Superboy floated motionless in the water beneath the sinking cruise ship, his Kryptonian eyes scanning the immediate vicinity for signs of either debris or bodies, whether living or deceased, using a combination of his telescopic and x-ray visions. Normally, using his super-powers in this manner on a rescue would make him marvel slightly at all the things that he could see and feel, remembering how he had once been no more special than anyone else. But this time it was a little different, and that was a long time ago. Right now he had to worry about the hundreds of lives at stake aboard the ship, and he needed to remain focused.
The problem was that he couldn’t. So many things had happened today, some of which he knew he had to make right, others that absolutely incensed him. Not the least of which was the tone of voice that his elder counterpart had spoken to him with when they had split up to handle this emergency. How dare he act so bossy to me? Who does he think he is? Pa? I know exactly what I’m doing, he thought, his eyes still scanning. Superboy had dealt with super-villains before, some of which were much more powerful than the Humanite, like the Anti-Monitor. He was there, after all, when Pa had leveled the final blow against that monster in the antimatter universe, so he knew the risks. (*) All of which he thought his future self should be well aware of, coming from the future, and being the same person.
[(*) Editor’s note: See “Final Crisis,” Crisis on Infinite Earths #12 (March, 1986).]
“Stick to the job at hand, young man, and stop whining about drawing the short straw,” Superman II’s voice sounded in his ears. The Man of Tomorrow was obviously using super-ventriloquism to communicate with C.J., and his voice sounded slightly muffled due to its passing through the sea water around the Boy of Steel.
“You sure that you don’t need any help up there?” Superboy asked back, also employing super-ventriloquism. “I can stop what I’m doing and come up there and help you beat up the smelly monkey.”
“No, Clark. Stay where you are, and take care of that cruise ship. Civilian lives are more important. I can handle Magilla.” Superboy recognized that tone again. It was the same one that Pa usually used with him when he was expressing disapproval, and he knew enough not to argue any further. One thing was certain, though — his future self was, just as he had said aloud earlier, just like Pa.
Continuing to scan the area, Superboy noticed that there was nothing in the water to worry about, as fortunately most of the debris had been vaporized, and no one had fallen overboard. He was about to put his back into lifting the ocean-liner out of the water when he felt the vibrations along the hull from another explosion. Scanning the ship with his x-ray vision, he detected no internal explosions or flames, which was a relief, since he really didn’t want to have to worry about a fire. Obviously, the Ultra-Humanite had blasted the boat again, either purposely or while trying to hit the Man of Tomorrow, he did not know, but it did have one rather annoying side effect — one of the passengers had fallen overboard.
Superboy swam at super-speed toward the drowning vacationer, catching him before he was submerged more than a couple of feet, and then exploded out of the water, the unconscious man still in his arms. He flew upward as fast as he could, and deposited him gently on the ship’s forward deck. He glanced back toward the man he had just rescued, noting that others were already tending to him as the man came to and vomited up globs of blue-green sea water. Superboy stood transfixed on the man’s face for what seemed like an endless eternity. He could swear that he had seen him somewhere before, but unfortunately was drawing a blank.
“Uh, Superboy,” one of the frightened vacationers began, “shouldn’t you be saving us?”
“What? Oh, right. Sorry. Consider it done, and hang on tight.” Superboy launched himself back into the air, swooping back down beneath the cruise ship. Returning to his place beneath the sinking ship, he stretched his arms up over his head and began lifting the boat out of the water. He raised it slowly, not wanting to cause the damage to the hull to worsen as he exerted the full measure of his super-strength toward moving it up.
When both the ship and Boy of Steel had risen at least a hundred feet above the ocean’s surface, Superboy — his hand grip on the ship’s hull tightening so much that the metal distorted itself into a very crude handhold like it was made out of nothing more than modeling clay — propelled himself and the ocean-liner forward at nearly the speed of sound.
“New York isn’t that far, and the old Brooklyn Navy Yard could definitely accommodate the ship while it’s repaired and the passengers are offloaded,” he thought aloud. Besides, the shipyard was far enough away from the battle to prevent anyone else from being injured.
As Superboy flew the damaged ship out of there, he didn’t notice that the battle between the Ultra-Humanite and Superman II, as well as his own actions, were being watched intently from above. Superman had finally found his wayward son. His chest swelled with pride as he watched his son relocate the cruise ship out of danger. Normally, he might have lent a hand, but he was transfixed by the scene of the battle raging beneath him.
As he watched his son’s future self trade blow after blow with the huge white ape, he held back. He watched and waited. If it looked like Superman II needed any help, he would fly in and save the day, but for right now, he just wanted to see what his grown-up son could do, and he smiled, knowing two things. One, that the man down there fighting the Humanite was C.J.’s counterpart from the future, and two, that if he was down there right now, then things were going to be all right.
Lois and I actually did something right, he said to himself as his Kryptonian eyes continued to take in the battle raging below.
“If you’re not the Superman that I know,” the Ultra-Humanite began slowly, “then exactly who in the hell are you?” Ultra had stopped fighting with Superman II and stood motionless atop the floating weapons platform, his massive simian arms folded gracefully behind his back, waiting for an answer. He was extremely patient, and he could probably wait for all eternity if need be, a fact that Superman II knew all too well. After all, over the course of the last fourteen years of his life, he had battled Ultra time and time again, so he had become an expert on how the criminal mastermind’s brain worked.
“Why don’t you try to guess, Magilla?” It was very much the response of a smart-ass, and Superman II knew that saying it would only seek to enrage the Humanite, but also make the ape more likely to make a mistake, one that he would be ready to exploit. “When dealing with the Ultra-Humanite, that is always rule number one,” Pa had always told him, and although he had thought it to be a rather amusing statement when the old man had first said it, over the years he had come to rely upon it always when dealing with Ultra, whether in his current ape form or the genetically engineered human form he wore in Superman II’s own time. He wasn’t, however, prepared for Ultra’s reaction to the taunt or, rather, lack thereof.
“You’re attempting to goad me, aren’t you?” The Ultra-Humanite smiled an extremely ferocious, toothy grin and snorted derisively at his opponent. “It’s an admirable attempt, but as you can see, it will avail you nothing. You see, my curiosity over who you are has been piqued, so I shall keep my emotions in check… for the moment. I ask you once again, who are you?”
Superman II took a deep breath, letting it out ever so slowly. “Who do you think I am?”
“Obviously, you are Superman. But the question remains, which one? You can’t be the Earth-One variant, as the dimensional barriers are still closed off to travelers. The only possibility is that you are from this Earth, but a different time period.”
“Very good. I think that you’re actually starting to put the pieces of this little puzzle together. You know, I’m actually starting to believe that you’re almost as smart as you’ve always told Pa you were.” The Man of Tomorrow was still trying to goad the villain, and this time it looked like it was actually having some kind of effect, as he noticed the Humanite’s gorilla grin fade into a gorilla scowl.
“I shall ignore that,” the Ultra-Humanite snapped back, but Superman II knew he wasn’t going to. “From your attitude, and your sheer disrespect for your elders, I would say that you are the boy grown up, and you traveled back in time to meet yourself for some reason.”
“Ladies and gentlemen, we have a bingo,” Superman II shouted back, laughing as he repeatedly touched the tip of his nose with his index finger. He was thoroughly enjoying this, especially the fact that the Humanite was becoming more and more enraged by the moment.
“If you are the boy grown into a man, prove it.”
“Simple enough. You’re trying to take over the U.S. government through a fixing of the election that involves Jay Garrick’s candidacy, and you’re aided by the Mimic.”
“Very good. I suppose, if you know about it in your future, let’s estimate fifteen years from now, that I win.”
“Please, Magilla, don’t make me laugh. If you had won the election and put your puppet in power, do you really think I’d be here now? I mean, c’mon, your plans always seem to get flushed down the toilet like a dead goldfish.” Superman II realized as he said it that it was the straw that broke the camel’s back. The Humanite became enraged and leaped across the platform at the Man of Tomorrow, landing upon him with all the grace and inherent power that his ape form gave him. He lashed out at Superman II, this time with the ferocity of a beast as he pounded and punched him and blasted the future Kryptonian with his brain blasts.
“Computer,” the Humanite screamed out, “arm secondary weapon and target my adversary with concentrated blasts of kryptonite radiation.” Superman II knew he was doomed if he didn’t do what he had to do to allow history to follow its proper course. As the kryptonite beams lanced into him, burning him with excruciating pain like he had never felt before, he looked up and saw Pa floating over the battle, watching. The two Supermen’s eyes locked, and the man from the future used what little strength he had to warn him away with super-ventriloquism.
“Stay where you are, Pa. Don’t interfere. This is between him, me, and Superboy. You know me well enough to know that I know what I’m doing.” The older man nodded in acknowledgment, and did not move, which left Superman II free to do the one thing he most wished that he wouldn’t have to. Forgive me, Clark. Please forgive me, he thought as he reached back into the recesses of his memory for the words that would begin everything between him and the Ultra-Humanite all over again.
“Help me, Clark. He’s going to kill me. Please, I can’t hold out much longer…” he said with super-ventriloquism just before he passed out.
Several hundred miles away, at the old Brooklyn Navy Yard, Superboy was just finishing up with the rescue of the ocean-liner when he heard his future self’s cries of help. He turned to the ship’s captain, who was seeing to the safe disembarking of the passengers, and in a very serious tone of voice, said, “I have to go, Captain. Someone else is in danger.” With that, he took off like a rocket, pushing himself beyond the limits of his super-speed. He hoped and prayed that he was in time. He had to be. His life, and the lives of each and every person that he would save one day, depended upon it.
I just hope I’m in time, he thought. I just hope I’m in time.