by Dan Swanson
“Geez, this is boring,” Larre of Xenon complained to his sister as the adults consigned Aquarius to the mercy of the Spectre. “Let’s use the space stereophone and watch some Earth TV programs.” Their father Kell Orr had told them about Earth television when they were growing up, and earlier they had been pestering Ted Knight and Alan Scott to tell them about what TV was like now.
“Dad liked I Love Lucy the best,” Larre had told Green Lantern.
“No, he actually liked The World Today with Libby Lawrence the best,” Karre interrupted. He had to hide her picture from Mom!”
“We all liked The World Today; Libby is one of the most respected newscasters in the world,” Alan replied, smiling as he talked about his good friend, who had been the heroine known as Liberty Belle and a fellow member and leader of the All-Star Squadron during the War. “She still shows up on TV from time to time, doing documentaries and specials.”
“I don’t think respect is the reason Dad kept her picture,” Karre responded mischievously.
“I don’t generally have time to watch TV, but I always make time for one of Libby’s special reports,” Ted agreed. “There’s more to that lady than just looks. But there’s really nothing else on TV that’s worthwhile any more. Except maybe that Brit show, Master Who. That’s usually rather interesting.”
“I thought you liked the space show, Star Castaways: 1999?” Alan asked with a chuckle. “After all, the credits list you as a Technical Advisor.”
Only the very first show!” Ted had retorted hotly. “I sued to get my name off the credits after they ignored everything I told them.”
Now, after fifteen minutes on the space stereophone, the twins hesitantly interrupted their elders. “Uh, Dad?” Karre asked timidly. “You guys had better come see the TV broadcasts from Earth. There’s nothing on but news — and there’s nothing but bad news!”
“Yeah — they’re showing riots and stuff burning all over the place!” Larre added, horror sounding in his voice. “It’s like half the world has gone crazy!”
After a few minutes, Alan and Ted were able to make sense out of it. “The general public has found out that two weeks has just gone by in the blink of an eye,” Green Lantern explained. “It was noticed almost instantly by astronomers who were viewing the sky when Aquarius snapped the world into limbo. When they popped back in, all the stars had shifted places. For a while, no one believed it, but within a couple of hours, the evidence couldn’t be denied. At first, governments tried to keep it secret, but they couldn’t. Navigation was screwed up; navigators who took readings on stars found that their ships’ locations had apparently shifted by hundreds of miles since their last readings. One navigator on a ship in Lake Michigan figured that his ship had to be in Downer’s Grove, Illinois!” His face was grave. “About the time Starman and I were leaving Earth, the U.S. government was appealing to the JSA for an explanation.”
Ted nodded. “Apparently, the JSA and all the governments got together and issued a report that was translated into every known language. It was supposed to be reassuring; not sure that was a good idea or not,” Ted mused. “Most peoples’ beliefs have been shaken to the core. Prophets have arisen worldwide proclaiming everything from, ‘That was the warning, the end is near, you have only X days to put your house in order!’ to, ‘The end has come, and we’re all now in the afterlife!’ to, ‘This proves there is no deity because no deity would let this happen!’ New cults are springing up all over, some worshiping Aquarius as a benevolent god, others as a demon. There are lines of people outside confessionals, and lines almost as long in front of casinos, bars, and places of carnal entertainment.”
“Some people are casting the JSA as being evil for not negotiating with Aquarius,” Alan added. “And other bunches of idiots who are upset because we wiped out ‘an entire sentient species’ when Aquarius was supposedly destroyed.” He snorted in disgust. “Nobody trusts the official story, and there are people who are saying that there’s a massive cover-up going on. Republicans blame the Democrats, and Democrats blame the Republicans, and everyone hates the news! Reminds me of National Brotherhood Week!” Green Lantern quipped before turning serious. “If you can’t be certain the world is going to be here from one second to the next, what can you be certain of?”
“There’s even some groups demanding that Superman, and all other aliens, be rounded up,” said Ted. “Some folks are demanding that they all be executed, while others just want them exiled from Earth. Looks like you guys picked a bad time to visit,” Ted summarized for their new friends. “G.L., we need to hurry back and see if there’s anything we can do to help calm folks down.” He turned to Kell, Tharka, and Regor. “I suggest you guys land on the dark side of the moon and just hang around for a while. We’ll let Superman know you’re there.”
“We’ll take Aquarius with us,” Green Lantern added. “Maybe seeing that he’s alive and actually been captured will help. And I’ll return Captain Challenge to prison.”
Green Lantern sent a message to Hawkman asking him to meet them at the JSA Brownstone with whatever heroes and authorities he deemed appropriate, and the heroes headed for Earth while their extraterrestrial associates headed for the dark side of the moon.
In Aquarius’ depowered state, the Spectre was easily able to extract a millennia’s worth of memories from the fallen star to convince even the most skeptical that Aquarius was unutterably evil. He had destroyed civilization after civilization, species after species, planets and stars, and all because this was how he enjoyed his life. And to those who wanted to argue that Aquarius had only come to Earth because of the presence of heroes — in over twelve billion years of his wanderings, Aquarius had destroyed whomever he encountered, and the heroes of Earth were the first to stop him. Even the world’s most hardened human-haters had to admit that making Aquarius powerless was a human accomplishment to be proud of (at least until they’d had time to spin the story).
This new information calmed most people somewhat, and much of the worldwide civil disturbance faded. In a couple weeks, things were seemingly mostly back to normal.
Late one night in Smallville, a couple of days after the extraterrestrial visitors landed their ships on the Moon, a very strange reunion was about to take place.
On the well-tended Kent farm in a secluded corner behind the barn, an extraordinary figure stood, fists on hips, gazing at the moon. With his cape billowing behind him in the light breeze and the bright moonlight glinting off his chiseled features, Superman looked every bit the planetary protector of legend. Standing with him was his wife, Lois Lane Kent. “There,” the Man of Steel said, pointing.
Lois looked closely, but she was unable to see anything. “You cheated!” she complained. “You used your super-vision.”
He chuckled. “OK, we’ll call it a draw. Ted’s made them invisible as well as undetectable on radar. They’ll be here in about five minutes.”
“I wonder if Kell Orr has changed much,” Lois mused. “I was kind of angry with you and him when I found out about his masquerade as you so long ago. He gave away your secret at least twice, but then the two of you convinced me I was wrong again! It’s lucky you got back when you did, though, or I would have figured it out anyway.”
“Still, there were other times when having a second Superman around, or another Clark Kent, would have been helpful since then,” Superman replied. “I hope his folks are OK. I grew very fond of them while I was visiting Xenon.” He paused reflectively, thinking of Zoll Orr and his wife Vara, who had invited him into their home and treated him like a son as he attempted to find a way to save their world. “I wonder what has Kell so excited. He wouldn’t tell me on the radio. Said he wanted to surprise me. Actually, he said he has two surprises.”
“I wonder if Tharka ever figured out that her powers didn’t work on Earth?” Lois said, changing the subject. “She was more than a little full of herself when she came here the last time.”
“She was only thirteen years old, Lois,” Clark chided her gently. “If you were the world’s greatest genius and had powers and abilities far beyond those of your fellows at thirteen, how would you have acted? I’m sure she’s matured a lot since then.”
Lois grimaced as she recalled times when she had been granted temporary super-powers, and she hadn’t always handled them with the maturity that might be expected of her. She changed the subject again to something more comfortable. “It will be nice to finally meet Regor. You’ve told me a lot about him.” She hadn’t met Regor of Uuz on his last trip to Earth, but she knew that her husband considered the protector of Uuz to be a close friend. Clark had always been fascinated by the parallels between his own life and Regor’s. Because of these parallels, there were things he and Regor had in common that he shared with no one else.
When he was low enough to be sure he and his companions would be unobserved, Starman dropped his invisibility cloak, and they landed nearby. He then used the cosmic rod to light up the sheltered area as if it were daylight.
Lois gasped in amazement. “It’s Larry and Carole!” she squeaked. “It’s impossible!” Kell Orr and his twins were closest to the Kents, and Lois was staring at the twins in astonishment.
“What’s the matter, Lois? You’ve seen twins before.” Superman was puzzled. He broke off to greet his old friend with a handshake and a super hug. “It’s great to see you, Kell! You look very well.” Indeed, except for their costumes, the two could have been the same person. Kell turned and greeted Lois with a hug as well.
“It’s great to see you two!” Kell said enthusiastically. “So you finally got married, huh? Congratulations!” He noticed Lois still staring at the twins. “I did, too, Kal. You remember Vana Vair? We got married a few years after you saved Xenon, and these are our children, Larre–” The male twin bowed. “–and Karre.” Karre curtsied. “I overheard you a second ago, Lois — how did you know their names? I wanted to surprise you.”
“You bet I’m surprised!” Lois answered. “Years ago, before Clark and I finally got married, I used to dream about what life would be like as Superman’s wife. In one of those dreams, we had twin children named Larry and Carole, and they looked exactly like your kids!” She sounded wistful.
“I guess that’s not too big a surprise, Lois, since I look just like Kal-L, and my wife Vana is almost your exact double, except for the color of her hair.”
“Excuse me,” Superman said. “Kell, we can catch up in a few minutes. I’m going to go greet my other old friends.” He strode off toward Regor and Tharka.
“So do you and Kal have children?” Kell Orr asked Lois.
“No. Different physiologies or something,” she replied quietly. “We might adopt when one of us slows down a little.”
“Well, why don’t I help you get to know the twins better?” he asked.
As they talked, Lois marveled at how much this man resembled her husband — and that she had been unable to tell the difference years ago. There were so many little differences she should have picked up, such as Kell being clearly left-handed while her own Superman was totally ambidextrous, and his hands were slightly smaller, and his eyes were a different shade of blue. I would have figured it out if we’d spent more time together, she insisted to herself, and herself agreed that she was probably correct.
Superman was about to shake hands with Tharka, when she saw him, she gave him a big hug instead. “Thanks for keeping from making a fool on myself on television with everyone on my planet watching!” Then she pushed him away. “I almost got killed on the next planet I tried to help, where nobody had super-powers to secretly come to my aid. I was so angry at you for not telling me!” She stomped her foot as she spit this out, looking exactly like that petulant teenager of years ago. Then she chuckled. “It was a big enough shock that I learned my lesson. With great power comes great responsibility, and part of that responsibility is to make sure you are properly prepared.”
“It’s fantastic to see you. You look great!” Superman told the Superwoman of Zor, then turned into a warm handshake and a bear hug with Regor. He was impressed; since they’d last seen each other, Regor had put on thirty pounds of muscle, and his grip was powerful enough to make any Earth human wince. To maintain a physique like that on a low-gravity world such as Uuz required a level of dedication as high as that of the Batman. “So what brings you two to Earth?” he asked. Lois didn’t give them a chance to tell their stories.
“Ted, you’re staying for a late dinner, right?” she asked Starman. “I’ve already set a place, and I told Doris you’d be spending the night here.” Of course, he agreed. “So, why don’t we go inside? The table is set, and the food’s ready to serve,” Lois announced. There was a rush to the house — the visitors had been eating spaceship food for a few days and were looking forward to a home-cooked meal.
Everyone’s stories came out over dinner. Regor of Uuz had gone first.
“This Bantor of yours sounds a lot like my arch-enemy, Lex Luthor, even to the red hair!” Superman commented. “That staging of a fake alien invasion sounds very similar to something Luthor once pulled off. The similarities are uncanny.”
“Gosh, do you have exciting adventures like that, Mrs. Kent?” Karre wanted to know. “Our mom won’t tells us neat stories like that. She says we can hear them after we’ve grown a little older.”
“Yeah, and she’s been telling us that for years now. How much is ‘a little older,’ anyway?” Larre grumbled. Kell Orr smiled; he and his wife Vana had agreed to keep her most dangerous adventures from the kids, not wanting them to simply rush out and try to find exciting adventures on their own.
“You know, I think it’s interesting that each of you super-men married the pesky female reporter in your lives,” Tharka commented, perceptively realizing that it was time to change the subject. “I guess it proves that women are more perceptive than men — they were interested in you long before you became interested in them.”
“You said it, sister! Give me five!” Lois cheered, holding up her hand. Tharka didn’t instantly recognize the gesture, but the meaning quickly popped into her mind. She reciprocated, and they shared a good laugh.
“I’m sure we can find several tons of compounds containing potassium that you can take back to Uuz with you,” the Man of Steel continued. “And maybe we can scare up a couple of asteroids with a high potassium density that you can mine if you need more in the future.”
“Say, I’d like to help with that,” Starman spoke up thoughtfully. “I’ve added some new capabilities to the cosmic rod that I’d like to test out. Using radio pulse induction, I should be able to detect metals from a great distance and even tell them apart.”
Tharka caught a stray wisp of concern from Regor but realized he wouldn’t speak up about it. Men! He came all this way, and now he’s worried about asking for the help he needs, she thought in mock disgust. She spoke up, “Before Regor can take home tons of ore, he’s going to need a new ship.”
“I can help with that,” Kell Orr joined the conversation. “Kal, here, saved my planet by building a giant ship designed just to capture asteroids and bring them back to Xenon. It would be perfect for this job. I’ve got the full plans for that ship in the Zavoy‘s computers.” All five heroes — Superman, Regor, Tharka, Kell Orr, and Starman — were interested in this project; they decided to start in a couple of days.
The focus of attention shifted to Tharka, and she recounted her adventure stopping the two criminals from Earth. “They were brought to Zor because Doctor Computeer figured that if I was just about physically average among humans on Earth, an Earthling would have superior physical powers on Zor. Sort of like Regor, but for evil purposes.” She nodded her head at the protector of Uuz. “In fact, now that he’s cured, you remind me a lot of Fergus.” She turned back to Superman. “So I was bringing Captain Challenge back to jail. And I need your help getting Fergus an official pardon. The crimes he committed were not his fault; he was not competent at the time due to his injuries. I’ve brought his medical records to prove it.”
Lois spoke up. “Suppose I investigate that. I’ll get all his criminal records together and find out what he was charged with and the records of his trial. When we’ve got all the information together, we’ll decide what to do. If the Justice Society can’t get him a pardon, I’ll be amazed.” She turned to Kell Orr. “So, besides the twins, what’s the other big surprise you’ve been keeping from us, Kell? It’s not hard to see you almost dying to tell your story.”
“It’s not as big as it sounds initially,” Kell warned them, attempting to keep their expectations low. “Zoll,” he began, speaking of his father, Xenon’s leading scientist and a twin for Superman’s father Jor-L, “has been doing some research on kryptonite recently, just to ensure that your solution was permanent.” He nodded to Superman. “He discovered a new natural process. Don’t get too excited, because it takes a long time, but his team discovered a way to neutralize kryptonite.”
Karre rolled her eyes and looked disgusted as the other people at the table suddenly became very excited. She’d warned her father that he needed to do a better job of preparing them. But had he listened?
“Hold on!” Kell yelled, adding just a bit of super-power to his words, and his voice easily cut through the babble. “This isn’t something you can carry with you to save you when you run into kryptonite unexpectedly. It’s a natural decay process with a half-life of several years.” He went on with the rest of the story. “So you see,” he concluded, “if you have the time, it’s a good way to get rid of kryptonite forever, but you can’t use it in a hurry whenever some crook pulls out a chunk of K.”
Ted and Tharka were already fascinated by the decay process. “Did you bring the equations with you?” Ted asked.
“No, I only glanced at the blackboards where Zoll and his team had worked out the process.” He paused and looked startled. “Why, I only glanced at the boards, but I can recall everything on them perfectly! And–” His eyes grew wider. “–I can understand the equations now!” Kell Orr had nowhere near the level of scientific genius as his father, but the local environment that gave him physical super-powers also improved his mental powers. He still wasn’t interested in particle physics; he asked for some paper and a pencil and, using his super-speed, he wrote out all the equations. Ted and Tharka asked to be excused, and they settled into Clark’s study for an exciting discussion on the quantum mechanics of kryptonite decay.
Kell Orr told Lois and Clark the entire story about their encounter with Aquarius. “Well, that clears up at least one thing for me,” Superman said thoughtfully after the story was completed. “It may not be possible to change the past, but you can change the future. Many years ago I was thrown into the future.” He paused for an instant as he recalled something startling. “In fact, it was just before I met Regor the first time — what an interesting coincidence. Actually, sometimes I wonder if the coincidences in my life are really coincidences or if there isn’t more to it,” he murmured, then shook his head. “Sorry. Anyway, Lois was hot on a story. A renowned expert in electricity and rays, Professor Wilson of the Metropolis University Physics Department, announced that he’d built a machine that produce a focused electric ray with the power of lightning. As usual, Lois found danger and excitement, and again as usual, I had to deal with the consequences of protecting her.”
He was teasing Lois. He only used that “as usual” cliché when he was telling a story to someone they trusted. “You’ll pay for that!” she responded, in an apparent fit of pique, but her emotion-sensing mood ring was sending him only playfulness.
“To be fair, Lois wasn’t the only reporter at the demonstration. And my intuition told me Superman should be there as well, rather than Clark Kent. As I was saying,” Superman continued, “Professor Wilson’s machine was supposed to produce a well-controlled, extremely powerful beam of focused electricity. He was trying to develop a power broadcast device. I inspected his apparatus with my x-ray vision and realized that the vacuum tubes he was using couldn’t contain that much energy. One of them was going to explode. He turned the machine on before I could say anything, and I barely had time to get between the observers and the machine. That terrific blast of energy hurled me into the future — to the year 2949!
“What I learned there was astounding. Everyone on Earth had super-powers. (*) I met a descendant of Lois named Lois 4XR who had super-strength, was invulnerable, and could fly. And the scientists told me that a comet had struck Metropolis in early 1970. It was on a tangential course, so it sort of bounced off the Earth, but Metropolis was destroyed. There was no loss of life, since the city had been evacuated. But gasses from the comet polluted Earth’s atmosphere, and the next generation was born with super-powers.” He paused.
[(*) Editor’s note: See Superman #57 (March/April, 1949), “Every Man a Superman”]
“I always wondered why I hadn’t been there to stop that comet from destroying Metropolis. I had plans to fly into space next month and find the damned thing, and see if I could make it miss,” he mused. “But you guys have taken care of that for me. Thanks!”
“That story confirms a theory of mine!” Ted exclaimed. He and Tharka had come back to the kitchen to hear Clark’s story. “Certain events are crucial to the course of history, and intervention in those events by living beings can produce alternate futures. It happened to Doris and I years ago. (*) She received a telepathic message from the future, and by acting on the contents of the message, I was able to avoid a death trap. There’s another world somewhere that was identical to ours until that day in 1946 when I retired. Now here’s another world that was identical to ours until Aquarius showed up. The future you visited, Clark, didn’t just vanish; for some reason, your visiting that future set in motion events that caused our timeline to split.”
[(*) Editor’s note: See Starman: Times Past, 1948: Give Up the Stars.]
Ted paused. “Whew! This is giving me a headache just thinking about it! And it’s different than the other parallel universes such as Earth-One and Earth-S. Now I’m going to have to come up with a bigger theory that explains both parallel universes and alternate timelines!” He pretended he was exasperated, but this was the kind of thorny theoretical issue he loved to tackle.
“It can wait for tomorrow, Ted,” Lois interrupted sternly. “We’ve all got some big projects ahead of us. Let’s get a good night’s sleep, and we can all get started after a good breakfast.”