by Doc Quantum and Vibe 41005
Frowning as she read, Karen Beecher scanned through her previous log entries on a holographic screen that appeared before her, looking for any clues that would suggest an honorable motivation for Jared Stevens’ disappearances. He had made his desires to aid the Nazis clear, but he had sworn to her that he would not take action alone. That was, in retrospect, a baldfaced lie. But no one could blame her for not recognizing it for what it was. Lying was utterly unknown on Earth-162. It had been eliminated before she was born, along with all other forms of deception and evil.
In 1963, Superman of Earth-162 was confronted by the people of the bottle city of Kandor for not accomplishing his stated goals — to restore Kandor to normal size, to find the antidote for the Kryptonian weakness to green kryptonite, and to wipe out crime and evil on Earth. The Kandorians challenged Superman to either accomplish these goals within six months or allow a Kandorian to take his place as Superman and attempt to accomplish those goals himself.
Feeling like a failure, Superman agreed to Kandor’s terms and wondered along with his cousin Supergirl what to do next. He could only come up with one solution, which was to use the brain-evolution machine he’d been working on to boost his mental power a hundred times. But since that machine was powered by radiation from several varieties of kryptonite — some of which could be fatal to him — he put himself at great risk in using it, and Supergirl volunteered to take his place. Nevertheless, Superman used the brain-evolution machine on himself and had Supergirl adjust it to maximum strength.
The pain was unbearable. Superman could feel his brain expand so much that it seemed to be splitting in two. But just as he begged Supergirl to turn the machine off, there was an explosion. And when the smoke cleared, two Supermen now stood where previously there had been only one. Each Superman was identical save for the colors of their costumes, one primarily red and the other primarily blue, and they both had received a hundredfold increase in mental power as planned.
Taking the names Superman-Red and Superman-Blue, the two aspects of Superman swiftly set to work on their list of goals. They built a planet by magnetically drawing back every single piece of kryptonite from Krypton. The process changed the atomic structure of the previously radioactive substance, rendering it harmless. They then populated it with the citizens of Kandor, restored to normal size through the use of an enlarging ray. And with the help of the super-powered citizens of Kandor, they made New Krypton identical in almost every way to the original. And they even brought New Krypton back to the original star system of Krypton, allowing Kandorians to live out their normal lives on the planet.
Next, at the request of Lori Lemaris and the citizens of Atlantis, the Supermen changed the Memorial World of Krypton — built a few years earlier — into a flooded world that the water-breathing mermen of Atlantis could live on. The Atlanteans called their new world Hydra.
The Supermen next tackled the problem that had plagued mankind since the dawn of time — evil. While Superman-Blue designed an anti-evil ray meant to eliminate all thoughts of evil from the minds of the world’s criminals, Superman-Red built a hypno-ray projector based on that design. After testing it on ants and discovering its success, they created a series of satellites to orbit the Earth, each one mounted with their anti-evil hypno-rays, and placed them in orbit around the world.
Crime and war ended overnight. Criminals in the process of robbing banks suddenly stopped and helped guards place the stolen money back into the vaults. Prison escapees fled back to prison, apologizing for escaping and asking to serve out the rest of their sentences. Meanwhile, the leaders of the world began to spontaneously decide to disarm their nations and free all political prisoners. Even Brainiac and the Superman Revenge Squad, falling under the influence of the anti-crime rays as they attempted an invasion of Earth, suddenly decided that invasion of a peaceful planet was wrong and left.
The most brilliant human mind of all, Lex Luthor, was finally turned away from all thoughts of revenge on Superman under the hypno-rays’ influence. Seeking to make amends for all the wrong that he had done to his fellow human beings, Luthor worked night and day to develop a super-serum meant to cure every known disease. Presenting it to the Supermen, he instructed them to scatter it in the world’s drinking water. In two days, the serum would wipe all disease from the face of the world. With one drink of water, the blind could see and the crippled could walk. Even Luthor’s hair began growing back on his previously bald head. For his efforts, Lex Luthor was pardoned and allowed to be reunited with his sister, Lena Thorul, and he pledged to devote his life to science, thanking the Supermen.
The anti-crime rays also worked on the Phantom Zone villains when Supergirl released them. Deciding to give up her heroic career on Earth, Kara Zor-El brought the former villains from the Phantom Zone with her to New Krypton, where they all resumed ordinary lives. Supergirl used a space-ark given to her by the Legion of Super-Heroes, who had monitored the Supermen from the future world of the thirtieth century.
Next came the double wedding of the Supermen. Finally able to each choose one of the two women they loved the most, Superman-Red married fellow Daily Planet reporter Lois Lane, while Superman-Blue married his childhood sweetheart, Lana Lang. The double wedding became a triple wedding when Jimmy Olsen and Lucy Lane — the best man and the maid of honor — spontaneously decided to get married at the same ceremony. Not long afterward, Superman-Red and Lois Lane left to live on New Krypton.
Then came the day that Superman-Blue retired, having eliminated the world’s worst problems. All that was left for him to do was to maintain and build as many Superman robots needed to take care of all emergencies and disasters around the globe. Superman-Blue hung up his uniform and name and devoted his life to science under the name Clark Kent, working in partnership with Lex Luthor. Both Supermen began families as well, and both had twins, each set of twins consisting of a girl and a boy.
Earth-162 was a utopia. It seemed that nothing was impossible now. And as science progressed on Earth under its two leading scientists, Kent and Luthor, other problems caused by the lack of disease or warfare were each solved in turn. Pollution was cleaned up, even as all sources of pollution were completely eliminated in favor of non-polluting technologies. Even the weather was controlled to ensure against drought.
Overpopulation was curbed by a combination of birth control and expansion into space as Superman-Blue built or transformed other planets for adventurous human colonists. Within ten years, there were small but growing colonies on two other planets — Mars and Venus — and plans for colonizing the moons of Saturn and Jupiter were already in the works. Exploration of deep space also began as Lex Luthor invented a warp drive allowing for faster-than-light travel to other star systems. Human tourists, equipped with anti-gravity boots, began flocking to Krypton every summer.
Even human genetics was being radically changed. As the Superman robots began being phased out in favor of those few human beings who had super-powers, more and more people began gaining super-powers through genetic manipulation of the meta-gene, which was responsible for making people meta-human. The new super-heroes of the world, following the example of the Supermen, began taking over the challenges of emergencies and disaster relief from the Superman robots. Even fire and emergency services departments soon began to be staffed by meta-humans, and the police departments would have been, too, had they not already been made obsolete.
But the newest and most exciting frontier had been the multiverse itself. Using the transmatter globe invented by Clark Kent, explorers from Earth-162 began sending out teams of meta-humans to explore and observe various parallel universes. It was one of the most exciting developments in human history, but it was also the most alarming. For it was then that Earth-162 learned that all the parallel universes in the multiverse were being consumed, one by one, by antimatter. By 1985, there were only a handful of them left.
Superman-Blue, in his wisdom, decided that he would rather live out the few days he had left with his family than to fight the destruction of everything. It was inevitable. And yet, paradoxically, even though everything would be consumed by antimatter in the present, the very fact that the Legion of Super-Heroes existed in the far future proved that Earth-162 would not cease to exist. This was a mystery. But for now, all they could hope for was to send out scouting missions to find parallel universes that stood a chance of surviving. As far as Karen Beecher knew, hers was the only team that had survived the Crisis.
Compared to her world, Earth-X was a nightmare planet full of corruption and deceit. Already she could feel its encroaching presence affecting her mind. Yet while neither she nor Ryan Choi had any desires to commit evil while on this world, Jared Stevens seemed to have been uniquely affected. His continued deception was evidence of that.
Wondering about the nature of evil in man, Karen didn’t notice when Ryan reentered the apartment they shared in St. Louis, Missouri. The two had chosen this centrally located, large North American city as the safest one to be in during the current war. Although California had been invaded in the west, and New York was on alert in the east, Middle America was still quite secure from invasion for the foreseeable future.
“I can’t believe how hard it is to find sushi on this world,” said Ryan, closing the door.
Karen looked up, still frowning, and asked, “What?”
Ryan sighed. “I said–”
“Oh, right — sushi,” said Karen dismissively. “The lack of Japanese restaurants here should not be surprising, given that they participated in the subjugation of this world.”
“Oh. Ah. Right.” Ryan stood there scratching his unkempt black hair. “I keep forgetting how warlike this world is.”
“I don’t see how that’s even possible,” she replied, irritation in her voice. “The evidence for the nature of this Earth is all around us.”
“Are you OK?” asked Ryan. “You seem a bit… uh… tense.”
“I’m fine,” Karen said gruffly. After a few moments, she stopped scanning her virtual screen, rubbed her temples, and said, “Look, Ryan, I’m sorry. It’s just this place — it’s really getting to me lately. I know our world was almost like this one twenty years ago, but it’s disturbing to think how horribly people treat each other when their worst natures aren’t constantly being placed in check by hypno-rays.”
“Thank Kal-El for those anti-crime rays,” said Ryan. “Who knows? I might have used my brilliance and physics knowledge to become — what was it they were called back then? — a super-villain or something.”
“I highly doubt that,” said Karen. “In any world, you’d still be your happy-go-lucky self. You don’t seem at all different, even though it’s been months since you were last exposed to anti-crime rays.”
“Thanks,” Ryan said sheepishly. “You’re not any different, either.”
“No,” Karen said, shaking her head, “I do feel different. I’d never suffered from depression before — I knew the definition of the word only — but it’s been overwhelming me lately. Everything seems so hard on this world. It’s discouraging. On our Earth, I never once had any feelings of self-doubt or regret. Almost everything I tried to do, I succeeded in doing. Here, the mere problem of convincing a friend of the error of his ways is more difficult than anything I’ve ever attempted.” She turned to him. “Ryan, do you ever wonder whether the Supermen did the right thing — I mean, using hypno-rays to eliminate evil thoughts in all of mankind?”
“Of course he did the right thing. Neither of us were around back then, but our world had never known a time of peace in its entire existence until 1963. Kal-El eliminated evil itself.”
“But at what cost?” she asked him. “I’ve had my doubts about those anti-crime rays ever since I started learning more about the history of Earth-X. The Nazis used hypno-rays here, too. Only they were honest about it. They called them mind-control rays.”
Ryan shook his head. “No, no, no. Not the same at all. The Nazis used a completely different frequency that largely eliminated independent thought.”
“I wonder,” said Karen thoughtfully. “How different, really, were our anti-crime rays from the mind-control rays of this world? When Superman eliminated crime and evil, did he also eliminate free will?”
Ryan shrugged. “I’m not a philosopher, Karen. I’m just a genius-level physicist. But I do know one thing — our world is a utopia.”
“I don’t believe in utopia any longer,” Karen muttered quietly.
“Hm? Sorry, I didn’t catch that.”
“Never mind,” she replied. “Anyway, this thing with Jared has been weighing on me. It’s horrible. How can he do this? And behind our backs? To help those — those butchers.”
“I know.” Ryan slumped down onto the chair next to her, suddenly feeling slightly depressed himself. “Especially given everything we know about Nazis. I’ve never heard of any world yet where they’re actually good by any definition of the word. Even the Nazis of Earth-Three were evil — just slightly less than their enemies. Y’know, I’ve been going over it in my mind, trying to figure out why Jared would ally himself with them.”
“And I can only think of one reason,” said Ryan, looking at Karen. “He must think that the Nazis can help him find on this Earth what he has sought all his life on our world and a few others, besides. He’s always been a relic hunter, and he’s one of the most singleminded archaeologists I’ve ever met. But there’s one thing that has always eluded him throughout his career.”
“The helm?” said Karen, her eyes widening.
“Yes,” Ryan said. “The helm of Nabu.”