by Goose Gansler
Another day of hard work had come to a close, and the Kent family gathered for dinner. Little Mary rested in her bouncer, her eyes entranced by the many colors of the food already set on the table. As usual, Clark Junior, now insisting on calling himself Cal until he could think of something better, waited eagerly in his chair. (*) Like most teenagers, he had a voracious appetite, and Lois Lane Kent’s cooking never failed to satisfy. The matriarch was bringing the main course — beef Wellington — in from the kitchen. With the entrée ready, dinner could begin.
[(*) Editor’s note: See Superman Family: Superboy and Clark Kent: Familiar Faces.]
“Clark,” Lois called out. It was not a nagging or a shrill call. In the early days of their relationship, she had been rather coarse with him. Those were the long-off days when she was a driven female reporter trying to make it in a man’s world. She had come to respect him and later fall in love with him — with the man, and not his more famous alter ego.
“Coming, honey,” Clark called back from the bathroom. He was splashing a final dose of water over his face. Even to his super-dense skin, the effect of the cool water was refreshing. The hours of labor out on the farm seemed to wash away from his system. The smells he detected with his super-senses put him in even a better mood. Beef Wellington — my favorite, he realized.
Clark walked across the farmhouse’s hardwood floors to the dining room. In his T-shirt and denim overalls, he looked like any other farmer in Smallville. However, he was much more than that. When he donned his famous blue suit and red cape, he was the greatest hero of them all — Superman. Right now, he was simply Clark Kent — farmer, husband of Lois, father of Mary, adoptive father of the other-dimensional Cal, and guardian of the only missing member of the family.
“Where’s Alexander?” he asked. He knew a quick sweep with his x-ray vision could tell him the likely answer, but he did not want to damage any of the sensitive equipment there by accidentally irradiating it with x-rays.
“He’s in the bunkhouse cataloging away,” Cal replied as he greedily eyed the whipped potatoes. “He said he might be in later.” Like Alexander Lane, Cal hailed from an Earth parallel to this one. While Alexander came from Earth-Three and was the son of that world’s Alex and Lois Luthor, Cal was from Earth-Prime. Both had found a home with the Kents after the Crisis on Infinite Earths had destroyed their respective homeworlds. While Cal was the image of a younger Clark, Alexander was the image of a younger Alexei Luthor. Despite the affection that the elder Kents felt for him, that notion was always at the back of their minds.
“That boy is just a little too dedicated to his task. He needs to eat,” Lois sighed. “I guess if the food’s cold by the time he comes in, one of you super-people can use a little heat-vision on it.” She smiled at that. “On second thought, maybe you’d better do it, honey. I remember what happened the last time Cal tried to heat up Mary’s milk bottle.”
“So I need to practice a little more,” Cal replied as he filled his plate. “It’s not like I tried to vaporize the milk.”
“We’ll work on it,” Clark said patiently. He remembered how tricky it had been for him to learn how to use his heat-vision. In his early days, he had used the heat of his x-ray vision with varying results. It was only later that heat-vision developed as a power in its own right. “Now, before we start digging in, let’s pray.”
All bowed their heads (except for Mary, who was too busy gnawing on a plastic ring). Clark used the heartfelt words that his father had used every night in this same house all those decades ago. Despite the intervening years, the words were still powerful and appropriate. Once he was done, Cal began eating heartily at near-super-speed.
“Slow down, Cal,” Lois admonished. “This isn’t a race.”
“I know, Ma, but it’s just so good when it’s right out of the oven. I want to enjoy it in all its glory.”
“Flattery won’t get you out of doing the dishes, young man,” Lois said to the youngster. She turned to Clark, adding, “He gets that silver tongue from your side of the family, you know.”
After dinner was complete, Lois and Clark retired to the family room with Mary, while Cal started washing the dishes by hand. For once, there wasn’t an argument about his washing them at super-speed.
Lois started paging through the Smallville Gazette. She found her most recent article buried deep on page eight, but that didn’t bother her, because she — as editor-in-chief and publisher — had decided that the article should go there. She wasn’t fighting for headlines anymore; she was simply enjoying her profession as a journalist. Not that a headline or two wouldn’t be welcome, she thought, which isn’t that difficult to get in a quiet place like Smallville. Any news could be big news.
Clark bounced Mary on his lap and tossed her up in the air, holding her aloft with a continuous blast of super-breath. The little girl giggled with delight, bringing a smile to Clark’s otherwise dour face. He had been happy enough to have Cal become their adopted son, but to have a daughter of his own pleased him to no end.
“Clark, what have we said about using powers in the house?” Lois half-heartedly admonished.
“Yeah, Pa,” Cal grumbled from the kitchen. “Or is this another case of parent paradox — parents getting to do something they tell the kids they can’t do?”
Clark gently let Mary float down to his hand, where he balanced her on one fingertip. “When you’ve spent a decade or two protecting a secret identity from fanatics, like your mother, for example–” He ducked, chuckling as Lois playfully tossed a pen at him. “–then maybe it will be another matter. With my super-senses, I know for a fact that nobody is snooping on us, and I have a reputation to uphold in Mary’s eyes as the world’s best dad.” He winked while saying that last phrase.
“It’s not fair,” Cal continued to mock-grumble. “I never get to have any fun around the house.”
“After Mary goes to bed,” Clark suggested, “perhaps we could have some heat-vision practice and sharpen some of the farm equipment.”
“Sure thing,” Cal piped up. “Let me finish these dishes real quick… at normal speed, Mom.”
Lois looked up from her paper and checked the grandfather clock. “I guess it’s time for Mary to go to bed. Will you read her a story and put her down, honey?”
“I wouldn’t have it otherwise,” Clark replied happily. “C’mon, pumpkin.” He stood while continuing to balance her. “I’ll read you some nursery rhymes. Cal, could you…?”
A milk bottle came flying out of the kitchen, landing in Clark’s free hand. “There you go, Pa,” Cal called out. “You’ll have to warm it yourself.”
“Thanks, son. Meet me in the barn in about ten minutes.”
“Just make sure that you get her into a deep sleep, Pa. With her crying, a kid with super-hearing can’t help but get woken up.”
That was another lesson he would have to teach Cal, Clark decided. Selective use of super-hearing was very important — otherwise, it could be quite maddening.
Mary drank her bottle quite eagerly as Clark read her a bedtime story. While putting her in her crib, she fell asleep before her head even touched the mattress. Clark pulled a blanket over his daughter and left the room quietly.
“Well, I don’t have super-hearing, but it sounds like she’s fast asleep,” Lois said as Clark re-entered the living room.
“Like the angel she is.” Clark bent over and kissed his wife on the forehead. “I’ll be outside with Cal.”
“Don’t be out too late. He has to go to school tomorrow.”
When Clark reached the barn, Cal was hovering in place, practicing the finer skills of flight. Clark had to admit that the kid learned quickly. Perhaps it was because Cal did not have to go through the initial period of being only able to leap tall buildings in a single bound like Clark had.
“That’s pretty good,” Clark praised. “I don’t want to admit how long it took me to be able to do that.” He slapped Cal on the shoulder and walked past him.
“Thanks, Pa,” Cal said, grinning.
Clark disappeared into the back of the barn. Suddenly, farm implements started flying out toward Cal. “Here, catch,” said the elder hero.
Cal caught the hoes and all of the other farm instruments that Clark flung to him, putting each down as quickly as he could, since others followed very quickly behind.
“All right, that should be everything.” Clark carried the large blades from the thresher back to Cal. “Let’s start with this one and then move on to the finer stuff.”
“Works for me,” Cal replied as he walked toward the thresher blades.
After about a half an hour, the two heroes were finished with the thresher blades. Clark had shown Cal how to temper the metal against invulnerable skin once the metal had been properly heated with heat-vision. Cal had bent a few blades in the process, but they were quickly fixed by another dose of heat-vision and some dexterous handiwork.
The work went a little slower on the smaller instruments, like the scythes and hoes. Cal was not as adept at doing the precise work with his heat-vision.
“You have to focus — literally — when you’re doing this,” Clark instructed. “You have to make sure you’re still seeing what you’re doing as your eyes emit heat. You may not need to have such precise control if you’re blasting an Injustice Society member, but sometimes you may need to cauterize a single blood vessel.”
“How the heck would I do that?” Cal wondered.
“That’s a lesson for another day,” Clark replied. “Besides, I think we’ve gone over enough for today. Your mother will tar my hide if I keep you out too late.”
“I have a hard time believing that,” Cal laughed.
“Well, maybe not literally,” Clark snickered. “But she does have a way with words.”
The duo put all of their handiwork back in the barn in their proper places. After sliding the doors shut, they headed back to the farmhouse. Cal slapped Clark slightly on the shoulder.
“Thanks for the lesson, Pa,” the youngster said sincerely. “It was nice to have some time with you.”
“Er, right,” Clark said uncomfortably. When he wasn’t on the farm, he had been continuing his fruitless search for Colonel Future, the murderer of their friend Kil-Lor. (*) Both family and the Justice Society of America — from which he had taken a leave of absence — had taken a backseat to this quest. “I have been busy, I guess.”
[(*) Editor’s note: See Superman: Heritage of Hatred.]
“Hey, you’re gonna nail Colonel Future in the end. You know that, right?”
“Good will always win out,” Clark sighed. “I’ve taught you that. Sometimes this never-ending battle just goes a little too slow.”
“He’s pretty old,” Cal said hopefully. “Maybe time caught up with him already?”
“Unlikely,” Clark said, shrugging. “When he had that magic totem that allowed him to create his son, the Futurian, he also wished vitality for himself. (*) He’s not going to succumb to natural causes anytime soon.”
[(*) Editor’s note: See Power Girl: Kara’s Quest, Chapter 2: In Search of Superman.]
They entered the kitchen, and both noted with their respective x-ray sights the fresh lemon meringue pie — Lois’ specialty — in the refrigerator. They exchanged a smiling glance.
“Ma’s pie!” they said in unison.
Soon they both were seated at the table, a pie slice before each of them. Their conversation turned a little more lighthearted while they ate. Once they were done, however, the mood became somber once again.
Cal tried to dispel the gloom. “You know, Pa, maybe you’re getting a little obsessive about Colonel Future. Eventually he’ll come out of hiding and try something big. It’s what all master criminals do. Some kind of union rule.”
“Maybe, son.” Clark chuckled for a moment, but then his face resumed its grim aspect. “Colonel Future’s been a thorn in my side for years. After Luthor and the Ultra-Humanite, he’s been my most persistent foe. His crimes have always been about acquiring the power and resources to recreate the world into his vision of the future — what the sci-fi writers of the ’50s saw the future to be. But murdering Kil-Lor was just too much. Kil-Lor was a Kryptonian — besides Kara, he’s the only other survivor.” He paused. “Though maybe Mala and his brothers are still alive out there in space. Kil-Lor knew my father. He knew Krypton. Sure, I learned some about my homeworld on time-travel jaunts, and the files in Kara’s Symbioship told me a bit more, but Kil-Lor had really been there. That’s a link that will be forever broken.”
“Gee, Pa, that’s rough,” Cal said sympathetically. “It’s kind of hard for me to relate, though, since I have no idea what my Krypton was like.”
“Maybe someday we can fill in the blanks for you, though that may be beyond even a Superman’s power. As for me, I’m just getting sentimental for Krypton in my old age. When I was affected by the Stream of Ruthlessness, I wanted to turn Metropolis into Kryptonopolis.”
“Yeah, and you beat the tar out of Kara trying to do it.” (*)
[(*) Editor’s note: See “Divide, and Be Conquered,” Infinity Inc. #6 (September, 1984) and “Past Glories, Future Tears,” Infinity Inc. #7 (October, 1984).]
“It’s not something I’m proud of,” Clark said dourly.
Cal grinned. “It’s one of the few topics that makes her lose her brash demeanor.”
Clark laughed. “If you think she’s haughty now, you should have seen her when she was younger, when I was training her in secret.”
Cal shook his head. “No, thanks. Today’s cousin Kara is more than enough for me.”
Clark paused and sighed wistfully. “It’s good to be home.” A quick glance at the kitchen clock showed that it was getting late. “We’d best be heading for bed, or your mother will be very upset with both of us.”
They put their dishes away and headed upstairs.
“You’re gonna get him, Pa.”
“I hope so. I just don’t know how.”
“You’ll figure it out,” Cal offered.
“Well, the cartoons always say, ‘if you can’t beat ’em, join ’em.’ But I don’t think that would be too appropriate.”
Clark chuckled. “Perhaps not.” A gleam shone in his eye as a clever idea formed. “Then again, you may have something there, Cal.”