arms, squatted on his haunches and did the famous Russian kicking dance called the Kazhatzka. He made a few turns while kicking right left right left. He stood up, spread his arms wide and seemingly let the wind blow him away. He
quickly vanished into the distance, making wild gestures until he was no longer visible.
There was a long and very gelid silence. At last someone said, simply “Uh oh.”
Every Kal-el in the Fortress was now present. They sat on stools, chairs, stood upright, floated in various positions. They were loosely circled around Kal-el One. They were the same but different. They wore a variety of clothing. Some wore their hair long, some had shaven skulls. Some wore earrings, piercings, tattoos, arm bands, bracelets, scarves, facial hair.
It was a concentration of immense power in a single location.
One of their kind was waving his dick at the passengers of high speed sub-orbital transport jets.
. Kal-el One did a quick count. There were thirty one other Kal-el s on hand. That meant sixty nine Kal-el s at large. All of them knew that it was Kal-el seventeen who had done the naughty prank. He was the Kal-el who worked as an actor in Lithuania and called himself Tab Winklerius
Now, thirty one Supermen were looking at Kal-el One, whose earth name was Clark Kent.
“If I send two of you to go get him,” said Kalel One, “I’d have to send four to keep an eye on the first two and that would be futile because I have a dreadful sense that we’re all getting a little screwy.”. He looked as if there should be a spear thrust through the center of his body. His shoulders were thrown back and his eyes were unfocused.
His gaze returned to the present. “Can anyone tell me different?
Kal-el One turned to the Kal-el who sat next to him on his left. He addressed him by his earth-name, as was the custom amongst themselves. “Ricardo, How have you been doing, lately?”
Ricardo, who worked in the Mexican zone, had been preparing to leave on a mission. He was Kal-el 29. He wore a full head-mask. His boots were deep purple and studded with jewels. The “S” on his chest was sculpted with a drop-shadow made of emeralds. He looked like a Mexican wrestling hero, absurd, comic, yet mysterious and dignified.
“Fragile,” he said. “I feel like one little kick can push me over the edge. Lately I’ve just been down, tired…depressed. I want to sleep. I don’t want to do this Superman shit. But I keep going. My sense of duty won’t let me stop.”
He looked at Kal-el One and his gaze took on a blade-like quality. The anger in his eyes came with a blast of heat that started very hot and drew back until it was gone.
This lasted a fraction of a second.
“Tell you the truth,” said Ricardo, “I’ve wanted to kill you a few times. Just for causing me to exist. Not a serious thought, you know; more like a fantasy a kid has when he’s mad at his mom or dad.”
Kal-el One felt a keen sense of sorrow. It was followed by fear. He, who was able to control his body, who could tell his heart how fast and when to beat, had lost control of that heartbeat. It began to race with fear.
“Then it’s even worse than I thought,” he said in a quiet voice. He was afraid. The more he thought about the situation, the more frightened he became.
He asked a question, simply, with little inflection. “Can anyone here honestly say they completely trust themselves?”
There was silence. A faint trembling was beginning at Kal-el One’s fingertips. He had faced so many enemies in his life. He had defeated villains and megalomaniacs. He had battled grandiose figures with the power to rip apart reality itself. Those enemies hadn’t really frightened him. There was only one enemy who terrified him. It was his one inescapable and permanent foe: himself.
“Does anyone know a good therapist who gives group discounts?” It was Gurmeet Singh, number 89, who uttered this quip. No one laughed. Gurmeet didn’t expect a laugh. He had identified the central problem. They were suffering a collective and possibly progressive breakdown.
“What shrink treats a hundred and one Supermen?” Kalel One said. “We need someone of the utmost wisdom. The Sixteenth Dalai Lama? I mean, the real one, not that Chinese pawn. No. He’s a sweet man but this isn't his domain.”
“What about the Third Oprah?” Number 42,Gregor Semyatski, uttered this suggestion.
“Have you MET her?” another Kalel replied. “She’s four foot six and boy is she cranky. No no no no.”
“Hey, she’s only twelve, give the kid a break” said another Kalel. “Maybe she’s just going through a bratty phase.”
“Do we ever stop fucking around?” Kalel One’s voice gained volume.
“NO!” Several Kal els sounded off. One of them voiced their thoughts. “We have to be clowns. If we don’t laugh and be goofy we’re in big trouble. Of course…it kind of looks like we ARE in big trouble. How can we deal with all this tragedy and suffering day after day and not flip out? Yesterday I took pieces of a toddler out of a threshing machine. Then I went to the Florida Coast. You know what that’s like! Refugees from the rising water, Haitians, Cubans, people from all over trying to squeeze onto higher ground. How can we deal with this stuff? I think we’re all just overloaded, you know? Compassion fatigue jammed into Survivor’s Guilt.” The speaker was Kalel 72, Occam Rosen. He wore a yarmulke with his tights. His long curly sideburns framed his tragic face. His voice broke and tears began to flow down his face. “I can’t do it any more….not for a while.
I have to stop or I don’t know what will happen. I’ll throw The Dome of The Rock to Mars.
The temperature in the lounge seemed to drop forty degrees.
Swallowing hard, Kal-el One asked the other Kal-el s. “Have all of you been experiencing odd mental or emotional states?”
There was a grumbling of affirmation in the lounge, and Kal-el One understood that the terror was universal. They were alike. He was mother/father/god/creator. He had needed the help of his clones. He had expended enormous effort figuring out how to make them so that they had all the same powers he possessed. It had finally become a matter of taking a laboratory back to the region of the Andromeda Galaxy where Krypton had once existed. He had purchased an almost-new 2019 Fleetwood Explorer, a forty two foot diesel quad motorhome. He filled it with everything he might need and proceeded to toss and tow the big coach at near light speed. He found a distorted region of space that contained a Lamech Gateway. He used it to transport himself and his RV to the area where Krypton’s home star Rao had once existed.
The neighborhood was still cluttered with bits of the old Krypton. Carefully encased in lead armor, Superman gathered enough of this-Kryptonite to make an asteroid. He took the asteroid to the closest analogue of the star Rao, a G class star with the identical surface temperature and density.
This star had an inhabited planet. He gave it a wide berth, keeping his asteroid always in opposition, hidden behind t he star, invisible to the planet that was called, by its inhabitants, Uberjo.
The beings of this planet were monopedal. Their bodies tapered to a single graceful foot, out of which emerged a spherical roller. This allowed them to move about. Their foot resembled the workings of a ball point pen. They rolled themselves in all directions with great speed and agility. They could compress their bodies like springs and leap hundreds of feet into the air. They could roll up steep grades without rolling backwards. Their language had thousands of words for the concepts of balance and stability.
They mated in threes, leaning together to form a stable tripod. Their genitals were in their upper bodies.
After a brief survey, Kal-el One determined that the Uberjoni were a relatively peaceful species. They were beginning to colonize the bodies of their star system but they were nowhere near the area of his motorhome/laboratory.
Kal-el One replicated the conditions of his birth planet as nearly as possible. He enhanced the asteroid’s gravity with a thimble of neutron star material. He built a dome that was shielded from the kryptonite beneath his feet. He removed his lead armor and proceeded to clone five copies of himself. He took these infants to earth and tested them meticulously.
None displayed anything beyond ordinary human capacity. There were a few deviations in their so-called “junk DNA”, and those must have had a crucial impact.
They were not supposed to, but they did.
Kal-el found loving homes for the infants and returned to his laboratory near the star that the Uberjoni called Tspheeris.
There was a risk he had to take. He put on his lead armor, went outside the dome and collected a fist-sized piece of Kryptonite. According to the radiation detector, it was inert. There was no beta decay.
He returned to the place he had created as his bedroom. He placed the Kryptonite rock on his reading table and removed his lead armor. Then he lay down.
He waited. Nothing happened. The detritus of Krypton had lost its poisonous radiation. He didn’t know why. He had traveled a couple million light years through a Lamech Gateway. It was possible that the half life of the Kryptonite’s radioactive elements had simply run out. The material was now harmless. Back on earth, it was still lethal, but in this part of the space-time continuum, it posed no threat.
He reconstructed the dome without shielding and proceeded to live and work on
his asteroid, which was now called Kryptonino.
He cloned five more infants, this time paying special attention to the details of their junk DNA. The deviations were no longer present. Perhaps they needed contact with the original material of Krypton.
He took these infants to earth.
They had all the powers that he possessed.
He purchased a twenty eight foot Airstream Travel Trailer and made it into a crèche. He returned with the babies to the asteroid.
He proceeded to clone another ninety five embryos.
He took these embroyos back to earth and put them into artificial wombs in the Fortress of Solitude.
The first group of clones helped him raise and train the next group. Their accelerated growth and learning made the work easier as it went along. The Kal-el clones expanded the Fortress of Solitude, gave it more living quarters. In five years Kal-el One had a hundred clones taking responsibility for missions. The work was allocated in an organic fasion. Some of the Kal-el s had affinities for different parts of the world, different peoples. Kal-el One encouraged difference, let them shape their own personalities.