A/N: A challenge story: What if Kal-El returned after Luthor made his crystal continent?
Copyright: Sept 3, 2008
Kal-El had spent most of his return journey from Krypton dreaming. Dreaming of his home in Kansas, of his adoptive mother and father - the only parents he really knew. Dreaming of Metropolis, the joy of reporting for one of the greatest newspapers in the world. Dreaming of flying, using his immense powers to help. But mostly he dreamed of Lois Lane. She danced through his dreams. She sang in his dreams. She loved him – in his dreams.
The voice of the crystal starship's Artificial Intelligence intruded into his dreams, asking him to awaken. With a groan Kal-El opened his eyes. The light filtering in from the outside was golden-white. The light felt good and some of the ache in his joints began to dissipate. The pain was a sullen reminder of his mistake – leaving Earth for Krypton in hopes that the reports were true, that by some miracle the star, the planet, and its inhabitants had survived the cataclysm.
The reports hadn't been true. Rao was now a neutron star and Krypton was a shattered mass of deadly green kryptonite.
Kal-El had skimmed the planet in the starship, hoping to catch some glimpse of its former glory. It was a graveyard without bodies. There was no glory.
His last spoken words to the AI that governed the ship were: 'Take me home.' Then he fell unconscious from the pain and sickness of kryptonite poisoning.
Now the AI was telling him it was time to wake up. Kal-El stretched himself as much as he could in the confined space and looked around. Except for the bright spot of a yellow-white star, the sky was black.
He was still in space.
The instrument console shifted to an analysis of the star system he was in. Nine planets, the third one from the star was a double. An asteroid belt, four giants with multiple moons - the second one with large visible rings.
The five inner planets were rocky. Three had atmospheres. One of the double planets had liquid water. The system was too much like Earth's planetary system for it not to be.
"Why have you awakened me?" he asked the AI.
"Scans of the target planet have given anomalous readings."
"The terrain and coastlines do not match those previously stored in memory. Also, there is a large crystalline mass that does not match any data I have for this planet."
"Can you identify the mass as belonging to another type of planet?" Kal-El asked. The images the AI presented on the holographic display were of an Earth whose natural continents were partially submerged. He could easily trace the backbone of the Andes, the Alps, the Himalayas, the Rockies. The coasts and lowlands, all the great coastal cities, were underwater. And off of what should have been the east coast of the United States was another continent. Only what should have been the green, brown and blue of life was a sickly pale green that seemed to glow malevolently.
"The crystalline mass bears some resemblance to the current structure of what remains of Krypton," the AI stated. It had no emotions but Kal-El thought he detected a certain level of disapproval.
"You're saying that new continent is made of kryptonite?"
"Ten percent of the mass is element 126."
"How could this have happened?" Kal-El asked. It was a rhetorical question and he certainly wasn't expecting an answer.
The AI answered anyway. "It appears as though someone attempted to initiate a Kryptonian planetary transformation protocol using a contaminated seed crystal."
"And the kryptonite?"
"Contaminants included with the seed crystal will be propagated along with the seed crystal as it gathers energy and grows," the AI explained.
"Can you tell how long ago this happened?" Kal-El asked.
"Approximately three months ago," the AI said.
The starship maintained a stable interior temperature of sixty-eight degrees while he was awake. But Kal-El felt a shiver run down his spine. While he was gone on his fool's errand, someone tried to destroy the world. And whoever created that monstrous continent might have access to advanced Kryptonian technology.
"Have we been detected?" Kal-El asked after a moment.
"It is extremely unlikely. I have detected no scans using any technology known to me."
"Plot a course to Earth while avoiding detection."
"Where do you wish to land?"
"Locate the largest concentration of population in the Northern Americas. Bring us in, but make us look like a meteorite."
"Parameters laid in, scanning for population centers. Safety protocols indicate you should strap in. This may be a rough ride."
Lex Luthor railed at the injustice of it all. The greatest mind of the twentieth and twenty-first centuries reduced to petty con games and thievery. It was all that damned Kryptonian head's fault. The AI in the form of Jor-El, Superman's long dead father, had answered every question put to it. But, as Luthor realized too late, the AI had only answered the questions put to it. The AI, like the computer it was, hadn't volunteered anything.
That had been a mistake and Lex Luthor never made mistakes.
But the long and the short of it was that the damnable AI had failed to disclose certain vital pieces of information and now Lex Luthor was in an alley in Denver scoping out a food distribution center.
His henchmen had turned on him soon after they realized what the AI had done – when they realized that Luthor didn't have access to the promised alien technologies hidden in the crystals stolen from Superman's hidden Arctic fortress. He didn't have the promised weapons or advanced transportation. He didn't have access to cheap, clean energy. He had nothing, not even access to the millions he had bilked from the widow Vanderworth before her death. All he had achieved was the destruction of most of the population of the Earth. He and Kitty had barely escaped with their lives, abandoning the others on the barren crystal continent.
Then Kitty took off, leaving him utterly alone in the world he had planned to rule.
But that was the dead past.
It was still early in the morning and the center looked deserted. Luthor knew that looks were deceiving. The manager was already inside, getting ready for the day.
Luthor straightened his tie and strode across the parking lot. It was time to get something to eat, and then… And then he would sit down and plan out what he needed to do to salvage the situation. Lex Luthor would have his way yet despite the misleading Kryptonian AI and the flying blue-clad freak.
As Luthor stood waiting for the doors to open, it occurred to him that Superman's star ship should have arrived back in the solar system already. That had been one of the AI's final announcements – a ship of Kryptonian design was approaching Earth from deep space.
Luthor could only hope that the ship's occupant was dead. It was a pity in a way – a starship would be just the ticket for him to escape this godforsaken planet and begin again somewhere where his genius would be appreciated. But without a pilot, the ship would never land.
Lois Lane rubbed the back of her neck. She was exhausted and she couldn't remember the last time she'd had a good night's sleep. It was fourteen weeks since Lex Luthor's announcement that he'd murdered Superman by sending the hero off on a wild goose chase to Krypton more than five years before. Fourteen weeks since Luthor's ultimatum to the governments of the world to capitulate to him or suffer the consequences.
No government had agreed, but a number of them offered him asylum and money to get access to the technology he boasted he had possession of.
It was thirteen weeks since Luthor made good at least part of his threat. It took only twelve hours for his alien monstrosity of a continent to grow, displacing the oceans and flooding everything that had been at less than a thousand feet above average sea level – average according to the old maps. The initial surge had taken sea water all the way to Detroit.
It took twelve hours to destroy London, Berlin, Paris, Rome, Cairo, Jerusalem, Metropolis, New York, D.C., Tokyo, Peking, Hong Kong, Calcutta, New Delhi. Twelve hours to murder more than ninety-five percent of the humans on planet Earth, to destroy irreplaceable eco-systems. The cost to human society hadn't even begun to be tallied. It was beyond comprehension. Armageddon had occurred without a single shot being fired.
But part of Lois Lane's job was to try and tally the damage to the human psyche. Despite everything that had happened, she was still a reporter. She still worked for the Daily Planet, even if it was based out of Denver now.
Perry White and Bruce Wayne, the Daily Planet's owner, had been among the few that had taken Luthor's threats seriously. Wayne had evacuated as many of his employees as would go to Denver. The federal government evacuated the president and his family as well as the joint chiefs. If Wayne Industries was taking Luthor's threats seriously, then at least some members of the government felt it was wise to follow suit.
The rest of the world hadn't been as well prepared. The rest of the world had died.
It was Lois's job to document Earth's comeback. But it was hard going. Supplies of everything was low, especially food. The destruction happened in late September, as the Midwest grain harvests were underway. California's major agricultural areas were underwater. It was the same all over the world.
Luckily, the few cities that survived, survived in good shape. Colorado's population had tripled in the week before the disaster, as did Idaho, eastern Washington, Montana, and Wyoming, Alberta and Manitoba. Spokane. The upper Columbia dams were still in place. Wayne Technologies was building low-head hydro plants and wind farms everywhere it could find a place to put them.
It was going to be a cold winter without reliable access to oil and natural gas supplies, but if they survived the winter, the remaining human population might just make it – unless Luthor started making more threats.
This was the part that was giving Lois stress headaches. Luthor had stopped making his outrageous demands less than a week after the catastrophe. A military reconnaissance team had made it to the new continent and discovered the bodies of four men who had died of exposure. But there was no sign of Luthor or his female accomplice.
The recon team brought back 'soil' samples of the continent and turned some of the samples over to Wayne Technologies for analysis.
"It's radioactive," Wayne told Lois, opening the lead box he'd brought with him to the Daily Planet's offices. "The egg heads tell me it emits an unusual form of radiation, very high frequency."
She peered at the green glowing crystal in the box. "Kryptonite?"
Wayne nodded. "Element 126. The new continent is laced with it. According to my people, the radiation may not be harmful to humans in the short term, but it's extremely doubtful that any plant life will grow normally there, even if there was top soil."
"Why would he lace it with kryptonite unless…"
"Unless he lied about Superman being dead?" Wayne completed the question for her.
She nodded, glancing over at her son, Jason, who was playing in the corner with Wayne's daughter, Helena.
"I sincerely hope he was lying," Wayne said. "We can use a guardian angel about now."
"Still no sign of Luthor?"
He shook his head. "Wherever he is, we both know he's up to no good."
A/N: So everyone knows - I see the SR Superman as being closer to Modern than Silver Age - Silver Age would have been fast enough (and smart enough) that he wouldn't have torn the wings off the 777.
And if SR follows the Donner version, then the time travel sequence took place AFTER Zod's attack on Earth - in which case there would be no Jason and Superman would never have left Earth out of fear of another attack. (Unless you're following Mr. Beeto's 'Family Reunion'. He has one of the great explanations for having Zod AND Jason, but that's in HIS story and this is mine.)