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
Clark got to his feet and removed the octagonal key from his pocket. It started to glow. He released it, and it floated toward the spaceship, hovered for a moment, then settled into its slot.
The spaceship rose up in the air, and then a white light began to shine from it. The light grew brighter and brighter, and then suddenly it appeared to burst outward.
Instantly Clark felt better. He knew the spaceship had the ability to heal-- it had once brought his mother back from death-- and he'd been hoping it might heal him. The burns and scrapes on his face disappeared, the throbbing in his thumb vanished, and he felt less nauseated. But he didn't feel much stronger, and he realized his superstrength hadn't returned. He wasn't sure if it would ever return unless he found Chloe.
Which, of course, was why he was here.
The spaceship hovered in midair, looking like a glowing egg. It seemed to be waiting for input. Clark spoke.
"I need to talk to you, Jor-El."
"Who are you?"
The AI sounded as puzzled as it was possible for a machine to sound. Clark smiled grimly.
"I am Kal-El of Krypton."
The white light flared more brightly than before, in a way that looked almost threatening. "Impossible. The child has just landed on this planet."
"I've traveled from the future," Clark explained. "Everything's gone wrong here, and it's my fault. The child wasn't supposed to wind up here, with these people. You wanted him to go to the Kents, didn't you?"
"That was my intention," the ship answered.
"In the reality I remember, that's what happened. But when I came back to this time, everything got messed up."
"Why did you choose to travel in time?"
Clark switched to Kryptonian. "The woman who fits my soul was stolen from me."
"You are life-bonded, then."
"No." Clark shifted back to English. "I didn't have a chance to bond with her. My enemy altered the past, and she was... erased."
There was a long silence. "Then you are dying. Even I cannot save you."
Great. Just great. The ship could bring people back from the dead, but it couldn't fix what was wrong with him. Apparently his need for Chloe was so deeply a part of him that it couldn't be healed.
The thought of Chloe made a deep pang of longing twinge in his chest, but he pushed it away and tried to concentrate on the here and now. Focus, Clark. The fate of Chloe, and the child in the mansion, and possibly the entire world-- it was all riding on him.
"I need to change everything back to the way I remember it," he said at last, carefully. AIs, even highly advanced Kryptonian AIs, were very literal, and you had to be careful how you phrased questions. "Is there any way, any way at all, of changing reality back to its original state?"
"You could go even further into the past and attempt to undo what has been done."
"No." Clark stalked back and forth in front of the glowing ship. "I don't want to try that. I've already screwed things up badly enough. If I try it again, something even worse might happen. I need to try something else."
"There is no other way to alter what is."
Clark ground his teeth together, remembering those words from his earlier conversation with Jor-El. No... his later conversation with Jor-El.
God, he hated time travel.
"There must be some way," he said. "I still remember everything that happened to me. Surely that means everything will all be restored in the end. Otherwise I wouldn't remember it, right?"
"No, Kal-El. Kryptonians stand slightly outside the flow of time, which means that we are impervious to alterations in space-time. Your memories remain, regardless of what changes are made to the fabric of space-time."
That echoed his earlier thoughts, but it kind of creeped him out. It was one thing to be superstrong and superfast, and another to be somehow invulnerable to changes in reality.
And yet everything that had happened seemed to support Jor-El's words. The world had changed around him, but he himself hadn't changed at all.
"But the alterations in space-time have affected my earlier self," he said, trying to work his way through the problem. "I mean, he's not experiencing the same things I remember. If I can't change things back, he'll grow up to be an entirely different person."
"I imagine that was your enemy's goal."
"I don't get it. Why didn't my enemy come back in time himself? Why send me back?"
"Because as a Kryptonian, only you can alter your own destiny."
Clark frowned, confused. "So I've altered my own destiny... except I haven't. The kid is going to be brought up differently, and yet I don't remember any of it. Are there two of us?"
"It is a paradox, my son. Somehow a paradox has been created."
"That's not real helpful. Calling it a paradox doesn't help me understand what the hell's going on here."
The ship didn't respond to his angry statement. It was silent for a long moment, and its light pulsed. At last it spoke. "How did you travel in time? Using the crystal from the Fortress?"
"No. There was only one of those, and it's been used already." Clark pulled the purple crystal from his pocket, being careful to touch it lightly. Last time it seemed to have activated when he wrapped his hand around it, and he didn't want that to happen again. He had no clue where he might wind up this time. "This is the technology I used to travel in time."
The ship's light flickered. "That is the technology of my enemy."
"Mine too. I took it from him after he... was killed. I didn't realize he'd use it to trick me into altering the past this way."
"This is an unfamiliar technology. Bring it closer."
Clark hesitated, remembering the effect the first purple crystal had had on the Fortress of Solitude. For all he knew, the same virus was imbedded in this crystal. "I'm not sure that's a good idea. I have reason to believe it could contain an electronic virus that could affect you."
"Bring it closer," the voice said implacably. Clark sighed and stepped into the white light.
"Hold it right there, buddy."
Clark looked back over his shoulder and saw the huge, muscular guy who'd been stalking around the premises standing in the open doorway of the shed. The guy held a gun. A really big gun.
And it was pointed straight at Clark.
Read Chapter 11 here.