by Goose Gansler
The next afternoon was the big game — Smallville versus Midvale — for the bragging rights of Gardner County. Both towns were abuzz because of the game. The streets of Smallville were filled with people wearing jackets and sweatshirts sporting white S or yellow M insignias. By four o’clock, everybody would be at the stadium at Smallville High, but for now people were milling about, chanting, and singing school fight songs.
Outside the Smallville Soda Shop, Bash Bashford checked his watch nervously. He wasn’t worried about the game. In football, he didn’t suffer from a lack of confidence. It was this mysterious Robin Urban whom he was supposed to meet here. The strange kid had strength that seemed inhuman to Bash. For some reason, Robin wanted to get C.J. Kent, which Bash was more than happy to oblige.
What Bash didn’t understand was why Robin had an issue with C.J. He couldn’t image Kent actually having fought Robin before. Maybe it was some kind of showing him up, Bash thought. C.J. certainly had gotten Bash in that regard from time to time.
Bash checked his watch again. He was supposed to be in the locker room in thirty minutes. It better not take too long to settle on the plan, Bash thought with some forced bravado. As much as I would love to nail Kent, I’m not about to risk my starting spot by being late to pre-game.
“Your heart’s pounding rather fast,” said, Robin Urban, suddenly at Bash’s side. “Are you nervous about your football game?”
“Me? Nervous?” Bash shook his head with strained conviction. “Midvale’s been afraid of me since eighth grade.”
Robin ignored the comment. “What I need to know is — who is the most important member of your team?”
“Me, of course,” Bash said defiantly.
Robin shrugged. His patience was beginning to wear thin. “Very well. Besides you, who is most vital to your team’s success?”
“Then I’d say the Q.B., Pete Ross,” Bash answered.
“Yeah, Q.B. You know — quarterback. Don’t you know anything about football?” Bash said incredulously.
“We didn’t play it back in the old neighborhood. Perhaps you’d better enlighten me in the nuances of the game.”
“The way the game is played. The rules, you clod!” Robin gritted his teeth.
“OK, you see, you get four downs. No, wait. First I gotta tell you about all the positions…” Bash rambled on.
After an arduous monologue, Bash finally finished his explanation about football. Robin took a deep breath, now that it was over. “Very good. Now I can tell what might affect the game.”
“That’s unimportant for you.” Robin was certain that Bash would not like the results. “Now, is it customary for the supporters to mingle with the players before the game?”
“No, we’ll be in the team locker room,” Bash said. “But the fans will line the walkway from the locker room to the stadium when we run out for warmup. All the school will be there.”
“C.J. Kent will be there?”
“Oh, sure,” Bash replied.
“Perfect,” Robin said deviously. “I will accompany you now. You will identify Peter Ross for me. Then I will take care of matters.”
Students were already milling about outside of the stadium. A few were inside watching the junior varsity game, but most were too cool to watch that contest. There were clumps of Smallville red and Midvale blue scattered about the area in front of the entrance gates.
C.J. Kent, clad in a red Smallville sweater and blue jeans, was listening quietly to a conversation with some of his classmates. He was more interested in looking for any sign of Laurie Lemmon.
With Bash in the locker room with the team, maybe I can talk to her without starting an incident, he thought. Maybe I can even sit with her. He had hoped the family would have been able to come to the game, but Ma had to deal with a news press breakdown at the Smallville Gazette. Pa had to be a watchdog for the grounded Mary. The tyke had mangled a milking machine during a tantrum. Alex Lane couldn’t be coaxed out of the bunkhouse. He had said that he was too busy cataloging some important superhuman history.
C.J. was startled from his thoughts by a slap to the back. “Smallville’s gonna get clobbered tonight. It’s guaranteed,” a voice from behind said to him. C.J. whirled around to see two familiar faces decked out in Midvale blue. Even the blue face-paint couldn’t seem to over up the trademark family freckles on the twins, Jimmy and Jenny Olsen.
“Jimmy, Jenny! Hey, how’re you doing?” C.J. said as he shook Jimmy’s hand.
“Not too bad,” Jimmy said. “Just glad we’re not stuck at the Gazette with your mom.”
“Like us interns would be of any help fixing a broken press,” Jenny sneered as she rolled her eyes.
“Don’t listen to my sister, C.J.,” Jimmy said. “Just because she doesn’t think she’s an important cog in the machine that is the Gazette — and she is right about that — doesn’t mean that the rest of us are as unimportant. Why, just yesterday… mmmph.” Jimmy’ words were cut off by Jenny’s hand covering up his mouth.
“So, tell me, C.J., when was the last time that your mom mentioned Jimmy’s ‘stellar work’?” Jenny asked.
“Well, I guess it was…” C.J. adjusted his glasses coyly and smiled. “Never.”
Jimmy broke free of his sister’s grasp and put his hand to his heart. “You wound me, C.J., taking Jenny’s side. I thought you were my pal.”
“You’re Midvale,” C.J. said with a shrug.
“Yeah, but so’s Jenny,” Jimmy retorted.
“Yeah, but she’s cute… er, cuter,” C.J. blurted out, stumbling over his words. Did he really call her cute, right in front of her?
“Tomboy, here?” Jimmy sighed. “The paint is the only color that ever gets on her face.”
Jenny Olsen looked at C.J. in a way that seemed different than before. C.J. wondered it was just the face-paint. “Don’t mind goofball, here.” She grabbed her brother by the arm. “Maybe we’ll see you after the game.” She turned to walk away and then turned back to say, “As we celebrate our victory, of course.”
C.J. felt a tug from one of his classmates. “If you’re done fraternizing with the enemy, we gotta go line the path.”
C.J. followed the rest of the student body to the long sidewalk that led from the locker room door to the stadium. They all took a spot on either side of the path, no more than two deep, to make two human chains that extended its entire length. C.J. was in the front row, clapping to the beat set by the cheerleaders.
As the team emerged from the locker room, cheers went up, and the volume and speed of the clapping increased. The reserves came out first, to be followed by the starters. As Bash came by, the cheers increased even more. The loudest sounds came at Pete Ross’ appearance.
As Pete trotted toward C.J.’s spot on the line, C.J. heard an unfamiliar voice in his ear.
“I know who you are.”
C.J. turned and looked to either side. There was no one talking to him. All of his fellow students were fixated on the march of the football players. As C.J. turned back to the path, he felt a tremendous force push him forward. He stumbled into the path and fell down right into Pete’s legs. The star quarterback crashed to the ground, and his hands immediately went to his right knee, his face pulled tight in a grimace.
Silence descended upon the Smallville fans. Everyone was staring at C.J. as he disentangled himself from Pete.
“Pete,” C.J. said nervously. “Are you OK?”
Pete said nothing but gritted his teeth against the pain.
The rest of the team hurried to Pete’s side. A few of them glowered at C.J. Bash realized that this must be a part of Robin Urban’s plans. He grabbed C.J. by the sweatshirt and tossed him off the path.
“You stupid nitwit,” Bash declared loud enough for all to hear. “You just took out our quarterback. C.J. Kent took out our quarterback!”
The trainers were now at Pete’s side. Their prognosis was immediate and dire. “It’s twisted pretty bad,” one of them said to Coach Kelly. “He can’t go.”
Coach Kelly took off his Smallville cap and threw it at C.J. in disgust. C.J. tucked in his shoulders, turned around, and walked away from the stadium.
C.J. watched the game from a nearby hill overlooking the stadium. Word had traveled fast around the school grounds as he was sure it would travel around Smallville afterward. It might even be the headline on tomorrow’s Gazette, if Ma could get the press working again.
Using his super-vision, C.J. followed the game’s progress. He had to admit that Bash was leading the defense well, keeping Midvale from achieving much of an offense. Smallville’s offense was significantly hindered by Pete Ross’ absence. Marty Michelson was trying admirably at quarterback, but the junior hadn’t played any meaningful minutes all year. Midvale eked out a seven-to-nothing lead at the end of the first quarter.
What the heck happened? C.J. thought as he drew his legs closer. I know that I head that voice, and then something hit me — hit me really hard. It couldn’t have been a coincidence that I fell right into Pete. Who knew who he really was? He couldn’t imagine one of his Junior JSA pals pulling a prank like this, not at Pete’s expense. It seemed so petty. Unless there’s some super-villain in Midvale who wants to be sure they win the game. He quickly discounted the idea that Jenny Olsen could be behind it. While she knew his secret, and she was from Midvale, there was no way that she could be the culprit.
As the game went on, things got worse for Smallville. Every pass that quarterback Marty Michelson threw was an adventure. He threw passes that went wide by twenty yards; he threw passes that seemed to just hang in the air, allowing Midvale to intercept them; he fumbled the ball while under no pressure. Not that his receivers were helping much, either. Passes that were on target were dropped as if the ball were a hot potato. The receivers looked down at their hands after these surprising drops. The only time that Smallville actually made it into Midvale territory, they had to settle for a field-goal attempt. Kicker Johnny Morden’s try went ten yards wide, but the ball carried a good sixty yards. Johnny had never come close to that in terms of distance on anything less than forty yards before.
“Cripes, everything’s going bad for us today. It’s like the football gods are making the ball do whatever’s bad for Smallville.” Then the realization struck C.J. Maybe it wasn’t the football gods. Maybe it was somebody, that same somebody, since anyone who would have the ability to send him tumbling would probably have the ability to affect a football. C.J. rose to his feet. He had to do something, but he didn’t know what.
Atop a nearby municipal water tower, Robin Urban watched as C.J. Kent stood up. It wasn’t hard to deduce that the despondent youth had started to connect the dots. For his part, Robin decided he had done enough. His actions had put the game out of reach for Smallville. C.J.’s apparent clumsiness would be blamed — he would be the laughingstock of the school.
C.J. started scanning the area with his super-vision, looking for any type of force on any level that might be affecting the game. He looked on every frequency that he could, but saw nothing. He noted that now, late in the fourth quarter, Smallville was actually starting to play decently, but Midvale already had an insurmountable thirty-eight to zero lead.
The game clock ticked down the final seconds, and then a sea of blue Midvale fans descended onto the field in celebration. The red Smallville side rose to dejected silence. With his super-hearing, C.J. could hear the few comments that were being made by the dejected Smallville fans.
“If only we had Ross in there, we would have won.”
“If I were C.J. Kent, I wouldn’t come to school on Monday.”
“I can’t wait to hear how they rip Kent on the morning announcements.”
“Can the student government expel a student? Kent sure deserves it.”
“Maybe he oughtta transfer to Midvale. We don’t need traitors like him.”
C.J. took a deep breath and started walking toward the parking lot. Not that he was planning to catch a ride home with the classmates who drove him here. He wasn’t up to that. He thought about doing a super-speed switch and flying home. However, even the thought of flying didn’t seem all that appealing right now. Maybe a nice long walk back to the farm would let him get over it, but he already knew the answer to that.
He was out of the parking lot before any of the Smallville fans were able to accost him. The Midvale fans, for the most part, were still celebrating on the field. C.J. got onto the side of County Highway 2 and started trudging home. He walked far away from the side of the road amongst the woods that lined it, since he didn’t want to be seen as his classmates came driving out.
With his hands stuck in his pockets and his head hung low, he walked. He had gone about a half-mile when a mysterious but familiar sounding voice startled him from his sullen thoughts.
“C.J. Kent, the most despised kid in Smallville.”
C.J. looked up. In front of him stood Robin Urban, though he didn’t know the rugby-shirted youth. “Excuse me?” C.J. blurted.
“You’re C.J. Kent, the one who made the most important tackle for Midvale — the one that took out Smallville’s quarterback.”
“Do I know you?” C.J. demanded. He tried mentally cataloging the face, but nothing. The voice, however — the voice was the one he’d heard before he was pushed into Pete. He raised a finger and pointed at Robin. “It was you! You pushed me!”
“That sounds so childish,” Robin laughed. “Are you going to run home and tell your mother? Or perhaps your father? Maybe Superman could come over and scold me.”
C.J. took a nervous step back. “Superman? What are you talking about?”
“Come on,” Robin said with disdain. “Can you really be that dense? Someone able to push you against your will, able to catch up to you in the middle of nowhere? All the mysterious luck that went against Smallville during the football game, as if some unseen force was at work?” He then began taking off his rugby shirt, revealing a green tunic with a red collar. There was a yellow square emblazoned on the chest. He pulled out his super-compressed blue cape out his pocket and attached to the yellow disk-clasps above his collarbone. Finally, he tore off his jeans, revealing green tights. “I’m a Kryptonian, just like you.” He straightened out the yellow cuffs of his tunic. “The name is R-Ban, son of U-Ban of the Triumvirate, rulers of Krypton-Beta. (*) I’m going to drag your body back to Krypton-Beta for my father’s and uncles’ amusement.” He lashed out with heat-vision, burning C.J.’s clothes and revealing his Superboy costume. “Try to give me at least a little bit of a fight.”
[(*) Editor’s note: See “Three Superman from Krypton,” Superman #65 (July-August, 1950) and “The Outlaws from Krypton,” Action Comics #194 (July, 1954).]
So he’s the culprit, Superboy thought. Not that he figured he’d ever be able to tell the true story, but at least he knew he was absolved, at least in his own mind. He cracked his knuckles and smiled. “You want a fight? Oh, you’d better believe it!”