Okay, the usual disclaimer – the Smallville characters are 'owned' by someone besides me.
This story is a sequel to 'Biological Families' which, in turn, is a sequel to 'The Portal'. I could give a long, detailed synopsis of them here, but I think it is better that you just go read them first before starting to read this one. If you have read them somewhere in the past, there should be enough references in this first chapter to things from the earlier stories to refresh your memory. So on with the story . . .
"You've got to be kidding!" exclaimed Lex, allowing his normally carefully modulated voice to show a hint of exasperation. "You don't really expect me to wear these . . . these," he held the pair of bright yellow spandex leggings in front of his grey dress slacks. "These tights. Do I really look like a 'Malvolio'?"
"Who's Malvolio?" asked Clark stepping into the room.
Lex glanced at his old friend. Then turned to take a serious look at him, but before even taking in the complete costume he was already laughing. "Well, I'm glad I am not alone in being asked to look stupid."
"Malvolio?" asked Clark again, following Lex's gaze and looking down at his own attire. This was not the first time he had tried it on, so the bright electric blue, form-fitting outfit didn't bother him as much now as Lex's first exposure to his yellow was bothering him. Well, the basic blue didn't bother Clark, but the red bikini pants, worn on the outside, and matching red boots still grated like fingernails on a chalkboard, but he was forcing himself to ignore it. At least Chloe had incorporated the El family crest, which looked like a giant 'S' inside a diamond, as a bright yellow emblem on the chest.
"Malvolio is a character in Shakespeare's 'Twelfth Night'," answered Chloe, as she lounged against one of the equipment racks which lined the back wall of the control room overlooking the newly completed and highly upgraded Portal launch chamber in the heart of her secret laboratory.
"Shakespeare," repeated Clark with a shake of his head. Ever since going through the Purl Nous procedure it felt like his mind had been shifted into overdrive. He could do math problems in his head that he once would have struggled to complete with pencil and paper. He now had a photographic memory that could nearly rival Chloe's or Lana's. But he still hadn't found the time to bone up on seemingly trivial things like Shakespeare or being able to quote from long dead philosophers like Lex. "So is there a particular significance to the association of this Malvolio and yellow tights?"
"Well, there are several schools of thought on why Shakespeare chose to dress Malvolio in yellow leggings," responded Chloe. "First, I suppose I better explain a little about the character. Malvolio was the head steward to a countess named Olivia. He was what today would be called a hardcore Puritan, which meant he always dressed in drab attire and frowned on anything that hinted at levity. Some of the other characters, as a joke on him because he was always breaking up their fun, forged a letter from the countess wherein she professed her love for him and requested if he had reciprocal feelings that he should wear yellow leggings as silent proof.
"Now the premiere performance of the play was before the royal court at Whitehall Palace on January 6th, 1601. One school of thought is that the Malvolio personality and the yellow tights were a reference to Sir William Knollys, the Comptroller of the Royal Household, who was something of a laughingstock for publicly declaring his love for his young ward and stating he wished his wife would die. Another school of thought is that the color yellow was a not-so-subtle dig at Queen Elizabeth, as she hated the color yellow as it was associated with the Duke of Norfolk, her most ardent opponent in Parliament, as well as the color yellow being associated with Spain, England's primary opponent of the era."
Lex grinned, his annoyance with his yellow stockings momentarily forgotten. It was always amazing the amount of historical trivia Chloe had stashed away. But then who knew, she could very well have been present at that first performance of 'Twelfth Night'. For truthfully, all he really remembered about Malvolio beyond the yellow tights was his one famous line – 'Some are born great, some achieve greatness, and some have greatness thrust upon them'.
"Of course," interjected Lana from the doorway where she was just entering the room, "There is also the most straightforward explanation, which is partially related to the first school of thought. In the late 1500's only single, horny young men who were on the prowl wore yellow stockings, while married men wore black or dark grey leggings. So by forcing Malvolio to wear yellow stockings, Shakespeare was simply using the vernacular of the day to say 'here was a man who knew the proper decorum for his station on the Countess' staff as well as his personal beliefs, but who was interested in fooling around'."
As she was speaking, Lana had walked across the room until she stood in front of Lex. Then with a sternness in her voice that was completely offset by the twinkle in her eyes, she looked up into Lex's face and said, "Just because you are going to be wearing yellow stockings, don't go getting any ideas in your head about fooling around on me."
Lex gave a quick bow of his head in acknowledgement. Then he looked from the bright red and blue of Clark's outfit to the yellow and blue of the one in his hand to Lana's spandex outfit all in subdued shades of gray. Dropping the whole Malvolio line of conversation, he asked, "Hey, why can't I have an outfit like yours?"
Lana gave an easy grin. "I think you should just be glad codpieces went out of fashion six months before we are due to arrive," she answered while making an obscene gesture at her crotch. Then she broke into a hearty laugh which quickly spread to Chloe.
Lex felt his heart lift a little at this response. In the three months since the events in the storm cellar where Sliviuh had gained control of her body, this was the most casual, unforced laugh Lex had heard from her. She had explained and had even given him a taste of the virtual reality world where she had been trapped, but it was still almost impossible to grasp that from her perspective she had spent two thousand years there.
Two thousand years – it was equivalent to the time from ancient Rome to the present. Chloe had lived through all of those years to rescue the rest of them without any significant changes. Well, that wasn't exactly true. She was a much more forceful person now, although whether that was due to the two thousand years she had spent preparing for her return to the present or just the result of revealing her secret, he couldn't be certain. But since Chloe had already been seventeen thousand years old at the start of that adventure, Lex suspected the latter.
However since Lana had returned from her millennia long sojourn in the virtual reality world, she always seemed a little disconnected. Of course, what could he really expect when her sixteen years of 'real' life where so far in the past from her perspective? Even with the nano-based gift of perfect recall, she still had the intervening two thousand years of experiences, of memories, of life itself to deal with.
Lex affixed a grin on his face until the girls' laughter died down before responding. "Okay, okay, yeah I'm glad this outfit doesn't include a codpiece, too. But I don't understand why Clark and I have to look like damn peacocks."
Lana's grin threatened to expand back into a laugh and it was Chloe who responded.
"That's because men in my old civilization were like peacocks - always strutting around trying to impress the females. And it is necessary that we blend in. Now go ahead and try your outfit on. It's not like anyone, outside this room, who knows you, will ever see you. A photo of you in this outfit is not going to be splashed across the front page of the Inquisitor in full, living color."
Lex shuddered at the thought of any of his business competitors, or his father, seeing him in this get-up. But he nodded and headed towards the changing room. When it came down to it, it wasn't any different than wearing the toga when they had been in ancient Rome. He just wished if he had to wear a stupid spandex costume that it was a little more like the elegant one worn by Warrior Angel in the comics.
As she watched Lex exit the room, Chloe asked Lana, "Did you explain the real reason behind the spandex outfits, if not the rationale for the garish coloring?"
Lana shook her head with a grin. "No, I thought the surprise of the outfit would be more fun without a mundane explanation. So I have mainly stuck with the language lessons and skimped on the cultural details."
Clark smiled at the thought that for once he wasn't going to the one thrown into a total foreign environment cold. During their unplanned trip to ancient Rome, Chloe and Lex had both known Latin. In Nazi Germany Lana had been fluent in German through her nanobot gift. Both times he had been utterly dependent on the translation skills of others. But this time, through the gift of Var El's tele-learning machine and the advanced foreknowledge of their destination, he was already fluent in the Rœtic, the dominant language in Chloe's original civilization.
No, this time through his new post-Purl Nous abilities and Chloe & Lana's nanobot gifts, the three of them were all fluent. It was Lex who had been forced to endure the hard, grinding task of learning the language the old fashioned way. Oh, while he was in physical contact with one of the girls he could use his passive nanobots to leech off the girls' active systems. But based on their prior time travel experience, Lex knew better than to count on that easy solution. So he had been taking a crash course from Lana for the last two months.
"Since you haven't seen fit to enlighten me, either, on the exact reason we are dressed like comic book characters, perhaps now is the time, if we really intend to start on this adventure tonight," remarked Clark looking over at Chloe in her pale blue spandex outfit with its much more discreet stylized lion emblem just over her right breast.
"Okay, although we should really wait for Lex," began Chloe. "But I am sure he can catch up. Anyway, remember how I said my original civilization was experiencing global warming like scientists have begun talking about a lot recently? Well, actually, the world was more in the state where scientists predict we will be in about fifty years. The Greenland icecap began to seriously collapse, the Antarctic icefields had shrunk by thirty percent, and in a period of three years ocean levels rose over ten feet causing severe flood problems for all the coastal cities. Massive seawall projects were in-work all over the world when suddenly everything changed yet again.
"The abrupt introduction of thousands of cubic miles of freshwater into the North Atlantic completely disrupted the Gulf Stream. And without the Gulf Stream circulating warm water north, there was an almost immediate drop in temperatures in eastern Canada, Greenland, Iceland, and northern Europe. This was followed by the northern hemisphere's jet stream migrating almost fifteen hundred miles south, which further reduced the temperature in the northern quarter of the planet.
"The Gulf Stream stopped in March and by July it was snowing everywhere north of the 45th parallel. By September it was snowing everywhere north of . . . um, what would be Texas in the United States and what would be Italy in Europe. And it was snowing a lot. By the next spring, most of these northern regions were buried under 20 feet of snow. What turned out to be the first twenty feet of the next ice age. Also during the second spring, well actually it would have been fall there, the Southern Hemisphere tripped over into permanent winter mode, too.
"Anyway the collapse of the Gulf Stream and the onset of permanent winter occurred roughly three years before the date we are heading for. They were still just barely managing to keep most of the cities north of the new permanent snowline functional, but the average temperature in the summer was only reaching the low 30's while the winter temperatures were averaging more like fifty below.
"Now, they were much more advanced with nanotechnology then we are in the present, of course that is pretty obvious since I exist. So they came up with nanotechnology based bodysuits. They had a lot of capabilities, but the critical one at the moment was their ability to maintain body temperatures. The suits were a lot thinner than these spandex copies, but still they could keep you comfortably warm even in eighty below weather."
"So these outfits are to give the appearance of what people back there were wearing? Why didn't they just wear regular clothes over the top of the nanosuits?" asked Clark.
Chloe frowned for a minute and then shook her head. "Would you believe, I don't remember. Actually, it is sort of scary how little of my old civilization I remember. Everything I have experienced since getting my 'bot system is easily accessible, but almost all my memories from before then are long, long forgotten. And since that civilization collapsed only hours after I received the 'bots, there just isn't much there. Oh, if I had known then what I have learned over the intervening thousands of years about my 'bot system, I could have transferred most of my pre-nanobot memories into permanent storage. But I didn't, so most of it is lost." She shook her head again. "Since my father was there when I received the 'bots, I can still remember what he looked like. But my mom, I can't even remember her face. I remember she had blonde hair like me, but that's it."
Chloe paused with a very sad expression on her face. Clark was just moving over to put his arm around her when she seemed to shake her whole body for a moment and then continued speaking. "Sorry about that. Where was I? Oh yeah, the nanosuits. I don't remember why people didn't wear regular clothes over them. Maybe it was a fashion statement. Maybe there was a technical reason. I just don't know. And I don't really know why men dressed so flamboyantly, but not women; it is just what I remember.
"The important thing is that these outfits should let us blend in until we can get the real thing. Of course, the drawback is that these don't have any of the warming capabilities of the real nanosuits. I am sure it won't be a problem for you, Clark. We are going to have to select an outdoor arrival location, but if we arrive where it is eighty below, Lana and my 'bots should be able to keep us functional for at least ten minutes. And as long as Lex is in contact with one of us, he should be good for that long, too. But if we don't arrive within ten minutes walking distance of shelter, Clark, it is going to be up to you get us somewhere safe."
Clark nodded almost absently, as his mind was still focused on the nanosuits. "How are we going to acquire real nanosuits? Am I going to have to start this little trip like every other one with a small bit of larceny?"
"No, once we can access the technology back there, I can have custom suits made. It will only take a few minutes."
"How are we going to pay for them? Or didn't they use money?" asked Clark.
"Of course they used money. I can just access my father's account, I always had a generous allowance, certainly enough to pay for four suits and other incidentals without raising any flags. Also with my 'bot system I am sure I can tamper with the world banking system without being caught."
"I thought you said you didn't have many memories of your old civilization. You certainly seem to remember a lot of details about allowances and the banking system," remarked Clark.
Chloe grinned. "Oh, I may not remember a lot of things, but I am still a girl and I do remember about shopping!"
"Explain to me again why we are here," stuttered Lex through teeth that were chattering even with his 'bot system active via Lana's tightly clenched hand.
The four of them were huddled together with one metallic thermal blanket spread on the ground under them and another thrown over the top for protection. It was the middle of a crystal clear night and they were on an ice field that extended as far as the eye could see. Lex had seen all the Discovery channel shows about Antarctica as preparation for this little adventure, and from what he could see this looked just like them - except it seemed to be infinitely colder. And the portable heater they had brought along, which had been supposedly field-tested in Antarctica, had failed in less than two minutes.
Chloe's left hand still rested on Clark's forehead, as she looked across at Lex. She was starting to wonder the same thing now that Clark had been lying unconscious for the entire eight minutes since their arrival. This was by far the worst reaction she had seen in him as a result of a passage through the Portal device. But then, its Kryptonite power source had been cranked up to a new much higher level to reach a full seventeen thousand years into the past.
She was just about to reply to Lex that maybe it was time to abort and head for home while they were still able to function when she felt a shudder pass through Clark. She took this as a positive sign his body was fighting off the effect. Therefore she answered Lex's question instead.
"You know why we are here. It's for Clark. The black hole which ate Krypton creates such a powerful distortion in the space-time continuum, I can't figure out how to reach back into Krypton's past. The upgraded Portal device has sufficient spatial range to reach across the hundreds of light years to Krypton in much the same way Var El's ship could instantly make the transition. However I can't resolve the math required to move back in time when the black hole is thrown into the mix. If we are ever to retrieve Clark's parents, I need access to a more powerful computer. And the most powerful computer I know of is the quantum computer that was brought online shortly before the fall of my civilization."
"And," added Lana, "Chloe managed to bring back your mother and Lana's parents after their apparent deaths; she should get the chance to bring back our parents, too."
Lex flicked his gaze over and looked into Lana's eyes or, apparently at the moment, Laura's eyes. He wished her eyes would change color or something when Laura was 'driving', as they termed it. Sometimes it was almost like dating one half of a pair of identical twins; you never were quite certain which one had just walked into the room. Although with Laura and Lana, the switch could happen in mid-conversation.
Lex nodded and was about to reply when Clark moaned. After a couple more seconds he slowly opened his eyes.
"Are you going to be okay?" asked Chloe. The cold was so intense she could no longer suppress the trembling of the hand she was still using to caress his forehead.
"Yeah," replied Clark with a shudder. "Just give me a minute."
"A minute might be about all we have, Clark," answered Laura. "We have been here over nine minutes already."
Clark nodded his acknowledgement of the rapidly closing time constraint and with an effort levered himself up on one elbow. As he felt the first of his true strength return, he slowly brought up his heat vision and carefully began to warm the thermal blanket stretched over their heads.
"Any idea where we are?" asked Clark when it seemed like their small enclosure had reached a livable temperature.
"No," answered Chloe. "It seems even colder than I expected. We didn't have much time before we had to get under cover. All I know is that it is night and there isn't a light anywhere in sight."
Clark frowned. "Could we have missed our target and arrived after the collapse of your civilization?"
Chloe shook her head as she held up a small cellphone-sized device. "I have no memory of what frequencies were used back here for communication, so I couldn't build something that would tie into their systems. But I did bring along a frequency analyzer. There is a lot activity, so we didn't overshoot or at least not completely."
"Okay, then I better take a quick look and see if I can find the city," answered Clark. Once more he was thankful for the flying abilities he had discovered while back in Nazi Germany. Flying straight up and then looking in all directions would certainly be faster than running in some random direction.
Feeling fully restored, Clark said, "I'll be back as quickly as I can," before shifting into 'speed mode'.
The other three seemed to slow until they were frozen in place. Carefully, Clark wormed his way out from where he had been lying between them. After slithering out from under the protective blanket, he took a moment to push it back down over them. Not that it should be necessary, as he fully expected to be back before more than a second passed in the 'real' world. Still, he had been sidetracked before when he had expected to be gone for only a moment, so it was best to do what he could to protect the others.
Climbing to his feet, Clark took a moment to gaze around. He could sense the biting cold, but it didn't physically bother him. As Chloe had said, from this spot it wasn't obvious in which direction their destination lay. Therefore for the first time ever since donning the new red and blue suit, Clark launched himself into the sky.
Quickly he rose until he reached an altitude of five thousand feet above the cold, desolate plain. Then he paused to perform a three hundred sixty degree scan. Far off in what his enhanced sense of direction said was northwest he saw a range of hills or mountains silhouetted against the horizon, but no lights to indicated human activity. The eastern horizon was slightly brighter than the horizon in the other directions, but whether it was the city or merely the approaching dawn, he couldn't yet tell.
Clark rose vertically for another two thousand feet as he kept his attention focused to the east. Finally, with his vision zoomed far beyond the human norm, the light at the horizon began to resolve into a myriad of individual lights. After a quick glance around to verify no other likely targets had been revealed by his increased elevation, he quickly raced forward to make a preliminary pass before going back for Chloe and the others.
The city he had spotted was over eighty miles away, but Clark was deep in the speed zone and covered the intervening distance in milliseconds of real time. As the distance dwindled he could make out a cluster of giant towers numbering at least several hundred. They were all congregated in a relatively tight group not unlike those found in Manhattan or central Metropolis. However that was all he saw as there didn't seem to be any surrounding suburbs. At first he thought this was a sign of a different societal makeup between this long forgotten civilization and the time period he knew. But then when he was within a few miles of the towering megaliths, he scanned the ice fields below him with his x-ray vision and discovered the seemingly missing suburbs. Unfortunately, whatever techniques were being used to keep the city center more or less ice free hadn't been used out here. No, he saw the crushed remains of building after building buried deep beneath the ice.
Clark couldn't help but wonder what had happened to the people who had lived in the mile after mile of destruction he saw. Had they gotten clear before the ice and snow had engulfed them? If so, where had they gone? Was the city center jammed to the gills with refuges or had they fled somewhere else?
With a shake of his head Clark forced himself to put these thoughts aside; those people had made it out or not, either way there was nothing he could do about it now. He needed to stay focused on why they were here. And the first order of business was getting the others to somewhere safe and warm.
Diving down, Clark descended until he was at about the same height as the tallest towers, about two thousand feet above the distant street. Then he began weaving between the buildings looking for the landmark Chloe still remembered – an eight hundred foot tall statue of a man standing with his left foot raised on top of a giant boulder and his left arm pointing up into the sky. The taller of the two towers directly in front of the statue housed Chloe's family's apartments in this city. To the best of her recollections they should be vacant as her father's business and her family had been relocated months earlier to a more temperate locale.
From his perspective deep in the speed zone, it took Clark many minutes until his search pattern uncovered his goal. As he flew, he turned part of his attention to studying the surrounding buildings as well as the streets far below. His internal clock, which always seemed able to pinpoint the position of the brilliant yellow sun, told him the local time was about 4 A.M. Most of the windows were dark making it difficult to decide which buildings were offices and which were residential or if the buildings saw a mix of usage.
His view of the streets was slightly more fruitful. Oh, there weren't too many pedestrians out and about at this time on a frigid, minus eighty degree night, but the few he saw seemed to confirm that Chloe's recommended attire had been appropriate. Everyone he saw looked to be on their way to a 'superhero' convention. The biggest difference from the costume he now wore, based on Chloe's memories, and what he saw below was
the large cape everyone wore over the back of the nanosuits. He couldn't guess what purpose the capes served, but doubtlessly they would find out shortly.
With their destination finally in sight, Clark took one swooping pass by the building's street level entrance and then raced back to where he had left the others.
It took even less time to return than it had taken to reach the city. His enhanced senses could have relocated the spot even if he had been blindfolded, but he still felt his nerves calm a little when he spotted with his infrared vision the small hotspot generated by the others' body heat while he was still fifteen miles away.
Quickly, Clark descended to a soft landing beside the small mound their bodies made under the shiny thermal blanket. He crawled back inside before dropping out of 'speed mode'. Exactly seven tenths of a second had passed in the real world.
The other three jumped at Clark's abrupt departure and almost immediate return.
"Damn, Clark," said Lex trying to recover from his body's startled reaction. "I don't think I am ever going to get used to the way you seem to dematerialize into thin air."
Lex was going to say more, but was cut off by an excited Chloe.
"Clark, did you find it?"
"Yes," Clark answered with a quick nod. "The giant statue and the two buildings facing it were exactly as you described them. Are you ready to go? I'll take you first and then come back for the others."
Chloe nodded in return while butterflies seemed to circle in her stomach. Being here, in the time period of her original civilization, brought a combination of excitement and anxiety she hadn't felt in a long, long time. While her body might be a perpetual sixteen, her memories stretched back for almost twenty thousand years and as a result she hadn't really thought of herself as 'young' in a very long time. But now she had returned to the place of her youth and somewhere on the planet at this very moment was her original pre-nano-enhanced self. Even though they were still in the middle of nowhere, she couldn't shake this eerie feeling.
The intensity of her feelings surprised her. It wasn't as though being here was unexpected. No, she had been planning for this moment at some level since the thought had first occurred to her while she had been chained to a wall in a dungeon in ancient Rome with Lana. Two thousand years of planning and preparation should have made things seem almost anticlimactic, but it didn't feel that way in the slightest.
She was almost startled from her thoughts when Clark took her hand and pulled her out of the protective warmth of their temporary shelter. Quickly he rose to his feet and swept her up into his arms. Already she could feel the tremors beginning to shake her body as the merciless cold wind eagerly swept away her body heat. Automatically Chloe tightened her grip around Clark's impossibly broad shoulders.
Clark, too, felt the shivers begin to spread through Chloe's body. Therefore without further pause he shifted deep into the speed zone.
After his passage through the Purl Nous procedure in the chamber buried deep below the New Mexican desert, in addition to his enhanced mental gifts, his control of his other extraordinary gifts had been greatly improved. Now, with hardly any conscious effort he expanded the enveloping field of phase shifted space to included Chloe. Back in Nazi Germany when he had first discovered his ability to fly in 'speed mode', anyone he carried was frozen outside the field, which extended mere nanometers from the surface of his skin. But now he could expand the gift so anyone within his arms would share the same apparent accelerated existence.
"There, is that better?" Clark asked Chloe, as he lifted clear of the ice plain and headed in the direction of the distant city.
"Yes, much," answered Chloe leaning her head in close to his ear. The field Clark produced not only blocked out the wind, both natural and that created by his high speed flight, but also seemed to surround them with a bubble of warm air.
The glittering icy plain seemed far below them as they sped forward.
Snuggling closer in Clark's arms, Chloe whispered, "I know it is very different, but I am still reminded of the first time you took me flying."
Clark nodded, as both their thoughts were drawn back to the day after the events in the storm cellar.
It had taken them hours to sort out the mess Sliviuh had left behind. The most time-consuming had been all the people whose minds she had tampered with via her nanobot based abilities. Chloe and Lana/Laura had spent hours working as a team to deprogram Jonathan, Nell, Roger Nixon, Alicia, Amy, and all the other assorted people they could track down. It had been almost noon before things had begun to calm down.
Then Clark had led Chloe out to the barn and swept her up into his arms. With a big grin he had proceeded to float up, light as a feather, until he reached the loft. Chloe had immediately gone into her familiar reporter mode, launching into the 'how, when, and where' of his new abilities.
Clark's grin had broadened. "I'll explain along the way," he had answered, as he shifted deep into the 'speed zone' before shooting out through the high open door set into the south wall of the loft.
Chloe had looked down as they climbed away from the Kent farm at what felt like a thousand miles an hour. She knew something had changed, as the last time Clark had carried her like this, albeit running instead of flying, it had seemed like only a tiny fraction of a second had passed during his mad dash from the dance at the school to the storm cellar at his farm. But this time everything felt different, almost like she was experiencing things from Clark's perspective rather than the perspective of the outside world.
Clark had spent the next twenty 'speed zone' minutes explaining all about learning to fly in Nazi Germany and then how Var El had helped him achieve the Purl Nous change which had enhanced all of his mental and physical gifts.
As Chloe had listened in wonder, she couldn't help but also wonder at what she was seeing as Clark carried her on their journey. She recognized enough landmarks for her 'bot system to determine they were on a great circle route to Europe. But what she hadn't expected was that Clark would take her so high. The sky above them had shaded all the way to black and the curvature of the planet became clearly visible. Comparing it to video footage she had seen over the years from the space program, she knew they had to be at least eighty miles above the planet's surface, higher than she had ever been in her long nineteen thousand year life, yet while in Clark's grasp she felt perfectly normal.
It wasn't until Clark began his descent that she knew their destination was Italy. And without even pushing her computer enhanced mind, she guessed they were headed towards Rome, the modern counterpart of the ancient city they had explored weeks before from Clark's perspective or two thousand years earlier from hers.
It was near dusk local time when they arrived. Clark circled around the great city at what felt like a slow, easy pace. But when they got close enough to the ground to make out individual people, it appeared to Chloe that everyone was frozen in-place like hundreds of thousands of statues. It was then that the time distortion effects Clark generated truly became apparent to Chloe.
Chloe had been to Rome within the last hundred years, so she quickly got her bearings. However as Clark looked around, almost nothing familiar remained from the few short weeks they had spent in its much earlier incarnation. Neither of the most obvious ancient structures, the Coliseum and the Pantheon, had existed when they had spent time there. Finally, Clark spotted the ruins of the Forum and descended to a spot near where they had had their first encounter with Chloe's nemesis Venta of the Praetorian Guard and with the Emperor Caligula.
"Well, this certainly brings back memories," said Chloe, as Clark, after a glance around, dropped out of speed mode and lowered Chloe to the ground.
"Yeah," answered Clark with a shrug. "Although I had intended to land at the site of your old estate, but I couldn't figure out where it was. I still haven't quite mastered the knack of translating what I have previously only seen from ground level into what it would look like from the air, particularly when the landscape has seen two thousand years of use and reconstruction."
Chloe reached her arm around Clark and pulled him a little closer, before heading in the direction of nearest street vendors.
"No reason you should recognize that area, Clark. It has been an industrial port for the last hundred years and these days it is a pretty rundown area." For sentimental reasons during the second time she had lived through the last two thousand years she had kept tabs on the area where her palatial estate had once stood. These days it was a scary, mostly abandoned area that she would hesitate to visit alone. Oh, with her gifts nothing permanently bad was likely to happen, but there was no point in taking unnecessary risks.
Just then as they casually walked across the Forum, Clark gave her shoulder a light squeeze and she was reminded of some of the things he had told her during their flight across the Atlantic. And she suddenly realized the risk of entering the neighborhood of her old estate would be zero, absolutely zero with Clark at her side. What possible danger could there be to a man who could lift a freakin' battleship a mile into the sky? A battleship!
Suddenly, Chloe's memories about their flight and visit to modern Rome were interrupted as their current destination came into view. The lights of the approaching city quickly resolved into a forest of skyscrapers.
At first they didn't trigger any particular memories, but as Clark dove closer and closer to the tower where she had lived as a little girl, things started to feel vaguely familiar. But truthfully, she couldn't say if they were real memories or just reflections of the dreams she had had about this day for the last several thousand years.
Clark flew one quick loop around the outstretched hand of the giant statue before heading for the ground. Chloe was startled by its sheer size. She seemed to have memories of seeing from her bedroom window, but none from this close. The immense hand alone had to stretch to almost seventy-five feet. From her prodigious memory she recalled that the Statue of Liberty, from the hem of her gown to the tip of the raised torch, reared one hundred fifty one feet, barely equal to the length of this statue's arm. She had remembered this statue was eight hundred feet tall, but had forgotten how epic that size really was. And it once again reminded her of the truly grand scale of so many of the projects completed during the final few years of her original civilization's existence. Of course, she hadn't yet revealed to the others that their eventual destination was this civilization's crowning achievement.
Clark lowered Chloe to the ground on the top step of the raised entrance to the building she remembered. "I'll be right back with the others," he stated.
Chloe nodded her response, but before she even completed the motion, Clark simply blinked out of existence.
Knowing there was no point putting off the inevitable, Chloe started towards the building's security panel. If the system didn't recognize her, they would have to go with plan B, which had much higher risks of them being discovered before she could infiltrate the planet's security grids.
She had taken only one step towards the security panel when Lex abruptly materialized beside her. And only two steps before Lana and Clark had joined them.
In four more steps she reached the audio-video pickup. She hesitated for a moment before stating her original name, a name she hadn't spoken aloud in almost a score of millennia.
"Would you hurry up already," stuttered Lex the cold once more forcing an annoying quiver into his voice.
Chloe nodded, but still paused for a moment. She knew her appearance hadn't changed in all the thousands of years, but what about her speech patterns? She had spoken hundreds of different languages and mastered countless dialects over the intervening centuries. Would they make her voice unrecognizable?
Finally, taking a deep breath, Chloe stated her name in her native language as calmly as she could.
"This is Letishikä gé Äysël gō Lalæhan."
It felt like she waited forever, but when Chloe checked her 'bot system, she discovered only four and a half seconds passed before the system responded.
"Welcome, Dm. Letishikä. It has been too long since your last visit," replied a calm, melodious male voice with just a hint of a mechanical undertone.
Chloe was wondering if some further reply was expected, but the entrance into the building's vestibule slid open as the speaker fell silent.
Quickly, Chloe led the small party into the building's warm interior.
A sprawling lobby separated them from where Chloe thought the lifts were located. However, nothing about the lobby stirred any memories, neither the double row of giant statues whose raised hands appeared to support the forty foot high ceiling nor the large murals adorning the walls. And what really surprised her were the decidedly martial overtones of everything. Had it always been like this and she just didn't remember the details? Probably so, she decided. She had raised kids in enough different types of societies to remember how children were mostly oblivious to things that mattered so much to adults. And back in this time period, she had definitely qualified as a 'kid'.
The vast lobby was empty of people in this predawn hour and their footsteps seemed to echo from the highly patterned stone floor.
Finally, after they had traversed about a quarter of the lobby, Clark broke the silence. Speaking quietly, he said, "Well, your name back here is certainly a mouthful."
Chloe shrugged. "I guess it is a little longer than 'Chloe Sullivan', but is nowhere near the longest I have ever used and that isn't even including the ones where all of your 'titles' were part of your 'official' name. Besides, everyone just called me 'Tish'."
"Tish," repeated Clark. "I guess I could get used to that."
"Apparently, my languages lessons didn't get as deeply into the conventions used in people's names as it could have," said Lex joining into the conversation. "What is with the gé and gō stuck in the middle?"
"You remember Leif Ericson, the old Norwegian explorer?" asked Chloe. At Lex's nod, she continued, "In the same way he was named Leif and was the son of Eric, my name, Letishikä gé Äysël gō Lalæhan, meant my name was Letishikä and my father was Äysël and my mother was Lalæhan. Pretty straightforward, actually."
"So, should we call you Chloe or Tish?" asked Lex.
"I guess it will be like back in Rome, where you referred to me as Coelia when around people who knew me by that name and as Chloe when we weren't. Don't worry, after having literally thousands of names down through the years, whichever name you use is okay with me."
By this point the small group had reached the far side of the lobby and Chloe spotted the lifts she had been looking for. They didn't look all that different from the elevators of the early 21st century except she didn't see an elevator call button. However, as soon as they stepped within fifteen feet a pair of doors slid silently open.
Chloe led the others into the lift and then turned to where the control panel would be in a modern elevator. She almost breathed a sigh of relief when there were no buttons to push here either. She knew their apartment was near the top, as she remembered looking down on the giant statue, but she had no idea the exact floor. She knew the level of computer technology in this time period was way beyond what they had back home and she hoped giving her name back at the entrance was sufficient for the building's master computer to deliver them to the correct floor.
As the lift's doors slid shut, its interior was filled with this era's version of Musak. The tune was unfamiliar to Chloe, but the tone felt martial in nature just like the decorative murals in the lobby. Was her old civilization that much more militaristic than she remembered?
The lift surged upward with a decidedly higher acceleration than was normal for elevators back in the 21st Century, but then at nearly two thousand feet tall, it potentially had almost three times as far to climb as was typical back home.
The four of them stood there mostly in silence for the thirty-seven seconds it took for the lift to reach its destination. It glided to a stop and the doors opened on to a long, pale blue corridor stretching to a small pair of windows at the far end of the building. For such a large building, there were surprisingly only six doorways leading off hallway indicating the apartments on this floor were all extremely large.
Chloe led the others off the lift and started down the long corridor. Something in the back of her mind said the door to her old apartment was at the far end and since she knew it overlooked the giant statue, it had to be on the left side. Now that it was sinking in that they were truly here, she set a brisk pace. She slowed briefly at each doorway they passed on the off-chance her memory was faulty and one of the intermediate doors would be activated by her presence. None of them did and since it was unlikely the building's computer would have dropped them off on the wrong floor, the last door on the left HAD to be their destination.
Once more the feeling of butterflies churned in Chloe's stomach. Would the doorway simply slide open at her presence or was there some long forgotten locking code or key? Would the apartment actually be unoccupied? She thought so, but wouldn't it be awkward if her family . . . if she herself was already there? She knew at some point she would have to make contact with her parents, but she hoped it would be after the other part of their mission was complete. And she hoped she wouldn't run into herself as she didn't have any memories of running into her identical twin shortly before this civilization collapsed.
But there was no value in dawdling, either things would go as she had planned or not. And if not, she would simply improvise a solution. It wasn't like she didn't have more experience at that sort of thing than anyone else in history. And that was the key thing she needed to keep in mind; she was not by any stretch of the imagination the inexperienced little sixteen-year-old girl who resided in this time period.
The door on their left slid open at Chloe's approach and she strode in without breaking stride. The large open living room they entered was well lit, but Chloe could simply sense the lights had just flicked on and that the apartment was vacant. She couldn't stop the small sigh of relief that everything was still going to plan.
A sixty-five foot wide wall of floor-to-ceiling windows formed the far wall of the room. The room was much wider than it was deep with the windows being the obvious focal point. The room itself was sparsely furnished, but most of it looked surprisingly familiar. Of course, since the human physique hadn't changed much in the intervening seventeen thousand years, chairs and sofas should look almost the same. The most unfamiliar object was a large triangular device that was located near the room's center. The device's exterior was finished with some variety of wood and it didn't look particularly hi-tech. Chloe was certain it was some kind of musical device of the piano family, unique to this pre-ice age era. But while it felt like its name was on the tip of her tongue, it wouldn't for the moment come to the surface.
The four of them started across the room to take in the dramatic view, but then stopped when a giant display on the room's right wall flickered to life. The display extended from the floor to the twelve foot high ceiling and stretched almost the full length of the twenty-five foot section of wall. And unlike back home where the best that could be achieved was a relatively slim device that hung from the wall; this display didn't seem to hang from the wall as much as it felt like it was somehow the actual wall.
But it wasn't the size of the display that had attracted everyone's attention, but rather the content. The device was displaying a life-sized and life-like image of Chloe, or rather Chloe as she would have looked at age 10. And with her were an older man and a woman. Chloe instantly knew the man was her father. And between her blonde hair and her presence in the display with the younger Chloe and her father, the woman had to be her mother, the mother whose appearance Chloe could no longer remember.
Chloe was drawn closer and closer to the giant display. The clarity of the display was simply astonishing. Chloe stepped to within eighteen inches of the display and everything continued to look perfectly real. It actually felt as though she could simply reach through the surface of the display and touch her younger self, who was enjoying a picnic with her parents in a park-like setting. Chloe stared at the image of her younger self sitting and eating with her parents. She had absolutely no memories of the scene she was witnessing. Once more she felt a pang for all the pre-'bot memories she had lost forever. But hopefully, if everything went according to plan, she would be bringing her parents home with her and they could help fill in some of the gaps in her early life.
Clark and the others stepped up beside Chloe. Putting one arm casually around Chloe's waist, Clark asked in a quiet tone, "Is that your parents?"
For a moment Chloe didn't think she had the ability to speak without her voice breaking, so she simply nodded. Then after about thirty seconds, without ever taking her eyes from the display, she managed to get her voice under control. "That's definitely my father. Unfortunately, I don't really remember my mother, but my gut says that is her."
Clark pulled Chloe closer and the two of them continued to watch the video.
After a couple of minutes, Lex wandered over to the panoramic windows. Although Laura had just as much interest in the video of her childhood as Chloe, she acquiesced when Lana decided to follow Lex over to the windows.
"So what do you think of things so far?" Lana asked.
"Well, it is good to finally be warm," responded Lex as he self-consciously glanced down at his garish yellow costume for seemingly the thousandth time since putting it on a bare thirty minutes earlier.
He was about to continue when everything outside the windows was bathed in a blindingly bright light. Well, compared to the dark night of a moment before, it felt blinding, but in actuality it was probably no brighter than the noon day sun.
Both Lex and Lana jumped back in shock. Being in a strange time and place and in an apartment where they were technically interlopers or at least what felt like interlopers, their subconscious minds immediately formed the image of police helicopters lighting up the window with powerful searchlights.
However the light didn't feel at all like they were staring directly into a searchlight. No, it wasn't just the window that was lit up, but everything visible through the window like the giant statue far below and all the other nearby buildings surrounding the small park in which the statue stood.
Also over the course of a single second, which was a relatively long time for Lana/Laura's 'bot system, the light level visibly dropped. Then in a matter of four milliseconds it blazed back to its maximum intensity.
The cycle of a brilliant flash followed by a brief falling off repeated at regular one second intervals. By the beginning of the fifth cycle, Chloe and Clark had joined them at the window.
"What is that?" Clark asked rhetorically, as he leaned close to the glass and pointed off to the left at a gap between two of the tall skyscrapers.
As the others looked at the spot he indicated, all they could see was the glare of a brilliant pulsating point of light, as bright as the sun, climbing steadily up into the sky.
Only Clark had the super-telescopic vision which allowed him to zoom in to the heart of a light so bright, it would have blinded anyone else. And what he saw was like nothing he had ever seen or even imagined.
For what he could now make out was that the bright pulsating light was actually an ongoing series of intense explosions. And then his other extraordinary senses picked up details reminding him of the night Sliviuh had sent him questing around the world to stop the catastrophes she had arranged to keep him far from Smallville. Specifically, he was reminded of events in Paris where she had attached a stolen atomic bomb to the Eiffel Tower in an attempt to expose his gifts to the general public. For his senses now told him the brilliant flashes they were seeing were actually a series of atomic bombs going off at one second intervals.
What he couldn't fathom was why someone would be setting off a continuous string of nuclear bombs each just slightly higher from the ground than its predecessor. He was about to describe to Chloe what he was witnessing to see if she had any explanation when his super-telescopic vision spotted something just above the latest explosion. It was some kind of giant metallic structure and it had to be huge for even him to be able to see it from a distance of several hundred miles.
Focusing his vision on it during the brief lulls between the atomic explosions, he could make out it was roughly bullet shaped with the flat end barely six hundred feet above the heart of the next nuclear blast. And this time as he watched he could even see the next bomb being ejected from the stern of the device. A fraction of a second later the bomb exploded and Clark saw the powerful blast wave slam into the flat end of the device and watched it literally jump forward hundreds of feet. Clark quickly realized the massive structure was being push up towards space by the endless chain of explosions.
"Ah, guys," began Clark, as he finally pulled his eyes away from the spectacle. "Those are atomic explosions and they appear to be pushing some giant structure in front of them."
"They're launching a Bőlžtroi ship," answered Chloe and Lana/Laura simultaneously.
"What is a Bőlžtroi ship?" asked Clark and Lex, also almost in perfect unison.
"Wow, I never anticipated seeing one of them launched mere minutes after our arrival," responded Chloe with almost a gleeful laugh. Then in a more serious tone, she continued. "It's basically a Project Orion ship like the U.S. Military proposed back in the 1950's." When she didn't see a glimmer of recognition in either Lex or Clark's eyes, she added, "I think the computer can give a better description than I can at this point. Computer, please provide a brief background about the Bőlžtroi ships."
The video of the young Chloe and her parents was abruptly shoved to the far end of the display and a new window appeared at the near end. Instantly a cutaway schematic was displayed which closely matched the device Clark had seen.
The computer began spewing forth a detailed technical monologue. Realizing the specialized terms would rapidly outstrip Lex's abilities with the Rœtic language, Lana clasped Lex's hand and let her 'bots translate the computer's words into English.
"The atomic-powered Bőlžtroi class of spaceship was first proposed by Bőlžtroi gé Ögtraĺŷ gō Wružœtl thirty-seven years ago. They use one thousand one hundred fourteen shaped-charge atomic propulsion units of three-kilotons each, fired at one second intervals, to lift the vehicle to orbit. The key advantage versus existing chemical rocket technologies of the time was the extremely high payload to launch weight ratio. Whereas less than four percent of the launch weight of a chemical rocket can achieve low-earth orbit, the Bőlžtroi category of atomic powered rockets can achieve as high as eighty-four percent payload to launch weight ratios.
"Construction of the first prototype ship, 'Crimson Victory', was completed seven years later. That scaled-down version of the current vehicles was one hundred feet in diameter, one hundred thirty feet tall and had a launch mass of 1400 tons. After ten successful flights to-and-from orbit and one excursion to the moon, the demonstration phase of the program was deemed successful and production began on the full scale Bőlžtroi-class of spaceship.
"The current fleet consists of twelve Bőlžtroi-class ships with thirty six more in the planning/construction phases. The Bőlžtroi-class ships are one thousand two hundred fifty feet in diameter, one thousand nine hundred sixty feet tall, and have a launch weight of eight million three hundred ten thousand tons.
"The key components of the Bőlžtroi-class ships are, starting from the bottom, the forty-foot thick steel pusher plate upon which the propulsion unit's millisecond long plasma energy wave acts, a nine hundred foot tall two-stage shock absorber system which damps the payload acceleration down to four gee's, a two hundred forty foot tall propulsion unit magazine, and finally a seven hundred eighty foot tall payload section.
"Development of the Bőlžtroi-class ship made the Pwóthgroć Space Colony feasible. While most of the Space Colony's mass was sourced from the moon and delivered by mass-driver, large specialized equipment still needed Earth-side fabrication.
"Upon initial completion and spin-up of Pwóthgroć five years ago, the Bőlžtroi fleet was converted to primarily deliver water to the colony and to the associated agrarian satellites and then return foodstuffs to the Earth. As currently configured, a Bőlžtroi ship can carry three million tons of water plus one million tons of bulk cargo. For the past year, the fleet has been averaging one water shipment launch every three days."
"Computer pause," interjected Chloe.
As silence fell over the room, Lex repeated, "three million tons of water." He looked over at Clark before continuing. "Hey, Clark, how about doing a little math for me?"
As Clark nodded, Lex realized he could have done the math using his connection to Lana's 'bot system, but decided to use Clark anyway. "So at 2000 pounds per ton, the ship holds how many pounds of water?"
"Easy," said Clark, "six billion pounds."
"And if water weighs about eight pounds per gallon?"
"Ah, 8.338 pounds per gallon at room temperature," interjected Chloe.
"Okay," said Lex with a nod in her direction. "Then how many gallons on the ship?"
"Seven hundred nineteen million, six hundred thousand gallons give or take a few tens of thousands of gallons," was Clark's immediate, apparently effortless response.
"Okay, back home, to remind myself there is more to life than LuthorCorp, or now LexCorp, I have one of those 'Thousand places to see before you die' daily calendars. Anyway a few days ago the photo of the day was Niagara Falls and the one statistic they included was how the typical flow rate for the Falls was forty-two million gallons of water per minute. So how long would it take Niagara Falls to fill the ship's water tank?"
"Seventeen minutes, eight seconds."
"Damn," muttered Lex, "that is one impressive water tank. What could a space station possibly need with that much water every three days?"
Lana answered, but Lex quickly realized it was really Laura speaking.
"The water is primarily used for food production and even with careful conservation and efficient recycling, food production is always going to consume a lot of water. Food can't be created from nothing. Actually the situation is a lot like Heinlein predicted in 'Moon is a Harsh Mistress'. While there is some water in the form of ice in the soil near the lunar poles, there isn't enough to support agriculture on the scale Earth needs.
"And the planet is really hurting with the start of the new ice age. Returning three million tons of food every three days to a planet slowly sinking into starvation and death helps, if not nearly solving the problem. Hmm, let's see, three million tons of food would meet the basic nutritional needs of four million people for a year. So if they truly are able to bring back a ship load of food every three days, the ships could be feeding about four hundred eighty million people. Now since the world population is about nine billion at the moment, the ships are only able to feed about five percent of the population. However if this civilization hadn't collapsed when it did, off-planet food production could certainly have been ramped even higher."
Then before Lana/Laura could continue, Chloe jumped back in. "I think the more direct answer to Lex's question, about why so much water is needed, is that you're not thinking on the right scale when you said 'space station' versus the computer's 'space colony' terminology. 'Space station' brings to mind something like a scaled up International Space Station or perhaps one of those spinning wheels like they had in '2001: A Space Odyssey'. Pwóthgroć is on a completely different scale. Think Arthur Clarke's 'Rendezvous with Rama' rather than '2001'.
"Pwóthgroć 's habitat modules consist of a pair of counter-rotating cylinders. Each cylinder is six miles in diameter and twenty-six miles in length. They spin to create artificial gravity on the inner surface of the hollow cylinders. To the best of my recollection they spin at a rate which produces about 75 percent of Earth's gravity. This is high enough to prevent some of the problems with low Gee environments as well as high enough to allow long-time residents to return to Earth without being forced to spend weeks or months flat on their back while their bodies re-acclimate.
"Anyway, factoring in a loss of about 30 percent of the surface area for a series of large windows to allow light into the interior still leaves a usable surface area in each of the cylinders of 340 square miles. Assuming a typical suburban population density of 3,000 people per square mile gives Pwóthgroć a population capacity of two million people. And the associated food production satellites, which have near zero gravity for reduced construction cost and improved yield, are even larger."
Lex tried to wrap his head around the scale of these 'space colonies', but it was nearly impossible. Then he tried to imagine what it would be like to stand on the inner surface of these hollow cylinders. They would be long enough at 26 miles to look almost 'normal' if you looked along the long axis. But in the other direction, the hoop direction, it would be a completely different story. Oh, the nearest mile or so would look like a slowly rising hill. But eventually, it would sweep up and up and up until it met directly overhead. Would it feel extremely claustrophobic or was six miles straight up enough distance so it wouldn't feel like the land above your head was about to collapse down on you? Lex assumed it would feel okay and that this civilization would have done a lot of studies on the matter before beginning construction.
Clark meanwhile was focused on a different bit of the new information the girls and the computer had provided.
"Ah, Chloe, did the occupants of the space colony use these nuke-powered ships to get into space? I mean riding a long string of bombs into space sounds very dangerous. Wouldn't the radiation from being close to that many atomic explosions be fatal?"
Chloe got a thoughtful expression on her face for a moment. Then after asking the computer a quick question, she answered. "Ah, one one-way trip will expose you to 700 REMs of radiation. While this is not quite lethal, it is certainly not good for you and a second one-way flight might prove fatal. Therefore only the first couple of test flights were manned. After that all flights were fully automated."
"But then how did they get millions of people up to the space colony? A chemical rocket like the shuttle or the Apollo capsule wouldn't hold enough people to be practical."
Chloe nodded her head. "Yeah, you're right. A system which can only get four percent of its launch weight to orbit isn't practical for moving large numbers of people. No, to get people to orbit, they use space elevators."
Chloe paused to shoot another question at the building's computer before continuing. "The planet currently has five space elevators located at roughly equal intervals around the equator, although one of them is down for upgrade at the moment. They are all anchored in the ocean to allow fine tuning of the elevator's cable by modest movements of the supporting ships. Their upper free-ends are all located at geosynchronous orbit about twenty-three thousand miles up. The original elevator, the one being upgraded, could lift one hundred tons daily. The other four can lift four hundred forty tons per day."
While he had never heard of atom bomb powered spaceships, Clark had at least heard of space elevators. They required super-strong carbon nanotube filaments to carry the weight of their twenty-three thousand mile length. Back home they were still at least ten years away from achieving those kinds of strengths in production quantities of the material.
Giant nuclear-powered spaceships. Massive space colonies. Elevators into space. The level of technology seemed way beyond what Chloe had hinted at, thought Clark. And they had been here barely ten minutes. What other marvels were yet to be revealed?
"Hmm," mumbled Clark, as he tried to pull his attention back to the conversation at hand. "I was going to ask why not just use the space elevators for everything. But now I see that it would take one of the space elevators 25 years to haul as much payload into space as one flight of one of the Bőlžtroi ships." Clark thought about things for a few more seconds before asking, "So is the Pwóthgroć colony located in geosynchronous orbit, too? At the upper end of one of the space elevators?"
Chloe shook her head. "No. While geosynchronous orbit is very convenient since it is always above the same spot on Earth, it is not a stable orbital location. What I mean is as the planet rotates, the geosynchronous spot sweeps passed the moon once per day. This perturbs the orbit of anything at geosynchronous and requires reaction rockets to hold it steady. This is okay for something relatively small like a communication satellite or even a modest ten thousand man space station. But for something like the Pwóthgroć , a geosynchronous orbit would be prohibitively expensive to maintain.
"Therefore Pwóthgroć is located at a more gravitationally stable location, which in this case is at the same distance from the Earth as the moon except located sixty degrees further ahead in the moon's orbit. Back in our time, this location was called Lagrange Point 5 or L-5 for short."
"Ah, guys," said Lex, whose gaze had been drawn back to the ongoing display visible outside the window. Raising a finger to point towards the brightest part of the sky, he continued with a definite urgency in his tone, "Is the ship's trajectory supposed to look like that? I'm thinking 'no'."
The other three quickly gathered around Lex. When they had first spotted the mighty ship, it was being pushed almost straight up with only a hint of a bend in its trajectory towards the distant eastern horizon. But now, several minutes later, it had made an almost ninety degree turn and appeared to be headed directly down towards them.
"Shit!" exclaimed Chloe in English before quickly switching back to the local language. "Computer, what is today's date?"
"Today is the thirteenth day of Ḟŕeicĥztũm, 3459," was the immediate response.
"The miracle," whispered Lana/Laura.
"Ah, what miracle?" asked Lex.
"Clark," said Chloe as she grabbed his arm to be sure she had his undivided attention. "Remember how everyone remembers where they were when they first heard about 9-11 or when John Lennon was shot, or when the Challenger blew up, or when Kennedy was assassinated? Okay, you may be too young to remember most of those, but anyway you often have vivid memories about major events. Well, even after nineteen thousand years I still remember 'The miracle of the 13th'. One of the Bőlžtroi ships went out of control and threatened this city. The devastation from an eight million ton ship impacting at several thousand miles an hour would have been total without even the added factor of the hundreds of atomic bombs it was carrying. But a miracle happened. At the last minute and for no reason anyone could determine, the ship abruptly changed course again and flew up to space. Clark, it had to be you. I didn't remember these events when I selected today to arrive, or at least not consciously, but our presence, or more specifically your presence, has to be the unexplained 'miracle'."
Clark glanced out the window. The giant spaceship was now visible without even needing to use his special telescopic vision. It couldn't be more the twenty miles away. And the atomic explosions were still going on and it was getting noticeably closer in the couple of seconds he watched. His enhanced mind used the couple seconds of observation to quickly estimate the ship would impact in less than nine seconds.
Not wasting even the short amount of time necessary to give a nod of acknowledgement, Clark shifted deep into the 'speed zone'. He almost punched through the sprawling glass window before him as the quickest route to the giant spaceship before he remembered the eighty below temperature just on the other side of the glass. Assuming he was successful they would probably want to spend some more time in this apartment and having a big hole in the window wouldn't be a great idea. Then he remembered the windows at the end of the hallway outside the apartment's entrance. Hopefully, the loss of that window wouldn't make any of the nearby apartments uninhabitable.
Clark raced to the apartment's door. Whatever automated system was in place to open the door at someone's approach wasn't quick enough to respond when Clark was so deep in 'speed mode'. Clark considered punching straight through the door, but that wouldn't be much better than going out through the apartment's panoramic glass window. Therefore he paused for a moment to press his hands flat against the door to pry it open far enough to slip through. Then he pushed it back shut, hoping he hadn't stripped all the internal gearing, but it was the best he had time to do.
Since he had every intention of sacrificing the windows at the end of the corridor, Clark launched himself down the hallway as hard as he could as soon as the apartment's door was closed. He barely felt the glass shatter or the frigid temperature of the outside air as he burst from the side of the building. Immediately, he arced into a hard turn since the window had been on the opposite side of the building from where his destination lay. As he swept passed the front of the apartment he had just exited, he glanced in through the large window. Chloe, Lex, and Lana were frozen in the same spot as when he had dropped into the 'speed zone'. Hopefully, Clark thought, they will still be frozen in the same poses when this is all over.
Turning his attention forward, Clark stared at the approaching giant spaceship. It was pointed directly at him and was backlit by the glare of another in the string of ongoing atomic explosions. This blast must have been triggered only a tiny fraction of a second before Clark dropped into the 'speed zone' and its brilliant white flash showed around all sides of the cylindrical vessel and made it look just like a close-up photo of a solar eclipse.
Clark had just cleared the last of the sprawling field of skyscrapers when he ran into an expanding energy wave front from one of the previous atomic blasts. For an instant it felt like his senses were being overwhelmed by the intense radiation. It wasn't totally debilitating like a close encounter with Kryptonite, but he was momentarily blinded, not only in his vision, but also in the special senses that allowed him to detect electro-magnetic fields. Well, it wasn't as debilitating as Kryptonite yet, but he realized he had several more wave fronts of more recently exploded bombs to pass through before he reached the ship. And since each succeeding wave front would have a smaller, tighter radius, each one would be geometrically more intense.
He had never been close to an atomic blast before and had no idea what affect it would have on his body. Chloe had said passengers on the ship wouldn't take a lethal dose of radiation during a single flight to orbit, but that was with them safely ensconced inside the ship. And with a ship that weighed eight million tons, they could have lined the passenger area with ten foot thick walls of lead without making a significant dent in the ship's payload capacity. But he wasn't behind the thick protective walls of the ship. No, he was flying out in the open.
As Clark slammed through the next even more intense radiation wave front, he couldn't do anything but hope his body was immune to this like it was immune to just about everything else, for he didn't really have any choice. If he didn't manage to divert this mighty spacecraft, then millions of people were going to die in the city below. And removing all the people from the city wasn't a realistic option in the few remaining seconds. It had taken him and Var El what felt like over 24 hours in 'speed mode' to find and remove the ten thousand people still in Peenemunde when they had needed to crash the Nazis' flying battleship into the secret base. And they had only needed to relocate the residents a few miles to reach a safe distance. Even if he could locate and remove all of the millions of people from this city in time, he couldn't just dump them on the large surrounding ice plain. No, the only possible solution to this problem was to divert the spacecraft. And if Chloe's recollections were correct, not only did he have to divert it from hitting the city, he had to get it up to orbit or risk changing the timeline.
Clark was less then two miles from the mighty ship when he passed through the third wave front. It felt like it took minutes for his vision to clear from the punishing level of x-ray radiation. When it did finally clear, the staggering size of the ship began to dawn on him.
After his fateful first encounter with Lex and his Porsche on the bridge over the Cottonwood River just outside Smallville, Lex had given him a new pickup in thanks for saving his life. Or he had tried to give him a new truck, but Jonathan had been adamant that Clark return it saying it was too much as Clark had only done what any Good Samaritan would have done. Lex had been surprised, as no one had ever turned down a gift from him before, not that he had given that many extravagant gifts. Finally, as an alternative, he had suggested Clark join him for the Metropolis Sharks' next home game. After Jonathan's grudging acknowledgement that football tickets weren't out of line, the two young men had made an excursion to Metropolis the following Sunday.
It had been Clark's first visit to the Shark's newly completed stadium. The stadium, which slightly exceeded the size of the long reigning Superdome in New Orleans, had been nearly 700 feet in diameter and three hundred feet tall. Sitting with Lex high in the owner's private box overlooking the fifty yard line, Clark hadn't at the time been able to imagine a larger structure. But now as he approached this magnificent spaceship, he knew he was wrong. For it only took a moment for him to realize, you would have to cluster four of those stadiums together and then stack them six stadiums high to match the size of this ship. A ship the size of 24 pro-football stadiums was unimaginable, except for the fact it was flying straight at him at over two thousand miles an hour.
Clark continued to race forward until he was hovering mere inches from the surface of the great ship. The ship's broad prow seemed to stretch away in all directions as far as the eye could see. Clark's thoughts quickly turned to his previous similar feat – the lifting of the Nazi battleship, the Hitler. That time when he had grabbed the prow of the ship, it had already been over a thousand feet below the surface of the Baltic on its way to its watery grave. Of course, the Hitler was almost a child's toy compared to this atom bomb powered behemoth, as it would take one hundred sixty Hitler-sized battleships to equal the mass of this monster spaceship. Clark couldn't help but wonder if this vessel didn't outweigh all the combined American, German, Japanese, and British battleships and aircraft carriers of the Second World War.
Enough dawdling, thought Clark, as he sensed the near light-speed approach of the radiation wave front of the latest atomic explosion along the length of the great ship. Quickly he set about using his heat vision to burn handholds in the thick protective armor-plated layer of the nose cone. This had been the approach which had ultimately worked with 'The Hitler' to allow the special field his body produced to expand out to encompass the large battleship so he could shift the entire thing into 'speed mode' to hoist it from the depths to a more convenient location to rescue the trapped survivors.
Slamming his hands into the molten metal his heat vision had created, Clark threw his entire will into expanding his energy field to encompass the massive ship. With the enhancement to the control of his abilities that had occurred as a result of the Purl Nous procedure, he sensed how more and more of the ship was absorbed into his energy field.
His energy field had stretched to encompass almost half the mass of the great ship when it encountered the expanding radiation wave front from the latest atomic blast. And on some sub-atomic level the radiation interacted with his phase-shifted energy field in a way he had never encountered before. Like the ripples on the surface of a calm pond created by two thrown stones, the two energy waves crashed together. In some places they canceled and in some places they added. As a result, Clark's energy field became unstable and the part of the ship inside the field slipped out of the phase-shifted 'speed mode' state and shifted back to normal time.
For Clark the impact was far more dramatic. Being within twenty-five hundred feet of the epicenter of this latest atomic blast, the radiation wave front was ten times more powerful than the previous one he had experienced. The radiation seemed to smash into every cell of his body simultaneously. Fortunately, it wasn't like stepping through the Kryptonite-powered Portal device, which had left him completely incapacitated for more seconds then he had left before the ship crashed into the city. No, it was more like being struck by a massive bolt of lightning. Every sense in his body, both normal and superhuman, seemed to overload for a moment. With a scream of agony that could be heard over the roar of the atomic blast, Clark dropped out of 'speed mode' just like the ship.
As his protective energy field momentarily collapse, Clark was abruptly hit by the supersonic air flowing past the massive ship. With his hands still trapped in the molten steel of the ship's outer hull, the ferocious winds slammed his body against the ship. As Clark tried to recover from the pummeling his body was receiving, the next atomic bomb exploded and another energy wave was racing towards him. His personal energy field reformed and it blocked the worst of the buffeting he was experiencing, but he was still in enough of a daze that he didn't even try to stretch his field to encompass the ship, but merely hung limply in front of the ship.
This time, although the radiation wave front was equally intense, the interaction with his body felt almost benign. Oh, his vision went white and his electro-magnetic sense screamed for a tiny fraction of a second, but his senses of touch, hearing, taste, and smell were not affected.
Clark immediately grasped that some combination of 'speed mode' and an expanded energy field was causing the severe amplification of radiation wave and its effect on his body. It looked like 'speed mode' was out and he was going to have to stop the giant spaceship while leaving it in 'real time'. Glancing over his shoulder, he saw he was now less than three miles from the nearest skyscrapers. Before he even had time to turn his attention back to the ship, the next atomic bomb exploded, slamming him and the ship forward even faster.
With the ship pointed straight at the city, Clark realized the ship itself was blocking the worst of the radiation and pressure shockwave from the city below. But if it got any closer, the small portion leaking around the perimeter of the ship's pusher plate, was going to start to be felt by people on the ground. If all the windows below blew out with the current eighty below temperatures, a lot of people were going to be hurt or were going to die – and that didn't even considered the impact of the radiation. No, if he was going to save everyone below, he was going to have to act quickly and effectively. And he was going to have to do it while keeping the ship's nose pointed protectively at the city, or at least pointed at the city until he had it well away or until he figured out how to stop the ceaseless succession of atomic explosions.
When he had first discovered and mastered his ability to fly, he had been in 'speed mode'. It wasn't until he had discussed it with Var El that he had realized by slipping only an infinitesimal fraction of a step into 'speed mode' he could appear to fly in real time. After Purl Nous, his control was now so good he didn't even have to think about 'speed mode' to fly in real time. His strength had always seemed to be enhanced in 'speed mode', and he had to hope the slight dip into 'speed mode' his body now subconsciously performed when he flew would be enough to deal with mass of the great ship and the opposing thrust provided by the atomic explosions.
Now, instead of using his will to expand the scope of his body's unique energy field, Clark used his will to push as a hard as he could against the nose of the spaceship. He sensed the ship was slowing in its onrush towards the city almost immediately. Then three-quarters of a second after he started to push, the next atomic bomb exploded and its massive force pushed the ship forward and Clark could feel himself losing ground again.
Clark redoubled his efforts during the next lull. He felt the ship slow further, but it was still moving towards the city when next explosion occurred. Finally, after four more seconds and four more explosions, he managed to completely stop the massive ship's forward momentum. Looking over his shoulder, he saw the nearest skyscraper was less than five hundred feet away and that all of its windows, at least on visible nearer side, were shattered. A quick glance showed several nearby buildings had also lost their windows. Clark realized if he didn't stop the ongoing string of atomic explosions soon, the city was going to be destroyed even if the spaceship didn't hit it.
Clark dropped deep into 'speed mode' and raced for the back end of the spaceship. At the moment all he could think to do was to vaporize the bombs as they were being ejected from back of the ship in the same way he had vaporized the atom bomb in Paris after he had carried it into space, but before it had had the chance to explode. As he flew he did a mental estimate. If the ship used a thousand bombs exploded at one second intervals to reach orbit, it would take seventeen minutes before the automated mechanism would stop deploying the devices. Assuming the ship had launched a couple of minutes before they had first spotted it and then they had spent six minutes and forty eight seconds chatting before they realized there was a problem and he had acted, meant the ship would continue launching bombs for roughly another seven minutes. Seven minutes, or call it four hundred more bombs.
As he continued to fly towards the back of the ship, Clark considered if there was some way he could stop the launch mechanism, but he quickly abandoned that plan. If the ship was arming the bombs before ejecting them, one or more might explode inside the ship. The ship was designed to handle atomic explosions behind the pusher plate, not deep inside. If one exploded there, it would rip the ship to shreds.
Clark had just reached the broad pusher plate when a brilliant white glare erupted around the edge ahead. Knowing he was too late to stop this next bomb, Clark grabbed the plate and pushed hard to counteract the thrust from this explosion. As the wave of radiation from an explosion that was now less then six hundred feet from his location washed over him, Clark was once more briefly forced out of 'speed mode' and left clinging almost helplessly to the structure of the ship.
Knowing he didn't have time to wait for his vision to clear, Clark forced his body back into 'speed mode' and moved blindly in the direction of the most intense heat. He was just rounding the lip onto the bottom side of the pusher plate when his vision began to clear.
The slightly concave surface of the nearly thirteen hundred foot wide pusher plate seemed to stretch before him almost forever. He had been expecting it would be glowing at least red hot, if not white hot, from its exposure to nearly six hundred atomic explosions from a distance of barely five hundred feet. But surprisingly the surface was a dark grey with a strange satiny appearance. It wasn't until he reached out and touched it that he realized it was coated with a thick film of some oily material which must act as a protective ablative layer.
Quickly, Clark raced through the heavily ionized air towards the center of the pusher plate in search of the location where the bombs were ejected. It only took a few seconds from his accelerated perspective to locate the outline of an eight foot diameter hatch. Clark quickly guessed the hatch would swing open to allow passage of the bomb and then would slam shut before the explosion to prevent damage to the ship's interior.
Choosing a spot roughly thirty feet from the hatch, Clark dug his hard fingers into the steel surface of the pusher plate and started to pull. Since his was going to have to drop out of 'speed mode' to destroy the stream of nuclear devices and with the high residual radiation he could feel here on the lower side of the pusher plate, there wasn't any point in making the molten connection to the ship to try again to pull its great mass into 'speed mode'.
Clark started to pull against the great mass of the ship to begin moving it away from its close encounter with the city, as he dropped out of 'speed mode'. And as he exerted his incredible strength, somehow pulling the ship seemed twice as hard as pushing had been. He knew pulling shouldn't be any different than pushing and it had to be a mental thing, but he couldn't get the old 'pull yourself up by your bootstraps' saying out of his mind.
He was so focused on getting the ship moving away from the city, he almost didn't react fast enough when the hatch slammed open and the next bomb came roaring out. He had a glimmer of warning from his overstressed electro-magnetic sense as it registered a surge of energy racing down the core of the ship, but it didn't leave him fully prepared for the speed of the bomb as it leapt passed him at nearly seven thousand miles an hour.
The bomb was almost three hundred feet from the pusher plate by the time Clark forced himself back into 'speed mode' so he would have time to lock his vision on the retreating weapon. As he cranked up his heat vision, he was mentally chastising himself for not anticipating this. With the previous bomb having gone off only one second earlier and then needing to wait until the shock wave from its explosion had passed, the next bomb had less than a twentieth of a second from the time it could safely be ejected until it had to reach the 500 foot distant ignition point. The energy pulse he had felt running down the core of the ship had been the electromagnetic rail gun used to accelerate the bomb up to hypersonic speeds. As his heat vision incinerated the bomb only feet short of its ignition point, Clark realized how groggy he still must be from the pounding radiation waves he had experienced as well as the physical beating his body had taken, if he had forgotten something as simple as the bombs' necessary ejection speed.
Clark continued to pull against the giant pusher plate while destroying the next ten bombs before he felt sufficiently recovered and confident enough that he could neutralize all the succeeding bombs to start rotating the giant ship so its nose no longer pointed protectively towards the city but rather towards the depths of space. It took almost twenty seconds to do the maneuver without overstressing the ship by a lateral acceleration it was never designed to handle and also without losing focus on the need to stop every bomb, but finally he could switch from pulling to pushing against the giant pusher plate.
Since he couldn't shift the giant ship into 'speed mode' where the normal laws of physics didn't fully apply, he was forced to limit the ship's acceleration to the four gees it was designed to sustain. After six minutes forty three seconds the last of the atomic bombs appeared. At that point Clark could have tried once more to shift the spaceship into 'speed mode' to cut the travel time to orbit, but he decided it was simpler to leave it in real time rather than risking some new complication. So it took him another eleven minutes to deliver it to a safe parking orbit one hundred fifty miles above the planet's surface. If this civilization had the extensive space operations Chloe had indicated, Clark decided they should be able to handle the necessary salvage operations without further assistance from him.
Clark paused a moment to bask in the brilliant unfiltered yellow sunlight before heading back down to Chloe and the others. Five minutes into the flight he had reached an altitude where the sun had cleared the horizon, but it still felt good to be able to simply rest for a moment. This had to have been the hardest twenty minutes he had ever endured.
After lingering for a few minutes, Clark realized he had been gone for over twenty minutes. The others were probably starting to get worried. With one last glance around taking in the view from a height he had never before reached, he shifted back into 'speed mode' and went racing back down to the frigid city in the center of the frozen plain.
While the trip up had taken seventeen minutes because he had stayed mostly in real time, the trip back while seeming to take several minutes from his perspective inside 'speed mode' in the real world took less than a second. As he approached the city he once more descended into darkness, dawn at ground level was still almost an hour away. But even in the dim light, he didn't have any trouble assessing the damage by the near approach of the giant atomic powered spacecraft. And the damage he saw was surprisingly light. He was certain he identified the buildings to which the ship had made its nearest approach, yet none of the windows appeared to be shattered like he remembered. He made a close pass to be sure. The buildings he remembered had a higher percentage of their interior lights on than other buildings and he could see people moving around on the inside, but the windows themselves all looked fine.
With a shake of his head, Clark headed back to Chloe's building. When he arrived at the window he had broken on his departure, he found it looking as good as new, too. This time there was no question it had been shattered and Clark hung in midair for several moments studying it. He had planned to return the building the same way he had departed, but now it would mean breaking the window all over again. Briefly he considered doing it just to see how they had repaired it so quickly, but after a glance down at the empty streets far below, he decided it would be better to just use the building's main entrance.
Dropping the eighteen hundred feet down to street level, Clark took a moment to ensure no one was around before dropping out of 'speed mode'. Then he calmly walked to the entrance they had used when they had first arrived barely thirty minutes earlier.
"Ah, hello," began Clark in the local language when he reached the spot where Chloe had communicated with the building's computer system. "Can you connect me with Letishikä gé Äysël gō Lalæhan?"
After a ten second pause, Chloe's face materialized on the wall in front of him.
"Hi, Clark. We were beginning to wonder what happened to you."
Clark wasn't certain how much to say over an open communication line. "Ah, how about I tell you when I get upstairs. Can you buzz me in or whatever?"
"No problem, Clark. I have added you to the authorized access list – just come on up."
Clark had barely started to nod in reply when the screen blinked out. Turning to the entrance, he quickly entered the building and made his way over to the bank of elevators.
When he reached Chloe's floor, he walked all the way to the end of the corridor and took a moment to examine the window. There was not a mark to indicate he had flown through it at high speed less than twenty-five minutes earlier. With a slight shake of his head, he decided he would have to see if Chloe had an explanation. Turning, he walked back to the entrance to Chloe's apartment.
The door slid silently open at his approach. As he stepped inside, Chloe ran up and pulled him into a hug.
"Are you okay?" Chloe asked, as she turned her head up to look into his eyes.
"Yes, although it was extremely intense for a few . . ." Clark began before Chloe cut him off.
"Come on, you can tell me about it while we get you fitted for your nanosuit. We are on a tight schedule as we have to leave for our shuttle in ten minutes."
Clark glanced down and realized Chloe's clothes, while similar in general appearance, were definitely different. And now her outfit also included a long cape like he had seen others wearing during his initial foray into the city. Then he glanced over to where Lana and Lex stood. Their clothes had been changed also and they had capes as well. Taking a closer look, Lex seemed to be slightly dazed and appeared to be mumbling to himself.
"Ah, what shuttle?" asked Clark turning his attention back down to Chloe.
"The one taking us to the space elevator terminus," responded Chloe with a grin.
"Space elevator?" echoed Clark, all thoughts about broken windows now swept from his mind.
"Yeah," answered Chloe continuing to grin. "Oh, did I forget to mention the computer I need to access is located up at the Pwóthgroć Space Colony?"
End of Chapter 1
If you are interested in learning more about some of the science in this chapter, you can go to Wikipedia and search for the following terms:
Space Elevator – If there is any hope of having significantly more than a dozen people in space at a time in the foreseeable future, this is the technology most likely to get us there. It has the potential to drop the cost of a trip into space from the $30 million the ultra-rich are paying the Russians today down to the range of a first-class airline ticket. If the technology was given an Apollo program or Manhattan Project 'push', it is probably doable in ten years.
Project Orion – This is the atomic bomb powered spaceship first proposed by the U.S. military back in the 1950s. The British did some follow-up studies called Project Daedalus, which modified the concept to use it to power a ship to a nearby star. This would seem to be the only concept potentially feasible with current technologies to lift truly massive ships into orbit. Of course, with the ongoing nuclear phobia, this technology is unlikely to be pursued short of some planet-threatening catastrophe. The Bőlžtroi ships in this story are based on the 'Super Orion' class from the Wikipedia article.
Space habitat or Island Three or L5 Society – Searching on these terms will bring up some interesting artist conceptions of what the insides of these massive spinning cylindrical space colonies will look like. The size and amount of material required to build these things boggle the mind. It seems highly unlikely any of these will ever be built without some significant breakthrough which reduces the cost of getting into orbit by many orders of magnitude. But including them in this story should make Chloe's original civilization feel different from today's world and create a sense of wonder and grandeur not otherwise possible.
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I hope you have enjoyed this start to the next arc of this saga. If you would like to chat about anything in this chapter or what you would like to see in upcoming chapters, drop me a review or a PM or an email.
Have a great day!