Copyright: June 15, 2007

Part of the Planes Series

Disclaimer: All publicly recognizable characters, settings, etc., are the property of their respective owners. The original characters and plot are the property of the author. The author is in no way associated with the owners, creators, or producers of any media franchise. No copyright infringement is intended.


June 15, 2077

'Cousin Esperanza,' Martha Kent-Olsen began her letter. It was odd to be writing a real letter that would be printed out on paper rather than just sending a memory chip, but Martha knew from past experience that magnetic media didn't fare well crossing dimensional borders. And there were subtle differences in technology as well. It was unlikely that Esperanza's computer would be able to decipher a data button.

'I hope this letter finds you and the rest of the family well. As I'm sure you already know, Mom and Dad died a few months ago. It was natural causes, assuming you can call kryptonite poisoning natural. Since then, I've been going through their old journals, deciding what, if anything, can be published. CJ isn't convinced the world is ready to find out that Superman was a disguise for a journalist named Clark Kent, which means that while I'm editing and compiling the journals, it might be awhile before they're seen by anyone outside the family.'

'I do know you were interested in finding out more about New Krypton, so I'm enclosing copies of Dad's journals of that time, as well as Mom's and parts of the book Dad wrote about Clark Kent's adventures there. I've also included some of the recently declassified material from SHADO. Everyone directly involved is now dead and SHADO uncloaked several years ago. It's interesting reading.'

'The rest of the family here is doing okay, considering. Clark III is wearing the blue and red now. Metropolis is hosting the Quidditch World Cup this year so I thought I'd get this first section off to you before I was attacked by real life again. Give my regards to Jason, Charlie and Sam and their families. Hope to hear back from you soon.'

-o-o-o-

SHADO report: 14:20 GMT, Aug 17, 1996

Long range sensors picked up an alien ship approaching Earth. Standard contact protocols followed.

"Commander, we've picked up a ship approaching Earth," one of the SHADO radar technicians reported over the intercom to Commander Spainhauer's office in the underground complex of SHADO Headquarters. "They've just passed the outer markers and are slowing to sub-light."

"Identification?" Spainhauer responded.

"Unknown," the technician stated. "We are following standard protocols – greetings in Mandarin, Spanish, English, Arabic, and Hindi as well as Danaen, Rokan, Aurisan, Chou-chin, and Mell-da'asha on standard and subspace frequencies."

"And of course they're not answering," Spainhauer commented.

The technician shrugged. "Hold on, we have a reply."

"In what language?" Spainhauer asked, coming out of her office to stand by the technician.

"English."

"Put it on the speakers."

The technician flipped a switch and a man's voice came out of the wall speaker above their heads. "Greetings to the House of El. Please prepare to receive the emissaries of the High Council of New Krypton." The message repeated.

"The House of El? New Krypton?" Spainhauer asked no one in particular. "Get me General Straker."

-o-o-o-

SHADO report: 14:43 GMT, Aug 17, 1996

Ship subsequently identified as New Kryptonian. It is being allowed to land in a designated area in Metropolis, New Troy, U.S.A. General Ed Straker will handle first contact.

Ed Straker had been charged with putting together the Supreme Headquarters Alien Defense Organization back in 1970 to defend the planet against an alien threat. He had also been the one in charge in 1982 when SHADO discovered they had allies in their war against the alien threat that now had a name – the Rokan-Shui, a violent political faction from a dying planet.

They now had the technology – including some that hadn't originated on Earth – to do the job. They were still at war, but casualties were light now.

Andrea Spainhauer had been head of the military arm of SHADO for the past ten years. She was good at her job - very good - interfacing and coordinating with national militaries the defense of the planet against outside aggression ever since the previous senior officer chose to take on the responsibility of dealing with the influx of aliens into the Earth's population. The words 'Alien Defense' had taken on new and additional meanings. SHADO, through its diplomatic arm, protected the Earth-born (normal humans) from non-terrestrials and protected the non-terrestrials from the Earth-born.

But now a new mystery was presenting itself. It was known, not just from articles in the Daily Planet, that Krypton was a dead world, destroyed when its star died. It was not publicly known that at the time of the disaster, they'd had an off-world colony. As far as Straker knew, even the one Kryptonian survivor living on Earth didn't know of the colony. Krypton had possessed a peaceful, enlightened civilization, if a little insular. At the time of its destruction, Krypton had few trading partners or allies. No one knew what New Krypton was like.

"Well, I've got to give them this," Straker observed when told of the ship that was now in an orbit just beyond Jupiter. "They're punctual."

"Punctual?" Spainhauer asked. "You know who they are?"

"I think I do," Straker amended. "Kal-El of Krypton comes of age in about a month. They're here to fetch him home."

"And Kal-El of Krypton is…?" Spainhauer asked.

On the other end of the line she heard Straker chuckle. "You don't read the Daily Planet, do you?"

"You don't mean…? They've come for Superman?"

"They've come for Superman," Straker confirmed. "They should be sending a shuttle down sometime in the next couple hours or so. Let me know when and where it sets down."

"Yes sir."

-o-o-o-

From Ed Straker's personal journal: Aug 17, 1996

The two emissaries of the New Kryptonian High Council looked fully human, but then so does Superman. Danaen research has already shown that Kryptonians probably originated on Earth, as did the Rokanni, the Danaen, and the Aurisans. The genetic differences are minor and were obviously artificially induced. Jackson doubts the beings that made the changes had any idea how powerful some of those minor 'adjustments' had been.

The woman, Zara, is a little above Earth average in height with dark hair and eyes. She carries herself like someone who expects to be respected and obeyed. Ching, her bodyguard and advisor is also athletic. He reminds me of a martial arts master, or a Rokan-shou mental master. They would be formidable opponents, should it come to that.

Straker and a small team of SHADO first contact specialists were waiting when the shuttle landed in an abandoned warehouse in Metropolis. The building's skylights were already broken out, allowing enough room for the small craft to land without damaging the rest of the structure.

Zara and Ching had both masked their surprise at finding a diplomatic contingent representing the Planet Earth waiting for them when they appeared outside their shuttle. They hadn't done quite as good a job hiding their surprise at finding a Rokan-shou mental master greeting them.

They are who they say they are , the master said mentally, nodding in Straker's direction. Lady Zara Sen-Ra and her advisor Ching, representing the High Council of the Kryptonian colony of New Krypton. They seek Kal-El. They seek to test him.

"Welcome to Earth, Lady Zara, Ching," Straker said with a smile. "To what do we owe the honor of your visit?"

"The heir to the Great House of El comes of age in one cycle of your satellite," Ching said. "He must be tested, deemed worthy, and made ready for his position and responsibilities."

"And if he chooses to remain here?"

"That is not an option," Zara stated. "Do you know where we can find the heir?"

"As a matter of fact, I do," Straker admitted. "He's called Superman and he lives in this city. Would you like an introduction?"

"That won't be necessary," Ching stated. "We will introduce ourselves when the time is right. We simply need to know where to find him."

"I can get you that information," Straker told them. "However, I would advise against putting anyone on this world at risk for whatever 'tests' you have planned for him. We take threats against us very seriously."

The former SHADO Commander caught the look that passed between Zara and Ching. Neither seemed happy to be on this mission although both were resigned to it. It was something he understood perhaps too well. Rank imposes its obligations. Duty must come before honor, before self, before anything, before everything.

"I assure you, General Straker," Ching said. "We have no intention of harming anyone of this world. But we do need to test the mettle of Kal-El, the future ruler of our people."

He is not completely truthful, the mental master stated in Straker's mind. He will do whatever is required to protect his people by completing his mission.

As would any of us, Straker added mentally, shielding his thoughts from the Kryptonians. As would any of us.

-o-o-o-

From Ed Straker's personal journal: Aug 17, 1996

All in all, the first contact went reasonably well. The two New Kryptonian emissaries have come to test and recruit Kal-El to their cause.

I have my doubts as to how this is going to work out. And I'm not sure I trust Ching. I find myself hoping Kal-El fails the tests, but the intelligence reports on New Krypton indicate that his arrival on New Krypton could well mean keeping a civil war from starting. To show our good faith, SHADO is cooperating in getting Zara and Ching proper documentation so they may visit the city incognito.

I will also be arming the SHADO operatives I am having assigned to keep an eye on them with kryptonite.

-o-o-o-

From Clark Kent's personal journal: September 19, 1996

I think the new girl in research, Sara, is going to work out. She seems a little over-eager, but Lois thinks it's because Sara has a crush on me. Lois isn't exactly the jealous type (much), so I wonder what she's seeing that I'm not. Sara has to be about my age maybe, even older, so it's not some sort of teenage thing.

The overhead monitor in SHADO's Metropolis offices was on. Today was the planned inauguration of EPRAD's space habitat. "... and in just five minutes, at nine o'clock Eastern Standard Time, we'll take you live to the opening ceremonies of the United Nations Space Station," the announcer was saying. "Home to over one hundred orbiting scientists and astronauts lead by Commander Bob Rozakis. Rozakis, by the way, is on his eleventh space… just a moment... I'm..."

On the screen the announcer pressed his hidden earphone, eyes widening in surprise.

"Apparently, um, there has been some kind of... technical difficulty. The station's thrusters have... misfired and are driving... the station towards the Earth's atmosphere," the announcer looked stunned. "Where the astronauts will burn up... if re-entry can't be prevented."

"What the devil is going on?" Straker said to no one in particular.

"Mission Control is in contact with the station... but so far they are unable to ascertain the reasons for the station's thrusters firing. For those of you just tuning in, the Congress of Nations' Space Station's thrusters have inexplicably ignited and are driving the station towards the Earth's atmosphere... So far, the crew has not been able to shut down the engines. Mission Control now estimates that the friction from the Earth's atmosphere will cause disintegration of the station to commence in..."

"Major malfunction with the station's control system," Lieutenant Evans explained.

"Just a minute... we've just received an unconfirmed report that Superman has arrived at the Space Station! We don't know yet what he will attempt, but... he appears... to be trying to stop the station's descent."

From Clark Kent's personal journal: September 19, 1996

On top of everything else, the Prometheus Space Habitat decided to try to fall out of the sky today. I was able to push it back into orbit, but the question remains – why? Something or someone ordered the thrusters to misfire. Lois and I will be looking into that little mystery tomorrow.

In the meantime, I can't shake the feeling I'm being watched.

From Ed Straker's personal journal: Sep 19, 1996

I don't know what Ching is playing at, but I don't like it. We knew he and Zara planned to test Kal-El, but none of us had expected they would threaten the habitat. I don't like his attitude much, either. I suspect the feeling is mutual.

"You assured us you had no intention of harming anyone," Straker stated. Ching glared at him sullenly. The younger man held himself stiffly, arms folded behind him, like a soldier at parade rest

"No one was harmed. The machine was programmed to recover its altitude in the event 'Superman' failed to save it." Ching grimaced. "So far, your people have done a better job dealing with the challenges than Kal-El has. He hasn't located the transmitter yet. I have doubts as to whether he will."

"What have you got planned for your other tests?" Straker demanded.

"Intelligence and resourcefulness under pressure," Ching said, staring at a point on the far wall. "His sense of duty, responsibility. Necessary attributes for a Kryptonian leader." He looked over at Straker. "Assuming Kal-El does his part no humans will he harmed."

"And if he fails?"

"In the event Kal-El fails, the mechanisms involved can be rendered inert using a remote signal." Ching said. "I have told you we intend no harm to anyone of Earth."

"So you've said," Straker agreed, stepping closer to the young man. "But understand this, Lieutenant. I know how important this mission is to you. I also know you and Zara have come into your powers. I know what you're capable of, maybe even better than you do. But don't make the mistake of thinking that just because I can't fly under my own power, that I can't defend my world against your kind. I know about element 126."

"I was not aware that humans knew about it," Ching admitted. "Or that there was any on this planet."

"We know about it and we have it," Straker told him. "And we know how to use it."

"On New Krypton, it is considered only theoretical," Ching said. "The possibility of it actually existing is a closely held military secret, as is its specific attributes. I'm told it was rare, even on Old Krypton." Ching stood for a moment, eyes focusing elsewhere and Straker suspected he was communicating with his superior telepathically. After a moment Ching's eyes focused back on Straker. "You should know that although we have high hopes that Kal-El's ascension to the ruler-ship of his house will avert a descent into chaos, there are those who feel they should be allowed to emigrate to a more congenial planet."

"Without guarantees of behavior, we cannot allow your people to come here," Straker told him simply. "And any attempt to do so will be met with deadly resistance. Make sure your High Council understands that."

"I will pass along the message," Ching promised. "And now, if you will excuse me, I have a test to conduct."

From Clark Kent's personal journal: September 20, 1996

I don't know what's going on, but I don't like it. STAR Labs traced the signal that triggered the Prometheus's thrusters back to a location in Metropolis. Lois and I checked out the address. It was a house that was being shown. We didn't find a transmitter even though the house did have a satellite dish in the backyard.

I really liked what I saw of the house, but Lois wasn't enthusiastic about the whole 'house' idea.

Odd thing, though. I have a feeling I've seen that real estate agent somewhere. I just can't put my finger on where.

Perry and Jimmy left early to head upstate for their fishing trip. I just hope whatever's going on doesn't ruin their trip. Perry's been looking forward to it for weeks.

From Ed Straker's personal journal: September 20, 1996

I am concerned that Ching is a loose cannon. Despite his assurances just yesterday that there were fail-safes in place and no one would be harmed, his latest 'test' was announced via the Daily Planet, meaning the entire city is now aware there is a bomber on the loose. I have had to warn my liaison with the MPD that there are aliens in the city testing Superman. Henderson is not well pleased but I think he'll be okay so long as Ching and Zara don't hurt anyone.

I am not happy with Ching's bomb fetish or his temper.

The next test Ching and Zara put Kal-El through left Straker fuming. Ching had assured him there were fail-safes in place and that no one was actually in danger. But the test was onerous in its demands. First assemble a memory disk reader of alien technology, decipher the coded message on the memory disk, then find and dispose of the bomb on a skyscraper?

The test that followed was even more heart stopping. Apparently Ching had a thing for explosives. Two bombs, linked so that if either was disturbed the other would go off. Only one was set in Metropolis and the other in an upstate rural area. Superman successfully disabled both devices using a beam splitter, but the team sent to check out Zara and Ching's apartment had found a crushed remote control device.

It took SHADO's alien technologies unit about ten minutes to determine that the device was the remote switch for the two bombs.

"Are they out of control?" Straker asked Doug Jackson, head of alien psychology section. Jackson was an expert on the various races SHADO had contact with.

"Lieutenant Ching is playing a dangerous game, General," came the reply in Jackson's softly accented voice. "I believe he feels he must discredit Kal-El in Zara's eyes, without destroying the hope that Kal-El will be able to deal with the political issues on New Krypton by ascending to the rulership of the House of El."

"Ching doesn't like Kal-El much, does he?" Straker commented.

"I do not believe it's personal," Jackson commented. "Or rather, it is nothing Kal-El has done to provoke it. According to my sources, Kal-El is expected to ascend to the position that may well have fallen to Ching, if it were not for the fact that Kal-El is the heir to the colony's founding house and the political climate at home so dire."

"What do you think his next test will be?"

"Something unexpected," Jackson reasoned. "Something to test his morality I should think."

"Let's just hope he can do it without blowing anything up."

From Lois Lane's diary: September 20, 1996

Sara and this Ching person are… I don't know what they are only that they tried to kill Clark and then they flew away. Just a bizarre ending to a more bizarre day.

Clark really likes that house we saw yesterday. I know it's important for him, to have roots. Being different has to be hard, especially when you're as different as Clark is.

I just really think about this house thing.

From Clark Kent's personal journal: September 20, 1996

I remember where I've seen the agent. He's a friend of Sara's and his name is Dave Miller. I've seen him hanging around the Planet off and on for the past month. Only his name is really Ching and I real sure she isn't really named Sara Ray. Based on what Lois and I saw, they're not human, either. According to Lois, they can fly. And Ching is probably as strong as I am.

I don't even want to think about their technology. He had a kryptonite force shield. Lois says she thinks he was having second thoughts about what he did to me, exposing me to the kryptonite. Lois says he said 'He is the one' just before they took off. The 'one' what? I just don't know what to think.

"How the devil did he do that?" Alec Freeman asked Straker as they watched the surveillance video of Kal-El's latest test. Ching had created a force shield that emitted radiation on the same frequency as kryptonite. The video had no sound but it was apparent that Ching was taunting Superman from behind the shield while Zara was keeping Lois Lane from acting to help him.

After being driven back once by the pain of the poisonous radiation, Superman seemed to have attempted to reason with Ching. In response, the New Kryptonian raised a weapon to his own head. Zara appeared appalled at Ching's actions while Lois did her best to escape Zara's grasp.

Finally, Superman charged through the barrier, knocking the weapon from Ching's hand before collapsing to the floor. Ching's expression said it all – he was horrified at what he'd done.

With the force shield deactivated, Zara checked Superman's condition, then she and Ching made their escape. Lois was left on Clark Kent's balcony with an unconscious but still breathing Superman.

"Paul and Virginia are already working on duplicating the effect," Straker said. "It'll be a nice little addition to our arsenal. I just hope we don't have to use it." Straker poured himself another cup of coffee. "I also hope that was the final test. Any more like that and there won't be anything left of Kal-El to take to New Krypton."

SHADO report: 3:45 GMT, Sep 22, 1996

Long range sensors picked up an alien ship approaching Earth. Standard contact protocols followed. No response. The ship was tracked to Smallville, Kansas, U.S.A. A contact team has been dispatched.

"Why Smallville, Kansas?" Spainhauer asked after she informed Straker of the newest development.

"Why not Smallville, Kansas?" Straker responded. Very few people knew of Superman's connection to Kansas and Straker had every intention of keeping it that way. "Have you identified the craft?"

"We've tentatively identified it as Andelon," Spainhauer told him. "According to the Aurisans Andelon's dominant sentient life form is humanoid. They are frequently employed as mercenaries and assassins. They are reported to have remarkable powers of mimicry and deception."

"Commander, who is SHADO's current U.S. military liaison?"

"Colonel George Cash over at Camp Pennington," Spainhauer answered. "Do you want us to get in touch with him?"

"Let him know I'm expecting an alien incursion at either Smallville or Metropolis," Straker instructed.

"He'll want more details that that," Spainhauer reminded him.

"A possible invasion from New Krypton," Straker told her. "Make sure he understands we're not referring to Superman."

"General, you are aware that there are some people, even in SHADO, who believe that Superman could well be the first wave of an invasion force," Spainhauer said.

"I'm aware of those theories, Commander," Straker said. "Just remind Cash that at the present time, Superman is under SHADO's protection. We'll let him know if the situation changes."

From Clark Kent's personal journal: September 21, 1996

Her real name is Zara Sen-Ra and Lieutenant Ching is her advisor. They're from New Krypton. There were survivors. I'm not the only one.

One big problem, though. According to Zara, we're married, some sort of political arrangement made before we were even born. Lois thinks is barbaric. I'm not about to argue with her. Ching is obviously not happy with the situation and he's not at all reticent about letting me know he thinks I'm a spoiled, immature brat who has never faced the difficulties his people face everyday.

I won't argue the point. I grew up with great parents, a roof over my head. I never went hungry. Even when I was traveling I was never in personal danger. Having powers can spoil you. But I don't have to like having it shoved in my face.

Clark had followed Zara's telepathic instructions and found the white orb in the warehouse. As she instructed, he imagined a doorway and found himself inside a room that looked both familiar and utterly alien. Zara had waved her hand and seats appeared at the center table, along with drinks.

"How many of you are there?" he asked.

"A thousand or more members of the noble houses," Zara told him.

"We colonized a barren rock we named New Krypton," Ching added.

"Where we have prospered," Zara continued.

"Not easy on a rock. No fast food, no situation comedies…" Ching put in. His tone was ugly.

"Ching…" Zara's voice was quiet but firm.

"Of course our sun is red like Krypton's was, so we've had to scrape by without powers," Ching went on.

"But you do have some pretty impressive technology," Clark pointed out. "You obviously have the ability to do it, so why haven't you moved the colony somewhere less barren? Somewhere easier?"

"There are those in the council who would like to do just that," Zara told him. "Unfortunately, there aren't all that many planets within reach that aren't already taken. And even though our technology looks impressive, we don't have the ability to simply pick up and move the entire population."

From Lois Lane's Diary: September 21, 1996

Clark says Zara is his wife under Kryptonian law. I keep trying to convince myself she's a wacko, that Zara can't be Kryptonian, that they're all dead but Clark. One problem – I saw her and Ching fly. They want him to go with them to be some sort of royalty. I'm not sure I can keep him from going. I'm not sure I have the right to.

"Wait a minute," Lois fumed, pacing Clark's apartment. "So let me get this straight. Sara from research turns out to be this Kryptonian babe who has big plans for you? Who is she, some sort of relative? A cousin, sister?"

"Actually, she's my wife…" Clark said. "Under Kryptonian law, members of the nobility are married as babies. It's all very complicated and political."

"Clark, we're not on Krypton," Lois pointed out. She was trying to keep her temper but the whole thing was getting too much. "Do you believe her? I mean, for all you know she's some sort sick of wacko who's got the hots for you."

"I've been in their space ship," Clark told her. "And you saw them fly."

"There is that," Lois admitted. "Oh, God…" She sat down hard on the sofa next to him.

"Honey, I'm as blown away by all this as you are," Clark told her earnestly, running his hand through his hair. "In one night, I find out I'm not the only living survivor of Krypton, I'm married, and they expect me to stop a civil war from starting."

"And how are you supposed to do that?"

"That's a little complicated," Clark told her. "They expect me to go back with them."

"And what do you plan to do?"

"I don't know. I honestly don't know."

From Lois Lane's Diary: September 22, 1996

Zara and Ching have upped the stakes, or this Nor person they're so worried about has. An assassin as been sent to kill Clark. He doesn't seem worried. I'm worrying enough for both of us. One little point Clark never mentioned, or maybe he didn't know. Kryptonians are telepathic with one another and the more time he spends around them, the more like them he becomes – cold, logical, rational. Zara says she knows in her heart Clark will do the right thing. But what is the right thing?

Tonight he showed me their ship. I don't know what I was expecting, Buck Rogers, maybe. Ching wasn't happy that Clark told me where the ship was, but Zara seemed okay with it. Clark brought them the ship that brought him to Earth. Zara translated the writing on it and Clark's natural father appeared in a hologram. What the recording said confirmed what Zara had been saying – Clark's married to Zara and he has a destiny to fulfill.

Just my luck. Prince Charming really is a prince and the rest of the family thinks mere commoners aren't good enough.

From Ed Straker's personal journal: September 22, 1996

The Andelon attacked the Kent farm. Luckily they weren't harmed, but the alien gave them a bad scare. Apparently the Andelon's gift for mimicry is more advanced than we were given to believe.

From Clark Kent's personal journal: September 22, 1996

Zara warned me that Nor's assassin was loose on Earth. She didn't mention it had landed in Smallville. I was a little surprised to see Mom waiting for me when I got back home. I knew Aunt Opal was in the hospital in Metropolis with a ruptured gall bladder, but the Mom said she flew out to help because Opal broke her hip. Only one little problem with that scenario – the phone rang and my real Mom was on the line and she was still in Smallville. She and Dad were attacked by some strange creature and she wanted to make sure I was okay.

Well, to make a long story short, the thing that looked like Mom attacked me, but when I tried to leave the apartment with it, to take it to STAR Labs, it turned into a good-looking blonde and now Mrs. Cutler thinks I'm cheating on Lois. I don't know what sort of creature this Tez thing is, but I know it isn't through with me. I hope I can get more information from Zara about how to deal with it.

"What is this Tez?" Clark demanded. He had told Perry he had a lead on the person who had attacked him and Jimmy and would be out of the office for a while. Of course Clark couldn't tell Perry his assailant would never be brought to justice, or that Ching was on Earth to take Superman away. Now he and Zara were walking toward the park so they could talk.

"An animal," Zara said simply. "He comes from a planet where his kind are bred and trained and hired out to be assassins for the likes of Nor. You should have killed him. You have the strength."

"I try not to kill anything. I don't believe in it."

"That creature has no doubt caused the deaths of thousands of people. He deserves no better," Zara argued.

Clark stopped and looked at her. "When I realized I was the most powerful being on this planet, I had a decision to make. Whether my powers stood for destruction, or life. I chose life."

Zara gave him a bemused smile. "On New Krypton, we tend to choose whatever is expedient. Necessity forces a more… pragmatic view on things." She started walking again and Clark had to run a few steps to catch up with her.

"I guess I'm just the sloppy, sentimental type."

Zara shook her head. "You've been on this wasteful, sloppy, primitive planet for too long. You could rule here. Ching thinks you're a fool for even pretending to be one of them. You have the power to give them the direction they need, but you cater to them and they take advantage of it."

"Strength doesn't make wisdom, Zara," Clark said. "And just because I can do something, doesn't mean I should." Then he added more softly, "And just because I should do something, doesn't mean I will. I should come with you, but I don't want to lose Lois either. The feelings I have for her, what we share… it's the greatest thing in the world. And I don't want to give that up."

"But it's also selfish, and that's something those of noble blood can't afford," Zara told him. "We have to put aside our selfish desires for the greater good."

"I don't think I can." He looked at her earnestly. "I love her. I never thought I'd ever find someone like her. Someone I could share my life with. I value this more than anything. More than my life… I've decided not to go with you."

Zara stopped and looked at him, one eyebrow raised as she watched him, her expression deliberately neutral.

"Didn't you hear me? I said I'm not going with you."

Zara shrugged. "Yes, Kal-El. I heard your words, but I also know your thoughts… You haven't decided at all."

From Lois Lane's Diary: September 23, 1996

Clark keeps trying to tell me he isn't going with them, but he doesn't sound like he means it. Apparently Zara told him the same thing. I'm trying to be understanding about it, but I keep sniping at him. Perry's a little miffed because Zara quit without notice. He was getting used to her. She was very efficient.

I went to talk to Zara at their ship. I'm finally coming to terms with what's going on – maybe. Zara and Ching seem sincere in their belief that Clark is going to be able to prevent a catastrophe by going to New Krypton and becoming one of their leaders.

From their description of their planet, it's not a very nice place. Zara admits she doesn't love Clark. She just needs him so they can keep this Nor person out of power. If she loved him, I could understand it, I could fight it. But duty and honor – I have no way to fight that.

The Tez creature was at the Planet. He said he was only after Kal-El and I would be left alive to mourn. 'What is the use of killing without grieving?' I know Clark is worried about it but he doesn't want me to worry so he's putting on a brave front. I told him what Tez said 'I can be his equal. What is his I can make mine.'

I don't know what he meant, but I'm worried about Clark. I know his parents are too.

From Clark Kent's personal journal: September 23, 1996

Tez caught me in the park. I think I understand what he meant when he told Lois 'I can be his equal. What is his I can make mine.' I used my ice breath against him and he just learned how to do it right back at me. I'm not sure how to counter it.

Lois and I went to talk to my parents about the whole thing. They won't tell me not to go. I guess I understand where they're coming from. I knew they were pretty politically active when they were younger. I didn't know until tonight they'd actually marched for civil rights, got set on by dogs, blasted with fire hoses. I'm sure if I looked I could find arrest records too. Funny though, Dad was proud of it and Mom said she didn't have an answer for the people who told her it wasn't her fight, because it was. It was something they both believed in. Something they taught me to believe in.

I'm being asked to go to war, to march off to a place I've never seen to defend a people I've never met. I promised Lois to sleep on it. Maybe things will be clearer in the morning.

The next morning, Lois and Clark went to breakfast then headed over to the warehouse and the ship where Zara and Ching were waiting for an answer.

"You have something to tell us, Kal-El?" Ching asked. Zara was sitting, waiting, hands in her lap. Ching was trying to look impassive as he stood beside her.

"We have something to tell you," Clark said. His arm was around Lois.

"Clark has decided… We have decided he should go with you to help in your struggle," Lois told them. She was fighting back her tears.

Zara looked liked she couldn't decide whether to be happy or not. She looked at Clark. "You both realize that Lois must remain here. She would never survive."

"We understand," Clark replied for the both of them. Lois didn't dare look at him. She didn't trust herself not to break down and the last thing she wanted to do was show herself as a weak human in front of them.

"Kal-El, I salute your sense of duty," Ching said, his voice low and formal. He looked into Lois's face. "I know what it is you're giving up."

"I know you do," Lois replied.

Ching shifted awkwardly. "I've possibly underestimated you… if I've seemed unkind understand that carving out a homeland in a hostile universe leaves us little time in our lives for kindness or love."

"Lieutenant, without kindness, what's your homeland worth?" Lois asked softly. "And without love what are your lives worth?"

Ching had no answer.

From Ed Straker's personal journal: September 24, 1996

The Andelon was finally traced to Metropolis where he apparently attacked Kal-El. I am not happy about this turn of events. I will be very happy when the New Kryptonians leave although I will certainly regret allowing Kal-El to leave with them. And there is still the matter of Ching's failure to let us know what was happening.

Once again, Ching was standing in Straker's office standing like a soldier at parade rest. Again he was staring at a point on the wall.

"Lieutenant, we would have appreciated knowing that an Andelon assassin had been hired to come to Earth and murder Kal-El," Straker grated. "The fact that this planet is home to non-terrestrials is not widely known and I'd prefer to keep it that way."

"Your people know that Superman is from another planet," Ching said, stating the obvious.

"One alien does not an invasion make," Straker stated. "Now, about the Andelon?"

"We were not aware our communications had been compromised by Nor's people," Ching stated. "That oversight has been remedied and the assassin has been dealt with."

"No harm, no foul?" Straker mused aloud. Ching gave him a confused look.

"No harm was done, therefore nothing happened," Straker explained.

"The assassin was called Tez. He was Nor's hireling and we believe he was responsible for a number of unexplained deaths on New Krypton. Now he is dead and Kal-El proved himself more adaptable than I had originally anticipated," Ching admitted.

"Are you telling me that Kal-El killed the assassin?" Straker asked. He knew that Superman – Clark – had always cherished life and abhorred violence, even when it was necessary. Taking a life, even one belonging to an alien assassin, could be devastating to the young hero. It would devastate his parents as well. Straker knew Martha and Jonathan Kent. He knew they were hardworking, honest, life-loving people.

"Andelons will destroy themselves rather than admit defeat," Ching told him. "Kal-El defeated Tez, but would not finish him. Tez destroyed himself." Ching sighed. "I admit I misjudged Kal-El's determination and compassion. But New Krypton is not Earth. We are a pragmatic people, General. We understand family and duty but give lip-service to honor. Principles are something we cannot afford."

"Principles have no real force except when one is well fed," Straker quoted. Ching gave him a curious look. "A well known Earth writer named Samuel Clemens," Straker explained. "I think you might like his work."

"We don't have much time or energy for entertainments or frivolity," Ching told him.

"Pity," Straker said. "Sometimes that's the only thing that makes the struggle worthwhile…I'm told that Kal-El's betrothed will not be allowed to accompany him."

"You have to understand," Ching began. "Under Kryptonian law, Kal-El and Zara are bound by a contracted marriage. Legally, they are already married. It merely requires they publicly acknowledge their responsibilities. However, Zara and Kal-El must present a united front against Nor and his followers, at least until Kal-El's position is secure. Adding a bound concubine to the mix at this juncture would be disastrous."

"I've met Kal-El's betrothed," Straker told him with a chuckle. "I'm surprised you survived telling her she had to stay behind."

"We told her that the environment on New Krypton was too harsh for her to survive there," Ching told him. "She was not happy, but she accepted the necessity."

"I'm surprised she did accept it," Straker told him. "I'm not sure you are aware of how resilient humans are."

"Old Krypton was not an easy planet, even for Kryptonians. New Krypton was barely habitable as a mining colony," Ching explained softly. "It has taken all of our strength, our intelligence, our fortitude, to survive at all. I doubt your people could survive there."

"I think you underestimate us," Straker told him. "I also think you've underestimated both Kal-El and Lois Lane. When do you plan to leave?"

"He insisted on having a news conference to announce his departure. We'll leave immediately after. It will still take several days to get back." He sighed. "I for one will be happy to be away from here. It's loud and messy and crowded. There is no place to be alone with your thoughts."

From Clark Kent's personal journal: September 24, 1996

The assassin ended his own life once he was defeated. Apparently defeat isn't something his people tolerate. When it was done, Nor contacted me telepathically. He warned me that I'd be a fool to go to New Krypton and he was waiting for me. I saw the look on Zara's face when she picked up on it. She's terrified of him.

Lois and I both called in sick – there's no way either of us can face the newsroom after everything that's happened the past few days. Perry wasn't happy but let's face it, what's he going to do about it? Fire me? I did tell him that Superman asked me to arrange for a news conference tomorrow, that Superman had an announcement to make. Perry's offered the use of the Daily Planet for it. Everything's set.

I'm going over to Lois's in a few minutes, to spend one last night with her. Zara says I won't need to take anything with me but I've packed up a bag anyway, books mostly and some blank books for my journal. Even if I don't come back, maybe Zara or someone can make sure they make it back here. I just hope I'm making the right decision.

From Lois Lane's Diary: September 25, 1996

Clark is gone. Superman had his press conference this morning letting everyone know he was leaving for New Krypton. Then they left. I don't know what I'm going to do. Clark and I spent the night together, talking mostly. I gave him my wedding ring on a gold chain and made him promise to bring it back to me so I can wear it.

He made me promise to get on with my life if it took too long for him to get back. I know he's still hoping there's a way he won't have to go. I know things won't work out that way. I'll be lucky if they get word back to me that he's dead. I never understood until now why those coast towns up north had widows' walks on their houses – I never thought I'd be one of the women waiting to catch sight of their husbands' ships coming into harbor.

He pointed out the star New Krypton orbits around. I think I saw it. I hope I saw it. Dear God, watch over him.

The press conference was held in the newsroom of the Daily Planet. Superman looked properly heroic in his primary colors standing on the raised area in front to the elevators. Zara and Ching stood back, staying in the background. Straker saw how worn Lois Lane looked. Martha and Jonathan Kent were standing with her. He knew better than to ask how they were doing.

"…Although I have always loved my life here on Earth and have called it my home, I have another home as well. One that needs me now," Superman said to the cameras. "But wherever I am, I'll carry the best of Earth with me… And while I'm gone, I ask each of you to look to yourselves for the strength, decency and compassion that I know each one of you has inside. Emerson said 'Self-trust is the essence of heroism.' Inside each of you is a hero. And so, I leave knowing that a world full of heroes has nothing to fear."

Superman looked solemn as he came down to the newsroom floor to shake hands with the staff. Zara and Ching moved to join him. Straker watched as Zara stepped closer to Lois. "Thank you, sister, for allowing Clark to accompany us. I promise you, I will do all that I can to send him back to you as quickly as possible," Zara told her.

"Lois," Perry White was watching the scene in front of him. "What's going on with Clark?"

"Clark has been invited to travel to New Krypton with us," Superman explained.

Lois appeared to be fighting back tears. "It was an offer he couldn't refuse," she told her boss. "The first journalist to visit another planet."

"Great shades of Elvis… Doesn't do us a lot of good if he doesn't come back with the story," Perry groused, but it was obvious to all the onlookers that his gruffness was all show. He turned to Superman. "You make sure Kent gets back here in one piece, you hear?"

"I'll do my best, Mister White," Superman promised.

"Superman," Lois called as Superman turned to leave with the two New Kryptonians. He stopped and looked back at her, worry written across her face. She tried to smile.

"Tell Clark I'll be waiting for him," she said. Superman looked like he was ready to say something but she interrupted him. "I know what we agreed to last night. But I'll still wait."

"I'll let him know," Superman promised then he and the New Kryptonians were gone.