As the waves crashed around him, soaking his costume through, he realized just how alone he was. He sniffed the salty air of the Connecticut coast. It smelled like home. It looked like home. Even the muddy sand beneath him felt like home, but this was not his home. This was not Connecticut, at least not the Connecticut that he knew.
That Connecticut was long gone, just like his native Earth.
Superboy, alias Clark Kent, Jr., clamped his arms tighter about his legs, leaning his chin up on his knees. He looked out at the body of water in front of him from his spot inside the secluded cave on the beach. The night was rolling in faster than he expected, but he didn’t seem to notice. He had other things on his mind at the moment.
As he buried his face deep into his chest, he thought back over the events of this day that had led him here to this place, to this feeling of loneliness. He knew what had happened was his own fault, but like any teenager, he just didn’t know what to do to make things right.
The week had started off rather promising. School was going rather well, with no problems to speak of, least of all Bash Bashford. The bully had been leaving him alone of late, leaving him free to pursue Laurie. “But she’s not my Laurie,” he thought aloud, his voice echoing through the cave as the tears flowed from his eyes and down his cheeks once more. But that was all before Friday.
Friday had started without apparent incident. He had risen at five A.M., showered, and eaten a light breakfast before starting his chores. He had gone out to the barn and milked the cows, lingering for a time with old Betty, his favorite of the group of bovines, stroking her head and brushing out her coat.
It was all pretty routine for somebody like Clark. He had run the entire length of the Kent farm at super-speed, doing whatever he could to leave as little as possible for his adoptive father to accomplish after C.J. — the nickname that he had recently been using to replace “Cal” — had left for school. Not that it really mattered after all. His adoptive father was Superman. He could handle it.
Everything had been fine until he had taken the morning edition of The Daily Star out of the mailbox at the edge of the farm. C.J. customarily looked it over before bringing it back to the house, looking for anything that might draw the attention of a super-powered teenager like himself. But this time, what he found was not what he had been expecting.
What had caught his eye when he opened the paper wasn’t particularly bad. No world-shattering events, natural disasters, or rampaging super-villains this time. What had drawn his attention was a little piece in the announcements section — an anniversary announcement. It simply read: Jerome Hastings Kent and Naomi Clarke Kent, formerly of Connecticut, to celebrate 20th wedding anniversary.
That was all it was, and all it had taken to upset Clark. He had only just begun to adjust to life these last three years here on Earth-Two, starting to push all of his losses behind him. He had started to forget what had been taken from him, but that headline just brought it all back. Upon seeing it and the accompanying picture, he had run back to the house in a blur of super-speeded motion that would have put Jay Garrick, the Flash himself, to shame. When he had shown the paper to Lois and Clark, their reaction to the story and its apparent implications had been anything but what C.J. had expected.
“They’re not the Jerry and Naomi Kent that you knew, son,” Clark Kent’s tone was even, flat, and almost without emotion. “I know how you must feel, but–”
“You don’t know how I feel,” C.J. had interrupted. “You didn’t even know your parents. They died long before you even had a chance to get to get to know them. They put you in a rocket and sent you here a long time ago, so you don’t have fond memories of them. I do, and I want to see them again. They may not have been my biological parents, as you and Kal-El made abundantly clear to me three years ago, but they were my parents, and I never got the chance to tell them just how much I loved and appreciated them before Earth-Prime was destroyed. (*) This is my chance, and I don’t want to lose it again.” C.J. had been clearly agitated and getting worse as each moment dragged on.
[(*) Editor’s note: See “Year of the Comet,” DC Comics Presents #87 (November, 1985) and “The Origin of Superboy-Prime,” DC Comics Presents #87 (November, 1985).]
“C.J.,” Lois Lane Kent had begun as she lovingly placed a reassuring hand upon the upset young man’s shoulder to try to soothe his pain. She was still very new to parenting, but she was trying her best. “We both know how you feel right now. Lord knows, if there is any man alive who knows about pain and loss, it’s your Pa here. We know that you want to go see this world’s version of Jerry and Naomi and talk to them, but that won’t do you any good. These people won’t know who you are, or why you’re there. They aren’t your parents–”
“Neither are you!” C.J. knew he shouldn’t have spoken those words, even as he said them, but now it was too late. He stood there for a long moment, frozen by the shocked and disappointed looks that the Kents were giving him. He couldn’t take that, or the shame of what he had said, so he took off. He had flown for hours, crying and cursing himself the whole time, eventually settling here on the beach where he had spent so many summers as a boy. But it was not his beach, not his world.
He was still sitting there in the sand of the dimly lit cave when he had heard the rustling of the wind and the sound of booted feet gently touching down in the mud. He knew who it was even before the stranger spoke.
“Go away, Pa,” he said. “I don’t want to talk right now, so just please leave me be.”
“Clark,” the stranger began, “I know how you feel, but you can’t hide forever.” The voice was soothing in its tone, and it sounded like Superman’s, but something was off about it. Something was wrong, as Superman never called him Clark when he was in costume. He had always called him Superboy. C.J. looked up at the stranger, a curious look on his face as he did so.
“Yes,” the stranger began, a slight smile crossing his lips, “and no. At least not exactly.”
C.J. stood and faced the tall, well-built, muscular individual waiting at the mouth of the cave. He wore the traditional Earth-Two variation of the familiar Superman costume, but it was different, slightly altered. The crimson cape appeared longer, and the chest symbol was bigger, more pronounced across his chiseled upper torso.
“Who are you? You can’t be Superman,” C.J. asked, the curious look on his face turning to apprehension as he met the stranger’s smiling gaze face to face.
The stranger in the Superman costume chuckled slightly. “Who am I?” he began. “That’s an easy one, Clark, which I’m surprised you haven’t figured out yet. I’m you.”
C.J. looked at the man who claimed to be his older self and burst out laughing. “You’re me? That’s a good one, but as we both know, a person can’t travel backward or forward in time to any era that they already existed in without turning into a temporal phantom. You almost had me fooled, Pa.”
Superman stared at his younger self, the slightest hint of a smirk on his face. He held up one finger in a just a moment gesture and, with his other hand, reached around his belt to produce a small electronic device that appeared to be a mismatched cross between a TV remote and a Walkie-Talkie. “That,” he began as he held up the device for the disbelieving Boy of Steel, “was before this.”
“What is it?” Clark asked, clearly intrigued.
“It’s called a trans-temporal inverter. It generates a static force-field of chronometric particles around the user so that he or she cannot only exist in time periods where they already were, but it will also prevent a catastrophe from occurring should said time traveler come into direct physical contact with their temporal counterpart. But don’t ask me how it works, because even I’m not sure of that.”
“Assuming that I believe you, which I’m not saying that I do,” C.J. began, “tell me something that only I would know — something that I’ve never told Ma or Pa.”
“Fair enough. You have a small scar on the bottom of your right foot, on the heel, to be exact.”
“Everybody in the family knows that, even little Mary, and she’s just a baby. Try again.”
“Yeah,” Superman replied, “but do they know how you got it? Do they know that you got it before you had your powers at the age of six when, while trying to help Dad in the garage, you stepped on a nail? Do they also know that Jerry and Naomi rushed you to the hospital, ignoring all traffic lights and stop signs, while blood gushed out all over the interior of the new car, and you screaming the whole time? Do they know that Dad never washed your blood out of the upholstery, leaving it as it was until he sold the car two years before Earth-Prime was destroyed? How about the fact that Naomi doted on you hand and foot for the next two weeks while it healed, and Jerry first introduced you to your comic-book namesake while you were laid up in bed?”
C.J. gulped loudly after his counterpart’s tirade. “Oh… my… God. You are either a very skilled, telepathic fake, or you really are me as you claim.”
Seeing that C.J. still wasn’t fully convinced and needed further proof to clinch it, Superman sat down on one of the larger rocks at the cave’s entrance and pulled off the crimson boot he wore on his right foot. He then lifted the foot up for C.J. to see the small gash-like scar across the bottom of his heel. “Satisfied?”
“Yeah, very much so.”
“You know why I’m here, then?”
“Yes… but I’d still very much like to know how you’re here. Did you build that device?”
“No, John did that. And don’t change the subject. You and I have some very serious things to discuss right now, and avoidance is not going to solve the problem.”
“I’m not avoiding the subject. Pa taught me that a good super-hero, just like a good reporter, keeps his eyes open–”
“–and asks a lot of questions,” Superman finished the statement, much to the surprise of his younger self. He smiled at the look the boy was giving him. As he sat there, replacing the boot on his foot, he thought back to his memories of this day, when he was the young man facing this stranger in the Superman costume who claimed to be himself grown up. He remembered how he had felt at this moment back then, and he didn’t want to mess up the timeline. He knew that he had a great many things to say to the teen, about why he was here, but that could wait for a bit. After all, if he wanted to adhere to the script, as it were, he could afford to answer a few minor questions.
“All right,” he began as he stood back up and smoothed out his cape, “I’ll answer your questions about the device, and general information about the reason that I’m here and your future. But nothing specific. Deal?”
C.J. stood for a moment and mulled over his older self’s proposal. As time passed, the seconds dragging on like hours to the two sons of Krypton, he kept asking himself, Should I or shouldn’t I? After debating the situation for what seemed like an eternity of silence, C.J. finally made a decision, much to Superman’s relief.
“Deal. Who’s John?”
“Good first question; it gets right to the point. John Garrick, son of Jay and Joan Garrick, known to you as Whiz Kid, successor to the mantle of the Flash in my time after his father’s retirement.”
“How did he make the device?”
“That’s a long story, Clark.”
“I’ve got time.”
“OK. You remember reading in the JSA’s casebook about the trial of the JSA and Per Degaton’s part in it?” (*)
[(*) Editor’s note: See America Vs. the Justice Society #1-4 (January-April, 1985).]
“Yeah. What about it?”
“Well, after that case,” Superman said as he cleared his throat and began pacing at the cave’s entrance, “the JSA took Professor Zee’s time machine into custody, and it sat in one of the Brownstone’s lower level storage rooms until about ten years ago, my time. John, using the advanced micro-technology available, along with his father’s knowledge of Barry Allen’s cosmic treadmill and Zee’s time machine itself, built this in a vain attempt to cross the barrier between Earth-Two and Earth-One. It didn’t work, but he did discover a practical application for it in traveling through the time stream. And thus, here I am.”
“Why are you telling me all of this? Some of this information is not really necessary for me to know.”
“Because, Clark,” Superman began slowly, “you’re the one who gives him the idea. If I don’t tell you, then John never builds it, and that creates a paradox, which could be worse than the Crisis was.”
“Oh. I’m not really used to me being all that important in the grand cosmic scheme of things, you know.”
“That’ll change in time, especially when you put on this costume that I’m wearing now, and start calling yourself Superman. The people will start to look at you the way they have always looked at Pa. But that’s not going to happen until you stop living in the past, own up to your responsibilities, and go home and face those two very loving people that you hurt this morning.”
Superman’s words cut C.J. deeper than any knife, even without his invulnerability. He looked away from his future self, as he couldn’t bear to see the look that this Man of Tomorrow was giving him, the same look that Pa had given him that morning. “I know, but I’m scared.”
“Scared that they’ll be disappointed in you? Sure, I know all about it. Remember, I’ve been there and done that. I know everything that you’re thinking right this moment, and–” Superman stopped mid-sentence and was staring out at the ocean, and it appeared that he was listening to something.
“What’s wrong?” Clark asked as he stepped closer to his counterpart.
“Use your super-hearing and telescopic vision, Clark. There’s a cruise ship in trouble.” He glanced down at the watch concealed within his belt buckle. “And it’s right on schedule.”
“What?! You knew about this?”
“Of course I did. Remember, Clark, I’ve already been here. I just thought that I’d have a little bit more time to talk to you.” Superman was already in the air, beckoning the Boy of Steel to follow. “C’mon, let’s go. We haven’t a moment to lose when it comes to the Humanite, but I’ll explain everything en route.”
“The Ultra-Humanite?” C.J. called back, but Superman was already gone in a super-fast blur of red and blue. Superboy took off after his older self, not sure exactly what he was getting himself into. The only certain thing was that with the Ultra-Humanite involved, things were about to get much worse.