Tell everybody I'm on my way
New friends and new places to see
With blue skies ahead
Yes, I'm on my way
And there's nowhere else
That I'd rather be
-"On My Way," Phil Collins (Brother Bear)
Through the depths of his trance, he heard his mother's voice, as blurred and distorted as if he were underwater.
Jor-El. She sounded distraught. I need your help. I can't find my son.
This is no concern of mine. The AI spoke coldly. Your irresponsible son has disappeared before. He will doubtless turn up again, in good time.
Please. He could hear the tears in her voice. The Justice League has searched for him. No one can find him. He's been missing for almost a week. I'm afraid he may be... he may be...
Her voice broke. There was a silence. At last the AI spoke.
Very well, Chloe-El, it said, sounding more exasperated than sympathetic. I will look for your son.
Part of Sully wanted to break out of the trance, to go to his mother and comfort her. He'd never wanted to hurt her or scare her. But he didn't want her to know that he was Superman 2, or that he was taking training at the Fortress, so he let the AI cover for him.
At last it spoke.
He is with a young woman, Chloe-El, it said, managing to sound extremely disapproving, as if Sully were spending the week rolling around in bed with the young lady in question. He does not wish to be found at this time. But I assure you, his physical condition is excellent.
His mother's voice spoke, wavering with hope. Are you sure?
Of course I am sure, the AI rumbled. It didn't add, foolish human, but it might as well have. Its tone implied it clearly enough.
A long pause. At last his mother spoke.
Thank you, Jor-El.
Sully listened to her footsteps recede, and a warm affection filled him, even in the depths of his trance. His dad had always said his mother would go to the ends of the Earth to save him.
Apparently she'd go to the ends of the Earth to save Sully, too.
He smiled to himself, and returned to his studies.
"How do you feel, Sul-El?"
Sully blinked into the relative dimness of the Fortress. After a week of immersion in the blue light, he couldn't quite seem to make his eyes focus. Images swam through his brain in bewildering profusion.
He saw the memories his father had loaded into the Fortress computer, memories of his greatest triumphs as well as his most crushing failures. He saw images of the glories of a planet long gone, as well as its shattering last moments. Images of people who had once been famous on Krypton, now utterly forgotten, their names lost to history.
He understood now that by calling him Sul-El, the AI was granting him an honor, a term of respect that as his father's son, he was entitled to. He was the last scion of the greatest House of Krypton, a House with millennia of history behind it, a House that had produced many great leaders and scientists and philosophers.
He was no longer Sullivan L. Kent.
He was Sullivan El Kent.
He blinked again, and tried to take a step, but staggered. He managed to keep himself upright by flinging out a hand and holding onto one of the ubiquitous crystals.
"It will take a few moments for you to feel yourself again," the AI said. "The images will fade with time."
Sully blew out a breath and waited, and sure enough, he began to feel more like himself again... and yet different. He'd gone into his training awkward and unsure of himself. He'd come here afraid, if he was going to be honest with himself, terrified that he couldn't do what needed doing. But he'd come out of it feeling far more confident of his ability to handle the life he'd chosen.
He'd learned the history of a world he'd never known, and discovered things about his father that weren't in any newspaper article. He'd learned details about his own abilities he'd never before known, learned how to use them best in every situation.
And he'd learned that his father was just a guy, exactly as Batman had told him. In fact, at Sully's age, he'd been something of a dork, a farm kid who couldn't seem to get motivated to get himself back to college, and who spent an inordinate amount of time moping about girls. At twenty, Dad had done his fair share of saving people, but he'd also done more than his fair share of slacking off, hiding out on his mother's farm, and feeling sorry for himself.
It was amazing how much more confident that made Sully feel.
"I need to return to Metropolis now," he said. He'd only been gone for a week, but subjectively it felt a lot longer. He badly wanted to see his mom and Barri... and his city.
"I understand," the AI responded. "You must return to your responsibilities now, Sul-El. I wish to see you once every month, for two days. We will continue your training then."
Sully looked up at the structure, wondering where the consciousness that was Jor-El was stored. Was he part of every crystal, or the console? Or was there a particular crystal somewhere that housed his consciousness? His father must have known, because according to his memories he'd reprogrammed the machine at some point, making it somewhat less unpredictable.
"I want to make sure that we're both on the same page here, Jor-El. I saw..." He hesitated, uncertain how to put his concerns delicately. He didn't want to annoy the AI. Certain memories of his dad's had made him think pissing it off was not a smart thing to do. "In my father's memories, I saw that you sent him here to rule the world."
The words echoed ominously in the memories he'd seen. On this third planet from this star Sol, you will be a god among men. They are a flawed race. Rule them with strength, my son. That is where your greatness lies.
The words creeped Sully out. He didn't think of himself as a god, and he certainly had no desire to rule the world.
"Your father made me see the error of my ways," the AI replied evenly. "When I sent him to this planet, I had presumed that humans were inferior, that they needed a superior race to guide them in their development. But your father convinced me that a benevolent dictator was still a dictator. He wished to help humans, not to rule them. I slowly came to see that he was right."
Sully wasn't sure how much of Jor-El's epiphany had been due to his father's arguments, and how much might have been due to simple reprogramming. But he supposed it didn't matter much. What was important here was that Jor-El was no longer trying to groom Kryptonians to take over the world, but rather to save as many people as possible. That was a goal Sully could get behind.
And now he felt much more competent to take on that task.
"Thank you," he said with quiet sincerity. "I'm glad I got a chance to meet you."
A long silence ensued, as if the AI was measuring its words. At last it spoke.
"I am pleased to have finally met you as well," it said. "And Sul-El... I am proud of you."
Sully felt something prickle his eyelids. He couldn't remember the last time anyone had been proud of him. He'd spent his life goofing off, playing when he should have been working, partying when he should have been sleeping, and while his parents had certainly loved him, he'd never given them much to be proud about. He still wasn't sure if his mom would be proud of him about the whole Superman 2 thing, or if she'd be pissed as hell.
But his grandfather, or a reasonable facsimile thereof, was proud of him. It was a strange sensation, knowing that someone took pride in his accomplishments.
He liked it.
He squared his shoulders and strode out of the enormous structure, blinking at the brightness of sunshine reflected off a vast field of snow. He stood there for a moment, letting his vision adjust, then rose into the air and headed for Metropolis. The crimson cape rippled behind him.
It was strange, he thought. He'd somehow imagined that the cape would feel lighter once he'd seen his father's memories, once he'd learned what he needed to know. But now he knew a great deal about what his father had done as Superman, not only all the times he'd saved someone, but all the times he'd failed as well.
Thanks to the AI's training, Sully was now far better prepared for his job, but he was also much more aware of all the things that could go wrong.
And as a result... the cape felt heavier than ever.