Fear the Unknown
Chapter 19: Liftoff
The beginning of the plan was simple. In nineteen eighty seven, Bliss had orchestrated the death of one of the nation's premier journalists when it looked as if she was about to uncover some of his more unsavory exploits and reveal his connection to the nation's government. According to some of this informal society's sources inside the media establishment, it was rumored that Bliss' target reporter was highly sympathetic to the cause of legalizing super-human activity. At that point in the eighties, after decades of war, some of the adventures of renegade, self-proclaimed heroes such as the late Ted Kord and gym-teacher turned street justice dealer Guy Gardner had certain factions in the public remembering their grandparents' stories of superhuman soldiers who had saved America from destruction in the great wars and subsequently calling for an end to the crippling restrictions laid on them by the government and its religious overlords. The reporter, one Lois Lane, had been poised to become the voice of those people. They were going to go back and prevent Bliss from silencing one of the first great voices of the people to come along in nearly half a century.
"So," Clark started. "How do we do this?"
Matthew stood from the wing-backed chair he'd been sitting in, his long-tattered robe fluttering in the light breeze that wafted through the room.
"It's very simple, actually. You may actually remember the moment that we are going to visit. In 1987, it had become obvious even to the ultra-conservative elements within this society that extra-terrestrial exploration was going to be a necessity in order for humanity to survive. Hence, one of the major turning points in history, or at least its impetus, was preserved in this time line. The space plane launched that year was not supposed to crash with all hands aboard. In the timeline, before Bliss's alterations, the rescue of that plane and its crew, including one Lois Lane, was the launching point not only for the next wave of space exploration, but for the career of the super-hero who would set the standard for his entire generation."
His glittering eyes fixed their gaze on Clark.
"You, Mr. Kent."
Clark's eyes widened.
"Me? But I was there, I saw that plane crash. I..."
"Couldn't do anything for fear that the population would turn on both you and the crew of the space plane, having been tainted by a demon's touch. I know. I watched you. I'm sending you back alone, Mr. Kent. You must find your younger self and convince him to save that plane."
Clark never finished his argument. In an explosion of images and sounds, he felt a horrible falling sensation and suddenly… there he was.
He was standing some several hundred feet beyond the main mass of the crowed gathered to watch the shuttle's landing. Like a grown man watching a kindergarten concert tape, his eyes fixed instantly on a single shape standing several inches above most in the crowd. The man's stance was sunken, as if he were in a museum looking at a great work of art that he could, but never would, replicate. A look that can only belong to a man meant to fly, but trapped on the ground.
Gently, Clark made his way through the crowd. The other was still standing there, his eyes locked on the sky, watching as the fiery light of the space plane moved closer and closer to the crowd. Clark knew that his hearing was already detecting the sound of an air traffic controller trying to wave off the small civilian plane that was nearing this restricted airspace. The other was trying, he knew, to decide, even though the choice had already been made in his head. Take to the skies? He knew he could. Save the people aboard that ship? But why, when they'd only be handed over to the questioners of the government?
Softly, at a volume audible to no human ear, Clark whispered.
"Listen to me, Clark. There is only one thing you need to know. 'All that is necessary for evil to flourish is for good men to do nothing. There are people who need your help. Fear gains a man nothing."
As he spoke, the space plane had come even closer, and visible now was the small aircraft, the pilot paid off by Dominick Bliss, careening toward the graceful spacecraft with death its sole purpose.
The crowd gasped as the civilian plane collided with the space plane, impaling itself on the port wing. Flames shot from both vehicles, and screams went up all around as they began to plummet toward the ground.
"Go now, Clark." He murmured. "You can do it."
There was a single beat of time, and then he could feel it. Deep within his very soul, something was shifting. He watched as the world around him seemed to warp, though it was in reality his own self, his existence, which was changing.
Clark Kent, a man just barely out of Smallville and with so much to learn about the world, set his jaw and rocketed into the sky. He dug his hands into the fuselage of the plane, his fingers cutting deep swaths in its hull as he struggled to stop its downward plummet.
Far below, an older, more wizened Clark Kent watched as his past shifted within his head. He saw a first meeting that was to take place in mere seconds. He saw a first kiss to take place in months. He saw a love that would blossom in the coming years. He saw hope.
Once again, colors began to swirl around him and he felt himself being yanked out of time to wherever Matthew Ryder needed him next. Wherever it was, whatever the job, it would be a job for Superman.
Bruce's eyes stung as the mixture of salts from his blood, sweat, and tears streamed through them. He considered himself a strong man, but Dr. Thomas Wayne was a professional, and he applied himself to his work with the same relentless aggression that his son applied to his, in this and every other life.
"Your resistance is amazing, Bruce, but you will break, you have to know that. Everyone breaks sooner or later and you are, after all, just human."
"They'll stop you." Bruce croaked.
"Oh my boy," The Doctor said with a smile. "How terribly trite and unoriginal. I knew that I should have selected a religious academy for your education and not one of those dreadful private institutions. I suppose that I hoped your faith would be all the stronger for having been arrived at through independent conclusions. I see I was sadly mistaken. But don't worry, my son. I can and will rectify your crisis of faith."
"And how do you intend to do that."
"Because you will be meeting God very soon, Bruce."