The knock on the front door brought Jerome Norton Kent's face up from his computer. Looking up long enough to determine that he had just enough time left to type in a few more choice buttons on his keyboard, he took the opportunity to do so, even as his wife walked past him into the front room, and straight for the door.
"Honestly Jerry. I was just putting Clark down for bed. You couldn't even get up to answer the door? It's your own brother after all."
"Exactly." Jerry rose an eyebrow smiling as he quickly set his computer to stand by mode and hurried out of his seat after his wife as she opened the door.
"Francis, Sarah!" Naomi Clarke Kent greeted her brother and sister-in-law waiting at the front door, a plastic wrapped bowl no doubt containing Sarah's infamous tuna salad, in hand.
"Ah, Naomi. How are you?" Frank Kent took his sister-in-law's hand, reaching past his wife.
"Hello Francis." Jerry Kent teased his younger brother with his true name as he shook his hand.
"Jerome." Frank tried to hide his mild annoyance behind a rough, gruff exterior. "Naomi, I see you're still stuck with this poor fool."
"Now boys." Sarah dismissed their old childish humor as she walked past the Kent men. "We didn't drive all this way just so the two of you could go at it like you always do."
"That's right." A small light lit in Frank's eyes as he turned to his brother and sister in law. "Where's my nephew?"
"Sleeping." Jerry relayed regretfully. "Naomi just put him down."
"Well wake him up."
"Frank!" His wife slapped ineffectually at the side of his arm.
"What?" He looked plainly at his family before indicating to his brother. "You don't think I drove all this way to stare at this ugly mug for a few hours. I want to see my nephew."
"Well, you can relax." Jerry assured. "He doesn't look a thing like you, which means he's bound to be a devil with the ladies."
"Jerry." It was Naomi Kent's turn to give her husband a good slap to the side this time.
"Well, then let's see the little fella already."
"No." Though it went against everything her mother had ever taught her about good manners to refuse a guest, Naomi Kent put her foot down. "Not a chance. I had the hardest time putting him to sleep, and I'm not going to risk you getting him all riled up."
"Ah, come on Naomi." Jerry pleaded with his wife. "You know how Clark is. Once he's asleep, he wouldn't wake up if a war was going on outside."
"Please Nae." Frank pleaded, his worst sincere look decorating his face. "I just want to meet the little guy. Warn him about his dad before it's too late."
"It, uh… it would be nice." Sarah had to agree. As much as she didn't like the idea of ganging up on her sister-in-law, and a new mother to boot, she too was aching to meet the newest addition to the family.
"Fine." Naomi finally relented. "But if he wakes up, I'm not the one putting him back to sleep."
"Deal." Both Kent men exclaimed at once before making their way up the stairs to the room at the far end of the landing. Jerry Kent carefully worked the knob on the door, gently forcing it open and into the make shift nursery.
The walls had just been painted blue with a teddy bear theme running along the sides. Fresh white carpet could be seen in the dim room as the adults all tip toed their way across the floor to the crib in the center of the room.
Resting as peacefully as could be, a tiny baby dressed in Superman pajama's breathed deeply and peacefully at a steady pace as he slumbered away.
"Oh my goodness." Sarah cooed softly at the sight. "He is just perfect."
"I know." Naomi could not help but let out a contended sigh as she watched her son sleeping peacefully.
"Wow." Frank had to agree. The kid was perfect. "Still can't believe the name you picked for him. I mean, I know the Kent curse with names and all, but you had to go and call him Clark."
"Now Francis," Sarah chided " Clark is a perfectly fine name."
"Not when your last name is Kent." Frank retorted in a whisper.
"It was Naomi's idea." Jerry just nodded at the memory. "She insisted."
"That's right I did." The maternal Mrs. Kent declared finally. "Now let's leave him alone to sleep."
One by one, the adults were issued out of the room. Still, Francis Kent couldn't help but to lean over the crib of his baby nephew and whisper "you may have got a raw name kid, but you got two of the best parents in the world. And frankly, it don't matter what they call you, we all know you're going to do great things with your life, Clark Kent."
Guy Gardner let out a resigned sigh as his power ring affirmed to him that he was nearing his destination.
Oa. The center of the universe and home to the Guardians and their servants, the Green Lantern Corps.
Any other time, and it filled the Green Lantern with pride to see it still standing. Not so long ago the planet, and the entire Corps for that matter, had been destroyed. Somehow, seeing Oa each time since then filled him with pride. It always helped to know that there was no real way to destroy hope after all.
However, today, the sight of the green sphere floating in the universe filled him with a feeling of dread. It was only a matter of seconds before his ring took him through the atmosphere and directed him along the southern continent of the planet towards the specially designed containment facility.
The thought of that maniac made Guy want to wretch as he spotted the bright red glow of the junior sun eater off in the distance. The emerald glow of his fellow lanterns shining through its burning gases comforted him slightly, but only slightly.
"Welcome Guy Gardner, Green Lantern of Sec…" Guy recognized the squid like, multi-tentacle Lantern that flew up to meet him, though for some reason, he couldn't place a name with the face. It was obvious from his tone and mannerisms that he was one of the many rookies drafted into the Corps. There were a lot of them these days. Bright, young, fresh recruits, each of them so wide eyed and overwhelmed, and every one of them had been handed the most powerful weapon in the universe to wield to protect justice across an entire sector of space. He was nothing short of exceptionally proud of the way that they had each responded and reacted to this overwhelming responsibility with nothing but courage and dedication.
"Yeah, yeah. Hey to you too. So what's the problem?" Guy normally wasn't one to be overly dismissive of another Green Lantern. Sure, he was famous for his problems with authority, but especially of late, Guy knew the importance of creating a sense of camaraderie among his fellow Lanterns. And besides the fact, he had nothing but respect and pity for anyone picked out to watch over the prisoner. However, the nature of the message he had received summoning him back to Oa had made him anxious.
"Well, besides the usual…" The squid like Lantern left his sentence to hang for effect.
"He still trying to jump you guys every time you feed him?" Guy asked.
"No, he's pretty much given up on that, which is actually part of the problem. He won't eat. At all." The fellow lantern explained somewhat desperately.
"So chain him to the wall, force his mouth open, and feed him through a tube. What's the problem?" Guy still wasn't sure why he had flown half way across the universe and on game day no less, for this. Sure, this prisoner was worth any and all precautions, but for such a minor disturbance, he was finding himself slightly irked to have made a trip of several hundred million light years.
"Well, we would have, but he insisted on speaking to you first."
"What?" Guy turned incredulously towards his fellow Lantern. Asa! That was his name. Asa De Templare.
"He said he would just regurgitate anything we fed him unless he spoke with you. He was most insistent."
Guy could see the awkwardness in Asa's face as he turned towards the brightly glowing junior sun eater. He knew he couldn't see it with the naked eye, but he imagined that if he could squint just hard enough, he could make out the figure standing within the Quantum Containment Cell.
"What did the Guardians have to say about this? Wait, don't tell me." Guy managed to cut off Asa before he could begin again. "Something about preserving the last survivor of the multiverse, the need for questioning him, blah blah blah." Guy's reservations about the Guardian's attitude towards the prisoner were well known. As far as Guy was concerned, they would do the universe a favor by dropping the quantum containment cell and letting the searing gases of the red sun eater incinerate him.
"Something like that, yes." Asa admitted with a slight guilt. "You can understand our concerns, can't you?"
Guy just let out a sigh even as he remained fixated on the glowing star. "Yeah. I'll go see what he wants. Cry baby probably just getting lonely. Probably wants to gloat some more."
Somehow, Guy Gardner doubted the matter was that simple.
His ring came alive, encasing him in emerald energies as Guy lifted up off the ground and towards the star eater. As he flew, he passed within a hundred feet of another lantern on duty. As he did, he saw a bizarre expression from the alien visage that Guy interpreted to mean 'good luck.'
Guy moved deeper and deeper through the searing hot gases, protected the entire time by his ring, until he came upon it. A brilliant emerald containment cell, perfectly cubical in nature, and within it, the most dangerous being in the entire universe.
Kal-el, better known to a universe that insisted he never existed as Superboy Prime.
The somewhat lanky young man stood upright and perfectly still within his cell, dressed only in his red and blue tight pants, his entire upper torso completely undecorated save for a symbol on his chest. The symbol was the same S signal worn by Superman. Superboy Prime had carved it into his own chest with his bare fingers.
The figure in the cell seemed to be staring downwards, almost admiring his chest, which as Guy was given to understand, he was prone to do, as Guy approached the cell.
"Hello Guy." Superboy seemed to hiss as he slowly looked up at the Green Lantern. Guy knew that he couldn't actually hear through the cell, but his ring was able to pick up Superboy Prime's voice and allow him to listen in and speak back. As his face came into view, the parts of it at least that weren't obscured by his long dark hair that had grown considerably since he had been locked away, Guy saw his eyes.
Those eyes. There was nothing left in them. No sign of remorse or compassion. Nothing but pure, twisted hate. Utter contempt for anything and everything that they beheld.
Those eyes focused on Guy Gardner.
"You wanted to see me." Guy spoke plainly and evenly.
"Just one last time. I'm getting out of here. I wanted you to know that. I wanted you to know that you're stupid. You should have killed me when you had the chance."
Guy was unimpressed. "Yeah, yeah. You've been saying that since you got here. And you're still here."
"I was just waiting for the right time. I wanted everyone to be ready. I wanted them to think that I was really locked up for good. But it's not for good. I'm going to get out of here." Superboy Prime's voice was eerily calm the entire time he spoke. As Guy looked him squarely in his maddened eyes, he suddenly found himself keeping track of whether or not Superboy was even blinking.
"You're stuck in the middle of a red sun eater whose rays keep you powerless, and there are fifty Green Lanterns watching your every muscle, ready to stop you if you tense them wrong. You're not going anywhere." Guy couldn't believe he had had to rush across the universe to listen to this insane rant. Every Lantern who'd ever watched Superboy Prime had heard it already.
"That's what the Flashes thought too. They took me to that place. The Speed Force. They tried to trap me there under a red sun too. But I got out. I always do."
"Well I hate to say it, but I think your track record's about to hit a mark."
"You know, I got out of the Speed Force, but I always knew the Flashes might try to send me back. I knew I could get out again if I wanted to. Even without my armor. Want to know how I knew."
"Not especially, but I'm sure you love to hear yourself talk, so I'll guess I'm about to hear it anyway." Guy felt himself tense. A slight signal sent through his ring to the other Lanterns on guard informed them to be on alert.
"It was the crystals. The ones that were in that 'paradise' dimension that Alex trapped us all in. The ones that he used to make his fortress. They responded to my thoughts. They responded to all our thoughts in that place."
Something was wrong. Something was different. Instantly, Guy alerted every Lantern with his ring to be ready.
"I took some of them. I placed them inside my skin where they stored up a charge of solar energy that was being fed to me from my armor."
"All Lanterns…" Guy cried out.
"You're so stupid Guy."
Superboy Prime's fist slammed against the emerald cell wall with minimum apparent effort. Guy was absolutely mortified as he saw a large crack manifest itself in the walls.
"I told you I'd get out."
Superboy Prime's second punch carried much more force, this time shattering the cell completely. Emerald chunks fell apart and dissipated into nothingness as Superboy Prime floated, bathing in the red sun eater's rays.
The kryptonian from another universe might have disappeared in a burst of super speed in that very instant had every Green Lantern not responded instantly with the full force of their rings. Superboy Prime shuddered and cried out as fifty green beams of energy bore down on him.
Those stupid Lanterns had reacted faster than he thought. The red sun eater was still sapping off the charge being fed to him from the crystals inside his skin, and their charge was finite. Kal-el cried out in inhuman rage as he pushed his way past the pain. They couldn't stop him. No one could stop him.
He was going to be Superman.
No one could stop Superman.
Superboy Prime pushed himself through the pain even as the Lanterns intensified their attack.
"Code Fifty Four Lanterns." Guy cried out as he watched the insane young man push on in the face of their combined attack, inching himself forward. "Subdue by any and all means necessary. Repeat, any and all means necessary."
Ten separate Lanterns followed Guy's lead as their rings attempted to generate another cage around Superboy Prime, holding him in place while their comrades continued to wear him down with their combined attack. But he would not yield.
A murderous blast of heat vision incinerated two Green Lanterns instantly, leaving their rings to fly off like small emerald insects, even as Superboy Prime shattered their cage with another punch.
He could not wait another second longer. Every second longer in the rays of the red sun eater drained away what was left of his charge.
All those years of his life, gone. All those people that he had known, friends and family who had loved him, all had been stolen from him and all because he had tried to do the right thing. As they flashed before his mind's eye, they fueled his rage. Superboy Prime pushed all his power into his speed as he flew through the Green Lantern's attack, out of the red sun eater, and up into space.
"We're going after him. Lanterns, follow my lead." Guy cried as he flew up without hesitation. "Guardians, this is Gardner. We have a breach. The prisoner is loose. Repeat, the prisoner is loose. Send all available Lanterns to intercept."
"At what coordinates?" The holier-than-thou voice of one of the Guardians, Guy couldn't tell which at the moment, inquired.
"Where's the nearest yellow sun?"
Superboy Prime could see the bright yellow ball burning in space. He could still reach it. He was close. Already as close to it as Saturn was to its sun in his universe.
He would have covered that distance in but another fraction of a second had his path not become suddenly blocked by a large emerald wall baring his path, materializing as if from nowhere.
Once again this took Superboy Prime by surprise. And once again, that didn't stop him from driving straight through it at full speed.
Even as the wall shattered and its chunks and debris fell off to the side, no less than twenty emerald beams bore down directly upon him. It was an attack powerful enough to destroy a moon, yet it served merely to stun the insane young man even as another ten Green Lantern beams shot forward, encasing Superboy Prime in an emerald bubble.
"Pour it on Lanterns." Guy Gardner cried as he led the charge "and remember. No matter what happens, he doesn't move another hair closer to that sun."
Superboy Prime hissed as his eyes glowed bright red, filling the green bubble with an eerie red glow as twin crimson beams shot from his eyes in an attempt to burn his way out, yet still it held. He was losing his charge. Already, he was at less than half his full strength.
The remaining Lanterns continued their assault, their beams passing harmlessly through the emerald bubble, beating down on the deranged villain, attempting to pummel him into submission. Superboy Prime burned with anger as he realized that the Lanterns were dragging him within the bubble further and further away from the sun even as they pressed their attack. In less than a second they were already out of the system. Another minute and he would be back on Oa and back in the heart of the red sun eater.
Superboy Prime dropped his heat vision and lashed out with his fist, punching the beams attacking him and managing to dissipate some of their energy, but they just kept pouring it on. He could feel his strength fading as he reached out with all his limbs, bracing him self against the bubble.
"He's weakening! Don't let up. Pour it on!"
Superboy Prime bit down on his lip as he heard Guy cry to his fellow Lanterns. Focusing with the will power of a mind long lost to reason, Superboy Prime summoned his remaining strength and began vibrating at incredible speeds, directing his vibrations against the emerald bubble holding him.
"Don't lose him! Don't lose him."
Every Lantern attacking redoubled their efforts. The strength of the bubble increased along with the intensity of the emerald beams beating down on him, but he would not yield. He was Superman. Superman could do anything. This thought burned in his mind like the fury of a thousand suns as he continued vibrating with greater and greater intensity.
The bubble finally shattered, radiating emerald energy outwards like an explosion that actually knocked several Lanterns back a bit.
In less than a fraction of the time it takes to blink, Superboy Prime shot out in a burst of super speed, with at least a dozen Lanterns in pursuit behind him. They moved to force him further away in retreat.
"Half the Lanterns stay back. He's trying to draw us away from the sun and then double back." Guy cried as he led the pursuit, all the while calling back to his comrades through his ring. "Form a barrier between him and the sun. He can't be allowed to get any closer. His tank has got to be getting close to empty but if he can get any closer to that sun, then we are finished."
True to Guy's prediction, Superboy Prime's solar charge was indeed running precariously low. So much of it had been drained out already by the red sun eater, and what had remained was rapidly being expended just to hold out against the Lanterns. Kal-el could feel it as he swooped and dived between several emerald beams lancing outwards after him. In his current state, he was only slightly more powerful than the Superman of this universe, and that would not last long against so many Green Lanterns.
Superboy Prime arched and thrashed back upwards at the last instant as another beam attempted to encase him yet again. He managed to dodge several projectiles as they tracked him, generated by Lantern rings even as he twisted himself back down, dodging three more emerald beams.
He needed something. Anything. Even as he continued his evasion, he scanned the surrounding sector of space with his telescopic vision. At full power, he could have seen across an entire galaxy and beyond. Now, he was having trouble seeing his burning yellow salvation off in the distance.
Wait… there was something. Superboy Prime felt a spark light up within him as he took off, flying away from the Green Lanterns.
"Where's he going?"
"I don't know, but we're going after him." Guy turned back to the rest of his Lanterns holding back to protect the sun of this system. "I want you guys to stay here in case this is a diversion."
"What?" Guy turned to one of his comrades. His question was answered as he followed the Lantern's line of sight to see it.
It was huge. At least half the size of Earth's moon.
And it was racing at incredible speeds straight for the sun.
"He's using it as a shield. Lantern's stop him."
Emerald beams lanced out at the asteroid, blasting away chunks of iron ore and carving into it like a roast. Yet still the giant space rock pressed onwards.
Guy signaled a dozen of his comrades to follow him around the asteroid as it shot past them, expecting to find Superboy Prime behind it, pushing it.
"Where is he? I don't see him."
Sure enough, the strange reptilian Lantern was correct. The Lanterns focused with their rings, yet they could not see Superboy Prime behind the asteroid as it continued to fly straight for the burning star.
"He's inside it!" Guy concluded. "Tear it away."
Sure enough, from inside a large cavern deep within the heart of the giant asteroid that he had bore into, Superboy Prime was indeed pushing his newly found 'shield' towards his target, using his x-ray vision to guide his path.
Back in space, every Green Lantern in the system had focused all their power and effort into tearing apart the asteroid. Huge chunks were blasted. Enormous craters were burned into its surface even as several Lanterns used their rings to try and slow down its approach. Another thirty seconds and the planet crushing rock would be reduced to a mere pebble in space. But by then, it would already be in range of the sun.
"We're not going to get to him in time like this. I'm going in." Asa De Templare cried out as he signaled to three more of his comrades to follow his lead as he dove straight for the surface of flying rock.
"We'll keep at it from out here. Just remember, when you see him, shoot first and ask questions later." Guy cried out as he attempted to encase the entire asteroid in his ring's field, hoping to slow it down some more as his fellow Lanterns whittled away its surface area.
In brightest day, in blackest night… The Green Lantern oath recited within Asa's mind as he focused his will through his ring, his emerald energies shooting outwards, joined by the combined energies of his comrades, boring through the surface rock, as they moved towards their target.
...No evil shall escape my sight… His ring was picking up a signal, a life sign, directly at the core of the asteroid. He pressed on.
Let those who worship evils might…. Sweat moved down what approximated his brow. He was close. They would be upon the prisoner soon. And when they were, they could not hold back.
… beware my power. The prisoner was the most dangerous being in the universe. Every Lantern had been warned what he was capable of at full power. He had altered the face of the universe.
Green Lantern's light! Asa De Templare and his fellow Green Lantern's never reacted in time. Even as they finally bore through the last bit of rock into the large central cavern, a gush of super breath froze them in their spot.
"They can't stop me. No one can stop Superman." Superboy Prime pressed on. He was so close.
Outside, the giant asteroid had been whittled down to a fraction of its former size. The former asteroid now barely qualified as a meteor.
But it was too late. Even with the added assistance of the Lanterns guarding the systems star, they had not been able to keep it from reaching its destination.
Superboy Prime saw no further use for his 'shield' as he burst out of the front of the asteroid, beholding the sun in its awesome glory.
He was still several thousand miles away from it, but that was still more than close enough. Even as the Lanterns beat back down on him with their full strength, he felt the sun's pure unfiltered rays beat down on him, restoring to him the full powers that were his kryptonian legacy.
He shrugged off the Lantern's attack as he dove straight into the heart of the sun, laughing the whole way as he dove straight through its surface, as if he were but a child joyfully diving into water on a hot summer day.
"Oh god no." Guy Gardner whispered in horror, hoping that his voice hadn't been carried over his ring to his fellow Lanterns. For a second, none of the Lanterns said a thing, each one uttering the same prayer. Each one hoping against hope that he hadn't survived. That for all his power, he had been incinerated within the sun.
These hopes were quickly dashed as a small flicker speck seemed to rise up from the sun, burning ever so slightly as it hovered over the surface of the star.
Superboy Prime floated in space, glowing brightly, bathed in solar matter. The star's gases hung about him as remained motionless, his head hung down, his face completely concealed by his hair as it hung about him.
Slowly, Superboy Prime looked up from his chest and the symbol on it as he turned towards the Green Lanterns hanging in space.