You have to keep living your life.
That's what he'd been told. By nobody less than Superman, too. Not the Superman he'd known for so long, a man old enough to be his grandfather; nor the Superman he'd first met twenty years ago, a man who he'd grown up admiring, despite his similar name. The Superman who'd given him this advice, someone had once explained it to him, was based on that first Superman, but was a different man. Clark could understand what was meant by that, but it still didn't seem right. People shouldn't be based on each other, it seemed. Everybody is different, everybody unique, his parents had taught him. How can you be based on someone else?
Clark tried to push the confusion from his brain, shaking his head to clear the thoughts. It was enough to boggle anyone's brain. Born in 1970, he'd spent the first sixteen years of his life an ordinary boy like any other. He'd grown up in a small town off the New Hampshire coast. His parents, who'd adopted him as a child, both worked. He had a girlfriend, Laurie, who he'd known since he was a little kid. Everything had been the way it should have been – ordinary.
Except for the fact that he'd been saddled with the name Clark Kent.
It had been a pain sometimes, living with a name so famous and with such a stigma attached. The jokes had been non-stop at times. But, eventually, he'd come to live with it. He even began it kind of like it. He'd dream at nights that maybe, like his namesake, one day he'd be able to fly through the sky or lift ocean liners from the seas with his bare hands.
But until one summer night in 1986, he'd never thought it would come true.
To this day, he didn't know what had triggered the sudden change. Perhaps it had been the oncoming presence of Halley's Comet which had changed the solar system somehow. Maybe his body had stored up enough solar radiation by then. Or maybe it had something to do with the great Crisis brewing across the universe which had been affecting even his world. But, all of a sudden, he found that he could do all those things he'd always dreamed about. He could fly. He was strong. He was fast. He could shoot heat from his eyes, see through walls, and hear someone talking half a world away if he listened hard enough.
But things only got stranger. He met the man who he was named after, a man who was supposed to be only fiction, invented by two teenagers fifty years earlier. He left his family, his friends and his universe to help Superman fight a menace which threatened to tear the universe apart. He'd watched as the force caused havoc, killing people who only days before he'd thought to be fiction. He'd watched as his world died, erased silently along with countless others as thousands of universes were combined into one.
That should have been the end for him. But the universe wasn't done with the boy who'd been dubbed Superboy-Prime. Along with another Superman - an older Superman – and his Lois Lane, he'd been pulled into a pocket of reality created by a young man, Alexander Luthor, whose powers made Clark's look like nothing in comparison. How long he was in the pocket dimension, he had no idea. Time worked differently there. They were outside time, as Alex had explained it, so they weren't affected by it. Clark didn't age. He never would get the chance to be Superman. And even if he did…who would he be Superman for? There was nobody to save in his little slice of "heaven." He'd been given these amazing powers, and he wanted to do something good with them. He'd wanted to have the chance to have a purpose.
It had been that desire which had allowed Alex to twist his mind, to manipulate him. Clark hated thinking about it. He had been used, brainwashed into causing horrible destruction. Once he'd broken free of the "heaven" Alex had created, Alex had asked him to execute certain tasks. Moving planets. Destroying things. Hurting people. Millions of people had died, indirectly, because of his actions.
But it had taken death by his own hand to break him loose of Alex's manipulations. He'd gone after, in a jealous rage, the new universe's Superboy, a young man who'd had chances Clark had never gotten. He'd gotten to have a life as a Superboy. When he'd been outside of time, Clark had watched as this Superboy took his powers for granted, using them carelessly, acting foolish and headstrong. Not right, Clark had thought. His parents had taught him that power was a thing to be respected, not abused or made light of. Granted, they'd been talking about driving their Buick LeSabre for the first time and not punching out super-villains, but the point remained. This Superboy was doing everything wrong. For a little while, he'd started to get a grip on reality, and started acting mature – until he was turned against his friends by a Luthor. At the "time," Clark had wondered how one so powerful and like himself could be manipulated. He'd told himself that, had it been him, he would have broken free. It was a comment which would come back to haunt him many a time since.
So, when he'd had the chance to confront this "Connor Kent," as he was calling himself, Clark had been…rash. Manipulated by Alex into expressing a twisted version of his own jealousy, Clark had attacked Connor, savagely beating him with ease that surprised even Clark. Even when a small army had come to Connor's aid and attacked Clark, he'd been able to stop them easily. Too easily.
Because it was during this that he'd spilled blood for the first time.
He'd killed. At first, it had been an accident; he'd lost control. After so much time in that prison, he'd forgotten just how powerful he was in the real world. When they'd come on again, seeking revenge, instead of simply lying back and conceding defeat Clark had struck back on his own, killing more people without realizing what he was doing.
It wasn't until he'd been snatched away by the Flashes and brought into a dimension where he was unaffected by Alexander's manipulations that he'd been able to see how he'd been played. It had taken weeks, in his time, to convince the Flashes that he was genuine in his remorse and that he wanted to make things right. It might have been far longer, had they not seen the forces of Earth struggling under the onslaught of Alexander's forces. Alex was playing God, something no man or Superman had the right to do. Clark had killed a few people by accident, but Alexander was erasing people from history itself. From yet another prison, Clark had watched as he saw bad things happen outside – and yet again, he wanted to do something about it. But this time, he knew where to draw the line – what he had to do.
There had been 3,967 Earths in the sky when the Flashes released Clark from his prison in order to allow him to stop Alex from destroying everything. He'd managed to distract the forces which Psycho-Pirate had sent after Connor, Wonder Girl and Nightwing long enough for them to stage a last-ditch attack on Alex. Clark had watched through a mind-controlled Martian Manhunter's torso as the already badly wounded Connor was torn apart by Alex's powers. He'd screamed along with Wonder Girl and Nightwing as the other Superboy's dying body had slumped to the ground. And it was Clark who'd thrown off some of the most powerful beings of that world as if they were ragged clothes in order to stop Alex from ever hurting anyone again.
But Alex had had a backup plan. The last chunk of Krypton-Prime in existence, he'd said as he held the green gem out in front of Clark. Clark had never felt anything like it. It was a hundred stomach flues hitting at once, with a thousand migraines in for good measure. He'd known sickness during the years of his life he'd spent as a normal boy, but never like this. This was killing him. He'd thought to himself, I'm sorry, Mom. Sorry, Dad. Sorry, Laurie. I couldn't do it. I'm not Superman. And I'll see you again before I ever become Superman.
But he'd been wrong. That old man who he'd spent so long with – a year? Twenty? Ten billion? – in the prison was back, and he was perhaps even madder than Clark was. The Superman of Earth-2, the first Superman, had lost his wife to Alexander's manipulations. Clark knew that the love between Superman and Lois Lane was the stuff of legends; he'd been reading about it in the comics for years. In the movie, Superman had reversed time itself to save Lois Lane from death. If he can't bring her back…what will he do?
Clark could still remember the look on Christopher Reeve's face when he'd found Lois Lane dead. When Clark had seen it in the theater for the first time, it had sent a chill through his eight-year-old heart. But the look on this older Superman's face was far, far worse. He'd watched this Superman melt the last chunk of a birth world Clark never knew or cared about into vapor before wrapping his hands around Alexander's neck and throwing him into space. The Superman had looked at him one last time before he'd taken off after Alex. Somehow, Clark had known it was the last time he'd see the man who started it all. Had it not been for that man, he never would have lived with years and years of ridicule and mockery for his name. He'd probably be with his family right then, either dead or alive, instead of on a world he didn't know with people he didn't understand.
But it didn't really matter.
With the kryptonite gone, his powers had returned, and Clark found himself a Superboy again. But his super-hearing told him that, very soon, he might be the only one left. So he'd kneeled down beside Connor Kent and told him one thing.
"I was wrong," Clark had said as he'd stared into the eyes of the boy he could have been. "You are Superboy. And you're a much better one than I am."
Clark fully expected Connor to not say anything; he was pretty far gone. Clark could see the shattered bones, torn blood vessels spilling into organs. But Connor, for the last time, had surprised him.
"Thanks," he'd whispered. "But you still look like a tool."
Clark had smiled, but only for a moment as Nightwing told him and everyone else something he should have already expected. The earths were still multiplying; within minutes, they'd go critical, and take the universe out with them. They had to stop it.
Clark had known what to do. He ordered everyone out of the tower, without hesitation. They'd refused, at first, but when Connor had weakly told them to go along with him, the heroes had quickly abandoned the building. Clark knew how to stop it; though he'd feigned stupidity, he'd watched Alex build the tower knowing full well which parts were more important than others. He knew which things to unplug and which circuits to jam to keep the tower from wiping out humanity.
Finally, when it was all done inside, Clark had flown a good mile away from the tower, parked himself in midair, closed his eyes – and remembered.
He remembered the screams as people had died during that first Crisis. Nobody remembered it anymore, except for three others beyond himself, but he'd never forget. It was so much like the terror he could hear even then, coming in from all corners of the globe as people felt their planet collapse.
He remembered his parents, people who never had a child of their own flesh and blood but had raised him as if he were anyway. He remembered the look on their face the last time he'd seen them, before being whisked away forever.
He remembered Laurie, who he'd always loved. He'd never even had the chance to make love to her. It was silly, maybe, but it meant something to him.
He remembered seeing them die on this world, never having a chance.
He remembered how Alex manipulated The Superman, twisting the original man who'd been such a force for good for millions of people into a tool for his own evil means.
He remembered Connor Kent, manipulated into hurting his friends by a Luthor.
And he remembered the way he himself was twisted by Alex, forced to do things that were so unlike him. He remembered how he'd been made to kill, to hurt, to ruin lives. How Alex had taken advantage of everything he believed in and used it against Clark.
When Clark opened his eyes, they were glowing hotter than anything short of the core of a star.
And with a scream, he'd blasted all that frustration and anger into the tower's core.
The force of the blast had surprised even him. Ten miles away, where the other heroes were, it whipped up five-hundred mile-per-hour winds so fierce that only Martian Manhunter's shape-shifting body had saved them from being blown away. The roar had echoed for a thousand miles. But Clark hadn't been swayed. He'd been ready.
As the dust cleared, Clark, along with the others, had looked up in the sky, hopefully – and seen what they wanted to see. Just stars. No other Earths to be found. The Crisis was over.
But The Superman was gone, too.
Clark had shot into orbit to look for him, but there was neither hide nor hair of either him or Alex. All that was left, Clark had found, was his cape. It looked as though The Superman had torn it off on his own, rather than anything else. But other than that…there was no trace of his existence.
It was while he was in space that Connor had died. He'd rushed back as quickly as he could, but it was to no avail. Superboy was dead. Long live Superboy.
Clark had stayed away from the body upon his return to the ground. Superman, Batman and Wonder Woman had all arrived by now, and he didn't want to risk a confrontation with any of them. There'd been enough pain for one day, he figured. Clark could hear Superman's sobs as he cradled Connor's broken body, and that was pain enough.
So it had surprised him when a couple of hours later, Superman had sought him out. Clark had been sitting on a mountaintop fifty miles away, just stroking The Superman's cape, when he'd felt a tap on his shoulder. Clark had expected Superman to be bringing him in for murder (along with the Justice League as backup), but he was wrong.
Superman had just wanted to thank him for trying his best to save Connor.
Clark had told Superman that there wasn't any point in saying thanks; he'd failed, after all. Connor was dead. Superman told him that it was the fact that he'd tried which counted.
"Redemption is a rare thing in this world," Superman had told him. "But whatever evils you may have done, pal…you redeemed yourself for them today. You saved the universe. We all have our demons, things in our past we wish we hadn't done…but we can't let those hold us back. We have to hope that others will forgive us, and just move on doing the best we can. You have to keep living your life."
Living your life.
Problem is, I don't know what my life is anymore.
That conversation was weeks behind Clark now, and he still wasn't sure.
What am I?
Last survivor of a dead world twice over.
A kid with the name of a superhero.
An orphan without friends or family.
A man with the powers of a God.
But, most of all, he was a sixteen year old boy named Clark.
Almost seventeen, he realized. His birthday was coming up. As he thought about it for a second, he chuckled. He had no idea how old he really was anymore. He felt sixteen, but he'd been born 36 years ago – and since then, he'd seen thirteen billion years of history. You're only as old as you feel, his father had often said, but Clark didn't think he'd meant it quite like that.
He sucked in a deep breath of the fresh air, crisp and clean at twenty thousand feet. He didn't really need to breathe, but it was instinctive by now; he'd spent so long doing it, he just did it like anyone else unless he thought about it. The yellow sun felt good against his skin.
Who knows what the future will hold, he thought. But there's no point in looking back.