8/1/06

Kandor - Chapter 2

"Okay," began Kal with one hand on the mechanism which would open the eight foot thick Kryptonium door and the other holding the lightweight helmet with its large clear faceshield. "Now remember, once I open this door we will be exposed to the artificial red sun which provides light for Kandor. And it is this light which limits the Kryptonians' powers to that of ordinary men, which means my powers will be stripped away, too."

Martha nodded. Fortunately, Clark had explained all of this back in Smallville, because at the moment most of her attention was focused on adjusting her jetpack in hopes of finding a more comfortable fit. The unit only weighed six or seven pounds and looped around the waist. It looked like a four inch wide metallic gold belt with odd protuberances sticking out in six places. Clark had explained it was based on anti-gravity principles the Kryptonians had been using for hundreds of years, but that still didn't prevent it from chafing her left hip.

Kal pulled the lever and the door groaned open with a deep low-frequency rumble like a bank vault door in some old British movie. Once the door had moved a fraction of an inch, a brief high-pitched whistling noise was heard as the air pressure in this room, which acted like an air-lock, equalized with that of Kandor. Then several seconds later the first faint red glow became visible through the widening crack and Kal could feel all of his special powers begin to leech away.

The transition to 'normal' was always an eerie sensation. For some gifts like his strength, it wasn't even noticeable until he tried to use them. But for others it was immediately apparent and very disconcerting. The worst was his vision; it was like he was suddenly half blind, being able to see only in the normal visible-light spectrum. Was this how ordinary people felt who needed glasses? And at the thought of glasses, he wondered how his Clark Kent personae was going to function in Metropolis without glasses, as from what his Mom had said, absolutely everyone now wore the futuristic contacts.

As the door slid fully open, Kal was just glad the access point, and the associated loss of his strength and stamina, was at the very bottom of the special metallic plug which sealed the container. Now, in their miniaturized state, the one and one half inch thick plug was the equivalent of almost four vertical miles. Four miles of stairs would have been damned inconvenient without superspeed!

Taking his mother's hand, Kal led the way through the doorway and out onto the platform. The platform was large, at least one hundred feet by one thousand feet. Scattered across its surface were a variety of large machines - some created by the Kandorians for use in their attempts to breach Brainiac's defenses and some left over from Brainiac's reign. But Kal ignored all of these devices and led the way over to the railing.

Martha gasped when she saw the view and clenched Kal's hand so hard that with his superpowers gone, he couldn't help but wince.

"It's okay, Mom," said Kal in a soothing tone.

"But . . . but, I can barely even see the ground," began Martha.

Kal looked down and could easily understand his Mother's anxiety. Besides him only a few hundred astronauts had ever seen the earth from such a vantage point. And those astronauts had been either in a spaceship or spacesuit, not standing exposed on what suddenly must feel like the edge of an infinite drop while a turbulent breeze buffeted you about.

"I would have tried to explain earlier, but it is difficult to grasp without seeing it for yourself. Saying Kandor is a 'city in a bottle' makes it sound small and insignificant, but when miniaturized to this scale you can see there is nothing small about it. Seen from the inside and viewed from the Kandorians' perspective, the jar is one hundred twenty miles in diameter giving a surface area of just over ten thousand square miles. We are currently one hundred miles above the surface of Kandor, which is equivalent to the height at which several space stations orbit the earth. The surface of Kandor itself is twenty miles above the bottom of the jar and according to the Kandorians' studies, Brainiac's machine went deep enough so the lowest five miles is actually molten material from the outer core of the planet. Seen from the inside, this jar is nothing like a goldfish bowl with a couple of small buildings."

Martha stared down and tried to make sense of what she was seeing. Several irregular emerald green shapes adorned the surface far below, which she quickly decided must be bodies of water. One large area showed geometric patterns on a grand scale in several shades of pale green and blue. Being an old farmer's wife, she quickly deduced that was land under cultivation. She tried to spot other signs of civilization but the ground was simply too far away to show things like roads or houses. She thought even from a hundred miles up she should have been able to spot the city itself, but if it was in the exact center of the jar, no – better to think of it as a miniature world, then her view of it was currently obscured by the giant structure hanging below them.

"Is that the artificial sun?" she asked while pointing to the massive globe located an apparent ten or fifteen miles below their current position. Martha had no idea how it worked but when looking at it from above, it was a globe about two miles in diameter supported by three massive tripod style struts each a half mile in diameter, which in turn were attached to the outer edges of this metal stopper. The upper surface of the sphere visible from their catwalk was a dark gray color, although whatever created the luminosity on its lower surface leaked around the edges so that it looked like the corona of the earth's sun as it appeared only during a full solar eclipse except being a brilliant red.

"Yeah, and it is another of Brainiac's feats the Kandorians have never been able to replicate or even fully understand. With all of his unimaginable intellectual gifts, it is hard to comprehend why he feels it is necessary to be so evil. I mean it certainly seems like he can create anything he wants, so why try to destroy everything he touches?" Kal concluded with a shake of his head.

Then he took his mother's hand and pulled her back away from the railing.

"How about we practice for a couple of minutes before starting down?" he suggested.

Martha was glad to step away from the edge. "If it is a hundred miles down, how long is it going to take?"

"Well, one of the Kandorians' newer sports, which has sprung up in the hundred years they have been trapped in this jar, is the Freefall League. They fly up here and try for the fastest freefall time down to the surface. There are a number of categories for different streamlining methods beyond the simplest method of just tucking into a ball. For the classic unaided class, I think the record is just over twenty minutes as three hundred miles an hour is about tops for the human body within the constant air pressure maintained in this chamber. Now if this chamber was more like earth where the air thins almost to a vacuum at this altitude, then the terminal velocities would be substantially higher."

"Three hundred miles an hour?" whispered Martha looking a little pale.

"Oh, we will go a lot slower until you are comfortable. It's not like we are in a big rush and if it takes a couple of hours to get down, it is no big deal." Clark paused to hoist his helmet. "And wearing the helmet to keep the wind out of your eyes and mouth makes a big difference. Oh, it's nothing like flying under your own power out in the real world, but it is still kind of fun."

Martha looked dubiously at her own helmet. She had never skydived in her life. Oh, Clark had carried her on a number of flights, including their just concluded trip from Smallville, but being in the safety of Clark's arms seemed way different than jumping off a hundred mile tall cliff.

"Let's start with the helmet, Mom," Clark suggested before donning his.

Martha slid hers on and discovered it felt a lot lighter than the one she used to wear when she went riding with Jonathan on his old Indian oh so many years ago. It really was just a lightweight shell with padded earpieces to hold it in place.

It seemed like as soon as it was in place she could clearly heard Clark's voice through the built-in speakers.

"Now, Mom remember I have a master control for your belt, so if at anytime you feel like you are in over your head, just say the word and I will take over."

Martha nodded; grateful Clark had a lot of practice with this freefall method of descent in addition to his years of experience with his own flying abilities.

As Kal explained the simple systems of three buttons and two joysticks for controlling altitude, rate of ascent/descent, and directional control, he wondered if his Mother would ever be ready for the express ride. Probably not, he quickly decided. Only a very few members of the Freefall League were crazy enough to don the old exoskeletal warsuits left over from the Clone War days. Only the armored warsuits were tough enough to withstand the stresses and temperatures from a steady five G ascent or descent. Accelerating at five G's got you to the halfway turnover point in less than sixty seconds, then decelerating at five G's brought you back to a stop at the top in another sixty seconds. One hundred miles straight up in just two minutes. The white-hot friction from the six thousand mile an hour peak speed at turnover was only survivable because the warsuits were designed to shake off direct hits from mega-joule energy weapons. Fortunately, the ceramic outer coating prevented heat build-up and you could still exit the suit quickly with only a minimum of burns. However as fast and exhilarating as the ride in the warsuit was, it was nowhere near as good as having his gifts under a yellow sun, but under a red sun, it was the best a Kryptonian could do.

But his Mom was scared enough of the descent, this wasn't the time to mention using the anti-gravity belts to speed up rather than slow down their descent. Although, hopefully once they were safely on their way he could ease their rate of descent up, as he was getting a feeling in his gut that time would soon be of essence. Luckily, when you were still tens of miles above the ground an extra one G of downward acceleration was hardly noticeable.

"Okay, Mom, let's start with a simple hover slightly above the deck," said Kal after completing the basic instructions.

Martha nodded and slowly adjusted the controls as Clark had explained. Gently her body began to feel lighter as the belt absorbed her weight. But it didn't feel at all like she was expecting. She thought it would feel like someone had grabbed the belt of her jeans and started lifting. But instead it felt like the belt was putting out some kind of field that enveloped her whole body and lifted each part simultaneously. As her body started to rise, her natural instinct was to maintain contact with the floor. At first she just rose up onto her toes. Then as her body continued to rise she found herself executing a perfect ballerina's 'en point' pose with only the tips of her big toes touching. And then she was clear of the floor and floating. For a moment she had the urge to pull her legs up into a fetal position, but then she forced herself to relax. And when she did she discovered the anti-gravity field, put out by the device, made it feel like she was standing on a solid surface, even though she knew nothing was there.

"Okay," said Kal pleased that she hadn't panicked so far. "Now let's rise up five feet. It might help to think that you are just standing in an invisible elevator."

Martha did as he instructed and found that the analogy actually helped.

"Now let's rotate until our bodies are parallel to the floor facing down."

This she found much more disconcerting. It was almost impossible to convince her brain that she was in an elevator in this position.

"Ahh, Clark, I am not enjoying this position at all."

"I think moving will help. How about you try to navigate to the big orange machine over to the left?"

Martha tried to remember which button and joystick combination controlled direction. She started with the lowest speed setting possible and after only a couple of false starts she managed to reach the chosen destination.

Kal picked several more target locations and after Martha had managed two in a row without any false steps, he decided it was time.

"Ready to head down, Mom?"

Martha had been feeling proud of her performance, but then a twinge of fear returned at the thought of facing the big drop. However, unless she wanted to give up and go straight back to Smallville, she was going to have to do this. Steeling herself, she nodded.

Kal rotated backed to a vertical position knowing it would be easier to go over the edge without forcing his Mom to face straight down.

Then just as they were clearing the edge, he pointed off to their left to distract her.

"Mom, we want to give the artificial sun a wide berth. Let's head over towards the outer wall for awhile. Having something 'real' nearby will help"

Martha looked in the direction he had pointed and tried to distinguish where exactly the wall of the giant cylinder began. By the time she noticed their position, they were already several hundred feet from the platform and it was receding rapidly behind them.

'Don't look down. Don't look down. Don't look down.' She kept repeating in her head.

"Clark, why am I having such a hard time seeing the wall? It can't be as far away as the ground." Damn, why did she have to use that word, she wondered.

"You won't be able to see it very well until we get a lot closer. From a distance it has an almost mirrored finish. The space inside this container is already very large, but apparently Brainiac was trying to create the allusion it is even bigger. The only reason I can think is that Brainiac did it to improve the mental state of the inhabitants. And that would only be necessary if his original plan required the Kandorians to be in here for a very long time. Well, the hundred years they have already spent in here sounds like a very long time, but then Brainiac always thinks in the very long term. Who knows, perhaps he intended to keep them in here for thousands of years to see how their civilization would evolve over time. I wonder how many more centuries it would take for Krypton to become nothing more than a myth to these people?"

"With Krypton truly gone, how long do you think it will take before it becomes a legend to them, even if you find a way to reverse the process and find them a new world to inhabit?"

"You're right, Mom. I hadn't really thought about it like that, but you are probably right. After a few centuries or millennia, their homeworld, no, my homeworld will turn into some almost forgotten myth."

Martha had known since the very first day they had found Clark out in the cornfield that he was an alien. She had even known of Krypton by name for many years. But hearing Clark speak about his homeworld while they were traveling to a city filled with people of his own kind, drove home for the first time that maybe she needed to prepare herself to losing him forever. Oh, he had been gone for five years and been back for barely more than an hour, but his original trip to Krypton had seemed little more than a pilgrimage. It had turned out to be a lot long than she had expected, but she had always, deep in heart, believed he would one day return and continue to call Earth home. Now, she wondered if Clark did manage to find a way to restore Kandor to its full-size, whether he wouldn't move with it to whatever new home planet he found for them. Could she handle another departure, particularly if this time he might have no intention of returning?

Martha liked to think of herself as being relatively tough and strong. She had survived the death of her husband many years earlier. She had survived the loss of Lana. She had survived Clark's departure for Krypton. She had survived the probable loss of Chloe. So why did she find her eyes tearing up so frequently today; on what should be this most happy of occasions?

Blinking hard to control the tears and swallowing a couple of times to ease the sudden tightness in her throat, she looked around for something to capture her attention and give her something less emotionally trying to focus her attention on.

Glancing back over her shoulder, she discovered the platform and even the artificial sun seemed to be miles behind. They couldn't have been moving that long, certainly not more than a couple of minutes. She hadn't touched the controls since they had slid slowly clear of the platform's railing, so Clark must have pushed up their speed.

Risking a look down, she could finally see the central portion of ground far below, framed by her dangling feet. And looking down at her feet she suddenly understood why Clark had suggested a pantsuit rather than a dress for today's little excursion.

Forcing her gaze past her brown tweed slacks, she could at last see the city of Kandor. Blinking one last time to clear her eyes, she cranked up the zoom capability of her contacts. However even at their maximum magnification factor of four, the city still looked a very long ways away and it was still difficult to discern much in the way of details.

Then a bright glittering object at the juncture of the floor and the wall of the cylinder caught her attention. Whatever it was, it looked even bigger than the city of Kandor. She was surprised she hadn't noticed from up on the platform, but perhaps their changing angle relative to the artificial sun now resulted in a brighter reflection.

"Clark, what is that?" she asked while pointing in the direction of the large jewel-like object.

Clark was glad she spoke up, she had been quiet longer than was typical for her and he had been afraid flying was having a more serious effect on her than he had hoped. Following the line of her finger, he immediately recognized what had caught her attention.

"Remember the flame-dragons I mentioned earlier? They are extremely powerful and dangerous. If they were allowed to run free, they would make life in this enclosed space impossible. But the Kandorians didn't want to simply wipe out one of the few species they had from home. So similar to the self-fabricating crystals of the fortress, they used their crystalline technology to enclose a forty mile wide by ten mile deep by ten mile high volume at the edge of their world for use by the dragons."

When he saw her nod that she understood, he continued. "I guess since we have some time, now is a good time to give you a little of the history of Kandor and Krypton so you will better understand the situation here. Some of this is information Jor left for me in the crystals and some of it I didn't find out until I talked to the people of Kandor.

"Kandor was the capitol of Krypton for thousands of years. Then about eleven hundred years ago a schism formed between the ruling high council and a group of the planet's leading scientists. Quickly the situation escalated out of control and the two factions ended up at war. This war, which they call the Clone War, roared on for almost eight hundred years, although Kandor was the very first casualty. It was utterly destroyed in the very first days by the Kryptonian equivalent of a hydrogen bomb."

Interrupting with a quick question, Martha asked. "Clone War? You mean like in the old Star Wars movies?"

Clark shook his head then remembered their helmets and how difficult it was to read facial expression with them on.

"No, it was quite different. The clones in Star Wars were the genetically identical men grown and trained as soldiers to fight in place of others in battle. Here, I mean on Krypton, the clones were spare bodies grown to provide replacement parts if you were seriously injured or because your body was simply wearing out from old age. The clones, which were full-sized replicas of the original Kryptonians, were supposed to be kept in a vegetative state. However in the same way as the First World War on Earth was instigated by the assassination of a relatively minor member of royalty, the Kryptonian war was a direct result of a single incident where a clone was illegally brought to consciousness. This led to a double murder/suicide which brought the whole cloning controversy to the forefront.

"Most people were aware, but conveniently ignored, the fact that with only small changes all of the clones being kept for spare parts could easily be brought awake. Some people, including several leading scientists, had been quietly saying for a long time that the keeping of clones was morally wrong and if it was the only way to extend Kryptonian life, then perhaps life shouldn't be extended. This incident served as a catalyst and led, ultimately, to war between those trying to maintain the status quo and those striving for change."

When Clark paused for a minute, Martha asked, "So who won this war?"

"The people fighting for the status quo, the right to continue using clones, won in the end. But then, in one of those strange ironies that plague Kryptonians as much as humans, less than ten years after the end of the war, someone discovered how to achieve all of the same life-extending effects through gene-therapy. Therefore less than thirty years after winning the war to allow cloning to continue, the process ended up being banned anyway. Of course, by then the damage had already been done."

"What damage?" asked Martha as their rapid onward motion brought them towards the outer wall of the cylinder. And as it came near enough to make out details she could see their motion was not on a level path, but rather they were spiraling downward at the same time. Looking back towards the center of the cylinder she could see they were already below the level of the artificial sun and its extreme brightness made their originally starting point impossible to see. Glancing at Clark, she could see his gray form-fitting attire had taken on a decidedly reddish cast.

"The Kryptonians had fought an all-out war for hundreds of years using weapons that quickly far exceeded the nuclear weapons currently available here on earth. The giant crystalline structures like the Fortress and the one you see below constraining the dragons were developed in response. These structures are impervious to atomics and most beamed weapons and were quickly thrown up to protect the surviving cities. Unfortunately as a result of the forces unleashed during the war, the planet was beset with massive sprawling ion radiation storms that continued to swirl around the planet's surface long after the war finally wound down. So even after the war ended the people and their cities were forced to continue to huddle behind and below the protective crystalline structures."

Clark pointed down to the city of Kandor which appeared to be slowly growing in size and grandeur as they descended. "The city of Kandor wasn't rebuilt until after the end of the Clone War and had only existed in its current form for less than two hundred years when Brainiac stole it from Krypton. And during those two hundred years, it, too, was hidden behind a crystal barrier. It was only after being placed in this jar, where it was finally safe from the ion storms, that its barrier was removed and Kandor for the first time in over a thousand years was able to stand once more under the light of the sun. Well, artificial red sun."

Martha looked down at the city below and tried to imagine it hidden under towering piles of crystal like the Fortress. She couldn't imagine living in a place where you couldn't look up and see the sky or the stars at night. Was life in this bottle actually better than life back on Krypton? She was suddenly gladder than ever that Clark had been sent to Earth. Oh, not glad in the sense that she was happy Krypton had to be destroyed to make it happen. But glad Clark hadn't been forced to grow up in a place which required everyone to hide behind protective barriers. What would that do to your mind and psyche?

Shaking off thoughts of how limiting life on Krypton must have been near the end, Martha forced her attention to the city spread out below them. Clark had said it had a population of about a quarter of a million, yet it seemed to spread over an area larger than Metropolis, a city with at least twenty times the number of inhabitants. Kandor had several central spires which appeared to reach well into the sky, but otherwise she saw few tall buildings. The terrain itself was a series of rolling hills and the buildings away from the city center seemed to follow the contours of the land.

As her eyes darted from one group of structures to the next, the buildings seemed to swell even as she watched. Quickly she stepped down the magnification of her contacts and the city moved away, but then immediately started to grow again.

Martha glanced over at Clark maintaining a parallel course not more than ten feet away and then back down to the ground. They had been traveling less than fifteen minutes and the ground looked minutes, not hours away.

"Ah, how fast are we going, Clark?" she asked.

Kal listened to the tone of her voice, but didn't really detect any panic. "Well, Mom, since you were doing okay, I picked up the pace a little. Are you still doing okay or should I slow us down?"

Martha had been sufficiently engrossed in Clark's story and then her own thoughts about Krypton that she hadn't been paying a lot of attention to what was going on around her. Now she did and quickly became aware of the buffeting of her clothes as they raced through the air. The headphones in the helmet did a very good job of blocking the wind noise and rather than a sense of motion the buffeting had felt more like an invigorating massage. But now that she remembered she was flying, she brought her hands away from the sides of her body and felt the wind rushing through her fingers. She knew she had flown a lot faster when carried in her son's arms, but that hadn't felt nearly the same. No, somehow the close proximity of his body had always reduced the wind in her face to an apparent gentle breeze. But not here, not now. At the moment it felt like she was flying and it wasn't nearly as unpleasant as she had expected.

"Yes, I am doing okay. Actually, I think I am starting to enjoy it. Imagine, a woman at my age flying. Is this what flying feels like to you back on Earth? Oh, you know what I mean."

Kal grinned to himself. This experience had turned out better than he had hoped. "It is somewhat similar. Of course, flying back on 'Earth' is better; I just have to think about it to be able to turn or climb rather than having to fiddle with the controls. But you do still get a little of the feeling of strength and power."

Yes, thought Martha, she could understand how flying could become addictive. She reached down to her flying belt to resume control of her own motion and as she banked into a gentle turn, she found she could start to understand at least the smallest bit of what her son meant when he spoke of a feeling of power.

As she wondered if life on Earth would be just as impacted, if these flying belts were readily available, as it had been impacted by the 'always on' network provided by the contact lenses, she began to notice specks of motion far below them. Quickly zooming her lenses, she discovered the air immediately above the city was filled with other people using matching belts. Apparently, flying was one of the common modes of transportation in Kandor. And that did help explain how the city seemed to have fewer roads than her Earth-centric brain expected. What other changes would easily available flight have wrought on these people and their city?

More and more details of the city unfolded before her eyes over the next couple of minutes. Finally, when they had almost approached the altitude used by the citizens of Kandor to transverse their city, Clark broke her reverie.

"Mom, my home is over to the right. Can you follow me down or would you like me to retake control?"

"I think I am good, Clark. And seeing how many others are currently in the air, it looks like I need to master it, if I am going to be able to get around."

"Okay, Mom. Although Kandor does have an extensive underground transportation system and there is an access point only a five minute walk from my house. The network not only covers Kandor, but over the past hundred years has been extended throughout the surrounding countryside. Many people get around just fine without ever taking to the air."

Martha nodded to herself at this information, but most of her thoughts were suddenly focused on Clark's several references to 'his home'. During his years in Metropolis all he had ever had was a series of apartments, none of which she would really call a home. So she was very curious at what his home would be like here in Kandor, where he had spent most of the past couple of years.

As they approached ground level, her eyes swept passed her son, who was flying a few feet in front of and below her, and out across the city beyond. They were currently just passing over the edge of the city heading in the general direction of the city center, whose central spires now resolved into structures which climbed almost a mile into the sky. Far beyond the city, right at the horizon, in the same general direction was the glittering structure of the dragon enclosure. For some reason her brain quickly associated this circular land with an old fashion clock face. The central spires were at center of the clock and the dragon enclosure was at 12 o'clock. Scanning what was visible of this world at their current thousand foot height, she quickly spotted the pair of lakes she had seen from their entry point at the top and her brain quickly identified the direction as 3 o'clock. The agricultural area extended from about 4 o'clock to 7 o'clock before petering off into a heaviliy wooded tract from 7 o'clock to 10 o'clock. The wooded area extended outward from the city almost to the horizon, which was lined by a group of modest hills. Or would they be classified as mountains by the standards of the old Hugh Grant movie from her youth, 'The English Man Who Went Up a Hill But Came Down a Mountain', which suddenly popped into her head.

Turning her attention back forward, Martha saw they were rapidly approaching the ground, their altitude down to less than two hundred feet. Suddenly this 'head down' orientation they had been using started to feel like falling. But as the sensation fully started to hit, she saw Clark start to rotate to a 'feet first' vertical position. Quickly she followed suit and once more achieved the mental state of being able to convince her stomach and inner ear that she was descending in an invisible elevator.

Slowly she descended the last few feet until her searching toes encountered solid ground. As her full weight returned to her legs, it felt for a moment like her knees were going to buckle. However as soon as it started Clark seemed to be there with a supportive arm around her shoulders.

"So, how did you like the trip?" asked Kal.

Martha took a moment to catch her breathe and looked back up into the pale green sky with its central red sun hiding the place where the trip had begun. Then her eyes swept down and took in the distant horizon. They were standing atop a small rise which provided a panoramic view and what struck her was how she had no sense they were actually standing inside a cylindrical container. No, everything felt like they were standing on the surface of a regular planet, most definitely not the Earth, but still a real planet. Now standing on the ground, the horizon looked perfectly ordinary and the sky seemed to extend indefinitely.

"The trip was fine. No, more than fine, it was the most exhilarating thing I have done in years. But I am also happy to be back on solid ground."

Seeing she was doing okay, Kal dropped his arm, took a step away, and removed his helmet. He watched as his mother followed suit and as she stood there straightening her auburn hair with her fingers, he was struck by how much better, more alive, she looked now then when he had first shown up at her door in Smallville. Now, she looked at least ten years younger and no longer years older than her true age.

"Let's go inside and find something cool to drink. Flyin' is powerful, thirsty work," he concluded with his best 'old west' drawl. For the moment his thoughts lightened from the dark mood he had sunk into during the flight while remembering the destruction of Seattle and San Francisco he should have been here to prevent. And the strong urge he had been feeling to rush off in search of the long-missing Chloe.

"That sounds nice, Clark. An iced tea would be good right now. Oh, do they have iced tea here? If not, whatever you have will be fine."

"No iced tea I'm afraid, but I think I can find something similar."

Kal took his Mother's hand and led her down from their landing spot towards his Kandorian home. The house was located just below the crest of the hill on the side away from the city proper. It was partially recessed back into the hill with only a long line of windows on the exposed outer side.

When Kal had first retrieved Kandor from Brainiac's possession and figured out how to utilize Brainiac's prototype shrinking device to miniaturize himself to journey here to Kandor, the people had been extremely thankful. And when they had discovered he would be with them for the two year return voyage to Earth, they had offered him his choice of living accommodations. Most of the people who would eventually be his closest friends lived in the central towers. But when Clark had toured this new 'world', he had loved this spot. It was near the city, but the city itself was completely invisible. From here there was a panoramic view almost to the horizon, but in the direction of the agricultural sector and without another house in view. Back home on Earth he had felt compelled to live in Metropolis to be near the 'action'. But here he was 'normal' like everyone else and so there was no need to be constantly on the alert. This was the most tranquil place where he had ever lived since leaving Smallville and his youth behind. And the view of the croplands in the distance even made it feel a little bit like Smallville.

Martha followed her son down the hill. Looking down at her feet, she saw the ground was covered by a short purple plant which must be Kandor's version of grass. While it was only two inches tall like the grass back home, the individual blades were as broad as they were tall.

Looking from the grass below her feet up to the cloudless sky, Martha asked her son. "Is it always noon here? I don't see any clouds, does it rain? Do they have weather?"

Kal also glanced up at the sky before responding. "During daylight it is always noon, since the artificial sun doesn't traverse across the sky. But they do have day and night. The artificial sun is programmed to mimic its counterpart back at Krypton to the best of its ability. The Kryptonian day is twenty-six hours long. The artificial sun provides fourteen hours of daylight and then slowly transitions from daylight to darkness over a one hour period.

"The container is setup to inject water vapor at dusk up near the level of the artificial sun. The water vapor cools the upper air which then sinks. As it descends to the lower reaches of the atmosphere, it condenses into clouds and then finally into rain. Just like clockwork the clouds start to form an hour after dark and then it rains for an hour starting two hours after dark. A drainage system is located at the low spots of Kandor where it drains off the excess water to begin the cycle all over again."

"Ah, that explains all the vegetation visible on our way down. Thanks, Clark."

"No problem, Mom. I had most of the same questions when I first arrived here, too. And speaking of arriving, I would like to welcome you to my home."

Their walk down the hill had brought them to a terrace that stretched along the front of the house just below the row of windows and which separated the house from the drop-off to the small valley below. As they walked out onto the terrace, one of the large glass panels slid up to form a doorway into the building.

"Welcome back, Kal," called a melodious male voice in Kryptonese from a small speaker located near the open door.

"Thanks, Virgil," responded Clark still speaking in English. "It is good to be back. This is my Mother, Martha. Please grant her level one guest privileges."

"Of course, sir," responded the voice now speaking impeccable English. "Martha, I hope you enjoy your stay here in Kandor. If there is anything I can do for you, don't hesitate to ask."

"Ah, thanks, Virgil," answered Martha with a hint of hesitation in her voice. Who was Virgil she wondered, some kind of butler? Somehow she couldn't picture Clark having a butler.

"Virgil?" she mouthed once she had caught Clark's eye.

"Oh, I should've explained. Virgil is the brain that takes care of the house for me. Well, him and the staff of robots he coordinates."

"Brain?" asked Martha in a voice which had climbed from a whisper almost back to her normal timbre.

"It is the Kryptonian term for computer. Well, sort of. Their methods and technologies are somewhat different from Earth's, but in this case the term 'computer' is close enough. Anyway, the homes here are a lot more automated then back home, at least compared to the 'back home' I remember from five years ago."

"And Virgil?" Martha asked.

"It is customary for the owner to select the name for the house brain. Well, calling it Martha or Jonathan didn't feel right and neither did Lois or Lana or Chloe. So, in the end I named it after Doctor Swann, since he was the one who first started me on the course to find my true Kryptonian heritage.

Kal removed his flying belt and dropped it on a small table beside the door. Gesturing for his Mom's, it soon joined his on the table.

Martha turned and inspected her son's home. They were in the central living area, a broad room with a sitting area with a circle of divans with space for nine people facing the panoramic view. Near the end of the room against the back wall was what looked like a combination office and computer workstation. Through an open doorway at that end she could see into a large bedroom suite. Looking the other way she saw a small, efficient kitchen and beyond it through another open door a smaller second bedroom.

"You have a beautiful home, Clark," Martha exclaimed as she walked further into the living area and turned to view the giant mural which dominated the back wall. The mural showed a long sprawling building built right into the top of a butte with a range of mountains in the background. From the small patch of green sky visible between the mountain peaks, Martha deduced this represented some place on Krypton.

Kal moved up beside his Mother, reached his arm around her waist, and pulled her into a loose hug. For a moment he too stood and stared at the mural.

"Mom, this is the ancestral El family home. It was located in the hills just outside Kryptonopolis, a thousand miles from Kandor. Lyla found a picture of it in the archives and I had it made into the mural."

"So you found your family."

Kal sighed. "I found records of my family and they had a prominent place throughout most of the recorded history of Krypton. But all of that is just words on paper or old statues adorning the Hall of History. None of my family happened to be in Kandor on the day Brainiac ripped it away from the planet."

Martha reached down and clasped Clark's hand. "Clark, I am sorry you didn't find everything you were looking for, but this place seems pretty special and a lot more than I ever expected you to find."

Kal turned and smiled at his mother. "I know Mom. I try to be grateful for what I have found and it is pretty special."

Then in a lighter tone he continued. "Now, let's see about those drinks. Virgil, could you whip up a couple 'Dragon's Breathes'? And also let Lyla know I am back. And finally could you see if you can get Dev Delon on the line. I have something urgent I need to talk to him about."

"Very good, sir. Would you like the refreshments here or out on the terrace?"

"Out on the terrace, I think. And put Dev's call through out there."

Kal took Martha's hand and led her back out onto the terrace. Down near the master bedroom end was a small row of comfortable looking, padded chairs separated by small tables. They had barely seated themselves when one of the large bedroom window panes turned opaque and then slowly resolved itself into the image of a young blonde haired man.

"Kal, I didn't expect to see you back so soon. What can I do for you? And are we still on for handball next week?" said the man on the screen in Kryptonese.

Kal turned in his seat to look at the window and then rose and strode over.

"Dev, it is good to see you. I am glad you could get back to me so quickly," responded Kal in the same language. "A situation has come up and I came back early to see if I could get your help."

Kal watched as Dev leaned forward towards the screen.

"Anything I can do to help, you just have to ask."

"Thanks. The situation is . . . while I was gone several atomic devices were set off in major Earth cities. There are a lot of people suffering from radiation poisoning and with all of the Kryptonians' experience with atomics, I was hoping you might have some solutions which could help the survivors."

Dev looked thoughtful for a few seconds. "Do you know what trans-atomic elements were involved?"

Kal shook his head. "I am not certain, but probably uranium and/or plutonium."

"Okay," responded Dev with a small shake of his head. "But you have said human physiology is different than Kryptonian. I am afraid there is not much I can do without some human tissue samples."

Kal nodded. "I suspected as much. That's why I brought my mother back. I haven't talked to her yet, but I am sure she will be willing to help. How about you swing by my house with your med-kit and we'll see if we can get the samples you need."

"Sounds like a plan. I am in the middle of a couple of things, but how about if I stop over in fifteen or twenty minutes?"

"That would be great, Dev. I really appreciate your doing this for me."

"Hey, no problem. If Kandor is going to be on Earth for awhile, I want to do what I can to help. See you in a few."

Kal nodded again and then once the screen went blank, he turned back to his mother.

When he was back in his seat, she raised a questioning eyebrow.

"That was an old friend from here in Kandor, Dev Delon. He is one of the leading research bio-chemists at the University. I asked him if he could help develop a treatment for all of the people suffering radiation sickness from the atomic blasts in Seattle and San Francisco. The Kryptonians have a lot of experience with atomic energy and they have taken somewhat different paths in their treatments of related illnesses."

Martha's eyes lit up. "Clark, that's wonderful. I knew things would be better once you returned."

"I don't know. I should have been here to prevent this in the first place. Well, too late to brood over that now. Anyway, the Kandorians have never encountered humans before. Dev is going to need some human tissue samples to work with. I hope you don't mind."

Martha immediately understood what Clark meant. "Of course, I would be happy to help. Is that the real reason you brought me here; to help save people's lives rather than meet your girlfriend?"

Kal shrugged. "Why not kill two birds with one stone? Dev should be here in fifteen minutes and then that part of the task will be in his hands and we can move on to the more pleasant topic of Lyla."

Martha was just nodding her agreement when one of the glass panels slid open and a robot with a tray came trundling out. Martha wasn't certain what she had expected when Clark had mentioned robots, perhaps 'Robby the Robot' from 'Forbidden Planet', but that wasn't at all what she saw. No, there had been no attempt to anthromorphize this machine. It walked on six long spindly legs and had six more slender upper appendages radiating from a central diamond shaped lump. If she had been required to compare it to a living organism, she would have had to select a twelve-legged 'daddy long-legs' spider. But that was based on general appearance alone because this thing struck her as simply a machine with many arms, not some nightmare-inducing variation of a giant killer spider.

When the robot reached them, two of its multi-segmented arms handed them each a tall glass of translucent green liquid. Then it set the matching pitcher on the table between their chairs and quietly departed.

Martha took a cautious sip of her drink. "Clark, this is pretty good. Although with a name like 'Dragon's Breathe' I was expecting something fiery and hot, but this is pleasantly cool with sort of a mint flavor."

"Yeah, the name does seem like a misnomer. I have never heard how that name for the drink evolved."

They spent the next few minutes quietly relaxing on the terrace, sipping on their drinks while Clark used the time to answer more of Martha's questions about Kandor and his two years spent there during his return from Krypton. Soon enough they heard a shouted 'Hello' in Kryptonese and turned to watch Dev descend the final few feet before landing nearby on the terrace.

Kal and Martha quickly rose to their feet and Kal strode over to clasp his friend's hand.

"I am glad you could make it so quickly," began Kal in Kryptonese, as he let go of the other man's hand.

"Well, your radiation sickness problem sounded more urgent than anything I was working on."

Martha stepped up along side Clark and her son made the introductions.

"Mom, this is Dev Delon," began Kal in English before translating his comments into Kryptonese for Dev.

Once Dev had shaken Martha's hand, he turned back to Kal. "Kal, did you ever get the translation program finished for the tele-learning machine? I think it would be easier if we all were speaking the same language."

"Yeah, you're right that would be easier. And I did finish it a couple of weeks ago. I have already tested it with Lyla, so it is all set to go. Let's move inside and I'll give you the download."

As they moved into the house, Kal explained to his mother. "Jor's crystals taught me Kryptonese when the Fortress first self-assembled. One of the tasks I have been working on during the past two years is a program the Kryptonian tele-learning machines can use to teach the Kandorians Earth's languages. I am going to hook Dev up to the device and in a couple of minutes he will be able to speak English and talk to you without me having to translate everything."

"You mean he is going to learn English in just a couple of minutes?" Martha asked.

"Yeah, the device loads knowledge directly into the brain. With this machine, the Kryptonians can absorb the equivalent of a four year college curriculum in only a few days."

Martha just shook her head as she watched Dev take a seat in Clark's desk chair and then slide a white helmet with a long trailing bundle of wires over his head. As she continued to watch, Clark threw a couple of switches and then issued several voice commands into the desk's audio pickup. Dev closed his eyes, leaned his helmeted head back against the chair's headrest and then sat motionless for several minutes. During this time, Clark appeared to be watching the displays on several screens, but otherwise he was motionless, too.

Finally, after two minutes, fourteen seconds by the digital display in her contacts, Martha saw Dev open his eyes and then lift the helmet from his head.

"Wow," said Dev in English as he climbed out of the chair. "That is always intense. Could I bother you for one of those drinks you had out on the terrace?"

Martha was already started moving towards the terrace before it fully sank in that Dev was now speaking perfect English. However before she even reached the door, Clark's voice stopped her.

"Mom, don't bother. Virgil will take care of it. Right?"

"Of course, sir," answered Virgil's voice smoothly. "I anticipated the need as so as you mentioned you would be using the tele-learning machine. Another round of refreshments will be with you momentarily."

"Thanks, Virgil."

Once Martha had turned back to face the two men, she watched Dev pick his bag up from the floor and then motion her over towards one of the divans.

"Martha, how about we get the medical stuff out of the way and then we can enjoy the refreshments."

Once Martha nodded, Dev continued. "Okay, this won't take long and shouldn't hurt much. All I need for the moment is a swab of the inside of your mouth and a small sample of blood."

Dev set his bag on the couch next to Martha, opened it, and pulled out the required instruments. In three minutes it was all over except for Martha holding a small square of absorbent cloth to the inside of her left elbow on the vein from which he had drawn the blood.

As Dev repacked his bag, he glanced over at Kal. "Kal, is your Mother going to be available for awhile? After I do my preliminary tests, I might need additional samples."

Martha looked at her son. "I hadn't planned to be gone from home for more than the day. If I am going to be gone longer, I will need to get in touch with people back home to be sure The Talon is fully staffed tomorrow."

"How long until your preliminary tests are done and you will know if you need more samples from my Mom?" asked Kal of Dev.

"Oh, I should have a much better idea in ten to twelve hours."

Kal thought about it for a moment and then slowly nodded. "Mom, why don't you plan to spend the night here. Early tomorrow we can decide if you are needed here longer or if you need to return to Smallville. Although, personally, I would like it if you could plan some time off soon and spend a couple of weeks here. I mean, when is the last time you took a real vacation?"

Martha thought about it for a moment. If she excluded the time she spent in Metropolis visiting with Lois and Jason, it had been a long time since her last real vacation. Then her thoughts lingered for a moment on 'her' grandson. He was still pretty young, but someday he deserved a trip here to learn of his true heritage, too. But that was not a topic for her to broach at this moment.

"If you mean, when is the last time I have taken more than a couple of days off, it has been awhile. And at the moment a vacation here in Kandor does sound nice. There are a few things I should coordinate back home first, but in a week or two I think it would great."

Kal was beaming at his Mom when a new female voice sounded from the doorway.

"Knock, knock. Did I hear someone mention a vacation? Do you think you would have room for one more?"

Martha had been watching her son's face when the woman began speaking. And even if it hadn't been obvious from her words, she would still have known this must be Lyla from the expression on Clark's face.

As she continued to watch, Clark jumped up from his seat, raced over to the doorway, and swept the woman up in his arms with such speed, for a moment Martha almost thought he had been exaggerating about the loss of his superhuman gifts.

After swinging her around once and giving her a quick peck on the lips, he set Lyla back down on her feet. And seeing them side-by-side, the first impression Martha had of the girl was how tall she was. Back home, Clark at six foot four had towered over all the women in his life: Lois, Chloe, Lana, and Martha. But he didn't tower over Lyla. No, a quick glance at the girl's feet found only moderate heels and Martha quickly decided Lyla stood at least six-one, maybe even six-two.

With his arm wrapped tightly around Lyla, Kal turned back towards his Mother. "Mom, this is Lyla. Lyla, this is my mother, Martha."

Martha rose to her feet and started moving towards the couple while at the same time they started walking towards her. At first the girl had been silhouetted by the brilliant outdoor lighting, but as she moved further into the room, Martha got a better look at her.

What she saw was a girl in her late twenties with short blonde hair, high cheek bones, bright intelligent green eyes, and a body any supermodel would die for. Apparently, based on the similarity of her attire to Dev's and her son's, form-fitting one piece unitards were the fashion standard in Kandor. Hers was in light green, and unlike the giant crests emblazoned across the chests of both men, she had a smaller one discreetly located above her right breast.

When they reached each other, Lyla quickly disentangle herself from Clark's arms and pulled Martha into a hug.

"It is so nice to finally meet you. Kal has told me so much about you, I am glad you were able to come here today."

Martha returned the hug and felt rock hard muscles gracing the girl's back. If her first thought had been that supermodels would die to have this body, she quickly revised it to include athletes, too. She was tall, lean, and muscular like an Olympic distance runner or a competitor in the Heptathlon. And Martha guessed she would be world class even without the superpowers she would acquire the instant she left this sealed vessel.

After a moment the two woman pulled apart and Martha felt like she was craning her head back to look at Lyla like she normally only had to do for Clark, or in long ago days her own tall husband, Jonathan. She immediately could see what would physically attract her son to this girl.

However, before they had a chance to further the introductions, Dev quickly spoke up. "It looks like the three of you have a lot to talk about. I think I will head back to my lab and leave you to it."

Kal turned his attention from the two women and to his old friend. Reaching out, he clasped Dev's hand. "Thanks for helping out with this project. If the Earth is lucky, you will come up with a way to save or at least improve a lot of lives."

Dev grinned. "Wow, nothing like cranking up the pressure before I have even started. Well, you know I will give it my best effort."

"I can't ask for anything more," responded Kal.

Dev strode over to the door and snatched his flying belt off of the nearby table. He paused in the doorway long enough for a final, "I'll call when I have any news." And then he was gone out the door.

With his guest departed, Kal turned back to the two women most central in his life. They had just seated themselves on one of the divans and he quickly slid into place next to Lyla.

Martha took a moment to gaze at her son and Lyla sitting there with their arms casually draped around each other in that easy way that said they had been together for awhile. They looked like a perfect couple - tall, lean, and handsome. Then she realized that description fit Dev, too. Were all Kryptonians like that? Then she remembered the video she had seen of Zod and his two cohorts. The girl had been marginally attractive, but neither of the men could be regarded as handsome. So it looked like Clark, Lyla, and Dev were probably not representative of the general populace. However, just like on Earth, it seemed beautiful people attracted beautiful people.

Trying to get the conversation started again, Martha said. "Well, Lyla, Clark hasn't had much time to tell me about you. He did mention you were an actress and, certainly by Earth standards, you would be among the most beautiful in a profession which glorifies beauty."

As Martha watched, the smile on the girl's face seemed to freeze for a moment. Then she glanced at Clark with a raised eyebrow before turning back to Martha.

"Is that what he told you? That I am an actress? Well, technically it is true, but I see it more as an occasional hobby to let off a little steam when it feels like I am trapped in a bottle without any way of escaping. So for a few hours I escape into the fantasy of being someone else. But I certainly don't think of myself, first and foremost, as an actress."

Martha glanced over at her son. What was going on? Why was this turning out so awkward?

"Hey, Lyla, sorry," began Kal trying to smooth things out. "On Earth, being considered one of the greatest actresses is much more prestige's than being a world class scientist."

Lyla gave him an extremely skeptical look.

Kal shrugged in response and turn to his Mother. "Mom, how many actresses can you name?"

Martha could see how uncomfortable the girl was and didn't understand why Clark was pursuing this. "Ahh, I don't know."

"Please, just give me a ballpark figure. Ten? One hundred? Two hundred? Five hundred? A thousand?"

Martha thought about it for a moment. "If you gave me an hour, I could probably name somewhere between two and five hundred."

"Now, how many scientists can you name? Wait, let's narrow it down to just how many physicists you can name. Ones that have lived, say, in the last two hundred years."

Einstein immediately popped into her head then Fermi from the development of the atomic bomb. After that she simply drew a blank. "Two come to mind, but if you give me some time, I could probably come up with a few more."

"But probably no more than five or six, total, right?"

Martha slowly nodded her head.

Kal turned back to Lyla, "How about you? How many actresses would you say the typical Kandorian can name?"

"I don't know. I guess if you limit it to ones from the last two hundred years, maybe thirty."

Kal nodded. "And physicists?"

"Oh, at least several hundred."

Kal glanced back and forth between the two women. "My point is - just because we are all speaking the same language, we need to be careful about what assumptions we make based on our personal backgrounds. After spending two years among the Kandorians, I understand how they have, on average, a much higher interest in science than humans do. It is at least partly due to their upbringing, but a large part I would attribute to the tele-learning machines which make 'the sciences' much easier and therefore more interesting to them."

Kal turned towards his mother before continuing. "Sorry about the confusion about Lyla being an actress, Mom. I should have told you that Lyla is also one of Kandor's best physicists as well as an accomplished actress. She is their best specialist working on the physics of how Brainiac was able to reduce Kandor to the size that would let it fit in this jar."

Lyla was still trying to get her head around the concept that actors were apparently more important to most of human civilization than scientists. How could a civilization like that advance? Yet from what Kal had told her, in some technological areas the humans were ahead of the Kryptonians. The only conclusion she could reach was it had to come down to sheer numbers. The Kryptonian population had never topped two hundred million. According to Kal, the Earth's population was over twelve billion. If only one or two percent of the humans were seriously interested in science, it still left them with almost the same number of scientists as Krypton.

Getting back to Kal's praise of her as a scientist, it suddenly felt sort of absurd. "Well, that is certainly 'damning with faint praise'," stated Lyla with a hint of warmth and humor returning to her voice. "I mean you have given me access to Brainiac's prototype device for almost two years and other than determining it involves folding space through twelve dimensions, I am no closer to reverse engineering the process than any of my predecessors. Perhaps I should just admit defeat, move to Earth, and become a full-time actress."

"Hey, none of that negative thinking. And I'm sorry I mentioned the whole actress thing if it makes you think I believe you aren't up to the task of figuring out Brainiac's device. If anyone can figure out the math, you can," announced Kal quietly, as he pulled Lyla back into a hug.

Just as Lyla had been wondering how a civilization could thrive that emphasized arts over science, Martha in turn was wondering how a civilization could focus on science to almost the total exclusion of the arts. Were they too practical to appreciate things like art or music or dancing? Was this a world where Mr. Spock would feel more at home than a normal human?

Then Martha looked at the girl enfolded in her son's arms. When she had first seen the girl's eyes, she had thought they revealed an intelligence far in excess of what she would have expected in a simple actress. And from the first moment Clark had mentioned Lyla's career back at the farm, she had found it hard to believe her son would be attracted to an actress. But a world class scientist who just played at being an actress and who might someday provide handy technical solutions to some of the endless trials his life as Superman brought, well that seemed much more consistent of him.

Martha and Clark's eyes locked for a moment and then she saw him grin.

"This conversation has turned way too serious. Now, I don't know about you ladies, but I am ready for some lunch."

Martha returned her son's smile. "Lunch does sound good. What new delicacies can I expect?"

Lyla climbed to her feet and then extended her hand to help Martha up. "I may be a physicist and an actress, but I am no cook. When I am here, I always leave that to Kal or Virgil."

Kal led the way to the kitchen. "Let me get out my chef's hat and see what I can scrounge up." Glancing back at his Mother, he continued, "You probably won't believe this, but since I didn't have to spend all of my time here saving the world, I discovered cooking is actually pleasant and relaxing."

Martha stared at her son wondering who this stranger was. Hearing he liked to cook was harder to believe than his announcement about an actress girlfriend. When she thought about Clark and cooking, the image that came to mind was from his high school days when his idea of cooking was cold leftover pizza chased down with milk straight from the carton.

"Whoa, my son cooking. This is something I am going to have to see to believe," remarked Martha to Lyla.

The women exchanged a more relaxed smile as they followed him into the kitchen.

Lunch turned out to be a pleasant affair and the conversation seemed to stick to comfortable topics. Martha discovered Clark did actually have an unexpected flair in the kitchen. Every dish involved ingredients which she had never encountered, but Clark managed to pick combinations that seemed only slightly exotic without being totally alien. In fact, it brought to mind the first time she and Jonathan tried Thai food at a little restaurant in Topeka only a few months before they first discovered Clark out in the corn field. However that time they hadn't had any guidance in choosing between the unfamiliar dishes and had picked out a couple they had hated in amongst others they had enjoyed. But today, there hadn't been any losers among the dishes Clark had selected.

Now they were relaxing around the table with cups of some drink that was similar to, but not quite coffee. At least Lyla and she were relaxing, thought Martha. But Clark seemed to be in constant motion between the table, the sink, the cabinets, and the pantry. The whole cooking thing might be new, but this restless motion was something she well remembered.

"Clark, what's bothering you? You look like you are going to wear a hole through the floor with all of your pacing. And I know you only do that when something is bothering you."

She watched as he paused to look at her, then pulled out a chair and rejoined them.

"I can't get thoughts of Chloe out of my mind. What if she wasn't killed during the battle for Taiwan? What if she is a prisoner somewhere? I am finding it difficult to sit here and do nothing."

Martha smiled. This sounded more like the old Clark rather than the Kandorian 'Kal' she had been experiencing for the past few hours.

"Actually, Clark, I am surprised it has taken this long to see this reaction. I really thought you would go flying off 'to the rescue' as soon as I mentioned Chloe back at the farm."

Kal shrugged. "I am trying to act a little older and wiser than I did in the old days. You know, gather a little intelligence and do a little planning before just blindly rushing in."

Martha could read between the lines and knew he was referring to the night Lana had been killed. If he had paused to talk to Lex, he would have known Lana and Lionel were being held by the crazed Metallo and he would have know about Metallo's Kryptonite powered artificial heart. If he and Lex had worked together, they might have had a chance to save the others. But Clark had rushed in and while Metallo had him incapacitated, Metallo had killed Lana and Lionel. Lex had blamed Superman and it had led to the whole situation with the nukes and Lex's ultimate psychotic break. And Martha knew Clark still blamed himself, too.

"Clark, we all make mistakes sometimes, even you. But you have to find the proper balance between blindly rushing in and being too afraid to step in and use your gifts when they are needed."

"I know, Mom. And I am trying to find the right balance."

Kal paused for a moment and then stood back up. "I needed to bring you up here first before dealing with Chloe so Dev could get started working on a solution to the radiation sickness. Thousands, perhaps millions might benefit from that and it had to come first before worrying about my friends. But now that that problem is being addressed, it is hard to just sit here."

Martha looked up at her son and couldn't help but feel a little motherly pride. She should have known that his real reason for bringing her here before searching for the missing Chloe was more altruistic than merely to meet his new girlfriend.

"Clark, just go find out what happened to Chloe. Even if it turns out she is dead, it is better to know than having this lingering doubt. I am sure Lyla can keep me entertained for a few hours." Martha paused. Then she decided the moment needed just a touch of levity. "If not, I am sure I can come up with few embarrassing Clark stories you haven't ever told her."

"I agree," added Lyla. "If your old friend Chloe is in trouble, you need to see if you can help."

Martha watched as Clark slowly nodded, apparently as much convinced by Lyla's brief words as by her own.

"So, are you just going to head to China and begin searching?" asked Martha.

Clark shook his head. "Oh, I expect I will end up there eventually, which is one more reason why I wanted to come back up here to the Fortress first. I want to use the tele-learning machine to brush up on my Chinese. But I would rather have some idea where I am going rather than randomly searching that whole country. It is a big place and it might take me hours or days. And if anyone spotted me and guessed why I was there, they might decide to do something drastic to those 'slave labor camps', if they exist.

"So, I think I need to at least attempt to find out where these camps might be before falling back to the random search approach. I have been gone a long time and no longer have the right contacts in any of the involved governments. The only person I know, who may have the contacts I need, is Lois. Now that I am back, I need to try and explain things to her about why I left. And seeking her help with Chloe is at least a fairly neutral place to begin."

Martha nodded. "I think Lois is a good place to start. She does have a lot of contacts and I am sure they will be a lot more forthcoming if Superman is standing there looking over her shoulder."

The women rose to their feet and followed Kal back into the living room. After a quick session with the tele-learning machine, he walked to the door and picked up his flying belt, Before he could step outside, Lyla pulled him into a hug.

"Kal, would you like me to go with you? I am sure my parents would be more than happy to entertain your Mom while we are gone."

Kal only hesitated for a moment before shaking his head. "I want you to meet my friends here, but I left some things in a very awkward place when I left for Krypton, particularly with Lois. I really would like a chance to explain things to her and try to smooth things out before the two of you meet. But next time, for sure."

Lyla nodded. She understood sometimes trusting the one you loved was part of being a successful couple.

"Okay, but be careful out there."

Kal smiled. "Don't worry about me, I'm Superman, remember. Well, I know those are still just words to you, but sometime soon we will get you out under the Earth's yellow sun and you will truly understand what it does to a Kryptonian."

Lyla nodded. Kal had told her all about his abilities. Intellectually, she could understand what he was saying, but it was almost impossible to believe it down in her heart without seeing his gifts or experiencing it for herself.

The three of them walked out onto the terrace as Kal strapped on his flying belt. With a final hug from Lyla and a kiss on the cheek from his Mom, Kal hit the belt's controls and slowly started to rise into the air. Before he had risen out of hearing range, he was certain he heard Lyla start to ask his mother if actresses really were the true celebrities among humans. With a rueful shake of his head at the strange twists and turns of his life, Kal cranked up the speed on his belt and rose swiftly up into the green sky of Kandor.

End of Chapter 2

Duane