When C.J. Kent finally caught up with Superman II, the Man of Tomorrow was just hovering in midair approximately three miles away from the Ultra-Humanite and the sinking cruise ship. Superman held up his hand, motioning for C.J. to stop. He did so rather reluctantly, and with much trepidation. After all, there was a villain who needed to be vanquished and civilians who needed saving, and Superboy didn’t like sitting around doing nothing.
“Why are we waiting?” The impatience was clearly evident in Superboy’s tone.
“Because,” the Man of Tomorrow began, “we need a plan before we go rushing in where angels fear to tread.” Superman’s tone, and the look he was giving C.J., was extremely no-nonsense and businesslike, a clear shift in demeanor from a few moments earlier. The Boy of Steel was clearly taken aback by this change in his future self, but he did not let on.
“Why do we need a plan? It’s just the Ultra-Humanite. He’s a big, smelly ape. We fly in at super-speed and punch him out. Problem solved.”
“We need a plan, Clark,” Superman responded slowly, “for the simple fact that it is the Ultra-Humanite. I would have thought that Pa had taught you by now to never underestimate the Humanite. You’ve got to think about the situation that we’re flying into first. The Ultra-Humanite does not attack a cruise ship in the middle of the ocean for no reason. He has an ulterior motive for everything he does. To him, this is like a game of chess: move and counter-move. He’s obviously trying to get Pa’s attention. What do you think he’ll do when Pa arrives on the scene?”
C.J. thought for a moment, and then, like an explosion going off in the back of his mind, the answer finally dawned on him. “The attack on the cruise ship is a diversion to get Pa to come here so that the Humanite can finally kill Superman,” C.J. said as he slapped himself on the forehead. Superman II just nodded back in response.
“Which means,” the Man of Tomorrow began, “that we need a plan that takes that into account. So this is how it’s going to work, as there are two separate situations that need to be handled. One of us will take care of the sinking ship, and the other gets the Humanite.”
“Dibs on the smelly monkey,” C.J. said, smirking, as he readied himself to fly down and take on the Humanite. Before he could fly off, though, Superman grabbed the boy’s arm and was shaking his head.
“First, grow up, Clark,” Superman said, his tone very much like the one that Pa had used on him earlier that day. “Second, the Humanite more than likely has weapons that could kill Pa. What do you think that they’d do to you, a headstrong, inexperienced teenager?”
“I don’t know… kill me?”
“Precisely. And what do you think would happen to the timeline if you were to die now?” The Man of Tomorrow didn’t even give C.J. a chance to reply. “I would cease to exist, which would create a paradox that would unravel all of existence. I will take on the Humanite, you will rescue the cruise ship. That is how it is going to work. And, young man, you will make absolutely certain that every single person on board that ship is safe. You will get it to shore and see to the passengers and crew. Am I clear?”
“Jeez, you sound just like Pa, you know that?”
“I take that as a compliment, even though you didn’t mean it as one. Again I say, am I clear?”
“Good. Remember, Clark, I have more experience with the Humanite than you do, so it would be better if I handled him, because I know how he thinks. Besides, he and I have a score to settle, and it’s personal.” With that, Superman took off toward the spot where the Humanite waited in a flash, leaving C.J. to wonder just exactly what that last part meant. C.J. was extremely curious what it was, or rather will be, that could elicit such utter contempt from his future self. But he knew that only time would tell, and he took off toward the sinking ship.
Superman’s Secret Citadel:
Superman sat in the padded leather chair, flicking dials and switches on the communications console, surrounded by the various trophies he had collected over the years, each one a story unto itself — the Ultra-Humanite’s purple ray; an inert duplicate of the Powerstone once worn by Alexei Luthor and the Humanite; one of the Lightning Master’s lightning rays; Metalo’s first suit of super-armor — countless mementos of a varied career, each piece a reminder of times past, but none of which were his concern at the moment. All he cared about right now was finding the boy.
He had been here since about noon, using the advanced technology of the Citadel to try to locate the missing C.J. He was well aware that a super-speed search of the planet might be more practical, but he needed to cool off before he faced his adopted son.
Superman had been mulling over the whole situation all day, wondering why C.J. had said those things, as it had been so out of character for him. And yet they weren’t, not really. He knew that, were he in C.J.’s place, and he were given the chance to see Jor-L and Lora again, even if they weren’t his Jor-L and Lora, he might have reacted exactly as Superboy had. He even knew that he should have reacted better when the boy had shown him and Lois the article.
“The moment I find that kid,” he thought aloud, “we’re all going to sit down as a family and work this out, and this time, I’ll try to be a little bit more understanding.” Just then, his thoughts were interrupted by a low buzzing emanating from the console. He flipped a switch and spoke into the communications pickup. “Yes?”
“Clark,” the sweet, feminine voice he had heard most of his adult life began, “have you found him yet?”
“No, Lois. Nothing yet,” he replied. “I’m beginning to think that he might have left the planet.”
“Have faith,” his wife reassured him, as she always did. The two of them had been together for so long, through every super-battle with every villain, and she always seemed to remain calm under pressure. But Superman knew that it was all a façade, that she was actually extremely terrified right now, but the last thing that he needed was for her to become hysterical, so she put on a brave face for him. He was on edge enough as is, and there was no need to make things worse. At times like this, he realized just how much he loved his wife, and wondered what he would ever do without her at his side.
“I do have faith, honey,” he began, “but I’m beginning to–” Superman stopped short just as one of the sensor consoles began buzzing wildly. “Just a moment, Lois.” He began flipping more switches, turning dials, and pressing buttons. After a few seconds, he started shaking his head in disbelief. “That can’t be right,” he said after a long pause.
“What’s wrong, Clark?”
“The computers have located C.J. At least, I think they have.”
“Clark Kent, what in the name of all that’s holy does that mean?”
“It means,” he said, rather slowly, “the computer has found him, but it is detecting two of him!”
An underground laboratory somewhere in Metropolis:
The laboratory was cold, dark, and completely silent, save for the low hum of the equipment that kept the sleeper in hibernation. He had no concept of how long he had been here, nor of how long it had been since his father was here last. He was unaware of the lab’s current status, and if he were, he would have been utterly disgusted by the state of disrepair it had fallen into in the last few years.
The sleeper remained in stasis, unmoving, barely even breathing, his body’s every function regulated by the very same machinery that kept him asleep. The very same machinery had arrested the progression of the disease that had been slowly killing him. The same machinery would eventually cure him.
The sleeper did nothing save dream, and his dreams were always the same. In his dreams, he would be standing with his father, a smile on the older man’s face made even more impressive by the shock of bright crimson hair on his head. The two stood over the inert body of a fallen Man of Steel, as they continued to blast him with the emerald rays of kryptonite projected by some fantastic weapon in their hands. The older man and his teenage son were insufferably pleased with their handiwork.
“You have done well, Alexei, Jr.,” the older man began to say as he clapped his left hand on the teen’s shoulder. “I am very pleased with you this day. If not for you, I wouldn’t have defeated him.”
In his dream, the sleeper smiled back at his father, and he continued to dream. Soon enough, his disease would be fully cured, and he would wake. Soon enough, he would aid his father in the older man’s quest to destroy the Man of Steel, and these thoughts kept him content in his hibernation.
As he continued to sleep and dream, he was unaware that this dream would never come true. Unaware that he would never get the recognition that he so richly deserved from his father. The sleeper was unaware that his father, the great Alexei Luthor, had been dead for the last three years, that his father had been the victim of Brainiac, one of the greatest enemies of another reality’s Superman. For now, however, he slept and dreamed. But soon enough, he would awaken from his long sleep and his dreams — soon enough.
The Ultra-Humanite stood atop his floating weapons platform, its cannons continuing to send a barrage of devastating plasma energy blasts toward the crippled ocean-liner. He clasped his huge gorilla arms behind his back and continued to wait. His simian features had taken on an almost smugly impatient glow as he waited. He was certainly not happy at this moment.
For nearly fifty years, and in a number of different bodies — his current white evolved gorilla body the most recent — he had battled and been defeated by Superman. With each defeat, the Humanite had become more and more convinced that the Man of Steel was an unexpected variable he seemed to always neglect to count upon in his calculations, one that must be eliminated.
To do that, he had, time and time again, threatened innocent lives as a lure to the last son of Krypton. Each time, like the clockwork running of a Swiss watch, Superman flew in and dispatched his foe. This was the only predictable thing about Superman that the Humanite had come to rely upon, his utter distaste for the loss of innocent human lives. As yet, however, the Man of Steel had still not arrived upon the scene. In the Humanite’s eyes, Superman not making an appearance this day was completely atypical of his nemesis, and totally out of character.
However, the Ultra-Humanite, regardless of what body he was using, was very patient. He was well aware that Superman might not arrive exactly on time, which is probably why he had taken as much care as he did in just how much damage he inflicted upon the ocean-liner. Too much, and it would sink too quickly; too little, and the ship might make it back to shore. He wanted to give Superman the chance to arrive upon the scene and attempt a rescue. “Besides,” he mused aloud, “I do so love it when helpless humans scream in terror. It’s part of my nature, I suppose, this sadistic streak I have.”
The Ultra-Humanite flipped a switch on the weapons platform’s control console, checking the elapsed time as he did so. Approximately twenty-two minutes had passed since he had begun his attack upon the now-doomed cruise ship. The Humanite sighed. He would give the Man of Steel another three minutes to arrive upon the scene, and then he would leave the innocent vacationers and the ship’s crew to their doom. After all, he did have other things that were far more important to accomplish, such as the presidential election. (*) His only reason for coming here today was as a diversion. “Politics can be so boring,” he mused.
[(*) Editor’s note: See DC Universe: The Race, Book 2: Parasite.]
It was at that moment that he heard the sound of the console’s proximity alarm. He glanced down at the computer screen, noting that it registered two blips heading toward him at incredible speed. Superman was finally on his way, but it appeared that he was not alone this time. He wondered which of the many super-heroes were coming with him, and why the Man of Steel felt the need to bring someone. “He never needed help to defeat me before. Why should he start now?”
The Ultra-Humanite flipped another switch, this one connected to a very sophisticated sensor apparatus. Within moments, he knew exactly who was coming with Superman. “The boy,” he growled, understandably upset. Within a few seconds, the Humanite saw Superboy rocket past him and toward the cruise ship, plunging beneath the surface of the water. This at least, boded well for the Humanite. The boy would not be his concern, and he could concentrate solely upon his most hated foe. He touched another set of controls, and the floating weapons platform rotated one hundred and eighty degrees, enabling him to face his foe head on. “It’s about time that you arrived, old man. I was beginning to think that you’d never show up.”
A blur of blue and red super-speeded motion slammed into the Humanite’s weapons platform. The crash knocked him back into one of the platform’s metallic guard rails, and it was only by virtue of his gorilla body’s super-strength that he was able to prevent himself from toppling over the side.
“So, that’s how we’re going to handle it. All right, if you want to play rough, we can play rough.” The Ultra-Humanite depressed another switch, and the computer console initiated its voice-command protocol. “Computer,” he began, “lock kryptonite blaster on target currently moving at super-speed and fire at will.”
The green rays erupted from the huge cannon behind the Ultra-Humanite, each one trying to make contact with the super-fast blur moving around before the Humanite. Not one of the energy blasts made contact, and before the Ultra-Humanite knew it, Superman was no longer registering on the sensor scope. The Humanite was confused. “He couldn’t have just disappeared.”
The next thing the Ultra-Humanite knew, a superhumanly powerful fist hit him from behind, knocking him down. He shook his head and rose back up to face his adversary. What stood before him shocked him, and he was taken aback. Superman stood before him, no longer an old man with graying hair and wrinkles, but rather a young man in his late twenties or early thirties. Superman had not looked like this in more than forty years. The Humanite took in every detail, even the slight differences in the costume. “So, you’ve gotten your youth back, like other members of the JSA. I’d love to know how you managed that trick, old foe.”
“Yeah,” Superman began, the merest hint of a smile crossing his lips, “I’m sure you would, but you wouldn’t believe me if I told you, you smelly ape.”
“Really, Superman. After all that you and I have been through over the last nearly fifty years, do you really think it’s necessary to insult me?”
“Actually, Ultra, I do. Besides, you and I haven’t been facing off for nearly fifty years.”
“How is that possible? I think I would know how long I’ve been facing you, Kryptonian, don’t you?” The Ultra-Humanite’s curiosity was certainly piqued by that statement.
“For somebody who boasts to have the ‘most learned and agile brain’ on the face of the earth, you certainly seem to overlook the obvious. It’s possible, because I’m not the Superman you know.”
The Man of Steel punched the Ultra-Humanite again, and as the villain fell back into the guard rails once more, he smiled, realizing that this was indeed the diversion he was looking for today. This was indeed going to be a very good day, one he was sure to remember for years to come.