Disclaimer: Disclaimer: I do not own either Young Justice or its related characters. Such are the property of CD Comics, Warner Bros. Entertainment and Cartoon Network. I'm just borrowing them for some non-profit entertainment.
Chapter Nine: One or the Other
Project Kr -Conner, he settled finally on the name 'Conner' for himself- did not know what to expect from civilian public school. It was something that he, personally, felt that he didn't actually need. All the knowledge they could teach him was already filed away in the recess of his mind by Cadmus and the genome's telepathic programming. There didn't really seem to be a purpose in attending school. But Pa sat him down Sunday evening, the night before his first day, and explained to him that school was more than just learnin'. The classes and the tests were just a small part of school.
The real purpose in enrolling him in school was for socialization.
Pa explained that people learn how to behave and interact with other people during their teen and pre-teen years. The more socialization they have, the better adjusted they'll be. That is why children who are homeschooled and don't get much exposure to other people in large groups are socially awkward or anxious. Conner already had a handicap because he was already a teenager and -aside from his very brief stint with the Team and weeks spent with Lois, getting to know the Daily Planet staff, he had no social experience. He needed to go to school, if not to learn what they were actually teaching, then to learn how to behave around people.
That explanation got him to agree to schooling, but it didn't tell him what to expect. When Pa said school would teach him how to behave around people, Conner expected to have classes devoted to social intercourse. Something where the teacher would explain, 'if someone says this, then the appropriate response would be this except in the case of this' etc. But to the Super-clone's dismay (and great disappointment) that was not what he got.
There was no real order to school. Well, that wasn't true. There was order to it. The day was broken up into seven segments, six one-hour periods for classes and a single half-hour lunch break.
Pa escorted him to the office to pick up his schedule and make sure any last-minute issues with his enrollment were smoothed over. The office attendant comment on just how much like Clark he looked and that struck Conner as odd. If he was cloned from Superman, why would he look anything like Clark Kent? He called up in his mind the image of Kent from all the photographs he'd seen of the man. The ones on Lois' refrigerator of their engagement party, the one of her desk of him wearing an old 1920s-style fedora, pictures of him from his youth on the Kent farm. Playing football, winning the science fair, posing for prom, sitting on a tractor… Conner spent a great deal of time over the last few months studying those photos of Clark. In fact, he spent more time studying Clark's image than he did the newspaper clippings of the first Superman.
Every now and again, when Conner would catch himself staring at a picture of Clark, he would think that the man looked more like someone else he knew.
He didn't know many people. He knew Batman, Black Canary, and Red Tornado. Robin, Kid Flash, Aqualad and Miss Martian. Lois Lane, Jimmy Olsen, Perry White and Bibbo Bibbowski. But the person in the photos didn't look like any of them. Cadmus programmed him with knowledge of people whom were connected to Superman. He knew what Lois looked like before he ever met her in person. He knew of Dr. Emil Hamilton, Detective Dan Turpin, Captain Maggie Sawyer, and Clark Kent.
The photos did look like Clark. But… they also looked like someone else…
Then it hit him.
The reason he studied the pictures of Clark so studiously wasn't because they reminded him of someone illusive and indistinct. It was because the reminded him of himself! Conner was still new to the world, his personal identity still forming. But he knew what he looked like and he looked like Superman. But he also looked like Clark Kent! Did that just mean that Clark Kent also looked like Superman, or…?
Pa gave a good natured laugh when the office attendant made the comment. "Does he? I hadn't noticed."
But he had! In a sudden epiphany Conner realized that that was probably why Pa was so aloof for those first few days of his stay here in Kansas. He reminded him of his dead son! That was also why Ma looked at him with an odd mix of pride and affection. Not the dismay and expectations he was used to seeing on other's faces. It was clear that she still saw his predecessor when she looked at him. But not in the same way.
"Conner here is our nephew -Clark's cousin- visiting from back east." Pa explained.
Conner didn't know what was going on here, but he was going to find out.
"Pa's enrolled him in Clark's old high school." Ma informed Bruce over the phone.
Bruce sat at his desk at Wayne Enterprises trying his best to look board. Billionaire playboys were not supposed to feel at home in stuffy offices behind big desks. He held the phone in one hand while he scrolled through Facebook with the other. He liked a page called 'Texts from Superheroes' and gave Carol Ferris a poke.
"Overall his behavior hasn't changed much since you first brought him here." She continued. "I would have expected him to put up a fight over being enrolled in school, but Pa just talked to him and he went along with it with no fuss. I honestly don't see what you were talking about when you first brought him here. I've seen none of the behavior problems you warned Jonathan and I about."
That was good, Bruce decided. Maybe the tragedy of the bridge affected the boy more deeply than the Batman thought. Clark certainly hated it when he couldn't save everyone. Perhaps his clone wasn't all that different from him after all.
"One thing I have noticed that I think is a bit strange," Ma paused, "Conner seems to spend more time that I think is normal looking at Clark's picture. Well, not so much 'looking at' as studying. Pa and I haven't told him that Clark and Superman are- were actually the same person. Do you think he's figuring it out on his own?"
"Its possible, I suppose." Bruce nodded although Martha couldn't see it. He denied a relationship status request from Selena Kyle. "A pair of reading glasses always has been a rather flimsy disguise, not like a mask or a cowl."
To that comment Martha did not respond. Instead she changed the subject. "Anyway, the reason I called was actually because I thought it might be a good idea if he spent more time with that Team of yours. I just think its strange that he was programmed to replace Clark, yet he hasn't been pestering Jonathan and I about it. Don't misunderstand me. I am by no means complaining about a well-mannered and polite child. But that's just it. Children shouldn't be well-mannered and polite all the time. He should be questioning Jonathan and I. He should be impatient. He should be asking about Superman and when he's going to become the next one."
"So, you want him to spend more time with the Team." Bruce posted a snarky comment on the official Lexcorp Facebook page. "And while he's hanging out with the Team maybe accompany them on a mission or two."
"If you could, please."
Bruce paused, no longer paying attention to his Facebook. "I have no problem with his socializing with the Team. They're free to spend their time however they like. But I can't have a psychological liability like him on missions. I'll think about your request."
Conner's intentions when he got home were not to do his homework, as he was told to do by the teachers whom had given homework on the first day. But rather, to once again look through all the pictures of Clark in all the family albums again. The young super-clone couldn't understand why he was so fixated on this, on the fact that Clark Kent looked like Superman, but he was. Looking back, Conner realized that it had always bothered him.
Back when he was staying with Lois in Metropolis, he would catch himself starting at his pictures. There was one in particular, one from their engagement party where Clark was viewed in profile, the glasses not quite covering his face, a stray strand of hair falling over his forehead. The man looked remarkably like Superman in that photo.
Then, after Conner came to live with the Kents and he saw pictures of Clark as a teenager, he couldn't help but noticed just how much the man's younger self looked like him. Superman and Clark Kent were doppelgangers of each other. The resemblance was uncanny. If Conner didn't know any better, he would have thought that maybe they were actually the same person.
But that was absurd. Superman was a strange visitor from a far-off and dead world, while Clark Kent was a meek and mild-mannered reporter born and raised in the flat and unremarkable farmlands of Kansas. They obviously couldn't be the same person. It was just a rather extreme coincidence that the two men happened to look exactly like one another. But then, he remembered the cryptic way Pa said that Superman and Clark were close. Were they so close because they bonded over looking so much alike? Or were they close for another reason? Were they actually twins? Both sent from Krypton before its destruction, only one chose to live a normal, mundane, earthling life, while the other chose to become a bright red underpants wearing superhero.
This theory satisfied Conner -for the most part. The only problem was that Superman was a stange visitor from the planet krypton, while Clark Kent was a farm-raised kid from small-town America.
Conner intended to investigate further as soon as he got back to the farm.
He did not get the chance to, however. Something happened to drive the conundrum of Clark Kent and Superman out of his mind.
It started as a whisper in the air, something he was sure only his ears could hear. Blades of wheat bent at angles counter to the breeze. Conner looked up at the clear blue Kansas sky, but all he saw was sky. Switching his vision from normal to infrared, he did another sweep of the area and saw the warm silhouette of Miss Marian's bio-ship -invisible to normal eyes thanks to her cloaking.
He couldn't lead them back to the farm. He knew that Superman knew the Kents and that they taught him how to be the hero that he was. He also knew that Batman knew of their relation since he was the one to bring Conner to them in the first place. But he didn't think the Kents' relation to Superman was public knowledge within the rest of the Justice League or their proteges. So, Conner looked for someplace off the roadside where the ship could land. If the Team was here then they were here for him. Not much else was going on in Smallville, certainly nothing that would require attention from a covert ops team specializing in Justice League level missions.
Conner hopped off the road and over the Ross' property line. He paused just a moment to glance back at the bio-ship and signal for Miss Martian (or whoever was piloting) to follow him. The super-clone lead them behind a stand of trees that -he was confident- would hide the alien ship.
Kid Flash was the first one out -understandably so, being the fastest and all. But he was quickly followed by Robin, Miss Martian (blushing for some reason), Aqualad, and a new girl he didn't recognize -though she wore a green uniform themed similarly to Green Arrow's and she carried a bow so it wasn't hard to figure out where she came from.
"Hey, Supey!" KF smiled. "Feels like we haven't seen you in, like, forever!"
"Its been two months." The super-clone informed him.
"That is forever to this impatient speed-frisk." Scoffed the new girl. She looked Conner up and down, sucking on her bottom lip, as if appraising a piece of meat and finding it to be more than acceptable. "Hi. I'm Artemis."
She extended her hand to shake his and he awkwardly extended his own, not sure how he should introduce himself. The new civilian name he'd finally picked for himself was out of the question. But he wasn't exactly feeling particularly 'super' either, neither Superman nor even Superboy. The debacle of the Hobsneck Bridge showed him that he was no Superman, he wasn't even a superhero. As Batman told him so many months ago, he was just a punk kid in a costume. So, instead of introducing himself he said, "Pleased to make your acquaintance."
"Wow, so polite." She smirked conspiratorially, as if to imply that his manners were nothing more than an act. "You're nothing like what they described."
"He's just fine the way he is!" Miss Martian cut in, almost defensively. Some invisible tension passed between the two women, but it was there and gone in an instant so Conner decided that he probably just imagined it.
Finally he asked the question he should have asked the moment they stepped out of the ship. "What are you doing here?"
"Disobeying orders." Aqualad informed him, looking sideways at Robin to indicate the true architect of this visit.
The Boy Wonder smiled wide. "We've got a mission in Bialya, say stuff, just surveillance. We wanted to invite you to come. Even though you're not a member of the Team, we thought that maybe you might reconsider joining. It'll be fun!"
Fun…? Conner thought about the Hobsneck Bridge. Of the people and cars falling into the river as the concrete dropped out from under them. It was his arrival on the scene that caused the final collapse. His hard landing destabilized the whole bridge and lead to it crumbling. What started as nothing more than a snapped cable turned into a tragedy because of him. Being a superhero was not fun. Conner shook his head, waving off the Robin's offer to join forces. Even if it was just surveillance and reconnaissance, he couldn't risk messing up and getting other people injured or killed.
"What?" Everyone looked shocked.
"But why?" Asked Kid Flash. "The last time we saw you, you were all gun-ho 'I am Superman!' and all that jazz. What happened?"
'You're no Superman. You're just a punk kid in a costume.'
'Nothing can replace Superman.'
'You wanna be called "Superman", earn it!'
'Carful! Your landing destabilized the whole bridge!'
"I…" He began slowly. Conner thought of his terrible handling of the Hobsneck bridge. He thought about how easy like was here in Smallville. The work on the farm was enough to keep him occupied and Ma and Pa were nice company. The fact that he had to go to school was an annoyance, but it was a small one. At least, living this life, that of Conenr Kent, the Kents' nephew from back east, he couldn't accidentally get anyone killed by trying to save them. With a sudden burst of clarity Conner understood why Clark Kent preferred a mundane, normal, earthling life. "I'm not cut out to be a Superman. I'm just a punk kid. You should go. If you have a mission to get to. It will already be sunset in Bialya right now."
"But, Supey-" Kid Flash began to protest, but Robin silence him with a hand on the shoulder.
"Okay, Supey." He said. "We get it. You had one bad mission and now you think you're not cut out for the cape. That's okay. If you don't want to be the next Superman you don't have to be. But something tells me that's not the case. I think you're just scared now and you weren't before. But maybe I'm wrong. If i am, fine. If you want to live out the rest of your days as a Kansas farmer and marry the pretty red-head next door, then do that, because people should strive for what they really want. But if I'm right, and you're really just running away…" the Boy Wonder fished in his belt and withdrew a JLA-issue comlink. "…give up a call when you wake up."
Conner did not refuse the offered comm, but he did say, "I won't call."
Robin said nothing. Just turned around and walked back into the bio-ship. One by one, the rest of the Team followed him. Miss Martian paused just a moment longer to comment on how glad she was to see him again. To which Conner only nodded and said something polite but noncommittal. Then they were gone. Off on their mission and he was left, standing in a field, holding a military-grade communicator in his hand. Conner shook his head and placed the comm in his pocket. He would keep it, but he wouldn't call.
If he couldn't be a Superman, then he would be a Clark Kent.
(A/N: Its always awkward coming back to a story after ignoring it for a year. Sorry if this chapter wasn't quite in the same overall tone of the rest of the story. I'll get back in the swing of this story after a while. Please bare with me. Thank you. )