The Ultra-Humanite stared down at Superman II, laughing malevolently as the kryptonite cannon continued to bathe his foe with its deadly green rays. A determined, evil smile crossed his simian face. He was winning, and he knew it. He folded his massive arms behind his back and just waited for the Man of Tomorrow to expire. “You know something,” he said finally as he leaned in closer to Superman II’s green-hued face, “I didn’t think it was going to be this easy. It never was with your father.”
“You… haven’t… won… just… yet…” the Man of Steel gasped out defiantly.
“Oh, really? And just who is going to defeat me? Your younger self? Don’t make me laugh. If you, who claim to have experience in dealing with me were this easy to beat, it’ll be like child’s play handling him. I probably won’t even break a sweat.”
Behind the Ultra-Humanite, the kryptonite cannon exploded in a shower of sparks, and as he jerked his head around in surprise, he found Superboy floating about fifty feet above him, arms folded across his chest, the boy’s eyes still glowing from the heat-vision blast he had just fired at the cannon. “I don’t think so, Magilla. You’re not so tough without your toys.”
Superboy’s appearance and the subsequent destruction of the cannon caught Ultra so completely off-guard that he was ill-prepared for what happened next. The Boy of Steel flew straight at him and slammed into the Ultra-Humanite with a combination of super-strength and super-speed, knocking him off the platform. As he watched the Humanite tumble over the side, Superboy landed next to Superman II and tried to help him up. “Are you OK?”
“Behind… you…” the Man of Steel gasped out in response.
Superboy spun around to find the Ultra-Humanite standing atop the platform again. Obviously, while he had been checking on Superman II’s condition, the Humanite had somehow grasped onto the railing or the platform’s outer edge, and had used some kind of amazing Herculean effort to swing himself back up onto the platform. Superboy had forgotten just how strong and agile the Humanite’s ape body made him, a fact he would not forget next time.
“Amateurish, boy. Though I applaud your attempt,” Ultra said as he pulled a thumb-sized metallic disk from inside one of his armor’s shoulder strap spikes and gently placed it on his left temple. The evil smile was once again on his simian face. “You have shown no fear in dealing with me. I truly admire that, but nevertheless it is something that I will most definitely have to remedy.”
The device began to pulsate and emit a strange humming sound. Instantly, the Ultra-Humanite’s head was engulfed in a glowing blue nimbus of energy. It seemed to swirl and dance around his head in amazing flashes of light and color, and just as quickly as it had appeared, it just as suddenly lanced out in a tendril of cascading electricity, striking Superboy dead center in the middle of his forehead. As it made contact, the Boy of Steel fell to his knees and grasped his head in agony. He had never felt pain like this before, and it just seemed to worsen as the seconds ticked by.
“You like?” the Humanite asked the Boy of Steel as he writhed in pain before the huge ape. “I call it a Psionic Fear Enhancer, or PFE for short. It is specifically designed to target the fear centers of the super-powered Kryptonian brain. It forces the victim to experience an excruciating tableau of their own worst fears. I must admit that it is a little too timid of a weapon, but it does seem to get the job done. I was planning on testing it out on either your father or Power Girl, but since you have truly irritated me, you will have to do.”
Superboy didn’t hear him as he continued to expound on just how the device worked. He was too preoccupied with the horrifying images that clawed at him inside his mind. The Anti-Monitor, Ma and Pa, Mom and Dad — he saw them all just before it all went black. That was when he first heard the voice.
“You’re afraid!” the voice screamed at him from the blackness as a massive disembodied fist slammed into the side of his head, seemingly from nowhere. He knew the enraged voice that shouted at him. It was his own.
“You’re afraid to accept that Mom and Dad are dead, because you were helpless to stop the Anti-Monitor from destroying Earth-Prime!”
“No,” he whimpered in response as the massive fist struck him again.
“You’re afraid to think of Ma and Pa as your parents, because you have this gnawing feeling in the back of your mind that you’re going to lose them, too!”
“No,” he whimpered again, this time a bit louder, as the massive fist struck him a third time.
“You’re afraid to accept that Mom and Dad are really dead, because then you’d have face the fact that you’re all alone, and the last survivor of your world!”
“No!” Superboy was screaming this time as the massive fist struck him yet again. He couldn’t take this anymore, and it felt like his head was going to explode from the stress.
“You’re not alone, Clark.” The voice was a whisper, and it wasn’t the one screaming at him, but he did know who it belonged to. It was Superman II’s voice. It seemed to be coming from behind, and as he heard it, he felt his future self gently grasp his shoulder.
“Mom and Dad are not dead, just so long as you remember them.” He felt some of his strength return as the Man of Tomorrow spoke to him. “Ma and Pa aren’t going anywhere, at least not for a very, very long time.” The words, a raspy whisper seemed to echo in his ears, bringing with them a feeling of calm that washed the fear from him.
The massive fist moved in to strike again, but Superboy seized it roughly in his hands and threw it away from himself. He had broken the device’s hold on him, and as he did so, he saw that it wasn’t a disembodied fist from the darkness that assaulted him, but rather it was the Ultra-Humanite’s own. As he awoke from the trance that had held him in the grip of fear, he watched as the Humanite crashed into the platform’s railing, and realized that he had done that.
“You wanna try that again, Magilla?” he asked as he lifted the huge ape up with one hand and pulled him in so close that they were face to face. “Or do you just wanna surrender and put an end to this?”
“Hardly,” the Ultra-Humanite snarled back as his massive simian legs kicked into Superboy, pushing the two combatants apart. “I think that I shall retire for the day and lick my wounds. But know this, boy — this is not over. Not by a long shot.” The Humanite touched a concealed button located on the golden disk attached to his armor, and as he did so, a shimmering doorway opened next to him. In a matter of a few seconds, the Ultra-Humanite had escaped the Boy of Steel’s grasp by leaping through the dimensional portal and closing it behind him before Superboy could follow.
“I’m looking forward to it, Magilla,” Superboy replied to empty space, “I’m looking forward to it.” He helped Superman II up and flew the two of them back to the cave on the Connecticut coast where this adventure had begun only a few hours before. Behind them, the Humanite’s floating weapons platform exploded, vaporizing itself in the process. Whether this explosion was the result of a self-destruct signal sent by the Ultra-Humanite from wherever he was hiding, or due to the damage it sustained during the fight, Superboy didn’t know. What’s more, he really didn’t care. Right now, all he cared about was getting back to the cave and seeing if his counterpart was all right.
“Maybe now we can finally finish that conversation we were having earlier,” Superman II finally said as they touched down on the wet sand in front of cave, his voice more like it should be than it had been a few moments before inside Superboy’s head.
“I’d like that,” Superboy replied, smiling. “I’d like that a lot.”
Superman II sat on a medium-sized boulder inside the mouth of the cave where he had first encountered his younger self. It had only been a few minutes since his battle with the Ultra-Humanite, and while he really didn’t need to recover much more from the effects of the intense kryptonite bath he had been exposed to, it did feel good to actually sit down and catch his breath. It was times like this that reminded him that at one time he was once only human. He looked over at his younger self, and for the first time noticed the wave of concern that had now become evident on the teen’s face.
“You OK?” Superboy said at last, taking a few tentative steps toward his elder self. “That kryptonite seems to have hit you pretty hard.”
Superman II waved his younger self off, shaking his head. “I’m fine, really. That wasn’t anything that I haven’t felt before. I just need a couple of minutes to catch my breath. While I’m doing that, how about we continue our conversation from earlier?”
“Sure,” Superboy replied as he sat cross-legged on the wet sand in front of the Man of Steel. “Uhhh, where were we?”
Superman II smiled. “I was telling you that you need to grow up a bit, go home, and work out your problems with Ma and Pa. After what we just went through today, you’re already on your way to taking a few steps toward that first part.”
“I don’t know if I can do the rest,” Superboy said, averting his eyes from his older self’s face as they began to well up with tears. “I said some pretty awful things to both of them, and I’m not sure if they’d really want me to come back after that.”
Superman II reached down and placed his hand on the boy’s shoulder, giving it a gentle, reassuring squeeze. “Look, we all say things in the heat of an argument that we come to regret later. And while it doesn’t excuse it, Ma and Pa both know that, and they’re not going to turn you away. They just want you to come home to the farm so that you guys can sit down as a family and talk it out.”
“Really. In fact, do you know what Pa’s been doing all day while you’ve been hiding out in this cave?”
“He was at the Secret Citadel using the Kryptonian technology there to search the globe for you. He had finally located you and was about to come and talk to you in private when the two of us engaged old Magilla.” The Man of Steel stopped for a second, turned his head to glance over his shoulder out the mouth of the cave, waited a moment, and continued. “Isn’t that right, Pa?”
“Yeah,” came a very familiar voice from outside the cave, “that’s right.” Superman stepped into view, walked over to his son, and gestured for the boy to stand up. The age lines on his face seemed to accentuate the concern he felt for the boy, as well as the relief that his son was indeed OK.
Superboy stood up and faced his adoptive father, tears streaming down his face. The two stood across from each other motionless in silence, for what seemed like an eternity, both not sure what to do next. Finally, after the moment had indeed passed, father and son reached out to each other and embraced.
“I’m sorry, Pa. I didn’t mean what I said.”
“It’s OK, son. We’ll talk about all when we get home and can sit down and discuss it like a family.”
Superman II watched quietly as the two held each other, and smiled. For him, this was all just history. Internally, he breathed a sigh of relief, since he was relieved that things were actually going the way they were supposed to. “Not that I really want to intrude upon this family moment,” he began, “but there’s a few things that I need to discuss with you both.” Father and son pulled away from each other and nodded back in agreement at the Man of Tomorrow.
Standing up and stepping over to Superboy, Superman II once again placed his hand on the boy’s shoulder. “Things are going to be difficult for you now. You’ve made yourself a very dangerous enemy in the Humanite, and as Pa can definitely tell you, he tends to hold a grudge. He’s going to try and make your life a living hell at every turn, but you can’t falter in your resolve.
“And he’s not going to be the only one — Dox, Master FX, the Director, the Succubus, the Borrower, Bonechill, Cybron, Wildshark, Jigsaw, Lady Lightning, Nicknack the Master of Toys, Neila, R-Ban, the Robot Master, Reverso, Mister Sinister, the Green-Eyed Mobster, Mentallo, a new Metalo, and an all-new Prankster — just to name a few. You’re going to have a rogues gallery that will put Pa’s and Kal’s combined to shame. Because of them, you are going to surpass Pa and become an even greater hero than him–”
“Why are you telling me this?”
“Because, Clark,” Superman II continued, “what is yet to come for you is more important than all that you have lost. Don’t get me wrong; Mom and Dad’s deaths are tragic and important to what makes you who you are, but to paraphrase what ‘Bones’ McCoy said, ‘They’re really not dead, just so long as you remember them.’
“Besides, for all we know, Earth-Prime could still be out there somewhere, just inaccessible, like all the other Earths. Mom and Dad could still be alive, and if they are, I know for a fact that they would want you to move on with your life and not dwell in the past so much.”
“He’s right, son,” Superman said. “That’s exactly what I imagine Jor-L and Lora would want me to do.”
“There’s just one other thing, Clark,” Superman II said. “I know that you’re not going to listen to me on this next bit, but I still have to say it. You should forget about Laurie, because it’s going to end very badly.”
“What exactly do you mean by that?” Superboy had a puzzled look on his face as he asked the question.
“I really can’t say, rules of time travel and all. However, you need to keep this idea in the back of your mind, because you’re not meant to be together, and knowing this will make things easier.”
“If Laurie and I aren’t meant to be together, then who am I supposed to be with?” Superboy was insistent this time.
“Again,” Superman II began, “I can’t say. All that I can tell you is that you almost lose her because you’re afraid to open up and tell her how you feel. When you finally do tell her, she tells you that she’s been waiting so long for you to say it, and that she almost gave up hope… almost.”
“But… who… is… she?!”
Superman II smiled as he watched his younger self squirm. He so wanted to tell the boy everything he wanted to know, but that was impossible. “All I can tell you is that the word ‘jeepers’ is a very big and important part of her vocabulary. Beyond that, you’ll have to figure the rest out for yourself. Now, if you’ll excuse us, Clark, Pa and I need to have a few words in private, so go on home — now.”
Superboy was about to protest, but both of the Supermen shot him a rather forceful look, and he reluctantly nodded and took off into the late afternoon sky, winging his way back to Smallville. After a few minutes had passed, when they were both sure that C.J. had indeed arrived back at the farmhouse in Smallville, the two Men of Steel looked at each other and burst out laughing.
“Did you really have to say the word ‘jeepers’ to him?” Superman asked his grown-up son. “He’s going to figure it out, you know.”
“I know, Pa,” Superman II replied, “that’s the idea. He is going to figure it out, but not right away. Besides, I have to get him prepared for the future. And he did do that today when he saved that cruise ship. He saved one individual in particular who is very important to this country’s future.”
“One of the ship’s passengers was newly elected Arizona senator John McCain, who just so happens to be the President of the United States in my time.”
“Right. I see. You said that you needed to talk to me about something. Well, here I am. Talk to me.”
“I can’t tell you much about what I know, because it might change your future and my past, but the Humanite is up to something.”
“I figured as much, Cal,” Superman said. “He doesn’t just attack cruise ships unless he has something to gain, such as money, power, or both.”
“Yeah. Today was a diversion from what he’s been planning the last year or so, but also it was a chance to remove an obstacle that he’s been dealing with for almost fifty years, namely you. Were he to get you out of the way, his plan could go ahead without him worrying about being thwarted in his efforts as you usually do.”
“I see. Go on.”
“What he’s up to is very, very big. Tomorrow, you need to call Carter Hall, and tell him that he needs to call an emergency session of the JSA. When you’re all together, tell them what happened today — without mentioning my involvement, of course — and get them to start being a little more vigilant and observant when it comes to Magilla and his activities.”
“That’s not much to go on, Cal.”
“I know, Pa, I know. But just trust me on this. The fate of this nation, and that of the world, depends upon it.”
Superman was startled by what his grown son had said to him, but didn’t let on. “Are you leaving now?”
“Yeah, kinda have to. Jenny will kill me if I don’t get home soon. You know how redheads are. They have very fiery tempers.” With that said, he smiled at his father, reached around his belt and pulled the trans-temporal inverter out. He depressed a small switch on its face with his thumb and disappeared in a shimmering flash of blue light.
Superman was left standing in the sand by himself as the sun began to dip below the horizon. As he watched the sun set, a chill went up his spine, and he began to feel as though things had just taken a very nasty turn for the worse.