by Goose Gansler
“Strange. I thought it was supposed to be warmer today.” Not that the farmer in question, taking a break behind his horse-driven plow, would have been affected much by any additional heat. This type of activity would have been grueling for any ordinary man. However, the farmer was anything but ordinary. He was arguably the greatest hero the world had ever known. He was Superman.
His fame certainly would not have been apparent right now. The famous red and blue caped costume with the stylized S emblem was nowhere to be seen. Instead, it was seemingly an ordinary man named Clark Kent, clad in a denim shirt and blue jeans, who stood in the middle of the Kent family farm. His thick glasses rested on the bridge of his nose, even though they served no real purpose except to help in the disguise of differentiating the one-time reporter-turned-editor-in-chief-turned-farmer from the Man of Steel.
As Clark Kent, he had been a big name in Metropolis. Now, as a farmer back in rural Smallville, notoriety tended to escape him. He was just another hardworking American in the heartland. If anything, it was his wife Lois who was the bigger name now. As publisher of the local newspaper, the Smallville Gazette, she was a person of relative influence. School board meetings and granary exchange uses were a far cry from the hard-hitting investigations for the Metropolis Daily Star on organized crime and political corruption, but it was more than enough for her now. She still had her hands in the newspaper business. More importantly, she had Clark, and she had a family.
Speaking of that family, while Clark’s ears were perked to hear any sounds from the farmhouse, he still did a periodic sweep of the house with his super-vision. He could see that his daughter Mary was still comfortably asleep in her mid-afternoon nap. While it might have been better to have a nanny, Clark didn’t relish the thought of trying to cover up any superhuman feats of the two-year-old from a stranger’s eyes.
Not that he was totally alone with Mary on the farm. He did have one other resource he could call on. Over in the bunkhouse was Alexander, his adoptive nephew. Another super-vision sweep showed Alexander Lane, also known as Alexander Luthor Jr., only known survivor of Earth-Three, diligently working on his arrangement of computerized equipment. These machines, taken from the cache that the original Monitor had stored here, had allowed Alex to assume the role of the Monitor of Earth-Two. The young man had turned the bunkhouse into a warehouse of information, guarded by security systems that made those at Superman’s Secret Citadel pale in comparison.
“He’s good at what he does,” Clark had to admit to himself. He also knew that Alex was willing to help out in the more mundane matters of life on the family farm. However, it was clear that the family needed to help him as well. Alex had aged from infancy to young adulthood over a matter of days to be used in the Monitor’s efforts to save the Multiverse. He was sorely lacking in emotional maturity.
“Hee-yah!” Clark bellowed as he shook the reins to get the horses moving again. He still had some significant acreage to plow before he would call it a day. It wouldn’t be right to leave his tasks unfinished and still expect Clark Junior, or C.J. as he liked to be called these days, to finish his chores. “Teenagers. Clark, Jr. Junior. Cal. C.J. I wish he’d make up his mind. At least he’s sticking with ‘Superboy’ and not changing to ‘Ultraboy’ or ‘Power Kid.'”
Of course, neither of them really needed to spend a significant amount of time on these chores. C.J. was the Superboy from Earth-Prime and just as super-powered in his own right. Clark had insisted that they do as much as possible around the farm as ordinary folks would do. It was a never-ending lesson that being super didn’t mean you were superior. Clark’s parents had taught him that. He wanted to be sure that he taught C.J. and Mary that as well.
Clark scanned some of the other areas of the farm as he plowed. The wheat and the corn were still growing, which was surprising for this late in the season. “I remember them being at full height by this time, even during the worst years. And we’ve had a lot of good weather lately, lots of sun, though a little cool.”
The following day, Clark Kent went about his farming duties once again. Lois Lane Kent was already at the Smallville Gazette, and C.J. had gone to school. Mary was still sleeping in her little bed, but Clark’s super-senses were finely tuned upon her. Based on the strong electromagnetic fields being generated from the bunkhouse, it appeared that Alex Lane was already hard at work at his self-appointed tasks.
“Got to give him credit,” Clark sighed as he tossed some hay bales down from the rafters of the barn. “He certainly is dedicated, but I’ve got to get him to enjoy this world a little instead of just cataloging it.”
Once the hay was stacked to give to the cows later, Clark headed out into the fields. The weather forecast wasn’t predicting any rain soon, so he might need to set up the irrigation equipment. It had been a strange season — dry but not too hot.
Clothed in a white T-shirt and overalls, Clark walked among the rows of corn. He loved the smell. It brought back memories of Pa Kent teaching him the life of farming, back when that seemed a possible future life for him, before his super-powers became too apparent to ignore.
Clark ran his hands over the stalks. He felt the texture of the leaves and the rigidity of the stalks. The leaves were coarse, and the reeds were weak. Tarnation, he thought, knowing he had planted high-quality seeds this season. He had been diligent about fertilizing and watering. He got down on his knees and scooped up some dirt at the base of the stalks. He let the soil run through his fingers. Pa had taught him how to assess the consistency of the soil. He didn’t need super-powers to judge that. “Soil’s good,” he grunted. What did that leave? There were no signs of infestation. “Sunlight,” he concluded. He looked up. The sun was there, shining brightly. “Maybe I’d better see if Alex can give me some help with this.”
A few minutes later, Clark was at the bunkhouse door. He wasn’t sure if Alex was inside, but it was a good bet. If he’s not in bed or at the kitchen table, he’s probably in front of his computers, Clark thought. With his super-hearing, he could detect a heartbeat and respiration inside.
“Alex?” He knocked on the door. “It’s Uncle Clark.” The seemingly innocuous wooden door slid open after its magnetic locks released. Clark stepped inside to see Alex sitting in front of his main computers, decked out in his golden outfit. The outfit gave Alex a little more control over his matter/antimatter abilities.
Alex turned around, displaying the features that so resembled a younger version of Superman’s late, if not lamented, arch-foe Alexei Luthor. “Hi. Do you need me to keep an eye on Mary?”
The little girl was the one to whom Alex had bonded the best in the family. Her innocence overcame a lot of his reticence. Still, Clark and Lois had some reluctance in leaving her in Alex’s care. Of late, Lois had preferred taking her to the Secret Citadel and having a Superman robot watch her.
“No, I just need your help with something,” Clark explained as he stepped inside and then sat down in a spare swivel chair.
Alex waved his hand in front of his equipment. “The Monitor is at your disposal. What can I help the Man of Steel with?”
Clark rubbed his strong chin. “It’s more about helping Clark Kent this time, but maybe Superman will need to be involved.”
He proceeded to explain to Alex his observations and findings from out on the farm. He tried to make it as scientific as possible, but he knew that the youth probably had him beat in that regard.
“Sounds like a logical hypothesis,” Alex said, nodding. “Of course, meteorological data isn’t one of my main priorities as the Monitor, but the red skies that accompanied the Crisis convinced me that I need to dabble in it a bit.” He turned back to his computer banks and pulled over a keyboard and touchpad. He began typing away.
“I’m tapping the ARPANET, the government’s nationwide electronic network,” Alex explained. “It’s sort of crude by the original Monitor’s standards, but I see great potential in it. Maybe someday it will link up the whole world onto one big network.” He paused. “Anyways, I’m accessing the Solar Energy Research Institute in Golden, Colorado. They track all sorts of meteorological data, solar radiation included. Smallville Airport just happens to be one of the monitoring stations.”
Alex tapped on the table while he waited for the data that he sought to download. The process was arduous for him, but Clark didn’t find it slow for the amount of data that was being obtained.
“Finally,” Alex sighed. His hands raced over the keyboard again. “Let me just check through my utilities directory.” He was talking more to himself than to Clark. “There it is — a program to decipher the data into something more reader-friendly.” His hands danced about the keyboard as he issued commands. Soon, a number of graphs appeared on a row of view screens.
“That was fast,” Clark commented.
“Only a few megabytes there,” Alex replied. “I could have done it in a second or two if the connection to SERI weren’t so slow.”
“So what do these graphs tell us?” Clark asked. “I’m not up on the nomenclature that’s listed on the graphs’ axes.”
Alex pointed to the first graph. “Well, this one proves your suppositions.” He traced the data points clustered below an historical average regression line. “Smallville has been getting less solar radiation than usual — much lower, in fact.”
“I see,” Clark said with a nod.
“But here’s the interesting part.” Alex pointed to the next set of graphs. The current year’s data points were more closely distributed on either side of the average line. “Other recording stations — Gotham City, Boston, Metropolis, Calvin City — are showing typical solar levels. So nothing is wrong with the atmosphere in general. And then look at this. It’s completely out of whack.”
Clark shook his head and adjusted his glasses. “You’ve got me on what this one is saying.”
“Expected solar radiation on the ground should correlate quite closely with observed cloud cover. But there’s almost no correlation. What’s going on is a localized effect,” Alex explained.
“Well, if the problem’s just in Smallville, then there’s no need to even think about calling in the JSA at this time. This is a job for Superman.” Clark started to unbutton his shirt.