Disclaimer: I own nothing. Well, I own a house, two cars, a pair of jetskis, and a lot of other junk, but none of these characters.

Author's Note: This story is set after the Smallville TV series and after Superman movies 1 & 2.


Chapter 1

Dawn arrived just as Kal passed into Kansas for the first time in over five years. The brilliant yellow light seemed to fill him with strength and power. It felt good to once more experience the full extent of his powers. Oh, most of his powers had returned with his arrival in the solar system, but basking in the sunlight filtered through the earth's atmosphere seemed to amplify everything.

Many times during the long voyage back he had wondered if returning was the right decision. But now, smelling the unique aroma of Kansas farmland, everything felt right. Feeling a need to be closer to the earth, he dropped to the ground ten miles short of Smallville and ran the rest of the way to the farm where he had spent most of his first twenty years.

As he neared the Kent homestead, more and more familiar landmarks came into view. First was the Ross family farm. The old country house looked much the same, but the surrounding fields were filled with sorghum rather than the corn he always remembered. No way would these short plants have hidden his tiny first spaceship the way the corn had done in its day. And then for a moment Pete's typically smiling face flashed through his mind. Briefly he wondered where Pete was these days. But then he remembered it was not simply the five years he had been gone that separated them. No, things had never been the same since their junior year of high school and they hadn't crossed paths since way back in college.

But there were more important things to think about today than long-lost friends. As Kal continued down the road he next passed the old Luthor mansion. It definitely had seen better days with graffiti scrawled on its perimeter walls, the front gate hanging all askew, and many of the windows either broken or boarded up. Obviously no one had been in residence for many years. As he passed the side entrance to the extensive garage where he had spent so many hours with Lex in his youth, Kal wondered if Lex's condition had ever improved or if he was still confined to the prison psychiatric ward.

Quickly he left the decrepit mansion behind and passed through more farmland with fields filled with sorghum and wheat. Where was all of the corn? In its day, before the arrival of the meteors, this had once been the unofficial corn capitol of the Midwest. So where was all of the corn, he wondered. Finally, after running almost eight miles, he came across a field, but it sported the first giant irrigation machine he had ever seen east of the Arkansas River. He had spent enough years while growing up helping his Dad around the farm and had attended enough 4-H seminars to realize what he was seeing was the response to a significant climate change. Had global warming had that much impact during the mere five years he had been gone?

However as the familiar 'Kent Farm' sign became visible in the distance, all thoughts of agriculture and climates faded to the back of his mind. And then they were completely forgotten as the yellow farmhouse came into view. Involuntarily he felt his body slowing as his gaze swept over the red barn with its loft where he had spent so much of his youth, the rusted old wood-chipper where he had first shown his father the extent of his invulnerability, the tall blue corn dryer where his mom had almost suffocated, and all the rest of the memory-filled buildings and farm implements. Sweeping his gaze across everything once again as he slowed to a jog, it all looked so old and worn compared to his memories. Had it always been like this, but he just hadn't noticed? Or was the farm truly sliding into disrepair?

Finally reaching the gate to the white picket fence which enclosed the house, he slowed to a walk. The fence and the house both definitely could use a fresh coat of paint. Perhaps if he could find a few free hours he would have to work on it. It would definitely be a nice change to lose himself in a simple mindless task. And perhaps it would atone a little for having been gone for five years. Shaking his head, he knew it would take a lot more than just a little painting.

At the bottom of the steps, he paused for a moment to gather himself. He knew once he got passed the first minute everything would be okay, but that first minute was going to harder than any horror he had come up against in the eight years since he had first donned the blue tights and red cape; a costume he now hadn't worn in years.

Pulling himself together, Kal briskly climbed the three steps, pulled open the screen door, and firmly knocked on the wooden door. The two glass panes set into the door where covered by a translucent curtain. He could have looked straight through them with his x-ray vision, but at the moment he wanted to be his normal self, not Superman.

His mom had always been an early riser; he was the one who always needed to be kicked out of bed. So he assumed she was already up, but as the seconds ticked by he worried perhaps he was too early. Finally, after at least fifteen excruciating seconds, he saw a silhouette pass in front of the window on the left side of the kitchen.

Slowly the deadbolt on the door scraped out of the way and then the door knob began to turn. However after the agonizing wait for the knob to fully turn, the door seemed to open before he was ready.

Without waiting to recognize who was in the doorway, the familiar voice rang out with a 'Yes?'.

For several long seconds they both seemed to be frozen in place. He had had plenty of time to prepare for this moment, but the shock on her face was complete. While he waited for her to recover, he felt a shiver run down his spine. God, the past five years had been hard on her, he thought. He knew she would turn sixty-two next month, but when he had last seen her she had looked a youthful fifty. Now she looked every one of her sixty-two years. Oh, her hair was still just a couple shades on the red side of auburn, but he could see the mostly white roots. The crow's feet and the wrinkles around her mouth were much more pronounced than he remembered. But the hardest part were the eyes, her beautiful green eyes, which had always seemed to sparkle, were now dull and they appeared to have shrunk and sunken back into her head – the way they looked only in someone who was old.

Then the small green eyes seemed to disappear behind a flood of tears and with a whispered, "Clark", she pulled him into such a tight hug, he was almost glad for his superhuman strength. But then when he returned the slowly rocking hug, he felt the protruding ribs under the heavy old sweater she wore to ward off the early morning Kansas chill. Martha Kent had never been a stoutly built woman, but it felt like she had lost at least thirty pounds. Were the twenty years she seemed to have aged in the past five all his fault? Suddenly this moment was even harder than he had expected.

After a minute Martha pulled back, removed a tissue from the sleeve of her sweater, and dabbed at her eyes. "God, I must look such a mess. And I promised myself I wouldn't cry. But after five years I had almost given up hope this day was ever going to come."

"I know, Mom," answered Kal, his English feeling almost rusty, as he tried unsuccessfully to keep his own tears under control. "It has been a long journey for me, too."

"Have you been back long?"

He shook his head. "I arrived back at the Fortress ten minutes ago. I had a couple of things I needed to do there and then I came straight here."

"Well, no point standing here in the doorway letting the flies in. Come into the kitchen where I can get a good look at you."

Martha led the way until she was standing by the sink. Then she turned and looked at the man standing before her, the man she would always think of as her little boy. However as she looked at him, she knew no one else would see a little boy. Oh, not that he had been a little boy the last time she had seen him either, but as she really looked at him, she saw a man fully in his prime. Since he had looked three years old when Jon and she had found him in the field during the meteor shower and she had been thirty-three, remembering his age had always been as easy as subtracting thirty from her own. So the Clark standing before would now be thirty-two. Running her eyes down his body, it looked like he had added twenty pounds of muscle in the intervening years. Or perhaps it was just an illusion created by his current attire. At least for today the flamboyant red, gold, and blue costume had been put away in favor of a form-fitting futuristic gray suit. It still was adorned with the giant 'S' on the chest, but with its matching gray color, only the slightly raised surface gave it away.

But for Martha it wasn't the clothes that defined the man, but the expression in his face and eyes. And when she looked in Clark's face all traces of the boy were gone. Now the look in his eyes said he had been forced to survive everything the world, no the universe, could throw at him and he had come out of the experience harder, more mature, but still intact.

Falling back on habit, Martha asked, "Can I get you anything, Clark? Orange juice? Coffee? Milk?"

Kal smiled. It had been years since he had had any of those. And it had also been years since he had really thought of himself as Clark. "Orange juice sounds good, Mom. Thanks."

Martha retrieved a juice glass from the cupboard. As she pulled the large glass bottle from the refrigerator, she quietly asked, "Did you find what you were looking for?"

As she handed him the glass he clearly read the second unasked question in her tone and expression – 'Will you be leaving again soon?'

Kal downed the glass' contents in a single swallow. Then he rose to his feet and walked over to the refrigerator. "No, I didn't find what I originally went looking for. But eventually, after many trials and hardships, I found something else. Something in some ways better than I had ever hoped or dreamed was possible."

Martha watched Clark's back as he stood gazing at the large collection of photos held onto the refrigerator door by little magnets. She could sense he had returned for some important reason, but she still knew him well enough to realize he wasn't quite ready to talk about it. God, Clark might be adopted, and an alien to boot, but in so many little ways he reminded her of Jonathan.

Clark found himself staring at the photos on the frig door. There were a few new ones he hadn't seen before, but most of them had been there for years, many dating all the way back to high school. There was one of him, Chloe, and Pete crowded around the mock-up table at the Torch frantically trying to put the weekly edition to bed. Another showed him dancing with Lana at the Prom. Several showed him doing things with his Dad including one from all the way back when he was twelve; the day they had limited out while fishing at Crater Lake. Several showed just his parents and several showed him and Lois. The most recent one of him showed him sitting at his desk at the Planet with his feet up looking as though he owned the world. Lois had taken it maybe a week before Zod had shown up and, up until recently, it had been one of the happiest times of his life. It was the one time he had voluntarily given up his powers and he had thought he was going to be a happy mortal for the rest of his life. But being 'normal' had never been part of his destiny.

With a final glance at the photos, and spying how Lex still rated one picture on his Mom's wall of honor, he turned back to her. "So, how's Chloe? Except for you and Lois, she is the one I have missed talking to the most since I have been gone."

Martha felt her face sag. She understood how Clark was trying to ease back into things by asking about Chloe before Lois, but it wasn't an easy place to start. But then she couldn't think of hardly any good news in her life to share with Clark. No, the five years he had been gone were almost uniformly bad.

Clark frowned as he watched her run her fingers through her hair. It was a nervous habit she didn't exhibit often. Damn, before she even opened her mouth, he knew the news was going to be bad.

"Chloe was on special assignment for the Times over in Taiwan when the war turned hot. I haven't heard any word of her in almost a year. There are rumors on the Net about slave labor camps, but realistically, I would have to guess she is dead."

"War?" Clark whispered. Somehow he had assumed everything would be the same as when he left. But the world goes on, even when you are gone. But war? And somehow the phrase 'turning hot' brought to mind images of the 1950s and school children crouched under their desks waiting for the missiles to arrive. "Nukes?"

Martha nodded and then contradictorily shook her head. "Oh, not between us and the Chinese. After years, no decades of talk, the Chinese finally decided they wanted Taiwan and invaded with several million men. But they wanted the island and its infrastructure intact. No, it was the North Koreans. They decided with our attention focused further south, it was a good time to settle old grievances. Ten months ago, oh you'll hear 'Remember the seventeenth' a lot, they salvoed eight long range missiles. Our missile defense system got six of them, but we lost most of Seattle and San Francisco."

"They . . . those cities have been destroyed by nukes?" asked Kal barely able to comprehend. He had been raised on Earth and still in many ways thought of it as home. And, damn it, it was his job to protect it. But no, he had to go off on an odyssey of self-discovery when he should have been here.

"Yeah, it was pretty bad. The casualty count is over six million and that doesn't even include all the people who will succumb to radiation poisoning. But at least it ended the Sino-American war. China doesn't want a full-out nuclear exchange anymore than we do. Of course, they had already achieve their objective of kicking us out of Taiwan, so it didn't hurt them in world opinion to finally roll in and crush the North Koreans."

"So, Taiwan was never nuked?" Kal asked.

Martha shook her head. "No. They did use a couple of EMP bombs to temporarily knock down the electrical systems, but never any nukes."

Kal's heart rose a little. Chloe was the toughest, most resilient person he had ever known. If there had been nukes involved, he wasn't certain of her ability to survive. But short of that, he couldn't imagine anything Chloe Sullivan couldn't handle. He felt a strong urge to put on his white hat and race off in search of her this very second. But IF she had survived a year, possibly in captivity, a few more hours wouldn't matter. And at the moment he could sense his Mom needed his continuing presence.

Putting his concern for Chloe aside for the moment, he moved on to the harder topic, Lois. It still bothered him a lot that when he took off for Krypton, he hadn't said good-bye, hadn't even left a note. But at the time being near Lois had been so hard, so absolutely painful. He had had two whole wonderful months with her after she had discovered his secret and he had given up his powers. They had been the two happiest months in his life with the freedom to touch her anyway he wanted and never feeling the need to hold back because he might hurt her if his attention flagged during a moment of passion. But then Zod had appeared and he had been forced to resume the mantle of Superman with all of its associated baggage. And once Zod had been defeated, he finally understood that being Superman was part of his reason for existing and, at least then, he had had no way of turning Superman on and off. No, he either was Superman or he wasn't. And if he was Superman, he couldn't risk being more than just Lois' friend. And after being her lover, going back to being her friend had seemed an impossible step. When the astronomers discovered the location of Krypton, he had jumped at the excuse to escape. But what had his departure done to Lois? He had told his mother he was leaving and look at the state she was still in.

Steeling himself, he forced out the question, although the best he seemed able to do was a hoarse whisper. "And Lois?"

Martha's thoughts were still on Chloe. In many ways she was the closest thing Martha had to a daughter. Oh, she had become closer to Lois over the past five years, but Chloe was the one who hung around the Kent farm the most while Clark had been growing up, had always been his best bud. When Chloe had disappeared in Taiwan it had been almost as bad as when Clark left, maybe harder. For there had always been some hope Clark would return, but as the weeks turned into months without word, her hopes of seeing Chloe again had really faded.

And thoughts of the loss of Chloe brought back memories of all the others she had lost, but most especially Jonathan. Her eyes were drawn to the rapid brightening of the light shining through the window and she suddenly remembered she needed to stop at the cemetery and water the flowers before it was time to head to work. Realizing it had been years, since Clark had been to his father's grave, she asked the question before his own quiet question fully sank in.

"How about we continue this out at the cemetery?"

Then she saw the shock on his face and realized her mind had drifted off during their conversation, as seemed to happen to her more often in the past few years. Was this really what it meant to be getting old, she wondered.

"No, no, Clark," Martha said quickly. "I didn't mean it that way. Lois is fine. Talking about Chloe just turned my thoughts to death and dying. And that reminded me I need to stop by the cemetery and water the flowers before going to work. You'll have to forgive an old woman for saying aloud what was running through her head without first listening to what you were saying."

Kal took a deep breath to slow his racing heart. For at his Mom's comment, it had started beating harder and faster than it ever had against the numerous evil monsters he had dealt with during his life. If Lois had died without his having an opportunity to clear things between them, or at least try, he didn't know how he could move forward with his life without a perpetual cloud in the back of his mind. Was that instant of fear anything like what Lois had felt after his unexplained departure? God, for all of his super-human gifts, his behavior on that day five years earlier had been anything but 'super'. Was he 'Superman' or just a scared, selfish little boy pretending to be a man?

Understanding they both needed to clear their thoughts before moving on to the topic of Lois, Kal nodded to his mother. "Yes, I would be happy to go with you out to the cemetery."

Then looking down at his gray Kryptonian uni-suit, he asked, "Ah, Mom, do you still have any of my old clothes?"

He watched as the first real smile he had seen crossed her face.

"Yeah, Clark, I kept a few of your old things, they are in your closet. Although I am afraid you won't find a very big selection; I gave most of your things, and Jonathan's too, to the Salvation Army after the . . . well the events on the coast."

"Whatever you have will be fine. I just don't want to be seen around Smallville in this, it will raise too many questions."

Martha nodded. "I do like it, you know," she began with a gesture towards his gray outfit. "It suits you better than the red and blue."

"Good, as the old suit was destroyed a long time ago."

"Destroyed? I thought that material was supposed to be impervious to anything."

Kal shrugged. "Nothing is impervious to everything."

As she watched him climb the stairs to his old room, she wondered if he was talking about the Superman suit or himself. She got the strong feeling he was not talking about the suit. What had he been through during the five missing years?

They walked out to the small cemetery mostly in silence, still getting used to being around each other after the long separation. As they skirted the woods behind Nell Lang's old place, Kal once more noticed the change in crops compared to the good old days when he had been growing up in Smallville. Finally, when the cemetery had just come into sight, he asked.

"Mom, what's with all the sorghum and wheat? Where is the corn?"

"The climate has been shifting faster in the past few years. Most of the Artic ice field is gone now in the summer. Surely, you must have noticed the change up at the Fortress."

Kal shook his head. "I guess I had other things on my mind and wasn't paying much attention. The Fortress wasn't much different and I know its crystalline structure extends all the way to the bedrock. So, yeah, there was maybe more open water on the trip down, but there were warm summers before I left, too."

"Well, it is a lot warmer here than it used to be. Drier, too. The southern edge of the corn belt has moved about three hundred miles north. Unfortunately, the summers are still too short for a good growing season in most of Canada, so the northern edge of the corn belt has move up less than a hundred miles. The end result is less corn and more expensive corn, which in turn drives up the cost of livestock. Meat is becoming a bit of a luxury for many people."

Kal looked over at his Mom with her wane, drawn face. "Mom, are you getting by okay?"

Martha looked at her son and forced a small smile. "I'm getting by. I rent out the farm to the Thorton brothers and I still have my job running the Talon. I am afraid my appearance is due more to my fading appetite than to a lack of funds."

Kal was going to promise to help now that he was back, but decided she would know it without him having to say it out loud.

They reached the old iron gate leading into the cemetery and it swung open without a single squeak. Obviously, his Mom or someone was seeing to the upkeep.

As they stepped inside, Kal let his gaze wander around. Nothing much had changed since the last time he had been here seven or eight years ago. A few new tombstones had sprouted up, but his old friends like the life-sized winged angel at the Harrison grave remained.

Quietly the pair followed the familiar path to the Kent plot; a place that was now home to four generations of the family. Silently, they paused for a moment in front the black marble marker with the name KENT engraved near the top in large letters. Below it on the left it read 'Jonathan 1957-2006' and on the right 'Martha 1958-' and near the bottom in smaller lettering 'Loving Parents of Clark'.

As Kal stared down at the headstone, he found it hard to believe it had been fourteen years since his father's death. It still seemed like yesterday that the two of them had been arguing about him playing high school football. He slowly shook his head at the memory of how his father had ultimately bowed to Clark's wishes and allowed him to play, but in the end his father had been right. Clark's playing HAD been unfair to the others on the team or the ones who should have been on the team in his place. And there had been other things he should have focused his time and attention on instead, even if it had only been spending more time with his father. But then you never in your heart expected your own Dad to succumb to a heart attack at age forty-eight.

After a minute of silence, Martha tried to lighten the mood. "Come on, Clark. Help me get a couple of buckets of water. These flowers are looking awful thirsty."

They made their way over to a small utility shed about two hundred feet away and Martha pulled a key from her pocket and unlocked the door. Reaching inside, she pulled out a pair of old plastic two gallon buckets. Handing them to Clark she pointed around the corner.

"The faucet is just over there."

Once the pails were full, they walked together back to the gravesite. A light breeze rustling the leaves in the few tall trees scattered around the grounds made the only sound. Kal wondered if all cemeteries were as tranquil and peaceful as this one.

After watering the flowers planted around Jonathan's parents and grandparents headstones, Martha used the last of the water on the flowers around her husband's marker. Then she knelt down and busied her hands with the few stray weeds.

"Lois?" asked Kal.

Without looking up, Martha responded. "The first few months were very hard on her. She was deeply in love with you, you know. And you just walked away without a word. I tried to explain what I knew, but even I didn't really understand why you left."

Kal heard her question, but after all the years he found it hard to justify his actions even to himself. How would he ever explain it to his Mom or Lois?

After Clark remained silent for almost a minute, Martha continued, "Eventually, Lois pulled herself together and threw herself back into her work and got on with her life."

Martha made the conscious decision to let Lois decide what details of her personal life she wanted to share with Clark. She was just glad Clark hadn't commented about the picture on the refrigerator of her and Jason from her trip to Metropolis last Christmas. But then if Lois had been in the photo, it would have been far more likely to have piqued his curiosity.

Returning to Lois' professional life rather than her personal life, Martha went on, "Lois has made quite the name for herself in the past couple of years. She even won a Pulitzer. You'll hear this somewhere anyway, so it might as well be from me. The title of the essay was 'Why the World Doesn't Need Superman'. Although I think its real title should have been 'Why Lois Lane Doesn't Need Superman'. You may not want to hear this but I think it was very cathartic for her and I don't think she truly accepted you were gone from her life and was ready to move on until she wrote it."

Martha paused to look up at Clark where he stood above her, his head seemingly haloed in the bright light. "Clark, I hope you aren't going to mess things up for her; she deserves better than that, particularly after what happened at the awards ceremony."

Kal slumped to his knees beside his mother. It was never pleasant to experience . . . oh, what was that old phrase? . . . oh, yeah . . . 'tough love' . . . especially from a mother you haven't seen in years. But he knew he deserved it after his earlier behavior.

"Mom, I never . . . I never intended to hurt her . . . or you. But, I don't know how to explain . . . I was so messed up inside after everything with Zod and the return of my 'gifts', I simply couldn't face her. How could I tell her I could never touch her again? Because what if in some moment of passion, I lost control and hurt or even killed her? I had to get away until I was under control and could do and say what was necessary without breaking down."

Martha heard his words and they brought back memories of Clark and Lana during his first year of college only a few months before Jonathan's death. Then, too, his powers had been stripped away for awhile and his relationship with Lana had rushed forward with almost frightening speed. At least until the return of his powers had slammed on the brakes and torn that relationship apart too. Was that the real issue? He had always said he could completely control his gifts out on the football field, but maybe he didn't trust his control in a more intimate situation. Then Martha remembered the early days of her own relationship with his father. What if Jonathan had had one hundred or one thousand times his own strength, would she have survived some of their lovemaking? Slowly, after all of the years, she finally started to understand a little of Clark's behavior and his never-ending desire to be 'normal'.

After a few more minutes of silence, Kal asked, "What happened at the awards ceremony?"

Martha stopped pretending to pull weeds, straightened up, and rested her hands in her lap. "You have to understand. The Pulitzers were announced about three weeks before the Chinese invaded Taiwan. Between the war and then the North Koreans' attack, the ceremony kept getting pushed back and back. When it finally happened, the world was a much different place than when they had been announced. When Lois started to make her acceptance speech, a few people in the audience started jeering. Then it spread and spread until she was booed off the stage. And it didn't end there. She has been attacked several times in public. The Planet has continued to stand behind her, but the last few months have been very hard on her. The public needs heroes now and she is perceived to be 'anti-hero' by many."

Kal stared at his father's headstone wishing once more he could speak to him. Everything had always seemed so clear to his father. And though he hated to admit it when he was younger, he now realized how often the old man had been right.

Perhaps he could just talk to him in his head the way he and Lana had talked to her parents on that long ago evening when he had first learned his strange gifts were because he was an alien. Thinking about that previous conversation, Kal couldn't help but look over at the Lang gravesite a mere fifty feet away. But immediately he wished he hadn't, as it was impossible not to notice Lana's smaller marker next to her parents. Or remember the night everything had gone crazy with Lana and Lionel dead and Lex driven insane with grief. One more time he had royal screwed up and for all his great powers, everything had still gone wrong.

At least that time, when Lex got control of the nuclear missiles, he had managed to stop one and minimize the damage of the other. But in the end all he had done was bought San Francisco a few more years. Yeah, some hero he was.

"Mom, I didn't come back here to be a hero. Oh, I will try to help out where I can, but that's not why I am here."

Martha looked over at her son kneeling beside her. "Then why are you here?"

Clark reached over and clasped his mother's hand. He hadn't returned to Earth to end up in this dark, maudlin mood. Things hadn't gone at all like the way he had expected when he had knocked on his mother's door. But then obviously things hadn't been going well for his Mom, or Lois, or Chloe, or frankly anyone on earth since he had been gone.

"Mom, at this moment, this is going to sound hard to believe," and here Kal paused to squeeze her hand, "But I returned because of a girl."

Martha stared at his face and saw a small smile form at the corners of his lips. "A girl? But you just said the whole reason you left was because you were afraid of hurting Lois."

Kal felt his face flush a little. This wasn't exactly how this kind of conversation was supposed to go with your mother. "I never said she was from around here."

The light bulb clicked on in Martha's head. "You FOUND Krypton?"

Martha watched as a touch of sadness filled his eyes for a moment as Clark shook his head.

"No, when I reached Krypton it was utterly shattered into small pieces. All that is left of it now is a ring of rubble circling its red star just like the asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter."

"Then where?" breathed Martha.

"Remember our old buddy, Brainiac?" asked Kal.

Martha felt a shudder ripple through her body followed by goose bumps even though the temperature was steadily climbing into the eighties on its way to another hundred-plus high. How could she forget that vile man, no vile creature or alien construct or whatever he was?

"Brainiac?" she whispered, as though the mere mention of his name might bring him back.

"Yeah, him," responded Clark. "Some time in the past, not too long before the planet's destruction, Brainiac showed up there in a spaceship with an extremely powerful miniaturization weapon. He used it to reduce Krypton's capitol city, Kandor, and sixty surrounding miles of countryside, and all of the city's inhabitants until they fit into a specially designed jar, not more than four feet in diameter. He had some dark evil scheme which needed them. It was simply a coincidence that it meant two hundred forty thousand Kryptonians were off-planet when the end came.

"I was searching the Kryptonian solar system for signs of survivors and the strongest trace I could find ultimately led me to Brainiac. It was a long difficult struggle and I think it is a story for another day, but in the end I wrested control of the jar containing Kandor from him. I spent most of the two year return voyage in Kandor working with their best scientists trying to come up with some way to reverse the effect."

Martha looked at him with rapt attention, fully enthralled by his story. "If you can't reverse the effect how could you have spent time in Kandor? You would have had to have been miniaturized, too. But you are obviously full-sized now."

"In the battle with Brianiac, the weapon was destroyed and all records of how it worked. I did manage to secure the prototype, which can transform one or two people at a time, but so far we have been unable to reverse engineer the principles involved."

"Even if you can only do one or two at a time, it wouldn't take forever to transform all of the inhabitants," stated Martha with simple logic.

"It isn't that easy," began Clark with a sorrowful shake of his head. "Remember all of the havoc Zod and his two cohorts wreaked? Or the number of people who despise me because of my abilities? Now try to imagine if there were a quarter of a million people around with my gifts. And the Kryptonians are no better or worse than humans. If they were let loose, I am afraid the Earth would see a war unlike any it can imagine as some of the Kryptonians fought for control. For the present, they need to stay in that bottle where its special lighting and atmosphere limit them to normal human abilities. If we ever figure out how to restore the city, I will relocate it to some distance planet where they can't do the earth any harm."

Martha shuttered as she remembered the home video footage she had seen on TV of Clark's battle against Zod in Metropolis. If even one hundred out of the two hundred forty thousand inhabitants were half as bad as Zod, she could see how quickly the disasters in Seattle and San Francisco would pale to insignificance.

Then she keyed in on some of the other things Clark had said. "Normal humans? So when they are in the bottle, they don't have any of your abilities?"

"No, and neither do I."

"So you have spent most of the past two years without your abilities?"

"Yeah, and it felt great to be like everyone else. It was almost difficult to force myself to leave and come here."

"Well, I am glad you did," said Martha as she reached over to squeeze his hand like he had gently squeezed hers earlier. "Now, I think it is time you told me a little about this girl."

Martha watched as a grin crossed Clark's face like she hadn't seen since her visit to Metropolis a month before Zod's arrival. It really warmed her heart to see her son so happy, particularly after the difficult topics of Chloe and Lois.

"Her name is Lyla. Lyla Lerrol. Now don't laugh, but she is an actress. Well, on Krypton they are called emotive actresses. Their movies are a little different from here. They have the technology to record and transmit people's emotions. So by wearing these special caps, you not only watch the movie, but also experience what the actors are feeling. It takes a special class of actors to get so fully into the character that their emotions ring true. And Lyla is one of the best. And more than that, she is smart, fun, and . . . well, pretty easy on the eyes."

"So, how exactly did you end up with an actress?" asked Martha with a hint of humor coloring her tone.

"Well, I am a bit of a celebrity there. 'The Savior of Kandor' is what it reads on the statue in front of the Hall of Justice. . ." began Clark when Martha interrupted.

"Wait a minute. You have a statue?"

Clark got the bashful grin she remembered so well from his high school years when he secretly used his gifts to save the day and then had to pass it off as dumb luck or the like.

"Several, actually. Everyone there knows about me and it's no big deal. It is even kind of nice not to always have to pretend to be something other than my true self."

Martha nodded. All Clark had ever wanted was to fit in and be normal. And maybe now he had finally found a place where he could.

"So did you meet Lyla at some gala event?"

For a moment Clark chuckled. "No. At first, until I found a place of my own, I was staying in the home of one of the scientists I was working with and Lyla happened to be his daughter. At first she just came around maybe once a week for dinner, but after a couple of months, things just started to click with us."

Martha found herself grinning along with Clark. When he had first shown up on her doorstep this morning she had never imagined things would turn out like this. Perhaps if both Lois and Clark had moved on, their first meeting needn't be as hard as she feared, although it did still leave the question of Jason.

"I am really looking forward to meeting her, Clark."

Kal climbed to his feet and reached down his hand. "There is no time like the present."

"What, right now?" exclaimed Martha, as she rose to her feet. "But I have to work today."

"Surely, you can take a day off for a special occasion like this. And I want to show Kandor to you."

"You mean actually go there? Me?"

"Yes. That is one of the things I had to do before coming to see you. I did all of the necessary tests and while the bottle containing Kandor is within this solar system, it is perfectly safe for a human to visit there. And you will have the same abilities as everyone else does there, which means you will be perfectly normal. Oh, the simulated sky is a different color, but the air and gravity will feel just the same."

Martha never dreamed when she woke up this morning that she might be visiting what was, in effect, an alien world today. For a moment she just stood there in shock. Then her thoughts, which seemed to be spinning in a fast circle, were interrupted by a phone call.

"Oh, Clark, I need to take this call."

Kal hadn't heard a phone ring and then was somewhat startled as he saw his Mom's eyes suddenly turn gray. Looking a little closer he saw a uniform gray color had covered her pupils, her irises, and even a bit of the whites. Then he cranked up his telescopic vision, looked a lot closer, and discovered she was wearing some kind of contacts which had changed color.

"Hi, Holly," said his Mom into the thin air. "I was just about to call you. You will never guess who is here. It's Clark. He just showed up for a surprise visit from Australia. And you can't imagine how good it is to see him. Oh, let a Mom show off her son for a minute. Here's a quick look."

Kal just stood there as his mother's solid gray eyes swept up and down his body.

"Doesn't it look like they have been treating him good? And he was just telling me all about his new girl friend."

Martha paused and appeared to listen for a moment. "Well, I will be sure to send you a picture of her at my first chance. Anyway, I really want to spend the day with Clark. Do you think you can handle things yourself? This is Carol's day off, but I think she said she was just going to hanging out, so call her and see if she can give you a hand."

Martha paused again and then concluded, "Thanks, Holly. I'll owe you one. Bye."

Then as Clark watched the contacts she was wearing cleared and once more he could see her green eyes. And then as he looked at her, he realized during the last ten minutes it was like ten years had been subtracted from her appearance. She stood a little straighter and the wrinkles around her eyes and mouth had once more transformed into laugh-lines.

"What's up with the contacts, Mom?"

"Oh, that's right you have been gone a long time. There might be wars and famines, but technology keeps marching forward. Everyone is wearing them now. They just swept the country like cell phones did twenty years ago. From the inside they are like watching a high quality movie screen. In fact that is how most people watch TV and movies today, right on the inside of their contacts. And with a slightly different signal to each eye everything is in true 3-D. We haven't quite reached the 'holodeck' from the old Star Trek shows we watched when you were little, but it is getting close. And you can pull up anything you want from the 'net with simple voice commands. The outside surface has a camera function, so you can let anyone you are talking to see exactly what you are seeing."

Then Martha grinned, "They even let you feel a little like Superman. These can zoom your vision by a factor of four on command. There are some that will do a lot more, but they give these basic versions away for free. Oh, and they can also store a couple hours of video. Would it be okay if I take some pictures of you and Lyla?"

Clark nodded his head. His mom had never been one of those of the old generation who pathologically avoided technology, but she had never particularly rushed to it either. If she was sporting these contacts, a lot of others must be too. Things certainly had changed a lot, both good and bad, while he was gone.

"Sure, Mom. Take as many pictures as you want. Well, maybe you should try to avoid taking too many with the alien cityscapes in the background. But most places shouldn't be a problem."

Then Clark moved as though to pick her up. "Ready?"

"What? Now? Clark Kent, if you think you are going to take me to meet your girlfriend without giving me a chance to put on a dress and do my hair, you are sadly mistaken."

Clark grinned. This sounded like his old Mom.

"Okay, okay. We'll go back to the house first. Satisfied?"

He watched Martha nodded.

As they turned and walked towards the gate, Lana's grave once more caught his eye. And when he thought of Lana these days, he always thought of Lex, too. Oh, he had hung around with Lana during high school and college, even dated her for awhile. But during the last six years of her life she had been with Lex. God, if only things hadn't gone so wrong. If Lana was still alive, Lex would never have ended up in the place he was in.

"Mom, how's Lex?"

As she paused to pull the cemetery gate shut behind her, she sighed. "About the same as when you left. I was up to see him about six weeks ago. He still thinks it is 2001, the year he first arrived in Smallville. It is so sad."

"And he is still wearing the gloves?"

"Yeah, I always double check with the doctors to be sure."

Clark nodded. Then he turned his thoughts back to happier things.

"Mom wait until you see the Flame Dragons. A small nest of them were just within range when Kandor got miniaturized one hundred years ago. Now there are almost eighty of them. They grow to two hundred feet long and belch fire that can burn through a foot thick plate of steel. They are so cool."

Martha thought they sounded more scary than cool. And then it started to sink in. She was about to travel to what was effectively an alien world. To Kandor.

End of Chapter 1

Author's Notes:

I went to see 'Superman Returns' during opening weekend on the big IMAX screen in 3-D. It was wonderful after waiting almost twenty years to see Superman once more up on the big screen. And the action sequences with state of the art special effects were great – you actually could believe a man can fly.

Then I went back to see it again this past weekend because I had a free ticket. Now, knowing what to expect I could focus more on the story. And you know, on the whole the movie is rather disappointing. It felt like an unimaginative homage/remake of the first movie. There was the same Lex who seems to me to be a bumbling fool rather than a scary adversary worthy of Superman. And the endless use of snippets of dialogue from the first movie which were lame twenty-five years ago and even more so today. And Lex's bimbo girl friend and buffoonish sidekicks. And what was the deal with the 'Superman's spaceship crashing near his mother's farm' sequence? So the Kryptonians can build ships which can cross lightyears of space, but they can't land without crashing? The misfires in this movie seemed just endless.

So I was sitting here the other night thinking about what I would have done differently. The 'missing for five years' seemed interesting, but their explanation on his return seemed lame and unconvincing. And the 'son' angle was intriguing. But the whole Lex plot needed to go – I mean, 'been there, done that'.

I spent about ten minutes thinking about it and this whole chapter just gelled in my head. (If only I could write that fast as it took me about twelve hours to get it down on paper!) Doing something like bringing in 'Kandor – City in a Bottle' from the old comics would open so many story possibilities. First, it provided an opportunity to give Superman a Kryptonian girl friend, someone who could truly be his equal. And now, where in the movie Superman comes across almost like someone halfway between a peeping Tom and a stalker, you instead have two interesting romantic triangles – Richard, Lois, Superman – and – Lois, Superman, Lyla. (Oh, for those of you who don't know Lyla Lerrol was Superman's Kryptonian girlfriend during a comic back in the early 1960's when he was swept to Krypton through a time vortex that saw him working as his own father's assistant while trying to save Krypton from the impeding disaster. I decided to use a little artistic license to relocate her to Kandor.) So, now there are plot possibilities like bringing Lyla into the real world for awhile to experience superpowers. Or bringing Lois to Kandor where Clark is normal and they can be together.

The other nice thing about introducing Kandor is all the potential back stories to flesh out the plot and make everything feel more real. The history of Krypton. The history of Kandor. The story of Brainiac's theft of Kandor. The history of Brainiac. The story of Superman's battle to retrieve Kandor. The history of Lyla. The story of Superman and Lyla getting together. And on and on and on.

Anyway, this first chapter was banging around in my head in the most distracting manner and I had to get it down on paper. The question now is – Is there enough interest by people wanting to read this story that I should continue? If you would like to read more, send me a review or a PM, else I will just focus on my 'Biological Families' saga over on the Smallville side. Oh, and I don't really have much beyond this point plotted out in my head yet (other than probably doing my interpretation of the airplane-shuttle sequence to bring Lois and Superman together for the first time), so if you have anything you would like to see in the story, suggest away. In my other stories I have generally tried to be responsive to suggestions from the readers.

Anyway, I hope you found this chapter interesting. And if you would like to see more, drop me a review.