Manip by leothelion. Used with permission of the artist.
Disclaimer: These characters belong to the CW and DC Comics, not to me.
The thing that is in Room 101 is the worst thing in the world.
-George Orwell, 1984
He walked through the halls of the school building, his footsteps echoing hollowly off the metal lockers that lined the walls. He hadn't been in Smallville High School for years, and yet he knew it as well as any building on the planet. It was quiet and still, as if he were the only person here, and a creepy feeling of foreboding prickled its way down his spine.
He turned down a corridor that he knew led to the cafeteria, and saw a door that had never been there before. It looked much like any other door, a plain oak door with a shatterproof glass window, and a black tag marked 101 was affixed to it.
Despite its ordinary appearance, he knew it didn't belong there, and he paused, filled with a sudden apprehension.
Jor-El, what is behind that door?
The end of your training, my son. This is your final test.
He hesitated a long moment, then reached out, took the knob in his hand, and twisted. The door opened, and he stepped into the darkness beyond.
Suddenly he wasn't in the high school anymore. He wasn't even on solid ground. He was floating in the air, thousands of feet above the ground.
He'd learned to fly quite some time ago, and finding himself high over the Earth didn't frighten him. But the knowledge that suddenly flooded him did. Every cell of his body filled with a terrible panic as the situation became clear to him.
The world was at war, and two atomic missiles were heading for the United States. One was about to drop on the city of New York, killing millions.
The other had been targeted at Metropolis, in Kansas, but it had gone astray. In moments it would drop onto the remote farm where he lived with his family.
In moments, his wife and children would die... unless he saved them.
Even at his top speed, there was no possible way he could stop both missiles. He had to make a choice.
He hung in the air for a fraction of a second, his brain racing frantically. In his mind, he could see the faces of his children, the smile of his wife. They relied on him to save them. He'd vowed to keep his wife safe, no matter what. He had brought his children into this world, and he was responsible for them. His family was his first responsibility.
And yet... his perfect memory ticked off facts despite himself: New York, 322 square miles, five boroughs, population ten point three million...
God help him. He knew what he had to do.
Spinning in midair, he shot toward the city, as fast as he could go. The wind whipped tears from his eyes, but he didn't slow down. He didn't hesitate again, despite the despair twisting in his heart. He caught the missile as it plummeted toward New York and arrowed upward with it.
Far away, he heard the sound of another missile exploding, and the screams of his wife and children as they were blown to bits.
He rocketed up out of the atmosphere, into the darkness of space.
And then he found himself kneeling in a dark room, sobbing.
Slowly, the terrible memories of a family he didn't have faded from his mind. Confused by the sudden shift in his surroundings, he lifted his head slowly, and found that he was back in Room 101.
Jor-El. He tried to keep his mental voice steady, even though he was shaking with pain and anguish. What was the purpose in making me suffer through that?
One day, the AI answered, you may have to cope with a similar dilemma. Before your training could be considered complete, it was necessary for me to produce a simulation, to ensure that you will be able to respond appropriately.
He wiped at the tears and glared into the darkness. Necessary to put me through that? Necessary to make me imagine the worst thing in the world?
There was a long silence. When the AI spoke, it sounded less implacable, almost sorrowful.
I sincerely hope you may never face a similar situation, my son. But if you do... next time it will not be in your imagination.
Room 101 faded away like mist, no more real than the distant skyline of New York had been. Clark Kent blinked as the column of blue light that had held him for so long-- days? months? years? Thinking about it, he realized he had no idea-- flickered out. Suddenly there was nothing around him but the crystalline walls of the Fortress of Solitude.
"Your training is finished, my son," Jor-El said simply. "Go, and do your best."
Clark hesitated. He wasn't sure how long he'd been here, but in his mind, it had been a long, long time. Going home and taking up the mantle of a hero frightened him a little. The thought of making decisions like the one Jor-El had just forced him to experience scared him even more.
And yet... it was true he had no wife, and no children, but beyond these crystal walls were his friends and family, as well as a world that needed him.
Putting his doubts aside, he sped from the Fortress and launched himself into the sky, returning to the world at last.