Author's Notes:

Welcome to my insanity. This is an AU twist on the Superman Movie-verse that refused to leave me in peace. The only way to restore my sanity is to write it down. It'll stay mostly true to Superman: The Movie (1978), Superman II: The Donner Cut (2006), and Superman Returns (2006), though there will be some variations for continuity, realism and to bring the story from the earlier films into the twenty-first century. I'm also introducing my AU twist on Superman Returns, to be revealed in a later chapter. Note that as far as I'm concerned, Richard Lester's version of Superman II (1980) and the other Salkin productions (corruptions) of theatrical releases of Superman/Supergirl do not exist in this universe and are not part of the canon. Also note that my previous work, Home is Where the Heart Is, is not part of this story. That one's set in a different universe.

To get from Richard Donner's Superman II to Bryan Singer's Superman Returns required inventing some physics, which I know may give some of you difficulty. From my perspective, it's a necessary evil if I'm to stay true to the characters and the mythos. I hope you'll simply be able to understand and accept it, and move on with the story. Also note my typographical conventions: Italics for the characters' thoughts, and alien languages will be enclosed in double chevrons (« and ») instead of quotes. Think of it as my version of subtitles.

Please note that in this universe, Metropolis is not in Kansas, nor is it a replacement for New York City. Instead, it's on the Eastern Seaboard, in Sussex County, Delaware, just north of where Slaughter Beach is in the real universe. Imagine it larger that Los Angeles, but smaller than New York City, in terms of population.

Also, I want to thank my friends who encouraged a reluctant author to write this down, and special thanks to htbthomas and dandello (a.k.a. Shado Librarian) who volunteered to beta the raw text. Those additional pairs of eyes on the work are priceless, and in many cases the collaboration truly made this work better than it could possibly have been otherwise.

Now, we begin my story immediately after Zod's defeat at the end of Richard Donner's Superman II

Chapter 1 – The Future That Was

Saturday, August 26, 2000 10:00PM EDT

It was a quiet flight back to Metropolis from Superman's arctic Fortress. Though relieved by Zod's defeat, both the Man of Steel and Lois Lane were still too much aware of the life together that almost was – the life together that had to be sacrificed to stop the Kryptonian criminals. As much as they would both have preferred to believe otherwise, the fact of the matter was that the world still needed Superman, and he could not abandon his duty to be with Lois. The recent ordeal had also revealed just how strongly the world associated Lois Lane with the hero. Even though the tabloid stories were based on little more than the writers' imaginations, that had still been strong enough evidence for Lex Luthor to identify Lois to Zod as a high-value hostage that would be useful against Jor-El's son.

"So," Superman began sadly as he set Lois down on her terrace. "Here we are."

"Home, sweet home," Lois acknowledged numbly.

"Well, see you at work in the morning, I guess," he continued awkwardly.

"Bright and early," Lois stated simply. "Same old Clark. Same old Lois. Except…"

"Except that nothing can ever be the same in this world again," he finished somberly. "Not after what Zod did…"

"The nukes…"

"I hear their cries – so much anguish, so much suffering," he admitted, dropping his gaze to the floor. "And the news channels are now reporting that Zod 'punished' twenty-eight cities for protesting his rule – more than one hundred million dead. It'll probably be four or five times that when you consider the radiation."

"They don't know it's over if they're still using euphemisms like 'punished'," Lois concluded. She looked over at him, and upon seeing the anguished look on his face, added compassionately, "Hey! They rebuilt Hiroshima and Nagasaki, didn't they?"

"Those were much smaller devices, and not nearly so many of them," he pointed out. "There is nowhere on this Earth that people will be able to escape the radioactive fallout." He looked back up at her and continued, "The cries are more anguished that I can ever remember hearing. If only…"

"If only you hadn't been with me," Lois finished for him.

"Lois, don't say that!" Superman insisted. "If it were possible, I'd stay with you forever. But, I… I can't turn my back on my duty now. Not when so many are suffering. So many need me… I have to… you know…"

Lois nodded knowingly, offering him a weak smile as she authoritatively told him, "Go. Help them."

He flew up high above the city, watching Lois as she decisively marched off the terrace, then collapsed in tears just inside the door to her apartment. I'm so sorry, Lois, he thought. You never should have had to go through that. He turned away from the scene and began a flight around the globe to survey the damage caused by Zod. He was horrified at the carnage he saw, smoldering hell-holes now where there had once been some of the Earth's most vibrant cities. He hardly knew where to begin to help the survivors and most of the damage simply couldn't be undone. I should have been able to stop this sooner, he lamented. Jor-El was right – it was selfish of me to abandon my mission for love.

As he floated at the upper reaches of the Earth's atmosphere, Superman was so overwhelmed by the sheer volume of cries he heard that he had to look away, but he found no solace in so doing. His vision fell upon the moon, where the first victims had been lost. He recalled the international effort to return humans there after a seventeen-year absence, where they were to lay the foundation for a future colony. He had been caught up in the excitement himself and had even lifted some of the heavier equipment up there for them. Now observing the crushed lunar lander and the lifeless bodies littering the lunar surface, he was forced again to look away, this time shifting his vision towards the outer planets. How long had they been free, he wondered, and how did they end up here? He had begun to lose himself in his thoughts, when he noticed the reflection from deep in the solar system, where there shouldn't have been anything.

The Man of Steel concentrated his vision into the outer solar system and found the scattered debris. He eyes widened in shock when he noticed Kryptonian hieroglyphics on some of the edge pieces and recognized the debris for what it was: The remains of the Phantom Zone containment shell, which had once been prison to Zod and his accomplices. The Zone made it here intact? He wondered. How did it get here, so far from Krypton, and what breached the seal?

He mentally replayed the news from the past week and recalled a near disaster with a nuclear missile launch eight days earlier. The Pentagon's Mil-Net had been hacked and one of their nuclear sites had been compromised, resulting in an unauthorized launch of a nuclear missile. Superman had intercepted it and sent it flying towards the outer planets, towards the vicinity of where the Phantom Zone debris now was. The shockwave from that nuclear detonation would have been sufficient to breach the seal, releasing the vicious criminals. Oh, my God!, Superman thought in horror. They were free because of me! All those people… so many millions dead because of my carelessness.

He squeezed his eyes shut, feeling the weight of Zod's victims fall upon his shoulders, as his mind analyzed the new information and sought to escape the guilt. I need to fix this, he thought, opening his eyes and shooting like a canon around the globe in ever faster orbits, translating into the inter-dimensional reality outside the fabric of space-time as he did so. As he approached, then surpassed, the speed of light, his incredible senses detected the warp in space-time that his faster than light acceleration created. Brief glances towards the earth and the planets revealed the double vision indicative of a temporal divergence, reflecting the difference in the planets' position in their orbits over time. He exerted himself even more, pushing himself faster, in order to extend the space-time warp bubble even further out into the solar system. He was gratified to see the Phantom Zone debris blur into double images, as it also diverged into two separate realities in space-time.

He continued ever faster, expanding his orbits to include both of the diverging Earths, which were no longer a blurred double image, but now separated by the hundreds of millions of miles along the orbit that the Earth had traveled over the previous eight days. Finally reaching his desired point of divergence, he reversed his orbits, this time only encompassing the space-time reality of eight days prior, roughly an hour before the rogue launch of the missile that breached the phantom zone.

He again accelerated in ever faster orbits, and the warped space-time bubble began to collapse and fold into the past, coalescing around the Earth's former self, and the alternate future reality began to lose cohesion and fold into the past. In the process, the broken became whole and those who had died during Zod's reign lived once more, though the consequences of the future that was could not be completely escaped.

Time cannot be rolled back without taking space with it, since space and time are inexorably linked, two parts of the same whole. Inanimate objects that had been damaged or destroyed in the future that was remained weakened where they had been broken; the background radiation was higher in the cities that had been nuked, though greatly diminished; and the former selves of those who had died had contusions from their future injuries, and some cases, traces of formaldehyde in their blood, though most would recover from those injuries without notice.

Once the space-time warp had collapsed, Superman ceased his orbits and allowed himself to fold into his former self. He experienced a brief moment of disorientation before his incredible mind processed the out-of-phase memories of his future self. When the memories of the future that was flooded his consciousness, Clark Kent opened his eyes and found himself dressed in his business suit, sitting at his desk on the Editorial floor of The Daily Planet.

Beside him, Lois Lane grimaced in response to a sudden cramp, provoked by the sudden and unexpected presence of a Kryptonian-Human hybrid embryo in her uterine wall. Unbeknownst to its parents, the child had been conceived in the future that was and dragged along with its mother's future self as she folded into the past. Unlike her colleague, however, she remained oblivious to the future that was, as the human mind is incapable of accessing the out-of-phase memories from that reality.

"Where was I?" Lois asked herself irritably. "Oh, yeah, I'm sick of this Luthor story! I still can't believe that he dragged that trial out for three years before they finally convicted and sentenced him, but now it's done. Over. Time for the next story, right?"

Clark allowed a small smile as he looked over at her. Same old Lois, he thought dreamily.

"Clark?"

"Huh? Oh, right. Time for the next story," he agreed distractedly, pausing for a moment as he accessed his memories of that morning. "Um, Perry is still insisting on that background piece to go with this afternoon's sentencing headline, so… If you want, I'll head down the archives and do the research, and we can compare notes later. Okay?"

"Sure, knock yourself out," Lois muttered, and Clark headed towards the elevators. Once the elevator doors closed, he flew up the shaft and out the roof, accelerating to the North.

-o-o-o-

Friday, August 18, 2000 10:30AM EDT

In the reconstituted Phantom Zone, Zod, Ursa and Non experienced a wave of disorientation when their future and former selves collided. Like their enemy, Kal-El, their minds were able to assimilate the out of phase memories of the future that was. The flood of memories struck Ursa and she reached out to steady herself. However, given her incorporeal state within the zone there was no firm surface to press back against her hand. She opened her eyes with a start. "I'm back in the Phantom Zone," she muttered.

"How?" Zod asked. Ursa was surprised by his presence. After their defeat and capture, the three had been segregated and kept in solitary confinement. She looked around and confirmed that she'd also been reunited with Non.

"It should not be possible," Ursa informed him. "The containment shell was shattered. From what we observed, Kal-El should not have had the facilities to reproduce it, especially not so quickly." She looked through the portal into the corporeal world, recognizing the small dot in the sky that was the Earth as it spun around them.

"We are here, nonetheless," Zod argued. "Is there a way out of this reproduction?"

"There's no way to know," Ursa admitted. She again looked through the portal and exclaimed in surprise, "We're moving!" Her colleagues joined her in observing the Sol system shrink away before them.

"Kal-El's accessed the Zone's navigational controls," Zod concluded angrily. "He still fears us and he's sending us away from his precious Earth."

-o-o-o-

Superman stood before the console in the Fortress of Solitude, observing the Phantom Zone containment shell as it moved away from the Earth at nearly one third the speed of light. "How long will it take it to return to Krypton?" he asked.

"The journey will take approximately nineteen million years," Jor-El answered. "Remember, the Phantom Zone was never intended for interstellar travel and was built solely for housing the handful of law-breakers, like Zod, who could not be rehabilitated back into our society."

"Then how did it get here in the first place, if its top speed is only one-third C?" Superman asked. "Krypton's six and half million light years from Earth and it hasn't been that long since I left!"

"The most likely explanation is that it was caught in the warp field from the wake of your ship," Jor-El concluded. "We know from your escape ship's logs that you barely made it out in time. Our Sun, Rao, was exploding as your ship translated into hyperspace. In fact, you escaped the shock wave by mere seconds. You also passed within ninety kilometers of the Phantom Zone when you made the translation, which could have been close enough to catch it in your wake. The Zone would have been released when you translated back to normal space near the Kuiper belt at the edge of this star system."

"Of course," Superman acknowledged. "Now for the other matter – I have a nuclear weapon to dispose of without poisoning the Earth, or allowing the shock-wave to breach the Phantom Zone. We know that the containment shell will be weaker now than it was in the original reality."

"I am disappointed that you chose that solution, Kal-El," Jor-El chastised. "You cannot simply fold space-time to avoid unpleasant situations. It is forbidden to interfere with human history."

"I was undoing the interference, Father!" Superman replied defensively. "Up to half a billion human beings dead, not by their own doing, but by Kryptonian hands. That was the interference and it would have thrown this world into another dark age. What's done is done, and I'm asking for your help now to prevent that future from repeating itself. How do I best dispose of the nuke without poisoning the Earth or freeing Zod? Is it sufficient to just send it in the opposite direction in space, or are additional precautions necessary? We only have a few minutes before that missile launches."

"If there is sufficient time, the ideal disposal site is Earth's sun," Jor-El concluded. "Failing that, the thick atmosphere of the planet Venus would also be sufficient to contain the blast. Kal-El, I hope you realize that we'll have to monitor the Zone and have contingency plans in place for a breach. It's still close enough to be compromised by unusually high solar activity, given its weakened state."

"I know," Kal-El answered. "I have time to get the nuke to the sun. I must go now, Father." After powering down the Fortress, Superman launched himself across North America and took position fifty thousand feet directly above the missile silo that would launch the fateful rogue missile moments later.