The Safe Point
by Adrian Tullberg
The impact sent the Man of Steel crashing down, prostrated on the floor.
Gasping, Superman tried to remember what just happened ...
... travelling to Metropolis ... passing Tokyo on the way ... Lois wanted some Gyu Teriaki ...
... hearing a massive electromagnetic surge a literal nanosecond before ...
Superman tried to get up ... his head was fuzzy, motor co-ordination shot...
A hand reached out, stabilised his attempt at standing up.
"Don't worry Superman ..."
The Man of Steel looked into Lex Luthor's calm, smiling face.
"... I've saved you."
Superman stumbled back from ...
No, he was heavier-set from when he last saw him. Craggier, older features with a more beak-like nose. Not to mention he'd somehow regained most of his red hair. Wearing a double-breasted white labcoat with black gauntlets.
But still Luthor, helping him maintain his balance.
"Now breathe, keep your focus on the floor. Your natural sense of balance will soon re-establish itself once you orientate to the local gravity."
"Whu ... who ..."
"Yes. I am Luthor. I brought you here."
"Where have you brought me, Luthor."
A large, white room with a domed white roof. Apart from a few hallways making this area a junction point; nothing. Superman attempted a brief scan - then a more powerful one. Again, nothing.
"The entire facility is shielded. Cloaked, to be more precise. Don't take it personally; it's protected against all methods of detection." Luthor leaned in closer, voice low, urgent. "If we're observed, in any way, shape or form, the Safe Point risks becoming part of the causal chain of events. And that, would be the catastrophe."
"Are you going to explain yourself?"
"Better ... I'm going to show you."
Superman noticed the floor underneath him and Luthor irising open ... they were standing on a large section of thick, transparent material.
Beneath their feet was a dark mass of swirling light. Swirling lights. The distinctive, multiple collections of swirls, and gases, and galaxies...
Luthor was checking a large wrist watch. "You know, every time I see this, it never gets old ... right ..."
The stars were dimming.
Superman found his vision powers to be working perfectly as the tiny lights representing solar systems, stars, constellations, all dimming, all compacting into their galactic halos.
"Before you leap out ... try to fly that vast distance ..."
Before his eyes, galactic clusters crossed the vast voids inbetween to clump together, then the results of those gargantuan collisions massing to merge, to impact with filaments.
"... to do something ... anything ..."
Each and every one of these masses of condensed matter were drawing closer and closer to the exact centre ... "... what exactly, could you do?"
The entire mass of what was, and whatever will be collapsed, the lights growing dimmer and dimmer as it condensed.
Superman found he was slumped to his knees, as the Universe ended.
"... and wait for it ..."
The light from the centre exploded, shocking Superman in it's suddenness.
The supercompacted mass exploded outwards, ejecting the vast amount of stellar matter outward ... the compressed mass forming patterns, shapes...
Superman saw the formation, the very act of creation happening underneath. The massed matter was already coalescing, reforming
... billions of years of gravitation and pressure forming stars and planets, occurring in minutes before his very eyes.
... the exact same stars, planets and galaxies forming in the exact same places and patterns as he saw just a few minutes before.
A noise made him look up at Luthor pressing a control, making the iris close again.
"What you just saw ... was the Universe repairing itself."
"I don't ..."
That same, smirking, pitying look that assured him this was Luthor.
"I'm not surprised."
Luthor sat down next to Superman. "Time and Space are, in fact, one and the same, correct?"
"First we have ... yahoos travelling in time. Altering events. Treading on butterflies. Causing growing alterations and outright changes to the established chain of events. So on, and so forth. Then we have ... massive events. Interstellar wars. Damaging the very fabric of space itself."
"... these things ... damage spacetime?"
"Normally, the universe can compensate to some degree. Some incompetent is suddenly revealed to be a grand mastermind despite the years of evidence proving he couldn't organise a thrift shop, let alone a vast secret organisation. But the accumulative inconsistencies and paradoxes and rewritten histories grow beyond the universe's capacity to repair or simply overlook... the Universal Homeostasis kicks in with only one possible outcome."
"The Universe destroys itself."
Luthor's head jabbed forward. "No. Renews itself. The universe breaks itself down, destroying the previous, damaged patterns and events that were destroying it. Then ... it starts again. The Big Bang, then coalescing back to it's previous point in time and space, all while reintegrating as much of the previous chain of events as possible. Sometimes it incorporates events that only happened in the previous version of itself, other events are rejected, destroyed, avoiding conflict with the new integrated historical series of events."
Superman looked at Luthor, this new revelation compacting with the sight he'd just seen. "The Universe reboots itself."
Luthor was about to retort, then stopped. "Well ... yes, I suppose ...that's an apt analogy. Yes. Reboots."
"What ... what about ..."
Luthor stood up. "Lois? Jimmy? Perry White? Batman and the rest of the costumed freaks? Well ... caught up in the new historical chain of events. All new, all different. But you wouldn't be aware of this, since you've been caught up in this before."
"I would have remembered ..."
"The Pallarax event ... The various Crises ... that ... Superboy punching reality ... sometimes the Universe doesn't elegantly reduce and replace itself. Sometimes that renewal is forced upon it."
Superman stood up, facing Luthor. "Why show me this. And you still haven't told me where we are."
Luthor chuckled, twitching his finger in a follow me gesture.
Superman kept following as Luthor strode, and talked.
"A long time ago ... inbetween your stopping me as per usual ... my instruments discovered what was an imminent universal collapse. All of space and time, all that ever was and would be was about to condense to the size of a baseball. I realised that the only safe place was somewhere outside the universe. A self-sustaining microcosm. I barely had time to create this universal pocket and make it out. WHat I didn't expect to see was the universe recreating itself."
"You created ... Fortress Luthor?"
"I call it The Safe Point." Luthor approached a set of thick doors which automatically slid aside. Superman saw a vast floorspace, dotted with unidentified technologies and machines and other objects, dotted around the massive bright white area.
"I expanded. The facility grew, as my needs grew. Resources to fulfil this place's ultimate function."
Superman's vision and hearing were still blinkered. "A home away from home."
Robots were overseeing a vast array of ... printers, spewing out and collating vast amounts of plastic looking paper, with thick bars printed on in lieu of text.
"Microfiche. As much information as can be printed on single sheets of near indestructible plastic sheets."
Superman saw several ... documents loaded onto white envelopes, sealed in clear plastic envelopes, then loaded in long, narrow boxes, which were shuttled off far into the distance. "What happened to computer storage?"
"Eventually, it decays. These are for long term storage."
"And what are you archiving ...?"
"Your universe, Superman! Every event of note, every piece of technology, of science, art, philosophy and literature."
"I thought you didn't want to be noticed."
"I observe, unseen, recording, preserving everything of note. Enough to recreate each world from scratch, if need be."
Superman looked around, past the machinery spewing plastic paper, the robots. There were devices and vehicles that deviated from the overall aesthetic. A model of the old LexCorp tower. What looked like a Legion flight ring. Newspaper front pages - The Daily Planet - showing Luthor in skintight garb, scowling at the camera as someone in a Superman -
Superman stared at the man in the photo. Squarer jaw. More slicked back hairstyle. Less precise tailoring of his costume. But still him, none the less.
And a date of 1953.
"Some universes last longer, some exceedingly short; for some reason, those only have the one hero and his band of hangers on. But the same patterns, in each and every revision, Superman. Me. You. Others. Different lines and different motivations but still the same players on the stage. Maybe you can offer a fresh perspective, maybe you can answer this..."
Superman turned to face Luthor. This dampening of his senses was beginning to irritate him.
"... was I there because of you ... or were you there because of me?"
"Why did you bring me here? To gloat?"
"I save what's important." Luthor motioned to a nearby wall.
Superman noticed a series of brass plates affixed. A series of numbers and letters, some cataloguing system, and a single name.
Luthor 34.7.H3 ...
Holograms hovered over some of the plates in a random fashion. Nearly all of them were bald. Some had red hair, some brown, there was one with curling brown locks, a seventies suit and a car salesman grin. But they were all, somehow, the same person.
"A record of recovery." Luthor ran his finger over the edge of one of the plates. "To use your reboot metaphor ... I recover as much of the previous universe's Luthor as possible ... I recompile ... then I assimilate the end result into the most suitable storage and processing unit."
Something, something made Superman stop, and look at Luthor in an entirely new light.
"I said ... I am Luthor. All of Luthor. Every Luthor."
Superman looked at the vast amount of brass plates, then at the man in the labcoat.
"Well, I am the most suitable form of storage. Compatible to the quantum level. All their attributes. Their knowledge, their skills ..." He gave Superman a deeply unsettling look. "Their memories. The same events. Played out, over and over. I thought about deleting them due to redundancy but in the interest of complete record keeping ..."
Luthor pressed a control, and a hologram grew into sharp prominence. A spitting, snarling, leaner Lex Luthor. Exactly as Superman'd last seen him, tumbling into the void.
"I recovered him very recently; the renewal was fast approaching, I had the best opportunity. Recompilation is almost complete. Very audacious scheme, that last one." Luthor turned back to Superman. "He'll make a tremendous contribution."
"It's ...it's ..."
"I said; I save what's important."
Superman turned. "I'm leaving."
"For where, exactly?"
"Your home no longer exists."
"Every version of you, wilfully ignoring the evidence. Using every muscle but the one that counts. Your Home Doesn't Exist Anymore. There's a new Superman, a new Lois ignoring Clark Kent until he spells it out to her, a new Perry White collecting cancer clusters, and a new Metropolis with a collective envy of New York's public prominence. Do I have to get a blackboard and spell it out, or should I go straight to the finger puppets?"
Superman turned back. Luthor may be right. Or he was hiding something. Either way, he'd better keep an eye on him. And from what he could tell, Luthor wouldn't want to risk a confrontation inside this 'Safe Point'.
"Now, there's work to be done. More data to process and catalogue. A whole universe of events to record!"
"You're enjoying this."
Luthor turned, smiled.
"You've witnessed the destruction of the universe, how many times and you're enjoying this."
Luthor crossed the floor, heading towards a set of dark grey doors, heavily reinforced. "Two very good reasons. First: The ultimate aim of the Safe Point. To not only ensure that the records of the previous versions of the universe are preserved, but to analyse the causes and mechanisms of these 'reboots'. To understand, control, and hopefully prevent the universe from periodically self-destructing, and create a stable, linear spacetime." Luthor tapped his fingers in thought. "And they're occurring more and more often for some reason ..."
"And the second?"
Luthor moved next to the doors, which opened automatically. Luthor walked inside, Superman following him.
A series of identical glass cylinders, seven feet tall, reinforced by steel bands, all suspended in darkness. All containing a humanoid figure, floating within.
Small differences - one was young, with some Italian ancestry, another with vaguely Asiatic features - but all wearing the same red, blue and yellow uniform.
"I get to kill you again."
Superman turned, intent on moving out of this area, Luthor wouldn't tip his hand unless his latest scheme was primed and ready. While moving at superspeed, he would also grab Luthor, and use him as a shield, he'd put good money on some sort of failsafe designed not to hurt it's master.
Tracking devices based on a Krypton that produced a vastly faster and more powerful Superman registered the threat. Environmental computers had flagged the still-persisting mental disorientation all trans-universal travellers suffered and uploaded the results into the defensive systems, allowing more efficient target predictions. The computer network, reverse engineered from a device called The Miracle Machine, had used the time Luthor had spent keeping this version of Superman busy to analyse his biology and create the most potent energy matrix of Kryptonite, sent the results to the firing array.
Superman gave an agonised roar as the oscillating Kryptonite/red solar plasma beam's impact sent the Man of Steel crashing down, prostrated on the floor.
"There's a reason I win, Superman, a reason I always win."
Every cell in his body starved and poisoned, Superman looked up at the rapidly blurring mad scientist in a red haze. The last thing he'd ever see.
"While the Universe reboots ... Luthor Saves!"