Shattered Family

A Novel by Steven W. Eden

1

J'onn J'onzz of Mars wept quietly as he left the burial site of his daughter. It always went like this. He loved K'hym so very much, and the plague that killed her nearly killed his spirit as well, but that was many years ago. Since then he had made a new life and new friends on his adopted home planet of Earth and, so he thought, had come to accept the loss of his daughter and his wife, M'yri'ah.

His friends, the humans, had always made much of "closure" when dealing with such a loss, but until recently, the concept was as alien to him as his true form was to their eyes. Each year on this date he would visit K'hym's resting place. He would always enter in as stoic a manner as he had always shown as a keeper of the peace and security of this world. Each year on this date he would recall once again watching K'hym die in his arms from the terrible plague that ravaged her and her mother. The tears would form and stream down his face in revolt against his ordinarily detached manner and he would be forced to leave sooner than he would have liked, shaking with emotion. Yes, it always went like this.

If only she could be interred on Mars, he thought. He felt that was where she belonged. This planet was my adopted home, never hers.

He knew that his window of opportunity to do something about it was growing quickly to a close. For some time, his Martian abilities had left him one by one. The only shapes he seemed able to assume were the super hero Martian Manhunter, and his earthly disguise of John Jones. He found it too difficult to morph into and assume any shape that he was less familiar with. His amazing strength had already faded away as had his speed and gift of flight. J'onn was, he realized, aging and the end for him would soon be in sight. Only his telepathic abilities seemed to be as reliable as they had always been, but he knew that this too would soon change. If K'hym was to go home at all, it must be now or never.

Until Earth people had advanced their technology far enough to develop regular spaceflights to Mars, the idea had been pretty much impossible. Oh, he probably could have asked one of his friends in the League to help him take her home, but this was such a private matter that it seemed wrong to impose on any of them. Superman would have done it without even thinking about it; that was just the way he was made, and the similarities of their alien status certainly gave them something in common. But the bottom line was that he had never asked Clark to help, and now it was too late. Superman was laid to rest years ago.

If he could, he would rectify that mistake and ask for assistance from his friends in the League, but all his comrades were, like Clark, either dead or infirm.

All but one, that is.

Diana, he thought. She, as an Amazon, is gifted with eternal youth. And she and I have always had a close relationship.

Wiping the tears from his eyes, J'onn J'onzz of Mars resolved it was time to ignore his feelings of privacy and pride, and to ask one of his best friends for help. He needed to take K'hym home and to do it, he would seek out the aid of Diana, Wonder Woman.

"So, what are you majoring in, Jimmy?" asked Linda Kaye as they met in the student union building of Texas Northern University.

"Not American history!" was the reply from young man across the table. "To tell the truth, I'm not really sure. Neither one of my parents is pushing me into any particular direction, but I have the feeling that Dad would like to see me in engineering, while Mom would like me to explore the arts a little more." Jim looked around him and took in the sights and smells of the crowded room, and in particular, the snack and lunch line. "Have you tried the food here? I met another freshman today who said it wasn't too bad for school cafeteria food."

"And I met a junior who said that she got food poisoning here last year. So what do you want to do?"

"Well, I'd kind of like to eat a little something…"

"No, silly, I mean about a major! You shouldn't major in something just because your mom or dad want you to. It should be something you think will be of most benefit to you in your future life – something you're interested in and you think it could be your life's work. You know, like I'm getting into pre-med?"

Jimmy chuckled at this as the pair got in the food line. "I think my life's work has already been arranged for me since I met that little green crystal from outer space last spring. Not much I can get in a classroom that will help me there, I think."

"Oh, I disagree totally, Mr. Kent. There are a lot of subjects that a budding superhero could use – in both the arts and the sciences."

Jimmy examined the entrees and pointed at the grilled chicken. The young girl behind the counter, obviously a student, put a helping on a plate and passed it down the line. "I guess so, but I have a minor problem with being both the college freshman and the superhero. I mean, golly! I've only been to classes for a week, and it seems like every time a lecture begins, I pick up some kind of accident or something with my super hearing and I have to excuse myself to go help. I'm already not very popular with the faculty, I can tell you. Uh, green beans, please."

"But don't they know…?" Linda waved off the attendant who was asking if she wanted anything.

"I'm sure that some of them do, but I've been trying to keep it as quiet as I can. Mashed potatoes, please. You remember how tough it was in high school! And I didn't even have the powers then! Just the name! If the other students find out that I'm that Jimmy Kent, the new Superman, I won't have time to get any classwork done with all of them asking me about flying, x-ray vision, and stuff like that. I have the feeling the profs will really have it in for me when that happens!"

"So… you're saying that you need a…" Linda began to laugh, "…a secret identity?"

"Ha, ha. Very funny. As if I could do that! What I really need is a professor of superheroes who would be able to teach me the ins and outs of being… who I am now." Jim took a glass and filled it with iced tea. Linda did the same.

"I think you have one of those at home, don't you?"

"What, iced tea?"

"No! Someone who can teach you super-hero 101. Like maybe… your mom?"

"That would be a great idea, except that she's not at home. Instead she's decided to stay at Paradise Island until they can get things back together there. I don't think my dad is too thrilled with the idea, either. He told her she should do what her heart tells her, but he probably thought she would turn it down. I hope this doesn't cause too many problems for them." Jimmy took out his wallet and gave his voucher card to the cashier, another young lady who recognized the name on it. She just stared at Jim for a minute until Jim broke the trance with a simple, "Ma'am?" The girl punched the appropriate debit into the card and handed it back to Jimmy, but she continued to stare as he and Linda headed back to their table.

"Can't you stay with her on Paradise Island and learn what you need to learn?"

"What? The lunch lady?"

"No! Stop acting so stupid! You know what I mean! Your mom!"

"She says males aren't allowed on Paradise Island. When we stepped foot on the island last spring, it was an exception because of the need to save the Earth. I think it's a lot of… well… I think it doesn't matter because it isn't even the original Paradise Island." They sat down at their table. The cashier came out of the lunch line area with a washcloth and began wiping the table next to them, staring at Jim all the while.

"So I guess you get to stay here with me at TNU? Sorry about that, big boy!"

Jimmy smiled at Linda. "I can think of worse things that could happen. But if I do ever wear out my welcome here, almost fifty other institutions of higher learning said they would love to have Superman going to their school." Jim's face suddenly took on an expression of disgust. "You know, almost every one of them wouldn't even have let me on their grounds as a janitor until that green rock gave me those powers and abilities. Now, it doesn't matter if I can't spell 'cat'!"

"C – A – T!" blurted out the lunch lady, who immediately turned an interesting shade of red and quickly returned to the lunch line. Jim and Linda watched her disappear into the kitchen and broke out laughing.

"You know why I decided to attend classes here?" asked Jimmy after the laughter died down.

"I hope it has something to do with a certain female freshman."

"I mean besides that! This is the only school that didn't actually try to recruit me. And they know my name! My real name! Believe it or not, I have at least thirty letters from schools that begin, 'Dear Superman'. And the rest of them go on about me being the new 'Man of Steel' somewhere in their pitch. All except this place, that is.

"I do love you, Linda, and it's great to be at the same school as you, but if these guys had done the same thing as those others, I… I just don't know if I would've been here."

"Well, you know, I think I understand why you feel that way, Jimmy. I'm just glad that we are here together. Now, are you going to eat that chicken or just smell it?"

Jimmy smiled at Linda Kaye and dug into his lunch. But between bites, he looked up from the repast and offered, "I think I'll ask mom again to train me at this superhero stuff. Maybe she could find time on weekends."

"Good idea!"

"Yeah, and it just occurred to me that I already have the textbook at home!"

George Kent was pleading with his wife, Phyllis, from an anti-gravity platform that was hovering but two feet above a beautiful grass meadow on the Island of Themyscira. "Are you sure there isn't some sort of exception to this rule for husbands of amazons? I mean, this seems pretty ridiculous to me. After all, you and I walked all over this island together just a few months ago!"

"I know, I know! And if it makes any difference to you, darling, I agree with you. But you have to understand that I, perhaps more than any other Amazon, must uphold all the laws and customs of Paradise Island. It would look as if I hold myself above our ways, and I just can't afford to do that; especially not now."

"Couldn't you delegate your authority to someone else here? You ask, say, Artemis, for example – and come back home. You could stay in contact with her by vidphone."

"George, we've been through this already. I have to physically be here on the Island, at least until our homeland is once again thriving as it once was. Remember what Artemis said? Most of the Amazons left Paradise Island when they thought I was dead. They believed there was nothing left for them here anymore. I need to make them realize how wrong that is. I need to make them understand that Themyscira needs them more than ever and that our home is more important than any one of us… Even me!"

There was silence for a moment until George said, "The home that you and I started is pretty important to me."

Phyllis had been trying to hold in her tears throughout the conversation, but now she no longer had that control. "It's important to me, too. Don't you see how hard this is for me? If I could, I would abdicate and come back to Fort Worth with you right now! But part of this is my fault… "

"Your fault! How could it be your fault? You were knocked silly by an explosion while saving the rest of the Amazons! You couldn't help it that you suffered amnesia for twenty years!"

"George, my former life is the reason it's my fault, not the amnesia. There were so many of our people that felt that I abandoned the Amazons years ago when I was known as Diana… when I left the Island to be Wonder Woman. Now those same women who felt I gave up on them are returning… and they're bringing Paradise Island back to its former prominence! How can I turn my back on that?"

"I guess I just have a bad case of empty nest syndrome, what with Jimmy away in college and you and our daughter here at Themyscira. It's a pretty big house without the three of you to share it with me. Tell me again why Noel can't come back to Texas with me?"

"Because she wants to learn the ways of the Amazons, and she won't find a better school than right here. I'm not trying to keep her from you. I just think this would be a good learning experience for her. That's all!

"Look, I've got an idea. Why don't you live here?"

"What? Perpetually suspended two feet off the ground? I don't think so. If I'm going to live on an island called 'Paradise', I want to able to live ON an island called 'Paradise'.

Phyllis surveyed the rig upon which her husband was standing and nodded. "I can't argue with that. But look, just let me have a little while to get everyone and everything up to speed. Maybe we can work out a compromise later."

George returned her gaze, but not very warmly. He was clearly disappointed at the way things were working out. But he managed to choke out his agreement to the current arrangement and then added, "Look, I - I've been offered an assignment anyway. I wasn't going to accept it because it would've kept me away from home for a good while. I guess I might as well take it now. It may lead to that promotion to lead pilot we've… I… have been wanting for some time. Yellow Sun is beginning service to one of Saturn's moons and they really would like their number one advertising icon to front it."

"Darling, that's marvelous!"

"The fact that I 'helped save the world' didn't hurt my chances, either. Never mind that our neighbor and you and Jim were the real heroes of that little…"

"Not true! You and your friend from New Krypton were as much a part of that as anyone involved!"

"Well, maybe! But I just wish my skills as a space shuttle pilot were more important to them than my relationship to a super-hero… "

Hmmm… maybe that that should be three super-heroes, he thought.

"This is just so cool!" said Noel Kent as she spoke to her friend, Sherry Carr on the vidphone in her room. "Amazons get to learn the neatest things! Today, I got to actually talk to a horse! Okay, so that's not really the cool part, but the horse answered me… And I understood what it was saying! It's some kind of telepathy thing or something, but it's all about… let's see, what did Cassie say it was? Oh, yeah! It's about 'being one with nature!' It seemed pretty silly at first, but after I caught on, it was really just the ultimate!"

"Roger Thomas talks to his cat a lot, but I don't think the cat really understands him, except when it's dinner time."

"Roger Thomas? I think he wanted to ask me to the Back-to-School dance this year, and I wanted to go with him. But I ended up staying here. I guess he found someone else to go with, huh?"

"Well… yes, he did."

"Ah, man! Who did he take?"

"Uhmmm… me…?"

"YOU?"

"Well, you're not here, Noe. So… I knew he couldn't go with you, and he seemed so lonely, so when I asked him…"

"YOU asked HIM? How could you do that, Sherry? You're my best friend! You know how I feel about him?"

"Well, like I said, you aren't here, and I thought you wouldn't mind if I went with him, because… because… Oh, I've got to go! Mom's calling me!"

"Your Mom? I can't hear her!"

"Well, she is. She really truly is. I need to hang up, Noe. I'm sorry! Bye!"

The screen went black as a single tear ran down Noel's cheek.

"Bye…" she whispered to no one.

Jennifer Alexis Luthor was feeling very mellow. The murder charges against her had been dropped for lack of evidence, and she was free on bond pending a hearing on the charges of racketeering and fraud – charges which her lawyer told her were a good bet to be thrown out as well.

"But don't get too cocky, Ms. Luthor," he said. "Judge Byrne may stick to the letter of the law but he would like nothing better than to make a name for himself, and bringing down a descendent of the infamous Lex Luthor just may be his chance. You should probably stay out of sight and act the innocent little business owner until he is forced to close this case. Don't give him reason to doubt your sincerity."

Jennifer leered at the counselor with a very sly smile. "Who, me? Little ol' me? Why Mr. Hackman! I am sincere! I am as sincere as the day is long! And despite a spaceship thief and his alien sidekick who have made false and scurrilous accusations of me, there's nobody alive that could prove me any different!"

Hackman shuddered at this declaration. Despite his duty to defend his client to the best of his ability, he knew all too well what she really meant by her statement.

"That 'spaceship thief' and his sidekick helped to keep the Earth from blowing to smithereens. The judge might tend to give them the benefit of the doubt when and if they do testify. Just remember what I told you," he coldly replied as he closed his briefcase and headed out of the courtroom. "Just stay under the radar!"

"Oh, I will, counselor," she whispered. "Just as soon as I make George Kent pay for putting me on the screen!"