Season 5, following my story "What the World Could Be," which followed "Void"
Disclaimer: These characters belong to the WB and DC Comics, not to me
“Why are you here, my son?”
Clark tamped down his automatic irritated response, the feeling of annoyance he got whenever Jor-El referred to him as his “son.” As far as Clark was concerned, he had only had one father in his lifetime—Jonathan Kent, who’d adopted him and raised him as his own child. Jor-El wasn’t actually Clark’s Kryptonian father, anyway, since Krypton had been destroyed in a cataclysm, and all its inhabitants killed but for him. Jor-El had saved his will and memories in an artificial intelligence matrix, and that entity inhabited the Fortress of Solitude, a vast, glittering edifice of ice crystals in the Arctic.
“I have a problem,” Clark responded, speaking to the air. “Somehow the world has changed. I need your help so I can figure out what’s happened.”
“You do not need my help, my son. You already understand well enough what has occurred.”
Clark swallowed. “I seem to have fallen into some sort of... alternate reality.”
“There is no such thing, Kal-El. ‘Alternate realities’ and ‘parallel universes’ are a human notion, a phrase used to describe that which they cannot understand. Their grasp of physics is not sufficiently advanced to allow them to comprehend the way the universe is constructed. There is only one reality, my son.”
“But the reality I know has changed somehow. I remember certain things, but no one else does.”
“As a Kryptonian, you see and understand that which mere humans cannot.”
Clark’s teeth ground together at the phrase “mere humans.” The Kryptonians he’d met thus far had a rather annoying belief in their own superiority that bordered on xenophobia. He decided not to argue the point and pressed on with his questions.
“So how can reality change?”
“You know well enough. You yourself have changed reality.”
“When I went back in time to save Lana's life?” Clark hazarded.
“So reality can only be changed by someone going into the past?” Clark said slowly.
“There is no other way to alter what is.”
“Okay," Clark said, thinking about it. "But someone must have gone a lot further into the past than I did. I only went a day into the past. But if Chloe died as a baby, someone must have gone almost twenty years into the past to change things. Is that possible?”
“It is possible. But not for any human.”
“Only a Kryptonian can change the past, then?”
“That is correct, my son. Humans do not possess the ability to travel against the flow of time. If one were to use Kryptonian technology and make the effort to do so, it would kill him instantly.”
Clark paused for a long moment, then asked the question he wasn’t sure he wanted an answer to. He was never quite sure whether his "father" was an ally or an enemy. “Did you do this?”
“No. Altering the past is fraught with peril, as you have discovered, Kal-El. It is not something to be done lightly or frivolously.”
“Then it had to be Fine,” Clark said. As far as he knew, he was the only true Kryptonian on the face of the Earth right now. There were, however, two artificial intelligences built by Kryptonians—Jor-El, and the AI who had called himself Milton Fine and posed as Clark’s history professor for several months. Fine had used Clark to try to free a Kryptonian dictator, Zod, from a disembodied prison. Clark had believed he'd killed the AI, but he'd recently discovered that wasn't the case, and he wasn't terribly surprised to discover Fine was trying to manipulate him into freeing Zod again.
“That seems to be the only logical conclusion,” Jor-El agreed.
Clark stalked restlessly back and forth across the large chamber, thinking. “How can I restore reality to its original state?”
“You cannot. When you went back in time, I warned you it could only be done once. There is no technology available in this fortress that would permit you to alter reality a second time.”
Clark felt his fists clench. Damn. Not the answer he’d been hoping for.“But it can’t be a good thing for reality to have changed,” he said. "Won't it, like, put the universe out of balance or something?"
“There is little difference between this reality and the prior reality. All differences are minor, and in all likelihood will not alter the course of history.”
“I disagree,” Clark said sharply. “My… friend, Chloe Sullivan, doesn’t exist in this reality.”
“As usual, Kal-El, you fail to recognize the fact that a single human is inconsequential, and of little relevance in the grand scheme of the universe.”
“This particular human means a great deal to me!” Clark snapped.
“You should not allow yourself to become emotionally involved with these humans, my son.”
“In this case, I had no choice,” Clark said, trying to keep his voice level. Yelling at an AI was a lot like yelling at a wall, and just about as frustrating. No matter how annoyed he got with Jor-El, the AI never responded with any real show of emotion. “She is my…” The English words were insufficient, so he shifted into Kryptonian, hardly aware he was speaking in another language. “She is the one who fits my soul.”
There was a long silence. “This is something I had not foreseen. You have life-bonded with a human?”
“Not yet. She and I were… close, but no, she never said the words back to me. I can’t…” His voice broke, and he drew a long, shuddering breath, trying to get control of himself. “I can’t live without her. I can’t.”
“You are correct,” Jor-El said, as dispassionately as ever. “If she is truly the one who fits your soul, and the two of you never life-bonded, than you will not survive long without her.”
That was pretty much what he’d figured. He sighed. “So Fine went back in time somehow and manipulated events to get rid of her, knowing I’d die without her?”
“It seems like the most likely hypothesis.” Jor-El sounded grim. “He saw more clearly than I did. I believed a single human was of no consequence to the future of this world. I was wrong.”
"Are you saying Chloe is of consequence to Earth?"
"Only because she is now inextricably linked to you, and you cannot live without her. Without you, Kal-El, I fear this world will not long survive against that which threatens it."
“Fine told me he can’t release Zod without me, because only I can affect the Fortress.” Clark’s mind spun rapidly. “So he won’t want me to die. He’ll want to bargain with me, at least until I agree to release Zod.”
“You must not agree to release Zod, no matter what he offers you.”
“Yeah, I figured that out on my own, thanks.” Clark started stalking back and forth again. He felt terrible already, exhausted and ill, yet filled with nervous energy. “But maybe when he approaches me, I can figure out how he did this, and reverse it.”
“There may not be any way to reverse this, my son. The technology may not exist to go back in time a second time. This reality may now be fixed, unable to ever be changed.”
Clark stopped pacing and looked up at the ice formations looming far above his head. His heart sank at the idea that he might never get Chloe back, yet he knew it was a distinct possibility.
“You could be right,” he said grimly. “But it’s my only chance.”
Read Chapter 5 here.