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
"Drop your weapon!"
Clark hesitated a second, slightly confused, then realized that in the dim light, the crystal in his hand probably looked a lot like a knife. "Okay," he said in his calmest voice. It didn't take a genius to know you didn't want to p*ss off a guy with a gun. "Take it easy."
He couldn't drop the crystal to the concrete floor, because he wasn't sure if it would shatter, but he carefully bent and placed it on the floor, then stepped backward, away from it.
The guy was still holding the gun pointed in his direction, which made him nervous. He was pretty sure he wasn't impervious to bullets right now, and he didn't want to test the ship's healing powers again. Feeling his heart pounding, he took another step back, closer to the ship.
The guy looked up at the ship, which still hung in the air, glowing with an eerie white light, and his eyes went wide. "Holy..." The words died off as he noticed the way Clark was edging toward the craft. "Stop right there!" he snapped.
Clark froze. "Look," he said, "I'm not trying to hurt anyone, okay?"
The guy snorted. "Yeah, you're just a thief... with a really big knife." He stepped forward, squinting at the crystal. "That's not a knife," he said at last, slowly. "What the hell is it?"
"Just a rock I found," Clark said. He didn't want the guy to pick it up, because it and the guy might suddenly disappear into time. Furthermore, the other man probably wouldn't survive it. He remembered what Jor-El had told him: 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.
He had an obligation not to let this poor guy get killed. The man was just doing his job, after all.
The guy started to bend over. "Don't touch it," Clark said sharply.
Narrowed eyes glared at him from above the gun. "You're not in any position to tell me what to do here, buddy."
"I realize that," Clark said, still aware of his heart thudding rapidly. He didn't want to piss this guy off, but he didn't want the man to get killed and screw up his only chance of fixing things, either. "But it's dangerous, okay?"
"What, is it some kind of bomb?"
"Not exactly. Just take my word for it. Don't touch it."
"Like your word is worth shit," the guy sneered. He bent over again, still holding the gun on Clark, and Clark swallowed.
He was scared to death. He could feel his heart thundering against his ribs, and nausea rose up in him again, but he knew he couldn't hesitate, both for this man's sake and for the sake of the world. He lunged forward and tackled the guy, grabbing the man's wrists in his hands in an effort to turn the gun aside.
The gun went off, shockingly loud in the still night, but fortunately it had been pointed away from him. Unfortunately, he wasn't as big as the other man, and he wasn't used to fighting without his superstrength. The guy slammed one of his big fists into Clark's stomach, and he doubled over, gagging and gasping for breath.
He really, really, really wanted his invulnerability back.
Struggling against the pain and the desire to puke, he stumbled forward and slammed his shoulder into the other guy's chest, managing to knock him off balance. The two of them went over in a tangle of arms and legs, flailing. The gun went off again, and then there was a sickening thud.
Clark got to his knees and saw that the guy had apparently knocked his head against the concrete floor. He was out cold.
Beginner's luck, he thought to himself. He hadn't stood much chance of coming out on top in this contest, but he'd been very, very lucky.
He started to stand up, then swayed and realized his left shoulder was burning. It hurt almost as badly as kryptonite exposure. Maybe he hadn't been quite as lucky as he thought.
He reached up with his right hand and discovered that his borrowed flannel shirt was wet with his own blood.
Clark stood there swaying for a moment, then slowly collapsed back to his knees.
"Jor-El," he said, the single word a plea, his voice nothing more than a faint whisper in the still night. Since the gun had gone off twice, he didn't expect the night to be still much longer. If he didn't get the hell out of here, he was going to be in serious trouble.
But he was already in serious trouble, because he wasn't capable of going anywhere under his own power right now.
The ship flared brightly, and the pain faded. Clark drew in a deep, shuddering breath, then struggled back to his feet.
"Thank you," he said. Those were words he had never before been inclined to say to Jor-El. But given the amount of blood on his shirt, he knew that the AI had saved him.
He still felt shaky, which wasn't surprising, considering how much blood he'd lost. But shaky or not, he needed to figure this thing out, now. He was running out of time. Which was ironic as hell, all things considered.
"So how do you fix a paradox?" he said out loud.
The ship's light dimmed. "I know of no solution to the problem, Kal-El."
Clark clenched his fist into a ball, irritated by the AI's calm tone as well as by his own impotence. "There has to be some way of fixing this, damn it," he growled. "There has to be. I can't just accept that I've screwed things up this badly."
"Your enemy is at fault, my son. Not you."
"My enemy..." Clark thought about that for a minute. All of a sudden he heard his father's voice in his head. His adoptive father, the man he considered his true father-- Jonathan Kent. Jonathan had been extremely fond of aphorisms and platitudes, and all of a sudden Clark could hear the drawl of his deep voice saying one of his favorite sayings. Fight fire with fire, Clark.
"Fight a paradox with a paradox," he said out loud.
The ship flared. "What?"
"A paradox." Clark looked up at the ship, his eyes wide. The AI had said, There is no other way to alter what is. But all of a sudden, Clark felt certain that the AI was wrong. "Your future self told me that the only way to alter reality was to go further back into the past. But why not go into the future instead?"
A long silence. "I believe I understand. Yes, Kal-El. It is possible that it could work."
"I just need to figure out how to program this thing." He picked up the crystal gingerly.
The ship reverted to its original shape, looking a little like an avocado pit with wings, and gently descended onto the concrete floor. Its covering opened, exposing the inner cavity of the ship.
"Place it into my console," the voice directed. "I believe I can reprogram it successfully."
"But--" Clark suddenly became aware of voices. They were still distant, a long way across the manicured expanse of lawn, but there was no doubt that the cavalry was on the way. He was about to get caught, and probably shot again. He really wanted to avoid that, if at all possible. Being shot was now on his list of things to avoid at all costs, because it hurt like the fires of hell.
He turned his attention back to the ship. "What if there's a virus? It could destroy you."
"I have scanned the device. There is in fact a virus. It will destroy this vessel, but I will have approximately twenty seconds in which to program the device. What date shall I enter?"
Clark told him.
"Very well, my son. Proceed."
Clark hesitated. Destroying the ship was yet another twist in reality, since in the reality he remembered he hadn't destroyed the ship until he was sixteen. He doubted the ship's destruction would destroy the AI itself, since it would probably transfer itself to the Kawatche caves. Even so, it meant yet more changes to the timeline.
But if his hastily formulated plan worked, none of that would matter.
He stepped toward the ship and inserted the crystal in the appropriate slot in the console. Almost instantly, the ship begain to shudder. Clark counted off seconds, knowing that he didn't want to be around when the ship blew up. When he'd blown up the ship in the future, it had made a very impressive crater on the Kent Farm. He'd been at ground zero, and he'd only survived because he was invulnerable.
Considering he wasn't invulnerable right now, the ship's explosion would blow him to bits. That was on his list of things to avoid, too.
The ship shuddered more and more violently. As he counted off "fifteen," the key suddenly flew out of the ship. Damn thing never has worked right, Clark thought as he grabbed it out of the air.
At the count of eighteen, he reached into the console and yanked out the crystal, hoping Jor-El had succeeded in programming it correctly. He hoped it worked, because otherwise he was about to be blown to smithereens.
He wrapped his hand around the crystal, and the world changed.
Read Chapter 12 here.