Friday, June 09, 2006

Here Without You, Chapter 12

Season 5, following my story "What the World Could Be," which followed "Void"
Rating: PG-13
Disclaimer: These characters belong to the WB and DC Comics, not to me

Clark found himself in a cornfield, the thunder of meteors striking the earth assaulting his ears. Oh, God, not again, he thought, and threw himself facedown into the dirt.

Hours seemed to pass while he held his breath and prayed, but in reality the thundering ceased only seconds later. He lifted his head, discovered he was able to move, and drew a deep sigh of relief. Evidently this time he'd been far enough from any meteors that no kryptonite dust had settled onto him. He'd have to be very careful how he proceeded, however, because there would be plenty of meteor rocks around.

He got to his feet, shoving the purple crystal into one pocket and the key into another, and headed for the road. Once there, he looked around, got his bearings, and headed for Lander's Field.

It was a long walk, and it took him about thirty minutes to get there. If he'd had his powers, it would have taken all of half a second. But he was in no hurry, because he remembered what Jor-El had told him: As a Kryptonian, only you can alter your own destiny. If Jor-El was right, he couldn't alter any Kryptonian's destiny, and there was no point in trying.

But his enemy wasn't a true Kryptonian.

By the time he reached Lander's Field, his feet hurt, his legs ached, and he'd paused twice to throw up into the weeds growing along the road. He saw smoke rising from the field ahead and moved into an awkward, shambling jog.

And then he came to a halt, staring in stunned horror, because there were dead bodies everywhere.

He doubled over and threw up again, appalled. He'd been up north at the Fortress the first time he'd gone through this reality, and he'd only heard about it secondhand. If only I'd gotten here sooner... he thought, then cut off the idea impatiently.

There was nothing he could have done. He was too weak and too ill to take on two Kryptonians with all their powers. He would have been killed just as easily as all these police officers had been.

Besides, even if he could have saved them, it would be wrong to do so. He couldn't afford to screw up the timeline unnecessarily, no matter what. The whole world depended on him.

He swallowed hard, walked past the charred bodies, and headed for the black spaceship that rested in the middle of a long trench of earth.

He was relieved that no one appeared to be around. He knew Lana had been here when the ship first landed, but she wasn’t here now, and he was grateful. Her presence would have only complicated matters. The Kryptonians had left the area, and Lex and his minions hadn't yet arrived to take the ship away. He was alone.

He walked up to the ship and stared at it.

It looked like nothing more than a spacecraft, but this was his enemy. Somewhere in the depths of this ship resided the AI who'd later called himself Milton Fine.

If he could destroy Fine now, then none of the alterations to time would ever happen, and his guess was that reality would revert to something close to his original timeline. Everything that had happened in the past would have been... erased. Reset. Chloe would still be part of the timeline, and he would still have been brought up by the Kents. Because if Fine never got the chance to alter time, none of the changes could ever have happened.

It was a paradox that was so complex he could hardly wrap his mind around it, but he was pretty sure his reasoning was right.

The problem was, he was fairly certain things wouldn't be exactly the same. If he succeeded in destroying Fine, everything he remembered with regards to Fine wouldn't have happened, which meant much of the last year would have unfolded differently. What he was about to do was a huge gamble, and he had no idea how it might turn out.

But if he didn't take the chance, he'd never see Chloe again. And the world could be in very big trouble.

He wished he could have picked a later date, but this was the one event he could be pretty sure hadn't changed. Everything else could have been altered by all the changes to the timeline, but he was fairly confident the Kryptonians would be arriving on schedule, regardless of what had happened on Earth. Admittedly, even that had been something of a gamble, because Jor-El had once told him his own actions had "awakened a great danger from space," and he didn’t know what his altered self might have done differently.

But he was gambling everything on Jor-El’s assertion that only a Kryptonian could alter his or her own destiny-- an assertion that seemed to be backed up by the fact that Fine had sent him into the past to alter his own destiny, rather than simply changing it himself. If it was true that nothing could alter a Kryptonian's destiny besides his own actions, then nothing that had happened could have affected this event, because these Kryptonians hadn't been on Earth, and they were the only ones who could change their own destiny. Everything he and Fine had done to alter time couldn’t affect them.

It was a shaky line of reasoning, but it was all he had, his only chance to fix things. And it seemed to have been correct, because here was the ship, right on schedule.

All he had to do was figure out how to destroy a spaceship that had survived a trip through the cold of space, the heat of entering the Earth's atmosphere, and a massive attack by Earth weapons.

Yeah, he thought sardonically. This is going to be a piece of cake.

He stepped toward the ship, wondering how the hell he could affect it. He'd destroyed his own ship with kryptonite, but since Fine wasn't affected by the stuff, it was entirely possible this ship wasn't either. Anyway, even if he could locate a meteor rock, he couldn't hope to carry it here. The stuff made him too sick. He'd never make it.

Then there was the purple crystal. It had an imbedded virus that was designed to destroy some Kryptonian technology. But surely this AI would be protected against it. After all, it must originally have come from this ship, which meant it couldn’t possibly be toxic to it.

He shoved his hand into his other pocket, and his fingers brushed against the octagonal key.

The key. It was the best chance he had. If Fine's technology was lethal to Jor-El, it might just be that Jor-El's technology would be lethal to Fine. He pulled the key out of his pocket and walked around the ship, looking for someplace to insert it.

"I wouldn't do that if I were you," a voice said behind him.

Clark spun around and found himself face to face with... himself.

Crap. He was supposed to be in the Arctic, at the Fortress. But of course everything had changed, and this wasn't the past he remembered. For all he knew the Fortress had never been created, had been created by someone else, or had been created years ago. He had had no reason to suppose that his present self would necessarily be at the Fortress. He’d just hoped he wouldn’t run into himself, because it totally creeped him out. He was beginning to hate time travel with a violent passion.

Warily, he studied himself, seeing an unpleasant, crafty expression in the green eyes that looked back at him. Well, that wasn't really a surprise. A Clark that had been brought up by Lionel Luthor was very probably deceitful, if not outright dangerous.

"Uh, hello, Clark," he said, backing away slowly. His back came up against the ship, and he cursed mentally. This Clark presumably had his full powers and could fry him into an extra crispy chicken nugget if he wanted to. Which would be an outstandingly unpleasant event, even in a day that had been full of unpleasant events.

The other man smiled. "I'm not Clark."

Clark blinked, confused, and the other guy's smile widened.

"I'm Zod."


Clark swallowed. His legs were trembling beneath him, whether from exhaustion or fear he wasn't sure. Maybe both. “How can you be Zod? I thought you were in the Phantom Zone.”

“My body was destroyed, to prevent my escape from the vile prison your father sealed me into. I had to find a vessel that could host me. This body was the only one on Earth I found suitable for my needs. My disciples just released me, with the help of this host.”

“They went to the Fortress and released you there?”

“Yes. The Fortress looms over a beautiful land, much like Krypton. I intend to rebuild the rest of the Earth in its image. Soon, this entire world will resemble that snowy paradise.”

Nice. Just what Earth needed, to be transformed into an Arctic wasteland. That would have the added bonus of killing off most of the inhabitants of the planet, which was probably what Zod had in mind.

He imagined the guy had used the gateway in the caves to get here so quickly, but it was possible he’d just supersped here. That was one of the benefits of a Kryptonian body. He wondered if this Clark had given his body to Zod voluntarily or not, but he figured it would be better not to ask. This guy didn’t look like he wanted to engage in friendly chitchat. There was a grim cast to his features, a dangerous gleam in his eyes, a cruel twist to his lips. Frankly, he looked a bit on the psychotic side.

“I wouldn’t destroy the ship if I were you,” Zod/Clark said, almost pleasantly. “The destruction of the ship, so near to the crystal you have in your pocket, will create a massive tear in the space-time continuum.”

“At this point,” Clark said between his teeth, “I really don’t give a shit about the space-time continuum.”

“Don’t be foolish, Kal-El. Of course you do. If you rip the fabric of time and space, there’s no way of telling what might happen. Throw the crystal to me, so we can ensure nothing... unfortunate... occurs. I will survive an antimatter explosion in this body, but you may not. I can see your body’s powers are seriously depleted right now.”

His words were ominous, his body language threatening, but he didn’t step toward Clark, didn’t make any move to harm him. Clark frowned, puzzled. From everything he’d heard, Zod was a violent, destructive dictator who’d singlehandedly destroyed the world of Krypton, and he seemed to be planning on destroying Earth next. He certainly wasn’t the type to hesitate. So why was he standing here and debating with Clark when he was perfectly capable of reducing him to ashes?

There could only be one explanation. For some reason, he realized slowly, Zod was afraid to kill him.

“This is an interesting paradox,” he said slowly, probing for information. “The two of us existing at one time, I mean. I’d think that might just tear a hole in the space-time continuum by itself.”

“You know nothing of how space-time works,” Zod/Clark said in a dismissive tone. “You were raised by humans, and you share their limited thinking.”

“Thanks,” Clark said dryly.

Zod smiled. It was a nasty expression, a sneer Clark had only seen in the mirror when he was on red K. “Throw me the crystal. It belongs to me.”

Why does he want the crystal so much? And why does he keep telling me to throw it to him?

Clark considered the matter carefully. Zod had said that if the ship were destroyed so near the crystal, it would rip space-time. Could that possibly mean that things would revert to the way he remembered them? He couldn’t see any reason why that would be so. Jor-El had told him that alternate realities were a human notion. There is only one reality, my son.

But what else had Jor-El said? Kryptonians stand slightly outside the flow of time, which means that we are impervious to alterations in space-time.

Clark had remained himself. And yet he hadn’t. He still had his memories, and yet he didn’t. He was Clark, and yet he was Zod.

It was a paradox, an imbalance, an instability. An impossibility.

A rupture in space-time just waiting to happen.

The realization flashed through his brain like sunlight, clear and bright and unmistakable. He’d never been so certain of anything in his life. For a brief moment his mind leapt beyond human constraints, and he understood the nature of reality more clearly than ever before. Jor-El’s voice came back to him. As a Kryptonian, you see and understand that which mere humans cannot.

For the first time he recognized that alterations in space-time that revolved around Kryptonians were unstable, because Kryptonians weren’t totally caught up in the changes that occurred. It created paradoxes, and paradoxes meant instability.

He’d created one new timeline himself when he’d saved Lana, but the technology involved had been different. He hadn’t encountered himself, only gone back through his own reality a second time, which was probably an innately more stable way to alter the timeline. No matter what happened, he thought the first timeline, in which Lana Lang had died, wouldn't reassert itself. Maybe it was wishful thinking, because he really didn’t want anyone to die because of what he did today, but he was pretty sure that no matter what he did here, it wouldn’t result in Lana’s death. The timeline he'd created with the clear crystal was stable.

This one wasn't.

The purple crystal worked differently than the crystal from the Fortress had, sending him back into time in a way that allowed him to meet himself, thus creating paradoxes. This entire situation was unstable, unnatural, and it wouldn’t take much to unbalance it completely, ripping the hell out of space-time.

And then, he suspected, everything would revert to the world he remembered, because that original reality was the most stable reality. Any tear in space-time would result in the total erasure of this timeline.

And he could tell from the look on the other man’s face that Zod understood that.

Zod also knew that everything revolved around the purple crystal. Clark guessed that its technology somehow it made space-time more fragile, allowing it to be altered more readily. Between the purple crystal and the paradox of two identical men with entirely disparate lives, Clark could practically see the fabric of space-time stretching to the breaking point right in front of him.

Zod’s biggest concern wasn’t the ship. The ship wasn’t the source of the danger to this timeline—the crystal was. Although a nice big antimatter explosion would probably rend a hole in space-time, if it occurred near the crystal. If Clark had remained in the past with the crystal when the smaller spaceship blew up, that might well have put a tear in the fabric of the universe, too, because that situation hadn’t been stable either.

He had the opportunity to fix everything, in one action. Blowing up the ship was one option, if he could figure out how to do it. The problem was, he wasn’t sure how. The key might work, judging from Zod’s reaction, but he wasn’t certain of where to put the key. Anyway, he had a feeling there were ways that would restore reality to its original timeline without a big bang.

He yanked the purple crystal from his pocket, holding it loosely so as not to activate it by accident. Zod moved backward, looking extremely nervous.

“What happens if we both touch it at the same time?” Clark demanded. His legs still felt weak, but he stepped toward Zod, holding the crystal toward him.

Zod continued to back away. He didn’t say anything, but his eyes looked wary.

Clark smiled humorlessly. “A big rip, I’m guessing. But if that’s the case, why don’t you just kill me and take it from me?”

“Believe me, I intend to.” Zod’s voice was low and dangerous, and yet he didn’t use his heat vision.

“So you can’t kill me while I’m holding the crystal,” Clark said, stalking the other man. “Why? Will that tear space-time, too?”

Zod’s jaw clenched so hard that Clark saw the muscles twitch in his cheeks. It was weird to see his own expressions, distorted and unpleasant but still recognizable, on this stranger’s face. He knew he was right, but he wasn’t sure how to achieve what he needed to do. The odds of him successfully blowing up the ship were small. And he wasn’t likely to be able to catch Zod and force him to touch the crystal, because Zod was capable of superspeed right now, and he wasn’t.

That left his own death as the only way to rip time and space and restore his original reality.

He gave the idea careful thought. Was it possible that Zod was trying to trick him into killing himself for some reason? But that didn’t make any sense. Zod was perfectly capable of killing him without any help. Besides, the Kryptonian part of his brain recognized the truth of his theory. His death near the crystal would rip a nice big hole in the time-space continuum.

He was as sure of it as he’d ever been of anything.

He wasn’t thrilled about the idea, though. He’d already been through a hell of a lot today, and death really wasn’t the way he wanted to wrap up the day. But he didn’t see that he had a lot of choice in the matter.

His death would restore reality as he knew it, save the world, and return the woman he loved to the timeline. Really, it was a no-brainer.

Ignoring Zod’s horrified expression, he lifted the crystal and slammed the pointed end into his own chest.

Read Chapter 13 here.

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